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Old 04-09-2006, 01:49 PM   #36
machievelli
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Leviathan

Saul Karath walked up to report to Lord Malak. The ships of the fleet had closed their encirclement, and now hell reigned on that planet. They had started at the edges of the city and worked inward like a harvesting machine, slicing the buildings into ruin, then smashing even that rubble. The last report from the troops that had been sent into the Undercity was a call that they might have trapped the Swoop gang in the sewers when a bolt had obliterated the entire unit. Someone down there has been able to get parts of the planetary defense grid up even through the lockdowns the invaders had installed. That merely drew fire to the protected areas. Others had overwhelmed the guards on the docking bays, and dozens of ships were airborne, heading out.

Not that they had a chance really. If they hadn’t already been confiscated, and their pilots given the access codes, they were dead meat. A yacht that cost more than Karath had ever made in his lifetime drew fire from two ships, and pin wheeled back into the atmosphere, burning as friction finished the kill.

“Report Admiral.”

“Taris is defenseless against our assault. They are offering no resistance. The city is in ruins.”

“Maintain the bombardment. I want this pathetic planet wiped from the Galaxy.”

“Yes, my lord.” He turned and hurried back to his command console. Three of the ships frantically climbing away from the carnage were marked with the green of friendly ships. Two were shuttles returning from the fighting bearing wounded. But the third...

He highlighted it, and brought up the scan information. Mass 200 tons, speed- He blinked. All of the faster ships had been commandeered as couriers. This was faster than anything he had seen in the reports. It should already be in service. But where had it been hiding? He brought up its flight path. Ah yes, the Crime Boss, Davik. He must have had this hidden near his estates.

Then his blood ran cold. If Kang’s people had been the ones that had broken into the base, they might have stolen the launch codes. If they had, this was Kang and some of his people trying to escape. He switched to his com system, and painted the second squadron. The fighters had been having a field day, protected by their IFF they had already destroyed a dozen ships. The Second squadron had just started to engage some of the ships that were fleeing, and weren’t too deeply enmeshed.

“This is command.” He ordered. “Ship with proper access codes. Believed to have been captured. Destroy it.” He marked the ship with a circle of red.

Half of the squadron lifted away from their attack runs, moving first to rejoin, then they turned, and boosted their speed. They would catch the ship in seconds.


Ebon Hawk

Danika

Space was as much a hell of fire as the planet. We could see other ships around us being blasted into shards, see the fire of the ships from orbit tearing into them, or into the planet. A pair of fighters had shot past us to savage what looked like a cargo ship. Communications was a mad house. Signals overlapping because everyone was using the same channels. Calls by ships begging the chance to surrender, angry replies from fighter pilots coming in for the kill, and over it all, pleas from people on the ground begging for their lives. I squeezed my eyes closed as tears flowed.

Carth was silent, his hands on the controls. We weaved through the mass until we were free. Only the massive ships of the line were in front of us now. He rammed the throttle to the stops, and Ebon Hawk lived up to her reputation. She leaped into a flat out run that shocked me.

A destroyer fired at us, but it missed. Her actual target, a ground shuttle someone had somehow gotten into space ripped into pieces.

“I didn’t ask before, but where are we headed?” Carth asked. He lowered the nose, and Ebon Hawk ran between the destroyer and a frigate. We were clear of the planet and close orbit, but that merely meant that anyone shooting outward instead of inward had only the one target.

“Set course for Dantooine! There’s a Jedi enclave there, and we can seek refuge.” Bastila ordered.

“Take the controls!” He shouted.

“Got it!”

Carth spun, his hands running over the hyper drive controls. An alarm sounded, and he looked up. “Fighters coming through the grid, on our butts.”

Bastila looked back at me. “Take the upper gun turret! Keep them off us until we can leap into hyper drive!” She spun as I ran aft. “Canderous! Take the lower turret!”

I reached the ladder, and climbed. The turret was in zero G, which made climbing into the chair easier. I buckled in, flicking the line of switches that brought the targeting system on line. Everything was automatic, I had done this on ships throughout my career. There was a mass of red dots approaching fast from astern. I unlocked the traverse, and pulled the handles, spinning the turret to aim behind us. “Ready!” I shouted.

“Ready.” Canderous drawled. I checked the scan data. They were right there! I saw them even as I began firing. A fighter exploded, and the ship shuddered as they made their pass, bolts rocking us. I spun the turret to follow, a second fighter rolling frantically as a near miss clipped a control surface. It dived to get away from me, and Canderous blasted it to scrap. The forward firing guns joined mine as I continued the spin, and fired at the four remaining fighters as they swooped outward like scraps of metal from an explosion. As units they made larger targets. But as individuals, they had more options.

I spotted one swooping toward our stern, and spun the turret. I estimated its speed, deflected my aim, and fired. The fighter exploded. I spun back, lifted the guns and caught another as it began its run. I saw another dot vanish, Canderous was covering his area. The last was wary. We were a little too deadly for him to attack, but he had his orders. He charged in from starboard, staying exactly on our centerline. Both of us fired at him, but he came in until he was too close for the guns to bear. A good pilot could maintain that, only turning to fire and turn back out immediately. It was tricky, but I had heard of some that good. But there was a counter.

“Bastila, hard to starboard 90 degrees on my mark... Mark!”

She did as I instructed. The fighter turned into us, bolts shattering some of the hull metal, and was gone. Unfortunately for him he turned to his starboard side, toward our bow even as Bastila made the turn. The forward firing guns ravened as he flew into their zone, and the fighter blew into scrap.

“Ready for hyper jump!’ Carth shouted, and I felt the surge as the hyper drive cut in. The stars became for an instant lines etched in the sky, then there was the swirling glow of hyperspace.


Ebon Hawk:

Enroute to Dantooine

We were all stunned by what we had seen. Even Carth who had seen it before. Planets have been bombed into rubble before, but that had been when active resistance was being suppressed. Taris wasn’t resisting the attack. The com waves had been frantic with calls pleading for them to stop but the Sith had kept firing.

All because of us.

Mission was hit hard. In the day and a half it took for us to reach Dantooine, she didn’t speak to anyone. Zaalbar had taken her in his bosom, and had sat through that entire time merely holding her, being there in her grief. The picture of that poor child hunched against the furry chest, eyes wide with pain and shock will haunt me for the rest of my life.

There was nothing the rest of us could do. She didn’t want to hear how they had gone to the Force. That they would be avenged, or maybe they had lived. She wanted the world back the way it had been the day she had met us. Like any child who has just lost everything she cared about, she wanted it back.

We couldn’t give her that.

Carth was flying us, with Bastila assisting. I couldn’t pilot so I haunted the ship as we tunneled through space. Canderous had moved into one of the cargo holds, and was tinkering with his weapon. Only one thing was on my mind.

Malak. What kind of madman were we dealing with? The problem was that in war you always demonize the enemy. He’s always a brutal monster that kills without compunction while your men were superior because their hearts were pure. As a soldier I knew better. The enemy you faced was you in a different uniform mostly. Sure there were monsters over there, but if you watched those around you there were monsters on your side as well. Those that would take it too far, kill without reason, enjoy the deaths of the enemy.

War is mankind at his best and worst. Best because She finds something beyond herself to care about, defends those that depend on her even unto death. Worst because sometimes the beast in all of us gets free, and won’t go back into its cage afterward.

I checked the computer files aboard but there was nothing about the war at all except for planets to be avoided. Davik Kang obviously had been indifferent to the slaughter. After seeing some of the files of ‘items’ sent to slavers, or opponents within the Exchange removed I understood. If he wasn’t dealing the pain or feeling it personally, it didn’t exist.

Bastila probably knew, but she was uncommunicative. She would watch me with hooded eyes when she left the flight deck. Almost as if she were afraid of me.

Finally I took a cup of tea to Carth. He nodded his thanks, leaned back, and sipped it. “Take a load off.” He waved at the copilot’s chair. I sat, made sure the controls were not active, and sipped my own tea.

“What do you know about Malak?”

He looked at me. “Malak and Revan were Jedi, you know that, right?” I nodded. “Well we were deep into the Mandalorian wars. The Jedi had been asked for help but they had refused.” He shrugged as if that was no surprise. “But some of them didn’t like the Council’s ruling. A few led by Revan joined us. Malak was Revan’s right hand man. They spread out among the fleet, and almost immediately things changed. Before that it was like the Mandalorians were everywhere, hitting us from all sides. But those few people made us see the pattern.

“They made mistakes at first. Revan took a fleet to catch a Mandalorian one at a place called Hotma. But when she did, the enemy fleet had jumped from Hotma to Kando, where Revan was based. So she arrived, found the base empty, and smashed it, then returned to find her own base destroyed.”

I understood the concept. In military parlance it was called being overtaken by events. The enemy was supposed to be here, so you went there. But you didn’t know they were moving, so you missed each other.

“She got better fast though.” He sighed. “When she hit her stride, the Mandalorians didn’t have a chance. She always had Malak close at hand. Maybe she saw Malak for what he was.”

“Which was?”

“A hardheaded pragmatist. Watching them work alone was interesting. Revan was like a sniper. Picking her targets and taking them down fast with minimal damage. But when the going got tough, she let Malak have his head. If Revan was a sniper, Malak was more like a Gamorrean, smashing everything in his path to his goal. He lost a lot of his own people, but he decimated the enemy as he did it. He never settled in battle for anything but absolute victory. If a garrison resisted, he bombed them into submission. If he wanted it, nothing could keep him from it.” His face hardened as he remembered that Malak was now the enemy. “When Revan was still there, even when she had turned to the Sith, she had remained the same. She didn’t smash entire planets unless there was no alternative. She kept Malak on his leash, only letting him out when all else failed. Since Revan’s death Malak has changed. He became even more brutal. It was like someone had stripped the governor on an engine. The Sith have been following his lead, and picked up the pace ever since.”

The Sith had been a problem for several Millennia. Originally I knew, they had been a race, a violently xenophobic race. They had hit us hard back then, killing anyone that stood in their paths. It was one series of wars the Jedi had gotten into willingly, because the Sith had been strong in the Force. Finally they had been beaten back, the race almost destroyed. But the problems had not stopped there. The nihilistic worldview the Sith had enjoyed must have been catching. A number of Jedi had split off from the others, and left abruptly, seeking the remains of the Sith. They had settled on a planet named Korriban, which had been smashed, occupied by the Sith, smashed again, then left fallow for almost two centuries. The Jedi had proclaimed themselves the New Sith. The actual Sith that had still lived there hadn’t been amused and considering the carnage these Dark Jedi and the Sith were inflicting on themselves, the planet had been pretty much been left alone by everyone else.

But that had not ended the problem either. The Sith race was long gone, but others had gone there, and now the Sith, albeit only those that believed the old ideals had struck again a millennia ago. They were beaten, regrouped, and struck again in a pattern that has lasted now for over a thousand years. Yet another Jedi expatriate had led the last Sith war before this one. Exar Kun had left, become the dark Jedi master, and become Darth Kun, the first time the title had ever been used. He had ravaged the galaxy, and been put down as those before him had. His base had been smashed into ruins, and the Republic had again turned its eyes back to the business of living.

This was the result.

“I saw Revan in my vision. She was wearing some kind of mask. Why?”

“Rumors abound.” Carth commented. “Some said that she had been disfigured when she was young. Others that she was an attractive woman and had problems dealing with people as a Jedi because of that.” He grinned. “Sort of like you and me when we first got together.”

“Maybe I’ll get a mask then.”

“Oh, don’t do that.” He teased. “Then I’ll have to ask what make up you put on that day.”

I shook my head. “I am going aft before your fantasies get the better of you.”


Dantooine

We came out near Dantooine, about two planetary diameters away, as close as you can get safely. No one really knows where or when the hyperspace drive was developed. About 22,000 years ago, it just appeared, discovered in ancient ruins on dozens of worlds. Everyone would like to claim the credit, but even a hyperspace physicist can’t explain exactly how it works. It’s like electricity. For the layman, you flip a switch and it’s there. But it worked, and with the proper astronavigation calculations, you can go anywhere. But here you immediately ran into problems. You had to first find out where to go before you could go anywhere. Each planet that had discovered the drives in ruins tried. A lot of them gave up after a time. Others kept at it with bloody-minded persistence until they discovered the corridors that exist today. It’s like the old man everyone had heard of that when asked for directions, replies, ‘You can’t get there from here‘.

Hyperspace also has quirks. There are half a dozen paths that are easier to travel for some reason. They bridge the galaxy.

Hyperspace travel is like nothing else. There are 100 billion stars in the galaxy, but only about three quarters of a million are accessible to date. Unless you want to slow-boat it at less than light speed, or use a light cannon system, which required that you build one on the other end before you return, you don’t go anywhere unless there’s a hyperspace corridor. They spent almost 4,000 years doing it that way before hyper drive. That is why Humans are so wide spread.

Scouting new routes is the most dangerous job in the galaxy. A mathematician would do the math, sometimes taking decades, then submit it to the local planetary government, or back when the Republic government was in charge, the Republic Survey Department, and eventually a ship would be sent to try the new equations. Out of every ten ships that try, only one succeeds. Of the others some make it back, others disappear. Corridors don’t care about something as thin as a star’s core, but the people in the ship get fried anyway. Getting too close to a planet on arrival is only one of the problems you face. Most of those deaths come when the gravitation of the planet, star etc, drags you out of hyperspace, usually too close to get away.

Around two centuries ago, the Republic had quietly gotten out of the Survey business. It just wasn’t cost effective. There were already a few hundred thousand planets, some of them virgin terrain, and the population hadn’t grown enough yet to make it vital, so the Republic instead handed it over to Corporations. They could deduct the expenses from their taxes, and didn’t care about the piddling losses of a hundred men or so a decade.

But when they found a new world, the return could be fantastic. In the last century a planet named Kessel had been discovered. The company that had done so almost sold it to the Republic for a weapons test facility, but some enterprising young vice president sent a survey team down onto the planet itself. He found the energy spiders, and took samples of their web for analysis. Those webs, made of Glitterstim, had catapulted him to a presidency and the company into a major contender.

“Dantooine.” Bastila sighed. “It seems like a lifetime since I last set foot on her surface though in truth it has only been a few months. We should be safe here from Malak. For now at least.”

“Safe! You saw what his fleet did to Taris! There wasn’t a building over five meters tall when they finished! They turned the planet into one massive pile of rubble, and Dantooine, with no defense at all, will be safe?”

“Even the Sith would think twice about attacking Dantooine, Carth. There are many Jedi here, including several of the most powerful Jedi masters of the Order. There is great strength in this place.”

For some reason, the view of the planet was like a cooling shower to me. “Bastila is right that we need to stop somewhere. This feels, peaceful somehow.”

Carth snorted. Any amity he had felt for me had evaporated again.

“If nothing else we can resupply and recuperate here. The Academy is a place of mental and spiritual peace. Something we can all use after what we have been through.” Bastila pressed.

Carth shook his head, closing his eyes tightly. “Maybe you’re right. It isn’t easy to watch the annihilation of an entire population. Mission is still taking it pretty hard.”

“She will find a way to work through her grief.” Bastila replied tartly. “She is stronger than she appears. We just need to give her time.”

We called approach control, and were directed to a landing pad inside the Jedi Academy itself. I was astonished how mundane the evolution was. A brisk young man on the ground had directed us, no fighters came to check us out, no guns I could see tracked us. It was like there wasn’t a war going on.

The Jedi Academy had been built by the standards of the planet, meaning it was burrowed into an existing hillside and set up within it. In this case the center had been hollowed out, and a glorious tree grew in the courtyard that had been created. The landing pad had also been dug out, the berm stabilized so that if something happened and the ship blew up, the energy would be directed mostly upwards. Other trees had been grown here, making it look as if we had landed in a small park.

Bastila had spent the descent in the communications room with the circuits locked so we couldn’t listen in. I didn’t care. The mission was over. I was ready for some R&R and then back to the front.

The ship settled down, and I could hear metal ticking as it cooled. Bastila came forward. “I must go and speak with the Jedi Council. I need their advice on... recent developments.” I could tell she wanted to look at me, but she stared at Carth. “After I have met with them, I will contact you. The local authorities have instructed that no one is to leave the ship until I return. However the quartermaster of the Republic supply center is awaiting you list of our needs.”

“Friendly place.” Carth snorted. He got on the com, and began listing what we needed. I went aft. Mission was sitting alone for once. I could hear noises from the engine room. Knowing the Wookiee, he was happily at work tuning the engines. He had been complaining about tuner flutter for the last day.

I walked over, got a cup of tea, and brought one to her. She stared at it, then up at me. “Sorry I’ve been out of it the last couple of days.” She stared at the cup. “I was just thinking about Taris. I can’t believe it’s gone!” She looked at me, begging for understanding. “I mean, I grew up there! I remember the old man who ran the sausage booth, the woman that sold clothes that were only ten years out of date. Now, it’s-it’s just gone!” The last was said as if she had seen someone disappear from a street, and never returned.

I motioned toward a chair, and she nodded. I sat, sipping my own tea. “I’m sorry, Mission. I don’t know what to say.”

She shrugged. “I don’t think there really is anything you can say. I just have to find some way to deal with it, I guess. It’ll take some time.”

I watched her, and she looked at me, and got defensive. “Look, it’s not like I’m saying I can’t go on or anything like that. It’s just, a shock, you know? I mean I’d heard horror stories about how evil the Sith are but the reality of it kind of slaps you in the face.

“But that’s why we need to stop Malak, right? The more time I spend dwelling on Taris, the closer it comes for someone else. If I can stop just one person from feeling what I am feeling, I’ll die happy. So stop worrying about me. I’ll be okay. And I don’t care what I have to do, if I can help bring down Malak, just let me know.”

I knew she wanted to end it there, but we hadn’t had time to really talk, and the girl made me feel better. Talking so blithely about death had bothered me. “We haven’t really talked before, Mission. Tell me about yourself.”

“Me?” She chuckled, and I smiled. She was healing after all. “You want to know about me? Nobody’s ever really been interested in me!” She seemed delighted.

“Carth talked to you-”

No. The geezer talked at me, not to me. Even when all I was to you was some kid, you talked to me. What do you want to know?”

“How did you and Zaalbar get together?”

“Big Z is my family, you know? My parents, well I think they’re dead. I haven’t seen them since I was really little. It was just me on my own until the day I saw Big Z in the Lowercity. I could tell right away he was in trouble.

“This was before the gang wars got out of hand but even then the Vulkars were slime. A few of them were hassling Big Z, trying to goad him into a fight. But he’s really a big teddy bear, he didn’t want to fight.”

“What kind of fool tries to provoke a Wookiee?”

“Hey, no one ever said the Vulkars were smart. But there were three of them. I think they might have figured they could take him if they had to. Anyway, I don’t like the Vulkars even on their best day. I’d sounded them out about joining the gang, this was before Brejik was in charge, you see, and they told me that when I filled out,” She motioned to her chest. “They’d think about it. That really ticked me off.

“When I saw them picking on this poor defenseless Wookiee, new and all alone on a strange planet, I just lost it! I screamed, ‘Hey! Leave him alone you core slimes!’ and charged them. One of them saw me coming, and he belted me one good. He hit me so hard I just about lost consciousness.”

“Striking a child?”

“Who you calling a child? I’m fourteen!”

I lifted my mug pretending to sip to hide my smile. This meant she had charged three adults when she was only eleven or so. She had courage at least.

“Those Vulkar didn’t scare me. They’re cowards, always have been. They see their own blood, and they run bleating home to mama. I was going to deal with them, but I never got the chance. I guess Big Z didn’t like seeing me smacked because he grabbed the guy who hit me, and held him a meter off the floor by the neck.”

What did the others do?”

“Like I said, cowards. They ran screaming. Can’t blame them, really. The first time you see an irate Wookiee up close, it makes an impression you don’t forget. I saw it and it isn’t a pretty sight. I’m just glad he wasn’t mad at me right then. I thought Zaalbar was going to rip that punk’s arms off, and beat him to death with the wet ends. The Vulkar was so scared he wet himself and fainted. Or maybe Big Z’s breath knocked him out.

“I keep telling him to brush those choppers of his, but do you think he listens? Just stand downwind when he talks, and you miss most of it.

“Anyway, I knew those Vulkars would gather up a really serious group to take him down, so I dragged him away.

“We’ve been together ever since. We’re one hell of a team. We look out for each other, You know?”

I pictured an eleven-year-old Twi-lek a little over a meter tall towing a two and a half meter Wookiee as if she were a tugboat. I nodded. “How did Zaalbar end up on Taris?”

“All he ever said was there was trouble on his home world of Kashyyyk, and he had to leave. If you haven’t noticed, he’s not a motor mouth. He’s the strong and silent type. Don't matter though. We don’t pay attention to the past, it detracts from the now.”

“How did you survive before you met Zaalbar?”

“What’s that supposed to mean? You think I’m the damsel in distress like a historical drama? I got street smarts, I learned to take care of myself. In fact more times than not it’s me getting him out of trouble. You know, Big Z is really gullible. If I wasn’t there, he’d have bought the Senate tower or something.”

I laughed. “Now he has a purpose, as do you. To beat this.”

“Yep. It’s like I used to tell my brother ‘fast talk and slick banter don’t get the job done’.”

“Brother?” I looked at her. Suddenly she was wishing she was the silent type. “Mission, you have a brother?”

“Hey! My brother is something I don’t talk about okay? He’s a touchy subject. If it’s all the same to you, let’s just leave him out of every thing we ever talk about!” She stood, taking the empty cup with her. A moment later she came back in, and slid it in the sanitizer. Then she walked back out.


'To argue with those who have renounced the use and authority of reason is as futile as to administer medicine to the dead.' Now who said that?

From the one who brought you;
What we die for...
Acceptance
KOTOR excerpts
Star Wars: The Beginning
Star Wars: Republic Dawn
Return From Exile
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