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machievelli
08-01-2006, 03:06 PM
Knights of The Old Republic

Return from Exile

It is a time of chaos and danger to the Republic. Bloodied by the Mandalorian Wars, decimated by the Jedi Civil War, the Jedi order reels back in disarray. Where once thousands stood, now barely a hundred remain. The Sith still pressure the Republic, and with no Jedi to restrain them, ruin awaits.

But there is still a chance...

Dreams and nightmares

Marai

It was so peaceful.

I think everyone has flying dreams. At least everyone I have ever asked. Floating, weightless, swooping like a bird across the landscape. That is what I was doing. I could see the city of Coruscant below me. The building of the necessary buildings to hold all of the politicians and citizens had reached the point that the only bare spaces were the oceans.

I saw a massive pyramid, and suddenly I was diving for it. I cringed back mentally. No I will not go back there!

Unable to stop myself, I landed on the walk before the doors. But they stood open, wind whipping through the corridor. Stunned I stepped inside. It was as deserted as a tomb.

I fled. I ripped away the corner of the dream, diving through.

I found myself walking down a corridor. No, It was a ship, so the proper term is passageway. I was in my Consega Lines uniform, with the two stripes of a lieutenant, and the brassard of Security. I came to the captain’s cabin, and knocked. When he called I entered.

He wasn’t alone. Two men were with him. I pegged them immediately as Intelligence of some kind. With my checkered past I can still spot the type. Captain Loran looked up from his desk as I approached.

“Are you Marai Devos?” One of them asked me. I looked him over. He had the look of a field Security operative. Someone who thinks he can handle anything. I merely looked at him. He hated me for some reason.

His partner was smaller, more slender, and much easier going. He drew out a flat pad, and flipped it open. Naval Intelligence. “Please answer the question.”

“Yes, I am Marai Devos.”

The bigger man jumped back into the conversation with both feet. “You will come with us now.”

He reached out, and grabbed my arm.

Bad idea.

I foot swept him, the free arm slamming into his chest as I rode him down to the deck. He tried to do a break fall to weaken the impact, but the hand slammed his back down hard enough that he was gasping as I stood away from him.

“No one touches me.” I said calmly. His partner was still standing there. Now he had a small surprised smile on his face. I knew what he was thinking. Here I was, a woman perhaps 1.6 meters tall, weighing about 55 kilos, with strawberry blonde hair, and I had taken his buddy down without even a sweat.

“Devos, we have been ordered to take you to Telos immediately.” The smaller man said.

“Did the orders say to manhandle me?”

He shook his head, grinning. “That is why I let you put him on the floor.” Then the smile wiped away, and I saw the cold interior. “But we do have orders to restrain you if necessary. Will it be?”

Politeness with a steel hand in the velvet glove. I looked to the Captain. He had seen the trick before. I was Chief of Security, Head of Casino Security, and the one of three plain clothes female security officers aboard the Liner Vespa Sunrise. I am very good at my job.

“The Republic Navy ordered it. I don’t know why, Marai.” He looked down at the desk, his hands were clenched tight enough to see white around the pressing fingers. “The company had to agree.”

“I understand, sir.” I looked then at the smaller officer. “I am at your service, sir.”

“We have time for you to pack, but not a lot. We’ll pick up anything else you need there.”

As he spoke the edge of the room tore away, and a pair of glowing red eyes could be seen. I turned toward the threat-

Awaken.

I flinched. Then my eyes opened. I was in a liquid, looking into a partially lit room. For a moment I panicked, then I recognized it as a Kolto tank. A mask was firmly pressed against my face, and my body floated. No wonder I was dreaming of flying.

Any school child knows about how a Kolto tank works. A liter of Kolto mixed into 300 liters of isotonic saline solution, heated to skin temperature, and the body is immersed. It would debride and help in the healing of all wounds. I was glad for the mask. When necessary, such as in lung injuries, they put you in the tank without it. I remember Salan Woor back on Zagosta. A lung full of poison gas. We needed three men in the tank with him, because to heal the wound, the Kolto has to be brought into direct contact with the injury. If you think that means we have to almost drown you, you’re right.

Of course the fluid is hyperoxygenated so you won’t drown. You spend the first nine months of your life breathing the fluid in your mother’s womb without dying. But tell that to your reflexes. You think you’re going to drown until you find out you‘re still alive.

I looked but no one moved outside. That was odd. There should at least be something monitoring the system and my heart must have spiked through the roof. I looked. Four other tanks, all with men and woman in them. There were signs of burns on some of them. But I felt...

I had to get out of here. I found the internal release. Back about thirty years ago, a man had been allergic to Kolto. It’s rare. Try one in 70,000 rare. The merest contact with Kolto even in a medicinal bath could cause anaphylactic shock.

He was unconscious when he came in, and the med tech was new. Didn’t both to do a test swab. If he had the guy would have lived. Instead he had him stuck in the tank. He’d come awake screaming, and in the four minutes it took to get him out of the tank, he was dead.

Since then they put in the emergency internal release, or Dead Man Switch. If the patient felt they had to get out in an emergency, they merely hit it. Of course if you played silly buggers and did it for fun, you wouldn’t after the price came up. That tank cost the user 100 credits a day. When that is an average family’s weekly earnings, you had best expect your significant other whomever they are to rip a strip off you.

I didn’t have a significant other, lover, mother or father. They could bill me.

The pumps began siphoning, and the fluid poured down into the holding tank. There it would be sectioned and filtered off, the Kolto that was still active going into one tank. all dead tissue including inactive Kolto would go through the incinerator, and the remaining saline solution would sterilized, and returned to the reservoirs for later reuse.

I could hear the shrill alarm of a ruptured tank, but no one came running. I was still confused as the clearplast cylinder dropped into the deck, and I fell flat on my face. Who was running this mess? If you have people in the tank you never leave them completely unattended. Even if you had a case of constipation that needed blasting you never ignore that alarm.

But nothing. No one came in zipping their pants, no doctors complaining that you should have let them decide if you were well. Every sense I had was set for alarms and I had just gotten out of the tank!

But I was drained. Kolto may heal you but it uses the body’s resources to do it. I felt like I had run a marathon then gone ten rounds with a professional Martial Artist. I couldn’t move.

Finally I could feel my arms and legs. I staggered to my feet, looking around. I estimates it had been at least five minutes from the time I awoke in the tank to now, yet still no medical staff. I hoped the guy stuck in the fresher had brought a crowbar and a good book. It was the same ubiquitous design you see the galaxy over. I could be on any planet in any system.

There was a door before me but first I looked at the other patients. None of them were moving, and none of them were breathing. I felt a chill that had nothing to do with being in underwear and soaking wet. I went to the door, and it opened with a touch. There were three doors. The one to the right was marked MORGUE. I walked past it to the door on my left. A standard medical monitoring system. I walked to the console. The words EMERGENCY LOCKDOWN flashed on the screen. I touched a control. ENTER COMMAND. On the corner I saw a name PERAGUS MEDICAL FACILITY.

Peragus... I had heard the name somewhere, but for the life of me couldn’t remember. There are tens of thousands of planets, and you can’t remember them all. But this one was important for some reason.

I looked at the screen and the list of options. I tapped medical logs. There were three. Each a standard day apart. I touched the oldest. A hologram appeared in mid air. It was a woman a little taller than I am with cafe au lait skin and tight curly hair.

“...Still examining the survivor from the damaged freighter. The security officer told me it was named Ebon Hawk. The survivor was placed in the Kolto tank.

She bit her lip. “The ship is reported to have been damaged, and carbon scoring suggests that they were in a battle. But I have not heard from the Security officer if we know who was shooting at them. He couldn’t get much from the navi-computer. I am surprised they were able to get here at all, and so is Admin and Security. Only a fool tries to come here without the asteroid drift charts, and the Com officer told me no one called in for them.

“The only other person aboard was an old woman. No life signs. The body is in the morgue. When the next ship arrives from Telos we will send it to them. This is only a treatment facility after all. There were two droids aboard, a utility astromech and a protocol droid. Somehow the T3 was able to get the ship up and running again. Both were sent down to maintenance while security goes through the ship’s cargo. We’re prepared to...” The recording suddenly ended, like she had been called away.

Again a name I thought I knew. Ebon Hawk. That was... That was a ship reported as a smuggler. I touched the next record.

“...Could be a Jedi, but we won’t know for sure until we get a transmission back from the Republic. The com between here and the core is spotty because of the asteroids. If the survivor is a Jedi, that would explain the rapid recovery rate.

“But I am more concerned that a Jedi here might cause other problems. Some of the miners have been causing trouble since she arrived, especially Coorta. He has already st...” The record faded into static, then snapped back into view. “...Another accident today. There was a detonation in the ventilation system main access. If the lockdown hadn’t worked, the base would have been flooded with fuel and one spark would have sent us home at light speed.

“Four wounded, one dead. I got them into the tanks, and they are recovering. One of them kept saying a mining droid caused it but he was so incoherent we didn’t get much more...” It faded into static again.

Jedi. I wasn’t a Jedi... At least not any more. Maybe they had meant the dead woman but it’s like the joke ‘let me know when he gets better‘. Turn to other person. ‘He’s dead’.

Besides, my connections to the force had been severed. I shouldn’t heal like one. Part of me wanted to believe it was true. To think that the last ten years had been a nightmare I would wake up from.

Part of me told the other part to shut up. I tapped the last record.

“...Miners about the Jedi. A number of smaller injuries caused by droids. They tell me they are acting oddly, and not even doing memory wipes has helped.

“There was another detonation, this one in a fuel vent they were servicing. The droids that were there were deactivated and sent to maintenance. I have been treating burns all day.... That cuts us down to half shifts, and with the problems they are having with the droids, we may not be able to make the Telos shipment this month. Those people need it desperately, but what can we do? Still not word from the Republic, and Telos hasn’t replied to our requests for additional maintenance personnel.

“At least we’re still up and running. The blast didn’t cause a lock-” Her voice was interrupted by a siren and a voice.

“Fuel detonation in the mining tunnels. Emergency lockdown commencing. All personnel report to quarters and prepare for emergency venting procedures.” The voice was calm, feminine, and implacable.

“Wait! Admin, respond! If the ventilation system is malfunctioning we’ll die! Admin, damn it answer me!” She stared at something. Probably the same screen I was at. Then she turned, waving. Evacuate the medical bay, do it now!

“But-” a man’s voice from off viewer.

“We’ll just have to hope they will live in the tanks. Move!” The holo died.

I stared at the screen for a long time. As a Security officer the series of accidents seemed almost... planned. The fact that the miners seemed to think I was still a Jedi didn’t help. Why was my presence a danger?

And what about the bodies in the tanks? Why were they dead? For that matter, why was I alive? The air system for the Kolto tanks was a separate system. Something in the air might be making the patient sick, and to make sure this didn’t affect the recovery the system piped in purified air. So a gas leak wouldn’t kill them. It had to be something else.

Just to make sure, I touched the Patient status icon. All but one read deceased. Number three showed recovered; released. That must be me. I walked back in, and yep, my tank had been number 3.

I returned to the console, and I touched the patient treatment icon.

Patient three had been being treated for some kind of poison. Since they had not known what was used, they had been doing a full spectrum antidote regimen. The other four, as the report by the medical officer had said, were being treated for serious plasma burns. There was a last notation that chilled me.

LAST TREATMENT REQUEST RESULTED IN TERMINATION OF LIFE FUNCTIONS. PATIENT 3 REDUCED TO MINIMAL LIFE SIGNS.

With a shaking finger, I input the last treatment request.

ALL TANKS INJECT 40MG IRDANRIZINE.

Irdanrizine is a sedative. fast acting. What you might use in a police situation if you can use a tranquilizer dart. five milligrams would put a Hutt on his butt out like a light in something like seven seconds.

Nothing living needed 40 milligrams. Hell, a human died in less than a minute if you gave him three. If I had been cold before it was arctic conditions now. Someone had murdered those men and women. Someone who didn’t know or care what was needed to do the job. I don’t know why I was still alive, but someone here was a maniac.

I checked the facility, and gathered what I could. Med pacs, some chemicals that could be used to make more if I needed to and had the time. They could also be used to make explosives.

I stepped out, but the door into the complex was jammed. I needed something to open it. Wait, some of the miners had died. Maybe...

I went back to the console. Every bed was full. One woman caught my eye. She was in robes of some kind. I shook my head. Too many memories. I unsealed the door, and went across into the morgue.

Suddenly all of the memories were back. Walking the line of the dead at Zagosta, my first battle when I was in command. Looking into faces that just that morning had watched me. Some had been eager. Others resigned. Now they were all slack with death. I did not want to go into that room. Didn’t want to walk another line of dead people.

But maybe someone there had a tool of some kind. There was nothing in the storage lockers.

I walked up to the woman first. She was frail, tired, and even without a mark on her she was dead. There was nothing on her that I could use. I found that by concentrating on just what I needed to find, I could do this. Each body got an impersonal once over. One of the bodies had a plasma torch. Maybe it...

There was a sound. The old woman was stretching as if everyone went to bed in a morgue. Then she sat up, and the hood she wore turned toward me.

machievelli
08-01-2006, 07:20 PM
Pain and Remembrance

Marai

It was like watching a revenant climbing out of it’s grave. I was frozen staring at her. She adjusted her hood. Of her face all I could see was her mouth and the braids of her white hair. She looked back at me. If she had said boo I think I would have screamed. “Have you found what you seek amongst the dead?” She asked. The voice was dry, raspy. As if she didn’t talk very often. But I head heard that voice somewhere before...

“It was your voice I heard in the Kolto tank.” I blurted out. Great work miss oh so efficient Security officer.

“Yes.” She seemed amused, as if my thoughts were a book she were reading. “I had hoped as much. I slept too long, and found I could not awaken without... outside stimulus.”

I had almost expected her to say ‘blood’. “Slept too long? I thought you were dead! So did the Medical staff according to the records.”

“Close to death. Closer than I would like to contemplate.” She admitted. “You have the smell of someone fresh from the Kolto tank. How do you feel?”

Actually I felt pretty good. Exercise will do that for me, and jumping to conclusions seemed to be my new hobby. “The Kolto tank drained me. Who are you?”

“I am Kreia, and I am your rescuer. As you are mine in turn. Tell me... What is the last thing you recall?”

I thought about it. “I was aboard a Republic Frigate, the Harbinger. Two Naval Intelligence men were escorting me to... Telos I think. We were in the second day of the voyage. The nicer of the two had wanted to talk, and he’d asked for drinks. A protocol droid delivered them. I remember talking, finishing...” No I did not remember ‘finishing’ the drink. I do remember drinking some of it. “No, I drank some of it, then everything was spinning. I remember red eyes, being carried.” I looked at her. Whatever was going on had begun not here, but on Harbinger! “What happened?”

“Your ship was attacked. You were the only survivor. A result of your Jedi training no doubt.”

Not this again! I knew my face went cold. I am no longer a member of the Jedi order.”

She looked at me, and I could sense puzzlement. “Your stance, your walk, even the way you speak shouts Jedi.” Her head cocked. “But your pace is slower than your wont, as if you carry a heavy burden.”

I looked away. “The Jedi and I had... differences.” Yeah right, my mind chided. You couldn’t explain it to them because they hadn’t been there. It was like trying to explain to the blind how the sun worked, or explaining the way the force felt to someone completely insensitive to it.

She seemed to sense that internal struggle again. “So it would seem.” She shrugged as if it didn’t matter. “Keep your past to yourself if you will. Let us focus on the now.”

I was relieved. I waved toward the walls around us. “Where is this place?”

She gave me a look as if I was really an idiot. “It was I that was asleep and adrift from what was happening. You were the one that was awake. Perhaps looking about will tell us what we both wish to know. If nothing else perhaps you can find our ship so we can leave.”

“Leave?” There was a nervousness in her last words. As if she desperately wanted to get away, but at the same didn’t want me to know it. “Why do we need to leave?”

She harrumphed. “We were attacked aboard a frigate, one of the most powerful ships the Republic possesses. What makes you think that they cannot track us down? Unless this is a military base with the defenses they would have, they can come and destroy us at their leisure. Without weapons without information, and most important without transport, we shall easily be run to ground.”

It made sense. “But what of the people here? Someone must still be alive!”

“Then by all means look for them as well.” She looked at me, and again I sensed amusement. “Might I suggest you extend that search to some clothing? If only to make a proper first impression.”

I smiled at her. Then the smile was wiped away. The patients in the Kolto tanks were killed, no murdered, by a massive overdose of sedatives. Any idea how that happened?”

She flinched. “You have the manner of a Constable or Security officer. You can think of a dozen reasons why someone would have done so. My question is why you were exempted.”

“I was not. I was just lucky enough to survive.”

“Lucky.” She said the word as if she had never heard it before. “Is it not true that the Jedi do not believe in either luck or coincidence? Consider your past training. A Jedi healing trance would have brushed aside the chemicals, or converted them to something less dangerous. A very useful skill when negotiating.

“First, is it not possible you were not the target? In fact, have you considered that whomever administered the sedatives did so at a distance? They did not know which tank their target was in, only how many were occupied. So they gave each tank an equal dose.”

I had not considered that, and having someone cold blooded enough to kill five people instead of the one they wanted was worrisome. Her face had not changed however. “What are you thinking?”

“If you were the target, and the enemy knew you were once a Jedi, perhaps the sedative was supposed to keep you compliant while their work was done. However whomever did this obviously places little or no value on anyone else’s life in the regard.”

“You seem to know a lot about what the Jedi can and can’t do.”

“As do you. Perhaps once we have shaken the dust of this place from our shoes we can discuss it over a glass of something mildly alcoholic. As for now, we have other concerns. An enemy coming for us, and another enemy right here.” She tapped her foot on the ground for emphasis.

“Are you going to be all right?”

“I had no intention of accompanying you. I have yet to regain my strength. I will leave the grunt work to you.”

I wanted to slap her, but instead I smiled. She reminded me of a lot of the older masters. Too crotchety to die, too mean to live quietly. “I’ll be back.”

“You do that.” She slid smoothly into a meditation seat, and I was alone. I walked back into the hallway, facing that damned broken door. I lifted the plasma torch, but I couldn’t bring myself to bring it down. To free myself from my prison.

*****

Malchior V was the last major battle of the Mandalorian Wars. It was where my will finally broke. I had been through four years of it, and Malchior V had been where Revan intended to smash the last main fleet the Mandalorians had. She had discussed it with her war council. Malak, Vitoris, Sanso, and I.

We had been the best of the best. Our ranks had been harrowed as had the men we led. Of the 1500 knights that had answered Revan’s call, only 400 still lived, less than 200 were still whole. Of the 2nd Regiment Corellian Marines that I had led from the beginning, less than a Sergeant’s guard remained of the men I had led onto Zagosta that first time. That’s 20 men for the uninitiated out of the 1500 they had been. Oh I led 1500 again, but only those 20 still held my entire heart, Lose 1400 people you considered friends and confidants, and you learn pretty damned quick to hold them all at arm’s length They must be precious to you. Their deaths must cause you to bleed. But you cannot let their deaths tear you apart.

The plan was simple. We had captured the Malchior system, and emplaced gravity well generators in every asteroid we could find. Then we had tractored them into position so that the entire outer system could be locked like a massive cage. Revan and I were to command those in the center. 30 Ships. Enough to give a good fight, but not enough to cost us the war if her plan failed. The rest, 120 more would wait until the gravitational flux was detected. They would be only minutes away when they came, but even as little as fifteen minutes would kill a lot of us.

Malak Vitoris Sanso and Karath would command equal portions, 30 ships each. They would come in from the four axis assured to put them between the Mandalorians and home. They would be forced to fight the fleet behind them to get home.

Revan touched her mask delicately. “This depends on all of us to succeed.”

“We understand.” Malak sat there so calm, so self assured. He was like a Circassian Razor beast. An animal that didn’t know the meaning of retreat or restraint. Malak would charge in and if necessary die. He was the bludgeon.

Vitoris smiled. “It is not like you have not laid this plan out again and again, Revan.” He was short, squat. A toad in human form with the heart of a lion and the soul of a poet. He had a flowing style of leadership that slid across an enemy formation like water. And like water, he would find gaps to flow through. His ships were all carriers, and he would lead those snubs into battle.

Sanso shrugged. She was always somber, quiet. She kept her own counsel, and the men of her ships spoke of her suddenly appearing when things were about to get hot. As if attracted to the flames. She was the sniper. The one that would stay as far from the enemy as her guns and missiles allowed, pounding them until they broke.

I was the scrapper. I liked getting in close and using teeth, feet, head, anything to punish my enemy. I would be the bear trap, the one that would bite down and hold until our friends or arrived or we died. No one had ever seen me run from a fight, and I would not at this time either. “Bring ‘em on!” I wanted to shout, but I spoke softly.

Revan? She was the conductor of this hellish orchestra. Always so cool. Less than three months into our intervention in the war the Mandalorians caught on. They had marked Revan as a worthy opponent, and had set up a trap to test that. It was later called the battle of Hontaru.

I remembered the battle of Hontaru. Commanding the Marines of the flagship as we took fire. She stood on the deck calmly giving orders even as we were pounded by a dozen enemy vessels. But she got us close enough that our shuttles were able to board the enemy. We took three Mandalorians ships from the inside that day. Our ship had been scrapped after the battle, so badly damaged that not even a major shipyard could correct it. They had just planted the charges, and we’d watched while she disappeared in a fireball. It wasn’t until later that we discovered that they had purposely targeted her ship. From that point on, every ship in a squadron with her present had repeaters. She would give an order, and an instant later, every ship transmitted that order as if she were aboard.

She was so adroit at spotting weaknesses in us, in the enemy, in herself.

“Then let us be to it.

*****

I would love to say the enemy fell with no loss to us, but it wasn’t even remotely true. Thirty ships facing four times their number. It was two dying men crawling each other to thumb wrestle as they died.

The array of gravitational dumps guaranteed our ships would be close enough to the enemy that they couldn’t miss. I commanded the left flank, and when the enemy was locked in tight, and Malak’s forces had just jumped in to be caught by our own gravitational array, I struck. The shuttles from the Frigate Viridian speared forward even as she collapsed into a fireball. I was in armor, impatient to be at blows. The men under my command in that command shuttle were the survivors of my first full command. They had earned their places.

We smashed into and through the hull of the Mandalorian Frigate Barakash, flagship of the third flotilla. If we could take her, the entire left flank would be in disarray. We plunged into her passageways.

Fighting up close like that is maddening if you want to record it. All you really see is the space in front of your eyes, where you can look flicking your eyes left and right. You are no longer commanding, you are fighting for your life and dragging your men like entrails behind you.

I had cut my way to the deck just aft of the bridge, and signalled. Ramos ran forward, slapping a charge against the bridge hatch. An instant later he was dead as intruder systems blew him into bite sized chunks. I reached out with the force, ripping the guns from their mounts, then I touched the charge with just a finger of force. It exploded, shattering the hatch like an egg shell. Men poured past me as I walked forward. Then I froze.

I knew the Mandalorian people. Hell I had lived among them for three years when we were still trying to negotiate with them during that expansion of the decade before. I should have not been surprised by what I saw.

There were three children against the wall. A young Mandalorian cannot prove himself worthy to breed unless they had faced an enemy and prevailed. They had been picked up by that explosive charge and slammed into the wall with brutal force. I walked over, kneeling beside them. One was perhaps 11. A young boy who if he had been born anywhere else would have been out playing with his friends. Now he never would. Another was a girl of about the same age. I could suddenly see her with pig tails and a cute little dress giggling with her friends.

The last was twelve or thirteen. Unlike his friends, he was still horribly alive. I could hear the wheeze of his breathing, feel the life in his brain died as bone shredded it. See in his eyes the knowledge that even if he survived, he would be little more than a vegetable in a chair. Unable to feed or wipe himself.

I don’t remember what happened after that. I awoke in the sickbay of the Tik Harvest Moon our flagship. Revan was watching me with that damn mask she wore. If it had been just we Jedi she would have taken it off, I knew. But it helped convince men twice her age that she knew exactly what she was doing.

“Marai. How do you feel?”

“I’m.” I paused. I knew as any Jedi would have how much time had elapsed. I suddenly realized that fifteen hour had past without me being part of it. “What happened?” I felt my body. No injuries, no wounds. What had become of my life for fifteen hours? “Tell me Revan, what happened?”

She looked at me for a long time. Then she turned to the bustling medical staff. “Stabilize any patients you must and get out.”

“General-”

“That was not a request.”

They cleared the room, and finally she sighed, removing that mask. She sat on the edge of my bed, looking at me.

“Marai, I think you need to go home.”

“What? But I am fine! I’ll be back on my feet ready for duty tomorrow.”

“Will you.” She watched me. “What happened ten hours ago?”

“I...” I looked at her. “I don’t remember.”

“When they brought you into the medical bay six hours ago, they told the medical staff that you were rocking the body of a twelve year old boy, and singing him a lullaby. That was after you broke his neck. They tried to move you, but you wouldn’t let go of the body for seven hours. Then as if nothing had occurred, you lay him down, said ‘Now rest until I return’ to him, then stood and asked for reports. You boarded another ship, your marines covering you every step of the way because you were ignoring everything around you. After they had captured that one, your second in command asked you to come her to see some of your own wounded.

“When you got here, you went straight to that bed, lay down, and didn’t get up until a few minutes ago.”

“I-” I still didn’t see it. I pictured picking up that boy. Snapping his neck wasn’t a brutality, it had been mercy. But I couldn’t put him down.

“I am ordering you home. Go back to Coruscant. Get well.” She stood, putting the mask back on. “If this war goes on much longer, I will need your good right arm again soon.”

*****

I had gone home. But meditation no longer reached into my soul as it should. I had been haunted in my dreams by that boy. Seeing his face slack with terror, feeling his life ebb away in my hands.

They had tried. They had mind healers try to work with me to bring it out and excise the puss of that horrible mental infection. But I resisted. “Were you out there?" I asked them. If they were older, I asked them if they had faced Exar Kun in that war. If they had not, I told them to go away. None of them had been through that hell, and until they had been, I didn’t want platitudes, I didn’t want to hear that the boy was now living within the force.

I. Didn’t. Want. Their. Damn. Pity.

I had been exiled because of it. I could have stayed. Given up my lightsaber, gone into the Conservation Corps the Jedi also run supporting the Ithorians. But I had given up too much of myself, or my soul to be satisfied. I had gotten aboard a ship, not even caring where it took me.

I ended up on Corellia with no money. I had never considered that the order supplies every need to it’s members. Not your wants, your needs. I had never missed a meal, or been without clean clothes except when I was on the battlefield. I never ate if my men had not already eaten, or slept if they had not already rested, or wore clean clothes if they were not supplied with every need first. For the first time in my life I was hungry, thirsty, dirty, and tired but not sharing it with others. It was a humbling experience.

I cleaned up, and went job hunting. What powers I had faded with time, I felt them slipping away, and part of me grieved, and part of me didn’t give a damn.

After a few menial jobs I had been approached by Consega Lines. I had proven to be highly efficient as a courier and bodyguard, and they were commissioning a new ship. a luxury liner/casino ship. They wanted me as a plain clothes security guard. A few years later I was Chief of Security.

It was there that I had found part of myself. A party had brought a Mandalorian Mercenary as a body guard. We had been off duty together in the lounge, and he spoke of the war from their point of view. I didn’t tell him that I had been a Jedi, but somewhere in there, around the third bottle of tihaar when I had broken down and told him what had happened.

I would have thought that he would hate me, that he would berate me as a coward. What I had not expected was this man twice my size built like a mountain would pull me into a hug and let me cry against his chest.

“Luminous beings we are.” He said.

“That is a Jedi saying.” I snapped, wanting to push away.

“The Jedi are right sometimes.” He said. “Our history is replete with them either guiding our steps or chastising us.” He leaned away from me. “They knew they faced death when they boarded that ship. Their captain no doubt thought too well of himself, because when the Young are among us, we protect them as best we can. They died. But they would not have chosen to be anywhere else.”

“But I set off the charge!”

“Why should we condemn you for that? Would you have given away the victory if you had known they were there?” He shook his head. “The Mandalorians would have enshrined their names as great warriors if we had won. Since the end of that war Revan had refused us the right to gather honor, and if she dies, we lose that chance forever.”

I found myself comforting him the rest of the night. How you may ask? And I tell you none of your damned business. But I felt that sore break open, and felt clean for the first time in years.

*****

I shrugged, and the plasma torch cut neatly across the locking face. I was back where I belonged. On the offensive.

Rain128
08-02-2006, 08:37 AM
Another amazing start Mach =) cant wait to see more!

machievelli
08-02-2006, 05:17 PM
Peragus

Marai

I crouched as the door opened. There were a couple of bodies. I picked up a vibrosword from one man’s hands, and checked them. They had been hit with laser fire and crushing impacts, as if someone had taken a bat and beaten them to death. The walls were rock, carved out into the rooms and compartments, then sealed. It was obviously a moon or asteroid base. It had that ’add on as needed’ feel to it. There was an odd tangy smell in the air that made me nervous. One of the doors was magnetically sealed. The other opened into a connecting hall. The door opened and there were droids in the next room. I hesitated. After all, while there were supposed to be droid problems, that didn’t mean-

Yes it did. They spun, and I dived under the laser blasts. I had learned during the practice before the war and the war itself that the best way to fight droids is to put them in line if possible, where one has to shoot through the others. It limits your adversaries. and at the same time, if it does try to shoot anyway, it kills it’s partner.

They tried to kill me, and I dismantled them. They weren’t very efficient.

After another brief fight, I reached what appeared to be another access way. It was marked as an emergency exit, but when I reached the door, it was closed.

Suddenly, like a whisper I heard a voice.

This is the exit you need...But it is sealed...Strange...In my vision it was open...

I spun. I was alone. That voice sounded like... “Kreia?” If it was her, there was no reply. I tried the door. Again it had been magnetically sealed from some where else. That was odd. An emergency exit has to be easy to open by definition. When you’re running for your life you really don’t need to call someone and have them open the door. I shrugged, moving on.

I came to a room that had a familiar feel. After a few years of security work, every security office feels the same. I walked over to the command desk, keying the system. No it didn’t open the emergency exit.

I checked the logs.

“...This thing on? Oh. This is Security Chief Brenner to all hands. Listen up, and I do mean you Coorta! I am going to say this once, if I have to say it again, the idiot I speak to will be on the next ship back top Telos with his contract shoved down his throat!

“The next time one of you Juma heads tries to smuggle a blaster or military grade explosive charges onto my base, I will throw you out an airlock and you can float home. You knew they were forbidden when you came and it doesn’t mean ‘anyone but me’.”

“He rubbed his face. Like a parent dealing with a bunch of six graders. “Why? Because you’re supposed to be hear mining Peragian fuel. YOu mine it by heating it until it’s a gas, and then pipe it out. But at higher temperatures it is explosive. I thought all of you wastoids knew that! It was some idiot like you that blew the hell out of Peragus II fifteen years ago! That’s why we’re mining the asteroid fields instead. So get it though your thick skulls that it is our lives you’re risking.

“So if I find anything more powerful than a sonic mining charge or mining laser in anyone’s hands, lockers or on an invoice, I’ll burn you and your contract. Security out.”

So we were on Peragus II? No, he’d said asteroid mining. We were on a base.

Suddenly I remembered where I had heard the name before. I had seen an ad for the company that was mining there. It was back when I was still wandering a lot. The pay was exorbitant, but the dangers matched it. For a six month contract you were paid enough to live for two or three years. A year contract was enough to relax for maybe 5. But it is dangerous. Under Republic law a mining company had to list statistics on injuries and deaths. There was a 20% chance that you wouldn’t leave whole, and a ten percent chance you’d leave in a box. Insurance companies won’t even allow you a policy if you work in Peragian mining.

The company did carry it’s own insurance. But if the death wasn’t an accident, you get nothing. The policy was interesting reading. Nothing mining related that killed you was accepted except for falls, cave ins getting crushed by a cargo droid when moving supplies and explosive decompression. Improperly set charges didn’t count as accidental. Even then they capped at 5,000 credits. Enough to keep a family going for maybe a year.

Of course I was smart enough to read the fine print. Six month straight shifts, payment at the end of contract period. Fines could be levied by the company for infractions, and a serious one got the contract terminated with no remuneration. After six months looking at the same faces every day you had to let off steam, and there was nowhere to do it on the base. Miners tend to blow money like air out of a ruptured airlock when they finally hit civilization again and the owners ran several cantinas in the systems close to any mining facility. Every cent you blew getting wasted to forget about Peragus would flow right back into their coffers.

I went through the accident reports. Only the last one caught my interest. “...According to a miner the series of sonic charges blew prematurely. He said he was sure a droid had set off the charges, just like the last time. Three men dead, two wounded. The dead were grouped together so close we’ll need DNA tests to figure out who was who. The droid was reduced to scrap metal. We can’t even find a piece of it’s memory core large enough to examine.

“I don’t know what’s going on here! Ever since that damned Jedi showed up it’s gone from bad to worse! It’s not the fights or Coorta and his gang. It’s like... It’s like since she arrived something is actively trying to kill us all. If I can’t get to the bottom of this, we’ll be floating space dust before the next freighter arrives.”

I felt for him. I’d been in the same position when I took over as Head of Security on the ship. Everything that goes wrong is your fault, and you get little credit.

But I agreed with him. It wasn’t accidents. Somehow I knew it was sabotage. I saw a record for Droid Maintenance.

“I don’t want to hear that you’re working on the problem, I want answers!” Brenner roared.

“Sir, I have never seen anything like this before. It’s like their behavioral core programming is undergoing binary decay, but that doesn’t happen without an obvious cause, and I can’t find one.” The Maintenance man sounded young. Probably hired on because it was a chance to be his own boss.

“Oh, so I’m only imagining it all.” Brenner’s voice dripped with sarcasm. So the next time some droid tries to link the ventilation system into the fuel lines I can sit back, close my eyes, and smell the flowers, right?

“I need answers, and I need them now! What will happen if they suddenly decide to mine the crew instead of fuel?”

“Sir their ethical programming will-”

“Don’t tell me about ethical programming! Harso down on Level 2 said the damn droid seemed to be aiming at him!”

“Sir, these are mining droids, not combat models. The lasers can cut a man up but they won’t blow holes in him. They don’t have the hardware or even the connections for targeting sensors or enough memory to hold the software for it if they were installed. As they are they can’t seriously hurt us unless they catch someone from ambush or gang up and surround them.”

“Are you blind as well as stupid? Look at the people in Med bay! They have been sabotaging us ever since command told the miners that we weren’t selling the Jedi to the Exchange-”

I paused it. Selling me to the Exchange? Of course the Company couldn’t allow it. A Republic contract requires that the company obey the Republic’s laws, and to sell someone implies slavery, which is illegal.

But why was I of all people worth an Exchange Bounty? Sure they were an organized crime syndicate, but why me? A few years ago they had a massive reshuffle of the power base. They had gutted themselves in a war of their own. Some say the boss of Telos someone named Davik Kang had caused it, but the rumors were vague. They had almost disappeared from the scene. But now they were back and even nastier. I resumed the recording.

“-All right, you’re new, but here’s the drill. I want a full scale check done of all programming done on those droids. Line by line if necessary. I want to know how they have been sabotaged and why. Someone is trying to reduce the odds so they can get the Jedi off the station. Find out who it is, and I’ll have them in lockdown ten minutes later.

“In the meantime I am ordering the security guards to load up on sonic and ion charges. If you had the equipment I see about having you run me off some sonic projectors as well. If they come after us we’ll need more than mining lasers to disable them!”

I leaned back, looking to my right. The Security chief was laying there, with a surprised look on his face and a neat hole drilled into his head. Whatever they did, it had been too little too late. There was another file, and I keyed it up.

“Security log. Someone tried to lock me out of the administration system. I installed an emergency override switch on the console at the communications center in case it happens again. I tied it into the magnetic seal of the holding room door, and if the computer detects any active droids on this level, the holding cell seal will not operate.

“I keep coming back to Coorta and his gang, but none of them are good enough programmers to pull this off, but I am not taking any chances. Not sitting in the middle of the minefield of an asteroid belt. The added bonus is that when I put him in the cells he can’t use the droids to rescue him.”

So he had still been planning. The late Security Chief Brenner had been nothing if not persistent. I keyed the final entry.

“I have finally traced the computer access that has been sending out spurious messages. I am going to gather my-” An alarm went off. Then a voice cut in.

“Fuel detonation in the mining tunnels. Emergency lockdown commencing. All personnel report to quarters and prepare for emergency venting procedures.” The same damn ubiquitous computer I had heard in Med bay.

“Wait a damn minute!” He screamed. “I would have felt the damn explosion! Security officers, belay that last order! Meet me in the office, and gear up! Something is about to happen!”

I could hear him fumbling around, then a door opening. “Grab some-”

There was the blast of laser fire, then silence.

I stood up, and knelt beside him. “You deserved better, Chief Brenner. I’ll take it from here.”

I walked to the door, and suddenly...

Have you ever felt electricity dance on your skin. Not painful, just, disturbing? I felt that, but it wasn’t on my skin it was in my head. Again I heard that ghostly whisper.

Take care... There is much energy beyond the door...yet nothing lives there...

“Kreia?”

She sounded surprised. You can hear me?.. Better...Reach out... Use not your pallid sight but that within that can see so much more...

I closed my eyes, and suddenly it was there. Three groupings of energy discharges. Constellations of power flickering as the various star-like symbols spoke to each other.

Ah so you can see them... Droids are not alive... but you can feel the energy flow from their systems... Motivators... optical sensors... temperature... everything a man might have but made of metal and only mimicking us...

I opened my eyes, keyed the door, and stepped through. The droids turned, their weapon arms coming up, and I ran, leaping up and over one, landing in the middle crouching, pause as they spun, weapons tracking, and when I felt the systems lock to fire, I leaped again.

Lasers fired, and one of them squealed as the other two sliced it open. I landed behind one of the undamaged ones, and the vibroblade sliced delicately, severing the power core. I bounced up, dodging a laser blast as if I knew it was there, my sword cutting down and the last one collapsed. I went to the damaged one, chopping into the power core, and it went silent.

I was staggering. Something was happening and I wasn’t sure what. I knew what it felt like... But that was impossible!

Ah, you feel it...Faint... just a whisper...But it is there...

“I feel like I’ve come out of sedation.” I had collapsed automatically into a meditation seat. "It can’t be!”

But it is...It hasn’t been so long that you would have forgotten...It is the Force...

“But it feels... different. Like it’s far away.” I struggled against it. Like a baby trying to stay within the mother. The world was pain and suffering and the Force was like that if you didn’t know it.

Do not fight it...coax it...listen to it...Let it return to you...

I knew that if I let go it would enfold me again. That it would nurture me, surround me, be a part of me again. But then I would be something that should not exist. They had stripped me of my abilities a decade ago. I couldn’t just pick it up as if it were a pair of pants I had left laying a decade ago!

Come...You know the path...You walked it years ago...I will guide you in these first stumbling steps...You will need these abilities yet again if you are to survive the coming trials.

I opened my eyes, and it was like I had never seen before. The world had colors I had not seen in years. Textures that I had not touched since then. The smell in the air was automatically defined by my memory as traces of Peragian fuel, and while I didn’t know what it was exactly, I knew that it was at a level that was irritating, but not dangerous.

It was like being born again.

I rose to my feet, and I knew without looking where the administration center was. There were five droids there, but I could point to exactly where they were.

I opened the door, and reached out toward the droid that was close enough to be a danger. I shorted out it’s memory core, and it collapsed. I wanted to scream in elation. I did it to the next, then the next. A droid tried to come up behind me and I did a graceful pirouette, my sword sheering into the carapace, shattering it.

Finally there were none left. I walked over to the holding cell. Why they had cells hear instead of the security office was simple. As I mentioned earlier, a base like this one started with the admin center and worked outward like an earthworm digging it’s way through the soil. The tunnel became corridors, and as it expanded more, you added other necessary offices. Barracks, Security, Medical, what have you. But you didn’t bother to move things like holding cells. Too wasteful.

The field was up, and I looked around. On the far side of the room there was a series of panels. Probably monitoring stations and communications. I walked over to them. Two were down, but one was still active. No matter. The system was cross-linked so the Administration officer could talk with his wife, check the loading, check the fuel flow, and monitor unloading of supplies in the hanger bay all from one location.

It was locked down, but I felt beneath the edge of the counter, and found the switch. I flipped it, and accessed the system.

First I checked for other droids. There were two up in the fuel monitor tunnel. I ran up there, dispatched them and returned. I looked at the cells from the camera monitor. A young man was in one of them, sitting against the wall. Maybe he had some answers.

I deactivated the holding cell field, walking back to it.

Again that touch of thought...

Beyond this door, someone still lives...Be careful...His thoughts are difficult to read....

I must have hesitated, because the next thought was amused.

Fear not...He may prove useful to us...

Peragus

Atton Rand

There isn’t anything as boring as being locked up. I don’t care how bored you may think you are. Try being locked in a cell with nothing to do but watch the shimmering of the field.

I had stopped shouting for the security guards about five or six hours ago. It was irritating that they hadn’t responded. But about the time I stopped, it became unnerving. I rubbed my arms as if were cold. Something had gone seriously wrong. I just knew it.

There was a hum, and the main security field went down freeing the door. It opened. I opened my mouth to shout at whoever it was. As big as Brenner was, I was willing to rip a strip off him.

But it wasn’t a guard. It was this cute little thing about a meter six tall, with blonde hair pulled back in a bun, wide green eyes...

And not a lot on.

I suddenly wanted to thank the gods, the force, hell anyone that made women that looked like that!

She looked at me, and suddenly she smiled. I knew she could almost read my thoughts, and I discovered that my mouth was still open. I shut it with a click.

When in doubt, attack. “Unless the miner’s dress code has changed, you aren’t working here.”

“And how did you miss all the fun?” She asked. I caught a glint in her eyes. She had done this before. Oh I don’t mean running around in little or nothing. I meant asking questions and expecting answers.

Maybe she was a guard, but hey, if Brenner had trotted her in first, I would have told them everything I knew about everything in the Universe. I would have...

Slow down Atton I thought. If she’s security, you are so screwed. If she’s not, maybe we can get out of here.

“And what did you to do end up in there?”

Long story. Short answer is I was carrying something I shouldn’t have been. There’s some weird regulations here, and I got caught in them.”

She nodded. “And where is here?”

I looked at her. She didn’t know where she was? “You mean this isn’t on your list of tour spots? I’m shocked. This little slice of heaven is the Peragus mining facility. Suppliers of the only shipping grade fuel in this neck of the Galaxy. Peragian fuel isn’t top quality mind. Too many impurities in the matrix. Plays havoc with a ship’s engines, but it gets the job done, and keeps engine maintenance in work. Great stuff as long as you don’t mind toxic crap in your atmospheres and having most of the miners get blown into bite sized chunks mining it.”

She cocked her head. “I heard that on the Security Chief’s log. That it is volatile at high temperatures.”

“Yep. That’s what caused the asteroid belt we’re in right now. As long as someone isn’t stupid, firing a blaster, or a proton torpedo or using main engines too close to a fuel bearing rock, it’s perfectly safe. But they thought that way back before the Peragus mining disaster. That took out a chunk of Peragus II.”

“Peragus II?”

“Hey how did you miss it? How many planets have you seen that look like a halo fruit someone had taken a bite out of? The damn fools were minting money with the fuel, and decided to put in a core tap. Someone didn’t worry enough about safety, and when the did a core tap for a power generator, they cut right through a pocket of gas.” I put out my hand as two fists. “Gas meet magma.” I brought them together.

“The blast blew the entire facility, the town they had started around it, and a good chunk of the planet into space. Something like 20,000 dead in a second. The debris created this asteroid field, and since it’s safer to mine frozen gas, they don’t go down to the surface any more. Of course nothing lived down there afterward.

“That’s why they don’t allow blasters. One stray shot when some miner is flying on Juma juice could send us all to hell in a heartbeat.”

“I will make a note of it.” She slid that fine rump onto the desk, sitting across from me, watching me with that same damn smile. Maybe I needed to spend some time with women, not running around the galaxy like a neutron in a fission pile. “The facility appears deserted. Any idea what happened?”

“You mean before or after the Jedi showed up. Before is a short story, and after even shorter. I was with a crew delivering crystals for the mining laser. You do know that a mining laser uses ruby rods?” She nodded. “Well I was carrying the manifest down to admin when an alarm goes off. You know how it is; you hear an alarm, and if you know what it means, you do what you’re supposed to do. If you don’t, you stay where you are until someone tells you.

Next thing I know Chief Brenner and three of his bigger goons were there screaming at me. I’d had a bad day, and I lost it. I called him a few names, he called me a few. I punched him, and...” I motioned to the cell.

“Then I hear this Jedi shows up, and you know what that means. Where you have one Jedi, soon you have the entire weight of the Republic climbing up your ion engine exhaust. We kinda like not having them here to bug us on the Rim.

“But the story gets better. There was a bounty put on live Jedi out of Nar Shaddaa. She’s unconscious and if they move fast, they can make a fortune. Some of the miners get it into those ferro-crete things they use as skulls that they can sell her off to the Exchange.

“Brenner maybe a lot of things, but greedy isn’t one of them. His men refused to let them make the call, and the Admin officer agreed. That put both sides at each other’s throats. The Security officers are at the miners, the miners are beating guards. You can see what a happy mix she made just by existing.

“So I spend all of this time locked up in there. Then there’s this big explosion, and nothing but silence. I’m sitting here, thinking about how I need a bit of diversion, and like the answer to a maiden’s prayer, you show up.”

The smile had disappeared during that spiel, but I hadn’t noticed. The eyes were cool, almost cold. “A bounty on live Jedi.” She repeated. “Out of Nar Shaddaa. Why?”

“I have no idea. All I know is the Exchange put out the word. More than you’ll make here on a five year contract if they’re alive. Nothing if their dead. I don’t know. Maybe some bigwig wants to get even with them. Maybe as rare as Jedi are, they want to start a zoo. Not many left.”

“There were almost ten thousand just ten years ago! How could there not be many left?”

I shrugged. “Those that didn’t bite it in the Jedi Civil War either threw away their lightsabers, or just turned them off and hid them. There hasn’t been a Jedi Council for almost three years now.”

“The Jedi Civil war.” She said as if she had never heard the term. “I stopped keeping serious track after Malchior V.”

“Boy have you been out of touch. Revan and her merry band of Maniacs charged off to save us. Then there was quiet, then suddenly they were back, this time attacking us. The Jedi were split. Some thought Revan had the right idea, others thought not. They fought it out, and we normal people got caught in the crossfire. Something like 90 percent of the Jedi died.” I looked at her face. She was shocked. “Where the hell have you been?”

“I’ve been... out of touch.”

I looked at her. “Wait a minute. You’re the Jedi.”

She looked at me, and the sad smile tugged at my heart. Cool your jets. She’s a Jedi and they can be pure poison. Not to mention celibate!

“The last I had heard was Revan destroyed something called the Star Forge.” She said.

“Yeah. After getting it running and giving the Sith thousands of ships and droids to fight for them.”

“But she was redeemed.” I could hear a slight not of pleading in her voice.

“Big deal. From what heard she and that war council of hers were bad news until they died. She was pretty quick at wiping out anyone that got on her bad side.”

“War council.”

“Yep the Bitch and her four hell hounds. Malak Vitoris Sanso and Devo. The four riders of everyone else’s doom.”

“They died?”

“Well their sure about three of them. Sanso was killed at Malchior V. Vitoris fought Malak and Revan according to records and was killed on Korriban. Malak tried to wax Revan but she survived and was supposed to have been instrumental in taking out Malak and the Star Forge. Not a lot known about that from all accounts. Still classified as secret even if it was five years ago.

“Devo? No one knows for sure. She went missing after Malchior V.” I shrugged. “Maybe she’s the one running the Sith now. Better I never find out. A dark Jedi is bad enough, but those female ones are so nasty that it’s better that you space yourself and save the pain for someone else. Uh, no offense meant.”

“None taken.” She looked even sadder now. “Just a few more questions if you don’t mind-”

“Hey, it’s not like being interrogated by a half naked woman isn’t one of my favorite fantasies, but...” It suddenly struck me.

No one around. The Jedi running loose. “The miners can’t all be gone!”

“All I have run into have been droids. And bodies.”

“Then we’re deep in the recycling run off and have to get out of here!” I stepped forward until I could fee the restriction field like electricity on my skin. “Let me out of here and I can help you. Really! I’ve gotten out of more trouble that you can imagine. You might say it’s a specialty of mine.”

“Tell me what your plan is and we can go from there.”

“Fine. This is a mining colony, not a military facility. That means we have a chance. Shut down the field, and I can reroute the systems to give us access to the landing bay. From there it’s a hop skip and jump to the hanger, and we can jump on the first ship we come to, and beat it out of here faster than you can say Ithorian Neck Brace.”

She looked at me. Then she stood up. “I trust you. If we can work together, we can get out of here.”

“Great.”

“Since we’ll be working together, how about a name?”

“Oh, sorry. Rand, Atton Rand. And you?”

She shut off the security field, and took my outstretched hand. “Marai.” Her grin grew feral. “Marai Devo.”

machievelli
08-03-2006, 03:10 PM
Peragus

Marai

I wished I had a holovid system right then. The look on his face when I gave my name was priceless.

“Uh, now we had better... You know...Get to the command console.”

“Right.” I walked to the door. then looked back. He was staring and not at my face. “Down boy.” I purred. “We have work to do.”

“Oh...Right.” He walked up until he was beside me, and we went to the com console. He slid into the chair as if he had been using it all day. “The system is set for automatic hail. You probably heard it on the way in. No one in his right mind tries to approach without notifying us. They need the drift charts.”

“The what?”

“Asteroid drift charts.” He waved toward the clearsteel panels. In the distance I could see hundreds, thousands of drifting asteroids. “It hasn’t been long enough for the asteroids to form a ring. Everything is in constant motion, and the main sensor array is designed to spot, analyze the drift, and report it constantly. Anything larger than a human body is too dangerous to approach if it’s got a pocket of gas. If you aren’t on maneuvering thrusters coming in, you might heat one up and set it off.

“Plus there are some pretty big puppies out there. Ones that would plow right through a Frigate and out the other side. So any ship approaching hears the hail. They send an acknowledgement and the system automatically updates the drift chart so they can maneuver.” He bent over the console.

“Thing is, the system is too user friendly. If you bounce a signal off an asteroid, it comes back as a ship approaching, and it sends... All right, I’m in. Now all we have to do is cancel the emergency lockdown, unlock the turbolift and...Crap.”

“What’s wrong?”

The system is severed from the main hub access. It wasn’t part of the accident either. Once it was set for remote access, someone cut it off with a laser.”

“Sabotage.”

“That’s my guess. Cutting access without blowing the console, that is definitely enemy action.”

“Is there anything we can do from here?”

“What? All we have in communications.”

“Can we contact the miners? They headed for the dormitory.”

“Let me see, we have what fifty a hundred miners over there that think of you as their next meal ticket. What is wrong with this picture?” He shook his head. “I think polite conversation is not going to do the job.”

I nodded. “Maybe there is someone else running around alive.”

He slid back, waving at the console be my guest. If you can find anyone who doesn’t want to kill us, who can help, let me know.”

I took the seat. I contacted the dorm first, but there was silence from there. The system said we were connected. I shifted, and checked the hanger bay. “This is the com center. Do you hear me?”

There was a sound. A whirring with whistling and clicks. After ten years of hearing it I knew that noise, and what it meant.

“Identify yourself.” I ordered. There was a long series of sounds. “All right T3. Do a full diagnostic and report.”

“You understand that?”

“A misspent youth.” I commented. Droid speak is just like any language. You just have to learn how to pay attention.

The answer came back. “Fine. Here’s the situation. We’re stuck on the administration level. All turbo lifts are locked down. Can you unlock them?” A long series of whistling and click with even a foghorn grunt in there. “All right then. Can you find us another way off the admin deck?”

The series was longer, convoluted, and for a droid almost obscene. I sighed. “T3, if you don’t do this, we will be trapped.” There was a resigned whistle.

“All right. Feed back all information to this console so we can keep track of your progress.” Another weary whistle.

We watched. The little droid went into the hanger control center. System damaged. It needed part to repair the console, and it didn’t have them. It went down into the mine and fuel center itself. There were droids trying to stop it, but it was a heroic little thing. It got the part and loaded up on hardware as it did. By the time it chugged it’s way back up the ramp it was the meanest little toaster on the planet.

Fix the console. Still no joy. The system had been rerouted to a fuel center console, and every connection severed. It went to the access door to the fuel center, fighting it’s way through everything. Damn, I was going to buy this little guy an oil bath! And I would polish his metal butt personally!

It reached the console, entered the code. I saw the emergency tunnel access to the mine flash open. Then suddenly, nothing.

At the same time up until that last point Atton had to talk. “So, how long have you been a Jedi? Must be tough. No family or husband...”

“As for no family I was a foundling. Some woman with more hormones than sense had me and dumped me at a med center in Cornet on Corellia. I spent three years in an orphanage before the Jedi found me.” I turned, and something in my gaze told him to shut up. “Any more questions?”

“Uh, no-”

The console bleeped, and I read the actions of our brave little assistant.

“T3.” I called. No response.

“Hey, the little cargo container came through.” Atton was glad for another subject of conversation. “If he got the turbolifts cleared.-”

“He didn’t.” I looked up at him. He had been babbling and obviously not paying attention. “The turbolifts were locked down manually. All he could do was unlock the emergency access tunnel to the mining tunnels.”

“Wait!” He waved his hands as if the world would stop and let him talk. “When I heard that explosion it must have been down there. There’s nothing but superheated rock and steam left down there!”

“Probably.” I stood up.

“And collapsed tunnels! Only an idiot would go down there right...” He saw the look on my face and shut up.

“Atton, unless you want to sit here and wait until we find out what our saboteur wants, someone has to go through that tunnel to another area of the base. Idiot or not, I guess I am it.”

“You’re out of your tiny little mind! Either you’re crazy or stupid or-or both!”

“And what else is new for one of the ‘riders of everyone else’s doom‘?” I asked.

His mouth snapped shut, and somewhere in that pile of jelly a spine emerged. “Then I’ll just have to make sure you live long enough to finish this damn argument!” He sat at the console, keyed some information in, and a com link dropped from a slot. “I’ll monitor your progress from up here. Be careful. As far as I can tell the only thing moving down there is droids. The com link will let me access any systems you happen to pass, and I can use them to track any dangers ahead. If it gets too bad, run back here.”

He looked at me, and suddenly blushed. “Not that I care what happens to you, but if you die down there I have to take that same walk.”

“Yeah, I can see your butt spreading across the chair.” I chided. I touched his shoulder, then gripped it firmly. “See you soon.”

I ran back down the hall toward med bay. I reached the tunnel, then something niggled at my mind. I ran on, back to med bay. Kreia was in a meditation seat, and I didn’t bother her. I went to the medical computer. When it came up to treatment, I was able to trace the order for the lethal drugs to console 34-103. It wasn’t on the admin deck. But if I used that console, I’d know it immediately.

Then I ran back to the emergency access, and rode the lift down. I stepped out in the mine entrance. There was a burr of static.

“Can you read me?” Atton’s voice sounded like he was halfway across the galaxy.

“Barely. There’s a lot of static down here.”

“There’s a lot of interference up here too. Probably caused by the explosion. Peragian fuel tends to leave microwave residue. Give me a moment. All right, reading from scanners. There looks like there is a clear route to the fuel depot if the tunnel in between haven‘t collapsed. a lot of the sensors are down.

“At the entry into the mine itself there should be an emergency equipment crate. Mainly it’s so that miners can get tools and things they should have brought down but forgot. That is ten meters ahead through the next door. Watch yourself. I am getting a lot of droid ID signatures down there. I’m going to check the main tunnel maps.”

“Do that. I‘ll be careful down here. If anything approaches, let me know.” I opened the door, and it was right where he had said. I opened the crate and went through the contents. I found a miner’s uniform and suddenly wondered who forgets his clothes on the way into a mine?

The seat and chest were too tight and the shoulders hung down like a demented stylist had made it. But it was warm and Atton wouldn’t be looking at me like that again...

Let me get this straight before we go any further. I was celibate for over 20 years. When I was exiled I... slipped. Humans seem to spend a lot of time thinking about sex, having sex, and having all sorts of angst about sex. One reason they are leery around us was the fact that we didn’t think about it or talk about it or-

-erase and correct. We did think and talk about it. Some of our late night bull sessions once we noticed the... differences in our fellow apprentices were down and dirty, even when it was all women... Especially when it was all women.

But part of our training was that focusing on one person other than ourselves means you lose focus on whatever mission you are on, or distracts you. A lot of the elders and Masters seem to think that sex would drag us all into the dark side of the force like a tractor beam.

Well I tried it. It was fun, and an interesting way to pass an afternoon or evening, but beyond that so what? It’s not like I had ever expected to exercise the option to have children. Can you honestly see a Jedi charging into a confrontation with a baby snug in it’s carrier on her hip?

And I found from my own observations that it isn’t the actual act that bothers the Masters. It is the emotions that go with it. Possessiveness, lust, jealousy. If they could have guaranteed that none of us would ever feel such things, we could have had all the ‘fun’ we wanted. Since some may have such problems, it had been decreed millennia ago that none of us can have the fun.

But as I said, why bother? I have met and bedded too many men that thought a kiss was a lifetime commitment. What do you think they feel about sex? I finally slipped back into celibacy not because I thought it was better, but merely to avoid the emotional entanglements.

But some men could start my sexual motor running just by existing.

Maybe this scoundrel Atton Rand was one of them? None of your business!

“All right, I have the entire tunnel system up. Did you find the supplies?”

“Yes. Someone might have forgotten their uniform. I found one here.”

“Damn!” I smiled. As much as he had complained about my ‘half naked interrogation, had he liked the view? “Uh, I mean good! Good to hear it. Don’t want you running around half naked. It’s distracting...I mean, the droids might...”

“Take a deep breath, calm down. If we had the time I’d suggest a nice long, ice cold shower.” I replied levelly.

“There should be a survey sensor there, and a safety harness. The miners wear them when they’re looking for new pockets of gas so they can stake a claim.”

I looked at the headset, sliding it on. On the small screen before my right eye I could see a series of markers. Some of them were red and pulsed. The harness went over the outside, and I tightened the straps. There were plates of some kind of armor.

“Got them.”

“The sensor detects not only pockets of gas, but also other miner claims, usually in green. Sonic charges register as red. The harness has acheonic plate armor that softens the impact of a sonic charge, but if you’re too close, it will still hurt or kill you.”

I picked up the last item. It looked like... “Atton, why is there a shield generator in here?”

“Mining shield. Part of the problem is someone might plant a charge to blow a new pocket open, and you have a sonic blast to deal with. Some idiots aren’t careful with their lasers either. It minimizes the damage when that happens.

“They’re not like the military jobs. They aren’t as efficient or as long lasting. It will minimize the damage if a droid decides to take a pot shot at you, but if you’re ambushed by a battalion of droids, it will give you a few seconds to come up with a plan beyond dying.”

“Good. Anything else?”

“Remember when I said ‘Battalion’ of Droids? From the readings I am getting, it looks like there that many down there with you. The good thing is their sensors register heat primarily. There is enough heated dust in the air that maybe you can sneak by them.”

“And if I can’t?”

“Get in close. These things aren’t combat models, so they don’t have the hardwired targeting systems. They can shoot you, but it’s like being shot at by a moisture farmer militia on their monthly practice rotation.

“But there has got to be a central control system down there. I think... Yes!” He gave me directions.

“Understood. Watch my back.”

“Will do”

*****

Moisture farmer militia.

That phrase had brought a lot of memories back.

When the Jedi arrived to assist we found out just how badly the Republic Military is run. First, there is no central organized military. Every planet had it’s own navy and army, standardization was a joke, and the command structure was so hopelessly overloaded with idiots punching their tickets for a high command that nothing can be done without force. Not the Force, I mean like using a hammer to pound it into some kind of shape.

A third of the fleet was sitting in various bases doing nothing because they were short on crews, or officers. Not that we didn’t have enough trained men, it was just say Kuati ships sat there because there weren’t enough Kuati to man them. That kind of thing.

Me, I’m a ground pounder at heart. I feel more comfortable facing an enemy at blade length than I do with blowing some anonymous figure half a kilometer away. Revan Malak and the others descended on the high command like the wrath of the gods while I looked at the Marine and Army situation.

It was as bad if not worse. Everyone was fighting in cohesive units of one planet, and one planet alone. When a unit was rotated out of combat it was supposed to be brought back up to strength, given time to reorganize, and sent back out. However if there is a kink in the pipeline, such as the personnel officer being an idiot, or some man with a General’s stars deciding he needed a unit and he remembered say the 101st Kuati Legion, he’d grab it and throw it into the mix. Never mind that the Regiment he wanted was now an under-strength Battalion with a third of it’s remaining personnel in hospital. That meant the idiot had sent in 400 men to do a job that you needed 1500 for.

The fault here is too many of these ‘generals’ had never fought a real battle. They had practiced in the simulators, where the ‘men’ are electronic figments that fight and die at your command like a chess board. Do you cry when you’re pawn get slaughtered? When they went into battle, they were moving pieces. Not real men getting killed, never hearing the screams of the dying and the moans of the wounded. The piece is destroyed, you thow it in the box and move another one.

Never mind that 1500 real men with real families, ideal and hopes had just been obliterated. The piece is gone, forget about it.

An ancient sage back when men still fought close enough to touch said it best. ‘You must love your army. But for it to fulfill it’s purpose, you must be willing to watch it bleed, die, and be destroyed’.

On the navy side it was even worse. Naval battles are almost always fought at one remove. The ships are what your are targetting, and a lot of times, they are just symbols on your tactical sensor board. A dot goes out, and you ignore the fact that a thousand men or more have just died. When your own ship gets hit, suddenly you see what it really is.

Back right before the war of Exar Kun, they had designed naval combat simulators that simulated everything. When your ship fired you felt the missiles going out. When your ship got hit, there was real damage that you saw. If the bridge got hit you had explosive decompression effects, people getting sucked out of the hole, the whole nine yards.

They stopped using them. Too frightening.

Go figure.

So I began reorganizing the forces. I was fighting three wars without even counting the Mandalorians. I had to fight with personnel. Sergeant X didn’t have all the brownie points he needs to make 1st sergeant. The fact that he was commanding the equivalent of a company, which should have had a Captain in charge was incidental to their equation. I had to fight with the different military formations. Men from the Coruscanti 1st Regiment, which was at that time barely a battalion could not be folded into the Corellian third Regiment which desperately needed that battalion to fill out their Table of Organization because the Corellians and the Coruscanti did things differently, and it would cause ‘problems’.

Heaven forbid that I would do what had to be done next, which is putting members of other races in the mix too!

I refused to countenance any argument. I beat on heads, screamed into view screens, and got my way by throwing a tantrum too large for the galaxy to hold. We were going on the offensive if I had to tie every man and woman in army uniform together with sticky tape and flex glue.

We spent the first month doing just that.

I found that some of the problems were real, but just because a problem exists, doesn’t mean you ignore it. The Aqualish had supplied the better part of a battalion of troops, but their training was... substandard. Having been a race that though a pointed stick was a good idea when they had been contacted, a little elan was expected, but they assumed that the only order they needed was ‘charge!’.

I dealt with this in my own way...

*****

Fifty Aqualish, half of one company were approaching where I hid in ambush with the other fifty. I nodded, and the ‘men’ with me opened fire. We were using training weapons, so while there was the noise of a lot of blasters cycling, the flashes of light simulating the blaster fire would set off sensors in uniforms below rather than kill anyone. If they hit, the uniform would stiffen, and the man would drop to the ground. What you are supposed to do is dive for cover, assess the situation, then attack, rolling up the enemy using fire and maneuver.

As I said, that is what you are supposed to do.

There are three types in a battle like this. The ones that dive for cover before they are hit, the ones that freeze for a fatal second or two, and the ones that charge screaming at the enemy.

I gave it five seconds. Then I tapped the siren, and everyone froze.

Droids rolled down. At each place where a man was, they placed a targeting sensor.

All one hundred of them now took positions up on that ridge line. “All right, one magazine, lock and load!“ I ordered. Each man picked up a Corellian designed blaster. I signalled the droids, and suddenly we could see the men, not just a fifty, but a hundred advancing.

“Fire!”

A hundred men poured fire into the battle field. Down below, the targeting sensors modified the scene.

But what the men shooting saw was different depending on what the man had done. If he dived for cover, and it was something that would soak up blaster fire the target was just something the size of their head. If it was down, but not behind some cover, it was head and shoulders. If it was one of the frozen ones (And the droids had recorded who had frozen if only for a second) it was a man sized target. The charging idiots got targets half again normal size.

Once the last round had gone downrange, the holograms froze. Every hit had been indexed by a red splotch. I stood up, and motioned for them to follow me. I pointed at a figure crouched behind a rock face. “Cover is important in battle. Notice that this man is not injured, even with almost a thousand rounds fired.” I walked to another. This one had ducked behind a bush. The first bolt had blown the bush into splinters. Half a dozen more showed as red marks on the chest and head. “If it doesn’t stop enemy fire, it isn’t cover.”

I walked over to a figure that was normal sized. A rash of hits had ripped off both legs, an arm and the head. “If you want to be a target, fine, you’ll get your chance. But targets stay on the battle field for graves registration to pick up and cart home. Your families get a nice letter that doesn’t end with ‘you were too damn stupid to duck.”

I had saved one of the berserkers for last. The system had automatically stopped them after the first hit, and this guy had gotten maybe three paces before he died. But a bigger target means more fire gets aimed at you. I looked at the target for a long time, then turned to the Aqualish. They were acting like a bunch of naughty children. I almost expected toes digging in the dirt. “If you want to be a hero, be one. But do it in someone else’s unit.

“You are not the 1st Aqualish ‘death dealers’ any more. You’re second battalion, 2nd Regiment, Corellian Marines. You will fight the way I tell you to or so help me by all the gods I’ll have you assigned to moisture farmer militia that needs target practice. As a target. Is that clear?”

There were no further serious problems.


The mine

Marai

I opened the door to the mine itself. As it was above, the tunnels had been shored up. I knew that any equipment they needed to install, they would have just pored out bigger holes for it.

“I’m picking up a lot of sonic mines laid ahead.”

“Why so many?”

“A lot of miners are lazy. Some of the regular droids have probably been reassigned as excavators. That means they put a larger carrying rack on them, and program them to place charges. Not supposed to be done, but there you go. what probably happened was whoever programmed them to go rogue had them mining access tunnels.”

I slipped past the droids where I could, fought them if I had to. I finally reach a section of tunnel that glowed red hot. “Atton, read the tunnel head.” I looked up at the markings painted on the rock. “Section Sigma Green Three Oh.”

“Don’t have a reading from that specific area. But the sensors on both ends read very high. Probably the explosion superheated the rock. The sensors are... fifty meter apart.”

“Any ideas?”

“That mining shield. If you run like hell, it should last long enough to get you through.”

“From your mouth to the gods’ ears.” I said. “Talk to you again in a moment.” I punched on the shield, feeling a temperature drop against my skin, and the crawling electricity of the field itself. I sprinted forward. A few seconds later just as it died I found myself in another tunnel complex. The air almost felt icy after the last run.

“I’m through.” Ahead of me was a large room with huge pumps surging. Peragian fuel was being sucked up from the tunnels inside electromagnetic fields. In the center was a control console, and I ran to it.

Yes. This controlled those safety fields. I check the listing, and found that it was an all or nothing option, I dropped them all, or none. I checked the map, and would have to run forward around one of the pump assemblies. I could drop it and have it up in about fifteen seconds.

I started to give the command, when I noticed that there was a security camera log for mining claim 12-34. I checked. That was a section that was at present disused. I tapped it.

On the screen, I could see three miners.

“What is it Coorta?” One of the men asked wearily. “We’re supposed to be sinking fuel siphons into 32-18 right this minute.”

Coorta looked like a brawler. Not too bright a one too from my estimation. “Forget the siphons, boys, we’ve hit pay dirt. Did you hear about the survivor they took off that freighter?” They looked at him blankly. “Kallio on Shift 2 said he recognized her from Malchior V.”

The third man shrugged. “Big deal. If she was at Malchior V she was a survivor. Maybe Mandalorian. So what?”

“No you morons. Kallio was with the 2nd Corellian Marines before they court martialed him. He said she was the General who commanded the 2nd.” He glared at their uncomprehending faces. “A Jedi.”

The first guy looked panicked. “A Jedi! We can’t let her walk around here! She’ll spot our operations and then we’re out of here with nothing to show for it!”

“Wait!” The second guy was thinking a little better. “I thought the Jedi blew themselves away during the Jedi Civil War! There aren’t any Jedi anymore.”

“Guess someone knew when to duck.” Coorta snarled. “But it isn’t all bad me lads. I contacted Nar Shaddaa. The bounty is still open. All we need to do is contact the Exchange.”

“The Exchange? You want to sell her to the Exchange? Have you been chewing the spice you were supposed to be selling?” Asked the panicked one.

“That Jedi is our ticket off this rock and into a life of leisure.” Coorta pressed. “That bounty will set us all up for life.”

“The officers won’t let it happen.” The calm one said. “They’ll put her in protective custody if necessary.”

“So we have to improvise-”

The recording ended. Odd, there was mention of which camera had recorded the conversation. I tapped the control dropping the safety field.

I ducked, and the laser that would have cut my spine slashed into the console. It fried as I turned, drawing the mining laser I had picked up. One shot blew the weapons mount off the droid, the next two shattered the carapace as the motivator I hit exploded. Alarms went off.

“Marai, what did you do?” Atton screamed.

“What now?” I screamed back.

“The safety fields went down, and if they’re not up in thirty seconds, it’s going to blow down there!”

“I can’t put it back up. The control console took a hit.”

“All right, all right. Run like hell to the fuel depot door. It’s only about fifty a hundred meters ahead. I’m locking down the emergency access tunnel and the direct turbo lift to admin. That should keep this area safe. Now run!”

I ran. Behind me I could hear metal sheering, alarms wailing. Ahead of me I found the lift, leaped in and slammed the control. It shout upward and deep below me I could hear a rumbling that went on and on. The door opened, and I leaped out. The door slammed closed an instant later bowed as if a giant had slammed it with a hammer. Smoke puffed out through the joints.

I lay there, gasping. Then I looked up. Ahead of me about five meters was a horribly burned body of a man

“Atton.” I called. No reply. I called again, just static. Maybe the comlink was damaged, or blocked by this last explosion. Maybe... No. I would not assume he was dead.

I stood, brushing myself off. Why do people do that? You just went through hell, your clothes are probably rags or filthy, but you brush them with your hands as if that makes it all better.

I felt a presence, and turned, the sword coming up. I could feel the constellation of a droid’s system on the other side of that wall. It moved forward, turning it’s red photoreceptors toward me.

“Greeting: It is a pleasure to see you alive, Master. Assuming that it is you and my photoreceptors are not out of alignment again. How may I be of assistance?”

The_Catto
08-04-2006, 07:18 AM
Great work, i enjoyed it immensely.

machievelli
08-04-2006, 10:08 AM
Fuel Depot

Marai

“Master? How do you know me?”

The droid stepped forward. I recognized it as an HK series 50. Systech had made a lot of them, and we’d used their Series 46 and 47s in combat because they were so easy to modify. By beefing up the armor and installing targeting hardware with larger power buses they were dangerous opponents.

But the HK50s were new. Not made for combat. Systech had sold them as protocol droids. I for one remember seeing them rampage in battle. If one came up behind me, I didn’t expect him to be carrying canapes.

“Answer: I am a survivor of the Harbinger as are you, Master. With the unexpected termination of previous master and his crew, you are the only life form that I can call master until I am reassigned.”

“Who was your master?”

“Why anyone in the Harbinger crew of course, Master. However I was supposed to obey the Captain above all. However like yourself I was merely a passenger enroute to Telos. When we arrived I was supposed to be assigned to the Telosian Security Forces and turn my efforts to terminating hostilities.”

Terminating hostilities. The way the older HKs dealt with that was terminating the hostiles. “What happened aboard the Harbinger”

“Irritated answer: Oh master it is a long and rather dull story. Not terribly relevant to our present circumstance. I am sure you do not wish a drawn out repetition of which droids I had to communicate with or which officer wanted what food served.”

Alarms were going off in my head. A standard protocol droid is a motor mouth. It isn’t getting them to talk that is the problem, it’s getting them to shut up. This one was so laconic I could see it not speaking for hours, even days. That with the fact that it was an HK model did not make me feel any happier.

“Stay here. I am going to check out this section.”

“Amazement: Master, I must protest. I am the droid, and my life is not worth yours. Why not rest after your harrowing trials, and I will investigate.”

“No. Stay here. That’s an order.”

“Weary resignation: I will comply.”

I walked out of the room, and once i was out of sight, I shivered. The last thing I remembered aboard Harbinger had been glowing red eyes and being carried. A human-formed droid can carry a person easily. Maybe I was jumping at shadows, but the idea that this thing had been aboard Harbinger sent chills up and down my spine.

The next room was a workshop, and I saw that the droid maintenance officer had been meticulous and almost anal retentive in his care for his tools and charges. One thing I found that was odd was a sonic imprint sensor. If he had not been a maintenance tech or a locksmith, I would have thought that maybe he was a thief. A sonic sensor can record, splice, and replay voice communications. It’s great for breaking voice printed locks because if the person makes the standard newbie mistake and uses something common, it can be captured and the person with the sensor can bypass the lock. There was a data pad, and I read it. He had been intending to upgrade the droids to act on voice commands. A good idea, because from what I saw, they really needed it. No more droid control keypads, just tell it, and it does it. And if something goes wrong, the droid can tell you what went wrong.

I went to the door into the complex, and opened it. I heard the rattle of advancing droids, and destroyed them. There was a force field between the main fuel section and the droid maintenance section. I had no clue where it had been activated from, so I couldn’t bypass it. At the other end was a door, and as I approached I saw some other droids. There were newer, human-form droids. Still they still didn’t have the systems for combat.

I found the maintenance office and logged in. The one thing I immediately noticed was that it was this console that had sent that murderous medical order. So the man that had tried to kill me was dead.

No wait. It didn’t have to be a man. A console can be accessed by a droid. Either with an access arm, or by using the keyboard like a human form might. All I knew for use was they had used this console. I found a series of logs.

A hologram flashed into view, and I recognized the dead man from the next room. He was younger than I had thought. If he was twenty I would eat the console without salt.

“What did Wansir do when he was in charge? These droids were ten years out of date when they were sent here. They need upgrades so badly it’s almost less expensive to buy new ones! I did push that through at least. The Mark 7s began to arrive a week after I did.

“Finished the sonic imprint sensor prototype for the mining droids. That will allow me to adjust their programming every time the mining specifications changed without having to call the lot of them in and doing it manually. I know it’s just sticking in a code spike, but try doing it two hundred times a day, then having to do it again a week later.

“Haven’t installed or built more yet. I wanted to try recording and playing back simple voice commands first.”

There was a log labeled Ebon Hawk Droids. I hit it.

“Finished my examination of the droids from the Ebon Hawk. One was an F3 model, but it’s so badly damaged all they can do it rip it apart for spares. Since we don’t have any F3s here, we’ll have to send it to Telos.

“The T3 seems to have shut itself down. I think it might have voice recognitions software or something. Nothing we say will get it activate, and if you simply switch it on it looks around, then shuts itself off again.

“That damn protocol droid has made up for both of them, though. It spent over an hour asking me about the station, personnel, systems. Everything it would have to know to do it’s job efficiently. I finally just plugged it into the mainframe, and five minutes later it had it all.

“But you know how droids are. If they don’t feel useful the damn things sulk. I found out it could speak the languages of our droids, especially their behavioral cores, and I have been using it here to assist in repairs. It has a delicate touch too. I may be out of a job if Admin finds out.

“Having some problems with the droids. Mainly it looks like someone might have eased the safety restriction yet again. I think if we all die because some idiot wanted to cut corners with safety they’d still say it was my fault.”

Another log.

“I have been speaking to the protocol droid about the survivor. He tells me she’s a Jedi... But I thought all the Jedi got killed during the Jedi Civil War. He told me that she is the only Jedi he has verified in years, and was a veteran of the Mandalorian Wars.

“That brings back memories of mom telling me to be good or the Mandalorians would get me.” He chuckled. “But if she is a veteran of the Mandalorian wars, maybe she know where Revan went to?

Another log.

“Too busy to make regular log entries as much as Admin wants to gripe about it. Between the Jedi arriving, Coorta and his men pushing to sell her off to the Exchange and accidents that have suddenly started to happen, I’ve been wishing mom had twins.

“Coorta tried to get me on board. Seems the Exchange has offered the largest bounty ever offer in the Galaxy for a live Jedi. All you have to do is get them to Nar Shaddaa alive.

“The man is an idiot. First, we’re under contract to the Republic for the Telos Reclamation project. I for one do not want to spend the next two decades in jail because I violated the Anti slavery laws! Besides. I think of that face when she was brought out of the ship. She may maybe almost old enough to be my mother, but that doesn’t mean she isn’t attractive. To think of that face under some mob boss' thumb.” He shivered.

“The protocol droid overhead the conversation and expressed concern. I told him not to worry. Between the officers and Security, Coorta will find himself sucking vacuum if he pushes it.”

Another log.

“I don’t know who was more surprised than I was. The maintenance droids in the hanger bay had begun repairing the ship. In fact they had almost been done before anyone really noticed. After all, how often do you watch a droid to make sure it’s doing what it is supposed to?

“But the dock officer came up screaming because the repairs are coming from his stores and budget, and he wanted to know who authorized the repairs. We checked, but there is no record that anyone gave the orders.

“I installed a voiceprint ID on the droid control console, and notified Admin and security as required. If anyone tries to give the droids orders without going through this console, we’ll know immediately. Security has set a tap that will automatically record the voice of whoever does, and Brenner is thinking about building a clearsteel box and suspending them outside for the duration of the sentence.”

Another log.

“This is the third maintenance check I have done in two days and I still can’t find the problem. Security was up my rear demanding that I do something, but the problem has me stumped.

“These are not combat units, they're miners. Sure they can use a laser on a man instead of a gas pocket, but they don’t have the targeting software a combat unit would have. Even if they did they can’t hit the broadside of a barn except at close range.

“I wonder... Maybe someone staged the first problems with them just to have them brought into maintenance to be checked? Sure they could have put a virus in the diagnostic software, made the droids consider us a pocket of mobile gas to mine. But I went through the diagnostic software line by line, and didn’t find anything. Besides, if someone had done that without upgrading their targeting software it would have frozen them in their tracks.

“The more I say it can’t be, maybe Security is right. We might have a saboteur on the station.”

I looked at the screen for a long time. Everything bad that had happened had begun when I arrived. It was all linked to me, and for the life of me I didn’t know why. I tried to access the com system, but the console had been surgically altered as had the one in admin. I checked the cameras, and found a turbolift access for admin, the fueling outflow tube, with what looked like a droid sitting forlorn, and an airlock! I called up the schematics of the station, and there was an access way from where I was to the dormitories. If anyone was still alive, they were trapped there.

I went to the airlock, but it refused to open. I cursed, and I saw a light come on the keypad. VOICE PRINT ID IN USE. ACCESS DENIED.

Crap. The one that had made that voice print was in the other room dead. I couldn’t very well...

I pulled out the voice print sensor. As I had mentioned, they are a common tool among thieves, because if the person made a mistake and used common phrases...

I walked back into the room where the HK still stood. “I saw a droid in the fuel outflow line-”

“Query: How is it possible that a droid would be dumped down there? It is possible that it ran afoul of one of the malfunctioning droids on the station as was rendered inoperable. It is too bad there is no way to reach it from here, Master. If there were, you could determine what had occurred.”

I sighed. “I am trying to reach the hanger bay.”

“Pitying answer: That is too bad, Master. The hanger bays are sealed with containment fields, and the only three people that might know the access codes are the Administration officer, the Docking bay officer, and the Security chief. According to what I have been able to ascertain, they are all either in the dormitory, or are known dead.”

“I tried to contact the dormitory from the Administration center, but there was no reply.”

“Tragic Apology: Perhaps that is for the best, master. After all, if there had been further accidents in that section of the station I would have had the satisfaction to record their last moments of fear and terror.”

I looked at it calmly. “Is there another way to reach the dormitory from inside the station?”

“Thoughtful consideration: The entry way from the turbolift from the base itself has been sealed, and cannot be opened from here. Theory: However if someone were to open the airlock and transit across the asteroid surface, they could reach the outer airlock. But that route is dangerous, and I would not wish to see you injured. However the point is moot. The Maintenance officer sealed the airlock in the belief that the miners might attempt to attack him here. He did so with a voice print ID.”

“Where can I find the code he used?”

“Informative answer: Oh I have the code, but it would be of little use to you, Master. In the last few days the Maintenance officer became almost paranoid. He voice printed the airlock and droid control panel. However he suffered the same fate as the others.

“Informative answer: If you wish you may try the code yourself, master. It is ‘Maintenance control: Voiceprint access: R1B5’. However without his own voice to operate it, the code is, as I have already informed you, useless.”

“Maybe he is still alive.” I knew very well where he was, but acting stupid can be very useful. Already I had the words that needed to be said.

“Answer: The corporeal remains of the maintenance officer lie on the floor to your left, master. I was present when he was attacked, and he was far too incoherent from pain to have any meaningful communications. I recorded his dying screams in the event that I could deliver them to any next of kin.”

“You recorded his last screams?”

“Recitation: Of course I did. In a battle all information is recorded for later recovery. His last words were-” Sudden I heard the man, talking frantically. “Locking down systems. Wait. Five droids, burning through the outer door...forcing their way into the bay...please someone! They...Oh no, they’re through! Aiee! My leg! They’ve burned through my leg! Stop please stop-”

“End recitation.” I snapped.

“Apology: Sorry Master. The record goes on for one minute twenty seconds as the droids seared every exposed bit of flesh. It varied in harmonics and decibel levels from frenzied screams to gibbering, inarticulate attempts begging to spare his life, and references to his parents, whom he hoped might render assistance-”

“Stop.” I stepped closer. “You can duplicate his voice. Why can’t you speak the access code?”

“Strenuous objection: Master to commit such an act would be a violation of the ethical codes all droids are believed to have hardwired into them. I am afraid to state that I am unable to violate my own programming.”

“Then stick with your programming. I am going up and see if I can find another way.”

“Satisfaction: Keeping you safe is my primary objective.”

I turned, walking back to the maintenance control console. I pulled out the sonic sensor unit, and checked it. I had some of the words.

I knew where I could get the rest.

*****

Atton started to stand, but I waved him back to his seat. I went first to the security office. I captured some of the words there as well, but not all of them. I gained the rest by checking the maintenance logs that the Administrator kept in his office. I saw what the dead man had meant. Every day, a report. Not twice a day, not once every other day. Report on desk or the Administrator called down and gave him hell.

I informed Atton of what had occurred. He looked as if he wanted to make me stay there, but I was the one those men had died for, and I had to find out what else had gone on. If one of them was still alive it’s my soul that would bear the burden.

*****

I went back to maintenance, and tried the spliced tape. The door hissed open, and I ran in. There was a space suit in a locker, and I pulled it on.

“Query:” Came through the speaker in the airlock. “What are you doing master?”

“Just going for a walk.” I hit the cycle button as I spoke. Once the air was sucked out of the airlock nothing smaller than a ship would open it from the inside. The outer door opened, and I stepped out onto the catwalk.


Dormitory

Marai

I always liked EVAs. Flitting through space like a sentient planet, sliding along the flank of a ship- I ducked a piece a rock the size of my head which richocheted off the decking behind me, off the force fields that kept people from falling off, then back into space. Maybe I should concentrate on what I was doing. I started a long slow lope along the ramp, up to the main catwalk.

“Marai? I just picked up your com link again. The entire maintenance section is blank. Maybe the explosion. But... This can’t be right. It reads like you’re outside!”

I was at the view panels of the admin deck, and I could see him at the com console.

“That’s because I am, you twit.” I waved at him. “I had to check the Dormitories and this is the only clear path.”

“Mother of-” He began working at the console. “Strange. All of the emergency vents have opened. There hot Peragian fuel being vented in your path.”

I knew why. But I didn’t tell him. “Can you shut it down?”

“Remember, nothing but communications? I can’t stop it.” There was a long pause. “It’s like someone is trying to stop you.”

“Someone is. I’ll be back with you in a few-”

“What now?” He interrupted.

“Atton...”

“We just got hailed by a ship approaching us. I’ve got a bad feeling about this...”

I turned. You usually don’t see a ship up close from the outside, unless you work in a shipyard. It was like watching a shark slowly swim by, wondering if you’re edible or not.

It stretched back... back... 500 meters of the most modern Frigate the Republic possessed. My heart leaped for joy, then the joy turned to ashes. In letters three meters tall along her flank was her name.

Harbinger.

Part of me knew I was being rescued. But the Jedi senses I thought I had lost was telling me to run like hell while I had the chance. It might be a Republic ship. But those in control were no friends of mine.

I ran forward. I passed through a gas flume, and the suit diagnostics wailed. The suit had been holed. I only had seconds!

I dived into the airlock at the dormitory, slamming the door and hitting the cycle. A good thing someone paranoid hadn’t jammed the inner door open. Some paranoid fool had done just that to the outer door back at maintenance.

Oh wait, that was me wasn’t it? But you’re not paranoid if they’re out to get you.

The inner door opened, and I stripped out of the suit. Hopefully there was a way back into the base from here. I didn’t have the half an hour I would need to find the leak and fix the suit.

Nothing but dead bodies and more droids. I found the mess hall, and there was a turbolift there. But I hadn’t checked the dormitories yet.

I ended the lockdown, and opened the main door. But something told me to check the internal monitor camera first. The dorms were full of a smoky gas I knew was probably toxic. I vented it into space, then sealed the ventilation system, filling the rooms from emergency stores. Then I walked back into horror.

They were dead. They were all dead. I found logs. The Admin officer, the docking officer. They had been trying to survive right up until the very end. Coorta had not been in the dormitories according to the one security officer that had lived to reach this point.

They had been discussing trying to contact me when suddenly the vents began to spray poison into the rooms. The med tech had commented that the ventilation system had been compromised. Here was proof.

I stormed off the dormitory section, and to the turbolift. When the damn thing wouldn’t open, I shorted out the console. If that happened, the computer read it as an emergency, and the turbolift automatically opened.

Kreia was standing outside the door when I stepped out.


Peragus

Kreia

When a Jedi chooses her path, the training changes. Sentinels are trained to be listeners, to discern every nuance, see through every subterfuge. They seek for that which others wish hidden, and they find it.

A Consular learns more about social interactions. How to judge the best way to convince someone of the validity of another path. They are the negotiators who try to end any conflict before it can begin.

But when all else fails, there is the Jedi Guardian.

The Guardian is the warrior of the Jedi. Not that the others cannot fight and defend themselves. The Guardians are merely the one trained exhaustively to fight in whatever manner they deem fit. They are pit-wolves trained to track hunt and kill the enemy, but that is balanced by a strong sense of justice and what is right. A Jedi will go through all the hells man has ever imagined if doing so would save a life. A Jedi Guardian would hunt an enemy through all those hells if there were the minutest chance that he would escape. They save more lives by eliminating such enemies than most people might imagine.

But I must give you the idea that a Guardian is some kind of monster. They are not. It is just that some people are people only in outward appearance. They are monsters within, and the worlds are better for their leaving us.

She was no longer the prickly unsure woman I had met mere hours ago. The woman that stormed toward me was the epitome of Jedi Guardian Wrath. She knew who her enemy was, or so she thought. She would deal with him before we went on if I did not stop here.

“I have felt a disturbance in the force. Our enemy is here. we must leave at once.”

“Enemy.” I could tell from the roil of emotions that she was being polite more from habit that any real desire to be polite.

“The one that almost destroyed the Ebon Hawk in my attempt to rescue you. He is here, and if we do not flee this instant he will not let us fly without blood being shed.”

“Who follows us.” Her gaze was sharp. “You know who it is-”

“It would take too long to explain! We must get to the docking bay before the ship opens it’s locks, or we are doomed! If we cannot board the Ebon Hawk, we must find somewhere to hide aboard that ship that just arrived.”

She nodded sharply. She picked up another sword from a body, and flipped it toward me. “We have to get one more person, and we’re out of here.”

“Who?”

“A friend.”

*****
We reached the Admin center, a young man with flyaway black hair saw her, then looked at me. “What Do Jedi have their own special way of breeding? You leave and now there’s two?”

“We don’t have time.” She pulled a blaster out of a punch on her side. “You’ll need this.”

He looked out the view panels, then at us. “So I’m guessing a Republic frigate is not what you guys expected?”

“I hope your talent for understatement is offset by your skill with a blaster or our brief acquaintance will be even more so.” I snarled.

“I’m good with a blaster. I can even put on my clothes by myself, Your Majesty.” He snapped back. “Besides, they may not be your friends, but that ship is the only way off this rock I have seen so far. Good thing we have a straight run aboard-”

He stopped. A droid was walking toward us. Flanking it were four maintenance remotes. I could detect overpowered systems aboard them. They were not going to just float there, they had been primed to attack us. The droid stopped, shaking it’s head.

“Mild threat: Master perhaps I did not enunciate my suggestions clearly when we spoke. I suggested you shut down, stay put, and await our rescue.”

Marai stepped forward. I felt a rush a combined joy and fury. This is who she wished to kill, and she had worried that he might escape. “Tell me HK. Why did you have to murder every person on this station?”

“Correction: First there are two people with you, so I did not murder 'every' person. Second, murder is defined as the unlawful taking of a life. When the miners became a threat to my mission, I had to terminate their hostile actions in the most efficient manner. If anything I am guilty of self defense.”

“Spare me your hypocritical tripe! You programmed the droids to attack the miners, and when the Maintenance officer put a voiceprint ID on the system you imitated his voice to continue.

“You murdered everyone and I want to know why!”

“Indignant denial: Master the miners were intending to sell you to the Exchange. I was protecting your life.”

“So you did what, program the droids to think that humans were something to mine for gas?”

“Delight: Yes Master. So good of you have figured it out.”

“The Maintenance head figured it out. Only he did too late.”

“Since the other crew would have tried to resist if the reason for the deaths of the miners was known, a flawlessly arranged set of explosions was all I needed to herd them all into the dormitories where as painlessly as possible I could end their lives. One of the miners in the Kolto tanks was a conspirator but I was not informed which tank held him, or you. Therefore I used the expedient of administering a dose of sedatives I knew would not kill you but would be lethal to them.

“However my calculations were incorrect on how long you would sleep. Easily corrected once I have put you back into the tank.”

“Why?” She demanded. “What made my worth enough alive that you were willing to kill what, a hundred people?”

“Correction: One hundred and seventeen. It is beyond the scope of my programming to determine the reason a client sets the restrictions they do. Suffice to say that you were a difficult and amusing quarry. I searched for quite a time.

“You wandered the galaxy for quite a time. Almost randomly. As if you knew there would be those on your trail. Was it someone like me you feared? Or perhaps the Jedi you betrayed?”

She leaped forward. I leaped at the remote on the left, the young man targeted the one on the far right, and we worked inward.

But the time we were ready to help her, Marai was standing over the destroyed droid. She reached down, ripping out it’s vocabulator.

“I betrayed no one.” She turned, and her eyes stopped at me, then went to the man. “Let’s go.”

The_Catto
08-04-2006, 10:50 AM
Another great chapter Mach, waiting to read more.

machievelli
08-04-2006, 05:05 PM
Harbinger

Marai

As we charged onto Harbinger I expect a watch officer. Maybe the two Intelligence officers. I wouldn’t have been surprised by the Master at Arms and a couple of his beefy boys, or even a Marine Strike team.

What I got was eerie silence. Every system was running, but...

Kreia put it into words. “There is something wrong...I sense no one aboard.”

She was right. I reached out with that newly rediscovered Jedi sense, and there was only death aboard.

“Everyone had been slain. But there is no sign of battle damage. No carbon scoring, or blaster fire. Whatever killed these men did is swiftly, and silently.”

“Then what are we doing here?” Atton blurted out. “It’s safer on the station!” He looked at both of us with helpless fury. “Jedi? You two couldn’t ‘Jedi sense’ your way into a cantina!”

“Calm down Atton.” I said soothingly. “We need a plan not recriminations.”

“If the assassin machine was correct, we cannot reach the hanger bay. Be silent, I must think.”

“I have the way.” I said. “When the ship docked, a pipe came out at the stern too. The system would have automatically tried to load fuel.”

Kreia looked at me. “The fuel pipe leads back into the fuel depot...”

“And there has to be access from that pipe to part of the station we need to get to...”

“Hold on!” Atton was almost screaming. “You want to run down a pipe full of hot fuel? Tell me you’re joking!”

“The system would need someone to tell it to begin pumping, Atton.” I soothed. “The pipe should be empty.”

“Hey I don’t want to rain on everyone’s thought parade here, but even if we can get through that pipe what about the drift charts? Without them we’ll blow ourselves to hell or be smashed!”

I looked at him. “How did this ship dock here then?”

“Oh of course they have transmitted a copy.”

“Is that a problem from where we are standing?”

“Damnit!” He paused, thoughtful. “Come to think of it, no. All we have to do is find the bridge of this puppy, and download them onto a pad.”

“Good.” I pointed languidly. “That way.”

I led the way. We reached the bridge, stepping over the bodies. No one had been cut or shot that I could see. Everyone had been killed swiftly and efficiently with some blunt weapon, or fist strikes. Atton hurried to the navi-computer, grumbling as he rerouted around damage. Then he slapped his hands down. “Yes, I’m in. Downloading the drift charts-”

“Are their log entries?” I asked?”

“Do we have the time?” He asked sarcastically.

“No.” I handed him a pad. “Download everything from the past week, visual instead of holo. The Republic needs to know that one of their ships has gone rogue.”

He shrugged, downloading them. I pocketed the pad, and we ran. We picked up anything useful on the way. I found a briefing room, and again, downloaded everything from the week previous.

As I was coming out, I turned, my blade punching into a shadow in the corner. A man appeared, clutching at my hand as he fell. Others came literally from the woodwork. There were three more, and we dealt with them swiftly. Hopefully we had done so before the could contact anyone else. Only speed would keep us alive.

We ran down, and as we started through the crew’s quarters, I stopped, staring at a door.

“We do not have time for sightseeing.” Kreia growled at me.

“This was my room.”

“Your room?” Atton asked.

“I was on Harbinger before I ended up on Peragus.” I told him.

Kreia sighed. “We do not have time for lollygagging. Gather what you must, but hurry!”

I dreaded it, but my hand had already touched the lock plate. The door hissed open.

Except for the dead body laying on the floor it looked the same. The quiet smiling Intelligence man was dead. His head had been spun completely around. The HK had done that, I am sure. I walked past him, opening the footlocker.

Mementos, our past that we carry in physical form. That is what I found. One thing struck me as odd, piercing the heart I hadn’t been sure I even had.

My robes. Why had I kept my Jedi robes? I pulled them out with a trembling hand, and found myself crying. Over 20 years of my life had been spent earning them, a third of my life denied them. Why had I held on to such pain?

I wiped my eyes with them, stuffing them in a bag. As I did a pad fell out of them. I lifted it, keying the screen.

MARAI DEVOS; DUE TO PROBLEMS WITH YOUR IMMUNIZATION RECORD IT IS REQUESTED AND REQUIRED THAT YOU GO TO SICKBAY TO GET BOOSTER IMMUNIZATIONS;

THIS WILL NOT TAKE LONG. MERELY INSERT PAD AND INJECTIONS WILL BE GIVEN AUTOMATICALLY.

MEDICAL OFFICER.

I remembered it. I had found the pad in my room the same day I had come aboard. The one thing I have always loathed is medical officers and their preemptory commands. The wording ‘requested and required’ had struck me as odd because it is the wording usually used for an officer taking command of a unit or ship.

Besides I didn’t give a damn how out of date their records were. If you travel on a liner like I did for almost two years getting boosters is automatic. I hadn’t gone to med bay because I knew my shots record was up to date.

I stuck it in my pocket.

I stepped out into the passageway, and we continued. We reached a passageway with three door to choose from. One led into medical, the other two at the ends of the hall had been magnetically sealed door, Sighing, I went into medical. There was a console, and out of curiosity, I inserted the pad, asking for a patient report

PATIENT; MARAI DEVOS.

TREATMENT SCHEDULED; 1

TREATMENT GIVEN: NONE

MEDICAL NOTE: SUBJECT HAS SHOWN SEVERE ALLERGIC REACTION TO IRIDIAN PLAGUE VACCINE. IF AFFECTED, PROPER PROCEDURE IS TO PLACE IN KOLTO TANK

Wait a minute. The only thing I was allergic to was Sharidian Beets!

I checked the medicine to be delivered. The same 40mg of irdanrizine the damn droid had used on Peragus. One tank had been earmarked for me, and with dawning suspiscion, I checked the tank settings. It had been set to monitor my condition and one thing it was monitoring was the level of irdanrizine It would maintain at not less than 22 milligrams until the system shut down. He couldn’t do the same thing on Peragus. A tank has to be set for whoever is going in, and while you can administer meds, you have to reset the treatment manually and that meant dumping the tank and starting over. Without the Doctor’s keypad he had to hope that what he had done would be sufficient on Peragus.

I checked, and the doctor also had logs. I downloaded them and we moved on.

We found the access hatch to engineering, and went through. The hatch directly ahead lead to the ion engines, and we ran that way.

“I have a bad feeling about this.” Atton whispered.

“What do you mean?” I asked. Something was wrong, and I could feel it, but how did he?

“Can’t you feel it?” He asked. Something is going wrong fast and if we don’t move we’re dead!”

“But how do you-”

“Listen, you don’t survive on the Rim without knowing when it falls in the pot! I can feel when it’s going to hell, and the fact that I’m still alive proves I’m right more often than not.”

I looked at that face, then nodded. “We will be careful, but we have to hurry. Unless you want to just lock yourself in another cell.”

“Don’t say I didn’t warn you. When it comes to staying alive I’ve learned to trust this feeling.”


I had just opened it and stepped through when I felt a wave of such cold that I found I had spun, sword at guard, and stared back.

Someone had stepped through behind us, and was standing there, looking around as if he were blind. His body was a mass of scars, as if he had been disassembled, put back together, then taken apart again because the one doing it had been unsatisfied. One eye was a milky orb, the other brown.

Kreia stepped forward, hand on my arm. “You are not ready to face this. He is steeped in evil, and blinded to everything but power now. But he cannot kill what he cannot see. Both of you flee while you can.” She stepped through the door, shutting it.

I tried the lock, but it wouldn’t open. Atton caught my arm. “Hey this is your plan, come on!”

Harbinger

Kreia

I held the sword at guard. Kielan approached. I slid silently to the right, circling into one of the offshoot passageways.

He stopped, looking around as if his eyes still worked. “I feel you, my old Master. Feel you in the only way I can now.” He looked puzzled. “But it is faint...Weak.”

“Your senses betray you Kielan. As you betrayed me.”

“I am no longer Kielan. I am Darth Sion now. After all that is happened, you still live.” There was a touch of exasperated admiration in his voice. “You are like an insect. So hard to kill.”

“For one so limited as you, perhaps.” I moved to my left. He turned to face where my voice had been. “To have fallen so far, yet have learned nothing from that fall. That is your failing, my apprentice.”

“The failing is yours, my master. I no longer have your mental fingers riffling through my brain. No longer hear your whispers in my skull. No longer do I learn teachings that weaken and degrade us.

“Yet as wise as you think yourself, you did exactly what I had anticipated. You ran in search of Jedi. They are all dead you old fool!” He roared. Then his voice dropped to a whisper. “And the one broken Jedi you have found will not stop the darkness that will enfold the Galaxy in night forever.”

“Perhaps.” I admitted. We shall see.” I moved back to where I had first stood. He had turned, giving me his back. I raised the sword-

Harbinger

Atton

We ran into the engine control room, and found the main ion engine controls. The panel had been damaged, but I rewired it. I checked, and the entry into the engine space itself was closed. If they hadn’t been, of course, we were already dead.

Ion engine release pulses of energy as they strip the ions out of the fuel. Something like 99.44% gets shunted down the coils for thrust. But it’s that pesky .66% or so that is dangerous. The electromagnetic pulse of fuel going from gas to explosion to ions sends bursts of radiation that will fry your brain. Oh not quickly, but still seeing men in med bays that can’t remember to even feed themselves because they got a ten minute dose will make you swear never to do what we were about to do.

I opened the access tunnel into the engine space. We ran down the passageway to the final door. I looked at Marai. “Last chance. If the fuel is pumping, we’ll be deep fried and served up on a bed of rice.”

“We’re out of options. unless you want to go back that way.”

“Past sleeps with vibroblades? Do I look stupid? No- don‘t answer that.” I keyed the access to the fuel tank. We climbed down the ladder, headed toward the fueling access tunnel.

Suddenly Marai choked back a shriek of pain, clutching her left wrist.

“What’s wrong?” She just held her wrist, gasping as if in agony. I grabbed her arm. “Damnit we have to move! Don‘t flake on me now!”

“My hand.” She gasped. “It feels like it was dipped in raw plasma!”

“You look fine.” I didn’t know what was happening, but the clock was ticking and radiation was sleeting. “Unless you want to have someone changing your diapers for the rest of your life I’d say move!”

She shook her head, and we stumbled on. A few moments later she was all right.

The tube was big enough to stand in, and thankfully, empty. We ran down it. There was an access panel ahead, and I could see something waiting for us. My blaster was coming up as she caught my hand. “No, wait.”

She walked forward, kneeling beside what looked like a T3 unit. She reached in, felt around, and there was a click. It’s flat cylinder head spun, and he bleeped at her.

“Yes I know about the maniac protocol droid. We’ve already dealt with him. How are you?”

It bleeped and burbled for a moment. “When we have time I owe you an oil bath and some maintenance. Don’t blame yourself. If it wasn’t for you we’d still be on the Admin level.” She touched her lips with a finger, then transferred the kiss to the droid’s top. “Our hero.”

Suddenly I felt a surge of jealously. Hadn’t I done a lot to keep us alive? But she gives a damn pile of circuits a kiss and not me! “I really hate to break up the romantic love scene, but can we get a move on?”

She looked at me, and the twinkle in her eye let me know loud and clear that she had sensed my jealousy, which caused me to blush.

The droid opened the door, and we found that the HK still had minions. But as I had told her, and she seemed to automatically know, they couldn’t hit a fast moving target, and none of us was moving slow. We waxed their butts. We reached the console, but it refused to open. The droid rolled down to a fuel line from the tanks, and opened the door. It bleeped an clicked.

“Clever.” She murmured.

“What?”

“The droids planted seismic charges surrounded with small amounts of fuel by the emergency sensors. It detected a fuel leak, and sealed the way out.” She motioned toward a shimmering force field above us. “If someone figured it out, and tried to move the fuel, it would set off the mines and blow real holes in the tank there.” Again she motioned. There was another bleeping tirade, and she turned to the console. Above us the field died. “That got it, T3. Move your round little end, we’re leaving.”

What about my tight little end? I wanted to ask.

We fought our way into the upper halls, and finally we reached the hanger control room. I ran across, but the door didn’t open. “The door’s magnetically sealed!” I wailed.

The droid began it’s little song again.

“The console?” She looked around. Once you’ve reinserted the control conduit you can open it? What are you waiting for? Another kiss?”

There was a bleeping, and she laughed. “All right you tease.” She transferred another kiss. The little hunk of bolts took off like he was jet propelled.

“How can you understand that noise?”

She looked at me askance. “How can you understand the noise I make?”

“But you’re talking.”

“So is he. It’s really easy.” She looked at me again. “If you actually listen. Let’s just say that I spent a lot of time around droids during the war. It helps to learn a language instead of waiting for a translator.”

“What did he say?”

“HK hadn’t been sure he could repair the control conduit for the door if he cut it up, so he removed it and dumped it in the line with our little friend. Once it is back-” The door opened. She waved theatrically. “We can get out of here.”

We went through the access tunnels, and I wanted to kiss that beautiful ship! It was old, tired, and looked like it had seen better days, but it was our ticket out of here.

We ran aboard, and I immediately went to the cockpit. The engines were cold. Not surprising, but I know way to jump start a ship. But it wouldn’t move. “What now?” I wailed. The droid came over, stuck it’s access arm into the slot. then it’s head turned to her.

“Say ‘Asperatin?” She asked.

The panel lit, and I almost shrieked. “We’re in!”

“Of course we are. Our brave little friend told me what to code word was.”

I didn’t say anything. I was just going to find a hyper spanner and do some modification on the little tin can when I got the chance. I was warming the engines when I saw movement.

There were about fifty Sith troopers in armor out there. The com system was up, and I could hear them. “Surrender or die.”

“What do we do-” She was already at the gunnery controls. If she was going to use a turret she should have gone down the access way aft. Then she hit a button, the ramp hissing up.

Intruder systems! A gun dropped out of s chin nacelle, and she took control before the damn thing could blow holes in the walls and the tanks beyond. I had never seen such a surgical use of a system in my life! The team fired back, but it would take time they didn’t have to kill us, and she killed all of them before they made the time.

The engine light came on, and I was in control. I lifted on thrusters and spun to face the force field covering the door.

“We have to wait for Kreia!”

“We aren’t waiting for anyone!”

“No need.” We both looked back. Kreia was standing there, clutching the empty sleeve of her left arm.

“We had best go before they send more troops.”

Marai dropped back into the gunner’s seat, and targeted the frame of the entry way. Blaster fire ripped into it, and suddenly the field was down. We shot out, right under the two ships-

Two? I looked at the scanners. There was Harbinger, floating free of the station another ship was nestled against it, and I recognized a Sith designed attack Corvette. So that is where the men had come from!

“We had better get a move on!” Marai shouted.

We ran. A blaster bolt seared past the cockpit, and I flinched. “If they hit one of the asteroids-”

“Why?” Kreia asked.

“Some of these asteroids have pockets of Peragian fuel. If they hit one it goes up, maybe the field, maybe the entire damn planet goes up with it. And us!”

“Can we jump to light speed?”

“Inside an asteroid field? Sure. If you don’t mind arriving in chunks over the next decade.”

“Then get us clear.”

Behind us, Harbinger had turned ponderously, and was in pursuit. Her guns were blasting. Behind her, the Attack Corvette had gotten undocked, and was turning to follow as well.

“You do understand that clear of the field also means a clear field of fire?”

“You can set off such a blast yourself, can you not?” Kreia asked.

“Blow up a planet? Destroy the entire economy of the sector?” I dodged an asteroid, spilling them both. “Tell me you’re joking!”

“It is either that or die.” Kreia shrugged. “Take your choice.”

The choice wasn’t mine to make. The Attack corvette launched a spread of missiles. Maybe they thought their targeting systems were good enough, maybe they thought they could blow any of them that targeted an asteroid instead.

We’ll never know.

One of the missiles was dinged by a small asteroid, maybe something the size of a pea. In an instant it speared into a rock the size of a small ship. One that had a gas pocket. The rock exploded, bowing superheated shards into the rocks around it. I could see the corvette blown on it’s side, slamming into the massive rock that held the station, then it was plummeting toward the open core of Peragus II like a missile.

The field was blowing around them, and if I didn’t hurry-

I slammed the throttle to the stops.

There was a lot of legs on that little ship, and she leaped forward as if she was a bantha that had been hit in the butt with a shock stick. Behind us it was a fireworks display worthy of the gods themselves. The shards of heated rock hit more, which set off more explosions, which set off more explosions. It was a diorama of a nuclear explosion happening not in microseconds, but in seconds. We reached the end of the field as the explosions blew across Harbinger, and I hit the jump seconds before we would have joined them in death.

Ebon Hawk

Marai

The tunnel of hyperspace looked like a sheet of cylindrical colored glass revolving ahead of us. You don’t really travel faster than light, that‘s a misconception. It’s just that in Hyperspace light speed is a lot higher than it is in our normal universe, and every threshold has a different speed limit.

We were silent for a long time. Atton checked the controls, then turned around looking at us. “All right, we’ve just destroyed an entire planet more efficiently than the Sith ever did. Mind telling me why? Between killer tin cans and men that like to sleep with active vibroblades, not to mention acting as a target drone for both the Sith and the Republic, I was safer in my cell!”

“The Republic Frigate was the Harbinger. The Sith seized it enroute to Telos. We should have proof enough of that in the records our companion decided to make.”

“She was bound for Telos?”

“Yes. To deliver an important cargo. Something they could not let the Sith have. Something the Sith were willing to destroy an entire planet to possess.” She looked at me for a long moment. “They were here to capture you.”

“Why am I so important?”

“That I can only conjecture upon. But I know that your presence is desperately needed on Telos. A lot of roads led to Telos in this sector. As does ours.”

“Of course they do.” Atton snarled. “It’s the only system in the Navi computer I can access.”

“How did you know that I would be aboard the Harbinger?” I asked.

She shrugged. “As the assassin machine said, you were difficult to find. But coincidence was on our side. We had found that you were aboard, and I knew the Sith could not be far behind.

“We intercepted the Harbinger just moments before the same Sith ship we just saw arrived. She was drifting in space, silent. It was a simple matter to board, find where the Droid had concealed you, and escape. However we did not know that the Sith had already been aboard. As we made the jump to light speed they were able to damage the ship and kill my companions. We fell out of hyper space accidentally at Peragus.”

I shook my head. “That was a very convenient series of coincidence and accident.”

“True. However as anyone trained in the force should know, coincidence is a misnomer. It was the force that led us to you, rescued you, and delivered you to Peragus.”

“But you can’t just fall out of hyper space!” I protested. Once your in it, you have to wait until the generators bring you out of it! We should be drifting there lost even now!”

T3 whistled. Kreia rounded on him. “Be silent! We are having a conversation here!”

Unperturbed, the little droid gave another series of bleeps and clicks.

“Kreia, he was joining the conversation, not interrupting it. He said he and the droid they found aboard repaired the hyper drive and brought us out there.”

“Yeah, right.” Atton snapped. “Next he’ll take credit for the entire rescue!”
He walked over, glaring at the droid. “All right mister tin man, you fixed the ship did you? Fine, fix something else!”

The droid whistled, turning on it’s wheels. The last sound was like a raspberry, and I chuckled.

“Oh yeah?” Atton yelled. “Come back here and say that you toaster oven!”

I struggled to talk and laugh at the same time. “It seems you do understand a little. Most people learn the curse words first.” My mood shifted. “But Kreia, that doesn’t explain why I am so important. What is it about me that makes me worth the lives of over a hundred people on the station and almost a thousand aboard Harbinger?”

She stood, holding her arm. “Because you are the last of the Jedi, young one. Once you are dead or among them, they have won this war and the Galaxy is doomed.”

“But I am not a Jedi!” I shouted. “They threw me out! Took away my powers!”

“Exile or not, powers you now again possess or not, they believe you to be a Jedi in all the glory that suggests and that is all that matters.”

“But the last of the Jedi.” I almost whispered it. “That can’t be true! There must be others!”

She looked at me, and I could feel the pitying glance. “When you marched off to face the Mandalorians a third of their number went with you and barely a tithe returned. The Jedi Civil War harrowed those that remained. Jedi left the order to flock to Revan, and Jedi hunted Jedi like ravenous beasts. Many fell to their brothers, and those that did not either joined Revan or died. Oh I am sure there are some few left. Perhaps a hundred. But what of it?”

“But the Academies! Dantooine, Corellia, the main Temple on Coruscant!”

“The academy on Dantooine is a smoke crater now, home only to the ghosts of those that had once walked it’s halls. Corellia was closed not long after you went to war because too many of them followed in your path, and the rest were killed in battles across the Rim. The temple...” She hugged herself. “The Main Temple lies vacant, peopled only by memories. The thousand fountains now lay silent and dry in memoriam of those that had once been there.

“Those few that might remain blame Revan, Blame Malak, Blame you for that devastation. If you had listened, the temples would still stand. The Jedi would not have been decimated by that war, or in the War Revan began that followed.“

“But there are some still alive. We have to warn them! Even if they kill me for daring to live!”

“What of those pallid remnants?” She asked sarcastically. “They are Jedi in name alone now. Those that had not fought, or joined Revan and Malak, are the cowards too obsessed with their own live to care if the galaxy stops spinning. Even if they believed, they cannot help you, and you cannot help them.”

“Then it’s all on me.” I whispered. I felt darkness around me. Always before when I had been a Jedi, there had been others that could give me a chance to sleep, to rest. Revan herself had sent me home rather than let me self destruct. Now I had no support. But from within I felt my fury at people callous enough to kill over a thousand to try to get to me. I would face them On my feet, on the stumps of my legs, biting them when they cut away my arms. Damnit someone would pay! “So I have to do it alone. How do I stop them?”

I don’t know who was more surprised. I only heard a gasp of dismay from Atton. Kreia looked at me again, and this time I knew she thought me mad. “That...” She paused, struggling to phrase her reply. “That is not an easy question or solution. This threat is greater than you can possibly imagine. I do not believe that any one person can confront it with a chance of survival, let along success.”

“That isn’t the point. We can run and hide, or We can fight. We are going to fight. Period.”

“Look, enough of this ‘we’ already.” Atton put in.

We ignored him. Kreia shook her head. “We cannot hope to triumph against them alone. You will need weapons, allies... And a teacher to bring you back to what you have forgotten. Even with all of that in the end it may not be enough.”

“We have no choice. Die on our feet, or live on our knees. I was never very good at kneeling.”

“Hey, maybe we should discuss this...” We both turned to glare at him. He held up his hands, backing away. “All right, I’ll just... You know...Fly the ship.”

Kreia turned back to me, then sighed. “You fought through the Mandalorian Wars and it cost you everything you were. Are you willing to sacrifice not only all of that again, but everything you might be?”

“There is no choice. I must fight, or I have already given up everything already.”

“You are not listening! You keep repeating the same tired argument over and over!” She turned away. “This is not like any field of battle you have ever seen or even imagined you fool. You came so close to losing yourself in the last war. If you set yourself on this path there will be no turning back again. You will reach the point where you have nothing left to give, and the battle will demand of you still! Or worse yet, you will reach the end of that battle and want more. You will become worse than Revan worse than Malak. You will become an engine of destruction!”

“I turned away from war once, Kreia. I can do it again.”

“Like so many of your fallen brothers, you hear but do not listen!” She turned. “But we have talked enough, and my wounds pain me. If you have further questions, I will be in the crew quarters. There we can speak more without prying ears.”

“Hey don’t stop you long boring self-serving rants on my account!” Atton shouted. I was just worried that you’d put me to sleep!”

She stopped, looking back at us. “We will also not have to listen to the prattle of fools and imbeciles.”

Atton returned to the console. I hugged myself. I didn’t have a choice in the matter, couldn’t Kreia see that? As much as I had given, as much as I had lost, I had run away from only one battle, and that was when I faced the Jedi Council. Even if it meant my own death, I could not shirk this. The dead of Peragus, of Harbinger, all those that had died because of what Revan and Malak had unleashed would never let me rest again.

After a long time, Atton clicked his tongue. “Look, it’s not like a give a damn about her any anything... But maybe you should help her? Med pacs need two hands most of the time. Like when you open them.”

I shook my head. He had a heart, but didn’t want anyone to know it. “Sure. Anything to be useful.”

Ebon Hawk

Kreia

My hand felt like it had been dipped in acid still. I know it lay aboard Harbinger still, but I could feel every finger clenching. There was a whisper in the force, and Marai stood there.

“Have you come for more answers you will not hear? What little I had you have already heard, and refused to accept.”

She held up the emergency medical kit. “I cam to help.”

“This is a physical thing.” I snapped. “It will fade with time, and be forgotten. It was a necessary loss and some lessons are taught best with pain.”

She knelt, pulling my arm to her. Wordlessly she injected some anesthetic, and began to clean the wound delicately. “I wish I could have helped. If I had to do this again, I would have stood beside you.”

“Save your pity for one that needs it. I was here to save you, not the other way around.”

She sighed, bandaging the stump. “Kreia, if we are going to travel and work together, then we really need to work on being ‘together’.”

I do not need your pity, your condescension or your lectures. If anyone needs training and guidance, it is you.”

“The pain.” She said. “I felt it when your hand was cut off.” She looked at me. “What if it had been more intense?”

I sighed. “I do not know. I fear the consequences for you would have been more extreme.”

“It felt like my hand had been dipped in raw plasma then in carbonite. What could possibly be more extreme?”

“Pray that you never find out. The pain at my death might be as bad, though it will end much quicker.”

“End quicker. Do you mean I might die from it?”

“Possibly. I fear this bond may work both ways. It is not something I would willingly test. Do me the decency not to try and find out.”

“But it would be distracting in a battle.” She mused. To feel all of your pains and you feeling mine.”

In battle you are more focused as I would be. Our minds would be better prepared for injury and loss. I think we will not have a repeat of this.”

“I have felt the link between master and Apprentice. This is like nothing I have ever heard of before. I have never even seen a reference to it in the Jedi archives.”

“I must confess I have never heard of such a link either. It’s very nature eludes me, and it is rooted very deep. It seems that the Force flows readily between us. Like an alternating current in electricity if you will. When one of us manipulates it, especially working with those abilities that affect our own bodies, it causes a reaction within the other, making their own power resonate with it.

“A new and powerful technique indeed, though as we have noticed, it is not without it’s drawbacks.”

She put away the kit, kneeling beside me. “What happened?”

“What do you remember of the Mandalorian Wars?”

“We fought, took back our planets, besieged the enemy in their home worlds. After Malchior V Revan and the others went on and confronted them in the Mandalore system themselves. She defeated Mandalore in personal combat, stripped them of their honor and weapons, and was supposed to come home.

“But the Council had punished all of you for even going into that war.”

“I know.” She whispered. “Every one of us was demoted one rank. Those in command were punished further For daring to go against the Council’s will I became a mere Apprentice again. I was no longer a Padawan Teacher, not even a learner.”

“Yes. The Council wanted the time to assess what was happening even as the Rim burned. You put out the fire, and that was your reward.”

“But afterward? All I heard were rumors after that.”

“Revan and Malak returned, but it was as if all the pity had been burned from them. They became like the Mandalorians, despising weakness in any they face. In the end the Mandalorians had won. They had forged a weapon of those Jedi. Forged them into a dagger that thrust into the Republic.”

“But we only had a few left by then? Couldn’t the Jedi stop them?”

“You knew Revan. What is the first rule of strength?”

“If you need it, find it.”

“And she did. She found an ancient artifact, something that had been unused since before there was even a Republic. When she needed more soldiers, she gained them by embracing the Sith and becoming their leader.”

She shook her head in horror. “How could she do that? The woman I knew-”

“The woman you knew was as scarred and torn by that war as you had been. What would you have been if she had not sent you home? At the head of an armada of ships made by this Star Forge, manned by the Sith, she began to lay the Rim to waste.

“The Republic reeled back. The same fools that had been in charge when you led them outward had returned to favor. The factories that should have been replacing their losses had been shut down for lack of funds, and unlike the Republic, Revan had but to snap her fingers and have a hundred more. The Sith with Revan in command were unbeatable.

“So they ambushed Revan. They captured her, unleashing an even worse horror, for without Revan, Malak was a beast without a leash.”

“What happened to Malak?”

“Desperate to end the carnage, the Council used the woman that had once been Revan as a weapon. Her mind was now not that of the Revan you knew, but a lowly soldier whose memories had been pressed into place. She regained her Jedi abilities, as you have done, and went out to find the Star Forge yet again, but this time for the Jedi. She faced and defeated Malak, destroyed the Star Forge, and gave the galaxy a respite.

“Without Malak to lead them the Sith fell upon themselves. They have been busy destroying themselves for the last five years.” I held my arm. “But no longer.”

“But what of Revan?”

“No one knows, least of all I. She returned to the Council to report, then left the Republic. Why she left and where she went was a secret maybe only she knew. Perhaps the Council did, but our own troubles would have stopped us from discovering it.”

“So after saving the Republic, she was sent away?”

“Saving the Republic?” I echoed. “Maybe from one point of view that is what she did. That war still resonates in the wound that were inflicted, and bleed still. We shall see if the Republic has the strength of will to survive.”

“Then every breath I take, every fight I face will give them time to recover.”

I shook my head. How could she be so blind? “A culture and it’s teachings are defined by the conflict they have within their lives. Fighting to stand gives you the ability to balance. Learning the sword teaches you discipline and control. You find yourself in that struggle, or you find yourself lacking.

“25,000 years the Republic has existed, and in that time there have been few chances to test and teach it what was necessary. No one wanted a military because of the fear that it might control the people, so there was none. Trade is the lifeblood of the Republic, but restrictions on trade slow the pulse of that blood, so there were none. Planets want a central government, but gods forbid it have any power, so the Senate is a bunch of whining sycophants bought with more types of coin, not all of it money, than I would dare to name.

“For too long, the Republic has been a bloated sleeping beast. For untold millennia it has been unchallenged, or the challenge was so small that it would be crushed as the beast rolled over in it’s sleep. But now that beast is wounded, bleeding to death, gasping for breath.

“The Jedi were the keepers, but instead of leading it, they chose to guide it instead. Instead of controlling it and exercising it, they stood back like doting parents that spoiled the child rotten. Now that beast, that child does not had the Jedi any more to cozen it and keep it safe. How long do you think the Republic will last?”

“Can we do anything?” She asked appalled.

“Thanks to the Star Forge, the Sith Armada seemed endless. Even with the defeat of Malak, the destruction of that creation of hell they still have the ships they captured, the ones given to them by the fallen Jedi. Their resources look infinite, but the Republic’s resources are not.

“Think you. How many fleets of our own did you see shattered on that offensive Revan led? Add to them the fleets, the planets, the people lost trying to stop Revan on her return!

“Over 20 planets were laid waste. Billions if not a trillion or more dead or dispossessed. Even with all of it’s strength, it is a burden even the Republic can not bear forever. Now comes this new threat. It does not ride the light road in thousand of ships, millions of troops. No it comes quietly, like a deadly gas seeping in through a tiny crack in the wall. It drives not at the strength of a faltering Republic. It seeks just one thing, and that thing is you.”

“Why me?” What makes me more important than the entire Republic?”

“The Republic has never been important. It is merely the stage where our drama is being played. No, the Republic is merely the theater around the Actor that was and is the Jedi Order. Just as the skills, the training, the knowledge imparted is but the shell of the Jedi within.

“Forget your visions of what war is. It is not mighty fleets or brave armies marching out. They are but the crude material of the universe set in an obstacle course that our will drives us to face. The true seat of war lies within. It is the hopes, the angers, the pleasures and sorrows all of us face, the belief of every living thing locked in mortal combat with all around it. It is our darkest fears and desires, our most glowing ideals and beliefs. That is where the struggle is, and where it will be fought.

“You are that battlefield. If you fall, the Republic will fade away and be no more. Without a whisper, without even noticing, and no one will lay a stone of remembrance for it. The darkness to come will merely be the soil falling into the grave.”

She stared at me, then her breath wuffed out like a reverse gasp. “I think I need to think on this.”

“Before you get too deeply into thinking, I would check on that fool in the cockpit. I expect any second to find he’s flown us into a sun. I know he said that the only destination he could find was Telos, but I would not put it past him to go somewhere anywhere else if he can.”

She smiled. “I don’t think he is a fool, Kreia. But he does have a weird taste in the force.”

I waved the hand I still had, dismissing him. “He is a fool and an imbecile. His path leads down in a spiral that has no end. I trust him as far as a human can throw this very ship, and you should follow my lead in this. He thinks of his own pocket and skin first, and his ‘allies’ will rue the day he was born if they are lucky. Now go.”

Jae Onasi
08-05-2006, 10:46 AM
I'm enjoying the beginning of all this. Nice characterization of Atton--'tight little end' indeed. :D
Every time I hear 'Devo', all I can think about is a band wearing red flowerpots on their heads and sporting those ridiculously thin sunglasses. :)

machievelli
08-05-2006, 01:04 PM
I noticed that when my spell checker kept dinging it and I couldn't figure out why. Her name is Devos

machievelli
08-05-2006, 11:16 PM
Ebon Hawk

Atton

Marai was thoughtful when she came forward again. Honestly I think Kreia did it just to make her feel bad. “How were you babes doing back there?” I asked lightly.

“Babes?” She walked forward, sitting silently in the co pilot’s seat. “I checked her arm bandaged it, and we talked some more.”

“So the fem fatale feels more comfortable without testosterone in the air?”

She gave me a funny look. “It’s just I think you bug her. Maybe it’s your devil take the hindmost attitude.”

“Hey she want to run ahead, I don’t mind watching.”

“I think she’s had a hard life.”

“If you say so.”

“Are we on course?”

“If she’s worried that I might get lost, why not check the Navi-computer yourself?”

She stood, walking back to the console. I hated to think I’d spent the entire conversation talking about the other woman aboard, so I felt a need to run my mouth. “So what type of Jedi were you?”

“What do you mean?” She asked coolly.

“I heard you’re all either sentinels, guardians, or consular.”

“I was a Guardian.“

“Oh! One of the big guns! What kind of saber did you carry? Single, a pair or one of those double ended types?”

“I carried a saber staff.” She looked at me askance. “That is the correct term for it.”

“So Guardian. I know that a lot of guardians got into the saber staff right before the war ended. More slaughter for the slash, or something. I know your basic Guardian has a blue blade, but a lot of you get into off the wall colors. What was yours?”

“Is there a point to this conversation?” She snapped.

“Hey, just curious.”

“Fine.” She walked over, standing over me like a titan. I could almost see the fury in her eyes, but I knew it wasn‘t that. She was angry because she felt so damn much pain, and didn‘t have an outlet until I opened my damn mouth. “Those who carry a saber staff have to learn a lot of fine motor control the others do not. It isn’t like a single, where you can whip it through a series of cuts in your sleep, or like a pair where both arms move independently, but power strokes are done with both blades simultaneously. Both arms have to move in a precise and clear rhythm and just breathing the wrong way when you’re learning can hurt. Believe me, I know. You learn to use your entire body fighting with a saber staff. The all of seventy-five of us, about one half of a percent that used the saber staff during the Mandalorian wars were in the forefront because of the need for rapid punching of holes in the Mandalorian defenses. There, all you ever need to know about why someone chooses a weapon in one neat wrapped with a bow package.” She went back to the console.

For a long time, we sat there in a very uncomfortable silence.

“White.”

“What?”

“You asked about my blade crystal. It was a milky white stone I found on Onderon. The blade was a greyish white like liquid silver.”

“Oh. Hey, I’m sorry.”

“Why?” She looked at me, and I could see the pure misery in her face. “Because I left that life ten years ago and you rammed my face into it? Reminded me of what I had that was torn away from me?”

“Because I usually try to think of someone else’s feeling, and for once my mouth ran ahead of my brain.”

“For once.” Her tone said ‘yeah, right’. “I’m going to see what this tub has in the way of food. Can I bring you anything?”

“Anything but E- Rats.”

She came back a moment later. “There’s some food in the cooler, but nothing that can be eaten raw. So it’s either wait about twenty minutes for me to whip up a stew, or E-rats.”

“If that’s my choice, I would rather wait for the good stuff.”

“Anything to be useful.”

“Hey, Marai, maybe...”

“Maybe what?” She asked softly.

“Maybe when they see you’ve gotten your abilities back, and how you’re handling it, maybe they will let you back in.”

“I don’t know if there is anything to go back too, now.” She said in a whisper.

Ebon Hawk

Marai

Babe? Fem fatale? ‘She want to run ahead, I don’t mind watching’? I sighed. Let’s face it. Atton was a raging hormone running amuck. I was wondering if I get wolf whistles by dressing up T3 at this rate.

And he was a motor mouth that didn’t know when to shut up. I shouldn’t have let his questions get to me. Every one knew or thought they knew about Jedi. When you don’t understand, you make thing up. The Saber staff had been common before the war of Exar Kun almost fifty years ago. But Kun had been a master, and he’d used it specifically. A lot of his men had followed him, and that meant that for a long time there was a ban on using it. I had used that light saber last almost a decade ago. Showed my contempt for the council and gave it up in one last shot.

I pulled out some Cassis bird, and vegetables, and began chopping. My original Master had been of the mind that the best way to let the mind work on a problem was to cook. Keep the hands busy, feed the body, let the mind do what it had to do. He was good enough that he could have been a chef in a capitol restaurant. It spoke of all the problems he had faced.

We had been on Onderon as I had told Atton. What I had not said was the stone had been delivered as if by the gods into my hands.

My original master was a Consular. He had always hoped that I would follow his path, learn the arts of persuasion, to talk because as he said, ‘talk talk is always better than war.’

But I was almost born to be a Guardian. I had mastered the first stances Te-rehal-Vor, (which is the unarmed form based on the Echani Sword dance, and called ‘the dance of death by hand’) before I was ten. When I told a Senator to his face that his head was so full of helium that only the lead in his butt kept him from floating away when I was eleven it pretty much sealed my fate, though he still hoped I would grow up.

Onderon was not yet a member of the Republic, and we had to negotiate a new treaty for some resources, and I was thirteen and feeling put upon.

Something had been left in the air car, and my master had told me to go fetch it and I said something like ‘What, you expect rocks to fall from the sky?’ as I left. I fetched the case, had taken about ten steps, then something blew me off my feet.

I rolled then bounced up and spun expecting an attacker, and saw that our air car had been blown in half. Guards poured out, assuming an assassination attempt.

Four hours later, a man had come toward my master, holding a rock the size of his fist.

“A meteor. A damn meteor!” He told us.

My master looked at the stone for a long time, then turned and dropped the hot stone into my hand. “You asked for it, you got it.”

We were on the way home in our Judiciary ship when I discovered the stone’s secret. I was examining it. It looked like a geode, but those are caused by massive pressure over time. I tapped it with a sensor hammer to test the readings and it shattered like glass. Inside were two matched crystals of exactly the same weight and shape. One was milky white, the other as clear as quartz. I showed them to my master, and he felt them in his hands. “What do you feel?”

I rubbed them closing my eyes. “It feels like they are running electricity through them!”

“They are lightsaber crystals. But like none I have ever seen.” He replied.

“Can I... Can I use one in my lightsaber?”

“Why not?” He asked.

“But I thought my lightsaber had to be blue!”

“Nothing is forever little one.” He replied.

*****
I poured the minced vegetables into the water. Only a fool got mad and cooked, as my master used to say.

You were so right. I wanted to tell him now. I thought the order would go on as it had for millennia yet here I stand being told I am the last. I thought my being part of the order would be forever, and they cast me out. I thought that stone would be the only one I would ever need, and it still sits in a lightsaber I threw away, and is probably shattered dust by now.

I paused, about to ram the paring knife into the cutting board. I thought friendship was forever. But the same woman I gave the twin crystal to was the one that condemned me before the council and voted to cast me out.

I set the knife down before I really did ram it through the cutting board.

One thing that bothered me was why did everyone think I had been hiding? Sure I had wandered, never really paying attention to where or why. But for the last two years or so Consega had known exactly where I was.

But wait. Did anyone in the crew really know me? I was a stolid presence at staff meetings. I was the ‘Chief’ to my men and women. I was “Chief Of Security’ to the many constabulary and Security forces I had dealt with turning over thieves, and bailing out the more stupid crewmen. All taxes I might have owed were taken out by the company and automatically paid. Consega even had their own group of tax accountants when it came filing time. The ship didn’t have to return to Corellia more than once or twice a year.

Instead of letting the thoughts keep up, I pulled out the pad and began to go through the logs we had gotten from Harbinger.

They had been diverted from their orders to the Onderon Sector to stop at Casini station. Two days later, three passengers had been brought on board. The captain had not liked that. He was in command of one of the most powerful units the Republic had, and they had made him a cruise ship! Then he had reported a distress signal, but the ship had an ID he had never seen before. He’d bucked it up to command.

Command was very interested, though the bridge log hadn’t said why. They had gone to the ship’s rescue. There had been two ships when they arrived. The freighter we were in, and a Sith Attack Corvette. If you think it was the one that got destroyed at Peragus, award yourself a gold star. But except for one survivor, everyone aboard had been dead, frozen at their stations.

I checked the briefing room logs. As I had thought, the Captain gave vent to his feelings there. He had questioned why his passenger, ‘the woman’ was so damn important. When he’d tried to avoid the order to assist Admiral Onasi had told him to render all aid with all speed. Onasi had sounded... Eager for news of it.

Onasi. I remembered the name. Carth Onasi. He had only been a brand spanking new Commander when I met him. A head and a half taller than I am, seven or eight years older and full of himself. To make Admiral in ten years spoke of a lot of losses in the upper echelons.

The medical records showed the most. The doctor had reported extensively on the injuries of the one survivor they had found. She described the madman we had seen in the Harbinger passageway, and said that it looked like every bone in his body had been broken repeatedly. She worried because she was feeling like people were watching her, and considered what no one else had. That the Sith had slipped infiltrators aboard.

On that last day almost four days ago now, all hell had broken loose. The security team she had called arrived, and in seconds were all dead. The man had awakened in his tank, and blew it apart. Then he leaped down, and the record ended.

I took a bowl to Kreia, who was meditating and she ignored it. I took another to Atton who fell on it like he hadn’t eaten in days. Come to think of it, he hadn’t. Can’t say it said a lot about the quality of my cooking. One who didn’t eat, and another one who probably wished he’d eaten the E-rats. I went back to the mess deck. One of the doors off the common room was still closed, and I opened it cautiously. I fell backwards, clawing for my sword, but the droid that had alarmed me was just standing there.

It took me a moment to relax. It wasn’t an HK 50 model. No, they had changed the flexor armatures in the arms after the model 47. So it must be an old HK47 model.

I felt saddened. A veteran of my own war, I thought. Left in a compartment silent to rust. I dug through what he had brought aboard. Then I popped the service hatch. It was missing some major parts, and one of them was the vocabulator. The fitting were different, but after some rewiring, I inserted it and anchored itself in place.

“There you go, HK.” I patted him on the plastron. “If I can, you’ll be up on your feet in no time.”

I felt so good from the satisfaction that I went and found T3. I brought a bottle or oil, emery cloth and a polishing rag, and he almost purred as I polished his head cylinder. He sounded sad when I left.

Telos: Citadel Station

Marai.

Citadel station was huge. It spread like a massive square umbrella and would have covered almost a quarter of the planet on the main continent if it had not been suspended above it 30,000 kilometers in geosynchronous orbit. It wasn’t the biggest station ever built, but it has the record for being the fastest constructed. Telos had been the opening blow in the Jedi Civil War. Admiral Saul Karath and Malak had devastated the planet almost nine years ago. The people had tried to work on salvage what they could, but the second winter had been brutal. The filth tossed into the air had come down in acid rains that killed over 90% of the vegetation, and they had finally given up and fled.

Five years ago when the Civil war ended the Republic had sent in a fleet of fabrication ships, and started the station, completing it the year before. Even before they had laid the groundwork for the construction they had called in the premier ecologists of the Republic to be in control of the reclamation project. The Ithorians loved nature. They worshipped it as if it were a god, and to some of them it was. They brought plants and animals from every corner of the galaxy, and carefully started rebuilding what had taken nature a billion years. If anyone could repair the destructions, I would have bet on them.

But there had been problems almost from the start.

We skimmed along the path to the station, riding the guide beam. We were supposed to land at bay 72, but right before we got there, we were diverted to Bay 94. As we came in, I knew why. Bay 94 was the Telos Security Force landing bay.

The woman that talked us in was polite, sincere, and as cold as ice. We were ordered to wait until our ‘party arrived, and when it was a Security Commander and a dozen men, I wasn’t surprised.

We came down the ramp to face him.

“Grenn. TSF.” He said. “You’re the ones that just came in from Peragus?”

“Yes.” I replied.

“We would like you to come with us.”

“Wait a minute. What is this?” Atton asked sharply.

“We received a message from a fuel freighter that the entire planet of Peragus II and the asteroid field was destroyed. We want to find out why. I am in charge of the investigation.”

I raised a hand to forestall Atton. “Are we accused of something?”

“Not yet. However TSF regulations requires that we hold you in custody until a determination is made. A TSF Courier has already left for the system to undertake an on the scene investigation.”

“Custody?”

He sighed. “We are preparing quarters, but until they’re ready-”

“Don’t tell me you’re putting us in the cells!” Atton almost roared.

“Just for a few hours.” Grenn said in what he hoped was a soothing manner. He didn’t do soothing that well. “I will have to ask you to surrender your equipment and weapons.”

“Of course.” I pulled the sheath of my sword free, holding it out.

“Wait.” Atton glared. “Are we going to get it back?”

“If you are cleared by the investigation-”

“You mean when.” I interrupted. I pulled out the data pad. Handing it to him.

“What’s this?” He asked.

“Logs from the Harbinger. She was in the system firing on us when the incident occurred.”

“You were running from A Republic Frigate?” By the look on his face, he was already planning to throw the key away.

“A frigate taken by the Sith, and used to attack us.” I corrected.

“Yeah, Right.”

*****

The cells were silent except for the buzzing on the interdiction fields. Kreia had merely gone into a meditation seat, and after a moment, I had joined her. The miner’s uniform I had been wearing had been replaced by a prison issue tunic. It fit better if you didn’t mind slate gray with a small explosive charge that would go off and eviscerate me if I got too far from the control sensor. I was the only one that had suffered this indignity. Of course, my clothing had been the property of the mining company. Atton had gone into the fetal position, the only one that you can maintain if you try to lay down.

Kreia cocked her head. “Someone is coming.” We had been informed that someone would be sent to take us to our new quarters, so that was not a surprise. But I felt my muscles tense. Whoever was coming did not have our interests at heart.

He was a tall wiry man in TSF uniform. He walked in carrying a pad in his hand, reading it as he walled. He closed the door, then set the pad down. He leaned against the control console, and smiled.

“So. This is the last of the Jedi.” He said through that smile. “I must admit to some disappointment. I thought you would be more sport.”

“What makes you think I am in a sporting mood?” I asked.

“The exchange has offered a lot of money for you. Enough that I will be retiring. But instead of a thrilling hunt, I find you locked up like a beast ready for slaughter.”

“The Exchange, eh?” Atton was on his feet. “They must be scraping the bottom of the barrel if they hired you.”

“They recognize my skills.”

“What, blubbering until the guy goes with you to stop you from crying?”
The bounty hunter looked at Atton and I could see the hatred in his eyes. “I don’t need to kill you, but you are making the prospect attractive.”

“You two bit bounty hunters couldn’t beat a slug in a fair fight. I’d hire a Mandalorian in a heartbeat instead of your kind of filth.”

“A Mandalorian.” The voice dripped with scorn. “You precious Mandalorian would have tried a frontal assault and gotten himself killed within the first ten meters.” He stood stalking over to snarl back at Atton. “A Mandalorian wouldn’t have had the brains or the ability to slice the computer system and have his ID picture and DNA profile inserted as a guard.”

Sure. So now you hotwire the cells and fry us in an ‘accident‘, right?”

The man tapped his chin. “You know, I hadn’t thought of that. The other two of you are not worth a contract, but hey, I’ll do you for free. Just an extra added bonus.”

“Let’s finish this.” I snapped. Atton didn’t realize that he had goaded the man into a killing frenzy. If he didn’t shut up, he was going to die.

But Atton didn’t know the meaning of the word moderation. “You want to fight you pissant? Let me out, and we’ll see just how much of a man you are!”

“Enough of this.” He pulled out a sonic stunner. “Jedi, you know this will penetrate the cell field. I would you suggest you step out nice and quiet, and extend you hands or-” He aimed it at Kreia. “I will fry your little girlfriend by inches first.”

The field came down. I stepped out. Atton was throwing himself against the field, bouncing like a demented rubber ball. The hunter pulled a set of restraints off his belt, throwing them at my feet. As I knelt to pick them up, I caught Kreia’s eye. She nodded.

The gun flipped sideways as she shoved it with the force, and in the instant he was diverted from me, I leaped forward. My hand came up, brushing his throat, and he staggered back, choking.

I stood up and away from him as his heels drummed on the floor. The door opened, and the guard walking in beheld the tableau.

“Man down!” He drew, centering the blaster on me. “Freeze!”

Grenn and half a dozen more poured in. One had the tabard of a medic.

“All right, ‘Jedi’. Step back into your force cage, or we’ll be checking your ID in the Morgue.”

The medic leaned back. “He’d dead, sir.”

“That’s murder right off the bat!”

“Sir?” One of the guards was looking at the dead man. “Who is that? I’ve never seen him before?”

“What?” Grenn looked confused.

The medic pulled the ID bracelet off the corpse running it through his scanner. “It says Batu Rem.” He looked at the corpse, then at his commander. “Sir, I am willing to swear under oath that isn’t Rem.”

“Of course it isn’t! Rem is on leave! He must have put on Rem’s ID bracelet by mistake...” Even as he said it, he must have thought how stupid the comment had been. ID’s, especially Constabulary ID’s are DNA coded. There is no way someone could pick up and use it even accidentally.

“And brought the wrong blaster too.” One of the guards was kneeling on the other side of the body. “This is a Systech Model 18. We’re issued Blastech 90s.”

“So what’s the difference?” Grenn could see where it was going.

“Sir, you couldn’t afford a Systech 18. They’re hand made specialty weapons. They cost more than I make in a year. Whoever this is, he sure as hell doesn’t belong here. This is a bounty hunter’s weapon.”

“Finally!” Atton shouted. “Your security has more holes that a Kaliti nest!”

Grenn turned a nice shade of purple. “So I go back into my cell until the next bounty hunter shows up?” I asked sweetly.

He glared at me. If he had his way he would have sent us on a ballistic course right into the atmosphere of the planet 30,000 kilometers below. “We’ve arrange quarters in Residential module 082. You will be escorted there, and guards will be stationed outside the door. You are technically under house arrest until our investigation is complete.” He turned to another guard. “You, me and four men, take them there. Contact Lieutenant Yima and have him get here right now. I want to know who this is and how he got past our security.”

We walked through the halls as if with an honor guard. Of course doing it in what was obviously prison garb didn’t help. There was two bedrooms, and a sitting room.

“Meals will be brought. If you have any visitors they will be cleared through me before they are allowed to come here. Other than that, I suggest you relax and enjoy the hospitality.”

“When you show some, we will.” Atton snapped. Grenn glared at him. He turned to go. “Hey lieutenant, considering the efficiency of your men, why not leave us a blaster?” Grenn gave him a pitying look and left.

“This is not good. we have got to get out of here.” Atton said.

I cupped my hand beside my ear. “We can discuss that when we’re cleared.”

“I hate to do it, but I must agree with our volatile companion.” Kreia interrupted. “We must not stay here too long. But something has made sure we would be here, and that intrigues me. I must meditate. If you two wish to argue, do it silently.” She went into one of the rooms, and closed the door. Atton looked at me, and I know he wanted to rant, but my look told him to belt up. He went into the other room and slammed the door.

I sighed, looking around the common room. I dropped into as meditation seat.

Request and threats

Marai

I felt rather than heard the chime. I was up, walking toward the communications panel as it rang again. I tapped the annunciator. It was from Soko Linu. A face flashed on the screen, with a badge. She was a TSF officer, probably assigned to our door. I touched the accept key. “Hello?”

”Excuse me, you have a visitor. An Ithorian named Moza. He represents the Ithorian combine in charge of the Restoration project. He has asked to speak with you on urgent business, and Captain Grenn has approved the visit if you wish it.”

“Give me a moment. Is it possible to get some tea?”

“Of course. I will have some sent up.”

The door into the bedroom opened and Kreia came in. “We are expecting a visitor.”

“Keen Jedi senses?” I asked.

“Good human ears and a speaker set too loud.” She harrumphed.

“You know if you spent five minutes not complaining, I’d probably fall over dead from a heart attack.” Atton came out of his room.

“Don’t tempt me to find out.”

The door opened, and the Ithorian came in. Right behind him was a motorized tray, and a droid. It bleeped and whistled at me.

“Did you check for needle spine?” It bleeped an affirmative. “Good If we die it will be something really esoteric.” It replied with something that sounded like a chuckle.

“Thank you for granting me some of your time.” The Ithorians sound like the woodwind section of an orchestra. They have four throats and use all of them when talking. Their language was highly complex, and only those with a rare skill can reproduce it with any clarity. However he surprised me by speaking basic with a bagpipe intonation. “I have come at the behest of Chodo Habat, our leader on this station.”

“What do you wish to speak with me about?” I asked.

“Are you familiar with our purpose on this station?”

“The restoration project? I have heard of it, but I cannot say I know much about it beyond that.”

“The ecosystem was almost destroyed in the Sith attack. It is not something that can be repaired overnight. It is the work of a millennia or more for a planet to heal itself, and the people cannot wait. We have labored to do so with as little impact on the native ecosystem that has survived.” I nodded. Humans had always been too short sighted when we tried our hand at ecosystem manipulation. They had imported a vine that grows on Corellia to Sandial three centuries ago to help in curbing soil erosion caused by over harvesting of the Diamond wood tree there. Unfortunately nothing on Sandial ate the vine, it was incredibly invasive and grew rapidly. The forests were almost choked to death before someone had acted. Instead of merely burning out what they had planted, they had imported an herbivore that fed on the vine, only to discover that not only would nothing on the planet eat the animals, but they bred like rats, loved the taste of Diamond wood bark, and their feces was lethal to the local vegetation.

Diamond wood was extinct outside of botanical gardens now. It had taken the Ithorians less than a decade to eliminate the problem.

“We have worked hard, but now there is a problem we cannot combat. Have you heard of Czerka Corporation?”

“Yes, I have.”

“Eight and a half years ago, Czerka took control of some of the shipping to the system. They have wormed their way into the government and within less than a year, they were the only major transport company licensed. They have been pressing for seven years now to have the contract that we were originally awarded revoked so they could be given them in our stead.

“Their efforts in this regard have greatly hampered our efforts.”

“How so?”

“Areas we had reseeded and repopulated with wildlife have been transferred from our control to Czerka’s on the grounds that these areas are completed. This is not the case, of course, but they use compelling arguments to the local government. The areas immediately begin to deteriorate because we cannot monitor or repair damage while it is under their purview. A mission they refuse because we will hamper their efforts. Some have gone from reseeded to devastated in less than three weeks.

We have reported this to the planetary government, but they refuse to listen to us. If they continue their wasteful manner, all of the work of years will be undone in a season.”

“Why are they doing that?” I asked.

“I wonder myself why a human company that has specialized in shipping and weapons for 500 years suddenly wants to get into planetary reconstruction. It has never been a lucrative market. Our herds do this for the stipend we get and to ease our own pain at seeing such destruction.

“Perhaps it is that they wish unrestricted access to the planet. There are a number of sites where strip mining would give them high returns.”

“How are they able to wrest areas from your control?”

“Primarily it is a legal loophole.” He admitted. “In the last election over 80% of the politicians who were elected campaigned using funds Czerka supplied. The same government definition decided on for restored land was the equivalent of the covering of a landfill. As we both know such a covering is not assured for a decade or more after the sod has been laid down. But they are accepting grass planted less than a year ago as complete. As I have said, they had done everything but buy the local government officials and when we refuse to concede they are not above strong arm tactics and sabotage. Our ships have been damaged in their hangers, or blown up while enroute to the planet. Our supplies are contaminated with pests that we would never have even considered introducing. Our people have been injured and killed.”

He looked confused and sad. “We are a peaceful people. The idea of war itself is anathema to us. We cannot face such actions. We are a passive people who only wish to restore the natural beauty of the planet.”

I was moved by his words. He had laid it all out, but at the same time there was no demands, only a plea for help. “How can I help?”

“Chodo Habat, is our leader but among our people, only a priest and healer can lead in such an endeavor as healing a planet. He sensed something when your ship arrived in the system. A disturbance, and echo if you will, in the Force. He felt that if he offered to heal you, it would help our efforts to heal the planet below.”

“Heal me.” I replied.

“I am unsure what he meant by this. I am no priest, not even an acolyte. He told me to tell you this directly. ‘Tell the young one within the Force that I felt her pain as if it were my own. I feel the way in which this pain was inflicted, and by the grace of nature perhaps I can heal the wounds inflicted so long ago’.”

“Perhaps this shaman of yours should concentrate on the planet below and his own people if he wishes to ease pain.” Kreia purred dangerously.

“Forgive me. I may have misunderstood what Chodo was saying, and translating from our language to yours is tiring. However if this offer of mutual assistance has an appeal to you, he will be glad to receive you at our compound in Residential module 082 East.”

“I will consider this, and let him know when I am free to move around.”

“This pleases me. I will inform Chodo, and hope to speak with you again.”

He left.

Kreia grumbled, “Now perhaps we can get some sleep-” The com panel bleeped again. “The next person that interrupts me will suffer my wrath!”

I walked over to the com panel. A droid looked back at me. “Greeting human. I am B4D4, administrative assistant for the Citadel Station Branch of Czerka Corporation. I am at this moment trying to connect you with the Regional Chief Executive Officer, Jana Lorso. Please hold.”

Interesting. The Ithorians have to go through the local chief of police. But Czerka gets to call right in.

A woman with tattoos running in a cornet around her forehead looked up, and gave ma a brilliant smile as fake as a cubic zirconium. “Hello! As my assistant has told you, I am Jana Lorso.”

“Yes. May I ask the nature of your communication with me?”

“I am reliably informed that the Ithorians intend to contact you. Doubtless they will try their overweening attempts to gains assistance in fighting the windmills they have created. No doubt with implied guilt and veiled threats.”

“Oh?” My eyebrow cocked.

Lorso nodded sadly. “Yes, they do play the downtrodden victim so well, don’t you think? Everything is an evil plot to stop them, and they need someone to ‘rescue’ them. They were no doubt emboldened by the rumors going about the station that you are a Jedi knight.”

“Rumors?” Everything she had accused the Ithorians had done were already in her comments so far.

She looked surprised. “Oh I am sure you have heard them all! That you are Jedi in hiding, that you are wanted by the exchange, but have challenged them to do anything about you. That other organizations both good and ill even now are heading here to gather you in. But your standing with the Jedi is incidental to why I have called you.”

Really. Lets see, you said ‘we know you’re a Jedi. The Exchange is looking for you here, and if you don’t run or agree, the weight of the galaxy will fall on you. Just knuckle under, get under the Corporate wing, and we’ll protect you. Oh, and don’t try to run. We handle all shipping out of here and all of our passenger berths will be booked, so sorry for the inconvenience‘.

“Go on.”

“What I do believe is you a person of respectable demeanor, and we can always use such people as employees. Someone aiding me in helping the Telosians regain their home, not a bunch of mystical tree huggers who are unable to accept reality.

“I am not asking you to help. I am asking that you accept a contract with the Corporation as an advisor on military affairs. I see from what we have discovered, your background in in infantry tactics. Our contracts are very lucrative, and a wise woman can make her fortune here.”

“How are the Ithorians ignoring reality?”

“Their methods to be blunt are haphazard and confused. Meandering like a river. They started on the region of the planet that used to grow their grain crops, leaving more important work unfinished! Sure they cleaned the oceans and have built catch basins to purify the runoff, but really, what about urban sectors? What about resort facilities? what about forty million tons of Redrocite near the south pole that could fund the restoration into the next decade, untouched because it would mean strip mining?

“They have already spent billions and at the rate they are going, a decade from now there will be nothing but a few dozen meadows and forests and a weather control station the size of a small continent.”

“I understand your view point, and I will consider your offer.”

“Very well, I will be anxiously awaiting your answer.”

I keyed off. “If it is all the same to you two, I am going to take a shower before you go off sulking again.” I walked past them into the fresher.

Citadel Station

Atton

I waited until I heard running water. “Explain something to me.”

“If it is not too complex. I have neither the years remaining nor the desire to indulge your curiosity.”

“She served during the Mandalorian wars. Most of the people I know that fought in it are mean old bastards that you’ll have to hammer into the ground when they die. Or they’re the kind that flinch at a violent word, and would stand there and let you beat them. Why is she so... confused? Oh she’s capable enough in a fight, but the wrong word makes you think she’s going to bawl her eyes out. That isn‘t like any Jedi I ever saw.”

“Yes. There are those that fell apart rather than go on. There are those that drew strength from the fray as they should. But on top of that loss in the war she lost the Force.”

“Why is that so big a deal?”

She sighed. “Just this once I will explain and we will not speak of it again. Having the Force is like being able to see when those around you are blind. It guides your actions, supports them as your bones support your flesh in standing upright.

“Yet less us continue that analogy after years of having those bones, or seeing with your eyes, picture suddenly being blinded, or having the bones removed. You go from being an upright person to suddenly being a lump of undifferentiated flesh.

“They depend on the force the way you depend on your bones. More than bones because every human has bones, but every human does not have the Force. They depend on it so much, that having it taken or torn away from them is as catastrophic as the physical infirmity I have described. When it is taken away they are crippled in ways you cannot even hope to imagine.

“Picture yourself with all of the knowledge of how to operate your hand snipped from your memory. Picture trying to learn all over again how to pick up a fork, how to hold a cup, how to cradle a child. Everything you have learned to do in your years which now comes automatically has to now be done by consciously thinking about what you intend to do.”

I stared at her. I remembered a man from a station I had been on a decade or so ago. He’d taken a nasty blow to the head, and had lost the connections between the mental dictionary we create in life, and the motions of his mouth to use those words. Catastrophic aphasia they called it. I pictured the frustration and anger I saw on his face just trying to do something as simple as ask for a drink in a Cantina. “I guess we that do not have the force don’t understand how important it is to the Jedi.”

“Do not be surprised. In this instance you are without a doubt more efficient than a Jedi.”

“Me?” I laughed.

“Yes you. You have not spent half your life learning to sense and control the force. When an emergency occurs, you do not think of what you can do with the force, instead you think of what your muscles, your memories, your mind can accomplish. She has had to learn a new way in the last ten years, and still she does not wear that loss well. Having the force return to her life has made it all the more disturbing.”

“But to just rip it away like that! The Jedi abhor execution, but that seems a bit extreme to me.”

“It is not done that way as much as you might think. A Jedi can no more rip the force free from another living being than you can fly unassisted. They use a series of mind disciplines known only to the Masters that attunes the mind of the person so that they cannot feel the force any more. Like a physician smoothing synthflesh into a wound to fill the void until healing can begin. The person walks in able to use the force, and walks out knowing they had that ability, but also knowing they no longer have it.”

“But... How did she regain it?”

“I do not know. Perhaps it is the fact that she ran away from the war. Perhaps she had already severed herself from it and they just touched the spots they knew. Conflict is the natural way of life, and isolation, refusal to fight is a weakness she had taken to heart, and it weakens her even now. She not only walked away from war, but had done everything she can to forget it for a decade. Add that to the equation and the last piece clicks into place.

“But come. We do her a disservice by speaking behind her back.”

The door opened, and Marai walked out, toweling her hair. “Hey, I’m not sleepy. The bed’s yours.”

She looked at me for a long time, then nodded, and went to bed.

I looked at the floor. As dog tired as I was I had made the bed I didn’t have to sleep in, and would now lie in it. I took off my jacket, bunched it into a pillow, and went to sleep.

machievelli
08-07-2006, 01:14 PM
Exoneration, Problems, and going on

Marai

It took the TSF almost four days to clear us. When you consider 20 odd hours to Peragus, and the same back, it meant they spent a day and a half trying to lay the blame on us.

When Lieutenant Grenn came in, he looked like they had taken his favorite toy away.

“Our forensic team was able to determine that another ship was in the system. Debris from that ship verifies that the Republic Frigate Harbinger had been there, but the ship had departed before their arrival. Sensor record from the mining station, or rather what was left of it verified that Harbinger and another unidentified ship were the only ones that fired weapons there. Further those records verified that the miners and staff had died previously to an unverified enemy's actions before you, Marai Devos left your Kolto tank.” He stopped reading. He had hoped we were guilty, and it showed on his face. “Therefore you are released from house arrest. However the Republic is sending a ship to undertake their own investigation, and you are required to remain on the station until they have completed it.”

“How long will I have to stay?” I asked.

The Frigate Sojourn is enroute, and should be here within the week. Not more than a week to ten days. The Republic has agreed to foot the bill so the rooms will remain yours until they are done.”

“What about the ship?” Atton asked. “Is the Ebon Hawk still impounded?”

He sighed. “The ship’s I&D is completed. All you have to do is come to my office and complete the paperwork. The ship has already been ordered to docking bay 72.”

“And my droid?” I asked.

“Your droid is still aboard the ship. It will be aboard when your ship in transferred. The rest of your gear is in our impound locker, and will be returned when you come in for the paperwork.”

“Thank you.” He grunted, and left. We had moved from uncaught criminals to civilian.

The door closed. “What now? We need to find a way off the station. Whether it’s the Ebon Hawk or some other ship. Where do we head?” He considered. “How about Nar Shaddaa? If you’ve got people hunting you it’s a good place to hide.”

I grinned. “Experience or story?”

“Hey, everyone needs some quiet time without someone putting blaster rounds through them.” He protested.

Kreia had been silent, and I looked at her. “What do you think, Kreia?”

“It is difficult to say. I think we are on this station for a reason but we may have spent too much time here already. Even if Harbinger was destroyed at Peragus, which I doubt, other Sith are no doubt on the way.

“Still I had been told that some Jedi might still be on Telos. Jedi who might restore your capabilities, or sever the link between us.”

“Well?” Atton looked at me.

I considered. “Whether we stay on Telos, or go, a ship is necessary. Let’s go get our ship back.”

*****

Citadel station wastes no energy on things like atmosphere over it’s entire surface. Every module is separated by vacuum, and accessible only by shuttle pods that flit back and forth between them By checking the information kiosk, I discovered that the main TSF armory/office was in module 081, which also housed the shops and cantinas for a third of the station.

It made sense when you thought about it. If someone was going to do something stupid like get drunk and start a fight, that sector was most likely so why not put the local lock up and major police presence there?

We had passes for a day’s travel. The problem was, all the money we had was what we might have picked scavenging in the mines on our escape. If they hadn’t been paying for room and meals, we would have already been on the streets hungry.

We got off at the access station. The map showed that we would have to pass one of the larger cantinas to get to the offices. Since they had not returned the miner’s uniform, I was still in my prison garb, and was drawing odd looks from passerby. I was willing to bet a lot of calls had been made about the ‘escaped prisoner’.

We were walking by the Cantina when it happened. A Sullustan slammed into the wall ahead with brutal force. A pair of mercenaries in full gear sauntered out of the Cantina after him. The smallest topped me by almost 40 centimeters.

“Please.” The Sullustan begged. “I do not want trouble. It was an accident, I swear!”

“It didn’t look like an accident to me. Or to my friend. It looked like maybe you wanted me to look stupid.”

“That is not so. I did not mean to disturb your drinking. Allow me to leave and I will trouble you no longer.”

“Hear that Slim?” The shorter Mercenary said. “Not even an apology. I would be angry if it was me.”

“Oh I am angry.” The larger one said almost softly. “I’m just thinking of where to hit him first.”

“What do you think you’re doing?” I snapped. The very idea that these two would beat a defenseless being smaller than I was! I saw the TSF guard at the corner. He looked toward us, and decided there was somewhere else he should be. No help there.

The smaller one looked at me, dismissing me in the same look. “Not that it is any of your business but this little creature elbowed his way to the bar and made my friend spill my drink.”

“That is not what happened.”

“Shut up you little rat.”

“I would rather listen to his side of this story.” I told them. They actually looked surprised. As if my standing up to them was unique.

“Pushing and shoving yes, but it was them doing it. Then they so bravely dragged me out here.” The Sullustan replied. “Look at them! Do you think any of my race would be stupid enough to force a confrontation with one let alone both of them? I know what they want. To send me bleeding and injured home. My spirit broken.”

I had to admit his point. The average Sullustan is only one 4 one five meters tall. Shorter than I was! To face off against two men one of them almost twice his size wasn’t bravery, it was insanity!

I must have taken too long thinking, because the large of the two stepped forward, trying to tower over me. Big deal. I was told a small man had all sorts of more interesting targets to hit. “This doesn’t concern you, chum. Just walk away or we might have to convince you.”

I looked up, and he should have been warned by my smile. It is not how big they are My old teacher in Te-rehal-Vor had taught us that first day. It is their willingness to be hurt. For with what I teach you here, hurting anyone that does not under stand the way is all they will get from it.

I automatically fell into the third stance, the one most effective against a larger opponent. He saw it, and grinned. “Look here. We got a wannabe Jedi!”

I didn’t correct him. Te-rehal-Vor is a martial art the Jedi use, but it is not wholly ours. The very first Echani to ever become a Jedi had brought it. She had used it to teach herself to fight with a sword even though she was blind. But had discovered that it worked as well with bare hands as it did with a blade. The Echani had learned it in return from us, and there had been a friendly rivalry between us to expand the art for over 20,000 years. When a Jedi Master went to speak to the Echani masters, he would have to walk the school as it is called. Face all of the disciples of the master he wanted to speak to, and if he defeated them, was allowed that honor. The Grand Master of the Echani in our art would do the same occasionally. I was blessed with having been there the last time such a master had walked our school, and bore the bruises proudly.

“I don’t want to hurt you. But if that is the only option, then let us begin.”

“Then you should have walked away.” The big man said. “Shall I tell her what happens to Jedi when they mess with us?”

“Nah. Just beat her and we’ll find something else more fun to discuss.”

The big guy reached out, and the instant he was close enough to touch, I struck. Strike, I felt his arm break inside the armor, then I hit him with what is called Fikhataar. The heart strike. It was meant to plunge the fingers through the chest and rip out the heart. Against an armored opponent, it was meant to pass all of the energy through the armor into their body.

I admit I hadn’t done this is a long time. The last time I did I had used the force to aid my blow, and since I had found it again, I was worried that I might actually rip out his heart. So I pulled the punch.

He gasped, and fell to his knees, clutching his chest. He coughed, and blood came up.

“Slim?”

“It feels like she broke all of my ribs!” He gasped in agony.

I turned, my hand catching the other man’s armor in front, my foot slamming into his knee. The armor should have protected him, but Te-rehal-Vor assumed the enemy would be in armor. My blow neatly hit him, and I felt the knee snap as it bent 90 degrees from the way it should. He fell to his unwounded knee screaming.

“You will not pick on the small and weak when I walk these decks.” I said to the smaller one. “Is that clear?” He nodded shocked. “Is it?” I demanded of his friend. He nodded unable to talk. I had inflicted what is called a flailed chest on him. Every rib had been broken loose from the sternum. It usually happens in air car accidents. Just breathing would be hurting right now.

“So I think both of you should go and see a med tech. Maybe pain is a teacher as my master always said.” I stepped back. treating them with contempt was more painful than the wounds I had inflicted. They helped each other to their feet, and staggered away.

The Sulustan stared at me with wonder in his face. “How may I ever repay you?”

“By going home, and staying away from them.” I said softly. “Go before any friends they have might decide to show up.”

“If only staying away was easy! Czerka hires mercenaries as their security force, and there are more of them than the TSF can face. There are sections of the station that are patroled by them instead of the TSF. It is sad that the Republic does nothing about it. If the Jedi were still here...” He said the last plaintively. As if the Jedi would make everything right again.

I watched him scurry off.

*****

Any good feelings I had from rescuing the innocent vanished moments after we reached the TSF offices. Instead of a human the desk was manned by a protocol droid. I asked about my ship, and the day went downhill like a meteor hitting an atmosphere.

I rubbed my head. “So someone transferred our ship not to docking bay 72, but to Telos?”

“That is correct.” It replied levelly. Maybe the calm voice was supposed to calm me, but it wasn’t working. “You impound my ship and then you let someone steal it?”

“I knew it!” Atton raged. “That damn T3 is probably joy riding through hyper space right now!”

“On the contrary that could not have occurred.” The droid replied. “While the droid you speak of is not accounted for, there are numerous systems, both civilian and military that survey the space around Telos at all times. There is no record of a ship named the Ebon Hawk departing the system. It is more likely that the ship has been relocated to Telos as I first reported.”

“Wait a minute! Telos has acid rains and every area except for where the reclamation is going on is supposed to uninhabitable!”

“Not uninhabitable. merely inhospitable.” The droid replied. “The quarters on Module 082 will remain yours until this investigation is completed.”

“Oh great.” Atton snarled. “They have to investigate to see what happened at Peragus, then the Republic has to investigate it too. Then they have to investigate how a bounty hunter slipped through their oh so efficient security and now they have to investigate who stole our ship!” He threw up his hands. “What next? They investigate why they have so damn many investigations?”

“What about our gear?” I asked.

“Except for the miner’s uniform you had appropriated, it is in locker B21 in the impound locker. Since you had clothing already, there is no reason for us to return it to you.”

It was good that Atton was there to vent, or I would have been screaming. All I had to wear was my Jedi robes, and I didn’t want to wear them. They brought back too many memories. We collected the gear, and I spent a long time looking at them. Yes they were mine. Yes I had been a Jedi. But I did not feel worthy of wearing them and proclaiming to the Galaxy my shame. It was as if I had been a military officer cashiered for cowardice having only an old uniform to wear in public.

But there was nothing else to wear. The droid and the impound clerk assumed I didn’t want to look like a convict, and expected me to return that uniform as well. Finally I put them on. It felt so comfortable familiar and wrong at the same time. I felt the loop that would have held my saber staff. I felt naked without it.

Atton took one look at me, and his eyes bugged out. Maybe he was finally realizing that he was actually flirting with one of those vanished Jedi.

“What now?” He finally asked.

I sighed. “Even with the Republic paying for our room and meals unless we intend to stay in those rooms we will need money. To buy passage to the planet, or out of the system.” I shook my head. “I think we need to speak with Chodo Habat.”

Ithorians

Marai

It was different walking in a Jedi robe compared in that prison uniform. People looked at me and froze. They stepped out of the way, or bustled away from us whispering to each other. Occasionally I saw a look of hope or yearning. We went back to Residential 082, and the information kiosk directed us to the Ithorian enclave.

They had taken an entire housing section, and converted it to their own use. The door opened, and a greeter saw us. I could detect a subtle movement of a hand. If he had felt we were a danger the TSF would already be on the way. I didn’t think it was much of a deterrent. They’d probably have to do another investigation.

He gave that foghorn organ harmonic they called language, and I bowed. “I have been asked to attend upon Chodo Habat.”

The being spoke again, and a door behind him opened. There were a lot of Ithorians. They tend to be very communal, with a much closer personal space than a human would consider comfortable. I estimate there were about seventy Ithorians living in a space that would have been cramped for maybe 30 humans. Their rooms were buried in vegetation, and there was a smell of growing in the air. I breathed in appreciatively. They watched us, and I could feel the nervousness. Ithorians are vegetarian herd creatures. Having meat eating pack animals like humans walking through even peacefully made them nervous.

Oddly Chodo was younger than I was. By looking at the rim of the eye you can see the markings of the young, and he still had traces of it which are only lost when they reach their thirtieth year.

“Ah, it gladdens my hearts that you have come to us, Marai Devos. I am Chodo Habat. Leader of our people on this world. I am sorry that our meeting must be because of our problems, but I had nowhere to turn before I sensed your arrival in this system.”

“You are a priest of the Green Path?” I asked.

He was pleased that I had recognized the symbol on his robes. “Yes. As our customs require, all that travel far from our homes must be led by a priest. We of the Green Path are adepts of the force as you well know.”

I did indeed. Over 60 percent of the Conservation corps the Jedi had formed all those millennia had always been Ithorians. They have a larger percentage of their population sensitive to it than any race in the Galaxy, but they are so benign that less than a tenth of a percent, one 20th of the human populations, ever aspired to the Jedi order.

Instead they became those that caused deserts to bloom, that took the devastated lands and made them whole again as they wish to do here.

“I suspected that you might be one of the remaining Jedi and hoped that you could aid us. But I also felt that you were in need of healing.”

“He mentioned this to me.” I said. “But I still do not understand.”

“The echo I felt upon your arrival was tainted, marred by an unbearable pain. It was a pain not of the body, but of the sprit itself. Never have I felt such from a single living being.

“I sensed that your link to the force had been severed, but never have I felt such as this in my life! It is as if someone had dug into your soul with tools to wrest it from you, and the hollow place within the woman that now stands before me echoes with all that you might have attained.”

“I once felt the force. It was taken as you say, but now, for some reason, I feel it returning to me.”

“If the Jedi had done this, they would have been more careful, willing to expend effort so that you were not harmed. Sure that the force could not return. If you would let me examine you, perhaps I can help you heal yourself.”

“Your speech is pretty but the Ithorians do not give away anything. Especially those of the Green Path. You are bold to speak of healing even one person if you cannot do the same for the planet below us.” Kreia glared at him.

He looked at her. “Understand, Marai Devos, it pains us to see any being in pain. Yet your companion is correct. We must focus on the planet Telos, and our problems with Czerka.”

“I have been apprised of some of those problems by Moza.”

“There is much he does not know. Our first task is to begin the reconstruction again.”

“Begin again? Cast aside almost four years of work?”

“It would not be our first choice,. However our problems have been many. When we first began, the Republic supplied a droid AI with the capability to oversee intelligence to assure that our efforts were recorded and balanced to assure we did no damage. Yet less than four months after Czerka began to operate here, the droid... disappeared.”

“How could it disappear? Was it stolen?”

“I cannot say for certain. It was in the Telos Governmental offices. One day they came to work and it was gone.” He considered. “It is possible that the task merely overloaded it, and it wandered off. Ecosystems such as this one are highly complex, and the patterns of intervention necessary are doubly so. However some among my herd believe that it was stolen. Such a droid intelligence could easily maintain a station twice the size of this one, and therefore is very valuable. Others believe that it was destroyed or taken by Czerka in their attempts to control the restoration. Why and how this happened is irrelevant.

“Unfortunately, the Republic is unable to supply another. We had spent our own money to purchase a lesser machine which can handle such affairs on a daily and perhaps weekly basis. But we fear that something will happen to this one as well. We would be unable to replace it if that occurs. It is due to arrive in the morning, and while the TSF has supplied an escort, I would ask you to bolster that team and assure that it arrives here.”

I looked at him. “Where must I go?”

“There are other problems.” He said softly. “It is not only Czerka we are dealing with. The Exchange is helping them.”

“The Exchange.”

“Yes.” He stopped. “They have the bounty upon living Jedi, as you no doubt know. Jana Lorso has agreed to give them... concessions if they stay their hand against you on this station during this time. Concessions worth more than the bounty offered.”

“I have heard it is quite a sum.” He mentioned a figure, and I blinked. Coorta had been right. You could retire and still give your children a tidy sum when you died. “But what is worth more than that?”

“Think of all the vices people have, human. Think of one organization being given permission to exercise that franchise. Czerka owns enough of the government that a century from now when the planet is still a wasteland doing it their way, the Exchange will still be allowed to rape it as well.”

The thought infuriated me. The planet below was homeland of over a billion and a half people. People wanting to go home, wishing it would be reclaimed, yet if Czerka had it’s way, the generation now waiting would be dead and gone before anything substantative was done. All out of greed. I felt a hand on my arm, and looked at Kreia. I could feel her eyes, knew she would suggest I let this burden pass to another.

But once I had been a Jedi. I had put my life on the line for people with less to lose than these. By all the gods if I had regained the capabilities that had made me Jedi before, I was not going to step aside even if my death ended the order itself. I would earn the title again even if only to have it written as my epitaph.

“They will not use just force.” I said. “They will use the law if they can, keeping their mercenaries and the Exchange as a last resort.”

“You have judged the situation very well. Czerka has already petitioned a judge to have the droid seized.”

“On what grounds?”

“The ship carrying the droid was damaged by a proton mine when it arrived at Deresai. We had to unload it, and reload it upon a hired courier.”

I understood immediately. Deresai was a shipment point for a lot of illegal drugs and equipment. Since it was not a member of the Republic, the Jedi had never been able to come in and clean out that nest of villainy. Ships were allowed to use their facilities for repairs or fueling, even to deliver cargos. But Under Republic law, all cargos from the planet had to be searched and quarantined. Merely picking up any cargo there made the cargo suspect automatically.

“Where was the droid kept while you were waiting, and where was the courier based?”

“The ship held position away from the docks until the courier arrived. It was a Corellian diplomatic courier, and when asked, agreed to carry the droid from there.”

“Do you have records of all this?”

“The report that the ship had been damaged and the actions of the captain were sent immediately. When the courier arrived, and had agreed, that information was sent as well. Both in sealed encyrpted packets under Corellian diplomatic seal. Copies are also aboard the courier for inspection.”

I grinned. “Don’t you know a friendly judge?”

“There are honest men still in the government.”

“Then here is what I want you to do.” I gave him the basis of the plan, and he agreed. In fact I was surprised it had not already occurred to him.”

“It will be done. The ship will arrive tomorrow morning at 0800 hours on pad 4 in module 126.”

“Good. I have something I have to do before it arrives.” He looked a question at me. “I must find the leader of the Exchange here on the station. Perhaps I can talk them out of this bounty.”

“The leader of the Exchange on the station is a Quarren named Loppack Slusk. However he has refused every request we have made for a meeting.”

“Then where can I call him?”

“He does not deal directly with anyone. His assistant Luxa. She spends a great deal of time at the Cantina in Module 044. She is the one you must convince.”

“Then I will speak to her.”

“Here.” Chodo motioned, and Moza handed him three slim bracelets. “These are linked to our accounts. If you are helping us, we would be honored if you allow us to pay for your needs.”

*****

Moza

The woman walked out with her friends. I clutched myself near my third stomach. Chodo looked at me. “Did you feel it this time, Moza?”

“Yes, leader.” I gasped. “Such pain and suffering. I have never felt such agony within one being before.”

“I know.” He said softly. “The last time I felt such was when I stepped upon Telos when we came to acknowledge contract. This woman holds more pain and suffering than an entire planet should hold.”

“But how does she bear it? A normal being should fall and die just from a tithe of such pain.”

“Humans, especially those who become Jedi are much stronger than they look. She bore this pain before she was stripped of the force, and she bears it now because she will not accept the only alternative, which is to die. Perhaps by helping her heal, the way can be shown for Telos. We must concentrate on that.”

The Exchange

Marai

As we headed for module 44, Kreia was a sullen weight behind me. I turned to face her. “Kreia?”

“I do not like this alliance you have formed. The Ithorians and especially Chodo Habat has his own agenda. An agenda that has us as mere employees to fulfill his dreams.”

“Can it not be said we have our own agenda as well?”

“If keeping you alive and finding a way to have you trained to your potential is an agenda, then yes we do.” She growled.

“But I sensed no duplicity in him. He means us no harm.”

“This from a woman that last week felt nothing of the force. Set aside your feelings. We do not need extra entanglements at this moment. You are too important to the fate of the galaxy to tie yourself to one sad little planet.”

“You might be right, Kreia. But unless we intend to steal a ship, we are stuck here. Unlike Czerka, he is not asking us to stand aside and let the crime be committed.”

“True.” She admitted, though I could tell she wanted to disagree. “Perhaps he can discover what has happened to the ship. Or can help us get off this station.”

The Cantina on Module 044 was a more upscale establishment than the ones on Module 081. The music was soft and light. The lighting just dim enough to give privacy. There were privacy booths, but they were not for Twi-lek women to give furtive lap dances, but for quiet conversation. Of course that didn’t mean you could not enjoy that very service. Just that no one would chuckle behind their hand at it.

“Which one do you think this Luxa is in?” Atton asked.
I chuckled. “Tell me Atton, who else would have Gamorreans watching over them?” I nodded toward a booth at the far end. Three Gamorreans stood there.

We walked over to them, waving away the attempt by a waiter to seat us. I stopped facing the largest. It is always easy to figure out who is in charge among the Gamorreans. If there is a female, it is her. If they are all male as in this case, then it is the largest one. “What you want?” He grunted.

“I am here to see Luxa.”

His eyes flicked to the curtain. “She is... indisposed. If you will wait at a table-”

“No.” I stood there, crossing my arms. “I will wait right here.”

He shrugged. We refused drinks. I wasn’t going to touch anything that didn’t come out of a tap or I didn’t cook for myself until we were well shut of this place.

About twenty minutes later, a young woman stepped out, straightening her clothes. She saw us, blushed furiously, then hurried away. The leader of the bodyguards stuck his head in, then leaned back out. “She will see you. But only you.”

I nodded, stepping between them, and went through the curtain. Luxa was almost 30 centimeters taller than I was, and her body was shaped like someone had taken an hourglass and put an hour and thirty minutes worth of sand in it. She was lush with heavy breasts, and a sated expression.

“Oh I wish he had told me you were so...tasty.” She purred. “I would have skipped my lunch date.”

“I am here to see about speaking with Loppak Slusk.”

“Oh I have no doubt.” She purred. “Please, sit.” She motioned toward the space beside her. I slid into the booth, and her arm draped around my neck. “And why would you in your cute little Jedi robes wish to speak with Slusk?”

“The Exchange seems to think I am still a Jedi, and I am sick unto death with having to deal with your men. I wish to see if there is a way I can be left in peace.”

“Nothing would be easier?” She said, her hand playing idly with my hair. “When we have one of the...unfortunates people think are Jedi captured, we do a Midichlorian count, and if they do not have a high enough one, we merely send them on their way.”

I wondered how they would do that. Midichlorians are symbiotic microbes that feed on the force. The average human say has a count of between 50 and 200. The higher the count, the greater the possibility that the person can direct the force. The average Jedi in comparison has between four and eleven thousand.

But what would happen if my blood was tested? I am sure I would be at the same level as before, around 6500. The fact that I was unable to use all of the capability that implied would be hard to explain.

“May I speak frankly?”

“Please do.” Her hand caught at my bun. “May I?” I nodded, and she began releasing my hair.

“I was a Jedi long ago. But I was banished from the order. They removed my ability to use the force. I would have a high Midichlorian count, but it would be worthless if they are after a real Jedi.”

She had released the hair, which now fell in a sheet of reddish yellow to my waist. She caught handfuls of it, pulling them to her face, and breathed in. “So sweet.” She whispered. “I understand what you must be facing then. Our client would be upset because they did not get what they wanted, and you would be inconvenienced.” She reached out, touching my chin, and turning me to face her. She kissed me delicately on the lips.

“I cannot have such a lovely morsel inconvenienced. Especially when I might wish to sip on these lips again, now can I?”

She leaned away from me, picking up a pad. She punched in some information, then caught the data chip, holding it out to me. “Module 721, the Bumani warehouse. Just hand this to the secretary and she will direct you.”

“Thank you.”

She caught my arm. “Is that the way you thank someone for saving your life?” She pulled me into her arms, and kissed me for real.

I had never felt this before, or at least never with a woman. Unlike a man, the kiss was not harsh or forceful. Oh it was forceful and I still blush at the thought of it. But a woman can be demanding in such things, and it is so much...softer than a man if you understand what I mean.

She pulled back, and both of us were breathing heavily. “Afterward perhaps we can spend some quality time together?”

“If my time permits.” I answered. She nodded, smiling a sweet smile, and let me go.

“Are you all right?” Atton asked. I nodded. “What did she do in there?” I signalled for silence. We left the cantina, catching the shuttle pod to module 721. “Well?”

“I would rather not talk about it, Atton.”

“Did she...” He was trying to think of a polite way to say it.

“If you are asking did she seduce our friend, the answer is, she tried.” Kreia snapped bluntly. “But what concern of your is it?”

We passed the rest of the trip in uncomfortable silence.

machievelli
08-08-2006, 03:26 PM
Confrontation

Atton

I had never been so embarrassed or... conflicted in my life. She was almost ten years older than me, and had Jedi powers that scared me witless. But she was also a vulnerable attractive woman, and I wanted to shove everyone aside and hold her when she was in pain. I had seen that girl that had left the booth when we arrived. She had the same look you would have expected if she had been raped or at least forced. I had immediately pegged this Luxa as a woman that didn’t have a use for men except for muscle to protect her. When Marai came out her hair down, a look like a trapped animal in her eyes I wanted to push through those guards and beat the woman bloody!

But I couldn’t. Unless you’re willing to kill them Gamorreans are hard to just push aside. And I’m willing to bet the number 2 of the Exchange here wouldn’t just let me hit her.

I kept watching her as the shuttle pod flew along. Her hair was still down, and I suddenly pictured it spread across a pillow, her face thoughtful as she looked up at me. I banished the picture blushing. Damnit!

Module 721 was warehouses. One of them was marked as Bumani as she had told us when we stepped out of the pod, and she went to the door.

Their was an office beyond it, and a young woman sat there behind the desk. The bar on the desk read Vula Trask. She was on the com with someone, and waved at us to wait. When she was done, she turned, giving us a 300 watt professional smile. “May I help you?”

Marai passed over a data chip. Vula inserted it in the desk slot, looking at the screen. I saw the change in her eyes. Furtive, nervous. Of course it didn’t show in her voice. She started to reach for a stud, and Marai trapped the hand against the desk with cruising force.

“I think we had best talk about what that chip said.”

“Please, don’t kill me.” Vula whispered. “I’m only doing my job.”

“The excuse ‘I was only obeying orders’ bears no weight on the scales of justice. Now tell me, what will happen when you push that stud?”

“The guards in the next room will stun you.” She whispered. “after that, I don’t know.”

“More rather you don’t want to know.” I snapped. I could see from her haunted look that she might not know for sure, but she had a good idea.

“If you leave, I will not kill you. Come back in a few hours. When it is safe.” Marai suggested.

Vula stood and fled. Marai took out a concussion grenade, setting the fuse idly.

“What do you want to do?”

She smiled, taping the stud. “Why open the door of course.” As it slid open she threw the grenade at the floor about a meter inside the next room, ducking.

The flash bang went off on impact, and she was through the door among a group of Gamorrean guards. Her sword spun like an old fashioned propeller and before I had even drawn my weapon, she was surrounded by the dead. She charged across to the opposite door, and we followed.

It opened, and there were half a dozen more. A Quarren was standing beside another door farther in, and he shook his head. “Never send Gamorreans to do a man’s job. He turned to the man in armor beside him. “Benok, I want them alive, but if they are dead, I will not complain too much.” He stepped through the door at his back, which closed.

“This can go easy or hard, woman. Take your choice.”

Marai smiled, then leaped forward, diving under the arms of a Rodian. She kicked him in the chest, and he went down, blood spraying from his nostrils. I took out a couple with my blaster, turning to help, but the others were already dead.

Marai went to the door, tried the keypad, then closed her eyes. “Atton, find an ion grenade among these idiots.” She ordered. I searched the bodies. Benok had a real nice blaster, and I slid it into my jacket. I started to toss the grenade to her, but she shook her head. She was still facing the door, eyes still closed. Then she stepped back. “Two meters in. Impact fuse it.” she told me.

Before I could ask what she meant, she reached out, and the doors peeled back like foil. I saw the droids and threw. It landed more like two and a half meters in, but the electromagnetic pulse fried the droids. Marai waved, and they flew across the room and fell in a heap.

Loppack stood behind his desk. “You handled yourself pretty good. We can use such people.”

“I am not here to be used, Slusk.” She snarled. “I came to ask you to leave me alone, and you set your pack of hounds on me.”

“What do you want? Money? I can give you more than you can spend in your lifetime.”

“Money means nothing to me. In a perfect world I would kick your rancid flesh from the station forever. Spare me!” She waved a hand. “I am sure you will promise me anything and would give me nothing once my blade is not at your throat.”

I heard something, and turned staring. Luxa and her entourage was standing there, looking at the carnage we had made. I could see a look of satisfaction on her face. “You know, woman, if Slusk were dead, I would be in charge. I can promise-”

“What?” Kreia asked softly. “We can read your black heart. You will promise her freedom, and once you have slaked your lusts she would be shipped to Nar Shaddaa.”

Luxa sighed, shaking her head with a smile. “Goto would be happy to give me anything in return for her. I am sure he could find a woman with hair like that for me to use as I see fit.

“A pity you refuse to leave her the illusion of freedom.”

I turned away from Slusk, and my weapon blew the first Gamorrean apart. The second went down as Kreia leaped past Marai into the room with Slusk. I heard a high pitched scream as Marai slapped the ‘Negotiator’ from Luxa’s hand. The woman screamed ‘Wait!” But Marai’s back stroke buried the blade in her chest.

Kreia was standing over the desk, wiping her own blade off. Marai walked in, looking at the room. “What now?” Kreia asked.

Marai looked at the desk. “Atton, slice into his system.”

“Are you mad?” I asked.

“I am sure the TSF would love to have all the information we can get. It’s not like the Exchange is going to kiss and make up after this.”

“There is that.” I shoved the body aside. I began key in. “On second thought, Maybe Nar Shaddaa isn’t a good idea.”

“You’re just catching on?” Marai asked.

“Hey if this Goto wants you as bad as these guys thought, I don’t think it would be wise to try to hide in his own backyard. The Exchange has been having troubles lately, but that has just made them more mean.”

“Troubles?”

“Yeah. Some guy stole a lot of cash from them when he decided to leave a few years ago. Something Kang I think his name was. A lot of bosses were angry, crossed the wrong lines, went to the wrong planets, and about one or two thousand dead later, they finally stopped accusing each other of stealing it.” I paused. “Retina locked.” I picked up Slusk’s head, held it in front of the scanner, and dropped it again. “All right we’re in.” I looked at it. Everything the Exchange had been doing in two dozen systems. Places, dates times, money transferred. Just a tenth of this would make Grenn’s career.

It took two pads to download all of Slusk’s files. Marai suggested I access Luxa’s, going back out of the room. Hers were not only retina encoded, but pore and DNA as well. Marai dragged in the body, and I used the cooling flesh to get what she wanted. There couldn’t be enough to make it worth it...

I took it back. Luxa had handled the transfer of money and other enticements to a dozen different political figures not only here but in the senate. Grenn was looking at being the high muckety muck in the TSF when this hit his hot little hands. In fact I could see a lot of promotions in the Republic Judiciary when they were done.

We left the mess for someone else to clean up. Of course all we had done was decapitate them here. Someone else would step in, probably before the end of the shift, and they’d be back in business like nothing happened. The files we now had would do a lot more damage than a dozen bodies ever would.

We caught a shuttle pod to another section, had a meal at a kiosk we chose at random, and then caught another to module 082. Marai was flipping one of the data pads in her hand absently.

“What are you thinking?” I asked her.

“Have you thought of what might be in the Czerka Corporation’s files that might be just as interesting?”

Delivery and Retrieval

Marai

Before going home, we stopped at the Ithorian compound. The idea of raiding Czerka’s sealed files had been considered, but the system was closed. It wasn’t linked to anything outside their office. To slice it someone would have to go into the offices, past their security, and take them directly off the mainframe.

There was an employee of Czerka that might help, according to Chodo. Corrun Falt had been the man in charge when Czerka had first come to the station, but had been replaced almost immediately by Jana Lorso. He had been working on controlling everything but the reclamation project, which would have been more than enough for most corporations. But Lorso had pushed for more and more. If you’ve seen the Czerka Corporation ads you’d think they were all sweet innocent people that went out of their way to help people. Falt seemed to believe it, or wanted it to be true, at least.

We were able to contact him, and he told us that only two people had access, Lorso herself and B4D4, her administrative assistant droid. But due to the push to control more and more of the surface of Telos, there was a way past this. They had hired an outside contractor, a Duros named Opo Chano to do their maintenance on B4. He gave us his address and an introduction.

Chano was glad to help if he could. But he owed a lot of money to the Exchange. Credits passed hands, and an hour later he walked into the Czerka main offices, and came out with the droid. We took it to the Ithorian compound where their techs would reprogram it while we slept.

*****

The next morning we had breakfast, picked up what we needed from the Ithorians, and made our way to Module 126. We had to move not only openly but forcefully because we wanted Czerka to be watching us when the droid walked in to get the data.

I met the TSF escort at the module 081 annex. There was only one man.
We rode across toward module 126. He was young, terrified, and happy to have us with him.

When we got out, I let him lead. After all, this was his party. A pair of Czerka men stood in our way.

“So you decided to accept their offer instead of ours.” He said coldly directly to me. I looked at him. “Do you really think a group of tree hugging freaks can do a better job that we can?”

I stepped around the TSF trooper. “When someone worries more about the bottom line than the job, I always know they will fail.” I told him. “Now get out of our way.”

He smirked. “Oh I don’t think so.” He held up a paper. “This is a court order issued by Judge Rombold of the Superior court ordering that the droid you are coming to collect be placed in storage until proof has been offered that it is not being used in a known smuggling operation.”

“Funny.” I took the paper and handed him one of my own. “This is a court order by Judge Santi of the Telosian Supreme Court ordering that this-” I waved his shot- “be held in abeyance until such time as something beyond mere accusation can prove your contention.”

He glared at me. There was no such proof and he knew it. If we had filed after they had taken the droid, it would have been impossible to get it back. Czerka would now have to supply all of their proofs to the Supreme Court before any action could be taken. While the superior court had a backlog of several months, the Supreme Court had one of almost a decade. He bowed acknowledging that we had beaten him at this point and stalked away.

The droid was standing with an Ithorian beside the Corellian Courier. I had started across the deck toward them when something I sensed caused me to act. I ducked, reached out and slammed the droid on his back, and spun toward a man on the catwalk above. “Atton!”

He drew, aimed, and shot the man before he got ten paces. I motioned, and he climbed up the catwalk as I went to help the droid back to his feet. The Ithorian was still standing there, stunned.

“Are you all right?”

“Yes.” He finally said. “I am just... stunned by the violence. Such is not normal in our society.”

“I would say welcome to the real world, but I don’t think you would appreciate it.”

He gave me a hurt look. “Can we complete this business? I wish to be among my own kind again.”

Atton climbed down, and wordlessly handed me the weapon. It was a Czerka model 9, their cheap end hand weapon. But it had been modified with a bell chamber electromagnetic signature nullifier, and an IR modulation.. The bell chamber would make it completely silent. The electromagnetic nullifier meant you could carry it through a weapons detector and it read as a lump of metal. The modulation meant that the plasma bolt would be tuned to the infrared spectrum, so it would not be detectable to the human eye. You could walk through a crowded room set it a centimeter from someone’s back, fire, and be out before the man had even fallen over. It was an assassin’s weapon. Grenn would love this.

We delivered the droid without incident.

Czerka

Marai

We had hit a gold mine in the Czerka office. I know it’s only used for some jewelry and circuitry now, but it used to be valuable.

Czerka, like every corporation, kept voluminous records. Every centi-cred had to be accounted for so the accountants were happy. That meant that everything they had spent buying politicians, judges, bureaucrats and police was there in glaring relief. Unfortunately, the ten main people had not committed a lot of crimes under Telosian law. It isn’t a crime to donate to a politician. But the politicians had violated the law by taking so much to stay bought.

A number of the lower and middle echelon Czerka people had however. They had run their own little schemes, and as long as the Corporate headquarters had a black bottom line, they didn’t care. Weapons had been shipped in labeled as machine parts, reworked until they were more efficient albeit illegal, and sold through outlets from here to Nar Shaddaa. They had tried several times to get reclamation areas below that had Bachani plants turned over to them, and for a moment I had thought I knew why.

Bachani grows on a planet called Sanhedra. It thrives in what a human would call a toxic waste dump. The planet had heavy metals in the air soil and water, and would have killed an unprotected man in hours. But life that should have died flourished if within a few meters of these plants.

Somehow, the bachani plant took in that toxic waste, and produced clean oxygen, something like ten to fifteen times what was normal for plants on other worlds. By cycling the water of Telos through the bachani they had cleaned the ocean of normal contaminants within the first three years. Planting them in the catch basins for the rivers had kept the oceans clean. With a free hand and a few thousand bachani they could clean the planet in a decade.

Atton was the one that disabused me. bachani has another use, if you’re willing to take the risk. By soaking the leaves in a chemical bath, you released the alkaloids from the inner plant fibers. This was dangerous, and killed about fifty to a hundred people a year when they didn’t take care. The slurry when fractioned off made a spice nicknamed Star-rider. The waste was so toxic not even bachani could clean it up. It was an hallucinogenic, and highly addictive. Worse was that it could be administered without anyone knowing, being odorless and colorless. Someone had taken over the government of Wallmeri with it about a century ago. Most places had a death sentence on it’s manufacture. Those that didn’t had prison sentences measured in decades. The planet had been cordoned off, and only the Ithorians had the clout to get past that blockade.

I went myself to deliver all of the data we had gathered. Lt Grenn snarled when I came in, but he read the files slowly, first the Exchange records, then Czerkas.

“Let me get this straight.” He finally said, glaring at me. “You’ve treated this station as your own hunting preserve and killed by my estimate twenty people. If that wasn’t enough you have broken into not one but two secure data bases, and stolen files from them.” He spun around, and his voice was a roar. “Have you anything to say?”

I shook my head.

He laughed, the first real emotion I had seen on that face. “Well done. I don’t know or care if you’re a Jedi, but you did work worthy of one of them. Not get out of here. You just dumped a decade of work on my desk, and I intend to enjoy every minute of it.”

I felt almost buoyant as I walked back toward the shuttle module. Chodo would find a way to get us down to Telos, or I’d know the reason why.

I stopped at a kiosk that sold clothes, buying another set of clothing. I would take off these robes, and if I every earned the right, I would wear them again.

An information kiosk nearby flashed at me, and I looked at it curiously. I knew the com system could track someone down, but it had been a long time since I was worth even speaking to. I keyed in the com. The Ithorians? I tapped the accept key.

“Marai Devos! Help!” It was Moza, and he used their herd cry for danger, which rattles the clearsteel of the tunnel. I tapped the shut off, then hit the one for our room.

“We out of here?” Atton asked.

“Ithorian compound, bring everything!” I shouted, then I keyed off, and was running.

Ithorians

Atton

I knew she was supposed to be a soldier, knew she had experience, but I had never been on the receiving end of such an order before. It wasn’t will you, or do this. It was do it right the flaming hell now! I had grabbed my gun, shouted for Kreia, and was double timing down the module walk before I even considered what had happened.

The doors to the Ithorian compound had been sealed, and I was about to try to slice the lock when Marai came running from the other end, her new robes flying. She waved me away, set her feet, reached out with both hands, then jerked them as if she were pulling something. The door bowed outward, then at the second convulsive jerk ripped away, slamming into the wall behind her. People screamed and dived for cover including me.

Not Marai. She had her sword out, and leaped through the door in a smooth curve, nothing but the shriek of her battle cry outside with us.

I found my feet, and was less than a second behind Kreia. There had been four mercenaries in the next room. They were armored, armed with both swords and guns, and for all the good it had done them, might as well have been naked. Marai had gone through them like a food processor, and hadn’t even slowed down.

I ran past the table where the doorman had sat. He lay dead. The next room was a mixed bag of dead. Half a dozen Ithorians shot down as they had tried to flee. There had been maybe seven men in here with five or six droids. I arrived as Marai caught the last droid with the force, and picked it up, squeezing. It rained down in parts.

She cut to the left, opposite of the way we had gone before. There was a door marked with Ithorian runic scrip that said vivarium. A mercenary turned, and I recognized him from the Cantina. He didn’t even have time to speak before he went down cut almost in half. Beyond him was the larger man. He flung down his blaster, screaming ‘Please” But Marai punched him the same way she had done it before, but this time I saw his back explode outward.

As he sagged, Marai glared at him. “I don’t give a man his life a second time.” She snarled.

Moza was in a corner, and I don’t know what shocked him more, the enemy that had invaded his home, or the monster he called ally.

“Where is Chodo.” She snapped. He pointed with a quivering hand, and Marai was past me like a heat seeking missile. I backpedaled, changed direction, and followed.

We headed for Chodo’s office. Three Mercenaries were outside the door, and one of them had attached a charge to it. Marai was among them like a bomb. I shot one she had flung aside, and drew down on the other but he hit the wall as if he‘d been fired from a cannon.

She had the last held a foot off the ground. “You have five seconds to tell me who sent you.”

He sneered, and she slammed him into the wall. She pulled the sticky pad on the charge off the door, and laid it on the chest of the mercenary, pulling the detonator from his hand. She flipped a switch, the anti-tamper device, so that only a professional could remove it. Then she snapped her leg down, breaking both knees.

She held the detonator where he could see it. “Five.”

“I can’t!” He screamed.

“Four.”

“Damnit, my career would be over!”

“Three.”

“They’ll kill me!”

“I will blow you to hell in two seconds.”

He stared at her.

“One.”

Her thumb started to move.

“Czerka! Lorso said it wouldn’t matter if the Ithorian priest was dead! If we killed him it would take months for another to be chosen!”

She stared at the blubbering man. “Atton. Call Lt Grenn. I think we have our proof.”

The TSF security men came to take the man away after they had removed his armor rather than disarming the bomb.

Once that was done, we keyed the door for access.

Chodo answered it, and I was struck by the preternatural calm of the being. If we had arrived seconds later he would be dead. That did not seem to have bothered him.

Marai told him what had happened, and his head bowed.

“I wish we had been able to reach out in peace to them instead.”

“Some people don’t give you that choice.” Marai replied softly. “There are those that must make everything a confrontation and battle.”

“Yes. I do not know how to repay you, Marai Devos.”

“We need transport to Telos.”

He looked at her, than at us. “You do know that it is illegal for anyone not directly connected with the reclamation efforts to go to the planet’s surface? Artifacts from the devastated areas are very valuable to the more ghoulish collectors.”

“My ship is there. I must have it or be trapped here on the sufferance of others.”

“I understand. Our own shuttle is at your disposal.” He looked at Kreia and I. But before you go, I would like a word with you in private.”

Marai nodded sharply, and pushed us out.

Marai

I closed the door, and faced him calmly.

“Years ago I walked upon the horribly damaged surface of Telos for the first time. It was not a pleasant walk. I felt the agony of an entire planet ripped apart by war. When I spoke to you before, I mentioned your pain. That you bear pain greater than any I had ever felt in a single being, in anything except for the planet below us. If I had time, I could work upon you as we must with a planet such as the one below, but we do not have that time.”

“I understand. If it is too much, I will merely go.”

“It is not too much, merely that what I can do may not be enough. I may injure you so that you lose what little measure of the force you can feel now. Would you risk it all for that?”

I sighed, closing my eyes. For the first time in years, I felt alive again. I had a purpose, perhaps a destiny again. Did i really want to return to a half existence? “Do what you can. I accept the consequences.”

He motioned, and lay his hand on my stomach just over the solar plexus. “This will be painful. But if I am to do this, I must do it quickly."

Painful was an understatement. I felt as if he’d rammed his hand through my body, grabbed my spine and was trying to rip it from my back. I bit back a scream, my hands dropping to his, but instead of pulling it away, I kept him from removing it.

The suddenly the pain just vanished. I had not noticed in all those years what I had been feeling. It was like waking up one morning and discovering that you had been carrying a ton of weight on your shoulders that wasn’t there any more.

He helped me back to my feet. “Perhaps I have done enough. Only time will tell.”

I walked out. We made our way to the landing bay, and climbed into the shuttle.

“Ithorian design. I may have a few problems with this.” Atton said. But his fingers flashed along the console like a concert violinist. We lifted smoothly, dropping through one of the gaps between modules. Kreia sat against the wall, sulking. She seemed to feel that only she could teach me anything about the force. Maybe she might even be right. But to have someone tell you over and over that you were too weak top walk your own path either ruins your self esteem, or ticks you off, and she was beginning to seriously endanger my calm.

Right before we hit atmosphere I felt it. Chodo had spoken of pain, but only someone in tune with the force could feel this, and none that could would wish to. It was having your entire family die. Not in one screaming lump, but over a period of days as you watch. I could feel the pain of the things that still ived there, the pain of the planet’s own Force and felt it swirling, trying to find an outlet for that pain. No wonder the Ithorians tried to stay away except when they absolutely had to touch the surface.

Atton pointed. Czerka base ahead. I’ll find-” He jerked the controls, and I slammed into the bulkhead. “Hold on!”

Something slammed into the side of the ship, and air screamed in. I could see the carbon scoring, watched ground and sky change places in a bewildering pattern, then I saw the ground coming up and we hit.

Rain128
08-09-2006, 08:24 AM
Another great chapter Mach. i like the story more then the game =)

The only thing i miss is the way you play out some fight seens and just skip over others.. i under stand that you cant write them all, but I can dream cant I ;)

machievelli
08-09-2006, 03:48 PM
Another great chapter Mach. i like the story more then the game =)

The only thing i miss is the way you play out some fight seens and just skip over others.. i under stand that you cant write them all, but I can dream cant I ;)


A lot of the fights are just what they used to call Random Encounters in D&D. If you have ever played that game, you can see how dragging it would be even for the DM to have to wax lyrical about every hack and slash.

Puls there is no middle ground in most RPGs. Either you can alk or you can fight. Not a lot of options. In life there would be a few more. Not including walking away.

If you just want hack and slash, I am definitely not the Game Master you want to deal with. I make the players work for it.

machievelli
08-09-2006, 04:08 PM
Interlude

“What do you mean she’s not on the station Grenn roared.

The Security officer on the other end of the com line wilted. “We went to her rooms as instructed, but Marai Devos was not there. Their equipment was gone, so I believed they might have tried to gain passage. But except for a few shuttles from Czerka and the Ithorians, nothing has left the station.”

“Well find here!” Grenn looked at his monitor, the blinking light of a call on hold. He tapped it.

The Republic naval technician on the other end looked up. “Admiral Onasi wants to speak with you.”

“Sure.” Grenn said sadly. Why not?

Onasi was young for his rank- barely forty eight, but unlike Saul Karath, the Senate and the fighting admirals of the fleet had gone to bat for him. Hero of the Mandalorian wars, hero of the Jedi Civil war, the man that had led the assault that had smashed the Star Forge for all time, no bench warming sycophant was going to relegate him to a desk job.

“Well! Good to see some things don’t change on Telos.” The words were welcoming, but both felt the sadness in them. Grenn had lived less than a mile from Onasi’s old home. He had been a sergeant then, watched the bravest man he knew bawl like a baby as he held his dead wife. He had changed then, gotten colder, more willing to risk himself in ending the Jedi Civil war. During that attack on the Star Forge, he had changed, becoming more as he had been before. He smiled more readily, and was more willing to listen to reason.

“Good to see you again Carth.”

“Sojourn will be there in...” He looked off screen. “Fifteen minutes.”

“I have some bad news for you, sir. The ship you were so interested in is gone. The woman that was aboard it is not the one you thought she was. It was Marai Devos. My records say she was a Jedi, but except for reference a decade or more old, I have nothing about her.”

“Not to worry, Grenn. I came personally to tell her that the Republic has adopted a hands off approach to her exile.”

“Exile?” Grenn stared at him in shock. “That little slip of a woman is the ‘Exile’?”

“None other. And I would suggest you not consider her a little slip of a girl either. She has five medals of commendation from the Mandalorian was, including the Parliamentary Medal of Honor for Malchior V.” His finger brushed his own award.

“Then you won’t be surprised what she did here.” Grenn sat down leaning back. He was going to enjoy this.

Telos

Marai

I swam back to consciousness. Someone was holding my body up, dabbing my face with a rag. I opened my eyes. It couldn’t be. “Bao Dur?”

He ducked his head shyly. “Best take it easy for a few ticks, General. You’ve had a busy morning.”

“It can’t be.”

“Why not?” He asked. The last time I had seen him was before Malchior V. I had threatened to gut a doctor that wanted to amputate his arm. The Zabrak refuse such surgery unless the limbs stay in their possession for proper burial, and the doctor didn’t understand that taking the arm without asking his permission would have driven him into a depression he would have died in.

They had not saved the arm, but I had been there when he consigned the limb to a sun’s corona, and knew that he accepted the loss as something that had happened. I had never heard him raise his voice in the years I had known him back then. A survivor of the devastation of Iridorn, he had given himself into Republic service. He was the best mechanic I had ever seen, and worth his weight in light saber crystals.

I tried to stand, and he caught me before I could hit the ground. I had bruises where I didn’t even know I had places.

“Easy there, General. You’ve already survived one major crash today. Let’s not go for two.” He looked behind me, and I turned my head carefully. The shuttle saw smoking, flame licking from the opened door. I tried to push him away, but he turned me until I saw Kreia and Atton. Atton was holding his head as if he was afraid it would fall off. “Besides I owe you one, General.”

“General.” I replied. I wasn’t tracking that well yet.

“Some damage, maybe some memory loss. It’s normal for head injuries.” He said. “Pity you’re not a droid. One quick adjustment, and all the memories are right there again.”

He looked at the sky, and I felt a crushing weight of loneliness. Zabrak are social people. To be here alone must have been finely strained agony. “But droids have it better. All you need to do is hit a button and every memory that might be a harm to them is just gone and can’t be brought back.”

“No.” I shook my head and wonder of wonders, it didn’t hit the ground. “I just haven’t been called General in a very long time.”

“I try not to remember the war myself.” He agreed. I was able to walk, and he guided me to the others. “Lucky for you guys I was out on some personal business. I saw you come down, and thought maybe you just needed some repairs. But that shuttle is fried and diced. Not much even for salvage.”

Atton Shook his head, then looked around. “Just like the last time I was on Telos.”

“You make a habit of crashing?” Bao Dur asked.

“No. I was playing Pazaak and someone decided that I had cheated.”

“Did you?”

Atton didn’t answer.

“Perhaps the next time we can find a competent pilot.” Kreia said.

“You’re welcome. And for your information little miss ‘I am so much better than anyone’ If i hadn’t been a good pilot we would have hit the shield wall at the base, or one of these cliffs. We could be a bug on the windshield instead.”

“Yes.” Kreia replied dryly. “Trapped on a toxic planet without transport and a hostile enemy force over the hill. Our situation is so much more pleasant.”

“Could you two keep it down to a dull roar?” I snapped peevishly. “What the hell hit us?”

“I saw the field as we were coming in. I could have sworn I saw an AD tower there, but it wasn’t until they started shooting that I was sure.”

I was finally thinking clearly. “Why would a research and reclamation station need an Air Defense tower?”

“They wouldn’t. But the layout was familiar. I’ve seen pirate bases with the same layout.”

“Then we will have to ask them. Then find our ship.”

“You mean, that wasn’t your ship?” Bao Dur gestured toward the smoking wreckage.

“We borrowed it. Someone flew our ship down here a few days ago and the highly efficient TSF not only lost it, but couldn’t find it on the planet.” Atton snapped.

“Not surprising. Rad levels are still high in a lot of places. Every little station has it’s own shields running on broadcast solar power from Citadel Station. Can’t pick up a ship with all of that energy above them.

“But if we can sneak into the station, I can probably use their computer to access the Citadel Station main frame. I know a few things about shield harmonics.”

“Sneak in?”

He looked at me. “Czerka doesn’t have a lot of ecologists on the payroll. I’m an independent contractor. When some guy name Rebowis ordered a bunch of people down here to tramp around looking for salvage, a lot of those contractors left. Me? I contacted the Ithorians, and reapplied as a mechanic. I have been giving them information for the last year and a half about what Czerka has been doing.”

“What have they been doing?” Atton asked.

“Salvage. A lot of cities were bombed into slag, but some were hit with neutron bombs. Everything still standing, but nothing alive. When the base was placed originally, they didn’t have the broadcast system up. But it sits right over a major Telosian military base. The people that manned it were dead, but the power system warmed up like a dream. They have shipped about fifty to a hundred tons of high class Telosian designed weapons and equipment every day.”

I nodded. The Telosians had been on the rim, and didn’t want to pay what a Core side weapons manufacturer wanted. So they had developed their own. The Telosians had edged the major weapons dealers out in three sectors by selling equipment that was efficient, simple to operate, and above all, cheaper. They had been a target for a reason back when the Jedi Civil War began. Smashing Telos’ industry had opened five sectors to invasion.

Bao Dur turned, and his head cocked. “We had best get moving.” I stood carefully, and ducked as I saw a sensor droid float past. “Don’t worry. I took care of that.” He tapped a pack of equipment that had been gerrymandered into a device. “The droids go by body heat and movement. When I’m on one of my little excursions, I use this. They think we are a small family pack of Cannocks.”

“Cannock?” Atton looked stunned. “I only thought they lived on Dxun!”

“They are native yes.” Bao Dur replied. “But they are also resistant to radiation, breed slowly, and feed on carrion.” He looked away. “There was a lot of that.”

“How did they get here so fast?” I asked.

“They didn’t. These guys aren’t after you. They’re after me.”

I looked at him. “They found out what you’ve been doing.” He nodded.

“Then we had best figure a quiet way into the base.

*****

We skirted the sensor envelope of the guards, and moved down toward the shoreline. I paused, feeling the breeze on my face. It felt...

“Do you feel it?” Kreia asked me softly.

“Yes. Like a different breeze, blowing on my skin.”

“It is the force you feel. The lives of millions of microbes in the oceans.”

“But it feels so...faint.”

“That is because what ever has been done for you by the Ithorian priest has not fully settled. To me it is the roar of a crowd.”

We passed down the shoreline, and into the valley near it where the Czerka base was. We bypassed minefields, circled around battle droids on patrol, and finally reached the valley. The settlement below us was a cluster of temporary buildings on poured ceramacrete. Guards paced between the buildings.

“I don’t see a quiet way in.” Atton said after a moment.

“Then you should watch and learn.” I said.

*****

The guards came around the building, and stopped. Bao Dur was laying on the ground, crawling slowly toward the buildings. “Help me.” He whispered.

“Ah, the little spy found out the big bad world is dangerous.” The captain sneered. He walked over, grabbing Bao Dur up.

The Zabrak snapped his head forward, breaking the man’s nose. As he shouted, the other two started forward. That was when I dropped between them. I struck left and right, and they folded up like a house of cards.

“I see why you said watch.” Atton said, coming out to tie one of them up. “I couldn’t have done that.”

“How many more?” I asked Bao Dur.

“Three roving patrols, then we just need to take out the guards stationed at the AD tower and the pad.”

We took out the rest of the guards, then simply walked up with Kreia and I in the lead with our hands up to the stationed guards. I reset the AD tower to standby, and Bao Dur inserted a feedback loop which meant the system would immediately do a diagnostic if it was ordered to fire. We reached the pad, and he sliced into the system.

“We have a shuttle inbound right now. Just a few more... Got it. Someone has set up a small shield generator on the north polar cliffs. Nothing there but an old seismic monitoring station and a water reclamation facility.”

He signalled us to hide, and Atton, dressed in a mercenary’s armor took his position. The shuttle landed, and we convinced the crew to get off. We left them sitting in their underwear.

Interlude: Pursuers.

The small shuttle dropped onto the pad, and the Czerka supervisor stood, waving. He ran to the door, then froze.

A droid stepped down. It carried a blaster rifle, and was definitely not here as a tourist.

“Angry Query: The Female Marai Devos was located here twenty-five minutes ago. Where is she now?”

“Uh, she must have been one of the people that stole our shuttle.”

“Exasperated reply: “Then we will pursue them.”

“Suggestion:” The man turned as another droid came to the door. “Units 41, 90, and 85 are in that area at this moment.”

“Agreement: Notify the units.”

It turned back, and walked back aboard the ship.

“Hey wait!” The droid turned.

“Query: are you addressing this unit?”

“Are you just going to leave us here?”

The droid dealt with the problem. It left the men there, but they were in no condition to complain.

*****

If units 41, 90, and 85 had been living beings, they probably would have complained about the blizzard they flew into. They might have complained when their ship iced up and crashed. But they were HK 50 series droids. Except for acknowledging that their efficiency had been reduced by 4% by the temperature, they merely deployed to wait. There was a noise, and unit 85 detected the magnetic field of an approaching lift and drive engine. It deployed the infantry anti-air missile it carried, tracked, then fired.

The shuttle staggered in mid air, then came down sliding along the ice shelf, shedding parts like a toy. It came to rest less than a hundred meters from them.

“Irritated Query: Did you think of the 400 kilometer walk we now have because you destroyed the only operation vessel?” Unit 41 asked.

Embarrassed reply: No. I merely assumed I would do less damage than that.”

Ice field

Marai

I shook my head, standing. There was no sound of movement. I staggered forward. Bao Dur had been wrapped around the console. Atton had hit his head, but except for a bad cut seemed all right, albeit unconscious. Kreia had been thrown into the seat before her, and knocked out.

“I would love the idea of actually landing instead of crashing on this planet.” I snarled. The blizzard cleared for a moment, and I was running for the access hatch before my mind had told me why.

Three HK50s, coming toward us. I opened it, leaping down to face them.

“Irritated declaration: There you are. It has been extremely difficult to track you down, Jedi.”

Another added. “But now that you have been found, we can proceed to facilitating communications.”

“Unnecessary Addendum:” The third said. “And put an end to our hostilities.”

“You could have just made an appointment, you know.” I snapped back.

“Surprised exclamation: Was that humor? My programming is not designed to discern it.” The third one said.

“Unnecessary irritated Clarification:” The second one added. “It was not our intent to damage your vessel so severely. It will require either a long term of sub zero conditions while we await another transport, or several days of moving through these inhospitable conditions.”

“Eager threat: However we were curious why you came to this remote location. Perhaps when we have a chance to equip you with torture devices you can tell us to pass that time?”

I drew, throwing an ion grenade to land at the feet of the one farthest from me. Then I charged. I reached out with the force, and one of the droids was spun around. It had already triggered it’s blaster, and the stun beam hit the one beside it, causing some shorting. I cut, sheering into it’s head, then dived as another stunner beam, went over my head. I rolled, coming up at full extension, my blade punching into the second one at the power junction box. It shorted out for real this time. I pulled a frag grenade, turned and threw it at the last droid.

That was when the stun beam hammered me into darkness.

Interlude: Rescue

Like ghosts four figures in arctic gear walked up to the scene of the battle. Their eyes moved dispassionately over the scattered remains of three droids. A groan from a snow bank brought one of them over to a form half buried in the whipping snow. Hands turned the figure over, and the woman’s eyes opened. For a moment she stared up into the face, then in perfect Echani she said, “We are in your hands.” Then she was unconscious.

The figures stood, looking down at her. Then one of them motioned. They picked her up, carrying her to her ship. They checked the others, then as one ran a heater to keep them from freezing, they were carried one by one away.

Fifteen minutes later, the empty shuttle began to freeze.

Telos Academy

Marai

Snap: The grenade flew from my hand at the HK. It was turning, weapon coming up, still a bit jangled from the ion blast. But it was still tracking. The grenade landed at it’s feet, and as the stun blast hit me, I saw it explode, parts of droid falling like metal snow.
Snap: A face surrounded and occluded by cloth and furs. I could see the eyes, a blue so cold it was almost white, eyebrows that looked like they had been etched on in white paint. As I fell back into the abyss, I was astonished to discover that in the force there was nothing there. If I went by what the Force told me was alone, looking up into the face of what; a Goddess that claimed the terminally stupid?
“We are in your hands.” I whispered. Why I said it in Echani instead of Basic I have no idea.

*****

I was warm. For a moment I was terrified. We had crashed in a blizzard, the shuttle had been badly damaged enough that none of the systems had been operating. Feeling warm in that frigid clime is not a sign that you are safe. It is a sign you are dying.

I snapped upright. The first thing I noticed was the blinding pain in my head. Stun beams hurt. Your entire nervous system was just shorted like a cheap droid, and it complains.

A lot.

Then I noticed that while my front was still warm, my back was icy cold. I mewled in pain, eyes opening in slits. White furs covered me. When I had sat up some instinct had held my covering to me, hence the warm front. But my back was exposed to the air, and it was bloody cold still. I lay back, and again I was toasty warm. Above me was ceramacrete. The walls that I could see by turning my head slowly were also ceramacrete. There was a door, and it opened, a young woman walking in. Her clothes were tight fitting covering every bare inch except for her face, with a hood that concealed her hair. She held a glass of water in her hand. A pill of some kind in the other.

“For the headache.” Her voice was soft. If they had wanted me dead, they could have just left me in the cold. I took the pill, washing it down.

“Thank you for saving us.”

“After the offer of surrender given as it should, what else could we do?” She asked.

We are in your hands. The ritual phrase used by a soldier surrendering, or someone who is rescued from death among the Echani. You surrender all options to your captor/rescuer’s whim. I heard the slight inflection. She was Echani.

“I thank you for your gentle pains.” I told her in Echani. Her eyes didn’t widen, she didn’t smile, she didn’t frown. I might as well have been talking to a mannequin.

“Our master has stated that she will see you when you are well enough.”

“I am well. What of my companions?”

“They are safe.”

“Where are they?” She merely looked at me. “Even a prisoner has that much right. Am I prisoner or guest?”

“That is...undecided.” She considered. “The man with the prosthetic arm is in our medical bay in a Kolto tank. He struck rather hard. The others are in the main irrigation room to the north side of the compound. The particle emitters that used to be part of the irrigation system make excellent force cages.”

I could feel her eyes on me. She wanted me to react, expected me to react. “So my friends are imprisoned?”

“They were held in cages for their own safety, Exile. Until Master Atris could determine your intent. She felt you might have them sacrifice themselves in a diversion.” She said softly.

“I saw no need for a diversion, nor do I see one now.”

“Your companions would have not lasted long if you had. The Zabrak is known to us, and would have been easily defeated. The woman is just an old woman. The other one, however... He showed some skill at Echani martial arts.”

That surprised me. Atton was a young man with the slouching style of standing and walking a lot of the young do. “Atton knows Te-rehal-Vor?” I asked.

“Oh he masks it well. But when we did not give him an answer, he dropped into the fifth stance.”

I considered. The fifth stance was best with multiple opponents. Turning the enemy strikes into smooth counters or blocks before picking who you would hurt first. “What answer did you refuse him?”

“Your whereabouts. We told him our Master wished to speak with you first, and he did not take it well.”

“But where would he have learned Te-rehal-Vor?”

“It has not been a closed art, Exile.” She replied tartly. “The Republic teaches it to their special operations officers. It is well known in what is called special forces as well.”

“I will have to ask him when I have the chance. Where are my clothes?”

“Your clothing is in the storage canister beside you bed, along with your weapons.” Again that pregnant pause.

I stood, opening it. I picked up the vibroblade, the grenades, the gun I had hung on my hip in case I felt I needed it. Behind me I could feel her tensing. I set them on the bed, and drew out the robes, then returned the weapons to the box.

“May I ask a question?” She asked.

“Go ahead.”

“Why do you wear a Matukai robe? Have you foresworn the honor of the Jedi?”

I slipped the robes on, looking at myself. I had not considered why I had chosen them from the shop. The primary difference between a Matukai warrior’s robes and a Jedi’s was color and cut. “I did not feel worthy of the honor of a Jedi’s garb.” I said.

She led me through the building. It had not been built for comfort or human occupation. It was a working space with every piece of equipment still ready to operate. Only a touch of a hand would be needed to start it all again.

Another woman stood there. She like the one beside me had white hair and wore the same clothes. In fact they were twins. A moment later I upped that number. Two others stood before a door, and were twins to those that followed behind me.

But no. They weren’t twins of flesh. I could see minute difference in them. One perhaps a centimeter taller than her fellows, one about the same shorter. But each had the white hair and ice gray eyes of the Rekavali clan of Echana.

The door opened, and I looked into a council room. I walked in, and as the door closed, I noticed that none of them had followed.

Kreia

I have spent decades pretending to be nothing more than a mouse scurrying across the floor. Noticed, but not considered a threat. Yet the feel of minds closed so tightly to the force as these women was alarming. To teach tme such mental discipline would free them from the fear of a mental attack, something the Sith had developed to a high art. Even the friendly persuasion which could draw the force to it was something they would never feel.

But there are trade offs in everything. To close your mind down so harshly as a first step would either stop or stultify even the most force sensitive.

“Is there a reason that hanging around you two seems to get me put in jail, again?”

“Silence.” I tried to hear her thoughts. It was like a drug after so long. But instead all I could hear was the scurrying haste of the thoughts in the cage beside me. He shut up as a pair of the women that inhabited the place came in guiding a hover stretcher. They lay Bao Dur in the cage beside us, and turned it on.

“Hey Metal arm!” Atton shouted. I’d had quite enough of him. I reached out, and he staggered against the cage, bouncing to fall to his knees. “What are you... Stop!”

It was like an onion. On the surface was random thoughts, self loathing, lust after Marai, and surprisingly, some such feeling toward me as well. But that was but the first skin. I peeled it open, and below another, just as chaotic, just as self absorbed. Another, then another. It took time, more than I would like to consider, but suddenly I could feel...

“Please.” He was piteous. “Don’t tell her...”

“Why ever not?” I asked gently. “If she is Jedi, she will forgive. If she is not, it won’t matter. Will it, murderer?”

“Please...”

“Don’t worry. I will keep your dirty little secret. But there is a price for my forbearance. You will serve the one who travels with us to the best of your ability. As long as you do, I shall stay my voice.”

“But...”

“No, there will be no discussion or duplicity. If you fail me in this, you do not know the punishment I can inflict upon you. You do not wish to know. If it were just your death I wished I would merely shout it out when one of Atris’ handmaidens were nearby. She would see you die by inches.”

“How did such a manipulative bitch get so close to her?” He was still fighting me. I pressed, and he fell on his face mewling in pain.

“Like any good Djarik player, I choose my gambits and my pieces well.”

“But she isn’t a Queen on your board, you bitch.” He struggled back to his knees. “And I am no pawn!”

“No. Yo are merely the pilot. And as long as you do what needs to be done, I will stay my hand.” I released him, and he staggered to his feet.

“Handmaidens? What is this place?”

“It has the feel of a Jedi Academy. Yet there is only a single Jedi in residence. There are others, but they are...Oh Atris...Such a ploy worthy of the Sith themselves.”

“What are you...” I reached out and he collapsed like a puppet with it’s strings cut. I had found the mind I sought, and was within it as the doors closed.

“Silence.” I whispered to him. “There are things happening that will shape the future.”

Marai

I walked up the steps, looking at it. A council room as I had thought, right down to the stele in it‘s center. But I had never heard of an Academy on Telos.

I walked over, hands clasped behind my back, and look at the Stele. The four pillars of the order were etched there, as was done in all such rooms. Truth, Honor, Loyalty, Justice -

I reached out. A hole had been punched in the stele in the face of justice. It looked like a lightsaber had been plunged into the rock. I touched it. No. It was not a wound caused by a lightsaber. It had been crafted so-

- I stood before the High Council of Coruscant. They had not listened, because to listen would have been to admit that perhaps, just perhaps, they had been wrong four years before. Wrong in their demotion of an entire generation of Guardians, wrong in their condemnation of those that had led them to it, that their intransigence might have caused all of those deaths I remembered so well.
They had refused to listen, and because that was their way of dealing with it, I refused to answer. My best friend in the world led that charge of denial and retribution. If they were right, then I was wholly wrong. They had demanded my lightsaber and in the one bit of resistance I felt I plunged it into the stone, dividing the word justice into the words Truth and Seek.
“When you have healed the stone, and healed your hearts, then I will speak.” I rasped out, then I stood there as they reached in and removed all of my connections to the force as if it were a garden in need of weeding.
I left that day.-

“I did not expect so see you again after you left us.”

I turned to face the speaker. Atris was as pretty as I remembered. Ten years had brought out the cheekbones and made the angry flashing eyes almost glow. “Atris.”

“I thought you had taken the exiles path wandering the galaxy alone and bereft. Yet you are here now.”

She so wanted me to be angry. Any anger I had from then was cold ashes, and I would not rekindle them. “I would like to know why my companions have been locked up like criminals.”

“You’re companions.” I had tripped her up. She had come with a complete prepared speech and scenario. I was not saying my lines and like any actor, she was thrown off. “They were detained for their safety as you were informed already. “I find it unusual that you would travel in close company with any one. Two and a half years as Chief of Security for a company on a ship. Being alone even as a figurehead fits you so much better.” She had found her place in the script again. “Why are you here?”

“Some unscrupulous person stole my ship.”

She smiled. Now i was back on the right page. “Your ship. The Ebon Hawk belongs to the monsters that butchered an entire planet and put Telos and twenty others worlds in mortal danger. Are you admitting that?”

“I did not destroy Peragus.”

“Spare me! What was it, an accident? Did you throw a lit cigarette into the minefield of asteroids?” She barked a laugh. “You have not changed. Still acting before thinking, putting your own vision of what must be before the Galaxy, before your friends, before the Jedi themselves!”

I looked at her. “Atris, we were friends for almost ten years. You know I would not have done this-”

“I did not know you from the time you marched off with Revan. When you spat on everything the Jedi believe in to feed you own lust for combat. Do you know what you have done? Twenty worlds rested on Telos and Peragus is the linchpin of them all! You have condemned not a few billions but almost a Trillion people to being outcasts from their own destroyed worlds!”

“I did this. Why don‘t you explain what I have done.” I said flatly. All right, she was an old friend and except for your own family no one knows better what to touch to get you angry.

“When the Civil War ended, no one wanted to judge the cost of repairing what had been smashed. Over twenty worlds have been devastated, stripped or poisoned by that war. The Jedi and our supporters have tried to convince the Senate that we must heal this damage. Must give those people a place to live again. Among them are worlds destroyed by you-”

“No worlds were destroyed by forces under my command.” I snapped.

“But Revan and Malak did devastate worlds. When they came against us they destroyed more. Our supporters have pointed out that twelve of them are in the outer Rim, beyond Mandalore and outside of the Republic. That offering and helping to rebuild those worlds would bring other worlds into the Republic. The Cathar especially look on. Their world has lain devastated since the first days of Mandalorian Wars now over twenty-five years ago.

“We were able to get the Republic to fund one planet as an experiment to see if it could be done. But Telos is that one planet, and you in your blind stupidity have destroyed their primary fuel source! Without the fuel to keep the reactors and thrusters operational Citadel Station will fall, and no one will agree to spend the gross revenues of a full year on 19 other failures! If ruin you must spread, could you have not merely done it to yourself and not more innocents?”

“You have my ship. Did you bother to check the sensor logs?” I snapped. My anger was a ball of heat I would not release.

“Why bother? We know that the TSF is investigating your actions-”

“Was, Atris. Was. We did not fire our weapons, and avoided everything large than a human head in our escape from Peragus. If you must blame someone, blame the Sith!”

The shout threw her off stride. “The Sith? What have the Sith to do with this?”

“The Sith took the Frigate Harbinger, came to Peragus station, and fired on my ship when we tried to escape. It was they, not I that are to blame.”

She shook her head. “You speak truth. I can feel the injuries you sustained, taste the Sith upon them. But why would they go to Peragus of all places? It is not like there is anything there of real value to them!”

“I was there. I was aboard Harbinger when they took that vessel. Only pure luck and a Droid trying to collect the bounty saved me then.”

“You.” Now her voice was flat. “If they had wanted a target they would have been after me, as many a bounty hunter would be with that bounty you speak of. But the Sith are blind to everything but their own wants, and that has always been their weakness.” She considered. “Perhaps they only allowed you to run because you would run to me. Give them something they wanted.”

“If I had known you were on Telos, I would have made a blind jump instead. There is at least one Sith Lord remaining. I have seen him, and he is like nothing I have ever heard of those monsters.”

“No matter. Even the greatest of the Sith would have no chance against a Jedi Master in her full glory.”

She was blind. I could have given her half a hundred names of Jedi Masters that had fallen facing the Sith. Just because she was so sanctimonious and pure would not save her. She needed help.

“Let us discuss what must be done. There are others who must still be alive. Let me help you find them.”

“You turned your back on the order, on the Council. On me? Why should I believe you would wish to help us now? The Jedi are not a pair of pants you leave in your closet because they are out of style only to be dusted off when style brings them back around. The commitment is stronger than you can possibly imagine! Or perhaps you are now afraid and wish us to protect you?”

“I know how deep that commitment is, Atris. I felt it for the order from my first memories. I felt it for the Republic I served and protected. I felt it for a friendless girl I offered it to, and thought it had been returned.” I felt that pain again. “As much as I wish the last ten years had never happened, you need help, and I am offering it.”

She looked at me. I could feel the echo of that pain. Like a new convert to a religion, she had embraced the entire message of what the Council had thought when she was elevated to the Council. She had lashed out at Revan and the others through me because I was standing before them. It was I, the one true friend she had in the Galaxy she had cast aside and stripped of the Force. She may have regretted it, but it had not stopped her from wielding the blade.

“Perhaps you can help, but not here. With the Sith returned, the reason for the Council’s dissolution is no more. There are those that can help us in this struggle, and I would ask you to seek them out.

“Take your ship. Seek them out, and ask them to return. Not to Telos, but to Dantooine. Once that is done we can call the Council back to session, and find a way to fix what has been done.”

“I will do this.”

I didn’t hear a word of command, but three of the young women came from behind me. “We shall remove her now, Master.” The girl turned. She was the only one that had her own face of them. Sharper, more predatory. She motioned, the same fluid motion they all had. “Please.”

I walked out.

Handmaiden

The exile was not what I expected. You always hear someone say ‘I thought you were taller’ to someone they had only heard about. I knew she was shorter than I, almost twice my age, and had once been a Jedi as our Master was.

I had not expected the soul deep weariness that weighed on her soul. The pain in her eyes that spoke of suffering. The strength of will to stand before Atris as an opponent, and not go for a weapon or scream at her. Strength she should not have had.

I saw Master Atris’ face. She had such a look of pain and longing on her face that I wanted to hold her until it passed. She looked at me. “Yes?”

“Mistress, the Exile. You have spoken of her often. I have never seen anyone have this effect on you. Was she important to you once?”

“The young all have their heroes, my child. When you see them fall, see them fail, a part of you dies inside. We had a choice to make fifteen years ago. She chose one way, I went another. The day she stood before us in judgment I stood and faced her. She was... was so right. She would not tell us why she was right, or explain to any of us. I could feel that moral certitude flowing from her like the force, and I
questioned my own motives. Questioned even the Council’s wisdom.

“But I have had ten years of trying to clean up the mess she and the others caused. Ten years of looking on devastation she caused, or aided in the cause. I will not throw away a decade of my work and assume that she might be right now.” She looked at me, and her face softened in a smile. “I am tired, my pet. I must rest and meditate.”

“I will inform the others that you must be left alone for a time, Mistress.”

Rain128
08-10-2006, 07:52 AM
A lot of the fights are just what they used to call Random Encounters in D&D. If you have ever played that game, you can see how dragging it would be even for the DM to have to wax lyrical about every hack and slash.

Puls there is no middle ground in most RPGs. Either you can alk or you can fight. Not a lot of options. In life there would be a few more. Not including walking away.

If you just want hack and slash, I am definitely not the Game Master you want to deal with. I make the players work for it.


Dont get me wrong, my favorite parts of the game are the guile and talking your way in and out of things... im not a true hacker n slasher... that gets boring after a while...

i just love how you have your fight seens written, it just sparkes the imagination (well atleast mine ;) )

If they made a game that played the jedi would actualy handle situations... no one would buy it =) to much talking not enugh action

machievelli
08-10-2006, 12:51 PM
If they made a game that played the jedi would actualy handle situations... no one would buy it =) to much talking not enugh action

Actually the way I write is the way I belive such a game would play. Are you saying my style is not interesting enough to keep a 12 year old to college level kid coming back for more?

Darth333
08-11-2006, 07:05 PM
Looks very good Mach! I've read the first chapter and I can't wait to read the rest. Unfortunately I'm a bit short of time this weekend but I'm printing it to read in the plane on Monday (my boss is sending me for a tea with Santa - litterally...well almost...I'm going to the Artic :p )

machievelli
08-12-2006, 12:15 PM
Marai

I stood there in the main chamber of the pumping station remembering. I had been 16 when Atris and I first met. She had worked into the advanced Te-rehal-Vor class. She had done it by working harder than anyone else, something no one granted her.

Have you met someone that is a natural victim in one way or another? Atris was eighteen years old, studying to be a Consular, unwilling to admit that anyone was better than she at anything. The advanced class was almost all Guardians by that time. She had as far as anyone had ever ascertained, no sense of humor. She was the butt of every joke, and she always had the bewildered look of someone that never got the joke. The only class where she was not made fun of was Te-rehal-Vor.

They had begun winnowing us into our specialties when I was 11 and only my master’s insistence that I could be a Consular had held me back from joining them for two full years. I had hit the ground running in training, and the only thing another Guardian would never be my better at was Te-rehal-Vor . I had worn a Teacher’s sash in it since I was 13, and was the acknowledged Padawan teacher of the class. There was our master who still assured that I did not push the newer students too hard. But all he really had to do was watch me.

When she entered the class, there were those that wanted to tease her. To ask her if she had practiced Mak-Chi-Tai, which they claimed meant proper breathing but merely was the noise a woman made in the throes of passion in Gutter Corellian. I caught them at it the first week, and having a dozen men half again my height kneeling, grunting like a woman in the throes of orgasm stopped that.

She flourished because I spent more time with her. A class lasted two standard hours, but I would always spend time making sure she did an extra hour. Not as punishment, but merely to get her up to the standards of the rest of the class.

I didn’t know how much I had grown fond of her until the Grandmaster of the Corellian Academy visited us one day. I watched him walking the house, going through the class like a reaped mowing the grain. By the time he came to the Teacher’s line he had sent three of my students to hospital by not restraining himself. Atris held an arm we later discovered was dislocated.

Three of the five of our student teachers joined them. I was so coldly furious that I almost did not give him a proper bow. We fought, and at one point he turned and used a Shuto-Shir kick. I felt his foot hit my chest, and blacked out.

I heard nothing, just the blood pumping in my ears, the sound of shouting in the distance. Then a soft voice.

“Marai. It is all right, Marai. The enemy is no more. Please Marai, the battle is won, and you can rest.”

The voice was soft, insistent. The sound of a person speaking to their aging beast, trying to calm it down. Suddenly I knew it, knew whose voice it was. Atris?”

“Yes, Marai. It is I."
"Atris?" Part of me did not want to believe it. My muscles were spasming to strike at someone, but I could not see who or why.
"The battle is done. The enemy is no more. You hurt your friends now. Rest.”

I awoke in hospital the next morning. I had gone into what is called Kashin-Dra. The shadow warrior. It is rare among those who practice our art. The mind must be so tightly focused on nothing but winning that even being knocked unconscious will stop them. Only death was a sure way to stay them. They are the stark warriors of Echani legend and one had stalked our training hall that day.

But the legend also said that only one thing beyond the death of everything around them would cool that fury. That was the voice of their beloved. It was a standard part of Echani bedtime stories of the monster that terrorizes the village until the brave girl discovers that it is the male shadow warrior, and her love returns him to humanity.

It wasn’t until that evening that I knew all of what had happened. The visiting master had struck me and I fell, but I had rolled back to my feet. He had assumed I was not injured, even though a Shuto-Shir kick like that would have broken several ribs. He had come in again, and they say I flowed like water around his attacks. Every move they said was liquid death, for I pressed ever to the attack. He had extended himself, deriding our master for failing to stop me. I had taken serious blows, and still kept coming. I had three broken ribs, two broken fingers, and my left arm had been dislocated, but still I fought in an eerie silence.

Finally he understood the danger. He had cried enough, but I was not to be stopped. The injury he had done to me was nothing to what I did to him before they tried to peel me off of him. He would spend the next week in a bed not far away.

Peeling me off however merely gave me more targets. Five of my fellow students had been thrown around like chaff. I had turned to attack the crowd that was frozen in fear when Atris had leaped up.

Speaking as if gentling a frighten riding animal, she had somehow caught my attention in my mindless darkness. She had stopped me, made me stand still, then when she had said rest, I had fallen.

Of course she had known what to do. She was Echani. Kashin-Dra were the stuff of bedtime stories on her world. When I returned to class, no one even thought of teasing her. They weren’t sure if we were lovers or not.

We stayed firmly away from the subject. She was astonished that my mind had used her as a way to return me to normal, and I was terrified that they would assume that I was using my position as teacher in such a manner.

The Grand master from Corellia was retired. He had always pushed his students too hard, and this was the final straw. I had a friend that I knew could stop me in the worst possible mood.

Or so I thought.

Interlude: Dreams within the Nightmare

Visas

I extended my thoughts, feeling along the patterns of the force like a web weaver looking for a meal.

Most humans would say they saw the threads, but my people would not have been among them. 15 millennia of living on a world where everything is dark would do that. After all that time, our people had lost the use of our eyes. We still had them, but we never used them.

We were peaceful in the darkness of our home. There was danger, but it was slight. We raised our web weavers, using their bodies for our food, their threads for our clothing.

Then there were the wonder stones. Crystals off worlders called them. They would warm at the touch, some would warm enough that we could use them to cook our food. Others would warm until they were like another body beneath the covers at night. It was the stones that had made us branch out from our caves into the darkness beyond. Most of those that had wandered before had died because they could not find a warm body to curl up beside when they slept.

Humans had come. According to them we were human as well, but we considered them dreams, and sometimes nightmares. Dreams when they came peacefully to trade food and warm clothing for our stones. Nightmares when they felt they had the right to take if we would not trade.

Then the dreams had all been nightmares. I was seven when it came. The ones others called the Sith. Nightmares of human flesh that took and took, and never gave anything back.

We were helpless against them. In all our history we had not had a words for war, for genocide, or slaughter. In our time the worst we had ever had would have been described as a Cantina brawl with the casualties you might expect from one.

The Sith taught us what the words meant. We had tried as we always had to flee. To go deeper into our caves, to hide until they went away. But they did not go away. We would have surrendered if we had known what that word meant, but all surrender would do is assure that the Sith had a freer reign then they had before.

They brutalized our women, slaking their lusts until the bodies would grow cold, for when you hurt most of us, we merely faded into our own minds, and died. They tried to force our men to work, but the bite of the lash, the sting of the stun rod would do the same to our men.

Of the millions there once were, there was only me now. I had been told that more than once by my master.

He said there was only one reason I still lived. Because when they brutalized me I did not merely fade and die. I fought back, weakly, inefficiently, but I resisted. It amused him. He had tried to find ways to make me fade. He had placed blades in my hands, directed my touch, my feeling for other people for I would have been a healer if I had grown to maturity.

Instead I turned that art at his direction. I have lost count of those tied to tables, bound in chains that I have patiently taken down to their basic elements while they still lived and screamed. I remember going to bed for weeks on end with the blood of those I had injured on my hands, my body. I had to stop caring or go mad. I am still not sure which happened first.

When I turned from child to women, suddenly I was of less interest to him. No longer was I to be tormented, now I would torment others at his command.

When that bored him, he then took a blade, and taught me to fight. He did it in the easiest manner imaginable. He could use what he called the force to give me unbearable agony. If I did not fight, he would punish me, make me writhe on the ground with agony beyond exquisite.

I learned the blade, the staff, then the lightsaber. I learned to use the force as he did, though I refused to merely harm someone because he wished it. As I would fall down in pain, I would hold that one bit of resistance to my heart. That I would not use the force to slay and maim.

He complained that only animals yammered and barked and made noises. The pure beings used no sound, they used only their minds. He taught me to feel his emotions, see his thoughts. To know his will and his whim from the subtle clues of those processes. Yet I could not speak mind to mind. He was always a bit frustrated by the ‘yapping’ I had to do.

But my will had been broken in every other thing. He would pit me against men, against women, armed and told that all they had to do was kill ‘the blind girl’ and they would be free. I lost count of how many died at my hands, beneath my blades. I had been told that if I listened to any entreaty, to any words at all from them, I would be punished for a week. It had taken only a dozen for me to believe it.

He had told me that they would try to kill me, and if they succeeded because of my own failure, he would shed no tears over it. But if I tried to let them kill me I would have my arms and legs ripped off and I would live like a vegetable unable to feed or clean myself as long as they could sustain me. He drew me into one of his torture chambers where someone that had failed another that abjectly lived now in his thirtieth year. Then he had tormented me not for a week, but for a month

When he was assured that he could touch my mind wherever I was in the Galaxy, he began to send me out. A silent assassin that needed no light, no spark of detection beyond the force.

All I wanted was peace. Not the peace of my long dead family and people. Not the peace that humans seem to think can be won by merely holding each other in open arms. I wanted the peace of the earth, the soil filling every crevice, of the weight of soil above my body. To know that my nightmare of a life was finally over.

He denied me this. He knew it was the one wish I still had under his tutelage, but he held it out to me like a sweet just outside of a child’s reach. When I had done all he wanted me to do, he would grant me that boon. I murdered, tortured, injured, hoping that one more would be the last, that finally he would reach out, touch my mind, and shut me off.

For the last month or so he had been worried about something. He had spoken an actual word to me when that worry came.

Search.

I had felt the webs of the force, and had done it every day for several hours. There had been a quiver about that long ago, something so slight that I had not even been sure that it had been real. But today it was the full fledged shiver of an insect caught in the web of the force. An insect that I would be sent to find, and to kill.

There. My mental fingers ran along the web, finding places where it was interconnected, running down them.

Yes. She, for it was a woman, was there. I could feel the cool color of her hair, the darker somber colors of her clothing. The deep angry darkness of her past. The emptiness of spirit. That which my master had in abundance, yet did not allow in any others.

I stood, smoothing my scarlet dress. I had known it was a dark cloth but he had been to one to tell me it was scarlet, and that it was a dark shade of red. Color had meant nothing to us. My life had taught me that the lighter the color, the less it sustained in heat when light shined upon it. My master seemed to feel that black was too good for me. One day he had decreed that I would wear reds, and nothing darker or lighter. I had patiently packed away all of the other colors, and from that day on, I was his Red Hand.

We were on a ship. I knew this because unlike a station, a ship moves more rapidly. My master stood beside the cold brilliance of the clearsteel panels that lead from the warmth of the ship to the icy waste beyond. If I had possessed the will I would have shattered that panel, allowed myself to finally feed the chill I desired more than anything. I could feel his amusement.

“I felt it too, My lord. A disturbance in the force.”

He questioned my abilities. Was I really that weak?

“It was such a gentle thing at first, my lord. As if it were an echo kilometers away. Yet as I felt it now, I wonder if it had always been there, and only now is it loud enough for my senses to hear.

“The sound of it built so slowly, so gently, but now it echoes even above the strains of the Galaxy’s own song.”

I felt something I had never felt before from him.

“Do you think it is a threat-”

I felt his force hand close, choking me. Whatever it was it terrified him! As much as I wanted to die, this was not what he would give me. Torment had no purpose.

“You... are the darkness that eats all life.” I gasped.

He released me, and I collapsed abjectly to my knees.

“All that lives is there for your touch, for the death you bring, and the power you gain from that death. All life is yours... My life is yours. Please, grant me what you have given so many others. Let me die I beg you.” The mantra he had made me speak ever since he discovered that I considered death my only salvation.

I felt negation. I had not yet earned my rest. He sent what he wished, and I remained kneeling. “As you bid master. I will track down this disturbance, find it, and bring it to you.

He allowed me to stand.

“I will leave at once my lord.”

Preparation and questions

Hand Maiden

I found her in the room she had been given. Her face was intent as she checked each weapon with the eye of a professional. The vibroblade sword was reduced to parts as she checked each, then reassembled.

Her movements were smooth but her emotions were not. While her hands did the necessary cleaning, her mind was a roil of pain. She had given this up so long ago, and it had been thrust back upon her like an old addiction. She didn’t want to do this ever again, but here she was preparing for yet another war.

“Is there something I can help you with?” She asked.

“Atris said that you betrayed the Jedi by going to war when it had been forbidden to you. That you turned against your masters, their teachings, and eventually against yourselves.”

“If only it were that simple.” She replied softly. Her hands moved, and the blaster pistol was suddenly in pieces on the bed. “I went to war because people were suffering and dying. I felt then that if I stood aside, I would be as guilty of those deaths as those that inflicted it. If I could have found a way to end it without a fight, I for one would have done so. It would have made it easier to sleep at night.”

“That is not all she says. She says that you know nothing of loyalty except to your animal instincts, and she told us that is what caused you to fall to the dark side.”

“I do not walk the dark path.” Her answer was as soft as before. But I could detect sadness there.

“Atris says that you fell to the dark side when you gave into your lust for blood during the Mandalorian Wars. Once you had tasted of it, you could never get your fill.”

“Yet I spent the last ten years wandering. Working as a body guard, as a security officer. Even a miner. With all the wars there are in the galaxy on any given day, that is poor fare. It also doesn’t explain how I walked away from the wars before the Mandalorian war was even over.”

“She says that when Revan returned as the dark lord you had fallen so far that you could no longer feel the force.”

She looked at me. Her eyes held pain, but they were calm. “I did not march with Revan, or march to fight her out of my own choice. I had been sent home to heal, and the Jedi Council healed me by stripping away all that I had been able to do. They would not have wanted me, and I would not go back to war on the word of any one person again.”

“So you say it was a matter of choice. That if you had still been considered a Jedi, you would have fought against your friends?”

“My duty as a Jedi would have demanded it.”

“Then why have you not told Atris of this? Perhaps she would listen to your own expressed feelings.”

“Do you have one of the others that you feel is a special friend? Someone that you would trust with your life and secrets?”

“I have no secrets from my sisters.”

“Think of when you were young. Was there one you missed terribly because they were your best friend in the world?”

“That was so long ago, but I think i understand what you speak of.”

“I thought Atris was such a friend. When I went to war, part of me was glad she did not. I could not have borne her death as so many others died. It would have shattered my heart.

“Yet when I returned home, it was that friend that stood before the Council and demanded that I surrender everything I had become as a Jedi to salve her own conscience. If the one I considered my best friend in the world would do this then, what makes you think ten years has made her see my side of it now?” She holstered the blaster, and slid on her weapons belt, tying off the holster and sheath of the vibroblade sword. “Is that all she has to say about me?”

“I believe that is the extent of her expressed feelings about you. They vary some, but they all build upon the same foundation.” My head cocked. “Why are you suddenly amused?”

“The Echani view. Gods it had been years since I have heard it said in just that manner.”

“But nothing I have experienced in my life proves the teachings of my home world are wrong. Many you meet seem to be unable to feel what their own heart or mind says. The words will not come, and they cannot force themselves to try.”

“Then what does that say about her heart?” She sheathed the blade. Now she turned her full attention on me.

“Without having seen you in battle together, I cannot say.”

“I know. Battle is the purest expression of heart and mind reduced to the flow of movement.” She quoted. “But I will not fight her. If I win she will use it to prove that I have fallen. If I lose she will do the same. There are battles that cannot be won, so they need not be fought.”

“Then her expressed feeling must stand.”

“As you will. Now, may I ask a question?” I nodded. “Why is it that of all her handmaidens, you are the only one with your own face?”

“I honor the face of my mother. It is not something we talk about much.”

“I am sorry.”

“Whatever for? You were merely remarking on a visual representation as would anyone that noticed an anomaly. That is wise in most cases.

“May I ask you a question?”

“Go ahead.”

“What does the force feel like?”

She looked at me for a long moment. “It is hard to explain.”

Please. If you can put it into words, I wish to know.” I cursed the pleading note in my own voice.

She smiled gently. “There is a way I described it before you were born. I will not tell you of that one, but I want you to picture it. Think of hearing a heartbeat as close as your mother’s heart when you were a child. But it is the heartbeat of everything that lives, the planets they live upon, the stars that warm them and the pause in the beat is the deathly cold of interstellar space.

“It is like an ocean current that flows with you, around you, and through you. It is the warmth of the sun upon your face, but the light is so soft that no one risks his eyes by gazing for hours into it. And best of all, it is the feeling of a pet that loves you because you exist, and will do anything for you. But at the same time, it is a master that will guide your actions from cradle to grave, and only the truly dark fight against it.”

Then she looked away, then back. Unshed tears glistened in those eyes. “Now picture it all taken away. You cannot hear the flow of life anymore. Everything from the greatest star in the galaxy to the person you are holding is silent. The ocean is a flat surface without movement, without depth, without feeling of temperature. The sun is gone, and everything is black emptiness. The pet has been taken away, and you cannot have another, the guiding strength that told you go here and do this has left you.” She wiped her eyes. But still there was no anger.

“This your Master helped others to do to me. If I were petty I would have railed at them and condemned them to my dying day. But they did what they felt was right, what needed to be done. What is my life and dreams to their wisdom? After doing that when I thought her my friend, what makes you think Atris will now embrace me as the sister I once was?”

I pictured her imagery. She had a way with words. If she had not been exiled, I could see her as a teacher surrounded by the fledgling Jedi, guiding their steps into maturity.

“Why did you not merely use the image you used so long before?”

“Because that one was a friend, a confidant. A woman I followed into hell, and where I fell to the side and was condemned, she fell in truth. Another Echani I knew very well.”

“Revan”

“Yes.” She picked up her bag, and left the room.


Memories

Marai

I was eight. I had found that I had one skill unique among the Jedi, and I liked to show it off when I got the chance. I could make a ball of the force. It had been what got me noticed in the first place. The ball was as solid as a rubber ball, and I could throw it across the room, bounce it off wall, and when I was irritated with someone, even bounce it off their heads.

No one had ever been able to touch it though. Somebody would ask ’how do you do that?”

I would give them that smile every kid knows. The smarmy ’I can do it and you can’t’ of those so pleased with themselves. Then I would make a ball, and pass it to them. But if they touched it it vanished like a soap bubble.

I had done something wrong, what specifically I don’t remember now. I had been disruptive in the comparative languages class, and had been told to sit in the garden and meditate.

I was suddenly brought from my meditation by a gentle footstep. It was a little girl with bright auburn hair, and skin the color of milk. She was watching me, and had been creeping forward as if she could sneak up on me.

“Hello.” I said. I tried to put the ’oh I am so calm’ tone in my voice Master Verasa always used. But I knew I sounded peeved.

“You’re a Jedi, aren’t you.” She said. There was wonder in her voice. For a moment I was tempted to look and see if there was a zoo sign saying JEDI: APPRENTICE: IMMATURE FEMALE: DO NOT FEED.

“Yes, I am an apprentice.”

She looked as if she’d found the wonder of the day. “What’s it like?”

“What is what like?”

“The Force. My father talks of it, but he says ’only those that can touch it can explain it.’.”

“Your father?”

“Oh!” She covered her face, a dainty pudgy hand covering her mouth. “I forgot to introduce myself.” She snapped erect, then bowed, eyes on my face, hands tight to her side, bending only until her face was even with mine. “I am Revan Chandar Bai Echani. My father is Borashi Chandar Bai Echani, Prefect of Echana.”

“Marai Devos.” I returned her bow. “Orphan of Cornet.”

“Why are you at this academy instead of on Corellia?” She asked.

“It is the rules. They will not send you to an Academy near where you had lived, on the chance that people you might have met would disturb the teachings.”

“Ah.” She nodded. “So if I became a Jedi they would not send me to the Academy on Echana.”

“Correct.”

“May I ask you a question?”

“Of course you may.”

“What does it feel like? Touching the force?”

I sighed. I made a ball, a green sphere the size of a racket ball. “Try for yourself.”

She reached out, and with a delicate touch, picked it up. She stared at it in amazement, I stared at her. No one, not even a master had been able to pick it up before.

“Can we use it to play hand ball?” She asked.

“I stood. “Let’s find out.”

Five minutes later, the Prefect of Echana and Master Verasa of the Council came out to berate their misguided children. They watched us playing, giggling and shrieking as we bounced an immaterial ball against the wall, disrupting yet another class.

She was to be given to the Jedi Academy the next year. Unfortunately we were already too friendly, so instead of coming to Coruscant as a number of Jedi trainees from Echana did, they sent her instead to Dantooine.

machievelli
08-12-2006, 02:28 PM
All right, third time's the charm:

I didn't know unti today that you got either the Handmaiden or disciple, depending on the sex og your character. I happened to like the Handmaiden better (After all I have a thing for the Echani, what can I say?)

Ao after rewriting section 23 once already, I've had to do it again. To anyone that read this between about 9 Am and when this was posted, I edited and rewrote the last segmen, so please read it again before commenting.

And when you do, maybe someone can explain how I did the rewrite, posted it, then poste this, but it's ahead of it in the queue.

machievelli
08-12-2006, 07:23 PM
Gathering Force

Marai

I found them stuck in force cages like animals or criminals. I understood why Atris had taken the precaution, but it didn’t mean that I liked it.

Kreia merely stood from her meditation seat. “Did you find what you were looking for?”

“That depends. What do you think I was supposed to find?”

“There are echoes from you past here. Echoes that must be resolved before you go on, or they will resonate into your future. This woman who resides here... She meant a great deal to you once. She also dealt you the worst pain one can do to another.”

“Her name is Atris. She was a member of the council that exiled me. I thought she was my best friend in the world. Perhaps I was wrong.”

“A Jedi Master. Yet she has no students.”

“What?”

“These women that surround her, like planets about their sun. They are cut off from the force. Taught to seal their minds like radioactive material inside a protective box. Trained to resist all tricks of the mind. This training blinds them to the force. If they were sensitive to the force at all, they would not know how to touch it now.”

“How did you know that? Have you been trying to reach their minds as you do with me?”

She gave me a cold look. “Invade the mind of another? That is not something done carelessly, unless you do not care about the outcome. Even if there is something of great value to take from it.”

“We should go and discuss this later.”

“Very well.”

Atton moaned, rolling over in his sleep.

“What happened to Atton? He looks like they knocked him out.”

“Oh nothing of the kind. It seems he was tired from our journey and is catching up on his sleep.”

I found the controls, and released them. Bao Dur nodded to me like he'd just been waiting.

“How do you feel?” I asked him.

“I think next time Atton is flying, I will be buckled in. Does he actually land a ship rather than crash it?”

“Hey, I was being shot at! Both times!”

Bao Dur gave him a look and I chuckled. “He does have his better days.”

The Zabrak looked about. “It looks like the old pumping station. We hadn’t reactivated it because the Ithorians needed weather resistant plants to be able to purify the water.” He looked at me. Bachani does well in temperate and tropical climates, but not so well in deserts or artic conditions.”

“We have things we must gather. Atton, you and Bao Dur prep the ship. I want to find T3.”

It didn’t take long. We found the little droid attached to the mainframe. He had been wired in like a patient in an ICU unit.

“T3! What have they done to you?” He bleeped and burbled at me. I waved my hand. “I know you couldn’t have stopped them. I’m just glad you’re all right.”

He gave a long series of chirps, and I looked at him sharply. She downloaded your entire memory core? Why?” His answer was long and convoluted. “All right, we’ll see what she accessed when were safe and in space. Can you get to the ship?”

He gave me a raspberry, then rolled away.

The ship looked good. I almost ran aboard to get back to that womb I had found. I settled into the rear quarters. I wanted so much to be alone with my thoughts. Ten years of pain had been rammed down my throat in the last few minutes, and I wanted to release some of it.

I felt the ship lift, felt it leave the atmosphere. I didn’t care where we were going. There was a cough, and I opened my eyes. Atton stood at the door. “We need to know where to go, and T3 keeps blithering.”

“Blithering is a description, not an actual noise.” I sat up, sighing. “I will be there in a moment.”

They were all standing in the mess hall when I arrived. T3 immediately began bleeping and clicking at me. I stopped dead at what he said. “You’re joking! No one would have been that stupid!”

“What is he going on about?” Kreia demanded.

“Atris downloaded his memory core. All of it. But when they hooked him up, no one thought that he might do the same.”

“What, he jacked their entire mainframe?” Atton asked. “There isn’t room!”

“Not all of it, just things he thought I might be interested in.” I sat down. Bao Dur handed me a cup of tea, and I almost threw it away when I tasted it. Echani fire tea. One of my favorites. But that meant that it reminded me of Revan, of Atris, of the war, and for some reason, the Handmaiden. I stopped myself, and sipped it. “There is a recording of the council meeting when I was exiled.” I looked at the droid. I wanted to tell him to delete the entire file, but some part of me wanted to relive it, wanted the pain over and done.

“Play it, T3.”

The holovid lit the room as it came up. The council chamber looked as I had remembered, but unbidden, I felt my own memories merging with it.

The day was icy. A cold front had rolled through the section of the city was, and I had welcomed it. I was still wounded in spirit. Malchior V was almost a year in my past, but still I grieved.

It didn’t help that I had just gotten a call from Revan. “We need you, Marai. Come to these coordinates.“ I recognized it as Melodoro, a small colony on the rim of what had once been the Mandalorian Occupation Zone.

“I can’t.” I looked away from the screen. That mask of her brought back too many bad memories, and I wanted to curl up and die in my room.

“We can fix the problem.” Revan told me gently. “We can save the Republic from those that are trying to destroy it from within.”

“And who will fix me afterward?” I asked her. “I have given too much of my soul to the Republic, to the Mandalorian wars. When we reached Malchior V you know what happened. I can’t do it again. If I do, I won’t be coming back, dead or alive.”

She looked at me. “Then our paths divide here.”

“Sobeit.”

She screened off.

An hour later, I was called before the Council. Only five members sat there. Atris Kavar and Vash I knew. Zez-Kai Ell and Vrook I had met in passing. I knew immediately that something was wrong.

The voices brought me back, but still I was in that memory fugue.

“Do you know why you have been called before the council?” Zez-Kai Ell asked.

I looked like death warmed over. I hadn’t gotten a decent night’s sleep since my return, but I straightened. This was not a discussion or another debriefing.

“I expect the Council will tell me. unless it is another debriefing about Malchior V.”

Kavar looked at me. He had been one of the leaders when we went. It was his hands that had helped mold the ground forces with mine. Yet he was not looking at me like an old comrade. He was looking at something he had hoped never to see.

“As Revan summoned you, so you are now summoned by this Council. You have come full circle from the day you left. Now Revan calls you again.”

“I was asked to join her. But I refused.”

“So instead you sit here as she forces Melodoro to surrender. As Malak and Saul Karath lay waste to Telos even as we speak.”

“What?”

I had looked at them as if suddenly they all spoke Twi-leki or Hutt. What do they mean Revan is attacking our own worlds?
“What would you have me do?” I did not feel healed, but I knew that if we now faced our own kind, we would have to send every Jedi into battle. Even a half dead reject such as myself.

“You can begin by telling us what her battle plan is.”

I looked at Atris. I had heard that demanding tone before, but never had it directed at me.

“I know of no such plan.”

“You are called one of her riders, are you not?”

I wanted to tell them, wanted them to understand. I was a last wounded of the war that had just ended, not an author of a new one.

“I was told no plans. As I told her if war there is, she can go alone. I will have no part of it.”

They could feel I spoke the truth not only in my knowledge, but my own spirit as well. Yet I could feel that they didn’t believe, or perhaps merely wanted to disbelieve.

“Why did you and the others defy us? The Jedi have been Guardians of the peace since the founding of the Republic. The first call to war undermined everything we wished to do, and this new one is an abomination!” Zez-Kai Ell said.

“Is Revan your master now?” Atris snarled. “Or is it the horror that you wrought at Malchior V that guides your steps now?”

That hurt the worst. If Vrook or Zez-Kai Ell had said it, even if Kavar whom I also considered friend had said it, I would not have been cut as deep.

“None of you were at Malchior V.” I said levelly through the tide of fury that I had felt.[i] “Kavar fought at Dxun, but even he does not understand.”
[i]I looked at those faces.

“When the Jedi fought Exar Kun only three of you were alive. But you Zez-Kai Ell taught the children of the Chandar Monastery on Echana. You Vash were a spokesman for the Council on Boradis. You Vrook were teaching meditation on Dantooine. Except for Kavar none of you know what we faced when we went. If we had known perhaps we would have run screaming from it as well. But you taught us to defend the Republic. You taught us that our lives mean nothing if we preserve the people we protect.

“By all the Gods and the Force itself, you look at what war had wrought, what warriors are supposed to do and are even more appalled that I who went through the hell in person! We fought because we thought it was right. There was little or defiance in that when we had millennia of examples to follow. Examples you ignored.”

I had been furious, but my tone had never raised above a level tone even as I heaped that abuse on their heads. The mind healers could not help me, because none of them would have been able to bear the agonies that were an every day occurrence in the field. The Council wanted a scapegoat, and I was obviously it.

Zez-Kai Ell looked at me sadly. He didn’t understand, and until he did I would be something to be pitied, but not listened to.

“You will not listen. You refuse to hear this Council. With your own words and deed you have shut us out, and done the same for the very Galaxy and Republic you seemed to cherish before.”

They looked at each other. Then Vash looked at me. Another one with pity in her eyes. I was sick unto death of pity.

“The Council decrees that you are to be exiled. There was dissent, for we could have ordered that you be imprisoned as well.” Her eyes strayed to Atris. You my friend wanted me in a force cage?

“The Council will take your lightsaber now. Give it to us.” Vrook ordered.

They had demanded my lightsaber and in the one bit of resistance I felt I plunged it into the stone, dividing the word justice into the words Truth and Seek. In the old Coruscanti language it is said ‘unless you are willing to see the truth, seeking it does not matter.

“When you have healed the stone, and healed your hearts, then I will speak.” I rasped out,

Then I stood there as they reached in and removed all of my connections to the force as if it were a garden in need of weeding.

But then it suddenly changed for me. As I walked from the chamber, the Masters seemed lost in thought.

“Much defiance in her.” Kavar broke that silence.

“You were correct, Kavar. When she was here, I felt it. It was as if we judged an echo or a shadow, even though she stood there before us.” Zez-Kai Ell mused.

“But what of the others? The ones that still serve Revan? Vash asked. “Not even the Great Sith war harrowed our ranks as thoroughly as this conflict! The Jedi may be destroyed by Revan. The Mandalorian bent shaped and destroyed a generation of our Guardians. Now we have reports that most that have gone to join Revan this time are not only Sentinels, but Consulars, even masters! If we do not discover why the Jedi will vanish into the mist of history.”

“That does not matter to her.” Atris pointed accusingly at the closed door. “We did not lose a Jedi this day. You all felt it. She was lost to herself long before this Council met. The only thing that has kept her from taking Revan’s traitorous path is her own weakness.”

Zez-Kai Ell shook his head. “She was right it that some of our teachings guided them to this path.”

“Of all of us only Kavar and Vrook knew Revan. None of us were her teacher!”

“We are here to take responsibility, Atris.” Vash said. “Not to assign blame.”

Before Atris could speak Kavar said, “The choice of one is the choice of us all, Atris. Those that taught Revan and Marai intended no harm. And those who now war on us or lay banished had other teachers after us.”

“Yet they all stem from the same seed. It was she that taught them all!” She looked at them. Still, even after being admonished, she was trying to assign blame. “Her teachings violated the Jedi Code and everyone who was her student had fallen to the dark side. Just as she did.” Again she pointed at the door.

Vash looked at her questioning. “It was not the Dark side I felt when she stood here. You others felt it as did I, and only you scream of the Dark side, Atris. I felt an emptiness, as if there were nothing beneath her skin. She is not the woman I met those years ago.”

“I disagree.” Atris bit out. “Whatever that wound is, it was dealt by the dark side and devoured everything good and true within her. We should not let her depart. She will join Revan soon enough. Or become worse.” She stared at the door, and for a moment I could see the pain in her eyes. “I would move again that we imprison her. Or...”

Or what?” Zez-Kai Ell stood. “Be mindful of your feelings, Atris. This is not Revan or Malak who stood before us today. to suggest not only imprisonment but even worse is not what she deserves.”

“Yet.” Kavar sighed. He seemed the most distressed by the discussion. “Though it may be force upon us in time. We let her go, Atris, because under our own code, she had done nothing to deserve worse. But if you think she is now plotting because we could not imprison her, think again. She is inside a prison she has made herself. Forged during the Mandalorian Wars, freely entered, and locked from within after Malchior V. We must first remove her from that cage she has built so well before we can understand what else needs to be done.”

“If there were any justice in circumstance, Malchior V would have been her grave.” Atris snarled back. “You saw it in her stance, in her walk. She is already dead and hasn’t the decency to lay down and be buried.”

“It is not death.” Zez-Kai Ell returned to his seat, crumpling back. “Many battles remain for her if what we have all seen is true. To us the future is a shifting sand bar of possibilities, but she seems to cut toward it like a blade.”

“We should have told her.” Vash almost whispered. “A Jedi needs and deserves to know.”

“No good would have come of it, even if you are correct.” Vrook demurred. “We must deal first with Revan. Better not to fight on two fronts if we do not have to.”

“Perhaps in some years we can find her and call her to this Council again.” Kavar said in a pleading tone. “We can explain to her what has happened, and if it is possible, find a way to heal her.” He looked from face to face, but there was no give in them from the slightly worried look of Zez-Kai Ell to the adamant piety of Atris. “Even then, we must let her go where her path takes her.”

“But she may never learn the truth without our telling her.” She also looked from face to face. “She may never learn the truth of why we cast her out.”

“Then that is the future she and we must accept.” Vrook snarled. “Now-”

The holovid cleared. Then suddenly it flashed back. The Council room sat silent. Atris entered, going to the pillar. Her hand touched the stone of it, and I could see tears in her eyes. She lifted the lightsaber I had left, holding it as if it were a child. Then she left the room.

“Those Jedi surely do love their secrets.” Atton commented.

I stared at empty space. I felt an emptiness, as if there were nothing beneath her skin. Vash had said. devoured everything good and true within her. Atris had said.

“They knew.” I whispered. “They knew what Chodo spoke of, they knew what had happened, and they did nothing!” I flung the cup across the room to shatter. I stormed out of the room keying my door to refuse any access.

Bao Dur

It sounded like someone had closed a herd of Nerf in a china shop. Atton would have gone to the door immediately, but I stopped him.

“Give her time.” I said softly.

“How much time?” He asked. I think part of it was he was attracted physically to her. He wanted to go in and hold her, and right now she didn’t need comforting. She need to vent that anger and sorrow. All we would have done is get in the line of fire.

“Hey, the Galaxy has been here for 10 billion years. We can give her a little of that.”

He looked at me as if I had grown another head, or my horns had disappeared as he looked at me. Then he spun around and stormed off to the cockpit. Kreia had already left.

As the Universe measures time it wasn’t even a second. As people do, it was a little more than two hours. She was composed, looked tired, and red eyed from crying, but the General I remembered so well was back. She came into the mess hall, taking her seat again.

“T3, was there anything more?” She asked softly. Atton came running back, and I think only the minatory look in her eye stopped him from snatching her up into a hug. Kreia appeared from the shadows near the port side berthing tube.

The droid whistled and clicked. I could understand him pretty well.

“Atris knows where some of the Jedi are.” She translated for the others. “Display.”

A holographic representation flashed. Under each face was a name, and last known location.

VROOK: DANTOOINE

ZEZ-KAI ELL: NAR SHADDAA

VASH: KORRIBAN

KAVAR: ONDERON

ATRIS: TELOS

She looked at the last picture for a long time. “All of them were the masters that exiled me.” She said.

“A strange coincidence.” I commented.

“No coincidence.” Kreia disagreed. “Something greater than our friend’s problems is at work here. Things are a little too convenient for it to be anything but a trap. And we must walk into it before we can judge it.”

“We have no choice.” She looked at Kreia. “Without them the Sith will win this war. We need them even if we have to snatch them from the jaws of Hell.”

“How dare you!” We all turned. There, in all her fury, was one of the handmaidens. She stalked forward. “Those are Master Atris’ records. How dare you steal them!”

Marai stood slowly. “Atton, pour our guest some tea.”

She looked at Marai as if Marai had just suggested a circle dance in the nude. “Tea?”

“Yes. Echani fire tea to be precise.” She turned, facing T3. T3, except for the files we have seen, delete all information gotten from the Academy data bank.” The droid bleeped and whistled. “Yes, all.”

He hummed, then bleeped.

“If you would check?” Marai motioned toward the droid, sitting back down.

Warily the girl walked forward, kneeling. She checked the read out screen, then sagged. “He has done as you told him.”

“All we have seen was my stand before the council, and the location of them.”

“I know. I was standing back there.” Her hand moved toward the corridor back to the cargo holds.

“Yes, I saw you.” The girl looked at Marai. “Now, do what do we owe the honor of this meeting?”

“I...” She looked embarrassed. “I hoped that you could one day teach me how to touch the force as you do.”

“Yet another stray.” Kreia turned. “When you have figured out where to put the bed for your newest pet, let me know.”

“I need only a place to lay down.” She was starting the get smaller with every sentence.”

“Find, we have deck plates and cargo netting back in the hold. Settle in.”

“Atton.” Marai looked at me coldly. Then at the girl. “There is room enough in the berthing space on the port side.”

“No.” She stood tall, and her look promised me pain if I opened my mouth again. “The cargo hold is more than adequate to my needs.”

“Then take your tea with you.” The girl picked up the cup, and walked away.

“Well, where do we go now?” Atton asked.

“Onderon.” She said, returning to her room.

*****

We walked soft around her that first day. But I finally had to ask. “General, why don’t you carry a lightsaber any more?”

She gave me one of those ‘are you really that dense?’ looks. “It was taken from me.”

“That isn’t your lightsaber now, General. That was the weapon of someone that fought alongside Revan. You aren’t that person anymore.” I hesitated. If it was such a sensitive subject, she might lash out again. “You could build another one.”

“I could.” She looked at me, and there was warning in her eyes. “You think I’m too afraid to do it.” She accused.

“Never thought it for a minute. But whatever reason you have for not building another one, I think it’s about time you put it behind you. I knew you through all of the war, General. A lightsaber is part of you the same way my hand is.” I lifted the prosthesis. It might not be the same, but without it, you’re not complete.”

She sighed. “All right, enough yammering.” She said, but she gave me a small smile. “Do we have the parts we need?”

“Well we need a power cell emitter matrix lens and focusing crystal as you know. I can construct all of them with the proper materials except for the crystal. Those parts except for the crystal are all pretty much standard equipment and easy to buy. But a Jedi once told me that a lightsaber is built by someone with a specific purpose in mind, and fits the wearer as they were when they built it.”

“Since when do you listen to Jedi?” She joked.

“Well you know how it is. People talk around you, and think maybe you aren’t listening. You’d be surprised what you learn if you just listen.”

She shook her head. “I’ll try to find the parts.”

“When you do, let me look them over first.” I told her. “Wouldn’t want to have it fall apart because some crap got used.”

“Yes, daddy.”

Marai

I finally decided that I need a shower. I went to the port side fresher because the guys were using the starboard side. I was finally clean for once, and was trying to dry my hair as I walked back to my room to change.

A pint size missile hit me around knee level, and I spun in midair, landing on my hands and knees. Something thundered past me, and I stood, storming after.

T3 had backed into a corner, and was squealing a long series of complaints at Bao Dur who stood a few meters away, his hands out in a placatory manner.

“All I’m saying is it’s been a long time since you’ve had a memory wipe, that’s all! Most droids react irrationally when that happens, and I was going to do it before it gets worse!”

T3 replied vehemently.

“I know that but I’m done fixing all the major stuff around here so i might as well take a look at you too.”

Again a droid diatribe.

“What was that? Insults? That’s exactly what i was talking about. That is not normal droid behavior.”

T3 gave a strangled bleep, and Bao Dur said, “What do you mean I’m disturbing...” He turned as he was speaking, then suddenly covered his eyes.

“What is going on here?” I demanded.

“General, before the conversation goes any further, you dropped your towel.”

I gaped at him, and my eyes went down. Yup. The towel was back in the passageway. I looked back up. “Wait right here.” I ordered levelly. I retrieved the towel, wrapped it back into position, then came back.

Bao Dur lowered his hand just far enough to see that I was covered, then motioned toward the droid. He was blushing so badly I thought he had a skin condition. Before he could speak, T3 transferred his ire to me.

“I am not pushing you around, T3.” Bao Dur said in that tone parents get talking to recalcitrant children. “I just wanted to see if there was anything I could do to upgrade your functionality.”

“That sounds like a good idea, T3.”

He gave me that Et tu? look.

“But he doesn’t touch your memory core until I say so.”

T3 gave another sadder bleep, then rolled forward. Bao Dur knelt. “Let’s get the panels off.”

I left to wash again, dress, and gather my dignity. When I returned, Bao Dur was polishing some contacts. “You wouldn’t guess it from the outside but you’ve been through a lot, my little friend. Without a lot of maintenance.”

T3 gave that noise that meant ‘don’t get me started’.

“There you go.” Bao Dur closed the last access panel. “Until we can find a shop, that’s all I can do for you aboard ship. If anything pops loose, let me know and I’ll fix it in a jiffy.” T3 swiveled his head, and bleeped and clicked. “I’m joking.” Bao Dur said. I smiled, rubbing my hand on T3’s head, winked at Bao Dur, and walked out.

“General?”

“Yes?”

“I didn’t know humans had that many variations in skin tone.”

I blushed.

The girl was sparring by herself in the cargo hold, and I watched her for a moment. She paused, holding a punch.

“I have never seen that variation before.” I said.

“It is the same as the Te-rehal-Vor taught to any Echani child. But my clan developed their own variations.”

“Would it not be better to have a sparring partner?”

She shrugged. “I do not know if any aboard are capable.”

I stepped in, stripping off my tunic. Then I removed the pantaloons. Standing just in my underwear, I bowed, then took the third stance. “Try me.”

She stripped off her own robes. I was astonished by how sheer her underwear was. She looked down at the clothing, then up. “The quilted pattern retains body heat in the cold.”

“Ah.”

She returned my bow and took her own version of the third stance. You stand with one hand even with your waist, hand flat toward your opponent. The other cocked back as if to throw a punch even with your shoulder. Her forward hand was a little farther out to the side, the back lower, even with her breasts.

We moved together, and the bout began. She was ten years younger than I and moved like greased lightning. Her blows were sharp, clean, and surprising. I was snatched up, and as she threw me, I caught her shoulder, flipping myself down to land feet first, then threw her. She stood, shaking her head. Then came at me again.

Afterward I was just glad that Atton had been busy forward. The sight of two nubile half nude women in gymnastic vigor would have sent him screaming toward the freshers.

She stepped back, bowing, and I returned it.

“For someone who has never fought with the style I was taught, you catch on well.”

“Thank you. Battle is the way to learn and grow.”

“Yes.” She looked at me. “May I ask you a question?”

“Yes.”

“Where did you learn Shar-ma****?”

“Battle knowledge?” I translated aloud. “I have never heard of it before.

“It is the art practiced by the greatest of our generals. To feel where a fight is going not only as it is happening, but long before. To know hours, days, even weeks before the conflict. It is said the most advanced can foresee what will occur in battle even at the start of a war.

“Only Revan has ever shown this skill in true battle in a century of more. Even as she attacked our home world, we respected her.”

I was chilled. I hadn’t known that Revan had attacked her home world when she was a Sith! “How badly damaged was the planet?”

“It was not. She shattered our fleets, then merely went away. She left only a warning. That she would do it again if we dared to enter the conflict against her.”

“There are times I wish I knew how to do that.”

Her head cocked. “What do you mean?”

“To go into a fight knowing how it will turn out.”

“But you are already doing it.”

I looked at her amazed. “Teach me.”

“If you do not know how or what you are doing, it can be dangerous.”

“I understand that.” I bowed. “You are my teacher, guide me.”

She bowed back. “Do not strike, only block. However, you may point your finger to tell me where such a riposte would go.“ Now her blows rained faster, harder. I realized that she had been holding back.

Yet I found the speed to match her. Then suddenly it was as if she had telegraphed every move. My finger pointed, and I blocked as I did. Again, then again.

After a strenuous hour, she stopped. “I would have thought that it was your connection to the force that guided you. But that cannot be true. I would have felt it.”

“It would not be fair to use them in sparring.” I replied.

“I think there is little I can teach you beyond that. Now you fight like the Echani do. In the future.”

I wiped my face. “Do you have a name?”

“I am merely Last Handmaiden.” She replied.

“Last?”

“Atris foresaw when she would die. When I was chosen, she decreed there would be no more.”

I looked at her. I felt a chill knowing my friend would die. “But you had a name before.”

“But when I was sworn to her service, I gave it up. It is not important. My title speaks of my duty and honor.”

“But what of value of yourself?”

“Keeping to our oaths, doing what our master might bid. That is the duty of a handmaiden. It is the backbone of our people that we never break an oath.”

“But what does that say about me?”

She considered. “There are times that an oath would bind in such a way that honor cannot be served. That is why we do not give our oaths lightly. If the reason you stepped away from your oath as Jedi, and went to war was for personal gain or honor, it would be forsworn. However if you had not lied to me, it was the duty to the people that over rode that oath.”

“Do you think I foreswore myself?”

“It is between you and your conscience.” She hesitated. “I did not mean to sound as if I were making a judgment on your actions.”

“I asked. Thank you.” I took yet another shower, then went forward.

The cockpit was quiet. Atton was lounged in the pilot seat, his feet on a nearby panel. I automatically checked to see that he had disconnected the systems on it. After all, accidents do happen. I went to the navi-computer. We were less than an hour out.

“I don’t know what it is.” Atton said, surprising me. “But you look... different.”

“It’s called a bath, Atton.”

“Not that.” He blushed as much as Bao Dur had. I wondered for a moment what would have happened if he had gotten the full show. “It’s hard to explain. Like watching that holo-vid cleaned out something bad. It’s good to see.”

“I can’t explain it either.” I admitted. “With the Exchange putting out a bounty, murder and mayhem in our wake, I feel more at peace and alive than I have in years.”

“It shows. It’s kind of inspiring to be honest. The others have probably already commented on it. I just wanted to put my word in with theirs.”

“Thank you.” Bao Dur hadn’t commented, Kreia wouldn't have bothered. I felt, I don’t know, touched by his kindness? “Could you answer a question for me?”

“If I can.”

“Where did you get Echani hand to hand combat training?”

“Huh?” I could tell there was something he wasn’t telling me.

“When you woke up in the Telos Academy. One of the Handmaidens recognized you stance.”

Oh, that. Don’t tell anyone but you wouldn’t believe the fights to avoid if someone thinks you know that kind of stuff. It isn’t as sure as carrying a lightsaber. But then again, I don’t see it helping you that much.”

He was lying. I didn’t know why but he was.

“All right.” I turned to the navi-computer again. “We’re almost there. I’ll let the others know.

Onderon

Atton

I cursed reflex. You do something long enough, it becomes second nature. You senses say ‘defend’ and you automatically do what your reflexes tell you to do. But she’d let it slide, and I’d try to make sure she didn’t bring it up again. They had just gathered as we dropped out of hyper space.

The orbit and approaches to a planet are almost always empty. After all, a ten megaton freighter is three clicks long, but when you remember that a hyper space entry lane starts at two planetary diameters, 28,000 kilometers, that freighter is a speck of light.

But not today. Onderon looked like Coruscant on the worst possible day with ships backed out so far that we almost rear ended one on arrival. I think there were probably three or four hundred of them. On my scope I picked up a large area of blips that were tagged with the orange of Onderoni military. I felt a chill. Not orange, flaming orange. The color of armed ships with active weapons and targeting systems.

Kreia leaned forward. “Something is wrong here. There is disquiet on the planet, but here in orbit, that disquiet is painted with anger and fear.”

“If the planet is under blockade that might explain it.” I added. “But those aren’t foreign ships. They’re Onderoni. So the military is blocking access to their own planet. That means other problems.” The com panel bleeped. “Well maybe they’ll tell us what’s going on.” I keyed the panel. “Secure channel?”

Before I could speak a cold clipped voice came across. “Ebon Hawk, this is Colonel Tobin. Stand down all defenses and prepare to be boarded.”

“What? Colonel, if our being here is a problem, we’ll just go.”

“You will not. do not know what your business is here, Ebon Hawk, but I have my orders.”

“Holy Sunspots!” I shouted. Four fighters had detached from the military front, and were racing toward us. “We can’t hyper until the system is set. Hang on!”

I slipped us on our back and dived down and corckscrewed away. I felt the ship jolt as fire smacked into our shields. “Mayday! Mayday! This is the freighter Ebon Hawk! We are facing an unprovoked attack by four Onderoni fighters. I repeat, under unprovoked attack by four Onderoni fighters!” I spun the ship on her axis as two fighters cut close. “Someone man the turrets-”

“Belay that order.” Marai snapped. Again with the ‘I will be obeyed‘. “Someone wants to use us as an excuse. Which moon is closest?”

“Like I know the system that well!” I shouted.

“Just pick the closest!”

“We’ll have to go through the herd.” I spun and ahead of us were dozens of ships trying to peel out of our way. “Someone tell them!”

Marai, turned, touching the com panel on her side. “All ships on Onderon approach. We are under attack by Onderoni fighters. We have not, I repeat, have not manned any weapons. All ships along our flight path, please, if you cannot move, let us know!”

I dodged as if we were back at Peragus. We’d reached the center when a ship named Republic Corona signalled that their maneuvering thrusters were acting up. I dived below her, and the bolts that missed us slammed into that ship.

Republic Corona must have either had a very nervous captain, or maybe he hadn’t reset the weapons to safety as regs required. A couple of pop gun laser cannon fired back, and the fighters spun up to rip into her.

We flew through the debris from the hits as the fighters again latched onto us, but we were far enough ahead that I was sure we’d make it now.

“Damage report!” Marai snapped.

“We’ve taken some hits, but nothing lethal. I’m shutting down all auxiliary systems until we can make repairs.”

“Bao Dur, what about the battle?” She asked.

“Not much of one if you think about it. Those fighters took fire from four merchants by my count. Now they’re screaming for everyone to stop shooting.” He had the com link in his ear.

“That won’t mean much to us.” I snarled. “We’re about as far out in the Rim as you can get and still be in the Republic, but someone is gunning for this ship by name.” I smoothed out our descent. “Let me find a clearing near one of those settlement...”

“Those aren’t settlement.” Kreia said from behind me. They are craters.”

“From what?”

“Either bombardment or crash sites.” Kreia said grimly. “This is Dxun. The place that saw the launching of the invasion of the Republic by the Mandalorians on their central front. Where the Republic began their war to beat them back after the Jedi joined the conflict. Any settlements you see will be military installations, and some of them might still be alive even today.”

I dropped us down near one crater lake. “It doesn't look much like a battleground.”

Kreia was looking out the ports. “Much is buried here still. Much that should remain buried.”

Marai looked white, but her voice was business like. “How soon can we lift off?”

“Maybe three four days. Unless you can hitch a ride to Onderon, we’ll be sitting here until then.”

“Then we have time to explore.” Kreia stood up.

“Explore!” I turned around. “This is Dxun, not Coruscant! This place is dangerous without a war going on!”

“And there are regions of Coruscant the wise do not pass through.”

“All right, sure. But there are things that would eat a human being whole here, and others that will take you down a thirty gram bite at a time. More than half of the animals here are either predators, poisonous, or just so plain mean they’d kill you just because you exist, and you want to walk and smell the flowers?”

“Of course not.” Bao Dur said. He was pale too, but his sense of humor was still working. “The Kanthis flower’s shoot paralyzing poison darts.” He stood and walked out.

“Nevertheless.” Kreia looked at me. “We should investigate our surrounding. I would suggest that outpost ten kilometers to the south.”
“Sure, fine. Go for a bloody stroll. But watch out. We probably weren’t the only ship forced down by that ruckus upstairs.”

Marai nodded, and left, Kreia leaned forward, her voice dropping to a cold whisper. “I have a feeling the repairs will be completed after our business here is done. Do I make myself clear?”

“Yeah.” I turned back to the panel, then spun around again. “But what’s so damned important about this place?”

“As I said, when the Jedi counter attack began, this is where the first blow fell. Marai led some of the ground troops that fought here, and there are memories that must be exorcised.”

“She did?” I thought of that face. She had been pale, but she had moved out as if it was just a walk in the park. “Why didn’t she say anything?”
She gave me that ice cold look again. “Is every battle you’ve fought subject to public review?”

I shut up.

machievelli
08-14-2006, 02:23 AM
Dxun

Handmaiden

I changed into the light clothing my teacher suggested. As a weapon I bore my ritual brand. I expected conflict, to face off against nature at it’s worst.

What I did not expect was to step from the metal of the ship into a blinding array of lights. It was a bewildering array of light that slammed into my perceptions. It moved only a little, as a tree swayed in a gentle breeze as slowly as slug sliding on a leaf as swiftly as the thought of a pack of animal not far from us. It screamed in pain in death and joy in living. Growled in hunger soaked in the sun like a mass of sunbathers on a beach. It was too much and at the same time, not enough.

Something touched my shoulder, and a voice said, “Breathe.” Even as I spun around. Somehow I had fallen to my knees, and before me was yet another vision of wonder. I knew it was Marai, yet at the same time it was less than and more than her. Rivers of sliver flowed along her muscles as if she were merely channels for mercury. Light danced on her skin, some from her own body, but a lot of it sunlight soaking into a single cell of her being. I drew a ragged breath, and at the same time felt the glow soak into me as free floating Midichlorians entered my lungs.

“Oh Echana. Oh lady of steel you see this all the time?” I asked her.

“Yes.” She knelt beside me, and I could even see the color of her amusement. “You get used to it. Would you like to go back in the ship-”

“No!” I pulled back. “Please, just a little time.”

She moved away wordlessly. I looked at Bao Dur standing there. He was mainly light as she was but at the same time there was darkness, sadness there. Both had been here. I knew from her records, but the soul deep pain he felt was from seeing a nightmare, and revisiting it.

I found that by concentrating on not seeing all of the wonder, my vision faded back to normal. It was all there, just thinking about it would bring it back to crystal purity.

When I signalled my readiness we moved out. I found myself relegated to the center position. Both of them had fought here before, they knew the dangers, whereas I needed to learn them. Marai led, moving as softly and silently as a wraith. Behind me was the gentle rustle of Bao Dur who had learned without Jedi senses to move quietly in a world where noise could mean death. In comparison, I felt as if I were wearing led boots and strings of bells.

Marai stopped us, and pointed. “Kanthis flowers.” She said. Ahead of us was a field of flowers standing knee high, moving gently in the wind. Wait. They were moving against the wind. Turning to face us with the open bell of the deep flowers. Marai lifted a stone, and flipped it at shoulder height into the field.

There was a popping hiss, and spines ricocheted from the tumbling stone. Marai reached forward carefully and slowly, and lifted one in her gloved hand.

“The sap is a neurotoxin. It paralyzes you, then the roots dig up into your flesh.” She motioned, and I saw root points questing where the rock had landed. “You die, but not quickly or cleanly.”

We moved around the field.

There was life everywhere, and a lot of it bit, clawed stung or choked. We avoided the wildlife because Marai was in a hurry, and I didn’t know if I could bring myself to strike one of these beautiful beings with death.

We followed a path upward. Ahead was the scattered bones of a body, only armor a rusted weapon and a data pad remained. Marai picked up the pad, looking at it.

“Desrotai, 3rd Coruscanti Marines.” She said. Then she knelt, laying a hand on the back plate of his armor. “Rest you now in peace.” She took the pad, slipping it into a pouch. She saw my look, and smiled sadly. “Dxun is graveyard to almost 200,000. Mandalorian, Republic, all returned to the force in a three week period. I found myself here.” She looked around. “I started to lose myself here as well.”

We moved on, and after a while, she waved for us to stop. Bao Dur dropped into a crouch automatically when she signalled, and I had started to copy the reaction. Marai knelt near a thicket of vines, looking into them. Then she stood, pulling out a grenade. She flipped it into the overhang, dropping as the plasma grenade exploded, the flames searing the vines into dry sticks. It finally died, and she broke through the cordon, and returned with a helmet.

“Mandalorians.” She handed the helmet to Bao Dur.

“So?”

“Dead less than three days.”

Marai

Our caution became even more important. The Mandalorian issue armor and uniforms can automatically fade into any background almost as good as being invisible. But the dead man had obviously not considered that a plant used to detecting heat and motion would still see him. The Harpooner vine had thrown a javelin sized thorn right through his entire body, and dragged him in.

There was a scream in the air ahead of us. Nothing living made that noise. It was a ship passing low and fast.

“Marai, can you hear me?” I signalled for the others to stop. The Handmaiden had learned from watching us.

“Go ahead, Atton.”

“That battle is still going on up there. I just picked up another contact headed down here. I’ve powered down any system that can be read at a distance, and all we have are these short range com links now. I think that ship landed close by. Or maybe it’s all the way on the other side of the moon.”

“I would say about a kilometer ahead.” I told him. “We heard it coming in.”

“Then hope they aren’t Onderoni. I don’t think I can handle much more of their idea of a friendly welcome.”

“Understood.” I raised my hand, making the patrol sign for spread out and advance. Then I remembered that the Handmaiden hadn’t served with us. I looked back, but she had figured it out.

There was a burst of steam ahead, and loud cursing in of all things, Duros.

I paused at the edge of a new clearing. I could see the moist dirt still adhering to the roots of a tree that had been rammed over. The ship was a little smaller than ours, and half a dozen Duros were gathered in a clump arguing. Not the smartest thing to do on Dxun. I could see furtive movement.

“Stay here.” I whispered. I moved toward that movement, but not close enough to become a target. Once I had assured myself of what was there, I moved back.

“Bounty hunters?” Bao Dur asked.

“Yes.”

“How do you know?” The Handmaiden asked.

“They’re armed to the teeth sensor equipped city boys.” I replied. “They’re arguing whether they should change into something that will protect them and have been discussing at length what to do with the money.

“We can add to their problems or leave them to them.”

“How so General?” Bao Dur cocked his head. “Boma beasts?

“Yes.” And I pointed at the ship. “And they crashed right in their path to their water source.” I lifted a sonic grenade and flipped it into the air. “And you know how much Boma beasts hate noise...”

“No need.” The Handmaiden made a fluid pointing gesture. One of the Duros had moved closer to that side. Whether he saw a movement, or maybe detected a scent, he drew down on the foliage.

“General, have you considered that we are also in their way?”

I looked around. “Sith-spit!” We hurried to the side as the idiot let off a long rippling burst into the shrubs.

We used to joke in the 2nd Corellian Marines that you don’t shoot a Boma, it just makes them mad. Anything smaller than a heavy blaster just cooks sections of their skin.

There was a trumpeting roar, and three dozen Boma charged as if given the order. We dived for cover as the clearing was rent by screams, roars, and more blaster fire. They passed through and over the Duros as if they weren’t there, stampeding toward the ship. I suddenly did a math equation

three dozen animals averaging 300 kilos each for a grand total of just under 11 tons-

-versus a half kiloton ship made up of a lot of bolted together parts-

-equals...

They hit the ship like three dozen half ton hammers. The oleo struts on the landing gear protested for maybe three seconds, then the ship settled toward us as they sheared off. The hull was made of sterner stuff, and while they could batter it, they did not damage it beyond one of them slamming the sensor dish off and flattening it.

After a while, they started to settle down. Then they began to wander aimlessly past us toward the pool I had felt a few hundred meters away.

We climbed down and examined the records. The leader had been Dezanti Zhug, of the Zhug family. The Handmaiden told us that they were a family of Duros that had been banished from their home world, and made money as Bounty Hunters on Nar Shaddaa.

We collected their IDs so that we could eventually notify their next of kin, and moved on.

Bao Dur had moved to point, and he motioned for us to stop. Then he motioned for us to join him.

The outpost lay in the valley below us. He handed me his electro-binoculars. I looked through them, then lowered them slowly.

The Mandalorians were back.

Bao Dur

I remember the battle of Dxun as if it were yesterday. We had spent six months of training before the Jedi were willing to begin. Even then they had to push. Admiral Quintain Lord Quintain after Kostigan’s Drift was trying to throw not grains, but buckets full of sand into the gears. It was his command that would lead the assault and he wanted it to be perfect, every soldier in line, every weapon polished, every ‘I’ dotted, and ‘T’ crossed.

I was one of only about 20 Zabrak from Iridorn assigned to the assault force.
Assault force. Yeah, right. I had ended up assigned to te headquarter motor pool because Lord Quintain wanted all of his personal vehicles in perfect condition.

There’s an old story about a warrior like the Admiral. He would stand and hold his ground until he was satisfied, but he was never satisfied. The few battle the Admiral had led so far had been like Kostigan’s Drift, bar brawls with several thousand men on each side. He had won a couple, but the cost was always steep.

The closest I would be to the battle is with maybe the fifth wave, after everything was secure enough for the Admiral to risk his lily white behind. That is when all of those bright and shiny vehicles would arrive.

I had stepped out for a breath of air as the last of an interminable line of staff meetings broke up. I recognized only two, a tall man with brown hair someone had said was Padawan Kavar, and the robed and masked form of Revan. They were walking down the ramp to their speeders.

“That man could not lead a dying animal to a watering hole.” Revan was snarling. She always sounded like an angry Kastan Cat to me. She could fight rings around Quintain and just about every admiral here from what I had been told. Her work in a simulator as flag officer had been clean and crisp, and the enemy ended up beaten with light casualties.

“I know that Revan, but we are here to help them-”

“Help them what?” a blonde woman a head and a half short than them asked. “Kill a lot of our men for no purpose?”

They all stopped, and the shorter woman glared up at the others. “It will be me and mine on the ground in that ‘sweeping arc’ the idiot wants on the ground. Infantry tactics do not translate to fleet action.”

“We must-” Kavar began.

“Must nothing! I know that they will follow where I lead, but I am not going to let a Chair borne, High Family Moron kill my men to give him another victory like Kostigan’s Drift!”

Revan sighed. “She is right, Kavar. The man thinks of infantry as ships. Unless she has a free hand, we will lose the entire assault force to no purpose.”

Kavar nodded sharply. “We will get fleet to put someone else in charge of the ground assault.” They came down, and the small woman mounted her speeder bike. She hit the ignition, and the engine smoked. She dived off as it burst into flames.

I grabbed the extinguisher, and sprayed the gas over the smoking engine. She stood there, glaring at the machine. “Bad enough we have morons in command, but we have thumb fingered wrench benders doing the maintenance!” She looked at the landspeeder where her friends were already seated. “Go on. “I’ll be there if I have to walk.”

The speeder took off. I knelt, touching the engine with one hand. “There’s your problem.” I took out my hydro spanner. “They set the fuel injection too high.”

“They did?” She knelt beside me.

“Yep. The problem is, these Aratech 490s need tweaking straight from the factory. The droids on the assembly line tend to torque down the injectors, and that means you get fuel dumped into the system when you start them unless you choke them just right.”

She watched me as if she intended to memorize every motion. Later I found she had.

I reset the injectors to the correct measure, then reached up and thumbed the ignition. The engine came to life. It sounded bad, but I listened. “Fuel varnishing. It’ll clear in about five clicks, or sooner if you floor it.”

“You’re pretty handy.”

“So they tell me.” I wiped my hand, then put it out. Bao Dur, clan Zika.”

“Marai Devos, Jedi.” She shook it. “Want a job?”

I laughed. “If it’s away from this shiny prison, yes.”

Three days later, over the protest of the entire staff motor pool, I was assigned to the Corellian 2nd Marine Regiment. It wasn’t spit and polish, but it was a lot of work, and I was promoted so I was able to tell those ‘wrench benders’ how to do it right.

If you’ve looked at the Galaxy map, you know that on the Southern or left flank of the Mandalorian Salient, they had advanced as far as Balmora Carida and Arkania. That was where Quintain wanted to hit them. But the Jedi wanted to hit instead at Onderon. The larger of the planet’s two moons was the command and control center of the entire left flank, and by taking it, they would cut off the forces advanced from there. It also left an opening to take Tanab and cut off almost 3 million Mandalorian troops.

Being assigned to the headquarters motor pool of the 2nd was better than the command headquarters. The officers tended to talk more, and you could pick up a lot. Marai Devos had trained these men to an old Jedi sword’s edge, and she could have charged a Hurricane, and they would have cheered and followed.

But she wasn’t part of the command structure. The Commander, Colonel Neelis was a warrior of Quintain’s stripe. More worried about spit and polish than how well the weapons worked. The four men that were his staff officers couldn’t have organized an orgy.

I started calling her General after Neelis complained that ‘Since Jedi seem to think they rank ahead of the rest of the human race, maybe we should call you General!’.

I wasn’t the only one.

*****

The fleet came out into a dream come true. Feints by Karath, Malak and Dodonna had drawn away the fleets protecting the twin planets of Onderon and Dxun. The dozen or so Mandalorian picket ships were blown to hell, and we closed on the twin worlds. Quintain was broadcasting his surrender demands as the ship prepared to start a bombardment if necessary.

The commanding Officer, First Blade Cassus Fett however threw a wrench into the works.

*****

“I know what ‘Blade to blade means, Revan.” Marai was shouting at her vid screen. I was delivering a maintenance report to the staff supply officer and got a chance to hear it. “It means Fett doesn’t want to come out and fight like a man, and Quintain doesn’t know what he’s doing to his own damn troops!”

“I understand that.” Revan replied levelly. “But Quintain has agreed because of his sense of honor-”

“He thinks honor is a word in the dictionary between Honky-tonk and Honorarium!” She roared. Then she sighed. “It means Revan, that we have to take our troops and fight the Mandalorian Garrison on Dxun with exactly the same number of troops. No more.

“By my estimate there are 135,000 troops there. That means we send in the 4th and 11th Corps, our best men. But damn it, the first rule of infantry tactics is that the defender has a 2 to 1 advantage against the attacker in regular terrain, increasing to six to one in emplacements and every mother‘s son of them are in bunkers redoubts and bloody fortresses! That means instead of sending the minimum of 700,000 troops we need, we’re sending less than 200,000 men into a meat grinder.

“How the hell do you expect me to maintain an army this idiot is busy destroying to make himself look good in the history books!”

“Then it can’t be done?”

“Oh it can be done!” Marai shouted. “But the reunion will be ten or fifteen of them sitting around afterward because all the rest of us will be dead!” She switched off, then threw the vid unit through the wall. She stalked out into the silent room.

“Want me to fix that, General?” I asked.

She glared at me. “Bao Dur, do one thing for me.”

“Anything you want, General.”

“When I have earned that rank, call me by it. But until then zip it!”

*****

The briefing was small. I was there because the motor pool had to land not with the fifth wave, but the second. As the Motor pool chief, I had to be there so I knew where we were setting up. We had the commanding officers of the Assault force, the two Corps, the commanding officers of the six divisions, and of the 18 Regiments that were landing. Along with them were commanders of the shuttles and assault ships.

Everyone was nervous.

“Attention!” Someone shouted, and everyone snapped to their feet. A stream of Jedi came down the aisle in a formation four wide and 20 deep. Eighty of them, men and women of almost as many planets, about thirty of their number of alien races. They split to take the front two rows, and one of them mounted the dais.

“Be seated.” General Ondine said. She signalled the briefing officer and our nightmare began The Fourth Corps would land to the south near the main shield complex and disable it so that the 11th could drop in north of them. Once on the ground they would link up, then sweep west through the densest concentration of enemy forces.

There was fifteen kilometers between the drop zones, and all they had to do to kill us all was keep us from linking up. The briefer tapped that section

“This section will be taken by the Jedi, and two regiments, the 2nd Corellian Marines, and the 14th Alderaani Scouts.”

“Them and what angels?” A voice snapped. One of the pilots stood. “The heaviest concentration of AD is right there, and they’ll chop my guys into lunch meat! I will not lead them into an abattoir on their words! They want to play hero, let them fly the damn shuttles!”

One of the Jedi stood. “You are?”

“Lieutenant Carth Onasi. Telosian contingent.”

She walked up. I wasn’t surprised that it was Marai. “Ten of my people will be flying shuttles, Lieutenant.” She replied. As for you, you will fly into that abattoir. And I will be in your crew compartment with the 2nd Marines when they land. So I expect a bumpy trip.”

She walked back to her seat.

*****

Ten percent losses on the landing, 75% on the first wave alone. It took three weeks of fighting until it was finally over. 64,000 dead, 20,000 wounded, 5,000 missing. I had ended up not at landing area Baker, but at LZ Connor, named after the pilot of a crashing shuttle that had dug a runway for us with his death. I fought alongside the 2nd and the 14th as they were whittled away by enemy fire, blades, and the damn planet itself.

We captured the command center, and that was when our friend Admiral Quintain decided to show up.

The men of the 2nd and 14th were intermingled. We had fought too long and hard side by side to think of ourselves as anything but brothers. Of the 3,000 men that had landed, less than a thousand remained. A lot of them weren’t here. The hospital ship had landed and loaded everyone that would live into kolto tanks, so less than a hundred of us were still there. Of the Jedi that had landed less than fifteen were still alive.

We had found a stash of Fett’s favorite tihaar and were passing the bottles around. Fett wouldn’t need it. He’d eaten his sidearm when we surrounded his headquarters.

Quintain’s squadron of speeders came racing in, bright metal work glistening to stop in the quad. He stepped down, probably expecting an ovation from his ‘brave warriors‘. That was what that REMF that had shown up an hour earlier had been saying, but we’d stripped him to his skivvies and tied him up, stuffing him in the trunk of his staff speeder.

What he got was a hundred men doing what any smart infantryman not under fire would automatically do. We were eating, drinking, and about fifty of us were sleeping.

Quintain stepped own, and I could see the disapproval in his eyes. He motioned to one of his officers, a natty lieutenant in starched dress uniform.

“Who’s in charge here?” He demanded.

One of the figures that had been asleep stretched, and sat up. Marai was filthy and she was in her underwear waiting for supply to catch up with us. “That would be me.” She said, standing.

“Name, Rank!” The lieutenant snapped.

“Devos, Marai. Padawan.” She put her hands on her hips. “Now my question, lieutenant, is who the hell are you to bother my men.”

“How dare you-”

She made one of those ten meter force leaps, landing in front of him, a third his side, but quite willing to rip his head off.

“How dare you!” She roared back. She stormed past him toward Quintain. “Lord Quintain, with all due respect, you have no balls.”

“Who-”

“You brought a thousand ships, a million and a half infantrymen and you still have no balls. You sent in 120,000 men into this mess, and maybe we have 30,000 that are still alive.

“All because you had to do the ‘honorable’ thing without thinking.” She stopped less than a meter from him. “So have your victory parade somewhere else, take your holos, and bask in you glory, and leave us out of it! You have enough men that are not only alive but clean well fed and need something to do while the real soldiers were fighting!”

Quintain pulled out his notebook. “What units are these?”

“This is what’s left of the 2nd Marines and 14th Scouts.” She said, then she reached up, and caught his collar. “And if I hear one word of complaint from any rear echelon puke about my men I will take every one of your staff officers, and shove them so far up your butt that you’ll need a tractor beam to go to the bathroom. Do I make myself clear, Admiral sir?”

They sped away.

“Atta girl, General!” Someone shouted.

She turned, and looked around. “Where the hell is the tihaar?”

“Right here, General.” I held out the bottle.

*****
I was suddenly fifteen years back in time, and was raising my rifle to sight on one of the men down there when I felt a hand gently push my rifle aside. “They wouldn’t like that.” Marai whispered. She hooked a thumb. Behind us were four Mandalorians.

Emperor Devon
08-14-2006, 05:27 AM
Although I dislike bumping threads, I have to say that you've done a truly excellent job on this. Normally fan fiction isn't my cup of tea, but you've definitely changed my mind! I will have to look into KotOR fan fiction further.

Rain128
08-14-2006, 07:40 AM
if you like this one Devon, look up his Kotor I story and his early republic novels, very good reads...


I would link them but i have no idea how =(

machievelli
08-15-2006, 02:08 PM
if you like this one Devon, look up his Kotor I story and his early republic novels, very good reads...


I would link them but i have no idea how =(


Thank you rain. And no, I will not raise your allowance

machievelli
08-15-2006, 02:30 PM
Marai

I could almost read Bao Dur’s mind as we looked down. I looked up, turning, and across from him, I saw the Handmaiden mirror my movements.

If you have ever seen a predator in his natural environment, you will know what we saw. For a moment, it was merely the jungle behind us. But some of the more innocuous animals make noises, and they had fallen silent. Then the trunk and bark of a tree ten meters away moved separately. I had an instant to recognize the Mandalorian armor.

“Handmaiden?”

“I see them too.” She replied in a level voice. If they were had their helmet sensors up, they could hear are heartbeat easily at this distance. She spoke as if she knew they could hear us. “But they are not preparing to attack.”

I looked at them. Bao Dur was humming, and I recognized a song that had been popular in the 2nd Marines back then. It should have been played as a ’sprightly air’ but he was humming it like a dirge.

His blaster rifle came up, and I gently pulled it aside. He looked at me
confused. We were in the war zone, the enemy was right there. Why was I stopping him? “They wouldn’t like that.” I whispered.

He rolled slowly, looking back at the men. I could feel his tension like the string of a bow.

I stood, facing them silently. The Mandalorians aren’t much for personal in your face bluster. Either do it or go away. We stood there face to face at that distance, waiting for the other to say something. Bao Dur knew it from experience, the Handmaiden from our example. We were pillars of stone, we were trees talking a mile a minute at their pace, of a word perhaps every hour.

Someone sneezed, and one of the helmets turned. I could almost hear the lecture that man would get. “Impressive.” He said. “Most visitors take one look at our neighbors and runs screaming to safety.”

I nodded. “They can be a bit, persistent. May I ask why you have occupied this moon again?”

“We are not occupying. We have settled.” One of the others spoke. The helmet of their leader turned yet again, and I didn’t have to hear the soft voiced ripping that loud mouth was getting.

The leader turned his head back to look at us. “The People of Onderon don’t seem to like this vacation spot. So we have moved back in peacefully.” He motioned, and all of them came out. “Will you do the courtesy of explaining how you ended up on this garden spot?”

“Our ship was damaged in the disagreement above. We landed here to make repairs.”

“That would be faster than trying to convince the General to let you land.” The leader touched his ear where the connection for his helmet com link was. “We have been ordered to escort you to our encampment. Our leader wishes to speak with you.”

We marched with them down a well used path. I noticed furtive looks by the Handmaiden and Bao Dur. In a jungle a path is also a target. I noticed a sensor module, and relaxed a bit. If the foe were a human enemy, they would have been worthless. But as long as you didn’t put them down where a Cannock could eat them, they were perfect as detectors.

We came into the valley, and the forest just ended at the edge of the greensward. I looked around. The lawn for lack of a better name looked neatly clipped, as if with owner’s pride. But it is also called the dead zone. It is a cleared area where every movement is in the open. Crossing it without the Mandalorian camouflage or ghillie suits would be like crawling across a green table cloth.

The outer enfilading redoubts had been professionally sealed. Not to remove them, merely to save them for more space and later growth. Left alone, the jungle would have already reduced them to piles of rubble. The gate was open, and I could see the dusting of mines ahead of us. Command detonated, so we could walk through safely.

It was like walking into a remote village on the Mandalore home worlds. There were fifty or perhaps sixty men of fighting age, meaning older than fifteen. Half as many women, all with the lean lithe look of warriors themselves.

And children. Not the screaming and laughing hordes you would expect at a park of a day off, but a couple of dozen playing. But even play was in training for war.

We passed a group of men, the youngest maybe 20, the oldest a grizzled sergeant half again my age. They were cleaning weapons, inspecting armor, the boring maintenance duties you either did, or died in the field. Second place in battle was your grave. Another area had been cleared, and a pair of Mandalorians charged together like bulls. Beside it a circle where two women circled, swords at the ready.

There was a ramp downward, and we walked down it. The room was cluttered with equipment. It was an old command post bunker. About a third of the equipment was running. A man not in the colored armor worn by the juniors, but the satin sheen of bare metal was working at a computer. He growled, then slammed a fist against the side of the machine. He turned, as if he’d expected us to be right there, pointing at one of the silent men with us.

“If you can’t stick to patrol discipline, you can stay inside the perimeter Davrel. Now go to Zuka, tell him my systems are starting to go bug nuts again.”

“Chu!” The figure double timed away.

“Leave us.” He said to the patrol leader. They trooped out.

“I am the Mandalore of Mandalore. Welcome to our settlement.”

“A title I thought dead at Revan’s hand.” I said.

“Five years ago Revan gave unto me the helm and title.” He replied. “She would have gone to Mandalore itself, publicly freed us from exile. But that was not to be.

“What are you doing invading the Republic again?” Bao Dur growled. I touched his arm and he moved back.

“The question does have merit.” I said. A superior gently chiding a subordinate.

“The People of Onderon use their moon for two things, tombs and a hunting preserve. If they knew we were here they would be upset. However this,” he waved toward the people beyond. “Is obviously not an invasion force. We came here to regroup before our return home.” He stood, waving at the moon at large. “From here were commanded half of the forces that attacked the Republic. Now, it is just a rest stop upon the way.”

“But why chose Dxun as you ‘rest stop‘?” I asked.

“If you think the Republic’s politics are bloody, you have yet to see ours.” He laughed. Something about that voice... “The Mando-a have an affinity for such places. In the jungle there are two forms of life. Those that feed, and those fed upon. No where better to hone the edge for us. Those who fought us here should have considered that.”

“I led one of the assaults here.” I answered softly. “We were overruled.”

“By Quintain. Whatever happened to that D’kut?”

“He was promoted to planning, but got back into battle at Malachor V. He died there.”


“It would have been better for you if he had died in bed before the war began. We are here in secret because I felt the Onderoni would hold a grudge if they knew of our presence. The politics down there are... unsettled of late.”

“I am trying to get down to Onderon.” I told him. “I have business there.”

“So it is transport you seek?”

“They seem to hold a grudge against my ship.”

“I have a small shuttle capable of running their blockade. We make supply runs every few weeks. If you can wait three days, I will be glad to take you down. Until then, be welcome, and warm at our fire.”

“May good company transcend our differences.” I replied. He looked at me.

“You know our social forms.”

Suddenly it hit me. “Wait. Before you became Mandalore, was your name Ordo? Canderous Ordo?”

He looked at me for a long time, then he reached up and took off the helmet. Canderous Ordo, who had held me like a child almost eight years ago looked back. “You have grown thin, my little friend.”

“And you have not changed at all.” I said. “You’re what, 73 now?”

“71. Have you gotten over what plagued you all those years ago?”

“Most of it.”

“I have ordered that until we are a people once more, the rite of First battle will not be practiced. In deference to... an old friend.” He picked up his helmet again. “My quartermaster Kex will see to your needs if you have any. I would suggest having a care in the jungle beyond. With the battle going on above, we have pulled in our patrols, and the native wildlife will have moved back in.” He put the helmet on again.

“Now if you will excuse me, I have work to do.”

Encampment

Handmaiden

We walked from the bunker. Ahead of us was a training circle. Men lunged, watching the two men that fought in full armor in the center. If I had been a Mandalorian I would have slapped them both. Their style was sloppy and their movements jerky.

The sergeant at the edge looked toward us. “This is not a zoo.”

“The one on the left holds his hand too high on striking.” Marai commented.

“And what does a puling Republic weakling know of that?”

Marai looked at him. “I am Marai Devos. I commanded part of the assault on this moon, and if I remember correctly, took this very fortress from the 4th Order.”

They all looked at her. The sergeant stood with a fluid movement. “They were good men.”

“The best you had here. Cassus Fett left them to die.”

He motioned, almost as if asking her if she wanted to dance. “Would you participate? Or will you merely watch and criticize?”

She looked at the men. The smallest was a full two meters tall, the largest a meter taller than she.

“I have never practiced in your way.”

“The rules are simple. No tools, no weapons unless they are agreed to before hand. If you are Jedi no Jedi tricks. Simple.”

She nodded, moving forward.

“Who will face her?” He asked. A forest of hands rose. He considered them, then pointed. “Davrel.”

The man stood.

“Since you are new to our ways, you may fight a recruit. No weapons. Hands and feet only.”

She nodded.

He pointed at a box etched into the dirt to one side. “Until told to begin, stand there.”

They squared off three and a half meters apart. “We have a match. Stations!” The warrior bowed. Marai returned it.

“Cha!” at the shout the man leaped into a run. Marai merely took a pace forward, and as he reached arm’s length, she ducked, catching him around the waist, and flipping him up and over her. The man bounded back to his feet. Marai had move so that they had almost traded places. She had her hands on her hips, considering him.

“Never assume an enemy is weak because they are small.” She said. “A warrior’s muscles slacken when he smiles.”

The man moved forward, this time in a glide. There was a flurry of blows and blocks. Then suddenly the man was in the air again. He landed on his stomach and she landed in the center of his back, left hand pinning his shoulder, right hand raised as if to strike.

“Pa-cha!” She looked at the sergeant. Then moved up and away.

“The match goes to Devos. But she is only facing a recruit. a mere boy.”

The young man she had bested stood. I could see his fury in his stance.

Marai stepped from the circle. “I hope to try another.”

“In a few moments. Now, critiques?”

Every warrior spoke of what they had seen wrong. Almost all was directed at Davrel, and his fury was growing. The only real negative directed as Marai was that she wasn’t aggressive enough.

“Who would stand in the circle against her this time?” He ignored Davrel’s raised hand. Kex.”

The man Mandalore had called the quartermaster was one of the shortest of them, but he was also as broad as his Mandalore. “Training blades.”

Marai was directed to a stand, and chose a blade. They had the weight and feel of a Mandalorian war blade, as I well knew. The Mandalore have as much love of the fight as we Echani do.

Again they stood in their positions, and at the command, they went to engarde. For a long moment, there was stillness. Then the Mandalorian moved forward in a fast shuffle. Marai moved to the right, blade held out in her hand to the side. Then she seemed to decide, her left coming over to hold it as well.

Kex swung, shouting, and she parried him. There was a series of cuts too fast for the uninitiated to follow, then Kex leaped back, a stain of black on his armor. “Pa-cha!”

Marai lowered her blade, then brought it back, checking it for damage before returning it to the rack. The sergeant gave her a grunt of approval. “I must call my ship. Perhaps later.”

We walked away, and Marai took out her com link. “Atton?”

“Marai! Been worried. The orbital fighting has died down. That idiot Tobin opened a Mynock’s nest up there. They finally had to order it stopped from Onderon.”

“How about the ship?”

“Still working. I’ll have to take some systems offline including sensors and communications, so you won’t be able to talk to us for a while. I know, you’re crushed.” I could picture his smile. “Will bring the com systems up at dark, and again at dawn.”

“Understood. Out.”

*****

The sun set, and the glorious moon that was Onderon rose. The two bodies are in actually sister planets, both almost exactly the same size. Formed in one of those freak instances that planets sometimes go through. If they had been one mass, it would have been a gas giant. If they were farther apart, they would be separate worlds in different orbits. Instead they orbited each other in a dance 4 billion years old. sometimes coming so close that their atmospheres merged.

The Mandalorians were a quiet people. I know they aren’t that way all the time. They will enjoy a party as much as you or I. But we were a dampening influence. You don’t show the face of pleasure or weakness to someone that might be your enemy later in life. The Echani know this.

Marai sat beside me, in the quiet corner we occupied. Bao Dur was sullen, and I knew he was on the edge of fury. Too much had happened to him during the Mandalorian wars for him to be willing to relax around what used to be his enemies.

He knew he was being childish, and tried to lighten the mood. “You know General, you look like you were standing to close to the power generators.”

“What do you mean?” She sipped from a bottle of tihaar. I had tasted it, and all I can say is it must be an acquired taste I had no interest in acquiring.

“You’re almost glowing.”

“It is the force.” She replied. “Those who draw it into themselves sometimes manifest it visually to the those sensitive to the force.”

“That explains it.”

“What do you think of the situation now on Telos?”

“Bad.” He said. “With Peragus destroyed, they will be without power before too long. It’s worse because Czerka has their hook into it.”

“Because of what they are doing.”

He nodded staring at the fire. “The Republic government doesn’t seem able to rein them in. If they would just let the Ithorians do what has to be done first, it could work out. But as long as they try to think of the Corporate bottom line, Telos will remain dead.”

“Perhaps what we did before leaving Citadel station will help.” She told him of the files they had handed over to the local government. Of Lieutenant Grenn laughing in delight at ten years of hard prosecutions.

Bao Dur sighed, shaking his head. “I’ll believe it when I see it.”

The night wore on, and Bao Dur finally rolled over and went to sleep. But I couldn’t bring myself to lie down, and Marai was deep in thought. I touched her on the shoulder. “You asked about my face.“

“I understand it is something I need not know.“

“No, this I feel I must tell you. I said that I honor the face of my mother. What I did not say was all of the Handmaidens are sisters in flesh as well. Including me.”

“But you honor your mother’s face.” She replied contemplating it. “Then your mother was not theirs.”

“Yes that is correct. I feel that I may trust you with this, so I will speak of it, if you wish to hear.” She nodded. I sighed. “Though I share the blood of my father with them I was born of another. My father was Yusanis Rekavali Bai Echani.”

“The General?” She looked at me with newfound respect. “I fought along side him in half a dozen campaigns. There was none better.”

“Yusanis was one of the greatest Generals my world ever produced. When he left for that war, it was not lust for battle. His choice was for... a different reason.

“My father had met my mother a few years before. They found in each other a mate of body, movement and soul. When the war began, she went to fight. She felt it was her duty for other reasons. When she did, he went for the joy of being beside her, fighting the same enemies, their movement of blade and heart in the same rhythm.”

“If your face is any indication, she was a very beautiful woman.”

I looked away to hide my blush. “I never saw her face in truth. I was sent by my father to live with his family on Echana when I was still an infant. She never returned from that war. She died in the battle when Malachor V was shattered. Her body was never recovered.

“My father returned with his joy of battle washed away in his tears. He entered politics, where one’s battles are fought with words instead of blades and guns. But I am told that the man that went to war, and the one I remember from when I was a child was different from the one that returned. He had an emptiness. As if his heart had been ripped beating from his chest, and still he lived.”

She poked the fire. “What happened after that?”

“He led the final defense of one of Echana’s moon bases when Revan came against us. Even offered a chance for honorable surrender, he called upon his men to charge and they died to the last man. Revan herself assured that his body was returned for proper burial.” I looked away. I could feel the tears in my eyes, and refused to show them to her.

“The problem is our society. The bonds and oaths are everything. A person that forswears an oath is never considered trustworthy again. But one that breaks a bond... That one is damned. My father went to wore to be with the woman he loved. But she was not the one he had bonded with eight years before. My father violated his bond to be with another, and I am the result of that. Both lives ruined. Mine to be lived in shame to show forever what happens when a bond is broken.”

I took a ragged breath. This was harder than I thought. “Among the Echani, there is a saying. What your parents have done is carried in your blood in potential. But what does that make me? My parents in their own ways were two stark warriors. They were both honorable people that died for what they believed in. Yet they both broke their oaths. He to his bond mate. They were both foresworn, so I must have that potential too. I have spent my entire life proving that I am a warrior, yet living down what they had done. That I am true to my oaths.

“When my sisters swore oaths to Atris, I was with them and swore the same oath. That I would never betray her trust. That I would die before betraying them.”

“You do what you must, as do we all.” She said quietly. “I swore an oath to the Order, and it was they that said I had broken it. Did I?” She shrugged. “I do not want to believe that I did but what if they were right? Am I now an abomination? Some thing they should hunt down and slay?”

I shook my head angrily. “I told you this for a reason. But before I go on, I ask that you never tell anyone of what has been said, or what must be said next.”

“An oath easily given.” She replied. “What you speak of to me is no one else’s business.”

I took another ragged breath. “When my father returned for the final time after the Mandalorian Wars, he moved as you do now. It was as if a vital part of him had been ripped away.

“He would not speak of what happened at Malachor. It was as if he wished to deny it and the only way to do so was never to speak of it. When I look upon you, I see the same thing, and in hearing of your suffering I see but a glimmer of what is my answer. The answer to a question that has dogged my heels throughout my life.

“I cannot believe that you are the monster that Atris paints you as. I believe that like my father, you let your heart lead you into the slaughter, and both of you returned wounded. To look upon you, I feel the spirit of my father yet again.”

“I appreciate that.” She looked at me. “That you were willing to trust me enough to speak of it.”

I waved it away, embarrassed. “Your words, both expressed, and in the duel with me speak the same, something I could never understand with Atris. I can understand your reason for not fighting her when you came to Telos, but it does not explain why she did not fight you. If you were what she said, only your death could have cleaned the stain of your honor from your name. I found that I can trust you, and I wished to explain how important that was to me.”

“I know all of the others companions wonder why I am here. They may have their own explanations, but you deserve to know that it is not simple duty that made me hide aboard your ship. I wanted, no needed to be here with you. I had found part of my soul in you, touched by the words you gave to a callow young girl asking why the sky is blue.

“I have sworn an oath to Atris that I will not train as a Jedi, but my oath said nothing of learning to fight.”

“I don’t understand.”

“Atris sees the entire Jedi order as flawed. Like an element in the matrix of a sword blade which makes it beautiful but weak. Something so fundamental that it cannot be corrected, merely torn down and started over.”

“So you and your sisters...”

“We were to shield ourselves against the force until the day she sees the last of the Jedi fall. Only then were we to be released from the oaths, Only then could we learn from the only Jedi remaining.”

She looked at me calmly. “You have tested me in your way, seen me fight against the Mandalorian, what do you think of me?”

“That is why we speak now. I watched your stance and your movements when you came to our Academy. I saw the differences between what they were before you spoke with Atris and what they were after. There are echoes as I said of my father. But there is something more. A strength of will like none I have ever seen. A resilience that transcends the flesh.

“Among my people a duel is not just training. It is the closest two children can come to the bonds of later life. It is the closest the unmarried can ever come to the joys of matrimony. For those bonded to others, it is the only permissible way to show their inner selves.

I have learned so much from you, and yet I know there is still more that you can teach me. Every moment, every instant teaches me.”

“As you teach me.” She said with a chuckle. “A good teacher also learns from her students.”

“I must refuse to accept Atris’ characterization of you. She said that you stared into the heart of war, and that sight drove you mad. That is why you were cut off from the force long before the Council stripped you. But I see that you made a choice, and live with the consequences of it. As my father did. As my mother did.

“I cannot be taught the ways of the Jedi by you. My oath forbids it. But in any other way, please, teach me. You have become more important to me than any person I have ever met.

“I want to be your shield arm, to share the joys and pain of battle as long as there are enemies to face. You are Shaki-Sheniri, War leader. You are one that it is an honor to serve, a pleasure to support, and worthy of the deaths of those that follow in your footsteps.”

“No, I am just-”

“Do not tell me what I can see. Your stance, your manner, your way. All shouts to the Echani spirit. Please.” I dropped to one knee, looking at the ground. “Take my oath as your servant. Let me be by your side. Please.”

“I cannot take an oath of servitude.” I look up stricken. “I have no servant, no serfs, no slave. I may lead, but I am no one’s master. But swear to me that by our blood, by our blades, by our lives, we shall be sisters not of flesh but of battle. until battle is done, or we die, together. Swear that oath and I will answer it. Together. Not one above and one below. Or one ahead and one behind. But side by side.”

I wanted to carol with joy! It was the oldest oath known to the Echani, the oath sworn by Echana herself to our planet when our people first came. “You honor me.” I whispered. Then in that same whisper, I repeated the oath, and she took my hands, and repeated them to me.

By our blood.

By our blades.

By our lives.

Sisters not of flesh but of battle.

Until battle is done.

Or we die.

Together.

Trap

Visas

It was so easy. To those with sight, night is the time to sleep. To rest.

To one such as me, it was time to hunt.

I had stood, hidden by both foliage and the force from the eyes of the two within the ship. When the sun set, they moved, but slower, then slower still. Finally I knew they slept. I walked to the hatch that led into one of the secret compartments, Bridged the security system, and attached the lock breaker. It hummed, then the hatch hissed open. It was made to be silent. A customs officer could be sitting at the table in the mess hall, and not hear it. A man standing by the ramp would not hear it. To me it was a tocsin screaming in the night.

I climbed into the compartment, and closed the hatch. Then I reached up. My master had the plans of this ship. It had been a smuggling vessel longer than I had been alive, and the compartments were secret only if they did not know the Ebon Hawk by name.

I opened the inner hatch. Two of them. One slept behind me about five meters, the other five meters ahead. I stalked silently along the passageway, and stood over the man. He rolled in his sleep, and for a moment I thought he would awaken. I took the mister and sprayed him in the face. His eyes opened, and he was trying to stand and attack when it took affect. He fell, and I caught him, laying him back down. I dealt with the woman, and went into the mess hall. I set the misting bottle on the table along with the hypo sprays of antidote. I had no grudge against either of them, and my master had not ordered their deaths, so they were perfectly safe. from me.

This was where I would die, and I found that the most soothing feeling I’d had since my planet and people died. My master was worried about this woman. He would never admit it, for to admit weakness would spell his doom.

But he had needed me to find her for him. He needed his blind girl to seek out this menace, for he could not see her as I could with no eyes.

I moved the man into the same berthing area as the woman, then I knelt on the soft tiles over the cold steel of the deck. She would be my master if we fought, this I knew. She would fight me, and I would give my all to defeat her. But in my heart I knew she would defeat me. She would kill me, and free me from this slavery called life.

So all I had to do was wait.

Trap closes

Marai

I found myself watching the battle circle, idly playing with the com link. Atton was overdue for his call. I was worried, but not overly so.

Maybe he had forgotten to activate the com system again. Maybe.. Maybe he had set it to receive. “Marai to Ebon Hawk.” I called. No reply.

I repeated it. On the third, there was a click. The voice was female, a sloe eyed voice that spoke of soft pillows, and warmth in her arms. I was moving even before I heard the words. “They are here, Exile. But they cannot come to you. You must come for them. Soon. Before I do what I must.” I felt a cold presence there, and thought of Kreia, of Atton in her hands.

The Handmaiden saw me, and ran to my side. We stalked through the camp, and grown Mandalorian warriors moved aside. I told Bao Dur to wait, to find something to repair if need. The guard captain saw us, and there was a guide before we got to the gate. Our channel had not been encrypted, and Mandalore had ordered it. There was a path shorter than we had tread the day before. we could be back to our ship in three hours instead of seven.

We moved through the jungle. Death surrounded by the givers of death, and all of us moving through the womb of death that is a jungle. There were no large animals in our path, and only that saved them from slaughter, for nothing would slow or stay us.

It felt like forever, but less than three hours later, I could look through the foliage at the bow of the ship. I knelt, scanning it. The interrupter plates were up, so the turrets were not active. No hum of the main guns activated. She might have been a model in a diorama for all the life I saw.

Then the ramp came down. They knew we were here.

“Stay here.” I ordered the Mandalorians. I stepped from the brush, and waited. There was no purr of motor, not spinning of turrets. The chin gun was still in it’s housing. I felt the Handmaiden move up behind me.

We stalked forward, up the ramp into the ship. I signalled, and she moved through the mess hall into the port berthing area. She came back as I looked at the mist bottle and the vials of antidote. she signaled. Two of ours. Looked asleep. Drugged.

I pointed at the bottle, and her eyes widened. Together we moved to the starboard berth. we came down the passageway, until we could look into the compartment.

She knelt there, meditating. There was a wrap around hood that covered her head from the bridge of her nose over the opalescent black of her waist length hair. Her bee stung lips were full, inviting. She turned her head, and I could tell that she was watching me even through that thick cloth. Then she came to her feet. I motioned for the Handmaiden to wait, and stepped forward.

“At last.” The woman whispered. That same voice that would put a man in mind of the gentler things two people can do. Then a beam of scarlet red light sprang from her hand. “Come give me what I need.” She said louder.

Then she attacked. I blocked frantically. There was no though of defense in her style. It was pure attack, and even if you struck around her blade of fiery light, it would by only by putting your life in peril.

I suddenly felt another presence, and I found myself trying to find it in the room as if it were a real person. The woman’s attack faltered, and I struck out.

Revan had tried for years to teach me the Fybylka cut, the fly cutter in the Echani tongue. It is an insult to you enemy. A cut so light that it only broke the skin, leaving a mark to see because you are not worthy of dying quickly.

The second blade blocked her cut for a split second, even as the first sheared through the lightsaber behind the focusing lens.

She stopped as if she didn’t believe it, then she grunted as I kicked her into the wall.

She collapsed bonelessly, and I stood over her. “As I foresaw. My weapon shattered, my life in your hands.” She came to her knees with some effort, then linked her hands behind her back, kneeling forward until her head was bare centimeters from the deck. “The end of my life as I has wished for so long. He wanted your life, but it is a good trade to give my life for yours.”

I backed away. “I am not going to kill you.”

She looked up, and I could hear the plea in her voice. “But you must! My death is ordained on this day, and better at your hands even in sorrow than at his less gentle touch.”

“I will not kill a helpless opponent.”

Now it was no longer a plea. She was begging abjectly. “But you are superior as I felt. I am nothing before you and death is what I deserve. By the grace and mercy of all the gods, end this for me. I beg you.”

Then I felt her master’s displeasure. She shrieked like a damned soul, clutching at her throat.

I threw aside the sword, catching her hands. I could feel the black evil stench of something, and reached out as my hand boiled with light.

“If you want her come in person!” I shrieked. The evil faltered, then suddenly we were in the room alone. The young woman was draped like a corpse across my knees.

*****

Atton took one look at her when he woke, then gently lifted the hood just an inch. For some reason, I got the image of a young boy flush with puberty trying to look up a girl’s skirt.

“All right, that explains it. She’s a Miraluka. I’d only heard about them. I didn’t even think there were any left in the Galaxy.”

“What is a Miraluka?” I asked.

“Pretty secret race. Human or at least close enough to breed. Their race was born on a planet called Katharr. The sun is so brutal there that the entire race moved underground long before the Republic even existed. They live in cave, and the last four generations have been born completely without eyes or optic nerves. Some of them became Jedi when they were still common. They can do what someone called shadow see. They see the world without light and without eyes somehow.

They are all pretty tough too, if this one is any indication. It must be hard as hell to kill one.”

“What do you mean?”

“Well we have bruises in the chest and back from your kick, but those are just the most recent injuries. Both arms and legs have been broken at least once each. Slashes every where on her and some big ones on the abdomen that looks like she went three rounds with a food processor.”

“I have never even heard of them. How rare are they?”

“Since their planet died? They are an endangered species.”

“Their planet died?”

“Yeah. Katharr is about half way between Dantooine and Onderon along the mid rim. One week it’s a thriving society of a billion and a half. A week later a ship comes in, and every Miraluka and animal native to the planet was dead.”

An entire planet’s people dead. I shivered. “Maybe she know what happened.”

“She should, after all it was her people.” Atton looked down at her, and there was something. Pity warred with suspicion. “Maybe they saw it through the force somehow, but she was the only one who fled it.”

“You said that before. ‘Shadow seeing’ you called it. How could they see through with force?”

“From what I heard, they claim to see on a higher plane than normal humans. They are said to be able to see all of the force around them, and beyond them. Makes me nervous.”

“I doubt it would be the same as an X-ray machine, Atton. Besides, it’s not like others haven’t seen your equipment before.” He looked at me, then blushed. “Is she going to be all right?”

“If these scars are any indication, anything that didn’t gut her is survivable.”

“Let me know if her condition changes. I have to return to the Mandalore encampment.” I looked at that face. She should have been happy,. surrounded by family and children, loved by someone. Instead, she was almost as scarred as that maniac aboard Harbinger. “I will not let anyone harm you again.” I whispered.

The Handmaiden stood in the passageway. She is a threat to us.”

“What would you have me do? Kill her out of hand?” I asked.

“No. Not even that we interrogate her. But her fighting style is Sith. She was trained by the enemy of all that wish to live free.”

“Sister of battle, I fight to protect the weak and helpless. Enemy or not what does it say of me that I would strike her down when she is unarmed or unconscious?”

She shook her head. “It is understandable that you would give mercy, but we cannot give her too much. Her movements should be restricted. She should not walk free unescorted.”

I looked at her, then called Atton. It only took a few minutes to rig up a portable shield generator and seal the door. “See, I can learn.”

“Slowly.” I looked at her but she gave me such a sweet and innocent look that I wanted to spank her. Then she dropped her eye in a slow wink. “But before we go perhaps you would be ready for the second tier?”

We went back to the cargo bay. She stripped, but this time down to bare flesh. The average person is embarrassed in most societies by casual nudity. She stood as if clothes were merely for comfort in colder temperatures. “You are allowed a weapon. sword, dagger, stun baton. Would you have one?”

I shook my head. I stripped down as well, and we faced each other. She flowed toward me, and we fought. She had been holding back the first time, I could feel it, I would not have been able to match her if she had come at me in this way before.

Somewhere I found the speed to keep up with her. Again I was anticipating her moves, and reacting to them, but this time it was as if I were a split second off. Not far enough to land any blows, but enough that she was able to change her attack even as I reacted to it.

I found myself laying on the deck, and she stood there looking at me. “You are doing well, and your pick up my style with ease. However you are still telegraphing your parries. This you must learn to avoid. The ocean does not ask where the stone is as it crashes on the shore. It merely flows around it when it encounters it.” She began to get dressed again.

“Why is it so important to you that I learn this style?” I asked.

“As I said when we spoke of Atris, truth is in the battle. You have taught me the truth of your own soul. Now I must teach you the truth of mine.”

Rain128
08-16-2006, 08:47 AM
Thank you rain. And no, I will not raise your allowance

BOOOOOOOOOO!!! :lightning

Diego Varen
08-16-2006, 08:50 AM
I've been reading the first three Chapters Mach and they're great. I like the short humour in and the description in the Fic. I'm looking foward to reading the rest.

machievelli
08-16-2006, 05:59 PM
Marai

Refreshed, I took a shower before we left. I went to see Kreia. She was meditating, and I didn’t want to disturb her. I turned and she spoke without turning. “Not a wise choice.”

“What?”

“Befriending the Seer.”

“The Miraluka? Why do you call her the Seer?”

“Her species does not see with the eyes they do not have. They see in a way that can only be explained by a strong attachment to the force. It is a rare gift that has been squandered on her people. It is how she found you when no one else could.” She turned, and I could feel her disquiet. “The Sith come at you in battle. And your reply? You disarm her, bind her wounds, heal her body. Why?”

“She was helpless. Unable to strike at me. Begging for death.” I looked away. “Damn it Kreia if I murder the helpless how am I different from the Sith?”

“I do not think your thoughts are clear on this, so I will try yet again to explain. She was trained by the Sith, steeped in their ways. If you allow her to travel with us you give our enemies a clear view of what they wish to know with little effort. She is an apprentice of a Sith Lord, and know you that the only way to become a Sith lord is to murder your teacher. I do not wish to see you die for that stupidity. She may be blind, but she had ties to darkness. Other masters to command her. She is a threat to you, to us all. Do not underestimate her. Or her previous loyalties.”

“Perhaps her ability to see within the force will help us gain allies.”

“Perhaps. But I remain unconvinced.”

“Atton said that her colony was devastated. That all of her people in this sector of the galaxy have been wiped out.”

“Did he. And what do you make of that?”

“It seems odd that a world of force sensitive people would fall so easily to any threat.”

“Unless that threat came at them unawares. What do your instincts tell you?”
I considered. “That it had to be of the force, but not visible to the force.” I said.

“An interesting view. Before you go one with this quest you have taken upon yourself, how many more lost sheep shall be boarding our ship?”

“As many as we need to win.”

“Then you had best prepare for an army. For every time I open my eyes, your followers have multiplied like Gizka. An army following their leader into oblivion.”

“They came because I asked.”

“You are blind to it. They do not follow Marai Devos, the woman that spoke to them. They follow the war leader as the Handmaiden called you. They see the strength of will, the purpose, and cling to it like drowning men on a plank.”

“They are my friends, not my followers.”

“Do not try to soften what is happening by using a gentler term. Do friends not follow the one who appeals most? When they form a social hierarchy, is that one not elevated to their head? It goes beyond that. They obey without question if it is you that speaks.” I must have looked confused, because she gave a dry chuckle. “You may be blind to it, but I see it. I hear with their ears, see with their eyes, and know their thoughts when they speak away from you. When another makes the decision, there is debate in their minds before they will do it. However a word from you and they agree within their minds, even if their words sound as protest.

“The Handmaiden accepted with little question when you spoke of healing the Seer. She was trained to see ones such as the Seer, to kill them automatically. Yet instead she gave a token protest, and even that died when you did not agree.”

I looked at her askance. “It bothers you. That they obey me.”

“Every group needs a leader. I know many things, but the one thing I know I am not is a leader. I am too arrogant, to willing to speak my mind. When I speak my voice is heard, but ignored. My passion lights nothing in others. They obey you because you are their leader. But perhaps something else sways them.”

“What do you mean?”

“Have you been so blind you also did not notice the changes in them all?”

“Changes?”

“Whether it is discussion or battle, they echo you. When you struggle with your feeling, they struggle. When you give into them, they freely surrender. If you would ask them if they were loyal, they would be shocked that you even had to. Their loyalty to you, and the duties you order is as if hardwired on the motherboards of their mind.

“Watch them carefully. See their patterns of thought, and how they can be bent to your will. Influence is a weapon, and you will need all of them before we reach the end of this journey.”

“I will not treat my friends as puppets. They are living beings, not tools.”

“I care not for you definitions. Make use of what you are forging here. It was the Way Revan gained loyalty.”

I wanted to throw my hands up in disgust. What was different now from when I had been a General in the war? I turned to go, and she spoke again.

“Arren Kae.”

“Excuse me?”

“You have been wondering what woman would be so perfect that she could drag an Echani General from his oath. Her name was Arren Kae. A Jedi master.”

“A Jedi is her mother?”

“Yes. She loved the man with a fire that could only be quenched in his arms. A crime to the Jedi that spanned ten years. When she became pregnant, she hid it. She gave the child to Yusanis and only then did she admit her failing, and she was punished for it. They exiled her as they did you. When the Mandalorian wars began, she joined the Republic’s army to atone.”

“How do you know that?” I asked in a whisper. “She only spoke to me of it last night, and I swore never to reveal it.”

“And you have not. I have my...sources. Revan welcomed her. One trained in war and once a Jedi.” She considered, then looked at me. “The force flows readily in the force sensitive. Their children are the ones chosen to be Jedi, since the Jedi foreswear family and children of their own. But if a woman that is Jedi bears or fathers a child, it is like a perfect crossbreed in a flower. The new seed is greater than the sum of it’s parts.”

“But why do we not merely-” I stopped at her sardonic laugh.

“Do you think the Jedi had not considered it before child? Before the Republic was founded, two of their number did just that. If the child had been better raised, perhaps it would not have ended so badly. The results were so horrible that the Jedi Council of that time banned it to all their numbers. They do not dare to take the chance that it could ever happen again.

“Have you never wondered why the Jedi take a child from the family that loves him and immerses him in the Jedi order?”

“To avoid countervailing interests.”

“The standard answer you learned when you were first a member of the order. No my dear girl, it is because there is nothing so meddlesome as a parent that does not understand what their child is going through. Add to that what would happen if that child were of a Jedi, or two Jedi. Trying to speed the process, or change it because you do not think the teacher worthy or competent. That is what happened back in the mists of time, and the Jedi refused to ever let it happen again. A child of those that are force sensitive can be hidden. A child of two Jedi can no more be hidden than the sun above these worlds can be completely occluded.”

She looked at me. “Know this. If you offer to teach her the ways of the Jedi, you will be asking her to be foresworn to Atris. It is best that the bloodline be allowed to die along with Telos.”

“But does she know who her mother was?”

“I neither know nor care.”

“Doesn’t she deserve to know? When we set foot on this planet she felt the force. She was terrified by it!”

“It will pass if no one lends a hand to teach her. As for her birthright, who would give this gift to her? I do not have such arrogant presumption. Revealing such things would have profound consequences. That is all i will say on the matter.”

“Why do you think I want to teach her?”

“Until you are taught, it would not matter. Yet if you persist in this endeavor, having her beside you, gaining her trust, making her your sister of battle, whether you wish to or not you will be training her until the time when the choice will be taken away from you. She will grow in the force until she takes that decision away from you. So take my word of caution.

“Spend time with her as you must but recognize that you loyalty should not remain with those you call friends. It should be spent on the galaxy and yourself.”

“If I am only loyal to myself, what does the galaxy have to do with it? To me this ship, those we have gathered are the galaxy. I must be loyal to them or I cannot be loyal to any.”

“So you will take this precious coin and squander it.” She seemed to consider. “She spars with you. Have you never wondered what it means to the Echani if you spar with her through the rituals and you won completely and utterly? That perhaps to defeat her so utterly will cause her to surrender to you?”

“No.”

“Few are the thoughts you can hide from me. Such passions are not strength. They are the hidden rust upon a blade that causes it to shatter.”

“I have never thought of that.”

“So perhaps I am mistaken. But before you go. A gift. Close your eyes. Meditate with me.”

I knelt, and went into a mediation seat. I closed my eyes.

“Now feel the ship around you.”

I reached out. For a moment, I stayed firmly and stubbornly in my head. But then I suddenly felt it. A presence a hundred tons in mass squatting on the ground. I could feel the wind blowing along the hull. I reached out, and part of me was suddenly in the cockpit. I could feel the controls as if they were the nerves in my arms and legs. I knew without thinking about it that like my limbs I could touch them and make them work as if I were the ship.

“Excellent. Now feel within it. Listen to the cargo hold.”

I shifted perspective as if I had lifted my foot to see if there was a splinter in it. The Handmaiden was stripped down, and I watched her fluid grace, entranced.

Atton walked into the bay, and she spun. He dropped into a defensive stance, and only now could I see the effortless flow of his movement. What she and her sisters had seen.

The Handmaiden relaxed out of her stance. “When are you going to tell her?”

“Tell who what?”

“When are you going to stop lying to Marai?” She snapped bluntly. "Few know the Echani styles, and even fewer take them from reflex.”

“I just fake it.”

“She might believe you, but I know better.”

You do.” He relaxed. “And how much of the galaxy did you get to see freezing your cargo hold of in Ice Station Jedi? I knew more about the galaxy before I stopped wearing diapers!” He walked past her, and went to the storage bay. “Next time I come in here, I’m carrying a blaster.”

He retrieved some tools and parts. “Oh yeah, I’ve been watching you and our little exi-Jedi friend. Seeing you spar in here. Do you really want to reveal so much of what you know to her?”

“Speak plainly if you can.”

“Know this woman. Do not make her life any worse than it already is.”

“And what would you know of it?”

“Maybe I’m telling the truth. Maybe I just fake my way along through life scaring those who know enough to recognize an Echani stance. But if I am not, consider that maybe I know more than the first tier. Maybe I know enough of the etiquette rituals to know what you’re doing with her.”

The Handmaiden tensed.

“So keep your hands where I can see them.”

“Fool.” She snarled.

“Schutta.” He hissed back.

“Interesting is it not?” Kreia purred. Now extend it to the little machine.”

I reached out, and there T3 was. I could feel something wrong, and with a skill I did not know I had, I found the problem. “He has a stuck motivator-”

“Leave it for another time. Now go to the engine he is working on.”

I reached back, and again, the feeling that something was wrong. “The tuners are out of alignment.”

“Now, the final step. Feel for our blind friend.”

Suddenly I was there. She was laying on the bed, staring at the ceiling. She was in a trance not unlike the one I was in. I could hear the even one breath in two minutes of the trained Jedi.

“Now beneath the breath, listen closer...”

I suddenly heard her voice, but her lips were not moving. “...As I walk among the ashes of Katarr, I told myself over and over to feel no fear. It was only afterward that I knew that fear would cause mine...”

My eyes snapped open. “I heard her speaking.”

“You heard the surface thoughts, nothing more. But many with this skill never reach this point in their training.”

“But how could I do that?”

“The question is, will such passive listening do more than add a bit of color to the universe around you? What deeper secrets are there in store? Would you perhaps wish to know their secret thoughts hidden deep within?”

She motioned. “You may be young, but I am tired and need to rest. Go.”

Handmaiden

My sister of battle was lost in thought as we returned to the Mandalorian encampment. She watched me furtively, and it puzzled and frightened me. Had I offended her?

Just before the checkpoint, a Mandalorian stepped from the shadows. He bore a rifle, and I knew instantly that he did want to kill us.

Marai stopped. “What would you have of me, Davrel?” She asked.

“I seek to reclaim the honor you stole from me, Jedi.”

“I stole no honor, Davrel.” She replied. “If honor could be gained in the training battle circle Cassus Fett would be Mandalore now.”

If anything would infuriate him I knew somehow that would. He grew still, the silence before the eve of battle. “I would have you know that Cassus Fett was my grandfather. You stole from him the honor of his life, and stole his life here. It is fitting that I regain it by killing you.”

“Why?” She seemed honestly puzzled. “Because i took what he did not have? Cassus Fett was a bully lucky enough to be born Mandalorian so no one would see it as such. He destroyed the home world of the Cathar rather than face them in honest combat. He was lucky enough to face a fool of equal stripe, and the dead of that lay around us even now. Surely your father told this to you.”

“No. My father died here with him. They fell to your unnatural skills.”

“Cassus Fett died by his own hand. This I swear.”

“Because he had nothing left when your forces defeated him! Rather than be blamed for the greatest defeat until then in our history, he killed himself!”

“The Jedi have been around for 25 millennia. No one else had considered it a dishonor to die facing us.”

“But you took more than that from my people!” He raved. “Revan took our honor, and gave us nothing back! There are no grand wars to fight any more, no honor to be won! Sure our Mandalore had spoken of returning us to our honor and place, but what place is that? Preeminent warriors? Or mere lap dogs to your kind!” He looked at me. “Stay out of this, woman. She faces a true Mandalorian warrior in battle for the last time!“ He raised the weapon.

Marai moved. He fired, and she moved aside, the bolt passing bare centimeters from her flesh. She had drawn no weapon. He tried to follow her, but it was as if he tried to target a thought. She spun, sweeping his legs, and caught his body so she rode him to the ground. She slapped the weapon aside, then ripped off his helmet. Her hand arched back into a killing blow, then stopped.

“Know this, young Mandalorian. Before the week is out, you will have your fill of battle, and you can regain the honor you think you lost. But if that is not enough, come against me as your own rite demand, and face me there, rather than as an assassin in the darkness.” She flung his weapon into the brush, and stalked past him.

JasraLantill
08-16-2006, 06:39 PM
I like your account of the Exile's story much better than I do the game's. All of your character's are good, but your portrayal of Kreia is awesome. So much better than canon. :) Good work! Looking forward to more!

machievelli
08-16-2006, 07:18 PM
I like your account of the Exile's story much better than I do the game's. All of your character's are good, but your portrayal of Kreia is awesome. So much better than canon. :) Good work! Looking forward to more!


So why haven't you commented on it earlier? No allowance increase you you.

JasraLantill
08-16-2006, 07:52 PM
Allowance? *scratches head to try and jar the rust from the memory gears* The last 'allowance' I received (other than a tax related one) wouldn't even be enough for me to make a local call from a pay phone today. (Although, at the time, I thought it to be a fortune!) :) Apologies though for not commenting earlier. I suppose I should comment more often. And I will in future ;)

Jae Onasi
08-16-2006, 11:13 PM
So why haven't you commented on it earlier? No allowance increase you you.

Cause it's kind of intimidating at first to critique the critic. Some people haven't figured out yet that you don't bite.
Nibble maybe, but not bite.... :D

Female Jedi don't usually father children, by the way. ;)

Nice job on the chapters. I like the discussion between Exile and Kreia here--it's deeper, though she can be just as cryptic as usual. The Mandalorian culture is nicely detailed, too.

machievelli
08-17-2006, 02:20 AM
Allowance? *scratches head to try and jar the rust from the memory gears* The last 'allowance' I received (other than a tax related one) wouldn't even be enough for me to make a local call from a pay phone today. (Although, at the time, I thought it to be a fortune!) :) Apologies though for not commenting earlier. I suppose I should comment more often. And I will in future ;)

My dear girl, if I were twenty years younger, I would spank you for the presumption.

machievelli
08-17-2006, 02:52 AM
Cause it's kind of intimidating at first to critique the critic. Some people haven't figured out yet that you don't bite.
Nibble maybe, but not bite.... :D

Female Jedi don't usually father children, by the way. ;)

Nice job on the chapters. I like the discussion between Exile and Kreia here--it's deeper, though she can be just as cryptic as usual. The Mandalorian culture is nicely detailed, too.


All right, for all of you who have actually read my work, all four or five of you, I always accept constructive criticism. If it's crap, say so, but be willing to give me chapter and verse as to why it's crap. If it's good, say so. My egi needs just as much stroking as the next prepubescent author.

As for fathering a child, I know women don't father children, and perhaps I mis-worded it. I meant to suggest mother or father.

As for the Mandalorians, I am sick and tired of the 'enemy' being what Gene Roddenberry called 'the Mongol horde in space ships'. A society exists for a reason, and the Mandalorians (Or Mando-a in Canon) deserve that much respect. When I created my version of the Echani, it was for the same reason. I had never read or learned anything about TSL when I wrote my KOTOR fiction, and I didn;t even know the Echani were human, humainoid, whatever. I gave them the same respect I gave the Mandalorians.

Renegade Puma
08-17-2006, 05:21 AM
Great stuff Mach. As usual you are on top of the writing game. I love how much depth you have given the characters. This is way way better than the game.

machievelli
08-17-2006, 04:51 PM
Handmaiden

My sister of battle was lost in thought as we returned to the Mandalorian encampment. She watched me furtively, and it puzzled and frightened me. Had I offended her?

Just before the checkpoint, a Mandalorian stepped from the shadows. He bore a rifle, and I knew instantly that he did want to kill us.

Marai stopped. “What would you have of me, Davrel?” She asked.

“I seek to reclaim the honor you stole from me, Jedi.”

“I stole no honor, Davrel.” She replied. “If honor could be gained in the training battle circle Cassus Fett would be Mandalore now.”

If anything would infuriate him I knew somehow that would. He grew still, the silence before the eve of battle. “I would have you know that Cassus Fett was my grandfather. You stole from him the honor of his life, and stole his life here. It is fitting that I regain it by killing you.”

“Why?” She seemed honestly puzzled. “Because i took what he did not have? Cassus Fett was a bully lucky enough to be born Mandalorian so no one would see it as such. He destroyed the home world of the Cathar rather than face them in honest combat. He was lucky enough to face a fool of equal stripe, and the dead of that lay around us even now. Surely your father told this to you.”

“No. My father died here with him. They fell to your unnatural skills.”

“Cassus Fett died by his own hand. This I swear.”

“Because he had nothing left when your forces defeated him! Rather than be blamed for the greatest defeat until then in our history, he killed himself!”

“The Jedi have been around for 25 millennia. No one esle had considered it a dishonor to die facing us.”

“But you took more than that from my people!” He raved. “Revan took our honor, and gave us nothing back! There are no grand wars to fight any more, no honor to be won! Sure our Mandalore had spoken of returning us to our honor and place, but what place is that? Preeminent warriors? Or mere lap dogs to your kind!” He looked at me. “Stay out of this, woman. She faces a true Mandalorian warrior in battle for the last time!“ He raised the weapon.

Marai moved. He fired, and she moved aside, the bolt passing bare centimeters from her flesh. She had drawn no weapon. He tried to follow her, but it was as if he tried to target a thought. She spun, sweeping his legs, and caught his body so she rode him to the ground. She slapped the weapon aside, then ripped off his helmet. Her hand arched back into a killing blow, then stopped.

“Know this, young Mandalorian. Before the week is out, you will have your fill of battle, and you can regain the honor you think you lost. But if that is not enough, come against me as your own rites demand, and face me there, rather than as an assassin in the darkness.” She flung his weapon into the brush, and stalked past him.

Confusion

Marai

I saw Bai Dur working with Zuka. As I approached, I heard him saying. “I just got tired of dropping my hydro-spanner, so I had it cut off.”

“A bit drastic.” Zuka replied levelly.

“He’s talking about his arm, isn’t he?” I asked. They looked at me, and both looked like a pair of children that had been discussing sex when an adult arrived. I looked at Bao Dur. “Do you honestly think he would care, my friend?”

Bao Dur flushed, and looked away. I looked at Zuka. “The battle of Corrigan's float. The commander of the Mandalorian defense sent Basilisks against us.”

“Wait a minute!” He protested. “Basilisk’s are great on an assault landing, but on the defense they are worthless!”

“I know that. Do you know the weakness of the Mark IIIs?”

“Sure. The heat exchanger is open, and it’s big enough that you can put a weapon’s barrel down it.” Zuka replied automatically.

“But if you don’t have a weapon?” I prompted.

He considered. “Well you could stick your hand up far enough to use a grenade...” He stopped, suddenly looking at Bao Dur with new found respect.

“That’s right. Bao Dur, to save a hundred men arme an ion grenade, and stuffed his hand up the heat exchanger of the droid. He was trying to pull his hand out when the grenade went off.”

That respect bloomed into admiration. He looked at Bao Dur, then threw his arms around the Zabrak. “Brother!” He cried.

“General...” Bao Dur began.

“The Mandalorians treasure bravery in an enemy. Especially in an enemy.” I replied. “Treasure it.” I walked past him, the Handmaiden pacing me like an aide de camp.

“You seek to cause them to respect us.” She said.

“Like the Echani, the Mandalorians respect bravery, especially the reckless kind that comes when you have no options.” I replied. “They will treat him as a brother, because they would expect no less from their weakest.”

She nodded.

We moved through the camp, and the change from when we had been here before was astonishing. We were a fixture, as proper within those walls as the turrets and minefield that protected them. Thye children acted as if we were Mandalorian. A shy little boy of seven came over, handing me a flower. It was a Kanthis, but had the neurotoxin spines expertly plucked. He nodded to me, then ran away to hide behind his mother‘s skirts.

“If only they had seen this side of them.” I sighed.

“The gentler side of the enemy?” The Handmaiden asked. “Yes. The Echani teach that every enemy is somash, or soft, and Grathiar, or hard, but only on the face they show, like a coin.” She looked around and her face softened. “As much as I have heard of the brutality of the Mandalorians, I wish those who spoke to me could see this.”

We found our way to the battle circle. The sergeant nodded as if we’d only left a moment before. Then he turned to me.

“Tagren has asked that you face him if you wish.”

I nodded, stepping forward. Tagren was a bit taller than I was, but seemed to make up for it by being twice as wide. The sergeant stepped forward.

“Tagren, what would you have?”

“Just foot and hand. The way of the true warrior.” He snarled.

“Agreed.” I began to strip off my armor.

“Wait, Jedi, he will face you with armor.”

I looked at him, then at the Handmaiden. “I will not need it.”

The sergeant threw up his hands. “All right. Tagren?”

“If she wants to throw away the advantage, I will not stop her.”

I faced off against him, ready.

“Cha!” The sergeant cried.

I suddenly knew what he would do. A foot sweep, then a hammer strike as I lay there... I lifted up, and his foot strike went beneath me. I punched into his arm as he turned, and he fell forward. I landed on his back, hand raised for a strike. “Pa-cha!” The sergeant cried.

Unlike the discussion with Davrel, this was more in depth. Tagren had made an assumption, and that assumption had put him in peril. I had shown un Mandalorian restraint (The one that said that earned approbation. After all I was not Mandalorian) and showed finesse in my dealing with him.

As the sun set, we settled down. This time there was music. The woman not old enough to be warriors served us, and we dined on Boma beast and Zakkegg, a predator much feared.

One of the recruits spoke to the Handmaiden, then came over to me. “I wish to prove myself against her, but she refuses.”

I motioned her over. “Speak.”

“It is not a fair contest.” She said to me. “He moves like a Telosian Zantak. Slow and stolid. His defense is weak, and I could beat him easily.”

“Then why have you refused?”

“Will it not bother the Mandalorians if I defeat him without even breaking a sweat?” She asked.

“If he is that stupid, they would rather it came out in training than in battle.” I replied. “If you feel it too onerous-”

She sighed. She stood, facing against the man in the circle. I saw what she meant. He was a stolid mass that would take punishment, and that was his only saving grace.

“Borathis. He’s the best of my recruits.” The sergeant passed me the flask. “Hasn’t lost yet.”

I wondered about that. I could have beaten him with my eyes
blindfolded, and the Handmaiden would give him his head. “How has he won?”

“He slaps them down like an AD tower against shuttles.” The
sergeant said.

The Handmaiden faced him, bowed, and they moved. After training not only as a Jedi but an opponent of the woman there, I could tell she would beat him without effort. Yet he was their best...

The moved together, and she went for a throw. Suddenly she spasmed as both hands touched her, and I leaped to my feet.

*****

Handmaiden

He was a beast too stupid to lie down and die, but I had been given permission. I stripped to my underclothes. Like Tagren this one made comments, but they were merely wind. I faced him, and judged him as I readied myself. He would try to grapple. If I was that stupid he would use his superior weight to bear me to the ground, where weight meant more than skill.

We moved toward each other. He struck at me, and I blocked the blow. As I did, I felt a bolt of lightning run through me.

Faithless! A stun baton in his gauntlet!

I fell and felt no more.

****

Marai.

I leaped to my feet. “He’s cheated!” I shouted.

The Handmaiden fell, then it was as if an unseen hand lifted her to her feet. Borathis looked at her, then struck with the same left gauntlet.

The Handmaiden caught his hand, her own hands placed to avoid a segment of his own glove, and she kicked him in the elbow. I gasped as the full fury of a Jedi lashed out at that joint. His armor separated, and for a moment, my mind was relieved. But then I considered.

She threw away not his armor but the entire lower arm!

“Cheat!” The sergeant cried.

“Tell Borathis!” I screamed.

She stood there, then moved forward. Her fist hit Borathis in the chest, and his lungs and bones exploded from his back. Then she paused. She stood there, as if confused. Then her hand plucked at her clothing.

Frantically I ripped at my own. “Help me!” I screamed.

*****

Handmaiden

I fell and I felt no more.

No, that is not true.

I was in a darkness shot red with anger fury and hate. I saw my enemy and struck at him. He struck back, and I knew his betrayal. I caught his hand above and below the weapon he should have not had, then I struck at his elbow.

The energy I put into the strike would have punched into a ship’s hull. I felt and recorded the destruction of his arm. But he was still a danger. I punched into him, and I felt every erg of energy I possessed translated into that punch.

He fell, and part of my mind recorded him falling dead.

But still it was not enough. I prepared for the final tier of the order, my clothing shorn away. I was myself as the goddess had sent me into the world, and with only that would I confront my enemy.

There were many to face, but one called to me like a Siren. She stood there, facing me as the Goddess would wish. Yet she was hesitant.

“Do not make me do this.” She said. I recognized her voice.

“Marai?” I asked. Suddenly like a missile I found my target. I leaped toward her. “Marai!”

*****

Marai

She stood over the dead man, her face intent. Her body glowed with the ambient light. And much more. To my eyes I could see the force like a tempest behind her. She spun, and her eyes fixed on me.

“Do not make me do this.” I whispered.

“Marai?” She asked the question as if it would answer every ill. Then she focused on me, and I could see another beneath that gaze. I knew somehow that Atris was looking at me. She leaped toward me. “Marai!”

*****
Handmaiden

I struck, but she was not there. I felt for her, used every sense I had, yet she was illusive, a shadow. I struck at her, strived to slay her. But she was mist, she was not there.

It was like fighting an ocean wave. She was there, but every blow struck water, and flowed into nothingness.

Yet still she was there! Then I felt her behind me. I felt her arm across my neck, in the simplest of strangle holds. Yet my efforts to defeat her were in vain.

I felt my breath catch as I struggle to breath, yet I could not stop her. I fell into nothingness.

*****

Marai

Never had I seen such speed. She was a Jedi faced with her enemy and nothing would gainsay her. I strove not to kill, but to contain. She would kill us all if I let her and by being the target of it all, I saved untold lives.

I found myself behind her and instinctively I went for a sanguinary strangle. I would not cut her wind, but the blood that powered her.

She tried to break the hold, but I moved to block her. It was fighting the wind of a hurricane knowing that a single misstep was my doom.

She turned, my body on her back, trying to find her enemy, then she collapsed.

“Oath less!” The sergeant shouted.

“Check his gauntlet!” I screamed back. The sergeant looked at me stunned, then picked up the loose arm. At first, he was the adult accused of cheating by a child. Then his eyes sharpened, and he pulled the stun bracelet from the gauntlet. “That cheating D'kut!” He looked at me. “I owe your friend an apology.”

“You owe us privacy.” I snapped.

They moved away from us. I looked down at the slack face. “Come back to me, my sister.” I whispered.

Betrayal

Handmaiden

Come back to me, my sister. The voice said. I wanted to resist, but it was as if a hook had dropped in pellucid waters, caught in my flesh, and dragged me to the light. I found myself laying on my back, looking up into Marai’s face. She had a worried look, as if I were an unexploded bomb.

“Are you back in spirit?” She asked.

I suddenly felt the bite of the stun baton, clutching my wrist. “Betrayer!” I gasped. “He cheated!”

I know.” She whispered. “We all know.”

I sagged against her, flesh against flesh. Only then did I notice that we were both naked.

“What happened?” I asked.

“Borathis has been their best recruit in the battle circle. He had concealed a stun bracelet in his gauntlet. You grabbed his arm...”

A bolt of lightning run through me.

Then you attacked him, and I recognized Kashin-Dra...”

Kashin-Dra. The shadow warrior. The last refuge of the Echani in battle to those willing to pay the price..

“You killed him then began to strip...”

I prepared for the final tier of the order, my clothing shorn away. I was myself as the goddess had sent me into the world, and with only that would I confront my enemy.

I matched you, then tried to stop you...”

She stood there, facing me as the Goddess would wish.

“But when I spoke you attacked. I did what I had to do so you would not be hurt.”

It was like fighting an ocean wave. She was there, but every blow struck water, and flowed into nothingness.

She stared down at me. “What do you know of your mother?” She asked softly.

“What of her? I told you that I knew little of her as a child. Only a face that leaned over me... Brushed her lips against my cheek, and was gone forever.”

“She was Jedi. Her name was Arren Kae.”

“Again this is what I already knew.” I chided her.

“She was strong in the force.”

“As was my father.”

“As her child, as their child, it means you could have been, will be strong in the force as well.”

“Yes, I know. It was always there, a wave of power below my perception until you came to the Academy. That I was different. That I could touch such power. I think I always knew it.”

I stared up at her. My eyes kept going in and out of focus, but she was in preternatural focus. “What oath is more important?” I asked softly. “The oath made as a child to your father or the one made in the bloom of womanhood?”

“What do you mean?” She asked.

“Because I felt the call of my mother’s blood all these years. Even as I followed Atris, I felt the call of that blood. Of an oath given as a child.”

“You make no sense.”

“When I was young, before my mother had died, I wanted something. A bauble on my father’s desk. He was not there to get it for me, and I found myself reach for it, and it came to my hand. He was home then, and found me playing with it. He sat me on his knee, enfolded me in those great arms, holding me, and said, ‘swear my child. Swear to me that if one day you feel the call of your mother’s blood, that you will not deny it’.” I looked up at her, and my hand touched her face so gently that she did not even notice the touch. “Ever since her loss at Malachor V, I have felt incomplete. A hollow shell of a person, desperate to be healed.

“But this wound felt comfort when I met you. It felt drained as we fought in sparring. Perhaps this wound will be healed.”

Aboard Ebon Hawk, Kreia looked up, listening with Marai’s ears. “So it ends.”

“I want you to teach me in the ways of the force. I want to be a Jedi knight, like my mother.”

“I cannot help you break your oath to Atris.” Marai said. “I will not have you foresworn for my sake. I will not make you follow your father.”

“Listen to me. The oath to my father is stronger than the oath to Atris. She demanded that I refuse to do what my Father demanded. I wish to obey my father. Her oath was that I not train to be a Jedi. Not that I that I am forbidden to train in the use of the force.”

She was silent, head down, hair falling across her face. During or fight her hair had come unbound. I was astonished by it’s length. “I cannot train you as a Jedi. I am not worthy of that trust. But if teaching you can help you control the force within you, stop you from striking out as you did moments ago, I must. I will train you in the ways of the force for that reason.”

“That is all I wish of you, my teacher, my master. I want to feel the world as my mother did. I want to feel for someone what my mother felt. To feel that power in may hands, running through my veins as it did for her. To hear and see and feel what she did when she fought the Mandalorians until she was no more in death at Malachor V.”

“Then know this. You have the makings of a Jedi. And as unworthy as I am, I must guide you upon that path.”

“I will not fail your trust, Marai. I will live in honor of your teachings as I live in honor of my mother’s face.”

“So I hold us both to that trust.” She whispered, then kissed me delicately on the cheek.

Aboard Ebon Hawk, Kreia sighed. “Betrayal.”

*****

Atris

I had followed the wandering child of my group from a distance. I had never told her, told them that I could do so.

I saw her in anger in a circle of battle, facing a Mandalorian warrior in that horrible mockery they called training. I felt the sting of an electrical charge, and suddenly she was no more.

I recognized it. After all I had felt in in Marai, known that I could call her from it. Her thoughts were a red rage of fury and death. I felt a man die, and still it was unsatisfied. Then I saw her. She stood there, facing me as the Goddess would wish us clothed. Yet she was hesitant. She did not know the name of her opponent, and that is necessary for the spell of anger to be broken “Do not make me do this.” She said.

This was my chance. She was an abomination, and I directed that fury at her.

Yet I failed. It was like fighting an ocean wave. She was there, but every blow struck water, and flowed into nothingness. Then there was blackness.

She came back to consciousness, and she was resigned. She had used the last tier in that fight, and both she and Marai had known it. The tier of surrender and superiority. The winner was master in every way.

I had not worried up until then. Nothing the girl had said was something Marai would not have discovered by mere ratiocination.

But then she had spoken, foresworn herself, and done it with a cheap ploy. Her father had asked the opposite of her as a child and that outweighed her oaths to me!

“Betrayer!” I screamed.

One of the Handmaidens came running. “Mistress-”

She had betrayed us! You sister, the faithless strumpet has betrayed us, betrayed me!”

I stood towering in my rage. “Once she was sister of your flesh, but no more! Foresworn I name her!”

“Mistress-”

“We thought that she merely traveled with the Outcast one from pity, but that was a lie on her part! She seeks the powers that a Jedi would possess, and in so doing she condemns herself, and perhaps us!”

The woman was hesitant. Her oaths demanded her acceptance, but this was a sister of flesh. “Mistress, perhaps you are mistaken. Our family does not take oaths lightly-”

“Is that so.” I spoke with an angry hiss. “As important an oath as a life bond to your mother? As important as your oath to me? Will you deny that oath whelp?”

“No my mistress. You are the last of the Jedi, and it is your will that will se them ascendant again.” The words were a mantra, a litany to keep an angry god at bay. “But how has she fallen?”

“It is the corruption of the Exile permeating her being. She will try to teach the faithless one but as she is flawed, so shall the faithless one be flawed. Gather your sisters. Prepare to depart. We will wait until it is needful, but we will be ready to move in a moment.”


Marai

There is the custom among both the Mandalore and the Echani of waiting with the fallen. You know the dead no longer care. They have joined with the Force, gone on to their reward what have you. But to you, the one left behind, there is this friend you knew and loved that now lay upon a battlefield so frightfully alone.

For your own sake, for the memory of them, you stayed, keeping the predators and scavengers from them through the night. My own memory flew to a battle. Zagosta: People who do not go to war picture the troops as soulless automatons marching into battle. The media helps with this by portraying battles as sweeps of color racing across a map like bloody slashes, not as the series of inchworm like movements of real armies trying to move, keep themselves supplied, and fight at the same time.

When there is a pause in the fighting, the pundits worry of failure, that the army isn’t good enough, and will be destroyed merely because they do not charge on. We had stopped advancing into the mountains, more because we were tired than anything else. We had half of the valley, and the Mandalorians that had been defending still held the other half of the long flat swale. Someone fired, and I moved along the lines to find out why. A heavy blaster rifleman was firing at a figure, and I slapped the weapon up.

“Sir, it’s a flipping Mandalorian!” He screamed at him.

“Do they shoot our stretcher bearers or medics?” I hissed at him angrily.

“Of course not.” He was offended.

“The Mandalorians believe that a friend should sit with the fallen if it is possible. You are murdering someone who mourns you bastard.” I flipped on my com link. “Max 2nd Marine units. do not, repeat, do not fire on any Mandalorian who does not cross the dead line. If you do, you answer to me.”

The next day we returned to our bloody work of killing. But that night, the enemy knew someone on our side understood.

The Mandalorians understood. A quiet recruit brought me a blanket, and I sat with my friend through the night.

As the sun rose, Bao Dur came up, handing me a cup of tea.

“The ship called. Your new friend is awake, and wishes to speak with you.”

“Tell them we will be there as soon as we can.” I brushed the sleeping face still looking up from my lap. “I have things I must attend to.”

About an hour later, I felt the Handmaiden’s mind stir. I felt a rush of the force as her warrior mind instinctively searched her surrounding. Only when she was sure that it was safe did her eyes open.

“Master-”

“No. I am no master. I am still Marai, your sister of battle.” I brushed her hair from her eyes. “I must go to the ship. You will stay and meditate here until I return.”

“What have I done to offend you?” She asked bereft.

“Nothing my sweet. But you must learn to focus the new skills you will gain. If you cannot meditate, practice, work out. If the company does not offend you, practice with the Mandalorians.

“But I must interrogate the woman, and I would feel better if you were here safe.”

“Safe? Why must I be safe?”

“The most dangerous time for those who use the force is when they are new to it. She would be a destabilizing influence on you.” I leaned forward, hugging her. “I do this to protect my sister from a battle she is not ready yet to fight.”

She nodded.

We dressed, and I went to find Bao Dur. He had been working on the telemetry computer, and he grunted with satisfaction when the system purred into life.

“I’ll be with you in a moment, General.”

“Bao Dur, that was a long time ago. My titles are no more.”

“I know that General. But there are times when it’s hard to get my head out of the past.” He slid the panel back on, standing.

“Can’t you concentrate on what has happened since?”

“If I had a home and a place to call my own, I think it might do that. But what can I say about the last ten odd years? I bummed around as a starship mechanic until I started feeling uncomfortable again. Then I’d move on to somewhere new. I couldn’t seem to find anywhere I felt comfortable.”

“I know the feeling. When I left the order I felt comfortable no where.”

“You would. It was just that the one thing I fought the war for was something I didn’t get out of it. Peace. I figured as long as I kept moving I wouldn’t have to think about it.”

“I know the feeling well.”

“After about a year, I suddenly wanted to do something constructive. I became interested in helping people not have to fight. I studied shield technology, and planetary defense shields. The ones they had during the war waste too much energy and bleed off to easily. But the credits were always tight after the war. why spend money building a newer more efficient system when the system put in by your great grandfather still works? There was more money in rebuilding than anyone is ever willing to spend on making sure it can’t happen again.

I talked with the Ithorians, and they asked me to design the system they’re using on Telos. Not just the standard nothing gets in or out shields of a ship, but something that was flexible, could go around corners, or cut across a hydroelectric dam from the flat side up the glacis without buckling. Shields they could move like furniture.”

He looked out over the jungle. “Telos was beautiful One of the most beautiful planets I had ever seen. It deserved better than to be thrown away after the Sith smashed it flat.” He went still.

“Then Czerka came. Oh they talked a good game. Good enough that they were able to hire me away from the Ithorians. But it was all a game to them. A slot machine where you pull the lever, and it’s rigged to pay off when they wanted it to. Before Lorso came it wasn’t too bad. Falt was a good guy, even if he had to do some things to pad the bottom line. But Lorso went hog wild.

“I was under contract, have you seen their contracts?” I shook my head. He chuckled. “Fifty pages of boilerplate that a lawyer would love to take to bed for late night reading. But you can say it all in three sentences. ‘You agreed to do the job. We can decide to change that job whenever we damn well please but you still have to do it. If you don’t like it, get a new life, because you’ve already given your old one to us’.

“They wanted me to start interfering with the force fields around other areas. The main continent is a hodgepodge of cleared section controlled by Czerka, others controlled by the Ithorians, and wasteland. But the areas were laid out by the Ithorians originally, and Czerka couldn’t adjust them, at least not legally. But there was so much that Czerka wanted to get to that was just out of reach.”

“Forty million tons of Redrocite near the south pole and all of those old military bases and cities to salvage.”

“Got it in one, General. The ore they want to get to is fifteen kilometers from their base under a glacier fifty kilometers in length, but it’s in an Ithorian controlled region. So they wanted me to create a corridor that would run that distance, linking them. Lorso had already put in orders for the mining machinery. That glacier would be melted away, and the ore ripped out before anyone was the wiser.

“But I refused. I got sent off to the camp where you met me, and one of the security guard planted Ryll spice in my gear. Got me arrested. But they forgot who I was.”

He opened a panel on his arm, and I saw a glowing energy matrix. “You spend enough time working with shield technology, and you find cute little things that don’t have a lot of utility unless you’re a thief. This little gizmo reads the shield harmonic, and by adjusting it here, it neutralizes that frequency. The shield just goes away long enough for me to walk through it.

“So I sorta went back to war again. This time the enemy wore Czerka uniforms. I was sabotaging their equipment, but never their shields. The planet wasn’t my enemy.”

“You against the corporation.” I murmured. “Pretty steep odds.”

“Oh I didn’t expect to win. Just slow them down a bit.” He looked at me, then asked gently. “I hate talking about the war, but can I ask you something?”

“Sure.”

“Why did you go to war?”

I shrugged. “The Mandalorians had to be stopped, and the Republic military didn’t seem capable.”

“From you lips to the Maker’s ear. I was wondering what the Republic was doing as the Mandalorians gobbled up the rim. Were they so blind that they didn’t care?”

“It was a selective blindness.” I said. “Like Lorso and Czerka back on Telos. We are supposed to ignore what they do because it isn’t our planet they are ruining or our money they are stealing. The senate was just that blind. The Mandalorians weren‘t attacking us, they were attacking those people too stupid to join the Republic before. We were too big for them to digest, so we were safe.”

“Yeah.“ He replied softly. Like Iridonia.”

“Bao Dur-”

“Oh I know that isn’t what you thought. You’re just repeating what they said. May people had colonies both inside and outside Republic space, and they were among the first to fall. But when it was my own home...”

“I know. I’d like to think most of the Jedi that went did so because they could not allow other people to be hurt if we could stop it.”

“I didn’t join to protect anyone. I did it out of hate and revenge. I wanted to kill every Mandalorian. I wanted to choke the life from them as they had to my home, and if I had to strangle the last one in his crib I would have done it. Before the Jedi came into the war there weren’t a lot of victories, but every Mandalorian death was something to celebrate. You know what I mean.”

“I do, but not from direct experience.” I shook my head. “The Jedi are taught that if kill you must, do it cleanly. Don’t glory in it, or cheer. Think of it as surgery where you must spill blood, but you are doing it with the intent to heal the person.”

“I couldn’t do that.” He whispered. “I couldn’t separate the hate from the deed. It was almost as if this... This thing within me came out of it’s cage, and nothing would satisfy it but blood.

“Then suddenly the war was over. Revan fought and killed Mandalore face to face, and stripped them of their arms. But I found I couldn’t just turn it off. I hated the Mandalorians.

“But I came to realize that it wasn’t the Mandalorians I hated. It was myself. I see the callow young man I had been unwilling to swat an insect turned into a ravening monster that gloried in the kill. I hated the Mandalorians for what they had made me do. For letting the monster out of the box, and now I don’t know how to put it back.”

“That isn’t how you are.” He looked at me. “What do you think of Zuka?”

“Well he doesn’t really have the training to be a tech. He’s picked it up, and is getting good, but he still hesitates when he tries to fix things. Worries too much they’ll take any fumbles out of his pay.”

“And Kex?”

“He’s no better or worse than any supply sergeant I have ever met. But he never passes out crap and calls it gold. If it doesn’t work he works on it until it does. In fact they told me there’s an old cache nearby with some construction and repair droids. If they could get it open, they would have this place up and running in no time.”

“And what have you been doing?”

He looked at me strangely. “I’ve been helping out where I can. I’d go bug nuts sitting on my butt while work needs to be done.”

“Now think of what you just said. Did the thought that these people were Mandalorian have anything to do with them?”

“No...” He looked out the door at the men out there. “All I thought was Zuka needs training, and Kex needs help.”

So you are growing out of this.” I clapped him on the shoulder. “You have a beast, but if it is not in the cage now, it is at least placid enough to let them survive with you there.”

He sat there lost in thought. “Well I have work to do. Did you need something?”

“No, Bao Dur. You stay here and help. I have to go to the ship. I will be back in a while.”

“Bring me some tea while you’re there. This Mandalorian stuff is like getting jumpstarted.”

“Sure.” I gave him a lazy grin. “Echani fire tea?”

“Maker no! I have to sleep sometime.”

I made my way to the gate. The Mandalorian Guard captain grunted, then called for a couple of recruits to guide me to the ship. More to make sure I didn’t do anything stupid than anything else. While we waited, he cracked his knuckles.

“I don’t like it.” He said. I looked at him. After a moment, he saw my look and shrugged. “We had to pull in our patrols because of that stupid battle overhead. We couldn’t take the chance with the Onderon military running by with full scanners, so we couldn’t even have the satisfaction of cleaning out the larger predators. They’d detect weapons fire.”

“But you should be able to move around now. The battle is over.”

“Mandalore’s orders. We had three ships coming down on our sensor grid. But where they landed we don’t know.”

“Well there is mine, and the Duros. Any idea what the other one was?”

“It read as a freighter. but no transponder code.” He shrugged again. “Until your friend showed up sensor grid usually meant using the mark one eyeball.”

“So they could have landed a fleet and they wouldn’t have been noticed.”

“Yeah, but who? The Onderoni use this place for two things, a place to catch animals they sell, and a burial ground for their kings.”

“They bury their kings here?”

“Considering a lot of them through their history, I’d want to bury them somewhere they can’t get away from readily.”

“You’re almost speaking as if they’ll rise from the dead.”

If you study Onderoni history some of them just might.” He looked around. “One thing we were able to pick up before the system went down was signals on the surface. Old equipment of ours and yours detecting sweeps by someone. But when we go looking, we don’t find anything.

“But it doesn’t repeat in any sector we can reach. It’s like someone looking for a Search and Rescue beacon that transmits only intermittently.”

“Where?”

“When the system was fully up I’d have said everywhere on the bloody moon.”

The guides arrived, and we set out.

Char Ell
08-18-2006, 12:31 AM
Why did you decide to skip all of the underground military base on the Telos surface?
She has five medals of commendation from the Mandalorian was, including the Parliamentary Medal of Honor for Malchior V. I've noticed the spelling you use for the final planet in TSL is consistent. The game spells it Malachor V. Unless you've decided to change this planet's name in your story. But you did spell it the same way as the game does in post #28 and further on in the story so I guess you're going with Malachor V?
“Irritated Query: Did you think of the 400 kilometer walk we now have because you destroyed the only operation vessel?” Unit 41 asked.

Embarrassed reply: No. I merely assumed I would do less damage than that.”I loved this exchange between the HK-50 droids. One assassin droid annoyed with another. :lol:

I liked the additional background you provided between Bao-Dur and Marai, how she wouldn't let the doctors amputate Bao-Dur's arm without his permission because she knew that Bao-Dur would be devastated at the loss of his limb in that manner.

They were all standing in the mess hall when I arrived.Does this mean in the central area of the Ebon Hawk? I'm sure you're compensating for the fact that Ebon Hawk, as depicted in the game, doesn't have a place to eat. I'm just trying to visualize what part of Ebon Hawk this part of the story occurred in.
T3 gave a strangled bleep, and Bao Dur said, “What do you mean I’m disturbing...” He turned as he was speaking, then suddenly covered his eyes.

“What is going on here?” I demanded.

“General, before the conversation goes any further, you dropped your towel.”A nice add to the story. I enjoy these little tangents because they add a touch of "normal life" to the epic.
Afterward I was just glad that Atton had been busy forward. The sight of two nubile half nude women in gymnastic vigor would have sent him screaming toward the freshers.:rofl: So true! :naughty:
three dozen animals averaging 300 kilos each for a grand total of just under 11 tons-

-versus a half kiloton ship made up of a lot of bolted together parts-I'm not sure I understand the units of measure in this section. Does 1 ton = 1,000 kilos? I'm just used to 1 ton = 2,000 lbs. or just over 900 kilograms.
“He thinks honor is a word in the dictionary between Honky-tonk and Honorarium!” She roared.Loved this sentence!
My father went to wore to be with the woman he loved. But she was not the one he had bonded with eight years before. My father violated his bond to be with another, and I am the result of that. Both lives ruined. Mine to be lived in shame to show forever what happens when a bond is broken.”:confused: So in this story Yusanis was originally married to an Echani woman, the mother of the Handmaiden's elder sisters, but left her for Arren Kae, Brianna's mother?
“Pretty secret race. Human or at least close enough to breed. Their race was born on a planet called Katharr.I believe the home planet of the Miraluka is Katarr. No h necessary. :DAt the last Jedi conclave on the Miraluka world of Katarr, the entire planet was wiped out. An entire race, destroyed... because the Jedi chose to gather there.Another great story in progress, machievelli! I look forward to reading more. Your story leaves no doubt about your love for the Echani and Mandalorians. And I'm pleasantly surprised that this story seems to be getting more attention than your original KotOR story did.

Every time I hear 'Devo', all I can think about is a band wearing red flowerpots on their heads and sporting those ridiculously thin sunglasses.Dang! Now I've got that song in my head. :fist:
:sing9: "now whip it
into shape
shape it up
get straight
go forward
move ahead
try to detect it
it's not too late
to whip it
whip it good!"
*** whip crack sounds *** :animelol:

Emperor Devon
08-18-2006, 01:49 AM
:confused: So in this story Yusanis was originally married to an Echani woman, the mother of the Handmaiden's elder sisters, but left her for Arren Kae, Brianna's mother?

That's how it was in the game as well.

Another good chapter, machievelli. I look forward to the next one. :)

Char Ell
08-18-2006, 09:32 AM
^^^
*** researches TSL dialog files ***
And so it is.

In my play-throughs of TSL I came to understand that Yusanis followed Arren Kae to fight in the Mandalorian Wars. Also that Brianna's older sisters shared the same mother and father and Brianna was only half-sister to them since her mother was Arren Kae. I assumed that Yusanis' first companion had died or the Echani men took multiple wives or something else.

I never encountered the dialog where the Handmaiden tells the PC her father went to war to be with the one he loved, but not the one he had pledged himself to. Or at least if I did encounter it I forgot about it. :D

machievelli
08-18-2006, 12:41 PM
^^^
*** researches TSL dialog files ***
And so it is.

Now if you can explain to this old fart how you did it, please do. I keep getting dialog chains that have nothing to do what I am looking for.

machievelli
08-18-2006, 03:54 PM
Submission

Visas

I awoke in a room, on a medical bed. A person bustled around, and I turned my face toward him. It was the man I had struck down.

“I must speak to her.” I said. He turned, and I could feel the anger. “Why? So you can give her crap too?”

“No. I have questions that only she can answer. Please, send for her.”

“What do you mean?”

I sighed. “She is approximately 10.3 kilometers to the northwest of us at this moment. She is sitting on the ground with the one she will train across her legs, both naked, beneath a blanket.

She is asleep, but her mind listens for anything that might strike at her. She is at peace.” I moved my head. “She will awaken in a moment. At that time, you must ask her to come to me.”

He harrumphed, walking out. A moment later he came back. “Bao Dur would not tell me what she was wearing, but he said he gave her the message, and there were things she had to do first.”

“The fact that she has agreed is sufficient.” I tried to stand, but there was a force field over my body. “May I go and meditate?” I asked.

He drew his sidearm. As pitiful as the weapon was, I did not gainsay it. He released the field, and escorted me to the starboard berthing area.

“I will have the door blocked with a fore field. You can wait her and contemplate your navel to you’re heart’s content.”

I went in, feeling the field snap on like an electrical discharge behind me. I knelt, and watched the one I had sought as she spoke to the girl, telling her to stay there. To the Zabrak Bao Dur about was, to the Mandalorians about their situation.

When she set out on the path to me, I began to meditate in full.

She had done something after our battle. I had felt my master’s rage, and he had struck at me. But somehow she had stopped him. She had left me alive, unwilling to kill me herself, unwilling to merely allow my master to do so.

I had surrendered myself to her, and I needed to know what type of master I had taken.

She came up the ramp, and down the passageway. The force field died, and she stepped into the room. I turned, bowing from the ground. “My life for yours.”

She came over, and knelt before me. “Are you all right?”

“I am able to serve. If we enter battle, my only wish is to fight and die at your side.”

“That isn’t what I meant. I asked are you healed?”

That threw me off. Never before had my master cared beyond the mere ability to move. If I could crawl into battle, he was satisfied. “I have not been asked that question in a long time. My flesh is healed, if that is what you wish to know.”

“I am sorry that I hurt you.”

“I know that. But I fear that others might see this as a weakness. They will see me healed, know that I have survived, and use it as a weapon against you. Perhaps using me or the others because if you put a blade to the throat of one, they have put it to yours.”

“Threatening my friends will get them a swift death, whatever happens to my friends. Who sent you?”

“I am a scout and emissary for my master.”

“Why did he send you?”

“Because he was aware of a disturbance in the force, but unaware of it’s nature. I was sent because the ripples in the force you caused did not feel like that given off by a living being. There is little my master does not know, and the fact that you had eluded his sight for so long disturbed him, though he would not tell me why.”
“How did you find me?”

“I... felt you. It was like a sound on the very edge of hearing. Enough to disturb you, but not enough to clearly make out. But as I listened to that music, it suddenly reached across the space between us, and I was compelled to find you for my own reasons.”

“What reasons were those.”

I bent back forward. “I was ordered to slay you, but as I approached, I knew that I could not. But my master has always sent me on such missions, not caring if I lived or died as long as his will was done. I could not die by my own hand, or allow someone to kill me. You were the first in many years that had the chance, and I prayed that you would end my existence. Allow me to return to the bosom of the force. To be with my family, my people forever again.”

“But I refused.”

“Yes. And as you have defeated me, I am yours to command. When my master struck out in his fury, you shielded me from that wrath.” I knelt back up. “Why have you done this to me? You could not end my life at your hand, but allowing him to kill me was within your grasp. Yet you stopped him, had the male-”

“His name is Atton.”

“-Had Atton minister to my wounds. Healed my body. You consider even now helping me learn, and this from someone I tried to murder. Why?”

“To the first question, I could not merely stand aside and let you die. As for the healing of your body, I would not leave you maimed any more than I would shatter a stain glass window out of pique.” She leaned toward me, and a hand brushed my face. “As for training, I had considered it, but only because everything your master has taught you is anathema to me. I cannot merely bring you along when everything he has taught you is the pain of not only yourself but of every living being you might encounter. I believe you can be redeemed and I will do this.”

I reached up, pushing her hand aside gently. “You must not do this. I cannot allow you to weaken yourself in trying to heal my entire life.”

“Helping another is not weakness. It is strengthening to those that recieve, and those that give.”

“That may be so, as you would see it. But to my knowledge it is not the way the common man sees it.”

She was silent for a moment. “Will you answer some questions for me?”

“I cannot guarantee that my answers will make sense or be of any help, but I will try.”

“Was you master the one that destroyed Peragus?”

“There are many factions within the Sith. My master leads but one, and his people did not cause the destruction you speak of.”

“Factions?”

“When Revan shattered the Star Forge, when she slew Malak, there was no one to lead the Sith. Those in power fought among themselves, and still do. where one moves, or plots, it is not always known to the others. The only thing they all share is one abiding purpose. To assure that the Jedi do not rise again, to see that all of you are obliterated, expunged from existence.

“They believe you to be the last of their quarry and only that hatred binds them to that one purpose. All of those eyes are upon you, and the pursuit will be dark and terrible to imagine.”

She considered. “I am told your race is blind. Yet you moved within this ship with ease, and fought well. How can you see without eyes?”

“My people once had to use the force instead of the eyes we no longer have. They could see events elsewhere in the galaxy. One of my people could also affect those around them, give briefly the ability to see as they once did.”

“You speak as if you have lost that ability.”

“My sight was... damaged.” Here, touch my hand.”

She reached out, and I allowed her touch. Then I showed her what I saw, the swirling essences of the force within her and around her. The glows of her companions, the animals that wandered between us and the Mandalorian encampment, then the encampment itself. There, like an arc light among the candles, were two forms.

“Who are they?”

“Can you not see them for who they are?” I indicated the brighter of the two. “She is the one you call Handmaiden. This one is Bao Dur.” I pulled my hand free.

She shook her head. “That was... Interesting.

“Yet it is merely a tithe of what one of our elders could have done.”

“How did you lose your sight?”

“When my master dragged me from the ashes of my home world, he showed me my world as it was when he had finished. It hurt me deep inside. since then it as if part of the force had been taken from me, and I do not see as I once did. But being with you, I sense that there was a gift beneath that pain.”

“When one endures pain it gives hope to others.”

“Yet only by suffering and enduring can certain truths become evident. I feel you are an example of this. That you see truths of the galaxy, your companions, and yourself that no other can see yet.”

“Your home world-”

Katarr. It is not a subject that I have considered much since it is no more.”

“Why did your master strike at them? All I have heard about your people was of the peaceful nature of them.”

“The last full council of the Jedi met there in secret. They hoped that our elders could aid them to see what was striking at them from the shadows. Many had already fallen, but it was as if they had merely died for no reason.

“They succeeded in a fashion. Their presence was a scent of blood in the water my master could not ignore. My people were incidental to that hunger, but it was a rich meal for one such as him.

“The Jedi died, my people died, that which lives on our planet died. Only I still live.”

“He came to your world just because the Jedi were there?”

“He cannot deny his hunger for long. The Jedi Council was a rich meal as I said, and he had to feast. Any gathering of the Jedi is something he will not resist for long.

“But now the Jedi are vanishing. Soon they will be no more, and I fear what he might do then. Perhaps by then he will be able to eradicate even life that cannot feel the force with his presence.”

“How could he destroy an entire world! You would need a fleet of ships!”

“Oh the world itself is still there. But it circles a stare, empty of all life except for that last scream of pain and fear. Nothing lives upon it’s surface. All that remains are the echoes of those that once were, but no one lives to hear them.”

“But it is beyond the capability of mankind to destroy on such a scale!”

“It was not a matter of weapons and ships. He used the Force, and the force reaches where no weapon cannot. To the depths of the earth and seas, it reaches, and he drained it all.”

“I have seen destruction. I saw Malachor V after the battle.”

“It is said that people across the galaxy felt the destruction of that world . But those forces there shattered the world and it is no more. My world is still there. Just empty.”

“How did you survive?”

“I am not certain that I did. I was there when it struck. To see everything you know, loved, and imagined extinguished like a candle flame. It was as if my sight was snatched away even as I felt the force drained away from my world to leave nothing behind.

I am sure there are worse pain, and worse deaths. But I have yet to find one that matched it. when I awoke from that pain I could feel that only I remained. My life, my agony of mind and body was a flicker of a candle in the immensity of space. All that I had ever been connected to was gone as if it had never been.”

“But you survived.”

“If being a child on a dead world with the bodies of all you knew and loved scattered about can be called living. I wonder at times what would have happened if I had died there. Been with my family, my friends, my people when they went into the ending dark together rather than being left behind alone. If perhaps there had been a way to hide myself from the eyes of the galaxy. Not endured all of the pain and death.

“Yet it was not to be. When my master looked upon the planet, he found me. He came for me and among the bodies of all those dead, took me as a woman, then took me as his own.”

For some reason that infuriated her. “How old were you?”

“I was twelve standard years old. I am now seventeen.”

She made a strangled sound, and I could picture her thoughts, of my master laying dead, the manhood he had besmirched removed not with a lightsaber or blade, but with her own hands. Then it faded. “Go on.”

“As I stood there, bleeding from his actions, he reached into my mind and forced me to see. To see what he had done not only to my world, but to others before it.”

“He made you see what he had done?”

“To my eyes, to the galaxy, my world was absent the currents of the force. Swept clean, leaving only stone, metal and the flesh of those that had once lived there, preserved from corruption by the death even of the most minute life forms. There was nothing but emptiness.

“Then he showed me other worlds, bastions still of life scurrying across the surface of their worlds like a bacteria infecting the blessed emptiness of space. Disconnected from themselves, their worlds, their place in the order of things. Unable to see the currents of what must be and their effects upon it.”

“Why did he show you these things?”

“He told me that life was a disease. That the only way to return the galaxy to purity was to remove that infection. He would find that ugliness, that white noise, and in his wake was blessed silence. Where there had been chaos, now there was order.

“But I have discovered that for every one that feels the force, there is a different path. Different strengths, different weaknesses. You have your own strengths, as does my master. But his comes with a terrible hunger. He is a wound, a black hole of the Force sucking all force into his heart, and it never escapes. In his wake all life has surrendered it’s energies to him.

“And those like you who feel the force strongly are beacons in the night sky, and his eyes are drawn to them, and soon he will go to them if only to put out that blessed light. The only difference for my world was the timing. When he had devoured all of you, we would have been another meal to partake of.”

“Tell me where he is.” I could feel her will encompassing this. She would hunt him down, try to kill him.

“You cannot find him by yourself. He is always aboard his ship which lurks in the depths of uncharted space. Not even I know where he is unless he calls to me. But even if I could give this information to you, I would not. You are not yet ready to face him.”

“Ready?”

“You are not the equal of Jedi masters that have already faced him and died. If you face him without your full potential realized, you will fail, and none that he has so devoured went on to the Force. You would be lost to me forever, and I...I cannot bear the though that it would be so. It would be as if I lit a brushfire to burn away a pristine valley never touched by man, shattered a cave’s worth of precious crystals. As if I had smashed the hands of a sculptor, or blinded an artist so he could create no more.”

“My life is incidental to this. Your master threatens more than me and mine.”

“I cannot, and I will not.” I dropped forward, head touching the deck plates. I would die by my own hand rather than harm you. To preserve you untouched and safe my life is there now only to protect you. I have found peace in my life for the first time since I awoke on a dead planet and I cannot sacrifice that peace no matter how you ask.”

“If he is behind what has happened, the hundred or thousands of the Jedi that are no more, I will face him.”

“You will, I have foreseen it. But to go now will not avenge the dead. When you stand before him, realize what you face, you must be prepared for he will not give you a chance to run away and return. Confronting him directly will focus his attentions on you and he will move every heaven, every world, and every hell to assure that you do not face him a second time.

“Until then I must protect you. Stand by your side and aid you in every other way until you are ready.”

“Why? What is so important about me?”

“There is... a greatness in you. It does not stem from the force. It is the woman than kneels before me. Her body mind and soul forged by adversity until she is the ancient blade of the Jedi that cut anything. Even without the force you would be a force to be reckoned with.

“But the making of such as you is something my Master cannot understand, and would not accept. Because of this you are not even an echo in the force. He found you not by your own actions, but as if you were a planet beyond a system, measured only by the affect you have on the bodies around you. That blindness give me hope for all life. But if you are to survive, you must seek to understand your own nature.”

“How is it that you could see me and find me, but he cannot?”

“There is much in the galaxy that I can see and he cannot. I fear it is because of the nature of my race. Of myself.

“My people spent their entire existence seeing the galaxy by the swirls of energy in it. By the strength of the force within life no matter how small where ever it may be. We understand his blindness better than the sighted would because it is fueled by denial.”

She stood. “I have much to think upon. Stay here, rest until I return.”

“As you bid, my master.”

“And one more thing. I am no master. I may lead, but I lead friends, not servants and never slaves. If you would call me anything, call me Marai.”

“As you wish ma- Marai.”

Marai

The trip back was faster than I had anticipated. I now had an ultimate goal, though my guide was unwilling to lead me there until I had proven worthy by her own lights. Bao Dur had grown past his fury into a mature enlightenment. All in all it was a better day that the one before.

We made it back to the camp, and the Handmaiden came to me. Bao Dur was with her, and as much as he seemed to rail against it, he had a thermos of Mandalorian tea.

“As I told you Kex said there’s a bunker full of old repair and construction droids.” He brought out a map, and pointed. “Here, about a klick and a half to the west.”

“Where that idiot Kumus went.” I looked up. I didn’t recognize the man, but his shoulder flashes said he was the command sergeant major. “And your name?”

“Xarga. I’m the one in charge of recruit training. I sent Kumus out there to blow the door, and check out the inside of the cache to see what was usable. But that was three days ago. He’s probably dead by now, the D'kut.” He looked at the map over my shoulder. “If he is there, could you bring him back?”

“Bring his body?” Bao Dur asked. I pictured lugging a rotting corpse a kilometer and a half.

“Don’t be daft about it. If he’s dead, all we need is his equipment. That will do.”

“Nice to have the option.” I replied.

We started off along the path leading to the cache. Like the short cut to our ship, this one had been lined with older Mandalorian designed sensor packets. Anyone who saw them would probably assume that they were leftovers from the war. A properly emplaced and designed packet will be usable a century from now.

As we approached, The Handmaiden signalled. “The cache, the door is open. And there are... visitors.”

The visitors were a family of Boma beasts. They charged at us and we dealt with them swiftly. We went into the tunnel, finding a sealed door, and opened it. we stepped in.

The room had the musty smell of a tomb I felt something and looked up. There was a heavy construction droid three and a half meters tall it was standing up completely straight and in it’s manipulator claws was...

“Could you possibly help me?” He asked plaintively. He was very young, and very nervous.

The Handmaiden held her sides, her face quivering. I bit my lip to keep from laughing out loud.

Bao Dur walked over to stand below the droid. “Got yourself in quite a pickle there.”

“No, really?”

“I’ve never seen that happen before. Care to explain?”

“Well I’d blown the doors, came in, found the master foreman unit, and activated it. I was heading out when a pack of Boma charged-”

“They don’t like loud noises.” The Handmaiden gasped out.

“I wish someone had told me that. I hit the emergency control, and keyed in for it to put me in a place of safety. But the master foreman is only about your size. “ He pointed at a limp figure in the corner. I suddenly saw a mass of droids standing there as if waiting. “It had the Mark IV pick me up, but then a Boma smacked into it, and it was shut down.” He held up the control box.

“If it isn’t working, the others won’t work either. And this damn thing is holding me too tight to wriggle free.”

Bao Dur walked over, opening the droid’s chest panel. “Shoddy workmanship.” He commented, working on the wiring.

“Hey it’s just a construction droid. All it has to do is follow orders.”

“But if you build it weak, it breaks easily.” He gave a final tap, and the droid suddenly stood up.

“Finally!’ The young Mandalorian hit the controls, and the smaller droid looked first at us, then at him. “No you mechanical morn, they are not the enemy. I can get down.” He keyed in another command. The foreman squealed a high pitch order, and the huge droid leaned forward setting the man down beside us.

“I have a feeling your name is Kumus.”

“Guilty as charged, Say, you guys wouldn’t happen to have any rat packs would you?” The Handmaiden handed him one, and he ate as if he hadn’t touched food in days, which was probably the case, from the ripped open backpack on the floor.
“Could you do something for me?” He asked.

“Sure.” I said.

“Could you not tell the sergeant what happened. He already considers me incompetent, and I’d rather not prove it.”

“Your secret’s safe with us.” Bao Dur said.

The young man stepped over to the hatch opened it, looked around as if he expected another Boma attack, then stepped out. He keyed the box and in a line the droids followed. The last was the huge Mark IV, which had to crawl through it.

We waited several minutes, then suddenly it hit us. We roared, we rolled on the ground, we let out the laughter in gales. Finally we stopped. There was nothing remaining of value, so we headed back toward the encampment.

I held up a hand, and the others straggled to a stop. Ahead of us, a body lay on the path. I could tell from here that the end had been violent.

We approached, and I looked to the side. Stopping again, I patiently said, “You can come out now.”

A segment of the forest resolved into a Mandalorian. Unlike the usual trooper, his was a flat gray with an automatic camouflage setting. Even standing still, the world rippled behind him.

“Well, fancy meeting you here.”

“Hello, Kelborn.” Bao Dur said.

“You know each other?”

“We talked today while i was fine tuning that camo field of his.” Bao Dur said. “Kelborn is the First blade of the Mandalore.”

“I though there were no patrols out.”

“I’m an infiltrator.” Kelborn replied. “I don’t patrol, I scout. I was tracking that last ship.”

“The Duros-”

“Nah. They came down with their transponder screaming for rescue. Typical city boys. The other though. It came in cold, maneuvering jets only Tricky bit of work. I found where it landed, but the ship had left. Then I found him.”

I knelt looking at what was left of the body. “Cannocks.”

“Yeah.”

I lifted the man’s arm, and looked at the unit flash on his right shoulder. “The Iron Brigade. General Vaklu’s personal guard.”

“You have done your home work.”

“I fought here during the war.” I commented, waving at the jungle.

“So did I. I was captured here.”

“At least you lived.” I said, standing away from the body.

“There is that.” Kelborn hunkered down, looking at the trail. “He came from that way. Walking fat and stupid. Pretty green. He probably never knew what hit him. But he’s not the only one walking around. I’ve been getting snippets of encrypted transmissions from at least three sources.” He took off his helmet. He was about five years older than I was. He looked at me speculatively. “Want to have some fun?”

“What did you have in mind.”

“A hunt. You be the beaters, I’m the stopper. If I hang back about thirty meters east of here, you can drive them to me.”

“Or maybe I talk to them and they merely go.”

“There is that. "I don’t mind not killing them if they’re smart enough to run.”

“All right.” I drew a line in the air. “We’ll go west as far as the trail allows, then cut back on the one to the south, and push them ahead of us. Assuming all they are doing is scouting, that is what they will do.”

“You’ve done this before.”

“The last time it was Mandalorians about fifty klicks from here.”

“Old days.” He harrumphed. He stood, slipping the helmet back on, and slid back into the brush.

We trotted down the trail. I was in the lead, all of my senses extended as far as they would reach. I found a discontinuity. The animals there were nervous. I motioned, and we slowed to a silent pad.

I felt them before I could see them. We dropped to our knees behind the shrubs. There were two of them, watching every way as if it would help. “We’ll have to tell the lieutenant about Laane.” The female said.

“What that he was an idiot?” The male snarled. “He had the briefing, but he walked right into a Cannock ambush with a big freaking sign that said ‘dinner is served!’.” He snorted in disgust. “I hope this is worth it to the colonel because we’re not making it off this moon alive.”

“Wait.” The woman said. She spun. The Jedi is over there!”

She opened fire, but she was aiming almost exactly 180 degrees away from us. There was a roar and a Zakkeg ripped through the trees and charged them They are not placid beasts, but they can be avoided by not trying to attract their notice. Moving is bad.

Shooting is worse.

We walked around the feeding animal. “There are times when stupidity is punishable by death.” Bao Dur commented.

“Colonel. Maybe this colonel Tobin who ordered them to shoot us down?”

“Possibly.”

The other patrol had not fared any better. Three of them had faced off against a pack of Boma armed just with their rifles and raw courage. Not enough when the beasts were angry. We moved toward Kelborn’s ambush and found him crouched among three more bodies.

“Nine bodies total?” He asked after we reported. “That’s the lot. I just wish I knew who sent them.”

“They mentioned a colonel.”

“If so I have to commend you on the nature of your enemies. Colonel Tobin is General Vaklu's personal hound. He won’t wipe his nose unless the General give permission.” He snorted. The Mandalorians believe in leading by example. A toady doesn’t have a long life expectancy among them. “How did you rate?”

“I shrugged.” He ordered fighters to attack us and caused that mess in orbit.”

“Just like him. Ever hear the old expression, ‘When the only tool you have is a hammer, you start thinking of every problem being a nail’?” I nodded. “Tobin was born with a hammer, and doesn’t believe any other tool exists. And Vaklu needs him.”

“What for?” The man I remembered was still angry about the Mandalorian incursion, and the Iron Brigade had originally been made up of survivors of the guerilla war he had fought against the Mandalorians from the invasion almost 50 years ago when The Onderoni had been forced to cede Dxun to the Mandalorians.

They had of course had to occupy Onderon when they decided to conquer the Republic, but Vaklu had been brilliant. His men made sure no civilians were included in their actions, stripping the enemy of the chance at full scale reprisals. By the time we took Dxun they had half a million men on Onderon and were losing ground every day. It might even have been a relief if we hadn’t merely sent them all to POW camps when Onderon surrendered, as the Blade to Blade challenge required.

“Vaklu is still mad about the Queen’s father taking them into the Republic. He’s her cousin, and they’ve been at it hammer and tongs since it happened. It’ll come to a coup if Vaklu ever believe he can win, and Onderon will go it’s own way again.”

That was not good. Onderon supplied a lot of badly needed materials, and the animals of this moon were only the least of it. According to Republic law, trade had to go through the Republic Trade Authority, and getting a trade license through them was like trying to retrieve your weapon from a Cannock by sticking you hand down his throat.

“I have to report. Take care.”

“Fare in honor.”

He grinned, sliding the helmet back on.

We followed at a more sedate pace. I felt something, and we detoured. Ahead of us, a young Boma was ripping apart a corpse. Blessedly not human.

Wait a moment. I heard Kreia’s voice in my head. It is just what I hoped for. A Boma by itself.

It is time for you to learn a paltry skill of the Beast-riders of Onderon. Reach out with your feelings. Can you sense it’s mind?

I closed my eyes. Yes, I could feel it. It was concentrating on the meal. Oblivious to all else. I could feel it’s contentment.

Good. The force flows through every living thing and if you empty your own mind, you can feel it’s thoughts.

Suddenly I was looking through it’s eyes. The meat was nauseating to me, but it was a grand banquet to him. Soon he would feel the urge to breed, and he dimly remembered the last time. I pulled away as it remembered the rutting.

They are not conscious of their existence beyond their needs. Memory is moment to moment. Beasts are so much easier to affect than sentient beings. There is no argument with instinct, no questions as to why. But to succeed, you must bridge the gap between sentient and not.

You feel it’s consciousness. Yes, that rumble before a thunderstorm that you feel. Now reach out. Use the force to put a barrier between it and that conscious spark. Do it subtly, for they have bred from the ones able to escape if a Beast Rider does this.

Mentally I fashioned a web, a glittering mesh of the force, and felt it sink into the mind of the beast. It stilled.

I could feel it. The ears cocking back as it heard a noise that was not a danger. Then the wind shifted, and it smelled us. It tried to turn, to attack, but I nudge it’s thoughts away. There is nothing there. I whispered to it. You are remembering another time. You are hungry, feed.

It snorted in confusion, and we back away slowly.

You have potential In time you could have walked it through the Mandalorian encampment as if it were a pet.
Why couldn’t you have taught me this earlier? I asked her mentally.

All things in time, my dear. You will have need of this skill as time goes on... Then she was gone again.

Emperor Devon
08-18-2006, 04:34 PM
Now if you can explain to this old fart how you did it, please do. I keep getting dialog chains that have nothing to do what I am looking for.

I'll assume you already have Kotor Tool. To view TSL's dialogue files, go to Kotor II/ERFs/Modules. From there you'll see many different options to choose from. To view a dialogue such as Kreia in the morgue, for example, got to 101PER.dlg. You would choose this option because the game recognizes this module as the first one on Pergaus, and the PER indicates the planet is Peragus. From there you would go to 1, and then to 101kreia. Once you open it up, you can click the options there to expand them and view all the dialogue. If you want to actually edit the dialogue, you'll have to tk's dialogue editor for that.

Rain128
08-18-2006, 06:10 PM
A few years ago they had a massive reshuffle of the power base. They had gutted themselves in a war of their own. Some say the boss of Telos someone named Davik Kang had caused it, but the rumors were vague. They had almost disappeared from the scene. But now they were back and even nastier. I resumed the recording.



I know its late, but i was going thru a second time and caught this....

machievelli
08-18-2006, 09:41 PM
I'll assume you already have Kotor Tool. To view TSL's dialogue files, go to Kotor II/ERFs/Modules. From there you'll see many different options to choose from. To view a dialogue such as Kreia in the morgue, for example, got to 101PER.dlg. You would choose this option because the game recognizes this module as the first one on Pergaus, and the PER indicates the planet is Peragus. From there you would go to 1, and then to 101kreia. Once you open it up, you can click the options there to expand them and view all the dialogue. If you want to actually edit the dialogue, you'll have to tk's dialogue editor for that.


You people do not understand the depths of my own ignorance. Now that I know, maybe it will help...

machievelli
08-18-2006, 09:43 PM
This is a separate post for a reason. The next segment has battle from the eyes not only of those fighting, but from the god's eye view granted by that force seeing ability Marai got from Kreia. so if you have never really expeienced it...

machievelli
08-18-2006, 09:53 PM
Transport

Marai

The camp was bustling, and every adult Mandalorian had a weapon. The children and women still too young to fight were pulled back into some of the interior bunkers.

The Guard captain gave me a salute. Not the sardonic ones they usually give to out worlders, but the one reserved for those they respected.

“Mandalore wants to see you. We’re going to full alert.”

“The men in the jungle?”

“If Vaklu finds out we’re here, the fecal matter will hit the rotary impeller big time.” He said. “It’s just the kind of excuse he needs to start his coup.”

I nodded. We hurried across the compound. Mandalore was at his desk with Kelborn, and nodded as I came in.

“We’re going to a series activation of the mine field in twenty minutes. The best approach for a camouflaged attacker is along here, so they are to be activated first. Every one is on full alert until further notice.”

“Chu!” Kelborn ran out, tapping his helmet to activate the com link.

Mandalore looked at us. “Kelborn says they seem to be after you. Not even Tobin is stupid enough to drop a corporal’s guard in here if he suspected our presence. So I’ve ordered my shuttle prepped. We leave on the hour.”

“I’m ready.”

“I’ll send someone to get you.” He dismissed us.

Bao Dur caught my arm. “General before we go, the Mandalorians put together a gift for you.” I looked at him confused. He led me to Kex. He, Bralor one of the senior troopers, and Kelborn were standing outside the weapons store. They saw me approach, and they pushed Kex to the fore.

“We wanted you to remember us.” The bluff quartermaster started as if reading a badly memorized speech. “Some of this was found since we came, but both Bralor our best warrior, and Kelborn our First Blade gave of their collections. Use it with honor.” He handed a bundle to me.

I opened it, and my breath caught. Five lightsabers in varied stages of disrepair lay in my hands. I looked at them, a lump forming in my throat. A lightsaber is a personal extension of the Jedi that made it, and I knew each of these sabers, and the people they had belonged to.

“In grace was it given, and with humble appreciation it is accepted.” I stumbled through the proper thank you. “May I always use this gift with honor.”

We walked away. Bao Dur motioned toward the machine shop, and I shook my head. “I need to say goodbye to some old friends.”

Both of them left me, and I stared at the bundle.

Karin, one of my best friends among the Jedi. She had been of the Main Temple as was I. She had been blown apart by an anti-ship mount. If it had not been seen, we would have listed her as missing. There was nothing left of her body.

Mach. The oldest of those that came with us. Always laughing, one of the best with a lightsaber I had ever seen. He had been cornered by a company of Mandalorians after Blood Pass. Of the one hundred odd men ten had remained alive. The others had been scattered about his body like chaff.

Rian. Always the somber one. She was so stolid and controlled that few knew she was a practical joker at heart. She had last been seen charging an encampment about 200 klicks from where I was. Her body had never been found.

Lazasar. A Twi-Lek. He was always the peacemaker. One of the few Consulars who had come with us. He had been shot while under a flag of truce. The men with him, the remnants of two regiments had swarmed the walls, and put every Mandalorian there to the sword. Of the 2500 men that had charged only fifty or so returned.

Brianna. A smiling face was what I remembered best. She was always allowing herself to be the butt of every joke, and no one ever considered that she was having more fun that they were at it. Her shuttle had been blown apart right before landing, the parts of her and thirty men scattered across a cone three kilometers long.

I held the lightsabers to me, and found that I still had tears for my fallen comrades.

Discussion

Mandalore

I climbed up on the side of the shuttle with Zuka. He’d improved in the last days. That Zabrak friend of the Jedi woman had stiffened his spine. “The portside stabilizers?”

“Smooth as silk, Mandalore.”

“Are we ready?”

“Few more minutes.”

I climbed down, then went to a defensive stance. A woman stood there. I had never seen her before. She walked over. looking at my ship with a practiced air.

“Is everything ready for your trip?”

“Who are you?”

“Who I am is incidental to our conversation. My concern is for the one you escort to Onderon. Would you do less for one of your own clan?”

“Don’t pretend to understand us, woman. The Mando-a are a race apart from your kind.”

“If by a race apart you mean scattered broken and lost, then you are correct.”

“Not for long. we will grow strong again, under my banner.”

“As yes, yet another great crusade. To gather your scattered brethren and bind them back beneath a single standard.” Her tone was sarcastic. She looked at me, and I felt the laughter within her. Laughing at us!

“You always have a ‘crusade’ to fight, don’t you? You chose that as a banner when first you supported, then fought against Exar Kun. Then you used it as a cry to fight the Republic. And how did that one turn out? Revan Malak and that one we speak of taught you the meaning of respecting power, did they not? Revan was too kind to you, your defeat was too merciful. That last battle should be what you and your kind remember. A million and a half Mandalorians alone perished at Malachor V. I should not have to remind you of that.”

“Yes. An entire generation gone in an instant. I was there, and the Jedi and their puppets didn’t fare much better. But no matter how many of my blood still float there dead, the Mandalorians are still here, Clan Ordo still lives. And we are being redeemed.

"Look at Kex there. He was nothing but muscle to the Hutts on Nar Shaddaa. Kelborn was scouting new planets for a Duros consortium. Fully a dozen are those born on Rakata Prime that are now clan Wordweaver who fought beside Revan herself in that.

“I brought them back together at Revan’s behest. I gave them a purpose again. The Galaxy is not rid of us yet.”

“Ah but that is the future, and the future is always in motion. Not even a Jedi Master can read it, and you stand there and boast about it! What would you say if I told you that there might not be a great age of the Mando-a? That there is a future where Malachor V was merely the last inhalation of breath before the death rattle of your entire race? That five centuries from now the Mandalorians will be a monster invoked by nurses to make their charges behave at night?

“And what do I see of that future now? I see a poor deluded fool wounded by the Jedi, befriended by one, believing in his fevered dreams that he can turn an ocean tide with his bare hands!”

I sputtered in fury, How dare this old woman say such things!

“Calm yourself, Mandalore. I am merely foretelling what will happen if you fail my charge. You expected to merely act as a taxi and deliver her to her door. But you will do much more than that. You will travel with her and keep her safe. You have a sense of loyalty, and you will exercise it for her. So many masters over the years since the Mandalorian fall, was it not? And only two prey on your mind. One that betrayed you, and the one... The one that abandoned you.” She smiled, and there was no humor in it.

“Have you ever wondered where she wanders as we speak, Canderous Ordo of Clan Ordo, Mandalore at her command? Why she gave you orders to bring your scattered people home, then left you alone?”

My blood ran cold. I remembered that last conversation. We had run from Coruscant. Not because we were pursued, but because she knew too many would either try to stop her, or want to go with her.

We had stopped at an old landing field outside the capital of Darien V. She had taken me to a cantina. There she had bought me a drink.

“I must ask you to do something for me, Mandalore.”

“Until they accept me, I cannot accept the title. Once you have spoken-”

“I cannot speak. There are things I must do. A call that cannot be denied.” She replied. I must go and you must accept my orders.”

“What means this?”

“Gather the clans back together. Forge them into a sword that can survive all else in the Galaxy, but until you are commanded, you must stay your hand. Do this for me.”

I had agreed. Somewhere in the evening, I fell asleep. I awoke in a travelers rest. There before me was the helmet of Mandalore. The symbol of the true Mandalore of the Mandalorian people. The ship and Revan were gone.

“How did you know that you witch?”

“I know a lot of things, Mandalore. I know so many thing that even now you burn to ask. Of her, of the future But the answer I give will have it‘s price. You will escort her, watch over her. She is more important to me than anything in my life. She is worth a crusade or two.

“Show the true spirit of the Mandalore you claim to be. If there is to be a Mandalorian quest, let it be for something they will remember when the stars finally die. Where even if none survive, the word Mandalorian will be synonymous with honor and loyalty.

“The one I ask you to protect walks that path. She will find what you seek. She is sister to you and That one by a bond deeper than life itself. Remember that blood tie, even if all else falls behind you.

I watched her walk away.

I don’t know who that harridan is, but we should have watched her instead of the Jedi!

*****

Zuka

The droids from the cache moved back into the encampment, and I checked the switches. All right series two.” I said over the com link. Series one had gone without a hitch, and there were only four lines left. “Back up lads. Series three.” No problems. Series four-”

A blast bellowed, and a body leaped into the air fifty meters from the gate. I triggered five and six without warning, and more bodies flew apart. “We got company!”


Marai

I heard the first explosion, and was already in motion. Something ahead of me alerted me and I leaped. what happened next took all of a second. As I leaped I kicked my legs over, and twisted my body, so I landed, facing the opposite direction. My blade snapped forward, and it suddenly blossomed red along it’s length. Then suddenly there was a man there, clutching at my hands as he fell backward dying. They were using some joining of the force and camouflage and I reached out trying to find them...

It was as if my mind exploded outward, encompassing the entire encampment. I could see and feel everyone in it. Some of them were black spots in the force, there, but not there at the same time. Then my mind fragmented further...

*****

Hand Maiden

I saw Marai leap, and knew somehow what she fought, even though I could not see it. I saw another blot of emptiness, and her landing put her back to it. I snapped the control of my vibro-sword to it’s highest setting the whine biting into my nerves as I threw it in a flat arch like a bicycle chain. Marai was stabbing forward, and she turned oh so slightly, the tip of my blade passing her hip.Then it struck, and I saw the man suddenly appear as he fell in parts.

*****

Xarga

The recruits stood there like morons, and I body slammed three of them down before the grenade went off wiping two more from existence like the god’s own whisk broom. I was on my feet, and felt a throat under my hand, felt hands clawing at my grip even though there was nothing there, then suddenly I felt a neck snap, and I was holding a man by the throat.

*****

Zuka

Gods don’t let me screw this up I prayed. We had turrets set up along the entry way and in the first section, and I keyed them, diving for cover. They had IFF systems, and weren’t supposed to shoot at us, but I was the one that wired them up. There was a hammering sound as superheated plasma raked the quadrant, and I looked up as men were blown off their feet. Of course they were camouflaged but these would spike a gnat if it flew across, and spotted the slightest discontinuity in the atmosphere. Not just body heat, but the very dislocation of the molecules as you moved quickly. “Screw me, they work!” I screamed.

*****

Kelborn

I am shadow, I am grass waving in the breeze I thought. I was kneeling in the passageway. Their technology and force was good, but I had been trained to heat the falling of a leaf and they were making a hell of a lot more noise.

I cocked my fists back on either side of my body, hands even with my head. I saw them as slight ripples in the air, running toward the Jedi who was back by the hanger.

I felt their bodies hit me, and I triggered the blades, 30 centimeters of battle steel shot from my forearm along the guides in my gloves, and they were falling screaming as I retracted them. “Stupid.” I hissed. “As if we don’t know what stealth is.”

*****

Davrel

I’m going to die! My mind screamed. There were coming, and I could see the ripples as men ran through the depleted minefield. We’d killed fifty, a hundred, and they still came!

The Big Thunder heavy blaster rifle fired, and I ripped into them with the bolts. They weren’t the little pellets of a hand weapon that will explode against you flesh. They were designed to combat armored vehicles, things with a thickness of a warship on their bows, and guns to match.

A man exploded into a mist and still I fired. “Sulash! More ammo! Damn you-” He was looking at me, one eye laying on his cheek. One of them had thrown something, and it had blasted through his head. I felt the urge to vomit, but I grabbed the magazines he had brought, training taking over as I slammed another in and kept killing

*****

Bao Dur

I instinctively kicked Kex in the knee, and he dropped. That saved his life. I recognized the stun staff, my prosthetic arm coming up, the blast of electricity ripping through it. I was lucky. I had worried ever since it had been attached that I would accidentally cause an arc with it, and I had insulated it to the point that I could handle a bolt of raw lightning if it sat still long enough. The charge fried every servo and circuit, but didn’t hit me.

Not that it was all peaches and cream. The arm spasmed, throwing me to the die, and I rolled at the assassin struck at me. I was on my back looking up when a blade ripped through the man’s chest.

Kex pulled me to my feet. “We’re clear for a moment.” he said. “Sit.”

“What?”

“You’re going to be worthless if we don’t fix that arm.” He pushed me into a chair, pulled out a set of repair goggles, and picked up some micro tools. “I do this right, it’ll take me just a moment. I do it wrong, you’ll have to get another arm.” He flipped them down, and popped the access panel.

“Why are you helping me?” I asked. “Do you know how many Mandalorians I killed during the war?”

“Not enough.” He snorted. “We’re still here.”

“Seriously.”

“You’re on our side in this one aren’t you?” He leaned forward. “Good just the circuit breakers. You do good work. Here we-” The arm clicked, and I saw the diagnostic screen light up. “All right, easy to fix. But better to rewire until later.”

*****

Mandalore

Who dares? I stepped out, and ducked back, a shadowy hand shooting past my face. I caught the arm, lifted, and threw him into the wall. He bounced off, coming into view like a special effect, and I pounced on his back, my hand catching under his chin. I pulled, and felt the explosive crack of his spine shearing. Then I had drawn my weapon.

*****

Kumus

I dropped the magazines at Gun seven, and turned. I dropped, and something came over my head. I was a warrior born and trained. I knew I wasn’t smart enough to be a sergeant, or calm enough to be a scout. They called me the Boma because I was big, and when I got angry, I beat the hell out of people.

I came up, feeling the extended arm over my head, and my arms wrapped around the body it came from. I squeezed, feeling arms frantically beating at me, fists pounding on my shoulders, trying to make me let him go. Feet kicked, trying to groin me, but that much I had learned, and those blows hit rocky thighs.

There was a snapping sound, and he went limp in my arms. He was crippled from the waist down, and I lowered him until I felt his neck in my meaty fists. I grabbed that throat and squeezed, holding until there was no motion, no breath, no heart beat.

*****

Marai

I was everywhere and no where. I know I was watching myself as well, the man who died as I rounded the first corner was proof enough. The Handmaiden came up, and she was running to my left and slightly ahead, shield maiden to me.

A man appeared out of whatever stealth ability this was, and held a grenade. “Jedi! Surrender or they die!”

That door led to one of the bunkers, filled with children the aged and women.

I hesitated, and suddenly there was a blur. The little boy that had given me that flower had leaped out, biting the hand, trying to get the grenade away from him. The man screamed, and he caught the boy by the throat. Then I was there. I saw the shock in his eyes as the blade went into and through him, pinning him like an insect. I slapped the grenade from his hand, and threw it as if i hoped it would reach escape velocity. Thirty meter up it exploded, shrapnel raking the grass and walls.

I peeled his hand away from the boy’s throat. Gods, he wasn’t

breathing! “No! I will not kill another child!” I screamed. I lay him down, breathed into his mouth, massaged his chest, felt his heart hammer, then he rolled, coughing.

I cried as I saw him, and he rolled back, looking up at me.

He coughed again, motioning me down. “I saw my mother do this. Does this mean we’re mated?” He asked in a whisper.

I laughed, holding him. If I could have guaranteed his life forever I would have said yes.

*****

There is a moment where everything catches up with you after a battle. Before that it is a swirl of madness, where all you see is the enemy before you, your friend fighting or dying. You act on instinct, or that poor second, training. And survival was a matter of luck.

They did a study long ago that the most men die in the first thirty days of combat. A lot of militaries tried to create training scenarios that would put you through 30 days of hell without killing you, so you had a better chance of survival.

But you know it’s training. When the sensors on your clothes went off, they didn’t toe tag you and stick you in a bag, you went back to barracks where some leather lunged sergeant tore a strip off you. You knew that all you had to do was say to hell with it and stand up. They might wash you out, but you wouldn’t have to put up with the crap anymore.

But in real battle, it’s the experienced smart and lucky that are still standing afterward.

I walked the field with Mandalore. The loses were heavy. Fifteen of the Mandalore, some of them no more than boys were dead. I found Davrel by the weapon he had manned, kneeling beside his own vomit, his eyes on the body beside him.

“Davrel.” He didn’t look up. I could hear a keening in his mind. His innocence had been blown to shards with the men he had killed in the minefield. I knelt, turning his head to he was staring in my eyes. “Davrel, it’s over. You did well.”

“I... I panicked. I saw Sulash laying there, dying. He was my friend! He was...”

“You saw that and you manned your gun. You killed three score of them out there by our count, and it was only after the battle was over that you fell apart.” I pulled him to me, and he cried. For his friend, for the dead he had caused, and for all he had lost in that first embrace with death.

machievelli
08-20-2006, 04:38 PM
Departure

Marai

I went to the repair shop. The Handmaiden joined me. “What are you doing?” She asked me. Bao Dur, whom I had called arrived before I could answer.

“What have we here?” He took a loupe, slipped it over his eye, and began looking over each piece with care. “All right, General we have enough parts for two lightsabers.”

I looked at him, and the young girl I had taken to train. “This is where it must be your decision, my sister. Will you take up the Jedi’s weapon?”

She looked at the fragments sitting on the table. Then at me. There was a firmness that had nothing to do with what she had been taught before. I remembered this time when I was only eleven, a skilled Jedi merely guiding my hands to do that I would do for myself now, what I would guide her to do.

“Lead me, teacher.” She said, bowing her head.

“The crystals used by the Jedi are usually divided into three sects. The Consular were always the smallest in number. The ones that went to talk rather than fight, though they were well trained in defense. They had the shades of green. The sentinels are our watchmen. They guided us in seeking out those that would destroy what we always strove to protect. Then there are the Guardians, the knights and warriors of our kind. They were the ones that put their bodies on the line to protect all peoples.” I picked up three crystals. They had once belonged to Lazasar, Rian, and Mach. Of those that had given their lives upon this world, I could think of no better to represent us.

“I am and have always been a warrior my sister. I shall be one again, if I may live up to that charge.”

I held up the blue crystal, and told her of Mach, of his cunning, his sense of honor, his willingness to die facing an oppressor. She had tears in her eyes as she accepted the crystal. I chose Karin’s violet crystal. Sweet gentle Karin with the soul of a poet, and the heart of a Krayt Dragon. Guide me, my sister now gone. Never let me fail this one I teach.

I lay the parts down in a line. I picked up the housing. “First you must fix the crystal in the emitter matrix, then carefully inset the lens like so... “

*****


Mandalore

I looked at myself in disgust. I had gotten used to wearing full armor again, and to see myself dressed as a common mercenary bothered me. I picked up the heavy blaster rifle, checking it’s weight. My own personal weapon, it had weights in the back so that when I swung it up on target, the barrel didn’t pull the muzzle down.

I heard a knock, and Kelborn looked in. “Mandalore, you have to see this.”

I stepped out of my quarters. The battle circle was cleared, and the woman and the young girl faced each other. Then like something from a legend, beams of lambent fire leaped from their hands. Both had decided on the saber staffs, twin beams running from their fists. They faced each other, then suddenly they came together in combat.

It had been a long time. I remembered watching them all of that faithful journey. Bastila, The foundling Sasha who had been raised for three years by my kind, and discovered her warrior heart in a child. The Cathar woman Juhani, the old man Jolee. And the one I had wished would have been Mando-a by birth, Revan, now merely Danika Wordweaver. The problem with living to my age is that most of the people you remember are dead and gone by this time. I didn’t know what had happened to any of them.

They stepped aside, looking at each other appraisingly, then the beams died. Two women dressed as if they had just come off a tramp spacer. Warriors.

“If we’re going, we had best get to it.” They looked at me. The older and younger. Both had that same look in their eye.

*****

Bao Dur

I finished tuning the arm, then bent it smoothly. The hyper drive generator had a tuner problem according to the General, and sure enough I was able to detect a slight variance. But to correct it, I needed the arm in it’s best working order.

“Got a minute?” Atton was greasy and tired after a long day of repairs.

“I’m kind of busy here.”

“Really, it’s just a little thing. Won’t take a moment.”

I sighed, then got the micro-spanner out, adjusting my eye piece. “I’ll work, you talk.”

He moved over beside the workbench. “You’re friend, the Jedi. You knew way back when, right?” I grunted. “How much do you know about her really?”

“You mean the General.” I replied. “Sure, I knew her during the war, if that’s what you mean by way back. But I only served with her. So did a few hundred thousand others. Can’t say I really got to know her.”

“Better than anyone else on this ship. I just want your opinion, that’s all.”

“Opinions. Yeah I have those.”

“Now don’t laugh-”

“Atton, is there and end to this song and dance? I’m trying to work here.”

“Well, I was just wondering if, you know, she and I would be...”

I stopped, looking at him, grinning. “You’re serious.”

“Hey, you said you wouldn’t laugh.”

“I’m not laughing. You’re really serious, and expect me to grease the skids for you? Atton, I was a Tech when I met her, and a Lieutenant in Technical section when we served up to Malachor V. Your guess is as good as mine.”

“But what’s your guess?”

I straightened the arm. “I guess I’m ready to go back to work.” I closed the tool box and picked it up.

“Hey, I’m being serious here!”

“And I seriously need to get this fixed.” I waved at him as I opened the deck plate and climbed down.

Behind me I heard T3 say something.

“Oh so you’re laughing at me too, you obsolete block of printed circuits? I’ll put alcohol in your oil if you keep it up!”

*****

Mandalore

The shuttle was cramped and tight. It was designed for two, and we had put in another seat because we Mando-a don’t need the frills. The younger girl took the forward seat, Marai merely curling up in the back like a massive homicidal cat. I lifted off, and we headed almost straight up.

People say some gods have a sick sense of humor and the Onderon/Dxun trinary prove it. Two worlds formed in the space that should have only supported one. Close enough that they should have broken up, instead they spun around a common axis tidally locked in a day almost three times the standard. They should have crashed into each other and been destroyed, Or perhaps their rotation should have flung them apart but the Gods had an off day. Another body, the forest moon Zanetro saved them from that. It rotated around both of them, it’s gravity pulling them away from each other when at a tangent, and together when at the tidal points. This maintained a separation of just over 500 kilometers apart at perihelion, and 2500 at aphelion.

Gravity play tricks in such close proximity. The atmospheres of the two bodies intermingled like liquid in a blender. The first settlers back in the mists of history had chosen the slightly larger body. Luckily for them, because the system would have been uninhabited until the next ship if they had chosen Dxun as home.

Dxun is home to more predators than any planet except for Deralia. But the largest one on Dxun was only about three tons weight. The ecosystem is extremely active, and the atmosphere thick enough to support large flying animals, and the Brantarii, the ‘demon dragon’ is the largest. There were a lot of them on both world, and pundits postulated parallel evolution, even though it had been disproved so many times through the millennia. Even with exactly the same ecosystem, which they did not have, two planets would not evolve exactly the same animals.

But less than thirty years later they discovered that the Brantarii came to Onderon from Dxun, flying straight up like cruise missiles until they were caught by the larger planet’s gravity. They did this because the competition was fierce on Dxun and they could get away, unlike their ground based brethren.

How Boma, Cannocks and Drexl had made the trip is still subject to a fierce debate. Some say that an unnamed race had seeded both planets with them before humans arrived 20,000 years ago. Another that the first survey team had picked up pairs for study, and crashed on Onderon, freeing them there.

But the humans arrive in the only section of the continent that had been free of them originally. Otherwise they wouldn’t have survived. The first colonists took horrendous losses the first few years. Small brantarii can take something the size of a human child, the larger ones could take a full grown nerf. Boma will eat anything smaller than they were, as will Drexl, and cannock hunt in packs.

So they had built the first walled settlement where Iziz is today. That settlement, large enough for about four hundred is preserved near the center of the now 160,000 square kilometer city with it’s thirty meter walls. To those of you from most Rim world it’s huge. But it could be dropped into the average Coruscanti neighborhood and be lost. It is home to over a billion people now. The rest of the planet belongs to the animals and the Beast Riders.

We came in without all the problems the Republic ships had been having. After all, our transponder read as local.

“It is interesting.” Marai said from were she reclined. “The local news feed is, confused.”

“You’re telling me?” I asked her.

“It is the trend I am noticing. I have accessed the major media networks, and indexed their past recordings. The new is being systematically suppressed.” She scrolled down. “What is not being suppressed is heavily slanted against the Republic.”

“But why?” The girl asked.

“Someone wanted the people angry at the Republic. Maybe they want to secede.”

We came in over the ocean.

“There it is. Iziz.” They looked at the city as we approached. It was impressive. They’ve been shut down tight for the last four months or so. General Vaklu is ready to declare martial law any day now. Even without it, most of the city is banned to uitlanders.” I saw the blank look on the girl’s face. “The unclean ones from the stars. We’re allowed in the Star port, main market center, and the Western Square which is the only area open to the foreigners for recreation.”

“How do they feel about having Mandalorians here again?” The girl asked.

“Very few people know about it.” I admitted. “I made a secret agreement with the queen two years ago to use Dxun as a staging ground because it already has places for my people to live until we‘re ready to go home.”

“They enjoy it there?” The girl looked at me askance.

“It isn’t a matter of enjoyment. If the place where you live is dangerous, you learn to adapt or die. You build walls,” He waved at the wall as we passed over it. “Or you find a way to bend nature to your command, like the Beast Riders did for the last four and a half centuries. As much as Vaklu preaches about ‘racial purity‘, his family is more Beast Rider than city dweller.”

We settled in, and I shut down. “You do the talking. They still don’t like my people here.”

“What kind of ‘secret’ agreement?”

I considered. Then shrugged. “I promised not to invade, and if she needs help, she can call us in to fight for her gratis.” I looked at their wary eyes. “My word is my bond.” I popped the hatch seal. “But of course we can’t just stroll into the palace, kick up our feet and order tihaar. Secret means just that. I have an old friend that we can contact in the western square. A doctor of sorts.”

Iziz

Kavar

If she wasn’t half my age, I would have been attracted to Queen Talia. At least until she opened her mouth.

“Vaklu is saying the Republic freighter opened fire first? You have already shown me our own sensor records from our ships and ground stations!”

“I know that, Your Majesty. But Vaklu is screaming that you are covering it up, and his men have assured there are enough faked records for people to look at.”

“This is madness!”

“Unfortunately, the common man on the street in your city doesn’t want to hear the truth. The lie says what they believe.” I had to feel a bit sorry for her.

The Onderoni had been subjugated by the Mandalorians under Exar Kun, been occupied again after that war when the Mandalorian moved back in from Dxun until the battle. Then the fear the Revan and later Malak would do and end run and occupy them again. Her father had brought them into the Republic, and one of his own citizens had repaid him with a sniper’s bolt right about the time the Mandalorian wars ended.

Now her cousin General Vaklu had again taken up the flag of separatism. He’d hoped to be named regent, but her aunt Klassa had gotten that position. The girl had taken the throne officially just last year. He Aunt was still a full blooded beast Rider though. Talia could ride a Boma or Brantarii with the best of them, fought well with both sword and paired daggers. She was lithe and well formed and all of about eighteen years old. Muscles rippled when she walked, and even the long ceremonial robes she was required to wear could not disguise her feline grace. Her voice had the harsh sound of the nomads.

“The timing of this incident could not have been worse! A space battle over head, fourteen Republic Freighters damaged and three destroyed. Seventeen fighters lost. My supporters are being ridiculed!”

“According to com logs, all of the fighters belonged to Colonel Tobin’s Fighter Wing-”

That Schutta!”

I winced at the Twi-Leki curse. She swore like a Beast Rider too. If only more of them voted! “Strong words, Your Majesty. But there is no good time for news such as this. We must go ahead with the plan.”

“But won’t that bring even more dissidents to my Cousin’s cause?”

“For a time, yes. But we both know he is not the real threat. It is his supporters in the shadows that are the danger. We must find a way to drag them into the light. Only then can we strike.” I stopped, and she continued walking for a moment before she noticed. She turned to face me. “Your Majesty, when you prorogue you Parliament, They will be forced to come out of hiding. All of his supporters will have to openly ally with him, and the rot will be revealed.”

She sighed, and we walked on. “I fear it is already too late.”

“Where there is life, there is hope.” I said.

She chuckled. “Tell that to someone swallowed by an adult Boma.”

Handmaiden

The city was open, spacious, and well designed. But it was still oppressive. The Port Authority officer was almost glad to see us. The two or three hundred coking bays were almost completely empty.

“You haven’t been here in a while.” He said to Mandalore. “If it wasn’t for the little shuttles in the system, I might as well sit home and drink. Must be hard to shuttle people from place to place what with the blockade and the Republic gearing up for an attack.”

“The blockade I noticed.” Mandalore waved. “But i was just out there, and there isn’t any Republic fleet. Just a lot of angry merchantmen.”

“Didn’t you hear about the battle yesterday? A corvette using a faked transponder tried to land a spy team but the Iron Eagles caught them!” He was like an old gossip unwilling to let a good bit of news lie. “Then the two Republic merchant cruisers that had escorted the raider opened fire on them and they had to destroy them all.”

“And how do you know that?”

“The Data-Free network did an entire series on it just last night. General Vaklu spoke personally.” He sighed. “But it does make my job more boring. Military checkpoints, half the city closed off under local control the new Visa regulations-”

“Visa regulations?”

“Ah that’s right I almost forgot.” He handed each of us a data chip and a small transponder. “Hook that on your belt. The restrictions stop anyone from getting to the Space Port area without these papers and transponders. It’s just as bad throughout the city. Papers have to be shown to go from cantonment to cantonment. If you don’t have your papers, you can’t go anywhere.

But if you’re visiting it isn’t half as bad as those poor bastard in orbit. The regulations require full search and inventory of every Republic ship arriving. I’m not talking the easy ‘what have you got’ I normally do. I’m talking full scanning teams every crate opened and visually inspected, hull and compartments scanned for any hidden spaces. Not even the most daring smuggler would try to bring anything in. Captain-owners are looking at the profit margin and the Corporations have already stopped running to us.”

“How long has it been like this?” Marai asked.

“This bad? Just the last few weeks. But the original visa regulations are a year old and the first transport checkpoints were tightened four months ago. Bad days. Captain I’d suggest you sit back and find something more... interesting to keep you occupied for a while.” He leered at the two of us. but Marai was thoughtful and I had learned to ignore such comments. “Well, is there any thing else?”

“Yeah.“ Mandalore handed him the manifest. “You were supposed to ask ‘what have you got’. Manifest is there, the can is still sealed. It can go into the bonded warehouse. My spare can should be ready, just have them lock it on. All I need is your thumbprint.”

We got it, and walked out into the square. If anything it was worse there. We discovered there were also new restrictions on what could be shipped from place to place in the massive city. We passed a lifter full of frozen meat, the driver asleep behind the controls. From the line he was in, he might have been there for more than a Onderoni day.

The shuttle to the Merchant quarter had a queue as well. We had an hour wait, and Marai stopped, her head coming up. I sent out that newfound sense, trying to feel...

Animals, lots of them. Marai turned from the queue, and went through into the next area. Mandalore merely grunted, and waited patiently as we wandered off.

There were cannocks, Boma, Drexl, all in cages separated by their species, and a few young men moved among them, dressed in leather from nape to toe. They spoke softly to their charges, and as they did I felt them reaching out through the force to calm them. It was like yet unlike what I had seen Marai do on Dxun.

One of the men saw us, and I saw hope in his eyes. “Fair winds to you, off worlder. Is it too much to hope that you are from Telos?”

“I’m afraid not.” Marai answered.

His face fell. “Then the winds still taste of misfortune. We will have to wait.” While sad, there was resolve in his words. The Beast Riders were a pragmatic lot.

She stood, and I could see her counting. “Why do a hundred beasts sit here still?”

“The Ithorians have a ship in orbit even now.”

“Seven if you count the Telosians and the ones awaiting consignments.” One of the other men offered.

“Silence when elders speak.” The first man said, but it was a gentle admonition. “My younger brother speaks true. But they must wait through the endless unnecessary searches. It is not as if they have thousand of compartment, their bulk cargo ships after all. Yet the customs searches almost seem to concentrate on them above all.” He waved at the warehouse we were in. “It is as if the warehouse were empty, but they needs must rip out the Ferro Crete slab to check under it.” He sighed. “We have stopped taking the beasts, but that leaves our young with nothing to do in the hills but make trouble.”

“Why are they called beast riders?” I asked softly. He heard me, and looked at me.

“Come.” We walked through the warehouse to a field outside it. Brantarii paced there, tied with a single line to each massive neck. One of them saw me, and his wings spread to their full fifteen meter length.

“When the dark wizard Freedon Nadd ruled, we were banished to the wastes beyond, but my people were a hardy folk. We learned of where to hide and live away from the beasts. The mountains became our city. But some of us can reach the mind of the animals, and Goren the great was the first to discover the secret of the brantarii. If captured young, they can be raised as pets by those able to touch their minds. It is the most important step between being bound to the earth, or flying the skies as we do.” He reached up and that massive head, large enough to devour me whole dipped so he could stroke it.

“We thrived. Life was hard, and those of us that could fly did what we could for our land bound brothers. We learned that those of us that could touch a beast mind could guide the beast with our thoughts back to feed our people.

“Then half a century ago, Galia, princess of the Royal house and our greatest hero Oron Kira eloped. The queen was furious, and even called the Jedi against us. But Those who were sent saw the love the two had for each other, and stood against the Queen and her armies.

"They married, and even having her banished as well did not work. When Queen Amanoa died, her chosen successor was weak. Galia was begged to return, and she did. Their love united our people again. But it came with a terrible price. It has begun to unravel, and even our beasts can smell it in the air.”

“Your people changed to fit back into the city.” Marai said softly. He looked at her. “Your people were nomads, moving with the seasons along the great mountain chain. Living by what you could wrest from nature. Truth became the currency most dear, and suddenly you were thrown into a place where deceit was as common as truth before.”

“Aye, you see the pain of it. Some of ours have fallen to this bitter fruit of deception. They have left the mountains, foresworn the honor of our people. They have become little more than thugs. Queen Talia spent her young life with her aunt among us, and she loves our people, even as Vaklu who was willing to use us in his war against the Mandalorians does not. Honor is something worth more than coin to us, yet when we would not stand with him against our sovereign, he decided we were less than dust. They argue now in full council, and those that support him speak of the ‘creatures’ we are in comparison.” He was not angry, merely saddened.

There was a roar within, and we turned. Almost as if an order had been given, we followed the Beast Rider back into the warehouse.

People think animals weak or unbearably stupid. A farmer puts up a fence of mere wire strands to hold a herd of half ton Nerf because the beasts do not realize that even the weakest among them has the strength to push the barrier aside.

A half grown Boma barely a ton and a half in weight was thrashing about, and before the cage a young beast rider was standing, hands out, speaking. “Calm, my brother, be at peace...” The beast flailed, and his tail ripped through the heavy cage as if it were tissue paper. Like a child climbing from the womb, it began to wriggle out.

“We shall have to kill it!” Our guide shouted. The beast riders converged, drawing stun batons and shock sticks.

Marai stepped forward, shrugging off the man who grabbed her arm. She extended her hand. “Why are you so angry my pet?” She asked in a conversational tone. The beast turned to face her, then it staggered as it tried to charge. “No, I am unworthy of your attentions.” It struggled mentally, and I could touch the edges of what she was doing, like feeling with blind hands upon a wall looking for a door.

She came forward in a slow glide, hand out stretched, and the beast flinched back. But her hand came down on it’s head.

“You are hungry, but that is not the most important thing.” She whispered, her hand running across that huge blunt head. “You want darkness, the blessing of sleep.” She motioned to me.

“A cage, covered so it appears to be night.” I ordered. One of the men ran off, then came back motioning to me. As soon as I had checked, I came back. “It is ready, Marai.”

“Good. There is a cave so near. A cave that is dark and warm, where nothing can eat you.” She moved away and the Boma waddled after her. The cage was open, and she knelt, brushing her cheek on it’s head. “Sleep my love. Soon you will be in open fields able to run and hunt to your heart’s content.” It wuffled in confusion, then crawled into the cage, turning then dropping to rest like a giant cat. Marai closed the cage, and turned.

We were surrounded by a stunned crowd of Beast riders. The young man that had failed to calm it hung his head. “Not since my first young Drexl have I failed so completely.”

“Not so my young lad.” Marai came over. “You are tired, it has been a long day, and the beast felt your frustration. Do not let that frustration enter your thoughts and you will not fail again.”

“I will heed your words.”

“The beasts grow more agitated every day, as do we.” Their leader sighed. “It is like the old stories.”

“Stories?” Marai asked.

“It is said that when Freedon Nadd first came, he used the anger of the beasts as proof of the people’s unworthiness. It is said that there were weeks of our days where they would attack the walls, climbing over themselves to try to kill them. He devised a test that would find this evil, and every one who failed the test and their families were cast from the city to become the ancestors of the Beast Riders.

“Vaklu points to the old tales, to the disquiet among the beasts we bring. He claims that the old stories are right, and that it proves that we are the evil of this world, and driving us back beyond the walls will cleanse the city again.”

“And what does the Queen say?”

“It does not matter. He merely claims that she is the root of that evil, that she has been possessed by it, and only when she is gone will the city be pure again.”

The com link chimed, and Marai lifted it. “Yes?”

“We’re close enough along to catch the next shuttle if you move real quick.” Mandalore replied.

“On our way.” She bowed to the Beast Rider. “Truth is a heady wine, and I think it is time your planet drank deep, even if it drives them mad. Soon it will happen. All you need to do is wait a bit longer.”

“We are good at waiting.” The Beast rider replied. “Fair winds and open skies to you.”

“May your beast take you to paradise.” She replied.

Jae Onasi
08-20-2006, 06:28 PM
Nice fighting scenes, and the image of Davrel at the end of the chapter before this latest is an aspect of battle most will never see. Quieting the boma was cool, too.

I'm enjoying the political developments on Onderon and seeing how Vaklu's trying to manipulate things around Talia.

machievelli
08-20-2006, 07:15 PM
Then you'll love the next segment, Jae

Emperor Devon
08-20-2006, 07:25 PM
Another good chapter, machievelli. Interesting how you said Deralia had more predators than Dxun. Out of curiosity, why was that?

machievelli
08-20-2006, 07:31 PM
My version of Deralia in KOTOR 1. As far as I know, the planet isn't even listed except in the kotor games, so I played with it. Read the first chapter of my book for explanation.

Emperor Devon
08-20-2006, 07:56 PM
I just took a look at it. A very different way from how I pictured the planet, but an interesting one.

machievelli
08-21-2006, 02:04 AM
Thank you. My take on it, was that Danika Wordweaver, my version of Revan was an amalgam of Revan, and the memories of a soldier that died at the battle when she was captured. Her thoughts were impressed on Revan's damaged mind, which caused the force bond between Danika and Bastila. Later, I decided she was an Echani, and created the basis of the Echani society including life bonds, where the empathic race joins together. Not true telepathy, more telempathy. Instead of defeating Bastila in a fight, Revan bonds with her using the Echani rites. It ends with them the equivilant of significant others rather than lovers and mothers to Sasha Ot Sulem. If fact Sasha calls Danika 'One I wished was my mother' but calls Bastila 'the not nice (Or evil) one who is my stepmother.

Oddly enough you guys got to see it in it's entirety because when I went the Galactic Senate I discovered they had a rule called no slash. No situations where any form of non-procreative or same sex couples.

Emperor Devon
08-21-2006, 02:34 AM
Thank you. My take on it, was that Danika Wordweaver, {snip}

That's a change I hadn't considered, although it's contradicted by how Kreia says Revan was born beyond the Outer Rim.

Oddly enough you guys got to see it in it's entirety because when I went the Galactic Senate I discovered they had a rule called no slash. No situations where any form of non-procreative or same sex couples.

There is actually a rule against kissing scenes with same-sex couples here, although it's too harsh. Very descriptive scenes of that I don't think should be allowed, but just mentioning or mildly desribing it works out well. I thought it made Luxa seem less bland, although.

Speaking of Luxa, your chapter on her implied she was a lesbian. She's actually a bisexual, from what I've seen playing as male and female characters. She'll use just as many flirtatious lines on male players, but substitutes 'beautiful' with 'handsome'.

machievelli
08-21-2006, 10:22 AM
There is actually a rule against kissing scenes with same-sex couples here, although it's too harsh. Very descriptive scenes of that I don't think should be allowed, but just mentioning or mildly desribing it works out well. I thought it made Luxa seem less bland, although.

According to their rule, just two women (Or men) showing interest is gounds for snipping.


Speaking of Luxa, your chapter on her implied she was a lesbian. She's actually a bisexual, from what I've seen playing as male and female characters. She'll use just as many flirtatious lines on male players, but substitutes 'beautiful' with 'handsome'.

She's Zoren, and they are known for the pheromones. Flirting with that sensory overload would be automatic

Actually, the only thing that made you think that was Atton's comment, and I hate to tell you, a liberated woman (Who is not bisexual) has the same attitude. MY late sister's comment was that the problem with men was their batteries run down after an hour. I just made her the sterotypical mob boss expecting the person to 'be nice to them' when you owe them money.

machievelli
08-21-2006, 10:34 AM
That's a change I hadn't considered, although it's contradicted by how Kreia says Revan was born beyond the Outer Rim.


How so? An American born in Germany is still an american.

Jae Onasi
08-21-2006, 02:18 PM
This is from the Guide to User Made Stories (http://www.lucasforums.com/showthread.php?t=151033)

2. just remember to watch/edit the language and don't post anything sexual related beyond kissing. and to avoid conflicts, no homosexual-related stories at this time. if you think its a bit 'racey', then pm it to me and i'll help you go through it to make it not so racey.


Check with stingerhs if you have any questions. :)

Emperor D, there may be multiple reasons why a site chooses not to allow sexual themes of any kind, but the most common concern is legal, not a phobia. They may be concerned about legal action if a child accesses their site and sees/reads something inappropriate, and with the legal climate in the US, that's a very legitimate concern. Some people also believe that it's a very private activity and doesn't need to be broadcast all over the world. It's not like there's any lack of racy websites out there anyway. You can't swing a dead cat around the internet without hitting a porn site. Besides, it should be a good story, with or without 'whoopie'. ;)

@mach--so the Echani bond is sort of equivalent to a more platonic 'soul-mate' rather than 'love-mate'? For lack of a better explanation, I have a friend I consider a soul-mate--someone I can tell anything/ask anything, we understand each other in ways many can't. He's someone I love like my own family, but I don't have the same kind of love for him I have for my hubby, who is a life/lovemate.

And, I look forward to a nice intrigue-filled chapter. :D

machievelli
08-21-2006, 03:39 PM
I read Jae's comment above. Got it in one. My explanation was when you love somone so much that their well being is more important than anything else.

The entire 'sexual contact' between them was a deep soul searching hug when they bonded, some dreams where they sat cuddled in a hot tub, and Bastila casually putting her arm around her later.

Problem was, I had finished the next twenty five odd pages of my present opus magna (Over 400 pages) before I did. If we had a section for a slight R rating, I would have put it there. I have PMed Stingersh to get a call on it.

If he gives it the thumb down, I will rewrite it. However if you can prove your age, I'll save a copy of the original.

Emperor Devon
08-21-2006, 06:05 PM
How so? An American born in Germany is still an american.

The Echani are a much more unique and independant culture than many of the others in the others in the galaxy. To me, it doesn't seem like some of its citizens would settle on a far-off world, but to each their own. :)

If he gives it the thumb down, I will rewrite it. However if you can prove your age, I'll save a copy of the original.

All but impossible to do over the internet without revealing information I'm not comftorable with disclosing on a site anyone can view. But that's all moot, because I could just copy and paste what you wrote onto a word document right now.

but the most common concern is legal, not a phobia. They may be concerned about legal action if a child accesses their site and sees/reads something inappropriate, and with the legal climate in the US, that's a very legitimate concern

Many of the stories here would be a bad thing for small children to view, but that is true.

Char Ell
08-21-2006, 11:33 PM
I liked the manner in which you introduced lightsabers into the story by using some of Marai's fallen Jedi comrades. This will give even more significance to the lightsabers Marai and Brianna use.
Mach. The oldest of those that came with us. Always laughing, one of the best with a lightsaber I had ever seen.This wouldn't be like anybody we know, would it? ;)

I walked the field with Mandalore. The loses were heavy. Fifteen of the Mandalore, some of them no more than boys were dead. I found Davrel by the weapon he had manned, kneeling beside his own vomit, his eyes on the body beside him.

“Davrel.” He didn’t look up. I could hear a keening in his mind. His innocence had been blown to shards with the men he had killed in the minefield. I knelt, turning his head to he was staring in my eyes. “Davrel, it’s over. You did well.”

“I... I panicked. I saw Sulash laying there, dying. He was my friend! He was...”

“You saw that and you manned your gun. You killed three score of them out there by our count, and it was only after the battle was over that you fell apart.” I pulled him to me, and he cried. For his friend, for the dead he had caused, and for all he had lost in that first embrace with death.I grimaced when I read this section. Not at all how I would expect a Mandalorian to act. The vomit from a soldier uninitiated in combat I can accept. It's the whimpering part I don't see as realistic. I would have expected Davrel to make some pretense aboout his condition or say nothing at all though his eyes may have spoken his grief and shock at losing his friend. I guess I just expect a little more machismo from Mandalorian warriors.

In post #50 I thought you added some great detail to the established history of Onderon, detail like how the beast riders lived outside of the protection of the city walls, how they came to learn to control the beasts of their planet, perhaps a lesser form of beast control than the Jedi are able to employ.

machievelli
08-22-2006, 01:43 AM
I liked the manner in which you introduced lightsabers into the story by using some of Marai's fallen Jedi comrades. This will give even more significance to the lightsabers Marai and Brianna use.
This wouldn't be like anybody we know, would it? ;).

No, ya think?


I grimaced when I read this section. Not at all how I would expect a Mandalorian to act. The vomit from a soldier uninitiated in combat I can accept. It's the whimpering part I don't see as realistic. I would have expected Davrel to make some pretense aboout his condition or say nothing at all though his eyes may have spoken his grief and shock at losing his friend. I guess I just expect a little more machismo from Mandalorian warriors.

It wasn't the battle that caused that reaction. As much as people lean on Machismo, it is like the enemy always being brutes. Davrel had heard of war, dreamed of war, trained for war, but never knew war. That was part of the reason I had that right of first battle referred to by Marai's problem at Malachor. Send them to war when they are still children because afterward you say 'To be great among us, this is what you will do and be. Can you stand it?'

The point is that he didn't fall apart until afterward as Marai had said. Considering what I had him doing, that would have shattered their defenses.


In post #50 I thought you added some great detail to the established history of Onderon, detail like how the beast riders lived outside of the protection of the city walls, how they came to learn to control the beasts of their planet, perhaps a lesser form of beast control than the Jedi are able to employ.

Thank the people who have been writing books (Onderon is listed in the Encyclopedia) and all I did was name the devil dragons.

machievelli
08-22-2006, 01:53 AM
The Echani are a much more unique and independant culture than many of the others in the others in the galaxy. To me, it doesn't seem like some of its citizens would settle on a far-off world, but to each their own. :)

No I was saying her family could have been on business when she was born, so being 'born in the Outer Rim' does not preclude living on Echana.

Oh, BTW, since Echana was never even mentioned when I wrote my KOTOR Novel (Which I am still trying to sell) I decided to make her echani and filled in some of their society.

In KOTOR there is only a reference to their armor and weapons.

The novels The Beginning and Republic Dawn posted here, were written before I got a copy of TSL. It is mere synchronicity that my vision of the people and the world matched the small part I have seen so far of the Obsidian work.

Emperor Devon
08-22-2006, 02:02 AM
No I was saying her family could have been on business when she was born, so being 'born in the Outer Rim' does not preclude living on Echana.

That is a point.

Oh, BTW, since Echana was never even mentioned when I wrote my KOTOR Novel (Which I am still trying to sell)

You're trying to sell it? KotOR is copyrighted material. If LA finds out about this, they would have definite grounds for filing a lawsuit against you. Unless you've gotten their permission, it be would be very unwise to try to sell copies.

Jae Onasi
08-22-2006, 02:35 AM
I think he's mentioned in another thread going through an agent to sell it through legal channels appropriately so I thought I'd pass that on in this thread.

Emperor Devon
08-22-2006, 02:39 AM
I think he's mentioned in another thread going through an agent to sell it through legal channels appropriately so I thought I'd pass that on in this thread.

That's a relief! It might've even resulted in action against LF.

I wish you the best of luck selling your book, machievelli. :)

machievelli
08-22-2006, 04:37 AM
My biggest problem with selling it is finding an agent. You have a catch 22 when dealing with agents, and I postulated you have two levels of catch 22 with them.

First level, most agents only want to handle moneymakers. So if you haven't sold, then obviously you can't make them money. But a lot a markets have gone to agent submission which means you can't sell in a lot of them without an agent. The Star Wars series books by Del Rey are one of these. As for permissions I spoke with the woman in charge at Lucasarts, and got one one answer, that they were interested in seeing it, but another from a man I took to be his assistant, that the franchise doesn't care about anything outside of the exact historical era (From right before Anakin's Birth to the New Republic) but will sue if I use 'jedi' or other copywrited words in anything.

The second tier of catch 22 is that you have to convince an agent to read your work, and until you do, he won't represent you. He expects you to write a letter (90% want hard copy not e-mail) but you have to do an antire dog and pony show in less than one page without coming across as either pathetic or pushy.

If someone could create such a letter, I would be very happy.

Emperor Devon
08-22-2006, 04:59 PM
First level, most agents only want to handle moneymakers. So if you haven't sold, then obviously you can't make them money.

Aren't you a writer? I imagine you've sold books, published articles, etc. or you wouldn't be able to make that your career for very long. That would be something to bring up with them.

but another from a man I took to be his assistant, that the franchise doesn't care about anything outside of the exact historical era (From right before Anakin's Birth to the New Republic) but will sue if I use 'jedi' or other copywrited words in anything.

That definitely puts a damper on things. It sounds very difficult to write a Star Wars book without being allowed to use any Star Wars terms.

The second tier of catch 22 is that you have to convince an agent to read your work, and until you do, he won't represent you. He expects you to write a letter (90% want hard copy not e-mail) but you have to do an antire dog and pony show in less than one page without coming across as either pathetic or pushy.

Sounds difficult. It could help if you gathered evidence that people were interested in a KotOR novelization.

If someone could create such a letter, I would be very happy.

You mentioned that he expects you to write the letter. I don't think it would impress him if it was written entirely by someone else.

machievelli
08-22-2006, 06:27 PM
Muphy's law concerning writers:

Whatever your best at is either sequestered (Meaning they won't speak to you,) or not what the 'public' (Meaning the editor) wants.

No, I have yet to sell a major work even with 4 star wars, three star trek, one muder mystery/aventure, and three of fantasy works in my own universe.

Emperor Devon
08-22-2006, 06:51 PM
No, I have yet to sell a major work even with 4 star wars, three star trek, one muder mystery/aventure, and three of fantasy works in my own universe.

A muder mystery? What on earth could that be? :p

Looking at things from the editor's perspective, I'd want someone to write a novelization of KotOR if they had already writen some successful works, or had published several Star Wars ones that were at least mildly successful.

This is a bit off-topic, (well, actually this whole conversation is) but what were the Star Wars books you wrote? I might have read them.

machievelli
08-22-2006, 10:38 PM
A muder mystery? What on earth could that be? :p


Picture this: A Homicide detective in a Texas city has a past best left buried. Before Sarah Doyle came to the United States, she was one of the most feared assassins the Mujahadeen ever fielded. Burned out at the age of 16, she was rescued by the CIA and the Iraelis. Given a new identity, she has made it to the top of her new profession.

Now bodies are turning up in American cities, and all have one thing in common, they are people she would have killed without compunction back home.

Her past revealed, pursued by Homeland Security, she has to face the real killer in a hunt harkening back to her past, and only her own skills will keep her alive.


Looking at things from the editor's perspective, I'd want someone to write a novelization of KotOR if they had already writen some successful works, or had published several Star Wars ones that were at least mildly successful.

By that definition, we would never have a new writer unless the others are safely dead.


This is a bit off-topic, (well, actually this whole conversation is) but what were the Star Wars books you wrote? I might have read them.

If you have looked at this forum, you will see two book. Star Wars The Beginning, and Star Wars Republic Dawn.

I said I wrote them, not that they had been published

Emperor Devon
08-22-2006, 10:45 PM
Picture this: {snip}

I was just poking a little fun at your typo. :)

By that definition, we would never have a new writer unless the others are safely dead.

Not neccessarily. All writers work up from something. I imagine the author of the Thrawn Trilogy didn't just go into that as his first novelization. He had to have published smaller works earlier.

If you have looked at this forum, you will see two book. Star Wars The Beginning, and Star Wars Republic Dawn.

I have not looked at this forum very thoroughly yet. I'll be sure to check them out sometime. :)

machievelli
08-23-2006, 10:31 AM
let me think;

no

machievelli
08-24-2006, 01:58 AM
Communication.

There was a checkpoint at the shuttle, and they were searching for weapons. If you had a star port visa, they left you alone, but the average citizen wasn’t allowed anything more dangerous than an eating knife. I watched this, and my disquiet grew.

“What is the matter?” The Handmaiden asked me as the shuttle shot down the track toward the Merchant‘s quarter.

“What Vaklu is doing.” I said. “A government can be the greatest strength of a people, but it can be their worst enemy as well. You have to give up so much of your freedom when you accept your leaders, and they can take more if you are not careful.”

“The definition of reasonable anarchy, is that I can swing my fist as much as I like as long as I don’t hit you with it.” Mandalore said. Marai chuckled. After a moment, I understood it, and joined her.

“Yes, but most people are not reasonable. A criminal in a just society is someone who feels his right to do what he wishes is more important than what others feel. But in a just society, everything must flow smoothly, or there is more disquiet than normal.”

“More?”

“All right my sister. Beginning Government from the Jedi point of view. Every society, no matter how peaceful or benign it is has it’s rogues. Laws are supposed to be the expressed will of the people or at least the majority of them, but when you go from true democracy, every person having the right to vote to a representative form, you immediately start to have problems. A man can represent a group, say a few score, but what happens when you try to represent several thousand? Suddenly you are no longer speaking for all of them, you are merely speaking for the ones that shout the loudest, or are willing to give you gifts. Maybe less than a hundredth of the people you claim to speak for.

“Then you take a few dozen or few hundred of these, and they work together, creating factions and parties. They now create agendas to attract the voters, to bend the society not to the will of the people, but to the will of whatever their party wishes. But those agendas are not clear cut, because you have too many you are trying to attract. There are basic things you will all agree with, but to drive the party along, you have to accept those you would not wish to be there, and they will espouse the party line even if they lie to do so.”

“So now you have thousands that speak as their faction wants them to, but believes something else entirely.” I said.

“Exactly. When it comes to the higher offices, your faction chooses people to represent them, and those people are again compromises. Not the best man, but the most acceptable. By the time you get to the upper level, ministers, Parliamentary seats, you have made so many compromises that you don’t really know where the man stands. He is just the one that is the most homogenous to the onlooker. It is like trying to run a government by making it a beauty contest.”

“But the best-”

“The best usually don’t reach that point.” Mandalore said. He looked at the Handmaiden. “Would you decide that every left handed man with red hair, without freckles, between a meter four and a meter six must automatically be evil because it will gain you acceptance?”

“Of course not!” The Handmaiden answered, shocked.

“Yet on a fundamental level that is what you must do to even reach the upper echelons of a party, and it is them, not the voter, who chooses which of them is put forward for those seats. It is as if you have only the flavors of ice cream someone else has chosen, and they dun it into you from the start that to stand away from the party will give the other side the victory, and everyone knows how evil they are!”

“Are they evil?”

“Unless your definition means they must agree with you on everything no matter how stupid, then of course not.”

“Even putting tight controls or no control helps in the end.” I told her. “Coriandis created a series of tests that you must take to show your knowledge of the subject when applying for government office from the lowest waste disposal foreman to the president. Every election is more competitive examinations. Yet they are a mess because the tests have changed only incrementally in four millennia. “

“They are taking tests four thousand years old? Who is supposed to be creating these tests?”

“Professors. But most professors of social sciences get to their positions in universities by espousing whatever their teacher taught them, no matter how bizarre or stupid it might be. When they wish to change a test, you have representatives meet-”

“Ah, I see.” She said. “So that factor of speaking for the loud or the generous steps in again.”

“Exactly.” I nodded. “Mriabelo is worse.”

Mandalore laughed. “Yeah. Election by lottery. Every citizen above the age of consent pays into a fund, and buys a chance. Once every three years they have a lottery, and the winners become the president and cabinet, then they have another for junior ministers and House seats, then another on and on until all seats are filled. The fund is used to pay for the government.”

“That sounds bizarre. How does anyone get anything done?”

“Who says they do?” Marai asked. “Less government, not more is a national motto. But there is no rule that you can have only one chance at it. The rich can buy thousands of chances, and Corporations will buy more to give to those they deem worthy. Worse yet, the lotteries are done by computer and any computer can be sliced.”

Mandalore laughed. We looked at him until the laughter died down. “Remember the election fifteen years ago, right before the War officially began?”

I nodded smiling. “A man who detested the way elections were held inserted names of children, some of them as young as seven. Then he weighted the chances so that those children held a few thousand markers each. The lottery came up, and the cabinet had two adults in the lower seats, and the president was an eleven year old boy.”

She shook her head. “That must have changed the system.”

“No. They just brought in programmers, and closed the system so it couldn’t be sliced from the outside. The fact that the man that had done it originally had been head programmer was conveniently ignored.”

The Handmaiden looked at me as if she expected I was teasing her. “What happened with the children. Surely the older people-“ I laughed.

“Picture someone with the mind of a child who knows that his word is law. No one is worse when it comes to making decisions because they can do everything they want.“

“So what of what is happening here and now?”

“As I said, a government can be the greatest strength or your mortal enemy. I am sure that if I looked back to before the Queen ascended the throne, a lot of the restrictions we see now were already there, but weren’t enforced. All they needed to do was enforce them to the letter. They searched the common people for weapons, but those of us from other worlds were left alone. That suggests a comprehensive control of weapons. But does a criminal turn in his weapons when the law he despises demands it? Of course not. The honest people do, but when they find they are now defenseless, some of them decide that they have the right to defend themselves, and so are labeled as criminal.

“Rising crimes means the people cry out for more police, more laws, stricter laws. So the government gives them that. The people of that cantonment over there are all bad people, you know it because you have been taught that, so they pass laws that stop those people from coming to your neighborhoods, and that slows commerce, because not everyone there is truly evil. Some of the things you need desperately might be made or grown there or might have to pass through there so you have a lack or serious slow down of necessary services.

“Then there is the news. When the press is completely free, you have pictures of dead bodies in all their bloody glory shoved into your faces, so you already have restrictions on them so a press that is honest and not too flamboyant is what you settle for. But if you tweak it even more, you have the government deciding what they can tell you, and eventually telling them what to say. People always say, ’I wish people would not do this’ and when they are heard you get censorship but none of these people ever say ‘I hate when I do this, and i wish they‘d stop me. It is always something another person does.

“But everyone has such things they do not like and when enough are heard, it is easier to deny than allow. So the news becomes pabulum fit for a child.

“This is about as bad is it can get without actually trying to make it worse. But then you see that you can make it worse. You create more restrictions on movement, you make it difficult if not impossible for them to go from place to place, so if you cannot find work, you are unable to even move to where it is. And if moving off planet is your answer, they restrict it too. Make the checkpoints that were supposed to merely block people harsher. Now they search of things that the government does not want you to have regardless of laws. Oh I am sure a lot of drugs and contraband are stopped, but what about ammunition for a weapon you were allowed to have? What about alcohol if you do not drink? Or medicines that could be used as illegal drugs, but are vital to people’s lives? You now have to find a way to slip it in, or take what you need, making crime even worse”

I looked at her, and could see that she was envisioning what I had described. “So Vaklu is doing this?”

“Not only Vaklu, though he might be the force behind it. There are enough good men in the government that might feel that some restrictions were necessary, and they helped him get what he wanted.

“Then, just as the people would throw you off, you give them a reason for all of this. It isn’t you government doing this. It is those brave men of your government who are trying to stop the evil ones from doing what they would wish in violation of the law.

“The member planets of the Republic become the enemy. Fully a third of Iziz’s goods come from off planet, but those evil monsters out there charge more than they deserve. You are not stopping you people from having it, the rapacious monsters out there are the cause for that. If only they would deal honestly, there would not be a problem

“The Beast Riders are animals, they are filth, they are the kind of people that no self respecting family would allow into their families, and the fact that the Queen dares to stand by them shows how low the family has sunk. She was seduced by their ways, and if she had her way she would raze the walls and the city, and force everyone to travel with the seasons.

“If the Jedi were still common, they would be using us as another evil pawn. We would be the ones coming in to force order. Not the order of Onderon, but the order of the Republic. Evil agents of those distant oppressors.

“The people look for a hero now. They see it is General Vaklu. A man that fought the Mandalorians to a standstill, that is of pure blood, that cries for the people to return to the values of the last century, and cast aside the Republic.

“A shining hero can do what a common man cannot. He can rip out half a century of history and return it to what it was.”

The Situation worsens...

Marai

The idea of a checkpoint is simple. You place it, and everyone coming through it was searched. But to have one to get on a tram that starts at one place, and require someone to pass through another is not only the high point of redundancy, but absurd. A person complain, and the brusque guard merely pointed to a man to the side. “Take it up with Captain Gelesi. Me, I just follow orders.”

“But why must I go through this again?” A citizen wailed. “I was just here an hour ago! I went to see my sister off planet!”

The Captain walked over. “Calm down citizen. There are intelligence reports that Republic agents have been slipping weapons in to dissidents, and we have had to tighten security. But it is for your benefit.” He smiled, nodded politely, and went back to his post.

“That poor man.” A woman ahead of us said.

“Whatever do you mean?” I asked with a wide eyed expression.

“Do you know how hard it is to follow unpopular orders?”

“I think so.” That innocent doe eyed expression had been a good friend back when I was a security officer. No one thinks you have a brain in your head when he sees it.

“Military police captured a Rodian with equipment to falsify Star port visas, so they stopped issuing them except to travelers coming in as you are. If it is stolen or lost, you cannot leave the city center. Then there was that horrible unprovoked attack on our fleet earlier in the week. Intelligence reported that armed dissidents were preparing to strike at the palace and murder the queen.”

“That’s horrible!”

“Yes it is. General Vaklu has vowed to keep us safe, so this is just another problem that will go away when the Republic decides to leave us alone.”

“But why did you feel pity for the Captain?”

“He is loyal to the royal house, and to the Queen. There are rumors that men within our very army are part of the dissidents!” She looked horrified the way someone is by an animal in a cage. “Would you want to be on a lonely checkpoint when one of your own men might slit your throat in the name of Republic solidarity?”

“But the Republic doesn’t do such things.” I had noticed Gelesi coming back, and I pitched my voice so he would hear me.

“There are times when I think General Vaklu is right.” He said. “You are?”

“Marai.” I giggled. Mandalore looked at me askance, the Handmaiden merely rolled her eyes. “But why do you say that?”

“Because being part of the Republic means we end up fighting in their wars. They brought war to the system when the took Dxun from the Mandalorians, and the Jedi were there to interfere with our society even before that. Then the Jedi were the enemy in the last war, and a lot of our men died fighting them. Even with the Mandalorians on Dxun it was simpler and far safer.

“The General keeps pressure on the Queen to resign, or at least secede from the Republic. It has caused a breech in the army itself, because there are those that feel he is not only right, but that she should resign and let Vaklu lead.” He sighed. “But her father signed that treaty, and she feels we will get more than bloodshed from the Republic if we only give it time.”

He looked at the men who were busily processing the travelers. “I trust every man here, and none of them would help an off world concern if it hurt our people. But having them split between our own queen and our commanding general, that is a nightmare. If I gave an order and it was the queen’s will and not the general’s what would happen?” He mused.

He turned back to me. “Well since I am standing here, let me do some of the actual work.” He took a scanner, and read it. “All right, three legitimate transponders.” He waved. You can go, welcome to Iziz.”

We stepped through. There was a small clothing store near the entrance, more of a costume shop and I motioned Mandalore to stay outside. Something had caught my eye, and I was happy to find it.

A moment later, I stepped back. “What do you think?”

“I think it smacks of subterfuge.” The Handmaiden replied.

I sighed. “What do you know of the Zeison Sha of Yanibar?”

“They are a sect of a religion that teaches that anyone can find the Force within them if only they look. Separated from the Jedi 23,000 years ago because they also preach that those who use the force should not meddle in any way in the affairs of others. They advocate nonviolence and giving aid to the needy if at all possible. Yet they are trained in a variation of the Echani martial arts because while they are nonviolent, they are not stupid.” She repeated.

“That last sounds exactly like Atris.” I said.

“It is.”

“The cut isn’t exact for either sect. Neither is the cloth. But they are close enough that we can give a false impression.“ I motioned to the racks.
“It is either that or a Jal Shay.”

“Those pacifists? If we struck anyone they would know immediately what that we were in disguise.”

“The captain told us that General Vaklu has already linked Jedi to the Republic as part of the evils of it. While we bear lightsabers, we must avoid using them if at all possible. But if we defeat an enemy using our own skills with our hands, no one would be a bit surprised dressed this way.”

She looked at the mirror again. We were in Zeison Sha dress. The top of it was a formfitting body suit in purple and silver, with armor plating attached across the chest. After all, as Atris had said, they were not stupid. However They did believe in giving an opponent a chance to hurt them. From just below her breasts a sharp triangle uncovered her abdomen to the waist, with a corresponding one on the back. There were unarmored, and covered with a black mesh that concealed, but would not stop anyone from hitting or shooting her. Below our legs were slid into skin tight hose that also would not stop any attack. A half skirt covered us attached at the points where the triangles met. I was dressed as an Acolyte, her as an Initiate, the only difference being a sash I wore about my waist.

Our lightsabers hung from our belts, but the Zeison Sha used an extending battle staff when they had to fight, and our sabers would be considered as such until we touched the activation studs.

“If you say so.” She sighed.

“What’s the problem? You look scrumptious!” The triangle were skin tight, and by merely painting it mentally flesh colored, you could see our lower backs and stomachs.

She looked at me askance. “You are not helping.”

We stepped out, and Mandalore looked at us with a grin. “Mandalore’s fifth rule, always allow an enemy to make the wrong assumption.”

“That is in the book of Echana, The words on battle, book seventeen, verse 11.”

“Great minds think alike. But what is the rest of the book about?”

“How to live without violence, but dealing it to all that bother you.” She replied.

“Boring.”

We walked on. A man had been crowded into an alcove by half a dozen soldiers with the Iron Brigade’s symbol. “You can’t do this!”

“Silence, scum.” The subaltern smiled. “You can come quietly or we can beat you to a pulp right here, and no one will say a word.”

“I am not a spy! I am a journalist for Iziz Comm!”

“You are a spy for the Republic and your propaganda will be silenced! You will walk back to the barracks with us, or you will be dragged. Take your choice.”

“Propaganda! I have proof that General Vaklu ordered his men to attack a ship that didn’t even fire back!”

The subaltern swung, his fist hitting the man in the stomach. He fell gasping.

“When you are in the barracks you can speak to your heart’s content. Until then I suggest you be quiet.” He looked up, and saw me looking at him. “What do you think you are looking at?” He snarled.

I put my hands together, pointed forward and down palm to palm. “It is good to see the military helping the police in their investigations. But part of my soul has to ask...Do you have a warrant for this man’s arrest?”

He looked at me as if I had grown another head. “A warrant? I am under orders to carry out edict 17 of the Emergency Council. The military has been given broad authority to detain any citizen thought to be guilty of treasonous activities.”

“Ah.” I put a lot of meaning into that sound. “Thought to be... So you have proof of this claim?”

“That is classified military information.”

“But does not your own law say that no man shall be taken into custody without such proof? Not just supposition, but proof worthy of the light of day? And when questioned by any who see your acts, does not the law also say that such proof must be provided? Not passed aside as a secret, for secrets cannot stand the light of day?”

The men with him were grumbling. I wasn’t speaking my own mind. As if it were open in front of me, I was quoting the basic tenets of their trial law. A man may be asked to come, but unless he is considered already guilty, he is allowed to refuse. If he is thought guilty, the same rule applied, but they could take him by force if necessary, but if questioned, they had to give evidence that would stand up in court. I blessed my late master for his exhaustive reiterations of everything while we traveled.

I looked at his face, and suddenly I understood. “And how many other ‘journalists’ are even now languishing in detention, or being interrogated as we speak?” He would have lost at Pazaak with that face.

“I do not have to put up with these innuendos from you, uitlander!”

“Ah.” Again a lot said. “Yet even I who know little of the trade know that only a foolish spy would cloak himself as a journalist. If people know you are seeking answers, they will try to conceal them, will they not? But now it seems that those who speak with a voice your General does not approve has become enemy. The Galaxy would know this, I think.”

He had tried to call, but I had just gone all in. Unless he wanted to try to arrest us, he would have to fold. I may hate Pazaak and hate any form of gambling, but the metaphors are so excellent.

He knew he had lost, but he still had to bluster. “Let him go, men. You. citizen, will go home. I shall be back to bring you in. With a Warrant.” He stepped closer to me, trying to impress me with his height. But most men were taller than me, and that did no good. “And as for you, a word to the wise. If things change as I believe they will, the animosity of the Military is not what any visitor to our soil would desire. If you are known to harbor our enemies in thought word or deed, there will come a time of reckoning. Count on it.”

I watched him go. The Journalist flashed his star port visa, winked, and was gone.

The further we walked into the market, the worse it got. The people were as divided as their leaders, and even those of us that did not call the planet home were being caught up in it.

“Do not use Dxun as an excuse, my friend.” A Twi-lek was saying to a Devaronian as they walked ahead of us. “The Jedi have always been the seed of this problem If it were not for Exar Kun, a fallen Jedi himself, Dxun would never have been ceded to the Mandalorians.”

“But there are good and evil in all groups.” A surprisingly calm answer for the Devaronian race. “It is just that an Evil Jedi spreads a larger shadow than a merely evil man without his gifts. It is the principles of this that are at question here. The Queen and her General. Talia works within the Republic framework very well. She rules with a light hand, and her people love her.”

“True. I will concede that her intentions are good. But those closer to the throne see mistakes the common people do not. That is why so many of her own cabinet support Vaklu. She is too young to have the experience needed to bring her world from these troubled times.”

“But she is honest! Vaklu tries with his words to twist her people from her people. He is Schutta.”

“Schutta?” The handmaiden whispered.

“A Twi-lek swear word. It means someone that plays with their own Lekku and will not let others touch them.” She looked confused, then I made a motion as if brushing my hair then nodded toward the Twi-lek before us. She considered, then her eyes widened as she blushed.

“What ever else you might say, General Vaklu is a hero of the Mandalorian wars. A man with vision and experience in trying times.” The Twi-lek went on. “He may... use words to conceal what he believes, but he has the best interest of his people at heart.”

“So to help his people he murders his own kin? It is strange that the day the Queen’s father died Vaklu was in charge of his security detachment personally. When the assassin killed him there was only their word as to what occurred. The assassin was dead, and nothing linked him to any organization that had spoken out during the treaty process. There are those that remember that he is the heir if Talia dies without issue. Will he be willing to kill again, or go to war to take that crown?”

“Yet she weakens her own position with her support of the Republic.” The Twi-lek pressed. “The Republic was sick after the war of Exar Kun, it was wounded by the Mandalorian wars, and the Jedi Civil War has weakened it even further. Most of the planets of the Rim are still healthy, yet they are tired like children to a dying other’s womb. Any good doctor would separate them so they might live when the mother dies.”

“But the strength of the Republic is such that this will pass given time.” The Devaronian replied placidly. “If those with extra would only help those like Telos where it is needed, we all grow strong again. The Republic bore the greatest share of the burden during the war, and they will again time without number if we always help each other. Besides.” He looked at his companion with a speculative air. “If it were your leaders we discuss, whom would you trust more in this situation?”

“The question is not fair. Our leaders always see the entire tapestry, not the little parts the common man works upon. we must trust them to decide what is best for us.”

“Yet you stand beside someone that would usurp the throne to control it. How is that in the public good?”

“I may not trust every word he speaks, or that his advisors speak for that matter.” The Twi-lek admitted. “Yet he is a man of bravery and honor and never has he broken a promise.”

“But has he even made a promise? How can you trust anyone that spends so much time avoiding giving his word when his own people ask it of him? have heard him speak of the forgotten glory of his people, and the purity of his species that he seems to think so important. Yet not once has he said ‘I will fix this, I swear. Instead he says, ‘If only I were in charge, this could be done’.“ He turned and gave me that fanged grin of his people.

“Weighty things we speak of, human sentient. Upon what side do you come down upon?”

“I must confess that anyone who can politely explain what Schutta means would have a brain in her head. Tell us.”

I stopped. “A good leader can be many things, but unwilling to face the issue is not one of them. If his own people have asked for his word and the General refuses to give it, what manner of leader will he be? I have heard too many promises from politicians which they later fail to achieve through inaction, but I have never heard of an Onderoni that went back upon their word spoken publicly. To stand silent begs the question. Is it that he will not give his word, or cannot? To say he will not implies he does not wish to be bound by his oath of honor, so what he does is a lie. To say he cannot implies that he knows that he would be foresworn, and none can hold him to a word he has not given.

“Yet every word I have heard of the Queen says that she will not give her word unless she can encompass it, and she has said many times that upon her word of honor Onderon will leave the Republic over her dead body, whether she is queen or not. So that leaves Vaklu only one way to win, and that is if she dies.”

“There is that. She would die rather than let her people be dragged into something that she feels may be of a danger to them” The Twi-lek admitted. He looked at the people around us.”

“Now if only their people would realize it.”

We were deep in the foreign quarter when a Rodian stepped out in front of us. I could see movement. Maybe eight ten others. They were placed to surround and contain us.

“You really should think to get some false ID.” The Rodian said. “A friend at the Star Port noticed a shuttle. Very strange a shuttle from Dxun, where your ship crashed. With a woman I have sought for so long.”

“Do I know you kind sir?”

He chuckled. “Marai Devos, the surviving rider of someone else’s doom. You have led every bounty hunter in every system on a wild fowl chase until now.”

“Sir, you mistake me for someone else.”

“No mistake, General.” He hissed. “I was in the crowd before Malachor. The crowd was dead in an instant thanks to you! Now only I survive. I know everyone considers a Jedi too dangerous to face alone.” He motioned. “As you can see, I am not.”

“The path of peace has many that will ensnare you.” They were too well hidden for me to see them all. Perhaps Mandalore had a better view. I knelt, hands before me in prayer. After a moment, The Handmaiden joined me.

“What are you doing?” She hissed.

“We are unarmed.”

“No we’re-” She suddenly smiled. “Always allow an enemy to make the wrong assumption.”

The tableau was frozen. We had protested mildly, what you would expect from Zeison Sha. Now we were obviously trying to prove our non-belligerence. The men in hiding began to come out. There were nine of them. Most armed with stunners. Mandalore looked around. “Unless they have a sniper that can shoot through wall, that is all of them.” He said. ”Got a plan?”

“Me on one side, her on the other, and you cleaning up the stragglers”

He smiled. “I like your style. Give the word.”

I stood again, and the Handmaiden and I faced the ones around us. The only one that didn’t have a stunner was the Rodian.

Then we moved. I felt but did not see the Handmaiden leap, crossing the five meters between her and the man on the far right of the line on her side. I had done the same but was on the far left. Four men on my side, five on hers.

I caught the man’s wrist, using a nerve hold that brought a scream to his lips as I spun him between me and his fellows. I picked him up using the force, and threw him in a flat arch toward the others as I dropped to one knee, other leg extended to the side. Mandalore’s weapon roared.

My missile hit the first, and had bowled into the third as I leaped again past the tangle of bodies. I snatched the stunner from the last man’s hands, slapped him into a wall, and turned it on the pile, then him.

I spun, but it was already over. The Rodian had been blown back and into a wall, feet hanging 30 centimeters from the ground. I walked over to the other side, looking.

“You killed one.” I told her.

“He hurried me.” She replied. I knelt, going through the man’s pockets. “What are you doing?”

I held up his Star Port visa and his wallet. “When they wake up, I think they need to reconsider what they do for a living. Having to beg or buy another visa will ram the lesson home added to the pain.”

“Why won’t they just steal-” Her eyes widened. I was stripping the man very efficiently. “What-”

“A man does not come across as very big or bad when he has to cover his groin.”

She chuckled, then helped me. We had them laid out neatly in their separate lines as if they were the dead from a battle before we were done. Mandalore piled all of the clothing in a lump, and fired it with a plasma grenade. We put the visas and any spare cash the bounty hunters had graced us with in our pouches.

“Are you through having fun?” Mandalore asked grinning.

“I don’t know.” I looked at him speculatively. “Wouldn’t it look more even with ten instead of nine?”

“You wouldn’t.”

I plucked at his sleeve and he backed off. “Now wait-” The Handmaiden snatched at the other.

Suddenly he realized that we were joking, and exactly how ridiculous he looked. We laughed together. It was comradeship, knowing that we would depend on each other in a battle.

There was a thump of boots, and a small group of policemen came around the corner. At there lead was a small man with a commanding presence. He took in the scene, then sauntered over. “My oh my, what do I have here?” He asked.

“A slight... disagreement with some men, sir.” I replied.

He looked at the nude bodies, then at the Rodian imbedded in the wall. “I can see that much. Why are they... undressed?” He had a face worthy of Pazaak.

“I felt it would be a salutary lesson in the evils of preying on the weak.”

“Or the strong when they are in a puckish mood.” He agreed. “Did you know there were laws against public nudity outside of the home or cantina?”

“There are?” I gave him that blank Bambi stare.

“Did you bother to remove their visas from the clothes before the bonfire?”

I stood silent. He sighed. “Men, arrest the men for assault and public nudity. Maybe a couple of days in the cells will teach them better manners.” He looked at me, then his eye dropped in a slow wink. “Stay out of trouble. If I hear of any other nude parties, I will know who to find.”

we continued on.

machievelli
08-24-2006, 02:00 AM
For all who waited with bated breath on the turgid romance that I had worried about revealing, forget it. First, I rewrote it, so there.

Second when I tried to post it, I had exactly 430 charcters too many. For those interested, that is two paragraphs average.

Go figure

Jae Onasi
08-24-2006, 01:39 PM
Oh, no--430 characters? Ugh.
Your break-off point worked perfectly, however. I love the cop's dialog at the end. :D

machievelli
08-24-2006, 01:42 PM
Quick question: What species is the holo of Goto? The only time i ever saw it before was in the ancient comic book serial based on the original episode.

machievelli
08-24-2006, 02:05 PM
Of Bonding

Handmaiden

I suddenly realized that it was about Marai that had called to me. I was one of five sisters, but I had never been sister to them. Sister of flesh they always called me, yet to the Echani, a true sister is sister of flesh and blood. They had never been mean to me, or at least not since we had grown to womanhood. When they had played, they always chosen games that needed pairs, so they could readily deny me if I wished to join it.

At the Telos Academy, they had trained with me, because it would have bee their shame if I fell in battle because of their refusal. But still we were not true sisters.

Sister of flesh. It has a meaning among our people that is dark and denies you company.

Yet Marai had accepted me from the start. She had spoke to me with a kindness none had shown to me since my father had died. Her impulse to strip the men had spoke of something else. The willingness to have fun with another. She had reached back through time, found that sad little girl I had been, and asked me to play. Joking with Mandalore had been even more fun. The Mandalorians have no body modesty taboos beyond social ones. It is impolite to expose yourself unless the other person would appreciate it, (Knowing them, not a mere assumption) or in a setting where it might make others comfortable, such as at a dinner, or visiting.

To the Echani, to disrobe is to speak with your entire voice. The difference between a whisper and a shout. To us you can tell more about what a person believes or thinks by watching them move stand and fight than you ever can from mere words. You get the inner person little revealed by most people after reaching adulthood.

The Heart of battle we call it, where a person is stripped of all their lies, and revealed.

“A centi-cred for your thoughts.” Marai asked softly.

“I was thinking that with five sisters, I have never felt so accepted as I do with you.”

“I grow on you. Sort of like a fungus.” She said blandly. I chuckled.

“Do you know that I have never had my sisters joke with me since we were children?”

“That is sad.”

“I had hoped that showing my heart in battle when we grew older, but they did not want to believe my open heart.”

“There are other ways to communicate. Talking for instance.”

“But the heart speaks loudest when you fight. Take the traitor Malak.”

“Why him?”

“His attack on Telos spoke of his heart more loudly than his words would. His destruction of that world was brutal callous and had no finesse. Where Revan had been kinder, he would have been the worst ruler the Galaxy had ever seen.

“Revan spoke with the language of tactics and strategy. It is the difference between taking the threads and weaving the pattern as she did compared to merely throwing paint on the canvas as Malak would. She showed her heart to the Galaxy when she went into Malachor V. It was a cold heart, but there was pity.

“Then she returned reborn, living the live of her savior. That life moved her feet in a gentler, but no less adamant path.”

“Reborn?”

I told her of Revan’s redemption. “I wish someone had recorded the final battle between her and Malak.”

She pondered what I had told her. “And what do you think she was saying?” She asked in a soft voice.

“That Malak had betrayed her merely for the lust of power. Unlike you or my father, he left himself no place to stand in redemption. That she understood him, accepted him, but could not bear to have him live a moment longer.”

She was pensive. “What is the problem?”

“Malachor V. It wasn’t all Revan’s fault that it happened. Don‘t paint me as a shining saint. I was not awake when it happened I did not see it, only the aftermath. But I was the author of that massacre more surely than Revan or the Mandalorians.”

“You speak the truth, but I do not understand. It hearkens back to Atris and her unreasoning hatred when she spoke aloud. But beneath it...”

“Beneath what?”

“Both of you share one thing. A sense of profound loss. Yours comes from Malachor, hers, from when you were banished. When she spoke with words, it was always harsh, unrelenting. But by watching her hands, her face, the movements of her body, I felt only her own pain and loss. She has felt that searing agony since you were sent away.”

“She made her feelings more than clear at my trial.”

“She did what she felt had to be done, but it is as if she had to amputate her own hand to stand there and speak against you. It was so difficult for her to speak of, or admit, that she has spent the last decade denying it even to herself.” I watched her face. “Is it that you did not care for her as she did for you?” I asked hesitantly. “Atris is beautiful and wise.”

“When I faced you in Kashin-Dra, I defeated you by being a bit better.” She said softly. “I was struck by the same when I was but a girl. Atris brought me from it as if I were the horrible monster of legend.”

I remembered the stories. But they taught of the love the person had that brought their lover back from madness.

“There had been Jedi that have fallen from the order in times past because of their love for a person. Atris said there were others that had even done so and kept their unions secret to remain.”

“Yes. It happens.”

“I did not know if you knew it from knowledge or from experience.”

“I think every Jedi feels it with others at times. “ She was solemn. “But love of any form is not for us. Besides, Atris and I were friends, nothing more.”

“But you never expressed it to her.” I considered. “It is said that Revan who is of my race bonded to the woman Bastila as we would.”

“I could not follow that path.” She said harshly.

“But-”

“No.” Her voice was harsh with pain. “She spoke to me of bonding, but I refused her. To bond because you care so deeply I can understand. But I am not Echani. I would have to deny it if I were to remain Jedi.”

“I do not-”

“When there were rumors we might be lovers in the Academy, I stayed as far from her as I could. I knew the stories, I had heard of them. To touch the mind of a man driven to the beast is the greatest expression of love in your world. Only a maiden pure with love in her heart can succeed, and they are bonded for all eternity by that love.” She stopped. looking at me sadly. “But I was afraid of what a bond would bring.”

Suddenly I understood her misconception. “And you were how old?”

“Sixteen.”

“Did she not tell you?” I asked gently

“Tell me what?”

“Most do not understand my people. They think we concentrate on nothing but sex, but it is love we cherish. Of lovers, true, but there is the bond of child to parent. Of siblings to protect. Of teacher to student. Even to ideals, such as you would have sworn if you were Echani when you joined the Jedi.

“I think that is what brought my father to my conception. He did not marry for love, or for the bond. He had already sworn his to the people of our home world as their warrior.”

“Then-”

“You jumped to a conclusion then. She might not even have thought of you in that way.”

“All these years...” She blushed. “I thought-”

“I have asked that which I did not need to know. Forgive me.” I asked softly.

She sighed. “You are my sister of battle. There will never be a question you cannot ask me.”

Encirclement

It was not going well. General Vaklu looked at the reports on his desk, and almost flung them across the room. The anti Propaganda edict had worked better than he expected. All of those journalists who had proven exactly how close they cleaved to their ethical stand of disclosure when it was a choice of ‘the people have a right to know‘ and being told they would suffer pain for telling them.

But one of the worst had not only slipped the net, but some foreign woman had helped him escape! His first broadcast from orbit from a departing ship began with ‘This is the truth from exile’ and had blasted those sensor records that had proven that his men, and not the Republic dogs had begun shooting.

Of course damage control had eased the problem. The blame had fallen on the squadron commander, luckily already dead in that battle. He had overstepped his authority in giving the order to fire. Fortunately those records had not leaked to the press.

Colonel Tobin came in almost running. He reminded the General of a lap dog, desperate for attention.

“The Jedi is alive and here in Iziz!” He said.

“Is this yet another preface to a glorious failure, Colonel?”

He even had that woebegone face of the lapdog. Honestly sometimes Vaklu wanted to kick him. “Consider the equation, Tobin. Staying on Dxun, she can meet quietly with any number of people. After all, we have yet to halt traffic to the moon. Coming here is bearding the lion in his den. Why would she be so foolish?”

“We were warned that the crew of the Ebon Hawk was resourceful General. I take full responsibility for what happened because I thought that no single merchant vessel could stand off two full squadrons.”

“But it wasn’t just one ship, was it?” Vaklu asked mildly. “Instead it was what fifteen merchant ships that opened fire after Republic Corona was hit.” He stared at the man. “If you had sent a corvette, the problem would have been cooling ash in orbit, and I would not have lost the best squad of trackers I had in my army.”

“If I may.” Tobin activated the holo-vid. Captain Gelesi was at the entry gate. A woman was there before him.

“You are?”

“Marai.” The woman giggled.

Vaklu expanded the holo until they were life sized. He stood within the penumbra of Gelesi, looking into her eyes. No, there was little of the coquette there, unless she had been a street walker for a decade, or a policeman. It was a well done act that almost but didn’t quite ring true.

“I am ordering the action platoon to prepare. They are in the Western foreign quarters. They will swoop down-”

“You are getting ahead of yourself, Colonel.” Vaklu cut him off. “We know someone if the Palace is helping the Queen. He helped foil what is it, seven assassination attempts? That person is more important.”

He looked the woman in the face. “She is obviously incredibly brave, or equally stupid. We will use her as a staked animal to attract the Brantarii into the range of our guns. And when it is there, she and that creature will die. Have her watched. If she meets anyone that leaves the palace, only then will we spring the trap.”


Dhagon Ghent.

Marai

“It looks as if it has been razed to the ground.” The Handmaiden commented.

“Nah, he leave it that way to avoid the scavengers.” Mandalore waved toward the people that were moving around, searching piles of refuse. “Ever since Vaklu started this entire dance, the poor have suffered even more. Those who had been barely able to make ends meet were suddenly thrown into the mess as well.”

“So much pain. all for a political statement.” The Handmaiden sighed.

“The problem with politics is that to some of those people in the ivory towers, the ‘people’ are the ones they deal with, not the people grubbing for food.” I reached into my pocket, and pulled out all those credits the men had been carrying. Not Onderoni Dragons, but Hutt Slices or Republic Credits. The two most stable currencies anywhere in the galaxy. I wanted to fling the handful of coins over my shoulder toward them, and turned away, but I would have caused a riot.

The inside didn’t look any better, and I was about to comment on the expert disguise when I felt Mandalore tense. The inside of the rooms might have been comfortable, but they had been ransacked by someone who loved their work. One man was going through it, gathering things together, then stood there was if he didn’t know where to put them. He looked up, and saw us.

“Mandalore.” He spoke like the survivor of a city where we had fought house to house. He dropped the things in his hands, and came over, giving the Mandalorian a clasp that spoke not of friend, but brothers in battle, a deeper relationship among the Mandalorians.

“I see you have redecorated. Anyone I know?”

“Bekkel.” He made the name a curse. “I was helping a family in the ghetto for the last tow nights. Too poor to go to a good doctor, but too proud to beg.”

“Dhagon is one hell of a doctor, don’t let him fool you.” Mandalore said. “But he had a spice problem during the Mandalorian Wars, and they pulled his licenses.” He motioned toward the mess. “This Bekkel dislikes you so much?”

“How many Beast Riders have you dealt with, Mandalore?” Dhagon rasped.

“Quite a few.”

“Bekkel is a Beast Rider by birth, but she took to the ways of the city bravo so well. Now she and those that follow her try to control the ghettos along the corridor, and she doesn’t like the idea that I will not kowtow. This is her...rebuttal to the argument.”

“Mandalore told me that you have connections throughout the city.” I said. “Even within the palace.”

“Good luck trying without them.” He commented. “There have been several attempts on the Queen’s life. Security is so tight I don’t know if I could reach in and contact anyone.”

“Assassination attempts?”

“Five that I know of for sure, ten if you listen to street gossip. Anyone with two brain cells will tell you who is behind them, but there is no proof.”

“I believe Kavar is inside there, and I must contact him immediately.”

“The Jedi master?” He looked at me benignly. “Do you know I could buy a Hutt pleasure palace with the proceeds of the act if I told the Bounty Hunters that? But as Mandalore will tell you, my word of honor is all I have left from the Mandalorians wars. Nothing will make me give it up.” He looked at the mess. “I can see that it is urgent, but I am unable to help you.”

“What?”

“Stay your anger. I did not say I would not help you, but that I could not. The one thing I would need to help you is a series of encrypted discs I kept in that cabinet.” He waved idly toward a pile of shattered wooden fragments. “Without my own computer, and the codes kept here in my head, they are worthless. I can guarantee that no one will get the codes, so even arrest will not give the information to someone who wants it. Since the war, it is the one thing I do well.”

“Then we must find this woman.” I said.

“Finding her is easy. But getting the discs back might be a problem.”

“We will deal with it.” I promised.

*****
There was a cantina nearby, and Bakkel I was told would be there. The more I saw of the squalor, the more anger I felt for Vaklu. How could he rationalize such suffering caused not by events, but by his own machinations?

One woman in what had once been fine clothes was digging through a pile. Her children worked silently beside them. She looked up at me, and for a moment, I saw a flash of pride. Then she turned away.

“From the look of your clothes, you don’t belong here.”

“It is where I am now.” She snapped at me. “Have you come to gloat off worlder? Terylyn who once enjoyed moving among the elite digging through the garbage? Terylyn who once had homes and vehicles and ships digs in filth to find something to sell for food!” She looked away.

I took the piece she had been squeezing. It was a hollow child’s ball. “Where do you sell such things?”

She looked at me, and I could still see the pride. She would not beg, even in her dire straits. I saw the children considering me. The boy was eleven or twelve. He had the wary look of someone’s world shattered beyond hope. He was so close to becoming just another thug that one pain might take him over the edge. The girl was tired, hungry, and would have taken food from my hand like a feral kitten.

“Do you work for hire?”

She had her pride, but I saw the wounded look of a mother desperate to protect her children. “If I must.”

Then come.” I stood. Mandalore looked at me confused as we turned away from the cantina, and went to the tram. I looked at the schedule.

“Now, Terylyn, there will be truth between us.” She flinched back, her children behind her. “Terylyn who once enjoyed moving among the elite, you described yourself. Yet I do not know of you. What has caused you to be cast low?”

“My husband was Darien. He was a member of the Council. A staunch supporter of the crown, and her grace. When the troubles first began five years ago he supported first the king, then his daughter, the Queen. When the law began to become more oppressive, he led the fight to stop them from taking the rights of our people.

“Then it was announced five months ago that he had tried to convince General Vaklu to assassinate her grace, that in his attempt to flee, he was killed. Several member of the council were implicated, and three of them were arrested.

“On General Vaklu’s orders we were thrown from our home, and all property except for one small courier was seized. But he boasted that I had a way off the planet, and access to my funds, if only I had a Star Port visa. He roared at the idea of seeing me and my children waste away while food money and a way off this world waited just out of reach.” She looked away. “He has such a baroque sense of humor.”

I reached out, and handed her the fare to the spaceport. She looked at me confused. Then her eyes widened as I lay a space port visa on top of it. “You will need that.”

I stood with them in the line, and when the visa had cleared, she looked at me.

“Take yourself away until things have settled down. You have money and a ship. Go somewhere safe.”

She gaped wordlessly. I shoved her toward the tram.

“But you do not know me! Why should you even care?”

“It is not for you.” I knelt, touching the girl’s face. Then like a magician, I made a credit coin vanish, then plucked it from her ear, then handed it to her. “It is for you, little one.” I stood up. “Go.”

The girl was still watching me as the tram raced away.

We walked back to the cantina. “That was very generous.” The Handmaiden said.

“No it was not.” I snapped. “I would help everyone of these people in want but if I did we would be stranded here, and it would be the same for them tomorrow. Maybe contacting Master Kavar and the queen will fix this, but will it end their suffering this very minute?” I sighed. “It isn’t finding people that need help, my dear sister. It is being able to help all that need it and no one is that rich in money goods or time.”

*****

The area outside the cantina was rife with the stink of brantarii. A dozen or more of them were squatting on the stone cobbles. Unused to such tight company, they were snapping at each other, and the scavengers left a wide berth.

Bakkel was a tall strong woman in Rider leathers, swilling beer in one of the private rooms. I tried to speak to her, but her men would not let us pass.

“We could shoot our way in.” Mandalore suggested hopefully.

“And what about the damage?” The Handmaiden said.

“There is that.” I looked about. Considering the clientele, it might improve the gene pool enormously, but I was not doing social engineering.

I felt a wave of emotion, automatically suppressing it. Only then did I realize that it was not mine. I followed the thread, finding one of the larger Brantarii outside. It was frustrated. He wanted to soar, to find strike and eat prey, to get away from the chemical stink of the city, and the natural stink of too many Brantarii in one place.

I walked over to the door guard, waiting until he finally paid attention. “Tell Bakkel that I will be in the square, and if I do not see her in five minutes, she will be Ground bound.” Then I turned on my heel.

“Wait.” Mandalore followed. “Did you just threaten to kill their Brantarii?”

I shook my head. “In their legends, there is another way to become ground bound. It is when your Brantarii refuses you either in the taking or in the bonding process. It happens as well when you are considered no longer worthy of that bond.

“If it occurs, you are not Rider any more. You hold no station, can give no orders. It would be like a trial among your kind stripping them of honor and status. For a leader, it means her people must abandon her, or execute her.”

He looked at me a long time. “How are you at Djarik?”

“Master class.”

“I should have known.”

I stopped in the square, the door at one end, myself at the other, and every Brantarii between me and that door. I sent out a feeling of foreboding, that the edges of the Zakal, the deadly lightning storms of the Onderoni plains was near.

It didn’t take long. Me, an off worlder had thrown down a gauntlet Bakkel could not deny is she wished to remained in command. She did however make a production of facing it. She stepped out, a flagon of beer in one hand, and a leg of fowl in the other. She looked toward me twenty meters away, flipping the leg toward the nearest Brantarii. I sent to it’s mind that the meat was tainted, and ir backed away.

Bakkel’s calm slipped a bit. She grinned chugged the flagon dry, then flung it over her shoulder. She started forward.

To the first two Brantarii I sent the feeling that one of the weaker ground predators menaced their nests. They hissed almost in unison, and one, a female advanced. Bakkel backed, surprised and alarmed.

I stood silent. It wasn’t because I wished to, but controlling more than one was a test of my control, a test I might lose.

She moved forward, and now both lunged at her. She backed and ran into one of her men. He looked at her oddly, and I knew his thoughts. The first sign of a leader’s disfavor was what they were seeing now. If she only refused to move forward again...

She obliged me. She hooked her thumbs in her belt. “The Brantarii seem a bit spooked today. If you have the courage, you may come and speak to me.”

I released the controls, and pictured a beautiful sky with clouds and thermals to ride, and no dangers. As a group, the pride of Brantarii seemed to relax. Her face slipped as I walked forward, hands clasped before me. I made no threatening moves, had no weapon they could see.

I paced between the lines, and they ignored me. They had been trained to attack a human only if that one was un-bonded, a danger or approaching them. But they did not see me.

I paused between the same two that had challenged her passage. They ignored me, as they should have with her. The Beast Riders began to edge away from her.

“In the days when the Beast Riders first took their beasts, many considered them evil, and there were those that would have slain them. Goren the Great did say ’The proof of a man’s heart is what his beast thinks of him, and those of our people whom the beasts challenge must realize that it is the will of the Gods that has given some and not others the right to ride them.

“ ‘Do not judge those unworthy by this. For even those bound forever to the ground have good hearts. They just do not have the god-given right to ride as we do. And those that stand with the evil ones deserve the same‘.” I reached out. The beast looked at me, and I saw in her mind a picture of her rider, one of the women now standing far from her leader. I impressed on her that the rider was there, hand outstretched with a treat. It made a querulous sound, and came forward, fanged mount gently lipping my hand, trying to find the treat. I rubbed it’s head, hearing the shriek of betrayal from the woman. She spun, and her glare was on Bakkel, not me.

“I am sorry, I owe you a treat.” I whispered. The beast backed away, but allowed my touch. I pulled out a ration pack, and fed it to the animal gently.

Bakkel was watching me as a bird might watch a reptile. I looked at her and smiled gently.

“Baranthor Goren‘s-blood, Great Grandson of Goren said, ‘Judge your leaders by how the beasts do speak unto them. For their hearts are pure of the evils of the City, and they will flock to those who speak with the voice of the pure heart, and shun those who deny it‘.”

I rubbed that head, then moved to the center again. “And what can be said of your heart Bakkel? You and yours steal from the weak, not because they have what you want but because they cannot resist. You harm those that do good,” I waved toward Dhagon’s home. “Rather than allow them to walk without giving you obeisance you demand, but are not due.” I felt along her link, finding one of the largest Brantarii there. “Who will your own mount accept, you who betray what the greats of you clans teach or I? Shall I test it?”

I reached out, calming the great beast. If I could touch his head, have him act as the lesser of the pride had, she was done. If lucky, they would only banish her. If not they would tear her apart and feed her to the mounts.


“Wait!” I could hear the panic in voice. Too many that were of her clan stood there with cold eyes. I could kill her with a touch. I stayed my hand. “What would you of me?” She asked softly.

“It is not me but your own blood that demands it.” I replied. “Return what you have taken by force, for that is not your way, it is of this city that beguiled you. Return to the mountain fastness. Learn again what it is to be not only Beast Rider, but to be Leader among them. Come back only when you heed that call, and not the baser of your instincts.

“If you agree with this punishment from your own sires, there is hope for you yet.” I moved aside from her mount. “Or give up what makes you Beast Rider and become something that slithers across the ground rather than seeing the world from the heights.”

She looked at me. Then at one of those with her. “Sanait. Bring all that we have taken and pile it here. This one,” She nodded toward me. “She shall assure that those to whom it belongs will gain it back. The hills and sky is all a Beast Rider needs.”

The man bowed.

“That is not a proper response.” I chided him. “If she is worthy as your leader, she is also worthy of your respect.”

He fell to one knee.” I accept your command.” He replied.

She nodded to me in respect as her people leaped to obey that command. The scavengers and poor stood there astonished at the loot, and many hungered for it. But they stood aside as the Beast Riders finished, then went to their mounts.

“You have ruined me.” Bakkel hissed, though none of her people heard.

“It is not ruin to live to your heritage.” I replied. “The sky and the winds will cleanse your spirit.”

She glared at me, but nodded her head. She walked toward her beast, and I could feel her trepidation. He made a glad cry, and she leaped to wrap her arms around his neck. She looked back at me, tears of joy in her eyes. Then she leaped up, legs hanging beside the head.

“When you are needed, you will return.” I told her.

She signalled, and they took off in a formation that would have made a snub fighter Squadron green with envy.

We took the discs from the pile, then stood there while those that had been robbed came forward. A number of them glanced furtively at me, but none took anything that was not theirs. Eventually there was a pile from people who were dead or gone away. I allowed each of those that had not taken something to get some for themselves.

we carried the discs to Dhagon. He began scanning them quickly. “All right, I have it set.” He turned back to us. “I am leaving here. It’s all well and good to be this connected, but if this meet falls through neither you nor I will be welcome on this world within our lifetimes.”

I handed him one of the star port visas we had liberated. He nodded his thanks.

“Don’t take this the wrong way, but I hope I never see you again.”

stingerhs
08-24-2006, 02:22 PM
good work, mach. i know that i don't comment much in this area, but i felt it might be necessary after all the 'collaborations', hehe. :D

Emperor Devon
08-24-2006, 02:32 PM
Quick question: What species is the holo of Goto? The only time i ever saw it before was in the ancient comic book serial based on the original episode.

A human. The reason he looks so blue in-game is because Obsidian wanted to make him look more hologram-ish.

Jae Onasi
08-24-2006, 03:04 PM
good work, mach. i know that i don't comment much in this area, but i felt it might be necessary after all the 'collaborations', hehe. :D

Quoted for emphasis....

I know you put a lot of work into that, and it looked good.

machievelli
08-24-2006, 04:21 PM
Walking into the trap

Kavar

Is it possible this meeting is a trap?” Queen Talia asked. “You have spent so much time keeping me alive, i do not think I can afford to lose you.”

“Of course it could be a trap. Vaklu is no fool, or we would have put him away years ago. But if the message is true, that an old friend wishes to see me, I must try to speak with her.”

“Is this not the one you worried about all those years ago?”

“Yes, but I can‘t see her joining with Vaklu even on our worst day.”

“Then let me send someone else. Some one-”

“Expendable?” I asked softly. She flushed. “Your Majesty I could never send another into danger like that.”

“Inside the Palace I can protect you. But beyond these walls are hundreds perhaps thousands that would kill you like swatting a fly.”

“If I were that easy to kill I would have been ashes a decade ago, your grace.” I looked down. “There is a disturbance in the force. Something I did not believe I would ever feel again. I must find out if it is what I think it to be. For that I must go.”

She sighed, sitting on her throne, chin set on her fist. “Will you at least be careful?”

“Aren’t I always?” I turned to go.

As I reached the door i heard her plaintive reply. “Why does that not reassure me?”

*****

Mandalore

The cantina was lively. The world could end tomorrow, and that merely meant people were more willing to spend and gamble, because if they were dead who needed the credits?

I watched the door coming in. There was a back way, but if we used that I was going to kill everyone between me and it. For their own sakes, I hoped it wouldn’t come to that.

The girl had gone to the gambling den, then been escorted back to our table after about an hour. Qimtiq the owner complained because of the amount of money she had won. The girl had said she merely looked at the swoop racers as they came onto the field, and bet on who she thought would win. She had taken a single credit and run it up to ten thousand that way. Marai had a discussion with her about how not to use the force, and the girl was still pondering it when he showed.

I recognized him immediately. We’d had intelligence reports on Kavar when we heard the Jedi were going to enter the war. The youngest master ever, he had been our pick for the leader of them. It had surprised us when he had been not the number two man but about number 3. Revan and Malak had been their naval commanders, the woman beside me had been one of those that led the ground troops into Dxun with Kavar in charge of the second landing zone and overall command. Then he had disappeared. We’d thought him dead, though Marai had later proven to be more than we could handle.

She stood, her head bent in respect. “Master Kavar.”

“You must have gone through a lot to set this up, so we have no time for pleasantries. I might have been followed.” He looked. “By the look of you, you are Canderous Ordo, the heir claimant to the title of Mandalore.”

“The honor given to me by Revan after her redemption.”

He waved that off. Even after all she had done five years ago, too many of the Masters still seemed to hold a grudge. “Strange times means stranger allies. My student should have considered that before she made this alliance, but it doesn‘t matter.”

“When the council met, I thought you at least would understand.” Marai said softly.

“It was a time of great uncertainty. One war had ended, but Revan was bringing a new one and none of us was sure which side of it you would have been on. But there was more to it than that. I felt at the time that we owed you an explanation of our concerns but-”

“Trouble.” I whispered. Colonel Tobin had come in, with a dozen or so men, all heavily armed.

Kavar reached for his lightsaber, and froze in shock as Marai touched his hand. “If we draw our lightsabers, Vaklu will have his leaders for the dissidents. Those evil Jedi.”

“Our?” He asked. Then he ignored his own question. “Then I am caught and the Queen defenseless.”

“You have played team ‘catch me’ have you not?” I asked. Kavar merely looked at her confused. I began to chuckle.

To anyone else, ‘catch me’ would be called tag. A child chasing everyone else to touch them, so that one may now pursue. But among the Mando-a everything is training for later life.

In ‘catch me‘ you run from the others, and they must catch you. It teaches you how to fight alone, and if necessary, hide. But there is also the team sport and each of those teams try to capture and subdue the other. I do not speak of merely touching. You must capture them and bind them. It takes teamwork to be able to win because there are few rules. No weapons pretty much says it all.

It is one of the only games in the universe where you have casualty lists afterward.

She explained, leaning forward as if they shared some deep secret. The girl merely smiled. I knew she had heard of it.

Tobin came sauntering over to us. “A nice pot of Jedi I have found. I must thank you, woman. This will give the General what he needs as proof of the Queen’s treachery. Now I would like you all to come quietly. My men will shoot and there will be casualties, all caused by you in the final reports.”

Marai stood as the did the girl. They were in what we would call the box. Unable to move quickly. Marai turned toward her student, extended her hand as if to bid her goodbye and as they clasped softly said, ‘Nynir.”

At the command to strike, I leaped forward. catching Tobin around the waist, throwing him into the men behind him. Kavar was less than a second behind me when the girl suddenly flew past us. Marai had spun to throw her, and between them they had imparted a lot of energy into that combined leap and throw. She curled into a ball, and struck the men behind those first assailants like a massive cannon ball.

I hit one of them behind the ear. To my right Kavar had picked up another, and slammed him into a wall. To my left Marai landed, struck twice economically, and her man dropped.

The Handmaiden popped to her feet, and the last man went down gasping from her kick to his chest.

“There are more outside.” Kavar said.

Marai opened her pouch, and grinned. Then she led the way to the door. A shower of coins sprayed into the air, and the poor saw them and leaped to gain them. With them as cover, we leaped down to the side, taking the two men that were there by surprise, incapacitating them as we ran toward the tram to the market square.

A squad had formed to stop us, but when we charged around the corner without even a hint of firing behind us, their sergeant was confused. He was about to give the order when the four of us hit them like a tidal wave.

“Be back here in two weeks!” Kavar shouted, running to a swoop bike. We dealt with the rest of the men, then hurried to the checkpoint. The guard looked up at us with no sign of recognition.

“It is just Tobin and Vaklu’s men.” I told them as our tram rocketed away. “All we must do is get past them, and we are clear.”

“And if the guard on the next checkpoint is one of Vaklu’s?”

“Do you always look at the negative?” I asked.

We stepped from the Tram at the entrance of the space port, and one of the guards reacted to us. He reached for his sidearm as he lifted his com link. “They’ve broken through!” He shouted.

The girl leaped into a run, diving below his shot, then kicked, her paired legs lifting and throwing him into a wall behind him. The other guards looked stunned.

“What means this?” The guard sergeant demanded. “We have no reports of dissidents on this tram?”

“What have you heard from the Western square?”

“Nothing.” He looked confused. He lifted his com link, and spoke. Then he shook it. “No reply. Someone must be jamming.”

“Of simply not letting you get through.” Marai replied. “That man works for General Vaklu, not the Queen.”

“But-” He heard a chirp from his com link, and lifted it. “Tram station.”

“The turrets just went active at the space port. Don’t know why, and we’re locked out!”

“Maybe-”

“Sergeant, we really have a ship to catch.” Marai said smoothly. “I promise not to blame you if I get hurt.” We ran before he could answer.

“I will.” I growled.

“Ah but we won’t be.” She turned to her student. “Close your eyes, my dear. Feel with the force ahead. What do you feel?”

“Energy, focused in nodes.” She breathed in deeply. They seek targets, us.”

“Now feel along those nodes. Are there places where they are weak?”

The girl’s head cocked. “Yes.”

“Then you and I am going to cause some damage, but no one will be harmed.” Marai said. “Chose a series of nodes, and break them one by one. If they try to target others, strip them of power.”

I stood and watched as they spent five minutes with their eyes closed, looking ahead of them. Then Marai opened her eyes, looking at her student. That one opened her eyes after a moment.

“Now let us see how well you learn.” Marai said. Instead of running, we sauntered around the corner into the final entry corridor.

A guard ran toward us. “Look out! The turrets have gone active!” He screamed.

“They have?” Marai looked at him with that blank stare, then at the weapons. Every turret had slewed around at our approach, but now they were acting oddly. Some were cycling, solenoids trying to actuate, but no blaster bolts came down range. Others were targeting, then cycling onto another target as if the first had been hidden or destroyed. Others were slewing around as if the target was too large and it was trying to find a point of weakness. I felt a roar of laughter bubbling up in my chest, and bent forward.

“Maybe they are just malfunctioning.” The guard said. Then he looked at me. “Are you all right?”

“Yeah.” I gasped. “Indigestion.”

Marai held out her pass, and we went on into the docking quad.

“I think we will avoid coming down here for a while. When news of this reaches Vaklu, all hell is going to be out for noon.” I said.

We climbed in, did our preflight and got our authorization. We took off as alarm sirens went off across the city.


Vaklu

He looked at Tobin. The man was rumpled, but otherwise not to badly injured. “So they got away from you.” He said. “At least we now have proof that Jedi are involved...” He stopped. Tobin look like a child that hid been caught misbehaving. “Tell me we have proof, Colonel.”

“None of them used weapons. They beat me and the two squads with me using just their hands. No sensor records of weapons except our own. They distracted the squads outside the cantina by throwing money into the street. It is a poor neighborhood, and our men had been told to avoid civilian casualties. With no one shooting at them, they held their fire.

“The remainder of the company that were stationed near the entrance to the tram station reported just three of them, not four. So we do not even know who it was they met. But those three beat them all, again, with no weapons reported.”

Vaklu turned back toward the map table. Tobin made to speak, but his hand shot up. “Just get out of my sight, you incompetent fool.”

*****

We were above the atmosphere and in the traffic pattern before the first fighters came in. They knew it was a shuttle, but between sub orbital passenger shuttles and ones coming down from ships, we were invisible.

“What are you thinking.” Marai asked. She was sitting up front. The girl had curled up and gone to sleep.

“The waste.” I said. “If we had held just a little bit longer, all of this would have been ours.”

“I think we might have had something to say about that.” Marai commented dryly.

“The Republic thinks the Mando-a are no more. We have been beaten and scattered, but we have not yet lost. Revan knew that. She took our honor so that we would learn how precious it was. But she should have killed us all. Because as long as a single child can still claim Mandalorian blood, we will come back, and we will win.”

“So the Mandalorian wars will be over when all of you are dead.” She said. “All that does is keep the hate going.”

“Most of your people never understood my kind. To us honor is not a punch line to a joke. Glory is not something you earn from prancing about on a stage. Our lives revolve around battle. From our earliest history it has been so, and it will never change.”

“I found that all the glory in the world will not save those you care about.” She sighed. “And honor is poor fare when you sit at the table and see the empty chairs of those you have led for it that died. To me, to all of the Jedi that fought, it was a necessary evil. It was surgery on a galactic scale with ship’s cannon and lightsabers as scalpels. Too much good flesh was cut away in that, and we still suffer from it.”

“That is why I have assisted you. The honored dead must be remembered. The Republic has not even built a monument to hose that have died. They merely turned away as if forgetting would end it.

“But I will reunite the clans, and we shall take our rightful place again.”

“As what?” She snapped. “An enemy that will not admit defeat? You speak as if your entire race were a flu virus that dies yet comes back again the next season!”

“Then why did you fight?” I asked.

“What I thought then is not important.”

“We had not faced the Jedi in full cry as enemies since ancient times. We were unprepared for it. None realized the threat you represented. You were a member of the order, what to those of us not of that fellowship, what you know as fact is merely story legend or myth to us. We only knew from the ancient records.”

“But what of the war of Exar Kun?”

“By the time we had met him, he was Sith. You cannot judge the temper of a blade when it is rusted, or marred with blood that has not been cleaned. What we had to go on told us that you were nonviolent, devoted to taking care of those you watched over. We had met others of that stripe among the stars. They are easy to defeat because that noble compassion is a blade we can hold to their throats. We were wrong.” I shrugged. That pretty much explained our entire battle plan against the Republic.

She sat there, looking at the stars, lost in her thoughts. “What did you personally think of us?”

“Your people ran the gamut from the Mandalore that lived then down to Cassus Fett. From noble to ignoble. On the average, you people were cunning warriors, and sometimes brave to the point of insanity.”

“That is how we viewed the troops of the Republic. Not the Jedi, we considered you the greatest challenge. I mean the men you led in the latter part of the war.

“They were brave even from the beginning, but even the best troops can be wasted if those that command are venal or stupid. We slaughtered enough of them to prove it. When the Jedi first pulled back, we thought they would buckle under the pressure. That we would walk over them as you preached nonviolence. We saw it like trying to stiffen gelatin with buckshot.

“We were wrong. They came back like warriors reborn, and when we faced them, they proved their valor. All because you took a demoralized defeated rabble, and made them soldiers again. You brought the backbone the Republic command did not have. The leaders to command, the tactics and strategy that had us out of balance almost from the beginning. While Fett’s fleets were waiting on the front, you took Dxun, and not only took it, but beat him man to man. We thought that was stupid, but when the smoke cleared, we could no longer claim to the superior in all things. How many Jedi were there on the ground?”

“Eighty on the ground and ten pilots. All but ten of them died.”

Now I was silent. She was lost in thought. Maybe thinking of those empty seats. “Have you ever considered that it might have been better if we won?” She gave me a look that suggested I had been drinking heavily. “The Sith would have been a border conflict to us back then, a way to teach and blood troops. If we had attacked them instead of you, there would be no Sith.

“But if we had won against you, nothing in the Galaxy would have been able to stand against us. We would have given the entire Republic that backbone, and with the strength of those factories and the ships and weapons they would have produced, we would have cleaned up the galaxy for once.”

“What then?” She asked. I looked at her confused. “The galaxy is a finite space. Oh it is vast, and there are worlds yet to be discovered, but a nation built on nothing but war and expansion either is smashed, or wins. But what happens when they win?

“You would have conquered the last star, beaten the last enemy, and there would be nothing to fight from then on than your own kind. How soon would it be before the men of this planet decides to test himself against the men of that? The first Mandalore arose in such a confused situation. Clans warring and slaughtering not foreign enemies, but their own. It was he that aimed you outward before the Republic was even born. To learn the ways of the other peoples among the stars.

“Would that Mandalore in the future you dream of have been as wise?”

“Look what your victory has wrought.” I waved back toward the planet. “Don’t you think it might have been better if we had won?”

“I do not waste time on might have been. I live in the now that we both do.”

“The Republic was a bloated beast unable to even feed itself without help. It has not improved since the war. They have killed more of their citizens than we did, just not as quickly. If it were not for Revan’s strength and will the Republic would already be dead even without our help.”

“Compliments? For Revan?”

“Revan was the catalyst for the Jedi coming into the war. We had swept through the outer rim and to within three systems of Coruscant itself before she stopped us. She and those like you that she led were what beat us. Not that bloated monster you still worship. But we have little use for the Jedi.”

“Why? You seem to think highly of her and those like me.”

“The cream of a rancid milk. What, only a third of you had the stomach for the fight? The rest cowered in their temple and preached restraint.”

“It was not fear that held them back.” She said. “If the Council had agreed, it would have been over five thousand of us. Consider what barely a third of that number did.”

Dxun

Marai

Never mix violence and contemplation with someone who wants to reminisce about the wars we had fought. Trust me on that. We settled down, and rolled the shuttle into the hanger. “Well until Zuka can reset the transponder, we’re locked down.”

“Sorry.”

He grinned. “I wouldn’t have missed it for the world. In fact, I was wondering. Do you have room aboard?”

“Why?”

“I want to go along. You can use the extra blaster, and I‘ve been meaning to find some of the lost clans.”

“That almost sounds altruistic.”

“Not part of my make up. Thanks to the Jedi Civil War, the Sith is resurgent. They aren’t the kind to leave well enough alone. If they don’t control it, they smash it. If the Jedi are gone for good, we need to be gathered in and ready for the worst.

Mandalorians served Exar Kun at the start of that war, his callous disregard is what caused us to become neutral, and finally ally against him.”

I was going to answer when my com link buzzed. “Marai here.”

“Well it’s about time!” Atton quipped. “We’ve been ready to go for about five hours, but couldn’t contact you.”

“We’ll be there in about three hours.” I looked at Mandalore, then added. “With some company.”


Enroute to Nar Shaddaa

Ebon Hawk

Marai

The three days to Nar Shaddaa were...interesting. We had to go there anyway, but I had another reason. With Peragus gone, Telos desperately needed fuel. The nearest supply after Peragus was Nar Shaddaa, and that meant dealing with the Hutt.

We had barely left, sitting down to dinner when problems began. The Mandalorians have what they call the Warrior’s story circle, where you sit and tell of your deed. As a newcomer, it would be impolite to throw yours out there unless asked, so it is custom to ask one of the others.

They share another quirk with the Echani. The idea that society is only warfare on another plane.

I was cook again. I think better when I cook, and had yet to hear a complaint. Visas got a bowl for herself and left. She was still leery of the others. Atton had seen Mandalore and gone back to the cockpit with his. Kreia had her meal delivered. That left Bao-Dur the Handmaiden Mandalore and myself. Mandalore grumbled about the food a bit, but brightened when I found some Pipalli spice. Bao-Dur coughed a bit at the sharp smell, but that didn’t stop him from eating. He had found a small sensor remote, and was looking over it’s innards as he ate.

“So Iridorian. You fought in the Mandalorian wars.”

“Yes, I did. I was a technician.”

“That gleam of anger at my existence says otherwise. You fought on the front lines.”

“A lot of times no one knew where the front lines were.” I replied.

“But there is honor in such battles. Come. Tell me of the battles you fought, and whom you fought alongside.”

“Honor.” Bao-Dur set down the remote, looking at him. I could feel his fury, but it had yet to explode. “I can do without such things as honor after seeing what fruit it bears. The destruction your warriors inflicted, the lives lost. All for honor.

“And look at your precious warriors. Thugs, mercenaries, bounty hunters. It seems another word for honor in the Mandalorian language is credits!”

Mandalore knocked back a shot of Tihaar. “I would chose my words more carefully if I were you.”

“Gentlemen...” I tried to interject.

“You fought out of bloodlust. You and all your kind aren’t happy unless you’re killing! Where is honor when you are knee deep in the blood of the innocent?”

“Maybe to some soft Republic slug it looked that way, but we went to war to prove our new generation, to find the honor and the glory in the heat of battle.”

“Gentlemen...” My tone was a bit firmer, but it did as little good.

“The Republic ignored us!” Mandalore snarled. “The finest warriors in the galaxy and we were ignored as if we were trained animals. Even outnumbering us they refused to fight for almost 13 years! We had to goad them!”

“You couldn’t be satisfied with what’s outside the Republic!” Bao-Dur roared. He stood quivering with fury. “My world fell to you, and it was devastated when it was liberated!”

“Thank Karath. He was in charge. It was he that ordered blasting every defense post, even those that were unmanned. Unmanned I would point out intentionally because your people built them near cities. We do not make war on civilians, but we honor the threat. He merely removed that threat even when they knew we would not man them.” Mandalore was standing, and it was two herd leaders facing off. “The Republic knew enough about us to know our ways, yet we get the blame when they caused such things!”

“The Mandalorians got what they deserved at Malachor! We should have erased you from history!”

“But we were not. And a warrior learns as much from his defeats as he does from his victories.”

“I am so glad you’re guarding my back with that attitude!”

“Enough!” I shouted. I stood, glaring at them both. “First, Bao-Dur, the Mandalorians attack only active defenses. They have their exceptions, and they are hated more by them than by us. If you read the history we destroyed as many planets as they did in that war.

Mandalore, most people in the Republic would rather that war be dead and buried. It is like an old wound that we don’t want to remember. So let it be, both of you.”

“Fine by me.” Mandalore returned to his meal. Bao-Dur snatched up the remote.

He started to storm out but paused at the door. “I hate your people. But it isn’t you I hate. I was a quiet young man that never hurt an insect. That thought every life was precious. You burned that away when you destroyed my home, you took that boy and turned him into a murderer little better than you are.

“I hate you because what I am now was made by you.”

I sighed, sitting back down. The handmaiden sipped her drink. “So every night will be a new foray into the brave world of indigestion?”

I chuckled.

*****

There isn’t much to do in hyperspace. Nothing beyond a large gravity field will reach into it, and you are perfectly safe as long as the hyper drive generator works. Ours was a bit ragged, but it worked.

I spoke with Visas, drawing her slowly from her shell. It was not something I expected to finish any time soon. I sparred with the handmaiden. She had a fluid grace that made the lightsaber a perfect weapon for her. With the weapons set on practice, we used every centimeter of the cargo hold.

Then there was Kreia.

She called me not long after we had lifted off, motioning for me to sit.

“If you must have both student and disciple, I had better train you more rapidly.” She said.

I took the seat for meditation. “You brushed the surface thoughts of the Miraluka. Since she is already partially trained, it was only a minor surprise. Those without the force are harder to touch so. Close your eyes. Silence your thoughts. think of the room of the Thousand Fountains.”

I saw it. A work of art given by a race we had saved almost 20,000 years ago, it represented every world that had been in the Republic at that time. Every one spraying in it’s own pattern, each unique. But so well designed that four times a day, they would all be exactly in synch, one massive beautiful spray for about ten minutes.

“Now still them. Make them silent. Imagine that the ice of Telos has frozen them in an instant. “

Suddenly they stopped. The room was deathly still.

“Good. Now listen about you. Not to your own thoughts, but to those about you.”
Visas knelt. I could hear her thoughts as if she spoke to me. Kreeon, Variala, Maris, Canalaro-

She repeats the names of her beloved dead. Her father, her mother, her brother and her sister.” Kreia sighed.

The handmaiden moved in a choreographed dance that was both beautiful and lethal. I could hear her; The form is the ocean, the rock, the wind, the flame. Every move has it’s perfect complement, every strike the perfect target. If faced with fire, use water, if faced with rock, use wind, each has it’s weakness.

Faster, I must be faster. If father had been swift, he would live today. Revan said he was worthy of respect. Was that because she had killed him? Or because he had fought as well as possible? If I were faster I would not be the last of the sisters. I would gain their respect. What must I do to earn that? Why does Atris treat me so?

Did Atris feel physical love for Marai? Is that why she offered to bond? Was it Marai that ran, or Atris that pushed? Why did she send me? This is far harder than anything I have been sent to do before. Yet it was I that was sent. My sister stay at home, they wait for my return. Perhaps when I do-

“What of your friend in the cargo hold?”

Bao-Dur finished linking the circuits, and the little remote drone hummed to life. It lifted, and for a moment he laughed, all of the pain and years fled and I could see the happy child he had been. The suddenly it was gone.

Why did we do it? Three million dead in less than ten seconds. We did it, General. You gave the order, I built it, but it was that bastard Quintain. I followed my orders, and now I see every face...

Kreia’s voice dragged me away.

“And what of our pilot?”

Atton was checking the systems as he did every hour. But his thoughts...

...Change the face of the variable one point card, totals nine-ten. Change the variable two point, total eight-eleven. Switch...

I shook my head. “What is...”

Can you hear me now?”

The difference between her mind contact with me at the beginning and now was astonishing. I could hear her as crisply as if she had spoken aloud. I reached toward her mind, and found myself thrust aside.

A master always has secrets she does not teach her student immediately. Leave it at that. She cleared her throat. “You take the first steps on a road that will never end.

“Why can’t I hear T3?”

“His thoughts are not really thoughts as we understand the term. They are programmed responses, and heuristic reaction loops. Like Bao-Dur it is better to read their actions rather than their words.”

“But I heard Bao-Dur!” I said.

She looked at me for a long moment. “It is odd that you heard him and I did not.”

“Perhaps it is because we served so long together. But Atton’s thoughts are confusing.”

She chuckled. “He counts Pazaak cards in his head, engine sequencing, trade routes, even allows his baser lusts to come to the fore. Be glad we did not have to listen to that. Perhaps the one I call fool is no fool at all.

“Yes perhaps our pilot has so much he would hide?”

That thought plagued me for over a day. I had just finished a workout with the Handmaiden, and came to check the Navi-computer. Atton was at the controls as always. I wondered if he even slept there.

“ETA about half an hour.”

“So precise.” I joked with him. “Perhaps if you didn’t play Pazaak in your head-”

“What?” His voice had not changed, but his entire aura did. I had gone from someone he knew to target.

“You play Pazaak in your head. Why?”

“A lot of piloting is reflex. So it helps pass the time. It’s not as boring to me as engine sequencing, trade routes, counting the ticks in the power couplings-”

“T3 and Bao-Dur fixed those.”

“Yeah, but I can still hear them sometimes.”

“But you do all of those things, according to Kreia.”

“Did she tell you of fantasies with you Visas or the Handmaiden? If she were a bit younger I might even be thinking of Kreia. She was a looker when she was young. I can tell. She still has the body for it.

“Maybe you just had to look for yourself-”

“Atton, she was teaching me a new skill and I happened to look into your mind once, and only once. I apologize. I promise I will never do it again.”

He looked at me. “Why bother? Jedi are all alike, dark side, light side, it doesn’t matter. You have to look and see what’s inside a man’s head. I knew it as a child, and I developed this so something in my life wasn’t common knowledge.”

“But why any of them?”

“Do you play Pazaak?”

I shrugged. “I know the rules, and how to play, but no, I do not. I don’t gamble with anything but my life.”

“Sit.” He walked back into the ship, and came back with his cards. He divided the deck, and shuffled each set. “Chose one.”

“But I don’t gamble.”

“A friendly game.” It was almost an order. I chose one, and we played.

I will not describe it to you. If you wish to learn Pazaak, then by all means get yourself a deck and play. I was beaten after about five hands.

“Now, what were you thinking about?”

“What?”

“While we were playing. What was on your mind?”

“Which variable card would be best to change on my next draw.” I replied instantly.

“That’s why I do it. I don’t have to lock the door to my thoughts if they can’t find it.”

“So this helps you seal your thoughts?”

“No, from what I’ve been told no one can totally shield their thoughts. But this makes it harder for someone to look.”

“Could you teach this to me?”

“Not unless you really want to get good at Pazaak.”

“I am not that desperate.”

“All right new rule. Some Jedi are polite about it.” He turned back to the controls. “Get everyone together, we’ll be there in a few, and we had better discuss the problem.

machievelli
08-26-2006, 01:06 AM
In Orbit of Nar Shaddaa

Marai

Atton had brought up the planet and moon. “There you have it people. Nar Shaddaa. The gaping maw of the of Nal Hutta, and everything that travels through half of known space comes through here first. Home to Mandalorian and other mercenaries, refugees, and the biggest criminal syndicates in the Galaxy. If you want it, you can get it here.”

“Too many of my people can’t find their way back to their honor.” Mandalore growled. “They have become little better than thugs.”

“That happened to a lot of soldiers after the wars.” I said. “They couldn’t go back to their lives, and this defines them now.”

“Nar Shaddaa is a great place to get lost in, though.” Atton commented. “Traffic in and out is so thick that a ship can slip in and out unnoticed if they do it right. A man on the ground who wants to hide has millions of kilometers of buildings and billions of people to pull over him.” He touched a control. “But if this guy you’re looking for is anywhere, I’d say it’s here. The Refugee Sector.”

“The refugee sector?”

“Yeah, a lot of people were displaced by the wars. Some couldn’t get to somewhere decent, and they ended up here. The Hutt allow it because it’s a ready source of manpower for factories and warehouses. Something like half a million people crammed into old condemned cargo containers and living on what they can beg. If your Jedi wants to hide, that’s the place.” He switched shots, this time giving us a look at landing pads scattered around it. “It used to be one of the cargo handling areas, so there are pads for everything from freight lighters to ships half again our size. Right now, that one is empty.”

“Sounds like you’ve been here before.” I commented.

“Anyone whose been on the wrong side of the law at one point or another has been here. Along with every spacer who has ever worked more than a year.” He shrugged. “Once we’re on the ground, no one will spot us, that I can guarantee.”

“Then take us down.”

*****

Goto’s Yacht

The meeting was quiet. Not because the people there wanted to be, but because Goto wanted peace and quiet aboard his ship. He tended to deal with loud voices by making them silent.

The top bounty hunters were represented and no one else. Everyone below these representatives had already gotten the word of what this meeting was about, only these were considered important enough to need personal attention.

The largest group were the Zhug family. Duros hate moving in small groups, and they were uncomfortable in groups less than eight or ten. The fact that only three were here was proof of Goto’s power within the Exchange. The HK 50s, were there. Who had built them and why they had started working as Bounty Hunters was unclear. There were three of them as well, but they usually had enough firepower to smash the entire ship. However Goto had been smart enough to order their hard-points emptied for this meeting. Now they could only kill everything in the room.

Zora and Kaliea, the Twi-lek pair nicknamed the Twin suns lounged languorously. They always seemed amused, though usually only death would make them happy.

Finally Hanharr, the wookiee. The average wookiee is two and a half meters tall, Hanharr was a giant of his kind. He wore slave bracelets, a fashion statement that no one in his right mind questioned. After all, he might rip off the top of your head to see if he could find what suicidal impulse caused you to ask.

A black spherical battle droid floated in, passed them and turned. Then a hologram appeared. The man was an older human, long sideburns surrounding a chin that was smooth shaven. Goto, one of the most feared of the Exchange’s leaders.

“It has come to my attention that the Jedi is approaching Nar Shaddaa as we speak.”

There was a tightening of tension in the room. So much money-

“However my businesses cannot handle a Jedi’s scrutiny at this time. So until she departs, the contract is in abeyance. She has been given a round trip ticket.” The head turned, looking at each group in turn. “Track her, observe her habits so you may catch her later. But if you eclipse her movements while she is on this moon, I will eclipse yours.”

Why?” Hanharr roared. “A fortune walks among us and you expect our hands to remain empty?”

“One Jedi is nothing of importance, but there are others you could be hunting if you bestir yourselves. But if a Jedi dies or disappears here, it will bring others until not even you can kill that fast.” Goto looked at the wookiee blandly. “Hunt her here, and your fellows will be glad to hunt you afterward. That is all.” The hologram vanished, and the droid left the room.

“Goto’s head is full of madness!” Azanti Zhug almost screamed. “There are few enough Jedi in the world that this one has no army to call any more.”

Kaliea looked at him with the disdain only a Twi-leki woman can do so well. “Oh please, you slug eating freak. Hunt her against Goto’s wishes. My sweet sister and I would love to add you to our trophy belt. And your family will give you up to stay alive.”

“Besides, it is not as if she intends to live here.” Zora added. “She will leave, and the beautiful one will be caught by us eventually. Patience is a dancer’s art after all.”

“Yes.” Hanharr growled. “Let the Duros hunt her. When I am through all of your heads will be on my trophy wall!”

“Never utter a threat you cannot carry out, animal. You may be the best in a forest, but among the more intelligent races out here you are a stupid child. You cannot even capture that red maned girl you owe a life-debt to. What is it, two or three times she has beaten the great Hanharr-”

Hanharr leaped to his feet. “Goto or no Goto. Speak of her again and I will carve my way through all of your family!”

“Request:” They all looked at the leader of the HKs, number 17. “If Goto’s vessel is no longer considered neutral ground, would one of you creatures make such a statement, or draw a weapon? We would not violate the truce but if it is no longer valid, we have contracts on all of you.” Weapons began to slide out of metal arms.

“We are not so stupid machine.“ Zora commented. “Our orders are clear.”

“A thought my dear love.” Kaliea mused. “we are allowed to defend ourselves even within the truce.”

“Observation: Jedi seem to be programmed with tolerance and nonviolence. It is statistically unlikely that she will strike at us first.”

“True.” Kaliea said. “But while Goto has given strict orders about the Jedi, he has said nothing about her companions.”

They all looked at her. “And there are those that say you are the stupid one.” Azanti said. Both women looked at him, and he was glad for the truce.

“Not unless they are under truce, fool.” Zora said. “The last that said that died screaming in agony.”

“Yes, it was a sweet afternoon of pleasure for me. I do so love to hear them whimper.” Kaliea said with a sharpened grin.


Nar Shaddaa

Atton

I stepped out, taking a deep breath. “Just smell that! The beautiful stench of decay and desperation.” The others came out with varying degrees of reaction to it. The three that flinched the least were Mandalore Marai and of all people, Visas. I moved her from the ‘maybe dangerous’ list to the ‘watch your back’ list.

“This moon literally teams with life.” Kreia said softly. “It is difficult to center yourself in such a place.”

Visas was turning her head, a hound catching an elusive scent. “Never have I felt a world so alive to the force, yet dead to it. The contrast is like the back of a blade compared to it’s edge.”

“Well welcome anyway. Buildings almost three kilometers tall, and canyons so wide you can almost dogfight in them. Be careful where you step. You might never find the ground again.”

Marai was looking around. She was unconsciously mimicking Visas. “Will this pad be safe?”

“If it doesn’t belong to a Hutt or a Corp, no one cares about the pads. Since this is technically refugee territory, that benign neglect is heavy.” I stamped, and everyone winced as the pad shuddered slightly. I grinned. “Don’t worry. If it was going to fall, we would have caught it when the engines shut down.”

“Yeah.” Bao-Dur said in a whisper. “Too late to stop us from taking the plunge.”

“Hey, you don’t like risks, why are you with us?”

“I don’t like the exposure.” Marai mused. She pace, looking at the pad. It was half again the size of the Ebon Hawk. “Clear fields of fire all around. A fighter swarm could take us out without scratching the paint on the buildings.”

“Never happen.” I said. “We didn’t transmit our ID code on the way in, so unless they had eyes on us every second, they won’t know which pad to hit.”

Marai looked at me. “Tell me you cleared us through traffic control.”

“Well, I kinda forgot.” I raised a hand before she could explode. “You wanted to find this Jedi master whatever-”

“Zez-Kai Ell.” She replied.

“Yeah, whatever. If he wanted to hide where no one would find him, this is the first place to look.”

“That does not explain why you did not notify traffic control.”

“Do you think every smuggler signals ‘hey here I come with my illegal cargo‘? Don’t bet on it. If you’re not using a corporate or Hutt landing pad, they couldn’t care less. Besides, I know a guy here that can get us a new transponder signature. There are something like eight of them in the computer, but T3 says they’re all voice locked. I for one want to take that big bulls eye off my back.”

“Then let’s move out.”

“All right oh fearless leader. Where do we move out to?” I waved theatrically. After all, I knew this area, she didn’t.

“It doesn’t matter where we go.” Kreia said softly. “What we seek will find us eventually.”

“Listen if you want to sit and mediate then by all means do it and leave us out of it.” I snarled at her.

She gave me that disdainful look. “What I am saying you young fool is that this is not a hunt that has easy marks to follow. Finding one touched by the force here is like trying to pick one leaf from a tree a kilometer away. The masses of people here are something few will be able to see through.”

“The moon is a swirling cloak of thought fear and deed.” Visas breathed. “Any with the force can pull it over them like a blanket. But if I get close enough to him-”

“What will you do then?” The Handmaiden hissed. “I will not let you near him, witch.”

Visas turned her head toward the girl. “I seek him because Marai does, woman.” She waved toward our leader. “You think I still answer to the one who murdered my home, but it is her I serve. This Jedi means nothing to me but if finding him speeds her search, I will seek him.”

“We do not need your help-“

“Silence.” Kreia snapped. “Arguing will not make the moon smaller, or the people fewer. This is a good place to start.”

They all looked at Marai.

“All right, Atton, you and the Handmaiden with me. Visas, do you mind doing the shopping for food?”

“I am here to serve.”

“Then you and Kreia can do that.”

“She can’t even see the spots on the vegetable!” I wailed.

“Do you want to fetch and carry with her Atton? No? Then table the argument. Mandalore, will you and Bao-Dur go check out the chandlers at the docks?”

“I will also check the mercenary listings. My people must know I am here, and where to go.”

“Do that. While you are at it, watch for bounty hunters. If I can I will have that bounty lifted before we leave this rock.”

What-re you doing on my pad?” a voice growled. The figure flying toward us was a Toydarian, wings buzzing like a demented hummingbird, elephantine snort writhing. “What do you think you’re doing landing on my pad like this?” As small as he was, he was as belligerent as most of his race were.

“It’s a landing pad. Ship’s land on landing pads.”

“Whoever told you that you had a sense of humor lied.” He snarled back. “I got another ship coming in the next day or so, and they already reserved that bloody pad there.” He pointed sharply at the pad to emphasize the last four words. “So push off!”

“A day or so?” Marai looked at him. “How about we pay for the day or so we’re here?”

“Oh, and what makes you think I’ll-”

“Fifty credits.”

“Done! But I would suggest you be gone before the Red Eclipse arrives. They aren’t known for their sense of humor.”

“Neither are Toydarians.”

“Hey, you want humor, go watch humans walk. Now push off.”

“I can find us another pad a bit farther down if necessary.” I said.

“Then let’s get to it, people.”


Marai

The Hutt had spread through their area of space and made themselves a tidy little empire not by being the suppliers or manufacturers. Not even by military might, though the Hutt tended to arm their ships as a matter of course. They built that empire by being the middle men in every transaction. Back in the mists of history they had polluted their original home world into uselessness, and moved to Nal Hutta ‘Gleaming Jewel’ in their language. Since they didn’t want to ruin this planet, they had built a series of warehouses and offices on the moon Nar Shaddaa.

Now it was a mass of building rising kilometers into the sky. They had imported workers, managers, security forces and every other necessity. And of course, such a place caused crime to flourish.

No one in their right mind would deal with the Hutt if they could avoid it, but I was desperate. Telos had only a few months before Citadel Station fell. It was my fault in a way, and I had to correct it.

A pair of goons were bothering a man in tired old clothes, They left when they saw our expressions.

“Thank you.” The man whispered. “The Exchange is keeping us trapped in the Refugee housing sector.”

“Why?”

“We don’t know. It started about two years ago. Suddenly a Quarren named Visquis sent out goons, and the word was spread that if you wanted to work, he was your manager. Anyone who refused, well, let’s just say they were beaten into submission, or disappeared. If you wanted to work, you went to his hiring hall.” He waved vaguely toward the door ahead. “You go where you are sent, work as many hours as they say, and all but enough to keep body and soul together goes to Visquis.

“Then it got worse. About a year ago, Visquis started offering people a way off the planet. But you had to pay. Those that could pay just left. But no one has ever come back to tell us where they were going. Fathers would go to find a place for the family, and never mail any word. Parents would send their children to relatives, but the relatives say they never got there.

“I wanted out, but I don’t want to get out the way Visquis allows. So I slipped by the guard on the refugee housing door. But they caught me.”

I handed him some money. “Go, get out of here while you have the chance.”

“Thank you.” He looked like he was going to cry. He ran.

“And what good did that do?” Kreia asked. “You yourself told the Handmaiden that no one is rich enough in time money or resources to help everyone. Why waste it on him?”

“Kreia, I can’t just let people be abused. When I see it, and can help, I do.”

“Like throwing money to the crowd? Was that selflessness, or self interest?”

I shook my head. We reached the door into the refugee sector. Atton tapped my arm. “I know a guy who can get us a new ID transponder. I’ll talk to him. Wait here.”

The rest scattered on their own missions. The Handmaiden and I stood, waiting. There was a hiss from the shadows, and a nightmare of the Jurassic age stepped out. A Trandoshan. He stopped hands out and up to show that he was unarmed.

“A word, Jeedai.” He hissed. I motioned, and he approached. “You are very brave or very foolish, Jeedai. To land on Nar Shaddaa is to rest from your travels on the tongue of a Krayt Dragon.”

“I landed here because I must. You are?”

“Vossk. One of the Bounty Hunter’s Guild. But no more. They are no longer the Guild I swore to. They are now cowards and honorless betrayers of a proud ideal.”

I considered. Considering the backlogs in the Republic courts, and the inability of law enforcement of different planet to even agree on what was illegal, a lot of crime went unpunished. Back not long after the Republic was formed, the Bounty Hunter’s Guild was formed to capture as many of these criminals as possible. The Bounty ranged from a few hundred credits to several thousand, and a lot of them were ’dead or alive’ because the people being chased were sometimes cold blooded killers. But soon it became a way to kill someone you might be angry at. A lot of people assured the dead or alive merely because while the pay might be different (In most cases you got only half as much if you brought in a corpse) it was simpler to merely kill them.

“These days there are few that bring in their quarry alive. The Guild has become a license to kill anyone and everyone. Few in the guild take pleasure in the hunt and the capture. Now they glory only in death.”

“It sounds as if you hate them.”

“Hate? No. There have always been that kind in the Guild. But the leaders here on Nar Shaddaa are all of that sort. Except for a few the Guild Laws are spat upon now as often as not. But there are some only a fool will ignore.

“A contract is honored if accepted. It can be set aside only by asking the one that issued it. When you hunt, if you discover another has already begun their hunt, you may both hunt the same prey, but are not allowed to kill the opposition.”

It made a sick perverted sense when you thought about it. If you agreed to hunt someone, only the one issuing the contract could revoke your part in it. The prey belonged to the one that caught him. I said as much.

“But the fools are caught in the words they cannot disavow. Every major bounty hunter on the smuggler’s moon have accepted contract for Jeedai. They have been told there is one here on Nar Shaddaa, and they hunt fruitlessly. Almost five years it has been, and they cannot leave the moon because it was worded so in their contracts.

“But you have come. They would now seek you if the contracts had not been put in abeyance.”

“What?”

“The word has come down that you are to be left alone. Why I do not know. They must watch you like a tree-leaper of my world, but cannot leap to attack. They are getting... more frustrated.”

“How can I find out who has put a bounty on Jedi?”

“Simple. Let a Bounty Hunter take you, he will take you to whomever it is.”

“I had hoped to avoid that.”

“Hope is a currency of little value here. Make them come from the shadows. If you could I would say get them to break the law and hunt each other, but that might not happen. If nothing else, break the truce that keeps them from hunting you here. Credits are the lifeblood of the guild.

“If all else fails, make trouble. If someone were to issue a contract on you, not as a Jedi, but as a person. it would cause some to take the chance. Even with the truce there are ways around it. They could get you to attack them, say. If you did, the Laws and the Truce allow for self defense.”

“I may have to deal with someone from the Exchange. Would that do?”

He hissed in a pattern I recognized as a laugh. “Leaping into the mouth of a Thunder-Beast will gat his attention, but the Exchange is like that animal. Only a fool wants it’s attention. But they have enough money to pay for a bounty. Surely enough to break the truce.”

“Say they come after us, any idea who will try?”

“Try? Any bounty hunter worth the name. Succeed? There are few you need to worry about.

“There is a nest of Gand that came here right before the Bounty was set. They are confusing to other races, but as hunters they are excellent. They will hunt you anywhere and everywhere, and they have yet to fail.

“There are the Twi-lek pair called the Twin Suns. Zora and Kaliea, beautiful and deadly like a well made blade. Their master on Ryloth tortured them, and it warped their minds. They danced for him one final time, doing an Echani Saber dance. When his body was found, the master was sliced thousands of times. They enjoyed that feeling of power, and now they hunt merely to feed the thrill again.

“Then there is the Zhug ‘Family‘. Banished from Duros. It is said they tried to overthrow the government, and fled the failure with only their lives. Azanti Zhug swears that when he gets the credits, they will return with an army and take the planet. Like the Gand there are hundreds of them grouped in separate clans beneath the Zhug name.

“A year ago droids of a series made by Systech suddenly entered the market. They are supposedly HK50 models.”

“We have dealt with a few.”

“They hunt, but why they do not simply walk away from the contract is unclear. The number of them here on the smuggler’s moon are unknown.

“Then of course there are Hanharr and Mira. But the only thing that keeps them both alive is the truce. Hanharr is a Wookiee. Taken as a slave from his home world long ago. He killed the Czerka slavers, took their ship, and stopped here. But like the Twin suns, it has warped him. He now hunts exclusively humans. When he captures them, he sells them into slavery after brutalizing them. Only one has ever been caught and escaped. That one is Mira.

She escaped from him in this very moon, and to this day, know one knows how. She had taken her first contract as a bounty hunter before she was found, the second one she took was to hunt the Jeedai and only that kept her alive.

“Hanharr has hunted Mira since she escaped from him here on the moon, and only that truce keeps him from killing her. He has sworn to hunt her until the stars die of cold. But of all it is her I admire the most.”

“A human?”

“She is before anything else, a hunter. She does not hunt for the kill. She accepts more contracts where the target is returned alive than any I have seen in decades. She kills rarely, but does not glory in it. To her it is something to be avoided.”

“Thank you.”

“Good hunt, human. You are the kind that deserves a decent hunt.” He moved away.

“What an odd perspective.” The Handmaiden said.

“Not really.” I replied. “Have you ever hunted?”

“Yes, we needed to eat on Telos after all.”

“Which hunt satisfied you the most? The one where you went out, shot it and brought it home? Of the one where the animal made you work for it?”
She nodded. “He is like a master sword maker. He disdains the mass produced garbage that drive him from business because any idiot can plunk down a few credits for one that has been mass produced.”

Atton returned, and reported that while his friend could still make us a transponder, he needed a clean navigational chip to do it on, and they were in short supply.

Suddenly I staggered;

I was home free. The crew of the ship that had landed had intervened, and all I had to do was get to the shuttle station. The money the woman had given me was enough to-

Three figures stepped from the shadows. I recognized one of Visquis’s men as the stunner hit me. “You will love where we’re sending you.” He hissed.

Kreia’s voice was suddenly there. “See? The force binds everything. The slightest touch the smallest gift or the least harm reverberates through it.

“Your act freed him, but those that seek him were angered. In reaction he has been chosen for a fate worse than any death you can possibly imagine. If he had stayed in the Refugee housing, he would have survived. They have not stooped to kidnapping yet. All you and he did was guarantee that he would become a target, for the Exchange does not let go it’s power for anything.

“In the end, all you have wrought is more pain. They might have merely beaten him back to his nest. That is my lesson for you today.

I snapped back to the here and now. Atton and the Handmaiden were looking at me in shock. I shook my head, but I vowed I would find him and free him.


Twin Suns

They stood together, watching the woman and her companions across the Refugee sector.

“I want to taste her.” Kaliea purred. “She is so close. I want to taste her flesh, her blood...”

Zora had to admit that her sister in death was downright stupid. But she danced well, and no one was more single minded on the hunt. “Patience, my sister. There is so much to savor in the hunt. Have you chosen?”

Kaliea pouted. “How about the young man with her?” She asked. “He looks like he will be fun in more ways than one.”

“Yes... That one.”


Ship rights

Marai

I was in a pensive mood as we walked on. Had my kindness doomed that poor man? Someone stood in front of us, and he had the triumphant look of someone that knew he was right.

“You landed an hour or so ago. In the Ebon Hawk.”

“Yes we did.”

“Then this is for you.” He held out a chip in a reader. I took it, and my blood ran cold. “You are filing a claim for the ship?”

“What?” Atton snatched the reader from my hands. “You can’t take it! That’s our ship, not yours!”

“Was I talking to you, jet jockey? I can prove that ship is mine, and the court says I can repossess it. If you refuse, I call the authorities, and they fly combat patrol over your head until we get to court.” He smirked. “Around here, that can take decades.”

As Atton sputtered, I hand the reader back to him. “That is all well and good, but you must have some sort of proof that it is your ship.”

“Her registry number is 34-P7JK. She’s got a temperamental flow regulator in the portside engine, and her Hyper drive has tuners that won’t stay aligned. Her turrets are good for long range, but they refuse to track fast enough on close ranged fast targets.” He enumerated the secret compartments, all five of them.

“So that was how Visas got aboard unnoticed.” I murmured.

“Wait a minute!” Atton looked at me as if I were stealing his dessert. “He could have found out about all of that from somewhere else. That doesn’t prove he owned her. Maybe he sold her or lost her gambling! I think he’s skifting us.”

“Dream on punk.” He looked back at me. “She was stolen almost ten years ago now, right before the Jedi Civil War. I heard some Exchange big wig named Davik Kang had bought her about seven years ago, but Taris got blasted before I could get there. But I don’t have to chase her anymore, do I? Give her up or see me in court.”

“Could we buy her? Rent her?”

“Lady you haven’t got enough credits to get a test flight. That ship is one of the fastest in the Galaxy, and she’s worth her weight in spice.”

I sighed. “All right, you can take possession tomorrow morning.”

“What!” Every outburst before this had been merely a summer breeze. This was a squall of hurricane proportions. Atton glared at me. “She’s my ship! Well, she’s your ship that I fly...”

“Can it, pilot. The bosses are trying to have a conversation.” He looked back at me. “You aren’t going to steal her again?”

“No.”

He smiled, and suddenly I found I liked him. “Name’s Ratrin Vhek. Once I’ve checked her out, come and see me. I would be glad to carry you to your next destination if you leave before sunset tomorrow.”

“I will try to be done with what we must do by then.”

As he strode away, the Handmaiden came closer. “Are you sure you wish to do this? You have taken our seven day deadline and shortened it to but one. We cannot guarantee that we will find the Jedi master in that short a time. If we do not, we will be stranded here.”

“We cannot just steal it from him.” I replied meekly. “I will find a way.”

“Find a way?” Atton laughed raggedly. “I can put a round in his back from here and no one will know we shot him!”

“Atton, restraint is the key.” She said piously. “Besides if pain is what you wish to cause there is a neck strike that will incapacitate him in blinding pain for a week if properly done.”

He grinned. “Point taken. Will you administer it or shall I?”

“Play nice, children.” I admonished.

Emperor Devon
08-26-2006, 01:39 AM
Another excellent chapter, machievelli. You did a very good portrayal of Ratrin. I thought he was enough of a ******* in the game. I dislike him ever moreso now.

machievelli
08-26-2006, 03:29 AM
Confrontation

Mira

I watched her through my scope. If I were like the rest of the lowlifes in the guild, one touch would have spread her head all over the landscape. Most Jedi I remembered were old toothless relics spouting peace and love. She looked... almost cute. The Jedi had definitely raised their standards.

“I just hope it’s me that takes you.” I whispered. “It would be a pity to blow you to hell instead.”

MY wrist control tingled, and I looked down my back trail. There was a darker blot of shadows there. “Hanharr. I thought I smelled something more rank than normal. I told you before. Hunt your own targets, not mine. And stop following me or I will get nasty.”

“You are my prey, female. Always.”

“Remember the truce? Until we bag the Jedi, no one gets to kill another Bounty Hunter. I know living around the Hutt has burned out what little mind you have, but have you lost it all?”

“Maybe I forget truce. Become a mad claw again. Seeing you die by centimeters will make me happy before I die.” He took a step and there was a little flash in front of him.

“Yeah, maybe you take one step too many, and the mines in that box your in all go off. I haven’t threatened you, but you can’t keep your mouth shut about how much you want me dead.” I lifted the controller on my left wrist. “If I press this, you’re a splotch on the pavement, and no one will even think it was anything but self defense.”

“Like the life debt-”

“Damn you I don’t care about your life debt. If I had known you would have gone so ape over it I would have left you in that hole!”

“Then you make mistake. The stupid make only one mistake on my world. I can smell your fear stink from here.”

“Of course I’m afraid you moron! If I trigger all those mines the rockets in my launcher might go up to! I don’t want to see you dead, but I will if you push it one more time. But getting killed along with you is not part of the bargain if I can avoid it.” I looked at him bleakly. “But if I have to die to escape, I will. I will not let you put me in shackles again.”

I think if he could have guaranteed taking me with him he would have charged. He backed away. “It is not time for you to enter the Shadowlands yet, female. But when you do it will be my hands around your throat, looking into your eyes as you die.” He backed away.

I took out my climbing line rigged a squib, and abseiled down the wall as fast as I could. I would have to contemplate killing that big shag rug. I just wasn’t looking forward to it.

Whispers in the void

Marai

I was trying to figure what to do about a ship, when suddenly I felt something.

[i]Hunger. Never fed, never nurtured, the cries of thousand that died every day on this planet just nature taking it’s course, but here they could almost speak.
Again Kreia was there. “Your thoughts are disturbed. Even if I were half the galaxy away I could hear such a cry.”
“What is it?” I asked mentally
“If you stripped all of the metal and manmade things from it, this is what would remain on Nar Shaddaa. It is the real Nar Shaddaa. The hopes dreams and agonies of everyone that lives or has lived here.”
“I understand that it is alive. But it feels so... desperate.”
“Considering all of the damage that had been done before we met, I am surprised you can feel it at all. As for desperation why does that surprise you? From the first this has been a desperate place. Those who came here were not looking for their paradise, they came here because there was no alternative. Either work here or die. Those descended from them know nothing but that despair, a every new life merely adds to it.”
“Can it be healed?”
She chuckled. “You might as well try to heal a star about to go supernova, or put a bandage on the galaxy. But at the right time and the right place, with the Force directed in just the right manner, such manipulation is possible. But it is like unto cutting a diamond. There is the one point in it’s matrix where you must strike. If you chose wrong, the crystal lays shattered and worthless. If you chose right, the echoes of your act spreads like ripples in a pond, touching the entire mass, and making the cheap stone a work of beauty and art.”

“I am not interested in controlling or manipulating!”

“Are you so blind? Even placing a simple bandage on a wound is an act of manipulation. cleaning the germs from it, sewing it closed, using synthflesh, all are manipulations of what is. Even healing requires that you look at it in perspective.

“Just by existing at this moment, you are manipulating events. What is the old saying of the masters? To stand and do nothing is also an action? Teachers manipulate with the words they say. The example you set manipulates your followers. Every time you fight someone you have influenced hundreds, just as that ripple from a small stone touches all

“For that matter what can we say of you? Your actions here, aboard the ship, even back to your birth affected others. Now it is your companions, and in them your have awakened them to the truth you believe. The first to fall was the Handmaiden, who betrayed her oath to ask for your guidance. The Seer who would have died gladly at you hand, and now lives only to serve you abjectly. Even Atton and Bao-Dur feel it.

“But come. This is a moment to treasure, and words will merely obscure it.”


Marai

I chose a quiet diner, and we ate. I didn’t know what to do about the ship, and on top of that, there were the actions of the Exchange. I knew our teachings, and if Zez-Kai Ell were here, he would have done something about it.

So either he was not near the Refugee sector, or he was dead. I could see no other reason for his inaction.

That meant our deadline was gone. We would board the ship, have Ratrin Vhek drop us on Dxun, and relax for a few days before whatever Kavar had planned went down.

Bao-Dur and Mandalore came back from the dock. Bao-Dur was a little upset that I had given up the ship after all the work he had put into it. Mandalore was willing to get us to Dxun if necessary. He’d found almost a hundred Mandalorians that had been working as a co-op that were glad to relocate to Dxun. But they weren’t going to be able to leave until after our original deadline anyway.

Kreia merely smiled, and said ‘the force would provide’.

“I found a place to get fuel for Telos.” Atton commented. He had gone for a drink. In the mood I was in I didn’t go because i would have dived in and never come out.

“Oh?” Maybe a bright spot!

“Yeah, one of the locals, Vogga the Hutt controls a lot of tankers, and he buys fuel for his fleet at Sleheryon. For a little taste, he’d send more than they could ever use.”

“Somehow I know there is a but to that statement.” The Handmaiden was eating in that neat precise manner she had, back straight, small bites, each chewed thoroughly before the next.

“Yeah there is. And it’s a doozy. One of the Exchange bigwigs operates out of here. Goto.”

“The same Goto Luxa spoke of?”

“Yes. Vogga did something to tick him off, and since then his outbound ships have been pirated on a regular basis. Vogga is like a lot of Hutt, they want to keep their business literally at arm’s length. So every ship that picks up a cargo anywhere where ever it is bound is required to come here for instructions or to report.

“He’s tried everything I can think of from what I heard. Fake transponders, different company logos, even different Hutt, but everything that has come into the system in the last four months only leaves to disappear.”

“So how do we see him?” I asked.

“There’s only one I can think of, but you’re not going to like it.”

“I am already not liking it. Speak.”

“He has a thing for dancing girls, and for some reason he’s off Twi-leki ones. He wants anything but Twi-leks. If you can dance, you can get in. Otherwise he won’t talk unless you have more credits than we can come up with. Or if you’re willing to accept a bounty.”

“On who?”

“Who else? Goto eats a plasma round, and Vogga will ship the first shipload of any kind of cargo anywhere in the galaxy on him.”

It might almost be worth it, I thought. “No. We will deal with the Refugee sector this evening, and tomorrow afternoon, we will speak with Ratrin Vhek.

“The refugee sector.” Atton looked at Bao-Dur, then at Mandalore. “We will deal with the Refugee sector?” The last was said as if I had said ‘we will put out the sun‘.

“I believe Zez-Kai Ell must be dead.” I said. “Because every fiber of my being screams for me to help them, and he has not. If he is dead, we can leave tomorrow morning. But I will see this abomination cleaned from the planet it I have to die.” I looked at them all. “No one worthy of the title Jedi could stand here and watch this happen. I will not.”

“But the Exchange...” Atton’s protests died. I do not know what he saw in my face, but he was silent.

“Visas, you are with me. Atton?” I looked at him. “Will you go or is there some one with the stomach for it aboard?”

I saw him first furious with me, how dare I impugn his manhood. “I’ll follow you.” He said woodenly.

Visas checked her weapons. We had not found another lightsaber for her, but she was satisfied with a vibro-sword. I stalk toward the entryway to the Refugee berthing. There were guards from the Exchange, but just the look on my own face was sufficient to back them away. I stalked down the ramps from the common refugee section to the Refugee berthing area.

The words used had not described the squalor. Picture three people vying for the same cubic meter of space, multiplied by the hundreds that were packed in like animals headed for the slaughter. I saw one off by himself. Of all he was not pressed in like travelers at rush hour. I went toward him and he waved me away weakly. “Go away.” He coughed. “I may be contagious.”

“Do you think I care?” I asked. I opened my medpac. I set the thermometer tape on his head. He had a high fever. I touched his tongue, and put the swab in the sensor. Iridian plague. Part of me clenched at the thought. 80 percent exposed catch it, 90 percent who catch it die, even with medical care.

I pulled out the multi-spectrum antibiotic. It would help, but there were no guarantees. “This will ease it.” I told him. “But if you are not lucky...”

He chuckled weakly. “My luck is that you came by. If I die, it is just the odds.” He picked up a small bundle. “Here. For your trouble.”

“But I may have failed!”

“You didn’t fail to care.” he husked.

I took the bundle, sticking it in my pouch.

“It’s nice to know that the old Jedi code means something.” Atton quipped

I spun, glaring at him. “I may have saved his life, but even he knows the odds are all I did was ease his death.” I stalked over, poking him in the chest. “I give because others need. Not because it is what the code says. Not because I feel I must. Not even to ease my own conscience! I give because I know in my heart that to pass one like him by and ignore him is the worst sin for one such as I.” I stalked past him.

To the people immured in this hell, my first act was as bright as if I made the sun come out in the evening. They came to me, and as I walked through I heard their pleas. My husband is missing... Someone promised a ship, but hasn’t come back... They took my daughter... I need a job...

I found myself kneeling, and while I made no sound I could feel my heart and soul keening with the loss. Not my loss but theirs impressed on me as I walked through the crowd. Everywhere around me people with no hope, with no future. I wanted to scream, to fall on my back and die rather than take another second of it. I wanted to empty my purse, the ship’s accounts, to roll up my sleeves and give, even knowing it would never be enough.

Visas stood back, and from her I could feel an overwhelming pity. She had been shown this by her master. The blight humanity was on the stars, and she was wondering how I would see the same scene. Atton was just Atton. I might as well have been walking through the market for all the reaction I got.

A hand extended before my face. A cup was in it, and I could smell tea. “It isn’t much compared to what you have given. But is all the thanks we can offer.” A voice said.

I knelt, drinking the weak tea. I knew the taste oh so well. You have one tea bag, so you make two cups, both weak, but more than you would have with one strong cup. The man before me was bedraggled, tired, but he had not given up yet. I looked into those eyes, and he leaned forward.

“So many of the social worker types come down here. They can do nothing, so they run. But you... You felt our pain, knew our suffering as if it were your own.” He waved vaguely at the tea. “They never got tea from us, I can tell you that.”

“My thanks.” I breathed, handing the cup back. He filled it and passed it back. “Hussef.” He said. “I am what might be called the leader of our community. You went to Gerial first. We know he has the Iridian plague. We know he may die. But still he tries to stop us from helping even though he is of our community. We push food and drink from outside the quarantine zone we have created. We boil everything he uses in the hopes it does not spread. Yet you walked in, spoke with him, treated him.” He looked around, and I could feel his heart breaking. “There is so little we can do, but you have done so much more.”

“Hush.” I said. “I have had my shots, you have not.”

“If only we could have a chance.” He whispered. “The Serroco on the skyward side of us, the Exchange on the inner side. Both take up all the room they can force, and leave us pinched between.”

“Serroco?” I remembered a planet by that name. Malak’s forces had smashed it flat when they recaptured it.

“Veterans from their forces.” Hussef explained. ”With no home to return to, they ended up here.”

“I see.” The second cup was even weaker than the first, but I was not going to complain. “So the Exchange has taken, what, a third of the space?”

“A bit more than that.” He corrected. “Between the Serroco bunch and them over three quarters of the space is held by them.”

Neither one needed than much space. I knew this automatically. Yet the refugees caught in the middle were crammed into a quarter of the space. “How do the Serroco and Exchange get along?”

“They have a truce. If they steal from us, it is all right.”

I passed the cup back. “Then first I must deal with the Exchange, then with the Serroco.” I said.

“You’re not-” He flinched back from my gaze.

“I will not stand by and let people be penned in like cattle.” I stood stalking across the open area between us and the hatch leading up on the other side. Whoever had chosen this as a place for the refugees had done so with malice aforethought. The way we had come in was the only way in and out. The other ramps merely led to the areas controlled by either the gang of the Veterans, and anyone using them would have to fight their way through.

I was in the mood for a fight.

I took the ramp as a jog, going up and inward. I came to a door, and a pair of Gamorreans looked at me, but did little else. Of course, it I was not wanted, I would have to fight my way past them to escape, so they didn’t much care. I returned that lack of interest.

After a time I came to a control room, where once upon a time cargo masters dealt with cargo coming into what was now home to the refugees. Someone had mentioned a name as I forged through the crowd below. Saquesh.

He was a Quarren, and he turned, the tentacles where a human would have had a chin writhed. “I thought I smelled something foul.” He said.

“You are Saquesh?” I asked softly.

“The overseer from the Exchange for this region, human. Does that mean anything to you?”

“The Exchange is a blight on the Universe.” I said. “Cowards that do not dare attack in the light for fear that even the smallest rodent might defeat them.”

“You would be wise to have a care human.”

“No, you would be wise to heed me.”

“And why should I heed you?” He asked.

“Because I will become your worst nightmare if you do not.” I promised. “You will remove yourself from this section of the refugee quarter. You will stop preying on the refugees. If you do not, things will get bloody.”

“You threaten the Exchange?”

“I promise grief to all of your here.”

“How your race has survived this long is beyond me.” He turned to his guard, and I struck. The Wee quay screamed, falling.

“Last chance.”

“Guards!” He reached for a weapon.

I had learned long ago that you either trust those with you to do their jobs, or you do not. I trusted Visas, and I was sure she could cover for Atton if it came to that. I cut Saquesh down, and turned. The Gamorreans from the outer room had charged in, but between them, Visas and Atton had taken them all down.

“Well?”

“Top to bottom.” I said. “Everyone with an Exchange marker dies.” I ordered.
So it was. We killed maybe thirty of them, scattering them through the halls like chaff. Along the way we freed seven people held by them. when we came back down ramps, the people were silent.

“Don’t go there yet.” I ordered.

“But-”

“I have the Serroco to speak to.” I snapped. “When I am done, then listen.”

The walk cut up and this time I took the left fork. The man guarding their territory would have stopped me, but I was death incarnate, and he wisely let me pass. The Serroco had taken a bit more than a third as reported, and the 100 odd men lounged in a space a thousand were crammed into next door. I found their leader lounging back, cleaning his weapon.

“You’re either very brave or very stupid to come here.” He commented. “I would lay odds on stupid.”

“You have a truce with the Exchange. Does it still exist if they are dead?”

“What?” He looked at me as if I had just emplaced a plasma mine between us.

“Do you have a man you trust to always tell the truth?”

“Woman, if I didn’t trust all of them that much, I’d be here alone.”

“Then send one inward. Now.”

He snorted, signaling a man to him. That man took off. We waited as he did his reconnoiter. when he came back he looked at me with fear in his eyes, then knelt by his commander’s side, and whispered urgently.

The commander listened, his face growing grim. “So you killed the Exchange goons. There were only thirty of them-”

“Thirty five.” I snapped back. “Since all they needed was thirty five to keep you at bay, what chance do you think you have?” I lifted my lightsaber, and the blades shot out. Behind me Visas drew her vibro-sword. “I swear by all the gods if you do not listen and agree, your men die. Here and now, by my hand.”

“It’s your credit.” He said. I had to hand it to him, he was brave.

“The Serroco were some of the bravest men I commanded during the war.” I told him. “At Zagosta a third of them died, and well.”

“Zagosta?” He snorted. “Marai the whore is dead. Who the hell do you think you are?”

“Marai Devos.” I snapped back. “And the ‘whore’ is alive and well, and seriously angry with you.”

His eyes went flat. “Speak your terms.”

“You have the perfect fortress if you have half the mind to use it.” I snarled at him. “One way in, and a good fire team could hold it against a battalion. A good fire team supported by a company could hold it against the 2nd Marines. You have several hundred people in the next bay that would pay for you to protect that way in and out, and with every menial job that has gone wanting for the last year, it doesn’t sound like much, but it’s more than you’re making right now.”

“Why should they pay us?”

“Because first you keep just the space you have. That still gives them a almost three times what they have right now. They pay for that protection. Even if they paid you a quarter of their earnings, it is more than either of you had before.

“And the Exchange can’t come back in unless you let them.”

“But they have a lot of men, they can fight us.”

“So what?” I asked scornfully. “The Exchange doesn’t hire mercenaries. They hire thugs. The kind that get a thrill out of standing over you and lording it over you because you’re smaller. Do you think their thugs will last a second in a firefight?”

He chuckled. “Maybe a couple of seconds. But it will be the high point of their brief lives.”

“Then you will agree?”

“What makes you think they will agree to this?”

“Because your men will occupy and fortify the entrance. Then you and I will go over there, and talk to them.”

It was almost that simple. Hussef had a Council, but the idea that they had a hundred guns protecting them put the Council firmly on my side. The refugees pushed, and got three quarters of the space, which meant the Serroco had to bunch up a little, but the money was enough to calm their nerves. When I handed the Serroco leader a thousand credits, it was merely icing on the cake I had suggested.

The people were celebrating, and I felt much better. It was the best possible solution. Slaughtering the Serroco would have left the refugees defenseless, or even worse because a hundred odd weapons would have been in their hands, and the Exchange would have killed anyone that was armed.

I noticed a couple of Twi-lek standing off to the side. All of the Refugees had been human, as had the Serroco troops. I walked over, and one of them saw me. He looked past me at Atton, who was with some of the children, then motioned for me to approach, but did so in such a way that Atton would not see it.”

“Much you have done for them.” One of them said. “We would have hired them if the Exchange had not threatened. We seek to speak to the Serroco leader now to extend that protection.”

“He is over there.” I waved toward him and Hussef, who were reminiscing about the war.

“For you this is.” The other said. “Do you know what kind of creature that male is?”

I looked over my shoulder at Atton, then back at them. “His name is Atton.”

“Yes, he is Atton now, but not then. Those he was with spoke of him. He is a killer in truth and deed.” The first one said. “We saw him when he first came to Nar Shaddaa during the Jedi Civil War. He was in Sith uniform then.”

“I thank you.” I said. They nodded, then sidled toward the Serroco leader. I stood for a long time watching Atton.

The Truth about Atton

Atton

It was almost dawn when we broke away from the celebration. Marai had been quiet since our return to the Refugee section and I was nervous. He reached the upper level, breathing that special air you only get at dawn. It’s almost worth staying up all night to taste that wine like texture.

“It’s great to be alive.” I said. She was still silent. I looked at her. There was tension flowing from her like ice calved from glacier.

“Visas, will you walk over there?” She waved toward where Marai had pointed.

“What is this?”

“Time for the truth about Atton Rand.”

“Oh? What truth is that?”

“First, what is your real name?”

I flinched inwardly. “I am Atton Rand.”

“Not according to some people I met. They say you came here in Sith uniform.”

I started getting mad about it. After all I had done for her... “Yeah I came here. So did a lot of refugees. And if i was in Sith Uniform what does that matter? It was cold and I had to wear something.”

“The truth, Atton.”

“You can’t handle the truth.” I snarled. “Is this some kind of half baked interrogation? because Jedi or not, you don’t know what you’re doing if it is!” I glared at her. “Why not do a Jedi mind trick and dig it out for yourself?”

“I apologized once, I will not do so again.”

“After all I’ve done for you. I helped you get off Peragus, I flew that ship through a hell you can’t imagine and that was before they set the asteroids ablaze! I have been through hell for you and now I get interrogated!

“What gives you the right to ask me anything? Have I asked one question about the war from you? Have I asked how it felt to murder three million people in one shot?

“How could you even sleep after Malachor? Is that why you went back? Because you hoped they’d exonerate you? Or maybe you hoped they’d kill you?” I shook my head. “But you know they wouldn’t. You’d go home and they’d pat you on the head-”

“Shut up.”

“-and give you a cup of cocoa-”

“I said shut up!” Her eyes flamed. It’s a misnomer to say a short person is in a towering rage, but for a second I saw the Maria Devos that had been.

“You know what I think? What a lot of the survivors of Malachor think? You sanctimonious bastards got what you deserved. All your high and mighty talk of peace and love and you killed almost 2 million of our own troops in one shot.

“Because you lie. Sith, Jedi, it doesn’t matter, you’re all liars. At least the Sith are honest about it. They don’t save you to put you through three kinds of hell later. While you bastards sat on the ships discussing the force we were in the mud fighting for our lives.”

She took a step toward me, and I backed. I think at that moment, she might have killed me.

“Is that so. Ask a survivor of the battle of Dxun. Ask those few left of the 2nd Marines. The history books say 75% losses of the first wave. Try closer to eighty. I was there, I saw over 400 of my men blown to hell on that landing. When Firebase Charlie called in Final protective fire there were thirty five of us in the perimeter. As the cluster bombs dropped, with blaster cannon for time on target, we dove for cover.”

She laughed, a dry hollow sound with no humor at all. “You know the prayers every soldier knows. A naval rating prays, ‘for what we are about to receive, may we be thankful. A grunt prays, ‘let it land on someone else‘.

“But the infantry officer prays, ‘gods if someone has to die, please have it be the enemy‘. Anyone but my people‘. Thirty-five. When the blast cleared thirty of us were still alive.

“So don’t give me the ‘you were on the ship’ sanctimonious crap. I was there, and of the 1500 of my unit 780 walked out alive. I cared about every one of them and when one of my men died I gave a damn!”

She glared at me. “So talk or walk.”

“You won’t like it.”

“At the moment I don’t like you at all.”

“I was a deserter.”

“From which side.”

I laughed. Mine had as little humor as hers. “I fought during both wars, sweet cheeks. I was a fifteen year old gung ho kid when I signed up to fight the Mandalorians. That kid was an old man five years later at Malachor. I did what I had to do.

“You were there at Serroco when the Stereb cities were turned into glass craters. Duro when Basilisks rained from the sky. And the Xonin plains of Eves III. Those fires still burn!

“Then Revan came to us. She pointed out how many had died because of politics. Admiral Quintain may had been bad, but he wasn’t the worst of the lot by a long shot. If the Jedi hadn’t joined us I would be dead already.

“But that’s the rub. Over seven thousand of you but less than two came to help. We knew the Senate was a crock, but why should we stand by the ones that refused to help? Revan, Malak, you. Those were who we would have stood by because you shed blood with us, took casualties with us. When Revan said ‘we need to change things’ we swore to her in droves.”

I spun away, looking at the sky. “Then the Sith teachings started filtering down. But we were still loyal to the spilt blood. and when the same Jedi that had refused to help us fought back, we killed them. I got good at it. I taught myself techniques, how to cloud my mind, because as smart as a Jedi is, he can’t detect you about to kill him if you’re not thinking about it, can he? Sometimes I was so good that I could walk through our headquarters and none of our own Jedi knew I was there, and I wasn‘t the only one.

“Revan was taking us for special units. Our orders were to capture Jedi wherever we could. We’d hit a planet, and the Jedi with us would aim us in the right direction. We’d hunt them down, put them in stasis cages, and ship them out.”

“Where?”

“At first is was to some inhospitable worlds, where they couldn’t escape. But after the first year, I don’t know. I’d heard some clues. The Star Forge was one, the other something called Traya. You see Revan knew one thing. The side with the most Jedi fighting for them was going to win.”

“But you’re here, and you ran away.”

“I just got... Tired. I wanted out.”

“Why?” Her voice was acid. “Kill enough Jedi?”

“Look who’s talking! How many died at Malachor? People who fought alongside you don’t have a great life expectancy! Do you even know-”

“Under my command directly 782,941.” She snapped. “And as much as you lambaste me for it, over half of them died at Malachor while I was in a coma.”

“So what? You have history, but 90 percent that followed you are history because they died where you took them. So don’t get all high and mighty with me.”

“So why are you telling me this now?”

“Because when I drop on some battlefield I want someone to know who I was and why I died. Even if it is you.”

“Why did you leave the Sith?”

I looked back at her. “There was this woman. Nice looker, a Jedi, though I didn‘t know until later. She had been slipped into our lines, and had been investigating for the Jedi council when I caught her. She told me that Revan or Malak were murdering those Jedi, turning them into parts of a machine, or worse. She said that they were taking anybody that was even remotely force sensitive, and they were going to end up at the Star Forge or Traya. That they would be programmed like a machine to be the perfect Jedi killing weapons. She said I must be on their list because I could use the Force, and that was why I was so good at hunting them.”

“So what did you do?”

“What do you think I did? I hurt her. But then she did something. Suddenly I was inside her head, feeling her pain, seeing my face like a monster. I hit her.” I found myself on my knees, beating my hand against the pavement. “I hit her again and again. For lying to me, for telling me the truth, for making me see what I had become. I killed her because I hated her, and I killed her because I loved her. I hit her until I stopped seeing what was in her mind, and kept hitting her anyway. Because I couldn’t beat myself to death!”

I looked up at her, but the disgust I had expected wasn’t there. She was impassive, but I felt; what, pity?

“I got a commendation, and a promotion. But I kept hearing her... Feeling her die. I remembered what she’d said. A lot of guys I knew on the special squads had been promoted and sent of for ‘special training’. What if she was right? What if I was on someone’s little list?

So I ran. Changed my name, drifted until I met you on Peragus. You reminded me of her. Calm self assured. Running around in your underwear, but you ruled the place. I felt... Maybe if I helped you... Maybe the screaming would stop, and I could have a decent night’s sleep again.”

She sighed, then put out her hand.

“What, you want to hit me?”

“I want you to stand on your own hind legs and be a man again, Atton. I can’t forget what you have done, but I can forgive it.”

machievelli
08-26-2006, 02:29 PM
The Red Eclipse

Marai

I had barely turned from Atton when I felt;

the Toydarian was working on his accounts. “Three bricks of spice out of Ylesia, then with the turn around...Um... no, that’s won’t work...

“We need to speak.” A hissing voice said. the Toydariant turned. A Trandoshan stood there, visibly furious.

“Cahhmakt! Back already? I didn’t expect you...So soon.”

Some other ship takes our place. Another ship to take our cargo perhaps?” The voice was angry. “Some one takes from the Red Eclipse?”

“Well I tried to explain, but... Well...”

“Traveled far through the blackness has Red Eclipse. Bodies the Exchange sells. Bodies for tending, bodies to feed Quillan Spice. Without both, production falters, and the plants die. Yet when we come another ship occupies our berth, our territory usurped. Where the Red Eclipse should rest, another ship rests in her shadow. This will be explained. With your screams of pain, or with your life.”

“I got no choice! These uh, thugs. They take the space. They tell me, ‘what ship? Tell them to space themselves‘. I try to say, ‘but this is the Red Eclipse-”

“Enough. Find them. Tell them to come and move their ship. We will take them, feed them to the Quillan. They will pay with their agony!”

“Right, just find them...”

I found Atton standing in front of me. Visas stood there, the blade of her vibro-sword between us.

“Are you all right?”

“That isn’t the question.” I lifted my com-link. “Mandalore.” Nothing.

“Bao-Dur.” Still nothing.

“They sleep, my sister.” The Handmaiden said.

“Where is everybody?”

“Except for me, they still sleep. We are in the rooms we rented as you commanded.”

“Get them up, meet me at the diner. We have problems.”

We hurried across the quad. We ordered tea, and a moment after it was served Mandalore came, followed by the others. The only one who seemed to still be asleep was Kreia, who grumbled about the young keeping her up.

“Someone has blocked our ship.” I told them.

“Our ship?” Mandalore looked at me. “The one you gave away?”

“Spare me.” I snapped at him. “That damn Toydarian told him we were still here, and some ship named the Red Eclipse is blocking us in. By the way, What is Quillan?”

“A spice.” Atton said. “Nasty stuff. They say it’s grown using living people.”

“People?” The Hand maiden paled.

“Yes. You need to have people tend it, and humans are best for some reason. The thorns are nasty though, and it injects a toxin that will paralyze a human being. If you fall over paralyzed, the plants will spray spores on you. They feed off the nerve tissue, and grow both up and down. It takes weeks for it to kill you.”

“They intend to find us and feed us to these damn plants of their.” I noticed the Toydarian flying around. He saw me, and tried to shy away. Then he flew toward us.

“Hey! There you are... I told you someone else had booked the landing pad, and they arrived a little early. So I have to ask you to move. But hey, I gotta another pad just a klick away-”

“Where you will park our ship after we are dead?” I asked conversationally. Mandalore’s arm snapped out, catching the snout, slamming the little being onto the table.

“No, it’s nothing like that!” He protested.

“You have a choice, my friend. You can answer my questions, or my friend will rip your wings off, and throw you down the nearest chute.”

“Hey, no reason to get violent.”

“Mandalore-”

“Wait! You didn’t even ask!”

“This Red Eclipse. What type of ship is she?”

“Kuati 402.”

“Half again our size. Crew of thirty.” Mandalore reported.

“And how many in her crew?”

“You got the Mandalorian here, and you asking me?”

“To pay you back for lying to us, yes. How many?”

“Thirty six. They don’t need as much private space as humans.”

“Weapons?”

“I think they’re model 7-” He squealed as Mandalore squeezed. “Model 19 Corellian blasters! Five of them, One in the nose, two on each broadside. Mark 3 blaster turrets!”

“Anything else?”

“They got a hover skiff with a tripod mount and two swoops.”

I looked at him for a long moment. “Mandalore? We need him incapacitated for about an hour.”

Mandalore’s fist came up, and came down like a hammer. Quello’s eyes crossed, and he fell to the ground.

“What’s the plan General?” Bao-Dur asked.

I grinned. “All right, Atton, Bao-Dur you will set yourselves up here. Mandalore, you, Visas my sister and I will be down here-”

“And what of me?” Kreia asked.

“You will follow behind and kill anyone we don’t.”

*****

It may have looked bizarre having three women leading the attack, but all of us were trained for close combat and the men were better shots. I know I am good with a blaster rifle, and I am sure that the Handmaiden could use one as well, but Visas... Well maybe she could, but in the middle of a fire fight is not the time to find out. Mandalore walked behind us, the perfect bodyguard, weapon at port arms. Kreia was to wait a minute before following. A lot of cargo containers had been spread haphazardly along the way, and we threaded our way through, ignoring the rustling movements. A ship hung over the Ebon Hawk. It was almost wasp-like in design, lift and drive engines howling as it hovered in just the right spot to block any attempt to take off.

We were halfway down the bridge to the ship when a Trandoshan stepped out in front of us. I could see half a dozen others standing behind us, as many more ahead. Then over the edge came the swoops and skiff.

“You usurp our place.” He hissed. “For that you die.”

“Ready?” I whispered.

“Always.” Mandalore said.

“My life for you.” Visas whispered.

“Let’s get it over with. These are not even entertaining.” The Handmaiden said.

I grinned at her comment. I walked toward the Trandoshan and as I came up to him, my lightsaber hissed to life and he fell in pieces.

*****

Atton

Pick off anyone behind us so we can retreat if we need to. Wait for my signal. Great plan. What kind of-

The Trandoshan in front of her fell in pieces, and I felt the trigger break clean. A Wee Quay behind them went down, and I immediately went for field rather than targeting focus. There. A Trandoshan had dived for cover, and now he was sticking his head up. I went back to target focus, pulled the trigger, and went back to field.

Not to check him. He was dead. I was looking for another target. I could hear Bao-Dur’s rifle fire, and one of the men in the field went down.

*****

Mandalore

I picked off one of the swoops. The idiot had been at idle, and was a sitting target. The other had been smarter. He was already at speed when he came up and over, and he didn’t slow down.

I tried for the skiff, but the pilot had dived down and was out of sight I heard the Handmaiden scream-

*****

Handmaiden

Six of them in front of us, and they went down like grain before the scythe. The six behind had been killed by gunfire. But the ship was moving now, turning to bring her guns to bear. I saw the swoop, and shut off my weapon as I ran toward Mandalore.

“Boost!” I screamed.

He looked back then at me, and his hands clasped at waist level. I leaped, foot hitting his hands. He threw me upward, and I put everything I had, muscles, momentum, and the Force behind my leap.

The rider had a second before my feet caught him, then he was gone, screaming into the void. I was too busy to watch his fall. As I had felt him wrenched from the bike, I had been turning, my hand catching the handlebars. I caught the throttle by mistake, and the bike leaped forward, trailing me like the coma of a comet. I saw the Red Eclipse coming at me at high speed, and I kicked the seat, arching my body forward, and let go as the bike slammed into the ship like a missile. I dropped, scrabbling to the hull, an antenna stopping my plunge, and I rolled away as the dorsal turret fired. I was too close to the hull! Then a gun popped. An anti-intruder weapon, and I leaped, running as the gun bit divots out of their own hull, tracking after me. I dodged fire from both sides, then leaped, the anti-intruder gun ripping into their own turret. blasting it free.

I lit my lightsaber, concentrated, then threw, the twin blades spinning like a propeller, slicing into the mount, freezing it, then it sliced the capacitor returning to me. I caught the weapon and ducked as the gun overloaded, exploding.

*****

Marai.

I leaped into a run toward the Ebon Hawk. All of them ahead of us were dead, but that damn skiff had dropped out of sight, using the ship as cover. Our three gunners were blasting the ship, but her armor was too tough for that. I leaped, landing on the mandible, running over the top of the saucer drawing my blaster as I did. The skiff gunner looked up, and was moving his mount when I put a bolt through his chest. The pilot was turning, and I put several shots into the body of the machine. One must have hit her antigravs because there was a shriek of searing circuits. The last thing the pilot saw was me waving goodbye.

I looked up, and the Red Eclipse suddenly staggered away from the ship.

*****

Handmaiden

Lift and drives. Without them you cannot stay hovered in anything much larger than a fighter. I ran down the hull of the ship, heard the booming shriek of the drive fans. I was over one, and plunged my saber into the metal. There was a scream of dying machinery, and the ship staggered, now trying to fly with only three unbalanced thrusters. I ran, stopped, cut across the metal where I felt it would do the most good, and ran across, my saber bit into the second one. It was starting to fall now, and I turned. The pad was too far away! I ran toward the bow, which was aimed at our ship and leaped.

*****

Marai

I saw her leap, then begin to fall. It was so close! I screamed as she fell-
*****

Visas

There were no others to kill. I looked, and saw the force shadow of the Handmaiden on top of the enemy ship, hacking at it like a demented creature. I saw it sliding away, and knew that she must fall if she did not move quickly. But I also realized she could not reach the pad from there. I ran ducking around the ship, running toward the rail. Able or not, I knew instinctively she would try.

The handmaiden leaped like a hart trying to escape the hounds. The rail slammed into my chest, my arm reaching out. Marai was screaming. She was falling she was too far-

I screamed at grinding ribs as her weight caught on my wrist, hands clasped, my hand on her wrist. The grip used by trapeze artists. As long as even one holds on, the other is safe.

I could sense her looking up at me in shock. Below there was a roar as the Red Eclipse tried to ignite her main engines. The cut she had made in the hull spilled fuel across the hull when the lines opened, and she was aflame. The ship lifted, but then rolled, dropping into the abyss. She watched silently as the fireball expanded, and moments later, the rumble of the ship’s death.

“Are you going to drop me?” I heard her ask casually.

“Not unless you want me to.” I replied. My chest was bruised. I had felt ribs break. Part of me wondered, would Marai feel these injuries were unnecessary too?

“If it is all the same to you, no.”

“May I ask, why do humans say ‘if it is all the same’ when they mean no?”

“I have no idea. It is a figure of speech. Can you pull me up?”

“I think I broke a rib or two. Can you give me a moment to catch my breath?”

“Sure.” She looked downward. “I will just hang around and enjoy the view.”

“Nag nag nag.” Marai said. She reached down, and the Handmaiden hooked her lightsaber on her belt as if she were not hanging over eternity then reached up with her other hand, catching the other woman’s wrist.

“I can pull her up.” I complained.

“I know you can. But if you broke ribs you might hurt yourself doing it. So is it all right for me to split the load?”

“What ever pleases you.” I said.

*****

Mandalore

There were ten more aboard the ship, and none of them even tried to talk. We dealt with them, then began the process of cleaning. On Nar Shaddaa this merely meant carrying them off the ship in a cargo flat, and dropping them over the side. Ratrin Vhek and some local refugee were aboard. Vhek had been shot under the chin. If he’d seen them coming, or knew what they were, it might have been self inflicted.

The refugee was dead, and for a long time Marai merely sat there, her hand on his hair. “I failed you.” She whispered. Those bodies were sent to a crematorium. T3 made a long squealing comment, probably a diatribe against any people that leaked all over his bright and shiny floor, and began cleaning.

Atton was forward, but ran back. “Marai, we have a personal encrypted message addressed to you.”

She nodded. She spent a few minutes in the com room, then came back out. “Visquis wants to meet me, alone.”

“Alone?” Handmaiden asked. “It is a trap!”

“Of course it is.” Kreia replied. “But traps close both ways.”

“What did he say?”

Marai shrugged. “That he was in charge of the Exchange operations in this sector, and I was disrupting business. That if I really wanted to get the bounty lifted we should meet and discuss it because he is the one in charge of notifying the Bounty Hunters. Then he said that I should meet him in three hours at the Jekk’Jekk Tarr.”

Atton snorted. “Well he picked a great place to guarantee no help. It’s an aliens only bar over on the docks. No humans, no droids. Did he mention how you’re supposed to wade through Cyanogen gas?”

“He suggested a space suit.”

“Sure, no armor then either.” Atton shook his head. “I don’t like it.”

“Do you think I do?” She asked with a sad smile. “But if I can get the bounty lifted, that is one less problem in my life.”

“Yes, if he does not use this as a way to get you.” The Handmaiden said.

“What about the Truce?” She asked.

“Who do you think would tell them the truce is lifted?” I commented. “Besides, have any of you read what that truce covers?” They all looked at me. I sighed. “People until Revan gave me the title, I was a mercenary and body guard for over five years. A smart mercenary learns legalese or he doesn’t get paid. Bounty hunters have worked with contracts for over 20 millennia, If you didn’t read the fine print you don’t get paid.

“The only one covered by that truce is her.” I pointed at Marai. “After our little dance with the Red Eclipse, what do you want to bet that they now know there are at least three Jedi here? But two of them aren’t under that edict. Plus nothing was mentioned about those of us that are travelling with her. Anyone of us can be taken and no one will complain.”

“I would.” Marai said.

“Then there is that. There was no mention of self defense in the truce. That means if the dumbest bounty hunter knows that all he has to do is try to take one of us and if you-” I hooked my thumb at Marai, “Try to interfere with it, then the truce is off, and they can try to collect. Some might even try to slip through it by saying that if any of us try to stop them from collecting a bounty on Atton, then the truce has been broken.” I looked from face to face, and they were suddenly realizing what I was saying.

“All this meeting is for is to get you away from us. I don’t know what Visquis plans, but I expect all of the others will drop on us like the War God’s hammer, hoping to claim afterward that we violated the truce, not them.”

“It does not matter.” Marai said. “If I do not meet, then everything you have said comes to pass. If I do, and it is a trap, then I may die. But if it is not, then perhaps I can get the bounty lifted.” She stood tall. “Mandalore, you and the others prepare. Visas, Handmaiden, you two must stay aboard the ship. Do not give them a chance to try to collect. I will be back.”

Lookout

Marai.

As I had told Atton, I didn’t gamble except with my life. I spent a few minutes preparing the pressure suit that had languished in one of Ebon Hawk’s lockers for only the gods knew how long. I filled it from the test tank, argon gas with an agent that made argon fluoresce, and ran the pressure up to three time standard. It held pressure. Good enough. I dumped the test air back into the tank, then checked the bottle. Enough for four hours. If I was still in there after four hours, air would be the least of my problems.

Bao-Dur came in. “I downloaded all of the specs on cyanogen gas. It is highly toxic, and can poison on skin contact.”

“I know.” I said.

“There’s some meds that can slow it, but they don’t work for prolonged exposure.”

“I know that too.”

He looked at me helplessly. I had seen that look before;

I was walking toward the shuttle to the courier that would take me home. Revan had already said her goodbyes.

I passed a transparisteel panel, then dropped my bag and ran back. The scene outside was utter carnage. Ships floated past, rolling gently. I could see the star, and from here I should have been able to see...

Malachor V. Where was Malachor V?

“It ‘s pulverized, General.” I looked back. Bao-Dur had a gut shot haunted expression. “When the Shadow Mass Generator went off Malachor V tried to go stellar.”

I stared at him. Malachor V had been an enormous gas giant. we had used it for our line to stand because the hyper barrier was so large that even 20 light seconds away you were trapped in normal space. If the shadow mass generator had been activated, it would have been the equivalent of a star sitting less than a million and a half kilometers from the planet. It had been postulated that a mass the size of Malachor V was only about 10 percent from automatically initiating fusion generation. It was a star without enough pressure. Pressure we had given it.

“Who gave the order?”

“We think it was Quintain. He was aboard Ravager. He was the one we gave the damn button to.” Bao-Dur looked at me bleakly. “But I designed it, you had it built. Whose fault is that?” He waved toward the shattered ships. “Just under a million and a half of our own dead when the atmosphere blew off in superheated plasma. A little over a million and a half of the Mandalorians.” I could see the unshed tears in his eyes. “All that’s left of the planet is the core and it’s still trapped inside the field.”

superheated plasma. A little over a million and a half of the Mandalorians.” I could see the unshed tears in his eyes. “All that’s left of the planet is the core.”
I stared at him, appalled.

“Ravager went down, General. After the electromagnetic pulse fried all of the circuits, the radiation wave killed everyone aboard. No hand at the helm, she fell into the core. So did a lot of others, both Mandalorian and Republic.”

“But it was set to pulse once! For a tenth of a second!”
He laughed, and it held insanity. “Kinda long tenth of a second, wouldn’t you say? Maybe I built it too well. Or not well enough?” He said. “You have a ship to catch, General.”

I looked up, and Bao-Dur was gone. Maybe the naked grief of that farce had been on my face and he couldn’t take it. I picked up the suit, my mood black, and left the ship.

I was almost to the entry to the docks when I heard a shout. Atton was chasing after me. He handed me a pile of emergency injectors.

“I ripped every antidote injector out of the med kits. If the suit doesn’t hold, you’ll need them. Once the seizures start you’ll only have seconds.”

“I’ll try to keep that in mind.”

“The electromagnetic interference means we can’t talk to you but-”

“Atton.”

“Huh?”

I kissed his cheek. “Go back to the ship.”

machievelli
08-27-2006, 12:40 PM
Mira

She was walking fat dumb and happy, wrapped up in her own thoughts.

“You know, I thought Jedi were supposed to be smart.” I said in a conversational tone. She froze. She wasn’t looking back. “You know, I have a theory. Humans are the most stupid race in existence.”

“Prejudice?”

“Of my own race? Nah.” She turned. I know I didn’t look that dangerous, but cute gets a lot of things done. When all you have to do is smile, sidle up to the guy and plant a shaped charge on his armor with a dead man switch, cute works wonders. “Humans are the only race I can think of that would have wounded egos about a snowball fight. I thought you Jedi were above that kind of thing.

“But no! You’re here less than a full standard day and night and you’re running around like a Zaktian gerbil, sticking your lightsaber into everyone’s business. Anyone ever explain subtle to you?”

“I have been told I have that problem.” She admitted with a small smile.

“What, you’re planning on rescuing every lost kitten on the planet? How long does your branch of humanity live? Cause from where I’m standing, that would be a lifetime occupation. Besides which you’re as blatant as a Mandalorian Battle group.”

“Well if you are going judge my character, shouldn’t we have introductions?”

“You’re Marai Devos. If you’re the same one in the history book, you’re a thousand klicks of very bad road, and they aren’t smart enough to realize it. As for me, I’m Mira, the best Bounty Hunter on this rock.”

“Are you.”

“Hey, that isn’t brag. I’ve had you in my sights half an hour after you landed, and have been following you every step. That was a neat job in the Refugee housing sector. Convincing the Serroco to act as their defense force was choice. Did you know there were pilots in there? The Serroco are running a shuttle service for the refugees to get them to and from work, and they’re eating better now than they were before they left home. But with someone with such a high price on their head, you really should learn some caution.”

“Will this take long?”

“No, but before you go, It’s a trap. Visquis is having all drinks half price, which is like believing in an honest Hutt banker. There are over three hundred people in that place, and a lot of them know about the bounty. But most aren’t smart enough to know that it’s been put in abeyance. You pop just one of them and the truce is over and you’re a greasy spot on the road to life. He turns the body over to Goto, ‘oh sorry boss, she made us kill her‘ and he walks off with my bounty.”

I stepped down, and made a motion with my arms like saying ‘ta-da!’ “But then you meet your guardian angel with red hair. Goto contacted me. He wants to talk with you personally. I’m supposed to deliver a message to Squid head, then take you to his shuttle. No threats, no guns. Just to talk. He’s promised you safe passage.”

“And if I decline?”

“He said, and I quote, ‘tell the woman that I can deliver the location of Zez-Kai Ell, though I cannot tell her exactly where. All I ask in return is some of her time’.” I saw her look. “Thought that would get your attention. But before we talk any more, I would suggest that we get off the road. I have a safe house on the way, and after our discussion, you can go see Goto, or go slap Visquis around, your choice.”

I call it a safe house, but it was more like a safe room. I opened the concealed door, let her in, and shut it. Then I activated the mines built into it. If Hanharr ever found this place, he’d be hound food when they went off, and only I could get into it. Everything was manually set, no electronics to spot or slice into. I looked at her expression.

“Hey, it may smell bad from the fuel fumes, and it is a mess, but it’s the maid’s day off.” I went over, and started some tea. She was looking over my book shelf. “I like history. It’s better than dealing with the null brains out there.” I waved toward the walls and the docks beyond.

“So there is no man in your life?”

I snorted. “Why do you think I dress this way? A man’s looking down your cleavage, he isn’t checking what you have in your hands. It’s simple really. If I want a man, I sidle up to him, slap a come along charge on his chest or use a Bothan stun rod, put him in cuffs, starve him for a couple of days until his mind is putty, then double check to see if he has a bounty, and if he does, turn him in. What can I say? I love my work.”

“I was speaking of sex.”

“Sure, the nun wants to know if I’m getting any. If I feel the itch, I scratch it. But nine nights out of ten I’m curled up in bed with some Ithorian thin leaf tea, and General Valenzuela.”

“Author of ‘The complete Sith War‘, volumes one through nine.”

“Don’t knock him.”

“I wasn‘t. Though his evaluation of Tanif IV left something to be desired.”

“I know what you mean. He’s so vague I feel the urge to go and dig up the ruins myself.” I handed her a cup, taking one for myself. I put a spoon of honey in mine which she declined, thankfully.

“This shows a measure of trust at odds with your profession.” She motioned toward the room.

“It’s not trust, but I have some quick explaining to do. You see, I’m not sure, but I think Goto is the one that put up the bounty.”

“Why?”

“Because of everyone involved except me, no one else is paying attention to the ‘alive’ part of the bounty. You get only one percent of it if you kill them, but most will accept that. It isn’t just you he’s after, it’s any Jedi he can catch. Between you and me, the reason the Zhug the Gand and the droids moved into this mess was because Jedi being better than the idiots thought and really fighting back has caused the life expectancy of an average Bounty hunter to drop like a rock in a standard G field.

“And it’s specific enough to save those that have just a smattering of the force. If the Mid-count is less than 4,000 you get paid ten percent of what you get for a dead Jedi, and if you bring them in dead, you get zippo. Stopped them from popping anyone with that small an ability. Me I want to buy a small planet somewhere with the biggest personal collection of history in the Galaxy and hot and cold running librarians. So bringing you in dead doesn’t appeal.

“I almost caught the other Jedi-”

“Zez-Kai Ell.”

“Yeah, him. After trying about a dozen times he met me in a dark alley. Since I wasn't willing to kill him and he wasn’t willing to go quietly, I agreed to leave him alone. Besides, do you know how hard it is to find a man that wants to talk when you say talk? Most of them think ‘talk’ means you’ll say hi, and lip lock.

“He got the same offer from Goto and refused. Goto hasn’t removed him from the bounty, but I think that’s just to keep him pinned down here until he will talk.

“But Visquis is playing fast and loose. He wants you where he can get the money and to hell with us. But there’s a catch. He know about the truce, and him breaking it is as bad as us doing it. He works directly for Goto, so he knows the man’s temper.”

“I do not even know who Goto is.”

“Join the club. Right about the start of the Jedi Civil war he popped up. Very secretive man. A competitor tried to blow him up at a meet not long after he arrived so he never meets anyone in person. When he contacted me it was through a common pay booth I was passing. The guy has connections everywhere.

“For defense He’s got a series of Aratech model 41 interrogation units. Big beach ball sized anti-grav units.”

“Yes, I know. We used them during the Mandalorian Wars.”

“Then you know they’re big, and the way he’s tricked them out, very nasty. As good as any soldier you might face, and they don’t run or surrender. Plus they’re operated from a mainframe on his ship, and any attempt to slice their programming shuts them down. When they shut down they go boom in a big way, like three square blocks, so no one messes with them.

“He uses one of the droids to transmit messages, sit in at meetings, that kind of thing. A year after he got here, he was the number 10 man and right now he‘s number 2 or three. Pretty good. He bought a Mon Calamari cruiser about three years ago, but once he did, he had it tricked out with every defensive system known, and added a stealth system designed by his own people. Better than the military ever bought, so he could be in orbit anywhere in the Galaxy and you’d never know it.

“Works like a chess master but he’s quick. When someone suggests putting a bounty on him, Goto puts a bounty on them instead, and every time it was high enough that a seated monarch on a planet wasn’t safe. If you bug him too much, he takes you out, nice neat and simple. But he doesn’t hold a grudge.”

“You know him pretty well.”

“There are a lot of people out there wondering about if he’d be worth taking, and I studied him. If someone offered what they’re offering for you, I might consider it."

“I have to... meet with... with...” She looked up confused.

“You know, I had to jack up the dosage on the anesthetic gas to five times the lethal dose just to make sure? We’ve read reports from Peragus.” I took the cup, It might be a mess, but it was my mess and I didn’t want to have to clean up the spill. She was trying to move, but she couldn’t. “Pretty fancy stuff. Used in psychotherapy for the really violent patients. Interferes with the conscious thought processes. One shot of this and the guy can’t decide what kind of ice cream he likes.”

“But...” She tried to stand, but it was a stagger. I caught her, lowering he to the floor.

“You remember the tea? It’s part of a two stage antidote. It grows on the same planet and is a natural antidote. The honey is special too. The bees live on the same planet where the spice it’s made from grows. The honey is made from the nectar of both plants and neutralizes the chemicals. But without the tea, you’re still out like a candle. That and inhalant blockers. Can’t be too careful.” I laid her on her back. “Now this’ll keep you calm until I have finished passing Goto’s message on to Visquis. Then I’ll carry you over to Goto’s shuttle, and we’ll ride up.

“You see, he said ‘if she won’t come, I need her alive’, so I’m not breaking the truce. I was the only one he could trust at that point. So you get to see him, he gets to see you, and I get the full bounty.

“Everyone’s happy.”

Death in tandem

Atton

I went back to the ship. The wicked bitch of the west was meditating. I glared at her. It would have been so easy...

“Why do you disturb me.”

“I came clean. She knows everything. Your blackmail hold is gone.”

“Oh really. So now you are free of me you think.” She moved smoothly to her feet. “So small inside your mind. You held a single Jedi by her throat, I held the galaxy! I wielded power beyond your imagination. I could reach out and touch a mind anywhere, and change it make it mine.

“I had all of that and it was only when it had been ripped away from me did i realize what I had lost. But I have enough still that I can plumb that cesspool you call a mind. You angers, your lusts.

“Did you tell her that the woman you hated and loved did you one last service, before she had died? It is there in your mind, and Marai’s face floats there now. She has starred in your lusts more often than any woman aboard. It would be so easy for me to join them. to make her and the dead woman one in your mind, and there is not anything you can do to stop me. Think of laying with her, for that first time you imagine, your hands around her throat, throttling the life out of her as you make love.”

I backed away from her.

“Oh no my little puppet, you remain mine to command. Now leave me before I get upset.”

I stalked out. The Handmaiden saw me. “Atton?”

“I’m going out.”

“But Marai said-”

“Right now I don't care what Marai might have said. I want a drink, I want it alone, and I want it now. So get out of my way.”

I stormed away from the ship. Part of me wanted to run to the Jekk’Jekk Tarr. Tell her every little thing. Even if she would never speak to me again. But what I really needed was a drink.

There was a little cantina off to the side, and I went in. Dark, dank, the smell of half the galaxy’s life forms having been there at one time or another chugging their version of the favorite brew. I’d always like Tarisian ale but since the planet got whacked it’s as rare as lightsaber crystals. I went up to the bar. “Juma, the roughest you got. And keep ‘em coming.”

I chugged the drink. Gods that was a rough vintage. They must have aged it a solid month. Staying on the ship was obviously such a bad idea.

“Sad little man.” A Twi-leki voice said. She was a little smaller than I was, but she had the lithe body of a dancer with the hour and a half glass figure a mature Twi-lek yearns for.

“Poor little man. “This one was a finger taller than I was. Her body did things I would rather forget about right then. Every yearning of that sort led me to thinking about Marai.

“Perhaps this one needs company.” The first one purred. “The company of two of us.” Her friend giggled. “Do you think he would survive the night of pleasure?”

“Uh, do you have names?”

“I am Zora and this is my sister of the dance Kaliea.”

“Charmed.”

“What brings you to the smuggler’s moon. Do you seek something?”

“Perhaps us?” Kaliea wasn’t too quick on the uptake.

“Ladies, maybe another time. I’m not in the mood.”

“We do not please you?” Kaliea asked.

“Perhaps it is the one he travels with. The Jeedai.”

“Are you bounty hunters?” Every alarm had gone off, and right now I was wishing I had brought every weapon I had. Tach nukes might not be enough.

“Yes, but we are not like those filth out there.” Zora purred. “We wish for her to surrender herself to us. Does she care about you? If you are not important enough, we merely kill you and chose another.”

“We like you, That is why you get to die first.” Kaliea said helpfully.

“Ladies-” They’d made the classic mistake. They had gotten too close. Dance is wind, and I assume that as I struck out. There’s a fast three punch combination called the Cliff Face. Solar Plexus, sternum, throat. She went down gasping, but alive. So okay, I pulled my punches. She was a fox and if I ever came back she might not hold a grudge.

The dumb one was standing there, looking at her friend. Her face contorted with fury, and she leaped back, or tried to. I caught her foot with a sweep, and she went into a back flip. Standard wind move. I extended, catching both hands in a savage spinning kick and she landed on her face, I gave her the mill stone, fist slamming into her back. While I pulled my punch I decided to stay away from Nar Shaddaa in the future. This one would hold a grudge. Say it’s a gift.

“I don’t feel like dying.” I finished my sentence. The crowd was staring at me in a horrified fascination. You’d think I had urinated in the punchbowl or something. Then it hit me. What Mandalore had said.

Technically I had broken the truce and all hell was about to break loose.

Hell has arrived.

Mira

Even when I was a kid I hated suits. If you didn’t check them yourselves, you were putting your life in some other person’s hands.

But I trusted her. I don’t know why, I just did.

The helmet is always the worst. All you can smell is the plastic, the rubberized cloth of the inside, and in this case, a slight odor of cabbage.

I walked in, the greenish gas floating near my face.

“I am expected by Visquis.” I told the barman.

“He is the private room it is-”

“I know where it is.” I replied. I had to go through three rooms to get there. The place was packed, and enough Bounty Hunters had heard what was happening that a third of the people inside were bounty hunters, including about thirty Gand. But the truce was still in effect. They ignored me as long as I didn’t start shooting.

*****

Visquis

Visquis shook his head. “Even Jedi can be so stupid. Seal the doors.” The Twi-lek beside him pressed the button. “Unseal the private doors. I will meet her here.”

“There, she is delivered as I said she would. Where is Goto?” Hanharr growled. The best way to save Visquis from Goto’s wrath was to fake an omni-directional transmission. Visquis had asked the wookiee to help in return for this woman walking to her doom. This meant that he could honestly say he had not made the broadcast.

“Until I have the cuffs upon her, nothing is finished, and our contract remains open. I ask your patience.”

Hanharr merely growled.

It was painful waiting. Humans are so clumsy in suits. She passed through the rooms, and entered the personal airlock. The deadly gas was blown away, and she entered the private sanctum.

“Please, make yourself comfortable. That suit is obviously confining. The atmosphere is amenable to your species.”

The woman took off her helmet. Visquis thought the Jedi had slightly red hair, but this one had fiery red hair instead. “Hi guys.” He had heard the voice somewhere, but...
“Mira!” Hanharr roared.

*****
Mira

“Are you sure?” Visquis asked. Most aliens can’t tell us apart, and the Squid head was no exception. “Not bad, Hanharr, three seconds. That’s why you’re still number 2.” I sneered. I dropped the suit.

Hanharr almost leaped at me, but Visquis sighed. “Restrain yourself, Hanharr. I gather from your reaction that this is not the Jedi. They all look alike to me. So you are Mira the Bounty Hunter. Would you care to explain why you are here, and why the Jedi is not?”

“Yeah, and maybe I have a question for you. Sort of From Goto’s lips to your ears. Goto wanted to know why you were backstabbing him and taking the Jedi, even though he said she was free to walk the planet.”

“She murdered Saquesh my pod mate. Besides she figures in my plans.”

“Well Goto said your plans don’t mean squat to him. Either you back off, or you join your friend.”

“Arrogance. So typical of your species. I have my plans, and when they are done, Goto will have nothing to say about it. If he really had a brain, he would know that his days are numbered. And you would have been advised not to come. Those that stand with Goto against me will die.”

“Like he can’t figure this out? The guy has connections everywhere on this moon!”

“But not in here. First I discovered quite by accident that Goto does not record what occurs within these walls. I made a slight indiscretion when I was here. But he did not know about it until I commented later, outside the club. After testing it again, I discovered he cannot hear what I say in here and since that day, everything I wish to be hidden from him is done within.

“Second, I am acting on my own, assuring my place in the Exchange by making a deal with Vogga-”

“The Hutt? Tell me you’re not that stupid!”

“Oh he knows I have been negotiating with the Hutt, but he thinks it is for Vogga to cease operations that might be upsetting Goto. But when we met in here, it was agreed that I would arrange for Goto to be removed, and when I was in charge, I would end this stupid feud with the Vogga.

“You see, Goto’s attacks have weakened Vogga. made his word have less weight than he deserves. We all know there is a leak somewhere in his organization, but instead of finding and sealing that link, Vogga merely intends to kill Goto. Hanharr here was commissioned to carry out that contract and when I heard, I offered him the one thing he did not and could not have. Access to Goto’s yacht when I know him to be there.

“You see, I have noticed the almost desperate chase which Goto has made of this hunt. If he had been wiser he would have stated the Bounty on Jedi as Alive only, but he made a mistake. I do not know why he wants to speak with one so badly, but if Hanharr and I deliver one, he must come out of his shadow room and speak with her face to face.

“So you will tell me now where she is. I am not in the mood for further negotiations.”

“No. I already caught her, and you can’t touch her. That is the Code.”

“Then you leave me no choice.” He turned to Hanharr. “We will have to come up with another way.”

“Keep her.” Hanharr growled. “The Jeedai is stupid. She cares about other people. When she hears that Mira did not come back out, she will come.”

“If you think so.”

I jumped and the first three stun beamers missed me.

But for once my intelligence was wrong. There were nine of the damn things.

I hit the ground, gasping. A huge furry hand picked me up, and I was staring into Hanharr’s face from about 10 centimeters.

“If you are right, you can have her as my gift as well.” Visquis was saying.

I fell into darkness,

*****

Handmaiden

Atton stormed aboard, screaming. We met in the mess hall, and he told us of the attack upon him.

“With the truce off, she’s walking into a meat grinder.”

“She told us she was to meet alone-” Kreia began.

“Can it, sister. That was when she could walk in and out without the anvil chorus being played on her head. Besides, she isn’t the target.” Atton filled us in. “So it’s us they will come after because that will goad her into fighting.”

“That is not logical If they are after us, some will still go after her first.” I interjected.

“Yeah, but why bother? There’s both you and her.” Atton pointed at Visas. “Maybe they think you’ll be easier prey. And taking either one of you will bring the mother of all dire wolves down where they can hunt her.”

“So we break her out.” Bao-Dur hadn’t stayed for most of the talk. Neither had Mandalore. Both came in, and they were loaded for bear. “Are you done talking? If so load up.”

Atton grabbed his weapons. I went to the ramp. There was a crowd approaching, and from what they were carrying, they weren’t from a welcoming committee.

The men were coming down the ramp when they were close enough. They were Duros.

“Refugees on a pad. Clear away.” One of them snarled.

“Or maybe their are the criminal Jedi’s crew?” One said.

“Then those two must be the baby Jedi we heard of.” Another said.

“I am Azanti Zhug. We come for the baby Jedi, and if you are lucky, the rest may walk away as soon as you tell me where the other criminal is.”

“Anyone pick up anything from that mush mouth alien crap?” Atton asked.

Bao-Dur replied as calmly. “It sounded to me like they were demanding something. He thinks big words will beat the general.”

“That would explain it. Which one do you want, Bao-Dur?”

“I think the loudmouth who threatened rather than shooting when he had the chance.”

*****

Marai

I felt like I was swimming in treacle pudding. Every attempt to move was met by the overwhelming force of muscles that refused to operate. I concentrated, my mind seeking and neutralizing the poison. It would take time, and I did not know how much time Mira had.

A figure opened the door, and I recognized Zez-Kai Ell. He knelt beside me. “I know you can hear me. You are dealing with the drugs, but I must speak and go, and I will be gone before you can move.

“When I heard you were here, I was astonished. I thought no one would be able to track me here, but I see I underestimated you.

“I don’t know why you came after me. Whether it was for answers or revenge, I may never know. But I saw what you have done, and I was shamed by your acts. You have acted like a Jedi, as I acted like a frightened coward.

“I will hide no longer. Know that you have done that much. A friend of mine has gone in your stead to confront the Exchange, and I can feel her danger. I will return shortly, or perhaps not at all.

“Whatever the reason for you coming here, they are embodied in me. Either wait or follow.”

Then he was gone.

I was able to move in a fashion after a few minutes. I remembered what master Zez-Kai Ell said. Mira was in danger, and it was my footsteps that had taken her there. I was still woozy, but I was able to move, and fast. The door of the bar stood open, and I keyed it before I remembered why I had been carrying the damn suit.

My flesh screamed as the gas hit it, and I held my breath by sheer force of will. But I could not hold my breath for long.

*****

Visquis

Visquis laughed as the woman staggered into the wall, hands blindly seeking for the switch that would open it. Of course when the door closed he had locked it. “The damn fool forgot her suit. Oh dear. It seems just the air will do what needs to be done.

*****

Marai

I heard Kreia. Listen to me now! Clear your thoughts.

Kreia, I can’t breathe!

Calm yourself. You body has enough reserves to keep you going for quite a while. It is your fear that will kill you. The force can sustain you if you listen and trust me.

First, close your pores. It is a contact poison but it must enter the pores to react within your system.

I felt the pain ease. Then it was gone

Good, now increase your tear production. It will clean your eyes, and wash away any other gas that touches them.

I could see after a fashion.

It is an old technique linked to healing. By learning what your body needs, you can control you intake of it for a time.

And most important. Cyanogen is explosive in combination with oxygen.

I grinned. Then I opened the door. Everywhere around me i saw them going for weapons. The barman stared at me, and I leaped into a force powered run. There was a tank of compressed air under the bar which was used for some of the more exotic alien drinks. With more than enough oxygen for my purposes. I cut into it, and the air sprayed outward, but I was running toward the inner door. I opened it, thumbed the trigger on a plasma bomb to three seconds, flung it into the round bar area and closed the door.

*****

Visquis

Visquis staggered as the entire structure rocked. The first room was a shambles, with bodies scattered everywhere. “Alert the clientele! Tell them the Jedi is attacking, and any that are alive when she dies will get a share of the bounty!”

Hanharr roared with laughter. “You think those Tach will stop her? They are meat at a feast to be carved!”

“They don’t need to stop her. Only to weaken and delay.”

But there was little delay. The woman was a nemesis, a monster stopping For nothing. She ignored those that ignored her, but any attack brought swift retaliation. Almost a hundred of his customers were already dead, and they hadn’t even slowed her down.

“It is madness! She knows that there are a hundred or more before her!”

“She is a predator. She is the black wook that leads the soul to the shadowlands. You have baited a trap for a Tach, and instead you have caught a Katarn, and it will eat you.”

“No, there is a way out. You remember the vents and tunnels beyond.” Visquis waved. “You hunted Mira through them if I recall. Beyond one of the emergency blast doors is my own secret hideaway, and even if she reaches that door, she cannot enter. She will die trapped between the blast door of the entrance and the blast door of my hide. But I must make a call.” He went to the comm screen, then came back. “Come my friend, we shall have some light entertainment, then we shall watch this one as she dies.”

*****

Marai

I carved the door open, and the Twi-lek females squealed as I stepped in. I leaped up, beams from stunners cutting through where I was. The women went down in droves as beams that missed me harrowed their ranks. I raced about, slashing power couplings. Then I chose one who by chance and sheer terror was still conscious. “Where.” I demanded. She pointed. “Was there a girl? Red hair, leather outfit, bad attitude?”

“She was caught by that trap.”
I gave her a manic grin, and opened the door.

*****

Visquis

The Quarren led his guest through a sumptuous series of rooms. “Well hidden.” Hanharr commented. “I would have never guessed.”

“It was not here when you fought with Mira. When I discovered Goto’s weak spot I built this palace. Impossible to enter without my assistance, so I chose my friends, and my victims very carefully.

He stopped in the proscenium above his own arena. Mira lay crumpled in the center of it. “You know that as Goto’s right hand man, I am the one who issues punishments. You have seen this a hundred times, but now you get to see this live. This is where they fought and died to expiate their sins, and I have already notified the bounty hunters that she has broken the truce by attacking you. So I give her to you, as a gift.”

Hanharr looked at him, panting. His eyes were bright. “We should be preparing for the Jeedai!”

“No need.” The doors to their quarters opened and a score of Ubese mercenaries came into view. “Behold.”

“Ubese?” Hanharr snorted. “They may be soldiers, but they face a warrior worthy of the shadowlands. She will eat their flesh in the afterlife.”

“No. These are specially trained. You do know that they have a special hatred for the Jedi? When the Republic demanded that they stop producing biological and mutagenic weapons, they asked the Jedi to intercede. The Jedi refused. Did they honestly care that 90 percent of the Uba systems economy rested on those weapons? No they did not. Turn to medical research, they said. But the Ubese refused.

“So the Republic obliterated their world. Those that are left have learned everything there is to know about the Jedi. Especially how to kill them. So if she reaches the tunnels, they will be ready to go in after she has been weakened enough.

“But first, your prize. The first part of your payment.”

Hanharr growled, and Visquis motioned. “Guide him to the door.”

machievelli
08-27-2006, 09:44 PM
Mira

I felt like you’d expect after I’d been hit repeatedly with a stunner. At least when I did it to someone, they woke up with some painkillers and a glass of water ready. All I got was empty space.

I could feel the prickling of mines around me. It took me back, and that was a place I didn’t want to be. Back before Malachor, back to when I was a child.

I did an equipment check as I rolled to a seated position. Another throwback to childhood. How often had I gotten a stun shot for forgetting that? A warrior is still a warrior even with no weapons. But knowing your status is a warrior’s first duty. Thank you so very much Sergeant Valak. I spent five years wanting to push that sanctimonious face through a bulkhead. Never got the chance.

My wrist launcher had been reloaded. I usually carry stun bombs, smokers, concussion sonic ion shots and at least one lethal shot because I might actually have to use it. But someone had loaded it with frags and antipersonnel rounds. My vibro blade was gone, but a short sword had taken it’s place.

My come-alongs were gone too. I carry a dozen come-alongs depending on my target for the day. Mines redesigned to attach to armor, skin, fur, whatever. Stunners, concussion, even frags and plasma if the guy is one of the ‘You’ll never take me alive’ type. You’d be surprised how many people say that but come quietly when I give them that option. It has been the key to my success. Even the biggest meanest Wookiee comes quietly when they know the only one who is going to die is him.

I was in a large area, and I immediately knew where. Visquis had started having little motivational videos sent around to anyone who worked for the exchange in any way. Every time some thug or crook broke the rules, he ended up here. I hadn’t watched after the first because it was like the old gladiatorial battles. You fought one enemy after another until you died. No rest, no meds, just fight and die. That explained the mines. It limited the movement of the players. You had to either watch your step, or get blown to hell.

Now it was my turn.

I touched the pouch and relaxed. I had my lucky charm as I call it. A little omni directional transmitter I had made as a kid. It foxed the mines, so they ignored me. It had kept me alive more often than I wanted to admit. I cut my teeth of minefields, and I was still the best. Those mines were a danger to anyone but me.

But without come alongs, with only lethal hardware, and a standard sword instead of something that could slice through a hull if given time, I was set up to fight and kill or fight and die.

I drew the sword. This is your weapon. Sergeant Valak had said when I was ten. Our people believe that to take a weapon is to pick up death. Your death, your enemy’s death. For a sword is made for but one purpose. To end the life of your enemy. Those who live by death and violence have death and violence given to them in time. Remember that. So if you are willing to gain your own death in time take up a sword now.

Like we had a choice. Civilian rations had been cut from 2,000 calories to 1200. To be able to work efficiently, a human needs over 4,000. 1600 is starvation rations, and below that you waste away. We trainees were supposed to get between four and six thousand. Even our rations had been cut, but 2500 is better than what the civilians got. I didn’t want to starve to death, so I took the damn sword. But I promised myself that I would kill as few as possible. In fact during the war I only killed those that left me no choice.

I saw that damn squid head up there, looking down like an ancient emperor.

“I can see you are awake now. I hope you are refreshed from your sleep.” He said over the speaker.

“Come down here and find out. If there’s anyone I’m willing to kill on this moon, you’re it.” I retorted.

“I think you might be interested to know that you impressed our Jedi friend. She is even now laying waste to my club. I will have some harsh words for her if she arrives.”

“You don’t get it you amphibious idiot! She’s Marai Devos! The last rider of the Mandalorian Wars! She went through everything the Mandalorians could throw at her, and walked out alive every time. What makes you think a bunch of swaggering bounty hunters has a chance in hell facing her?”

“But she didn’t face poison gas and the Ubese there, did she?”

I didn’t bother telling her about some of the places she had earned her blood stripes. The Mandalorians had wondered what kind of chance had birthed a warrior born in the Republic. Men that lost to her had been honored that they had even tried and failed! There is an old saw ‘those who do not heed history are doomed to repeat it’. Visquis was going to get a crash course in history and Goto would have to use DNA records to figure out if he died or not.

“She’s faced better men on her worst day and you’ve made her angry! I’m going to enjoy watching this!”

“Sadly you will not be here when she arrives. As bait you are excellent, but bait does not have to be alive to catch the fish. But I am still boss of this sector, and as such, I pronounce judgment. You are guilty of violating Goto’s ordered truce. As the offender, I would give you a chance to speak, but you will lie and tell everyone that you have not, so I will not let you speak. There is one that asked to be here to pass sentence, and I have given that loyal servant his wish.”

The door opened, and Hanharr stepped in. His blades were drawn, and he looked at me as if I were the last meal he would ever need. “Hanharr my loyal servant, I have heard that your kind can rip a human apart with your bare hands. Indulge me, please.” The speaker clicked off.

I backed slowly away. I touched my garrote...

They hadn‘t taken it!

“Hanharr, if you do this I am going to be really mad at you.” I warned.

“Your threats are music, for now there is no hope remaining for you. The life debt ends here!” He threw down the blades, and came at me.

The sword was a problem. He’d be more cautious if I had it, but by the same token, if I threw it away too early, he would be suspicious. Even a Wookiee isn’t stupid enough to charge someone who had just disarmed himself.

I only had one chance, and it depended on him being close enough that he thought he could grab me, but far enough away that I had a chance to move.

I ducked aside, and he stumbled past me. He saw the frag mine and rolled away as it blew. He was singed, but not badly hurt. I took the first stance, and he sneered, now sidling toward me, arms spread. Even with the damn sword his reach was greater than mine. I would have to get inside those arms to use it, and he could stop me. We had changed positions in that quick exchange, and I now had my back to the door. If I had been stupid I could have turned and run, hoping that the outer door was unlocked. Of course it wasn’t and he would then have me trapped where I had no chance of escape.

When in doubt, feign being stupid. I sidled forward, then threw the sword at him like a giant knife, spun and ran for the door. I heard it hit his arm, then the wall. He was charging after me. He was faster than I was, and we both knew it. In a sprint he’d outrun me and I didn’t have enough room to make it a marathon, where I would have a better chance. I angled to the right, and then broke hard, hitting the wall even with my head with my foot, and used the momentum to go straight up it for four meters. The garrote was in my hands as I somersaulted up away as his fist slammed into the metal, then I was dropping like a bomb right on top of him.

I flipped it, the wire spinning around his neck, catching the other toggle, then wrapped my legs around his chest and pulled backwards with all my strength. I felt his hands pawing at the wire, but it had sunk into the fur and his flesh beneath it. The only way he would get free was if I let go. But if I let go, I’d die.

He fell backwards, and I kicked my legs free before he could grab them, slamming down on my back, the legs acting as shock absorbers to stop him from crushing me. It hurt, my legs almost collapsed under the weight, but I was still killing him. He tried to reach back, but I shoved upward, legs straining, keeping him from reaching me.

He gasped, weakly pawing at the wire, trying to paw at me. Then he collapsed. I held it anyway, keeping the pressure on. I didn’t use a wire small enough to slice through him like cheese, but I would have taken his head if I could guarantee it.

After over a minute, there was no movement, and I flipped the toggle around so now both were in one hand, and I checked the pulse point on the wrist. Nothing.

I pushed him aside, lurching to my feet and away. There is that second after a fight to the death when you know you’re alive, and you feel a rush of joy like no other. Cherish it Sergeant Valak had said after that first battle, where I was still alive. If you feel it, you have won, and surviving is the only prize in battle.

Damn it! The man had been dead for almost ten years, but still he haunted me. I’d helped lay his body out, seen it burn. Why was he suddenly here with me now?

“That was... surprising.” Visquis said. “Well that means I do not have to give Hanharr his pay, so instead, I will give it to you.”

I snapped around. The way he said that meant the trouble was just beginning.

Another door opened, and a Kath hound bounded into view.

I know what he expected. I was supposed to turn and run, the hound and it’s pack mates that were coming out of that room would charge, and I’d be dinner. I would try the grenades, but the room was too close. I might kill them, I might kill me. Not an option. But I wasn’t playing by his game plan. I saw him walk away, leaving the viewing area. If he had stayed he might have learned something.

Toward the end of our first year of training, before they sent us on to units, there had been one final test. Warriors we had been told were predators. In nature predators hunt in one way alone, but we must learn all ways to know the best, for warriors are the premier predator. There are three types of predator designed by nature. There are those that lurk, those that leap, and those that chase.

But nature did not teach them hunting, their instincts did. A lurker will let you go by unless you step into the traps they have constructed. A leaper will chase if you are within a certain distance, yet would prefer to drop upon you. A coursing predator, the kind that chases needs that trigger to attack. They would lunge, if trained they would attack if you made an offensive move, but on the whole they would wait for you to run, because prey always ran.

But instinct can be confounded. If you stay out of the area of the trap, you are safe from the lurkers. If you stay far enough that a charge would take more than a few moments, a leaper would ignore you.

For a coursing hunter, you stand tall, you do not run, and you face them. It confuses them. If you run, prey. If you react before they have lunged, prey. If you slap them after that they will retreat. You are and are not prey, and they have to go through a mental process you or I would run through in about a minute. It takes them longer.

Let’s hear it for sentience.

They growled, one of them lunging, but stopping a meter away. I stood, glaring at him, but did nothing. He backed away, and another nipped at me. But again he retreated. This went on for a while. When they nipped at me again I growled and slapped the nose of the offender. He retreated, and obviously they would now have a discussion about it. The only way out of here except as hound feces required me to blow the door.

I estimated the mass of the mines I had felt. He’d had to deactivate them because Kath hounds are expensive to transport, they come from Dantooine after all. But deactivated mines could be activated again, and I was the girl to do it. But my estimate didn’t even scratch that big metal blast door. I looked up. Now the transparisteel panels... Yeah, enough for that.

I turned and walked to the first one. They watched me, and might have attacked but I stopped, kneeling to pick it up. Frag, Semmetig model 19A. Mandalorian work. Big enough to cover a ten meter circle with death. Piece of cake, I cut my teeth on laying these. I cleared the hold-downs, and picked it up. They had closed, but there was this moving bubble of space where I was. I was neither prey nor merely a plant they could not eat. It wouldn’t last much longer, but I used the time I had. I gathered each mine, my little bubble dragging them along. Then I set my back to the wall, and worked. I rigged them in a plate with a daisy chain fuse. Blow one, and they all blow. I activated the attraction fields, then reached up as high as I could. Damn it, too high. No help for it. I leaped, slapping it against the clear panel, hanging by that field as I activated the middle one. I had a three second delay, or it would have blown me to hell as I dropped away.

They had been energized by that, and I was moving back to prey for their tiny little minds. I strode around the room, and they followed. Soon I was exactly opposite my little prize, and I stopped. I needed something to throw that wouldn’t explode itself, so the grenades were out. I pulled out that good luck charm. Well if I needed good luck now was it. I flung it toward the center of mass, dropping at the same time.

It was like being in a garbage can with god playing kickball. The grenades went off, and shrapnel howled through the room, the over pressure slammed me into the wall. Then it was over. I looked up. All but one of the pack had been in the frag pattern and the survivor was shaking his head in pain. I ignored him. I leaped up, running through the smoke. The bottom half of the panel had shattered, and I was up and through a second before the top fell like a guillotine.

I could have tried to escape, but Visquis was still waiting for his Jedi. I ransacked the place, and came up with enough mines to blow that blast door to hell. I rigged them, stood back, raised the hand detonator.

Wait, Mira. Bad idea. No suit, no mask. If I fired that while I was standing here, I was dead even if she lived. I had found an emergency capsule, knowing it was Visquis’ escape route just made my decision easier. If I blew that charge, used the pod, he’d be trapped here.

As I triggered it; leaping in, I thought;

Couldn’t happen to a nicer guy!


Collection

Visquis shook at the last explosion. The first had been Mira dying so what had caused this one?

One of the Ubese guards whistled, then pointed at the control panel.

The door to the vents had been opened. No, it had been blown up. The Jedi had-

No, the Jedi had carried no explosives. The sensors on the door would have detected them-

Mira! Somehow the little beast had escaped, and she’d opened the door the only way she could.

“We must go to the arena. I no longer care if the Jedi lives.” Visquis ordered.
*****

Marai

The door had stopped me. There were a few light mines scattered, and i had disabled and worked them into a charge, but there were not enough to take down the door. It was too thick for my lightsaber to cut through unless I wanted to peel it a layer at a time like an onion.

Then instinctively I knew that I had to get away. I ran, getting through the next two chambers, and against the wall facing it when the mother of all explosions blew it up. I was battered by concussion, and when I looked up a jagged piece of that door had passed through where I would have been if I had been standing, and gone on to wreck two more walls.

I stalked back to the door. It had been blown to flinders and the gas from the tunnels behind me warred with the atmosphere of the rooms. I found an area still clean, and took a deep breath for the first time in several minutes. This I knew was how Kreia had survived on the ship after the Harbinger. Her body had merely dropped into a hibernating sleep until she had felt my mind stirring again.

There was a door open down a ramp, and I saw Visquis standing in an open room. I stalked down it, looking at the body of a wookiee, at half a dozen Kath hounds strewn about. “Where is Mira.”

“We must talk-”

“No talk! You had your chance to talk, and you used it with that abattoir you made of your club. Where is Mira?”

“We have her-”

“You have nothing.” I sensed the lie. “She escaped you and you now have no cards remaining.”

He raised his hand, and from behind him Ubese troops appeared. I could hear a clattering sound. There were a lot more behind me. “Kill her!” He screamed. They did not move. Then I heard the hum of an antigravity field. The big black ball shape floated between the Ubese behind me, resting just forward of their line.

“Goto! I-”

“Until she departs, the contract is in abeyance. She has been given a round trip ticket. If you eclipse her movements while she is on this moon, I will eclipse yours. Hunt her here, and your fellows will be glad to hunt you afterward.

“My own words, and you knew my command. Yet you did not listen.”

“She is here, take her, she is my gift to you!”

“Spare me. You thought I could not hear, so all you have done is known to me.”

“Please Goto... I-”

“Someone just kill him.”

“Wait!” I looked at the droid. “There has been enough death!”

The Ubese behind Visquis made one single economic thrust.

“You do not know how much death he as caused. Half of the Zhug now lie dead because they thought your allies weaker without you. A third of the Gand died trying to slow you down.” It turned, and the mellow voice spoke softly, almost pleasantly. “More to the point my orders are to be obeyed. Not ignored, not worked around. They are to be obeyed or you die. If I had let him live, others might have followed that example. Now they will not.” It rotated so that the main sensor array was aimed at me. “If you would be so kind, I would prefer to discuss our business somewhere that is not going to be ground zero of another attack. Your friends will not be subtle.”

“Then I will stay here and await them.”

“You are such an amusing little Jedi, are you not. Did you think I would ask?”
Stunners shot from every corner of the room. Not one or nine but dozens.

*****
Mira

The pod shuddered to a stop and I stumbled out right into the arms of Zez-Kai Ell. “What?”

“Goto has her.” He answered in a soft voice.

“Oh Sith spit!”

“It is hopeless.”

“Oh yeah?” I glared up at him. “No one steals my bounty, no one! Not you, not the entire Jedi Council, not Visquis and not even Goto!” I started to move around him.

“What are you going to do?”

“She has friends, I’m going to find them and we are going to figure out a way to rescue her. With or without your help.”

*****

Hanharr

Except for the bodies of the dead, the room was silent. As huge as he was in life, Hanharr looked shrunken, as if the rage had been all that filled his skin. A robed figure walked down, past the Kath hounds, passed the body of Visquis, to stand over him. A hand came out, and energy flowed into the corpse.

“Arise, beast.” Kreia said.

I gave a roar of pain, rolling onto my knees. I had felt the black Wook’s hand reaching out leading me back, I had been in the Shadowlands. Perhaps I would be forgiven. My stupidity had killed so many, and I wanted to face them. Even if I was to be barred forever from the great feast, I wanted to see those faces one last time. I yearned to see father mother, my siblings. Friends. All of whom had died rather than wear the hated metal chains of the off worlders as I had. They had died because of me.

But even if I was welcomed I would not be able to go in even yet. Mira still lived. I was bound to the outer world until she joined them. But even she would hate me. She would be allowed at the feast as the life debt demanded, for she had done nothing more than not accept it. She had done all honor demanded, and she would be allowed in but I would not.

They were there, a silent crowd that could judge my worth. I reached out imploring-

I was back in that hated body. My throat felt as if I had been decapitated, and the head sewn back on by a drunken human doctor.

“Get up.” The human demanded. “I have saved your life, and by that code you serve, it is now mine.”

“Why have you done this?” I screamed my pain at her. “Why did you not leave me dead?”

“Because I need for you to hunt, beast. Your prey is that which has drawn you your entire life. Something you were born and bred to hunt. You have been honed into the perfect predator.”

“The Jeedai.” I snarled. “You want me to hunt her and kill her.”

“No, beast, you are mistaken. If any act of yours harms her, I will make sure you survive to see the very stars die. Know this, beast. If you hunt the Jedi you will wish to all the gods that you die before the stars do, and that shall be denied you. This is the life debt I demand.”

“No! I shall not bear another life debt! I will not!” I leaped to my feet. “Release me from this of I will kill you!”

Somehow she wasn’t there. My fists found nothing. She laughed mocking my attempts. “Ah that curious custom. The life-debt. Where you must swear to one that saves you. Perverted by your hate. Did you ever try to explain to Mira that such a debt gives you family again? That it returns to you some of what links you to your dead? That if she had accepted it, life would have been bearable? No. You demanded it, and when she refused you focused all that hate on her as you now try to focus it upon me. But I am beyond your power. Soon she will be beyond your reach at all, and you will be trapped in life unless you do as I say.

“But I promise one thing she would not. I promise that I will show you no further mercy. You will hunt the red maned one for me. You will kill her, and ending her life will end all debts between you and I. Most of the pain you feel will pass with time, though some is necessary if you are to survive where I send you.”

“Where? Where is she going?”

“Not so fast.” Her voice was tinged with human amusement. “You will go where I send you, and if you survive there, I promise that she will come to you.”

Suddenly I knew where to go, which ship was unlocked. The course to give the computer. My destination on the road to hell.

Reclamation

Atton

It was like wading through the sea. Something two or three hundred of those idiot Duros had tried to stop us. They faced Bao-Dur and Mandalore, two sides of the same coin melded into one by the Mandalorian wars. They faced the furies in Visas Kreia and the Handmaiden. Alecto the Seeker who found the prey, Megarea, the one who planned, and Tisiphone, the one who slew. They were fully represented, and any that had cared of the enemy would have been justly proud to be reaped by them. I cleaned up after the others, with T3 following.

We broke into the docks, and where the Jekk’Jekk Tarr had been was a smoking crater.

“When she gets mad, she doesn’t stint. “Bao-Dur commented dryly. “Problem is, now where is she?”

“You’re a little late.” A female voice said. We spun, every weapon on the small woman with red hair that approached. “I will tell you what happened. No, we don't have the time, I will sum it up. I went in, tried to back Visquis off. She came after me in her so subtle fashion, and about three hundred assorted idiots tried to stop her. I blew the last door for her, but wasn’t able to help. I think Visquis is worm food because last I heard Goto has her and has already taken off. By now he’s on that super stealthed yacht of his.”

“Where is the yacht?” I roared. “Where is she?”

“I can’t tell you that. It isn‘t that I won’t, it’s that I don’t know!” She looked like she was going to cry. “Goto has a Mon Calamari civilian job in orbit somewhere, but no one has ever been able to find it! He’s got a stealth system any navy would kill for, and he can’t be found just by looking!

“The only way to get invited before was by delivering a Jedi-”

“Offer me.” Visas said. “I will die in her place.”

“Or I!” The Handmaiden cried. “Or both!”

“As much as I would love the money if you’d said it two hours ago, it won’t do us a bit of good. Right after his shuttle took off the word was passed. The bounty has been closed out.“

“How good is this cloaking device?” I demanded.

She gave a chuckle. “After the years they have sat doing nothing but wait, every bounty hunter left alive would be on him like a pack of Needra on a wounded buck. He’s cost them a lot with his high handed ways, and this last contract was the straw that broke our backs. The only ships that ever see him are Vogga’s freighters, and they don’t come back.”

“Freighters?” She explained the curious vendetta the crime lord seemed to have with Vogga the Hutt. “If you captain one of Vogga’s ships, you know that if you come to Nar Shaddaa you can deliver your cargo, but never leave. He’s got half a hundred ships in orbit or on the ground here but none dare break orbit.”

I wanted to walk, ponder it. Then I noticed something. “Where is that little tin can?”

*****

We went back to the ship, Mira trailing along. I wanted to dump her but she was harder to get rid of than a woman that thought she loved you.

No, the little tin can was not there. I was starting to really get agro. The Handmaiden wanted to lift, to try to see if either she or Visas could find that damn ship, but we could get off the ground. The little trash compacter had locked it down tighter than a drunken Hutt.

That was when I lost it. I screamed, everyone tried to calm me down but i was in the mood to kick butt and if it was a little droid, I was all for it!

There was a whistling sound, and the little creep rolled in, whistling rapidly.

“Come here, there’s a blaster bolt with your name on it!” It ran, socketed it’s arm into one of the consoles, and there before our eyes was one of Vogga’s smaller ships. A CEC model 141, the same size as ours. I stopped. “So what you little-”

“Atton, wait.” Handmaiden said. “Is this the transponder information we needed?” The little can bleeped and burbled at her. “So we only need-” A small arm popped out. On it was a transponder chip. I snatched it up, and ran it into a reader.

“It’s blank!”

“Didn’t you say...”

Yes! ID specs and a blank chip!” I grabbed Mira, lay a kiss on her cheek. turned to the Handmaiden who backed away.

“Touch me, and I’ll hurt you!”

“Touch me, and I will kill you.” Visas added softly.

“Be right back.”

It didn’t take long. My friend etched the chip, and I brought it back. It only took a second to put it in, and we were now Y-Toub Glory. I took the command seat as the droid cleared the locks, and I lifted us off.

“When this goes down, we have to move fast.”

“A pair can move faster than an armada.” The Handmaiden said. “I will go.”

“So-”

And me.” Mira said.

“Wait, didn't we leave you down there? After all you’re the reason she’s in this mess.”

“That’s why I’m going jet jockey. I got her into the mess trying to help her, and that Sith spit slime stole her away. I’ll get her and get him back at the same time.”

“How?”

I flashed a chip. “I get to his command bridge, and input this, and his transponder reads “Here I am, signed Goto.” Even if they fry the chip ten second later, he’s toast.”

We were above atmosphere, and a ship detached from the cluster above Nar Shaddaa. I looked at it, checking the sensor reading. “That’s a Kuati light cruiser. Why would-” The ship staggered. “It’s Goto!” Mira screamed.

“I thought-”

“Don’t think! You and me lady, we’re on!”

machievelli
08-28-2006, 07:45 PM
What is it that bad? No one has ANYTHING to say?

I'm going to go get drunk. Wake me when the millennia arrives.

Emperor Devon
08-28-2006, 08:49 PM
What is it that bad? No one has ANYTHING to say?

Nothing is bad, machievelli. I've just not had any feedback which I would consider particularly worth saying. If you'd like to hear opinions on your chapters more, I'll be sure to post mine more often, starting with this:

I thought these chapters were another good addition to what you've been doing so far. I thought the way you had Marai incapacitated was much better than what was in the game, since it looked odd for lightning to flash out of a hidden gnerator without leaving any visible injuries. I'd never considered Mira being interested in history before, and it was another thing that helped your chapters seem less like a complete write-off of the game. The way she finished off Hanharr was realistic, and I liked it how you mentioned the amount of calories epople on the Manndalorians' side during the war got. Little things like that help bring fan fiction to life. The scene with the Red Eclipse and Marai wondering if Visas would kill her was enjoyable, and Visas' remark on whether she would drop her or not was amusing. I t was also a good touch how you explained what happened to the ship the slavers came in.

Your chapter about the miserable lives the refugees lived and Atton's past was probably your best one yet. It was very emotional, and was much more lifelike than what was in the game. The depth you put into Marai's views about suffering was of a high quality, and I look foward to HK-47's appearance. Good chapters! :)

machievelli
08-28-2006, 10:32 PM
I'd never considered Mira being interested in history before, and it was another thing that helped your chapters seem less like a complete write-off of the game. The way she finished off Hanharr was realistic, and I liked it how you mentioned the amount of calories epople on the Manndalorians' side during the war got. Little things like that help bring fan fiction to life.

I gave Mira a love for history because I couldn't see her getting into romances or penny dreadfuls. A cute girl in a sleazy town always has something she does for her own enjoyment unless she wants to quote George Bernhard Shaw who when asked if he was enjoying himself at a party replied 'Madam, that is the only thing I am enjoying'.

I myself love history, especially military history. The caloric intake, I mentioned is on par with what the German people in the last two years of WII were getting. The only people better fed were the Troops and POWs because International law required it.

The scene with the Red Eclipse and Marai wondering if Visas would kill her was enjoyable, and Visas' remark on whether she would drop her or not was amusing. I t was also a good touch how you explained what happened to the ship the slavers came in.

See I must have made one glaring error since it was the Handmaiden hanging off over eternity. I'll have to re read my own work. Damn. Didn't I jus ding someone on that in my critical column?

Your chapter about the miserable lives the refugees lived and Atton's past was probably your best one yet. It was very emotional, and was much more lifelike than what was in the game. The depth you put into Marai's views about suffering was of a high quality, and I look foward to HK-47's appearance. Good chapters! :)

as Mira said in the game, and I used thel ine because it was perfect, the historians always love to write about the epic battles, but no one wants to count the cost in human misery after the fact. The German people after WWII were on a 1200 calorie ration for two years after WWII so that their own food procution could go to more 'worthy' nations like Russia and France.

Edit: Oh BTW, The segment when Marai meets the Jedi Master will give you a bit of insight on why the shadow mass generator was used. It's reminscent of why the two A bombs were dropped.

Emperor Devon
08-28-2006, 10:53 PM
I myself love history, especially military history. The caloric intake, I mentioned is on par with what the German people in the last two years of WII were getting.

I myself have a love for history as well. Those Germans got very desperate near the end of both wars. At the end of WWI, they were even melting down church bells to make bullets.

See I must have made one glaring error since it was the Handmaiden hanging off over eternity. I'll have to re read my own work.

While you're at it, I think that you stated somewhere that Malachor V was a gas giant. All five pllanets are actually very rocky.

as Mira said in the game, and I used thel ine because it was perfect, the historians always love to write about the epic battles, but no one wants to count the cost in human misery after the fact.

Battles are all well and good, but I think every little detail in wars can be interesting.

The German people after WWII were on a 1200 calorie ration for two years after WWII so that their own food procution could go to more 'worthy' nations like Russia and France.

Hardly surprising. The Russians absolutely loathed the Germans after the end of the war. They even advocated completely unindustrializing Germany so that they could only be a small nation of primitive farmers for all time. But after they lost whole country's worth of resources and troops, you can see why they wanted revenge. The French had it surprisingly well off under the Germans, though.

By the way, are you on your first playthrough of TSL and writing as you go along?

machievelli
08-28-2006, 11:33 PM
Actually the agrarianization of Germany was Henry Morgenthau's idea, including General order 1068 which told the Americans in German to have no pity and made it a court martial offense to give a kid a candy bar.

But the Russians agreed. whole heartedly. Morgenthau and the New dealers ripped out any factory worth mentioning and spilt them between England, France and Russia. The factories sent to Russia literally rusted into scrap sitting on the sidings because the Russians couldn't seem to put them back together. To show you what they defined as 'military' a factory that made women's shoes in Bremen was sent off to be reassembled in Toulon. I served at Curtuis Bay Station in Maryland and we had a crane named 'Herman The German that used to be in Kiel.

At the same time, anyone who owned more than 350 acres (The size of a small farm here) was having their lands seized and given to 'the poor'.

All of this was being done as Truman was promising to help the German's rebuild. When Morgenthau was told that the german land area couldn't support their population with an industry his answer was they could dwindle until they could. That great american was saying 'who cares if 12 million Germans die of starvation?'

As for Malachor, I didn't have any specs on the system. I'll leave it as it is, and if I can sell this as a book, I'll rewrite it.

Emperor Devon
08-28-2006, 11:53 PM
Actually the agrarianization of Germany was Henry Morgenthau's idea, including General order 1068 which told the Americans in German to have no pity and made it a court martial offense to give a kid a candy bar.

He did, though the Russians loved it the most.

At the same time, anyone who owned more than 350 acres (The size of a small farm here) was having their lands seized and given to 'the poor'.

Completely redundant.

All of this was being done as Truman was promising to help the German's rebuild. When Morgenthau was told that the german land area couldn't support their population with an industry his answer was they could dwindle until they could. That great american was saying 'who cares if 12 million Germans die of starvation?'

Quite unjust. The whole population was not responsible for all the crimes that were committed. But all that resentment clouded people's judgements.

As for Malachor, I didn't have any specs on the system. I'll leave it as it is, and if I can sell this as a book, I'll rewrite it.

TSL goes into a bit more depth about the battle at Malachor later on, and it's revealed what the terrain is. That was one of the things which made the mass shadow generator effective, because it pulled as many ships as possible against the five planetoids and sent them crashing into each other, which I think explains why so many NPCs reffer to it as 'Malachor' and 'Malachor V' on and off.

machievelli
08-29-2006, 01:11 AM
TSL goes into a bit more depth about the battle at Malachor later on, and it's revealed what the terrain is. That was one of the things which made the mass shadow generator effective, because it pulled as many ships as possible against the five planetoids and sent them crashing into each other, which I think explains why so many NPCs reffer to it as 'Malachor' and 'Malachor V' on and off.
The problem with the game is my system has only 1/2 the memory required to run it techincally. If there is a cut scene that I can watch using the bink video system, please let me know. I looked through the movies, and none of the Malachor movies shows the actual damage done.

You asked earlier, and I didn't answer. I had not reached Dxun the first time when I started. I went through the game once as far as the return to citadel station, then played it through with the party as I envisioned it all the way through, but a lot of cut scenes mentioned in dialogue were never seen.

Oddly enough, having Marai stick her light saber into a specific face of the obelisk (Justice) was a prescient move. The thing is that the only one 'seeking truth' is Marai herself.

Quite unjust. The whole population was not responsible for all the crimes that were committed. But all that resentment clouded people's judgements.

The problem was, Morgenthau suggested the plan in 1943, long before most of the nazi atrocities were even known in the US. He merely felt the entire German race was responsible for every ill known to Europe and destroying them as a people (In other words, what the Nazis had done to the 'subhumans' in the concentration camps) was acceptable if it was us doing it to them.

Like BUll Halsey saying 'When this war is over, The only place they will speak Japanese is in Hell' but Morgenthau like Eichmann and others, tried to make it real.

Emperor Devon
08-29-2006, 01:51 AM
The problem with the game is my system has only 1/2 the memory required to run it techincally. If there is a cut scene that I can watch using the bink video system, please let me know. I looked through the movies, and none of the Malachor movies shows the actual damage done.

Very bad idea! There are lots of spoilers in some of those. Although none of the movies show the damage being done, some of the dialogue near the end the end of the game and one LS-only movie make it obvious what happened.

You asked earlier, and I didn't answer. I had not reached Dxun the first time when I started. I went through the game once as far as the return to citadel station, then played it through with the party as I envisioned it all the way through, but a lot of cut scenes mentioned in dialogue were never seen.

That's odd. One way to tell if something's wrong with the way your computer shows biks is to go to the movies option in the main menu.

Oddly enough, having Marai stick her light saber into a specific face of the obelisk (Justice) was a prescient move. The thing is that the only one 'seeking truth' is Marai herself.

And amusingly enough, the person that teaches her how to find truth is actually counterproductive toward that goal.

The problem was, Morgenthau suggested the plan in 1943, long before most of the nazi atrocities were even known in the US.

Given how by that year the Nazis had overrun most of Europe, it's quite understandable to want to eradicate any means of them doing it again. Each generation had started a war that threatened world peace, and they'd attacked France for the third time in less than half a century.

(In other words, what the Nazis had done to the 'subhumans' in the concentration camps) was acceptable if it was us doing it to them.

That would have made us no better than the Nazis.

machievelli
08-29-2006, 11:39 AM
Given how by that year the Nazis had overrun most of Europe, it's quite understandable to want to eradicate any means of them doing it again. Each generation had started a war that threatened world peace, and they'd attacked France for the third time in less than half a century.

Actually that is not accurate. First, the first of those wars had begun because France (Which had agreed to stop trying to gobble up territory in Europe after Waterloo) was trying to get concessions from the then seperate German nations. Napoleon III tried to get Prussia to assist in their attempt to buy Luxembourg, and instead of helping, the Germans published the entire dialogue between their goverment and France. The French started that war. The Germans beat the original French Invasion, then retaliated.

In WWI, both France and Germany were dragged in because of treaties with Serbia (France) and Austria (Germany). The original offensive moves along that front came when the French attacked into the Alsace Lorraine, which they had ceded to Germany in 1871. It was only after this attack that the Schlieffien plan went into action, and even the designer of it knew that if
here was no swift victory, it would drag on for years.

As for WWII, French and English unwillingness to fight caused it. When the germans reoccupied the Rhineland in 1934 the German army was still at it's Versailles treaty limits of 100,000 men. They only had a regiment to use for this 'attack'. The French had 31 Divisions, or over four times as many troops as Germany had in total. One division would have sent the Germans into retreat because Rommel had such orders.

Laying the blame onGermany for the entire first wolrd war was like when they took come french Shepherd in in the early 16th century and burned him at the stake because of a new plague that was supposedly sweeping Europe at the time.

It was called syphlis.


Edit: Note: Commentary on such weapons as the Death Star and the Shadow Mass Generator from TSL in the Expert forum

Emperor Devon
08-29-2006, 01:04 PM
Actually that is not accurate.

*Slaps head* 1870 - 1914 - 1940. My mistake. I mixed up the date with WWII.

It was only after this attack that the Schlieffien plan went into action, and even the designer of it knew that if
here was no swift victory, it would drag on for years.

If it could even be called that. Von Moltke was too afraid of the risk to eastern Germany, and practically split the German army in half as the war progressed. The original plan called for a small portion of the army to hold of the Russians in the east, while the amjority of the army would smash through France in the west, and use Belgium to avoid the fortresses the French set up. Quite foolish, as that drew Britain into the war.

As for WWII, French and English unwillingness to fight caused it. When the germans reoccupied the Rhineland in 1934 the German army was still at it's Versailles treaty limits of 100,000 men. They only had a regiment to use for this 'attack'. The French had 31 Divisions, or over four times as many troops as Germany had in total. One division would have sent the Germans into retreat because Rommel had such orders.

Indeed... I think it's quite debateable as to if WWII started in 1934 or 1939. Such foolishness. They could flattened the Germans even in '36.

Laying the blame onGermany for the entire first wolrd war was like when they took come french Shepherd in in the early 16th century and burned him at the stake because of a new plague that was supposedly sweeping Europe at the time.

WWI is a difficult war to lay the blame on. Was it the assassin's fault for killing the Archduke? Was it Austria-Hungary's fault for declaring war on Serbia? Was it Germany's fault for causing such resentment from the French in 1870? Or was it the Second Empire's fault for causing that war? Or the fault of everyone for the arms races and nationalism? Very difficult to decide what really caused the Great War, though it was foolish for the Allies to make Germany accept responsibility for the whole thing.

Edit: Note: Commentary on such weapons as the Death Star and the Shadow Mass Generator from TSL in the Expert forum

I'll take a look.

machievelli
08-29-2006, 01:42 PM
Proposal

Marai

I awoke, but I didn’t move or open my eyes. Being hit by a stunner is a lot like being falling down laying in your own vomit drunk. I know because I have experienced the aftermath of both. The first thing I noticed was I was not laying in a pool or pile of anything a human body will eject when hit by a stunner. So someone had taken the time to get me cleaned up. My clothing was what I had been wearing when it hit, which bespoke of someone who not only cleaned me up, but took the time to clean my clothes.

If the average constable hits you with one, he’d just hose you down, probably about the time you woke up so you could experience it. Pay you back for being so much trouble.

So my first reaction to Goto’s hospitality was that he was polite.

“I know you are awake. My droid’s systems can detect this. I know you must have a terrible headache, so there is water pain killers and anti nausea medications on the table to your right on the end table.”

I opened an eye slowly. The head ache comes from two things, the depletion of elements in your brain by having every neuron fire simultaneously, and the effect light has on an optic nerve that is set for pure black night. I avoided the effect, reaching over, and taking the four pills. They were either standard med kit supplies, or pretty good fakes. I was betting that he wasn't going to poison me, he didn’t seem the type.

The pain faded rapidly.

“I am sorry to have to be so forceful, but my time is too short to be polite. Will you please follow the G0 unit to my conference room?”

I followed. “G0?”

“Yes. All of my defensive units are of the G0 design. The one in front of you for instance is G0T0.” He said it G zero T zero. The droid led me into a small amphitheater. It turned, and a hologram of a man appeared. He was a bit taller than I am, but still short.

“After hearing of your exploits, I expected someone... taller. Has the pain reached a manageable level?”

“Yes, thank you for asking.”

“I have found that a reputation for being polite terrifies the criminal mind. To speak politely of having someone killed frightens them like small children. I am Goto, one of the heads of the non-sanctioned trading organization both here in the Y’TOub system, but also Republic and Sith controlled space. I have spent a great deal of time and money on having one of you here, so I am afraid I must be blunt.

“Are you a Jedi.”

“I was.”

“Good. As I have said, money and time I can ill afford has been spent to bring you here and i must not waste any more. If our meeting fails to come to a satisfactory conclusion, I will have to take steps.”

“Why are you threatening me?”

“I am not threatening you, my dear woman. The steps I must take are to liquidate all of my holdings, and find some world I can hope will remain stable in the carnage which I foresee. Whether you agree to help me or not, I will leave you unharmed.

“I meant no injury to your organization and when I originally ordered the bounty put out, I had no idea that so many of their number would merely shoot to kill, and whimper about it afterward. I did what I could to mitigate it, but from here there is not a lot I can do. I wanted to speak to one of you because I need your help.”

“You could have just sent someone to ask.”

“Are you really that naive? I sent such a messenger to the Planet Katarr but he was caught in the ensuing massacre. I did not know if he had delivered my message, or the reply. By the time I knew what had happened and was able to make a second attempt, all of the Jedi that remained had gone to ground.”

“How many were still alive when that happened?”

“One hundred seventy, including forty children.” The man’s face grew pensive. “I am not in the habit of asking for things. My occupation can cause people to simply expect that their wishes will be granted. Even with the incident at Peragus which you were party to, you have proven extremely adept at concealing you location and destinations.

“There is something I need protected until it can be repaired. The Republic. It is... broken.

“The disaster on Peragus has set in motion events which are spiraling beyond my ability to affect them. Not to sound melodramatic, I believe that incident has irrevocably damaged the Galaxy. This confluence of events has occupied much of my attention of late. While i have searched, there seem to be no logical and rational way to resolve this situation.”

“You chased the Jedi all over the galaxy, caused the deaths of gods alone knows how many-”

"Thirty-two. A large number of them were among the children I spoke of earlier. It seems that even when young, a Jedi is a terrifying opponent. I regret those deaths, and when the first child had died, I ordered that only adult Jedi be taken. But that did not save 19 young people from never achieving their potential.”

I was appalled. Even knowing that 13 of those people had been adults did not remove the horror. The younglings... “You ordered the murder of thirty-two people, including children, just to try to talk to one of us so you could ask us to save the galaxy?”

“I regret their deaths, but I stand by my decision. What do the deaths even of children matter when I am speaking of the entire Republic! I did not have time to do this more quietly. Desperate measure were called for. In one month the Republic will enter an irretrievable collapse. It will not be through war or secession, but because the people of that body will decide that they do not have the infrastructure to continue to maintain it.

“It has been postulated, and I concur, that while the Republic technically won the Jedi Civil War, the Sith survived it with more infrastructure intact. So by definition they actually won the war. The Sith have never been extremely stable politically, and their infrastructure proves this. The Republic spent vast sums of money, material and lives in defeating that menace, but winning left them in a state near collapse.

“At that point a single leader might have been able to divert this disaster. But too many in the Senate have been tainted by their own inefficiency so glaringly exposed. The one person that might have held the collapse away was the one shining example of Revan. But instead she left known space. Instead of a rallying figurehead all could follow, there was a void none could fill.”

I considered his words. He was right that if Revan had returned, rehabilitated and a hero, she could have staved off this disaster. But there was no one? Except my good right arm. I heard her whisper. “I once swore an oath to aid the Republic if it meant my life. I still feel that oath is valid. What must I do?”

Any normal human would have cheered, wept, even smiled. His face stayed bland. “There is something moving in the galaxy that is beyond my instruments ability to detect or predict. I believe it to be a legacy of the Sith but I am unable to determine it’s source or home base.

“Whatever it is, it strikes without warning, and it’s targets are the very Jedi I have been seeking. I have killed 32, it has killed over fifty. It is not doing this in a manner that you would call surgical. When it strikes sometimes entire worlds die. Katarr, a world of the Miraluka race in the mid rim was one such. It slaughtered an entire world. It did so because I believe there was a meeting there of several Jedi.

“There is no discernable pattern to it’s depredations and that very lack of pattern is frustrating to me. I was able finally to understand that it was the Jedi themselves that were somehow the target of these attacks. The only other possibility is that the targets have been in and of themselves strategic to that enemy, but how I have yet to understand. As an example, it would be as if you stuck a pin in a man’s foot because the placement would be lethal in the long run, rather than merely shooting him in the head.

Half of the remaining Jedi killed. The thought terrified me. It looked as if the claims by others, that I was the last of the Jedi, was being made true. “I do not want to see the order destroyed.”

“You misunderstand me. I am indifferent to which side wins. If the Sith do the collapse will continue, but the Republic will survive several decades longer. If this outside force is destroyed, the same will occur.

“It is simply that by removing this conflict between warring sects of the same religion, the galaxy may be able to heal itself. I do not care which wins. Only that the end of the conflict be of a lasting nature so that the galaxy can catch it’s breath as it were. all of these constant crises have become, quite honestly, boring.”

“Why should someone in your position care if the Republic survives?”

“I am in my own way, a patriot. Although I was unable to serve in either the Mandalorian Wars or the Jedi Civil War, I must set aside any scruples I have against violence and serve now. I am ready willing and able to do so now.

“The problem is, that there is no clear side to join in this struggle. If I join the Senate as it now sits, I will only exacerbate the problem. I would offer my services to the Jedi or the Sith, but both sides are adept at hiding, the Sith from their innate teachings, and the Jedi from their native ability. It is... frustrating.

“It is like a Dejarik board where neither player can see the other nor see all the pieces, even their own. It is not a fair game. Not equitable by any standard."

“Then maybe you should try Pazaak.”

“Frankly, Pazaak has always bored me. Too many that play seem to think the way to win is to cheat, and even the best cheat fails if you watch carefully enough.”

“Then try military simulations. Having no knowledge of the pieces controlled by other officers on your own side and the enemy’s disposition makes you think outside the box.”

“I had not considered that. I will have to get some of the programs. However I prefer the simplicity of galactic economics.”

“I will fight to save the Republic, so my answer is yes. I will help you in whatever way I can.”

“Excellent.” Again that curious lack of emotion. “It is after all in your best interests to assist me. There is no margin of error when I state that this invisible Sith presence is highly adept at finding and eliminating your fellow members. Unlike me they are not looking for conversion, or asking for assistance. They are murdering you fellow, and will not stop until all of you are dead. When that has occurred, nothing will stop them from extending their influence to every portion of the explored galaxy.

“Then if you let me go, I will be about it.”

“Ah, there we are at cross purposes. If I set you free, you immediately go back to the course you have set since Peragus, and quite frankly, you have a penchant for wholesale destruction. At present the galactic order is fragile, and setting a Nerf loose in the galactic china shop is not the best way to keep it intact.

When I have ascertained the best place, you and I will travel there together so that I may restrain your proclivities. After all, I am a business man and destroying the galaxy to save it will put no money in my pocket.”

An alarm klaxon began to wail, and I looked up. “A problem?”

He paused, looking into the distance as if considering. “We had been pursuing one of Vogga the Hutt’s ships. We captured it just a few moments ago, but now there is weapons fire at the docking bay. From what I can see using my monitors it is not Vogga that I have grabbed. Your allies have proven quite adept at interfering with my operations, and they are even now boarding my ship.

“You will remain here. I must see to defending my ship.”

*****

Handmaiden

When the droid tried to drill through the hatch, we opened it, and immediately opened fire. We had found enough suits for everyone and the high levels of anesthetic gas we registered showed that it was good we had. Mandalore Atton and Bao-Dur set up their weapons, and held the perimeter. They would cover out escape route.

Visas stopped, her head turning. “Curious. I detect only one living being.” She pointed toward the bow with her sword. “That way.”

“But Goto had a Mon Calamari ship! Mira protested.

“Or perhaps his talk of a stealth device was just talk. Perhaps his stealth is misdirection. You are looking for a Mon Calamari and instead you have this. What better way to hide then distract you enemies.”

“That...” She snarled. “All right big guy, you’re going down!"

We faced opposition but it was all droids. Thanks to Bao-Dur Mandalore and Mira, we had an ample supply of ion grenades, and they went down in droves. The Aratech 41s were as tough as they were described, but they tended to be off for a second or more when suffering from an electromagnetic pulse, and that was all someone with a lightsaber needed. A case had been blown open, and I saw what appeared to be a light saber sticking from it. I threw it to Visas, and she seemed to come to life. She had saved my life, we had spilled bloody together. I did not trust her but my sister did. It was good enough to caller her sister of battle in my mind.

Mira was proving herself of worth. She ran ahead of us, and she seemed to feel every trap and bomb that had been placed. She would slip up, disarm them, and toss them in her pouch.

There was a corridor full of droids and turrets, yet she showed off what she knew. She had been here several times, and checked out the defenses every time she had. Programs were dumped into the system, and we spent a few moments watching as the turrets spun, blasting the droids to scrap, then we walked through unscathed.

I cut through the door, and Marai turned to look at me with the impassive face. “Took you long enough.” She said.

“We had to wash our hair.” Visas said.

“Then we had to blow dry it.” Mira said.

“Then we had to check our makeup-” I began.

“Knock it off.” She enfolded me in a hug, picking my greater mass up from the floor. She went to Visas, and did the same. I have never seen such a look of joy on anyone’s face. Then she turned to Mira.

“You hug me and I’ll...”

“You’ll what?”

Mira looked away, flushing. “I’ll just have to hug you back.”

Marai hugged her, and both laughed.

Then she was all business. “Let’s get out of here.”

“Not yet!” Mira dodged running.

“Wait, Mira!” We gave chase. She had ducked right into a group of droids leaping through them like a broken field runner, and they had turned intending to attack her when the three of us fell upon them. We finally caught up with her as she was slicing into the door control for the bridge. It popped open, and she ran in before we could stop her.

The bridge was spacious, and no one was there. Mira had gone to the primary communications console, and popped it open. She put a chip in, then pressed a button. “In your face Goto! Now we get out of here.”

The alarms had not stopped, in fact they had redoubled. The ship lurched, and we staggered. “What was that?”

“My revenge for my bounty!” Mira shouted. “I just told everyone in the system where he was!”

The G0 droid was following, and I wondered why. But there was too much happening to worry. We dove through the hatch, and Atton cut us loose, dropping toward Nar Shaddaa. Above us, five ships had attached themselves like limpets. One was a tiny Twi-leki courier. Two were the blocky ships favored by the Gand. The others were Duros light freighters. They were still attached when the fusion engines blew, and destroyed all of them.

*****

Marai

Everyone was celebrating. Except for Mira. She had the glum look of someone who expected she would be the one who had to clean up afterward.

“What’s wrong?” I asked. Goto is dead, the bounty is lifted.

“Yeah he’s dead, and you guys don’t realize what a world of hurt that’s going to put on Nar Shaddaa.” I must have looked confused because she sighed. “All right, when you came here, you didn’t put up with a lot of government flak, right? No customs inspections, no regulations you had to read, no cops walking their beats, right?”

“When Nar Shaddaa was first colonized the Hutt didn’t care a lick for unimportant things like social services. You got sick, you hoped there was a doctor nearby. You got old you died. If you were robbed, oh well. Things worked to their satisfaction, and as long as there were no major complaints they let it be. Hutt don’t fix things that aren’t broken, not even to tweak them if it still works after a fashion. The Hutt families had their managers, the managers stole, but not so much that the Hutt missed a meal, they overworked people, but not enough that anyone really could complain.”

“But there were thugs everywhere.”

“Of course there were! Because less than a decade after the colony was formed the mobs moved in. Black Sky, The Brotherhood, the Twi-lek Sanforisi, the Gran Krachnidai, the Exchange. They moved in like leeches on a swimmer.

“But the mobs wanted stability as much as the Hutt did, so they didn’t fight nasty mob wars except for the rare ones like when Davik Kang ran off with a couple hundred thousand credits and half of the Exchange big wigs got blown to hell. Wars hurt business, and they didn’t want anything to hurt business.” She was looking at me as if hoping I understood. But I still must have looked confused.

“Unlike the Hutt, the Mob lives here. Their families are here, their homes are here. So they did what the Hutt did not. There are courts, you just go see the local boss, and he acts as judge. We have cops, they are the men working for the mobs, and they make sure it stays quiet and the best way to keep the people quiet is to give them as much of what they need as you can. When your com system breaks down you don’t call the Hutt, you call the local overseer for the mob. Schools hospitals orphanages, hell, even day care! Because a woman can’t go out and bust her hump for a mob boss if she has to watch squalling brats. For all intents and purposes, the Mobs are the government on Nar Shaddaa!”

I suddenly understood. “How bad will it be?”

“I don’t know, but it will be very bad. Goto handled something like a million square klicks, and his overseers are going to be jockeying for position since Visquis ate it too. The Y’Toub system is going to be in confusion for a year or more. I’d estimate more like a decade.”

The G0 droid floated closer. “My. If I had known you had such an efficient brain in that pretty little head, I would have groomed you for a high position in my organization.” Goto’s voice said sardonically.

We leaped to our feet. The droid merely floated there, watching us.

“Do not be alarmed. I said I wanted to oversee your movements. As the destruction of my ship has shown, you are a walking talking fission reactor with no fail safes, Marai Devos. Something must act as a cadmium inhibitor rod or everything will be destroyed as you save the galaxy. As much as you want to save it, you must realize that if business collapses, so does the Republic, so please listen to me when I talk. I will be busy rebuilding my infrastructure, so I cannot go with you personally. However I am giving this droid to you.

“He has access to me at all times, so I will be here albeit vicariously.”

“You know, everyone down there thinks Goto is dead.” Mira murmured.

“Yes they do.”

“How much you want to bet he’ll keep his moves small, watch his overseers. When someone moves too far out of line, he takes them down because as much as all of us hated him, he always was efficient. He didn’t torture too many.”

“Actually I have no aversion to torture. It is merely that interrogation using pain is usually inefficient and rather messy. If all you desire is one answer to one question, it is the most efficient method to gain that answer, but beyond that it is merely a sick willingness to cause pain because of your own pleasure.

“Those that use torture as their first option have no sense of style or balance. A man who has stiffen his sinews expecting torture is overthrown by kind words and a judicious use of chemical intoxicants. Kindness I have discovered works more efficiently in a large percentage of cases. For the others, torture is still an option, but still not the first.”

“Where to?” Atton’s voice came over the speaker. “That damn Jedi isn;t here obviously.”

“You’d never make a bounty hunter, Atton.“ Mira caroled. “Remember when we met up? Zez-Kai Ell had hired me. He said ‘tell them, if they can find a plan, assist them if it is not too dangerous‘. He didn’t know how ticked I was at Goto or he would have told me to stay ground side. But his last message was for you, Marai. “I will meet you in the library.”

“Back to Nar Shaddaa.” I ordered. “My only question is the same one Goto had. How did you find me?”

“That has weighed on my mind.” Goto commented from the corner.

“Ask that tin can of yours.”

I looked around. Then I stood, walking through the ship until I found T3. “Have you been sneaking into other data-banks again?” I asked with a big smile. He gave me a low whimper.

“No I’m not mad. Just tell me.” It took a long time. “So let me get this straight. You found someone who would pretend he’d stolen or bought you, and had him sell you to Vogga. They sent you to his warehouse and you sliced his system and got what they needed. Does that sum it up?”

He gave another low whimpering whistle. I leaned forward, and kissed him on the head. His photoreceptors flashed, and his head spun like a top.

“Who used to treat you like that?” I asked. His head snapped to a stop, and he burbled.

“No it’s just that when I was in the war, I saw a droid someone treated like a favorite child. You act a lot like that one. Any kindness sets you into contortions. If you were a puppy, you’d be on your belly tail whipping like a fan blade.” I rubbed his head, and the flexible neck bent as if he were a puppy or kitten pushing against the hand.

“Well we’ll have plenty of time on the trip so I am going to give you an oil bath, and polish you until you shine.” He whistled. “Yes, really.”

“Really woman, if you have unnatural desires for a droid, you should either get a room or charge admission.”

I stared at the round ball as it moved away again.

Mira’s tale

Mira

I led the way toward my room. I’d have to relocate all of my stuff after this meeting. To many people hated me, and most of them were those petty overseers Goto had on staff. When you want someone dead, but won’t admit why, it really throws a hydro-spanner in your plans when I bring them in alive, you know?

“Tell me about yourself.” Marai asked. We were walking alone, because she was the only one who really had to meet the guy.

“What’s to tell?”

“First, you aren’t native to Nar Shaddaa.”

“What makes you think that?” I was immediately on the defensive.

“Your accent. You have a trace of something overlaid with the Nar Shaddaa clipped speech. You spent at least five years some where with a lazy slow way of talking, almost a drawl. You spent about five more among the Mandalorians, because you have that snappy crisp way of speaking. Then about ten here. That means your home world is in the Outer rim, in the zone occupied during the Mandalorian wars.”

“Keen Jedi senses?” I asked sharply.

“No. I spent years being a bodyguard and two as the equivalent of a cop. I was chief of security on a ship that last year.”

“Well you’re right, okay? I ended up here just like a lot of refugees.”

“What about family?”

“Family? What family?”

“So you have no family. What happened to them?”

“You ought to know. The war happened. The Mandalorians occupied our planet. I grew up with a Mandalorian overseer as the boss. I had family almost up to the end.”

“They died?”

“They didn’t just die, they were blown to radioactive ash. They lived on Has-pertain. You might not have even heard of it if the war happened. We had nothing but mines and croplands, and the Mandalorians needed both. So they occupied us.”

“That must have been terrible.”

“You’d think so, but as bad as the Republic painted them, the Mandalorians weren’t that bad. They didn’t hold slaves, or rape every woman in sight. They just expected you to work, and were kinda nasty when you didn’t. If the count was short, they would come in and investigate. If you were hoarding, they would shoot you, but if it was something you couldn’t control, they adjusted for it. It was harsh but fair.

If it had been one of those mega-corporations out of the Republic it would have been worse. The one that originally settled the planet expected us to work, and if we died it didn’t matter. They set quotas for the farmers and if you didn‘t meet it, they penalized you. Try surviving on a planet you can‘t leave because you were fired as incompetent. Try keeping a family alive. I heard more people died from starvation under the Corp than ever did under the Mandalorians.”

“I have heard of Has-pertain.”

“Of course you have.” I replied, voice dripping with scorn. “We were important enough that we had to be defended. The Mandalorians station half a million troops there, and everything they could scrape together to protect it. But the glorious Republic had to cut off their supplies. My family was sitting on one huge bull's-eye until the end.” I hissed. “Malak and Karath were assigned that mission. You and Revan wouldn't get your hands dirty, but they didn’t mind. There was this one moon in the outer system, and they shifted it out of orbit, then rode cover for it. One minute, there was a planet and my family. The next, dinosaur killer time. The six people I though most important in the world gone in an instant. 13 million civilians to kill half a million Mandalorians and cut their supply lines.” I clapped sardonically. “Oh well done!’

“I am sorry about your loss.”

“Would it matter if you had known me then? I was seven. Would the suffering of one child held you from it?”

“Our reports were wrong. We’d been told that the civilians had been removed.” She protested softly.

“Well you know the old saying, Military intelligence is an oxymoron.”

“But you lived.”

“Yeah, because I was a mean little kid. The overseer saw me fight three bigger kids, and he offered my family a position in the military if I wanted it.” I caught her look. “Again, all hype. There were no slaves and masters under the Mandalorians. There were commanders, soldiers, and civilians. If you were a civilian, you did what you were told. There were no ‘conscripted’ legions of ‘brainwashed’ kids going off to fight. If you didn’t want to train, they left you alone. They do it with their own, why should we be treated any different?

“You know why I went? Because as many tons of grain as my father reaped, we were starving. Your Republic blockade cut them off from supplies, and the only people getting decent rations were the troops. I was hungry, and the idea of a full belly really tripped all my buttons.

“I trained, and they made me a pioneer, what your side called combat engineers. Everyone thinks it’s boring. Building bridges or dikes but you’re in uniform. But we were in the front lines most of the time. Clearing old minefields of ours, clearing yours. But try it when some idiot with a tribarrel blaster is punching rounds five centimeters above your head, and they can’t advance until you do your job. I was a whiz with mines. I could almost feel them. I had work right up until Malachor.”

I stopped, looking down one of the massive canyons Nar Shaddaa had. “Everyone I might have considered family was killed in that one. All thanks to you and your merry band of homicidal maniacs. I was 10 years old, and I was on a frigate that caught the edge of that damn Shadow Mass Generator. If it hadn’t been for shuttles that had survived the Republic frigate Viridian we’d be floating there still. Fifty of us out of a crew of 1500.”

“Viridian.” She said. “Before she died, that was my command.”

“So I have you to thank for my rescue. Don’t expect me to say it in this lifetime. The first thing they did was interrogate all of us. If we were Mandalorian born, or ‘infected’ with the Mandalorian view, we were sent off to POW camps. The rest of us were dumped on nearby worlds to get us out of the way. I was just one kid in a flood of refugees afterward. Everyone wants to write about the wars, the great battle, the massive casualties. It’s what happens afterward no one talks about. I got stuffed in a container ship bound for Nar Shaddaa, and the instant I hit dirt I ran for it. Signed up with the Bounty Hunters guild, and here I am.”

“Vossk said you were the only true bounty hunter left.”

“Is he still alive? I liked him. He appreciated my restraint.”

“He said that a decent bounty hunter only kills when there is no option.”

“I agreed with him. But it went further back than that. When my training sergeant told me my family was dead, part of me died with them. I was a soulless machine from that point on. They thought I was just getting into it, but I made a vow that day. I promised my dead family that unless I could find no alternative, the Galaxy couldn’t handle one more death. That to kill one person, was to reach out, and put out a star.” I reached out, and pinched my fingers over one of the stars in the sky. “I wasn’t going to add to that.”

“But you became a bounty hunter.”

“I’m good at it.” I shrugged. “Better than piece work in a Mob factory or laying on my back. I was always good at finding people when I was a kid. No one ever asked me to play hide and seek. But a good bounty hunter can always find a way to take some guy down without blowing them away.”

“I would think finding someone of Nar Shaddaa would be difficult. Until this happened, we didn’t hold any hope of finding Zez-Kai Ell.”

“You guys would have starved as bounty hunters. As a kid I could find the others, so I just used the same skills. When you accept a contract you get a holo, or at least a rough description. You study what you can find out about him and once you have a handle on him, you start walking.”

“Walking?”

“This is a little hard to explain, but Nar Shaddaa is like a forest or jungle. There’s a natural ebb and flow of movement that is constant. Like an ocean it's got it’s own currents and eddies. The ways it moves naturally.”

“Oddly enough I do understand.”

“Good. I lose most people about there. But your target is a rock thrown into the river, a predator or something that doesn’t belong. It causes ripples and eddies that don’t belong. So I just follow them until I spot them, then it’s just watch, learn, then take them down. Simple.”

“Kreia taught me how to listen.” She saw my confused look. “It’s a skill Jedi can learn. You can’t fix a problem unless you can feel the problem. So you listen to the people, to the world around you. Maybe you can teach me to hunt, and I can teach you to listen.”

“Well I’m not sure I want to learn anything from a Jedi, but maybe I’ll give you a chance.”

“I look forward to it.”

machievelli
08-29-2006, 01:55 PM
WWI is a difficult war to lay the blame on. Was it the assassin's fault for killing the Archduke? Was it Austria-Hungary's fault for declaring war on Serbia? Was it Germany's fault for causing such resentment from the French in 1870? Or was it the Second Empire's fault for causing that war? Or the fault of everyone for the arms races and nationalism? Very difficult to decide what really caused the Great War, though it was foolish for the Allies to make Germany accept responsibility for the whole thing.

Versailles was an all French Hanging party. The Germans could have quite easily gone for another two years, because the only thing causing their collapse was the influx of 2 million American troops.The Germans listened to Wilson's 14 points, and assumed that we were being honest. They surrendered because Wilson had promised there would be no vengeance taking.

But Wilson was sick when he arrived in 1919, and did little or nothing to interfere. England wanted to strip away all of the foreign colonies, Italy wanted chunks Europe, but France wanted it all.

The Germans were not even consulted during the drafting of the treaty. When they arrived, they had it shoved in their face and were told to sign.

Read that treaty some time. The French had lost 5 billion dollars worth of resources in reparations in 1870, the Germans were told they had to pay back 25 Billion for WW1. There were codicils that allowed the French to occupy the Rhineland the first time the Germans defaulted, and the only thing that kept Europe from collapsing sooner into the Great Depression was those payments. On top of that bearer bonds were issued, one set of 10 billion dollars at 5 percent interest (The average bank at the time gave you less than one percent) with the authorization for another 10 billion at ten percent if it was not paid off by 1929. The only thing that saved Germany from being a debtor nation today was that we didn't heap even more on them after WWII! The Nazis had repudiated the debt, and everyone expected them to finish paying it even with the nation in ruins.

They finally did pay it off. The last payment on debt and interest was paid in 1987. If the Nazis had not stopped paying, they would have been paying it off in 1956.

But the reason France could claim such horrific damages was article 256 which laid the entire blame on the Germans.

Is it any wonder the Germans went into WWII with such a fury at Europe?

Emperor Devon
08-29-2006, 02:32 PM
Versailles was an all French Hanging party. The Germans could have quite easily gone for another two years, because the only thing causing their collapse was the influx of 2 million American troops.The Germans listened to Wilson's 14 points, and assumed that we were being honest. They surrendered because Wilson had promised there would be no vengeance taking.

They might have even been able to win. When Lenin accepted the treaty the Germans proposed, they had no need to keep such a huge chunk of their army in the east. And there were all the new resources they got from the lands the Russians yielded. If half the German army could hold off all the Allies in the west for several years, I'd bet that twice as many Germans fighting just as many Allies could have won the war.

The Germans were not even consulted during the drafting of the treaty. When they arrived, they had it shoved in their face and were told to sign.

That sums it up. The second World War could have been avoided if the treaty wasn't so harsh. The loss of all colonies, a good chunk of the land they had before the war, no air force, an army of 100,000 men, and a navy of 15,000. That was sheer madness. The League might as well have put them under their direct control with terms like those.

Is it any wonder the Germans went into WWII with such a fury at Europe?

Absolutely not. When workers are carting their salaries home in wheelbarrows because their country's currency is so worthless, that tells you the country is not fit for paying off ridiculous debts.

Well, while I really find this discussion on the WWs fascinating, it probably should be moved to PMs or a WW thread in Ahto or the Senate Chambers at this point to keep the thread on topic. Thanks, Jae

Edit: Emperor D started a thread in Ahto. I pruned some of the off-topic posts. Thanks for moving it! :) --Jae

Good chapter, by the way. I'll be glad to see a reason for why Mira sticks around.

machievelli
08-29-2006, 03:49 PM
I have to agree, and I was going to suggest that Jae. Please move it or create one there if you can.

An american reporter who crossed the lines illegally in November of 1918 interviewed Luddendorf and he said it was the American troops that had broken his back.

Until it's moved, or restarted in the new venue, nuff said

machievelli
08-29-2006, 10:54 PM
Meeting

Marai

The door of the safe room opened, and Zez-Kai Ell looked up from the book-reader he held.

“Here’s you delivery.” Mira said. “I’ll just wait outside.”

“So you returned from exile.” He said. “It was not unexpected. Kavar thought you might, if only to walk the old battlefields again. But of all the places in the Galaxy, I would have never expected you to come to Nar Shaddaa.

“But you were always difficult to read. As if you played your cards too close to your chest. All of those that knew you before spoke of it. Adept at hiding even when sitting in a room of friends. That was true when you were linked to the force, but it was doubly true after it was lost to you.”

“Why did Kavar think I might return?” I asked.

“He wouldn't explain. It was just a gut feeling he had. Perhaps serving during part of that war made it easier to understand you. But he felt that you were the key to the threat we wee facing. That somehow by understanding you, we would grasp what it was. None of us agreed at the time, and so many have been lost since as you no doubt know.”

“Over eighty of the survivors..”

“How do you know?”

“I had the discussion with Goto that you refused. Not willingly, but he had a telling argument. The Republic will die in the next few months if we do not save it.”

“Then it is already doomed. We are too few to affect it.”

“That was the Council’s last argument before we went to war. But we succeeded.”

“Yes, and caused an even worse calamity afterward!” He glared at me. “Do you still think we were wrong to banish you?”

“I never questioned the Council’s decision. You all agreed to cast me aside, and I accepted that judgment. I accept it now.”

“There were those that thought we should have ended your life even before you fled the temple that day.”

“If you had come with lightsaber drawn and wanted my life, I would have given it gladly. That is what none of you seemed to understand. I had sworn to follow the council’s orders, and except for the one time, I never swayed from that oath.”

He looked at me. “After Malachor V we were not that sure. You ordered the weapon built.”

“That is true. I ordered the shadow mass generator built. I had it placed aboard the Ravager. It was supposed to be a weapon of last resort. All of our war council knew that if it was used, no one would be alive in the system afterward. The fact that the few thousands survived amazed even me.” I looked at him. Do you know why we even planned to use it? I had read our own estimates of what the last five planets including Mandalore would cost. We were looking at four and a half billion more civilian lives if we had to invade because every one of them, man woman child old and young would have fought us. Think of the sin of obliterating five more planets! None of us wanted that!

“But if there was no home fleet remaining, their own honor would have demanded that the Mandalore expiate his sins. It would have come to a trial by combat, him facing our champion. Revan expected me to be there to fight him. But when I was sent home, she took that onus on herself.

“But you used it!”

“Just to set the record straight, none of you ever asked me the most important question. ‘who gave the order’. It wasn’t me. I was in a coma I did not come out of until after the fact. Revan would not have, we were winning! More than two thirds of our losses there were unnecessary. No one else among the high command had the authority or even the ability to activate it.”

“But it was used!”

“Afterward I worked it out. There was one man in the chain of command who could have pushed that button. The man who had it physically in front of him. Admiral Quintain.”

“But Quintain had been dishonored, sent home two years earlier!”

“That is true. But when we built the device, we needed something larger than any ship ever built to carry it. Quintain was in BuShips, and he used those connections to the Republic Senate and the High Council of the Navy to get himself placed in command. when Ravager left she was half crewed and not even completed because all she had to do was come to Malachor, be in the center of our formation surrounded by the rest of us, and if the enemy killed us, fire the weapon. That was something well within his capability, and the Senate demanded it as the price of building the device and Ravager.

“So-”

“Yes. Quintain had to prove himself a hero and he blew our formation to hell, along with all but about fifty of the Jedi that had gone into the battle. and over a million of our men.” I hissed in anger.

“Do you think I wanted to be remembered as the person that had that hell machine there? If the enemy had been winning, it would have decimated them, and the fleet we had in reserve under Admiral Dodonna would have swept in and mopped up. That was our fallback plan. Revan was still alive by pure luck, as was I. Dodonna didn’t have to take Mandalore, what was left of Revan’s fleet was adequate for the job. But she didn’t get a lot of pleasure out of it. I went home, and if you had executed me for being responsible I would have bent, extended my neck, and waited for the blade to fall. Because I had no life after that day.”

He sighed. “So much we didn't understand. Why did you hunt me? Are you here to take your revenge?”

“No. I came because Atris needed to find you all. To call you all to Dantooine. I came because I was all she had available to send.”

“She’s alive? I thought she had gone to Katarr and died with the others. She was the librarian in charge of the Coruscant temple. If she lived the records did as well. That is good.”

“But why did the Jedi scatter?”

He gave me a sad smile. “When the Jedi Civil War ended, something or someone began to hunt us. Somehow we were found, and if more than a few Jedi were anywhere, we were more readily found. Master Vandar had us scatter, because that way we could try to draw out this new enemy, and confront them openly. All of us chose worlds ravaged by war, where the very death screams in the force would conceal us, or like myself to Nar Shaddaa where one Jedi is merely a touch of color in a vast ocean of water, and easily hidden. It was all part of the plan Kavar laid out for us.

“He felt that if the enemy could not find us, they might assume that we were all dead. They would come from the shadows, and we would see what we faced.

“And we knew that gathering together to confront them before that time would merely lend us and whatever world we used to slaughter. But after Katarr, there were too few remaining. Those that still live wander alone, and afar. I have not heard from any of them in a long time.”

“Atris had a list, and locations, at least of the Council that exiled me. You here, Kavar on Onderon, Vash on Korriban, Vrook on Dantooine. Atris is still on Telos last I heard.”

“All but two of the masters remaining.” He murmured. “Vandar is in the Outer Rim somewhere last I heard. Revan... No one knows where she is.”

“So you didn't even have all of the facts, but you cut me off from the force anyway.”

“We did not cut you off!” He looked at me surprised. “It might have appeared that way, but what caused your loss was something we did not understand. You had been lost to the force every since Malachor. We did not know why, and in haste and fear, we reacted. Naming you exile was just what we could do. Perhaps the others know what caused it and what caused you to regain the force, but I do not. I did not speak my full heart during that Council meeting. Choosing Nar Shaddaa as my prison was my own form of self imposed exile. All of us had lost Padawan to Malachor. Mine did not die, he became our enemy under Revan. I was not the only master who lived to see our students fall.”

“But we did what we felt we had been taught to do. Could none of you realize that?” I asked plaintively. “When I went to war, it wasn’t for glory, or hatred or bloodlust. People we were sworn to protect were dying, and even though we had been taught our lives meant nothing if we could save other lives, the council held us back.

“That is the reason for my anger before the Council. None of you had faced that choice. Kavar had run after that first battle, and Vash had fought against Exar Kun, and none of you remembered what it is like being pulled one way by your teachings, and the other by cooler heads. If you had given us something beyond a flat edict, we might not have gone at all.”

“I do not blame our students for that decision, even though a lot of masters did. It would be like training a hawk then expecting it to sit on your fist rather than fulfill it’s purpose.” He shook his head sadly. “Perhaps the Council was wrong, perhaps the order itself had grown arrogant and complaisant. It was said during that meeting after you had left that we had the authority, but what is the old military saying? Rank has it’s privileges and it balances with Rank has it’s Responsibilities. Never once in all that did anyone accept responsibility for Ulic, for Exar Jun, for Revan, for Malak... For you. Each was considered an aberration that would never happen if we chose better students.

“Yet of the 50 that survived Malachor, only you returned home. Only you were willing to face our judgment. And rather than trying to understand we punished you for all of their sins. Our one chance to find out what had gone wrong, to try to set it right, gone in one burst of righteous indignation. And now that decision had returned to haunt we that survive.” He sighed again.

“Perhaps I am right. Perhaps we had become so set in our ways that any protest was seen as rebellion. So many left to join our enemies because that is what they saw. But I was already dead. I could not sit in council and condemn when I wasn’t even sure why they had left us. So I resigned from the Council and came here. But by then there were many who left and will never return. There is a reason the Republic no longer trusts us, and I wish we could change that but it is the truth.

“But it is time I stopped rusticating. The enemy stands revealed, and I must stand with the Jedi. I am no longer Jedi. Once we are dead and gone, the Republic will heave a sigh or relief, but they will not mourn us.”

“But that is not true!” I looked at him. “On Peragus, men stood to protect me, even though I would be considered author of all their woes. On Citadel Station, on Dxun, even here on Nar Shaddaa, I felt that yearning for what we stood for. Wishing that someone would step up, and stand between them and the evils of life. We must stand for something, or the Galaxy has no rhyme nor reason.” I shook my head. “What of Revan? She was redeemed. Cannot the entire order be rehabilitated?”

“It gives none of us comfort that Revan was redeemed. She had no choice in the matter. We took a woman whose mind had been wiped clean, made her anew, then threw her into the meat grinder instead of leaping into it ourselves. The last act of a bunch of cowardly old men and women. “ He stood. “I will go to Dantooine as she has asked. I will stand and fight. But I will never bear the name Jedi again.

“So if you have others to notify, please do. I have many of my own sins to consider before I go.”


Opening your mind

Mira

She came out looking like she’d lost the last friend in her world. She didn't talk until we had gotten back to the refugee sector. I was walking around that huge pit on deck nine when she stopped.

“What’s wrong?”

She walked to the edge, then turned, facing me. “Why did you avoid this place?”

“What do you mean? I walk by it an average of once every other day. Have for years.”

“Not this place.” She waved at the sullen buildings around us. “I meant this place.” She pointed at the street at her feet.

“I did not!”

“When we went to meet Master Zez-Kai Ell you made a point to avoid this very spot. Now on our return, you do it again.”

I stared at the street at her feet. Something about it felt, I don’t know, wrong. “So what? Just habit.”

“Remember when I told you of my listening. Come here, take my hand. I want to show you what listening is.”

“Could we try somewhere else?” I could hear a note of panic in my voice. There was nothing there. Nothing that could cause such an unreasoning terror. Yet she stood there as calm as if she lived here. I wanted to run away screaming.

“If you would listen, this is where it must be.” She stretched out her hand.

I found myself walking toward her as if someone was controlling my feet. My hand was out, less than a centimeter separated us. “I... I’m afraid.”

“I know you are. But the first step from the womb is facing your fears. You can walk away. I will not force you, or drag you here. If you come it will be your own choice.”

Our fingers touched, and played with each other idly. Nothing. I moved closer, and they interlocked, palm to palm. I felt emboldened. “So what? How do I listen? With my ears?” I asked sarcastically.

“With your eyes closed.”

“Sure, no biggie.” I closed my eyes Nothing. Just the usual rush of people moving past, vehicles flying over.

“Now think of a simple kindness. Like a stone it echoes in it’s ripples when thrown into the pond.”

I could see a flash of light in the darkness and ripples flowed away from it in perfect rings.

“To those of us who touch it, this is the force. Not an electrical plug that we stick a cord into, but a living breathing thing that life and emotions create and nurture.”

The rings were coming faster and faster. Suddenly I heard Nar Shaddaa. Not a person, not what I was used to. It was like being thrown into the ocean when you can’t swim. Turning on your brother’s music system without checking the volume, and having the reverb blow your ear drums on the other side of you head. Like sitting down and finding that you’d sat on an ant nest, or kicked a ground bee hive, and they are swarming around you.

But it was not a danger or painful. It was like having a puppy the size of the galaxy that has seen you for the first time, and tail wagging comes over and wants you to play, and somehow I knew that if I had held a stick, the entire planet would have leaped after it in an attempt to fetch it. It had all the unbounded exuberance and love a puppy possesses, but there were thread of pain in it. This puppy had been abandoned. It knew that mankind hated it, yet still it was willing to extend that love onto the one that held out a hand and let it choose.

I found myself leaned against the rail gasping. I still held her hand, but part of me wanted to leap into that abyss. Knowing that if I wished, it would buoy me up like an ocean where you merely float. Or allow me to fall to my death, because it was what I chose. It was heaven and hell. I wanted to let it go, and never leave it. It was your mother’s hug when you are sad. It was the Sergeant’s palm when you did it wrong. I could have wrapped myself in it like a blanket and died at that very instant content.

“Mira, open your eyes.”

“No.” The stubborn little kid was back inside me. I can feel them all... Every person that had ever lived and died on this rock was there, and I could feel them. The good... The evil, I felt them all! I tried to lock the door it had come through, but the hinges were gone, the door in scattered fragments. It was in the house, and nothing was going to chase it back out again.

“You are feeling what every Jedi feels when he touches the heart and soul of a world.” She whispered. “To know the pulse of the place, the taste of it on your tongue. To know that by touching just the right place you can stop or start an avalanche, and either save or slaughter millions. This is why we have such power but use it so sparingly. It is the reason we are the guardians of the Republic because we care is those millions live or die.”

“Then you’re saying I am a Jedi.” I laughed, not a healthy this is fun, but the manic laughter of someone skating on the edges of hell. “If this had happened yesterday, I would have had to turn myself in for the bounty.” I shook my head, tears running down my face. “But I’d be a tough catch. And getting away with the money afterward would have been a problem.”

She laughed softly, and it eased that manic lunacy that threatened to sweep me away. “I have found that being a Jedi means you are always short of pocket change. It sort of goes with the teachings.”

“Doesn’t really matter.” I said softly. “The money has always been just a way to keep score. But I can’t handle life like this. I need to get a handle on it or I’m in a psych ward by noon!”

There was a long pause. I found that I had opened my eyes and was looking at her. She was no longer just a nice looking older woman with a killer body. She was a flame of potential even I could not stand to look at. “If you stay on Nar Shaddaa, I cannot help you. Perhaps you can catch Master Zez-Kai Ell.”

“No way!” I was on my feet, hands clenched in her robes. “You brought this out, you made me see, if anyone is going to teach me, it’s going to be you if I have to pound your head into the pavement to get that idea through!”

“All I have done is shown you the door. Going through it must be your own choice. There are those that would drag you down a path as one did to Visas, but I will never force you to do or learn anything.”

“Your so gods dammed self assured all the time! You may walk around like a Nerf in a china shop, but you let yourself be guided by things I can’t begin to understand, and it feels right. I want to be like you. To stop being afraid of everything around me. I want someone in my life that doesn’t think of me as something to do on a slow afternoon. I want to hunt those that hurt others because while my putting out the stars is bad, there are those that do it without even caring!

“I never let go when my family died, when my unit died, when friends hell my entire planet died! I want to let that all go, and have the ability to close off that echo with only the regret you feel when it is something you can never have again! Please teach me how to do that!”

“I don't know if I can.” She said softly. “I can only lead you on the path as I have walked it. Lead you to where I am. The rest is up to you.”

“If you had promised me the moon I would have called you a liar. But what you can teach me... It looks pretty good from where I’m standing.”

“Then we had better go and pack your books. This may take a while.” She stopped, head turning. I closed my eyes, and there was something, like a storm cloud in the distance, but no where on the planet. “We had better go, They need me on Dxun.”

Desperate race

Marai.

I did not know why I felt compelled to race back to Dxun. we had over a week before Kavar had told me to come back. Yet suddenly it was imperative for us to be there. As before we settled in. Mira moved into our family as if she were the naughty niece that had been sent to stay with you. The Handmaiden and Visas had come to some sort of accord, and there no longer acrimony between them. Bao-Dur was happy with more machines to fix, and Atton, well he was still Atton, just a little more ready to smile. I spent a few hours giving T3 that oil bath and polishing I had promised, and Bao-Dur grumbled that I was stealing his thunder, but I could see his grin of fond delight as he watched.

Between the three of us we despaired of ever teaching Mira how to fight with a lightsaber. I finally had her put on some phototropic cloth that fluoresced if you hit it directly with a light beam, and made her practice with a flash lamp. After seeing the carving she would have done if she’d had a light saber, she suddenly got the idea that she was swinging a ‘blade’ with no weight. Once that idea was there, she improved dramatically. She spent time with me, learning to meditate, with the Handmaiden learning to fight hand to hand and with blade, with Visas learning to extend her senses. It is said that a good teacher learns from even the worst student. She was not by any means the worst student but all of us learned from her.

I spoke with G0T0 and was astonished at the machine’s capability. It could disrupt enemy droids, switching targeting information so that the enemy was their own people. It could intimidate just by flowing into a room; was programmed for standard interrogation and was capable of torture if that was your only alternative. It had a camouflage field as good as the Mandalorians had, and it’s ability to fly high enough that it could pass by as if it were a cloud gave it added capability.

We were surprised and amused when T3 came up with the last parts we needed for that antique HK47 droid. It went active, and I stood back as it did a self diagnostic.

“Assessment” It seems I have been afflicted with an almost total dismemberment! I can feel every crack in my motivators. My central control cluster seems to have been used for target practice too.”

“What were you doing in the storage hold?” I asked.

“Answer: I do not know, master. It is curious that I am here, though for some reason it does appear familiar.

“Extrapolation: Considering my capabilities perhaps someone was in the process of repairing me.”

“Any idea when that was?” I asked. This one needed more than a polish job. It needed sanding and rosin to even get it to where polish might help.

“Answer: To quote the human adage, it seems you would know better that I. My memory circuits have suffered a serious setback. Vast portions of it have been either erased or sequestered quite intentionally.

“Reflection: For some reason this fact does not disturb me. I postulate that at one time or another, removing sections of my memory was something I accepted as a matter of course. Still the loss of my higher combat functions and my assassination capabilities is distressing.”

“But you're okay.”

He looked at me. The voice was sarcastic. “Sarcastic answer: If they had removed your ability to use your arms and legs, I am sure you might be ‘okay’. I for one am very irritated by this. Also someone has removed my discretionary programming. It is not my habit to say that I even have combat functions or assassination protocols. For that matter, i should have been able to stop myself from saying that I can lie! Okay is not in my list of adjectives I would apply to myself.”

“There’s a new series out, maybe we can blow another one to hell, and get you back on track.”

“Irritated reply: Do not try to sell me such an obvious fabrication. I am HK 47. The last of the line of Systech cybernetics. Model HK1 through myself were forwarded to the Republic fleet to work with the humans in exterminating the Mandalorians.” It’s head turned as Mandalore walked by. “Though I see there is still work to do.” It turned back to me. “Soft soap: But I was the last of the series. I am like a painting by a dead artist. No more of my kind can exist.”

“Well I hate to tell you, but someone is making knockoffs. I know of at least four series that followed you. Including an entire series just of the 47s.”

“Statement: Humor is wasted upon a droid, Master. My designers said at the time they could not think of any improvements, and since the run was merely 47 units long, from HK1 to 47, you must be attempting to forcibly extend my lower limb.”

“Forcibly extend... Oh, no, I am not pulling your leg. So far we’ve run into half a dozen HK50 models.”

The bullet head glared at me, then it walked over to the console built into the table. A cord was withdrawn, and it accessed our memory banks. Then it disconnected and clumped back over.

“Outraged conclusion: Master you are correct! There are several thousand cheap copies of my system out there! This has caused me quite a bit of irritation and embarrassment. The fact that according to your own records show that you dealt with three of them simultaneously by yourself shows the lack of their programming. I myself never had a problem dealing with a lone meatbag Jedi by myself! To need three shows a lack of capability quite at odds with the legacy I should have.

“Shrewd estimate. “Since the parts necessary for my rejuvenation will come from them, it seems that our paths lead in the same direction master. Oh Gods how I hate that term.”

“What? Meatbag?”

“Answer. No, master. Damn I have said it again.”

“Listen, can you accept input?”

“Faster than any human could put it in, master.”

“First, my name is Marai. You will call me that in lieu of Master. Second. I don’t care how many of our enemies you call meatbag, but you will not use that term for anyone who is aboard this ship.”

“Very well ‘you-are-not-a-meatbag‘ Marai.”

I sighed. “Work on it.”

*****

G0T0 came to me. “Odd, your intuition has directed you to one of ther systems that I would have labeled as instrumental in halting the Republic’s collapse.” He told me.

“Oh?”

“Yes. They are, the recovery efforts on Telos, the stabilization of Dantooine, and the political resolution on Onderon. If all of these are successful, the unification of a religious base would guarantee the Republic’s survival.”

“Explain. Start with Telos.”

“The system of Telos is instrumental in giving the Republic some hope for the future. The success or failure of that project is instrumental in determining economic forecasts for the future. However the destruction of Telos as a supply of fuel had caused the odds of that project being successful to zero.”

“I didn’t mean for Peragus to get blown away.” I protested.

“Of course not.” He replied sarcastically. Your presence there caused the Sith attack, and your attempt to escape cause the destruction. If you had simply surrendered then Peragus would still be there busily supplying fuel.”

“I didn’t see that as an option.”

“We can only hope that you do not decide that the Galaxy itself must die to save you from another attack. Perhaps a neutral observer must ask himself at what point your continued survival is more important than the Galaxy itself. After all, is the death of only 50 percent of the people where you next stop an agreeable option?” It floated, then went on.

“Onderon is important because it’s wildlife and plant life is highly aggressive. The moon Dxun could supply all of the necessary transplantable life to bring any or all of the 20 worlds back to life. Unfortunately, there is a Sith attempt to control that planet, and if the Republic survives, there is no reason the Sith would supply those needs. So the choice is, will you support the Queen who has linked her political and physical survival to the Republic? Of General Vaklu who had hitched his political star to the Sith? Note that a number of Outer Rim worlds not at present members of the Republic, seventeen to be precise, will either walk away or embrace the Republic viewpoint in this equation.”

“Dantooine is important because it is a resupply nexus to the Republic on the Outer Rim. If the Sith capture it, they will control all of the resources that come in from the Outer Rim, and the loss, while seeming minor to the Republic as it stands now would signal the death knell of any commerce inbound from the Outer reaches of the Galaxy. Why should a planet stand with the Republic if the Republic itself does not care if they are within or without it?”

“Isn’t there anything you could do to assist in this?”

He turned. “The destruction of my base of operations, the turmoil you have inflicted on my operations is so great that monetarily that is you went to work for me the instant the yacht had been destroyed, as a faithful overseer, you would not live long enough to pay me back for all of what you have cost me.

“However if greed is linked in, I am willing to assist. I will reward you monetarily for every system you stabilize.”

“I wasn’t thinking of money, Goto. At least, not in money that I would touch and spend.”

“Oh?” I detected a touch of confusion. I turned, and it retreated from the smile I gave it.

“You have diverted the cargos of what, fifty of Vogga’s ships?”

“Seventy-four.” He replied.

“How many are fuel tankers, still loaded with fuel?”

“Seventeen. The prices are jumping, and I had been holding it-”

“For every system I stabilize, you will give me a third of that fuel.”

The droid spun on his axis. “That does not make sense. The fuel is worth a great deal, true, but-”

“That one third per system will be sent to Telos. The fuel given to them.”

It froze in orbit. “I see. By making me give it to Telos, you hope that I will succeed where you cannot on the third planet?”

“By my estimate, each tanker will extend their deadline for a month. Six will give them approximately half a year’s worth of fuel, and I am willing to bet you twice as much fuel that I can stabilize all three in the next three weeks.”

The droid hummed. “You know the odds of one person successfully doing all I have set out? Do you want odds?”

“No. I’ll take flat rate. I succeed on Onderon, six tankers. On Dantooine, six more. If I succeed on all, you owe me not five more, but 22 more, because I have won the bet.”

The droid watched me. “Even though my better nature says I should not, but the gambler in me says to go for it. I will agree.”

*****

We were a day out of Dxun when I found myself in a nightmare. I was working on a device. It wasn’t me doing it, I knew. It was a man and his hands-

It was Bao-Dur. I could see him making a final connection. He heard a step, and turned. It was me, a decade younger. I looked past him. “Our child.” I said, then looked at him with an impish grin. “Whatever shall; we name him?”

I could feel his own humor driven with horror. “Must we even name something we hope will never be born?” He asked.

The image of me came over, hands set against the machine. “If we only fought one war, I would say yes. Let the chips fall where they may. But we're fighting the Mandalorians, and on the second front those idiots in the Navy and their Senate backers who want their chosen puppet in charge.

“Then we have the third front of those damn stupid liberal peaceniks that seem to think it’s all a misunderstanding and everyone knows it’s our fault that this war happened. If we only ceded the planets the Mandalorians occupied, they would be happy, and the liberal could spend all that appropriations money on gardens for the terminally stupid or something just as important.” I sounded even more exasperated than I remembered. “The same idiots that convinced the Mandalorians to call for a cease fire, and as soon as they had rearmed, they had broken it. How many men on both sides died because we gave them six months to recoup?”

Before He could answer Quintain pranced in. I had always seen the bastard as a caricature, but Bao-Dur‘s memories made him look like something from a comedy based on that war.

He strode up, looked at the device, then reached out “OOOOO What does this do?” He asked stupidly as he hit the big red button-

I snapped upright, covered in sweat. I climbed out of bed, and went to the cargo hold where Bao-Dur often worked. He was sitting at the workbench, the remote spread in a sheaf of parts before him. He looked as if he were praying, but after a moment I saw a tear fall to his clenched fists. Agony flowed from him as if I could feel his pain, and since I had been the cause of it, perhaps that is what I felt.

“Bao-Dur?” He snapped upright, wiped the tears from his eyes.

“General! I couldn’t sleep so I figured I could do some quick upgrades-”

“Bao-Dur. Don’t lie to me.” I knelt beside him. He looked at me, and the pain in his eyes made me want to weep with him.

“I was dreaming of Malachor, General. The flash of failed fusion ignition, the blast as hyper accelerated plasma lashed out. The ships...” He began to cry again. “The last stand of the Republic you called it, and I believed you. Win or lose, the Mandalorians had to be shattered beyond repair.” He stared at his hands.

“I made it with these two hands. I knew that you were right. When they came at us like starved wolves, attacking three times their number, I knew you were right. They had nothing left. We did, but they would have retreated if we let them. If they slaughtered us there was two more years of war we faced. Dying with them in one Pyrric blast would have ended it. Beyond Malachor they had nothing left. Even if we died, if we killed them... or took them to hell with us, the war would have been over.

“I remember before the battle. You hated putting all that power in Quintain’s hands. You wanted it to be clean. If we were going to die, let it be our own hands that decided. My hand at your command on the button. But they didn’t leave us that, did they? When the order came you turned, I felt your eyes, felt the fury in your heart when you cut our systems, leaving the fates of three million and more in the hands of someone we wouldn't have trusted to walk a hound. And you were right. three million men, all of them condemned to death because of that bastard!” He clenched his fists, slamming down on the table. I caught them, and he stared at me with hopeless eyes.

“Only you were lucky. You were in a coma when it happened. So I got to witness it for you.” I suddenly saw within his thoughts:

The left flank had broken. Revan had looped out and was coming back like a hammer from the outer system. Bao-Dur like so many others had been in an escape pod, barely surviving Viridian.

Sanso had done her bit, using the shadow of Malachor V to trap any that tried to escape and a forlorn hope made up of over half their remaining fleet had plunged in to attack her, to smash her so that they could try to flee. Less that a hundred ships remained of the enemy. Bao-Dur had felt elation. They were losing, it was only-

Then there had been that flash of light. Malachor V had convulsed, slamming into it’s core as gravity tried to ignite it as a star. Bao-Dur had closed his eyes, looked away, then unbidden he had looked back. The new star burned for perhaps a tenth of a second, then it had exploded outward as the pressure of that fusion fire overrode the gravity of the planet. He had seen the forefront approached as if it were a tsunami of fire, his pod had been battered and broken. Pure luck had saved him from death. But of three fifths of our battle line, of four fifth’s of the enemy battle line, nothing remained but dead ships and wreckage.

“It's worst when the echo hits.” He whispered against my shoulder. When you realize that three million people would still be alive, except for you. My nightmares come from there.”

“My decision. You may have figured out how to make it, but I was the one that pushed.” My own voice cracked and I was crying with him. “If I had kept my mouth shut-”

He enfolded me in a bear hug, and i felt my ribs creaked as he squeezed. “No. Never say that! You did what you had to do to make Malachor V the last battle. If you had your way you would have died there with all of your friends. I know that. You wanted to be the one to push the button, because there would have been no one you cared about alive if you did. You could have restrained yourself.” I felt his tears on my neck, and I hugged him as hard as he hugged me.

“I haven't cried in years. Ever since you came back into my life, suddenly it’s not as hard to deal with any more. All that anger, that hatred of them and myself. It’s begun floating away. I no longer hate myself.”

“What of me?”

“Never General! Even in my darkest moods, you were never to blame! You didn't want to use it. You begged for them to leave it in your hands. If the Council and the Senate hadn't demanded control most of those people would be alive today. You did what you had to do, and you got the blame for every idiot in the chain of command who reacted instead of acting.

“But I can’t get past the fact that it was this mind, these hands, that made it.”

“If Ulic Qel-Droma was forgiven for making war upon the Order and the Republic, why should a man that only try to save it be condemned?” I asked.

“They might forgive me. But I have blood on my hands. The blood of more that I even want to count. How do I begin forgiving myself?”

“Let it go.” I snapped shaking him. “The past is done, the dead are dead, and nothing you do to yourself will change that. Let the past go and embrace the future.”

“I need to atone.”

“You already started doing that! It was you that designed the Ithorian force fields. It was you that tried to stop Czerka. You have been atoning since Malachor V. But only you can finally say it is enough.” I pulled his head up, looked into those eyes. “I can forgive you, because you have spent your life paying it all back. Let it go.”

We spent an hour in each other’s arms, crying. I had no innocence to lose when I arrived at Malachor. I had lost my soul and my purpose there. Some beneficent Deity had returned it with the Force, And I was not going to lose it again.

AUTHOR'S NOTE Make a mental note of what you have read. does Quintain sound like a cartoon character you remember? Go to the PS below.


For anyone who recognized DeeDee from Dexter's lab without looking it up, you get a whatever prize!

Emperor Devon
08-30-2006, 12:05 AM
Yay, another chapter. I'm glad you explained my Mira decided to go with Marai. It always seemed odd in the game when she would join your party with no explanation.

Edit: By the way, is Quintan your take on Darth Nihilus?

machievelli
08-30-2006, 10:31 AM
Yay, another chapter. I'm glad you explained my Mira decided to go with Marai. It always seemed odd in the game when she would join your party with no explanation.

Edit: By the way, is Quintan your take on Darth Nihilus?


Oddly enough yes. Was I that obvious?

Emperor Devon
08-30-2006, 01:37 PM
Oddly enough yes. Was I that obvious?

He had the same ship Nihilus did, and it's stated a few times in the game that he died, was reborn, and trapped on Malachor V.

machievelli
08-31-2006, 01:32 AM
Interlude

Atris

“There is still no sign of the ship?”

“No, Mistress. Not since they left Nar Shaddaa.” The Handmaiden replied. We do not know where they are bound or why.”

“The freighter. It all comes back to that damn freighter, I don’t know why. I thought the droid might have the answer but I was wrong.”

“Perhaps we looked in the wrong section of it’s memory, Mistress.” The girl admitted. “We downloaded everything you asked for, but there were sections we did not get to. But we have searched the data and have not found what you seek.”

“Then perhaps you should have faith that your sister will come to her sense and return to us with that information.” I replied tartly.

“We all hope that Mistress, but she and her four companions are nowhere to be found.”

I tensed, then turned slowly, eyes searching the girl’s face. “Four?”

“Yes mistress. The Exile, the Iridonian, the Echani trained pilot, and the old woman.”

“The old woman?”

The girl looked surprised. “Yes, Mistress. There was an old woman with them.”

I turned away, and I felt a sudden chill. How could anyone have been able to come here and not even be noticed? “I do not seem to... recall her.”

“She was confined as were the others until after your meeting with the Exile, Mistress. During the brief time they spent here afterward, you were in meditation and we saw no reason to disturb you.”

I looked down. Yes. Meditating, listening to those voices, seeking what I sought in vain. Only one woman knew that answer, and she was not to be found.

“Mistress? Is something wrong?”

“I am... tired.” I rubbed the bridge of my nose. “I sometimes feel as if everything will collapse around us like a house made of cards. Something is out there, just on the edge of perception, and I feel it waiting, biding it’s time. I fear that all of our preparations will collapse before our enemy even arrives.”

“Have faith in your skills, Mistress. We do.”

I wanted to scream at her, but she was merely saying she thought I could hold it all together. “I will meditate for a time. Perhaps that will clear my mind.”

“Yes, Mistress.”

Dxun

Marai

We came out at Onderon, and things had changed drastically. Republic ships were fleeing like a school of fish before a predator. The Onderon naval vessels were firing on each other!

We dived out of the debacle, and approached the Mandalorian camp. We were hailed, and I saw Kelborn looking at us in astonishment.

“Talk about quick! We just sent the signal an hour ago-”

“What signal?” Mandalore demanded.

“Someone named Kavar contacted us on the Queen’s frequency just under three hours ago. He was trying to find her.” He nodded toward me. I leaned forward.

“Report.”

“He said that the Queen had arranged safe passage for you, and seemed upset that you had left. We had your ship code, and I sent the message, but then...” He paused, then looked back up, face grim. “I don't know now if that offer is still good. Things have gone to hell down there in the last hour.”

“Explain.”

“This morning, almost two hours ago, General Vaklu met with the Council and had the Queen declared a traitor. The Council in his name ordered her to surrender herself, and she has refused. That started a full scale shooting war between different units of the army, and that mess you see in orbit is only the closest part.

There is a full scale civil war going on down there, and it won’t end until either Vaklu or the Queen is dead.”

I shook my head. G0T0’s prediction was spot on. “What help can Queen Talia muster?”

“In that part of the city not a lot. Vaklu has packed that area, 80 to 90 percent of the troops on checkpoints are his. Maybe a thousand men. The Royal guard has always been small. They muster less than four hundred. The Palace is a natural fortress and it had defenses in depth, but I do not know if her men can man all of them, and anything they do not man will be easily overrun. The Iron Eagle has complete air superiority and over two thousand troops that tried to fly to the Queen’s assistance are dead. Add to that Vaklu’s allies are the Sith and they’re driving the beasts that have been driven mad by the fighting before them. Both Bralor and I agree. I seriously doubt she will survive until nightfall.”

“I think I will have something to say about that.” I snarled. I must get down there.”

“Are you mad? One Jedi, even two, you’ll last as long as a bottle of Tihaar at a funeral!”

“You have little understanding of what the force can do, warrior.” Kreia snapped. “There is a jedi Master within that palace. Even five thousand troops will find him something to reckon with.

“But I feel something more ominous. Tell me of the visitors.”

“What? How...” Kelborn looked stunned. “One of the ships that had been in the queue broke formation and landed here Yesterday. A large cargo shuttle left here less than two hours before Vaklu’s announcement. All we had were the passive sensors of the shuttle, and it read a medium sized transport.” He brought up a map. “They landed here, about five kilometers away. That’s all we know.”

“You enemy settles in that close, and that is all you see?” She looked at the map. “Look for the patterns, my child.”

I leaned forward. The map told me little, except for an odd squiggling mark. “What is that?” I reached out, and touched the light symbol.

“A tomb of some-”

I didn’t hear what else he said. I saw Mira, Visas, my battle sister. They faced men in black robes, lightsabers in their hands. Visas stood to the fore, and I knew she spoke. Then suddenly the battle was joined.

I snapped back. “A Sith Lord’s tomb.” I hissed. “All of the power of the dark side from such a place, what could it do?”

“Weaken those opposing them, help those attuned to it by strengthening their arms.” Kreia said.

“Drive the beasts mad. Damn, that is what the problem has been! The Sith have been directing that energy at the city!” I slammed a fist on the table. “They must be stopped.”

“Dividing our forces is not wise.”

“Wise or not we must.” I snapped. If they finish whatever they are doing, Talia loses. If we go to Talia’s aid, they will finish uninterrupted, and Talia dies. Think Mandalore! I drove a wedge between a Beast rider and her mount. What would the people say if the Queen was denied by hers?”

“But you cannot be in two place at once.”

“Yes.” I closed my eyes. It was harder than any decision I made during the war. Should I act to stop the vision I had seen to save the women of my crew? The only ones who had a chance since this was the Force we dealt with?

I turned. “Visas, I wish you to lead.”

“But-” The Handmaiden stopped as I raised a hand.

“These are men who use the force. They could wipe the Mandalore and his men from the map with ease, or delay them. You Visas will know which are which.”

“I serve as you command.”

“My sister, you must go, for of all, you are the best warrior. You must help your little sisters come home safe.”

“Little sisters?” Mira asked. “You trying to get away from me?”

“No my dear.” I reached out, and rubbed her cheek. “The danger we go into will be a thousand times worse, and I know how you feel about killing. If you merely defend, the others can handle the fighting. Will you go?”

“And if I don’t you’ll take away my desserts?”

“No, I will ask you again.”

“You would too.” She shrugged. “Besides, I haven’t gotten the hang of a light saber yet.”

“In the middle of a battle is not the time.”

“All right. Maybe I can at least run them around so the others can kick butt.”

“We have an attack skimmer. I can send you three and my best squad.” Kelborn said.

“We have other transport to prepare.” Mandalore said. Take them.”

“My sister, a word.” The Handmaiden said.

“I will hear all you say.” Visas said softly. “Must you pretend that I cannot?”
I sighed. “Mandalore, please get whatever you planned ready. You three with me.”

We walked into the day. “All right, who first?”

“My friend your sister must speak first.” Visas said softly. “Else all will be confusion.”

“I worry for my friend your student.” The Handmaiden said. “She was just taken from the clutches of such beings. Must she chance being taken again? If she were to fall...”

“I shall not fall.” Visas said calmly. I looked at her. “I would not fail the one who has given me my life back in that way. Better to die. But there is an option.” She turned to Mira. “Little one, do you have what you call a come-along designed for Jedi?”

“Well I thought of one, and what is this ‘little one’ crap? I’m almost four years older than you!”

“I was speaking of height.” Visas said deadpan.

“If I wasn’t going to have to cover your butt, I’d place kick it to Onderon!” Mira snarled.” She went through her row of weapons, and pulled one out. “Special design trigger. If you try to remove it, the charge goes off, and nothing but a blast door will survive it.” She hesitated. “Are you sure?”

“Attach it. In the center of my back where I cannot reach.” Visas turned, and the shorter woman slapped it to her, the sticky chemical bonding to her flesh. Visas moved her arms. “I have fought with wounds that bound me more.” She turned to face me. “I promise I shall not fall. But if I fail in that, my life is already forfeit at your command.”

“No, Damnit. Your will not fall.” I rasped.

“Then we must go.”

I stood there damning myself. I had always hated sending others to their death alone. I wished them well, and went back in.

“Well you will love this.” Mandalore said. “Show them, Zuka.”

“We found a special cache right after you left. A lot of equipment was deployed here that never got used. Too bulky, that kind of thing.” He led us across the compound to a huge hanger. He grinned, and pulled the switch. The doors opened, and I stared in amazement at the behemoth that waited for us. The last time I’d seen one of these was watching them drop on us on Baramina.

“Mark III Basilisk.” Zuka said proudly. “The cache was hermetically sealed. This one must have been in for repairs, because a lot of systems were down. But it’s as clean as the day the sealed it. I have it up and running, though it isn’t up to full capability. Weapons are off line along with a few other systems, but the engine is smooth, and her shields are intact.”

“What other systems are down?”

“Navigation and targeting. It has to be flown manually. But we can rip out the targeting computer and the missiles, and make room for three inside instead of riding it. Still state of the art in ablative armor and shields. Not even their corvettes will do much to it, and it’s less than an hour and a half to the ground.”

I chuckled. “I never thought I’d be flying one!”

“You don’t. When it comes to maneuvering, it’s a brick. But the auto land sequence looks sound.”

“Looks?”

“Well the only way to know is to test it, and unfortunately, once this is in the air, everyone will be paying attention if you know what I mean.”

I sighed. “All right walk me through this.”

“No.” We turned, Davrel was there. He was out of his Mandalorian armor, dressed as a mercenary. He came over, snapping a salute at Zuka, then at me. “I dreamed of this. I’m going with you.”

“Davrel, this isn’t your fight.” I pointed out. “You should be with your comrades.”

“I will be.” His face broke. “They destroyed all the others, this is the only one left. I... please.”

“Are you checked out?” Zuka snapped.

“Yes, sir.”

“How?”

“That old simulator tape you threw out. ‘No one will ever need this anyway’. Well I wanted it, and I want this.”

“But you’ll be riding inside.” I pressed.

“So? At least I’ll be with it.”

I looked into that face. Everything he’d wanted to do had ended thanks to Revan and I. If he wanted to be the last Mandalorian to ever fly one, I wasn’t going to complain.

“Mount up. That just leaves-”

“Space for me.” Kreia walked up. “Not the most comfortable ride, but I must admit, it will be very ostentatious.”

I sighed. All right then. Let’s go.”


Descent

Mira

It took me back, and not in a good way. The three of us were surrounded by half a dozen Mando-a, the skimmer one of the old Halfia models. The anti gravs were always a bit out of tune, and I wanted to plug my ears. The men sat there, stolid and silent. Somehow I knew in a few moments the little Fire-cat as Valak had always called me was going to do the creepy-crawl into someone’s defenses. There was a stone building out there, and we dropped in about half a klick away.

“Be careful.” The Mando-a sergeant Xarga said. “Probably mines ahead.”

“Probably Sith Waragas.” I said. ”If it’s a standard deployment they’ll be the standard two-three-five-two.” I said.

He looked at me. “Seems you know what you’re doing.”

“Valak always thought so.”

“Sergeant Valak?” He asked.

“Know him?”

“Meanest DI we ever had. Would have been an officer if he hadn’t had a problem with drink. How is he?”

“He bought it right before Malachor.”

“Into the shadows.” Xarga replied calmly. “You want to lead off then?”

It was hard, and dangerous. We had to move fast, but we couldn’t just jog through the jungle like idiots. First we’d probably run into ambush, second, mines, third, those damn animals.

The worst part about it was it had been ten years since that skinny little girl had done this, and the woman she had become had fallen right back into position as if I had done nothing else. Like a pre-programmed droid that pops out of it’s box and goes to work. I stopped, then dropped to a crouch. I looked back at Xarga, and signalled. Three men... off to our right. distance about fifteen meters.

He sent back 'positioning'? I replied, 'Single holes'. All of this passed as fast as you can talk, but completely silent. He tapped a man behind him, then two more. Again a flurry of signals. The men turned on their camo fields, and moved into the trees to our right. I waited. I found my blaster rifle coming up, my eyes scanning the trees. This wasn’t me, it was that damn kid. But even she had not wanted to kill anyone.

There was a rustling of branches, then the three men stepped into view and the senior man signalled all clear. I moved forward again, and they fell back into position. There were mines ahead, and I crawled forward. Clearing mines is nerve wracking but you can’t let it drive you buggy from tension. The way to move through a field is like dancing. The partner chose the dance and the steps, and you have to follow through with him, hoping you don’t step on his foot. That gets you killed. So you have to be relaxed enough to go with the flow and tense knowing that treading on his ‘foot’ will kill you at the same time.

Waragas, just like I thought. The Sith always went for a bigger bang than the Mandalorians. I picked it up, sliding it into my pouch. A little forward, no, that one was rigged to that one, so if you lift one, you blow the other. I crept between the two, stretched, and found the studs on both. Press them at the same time or-

There was a click, and I felt that damn rush. I was still alive. I picked up both.
We hurried as fast as we could. We came to a small canyon, and I signalled everyone to halt, then I crawled forward slowly. I hadn’t seen one of those since training, they were already obsolete when I went into the field. But the Sith never throw anything away.

Type two motion triggered claymore. A big flat panel the size of a suitcase with a flat array on top of it aimed down the canyon we were in. One step in the six meter zone it’s sensors monitored, and four thousand 5 millimeter balls would rip through the people on that trail for a hundred meters back. I reached up, finger’s sliding across. No, that was the dummy trigger. Whoever had placed this was too smart for his own good. All right smart guy, if the dummy is here, most would check here, so I will check...

I found the link to the small flat sensor array. I clipped it. Then I dismounted the fuse. Only then did I really relax.

There was a clearing, and a damn turret sensor! I could see the first turret less than five meters away, well within it’s at rest sensor envelope. I could bugger one, but not both. That I couldn’t bugger from here.

The Handmaiden touched my arm, then made a motion I took to mean ‘watch’, Then she reached out, and closed her eyes. She concentrated, and the sensor died. I looked, and the turret had gone to rest position. I stood, and sidled forward. A line of them. all dead at the moment.

“How did you do that?” I asked her.

“You feel the inside of the machine, and tell it not to do something.” She replied.

Whatever. There was a small group of men beside a shuttle, and the two women exploded into action. I had never seen a Jedi move in combat before, and it was like watching a ship come out of hyper space. One moment, the Handmaiden was kneeling beside me, the next she almost teleported ten meters away, and were among them. Her saber-staff snapped in a flat arc, and four men were down in pieces even before I stood. Visas had charged toward them, and she rolled beneath a gun barrel and as she came up she sheered it off right in front of the receiver group. The man was down before he even knew he was unarmed.

I ran to them, and motioned toward another set of turrets over by a massive stone ramp. I closed my eyes. I still wasn’t used to this, seeing the world with eyes closed, and knowing what those skeins of light were. I had said killing was like putting out a star. I had never considered that it was like putting out a constellation! There, a turret and another sensor. I reached into the sensor. If I adjusted this...

There was a whine, and my eyes snapped open. The turrets had gone active, and there were half a dozen men there, looking stupidly at them just as they went active. Oh god, I had set it to kill everything!

I reached back out, and deactivated the sensor, but when I opened, all of them were dead. I looked at Visas.

“You made a small mistake, little one. You did not mean to kill.”

“But they were dead anyway.” I whispered. “They were between us and our objective.”

“True. But you should not have to do this.”

I felt tears, but part of me was savagely happy that they were dead, not us.

*****

Handmaiden

We charged up the ramp. There were more men at the top, and among them three who were once Jedi. We dealt with them. Mira had been in shock at what she had done, but had snapped back quickly. I found an undamaged lightsaber, and handed it to her. She hung it from her belt, but I could see the desire to use it warring in her eyes. “Just carry it. It is there if you need.” She nodded.

There was another ramp at the top, the stone doors blown off their mounts. Visas led and we charged in. The path led us down, and I heard a voice before we even saw the man.

“See, anyone touched by our masters can control them.”

“But how?”

The masters took their minds, and give us the ability to speak to them. Do you deny this?”

“No, but-”

We rounded the corner in a dead run. The men were standing with a juvenile Boma between them. They clawed for weapons, but they were down before they could even draw.

“No!” Visas stopped in her stroke above the animal’s head. Mira walked over. “You just want to swim don’t you?” She asked, rubbing the bullet head. It arched against her hand. “That’s right. Now you just go on. We won’t hurt you.”

It waddled off, and was in a flat run before it was out of sight. She turned, looking at our expression. “What?”

“For some it is not that easy.” Visas said. “When we return to the ship, perhaps you can show us how to do that?”

“Any time.”

We were running down the hall when suddenly Mira skidded to a stop. She was ashen, and was pointing at the floor. “Don’t step in that!” she almost screamed.

I saw nothing, but Visas knelt, head turning back and forth. “Dark side energy, raw dark side energy I have never see this before.” She reached out, and Mira grabbed her hand.

“No!” It’s like a trap door spider. It can’t chase you but if you touch it, it will consume you.” She stared at the floor in horror. “It lives to feed, nothing else.”

I had closed my eyes, and now I could see it. As I did, I was suddenly struck by it’s hunger. Mira described the force to us as a puppy wanting attention. This was a hungry thing, and all we would be is food for it.

We moved past carefully. None of us wanted to even think of touching such a lethal mixture of hunger and the force. Mira yelped, and pointed back. It was following us.

We didn’t think, we ran. The bubble followed, but we outdistanced it.
A huge door was ahead, and Mira skidded to a stop. “I think they were trying to keep us from getting in there.” She whispered. She shivered, rubbing her arms. “Look, guys, I can’t get you to change your mind? Go somewhere else?” I merely looked at her. She sighed. “I guess not. Okay, stand back, let me show you what I’m good at.”

We backed away as she took all those mines she had collected, and began setting them in an intricate pattern on the door. She went over to Visas, and took that charge. “Need a little more.” She said absently. Then she stepped back from the door.

“What manner of being is buried here?” I asked. I can feel the darkness, as if the sun never shown on the land where this has been built. The Dark side will be very strong here.”

“It is.” Visas whispered. I looked at her. She smiled sadly. “After so many years under an oppressive hand. don’t you think I would feel this? But I have another hand, one that holds me on it’s palm free to fly. Mira, open the way.”

Mira signalled us back, then down. I was going to ask her why but she dropped on her face, and triggered the charge.

That door that had stood for centuries shattered, the stone flung aside. Mira sat up, racking her weapon’s bolt. “Hey, when I open a door, it stays open.”

We paced forward into horror.

*****

Visas

To me they were merely blots of inky blackness on a chiaroscuro background. Four men, facing a pool of the same evil energy we had faced in the corridor. As We paused, I felt, and turned. The blot that we had passed had moved around us returning to that miasma. The men ignored us, they were chanting in the ancient Sith language, difficult because human throats had not been made to speak it. “Mira, a concussion grenade if you please.”

The woman aimed her wrist launcher, and there was the thunk of a gas propellant charge. The grenade landed among the men, then went off, blowing three of them off their feet. The one that had not been knocked down suddenly found that all of the control they had exercised was dumped on him. The cloud flowed outward. When it retreated, a pile of sticks covered by dried skin fell. He had not even had the chance to scream.

The survivors rolled frantically away, coming to their feet. “Do you know what you have done you fools! If we do not control it, it will devour us all!”

“What do I care?” I asked. “You seek to draw the very evil that once permeated this moon, The agonies of a quarter million beings that has found a home here, and use it to your own ends. Here in the tomb of Freedon Nadd.”

He looked at me appraisingly. “It is not to late. Come, join us, experience the power of the force as only the Dark side can see it!”

“Who was Freedon Nadd?” Mira asked.

“A dark Jedi of four centuries ago. The people of Onderon remember his excesses all too well. That is why they buried him here, away from them.” I replied.

“So you are one of those partially trained fools we have heard about. Trying to stop what will occur like a child with a bucket trying to stop the sea.” He extended his hand. “One with a dark taint already on her soul at that! Come to us. Join us.”

I could feel eyes on me. Both Mira and my friend the Handmaiden watched me closely. But I felt a jolt of elation. I still had that connection to my dark master. Marai had seen it, and accepted that as long as I did, I would never be free. As much as the bleeding hearts of the galaxy tried to free slaves, a slave can only be freed by themselves.

“I have dealt with your kind. A man that sees power as all, something to sip like a beverage, and who cares if the man or even the planet who held it lives or dies? You are a petty little monster aping greatness, and if he could not call me back, what makes you think you can bring me to heel?” I reached out, and one of the skills taught to me by my dark master reached out, and I felt his heart in my hand.

“If I were of your kind, I would crush your heart like a jelly between my fingers.” I released him. “I refuse all such leanings. If die you must, it will be on my blade. A cleaner death than my planet received at his hands.”

“What lies has your new master taught you then fool? That the force is like a bank, and you can only draw from it what you have put in? That the universe cares about those little insects that scurry around us? Preaching love and forbearance while they sink into weakness and hypocrisy?

“The force bends to the will of the user, and you would deny that. Such a waste. A seer who is blind, a warrior out of her depth, and a child unwilling to kill. This will be too easy.”

He leaped, and was past me. I heard Mira scream, but I was faced with another. The third had leaped at the Handmaiden, and light sabers spun and struck like a lightning display.

*****

Mira

I yelped as the man leaped past Visas, and I was bringing up my rifle as he chopped it in half. “Surrender you fool.”

I backed away, drawing the light saber. He sneered. “As if you even know what to do!” He chortled.

He struck at me, and I don’t even know how I stayed alive in the next seconds. I could no more see or help my friends that I could look beyond that glittering deadly net he wove. I ducked, rolling, and somehow I was within the arch, striking upward desperately. He grunted, hands dropping to catch mine, eyes wide as he fell. Then I was up on my feet, charging to Visas’ assistance. The man facing her tried to extend his net but Visas struck beneath his guard, and with a bubbling moan he fell. We both turned. The Hand Maiden and the last man were rolling on the floor, falling toward the black evil pit.

I screamed, trying to leap forward, but Visas stopped me.

They rolled into it, and I screamed again, wailing. Then with a sudden heave, she was spat out, something it didn’t want.

I caught her up, but she wasn't breathing. “Oh no, gods damn it, you will not die!” I screamed at her, slamming my fist on her chest. She convulsed, gasping, then caught my fist on it’s second attack.

“Will you stop pummeling me?” She asked gently. I helped her up, and we looked at the darkness. It had spread, surrounding and devouring the bodies of our enemies. But it kept a circle away from us, as if we were poison.

“Mira, can you drop that ceiling?”

“With what? If I had a tach nuke, maybe.”

There was a clatter down the hall behind us, and we turned as Xarga and a dozen others came running in. “We’ve taken out the other men around here.”

“Do you have a tachnuke?” I asked sharply.

He looked at me. “Don't use them. Too messy. But Bertano there, he loves them.”

I took the weapon. It was an infantry model G-41. Adjustable yield from a microton up to ten kilotons. I charged it, and set it on the floor. “Run!”

We ran. We had reached the end of the entry ramp, and I signalled everyone to keep running. I made the leap to that great ramp down, and fired the charge.

A nuclear weapon is an odd beast. If fired in open atmosphere, it blows up and out, making a fireball which encompasses the ground around it.

Try setting one off in a building made of tons of stone.

There was a flash behind me, and a jet of superheated plasma shot past above our heads, the shock wave slamming us to the ground. For an instant, we had that hell flare above us, then the mass of stone collapsed, and dust sprayed around us.

I rolled to my feet. The building, the stone obelisks that had marked it’s environs, had collapsed. The mountain behind it fell in almost in slow motion, and an avalanche filled the crate.

Xarga stood, dusting himself off. “See if they ever invite you to a party again.” He said. I was bubbling with laughter, and I held my sisters as we walked down the ramp the rest of the way.

“Her style needs improvement.” Visas commented. “But it will come in time.”

“Hey, I won!” I protested.

“That you did.” The Handmaiden said. “But it is like the old saying. The best swordsman in the galaxy fears the worst. Because no one know what the idiot might do.”

“Now I’m an idiot?”

She smiled, ruffling my hair. “No, my sister of battle. Just untrained. Let us go.”

We walked down to that shuttle. Xargas motioned. “Your friend are already on Onderon.” He tapped a control in the shuttle, and it warmed up. “Best be joining them.”

The shuttle leaped into the air. Behind us, we could see the Ebon hawk also airborne. It was running as fast as it could toward the city. We were following.

Jae Onasi
08-31-2006, 02:17 AM
Oddly enough yes. Was I that obvious?

And here you thought people weren't reading your stories. :D

machievelli
08-31-2006, 10:14 AM
And here you thought people weren't reading your stories. :D


I know that five or six are reading them. And for all that are thank you.

machievelli
09-01-2006, 02:25 PM
The evil men do

Marai

There are times in battle where something never imagined occurs. The first I remembered was on that moon behind us. A thousand men of the combined 2nd Marines and 14th scouts had trapped one hundred enemy troops in a valley. There was no way out, and we were preparing to advance when a lone figure in an officer’s armor came into view. He stood there until he was sure we saw him, then he walked toward us slowly. I signalled for the men to stand fast, and walked out to meet him.

He gave me his name, and I gave him mine.

“Commander, you are trapped. It give us no pleasure to murder such brave men. Surrender, I beg you.”

“I have my orders.”

“But your first blade is a fool!” I wanted to scream at him, but it came out softly.

“He is that. But he is our first blade, and my orders were to stand to the last able man.” He looked past me, then back at my face. He had a livid burn on his face where someone had missed killing him by centimeters. “Remember this day, Marai Devos. Today you see how well the Mando-a die.” He saluted, and turned. He stopped. looking away from me. “One last thing, Jedi. Watch over our wounded.”

I returned to our lines, and as he reached the lip of the canyon men straggled out. There were 25 of them, some of them grievously wounded. A number held their stomachs or arms. One man had rigged a crutch out of a damaged heavy blaster. We watched in silence as their commander dressed their lines, speaking to one man or another as if it were a parade ground. Then he took position in their center.

I watched his face through my electro binoculars. He was tired, sad, but at the same time so damn proud I wonder how his heart could stand it. He waved at me, then he screamed.

“Death! Or Glory!”

The cry was taken up, and without issuing a command, they charged as one. We stood knelt or sat there, watching them approach. It was not a neat clean charge. Men staggered and fell, the man with the crutch was acting as if it were a three legged race. They came at us in an inexorable charge and at 30 meters my men, also without an order given, opened fire as one. I saw the face of their leader right up until the moment a charge blew his chest open.

We stopped firing, and I stood. I understood if my men did not. “Medics, guards for them, check these men, then enter the valley.” I ordered. “The first man that kill an injured man I will personally kill with my own hands.

There had been almost 200 wounded in there, they had wanted to make sure we would not assault the only hospital they had, for angry men in the heat of battle don’t worry about if an enemy is standing or not. Even as he died, I blessed Caspian Fett, son of Cassus.

The second time had been at Samar. We had caught thirty enemy ships, and they had to break past us to flee. Suddenly, in the midst of the hell we were creating, we received a parley call. I was aboard Revan’s ship at the time, and as I raged, she merely asked. “Why.”

“Scan sector four, at 31 degrees. signal back.” came the terse reply.

She did so, then ordered a cease fire. I went to a screen, and stared at a sight that would have lit my heart with joy in peacetime. Someone had arranged a solar sailing regatta, and approaching our battle, unable to change course, were a hundred or more solar sailors.

As the fire died, we received another signal. A line had been drawn, above the ecliptic by 20 degrees, well clear of the people in those flimsy craft. We peeled up and away, the enemy moving to the position they had marked. They had not tried for additional advantage, they had merely moved so that only warriors would die this day. We took our position, and as if nothing had happened, the battle began anew.

We won, and dozens of their ships had died before the remainder had fled. But we spent an extra day there to collect every pod. When we finally found out who their senior officer was, we brought him to our mess deck. We saluted him, and his men. We gave him aged Tihaar we had taken on Dxun the year earlier, and our first toast was not to our honored dead, but to those people who would not let war interfere with something important.

I saw it again that day. The two elements of the fleet, loyal to Vaklu, loyal to the queen, had seen our approach. One Basilisk is not an invasion. It is a statement that like the solar sailing race, deserved respect. The fleet elements peeled up and away, and then began killing each other again.

We plunged into the atmosphere. A few fighters shot at us, ground based cannon fired, but the Basilisk is made for such an embrace, and it seemed to lunge eagerly toward the planet. We came out of the heat haze, and then before we had even known it, Davrel slammed us down in the market square.

The hatch blew, and we piled out. Troops loyal to both the queen and Vaklu were staring at us. They remembered that shape so well. “For the Queen!” I screamed, and leaped into the fray.

There were cries of betrayal, that the Queen had allied with the Mandalorians, but the answering roar as the royalists saw my light saber drowned them out. We swept the market clean. Davrel had stopped beside the still smoking nose of his craft. He looked so happy.

An instant later a sniper shot him. I ran to the boy as a dozen Royalists blew that building apart. I lifted his head. He looked at me, then said only two words.

“Thank you.”

Then he was dead.

We swept the market clean, and reached the end of the sky ramp. Captain Bostuco led the charge into the enemy defenses.

*****

Kavar

“Your plans seems to have succeeded, Master Kavar. The enemy has indeed revealed himself.”

I ignored the sarcasm. “Yes. I expected the Sith but not all of these beasts!”

“Then you have forgotten our heritage.” She said. “If my own beast denies me, or the beasts themselves attack me I am not worthy of the crown, so it is said.”

”Your majesty!” The commander of her guard Captain Kadron began. She waved him to silence.

“I know of your loyalty, Captain. It is the simple people that will not hear my words.”

“But we must have hope, your grace.” I said. She rounded on me.

“Your fellow Jedi? The one you have roundly condemned with every other word? Why is her arriving here now a blessing?”

“I grinned. “Because when it comes to war, Vaklu is out of his league.”

*****

We fought up the sky ramp, a narrow bridge five meters wide, and as we reached it’s center, almost a kilometer high. Considering what we faced, only a madman would have used it. It was a pen any idiot could have defended merely by shooting toward the opposite end. But it was the quickest way to our destination.

When Captain Bostuco caught a bolt and died I was in the lead. I led screaming Talia’s name over and over and the shattered remnants of those I led screamed in answer as they followed me. We cut through the men assigned to keep the off duty guardsman in their quarters and when I screamed Talia’s name twice as many echoed it now.

Men peeled off to man the anti fighter guns, and suddenly it was worth the life of any Iron Eagle to fly anything but nape of the earth. Above me i heard a booming roar, and the Ebon Hawk was there, dropping onto the pad ahead of us, guns hammering into the men that had assembled to stop us. It slammed down and Mandalore and fifty men that had been jammed in like sardines charged out.

The men with me paused, then cheered as Mandalore roared ‘For the Queen! Death or Glory!”

We were a wave of men and fury, and Vaklu’s mean could not stand against us. I saw Visas, Mira, the Handmaiden leap from a shuttle, the Sith looking for reinforcements instead met three light saber wielding maniacs screaming the Queen’s name.

It was a rout.

We plunged into the palace, and ahead of us a huge Drexl larva was being forced to attack a massive door. As we charged, the door went down.

I saw Tobin, and he screamed ‘Why won’t you just dieI” at me. Then suddenly the drexl roared, spinning and charged toward us. i though it was an attack, but it slaughtered a dozen men between it and us.

I reared back with my weapon, and suddenly Mira was before me.

“Calm down" she whispered. It looked confused, then grumbled a purr. She took a length of rope they had bound it with, and threw it around it’s neck. “Come on baby. Let’s get out of here.”

I spared no time for the amazing scene. There was a roar of battle in the throne room.

Kavar and the Queen were backed to the throne room. A pile of men were already dead in front of the Master, and more in front of her. She stood, chest heaving in a way to bring cheer to an adolescent man, and screamed at her cousin.

“Hold!” Vaklu roared. There were only four or five men left on his side. “By honor I demand it!“ Everyone backed away from their enemies. He held up a holopad. “I have proof that the Queen has been refused by her mount! She is foresworn as our queen asking the Mandalorians to attack, and the Jedi are proof of Republic duplicity!”

Talia threw her hair back with an insulting gesture. “As long as were are members of the Republic, the Jedi will be our guests as I command. The Mandalorians asked permission to use a base on our moon to reorganize before they returned home, and if you had held this farce a month from now they would have been gone.

“As for my beast, I will mount and ride my beast before the entire council, not in front of some man who brings lies into this room!”

“You've lost!” He screamed. “Even if they prove this is a lie, you will never sit upon the throne again if I live!”

“You admit that you are lying?” She demanded. “What of honor my Cousin, what or your own personal honor? What of the honor you used to demand this truce?”

“If it frees us from the Republic, to hell with my honor!”

“Your grace.” I called softly. I threaded through the people. “Is it not said on Onderon that no one who forswears honor can sully the throne?”

“Yes, why?”

I flipped a flash bang grenade into the air, everyone flinched away as it went off except for me. My blade punched through Vaklu’s chest, and was shut off before he fell. I walked to the Queen, handed her my weapon, and knelt.

“Under your own laws, I place myself before you in judgment.”

She was confused. “What?”

“Under the laws of Onderon, of the Beast Riders, I have murdered a member of the royal family, and violated a truce in so doing. I have committed offenses demanded by honor, and for that only the Queen can judge.” I said aloud. “May I speak?”

“Yes.”

“Your Grace, before these witnesses, General Vaklu did throw aside his honor in an attempt to gain the throne. But if you had slain him, or had him killed, it would have stained the throne with blood. A trial would have spread his lies beyond easy repair.

“I understand his concerns. That the Republic will drain Onderon dry, but the Galaxy needs Onderon too much and this would be a boon to your economy. Telos, other planets need your help desperately, and I took it upon myself to do what would have been damnation for you.

“By killing him, I have ended the rebellion. But I am not of your land, and my crime is against your family.

“I ask you, no, I beg you. Slay me if you must. But the honor he had must be what is remembered. Not that he gave up his honor, and that he spread lies. But that he gave of his life for his people, and in the end was misguided. Do not let him be remembered as a traitor. It would stain not only him, but the children of his own children, and to save them I have done this.” I looked at her face.

“I place my life in the hollow of your hand.” Then I knelt forward, exposing my neck.

“Your grace?” Mandalore walked forward, and he knelt beside me. “I swear to all here that we came because the true queen needed our assistance. If we have committed offense, I will expiate it.” He also bowed low.

She looked down at us, and I heard the lightsaber leap to life. Then it went still again.

“Jedi, rise.” I stood. She handed me the weapon. “My Cousin had his trial. It was the span of his life and only in the end did he falter as you have said. For my late cousin, and his family for three generations, I thank you for what you have done. You have taken the stain from his name along with his blood. Mandalore, rise.”

Mandalore stood. She looked up at him. “Our people have reason to hate you, but when you controlled our lands, you were honest to a fault. To come to our aid without being asked speaks of your own honor, and I am humbled. When your nation is returned to your home, I will welcome your ambassadors, and pledge that we will match Mandalorian honor, or die trying.

She looked to her people. “Enough blood has been shed this day. My cousin died an honorable man, before he could spread his dishonorable taint. He will lie in state, and the truth of his death will be revealed, but not of what he spoke. If you love our world, you will do this.”

*****

Kreia had sidled away as her student was abasing herself. Odd, she had considered pushing the girl to have Vaklu executed, and that would have tainted the Monarchy ever so slightly. Of course it would have also made the Monarchy stronger, something to fear. Talia quite honestly, was not brutal enough to be a good queen. A royal hand is better appreciated by it’s people when blood dripped from it when necessary. She could have hung her cousin years ago, but had not shown that much stomach. Perhaps it was Kavar’s influence.

Colonel Tobin had been struck by one of those massive paws, and had been thrown into one of the stone walls. Patiently Kreia melded those shattered bones back together. She didn’t have leave any of them un-repaired, and that seemed to ease the pain of who she had once been. But pain was still necessary for this one to complete his mission.

She fired a spark of life into the man’s chest, and he gasped, staring around him in shock, then at her.

“We do not have time for discussion, Colonel. General Vaklu sent me with a message. He has been taken, but the war is not yet lost if you move with haste. The Jedi have merely been hiding. They have a secret base on Telos, and all but what stand here are there.

“You must go to this system.” She handed him a pad. “Those that will redress this will be there when you arrive. If they slaughter the Jedi of Telos, the battle will still be won!”

Tobin stood, still confused, aching in every joint. But he held the pad as if it were the last semblance of order. “Out of my way, woman. Onderon will still be free!”

She watched him leave. Pathetic. But the die had been cast. She turned as the men moved from the throne room, seeing her student standing there in conversation with the queen. She could only hope that the girl was ready for it.

Discussion.

Marai

A wise man once said the only thing worse than a battlefield lost, is a battlefield won. Several hundred men had died, and the few remaining of the Iron Brigade were put to work moving the bodies and debris. I found Mira on the first landing pad, the Drexl laying on it’s back as she scratched it’s stomach. It was funny, a short woman rubbing the stomach of something the size of a cargo lifter with 25 centimeter claws, yet with her it was just a puppy. She had a pensive look on her face. “Are you all right? The others told me of the tomb.”

“Did blondie tell you about the evil goop? She gets sucked in, then it spits her out like she tastes bad!”

“I smiled. “They forgot to tell me of that. She did tell me that you killed some men with their own turrets accidentally.”

“Yeah.” She wouldn't look at me. “I’ve killed people before. When there is no other option, you do what has to be done. But I never liked it.”

“But you didn‘t hold back on Dxun.”

“I know, and that bothers me.” She looked at me, and she was crying. “Before I could always back away from it, leave the bounty alive. But since I’ve met you, it’s like a reflex. I don't like it, and I don't know why it suddenly became easy.”

I remembered what the Handmaiden, what Kreia had said. I was their leader, and they were being molded by my example. “Mira, do you think that I like killing people?”

“You were a soldier. Isn’t it pretty much part of the job description?”

“Yes and no. Please, walk with me.”

We walked away. The Drexl gave a querulous grunt, and followed.

“A soldier’s job is to kill an enemy, but a warrior kills because he must. I gain no pleasure from the death of those I face. Every life is as precious to me as it is to those whose life it is. I have always tried to limit that, even when it was armies rather than myself fighting.”

“Yeah.” Her tone said she didn’t really believe it.

“Mira, have you seen a doctor work in surgery?”

“Only at a MASH unit.”

“If a doctor gloried in cutting you open, would you let him?”

“No way! I like my insides right were they are, thank you very much.”

“A good soldier or warrior is a surgeon. He must remove that which hurts, and try to leave as much good flesh as possible. I do not want you to glory in a battle, or in the deaths of those you fight. I mourn every man I have led who died. I have mourned for my enemies. Someone must shed tears for them, on both sides and the one who understands those dead best are those they fought.

“Because all too often it is some damn fool politician who sent them to their deaths. Soldiers, at least good soldiers, do not kill anyone just because they can. The most peaceful person in this life is the soldier that knows his world is at peace.”

I took her in my arms. “Shed your tears, my love. Feel pity for them, but know that when I ask this of you, I will get no more joy than you do.”

We were nudged. She reached out, scratching the Drexl. “I’ll think about it.”
A soldier came up. Master Kavar had finished his meeting with the queen, and awaited me.


More question, more answers

Marai

Kavar was alone in an anteroom of the throne room. He saw me approach, and for a moment I thought he was going to hug me. But there was a wary shadow in those eyes.

“The force works in mysterious ways. There are times when I am sure it even has a sense of humor. Or of irony at least.

We spent the last five years trying to find you and instead you came to us. I thought you might return to Dxun and Onderon, and I was right. But I thought you had left.”

“I had. I made a brief stop on Nar Shaddaa. I found Master Zez-Kai Ell there.”

He looked at me coldly. “And what, murdered him? Gained your revenge?”

I returned his cool with my own. “Master Kavar, none of you seem to understand that while the judgment hurt me, I did not disagree with it, and still do not challenge it. I ordered the Shadow Mass Generator brought to Malachor. Even though neither Revan nor I used it, or even wanted to use it, what is done is done. I am guilty of murdering all of those men. Because if I had not had the weapon brought there, it would not have happened. What you and the council decided was not the worst you could have done, merely the most just.”

He sighed in relief. “And you returned just in the nick of time. A trait I am told you seem to have made a fine art. I just wish you had turned up sooner.”

“Why?” I looked at him. “Master you and the council cast me out. Why was I important enough to look for?”

“Because even as Revan was rehabilitated, this evil struck at what was left of our numbers. It has touched only one person that is still not under it’s sway, and that person is you.”

I felt a chill. “I was touched by it?”

“Yes. You are the only surviving Jedi that stood close to the Shadow Mass Generator when it was fired. All the others were thousands of kilometers away. You of all of them must have within you some clue to what it caused. I told the others that we had to keep you where we could examine your condition, but you had already left.

“I don’t know how well you have been informed, but this evil not only hunts us using the force, but kills using it. Master Vrook didn’t believe me, but he and the others went to where we thought you would return. To the places where millions died at your command. Vrook had the attitude that it would be a gloating tour. I thought perhaps you would come to make peace with yourself.

“But our search was too late. The Sith have revealed themselves, and all of us must gather on Dantooine. From there we can plan our counter attack.”

“Why not Telos?” I asked. “Atris was there. She is the one that sent me to find the rest of you.”

“Atris? I thought she had died on Katarr! And why of all places Telos? There was no reason for you to go there. It was not your war that laid the planet waste.” He shook his head. “Eighty of us dead, and what is left scattered. I can try to call the masters together, but the others must remain in hiding. If we fail, there must be something to rebuild from.”

“There is worse.” I told him of Goto’s prediction.

“There is not a moment to lose then. There is much I must do here before I go, but you can help me. I have contacted Master Vrook, and you told me what both Atria and Master Zez-Kai Ell know. But I have not been able to contact Master Vash.”

“Atris had records that showed she was on Korriban.”

“Korriban? Why there?” He looked confused. “Korriban was laid waste without our help three years ago. She had intended to try to see if you went to Malachor.”

I felt a chill. Going back to Malachor would not have been gloating or even expiation. It would be climbing into a grave, and locking the coffin from the inside. “I would not have gone there. But I still don’t understand. What happened on Katarr?”

“Only the dead know. Two dozen Jedi were there in secret conclave to decide what must be done when all signals from the planet suddenly just... stopped. A Republic Corvette went there to investigate. Everything that lived on the planet had been killed, with no physical explanation as to why. A young Jedi was sent to assist, and he reported that every touch of the force had been drained from them. The shock of that mass death reached across the galaxy! Surely you felt it.”

“How?” I asked bitterly. “You and the council had stripped me of the force before I left.”

He sighed sadly. “Though we could have, we did nothing of the kind. Somehow you had severed yourself from the force before that meeting. Taking your light saber and exiling you was a formality, nothing more. Yet I can see it has returned.”

“Yes. I am still puzzled as to why. One of my companions has been with me since Peragus, and I find that a force bond of extraordinary strength was formed between us somehow. Strong enough that I think I might die if she does.”

“I have never heard of a bond of such strength. Then again, you always surprised your masters. You seem to form such bonds readily, almost instinctively. It was a gift that was both blessed and cursed by your masters. As a teacher it made you able to teach even the most recalcitrant. As a student it made you learn and grow quickly. But it is disturbing to a master when a dozen do or try the same thing because you did it. We believe that is why so many from the main temple followed when you went. And why your troops earned a reputation for excessive loyalty. That is why we feared so much that you would return to Revan. A lot of the troops that fought against her had been at one time or another led by you. If those bonds had still existed...” He shrugged.

“That is the past and now we must act quickly to save our future. Go to Korriban. Find Master Vash. Bring or send her to Dantooine!”

machievelli
09-01-2006, 06:17 PM
Parting gifts

Mira

After thinking about it, I knew Marai was right. I hadn’t intended to kill those men, and while I cried for them, there were some I shed no tears over. As I had said on Nar Shaddaa when I began this vision quest there are those that do it without even caring. Those men in the tomb. They were the kind that would have put out the stars just so they could boast of doing it.

I went to find Marai, But she was closeted with Master Kavar. She came out, and I rushed over, hugging her. “I can deal with it. But try not to send me into any missions of slaughter, okay?”

She grinned. “Promise. Come, let’s get the others.”

An Onderoni soldier came up to us saluting. “Jedi, the Queen wishes to speak with you.”

We followed. The queen was younger that I was and had the repressed energy of a fusion generator. She was ordering troops around in her own city as if it were a Djarik board. She looked up, then signalled. “Bring it.“ The men left us alone.

“Onderon owes you a debt, and only the debt I myself owe to you is greater. There are still battles as the Sith are hunted down, but by tomorrow it will be done. When I arrive at the council hall flying my own Brantarii all the lies will be dispelled.

“If my worth were in coin, I would give it to you. But know you this. By the debt my people and I owe, ask anything of us and it will be done. I swear it upon my life.”

“I ask only that you be the queen your people need, your Majesty. That will be my reward.”

“But that is not enough!” She replied fiercely. A man came in bearing an ornate stone casket, and set it on the table.

“This holds relics of our second royal house, formed by that monster Freedon Nadd. They were not unlike those we faced this day. I know little of the force, but perhaps you can return them to the light.” She opened the casket, and brought out a box. Inside it a dozen lightsaber crystals gleamed. “Take them, use them, remember the love of an entire people when your blades strike fire.”

I noticed one the color of the grain of my long dead home world. I picked it up, and felt two pairs of eyes on me. I blushed, and made to put it back.

“It seems that a crystal has already chosen one of your followers.” Talia laughed.

“Yes.” Marai replied levelly. “Now if she only learns how to use a lightsaber-”

“I’ll practice.” I squeezed the crystal in my hand. “I promise!”

We left the palace, returning to the ship. The Drexl had allowed itself to be sent to the holding pens, and I could feel it’s contentment. I was going to miss that big ugly thing.

Visas stood at the ramp of the Ebon Hawk. I could see her face, and felt her warring heart. She wanted to run forward, fling herself into Marai’s arms. She wanted to touch that face and assure herself that it was still there. Instead she walked over, and smoothly fell to her knees.

“I beg your forgiveness, Marai.”

“What for?”

“I sensed the conflict here, the fury of it. I thought...” She looked up. “I feared for your life. You are the spirit of flame itself, and dance in the fire unharmed, but every fire dies, and I worried, I was terrified that this time the fire would be too hot for you. I stayed here, unable to come to your aid, for if you had died, I swear I would have followed you into death.

“Onderon no longer bleeds, but it needs much healing, and we cannot be here to help. Wounded things are usually what a predator attacks. Their problems are not yet over.

“I shame you with my weakness.”

“Because you care?” Marai knelt beside her. “I fear for all of you, as I did for every man I led into battle. We cannot know when it is our time, but trust me in this, when the fire is too hot, I will assure the flames of it do not outlive me to consume others.

“But come, I hear good things of what you did on Dxun.”

“The last tie to my evil master have been broken. But you knew that I must break it. I thank you for giving me the chance to confront that challenge. I have found that the more I travel with you, the more answers I have gained, but at the same time, the questions I still have to ask increase. I have learned that a slave must free himself, that no hand no matter how gentle will break that chain. I would have cursed you when we began for leaving me alive. But now I see that you would teach me, and I cannot learn dead.

“But I beg you. From this day forward, do not go into danger without me by your side!”

“That I cannot promise.” Marai said. “There will come a time when I must go on alone. But I will go knowing that the best part of me will be safe. You, Mira, the Handmaiden. You are my legacy, and I will not chance it when that time comes.”

“Then I will accept it when it happens.” She said softly.


Enroute to Korriban

Marai

We lifted off, and as soon as we were clear, went to hyper drive. It was only a day or so to Korriban from here, and we prepared again. The crystals that had come from were installed in lightsabers, and Mira began seriously learning how to use it. I went to find Goto as she began training.

He floated in the communications room, and turned as I came up.

“Before you begin gloating, human, I have already sent the orders. Six tankers will arrive at Telos in the next day or so, and they will have the fuel they need.”

“Thank you, Goto, you are an honorable being.”

“No thanks are necessary. As much as you seem to think you had me over a barrel, your request merely chose the market for it. The price has stabilized at present, and you have made the first down payment on replacing my yacht.”

“Then I am happy. You have records of the wars do you not?”

“Yes I do. In fact my agents have even collected all of the written works from the Jedi Archives that have not already been seized or destroyed.”

“So that is why you were so well informed about us.”

“The problem is, that the holocrons are not so readily accessible. That requires a connection to the force that I do not have. A great deal of data sits on the ones that I have purchased and I can only look at their crystalline structure and know that there is wisdom still beyond my grasp.

“I also share a love of history such as Mira does. I have read everything about the Mandalorian wars and the Jedi Civil war. While both sides in each case had been incredibly brave, except for two people all of the battles were sub-par.”

“What do you mean?”

“In the battle of Dxun, you were not the overall commander. General Trancas commanded the landing you were part of, and Master Kavar the other. Yet both had weaknesses, and the enemy knew that and exploited them ruthlessly. It wasn’t until you took command of what remained of two regiments that suddenly the battle became more fluid and efficient. You have weaknesses as well, but the enemy did not know them yet.

“Revan in her own way was the same. I would love to meet her, she would be a challenging Djarik opponent.”

“She was. She almost destroyed the Republic.”

“A popular misconception. Revan’s actions were aggressive, but aimed at subjugating an operational whole rather than mere destruction. In comparison, Revan was a swordswoman that wanted her enemy to surrender rather than die. Malak who followed her however was a barbarian. He did not care what he smashed as long as doing so convinced others to surrender.”

“But she built a massive fleet from the Star Forge!”

“Yes, she did, but consider. First, except for sealed holocrons, there is no record of this Star Forge anywhere except as an aside. According to those same records, she assured that it was destroyed, so no more ships would ever be built from it. From what I have been able to ascertain she could build full sized warships needing only crews in less than a day, yet when she returned to attack, the bulk of the fleet she commanded were ships she had taken with her.

“While she used this source to replenish her ships, she did not build an overwhelming mass of them which was possible considering Malak’s actions afterward. I surmise that whatever powered this ‘Star Forge’ was an energy source she did not wish to use. That it would be detrimental to life itself if she continued.

“That is why she left so many of the Republics infrastructure intact. She needed the capability, but not from that source.”

“But that makes no sense!” I said. “With the Sith under her command, the Mandalorians scattered, there was nothing left to fight if she had taken the Republic.”

“That has occupied my attention a great deal. As you say, every known enemy would be under that same banner, so there would be no reason for another war. I believe Revan had data we do not. A threat that at this time is still weak or distant, and she wanted to assure that the Senate would not spend the necessary funds on solid gold toilet seats or something equally stupid. They tried to do that when Revan won the Mandalorian wars, and the slow buildup of the fleet before those wars shows that their own pet projects were more important than mere survival.

“When she returned as a new person, her first act was to destroy that engine of creation. While as I said all records appear to have been destroyed concerning it, with the death of Malak the numbers of ships decreased sharply, and the subsequent collapse of the Sith attacks proves it. Without a strong central leader, the Sith were once again worried more about their specific enemies, each other. “

Atton had walked past us toward the cargo bays, and I noticed it in passing. He came back however, almost running, his face bright red. I watched him, then turned back toward the passage. A few moments later, Visas, Mira, and the Handmaiden returned. They all had the ‘cat full of cream’ look on their face, and gave me an innocent look as they poured tea.

“All right, I asked. “What did you do?”

“Nothing!” The Handmaiden answered with a bland smile. “We were just... practicing in the cargo hold when Atton arrived.”

“Practicing what?”

“My lightsaber. But when he came in, we called Visas, and my battle sister decided we needed to do some hand to hand work.”

“Oh dear.”

“Both of them have progressed very well, and I was going to introduce them to the third tier today.”

“The third tier.” I rubbed my forehead. “Where you fight naked.”

“Yes.”

“So you stripped in front of him.”

“No I did not.” Visas said. “All of us did.”

“Oh dear.”

“Then I had a kink in my leg so we had to do a lot of stretching exercises.” Mira said.

“Long slow languorous stretches.” Visas explained.

I pictured them all. The long lithe Handmaiden, the small petite yet well formed Mira, the middle of