It is been stated over and over, since we first ventured out into space, the almost indescribable beauty that is a planet viewed from above. I promised myself I wouldn't give into any feelings of maudlin in this narrative, but when hyperspace opened and the Aces and Eights returned to real space, the world of Ruuria rushed up to meet me I couldn't help but be stunned. Tatooine had been beautiful in its austerity; the subtle blending the various shades of brown and tan in the sand and the rock. But Ruuria was a blue-green gem playing in a dust speckled fold of black velvet with little slivers of diamonds the shining reflections of the various star ships moving about.
So no, I'm not too proud to admit my breath caught in my throat when I saw it. It was a transcendental kind of beauty.
Ruuria itself was an interesting series of juxtapositions, a planet of jungles, manufacturing centers, and universities. Learning was prized here chiefly among the dominant intelligent species on the planet the centipede like Ruurians. My tablet told me that before the Sith Empire had suffered the Civil War under Darth Malgus, Ruuria had been an unremarkable but staunchly loyal planet of the Empire. It had last been important as a base of operations during the Tingel Arm Campaign back during the Republic-Sith war where the Republic had been handed a stout defeat.
Now it was the seat of Malgus's New Revanite Empire, and consequently the home base of Emperor Malgus' Imperial Navy the chief feature of this home base was a massive space station that spread out like a marina with finger docks. A frantic amount of construction is underway, of course, there were a half-dozen large Harrower-class dreadnoughts in various stages of completion, but there were plenty of other more traditional comings and goings; freighters, liners and shuttles all making their way around the port. Shortly after we left hyperspace we picked up an escort of Mark IV space superiority fighters that guided us not to one of the finger docks, but rather one of the high prestige landing bays at the stations hub.
Not to brag but it was a difficult docking which I managed with my usual grace and aplomb. I'm also sure that any lingering marks from the landing will buff right out. That's my story and I'm sticking to it. While I had expected a welcoming committee, I hadn't expected quite so large of one. In addition to the small army of maintenance technicians that began the swarm over the Aces and Eights practically before her weight was settled on her landing gear there was the better part of a battalion of Imperial troopers lining up as an honor guard with a little gaggle of officers and VIPs behind.
Fortunately I had planned ahead, not knowing how quickly I would be swept into the presence of my Imperial betters and decided upon formality. Sith are in fact technically part of the Imperial military, and like any military everyone has a uniform. So at some point the uniform had been created for the Sith for those rare times that they would actually put one on. I somehow had the feeling that Nyeomi wore her uniform more than most Sith.
It was a high, stiff collared tunic, long sleeved and belted that fell to mid-thigh in a dark navy blue that was nearly black. There was braid on the collar, cuffs, ropes, ribbons and medals sufficient to be suitably impressive, more so perhaps if you had looked them up to know what they stood for which I had.
Nyeomi was in fact quite well decorated. Awards of valor, commendations of honor, it was clear from the history of her service displayed in these metals just how desperately she had sought to make her parents proud. The tunic was matched by a pair of surprisingly close fit trousers based on Mr. Belos's interest as I was putting them on were quite flattering to my rear. The Uniform was then topped off with a pair of knee boots, black leather gloves and surprisingly a short mantled Cape that fell to the back of my knees.
Capes were in fact the order of the day, as both Silas decided to sport his, and Darius had decided the uniform look to be a wise choice of action and on his Republic military uniform which also had a cape. Laura's duster seemed to suit her and only Torm was comfortable enough in his tunic and jacket. So with X4 to push the cart with a small mountain of cash on it I led the way down the ramp where I got the first of a series of nasty shocks this day had in store.
The head of the VIPs waiting for us in the bottom of the ramp was a huge, bull of a man, bald pate gleaming in the lights of the docking bay. His uniform was immaculate, seeming to have been tailored to his form and be draped with medals and awards. His wide somewhat florid face was covered in a great mutton chop beard and whiskers that left his chin clean shaven as though he'd stepped out of Victorian England. And though his visage was stern, his eyes twinkled and there was a ghost of a smile pulling at the corner of his mouth.
Don't ask me by what knowledge that I knew, but as certain as I knew what happened to me, I knew that he was Brigadier Algon Fens, the father of the body I was wearing.
Protocols in situation like this are somewhat nebulous; I was a Darth, pinnacle of the Sith order, although being a flag officer the Brigadier held the status of courtesy at equal rank. More to the point he was in fact my father, and somethings always give way to nature, so I saluted him first. "Welcome to Revan Station, Darth Nyeomi," the general greeted in a rich baritone that immediately told me where I had acquired my distinct Eton accent.
"It is a pleasure to be home, Brigadier Fens," I replied, relaxing my posture somewhat from the salute as I stepped to one side to present my party. "My mission was greatly assisted by these worthy companions. May I present Silas Bast, master of the Aces and Eights?"
Never let it be said that Stuart can't take a hint when it is really important. He stepped forward, all smiles and offered a hand be shook which the general accepted. "Brigadier Fens, it's a pleasure to make your acquaintance."
"The pleasure is mine, sir," my father replied. "The new Revan Empire is exceedingly grateful for your assistance."
"My 1st mate, Colonel Darius Persia…"
Silas couldn't continue because the general's expression changed and he immediately put forward a hand be shook. "The lion of Alderaan, your reputation precedes you, sir." Such a moniker obviously put Darius off his ease, but he took the hand with a humble smile and made a self-deprecating gesture of dismissal.
"The soldier does his duty, general, as I'm sure you'll agree?"
Algon nodded thoughtfully. "I hope you do me the honor of joining me for a drink before you depart." Darius nodded noncommittally.
"Lanaka Fargo," I continued, pausing for pleasantries that were awkwardly not offered or exchanged. The two didn't actually growl at each other but settled for cool nods of greeting. "And finally Torm Belos."
Now I would've thought such an introduction to be particularly innocent and benign; worthy of no special attention or other clues of affiliation. In such a supposition I would be wrong, because my father's expression immediately changed to one of guarded suspicion and he thrust forth an outstretched hand like a sword, demanding to be shook. If you ever doubt the mystic origins of The Force, I would retort that you should watch the mystic ability of a father to suss out that he was just introduced to his daughter's boyfriend by stealth and any such doubts fall by the wayside. Algon Fens knew instantly that Torm Belos had had his way with me and like any good father was probably making up his mind whether or not he was going to have Torm killed for it.
For his part there is not much that can rattle Torm, so he simply smiled that incredible smile, that worked so well on me, while pouring on his considerable reserves of charm. "It's a pleasure to make your acquaintance Brigadier," he replied easily. "At the risk of inviting myself as an armchair historian I'd be fascinated to be within eavesdropping distance of that conversation between you and Colonel Darius. In fact let me just say now the first round is on me."
My father's eyes narrowed. "Are you a soldier, Mr. Belos?"
"I'm a member of the Ord Mantell militia," he admitted with a sheepish shrug of his shoulders. "But I wouldn't go so far as to claim one cycle end a month makes me a soldier."
One of father's aids leaned in and whispered something in his ear. It was obvious he was more interested in giving my boyfriend the third degree, but Brigadier Fens was a man of duty and he knew when duty called. "Captain, please escort these guests of the Empire to the station cantina with my compliments on the first round."
The Captain came to attention. "Sir!"
"Darth Marr awaits, Lord Nyeomi, I'm to convey you to his presence without delay."
I shared a quick glance with my companions then nodded to my father. "Lead on general." I fell in beside the general who walked with the determined but unhurried pace deeper into the station while the Captain led the others off at a tangent. In short order we were alone enough in our journey to allow for a more familiar level of conversation. "Is mother here, too?" I asked softly.
"Aye," he replied thoughtfully clasping his hands behind his back as he walked. "My assignment here seems to be somewhat permanent, she is down in the capital city househunting. She'd love to see you, shall I have her come up?"
"I'd like that," I said, my brain in neutral and my mouth in overdrive. "Of course I don't know if I will be sent right back out again…"
He shrugged expressively. "Fortunes of war." He took a comlink from his belt and spoke softly into it for a moment then returned it. "Congratulations on your success," he continued looking me sidelong over the bushy sideburns. "Tell me, speaking of the fortunes of war, and where does Mr. Belos fit into this narrative?"
"I don't know what you mean," I started but he clicked his tongue against his teeth and shook his head.
"We might be a bit remote out here in the Tion Cluster, but we do get all the holonet channels, to include the broadcast of the Boonta Eve Pazaak tournament direct from the Lady of Great Fortune casino." My cheeks burned with embarrassment as my erstwhile fathers tone became ironic. "So having seen who you were hanging on and what you are wearing when doing so I believe I've established you do in fact know what I mean, so pay me the courtesy of answering my question… My Lord."
I felt my heart sink a bit. "You… Saw all that?"
"In living color," he deadpanned. I stole fearful glance to find him looking at me sidelong. His normally inscrutable face actually had a hint of a smile, perhaps in remembrance of his own youthful exuberance. The important thing was he didn't seem to be angry. "So," he said almost cheerfully. "Do you feel something for this boy, or was he a prop to accomplish a mission?"
At some point I would have to find some alone time to consider just how perceptive either some of the people around me were, or how emotionally transparent I had become. Perhaps it was the influence of the Force that was making me easier to read, perhaps this was the reason so many Sith Lords made use of masks that obscured their faces. "May I answer your question with a question?"
"You have already," he declared with a shrug of his shoulders as he turned his eyes forward again. "But, go ahead."
"How did you know mother was the one for you?"
The general made an interesting noise in the back of his throat, not quite a growl, not quite clearing his throat either. After a long moment of silence when I began to think that perhaps he hadn't heard me, he finally said, "Not a prop then." Several meters of corridor passed in silence and I could feel the uneasiness in him as he tried to decide how he would answer my question.
"If I'm prying…"
He raised a hand to ward off my concern, then gave a discrete glance at his remaining aid which communicated his desire for us to be completely alone and the aide departed at the next junction. Then it was merely myself, my body's father, and X4 with his cart. "What I'm about to tell you, daughter, I tell you out of fatherly love in hopes I can guide you in what is obviously important to you. Your mother is never to learn that I told you. If you cannot abide by that say so now."
At this revelation, I couldn't help but stop and turn towards him my confusion rampant in my face. "Father?"
In an uncharacteristic breach of protocol, his face softened and he took me by both shoulders. "Your word, pumpkin. Or this conversation ends now."
My mouth opened but no sound came out. It had been the better part of 10 years, some part of my mind told me, since he had referred to me that way. Unable to speak, I forced my head to nod in amazement. He squeezed my shoulders, then began again on his way talking to me quietly as he went.
"I met your mother in a bar outside the officers fleet Academy on Drummond Kaas," he told me, his voice and memory distant. "It was a bar known to be frequented by cadets to the Academy, and so it was also frequented by… Let's say ambitious women.”
I stopped as if I had run face first into a wall. I can't begin to describe the feelings that welled up in me as my subconscious begin filling in the gaps of his euphemism. It was disturbing, especially as, from my point of view, these people have been figments of my imagination not too long ago. It made no sense for it to be so emotionally wrenching as it was. "My… Mother, was a common tavern…"
He wheeled on me his eyes on fire in his finger under my nose like a sword point. "Your mother, is a kind, selfless, and above everything else loyal, woman! She has been my companion, my tireless supporter, and the joy of my life challenged only by you!"
"What is it you're telling me?" I demanded, my heart beating a mile a minute.
He sighed and mastered himself straightening his tunic as he did so. "Your mother, has always been a very practical woman," he admitted quietly. "She came from a very humble family, and you know what a difficult place Drummond Kaas can be to survive on. She survived, and I've always respected the no-nonsense manner in which she dealt with her survival. Suffice to say neither of us were virgins when we wed."
He gestured for me to proceed and we began walking once more. "Why is it important for me to know this?"
"Because you wanted to know how I knew," he told me matter-of-factly. "And to understand that answer you have to understand what I knew and when I knew it. Your mother was a great beauty in her youth, and to my jaundiced eye still is. It was her one advantage then, though there are times I wonder if your strength with The Force comes from her and not me. Suffice to say I didn't go carousing in the bar, my mates dragged me along, because we were a squad and we were supposed to stay together. While they drank and caroused, I studied."
I raise an eyebrow and glanced at him sidelong. "So, what? She thought you would be an easy… What word shall I use? Customer?"
He sucked on his cheek for a moment as if he had bitten something sour. "What is the practical difference, if any, between a generic plying of smalltalk and a pragmatic statement of a business arrangement?" He asked sounding like a professor, which he had been for some time at the Academy. "There cannot be emotions at the beginning of any kind of what would be romantic relationship; except lust. So what we are discussing is the bartering of resources in exchange for… Time, perhaps intimate time, perhaps full on sexual favors. If you can articulate what is the real moral difference between a young man taking a woman out out to a meal and entertainment that ends in a romantic encounter versus the young man who contracts with a professional to receive the same services directly I'm listening."
"One does not necessarily follow the other on the date," I offered up feebly.
"The professional may abscond with her fee without tendering services," he replied sardonically. He shrugged expansively to show that he wasn't intent on pressing his point. "As I said, your mother has always been a very practical woman. That I love her, and that she loves me, and that we both love you, are things that you should not doubt or question. But that love took time. Your mother sensed that I was ambitious and that I had potential, she realized that before long the rest of my squad mates would be saluting me and she saw the path of being an officer's wife as a life that she preferred. And so yes she offered me the bargain; she would be the perfect wife, the perfect young officers asset, and she would work tirelessly in the social realm while I could devote myself fully in the martial realm and we would both further my career. She would enjoy the fruits of that labor equally, she pledged her absolute loyalty to me and has proven it many, many times over. And while there are those of my contemporaries who have divorced, or drink themselves numb so as to forget their loveless marriages, I with my "business arrangement" enjoy everything a storybook says a marriage should be; a daughter I could not be more proud of, a wife who has been a peerless friend, a lover without equal and a true partner in every sense of the word."
I shook my head in disbelief of the clinical history I just received a the beginning of my parents relationship. "Father, surely this must be some kind of statistical outlier…"
The professor's finger came up as he employed one of his favorite catch isms. "The successful make their own luck and do not depend on odds." He smiled at me, an odd cross between the smug professor who has just taken a pupil to school and the kindly smile of a father who loves his daughter. "Being a good judge of character is a talent that has served me very well in my career. I have endeavored to teach that talent to you and I'm confident of some amount of success in it. When did I know your mother was the one for me? In some ways I knew when she finished laying out her proposal. If you listen carefully, pumpkin, you can always hear the lie as it is being spoken. Your mother has been many things in her life, but she's always been an honest woman. There was no lie in what she laid out and I knew I would never receive an offer so perfect or clear-cut again."
We arrived at the door to the principal chambers and I stopped to face him once more as he made certain my uniform was to his liking. As he brushed off imaginary lint I asked, "so, you just shook hands and that was that right then?"
"Oh no," he replied is florid complexion darkening just a bit, or perhaps it was my imagination or some trick of the light. "I didn't agree to take her offer until the next morning." His expression became mischievous as he saw the question on my face. "Never turn down a free sample, pumpkin."
And of course, on that particular bombshell, he keyed the door open before I could respond.
Back in my cabin on the Aces and Eights, my uniform returned to its garment bag, I decided to return to the outfit that was what Nyeomi wore most; plasti-form armored midriff top with its leather pants and boots all in shades of white and gray. I wore a rustled sash under the utility belt that fell into a kind of armored breech cloth front and back but made for dramatic movements in the wind. I also have to admit that I love the contrast of the white on her dusky skin, as well as the irony of a Sith Lord dressed in white.
But that had always been a part of the character's concept, The Good Sith. The Star Wars equivalent of Victorian era British soldier bringing civilization to the heathens of Empire for God, Gloriana Regina, and country.
Now this wasn't a character any more, but was in fact who I was. The Force Was not an abstract concept of fictional universe, but a living thing never far from the back of my mind, and I began to wonder if it had a Dark Side, and if I had already fallen to it. I didn't feel evil, and looking back at my actions since I had arrived didn't seem that I acted particularly evil. At least, I didn't think so; which begs the question, how much can I trust my own judgment?
More terrifyingly perhaps, if I couldn't trust my own judgment, what could I?
But there was one thing I kept coming back to, one set of circumstances that all seem to orbit around our unwilling guest in the sick bay. Why were our characters on Tatooine? To get Darth Malgus' money back. Why was Darth Malgus's money stolen? So that Milton Tess could be paid off. Why was Milton Tess being paid off?
That, as the saying went, was the $64,000 question.
We were transported here to interfere with whatever Milton Tess was being paid to do. Which meant I needed to find out what that was, which meant I would have to flirt with that possible Dark Side as I interrogated him. I took a few deep breaths to center myself, established clearly in my mind lines that I wouldn't cross, to make sure interrogation would not metamorphose into torture, then left my cabin for the short walk to sick bay.
Milton Tess was handcuffed and leg ironed to the treatment bed, not that the hardware was actually needed. He was practically a caricature of a 98 pound weakling and doubtlessly a stout leather belt would've held him just as well. His head was too big for his shoulders and was balding with large eyes darted around fearfully before settling on me as door slid shut behind me. "Do you know who I am?" I asked softly.
The Bureaucrat whimpered in fear. "Please don't kill me," he begged.
I couldn't keep a smirk off my face as I walked over to a more conversational distance. "Good, you know what I am," I said, my eyes fixed on his. "Now let's get the introductions out of the way. I am Darth Nyeomi Fens, Lord of the Sith, and you, Milton Tess, have information I want."
Tess begin to sweat. "Please, I'm not a spy! I'm just a warehouse manager! I don't have any secrets! I'll tell you anything you want to know!"
"Yes," I told him with a reassuring, yet cold smile. "Yes you will. And we can do that pleasantly, where I ask you questions and you give me complete, honest, full, and in-depth answers. Or you can be coy, and try to mislead me, in which case our conversation will be not so pleasant." I removed one of the light sabers from my belt and held it up where he can see it. "And there will be less of you at the end of it."
His sweating became profuse and the color drained from his face. "Please, what is it you want to know? I'll tell you!"
"What were the Hutts buying from you by throwing the Boonta's Eve Pazaak Tourney in your favor?" I didn't think it possible, but Milton's face got paler.
"Please, they'll kill me!"
I allowed a frown to pull at my lips. "Do you suffer under the delusion that I won't?" I decided to change gears and held up an empty hand. "You will tell me what I want to know," I commanded. I felt The Force reach out, but despite his panic and many other bad things I could comment about him, Milton Tess was not weak minded.
"The Empire has to protect me!"
"Why should we?" I demanded. "What are we buying for the protection?"
I watched indecision flashed across his face, then saw him realize I was his only hope getting out of this. "A weapon!" He declared. "A weapon so powerful the Republic blacklisted it. It's a disintegration beam!"
Even considering where I was, that seems a little far-fetched, so I demanded, "you want me to believe that the Hutts were going to spend half a billion gold Peggats on a blaster?" But Milton's denial was vigorous, and this was obviously much more than I thought.
"Not a blaster!" He declared. "Complete disintegration! No deflector shields stop it, no explosion; you fire and the target ceases to exist!"
Well, it wouldn't be Star Wars without a super weapon would it?
"A disintegrater?" Asked Darius, disbelief heavy in his tone. "It doesn't seem like such a big deal." He reached across the table for one of the tablets and began to press buttons even as Silas scratched his head.
"Yeah, sis, even Darth Vader didn't seem to be wild at the concept. He just got up into Boba Fett's face and said not to use any…"
I held up my hand and shook my finger at him. "Don't call me that on the station," I ordered him. The expression on his face was confused.
"What?" He asked. "Sis? Considering we been through, I can't exactly call you Bro, but we're still family!" That declaration of loyalty couldn't keep a smile off my face and I gently patted his cheek with my open hand.
"I appreciate the sentiment, Stuart, and I feel the same way. However Naomi's real parents are on the station and she was an only child."
"Ah, Gotcha," he affirmed as Lanaka rolled her eyes.
"I'm going to be sick," she muttered, then looked around the room. "Speaking of being sick, where is your boy toy?"
I sighed. "Getting the third degree from daddy dearest. Poor guy, I feel sorry for him. Brigadier Fens seems to be the protective type."
"At least someone in the family understands the concept of protection," she replied tartly.
I smiled a saccharine smile into her blue skined face. "Green isn't your color, Smurfette."
Before our jabs escalated into a full-scale catfight, Darius cleared his throat and bravely commented, "Yeah, there's lots of disintegraters on the market. Most of them seem to be some kind of microwave-based emitter, but there are plenty that say they ignore personal force shields."
I turned and looked at the list he had floating holographicly over the tablet. It was quite a collection, everything from pistols to rifles and even a couple of ship turrets with competitive prices for installation. I have to admit, even having seen the old Sears and Roebuck ad for the Thompson submachine gun in their Christmas wish book of 1922 due to Auto Ordnance's increasing desperation to find a market for the weapon, it was odd seeing advertisements for vehicular mounted weaponry. "Did any of them claim that the target is completely destroyed?" I asked.
"Not sure how much this will hold up," Silas began as Darius began a rustle through the advertisements. "Especially considering that this universe has power sources capable of charging and running those light sabers of yours, that said in our universe the power cost to completely vaporize something will be something in the order of what the Death Star used."
I nodded. "Mr. Tess was quite specific, perhaps even going beyond vaporize, his exact words were ceases to exist."
"Nothing like that," Darius replied after several minutes of searching. "Not even anything in coy sales speech. Do you think this guy was playing straight with you?"
"If he wasn't too afraid to lie, he is a damn fine actor, because he had me fooled." I felt the snarky reply make its way through Lanaka's brain on its way to her vocal cords, but I turned and gave her my coldest gaze. "Consider very carefully before you give that thought voice on what it's repercussions might be."
Her red eyes narrowed and her hand twitched next to her blaster. "You think you scare me?" She hissed in tightly kept rage. There was something about her rage that fed into mine. I should've laughed it off, made some catty remark, but there was something about her posture or the way she glared at me that seemed to demand action. I stood slowly from the table top I had been sitting on and raised both arms to shoulder level.
"Oh, I'm your Huckleberry," I replied in a most lamentable Eton accented impersonation of Val Kilmer. "Say when." Looking back on it, it seems so silly and trite that I would quote a bad movie and be ready to engage in lethal combat over something so petty as an off-color remark. But if she had said 'boo' or gone for the blaster, there would've been blood I'm ashamed to admit. But at least I wasn't the only one who realized violence was in the offering. We stared at each other for a moment before my ears picked up the soft click of a pair of safeties being turned off behind me.
"Do I have to separate you two?" Silas asked in a deadly quiet voice.
While my attention was focused on Lanaka still, The Force told me that both Silas and Darius had weapons trained on my back, and while Silas' blaster was set for stun, Darius's rifle did not have that setting. The fact that my normally even-tempered brother had drawn on me and had a pistol at my back should've been my clue to get a hold of myself and stand down, but my Irish was still up. "Tell the bitch to keep a civil tongue in her head or lose it," I declared.
"This… Ends… Now…!" Silas declared with absolute finality. "Laura, you said over and over how much Ed wasn't your problem anymore, so you can shut the fuck up about her relationships, who she does or doesn't have sex with or anything else of a personal nature, because as you pointed out it's not your problem anymore."
I felt the point of the blaster shift from my spine to her face behind me. "No butts, Laura!" Stuart hissed. "This is my ship! And you two will get along, or I'll put you off and I won't especially care if we're on a planet or not when I do it! And you, sis," he continued and I felt the blasters muzzle return to my unprotected spine. "You're family, and I love you, but that moment I think you've become some Dark Side Sith killer, that ends and I will put you down like a rabid dog."
"I will not let her walk over me…"
I didn't continue because I heard the click of the safety again, and now neither weapon pointed at me was set to stun. My options are becoming more and more limited, and while I was fairly sure I could will the saber to my hand and block one of the bolts, there were two weapons trained on me and I might not get the second. "I don't know," he said with obvious frustration. "Maybe I'm just not making myself clear. Maybe people don't believe me when I say this ends now. That would be a grave mistake, because I do mean it, and I am prepared to use this blaster. Now, I don't require that you two kiss and make up…"
In an attempt to defuse the situation, I decided to unsheathe my rapier wit. "I'd just as soon kiss a Wookiee!"
Yes, in retrospect it was a bad attempt, and Silas resisted the urge to complete the line. "… But you will be civil to each other and these confrontations will stop! Because I won't care who started it, I'll just kill who's left. Are we clear?"
It did rankle to capitulate, but it was the smart choice and I had a better grasp of my temper now. "Crystal," I replied. Lanaka mumbled something then turned away. Once more the muzzle of the blaster changed targets.
"Laura," Stuart called. "Are we clear?"
"Yes!" She snarled. "Now I'm gonna go back to my cabin, if that's all right, Captain?"
Both safeties clicked on and the blasters were returned their holsters. "That's fine, Laura. Maybe we all should take a little time and figure out how being here has changed us. God knows, I never in my wildest dreams ever thought I would draw a gun on my brother or his wife." That seem to penetrate Laura's new icy exterior and a tear escaped her eye before she turned and stormed out of the galley.
For myself I picked up my coffee cup and took it into the galley to put into the cleaner. Silas voice chased me. "Ed, I'm sorry…"
I shook my head and waved off his apology, whereupon I surprised myself with my own honesty. "No, I'm sorry, Stuart. You did what you had to do and I had it coming. I don't know why she gets under my skin so bad, but I'll work on it."
He found that amusing and snorted a laugh. "It's obvious why she gets in your skin," he declared. "It's because you're both women, and women are catty. Especially when they're jealous."
"Are you saying I'm jealous of her?"
"Nope. The other way around."
I probably shouldn't be proud of the warm feeling that gave me in the center of my chest, but I was. Favoring my brother with a smile, I told him, "And for what it's worth, my brother, the name is Nyeomi." It was very poignant, the complicated expression on his face as he made his peace with the 'death' of his brother and the realization of his sister. Finally he nodded somberly.
It was Darius realized what my preparations were, and so asked, "where are you going?"
"The Sith Academy below. I have eight months to a year depending upon who is counting, of service as this boats pilot to complete before Darth Marr will release me from service. The other proviso for the release is that I must take an apprentice and train them in the ways of the Sith."
Silas rolled his eyes. "So were picking up another passenger?" He demanded.
"Think of it as another bodyguard," I told him with a smile. "Maybe I'll pick a pretty girl and you can try your luck. After this little standoff it seems to me you could use getting laid."
I took a normal fleet shuttle down to Ruuria and being a passenger gave me time to catch up on current events through my tablet. I tried to balance the news sources between Empire, Republic, and Revanite so as to get a more clear view of what was really happening, but wars have a way of disrupting news reports. It was very much unclear whether the Sith Emperor was still alive or not, but based on the maps of controlled territory Malgus' New Revanite Empire was doing very well.
Surprisingly, that was a comforting thought.
Darth Malgus was ruthless, had a cruelty streak a parsec wide, and could be utterly bloodthirsty, but he wasn't trying to annihilate all life in the universe just so he could live forever. In my book, that made him infinitely more desirable than Darth Vitiate the mad. Though I had to wonder, if Vitiate were successful in destroying all life in the universe, and achieving absolute immortality, what would he eat? However, the shuttle did not give me much time to dwell on such esoteric thoughts; arriving quickly at the spaceport in the capital city whereupon I took a taxi to the Sith Academy.
I had already written the head of the Academy to inform him that I would be taking an apprentice, along with a short outline of what I was looking for. He answered me back a short list of acolytes that seemed to match what I was looking for in an apprentice. These students would be waiting for me when I arrived, and I've spent the intervening time between Darth Marr placing this restriction on my release from service and now going over the academic records of these young people.
While much has been made for the differences in training between the Jedi and the Sith, the similarities are quite remarkable. Initial instruction, at least in this era, were in the form of formal schools with classes being taught basics and fundamentals from a remarkably young age. The underlings within undergo a series of trials, whereupon they would be apprenticed, if they passed, to a Sith Lord or Darth to complete the training. And while a Jedi could not achieve the rank of Master before he or she had taken and trained a Padawan, the Sith had no such restriction and could achieve the rank of Darth without ever teaching an apprentice.
The headmaster had sent a list of ten possibilities, six of which I had rejected already. So when the taxi pulled to a stop at the steps up to the Academy, at the top there were four students in uniforms and an elderly man riding herd on them waiting on me. The Academy was a marble façade, four stories higher than street-level, with wide white steps leading up to the main building. It was in the University District of town surrounded by cool, well manicured lawns, intricately kept gardens and soft, gurgling fountains.
I paid my fare from the cab and walked up the steps taking in the four young people waiting on me as I did so. They all bowed as I arrived which I returned shallowly from the neck. The teacher stepped forward in greeting. "Darth Fens, we are honored by your presence, and interest. These are the students you requested. Do with them as you will."
"You have my thanks, headmaster," I told him bowing slightly deeper this time. He humbled himself and then withdrew, leaving me to turn my attention on my perspective apprentices. "For those of you who do not know, I am Darth Nyeomi Fens, Lord of the Sith, member of the Sphere of Defense of the Empire. You will address me as master or mistress as you like, I'm not especially picky about gender specific titles. As I am a member of the Sphere of Defense of the Empire, my apprentice can expect to engage in direct combat against the enemies of Emperor Malgus, and the new Revanite Empire. You'll be expected to coordinate your actions with the Army and Navy forces and act as a member of a team with them. If any of you are incapable of doing this, get out of my sight now."
None of the four moved, continuing to stand attentively, their attentions focused on me. I walked slowly around them, taking their measure, letting The Force guide me. The oldest was a human male, somewhere between 16 and 17 a handsome youth in the mold of an athlete stepping into his prime. I stopped in front of him and asked, "Which side of The Force is more powerful?"
"The Dark Side," he answered instantly in a rich flowing tenor.
"If that is so," I demanded, "why do the Jedi still exist?"
Confusion played across his features as he blinked in his eyes sought mine for the first time. "Master?" He asked obviously confused.
"Is the Dark Side stronger than the Light Side of The Force?"
"Are the Sith masters of the Dark Side?"
"Then why do the Jedi still exist?" He opened and closed his mouth several times, obviously stumped. "Don't be a fool," I ordered him. "Learning is not about regurgitating answers, think for yourself; analyze the information and come to your own conclusions. You're dismissed." For a moment the disappointment played across his face before he steeled himself bowed and walked determinedly back into the Academy.
Next to him had stood a human female, her hair cut short her expression hard and there was a cruelness about her eyes. The Force was strong with her, but she was bubbling over in hatred. Then came a pair of aliens, a male Mirialan, delicate like a gymnast with brilliant yellow skin marked by Black diamond shaped tattoos lining down his jaw. The other was the youngest of the group, a slight, leonine Cathar female, her fur the tawny gold of a mountain lion her feline muzzled face and eyes downcast.
"As Sith," I announced to the three remaining. "We harness the Force, some would say we harness the Dark Side, through our emotions rather than suppressing them. I will ask each of you, which emotion is the strongest?"
"Hatred," the human girl declared instantly.
I favored her with a piercing gaze. "What makes you say so?"
The girl's eyes snapped to mine from the unfocused stare they had been. "Because everything feeds my hatred!" She declared. "As I am betrayed, as I am frustrated, hurt, taunted, or abused they all feed my hatred and my hatred makes me stronger."
"There are Sith who would agree with you," I told her softly. Shaking my head I continued, "but I am not one of them and there is nothing I can teach you on the path you're already walking. You're dismissed." Her face flushed with anger, but she mastered herself, gave a perfunctory bow and stormed back into the Academy. Turning to the Mirialan I asked him, "what about you? What do you think the most powerful emotion is?"
"I would've said anger, Mistress, because many of my instructors said that my anger makes me powerful when I give it control," he said softly.
"You would have said?" I asked, arching an eyebrow in curiosity. "But you would not now? Why not?"
He took a deep breath and slowly let it out. "Because anger is only hatred's handmaid, Mistress, and you have just taught us that hatred is not the strongest of emotions."
I tried and failed to keep a smile off my face. "Good, very good. You have demonstrated that you can learn, now demonstrate you can think for yourself consider an answer for my question." I turned to the Cathar who was looking up at me in frank amazement. "And what of you, girl? What do you think the strongest emotion is?"
Between her feline muzzle, and her almost nonexistent breasts, it was difficult to judge her age; nor did her slight stature help. However, I had the feeling that she was in that place between being a girl and being a young woman. She looked away for a moment, almost bashful before turning back and working up the courage to look me in the eye. "Love," she declared in a lovely contralto that was oddly accented because of the shape of her mouth and teeth that included fangs. "Love is the strongest emotion, because even when it's betrayed, or hurt, or abused it sustains. A mother will do anything to save her children and hatred has no answer for that."
"What is your name, girl?"
"I am Tari Mur of Clan Aso, Mistress," she replied rolling her 'r's in a distinctly Slavic accent.
I turned back to the tattooed young man standing next to me. "And what is your name?"
He bowed. "Bekamp Akee, Mistress."
"Bekamp, where it allowed I would take you both as my apprentices, but it is not. I will be contacting Darth Marr to find a suitable Lord to apprentice you to. Expect to hear from him."
The young man smiled and bowed deeply. "Thank you, Mistress."
"You're dismissed." I reached over and took the young Cathar by her shoulders. " Tari Mur of Clan Aso, I take you as my apprentice, heed my instruction, obey me in all things, and I will make you a powerful Lord of the Sith."
She bowed her head, a look of disbelief on her face and I began to suspect that she was under the impression she would never have been apprenticed. "I hear and obey master."
"Go and get your things, my young apprentice. We depart this world into a larger universe."
Having dinner as an adult with your adult parents after a long absence can be awkward.
Having dinner as an adult with your adult parents after a long absence while introducing your significant other can be extremely awkward.
Having dinner, as an adult, with your adult parents after a long absence while introducing your significant other after having been transported into what you thought was a fictional world, to people who are not technically your parents, while having been transformed in the opposite gender from what you started life as… Well, there just aren't words for how awkward that is. So you're just going to have to use your imagination.
What a night.
The next morning I arose and after disentangling myself from my lover's embrace, dressed in the black, close-fitting bodice I had worn some days previous. As I intended to discover the limits of my new apprentices teachings in the Force, and I thought the top had something of a schoolmarm look to it. With my utility belt cradling both of my light sabers, I went forward to the other two bunk room for the crew, across the hall from Darius where I had installed my apprentice last night.
She came to the door in a nightshirt that only just kept her modesty, bleary-eyed and wiping sleep from her yellow cats eyes. "Good morning, master," she greeted with a bow. "How may I serve you?"
"Dress for training," I ordered her. "And meet me in the galley."
"Yes master," she replied, turning back into her cabin. I continued forward into the galley, finding Darius at his usual perch on the table, his focus intent on his tablet.
"Don't you ever sleep?" I demanded as I finished my favorite mug from the cleaner and got coffee brewing in it. I popped a donut-shaped roll in the toaster that was close enough to a bagel to be eaten like one even though it was a rich, deep emerald green in color.
"Plenty of time to sleep when I'm dead," he replied in distracted away from whatever he was reading. "As the storm troopers came and took possession of Mr. Tess last night, I presume we are going after his mysterious Ray?"
"They're not technically storm troopers," I chided him as the green bagel popped out of the toaster. "However, yes that's the current plan, once we're cleared to depart." I applied butter, which thankfully was still yellow, to the roll as well as a cheese spread, halfway between cream and pimento before collecting my coffee and joining him at the table. "Researching the world?" I asked around my first bite.
“Barkhesh," he replied his eyes intent on the screen. "Pretty rural, mostly farms with some light industrial. Probably a good spot to hide a warehouse full of black ops stuff. I may go shopping."
"Nothing like a little retail therapy," I agreed around a sip of coffee. "I can't imagine that there is anything official about our secret black ops warehouse, any rumors?"
"Wherever there's government there's rumors," he replied with a chuckle. "Nothing I take seriously without half an oceans worth of salt. Still, a planet is a big place to hide something. We have any place to start looking for this Area 51?"
"41 Market St., Ankart the capital city,” I told him with a smile. "Mr. Tess was very accommodating."
Darius chuckled darkly. "Yes, your winning personality can be very persuasive," he observed as Tari headed quietly into the room wearing what was obviously the Sith Academy's workout leotard. On either waist was a pair of tonfa type light saber hilts; one of the odder variants of the weapon. The hilt roughly resembled a policeman's nightstick, with a second d handle coming up the hilt at ninty degrees. The blade it produced was quite short, generally making it a defensive weapon, but it kept in line with the Cathar's up close and personal sense of fighting style.
"Eat," I ordered her as I took a sip of coffee. "Then we'll see what this Academy has taught you."
"Yes, Mistress," she replied as she removed herself to the galley.
He finally looked up from his tablet, his eyes following my apprentice into the galley before he caught my gaze and asked, sotto voce, "How old is she?"
I raised a sardonic eyebrow. "Old enough to be my apprentice, young enough that your interest could be taken as inappropriate…"
The big walrus mustache bristled in righteous indignation. " My interest," he declared loftily and with great weight, "is completely platonic, and in the best interest of the child."
"I'm not a child!" Tari declared forcefully as she caught us both by surprise arriving at the table absolutely silently with a bowl of porridge holding so much milk as to practically be soup. "I am better than thirteen standard orbits, well on my way to fourteen and even among humans this is considered young adult. Among my own people I'm considered responsible for myself and an adult."
I gave my willful apprentice the gimlet eye. "And Colonel Darius has three times your life experience and easily five times your wisdom. You will treat him with the respect and honor that he's due."
The girls head bowed quickly. "Yes, master. My apologies Colonel, and my thanks for your concern."
"Think nothing of it," he replied his eyes never leaving mine.
There are many things that added to the realism and scope of the Star Wars universe, whether you're talking about the attention to detail, the innovative filming techniques, the exacting special-effects or the magnificent sets and costumes but all of these things pale next to the contributions of a single man. And while there are many names that would vie for this place one stands head and shoulders above all the others with work so immediately identifiable, and so instantaneously transported of your mental space from the mundane to this fantastic world as to nearly defy belief.
I am of course speaking of the music of Star Wars and its principal composer John Williams.
Since 1977 John's haunting melodies and inspired soaring orchestral arrangements have brought us to that galaxy far, far away and subtly toyed with our emotions. Even now, standing in a hangar on a space station watching my apprentice, an alien being only the vaguest of sense human, performing a handstand I couldn't help but hear the ethereal notes of Yoda and The Force in the back of my mind as I stood in for the little green Muppet and began to teach abilities that a month ago I had not had. "Feel The Force," I instructed her as I sat on one of the crates and let my own connection to The Force sense hers. "Use it, don't use your muscles, or your balance!"
For a split second I thought that she would argue, however she closed her eyes and both began to channel The Force and let her own muscles go slack. Immediately the strain lessened and she began to understand what I was teaching. A grin of amazement played on her face as she raised one hand off the ground to balance solely on one hand. "Good!" I complemented her. "Remember, as a Sith we use our emotions to move The Force through us. But, be wary of the strong emotions; anger, hate, fear, while quick to join you in a fight their focus has a price of fixation. Their power can blind you to other enemies around you and this consumption can be your undoing."
"Do I control the Force, master?" She asked after a moment of standing on one hand. "Or does the Force control me?"
An ironic chuckle escaped my lips. "Both," I told her with a smile. "And neither, we are The Force my young apprentice. Recall that it is created by all living things, of which the both of us count. As we are a part of that life our will is a part of the larger Living Force. Yet, because we can feel The Force, our will has greater control over it.”
As if to prove her mastery over the ability she was learning several of the crates around her rose silently into the air. I took advantage of her distraction by picking up my target drone and manually programming it instead of using the voice interface. As I did so, in an offhand manner I told her, "through the Force, visions will sometimes come to you. The future, the past, or sometimes the little pop quizzes that I will give you to see how you're learning."
Her eyes snapped open in alarm the other hand dropped, ceasing the show off one handstand. "Pop quiz?" She demanded.
"That's right," I confirmed. Torm walked up behind me and rubbed my shoulder as I favored him with a smile and a wink. "For example, today's quiz is you putting your hand on the left barrel of the upper blaster canon of the Aces and Eights, before the target drone tags you as out."
"I don't recommend it," I told her as I launched the drone in her direction. "The drone is using laser blasts for its tagging!" The hovering crates crashed to the floor as Tari launched herself in a desperate dodge of the drones opening salvos. In midair she got her light sabers in her hands and activated them to be able to deflect the bolts the drone was spitting at her, driving her away from the protected sphere around the canon. I cupped my hands around my mouth and shouted to be heard, "that's not a problem, is it?"
Torm's arms encircled my waist and he buried his face in my neck. "Devious in the morning is so sexy," He murmured into my neck. I ruffled his hair and smiled as my apprentice desperately tried to avoid the determined advance of the drone.
"Flatterer," I accused, still enjoying the embraces and his touch.
"Guilty as charged," he admitted without ceasing to nuzzle my neck. "How is the new recruit coming along?" I looked up and through the pleasant haze of his caress to be suitably impressed from my apprentices acrobatics. She leaped and somersaulted, flipped and Back flipped in a dizzying dance away from the drone and its almost constant vomit of laser blasts. She'd already worked out that it had a sphere I had programmed into it that it would not exceed in its defense of the turret.
Tari shot me a dirty look when she was sure that she wouldn't pay for it by being struck, then gave her attention back to probing the droids defense to see how she might get around it. "She's very agile," I admitted with a smile as Torm sat down on the crate next to me. "Haven't decided if she fixates too much or not yet. That's what we're testing now."
He frowned. "You're not testing if she can get around the drone?"
I smiled a half smile and poked him in the ribs with my elbow. "If she can't get around the drone she has no business being in the field. Getting around the drone is a given; how she gets around the drone that's what I'm interested in."
He rubbed his chin in thought for a moment, then let out a long sigh. "How bad do you think I botched up last night? Your parents hate me?"
Tari launched herself over a collections of crates, attempting a high, direct approach. Her light sabers deflected the bolts, but it was obvious as soon as she tried to land on top of the ship she would be vulnerable. She Back flipped and dodged away again; a thoughtful look on her face. "Stretch out with your feelings!" I shouted at her. Turning back to my lover, and in a lower voice I continued, "these types of meetings will always be a little awkward. I don't think either of them hate you, it's more likely they're coming to grips with me being a sexual being. I've been quite focused in my life and career, and this is a new turn for them."
He smiled and drew me into a sideways hug. "Well, I wasn't lying when I said I had only the best of intentions in mind." I leaned into his hug and put my free hand around his waist.
"Don't forget I know what your intentions are," I reminded him. "I can see them in your mind."
He leaned down and kissed me on my fore head. "Does it bother you?"
I laid my head on his broad shoulder. "Not at all!" Once more in his mind I saw my belly distended with his child growing within me and a shudder went down my spine. "Not at all," I repeated softly doing my best to believe what I said. I gave his waist a squeeze and stood up, seeing my apprentice standing again outside the radius the droid would not attack beyond. Cupping my hands to my mouth and shouted, "there is a time limit, you know!"
The look on her face was cunning. "Wait for it!" She replied.
Before I can suss out what she meant by that, Lanaka came down the ramp of the Aces and Eights, her blaster pistol in her hand. She looked around furtively for a moment, saw the drone, and shot it out of the sky! My cry of protest died of my lips as Tari immediately leapt into action; launching herself through the air to the top of the ship, and slapping the barrel of the canon. "Ollie Ollie oxen free!" She shouted.
"What do you imagine you're doing?!" I demanded as I stormed over to Lanaka, furious at the interruption. The Chiss bounty Hunter was aloof.
"Fulfilling a contract," she declared softly.
"Contract?" I exclaimed conscious of the gentle restraining hand of Torm on my shoulder. Tari leapt from the roof the ship and walked up, removing something from her belt she came.
"Excuse me, Mistress," she interrupted holding out her hand to Lanaka. "As agreed, one credit."
My eyes slid from the alien my ex-wife had become to the alien who is my apprentice. "You hired a bounty Hunter to take out the obstacle of your test?"
She held her head a bit higher. "My test was to put my hand on the left barrel of the upper blaster canon of the Aces and Eights," she declared with great dignity. "I have done so, and lacking further instruction other than not being tagged out, I presume such things were within my wherewithal and discretion. A subcontractor seemed the most direct approach."
Lanaka flipped the coin with her thumb and caught it midair while smirking at me. "Pleasure doing business with you," she purred and returned up the ramp. I set my hands on my hips, but I have to admit to being pleased with the deviousness of my apprentice.
"You," I declared with great amusement, "I can see are going to be quite a handful."
The Aces and Eights emerged from hyperspace over the picturesque world of Barkhesh. It had less water than the capital and so was more green and brown than blue. It was still however, quite lovely look at. I must say I wasn't prepared for the joy that is flying. It's not like driving at all, there's a gracefulness to it that defies being put into words. I suppose you could say it was something like dancing, if I knew enough about dancing to make such a comparison intelligently. I suppose, however, I might want to bone up on whatever steps are popular. After all, I had the hard role in dancing now.
Don't believe me? Consider; Ginger Rogers did everything Fred Astaire did backwards while wearing heels.
We landed without event and I got the ship connected to shore power while Silas went about renting her space and seeing to whatever it was the harbormaster would want. We had no real plan other than to observe the address we had, mark the comings and goings, and see if what was advertised was actually what was in the tin. Or at least, that was my portion of the mission. Silas, in keeping with our cover, when looking for a card game while my boyfriend and I went to go and case the joint to use the appropriate lingo.
As you might imagine Market Street was crowded with shops, restaurants, and, well, markets. Number forty-one was a technology consignment shop and secondhand store. Which made for an interesting cover over a warehouse of banned technology. There was a picturesque little street cafe catty corner to our target where Torm and I decided to stop in and sample the local fare. The had a lovely dark roasted coffee that was somewhere between espresso and Cuban coffee which I would have killed to have a croissant with, but settled on a slice of not quite pound cake that was red tinted and had citrus undertones. Torm decided to just have coffee and smiled at me as I was enjoying my cake. “What?” I asked, somewhat confused. “You want to try it?”
No,” he replied with a chuckle. “I'm just amazed at how you savor life, it's like everything around you is new and you're trying it for the first time. Is that a Sith trait?”
I made a big production of chewing to buy myself some time; it was damned awkward being seen through so easily. In point of fact everything was remarkably new to me. As much as I'd loved the setting and the movies and books, there were details that I was now experiencing that basically went unnoticed in most of the dramatic narratives. After all, those characters had grown up in that world and took it for granted.
Though, I made a mental note to see if I could find some blue milk to try.
Once I'd cleared my mouth I smiled at him and gave a shrug. “I am a military woman,” I told him. “I've had to live for more than my share on survival rations and mess hall chow, so fresh, real food is always something of a treat.” He chuckled at that and nodded.
Fair enough,” he said around his mirth. “It is nice to spend time with a woman who isn't obsessed with making a show about how jaded with life she is.”
I arched a disbelieving eyebrow. “People do that?” I demanded. He shrugged and took another sip of his coffee.
Ord Mantell is Mid Rim, but there are plenty of people with pretentious airs and dreams of if not living on a Core World, at least looking and acting like they should.” I was about to remark about how people could be jerks no matter where they were when a chill went down my spine and the hairs on the back of my neck all stood up. My discomfort must have shown because he immediately noticed and asked, “What's wrong?”
A...” and I have to admit I was a little amazed how quickly this particular phrase leapt to my lips, but I decided to run with it. “A tremor in The Force,” I told him as I perked up a bit and began to look around. Everything seemed alright at the shop, but then I caught sight of him, striding purposefully from the exact opposite direction, brown robe and hood standing out in the crowd of humans and aliens. “Go back to the ship,” I ordered him, and yes I'll admit I completely expected to be obeyed, but he leaned forward, concerned.
“Nyeomi, let me,” he started, but I shook my head, my eyes not leaving the threat in the brown robe that was coming closer, fixed on me like a beacon.
You can't help me,” I told him earnestly. “And your presence will be a distraction when I have to concentrate. Go, my love, and I'll call you when I'm safe.” Despite his misgivings, he rose, saw the threat and went the opposite direction.
I shouldn't have to tell you my heart was thundering in my chest and there was more adrenaline than blood in my veins, but I did my best to keep my breathing steady and took another sip of my coffee. The cafe was such that the table would be between me and him and that was advantage I wanted. He strode up, people seeming to move by chance out of his way to stand over me at the chair recently vacated by my lover. He reached up and threw back the hood, revealing a hard, but handsome face with a chin covered in a full beard that was starting to have gray in the brown. There was a scar over his left eyebrow which didn't detract from his rugged good looks and gave him an even more dangerous air. “You're in the wrong place, my lord,” he greeted in a pleasant baritone that was mildly accented. “I'm afraid I will have to ask you to leave.”
I am on this world legally, and I have paid for the food I am eating, by what authority do you claim to have the power to deny me what I have bought and paid for?”
By the only authority a Sith will understand or admit to,” he replied. “Might. I will give you one final opportunity to return to your ship and leave this world, or...” He opened his robe to reveal the hilt of his light saber.
It was now obvious to me that we were on the right track and this Jedi must be a part of the guard of the warehouse, but no sooner than the thought crossed my mind his eyes narrowed and he began to take off his robe. The manager worked up the courage to start to come over but the Jedi raised his hand without taking his eyes off me. “Jedi business, return to your customers.” He laid the robe over the chair Torm had vacated. Underneath the robe he wore what seemed to be the Jedi uniform of layered kimono tunics in tan with a matching obi with a broad brown leather belt, trousers and boots.
I stood and took a step back, keeping the table between us. “There's no need for violence, if you won't be civil, I'll leave.”
He reached down and took his saber hilt into his hand. “You and I both know that time has passed.” His saber's hilt was twice the length of mine, either a great saber or a saber staff as I couldn't see if the other end had an emitter.
What is your name, Master Jedi?” I asked as I took my own sabers from my belt, but did not ignite them. The patrons around us were beginning to flee in a panic and we both seemed content to let them do so.
Why do you ask, Sith Lord?”
I make a note of all the lives I've taken. I thought you would like to be remembered?”
His eyes narrowed and brought up the hilt to hold in both hands diagonally across his body. With a hiss, green tinted blades snapped from both ends of the saber staff. “Master Marek Targon, at your service.”
I came set in an Ataru ready stance, crouched slightly, my left arm extended towards my foe, my right bent in an arch above my head so both golden blades came into being parallel to each other. “Darth Nyeomi Fens, Lord of the Sith, at yours.”
Now, this will be something of a problem. Describing a sword fight can be done, but it uses words most people don't know. While it is very precise, if I told you I attacked balestra to Attaque au Fer while he reacted Esquive to riposte In Quartata you would probably have no idea what I meant while a pair of fencing enthusiasts could recreate the maneuvers perfectly.
Likewise if I used the language of the forms of light saber combat, yes there are nerds that deep into this universe that the various styles of light saber combat of which there are seven basic forms that have been developed, you wouldn't know what those were either. So you'll have to forgive me if this next bit becomes a trifle difficult to follow. I swept both blades high in a feint that brought his saber staff up to block, leaving his lower half exposed when I kicked the edge of the table as hard as I could into his abdomen and used that momentum to cartwheel over the waist high wrought iron fence that separated the al fresco dining area of the bistro from the street.
He grunted from the impact and the blade swept the table to one side with a clatter of broken dishes and partially cutting through the table. He leapt out after me, falling in a tuck and roll that used the staff like an axle. I flung my left hand saber at him, hoping for a quick and easy victory, but he unfolded from the ball and batted it away before sweeping the staff at my less well defended left side.
I quickly blocked and twirled my body into his chest, thus inside the radius of the other blade, hooked my foot around his left knee and elbowed him in the face. He toppled over backwards, but grabbed my arm as he fell, pulling me with him. I pushed with The Force on my left leg which gave me the momentum to somersault over him and free my arm from his grip. I stabbed down with my saber as I went over him, but he rolled away and kipped back to his feet.
My other saber flew back to my hand and we came set again.
“Are you done showing off?” he snarled as he wiped the blood from the split lip my elbow had given him. I just grinned and lowered back into my Ataru ready stance.
“I want you to think you're doing well,” I mocked him. He twirled the staff at an impressive rate of speed, gave it to his left hand and held it behind him with a flourish while extending his right to me, index and middle fingers up and held by his thumb.
“Your Sith overconfidence will be the end of you.”
“Then only one of us will die disappointed,” I replied as I started to charge his left side, spun about and used a storage crate as a launching spot to sail over his right shoulder. His staff blocked where I wasn't, then swept through where I used to be while my own saber came down a bit too late and only scorched his tunic. I'll give him credit, he's fast, and the staff swept around to block my blade before I could compensate for the leap. There came a flurry of blocks and counters, high, low and back then a sweep I had to bend over backwards to avoid.
I turned the dodge into a back flip, cartwheel then somersault in rapid succession as his follow up would have bifurcated me as I came back up. Once more I had opened up the distance between us to about four meters and twirled my sabers slowly in opposite directions in my hands. “Why do you press an attack when a peaceful settlement was offered?” I taunted him. “Since when is violence the Jedi Way?”
“Your petty mind games won't shake my belief in what I'm doing for the Republic!” he shouted at me. “We will cleanse the galaxy of your evil!”
“Because attacking someone unprovoked who was peacefully minding her own business is what the Republic stands for!” I shot back. “You self righteous hypocrite, you can't even see that the evil you ascribe to me stares back at you from the mirror!”
His face twisted in anger and I felt The Force calling to him, cooing for him to unleash his anger in a way I had never felt myself and it chilled me to my core. But this call was not external to him, but somehow calling from his own psyche, as though he had named his Id the Dark Side and it was calling to him to give in to his base nature. I did not have long to think about this as he twirled the staff and charged me. I caught his overhand strike with both blades in a V and they hissed and spat as the three different magnetic fields interacted with each other. “Look at your self!” I hissed as he strained to power through my block. “You are enraged! Is this the way of the Jedi?”
He stepped back, but not to consider my words as there came another vicious series of blocks and counters, high, low, left, right as his teeth were bared and he focused on killing me. At last I faked a kick, bounced a blade off a block and smashed the end of the pommel into his nose, breaking it. He staggered back, stunned as I shoved with The Force as hard as I could. He was bowled over and flung a good ten meters as blood poured from his shattered nose. I leapt backwards, up and away, landing on a passing cargo speeder on it's wide, flat box roof.
As he staggered to his feet I extinguished my sabers and gave him the solo finger salute much to his seething anger.
I was on the other side of Ankart before the cargo speeder came to a halt and I could discretely exit my appropriated get away vehicle. I had spent the time shivering despite the warm air, sitting cross legged on the roof of the speeder and trying to come to grips with what I had done. Oh, for all my bravado and a mild interest in fencing and kendo I wasn't a master swordsman in my previous life. Nyeomi Fens was and I, perhaps somewhat recklessly had counted on that when I had gotten myself into a fight with someone who was a master of these horrifically dangerous weapons.
To be perfectly honest I shook in fear of my life for a good twenty minutes.
If someone had asked me if I had a death wish I would have laughed in their face and begun to count all the things I had to look forward to; my restored youth, a chance at a family again and the unique experience of being a mother and giving birth. Yet I had just gleefully engaged in a very much life or death fight with someone very much bent on killing me and tossed banter and wit as though some unseen audience would appreciate it while enjoying the invulnerable protection of being the heroine of the story.
If I could be any more foolish, it certainly wasn't clear to me how at that moment.
I fished around in my utility belt finding the little disk shaped holographic projector I was looking for. While I had no idea how to use it, it fortunately only had one button and on pressing it brought up a home screen menu in Aurebesh that I was able to work my way through. That and all my favorite contacts had little holographic pictures of the person next to their entry. I got to a secluded alley where I wouldn't be over heard and keyed the entry that had Silas' picture.
After a moment a little image of Silas sitting in a chair in about 1/8th scale appeared above the disk. “Oh cool!” he greeted, “I'd hoped we'd get these things! How...?”
I rolled my eyes at my brother's love of gadgetry. “Sorry to ruin your geek out, but this is important. Mine has a little ear bud in the disk, does yours?” He fiddled with it for a moment then put something in his ear. “Can only you hear me?”
“Speak freely,” he replied.
“Our problems have multiplied,” I told him grimly. “I was just attacked by a Jedi Master. I think he knows why I'm here as well.”
I'll give him credit, at once Silas became serious. “Do we need to abort?”
“We can't,” I replied. “The Hutts already know about this thing from our dear Mr. Tess and while I'd almost rather this thing stay in the possession of the Republic, it's location has been compromised.”
Silas rubbed his chin thoughtfully. “We are allies, what about just knocking on the door and telling them?”
I considered strongly how that would go over seeing how I had just humiliated their Jedi...I frowned as something tickled the back of my mind. The Jedi seemed to be the key to this whole thing. “Maybe,” I told him, “maybe we won't have to.”
“What do you mean?” he asked, confused.
“Let me do some checking,” I hedged. “I'll get back to you, and keep your head up.” He nodded and I closed the call and put away the 'phone' for lack of a better word and got out my tablet to call up a map of Ankart. I found what I was looking for and was fortunately close to it already. Or perhaps this was fate as I'm reminded Master Kenobi doesn't believe in luck.
The building was easily one of the largest in the city, seemingly carved out of a massive basalt upwelling and the air positively crackled with The Force. Carved into the rock were a pair of symbols over lapping each other such that it was hard to make out where one stopped and the other started, they were the symbols of the Ashla and Bogan, the ancient names for the Light and Dark sides of The Force. It was a temple of the Ancient Order of the Whills.
Out side in the court yard before the building, shaven headed monks wore vaguely Tibetan robes but in Black and White while rough looking men and women in blue with white belts stoically stood guard. In the center, leading up to the stairs and the entrance to the temple were a series of cylindrical prayer wheels. As I walked up to the steps I passed them and raised a hand to run down the line, setting them in motion. As I reached the end of the line, the massive doors opened with a groan of machinery and a new monk appeared at the top of the steps. He wore the same simple black and white robes as the other monks, but his age, and something about how he carried himself led me to believe he was the most senior of the temple. Not really knowing why, I cupped my left hand over my right fist and held them at the level of my heart and bowed to him. “The Force is with me and I am one with the Force,” I declared in greeting.
“The Force is with you, Daughter of the Bogan,” he replied in a voice like a summer breeze through reeds and rushes over still water. “As it was foretold, so it has come to pass and you are here.”
I stood up and smiled at him, though he sill looked over my head and it became obvious he was blind. “Come inside and indulge an old man to be in the company of a beautiful woman for a time.” I made to mount the final steps, but one of the blue robed watchers stepped forward towards me. The abbot or holy father or whatever his title was raised his walking stick across his path, then he turned to me, “You will have no need of your weapons in my company, child. I will protect you if needs be.” A ghost of a smile pulled at the corners of his mouth. “And I would be honored for you to think of me as 'Father'.”
“The honor is mine, Father,” I replied as I unbuckled my utility belt and gave it to the Guardian complete with my light sabers hanging off of it. With a stern gaze that effectively communicated 'be on your very best behavior' the Guardian slung my belt over his shoulder and returned to keeping an eye on the doings and goings on in the court yard. I followed the monk through the doors to be greeted by a huge chamber that was built around this massive something that vibrated with The Force.
It was something like an armillary sphere and there were what looked like copper and bronze rings with symbols cast into them, but there was a holographic element to it as ghostly, transparent green spheres floated around and through it with no rhyme or reason I could deduce and the entire artifact was moving slowly in all three dimensions. He sensed my fascination with the machine and paused. “The Force sings a captivating song, does it not?” he asked quietly.
“Does this represent The Force, Master?” I asked reverently.
He smiled up at the device as if he had opened an oven door to the enticing scent of fresh baked cookies. “Yes, and no,” he answered cryptically. “The Force is far too complicated to be represented so simply. How would you represent water?”
“Water has no shape itself, but takes the shape of that which contains it.”
His smile got a bit more broad. “You are not so ignorant of the ways of The Force as you worry you may be, Nyeomi Fens,” he declared. “Nor should you be so concerned about your battle this morning with Master Targon for you are more than who you were, not less than who you are.”
“Master?” I asked, somewhat confused.
He turned towards me, and I got the impression he was aware without seeing. “When you stood to defend yourself against Master Targon, you did not stand simply, did you?” He sank into a slight crouch, turning sideways on to me, left arm extended, the right holding his walking stick over his head in an arch, parallel to his left arm. It was the same Ataru stance I had used. “You favor the fourth form, modified to account for your use of two weapons. Yet would you have attempted anything so acrobatic earlier in your life?”
I suddenly began to wonder exactly how much this stranger knew of me, and how. “It...it seemed what I should be doing, Master.” For a moment I thought he would attack me in some demonstration of ability, but he just rose from the stance and returned this stick to the floor to lean on.
“And so it was, child,” he replied. “Do not allow doubt to cloud your mind. Focus on The Living Force and you will not want for skill. Now come and have some tea with me and we will discuss your dilemma.”
We started walking again and I looked at him for some clue as everyone seemed able to read me like an open book, but he was as enigmatic as you might expect. So, taking another tact, I asked, “My coming to you was foretold?”
The blind eyes turned a bit to my direction. “Monks have little better to do all day than make vague predictions that can be interpreted to match any situation,” he replied mischievously. “Of course, a vague prophesy rarely includes specifics, does it Lady Fens?” He chuckled at his own sense of humor and my warring consternation that this was some kind of elaborate cold read of me, combined with news accounts of my name and deeds, which was arguing with the fact I was in a universe that had a thing called The Force that was very real.
As we walked he began to speak as if teaching a lesson once more. “You worry that which the Jedi call the Dark Side and we call the Bogan will entice you to evil, but not so long ago you internalized the Code of the Sith. Does it mention evil?”
“No, Master,” I replied. “Nor anger, only passion.”
“The Sith of old embraced all emotion, while the Jedi sought to master it. There were once many Sith who believed and used the Force with Joy and Happiness, love and lust and contentment, but while these are powerful emotions, they are not quick, nor as easy to arouse as hate and anger, are they?”
I sighed regretfully. “No, Master, they are not.”
“Impatience,” he declared softly. “Laziness, these are the things which doom the Sith Order, even as stoic discipline and denial of self will be the end of the Jedi. You are two sides of the same coin, and your extremes put you at odds. Master Targon attacked you because he has given in to pride of his nation and patriotism is a cloak that can cover many evils if misused. You sought to reason with him even though the Bogan runs deeply through you as you explore and revel in the emotions you feel. The Jedi was evil and the Sith was good and the Force had nothing to do with either. The Force is, as we have tried to teach both of you.”
“You speak as if you were there and witnessed it, Master.”
The blank face almost turned to me again and he smiled. “My sight may be gone, my daughter, but I see many things, for my ally is The Force, and a powerful ally it is.”
A thrill went down my spine as I heard the words of what I had thought to be a fictional character come back to me. We arrived at a door and he reached up and pressed the button causing it to slide open without the slightest fumbling as he knew exactly where both he and it was. Inside was a cozy, but spartan room with a small round table in the center of the room and cushions to sit on. He took the far cushion and busied himself with a tea pot and a hot plate he removed from a clutch of storage boxes next to him. As I sank onto the surprisingly soft cushion he laid out a glazed clay set of cups and sprinkled leaves into them.
“So,” he said as the kettle was settled onto the hot plate. “Let us discuss your problem, and how we may be of service.”
“You don't already know, Master?” I teased him, but he just smiled and laid his walking stick down beside him.
“Oh, I think I've properly cemented myself as a wise, old mystic in your mind by now, my daughter. Anything more would just be showing off, and think what that would do to my reputation as a humble monk. I do have to set a good example for the acolytes, after all.”
I couldn't keep in a bark of laughter and my reverence and respect for this man quickly solidified into full blown affection and I completely understood the protectiveness of the guardian out side. “Do you know of the hidden arsenal in this city?”
His lips drew out in a thin line as he took the pot from the hot plate and poured steaming water into the cups. “Long has the Republic sealed away things here they were foolish enough to invent in the first place,” he said as he put the pot back on the plate and worked a control on it before he reached for his cup and stirred it slowly with a small stick or straw from the table. “Yes, I know of the place you speak of and I feel the doubt in your heart over this weapon you have come for.”
“I wouldn't care if the Hutts were not aware of this stockpile now.”
“Of course you would,” he countered as he withdrew the straw and took a sip. “It is how you came to be here, in this galaxy and in this time and place wearing the body you wear now.”
I started, stunned even as some part of me chided myself for thinking he would not be aware even after all I had seen. “Master?”
“Oh, I could not tell you the science or the how you came to be here, but I can tell you the why.” I picked up my own stick and stirred the tea which was a beautiful amber in the cup and smelled somewhere between Sir Thomas Lipton and Earl Gray. “Many years ago the Republic created this weapon to use against the Sith Empire. The Empire's gains had made the Republic desperate as world after world fell to or freely joined the Sith. This weapon was created and a team of Sith came to steal it. There was an explosion and the Sith and the designer were gone without a trace.”
I took a sip of the tea and found a rich, full taste the was neither sweet nor bitter, but somehow undeniably tea flavored. As it flowed into my stomach its warmth spread throughout my body and I felt attached to this temple, to this world in a way my brief conscious touches of The Force had only hinted at. There was nothing sexual about it, but orgasmic, is the only word I can think of that comes close to describing the feeling. His blank face filled with a smile and he held up his cup in toast. “I'm glad you like the Tea,” he said with a chuckle. “Oh, don't worry, I'll assemble you a parting gift of some for your own and instructions on how to gather and make more. I'm afraid you won't find the sensation so easy or powerful away from this place as it is strong with The Force, but there are many such places and in your meditations you can find them.”
“I am honored beyond words, Father,” I told him softly and I meant it. “What happened to the Sith and the designer? Were they killed?”
His face clouded over and he took another sip of the tea. “No, they were not,” he said quietly. “Through The Force I saw them in a strange, primitive world. A world in the galaxy close to ours, that was just taking its first baby steps into space flight. A world I think you know quite well, my daughter?”
I put the cup down so I would not spill the tea from my hand shaking. He smiled again and reached out to pat my hand on the table. “You need not worry, Nyeomi Fens, your secrets are safe with me. But now you know how you came to be in this world.”
“If they were trying to recreate the weapon on my world...?”
“They care not for the weapon,” the monk told me. “They cannot yet bridge the two places, but they can send the essence of someone from that world to our galaxy. Your thoughts were altered so that you 'created' Nyeomi Fens to bring you and her into alignment. Then when she and her companions crashed the speeder on Tatooine your essence, and those of your friends were sent here. But for them to return would require the weapon tuned on this end to that which sent your essence here...”
“They could open a gate,” I whispered. I stood and looked at the door, filled with worry. “I have to stop them...” The monk gave a soothing gesture and my sense of urgency faded a bit.
“Stay calm, my daughter, things are not so grim as you perceive.” I sank back onto the cushion and took another sip of my tea to calm myself. “Things are in progress that should give us time to set things right. For now let us commune with The Force...” he was interrupted by a soft knock on the door. “Perhaps I spoke too soon,” he finished with a wry smile. “Enter.”
The door slid open to reveal another monk who was bowing. “Master Arridin, your guests have arrived. I turned from the door to glance at him as we rose and I quickly finished my tea.
I took the elbow he offered and he leaned in to whisper, “You may call me Vidda, my daughter.”
“I would never be so familiar in public, my father,” I replied sincerely as we followed the other monk back to the main hall and it's odd machine. Waiting on us were three men; the first was older, perhaps in his late fifties and he was dressed well in civilian clothing of luxurious fabrics in rich greens and golds. The second was a man approximately ten years younger with close dark hair about his head that was going gray and he wore a Republic uniform, but the issue was the third man, my dance partner of this morning, Jedi Master Marek Targon. Our eyes met in one of those timeless moments that actually only last a tenth of a second.
“Sith!” He shouted, then relieved the second man of the blaster pistol that was a part of his uniform and raised it.
Without thinking I stepped in front of Master Arridin and raised my hand, palm out. Targon fired twice, the bolts striking my outstretched palm with the force of a particularly energetic high five, then I raised my other hand cupped and the pistol was snatched by The Force from the startled Jedi Master and flew to my hand.
It all took place so quickly than when my brain caught up with what I had just done my body was flooded with Adrenaline that set my heart to pounding. I gave the pistol to Master Arridin and tried to calm myself. “You shame me in my own house, Master Targon,” Arridin said softly.
Targon opened his mouth and closed it once or twice before he had the grace to realize his actions were indefensible and he bowed. “My deepest and most abject apologies, Master Arridin. Darth Fens, my apologies for my actions.”
The Force growled at the back of my mind, but I was winning the battle over my fight or flight response. “Apology accepted, Master Targon,” I managed to say without sounding bitter or insincere with some difficulty.
Master Arridin led me over to the clutch of men, adroitly returning the soldier's pistol to him. “Governor Aisin, Colonel Antilles, may I present Darth Nyeomi Fens, Lord of the Sith.” The Monk smiled one of his coy little smiles. “I believe you are already acquainted, Master Targon?”
“My lady,” the two chorused, Aisin showing he was a capable politician by kissing the back of my hand.
“Gentlemen,” I greeted, trying not to allow my personal feeling to enter my tone of voice. “I'm afraid I have bad news. You have been betrayed and the location of your black listed weapons depot has been revealed to the Hutts. They may even now be on their way.”
“You led them here!” Accused Marek. I mentally counted to five before I continued.
“No,” I replied as forcefully as I dared. “You were betrayed by your own manager, Milton Tess.”
“There will be time for recriminations later,” Colonel Antilles declared. “Do we have any idea how much time we have?”
“They were paying off Tess in the Boonta Eve Turnament, so I imagine their forces are close to being assembled and ready,” I replied. “What assets do you have in system?”
The Colonel cupped his chin in thought. “Two cruisers, a double hand full of corvettes and support craft, perhaps five wings of star fighters. Ships aren't the problem, we have more fighters than pilots! We don't keep many capital assets on station for fear of giving away what we're defending. Do we know what their target is?”
“A disintegration beam.”
The Colonel shuddered. “I'll start the evacuation process, but it will take time. We could use all the help we can get.”
“I'm traveling with Colonel Darius Persia...”
Antilles perked up at once. “The Lion of Alderaan? We may have a chance after all! Will you join us, my lady?”
Nervous as hell, but also excited, I asked, “As you have all those spare fighters, mind if I borrow one?”
The Colonel grinned. “I'm sure we can come up with something!”
Of course with the hurdle of cooperation with the local Republic forces cleared so ably facilitated by Master Arridin, it was only natural my personal life would choose now to fly into the toilet and Torm would decide it was time to have our first fight. I was back in my cabin, having briefed the others and laying out my flight suit when he'd entered and calmly enough stated that he was unhappy I had not contacted him as I'd promised to let him know I was safe. I had admitted my fault and apologized for overlooking the fact I hadn't added his number to my holophone, but as I stopped what I was doing to add him immediately I found out that wasn't what this was about. Darius had immediately volunteered to assist the meager forces muster a defense and I had already committed to assisting the fighters in space. Neither Silas nor Lanaka brought any war-faring skills to the table and with my not being present, that left Torm as the only person capable of flying the Aces and Eights. They would take command of one wing of fighters and the freighter being loaded with the black listed weapons and escort it to the hyperspace lane on the other side of the system.
It wasn't the pursuit of glory being denied by escorting the retreating freighter that had Torm mad, and while he had worried, my not calling wasn't the reason either. He was angry because he was afraid for me as I would be leading the charge of the defense and meeting the Hutts head on in space. He wasn't being unreasonable by being worried for me, nor was I in reiterating that I had a duty to preform and no amount of shouting would change that duty. It didn't stop us from screaming at each other, we did, loudly and we called each other vile names, each accused the other of not caring.
I'm not sure when or how the fight turned into making love, but I must say, angry, make up sex is pretty hot.
As he held me against him, the sweat pouring off us both, he allowed that cool, aloof alpha male persona to slip and vulnerable to the deepest of hurts he whispered, “Promise me you'll come back. I don't want to live with out you with me, Nyeomi Fens.”
I raised my head from his chest and looked down on him as The Force ebbed and flowed around us, binding us together more deeply than I had ever been connected to another human being before. “How could I not when you have yet to sire my children?” I asked him archly. “Do you think I would not demand the very best father for them? Or that I can be deceived such that any man could take your place? Through victory my chains are broken is written into the Code of my Order but I will gladly and proudly wear your ring as the chain I accept on myself! Swear to me you will take no risk and be waiting for me!” I shouted down at him as my vision became blurry and I felt the wet streak down my face. “Swear it!”
He grabbed a hold of me and rolled, pinning me to the bed by his weight and his hands holding my wrists down. I wasn't helpless, I am a Sith Warrior after all! But to willingly allow myself to be completely at his mercy had me panting with excitement and dizzy with the desire it stirred in me. “You want children?” he demanded softly, once more in charge and that vulnerable place satisfied that what he felt for me I returned four fold for him. “I'll give you children!” He was already between my legs, pinning me to the bed and as he claimed me again I hooked my feet around his back and claimed him with every muscle I had. I was pinned and he was held and that was exactly how we both wanted it.
Ahem, where was I? Oh yes.
The Imperial pilot's flight suit was a gray under garment of rugged, tare resistant fabric that regulated body temperature and provide attachment points for the rest of the suits accouterments. This portion was skin tight so it served as a pressure suit being rated for hard vacuum. Rigid cerrametal plates were permanently sewn to key areas as armor and to give hook up points for computer links, lock rings for gloves, boots and helmet and in puts for air and water with outlets for natures necessities. Unfortunately solid waste was simply held in place so most pilots took pills to be constipated during long missions. The things you didn't learn watching Top Gun, huh?
Over this was worn a cerrametal breastplate containing an emergency water and nutrient soup tank in case of bail out in space as well as a CO2 scrubber that would provide air for 72 hours. Finally a helmet with integrated computer and heads-up augmented reality was attached to this. Knowing I would be operating in the Republic I had bought the adapters for the suits fittings to plug into the standard Republic ports. Finally I added my light sabers to hooks I'd installed in the suit for that purpose and headed out of my cabin.
Waiting on me outside was my apprentice, wearing a suit identical to mine, but with an acolyte's rank insignia. “Where do you think you're going?” I demanded of her.
“With you, Mistress,” she replied as though it were the most natural thing in the world. “You will need a wing-man, and I am a rated pilot as you specified in your request for an apprentice at my academy.” I had no argument and having someone I could trust at my back was frankly welcome. I could feel Torms eyes on me as we left, having kissed him good bye, and as I said, the bottom layer was skin tight and I'm told I have a 'magnificent ass' by reliable sources.
An electric repulsor lift pilots cart took me, X4 and Tari to the military side of the space port where we were met by Colonel Antillies. “Who is this?” he demanded of us we stepped off the cart.
“My apprentice, Tari Mur,” I said by way of greeting. “Tari, Colonel Antillies.” She bowed respectfully, but it was obvious the Colonel was dubious. “She is a rated pilot and you did say you could use all the help you could get.”
“So I did,” he admitted and made a motion over to a set of fighters that were on the ground being readied. “Forgive the pun I'm going to have to give you the crash course in Republic fighters. This is an Aurek class, variable geometry strike fighter,” he said by way of introduction. “Two heavy laser cannons and two proton torpedo launchers with three torpedoes each, total of six.”
It was a tear drop shaped fighter about nine meters long with the cockpit on the bulbous end with a long transpari-steel canopy. The torpedo launchers were mounted ventral side of the long nose and the fighter looked like the great-great grand pappy of the sharp, delta winged Jedi fighters Anikin and Obi-Wan would use thousands of years from now. It sat on tricycle landing pads and the 'variable geometry' came from wings that folded out on S-foils from the bulbous end around the cockpit. Colonel Antillies climbed up on the fighter and opened the canopy. Inside was a single acceleration couch with an astromech socket behind it so both droid and pilot were under the canopy. “Its a fairly standard layout,” the Colonel was saying. We fly stick right hand, throttle left, targeting and computer controls on this keypad on the stick, with navigation aides forward, engines and mechanicals right side and shield controls here with the throttle. There's also a decoder so you can communicate with your droid.”
“Not necessary in my case, Colonel,” X4 piped up, obviously proud of his expensive option.
“My apprentice will need a droid,” I told him and he nodded, pointing at one of the ground techs who scampered to obey.
“I have to apologize for this,” he said guardedly as he looked over my shoulder. “I want you to know this was not my idea.” I turned to follow his gaze to see a group of men and women wearing pilot suits being led in with a small squad of soldiers. I found that odd until I realized all of the pilots were wearing binders. Colonel Antillies scrambled down from the fighter to stand next to me. “You recall I said we had more fighters than pilots? Governor Aisin thought it would be a good idea to clean out the jail of anyone who could fly and build a sixth squadron...”
“And you give me these rejects because...?”
Colonel Antillies couldn't meet my gaze. “It was thought that if anyone could maintain discipline it would be a Sith Lord.”
“I see,” I replied icily. “Alright, I'll be your stick, what carrot have you offered these black sheep?”
“Full pardons after the battle. They can't run, the hyper-drives on their fighters have all been deactivated. If you need it, your fighter has the code and gear to re-activate them.”
I kept my tongue on a short leash. “Very generous of you.”
“Prisoners, halt!” barked one of the guards. I walked over to them and with a gesture freed their hands, the binders falling to the floor in a staccato beat. Somewhat amazed the pilots looked at their freed hands, then back up at me.
“Now then, my black sheep, you know you have been told the truth and you have been placed under the command of a Sith Lord. I am Darth Nyeomi Fens, your squadron leader for this battle. We will be defending this world against a fleet under the command of the Hutt Cartels. Those of you who survive will be pardoned for whatever offenses you have committed. Those of you who think to run will find the hyper-drives on your fighters have been deactivated and I alone can reactivate them. Those of you who betray me will find your lives cut brutally short. Are there any questions?” They looked at each other in a surly manner, but no one spoke up. I started at my left and pointed at Tari. “Two,” then counted down the line to twelve. “Those are your numbers, Black Sheep Squadron, mount up, we launch...” I was cut off by an alarm that began to blare from the speakers.
“Alert! Alert! Enemy fleet leaving hyperspace, all wings scramble!”
“We launch now!” I shouted. “Move!” I trotted back over to the fighter Colonel Antillies had indicated would be mine to find the ground crew just finishing getting X4 settled behind me. I got myself strapped in and accepted my helmet back from the crew chief. He double checked I had a good seal on the lock ring and then slapped the top of my helmet.
“Good Hunting, my Lord!” he wished me as he sealed the canopy and slid down off the fighter. I double checked left and right that my ground crew was clear then followed the handler's directions with his wands with lights on the ends. The fighter lifted up on a repulsor and I slowly drifted over to the left to orient my self on the launch vector.
“Target coordinates received, on the board,” X4 dutifully informed me.
“A bit different from prospecting, isn't it X4?” I asked in a somewhat excited tone of voice as we cleared the ports air space and I could bring the main engines online and really build up some speed.
“Industrial Automation brags there's no job over my head, Mistress,” Micheal Cain's voice replied from behind me. “Gear retracted, weapons armed.”
The blue skies of Barkhesh faded into the infinite black of space and my excitement calmed a bit to a more manageable level, still exhilarating, but at a level I could cope with. I keyed my radio to the frequency assigned to my squadron. “All wings, report in,” I ordered.
“Black Sheep Two, standing by,” Tari's voice whispered in my ear and I could tell she was as excited as I was. The squadron sounded off to twelve and so far all of my sheep were content to stay in the herd.
“Switch your deflectors on,” I ordered as I began to pick out the fleet we were up against. “Lock S-foils in attack position.” I watched my own wings fold out from around me and took the weapons off safe. The Republic fleet behind us was just as ragtag as described, but the Hutts, not being a 'legitimate' star faring power were just as hodge podge as they bought their equipment off the black market. Some of the fighters against us were even Republican cast offs, but most were Sith Empire or of Mandalorian manufacture. “Make sure of your friend or foe beacons!”
Here our luck was a mixed blessing, we had a pair of Hammerhead Heavy Cruisers with about two dozen Corvettes and Blockade Runners. The enemy fleet consisted of five frigates, three former Republic ships, two Mandalorian and a Sith Empire Interdictor-Class cruiser, but the bad news was they'd gotten their hands on a Mandalorian dreadnought.
As I watched, the three Republic frigates broke formation and began a run to the surface. “Home One, this is Black Sheep leader, ground attack forces headed your way.”
“Roger, Black Sheep Leader,” Darius' voice said from the speakers next to my ears in the helmet. “We have a warm welcome waiting on them.”
Six of our Corvettes and Blockade Runners went after them in an attempt to make things easier for the boys on the ground. Out of concern for my friend I wanted to follow for a moment, but knew I couldn't; I had bigger fish to fry. “Black Sheep form on me, we're going to take out that Dreadnought.”
“Twelve fighters against a dreadnought?” Black Sheep Seven demanded, incredulous.
“Watch and learn, boys and girls,” I replied, Desperately hoping the game had been true to life by some wild coincidence to the real thing. “Black Sheep Seven, take the upper half of the squadron and knock out the shield generator orbs! Use every torpedo you have if you need to but take them out!”
“Roger Black Sheep leader,” he replied.
“X4, program in the junction of the center main engine bell to the targeting computer and then up link that data to Black Sheep two through six.”
In the game, the thrust exhaust from those engines came from a massive matter, antimatter power core. The plasma was routed down a single magnetic pipe where it was accelerated and then split in what must be a plumbers nightmare out to the port and starboard main engines, but the center was directly connected to it. By destroying the center engine, an emergency door would close, at the junction effectively taking out all three engines, but the core couldn't be shut down as fast as the pipe was closed, and with no where to go the plasma back pressured into the combustion chamber and boom no more dreadnought!
I led my half of the squadron into a wide bank parallel to the battle so I could flank the dreadnought and approach from the port ventral side. The rest threaded their way through withering fire to then split and attack each of the massive spheres at once. Eighteen proton torpedoes crashed into the generators and they exploded like little suns on either side of the bridge. Minus their command and control, the Dreadnought was already drifting out of formation and into the remaining frigates. Now it was our turn. “Black Sheep, follow me!” I yelled needlessly as I flipped the stick hard over and keyed on my targeting computer. I set the launchers to empty their magazines on a single fire order, my finger hovering over the trigger as the computer began to beep as it acquired the lock on.
The rest of the squadron fired as the computer beeped, but for some reason Tari and I both hesitated. I watched the torpedoes streak out, then realized our approach was too 'high' on the plane of the Dreadnought and the torpedoes track took them through the nuclear furnace temperature exhaust and every missile detonated too soon. “Tari...!” I shouted as I shoved the stick down to reorient my fighter.
“Right with you, Mistress!” she replied, having trusted The Force as I did. We swooped 'down' and back 'up' so we were perpendicular to the Dreadnought on it's ventral side. At the same moment, my apprentice and I both launched our torpedoes and peeled away in complicated maneuvers to avoid the exhaust that had destroyed our first wave and to not hit each other.
I bet it would have looked spectacular from an Imax seat.
The engine bell exploded in a massive orange and white fireball as it ripped itself to shreds and sent debris flying everywhere. I was rattled like a submarine getting depth charged, but the important thing was both the port and starboard main engines instantly winked out. “This is Black Sheep Leader to all craft! Disengage and retreat from the Dreadnought! I repeat, disengage and get clear of the Dreadnought!” I fire walled the throttles as all the lights on the ship went out, then the force fields on the hanger bays failed and they violently decompressed spewing crew, unmanned fighters, ammo carts and anything not nailed down out into space.
Suddenly the dreadnought swelled as the metal was stressed to its breaking point and in eerie silence was engulfed in a massive blue white fire ball that had me blinking back stars for several seconds. The destruction triggered a second explosion as the Interdictor-Class which was too close to the Dreadnought it also went in a series of spectacular explosions. The swarms of fighters that could flee on their own did so and began a haphazard series of jumps to light speed. The remaining frigates tried to flee, but they were in a vicious dog fight with our cruisers and fighters. The battle here was won.
“Base One, this is Black Sheep Leader.”
“Go Ahead,” The commander of the lead Hammerhead replied over my radio.
“Unless you need us, I'm going to take my squadron down to assist the surface fight.”
“You're clear to depart, Black Sheep and thanks!”
“Black Sheep, follow me!” I banked over and we dove back down into the atmosphere of Barkhesh as something was nagging at me in The Force. “X4, will we get better performance with S-Foils out or in?”
It isn't a question of performance, Mistress Fens, the laser cannon have an interlock that will not allow them to fire with the S-Foils closed.”
“Figures,” I muttered where upon I got my second nasty surprise of this battle. I would have thought the Hutts would have committed some kind of armor, either wheeled, walker or something, but they had landed nothing but infantry that was now involved in a vicious house to house fight with the defenders. Perhaps they thought the frigates would give them close air support, but they were all destroyed and smoking wrecks. It seemed like their entire plan hinged on surprise...
Then a chill ran down my spine like an ice berg rubbing on the Titanic.
“Black Sheep Two...?” I started but she cut me off.
“I felt it too, Mistress.”
“Black Sheep Three. Take the squadron and give close air support to the ground forces.”
“Roger, Black Sheep Leader.”
I nosed over and with my apprentice on my six we went up town and landed to much consternation in the street. Market street to be exact. I got my helmet off and clamored out of the fighter while making sure I still had my light sabers. “X4, guard the ships. Tari, with me.” We found the door to the shop locked, but our light sabers made short work of that. The inside seemed normal and The Force led us to a concealed elevator. It brought us who knew how far down and opened onto a cavernous facility that I dreaded having to search, but those fears were laid to rest. Only twenty or thirty meters away were two men clustered around a control box. Next to them, on a tripod, pointed at the wall was a weapon about the size of a TOW launcher connected by very thick cables to a Gonk Droid that was very unhappy about it's situation.
I activated my saber and threw it, severing the cables and calling it back to my hand.
A weedy little man and Jedi Master Targon looked up, startled as the droid scurried off. “I'm sorry,” I said with a cruel smile. “Did I step on your moment?”
“Keep working,” Targon ordered the other. Standing up, he shucked off his robe and strode forward, twirling his staff in his hands. “You are a persistent bitch,” he said in greeting. “I told Mordra I didn't need any help, but she had to send you lot and you've been a thorn in my side for weeks!”
“Maybe if you had kept control of Tess she wouldn't be worried you were going to double cross her.”
“Wives are funny that way,” he admitted as we got as close as we dared to each other. “Still, she needn't have bothered. I will give our emperor a different galaxy to destroy so he can be immortal and the Sith, the real Sith will rule this galaxy!”
“Darth Vitiate is mad, Targon, if that's your real name! And so are you if you think you'll have any reward from him but death!” I told him as I activated my sabers and settled into my Ataru stance. His blades snapped on and he grinned the most evil smile I've ever seen.
“You're mad if you think I care, earthling!”
“Tari,” I ordered, “run to the Temple of the Whills and come back with as many guardians as you can!” I had expected her to argue, plead that I needed her help, but one of the first things Sith learn is obedience. She turned and ran, dropping to all fours to scamper with a truly impressive speed. Targon started to reach out with The Force against her, but I flung my blade, breaking his concentration and making him block it. It bounced away, then I called it back to my hand.
“They won't be back in time to save you,” he predicted. He launched himself at me and I blocked a furious collection of attacks, high, low, left, right; I was giving ground and bending backwards to avoid the sweeps until we locked blades, grimacing with effort as we tried to over power each other.
“As long as they get here in time to stop you, that's all that matters!” I changed the angle of my blocking saber and let his staff slide down the blade with a hiss and sparks. I feinted to draw a sweep from him, then lept over his blade with my stomach parallel to the floor two meters in the air, his blade passing harmlessly under me as I rolled on the landing behind him and kept the tuck and roll back up to my feet.
I changed from the Ataru stance but flipping my left hand saber around my hand so the blade pointed 'down' and 'out' rather than 'up' and 'in' and with a whirl on my feet presented my right side over the left in a bent kneed crouch of the defensive, Form III or Soresu, stance. While Ataru was acrobatics and flashy attacks, Soresu was practical and almost purely defensive. “You mean to prolong the inevitable, but Soresu won't save you!” he snarled and attacked again.
I let him attack, giving ground as I backed away towards my real target. Finally I ducked under one of his sweeps, somersaulted sideways, and thrust my left-handed blade backwards. A split second too late he realized what I'd done, what I have been leading the fight towards as a cry of pain struggled its way out of the scientists throat who had my saber thrust into his back. I pulled my sword free, twirled and with my right hand saber put him out of his misery.
As the headless body fell over, I rolled my saber over my left hand, back into its normal grip, as I settled back into my Ataru stance. "It's just not your day, is it Targon?"
With a wordless cry he charged again, the staff a blur as I battled to block the deadly blades from touching me. “You can't win!” he sneered as I locked up his blade in an X of my own blades and we each tried to overpower the other. “I have all the knowledge of a Sith Inquisitor and a Jedi Master!”
“You tested that thing she used on us?” I demanded and I broke the block and back flipped away. “That's how this works, isn't it? We played The Old Republic to generate some kind of host body and become attuned to it. Then what? You sent our minds here to those bodies? With your try at recreating that thing on Earth?”
He threw his saber staff, but I was able to block it and he recalled it before I took advantage. “Forty years we've slaved away on your backwards little mud ball! Whispering the truth of our world, our galaxy into the ears of your film makers, book writers and game developers until nearly your entire world was focused on our home! Years of Sith Sorcery making bridging the gap possible. While we couldn't open a gate, we did learn how to send consciousness.”
“Oh,” I mocked him as we locked blades again. “All that work to be spoiled by me? What will I do for an encore?!” We flipped apart and his face flushed scarlet in rage.
His dark eyes lightened to a gold that glowed eerily as he gave himself to his inner Id and the Dark Side. The hate that rolled off him was palpable and smelled of death, rank and rotten. He spun the saber staff into his left hand and raised his right. Blue white lightening arched from his hand which I parried with my saber, using The Force to bend the Force Lightening into my blade. This only further enraged him as he redoubled his efforts for all the good it did him. “I will not lose to a fat, mindless nobody playing at being a Sith!” he shouted, spittle flying in his anger.
“You fool!” I shouted back. “I play at nothing and I am a Sith, the Sith Lord you and your psychotic wife made! The Earthling is only a treasured memory! You face Darth Nyeomi Fens, Lord of the Sith and faithful servant of the Revanite Emperor, Darth Malgus! And I will kill you!”
It was at that moment the elevator opened once more, revealing Tari, Darius and a dozen Republic troopers and it was all the distraction Targon needed. He twirled and back flipped away, his arm out stretched and lightening flying from his fingertips. Darius and his troopers fired, but he batted away their bolts in the air even as his lightening engulfed Tari who, screaming in agony, was flung against the wall and lay still.
“No!” I shouted, my vision going red as I leaped after him. I was fueled by the incredible power of the Bogan not in the mindless rage that Targon had given himself to, but in the focused, cold unforgiving rage of a mother protecting her offspring from death. I had grown far more affectionately attached to my young apprentice than I had realized and seeing her injured awoke something brutal and terrible within me. Our blades crossed and he twirled my left hand to disarm me and sent the saber flying, for all the good it did him as I brought my other saber crashing into his guard.
I had meant to cut off his hand but he snatched it away at the last moment and my blade clove through the staff, cutting off the bottom third and its blade winking out. Now we both had only a single blade as he battled back and forth, too close for Darius and his troopers to help. I purposefully exposed my back and he swung, but I brought my blade over my head to point down my spine and blocked his blow.
Stepping backwards, I pulled with all my might, forcing both our blades over my head and onto the floor at my feet. I pivoted my right foot, then struck out with my left and my kick connected to his chin and stunned him. I flourished my blade up in a circle and cut his hand off mid-forearm and with my free left hand I gestured and The Force rose to my will and crashed through his shields to grab him by the throat and lift him choking into the air. “If you find yourself back on Earth, tell your bitch her worst nightmare is waiting for her!”
I gestured and flung him to the wall then threw my sword which embedded through him into the wall. He slid off it, being cut in half as he did and I returned my sword as I watched him fall to the floor, dead. I stood, panting after my breath for a moment, then deactivated my saber and called it's mate back to me. I felt a hand on my shoulder and turned to look up into Darius' concerned face. “Ed...” he whispered, but I shook my head.
“My name is Nyeomi, Colonel,” I told him as my gold eyes glowed with The Force and he nodded. I pushed by him and ran over to my apprentice. The troopers were already loading her onto a medical support capsule. She was burned and her clothing charred, but she was breathing.
“She'll be alright, my lord,” the trooper medic promised me, the red, somewhat misshapen cross like pictogram in a circle on his armor identifying him. “We'll get her in a bacta tank right away.”
I stared after them for a moment then turned and locked eyes with Darius. Pointing, I shouted, “Colonel, destroy that thing!”
He didn't ask any questions, he just turned and in a hail of blaster fire destroyed the weapon, its control box, and any chance of any of us returning to Earth, which was fine with me. I was home.
That taken care of, I recalled the lift and went to see to my apprentice.
Tari floated in the blue colored bacta, her muzzle covered in an oxygen mask, her modesty contained by a drab looking, but functional bikini, fast asleep. Her fur was growing out from the burns in tuffs that would do interesting things to her pelt coloration, but she wasn't disfigured or even seriously injured beyond the burns which were healing nicely. I sat on a cushion on the floor in the lotus position, communing with The Force as my apprentice healed.
I had a great deal to consider, having learned of how I came to be in this galaxy and wondering how, if ever I would tell my friends of what I had done. I knew Laura's view on the subject, my perpetually angry ex-wife was delighted in the svelte, shapely Chiss body she currently inhabited; there was no way she would go back to being over three hundred pounds. But my ex was not my only concern. While my good friend and my brother had both gotten younger, fitter, more handsome bodies, I had doomed them all to remain in a dangerous, war torn galaxy for the rest of their lives.
“You are,” a strange, yet familiar voice whispered in my mind, “exactly where The Force needed you to be.” I opened my eyes to an interesting sight. Standing before me was a tall, chocolate complected Sith Lord dressed in a shimmer silk gown that while probably not age-appropriate, she was wearing with great aplomb. It left very little to the imagination as well as broadcasting her belief in a strict fitness regimen. In her youth she had been a great beauty, and in her prime she had likely been a woman men fought over and even now that her prime was fading she was still a remarkably beautiful with an open expressive face the generous mouth currently tugging up in an ironic smile. Ebony hair was loose about her shoulders and she carried herself with all the regal accouterments of an Empress.
She was also transparent and ringing with a blue/white halo of energy. Her name was Darth Vannacen, and according to my tablet she had died four years ago.
“Master...” I whispered.
The Force Ghost of my former master smiled at me as she stood next to the bacta tank and touched it. I could feel the Force bend and bathe my apprentice in healing energy. “Hello, Nyeomi, it is both good to see you again and to meet you.”
“Master?” I asked again.
“You may not remember it, but I was always concerned about you, Apprentice. You seemed incomplete, as though only half of your true self, and now we both know why.” I blushed and looked away causing her to walk over and sit on the chair beside me. “Do not be embarrassed, Edward,” she told me. “You are now who you were always meant to be. The Force has shown me what you have done, and you should hold your head up high, for you saved the lives of an entire galaxy, with numbers of sapient species we do not have names for. You have saved those lives and The Living Force is created by life. That is why you are here, now.”
“I'm sorry I could not save you, Master,” I said, some part of me remembering her death and the empty place it had left in Nyeomi, in me.
“Oh, don't fret for me, Apprentice. I am One with The Force and more powerful than you can possibly imagine.” She looked over my shoulder at the sleeping form of Torm on the couch behind me. “I see you have found your self a worthy husband. That is good. Create life and revel in it, my Apprentice and strengthen and grow stronger in The Force and do not weep for what was or might have been. Live for what is.”
“Will I see you again, Master?” I asked as she stood and gave a final look at Tari in the tank. Looking down at me she smiled.
“The Force will always be with you, Nyeomi and I am One with The Force. We will meet again, fear not. For you have great works still ahead of you.” With that the air was empty and I was alone once more. I thought long on her words and realized what I must do. If the Sith were to survive, there must be a return to the embracing of positive emotion and to give up the quick and easy dependence on hate and fear. And that would eventually lead to a civil war in the Sith. But I had allies in my Master I could commune with in The Force and Master Arridin who seemed agreeable. It would be no small thing and likely be the journey of the rest of my life, but it was a journey worth taking.
I leaned my head back and sighed, overwhelmed for a moment of the task I had been given.
The main boulevard of Ankart was lined with cheering crowds in the sunshine. The city was draped in rich fabrics and garlands of fragrant flowers and regal, triumphant music was in the air. In a clump, the crew of the Aces and Eights walked together, smiling and waving at the head of the procession. We were all dressed in our best and even X4 gleamed from the detailed cleaning he had been given. At our backs, helmets in their hands was Black Sheep Squadron and then the honor guard of the Barkhest Home Guard.
The parade wound down to the steps of the massive Temple of the Whills. There, Governor Aisin, and Colonel Antilles stood waiting on us with Master Arridin, whose smile I could make out even from this distance. We marched up the courtyard to a flourish of the music and the cheers of the crowd, but I couldn't help raising my hand and setting the prayer wheels in motion as I passed them. At the top of the steps the crew bowed and Tari and I held out our covered fists in salute to Master Arridin.
The Governor presented the pardons to my Squadron and Colonel Antilles presented the crew of the Aces and Eights with Barkhesh's highest award, the Medal of Freedom. And as I got used to the heavy medallion around my neck I thought I saw the smiling ghost of my former Master in the crowd, reminding me that my work was far from over.