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Old 11-13-2012, 07:32 PM   #1
Akyra
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Join Date: Nov 2012
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KoTOR 3 : Schism

Hello everyone !

A few words before posting the story ; I am new on the forums (very new indeed, as this is my first post). I am, shall we say, a little nervous about a Kotor fanfic I've been working on for a while, and I would appreciate hearing what people think, so where better to go than a forum full of fans ? (who will probably gut me alive for everything I've twisted in the game lore and backstory...) This is largely based on my own interpretation of the game, so it could be classified as alternate universe (especially concerning some key elements of Sith lore, and what Revan was doing all these years). Oh, and I'm looking for a beta, if anyone's interested, please PM me. Right, before I forget, English isn't my first language (here's to hoping people will be indulgent).

The story is primarily told from Atton's POV in third person, and focuses heavily on his relationship with the Exile (I'm talking strong friendship, no romance here). The Exile is a human male called Arik Keilas. And the story kicks off immediately after the end of the game "The Sith Lords".
EDIT : Forgot to mention, there is some mild swearing. Very mild.

***

Chapter 1 : Where our heroes discover this may be only the beginning

They had done it.

That was the foremost thought in Atton's mind as the Ebon Hawk plunged into hyperspace. They had done it, they had managed to escape the hell of Malachor alive, and that nightmare of a planet existed no longer. Gone with that bitch Kreia. The relief flooded into him, making his mind stagger. For once, he did not bother to hide his feelings. There was a time when he would never have lowered his shields - especially on a ship loaded with Force-sensitives - but things were different, now. At some point, their ragtag group of misfits had become, oddly enough, a team. Their mutual trust was fragile, and the only thing that held them together was the Exile. But they did hold together, at least for the time being, and that was all that mattered.

He leant back in his chair. He had not had time to think about their destination, so he had picked Onderon - which was closest - as a default. If Arik wanted to go somewhere else, they could always change course later on. For once, they had nobody running after them, nobody trying to kill them, and it felt rather good...

How long would it last ? A common goal - to some extent - was what had brought them together. That, and Arik, of course ; the effect he had on most people was... surprising, to say the least. Even Atton had felt it, and he was not usually influenced so easily. Be that as it may, Atton had a feeling that their adventure was far from over yet.

He stood up with a slight groan - he still felt sore after their last crashlanding - and made his way to the main hold, where he was met with an uncommon sight. Everyone was gathered there. Usually, they all stayed in their reserved part of the ship, taking advantage of whatever personal space and privacy they could keep - except for Arik who seemed to be accepted wherever he wanted to be (but then, it was officially his ship). But right now they were all there ; Mira, and the creepy Miraluka, and Bao-Dur, and Mandalore, and that bitch the Handmaiden, and the droids of course (pieces of junk, in Atton's opinion). Arik was seated in the corner, looking drawn and tired. Atton suppressed a wince when he saw the nasty lightsaber burn on his arm, and there was probably worse to find under his clothes. Mira seemed a little shaken as well, with a deep cut on the side of her face and dried blood on her cheek and neck.

"We should get you patched up", Atton said.

"Right", Mira said. "I hope we've got enough kolto left, we didn't really have time to resupply after our last stop."

She stood up, making her way to the infirmary. When Arik made no move to follow, Atton walked to the spot where he was sitting and waved his hand in front of his eyes.

"Hey, you still there ?"

Arik looked up, and gave him a wan smile. "Sorry, I was... lost in thoughts."

He accepted Atton's implicitly offered help to get up and leant heavily on him to get to the infirmary. While most of the others feigned a lack of interest, Visas watched them like a hawk. Predictably the Handmaiden came to help support Arik to the infirmary, blissfully ignoring Atton's glare. He did not trust her, especially since she; had run off with Kreia. They had never had time to talk about it, and she had never gotten the chance to justify her actions, but to be honest Atton was not all that interested in her reasons in the first place. He did not trust her, period.

When they got to the infirmary, Mira was finishing to patch herself up.

"I'm done", she said only a moment later, while Atton and the Handmaiden were helping Arik to sit on the one bunk of the infirmary. The Ebon Hawk had seemed big to Atton at first, but that was back when there were only three of them, plus two droids.

"All right, Arik, I need you to remove your shirt, and... could you ladies excuse us ?" he looked up to glare at them.

Mira rolled her eyes. "Seriously, I doubt I'll see anything I haven't before."

Atton did not relent. "That's not the point, and you know it."

"Oh, fine", she shrugged, and walked away.

Atton stared pointedly at the Handmaiden until she followed Mira's lead, still without a word - but then, she had never been the outgoing type. When they were finally alone, he focused back on Arik, and a slight frown crinkled his brow. The Jedi looked a little... out of it, to say the least, which could only mean that he was more tired than he looked, or more seriously wounded, or both. After a minute or two, Arik looked up at him, as if jolted out of a dream.

"Hm ? Oh, right." He began to remove his tunic, with the slow and careful moves of someone who is in pain and is trying not to show it.

Atton helped him get rid of the garment, then the undershirt, and he stared at Arik's chest. It was all he could do not to wince in sympathy. Kreia had done quite a number on him, considering the deep wounds on his ribs and shoulders ; there had been some really close calls.

"The bitch", he hissed.

"It was not all her doing", Arik said quietly. "I had to get past Sion, as well."

"Oh." That was an unexpected development... or maybe not so much. "Well, at least that's one less Sith to worry about. Now, they're all dead."

Arik said nothing, and Atton gave him a sharp look. It was not a good time to start enquiries, however, so he busied himself dressing the Jedi's wounds. Mira had been right to worry about the kolto, they did not have much of it left. Atton tried to use it sparingly, but even so, he thought, it would not hurt if they made a stop at a clinic on their next stop to make sure Arik received appropriate care. When he was finally done, he took a step back to look critically at his work. It looked good enough, at least for the time being.

"All right", he said as cheerfully as he could, "I'll go and get you a clean shirt, and maybe a bite to eat. You stay here."

He was back a moment later and helped Arik get dressed. It was all done in a disturbing silence. Though Atton knew Arik was probably too tired to speak much, he could not help but wonder if nothing was up. He dared not ask, not so soon, but it did not feel right to just leave without at least saying something. Subtle probing, however, had never been his strongest point.

"So..." he began awkwardly. "Was it hard ?" He could have kicked himself the moment the words crossed his lips. Of all the stupid questions to ask...

It did draw a smile from Arik. "You could say that, yes", he said with some of the old wry amusement back in his voice. "Although..." his tone turned thoughtful. "It could... should have been harder. Perhaps..."

That made about as much sense as one of Kreia's riddles.

"How about you try again in Basic ?"

"I am... not certain. Somehow, it's almost..." Arik's voice died down, but Atton did not press him, until he finished his sentence. "It's almost as if she let me win. On purpose."

Atton blinked and rubbed his forehead. "Right. I think I forgot to check you for a possible concussion."

Arik looked mildly annoyed. "Things may not be what they seem. Remember the Council's fears about the Mandalorian wars. They seemed groundless... and now it appears there was at least some truth in them."

"Oh, no", Atton growled. "Don't you dare make excuses for the Jedi Council. They let people die for some mystic reason they didn't even bother to explain, and after the way they treated you..."

Arik raised a placating hand. "Their actions were inappropriate, I am not disputing that. And they were not my favourite people, though I did not want them to die..."

"Die ?" Surprise deprived Atton of any more eloquent words. He could only stare dumbly at the Jedi.

"Did I not tell you ? But a lot of things happened after we left Dantooine. I suppose it is no surprise I forgot."

"What happened ?" So the Council was dead ? Not that Atton had much pity for them - they were everything he hated in the Jedi. Still, it came as a surprise. Had Arik killed them ? Somehow, Atton doubted it, though he would not have condemned him for it. He remembered vividly the holo archive of Arik's so-called trial, when he had been exiled, and it still made him seethe with anger. Not just on Arik's behalf, but as a soldier who had fought the Mandalorians. In their arrogance, the Council could not be bothered to care about the innocents who died in millions. Anything they got, they fully deserved.

"I asked them to tell me, at last, why they exiled me", Arik said slowly. "I am still not certain I understand their reasons." A flash of anger twisted his face, for a brief instant. "And I cannot forgive them, even after all this time. But some of the things they said..." he looked troubled for a moment, though he quickly schooled his features. "In any case, they said their refusal to join in the Mandalorian wars had to do with the Sith. They feared to expose themselves, only to have the Sith strike them where they were the most vulnerable. In the end, it only made matters worse - causing a civil war and countless victims - and still they were certain it was the wisest path. But the reason why they sent me away... I think they feared me."

"You ?" Atton laughed uneasily. It did not entirely make sense. "I mean, you're powerful and everything, but you're one Jedi. They had hundreds of knights and masters obeying them. Why would they be afraid of you ?"

"Not of me... that is, not of what I might do. It might be more accurate to say, they were afraid of what I was. Malachor changed me, Atton. Cutting off my link to the Force was only a side effect. It changed me, fundamentally. To quote their own words... in me, they saw the death of the Force."

Atton shook his head. "That's impossible. I mean, the Force is supposed to be a manifestation of life. So long as there is life, the Force will exist. Right ?"

Arik looked up at him, and Atton saw something disquieting in his eyes. "But does it work the other way round ? If life is the Force, and the Force is life... what would happened if the Force died out ?"

"That's impossib..." Atton's words died on his lips as he remembered Malachor, the sick feeling the planet had given off. He was still a novice in the Force, and better in the arts of combat than the mental disciplines, but even he could feel that this planet had been corrupted to the very core. And Bao-Dur, who was much more of an empath than him, had looked sick for most of the time they spent down there. "Malachor. Malachor was the key - that's why you wanted to have it destroyed."

"Yes", Arik admitted.

"But it's gone now. And the Sith are dead. That's it. We've saved the galaxy, hooray. Right ?"

"Maybe."

Atton made a face. "Very reassuring."

Letting out a sigh, Arik swung his legs on the bunk and cautiously lay back. Understanding the dismissal for what it was, Atton stood up.

"Okay, I'll let you get some rest. We can talk more later."

Arik gave him a weary nod, his eyes already closed. Doing his best to ignore the unease stirring deep down inside him, Atton switched off the light and left sickbay, closing the door behind him. He almost stumbled on the Handmaiden on his way out, and he was going to ignore her, but she raised a hand to stop him.

"How is he ?"

Damn, she must be concerned if she was asking him. Atton did not feel very accomodating, but if he refused to answer she would go and bother Arik, and the Jedi could use some peace and quiet right now.

"He's fine. Well, he'll be fine when he gets proper medical attention."

"Can I go inside ?"

"He's resting."

The Handmaiden said nothing for a moment, her face unreadable as ever. After a few seconds, she turned away without a word.

"Right", Atton muttered, "and you're welcome." Bitch !

After a last glare directed at the back of the Handmaiden, he made wearily his way to the cockpit. He could use some rest as well, maybe grab an hour of sleep or two.

***

He emerged from a half-slumber some time later, feeling all but rested, but restless nonetheless. The ship was eerily quiet, the silence broken only by the hum of the engines. Atton checked his screens, realized that they would reach Onderon in only a few hours, and that they would need to decide what to do then. Finally he got up and went to the main hold, stopping in sickbay on the way only to find out Arik was no longer there.

Everyone was still in the main hold, even Visas, even though she was her usual antisocial self and remained seated in a corner, not uttering a word. Mira was playing a game of dejarik with the computer, and Mandalore seemed to be cleaning up a gun. A big gun.

"Where's Arik ?" Atton asked to no one in particular.

Unsurprisingly, Visas was the one to answer. Despite her little sight problems, she always seemed to know where everyone was, and she always seemed to keep a particularly close eye on Arik, too. Creepy, definitely. "I believe he is in Kreia's quarters."

"The port dormitory, you mean", interjected the Handmaiden sourly. After being deceived by Kreia, she could hardly stand to hear her name.

"Whatever", Atton muttered. "I'll get him."

He was off before someone else could offer to go. It took him no more than ten seconds to get to the port side of the ship, and he was surprised to find the door closed. Although they did their best to respect each other's personal space on a ship as small as the Ebon Hawk, doors were rarely closed. He knocked tentatively, and was invited to enter almost immediately.

Arik was sitting on the floor, legs crossed under him in a typical meditating stance. He looked up when Atton entered, and Atton noticed that he did not look too well ; his features drawn and tired, his complexion grey, his usually ardent blue eyes now dulled.

"Hey", Atton said awkwardly. "Are you all right ?"

"Not really, no", Arik said. "I have the most dreadful headache. What about you ? I remember you were banged up more than a little when we... landed on Malachor."

"Oh, you can say 'crashed'", said Atton crossly. "But remember, if I wasn't such a good pilot..."

"...we would not have survived the crash, yes, I know." Arik had a thin smile.

"But I'm fine", Atton added. "It was nothing serious. Bao-Dur was hit worse, but he'll be fine too - he has a thick skull. You might want to talk to him, by the way. When we were on Malachor... he wasn't feeling too well."

"Quite right. I should have thought of it. Thank you, I'll do that."

For a moment there was an awkward silence, until Arik spoke again.

"I feel you have something on your mind."

Of course he would know. Atton always felt uncomfortable when he did that, though the one time when he had actually read his thoughts, Arik had owned to it and apologized for it. It had astonished Atton, and done a lot to change his view of the Jedi... or at least, made him admit that not all Jedi were bad. "Well, it's just that... I wanted to talk about it earlier, but you were tired. But now, we've killed the Sith and saved the day, so where does that leave us ? What now ?"

Although he had actually closed his eyes, Atton had the unnerving sensation that the Exile was observing him.

"That will be your choice, of course." Arik sounded vaguely surprised at the question.

"Yes, but what are you going to do ?"

He was silent for a little while, most likely gathering his thoughts before he replied. "There are many questions that were left unanswered, and I have only the slightest clues as to what it means. But perhaps we ought to discuss this with the others. It does concern you all."

Arik stood up, and Atton was not without noticing the slight wince of pain he betrayed as he did so. Maybe he should not have been moving around so much with his injuries, but Atton did not intend to start mothering him, so he said nothing.

They made their way back to the main hold, and Arik's presence worked its magic as usual ; those who were seated straightened up ; those who had been standing stood a little straighter. For an observer of people like Atton, these minute details spoke volumes. What truly fascinated him was not that a single man could induce such devotion, but that he could bind together people so utterly different in their sheer nature - and change them. And, strangely enough, Arik himself did not even seem to realize how incredible it was. Yet, somehow, it did not make him naive, just... oblivious. Atton suspected that he was so used to people reacting like that to him that he had never paused to question it.

"I think we need to discuss our projects", Arik said. "Well, I can't discuss yours, but I'll tell you about mine. Make yourselves comfortable, this may take some time."

"I don't know why", said Bao-Dur, "but I get the feeling we won't like what you're going to say, General."

"And you may well be right, but please let me actually say it before you get ahead of me. To put it in a few words, I think we need to consider the problem of the Sith."

"But we destroyed the Sith", objected the Handmaiden. "Or most of them." She gave an evil look at Visas, who did not seem to notice. Being blind - sort of - had its perks.

"Perhaps", Arik said quietly. "And perhaps not. I am heavily speculating, and I may be mistaken. But certain things Kreia told me..."

"Oh, please", Atton groaned. "Don't tell me you actually listened to that old hag, even after what she did to you - to all of us !"

"I don't trust her, if that's what you're asking. But as you may recall, she never outright lied to us. Of course, she misled us, and twisted the truth somewhat - but still, what she told me must be considered."

"Why don't you get to the point ?" Mira suggested with more than a hint of impatience.

"I might, if you stop interrupting me. As I was saying, I believe our main problem is the nature of the Sith, and the reason why Revan disappeared after the Jedi civil war. I think those two questions are more closely linked than anyone thought. Kreia was afraid - not of me, and certainly not of dying - she was afraid of something worse." Arik had his eyes on the wall, and Atton got the feeling that he was thinking things through as he spoke.

"When we talked, she hinted at certain things... and there are too many questions that were left unanswered. Why did the Mandalorians declare war ? Why was the Jedi Council so hesitant to act ? Why did Revan try to destroy that which he sacrificed so much to protect ? Who struck the Jedi after the Jedi Civil War ? None of this makes sense... unless there is someone else in the game. Someone who has been hiding, moving their pawns carefully all this time, to reach this point. Someone who may have deliberately caused the Mandalorians war and everything that followed, in order to weaken the Republic."

"What ?!" Even through the filters of his helmet, Mandalore sounded indignant. "Are you suggesting the Mandalorians may have been no more than a tool ?"

Arik gave him a steady look, and did not back down an inch. It was wise enough ; Mandalore would despise those who showed any weakness. "Do you truly think it impossible ? Manipulation can be subtle. They appealed to your sense of honour, your craving for battle. Would it have been so hard to whisper the idea and let it make its way into your people's mind ?"

Mandalore's indignation receded ever so slightly in front of that piece of logic, and, mollified, he seemed to consider the idea. He was nothing if not practical.

"We would have heard of it", he finally said, though he did not sound all that convinced. "If an unknown faction had made contact with my people, we would have heard of it."

"Not necessarily", Goto said, speaking for the first time. "There are things beyond the Outer Border that certainly have proven able to remain hidden for the past millenia." He pivoted slightly to face Arik. "So you believe that Revan has gone to look for this hypothetical unknown threat ?"

"Yes."

"And you want to go after him." That was hardly a question, but Arik answered it nonetheless.

"That is my intent, yes. That is what Admiral Onasi asked me to do, but more importantly, there may be more at stake than we realized until now. If this third party were capable of provoking the Mandalorians war, if they had anything to do with the wiping out of the Jedi, then they are both powerful and clever. Not to mention, without any qualms. If we don't find out about them now, we might find out later - the hard way."

"The galaxy is vast. How do you intend to find him ?" Goto betrayed nothing more than cold interest, in the most detached manner. Not unexpected, from a droid.

Arik had a strange smile. "Ah, yes. It is rather frustrating to think the answer may have been under our noses the whole time. As it is... T3, perhaps you would care to answer our friend Goto ?"

Atton's jaw dropped to the ground, or would have if it had not been so firmly attached to his skull. How could that little trashcan know anything about the origins of the Mandalorian wars, or Revan, or anything else, for that matter ? And yet, it rolled forward without hesitation and whistled an answer to Arik's demands.

"That is preposterous !" Goto said almost immediately. He was the only one other than HK-47 or Arik who could understand what the little piece of junk whistled.

"I believe that is precisely what Revan thought", Arik observed wryly.

"Hey, anyone mind translating for those of us who don't speak trashcanese ?" Atton demanded, a little annoyed.

"T3 claims he was with Revan when he went looking for that unknown threat", Goto stated. He sounded more than a little doubtful.

"It is not so surprising", Arik said quietly. "The Ebon Hawk used to belong to Revan, apparently. Or so told me Admiral Onasi."

Mira folded her arms. "It sounds a little too convenient that it ended up with us by chance."

"But chance had nothing to do with it. Revan told T3 to bring the Ebon Hawk to the Jedi ; except that the Jedi were nowhere to be found, of course. So T3 kept looking, until he found Kreia and me."

"In that case, why didn't T3 tell us about it beforehand ?"

"Yes, that's a good question. T3 ?"

The little droid's answer was longer this time, and Atton tried not to fidget with impatience.

"Apparently", Arik translated, "he did not want to risk it while Kreia was onboard. He was suspicious of her from the very beginning. And she... what ?"

"What is it ?" Bao-Dur asked.

Discouragement and weariness showed in the way Arik's shoulders sagged. "It seems Kreia was suspicious as well. She erased Revan's data from the Ebon Hawk and reinitialised its computer."

"Erased it completely ?" Atton shook his head in disgust. "Well, that's it then. If we don't know where to look, there's nothing we can do."

"At least until the Sith strike first", Mandalore observed. He sounded most belligerent.

"I'm not giving up so easily", Arik said quietly. "T3, you were with Revan all this time. He must have stopped somewhere. What was the very last planet he visited, that you know of ?"

The droid whistled a quick answer.

"Not so fast !" Arik said, raising a hand to slow down the flow of information.

"My... counterpart indicated that Revan's last stop before they parted ways was on Esus, on the outer rim", Goto said.

Arik nodded, grim but obviously determined. "That's it, then. Esus may hold the answers we seek."

"Wait", Atton cut in. He felt the blood drawn from his face. "Esus ? You can't mean Esus on the Outer Rim."

"How many Esuses are there ?" Mira asked snidely.

Atton glared and jabbed a finger at her. "You have no idea what you're in for. Next to Esus, Nar Shaddaa is a paradisiac holiday resort."

"Oh, so you're the expert, are you ?"

"I've never been there, but I've talked with someone who has been around, and what he told me was, do not go to Esus. The Republic doesn't exist, that far on the outer Rim. There's no law, only people who have gone that way because there was a bounty on their heads everywhere else. They'd kill their mother for a single credit, or even just for fun. It's just that insane."

Mira looked less than impressed. "And that's supposed to be more dangerous than looking for the guys who started the Mandalorians war and wiped out the Jedi ? We lead a dangerous life, Rand. Deal with it or get out."

"There's a difference between taking measured risks and going on a suicide mission !"

"Oh yeah ? And there's a difference between plain cowardice and - "

"Enough !" Oddly enough, it was Bao-Dur and not Arik who intervened. For once, the even-tempered Zabrak looked much less than happy. He looked hard at Atton. "If there are risks, we'll take them into accounts before doing anything." He turned his gaze to a snickering Mira. "That doesn't mean we should rush in front of the danger like empty-headed idiots. None of us have survived that long by being daft."

"Quite right", Arik agreed. "Although the shouting contest was somewhat amusing." Atton scowled at him, and the thin smile on Arik's lips widened. "That being said, I fully intend to do this because I do believe there is no running away from this particular fight. And I'd like to find Revan, if only because we could use his help rebuilding the galaxy. Nevertheless, this is my commitment only." His eyes swept over their little ragtag group. "And now, the time has come for me to ask each of you what you want to do. You have followed me this far, all of you, and we were successful thanks to our teamwork. But what I propose to do will be dangerous, and may take a long time. If you wish to leave now, no one will have any right to judge you for it."

An odd silence followed. It was all going a little too fast, Atton thought. They had barely survived over the last few weeks, his life had been turned upside down, and now he had another, life-changing decision to make. Why could things not calm down long enough for him to catch up with the way his life was going now ?

From what he could see, the others were having similar thoughts, although it was hard to tell what was going on under Mandalore's helmet, or what Visas was thinking at any given time. With those two, even Miss Icecube came only third as the most unexpressive face of the year. Atton risked a look at Bao-Dur, and surprised a shadow in the Zabrak's eyes. He looked... weary. Well, Atton could definitely sympathize with that.

Visas was the first to speak. "As I have already said, you are my new master. My life belongs to you."

Arik sighed and crossed the three steps that separated them to stop in front of her. "Your life belongs to yourself, Visas. No one else, and certainly not me."

But the Miraluka shook her head. "It is too late for that", she whispered. Before anyone had time to object any further, she turned away and left the main hold. A rather awkward silence followed her exit. None of them knew what to think of it - but then, Visas had always acted in this odd, unpredictable manner. As far as Atton was concerned, he thought it was a mistake to have brought her along, but she had proven useful before, and the decision was not up to him.

"I shall remain with you also", the Handmaiden said, breaking the silence. "I want to stop those who were responsible for the death of the Jedi, and... and the downfall of Atris."

Atton tried not to make a face. He had vaguely hoped she would decide to go her own way, though he had never truly believed she would. Her feelings for Arik were somewhat obvious, at least to him. He could not tell what Arik's feelings were, however.

"Well, I guess I'll tag along too", Mira added. "That's not a commitment, mind you."

Arik looked mildly amused at her reservation.

"You know you can count on me, General", Bao-Dur put in. He looked his usual cheerful self now, but Atton knew better than to stop at appearances.

"That's all very good and well", Mandalore said. "But I have responsibilities as the leader of the Mandalorians, and I've been away too long as it is. If you'll drop me off on Dxun, that would suit me fine."

"Naturally", Arik said. "I understand."

"Nevertheless, I should like to have a representant onboard", Mandalore added, as if moved by an afterthought. "I'll send one of my men to accompany you."

Arik nodded, unsurprised. "That will be much appreciated." He looked around. "Well then, Goto ?"

"I have considered my options", the spheric droid said slowly. "I will want to see this through."

"No doubt your connections will be helpful", Arik nodded. He then turned to look expectantly at Atton.

Atton was divided. He wanted to go with the Exile. He had nowhere else to go, nothing else to fight for, not to mention the Jedi training he had begun to undertake with Arik's help. He had never cared all that much about the Sith, about good or evil - the Force knew he had not always been a very nice person himself - but he had to admit, the fight gave his life purpose. He had, somehow, assimilated Arik's ideals, and now he found it hard to face a life without those ideals ; a life without objectives, a life of drifting, deprived of significance. Besides, he had always been on the front lines, be it in the Mandalorian wars or during the Jedi Civil War - why break a good habit now ?

He had grown stronger along the way, somehow. Being with Arik had made him want to rise up to the challenge, to show that he could be a greater man, and later he had proven to himself that he did draw this strength from within himself, when he had entered the Sith tomb and got out with his soul intact. As intact as it ever was.

But at the same time, the strength of his craving for all of this frightened him. It was not like him, to rely on someone else, to trust someone else to that extent. He felt a cold shiver of fear when he thought about it. He had come to rely on the Exile’s moral compass to guide him through and beyond his somewhat agitated past, and the more agitated future that awaited him. He believed Arik was worthy of that trust, and yet - there was always this tiny sliver of doubt, of second-guessing himself. Maybe it would be better to keep some distance until he had it figured out...

Yet, he found he could not. It was too much to give up. And that frightened him even more, although he would admit it only in the deepest recesses of his mind.

"I'll come with you", he heard himself saying, and it felt like it was someone else speaking.

Arik looked pleased. The others looked surprised it had taken him that long to make a decision. Atton only wanted to bang his head on the walls.

"That's settled, then", said the Exile. "Atton, if you can set a course to Dxun, we'll drop off Mandalore and then make for Esus."

"Sure", Atton said, somewhat mechanically.

He went back to the cockpit, although he did not really have anything to do since the ship was already going to Onderon. He wanted some time alone to think.

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Old 11-16-2012, 11:04 AM   #2
machievelli
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'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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Old 11-17-2012, 11:49 PM   #3
Akyra
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A quick word to thank the person who sent me a message to tell me they liked the story so far - I couldn't reply as apparently you need at least five written posts before you can. I'm not entirely familiar yet with the way the forum works.

So, what the heck, here's chapter two. A little more banter and fun.

Chapter 2 : Where there is a lot of talking

***

Atton's feeble attempt at meditation was interrupted less than an hour later by something that sounded like banging. At first, Atton had thought the noise was made by the Handmaiden, or Mandalore, during a particularly nasty training bout, but common sense quickly dispelled that rather incongruous idea. There was no way he would hear it from the cockpit, unless they were blowing the ship to pieces - which would be a spectacularly moronic thing to do.

Determined to investigate, Atton pushed himself to a standing position and strode to the main hold, where Mandalore, Goto and Arik were already gathered.

"What's going on here ? Can't hear myself thinking", Atton complained.

The look Mandalore gave him, even with his helmet on, spoke volumes about his opinion of Atton's abilities in this particular domain, but he had the good grace to remain silent.

Mira showed up then, her hair still wet.

"Sorry", she said, "I was in the shower. I forgot to tell you..."

Most of those present, even Arik, who usually was unnervingly equanimous, looked at her rather ferociously.

"Forgot to tell us what, exactly ?" Atton asked, although he was not quite sure he wanted to hear the answer.

Mira had the good grace to look embarrassed. "You see, when I was on Malachor, I picked up, er... another passenger."

Atton was still lost, but Arik must have guessed what she was talking about because the look he gave her was rather aghast. "Are you actually telling me that..." he began, then trailed off - as if not voicing the idea could somehow miraculously make it untrue.

"Sorry", Mira said with a slight wince. "I just couldn't leave him to die, although I probably should have."

This time, Atton understood too. "The wookie ?" He realized his mouth hung open, and he closed it quickly. "You're telling us you brought the wookie onboard and you forgot to tell us ?"

Mira gave him a contrite look. "Well... HK helped me, I couldn't carry those three hundred kilos of fur and spite all by myself. You guys were busy with Bao-Dur fixing the ship, I meant to tell you but then we had other preoccupations, and... I kinda forgot ?"

The look Arik gave her was still aghast, but tinged with amusement. Atton wondered how he could find any humour in such a situation. "And pray tell, what exactly do you expect us to do with these... three hundred kilos of fur and spite ?"

"Drop him off somewhere", Mira shrugged. "Then he can get himself shot by someone else and that's it."

Mandalore folded his arms. "I say kill it. That beast is a liability."

"I don't mean to sound like a Mandalorian, but I rather agree with him", Atton said, jabbing a finger in Mandalore's direction. "That beast is three hundred kilos of unmitigated trouble, if you ask me."

"My, my", Arik murmured, "don't we have here a ruthless bunch."

"You can talk", Atton mumbled.

Mira glared at him and Mandalore. "Well, Hanharr is my prisoner, and I'm the one who decides what we do with him, so you boys shut up and let me deal with it."

Atton lent slightly forward. "You know what ? I don't care. But shut that beast up or I'll shoot him myself."

Mandalore shrugged and seemed to lose interest in the matter. With a last snort of derision, he walked away, soon followed by Goto. Mira heaved a deep sigh, and looked at Arik.

"Look, I know it's your ship and all, but I meant it when I said Hanharr is my prisoner."

Arik shook his head. "What, you think I would just kill him ? That beast is a nuisance, but we don't execute prisoners."

Mira reddened ever so slightly. "Sorry, but I just wanted things to be clear."

"So what do you intend to do ?"

"Well..." Mira bit her lower lip. "It's gonna sound stupid, I guess, but I don't really know. Just letting him loose is tempting, but what if he starts killing people ? Or if he tries to kill himself ?"

"Right", Atton rolled his eyes. "What a loss that would be."

Mira did not even grace that comment with a glare. The banging, which had subsided, resumed even louder.

"Oh, ****", the bounty hunter groaned. "Guess I need to talk to him before he tears the ship apart or hurts himself..."

Nevertheless she kept staring at the steel panel, apparently reluctant to open it.

"You did tie him up, didn't you ?" Atton asked.

"Of course I did ! Well, just the arms. I didn't have much time and it took forever to bring him to the ship."

"Oh, that's grand !"

"Just shut up !"

"And very mature, too."

"Enough of that, you two", Arik interrupted them wearily. "I think we have enough to worry about with a mad wookie without fighting each other."

"We ?" Atton snarled. "There's no we. That thing is her wookie, as she reminded us so gracefully. I don't give a damn !"

"Then just get outta here", Mira growled back. "We don't need you here to gawk."

"Oh, no. I want to be here so I can say "told you so" when it tries to eat you !"

"I'm touched by your concern !"

"You're welcome !"

"And get lost."

Arik had finally made the admittedly wise decision to ignore them, and was now focusing on the steel panel closing the storage unit. His fingers brushed the cold metal, and he watched, his eyes half-closed. Atton was struck by the strange impression that he could see through the panel, directly at the wookie on the other side. The banging subsided again, if only for a short time.

"What are you doing ?" Mira asked, diverted from her ongoing argument with Atton.

It was a lot harder to argue with someone who was not even looking at you.

Arik was silent for another minute, before he finally answered. "I was trying to soothe him, for the sake of my ears if nothing else. He's not very receptive."

"That's the least you can say", Atton sneered.

"You're not helping."

"Wasn't trying."

"Could have fooled me", Mira muttered, amiable as always - though Atton had to concede he had been provoking her more than a little.

"All right, look, I'll cut the snarky comments, but you fix this."

Mira shrugged. "I'll try, but I don't really have a quick and easy solution handy."

"Maybe talking to him would help", Arik suggested.

"Maybe", Mira agreed, without much enthusiasm. With a final, deep breath, she opened the panel.

The wookie very nearly fell over her, still kicking and howling and banging. Mira jumped back hastily, while Arik and Atton moved forward at the same time to contain the snarling beast. It was made easier by the fact that the wookie was obviously exhausted and wounded, though none of his injuries seemed to be life-threatening. Too bad. It kept fighting, however, clawing and spitting at anything it could get a hold of. Atton almost kicked him, but held back because he knew Arik would not approve, no matter how much of a relief it would be.

"Hanharr... Hanharr !" Mira all but shouted. When she failed to get his attention, she did kick him. Apparently as surprised as Atton, the wookie suddenly stopped moving, staring numbly at the young woman. Recognition dispelled part of his fury, though only part of it.

"You", he snarled in Shyriiwook. "Kill me ! If you have any honour as a warrior, you must kill me !" At least that was what Atton understood from his growls and howls.

Mira knelt beside him, though she still retained enough sanity to remain out of his reach.

"Why should I kill you ? I've never hated you, Hanharr. And if you're honest with yourself, you'll see that the only one who ever hurt you was yourself. If you can't live with yourself, it's really not my fault."

Hanharr's howl of hatred could not really be translated into words, but its meaning was plain enough. Mira shook her head in discouragement.

"That beast is insane", Atton said. His words were harsh, but he surprised himself with how gentle his voice was. "There's nothing you can do for him."

Mira looked up sharply. "So what's your advice, uh ? A merciful execution ? Feels a little like taking the easy way out, doesn't it ?"

Taking advantage of her momentary distraction, Hanharr tried to bite her. Mira drew her hand away just in time, and slapped the wookie, hard. Atton almost winced in sympathy.

"You'll have to behave, Hanharr", she growled. "I'm not letting you take the easy way out either. I'm not that merciful. You'll just have to learn to play nice."

"You want him to become nice ?" Atton did not even try to hide his disbelief. "I thought he was crazy, but I think you're more insane than him."

"If I could change, so can he", Mira retorted.

"You were never as far gone as he is", Arik observed quietly.

Mira turned her attention to him, looking almost betrayed. "You - you're the one running around, giving people second chances, and now you dare to tell me he's a lost cause ?"

"Not quite." Arik was looking at her seriously. "I am only telling you that you cannot save everyone. You can try, if you feel you must, but there may come a time when you have to let go. I want you to understand that first."

The wookie, who had been ignored for the past few minutes, howled again. "Kill me !" The howl ended in something that sounded almost like a sob. Atton looked down at the broken ball of fur, torn between revulsion and pity.

"I need to think about it", Mira said in a very low voice.

"Well, in the meantime, let's drop him back in the storage unit", Atton said. "He stinks."

"We'll need to take care of his wounds first", Arik said.

"What ? Do we really have to ?" Atton groaned. "Besides, we don't have any kolto left. And if we did, you need it more than him."

Indeed, pinning down an angry wookie, even when the aforementioned wookie was tied up and injured, was not exactly advisable for someone just out of a fight with the Sith, and Arik was leaning against the wall rather heavily. Atton suspected that without his Jedi training, he would not even be up at all.

"We can at least clean up Hanharr's wounds and dress them", Mira said. "I'll do it. It's my responsibility, I guess."

"I don't know how you can be that forgiving", Atton said, shaking his head. "If that ball of fur had tried to kill me, several times at that, all I'd want to do would be to kill him slowly. I know I'm not supposed to think like that, but that's just how it is", he added with a quick look at Arik.

"It's all right", said Arik. "Jedi are living beings, not saints. Trying to deny your feelings, even dark feelings, only makes them stronger and allows them to corrupt you from the inside. Or at least, that is what I believe. The Jedi council disagreed with me, as you can imagine."

"Who gives a damn what they thought", Atton muttered.

Arik gave him a chiding look, probably for speaking ill of the dead, but said nothing. It comforted Atton a little to see that even he was not that forgiving.

"Anyway", Mira added, "think of it that way. Hanharr would far prefer to be tortured, rather than being cared for. So I get to do the right thing, and to withdraw sadistic pleasure from it."

Atton gave her an impressed look. "Woman, you have a twisted mind."

She grinned at him, perhaps for the first time. "I know."

Arik stared at the two of them and shook his head. "The two of you agreeing on anything is… disturbing", he mumbled.

***

They arrived to Onderon two days later, and landed directly on Dxun, not very far from the Mandalorian camp. Atton had mixed memories of the moon. Getting through the tomb of an ancient Sith lord had been a trial in many ways, but at the same time that was when he truly felt like he had found his path. When he had proved to himself he was able to resist the temptation on his own, and that his choice left him with no regrets.

He felt more ambivalent about the Mandalorians. Sure, they were good fighters, and they had helped out a little. Mandalore himself was not a bad bloke, if you could get past his bloodthirst. But the Mandalorians wars were still too recent for Atton to trust them. At the same time, he was not very sure of what he felt. He hated what the Mandalorians had done, but could he hate the Mandalorians themselves ? As a people, yes, he could, but when he met each of them personnally... well, it was harder. He stole a glance at Bao-Dur, and wondered how he felt. At the same time, he could not really imagine the Iridonian actually hating anyone.

They walked with Mandalore to the camp. This time, Atton felt the presence of the Mandalorian guards before they even showed themselves. He wondered how Mandalore did, for though he was not Force-sensitive, he showed no surprise at all. Then again, it was hard to tell with his helmet on. As they walked inside the camp, most of the Mandalorians stopped what they were doing to look at their leader, obviously happy to have him back though they were too disciplined to cheer openly. Mandalore stopped near the training area.

"This is where we part ways", he said, turning to Arik. "As promised, one of my soldiers will go with you, while we prepare for what is to come. Kelborn, come here."

The Mandalorian stepped forward. Atton remembered him as the one who had been the most friendly to them during their two visits. If they absolutely had to have a Mandalorian with them, that one was probably the least worse of the lot.

"You'll go with Jedi Arik Keilas", Mandalore instructed Kelborn, "and obey him as you would me. Find Revan, and bring back information about the Sith if you can."

"Yes, Mandalore", Kelborn said emotionlessly.

"Wait !" Another Mandalorian was striding through the crowd gathering around them, and stopped only two steps from Mandalore. "I demand the right to prove my worth in battle and go with the Jedi, Mandalore."

Atton recognized him. He was the young idiot who had tried to convince Arik to get into a fight to the death, Davrel. He tried hard not to roll his eyes. If there ever was a stereotypical Mandalorian, Davrel was it.

Mandalore was looking the young man up and down with something akin to disdain. "You demand ? You're not even a real warrior yet."

"That is the reason for my request", Davrel insisted. "I ask that this mission be considered my trial. If I come back alive and successful, I will have proven my worth."

Mandalore stared down at him for another few seconds, then shrugged dismissively. "That's up to you, Jedi", he said.

Davrel looked expectantly at Arik, who did not look very happy to have been given the final say. "You have fought me, Jedi", the young Mandalorian said, "and we have fought together in the jungle. You know my valor. If it is not enough, then I respectfully request a fight to the death to restore my honour."

Despite the seriousness of the situation, Atton had to bite his lips not to laugh. Arik was being put in an impossible situation. He may not want to take someone young and inexperienced with them, but at the same time if he refused he would have a hard time denying Davrel his fight to the death.

Arik took the time to think about it. "We all have a right to make our own choices", he said finally. "I assume you do realize that the mission we are on is extremely dangerous. If you still want to come, so be it."

Atton was surprised for a moment, before he thought it through. After all, Arik had been forbidden from fighting in the Mandalorian wars by the Jedi council, and he had gone anyway. Maybe it was not so surprising that he would allow Davrel to do what was basically the same thing.

Davrel himself was no thinking that far ; he jumped on the occasion. "Thank you, Jedi. You won't regret it !" His excitement was painfully obvious. "I will get my equipment immediately."

"I'd better get mine", added Kelborn, looking vaguely amused.

"If you want supplies", Mandalore said once they had gone, "I will provide you with them. You will need them. Just give the list to our logistics officer."

"Thank you", said Arik. "I will."

Without another word, Mandalore turned away. No mushy goodbyes with the Mandalorians, obviously.

"I'll go and get the supplies we need", said Bao-Dur.

"All right", nodded Arik. "Let us know if you need help to carry them."

***

They were back to the ship less than an hour later. It had not taken very long for Kelborn and Davrel to pack, and they knew the jungle inside out after living in this camp for months. They were just as quickly settled in the port dormitory. Arik had officially moved to the starboard dormitory with Visas so that the two Mandalorians could be together. Atton had not wanted to object too strongly, but he hated to think that the Jedi would sleep in the same room as Visas. Naturally, he had been witness, as had the others, of her newfound devotion for him, but what if she suddenly went crazy and tried to kill him ? That woman... Miraluka... whatever she was, used to be a Sith. Atton felt, deep inside, that she could no more be trusted than Kreia.

At least they had obtained medical supplies from the Mandalorians, which had allowed Bao-Dur to treat the rest of Arik's wounds. In a few days, he would be fully healed. Not a moment too soon, if they really had to go beyond the Outer Rim.

After the Ebon Hawk had lifted from the green jungles of Dxun and reached a stationary orbit, Arik entered the cockpit and sat in the copilot's seat. Atton looked up at him.

"So, where to, now ? Esus ?"

"Yes", Arik nodded. "From there, we'll try to find out what direction Revan has taken."

"Easier said than done. He's disappeared a while ago. People might not remember. That's assuming we can even convince them to talk to us rather than try to kill us in the first place."

A thin smile twisted the Jedi's lips. "We'll try to be convincing. And somehow, I doubt anyone who has met Revan would be able to forget him quickly."

That got Atton's curiosity. "You... you knew him, didn't you ?" he asked in a low voice, even as he entered the new coordinates in the nav computer.

Arik looked vaguely surprised at the question. "Of course."

"You say that like it's obvious." Atton let out a brief laugh. "Not that many people could say they were friends with Revan himself."

"Many Jedi knew him, at least a little, if only because he met a lot of them to try and recruit them. And I served under him, during the war. We had meetings every week - and it was not quite as glamorous as you make it sound."

Atton leant slightly forward, more and more curious. "So what kind of person was he ? I mean... before he became Darth Revan."

He had thought Arik might be reluctant to speak about it, which was why he had not asked earlier, but the Jedi did not hesitate to answer.

"In one word ? Complicated. He was always concerned, of course. The war was not going so well, at first, and he had a lot of work. At some point, according to Malak, he was close to a nervous breakdown. He just could not be everywhere at the same time, but it killed him when people died because he was not able to handle everything personally. I heard he was... rather carefree, before the war, but I never saw that in him."

Arik stared into nothingness, deep within his memories. Atton had a feeling he did not see the cockpit of the Ebon Hawk any longer, that his mind had gone back all those years.

"He was demanding, of course. Impossible to satisfy. People accepted that, because he was even harsher with himself. And because he always got results. He was accurate, sharp, unbelievably clever. Always a step before the enemy, Mandalore could attest to that."

Arik stopped talking, still lost in his memories.

"So how did he fall ?" Atton asked softly, careful not to break the subtle link that had formed between them at the evocation of a past they had both lived through. "He was the strongest, the greatest of the Jedi." Not all would agree with that assessment, but Atton believed it firmly. "So how could someone like him turn ? How could he not realize what was happening to him before it was too late ?"

"Fall ?" Arik was thoughtful for a moment. "The danger is always there, especially for the strongest and the greatest of the Jedi." He added a subtle, ironic emphasis on the two adjectives.

"Present company not taken into account", Atton offered with a tiny smile, but Arik shook his head.

“That’s not what I meant. For a Jedi, it’s dangerous to even think in these terms. The fact is, because of what we are, pride was always our greatest temptation. I am not immune to it either – it’s part of the reason why I fought in the war. It was the right thing to do, of course, but I also liked to see people look at me like I was a saviour, or a hero. People were dying in millions, and what I was thinking about was my ego. It’s a slippery slope. The admiration turns to awe, the awe turns to fear, and before you know it you’ve become what you were fighting.”

He must have noticed Atton’s surprise, and he gave him a thin smile. “Not quite as heroic as you thought, is it ?”

In truth however, Atton was more surprised at Arik’s willingness to own to his own failings and flaws than at the nature of the failings in question. Jedi were only human, he had known that for a long time. If the Jedi had been more willing to contemplate that truth, they might have survived longer.

"But in Revan's case... well, I'm not really sure. I parted ways with him long before it happened, and we were never close friends in any case. I suppose the Jedi masters believed that his love for the Republic caused his downfall, and who's to say it isn't true ?"

"I wouldn't trust a word those senile old fools said", Atton groaned. "But you already know that."

"Well, I have a theory..."

Arik was interrupted by the soft blip of the nav computer, which was done computing the data and had a trajectory ready for hyperspace.

"Everyone hold tight !" Atton yelled in the interphone, and he pulled the lever. The stars stretched into white lines, before the ship entered the dark blue nothingness of hyperspace. "So, what's your theory ?"

Arik shrugged. "I think Revan wanted to make the Republic stronger, to unify it."

"Wait... I don't get it. By posing a new threat, he divided it, on the contrary."

"Yes, but he was supposed to either win or lose quickly. If he had not been betrayed and captured, it is what would have happened. If he won, the Republic would become an Empire united under his orders. If he lost, the Republic would be united against him and would be ready to face a new enemy."

"That unknown threat you're worried about. So he knew about it ?"

"If I am correct, he did more than know about it", Arik said softly. "Where do you think he got his new fleet ? All these ships, come out of nowhere, with an ancient and foreign yet efficient and deadly design ?"

Atton's eyes widened. "The Stellar Forge..." he whispered. "You think it belonged to them ? But if that's the case... how powerful can they be ?"

"No", Arik said. "I am far from certain that the Forge belonged to them, and I have insufficient data to be sure of anything. But I did some research since I got back, and I accessed data centers from most of the worlds we visited. Not to mention what Admiral Onasi was able to tell me. Apparently, the Forge was built by an ancient race called the Rakatans, a very long time ago. It is possible the Rakatans had contacts with this unknown people, and they built the Forge under their influence. Maybe they were conquered by them and turned into slaves, and built the Forge to obtain they freedom. Maybe they stole it from them... Really, I doubt anyone knows, except maybe this unknown people themselves. But in any case, if there really is a link between the Rakatans and our enemies, Revan definitely knew about it."

"That would explain a lot of things..." murmurred Atton. "But then, why couldn't we go to the Rakatans and find out more from them ?"

"No", Arik shook his head. "It would take weeks to go there and back, and I don't want to waste any time. Besides, anything they know, Revan knows. If we don't find him, or anything, then we can go and see the Rakatans, but I sincerely hope it won't be necessary, because I doubt they know much that could be useful."

"So, Esus, uh ?"

"I'm afraid so."

Atton sighed and leant back in his seat. A few meters back, the damn wookie howled and banged against the hull, liked he did regularly. Atton let out a groan.

"We should have left that beast with the Mandalorians ! If anyone can knock sense into a wookie, that's them."

"Somehow, I doubt Mandalore would have agreed.”

"Are you kidding ?” Atton snickered. “A brand new test for Mandalorian recruits ! Beat the wookie and you’re in !”

***

Eyes closed, Atton tried to relax, to let go of any sensations of his own body to focus on the feeling of the Force pulsing through him. He did his best to visualize the threads of Force that linked him to the ship, to the rest of the group, and to Arik. He focused on the last sensation, looking hard for any indication of duplicity. He probed deeper and deeper, trying to be gentle but aware that his mental touch must feel more like a hammer than anything else.

"I raise", he announced without opening his eyes.

"Are you sure ?" Arik asked, and Atton was certain he could hear the subtle manipulation vibrating underneath the words.

"Yeah, sure." He half-opened one eye to glance again at his cards. Nineteen. Hard to beat. Arik had to be bluffing. He had only sixteen. If he did not draw, he had lost, and if he did he had good chances of getting too much or too little...

"You're thinking too much", Arik remarked. "You're supposed to feel, not analyse the game. What am I feeling just now ?"

"Hum..." Atton could perceive Arik's feelings just fine, but translating his impressions into words, that was another matter altogether. "Confident ? But I also feel deceit. I think."

"Not bad." Arik drew a card, and looked faintly disgusted when it showed a six, thus giving the game to Atton. "I think it's as much Pazaak as I can take for one day, but feel free to practice on your own."

"Okay. What now ?" Atton checked his chrono. "I was going to suggest lightsaber training, but I think Kelborn and Davrel are sparring with the Handmaiden."

Of all Jedi tricks, lightsaber technique was Atton's favourite - and incidentally, what he was best at. Somehow, he had a hard time finding the proper concentration and peace of mind to use the Force, while using a lightsaber came to him naturally. According to Arik, it was fairly common amongst the Jedi to have more affinity with either the physical or the mental disciplines, and most of them became either Consular or Guardian.

"Actually, she asked me to join them so we could try fighting two on two, but you might want to train with Bao-Dur. He needs more practice, and you need to learn better control. Fighting with a less skilled opponent will force you to be more careful just how strongly you hit."

Atton felt his face redden and an embarrassed grimace twist his features while he remembered this one time when he had hit harder than was warranted for a sparring bout and had almost cut Arik's arm off.

"Yeah, I guess. Hey, wait", he called after Arik who was leaving the cockpit. "We'll have to talk about our destination. What we'll do on Esus, I mean."

Arik shrugged. "It's a little difficult to make any sort of plans when we don't really know what to expect. We'll probably have to improvise."

"Oh, that's great. Look, I still think we need an emergency plan. Just in case, you know ?"

"You might be right", Arik conceded. "Very well, I'll give it some thought and we can consider that later tonight."

After he had gone, Atton sighed and leant back in his chair. The closer they got to their destination, the more unease he felt. It was an almost physical sensation of dread, of impending doom, that woke him up at night, and that no amount of rationalizing would make disappear. None of the others seemed as frightened by their destination as he was, which in itself was a bad sign. Of course, it was hardly surprising. All of the members of their ragtag group had, in their own way, survived hard trials. They thought they had seen it all, that they could survive it all - and they were wrong. Atton knew better than to keep trying to convince them of that fact. The more he repeated his warnings, the less potency they would have. But that did not help calm him down.

Eventually, he made his way to the main hold, where he found Mira playing dejarik against the computer. She gave him a distracted nod when he entered, entirely focused on the game. Atton watched for a few minutes. If she did not move her tauntaun, it would get eaten by the rancor, but he would let her find that out by herself.

"Hey, how's it going with Hanharr ?"

Atton kept clear of the wookie as much as he could, but he knew Mira had been spending time with him regularly the past few days.

She looked annoyed at the question, but she could hardly deny him the right to know. He had to share his vital space with that walking carpet, after all.

"Nowhere, really", she was forced to admit reluctantly. "He's not exactly cooperating."

"Hum." Atton was tempted to say "told you so", but one ferocious glare from Mira dissuaded him. "Look, you knew what you were into when you dragged him inside the ship."

"Yes... and no." Suddenly, she looked so miserable that Atton no longer wanted to make fun of her. "It's just... he was losing all this blood, and I could just have watched him die, but... I won't say I wasn't tempted, but then I asked myself, do I really want to be that sort of person ? Do I want to let Hanharr turn me into that sort of person ? And the answer is, no, I don't. Don't get me wrong, I've killed before and I probably will kill again, but always where there was no other choice. My ethics is the only thing that set me apart from the other lowlifes on Nar Shaddaa, and I'm not giving that up. Not as a bounty hunter, not as a Jedi."

"Well... I guess I understand", Atton said, and to his surprise he really did. "It's just that, now we're kinda stuck, aren't we ?"

"Oh, so now there's a we ?"

Atton shrugged with affected casualness. "Guess there's nothing wrong with helping each other out when we can. But, look, he's mean and insane, and there's nothing you can do that will change it."

"I'm not so sure", she objected. "I mean, he wasn't like that to begin with. It's what he had to live through that made him that way. So it must be possible to fix it."

"Maybe, maybe not. There are plenty of people who've lived through some nasty stuff. The people on this ship are a prime exemple - where else have you ever seen such a gathering of dysfunctional, misfit people ? I mean, look at us ! You, an ex-slave turned bounty hunter who now wants to save the universe ! Me, an ex-soldier and Jedi hunter with no morals, and I don't even know why I bother fighting for the Republic. The Miraluka, last of her kind, an ex-Sith and self-proclaimed slave to our local Jedi. And Arik himself isn't the most balanced person I've ever met - what, an exiled Jedi who hid on the Border for five years because he didn't know how to live without the Force. I could go on, but I think you get my point."

Mira had a bitter smile. "Yeah, thinking that we're supposed to be a new generation of Jedi... that's rather laughable, isn't it ? But, getting back to our problem - what's your point, exactly ? Because, if we're all broken, what's one more wookie to fix ?"

"The difference is that we haven't turned into bloodthirsty insane creatures", Atton said. "Sometimes life sucks, we all agree on that, but since when is it supposed to be an excuse ? And I can't believe I'm the one saying that."

"There are Jedi techniques that can help heal mental damage."

"Yeah, and I'm guessing that the people who know how to use these techniques are Jedi healers. Right ? That's too bad, but it so happens we don't have a Jedi healer with us. They're probably all dead, anyway."

"Arik is a trained Jedi - "

"I'm a trained soldier and I learnt first aid, that doesn't make me a medic, and I certainly couldn't operate a head trauma. If you see what I mean."

Mira looked away and back at her game. She moved her tauntaun out of the way, and the rancor attacked the kath dog. "That doesn't mean we shouldn't try. We can't really make things any worse." The rancor disemboweled the kath dog, and holographic entrails were smeared on the board.

Atton shook his head in disbelief. "Look, maybe that's none of my business, but... why is this so important to you ?"

"Because..." Mira turned her eyes back to him, and he could see she was troubled, uneasy. "I..." and then she looked away again. "I just feel like I should try."

Atton could tell she had been about to say something else, and had changed her mind at the last minute, but she was obviously not going to tell him now, so he gave up. "Fine", he said, and he crossed the hold to get to the Garage where Bao-Dur must be.
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