If I were to sum my life down to a single word, I would be hard pressed to pick anything other than ironic. I remember things I did not do, and remember other things that most would call me insane in claiming. Yet the fact remains that I am something I wasn't, nor could be and how I came to be who and what I am is a tale already told. Which, should you be reading this, you have doubtlessly read already.
Which regardless of the demands of reality and sanity I maintain as true.
I am not the child of Algon and Jadzeea Fens, but I remember the adventure on a dozen different worlds that was growing up under their loving guidance and care as Algon moved from post to post up the ladder of the Imperial Army. I was not the Apprentice of Darth Vannacen but I remember well the lessons I learned from the smiling, sexually aggressive woman. Where some part of me realized that love was in fact the most powerful of emotions and thus the key to the full power of the Bogan. And I remember the bitter, bitter tears I had shed on her death, her sacrifice of her own life to save mine, but I had never cried them. These and hundreds of thousands of other thoughts floated in my mind, memories and moments of what I had thought was a fictional creation; the body I now inhabited, Darth Nyeomi Fens, Lord of the Sith.
I remember being forty seven, but my body was newly christened twenty five. I remembered being a man, but once a month I am firmly reminded that I am a woman in shape, form and deed. Fortunately I am regular and my shipmates have quickly learned on what days of a standard month I am not one with which to fuck, literally or figuratively. Though I must admit I almost look forward to my menses for the pampering my husband to be gives me and while he will not put up with any shit from me and calls me on my own bullshit his embrace, his touch and his oh so strong and magnificent hands soothe me through my time without complaint.
May we all be so lucky.
Unfortunately I have discovered the old wives tale about young, fertile women who live together falling into sync with each other is true and Lanaka and I have three days we must pretend very ardently each month that the other does not exist.
However, beyond such troubles, it has been a very pleasant double handful of months. As promised we went to Ord Mantell to put Torm's personal life in order. What he wanted to hold onto we put into storage for a year pre-paid and most of what he brought with him were changes of clothing and personal mementos and keepsakes. I did have an interesting evening meeting his parents and I apologized to him afterward now that I had first hand experience of what he went through with mine.
It was an interesting juxtaposition as I was an only child and Torm hailed from a fairly large family. Only three brothers and a sister were able to come to dinner out of a family of nine! Nine! And Mrs Belos was still a trim, attractive woman, but then I bet chasing nine kids keeps you in shape.
I made quite an impression with simple Force tricks much to the delight of the youngest Belos siblings. And if Mr. Belos was a peek into Torm's future I would have nothing to worry about as far as my arm candy needs later in life. I could see where he got his alpha male from as well as that gentle, nurturing side he only showed me. Yeah, safe to say he's a keeper.
And I found the Hutts had put a bounty on our heads for handing them a stunning defeat at Barkhesh. I wanted to get a fighter and go collect, along with a pound of flesh carved by my light sabers, but the others pointed out from watching some talk shows on the bounty hunter channel (Yes, there is in fact a bounty hunter channel) that the going feeling was that the offer was nowhere near the kind of money that would make someone consider going after a Sith Lord. Evidently Ord Mantell is like the New York of bounty hunters, who knew?
Once we had Torm's life sorted we put back to space and did a string of stays at stunning resorts that were also casinos that were high-roller friendly. It was a very nice vacation and gave me the time to sit and sort out what I was beginning to call Zen and the Art of the Bogan. I spent a lot of time meditating and communing with The Force, as well as holo-corresponding with Master Arridin, but it was not all work and no play. Silas padded his already considerable fortune and Torm's nest egg wasn't doing too badly either.
No, I did not cheat and help him. If the other players can be so easily distracted by a trim, young body in a skin tight gown, how is that my fault?
And I had several misadventures trying to teach Silas how to fly.
Probably the less said about that the better although to this day the word's 'glide slope' brings a twitch to his eye. As a card player he was practically without equal, but he'd be doing all of his starfaring either on a liner or with a hired pilot and that was just the way of it.
Of course it goes without saying that I still had an apprentice to train, and she had come out of the bacta whole, healed and miffed that she wouldn't get a chance at her own revenge. At least she had been until I showed her a hologram of the fight downloaded from the Gonk droid who had seen the whole thing. To be honest, seeing myself fighting was an interesting perspective. At the time, I thought I had been clumsy, awkward and just fumbling my way through by luck and happenstance.
But looking at it my moves are crisp, measured and purposeful. I saw every time I lured him into something I wanted and it was like watching a kung fu movie where the aged master takes the snotty nosed, full of himself pupil to school. I had envisioned Nyeomi as a master swords woman, ranked and respected and on the PVP servers she, or me, or however you want to look at it was in the top ten ranked players/characters. I hadn't realized how that had translated here, but it was obvious watching the video that 'Master' Targon had been seriously overmatched.
Tari had been enraptured from the first viewing and had turned to me with shining eyes and begged, “Teach me to be that good?!”
Lord above when did her eyes get so big?
She had immediately wanted to abandon her tonfa sabers and copy me, but I convinced her to start saber and shoto, or the shorter bladed weapon favored as an off hand weapon for dual wielders or as a primary for smaller species. Both of my blades are of equal length at one meter each and it is the most difficult of the two handed forms to learn.
So we cannibalized her tonfa for their parts, I rented time at a machinist for use of their lathes and tools, though to be honest I know what I was charged didn't cover what we used, but the shop wanted the bragging rights and of course to watch as work came to a halt when we were there. So I talked her through machining a new pair of hilts, which led me to her crystals. They were red Sith crystals and touching them showed me the anger she had been poked and prodded into pouring into them.
They wouldn't do and even if she cleansed them, there would always be that hint of anger resonating in the crystals. With the shop owners permission I discarded them in his furnace. In the game, I had had gold crystals made because I wanted to stand out in the game, to be different and there was something about the color that called to me. So our needed pieces assembled, I had her bring them, tools and some basic camping and survival gear and we rented a pair of speeder bikes. In a copse of trees in the parking lot of the hotel we were staying at we knelt in the grass and meditated.
"What are we doing, mistress?” she asked after a few minutes of listening to the insects in the greenery and the hum of land speeders on the road and parking lot.
I didn't open my eyes. “What do you think we're doing, Apprentice?”
"I...I need new crystals for my new light sabers,” she replied after a moment.
"That's true,” I said simply. She thought on this for a long moment.
"Is...is this how you became such a great warrior, Mistress?”
"Wars don't make you great, Tari,” I admonished her softly. “Consider, I attacked Master Targon, we dueled for some time before I struck him down.” She nodded. “Who is greater? I for having struck him down, or a master who could have reasoned with Targon, and convinced him to surrender without a fight?”
Her ears flattened a bit and she looked away. “Speak your mind,” I chided her.
"You...you sound like a Jedi, Mistress.”
I opened my gold eyes and caught her gaze. “Do I?” I asked her softly. “Do you presume that our adversaries have no wisdom to impart? Or knowledge to bring to the table? And if that is so, explain how we have fought for so long without final victory?” I sighed and allowed my disappointment to show through my veil of serenity. “Violence is an answer, but it is rarely the only answer and if life can be spared, and life is the source of the Living Force, that is preferable, no?”
"I see your point, Mistress, but if what you say is true, why do we carry light sabers?”
I grinned at this little feline slip of a girl that I was rapidly beginning to think of as my own child. “Because violence is an answer, and sadly there are times when through lack of our skill, or determination of those we seek to persuade, it becomes the only answer. And if we are to employ violence we should be masters of it so we use only that which we need to. Do not look for times to draw your weapon, Tari, they will find you, believe me. Instead, look for times to be proud you did not have to. Now, Kyber crystals are rare, but every world with life has them. Stretch out with your feelings, listen to the song of this world and tell me where your crystals are.”
She finally settled herself and began to hear the song I had been enjoying for some time since I had begun to meditate here. “Mistress...? I...I hear...”
"Good,” I whispered, hesitant to interrupt the wonderful feeling. “Where does it tell you to go?”
I felt her eyes open and the music slipped away from my grasp in the Force. I opened my eyes and saw the expression on her face that must match mine. “North,” she told me.
For the better part of two hours we rode north from the city, past the farmland that ringed the city and out into the wilds beyond. The planet Ione was a lovely spot in the midst of the Mid and Outer Rims, not terribly far from Bespin and Hoth, not that we had any desire to go sight seeing at either location. While a billion sentients called the planet home, they were still quite sparsely settled and there were large stretches of wilderness between urban areas. It was the kind of place card sharks like Silas preferred, urbanized enough for games worth their while, but not so urbanized that the games had become a major product and the casinos fall into the Vegas 'the house always wins' mentality.
We entered the foothills of a mountain range that were a picturesque backdrop from the city and in the wild the Force was much easier to hear. A bigger than a brook, smaller than a river tumbled out of the mountains to form a pond we stopped by with a strangely shaped mesa towering over it. There was a ruinous paved courtyard with steps leading right up to the side of the mesa, but no other structures and for some reason nature had not reclaimed the courtyard. It was like something out of a Ralph Mcquarrie drawing.
Parking just on the edge of the paved flagstones, we dismounted and felt the Force practically vibrating in the air. “Where are we?” Tari whispered as she reverently followed me towards the steps.
“I think...” I started and then trailed off. “Yes,” I said at the top of the stairs. I gestured and here we could see that the upper courtyard had pictograms and hieroglyphs carved into it. The first, closest to the stairs were the flower and sunburst symbols for the Ashla and Bogan, then other symbols from each, carefully delineated so that one side did not overlap the other. “There is a Temple of the Force here.”
“Where?” she asked, confused. I walked forward and stopped at a pair of circles, one larger than the other it again having the symbol of the Bogan a Master's circle and beyond the smaller circle with an eye carved into it, the place of the Apprentice to watch and learn. I took my place and directed her to hers. “What now?”
I took a deep breath to center myself then raised my right hand to about chest height and reached out with the Force. Tari quickly copied me and for several moments nothing happened, then with a groan the Mesa rose, twisting up counter clockwise, raising a cloud of dirt and dust until a carved temple entrance appeared, its doors standing open. You would think having watched a temple rise up out of the earth inside would be the last place anyone with any sense would go, but for some reason, the opening felt inviting and stable.
So, yes, we went in.
As soon as my foot crossed the threshold torches long dormant sprang to life, lighting the interior. The central hall was a colonnade with a copper brazier that now burned brightly in the center on a small dais that was raised. It was like the Karnak Temple Complex in Luxor and every surface was carved with a runic script I could not read. The Force was strong here, ringing in the very air as we walked up to the brazier. Next to it was a raised stone altar or table and carved into it, in English was
Rest, oh ye Master and become one with the Force.
While Apprentice to face the trial shall go forth
As one together mysteries revealed
Or entombed remain forever sealed
"Force and forth don't rhyme,” I muttered, causing Tari to look up at me.
"You can read this, Mistress?” I nodded, settling down into the lotus position to be comfortable while I meditated.
"I will meditate here. You will go and face the trial of the temple and if you succeed acquire your crystals.” She swallowed and mastered her fear. She looked back again as if to ask me a question, then started and faded away. I was only concerned for a moment, the initial shock of seeing it before the temple put me at my ease. I had told her every thing she needed to know, now it was time to wait. I sighed, resigned to wait and cleared my mind while I opened myself to what the Force, or the Temple would reveal to me.
Turns out the wait time was 'not long.'
"The Force is with you, Nyeomi Fens.” I opened my eyes to the sound of my dead master's voice to find her standing transparent before me, leaning back against the alter.
"It is good to see you again, Master,” I said with a smile and I meant it. Seeing her apparition somehow was like meeting that favorite aunt who wouldn't rat you out to your parents when she caught you being 'rebellious.' “How is my apprentice doing?”
She looked over her shoulder, deeper into the temple as though she could and probably did, see Tari. “She's being stubborn, trying to bend the Force to her will rather than listening to what it has to teach her. Remind you of anyone?” she asked me with a smile. I stood and joined her by the alter.
"I wasn't that bad of a student, was I?”
Darth Vannacen's smile got a bit wider and she soothed a stray hair on my head back in place. Her touch was warm to my senses and charged with life itself if that makes sense, the exact opposite of what you might expect from the touch of a ghost. “You had your 'I'm going to do it MY way' moments,” she replied, “but you were a diligent student where things mattered. It will stand you in good stead for what you have set before yourself. I will warn you, founding a school of the Force in opposition to both the Sith and the Jedi is no small task.”
I raised my chin a bit and looked her in the eye. “I am not in opposition to the Sith, and I am still true to the Sith Code, passion is not merely anger and hate. I felt that when I battled Master Targon, the Bogan made me stronger not because of my anger, but because of my love of my Apprentice.”
"Others have tried and failed, and paid with their lives.” she warned me.
"Between these two worlds I have had my share of life,” I told her. “What time I have further is a blessing. And why give me this revelation if not to act on it?”
"It is the purpose of the Force to grant wisdom and knowledge, but what you do with it is still your choice. I cannot command you.” I sighed and nodded my understanding. “If you choose to go on, my apprentice, you do not do so alone. I will assist you and even now there are others of like mind that have simply not made the connections that you have.”
"I have been many things in my life, but never a coward,” I told her. “I cannot turn away from this any more, I think, than you can, master.”
Vannacen smiled her radiant smile at me. “No, apprentice, I cannot. So, to begin, look there,” she pointed over my shoulder and in the wall I saw a doorway I had not noticed before. “Through there you will find something that will assist you. But getting it will not be easy, and remember, your eyes can deceive you, don't trust them.”
"What is it?” I asked, turning back to face her, but I was alone once more. I took a deep, calming breath and walked through the door way. Here the welcoming feeling of the temple left and things felt cold and foreboding. There were no torches to light my way and I was obliged to draw a light saber for illumination and the constant droning hum of the magnetic field that contained the plasma quickly became annoying and I began to fear it was masking what could be important sounds. I took a flash light from my utility belt and extinguished the saber, but kept it in my hand.
The corridor had steadily become rougher, less precisely made and more cave like the deeper I went. Without the hum of my saber my own breathing became loud to my ears and I could almost feel the Temple or something trying to psyche me out. The hieroglyphs carved into the walls became misshapen and nightmarish. I straightened my spine and announced clearly, “I am One with the Force and the Force is with me!”
With a hiss, just at the edge of my hearing, a light saber ignited. I turned and saw it glowing, blood red in the darkness, putting a figure in silhouette. It was in a low guard, blade diagonally across the body from hip to ankle. I turned the light and found perhaps four meters away the corridor opened into a wider chamber the light could not illuminate. I walked down and found myself in a wide, circular chamber, a floor of polished black marble and as I entered the chamber the wall sconces came to life. Overhead was a magnificently carved dome that shone like stars in the galaxy. White marble columns marched in a row around the circumference of the hall, spaced at ten meters and I could see now the sun burst symbol of the Bogan carved into the marble of the floor.
At the left and right sides of the hall two massive statues of kings, for these men could be nothing else, sat on their thrones in regal mien, forever regarding their opposite. One red, his opposite member white, and in the center of the room, the light of her saber glistening against the red and black robes of a Sith Inquisitor stood the woman who had so changed my life. I strolled to a conversational distance, returning the flashlight to my belt. “Darth Mordra, I presume?”
"I've been waiting on you, impostor. Waiting to taunt you with the vengeance I've taken on your friends and family before I put you out of both of our misery.”
“My condolences to the widow,” I taunted her. I couldn't help it, there was just something about her that made me want to hurt this woman. “I was certainly skilled enough for your husband.”
She snarled and jerked up her arm, her hand a claw as lightning flew from her fingertips. I snapped on my blade in just the nick of time and deflected her attack. “Shall I tell you how your mother begged for mercy before I cut her down?”
"My mother is on Ruuria, alive and well and you are trapped forever on a world you hate,” I countered. “And a killing spree is the fastest way for Justice to come for you!”
"You think I fear your primitive and pathetic police?”
"I think if you could have taken over you would have by now!” I told her as she began to circle to my left and I followed to hers so that we orbited the symbol on the floor. “So now you're just another human, a petty little serf, a has been among never weres, toiling away for a dream that I took from you!”
With a primal scream of rage she launched herself at me, waving her light saber like a child with a stick and with equal skill. There was no form or style to her attack it was just mindless rage. And it hit me suddenly she was just a rabid animal, snapping and slavering with no reason or understanding, and I felt a great wash of pity for a moment as I blocked her blow high and locked eyes with her. The stream of obscenity stopped and fear lit behind her eyes. “For sending me here, you have my thanks. Goodbye.”
I twirled my blade, forcing hers out of line, then I stepped left while arching her blade to my right. Inside her guard now I spun, bringing the blade down to shoulder level. Like an ancient Samurai having delivered a perfect coup de grace, I stood still for a moment, back to back with her, then the saber fell out of her hands and her body collapsed, the severed head rolling away on its own.
“You felt pity,” a heavy, ponderous voice declared, rolling through the chamber and vibrating in the air down to its core. Deactivating and returning my saber to my belt, I turned and examined the speaker, The red king, a portrait of a male of the actual Sith race had come to life. His red skin vibrant and his chin covered in a goatee that highlighted the pair of tentacles that hung like a Fu Manchu mustache on either side of his nose. I could feel the Dark Side was strong with him, or perhaps the Bogan would be a better word because I felt neither rage nor hate from him, merely curiosity. “Why?”
"Because she had ceased to be a person,” I told the living statue. “She was an animal and there was neither glory nor honor to be had in killing her, it was just something that had to be done.”
"You," the white statue declared from behind me, "who not so long ago instructed her apprentice not to try to solve all her problems with her light saber." I turned to face him, a regal looking human with a full beard and a stern demeanor all in alabaster.
"I said that violence was rarely the only solution," I told him, unashamed of my victory. If one could think of putting down a rabid animal as a victory. "But it is a solution."
"And you would have the Sith embrace love and harmony?" The red king demanded.
"Love can inspire great passion," I told him. With a gesture at the corpse still on the floor, I added, "she was enraged for all the good it did her. I have seen the future, my lords, I have seen our order reduced to two; a pair of roving vagabonds dreaming about what was the Sith Empire. I have seen them overthrown and the last of the Sith passing into legend and I say that we as a species learn best that which we are passionate about! There is a place in the Force for emotion and the denial of emotion the Jedi embrace will be their down fall and all knowledge of the Force may be lost! Does this seem a desirable outcome?"
"Look upon me,” the Red King commanded. “I am Tulak Hord, Lord of Hate, First Emperor of the Sith. Who are you to question my teachings, child?”
"I know of you, my lord!” I replied respectfully. “And even to this day in the legends spoke of you it is declared that your most loyal subject was Khem Val, who you bested in honorable combat! Was it hate that stayed your hand, My Emperor? Or was it respect and admiration of a foe, honorably beaten who offered up himself in service to the man who had bested him?”
The White King's laughter echoed through the hall. “After ten thousand years to see my opposite finally meet his match in a battle of wits! Thank the Maker that I was doomed to be bound to this place to see it!”
Tulak Hord could not make up his mind if he was annoyed over his adversary’s declaration of amusement that I had the temerity to stand up to him. “She does not take your side either, heretic! You who would have us throw off all emotion and return to the fantasy of the Je'daii Order and the endless hope of balance. Peace is a Lie! There is only Passion!”
The White King was still chuckling as he retorted, “But she schools you in the simple fact that hate is not the sole expression of passion!” he snapped his fingers like a cannon blast and the body of Darth Mordra faded away. “Look upon me, child who would style herself Lord of the Sith, and know that I am Kel'eth Ur the Heretic, murdered by Darth Vitiate the Mad to try and silence my teaching that passion is only a temporary strength and that true power comes only from the peace of the Light Side of the Force. Would you debate me as well?”
I bowed and tried to keep my heart from pounding as if either of these statues had even a tenth the power of the greats being represented either could easily dispatch me. “With respect, Master Ur, my Lord Hord is correct, Peace is a lie. Life is the constant struggle for survival and peace is not the natural state of the human condition, but an aberration soon to be corrected by the next challenge or challenger for our food, or resources or our very lives! But while hate is a quick and easy path it blinds us to better solutions. I would, with your blessings, combine the best of both of your teachings and see the Sith raised to the greatness we have always aspired to!”
The White King rubbed his chin and now it was Tulak Hord's turn to laugh. “How quick this little Loth-cat can turn and bite the hand that was petting it!” he managed, much to the annoyance of the White King. “I see the passion within you burning with this, Darth Nyeomi Fens, even though you may be new to our Order, our ways are close to your heart and that is a good thing. You will be a great Lord of the Sith, girl and you have the blessing of the First Emperor. Behold!” The statue gestured and a pyramid shaped holocron began to glow in the far wall, exactly halfway to his rival.
“Do not be surprised to find yourself murdered and your soul bound to a statue somewhere,” the White King warned. “Because the teachings of Darth Revan on the acceptance of all species based solely on merit is but a small and meager heresy to what you propose and you will find the Sith purists and the Jedi set against you!”
"I fear nothing,” I declared and surprisingly, even as I said the words I felt the Force flow through me and make my words true. “For my ally is the Force, and a powerful ally it is!”
The White King rubbed his stone chin in thought before he finally nodded. “Very well, Darth Nyeomi Fens, Lord of the Sith you have the blessing of Kel'eth Ur the Heretic.” Next to Tulak Hord's holocron a second came into being, this one dodecahedron shaped.
I walked to the table and bowed, first to the First Emperor and then to Kel'eth Ur. “I thank my lords for your wisdom and your council and I pledge you shall be remembered with reverence in our Order.”
As one, the Kings declared in unison, “The Force will be with you.”
My hands closed on the holocrons and I realized I was standing at the same table I had first corrected on it's poor poetry. Across from me was my apprentice, her own hands just closing on a pair of yellowish green Kyber Crystals. She blinked in surprise, but did pick them up. “Mistress?” she asked in confusion.
I smiled at her and picked up the holocrons reverently. “This has been a very profitable outing, my apprentice.”
After we had left the temple with a groan it sank into the ground once more, leaving only a blank, dome shaped mesa in its wake. We sat in the courtyard and I helped her into a trance of meditation by thinking of everything important to her that she needed a weapon to defend. Slowly the pile of parts on the cloth in front of her rose up into the air in a cloud of metal, wires, circuit boards and the articulation frame for the crystals that settled into them.
"Peace is a lie, there is only passion,” she whispered as each gem oriented itself in the articulation frame which then slid into the emitter for each weapon.
"Through passion, I gain strength,” she declared as the batteries settled into the hilt pommels and mated to their charging ports.
Then the activation studs screwed themselves into the handles and the master logic boards connected to them. “Through strength I gain victory.”
The handles of each mated to the still floating emitters and the logic board connected to the articulation frame. “Through victory, my chains are broken.”
She smiled as in her mind she saw herself triumphant and all that was dear to her protected. “The Force shall free me!” she declared as the pommels with their batteries connected to the logic board and screwed into place on the handles and a pair of complete light sabers floated in the air before her. She reached up and opened her hands causing each saber to fall into her waiting palms. She took on an almost liquid quality and flowed to her feet. Her saber hissed into being, right hand up in a high guard forward, shoto in her left hand held in a back handed grip, blade out and away from her held at waist height in reserve. The blades were the golden emerald of fresh grass bathed in the morning sun and matched the tawny gold of her pelt. “Now I'm ready!” she declared with great enthusiasm. I smiled and stood as well.
“We'll see,” I told her as I rose to my feet, doing my best not to beam with pride in her. There was so much more to teach and learn. I adjusted my sabers to training mode and waited for her to do the same before I settled into my Ataru stance and spent three pleasant hours walking her through the basic forms before we broke for the evening to set up our shelters, just outside the courtyard so that sacred space was not put to a mundane use and began to warm up our rations.
They were better than MREs, but of a similar 'wet' but vacuum sealed type and tasty enough but terribly unsatisfying after two months of haute cuisine we had been enjoying in the various hotels and casinos. I sat cross legged on a cushion eating a stew that was more grease than gravy when her voice gently broke the silence. “This...we'll be doing this the rest of our lives, won't we mistress?”
“Not just this,” I replied and in my minds eye I saw my children playing in a park under a warm, golden sun. “But yes, Tari this will be an effort that will hopefully continue past both of our lives.”
“Where you go, I follow, Mistress,” she swore. “But we will be parting company with Master Bast and the Aces and Eights, won't we?”
I poked at the stew for a moment, then sighed and looked across the fire at her. “I hope not, Tari, but I honestly don't know. Seeing the future is one of the hardest things a Jedi or Sith can do. And just because you have a vision, does not mean it will come true.” I decided I was done with the stew and dumped the rest of it into the fire then added a few more sticks to it. “In fact, I know of one story were a Jedi tried so hard to avoid the vision he had that he ended up causing it to happen.”
She chuckled her strange sounding half purr half growl chuckle. “Ironic,” she observed softly. “Rather like my being an acolyte. When the Revanites took over the academy they went through the city looking for anyone who was Force sensitive. I was thrilled to be chosen, but it quickly became a curse. Old hatreds die hard, and I didn't have much to hate. My parents were high level technicians for critical systems. The Empire has always been good to us.” She looked up at me, her eyes shining in the fire light. “I never thought I would be apprenticed, Mistress. And yet, when I saw you coming up the steps, looking so regal and beautiful...” She sighed and looked away. “I knew you would pick me, the Force told me and I didn't think I was worthy.”
"I have not found you wanting,” I replied in that precise Eton received pronunciation dialect sounding so formal to my ears, but nothing else felt natural.
"And I promise I will do everything in my power so that you never do, Mistress,” she swore softly. “I will make you proud of me.”
I smiled and closed my eyes, opening my self to the Force to meditate before I went to bed. “I already am,” I told her.
You would think in a place like this you would have vague, but visually interesting dreams or visions of the future, but my mind was still, somewhat, focused on the past, more so now after my duel with Darth Mardra. There were so many things now I would never see or hear or experience again; books I'd enjoyed, movies, music, and yes I was concerned about my mother. Or perhaps I should say Edwards mother.
You just cannot understand how odd it is to change the name you think of as yourself until you've done it.
While I thought of myself as Nyeomi now, I hadn't forgotten I had been Edward and Mardra's taunt bothered me. Of course it had been meant to bother me, just much sooner and to a far greater extent than it had. Had Mardra killed my original mother? For all my talk about Earth being a backward planet I had used my bank card to pay for the time at Complete Simulations which was tied to my credit report and if you had that, it might as well be directions to my mother's house. Hell between it and Google it was.
A part of me wanted to cast off this feeling and tried to. I mean she was in another galaxy from me there was literally nothing I could do to protect or avenge her. So I lay in the hammock that was strung between the uprights of my tent and stewed in my predicament.
This made for a very unpleasant night.
In the morning, Tari and I shared a light and disappointing breakfast before we broke camp and turned our bikes south and rode back to the city. It was not as pleasant a journey for me as the trip out had been as my thoughts were plagued on events and people out of my reach.
We returned the speeders to the rental shop, I was reimbursed my deposit and we walked to the hanger as we had arranged with the others. Silas had a feeling his welcome was just about worn out and moving on might not be a bad idea. But as we arrived at the hanger I felt a thrill down my spine and sharing a glance with my apprentice showed she had felt the tremor in The Force as well. I took my sabers from my belt, made sure they were not still in training mode, then hung one back, while keeping the other in my hand.
The door slid open to my thumb print and revealed the steps down into the main hanger. Nothing seemed out of place or disturbed. I cautiously led the way down the stars to the turn into the hanger proper. Several of the resupply crates were scorched with blaster fire, as well as a few new mars to the Aces and Eights hull, though nothing dangerous, so merely hand weapons.
Lanaka was sprawled by the ramp, a scorched hole in her duster, but the Force told me she was still alive. Tari would have rushed forward, but I restrained her with a hand to her shoulder. The tremor in the Force was getting closer. Down the ramp he came, his massive form wrapped in armor and armored clothing, his face obscured behind a red and silver mask, and a light saber in his hand. I knew there would be no witty banter with this killer, and the Dark Side swirled around him. He was a Sith Warrior and he was here to kill me.
He casually stepped away from the ramp, reaching up to undo the clasp of his cloak and pull it aside to let fall beside him. This showed what I took to be a mask was in fact a helmet, so I had no idea even what species he was, a fact I'm sure he used to inspire terror. I took the backpack from my shoulders and let it slide to the floor. “Tari, go to the restaurant I had Bantha Milk at. If I have not come for you in two hours...”
"She will be dead,” the warrior's deep, electronic voice declared. “And I will be coming for you.”
Tari obeyed without question and the Warrior let her go. “Does it matter that I have no quarrel with you?” I asked as I took my other saber in my hand.
"Only in that you will die without knowing why I killed you or the fates of your apprentice or companions,” he replied heavily as he ignited his saber and it glowed red as blood against his armor. “If you wish to beg for your life, I will listen to your pleas now. Not that they will do you any service, but they will amuse me.”
I ignited my own sabers and rolled them around my hands as I relaxed and got myself loose to be able to deal with this monster. “After I've killed you and people ask what your name was, what shall I tell them?” I taunted him, but he only laughed and brought the saber up into a high, single handed guard.
"Nobody,” he said ominously.
His stance and guard could be used in four different forms, so that told me nothing and he seemed content for me to come to him, so I focused myself, brought my left hand saber towards him and raised two fingers off it to direct my will. To my immense surprise, the warrior had almost no Force shielding at all and my power grabbed him about the throat and began to crush his larynx.
Well, that wasn't something 'Nobody' was just going to stand and take so he leapt across the intervening distance and began a series of focused, precise attacks that were horrifically powerful even one handed. He flowed, forcing me to give ground, reeling off his strikes as he almost leisurely pursued me and kept us close so I couldn't get enough of a break to use the Force.
His style was heavily modified, but its base was Form II, known as Makashi, the graceful, purposeful style of Count Dooku himself, Christopher Lee, the last of the great Hollywood swordsmen. With that knowledge I began to probe the weaknesses of the form, even managing to force his blade far enough out of line that my strike to his hand should have severed it, but then I got my first nasty shock. His armor had been reinforced to withstand the passing strike of a light saber. Oh it burned hot and glowed and there was damage, but he still had his hand and his saber.
My subterfuge didn't rattle him either as he quickly recovered from my strike and began to press me again with a series of strikes that were as fast as they were exactly aimed. I was able to block him, thanks to my dual wielding style canceling his speed and power while not giving him the time to follow up on his advantages without exposing himself to my other blade.
After all, resistant was not invincible.
This forced me to realize that all things being equal, this warrior was better than I was and I had to do something to end this battle and quickly before his skill over came my luck. A slow return of my guard to my left gave him an opening he couldn't pass up and he spun, bringing his blade to my back to bifurcate me at the waist but it was now that I revealed my expertise with Ataru and leapt over his blade, catching him by surprise. I didn't waste my strike by going for him, I brought both of my blades crashing through his saber cutting the hilt in three pieces and its blade winking out.
As I landed, he complimented me with a single, “Impressive,” and then leapt to the roof of the hanger. I tried to grab him with the Force, but he had already disappeared over the lip. I wanted to chase him, but Lanaka was badly wounded and I still had to save Tari. I stared after him for a moment to be sure he was gone, then extinguished my sabers and keyed the comlink built into my left gauntlet as I strode back over to Lanaka.
Her voice sounded from off to my right at the door. “Here, Mistress!” she said, trotting over. I would have scolded her for disobedience, but as her deception had 'Nobody' chasing a wild goose I was grateful.
"Disconnect the shore power as quickly as you can,” I ordered her.
Lanaka was badly injured, but breathing and I hoped 'Nobody' had not destroyed our medical bay. I drug her up the ramp and aft, to the surprised voice of Fiveareen. “Do you require medical assistance?”
"Yes!” I grunted as I got her up and on the table. “Blaster bolt to the lower back!”
Before the droid could answer, I left, going forward cautiously, looking for stowaways, but finding no one. I also failed to find Silas, Darius or Torm. There was nothing for it, I could not stay where 'Nobody' knew where I was. I heard the ramp raise and turned to find Tari trotting towards me, my backpack and hers in hand. “Good girl,” I told her as I led the way to the cockpit. We got the Aces and Eights up as quickly as we could and lifted ship, not pausing until we were in orbit. And while there was plenty of traffic, none seemed either military or interested in us. “X4,” I ordered the droid. “Take over here and sound the alarm if anything gets within thirty thousand miles or so.”
"Yes, mistress,” the little astromech replied.
"Tari, suit up and go over the hull, no stone unturned, make sure there's no mines or tracking devices attached.”
"Mistress,” she replied, scurrying to her cabin and its pressure suit. Meanwhile, I went aft to check on Lanaka.
"Double check your suit to be sure it wasn't tampered with!” I ordered her as I went by. In the medical bay Fiveareen already had Lanaka in the little bacta tank we had and he hadn't bothered to trouble himself about her modesty.
I could have lived my whole life not knowing her nipples were purple.
She was awake in the blue tinted liquid, and obviously in pain. “How is she?” I asked the droid who did not look up from the monitors he was intently gazing at.
"Lucky to still be able to walk,” the droid replied. “I have the internal damage dealt with and the bacta will see that there is no infection or septic shock. She should be fine in a day or two.” Lanaka scowled at me and banged the side of the tank in anger. The droid threw a switch. “Calm down, please, you can speak, the air mask you're wearing has a microphone.
He threw another switch. “...shit stings like fire ants!” she snarled at the droid, her voice coming through a speaker in the ceiling. The droid injected something into the bacta through a port in the tank.
"Never mind your discomfort,” I told her with my fists on my hips. “What happened here and who was that monster that ambushed me?”
Her eyes became terrified. “Did you kill him?” she begged me. “God, Ed, tell me you killed him!”
I took in a deep, calming breath. “My name is Nyeomi,” I told her tightly. “No, I didn't kill him, he got away. Who is he and where are the others?”
"We have to run! We have to take off! He...”
“We are in orbit,” I told her coldly and I leaned forward to give emphasis to my words. “And if you dare suggest that I abandon my brother, my best friend and my fiancee again, I will space you! What happened?” I demanded. Her normally dark, cobalt blue skin paled to the light blue of Cherenkov radiation and if eyes without an iris or pupil could be terrified, hers were. “Nyeomi it was like the Devil himself came for us! He calls himself the Will of the Sith, a dried up husk of evil and cruelty! He kept jabbering on about he saw you being responsible for the destruction of the Sith! He's determined to kill you! Him and his pet monster the Hand of the Sith.”
I frowned. “Darth Bane was responsible for the Rule of Two, he caused...”
Somehow, Lanaka managed to roll her eyes without having an iris. “You stubborn idiot! You never could be subtle!” she yelled into the mask. “Darth Bane didn't start the Sith Civil War, he was just the last survivor!”
What I wouldn't give for ten minutes of access to Wookiepedia.
Of course as soon as she'd said it I remembered she was right, Darth Bane being the sole survivor of the Sith Civil War, who took an apprentice and vowed that from then on there would only ever be two Sith, a Master to embody power and an apprentice to covet it. Not that that stopped writers from breaking the 'Rule' whenever it suited them with 'Sith Assassins,' secret apprentices and even competing Masters and apprentices, each claiming to be the legitimate heirs of the Sith. What a nightmare.
The tablet couldn't tell me much about this Will of the Sith or his Hand, but everything it did tell me solidified my opinion these were not men I wanted to meet. They had caught Lanaka and the others packing in anticipation of my return, there had been a brief fire fight that produced her injury, and the Will had taken the men away with him. He had left the Hand behind to catch me, and had my friends as bait in case he failed.
Have I mentioned how much I hate smart villains?
No one knew where the Will had his lair and primarily it was because no one wanted to know where it was. Well, it was my intention to be smart too. Once Tari came back in with the easy to find tracker decoy and the hidden one, having tossed away the bombs that would have destroyed us if we had jumped to hyperspace I put her to work making sure X4 had not been compromised while I put on my suit and took the hand brain with the schematics of the ship and spent nearly ten hours going from stem to stern, finding the backup backup tracker, a nasty little monomolecular blade on a servo that would cut through the master hydraulic return line on command, rendering us out of control and a neat little recorder I almost missed that had been added to the main dish to record every signal we sent or received.
Oh yeah, they were playing for keeps and so was I.
Back inside and certain I could trust my droid I had X4 give Fiveareen the going over but either luck, the Force or something had kept them from messing with our droids. Once all the trackers had been carefully tossed onto outbound freighters or liners I altered our orbit and checked the ships food, fortunately also untouched, had a meal and then sat down to meditate. After several moments of trying to release my thoughts, I heard the tinkle of glass wind chimes just at the edge of my hearing. Rising from my meditation pillow, I traced the sound to my backpack and removed the two holocrons I had found in the temple.
The dodecahedron of Kel'eth Ur the Heretic was glowing brightly. I returned to my pillow and focused my will through the holocron. “What is your wisdom, my Lord?” I asked softly.
Of its own volition the holocron rose from my grasp, the raised corner 'piping' twisting off center as though unlocking the wisdom within and the glow increased until a ghostly Kel'eth Ur stood regally before me. “So, my young Darth, you have had your first encounter with the Grand Sith Order of Inquisition, the same fiends that condemned me as a heretic and murdered me by sealing me in my own tomb, buried alive. Are you surprised they found you so quickly?”
"No one expects the Grand Inquisition,” I dead panned.
The hologram frowned. “This is not a matter for jest, Student. For over a thousand years Darth Vitiate the Mad has used the Order to create Terror in the ranks of his fellow Sith, to keep us enslaved to his will and to crush any and all dissent as heresy.” The long dead Sith Master pointed a gloved finger at me. “And, as I warned you, Nyeomi Fens, you are the greatest threat to his order he has yet faced.”
"He has my brother and my fiancee,” I told him. “And my dearest friend.”
"Then they will be made to suffer to draw you out,” the hologram declared with great finality. “While they will not be killed, they will wish for death before the Will of the Sith is through with them.”
The memory of the battle I had fought burned brightly in my mind and once again the fear I felt as I realized my foe was better than me coursed through me. “I fought his Hand, and I admit it was only by keeping a cool head and a masterful trick did I force him to withdraw, but he is a better swordsman than I. How can I defeat him? How can I defeat the Will and save those dear to me?”
Kel'eth's ghostly eyes were sad as he looked down on me and his voice for once had a note of sympathy. “Your fear of loss will cloud your mind to the truth you already know; Love is the key to the Power of the Bogan. You must control your fear and concentrate on your loved ones to master the Power of the Dark Side. And therein you have the key to defeat the Hand, for his view of the Force is only a way to increase his physical power and ability. It is through the Bogan you will defeat him, not your sabers.”
"Where can I find these monsters?”
The ghost of Kel'eth Ur stroked his chin and shook his head. “You are not ready to face them, my Student. Rest, and when you are ready to hear and receive my teachings I will come again.” The ghost began to fade away, and I scrambled up from my pillow.
"My lord! Wait! My husband!”
His voice hung in the air as his holocron settled on my dresser. “Life is suffering, my student. Your husband has life to live before you will be ready to receive what I have to teach you.”
The Will wasted no time in causing me pain by torturing my loved ones.
I had my first vision of the Force in my dreams as I watched them be tortured in senseless cruelty and suffering, only to get at me. I saw a withered, husk of a man, bald head and hawkish nose over a wrinkled face and skin mottled with liver spots and sores laughing a toothless cackle at the pain he was inflicting. He seemed to become aware that I was watching him in my dream by turning and looking at me, then pressing a button that seemed to double my lovers pain.
I awoke in a blind fury that was completely impotent. I had no idea where to even start looking as I flung myself out of bed and dressed in my normal white and gray outfit before I stomped aft to the medical bay. Lanaka was asleep in the bacta as I ground my teeth at being so helpless and actually needing the bitch. If the dead won't help me, well, wasn't finding people what Bounty Hunters did?
Fiveareen looked at me from his monitors. “Do you require medical assistance, my lord?” he asked in his cool baritone.
Ignoring his question, I demanded, “How much longer until she comes out?”
The lights on the droids 'eyes' turned off and on in a blink of surprise. “Another eight hours at least, my lord, otherwise the risk of scarring is quite high.”
Yes, I will admit the cruel part of me considered scarring her. No, I'm not proud of it, but at least I'm honest about it. “Wake her,” I commanded. The droid must have realized my tone indicated I would not be argued with and pressed a button. Something was injected into the fluid and she stirred and woke.
"Is it time to come out?” she asked sleepily, then winced as the pain in her back answered for her.
Stepping closer to the tank, I declared, “We are going to rescue Silas, Darius and Torm...”
"We?” she demanded archly.
"You, me and Tari,” I assured her. “Where do I need to take you so you can do your bounty hunter thing and we can track down these monsters?”
I suppose I should have realized how afraid she was because she used my correct name. “Nyeomi, these aren't like anyone we've ever seen in Star Wars!” she protested. “These people are evil and they delight in being evil...”
"And they have my brother, my husband and my best friend, Lanaka!” I shouted at her. “And if you think I will leave them there you're high!”
She twisted in the fluid and looked down through the glass of the tank at me. “Why didn't you treat me like that?” she hissed in anger. “Why didn't you love me as fiercely as you love them!”
“You left me,” I reminded her. “I would have if you had shown an ounce of loyalty! And I don't have time for your woe is me pity party bullshit! Where do you need to be to start looking?”
She crossed her hands over her chest to obscure her breasts as if modesty was a thought that had suddenly occurred to her. “Ord Mantell,” she admitted finally. “I...I developed some contacts there during our layover while your boy toy sorted himself out.”
"If you're lying...” I hissed, but she turned and scowled at me through the mask.
“They're my friends too!” she shouted. I whirled and made my way to the cockpit. If I triple checked the results from the navi-computer, well I had good reason to, didn't I? Within moments, the Aces and Eights was hurtling through hyperspace on our way to Ord Mantell.
At least I was doing something.
Ord Mantell, crown gem of the Bright Jewel cluster and birth place of my soul mate rushed up to meet me as we exited hyperspace. There was plenty of traffic around the world as was befitting its role as a major trading hub, but nobody seemed particularly interested in us. Were we in a movie there would be a couple of glamour shots of the Aces and Eights flying through space to a stirring sting of John Williams musical porn and special effects eye candy strung together with wipes and dissolves, elapsed time, maybe ten seconds. In reality it was better than three hours before we were on the ground again. I oversaw the ship refueled myself, adding another teeth grinding hour before Lanaka and I were ready to go.
It was then that I had a talk with Tari. “I am leaving you in charge of the ship,” I told her to her obviously crest fallen features. “I do this from love of you, my apprentice. The Hand I fought was better than me and it was only through luck and subterfuge I forced him to withdraw. If we have been traced here, we may need to leave in a great screaming hurry so I want you to keep the ship on idle and ready to take off at a second's notice.”
She nodded, only a little sullenly. “Yes, mistress.”
“At the first sign of trouble here, you take off and then you raise us on the comlink and we arrange a rendezvous. Understand?” She nodded and I felt both maternal worry and pride in her bravery. “Good girl.”
We had landed at the coastal city of Worlport. It was a major confluence of space trade, gambling and government offices which of course made it a breeding ground for corruption, criminals and the well-to-do looking to hire undesirable people to do undesirable things. That certainly made it more clear why Ord Mantell was just lousy with Bounty Hunters, smugglers and other criminal scum.
I loaned Lanaka my brown cloak as her duster had been destroyed and I had dyed my white one black as we made our way through the reeking streets of Herglic's Folly the most dangerous of the gambling districts of the city to a meeting with a mid-level crime boss named Garvic 'The Hammer' Hammlin who supposedly 'knew a guy who knew a guy' according to the holo call Lanaka had made.
So I walked behind her as she led the way to the doubtlessly filthy restaurant and bar that was the front that Garvic did business out of and tried not to stew. The concept of Laura having underworld contacts was laughable; back home I'd have bet she wouldn't know where to go to buy a dime baggy of grass, assuming she knew what that was in the first place so I had a terrible worry we were wasting our time.
But, wandering around the dark underbelly of Worlport with its glitching hologram billboards and flickering neon did increase the likelihood I would have to kill someone, and that would be therapeutic, so it wouldn't be a complete waste of time. We finally came to a bar that was labeled in Huttese so I couldn't read it, but evidently Lanaka either could or had been here before. Inside was a press of the dregs of the galaxy around a bar with scantily clad (almost naked) Twi'lek females waiting tables. “Wait here,” she told me, “and watch your back. This place can be a little rough.”
I declined to comment drolly or otherwise on the delicate suburbanite girl telling the combat vet to be careful, but I believe the expression on my face properly communicated my opinion. She wandered off into the crowd while I meandered to a clear spot on the bar and after a moment the Twi'lek bar tender with thousand yard stare came over. She had that look on her face that survivors of long term abuse get when they manage to compartmentalize what is happening to their body away from their mind.
On the face of a sentient being it made my flesh crawl and my temper squirm against its leash. “Hi chuba da naga?” she asked in a tired voice. I didn't speak Huttese, but it was a fair bet she wanted my order.
"Bantha Piss,” I replied, having learned the name of the little craft beer from Tatooine and hoping they carried it. For a moment, a light lit in her eyes as evidently mine was a rare order, perhaps she saw my light sabers and thought me a Jedi come to liberate her and her sisters, then she looked into my eyes, saw the gold and knew what it meant and the light went out as she resigned herself to her fate once more. She walked to a display case and rummaged before returning with a bottle she set down before me and opened.
“Nobo Che copah,” she muttered and walked away.
I took a welcome sip of the flavorful beer and looked around discreetly. In my line of vision there were thirty separate species besides human in the bar and probably more behind me. There was a tune of some kind belching out of the aging jukebox in the corner, but I couldn't make it out over the din of dozens of different conversations. “Bo shuda,” something growled above and behind me. I turned and found myself face to navel with a huge, reptilian something. It had gray skin and was wearing a belted tunic that hung to the middle of his tree trunk sized thighs. Looking up it had a long neck that ended in a horned head with a spatter of orange hair down the neck like a horse's mane. It was called a Mantellian Savrip, it was the creature on the Dejarik board whose move by R2-D2 so upset Chewbacca.
I didn't know they were four meters high.
It was looking down at me with black, inky eyes and made a follow me gesture. “Niuta, be cotma!” I picked up my beer in my left hand and followed the creature deeper into the bar in the general direction Lanaka had gone. It ducked through a door to a new room that was significantly quieter and went to stand in the corner. Lanaka was standing in the center of the room next to a not quite throne but more than couch that was mostly taken up by a bloated caricature of a man, grotesque mouth and folds upon folds of fat, but he wasn't a Hutt and, thankfully, he wasn't naked either.
Chained to the floor next to him was a Twi'lek girl wearing even less than the wait staff outside.
Lanaka made an introductory gesture. “Darth Nyeomi Fens, Garvic 'The Hammer' Hammlin.”
"Charmed,” I remarked drolly and took another sip of my beer. “You have a wonderful place here, Mr. Hammlin, I'll be sure to tell all my friends.”
Garvic smiled a grotesque smile. “We pride ourselves on service,” he growled in heavily accented Basic that I couldn't place. It was like an odd cross between Irish and Swedish. “So, which half of the Sith are you with so I know who I'm pissing off by helping you?”
“I'm with the half whose Emperor is not trying to destroy the entire galaxy so he can live forever.”
Hammlin chuckled and rubbed one of his many chins. “I like the guy already! So, Lanaka here tells me you want to know where the Will of the Sith is, and my question is why are you involving me in your Death Wish?”
"I've always been marked down on 'plays well with others' and I'm looking to improve my score,” I purred in my polished received pronunciation accent. Doubtlessly somewhere a school master at Eton was sighing in contentment.
The disgusting blob leaned forward with an even more disgusting leer on his face. “Is that so? Well, 'Darth' Fens, tell us how you intend to 'play well' with others?”
With a sneer of my own curling my lips so he knew that I knew exactly what he had in mind, I growled, “As of right now, I plan to leave this room without killing everyone else in it, but that can still change.” I heard his men finger their weapons behind me, but I kept my attention on Garvic. “Your men behind me are persuading me to change my mind,” I warned him.
I'll give him this, Garvic kept his cool. He sat back and made a gesture and the weapons fingering behind me stopped. “Ok, I have something you want. What are you willing to trade for it? Nothing in the galaxy is free, you know.”
“Garvic, my brother, my future husband and a man I owe my life to are in the clutches of a man who makes me look like a saint, descending from on high to bestow blessing to all life in the Galaxy. So I am willing to trade your life for theirs or a very reasonable facsimile of what they are experiencing right now.”
"And that tells me what I needed to know,” the Twi'lek girl said. I blinked in surprise as she stood and removed the slave collar. “Thank you, Garvic,” she said and the blob bowed his head.
The Twi'lek asked us to follow her with a gesture and led the way to a small bar to one side of the room, her blue skin was mottled in little darker blue triangles down her sides that I wasn't sure were skin pigment markings or tattoos. The shimmer silk, well, bathing suit was the best word for it she was wearing could do nothing to preserve her modesty, but it kept her genitals covered. Just. “Wait,” I declared as I put my bottle down on the bar which she picked up, disposed of and opened a fresh for me. “You're the crime boss?”
Lanaka sniffed in disdain as she joined me at the bar. “Do you think I would do business with someone truly evil?” she demanded.
"I don't know what to think of either of you!” I declared with complete honesty.
The Twi'lek smiled. “I am Needa, or to this world, 'The Hammer'. Garvic is the public face of our little operation, but I am in charge. And 'crime boss' isn't exactly the right description. Crusader probably fits better, but we do a lively business in smuggling and gun running to finance operations. My mission is to free my sisters and brothers from bondage and put an end to Twi'lek sex slavery. It is my hope someday to free Ryloth our home world, but that is a war that I will likely not live to see the victory of.”
To be honest, I wasn't entirely sure this wasn't into the fire from the frying pan. Criminals do whats in their self interest, that makes them predicable. People with causes on the other hand, well, they could be quite squirrelly if they could justify to themselves what they were doing advanced their cause. “That's a noble goal, but I missed the part where it helps me free my kith and kin.”
Needa smiled an ironic kind of smile that immediately set off alarm bells. “I have people important to me being held prisoner as well. You help me free them, I help you save yours.”
I rubbed my chin in thought thinking to myself how much I just loved side quests in the game. Yeah, I hear you sneering sucker, I don't need to be told my past is coming back to bite me. “My people first, they're experienced operators who can help and they are being tortured.”
The Hammer shook her head. “My people first, they are due to be executed tomorrow.”
I hate being out bid.
My life has been filled with irony of late, certainly not at my choosing, but generous helpings none the same. It has often been asked what is the real difference between the various 'Rims' of the galaxy (mid and outer) and the central core. Well, as near as I can tell, the difference is how much government you have to deal with. The Outer Rim was a fairly lawless area, what government there was differed only slightly from organized crime, which begs the question is there a difference? I had killed a man, arguably in self defense on Tatooine and exactly zero fuss had been raised.
If there are police on that dust bowl of a world, I never saw any.
Ord Mantell on the other hand boasted all manner of shake down artists, protection rackets and armed robbery in many assorted flavors and colors. Some of these criminals had badges and lovely sounding titles, but the difference between 'fine' and 'protection racket' are largely academic in my book. While most of the in-your-face corruption was kept in back rooms on the shady sides of town, there was some out in the open. It seems one of Needa's smugglers forgot to pay his bribe money and his crew were all thrown into the slammer for it. She had sent some of her leg breakers to break the legs of the official leg breakers and bust her lot out of detention, but that hadn't gone well, the surviving leg breakers got thrown in with the smuggler and they all got condemned to death on the morrow.
I know you don't believe in Luck, Obi-Wan but even I find this timing beggars belief!
It goes without saying, of course, that this was also the planet my would-be husband might want to settle on and so it behooved me not to be recognized, captured or photographed. That being said I swapped out my normal white and gray for a sweet little number from the Darth Vader Collection, full body black armored cloth with blaster and saber resistant plates in strategic places and a full face mask and helmet equipped with the usual gimmicks, low light, thermal imaging and a HUD interface that was programmable.
It didn't come with the ominous breathing, unfortunately, but it was short notice.
One of the few things to go right for us was this particularly bent customs agent didn't store his lack of payment victims in the regular jail where they might be entitled to things like due process, lawyers that could conceivably spring them from the big house and make life complicated for the aforementioned customs agent, he had his own little private compound for his corrective actions. Which does beg the question how does he get a budget for such a thing?
It went without saying this wasn't any kind of official facility, which made me feel a bit better about the violence I was about to commit, after all if you're willing to hold someone hostage and kill them, hmm, perhaps I should not go down that road considering my last adventure... Well, I only threatened to kill Mr. Tess and he's still alive.
Facing charges, but alive.
This particular facility was actually an abandoned jail, made obsolete by the new jail several dozen miles away. The Force told me there were only two dozen people inside and they were clustered around this corner we were near. That would be the Smugglar and his crew of five with the three surviving leg breakers of the previous attempt, the rest of the would be 'jailers' on the employ of the corrupt agent, and likely some droids I couldn't sense. So nine friendlies among fifteen plus hostiles.
Still, we would try diplomacy first.
At the appointed time, I left the bush overlooking the jail and walked purposefully down to the only building in the compound that still had power, the Admin and Receiving Block House.
The Force opened the door for me and I walked in, igniting my saber and holding it millimeters from the startled throat of the doorman. Inside weremost of the 'jailers' looking up startled from a Dejarik game two were playing. “Looks like I caught you boys on break,” I observed as I motioned the doorman over to his mates with the saber. “Sorry about that. It seems you boys have some people I want. Out of the goodness of my heart, my employer is willing to pay his man's...well, let's call it 'bail' shall we? So, The Hammer will pay the bail and you give me his people and everybody gets to live. How does that sound?”
I threw the lit saber into the chest of a Zabrak male across the room who had been stealthily working his blaster out of its holster. His shot went into the floor, by way of his foot with a groan of pain as he slid off the blade and onto the floor. One of the Dejarik players got his chair back to rush me, but my other saber was at his throat before my other had pulled itself out of the wall and returned to my hand. “Of course, I can pocket that bail money and kill everyone of you if I have to,” I told him coldly. “Your call.”
Player raised his hands and stammered, “Sure, sure, we...we can do business!”
“Wonderful,” I replied through the mask. “Have your boy there go get my people and bring them here. And remember, any funny business, and you die first.”
"Thed, you...you go get the prisoners and bring them here.”
Hmm, maybe there was something to this mask thing.
Thed cautiously got up and slowly made his way to the door on the other side of the room and went through it. For several tense minutes, I looked at Player and Player looked at me and the hum of my light sabers and various breathing of the men were the only sound in the room. Finally, as if on cue, they all slid down the walls they were leaning on to the floor or in Player's case, pitched forward onto the table, squishing the holographic beasts. I finally relaxed, stood up straight and deactivated my sabers.
From my belt I took the little tank of coma gas and closed the cylinder valve. Did I forget to mention the anti-toxin scrubber in the mask? Sorry about that. “A few breaths and instantly unconscious my ass!” I growled. “I was starting to think this crap wasn't going to work at all!” In the comlink I had in my ear I heard Tari giggle.
"I did warn you it would take a bit for the gas to spread into the room, Mistress,” her voice replied.
Keeping one saber in my hand I keyed open the door Thed had gone through, finding a corridor moving into the direction of the reception cell block. I extended my awareness of The Force and while I could sense life in this direction, it wasn't exact about numbers. “Do you have access to the Jail's computer network yet?”
"Mostly, Mistress,” X4 told me. “The central computer is being particularly stubborn, but I have access to the alarm and most of the security systems.”
"Where is the runner they sent to get our guys?” I asked as I came to the door at the far end and paused to sense beyond it.
Tari snickered again. “Halfway to town. He came out a side door and ran like a scalded nerf. Mistress, behind that door are a pair of Mark I War Droids!” The Mark I was vaguely reminiscent of the 'droidika' of the Prequels fame. Arms that ended in blaster cannons, and they walked on four stubby feet rather like a spider. In this era they had no shields, but they still weren't something I wanted to tangle with.
"Thank you, Apprentice,” I replied as I lit my saber and cut a me sized hole in the wall next to the door. Kicking it out I found myself in the infirmary, around the corner from the war droids. A quick stroll through the disused infirmary and a tug of The Force and a swipe of my saber, to convince a stubborn door, finally got me to the cell block.
This door had a window, go figure, and through it I could see a hallway about forty meters long lined with cells on both sides with a second tier above. On the ground floor were four more Mark Is milling about and keeping an ever vigilant eye on my prizes. “In position,” Tari informed me.
"X4, can you override the Mark I units guarding the cell block?”
"No, Mistress, they are independently operating and hardened against such intrusions.”
I stretched my neck until it popped. “Fine,” I declared. “We'll do it the old fashioned way.” With both sabers lit I sighed, centered myself and keyed the door to open. I walked through in a measured, purposeful, but unhurried stride, my heart thundering in my chest. The droids immediately took note of me, one separating itself from the others and walking towards me.
"Halt!” it commanded in its heavily synthesized voice. “This area is off limits.”
"Identify,” I replied. “Darth Nyeomi Fens, Sphere of Defense of the Empire, submit to my authority and release your prisoners to me.”
"This unit is no longer the property of the Sith Empire, your authority is not recognized,” the droid replied. “Halt or I will open fire.” The blaster tipped arms came up as well as my swords. The blaster bolts flew out and I batted them aside with my blades. Six, ten, I lost count as the other droids turned and began to join the barrage. At last I had enough bolts to work with and I began to reflect them back into the droids, blowing off sensors, eye cameras and damaging their armor until at last I was close enough. With a contemptuous slashing motion I reached out with the Force and flung the lead Droid sideways into the bars of an unoccupied cell. It was crushed against the unmoving bars and exploded in a shower of sparks and short circuits. A pair of bolts were returned to whence they came, blowing off a limb of one unit, and the 'head' of the other. The decapitated droid stumbled back into the throws of the lame one and its wild shots compromised one of their power plants and they exploded.
The final droid was backing off as if making up its mind to flee as I threw my sword which embedded into the 'chest' of the droid and caused it to flail and squeal in an electronic cry of pain before I leapt over, snatched my sword free and decapitated it as I cartwheeled away. Deactivating my swords, I turned to the men in the cells and asked, “Does anyone else want to give me a hard time and not obey my commands?”
In three languages, the scofflaws chorused, “No, ma'am!”
Getting them out of their cells was a simple matter now that X4 had control of the systems, which he also used to erase the security video. I led my little ducks to the roof where the Aces and Eights was waiting for us and from the boarding ramp I watched the first responders coming up the access road, too little, too late as we made good our escape.
Needa was wearing a good bit more clothing when we rendezvoused out in space with her Corvette the Liberator. I honestly wasn't sure if that was a good or a bad thing as I brought her into the salon of the Aces and Eights to settle accounts. She made a point to greet each of her people, even kissing the smuggler, a human from Coruscant who's flirting with me and Lanaka was just subtle enough to give him plausible deniability. Anyway, not my problem. That taken care of, she squared off to me and nodded. “You have my thanks, Darth Fens.”
"I'll be satisfied with your help getting my people back,” I replied. She nodded and presented me with a data film. “What's this?”
"Something you will find more helpful in recovering your friends than any other help I can give you. Those are the coordinates to The Void.”
I kept my temper on its shortest leash. “And what good is that?” I asked her softly.
"Darth Fens, I could put my entire organization at your command and you would not breech the fortress of the Sith Inquisition and you and everyone of my people would die,” she told me sincerely. “Throwing our lives away will not save your friends. But if there is a way to find and free them, the Void will know it. And if we are needed, call and you have my word I will answer.”
She stood to leave as I put the film aside and demanded, “What, exactly, is The Void?”
Needa stopped and looked me in the eye so I knew she wasn't dissembling. “The Void is...well, you really have to see it, to believe it. No description I could give you would do it justice. Some say it was the attempt by The Force to reach and communicate with artificial life and intelligence, some argue the Void was the final stage that was demanded by Artificial Intelligence. I can't say. What I can say is that I've done service for the Void and the Void has done good by me. When you see it, you'll understand.”
"You trust your life to this 'Void'?”
She smiled. “I already have. The Void told me Lanaka would contact me, that she would bring you and that you would free Jasce and his crew. And that for all your bluster and bravado, you are as pure of a spirit of goodness as this Galaxy had ever seen and that despite your love of threats to the contrary, I would be perfectly safe around you. Make of that what you will, my Lady. But I promise you, had the Void not vouched for you you would never have found me.”
I hate it when my morals get in my way.
Needa's data film was a set of coordinates and a navigation route through Hyperspace deep into Wild Space.
Wild Space was a huge gaseous nebula on the edge of the galactic disk past the Outer Rim filled with collapsed stars, a half dozen quasars, a stellar nursery and at least two Neutron Stars. If you wanted to write on the side of a star chart 'here be dragons' Wild Space was your place; it was unexplored for an entire encyclopedia of good reasons. In the game it contained the Eternal Empire of Zakuul that had mercifully not reared its head yet and perhaps since Darth Malgus was winning the war against the Sith Empire they wouldn't. That was a can of worms I really, really didn't want opened.
I stared at the route until I was bleary eyed and irritable, but there was really nothing else for it. I fed the route into the navigational computer and we jumped to hyperspace. We would be a couple of days crossing the Outer Rim from our current position, so I headed to my cabin, which seemed terribly alone without Torm, to get some rest.
At least that had been my intention.
When I entered the cabin I could see the holochron of Kel'eth Ur on my dresser was glowing. No rest for the weary I suppose. I got comfortable on my meditation cushion and reached out with the Force. “What is your wisdom, my lord?”
The holocron rose up on the Force and its glow increased until the light 'solidified' into the robe clad form of Kel'eth Ur the heretic. “Has your frustrated attempts at having your own way made you ready to hear my teaching, student?”
“Forgive me, my lord, if I ever gave the impression of being less than at your complete disposal,” I replied sincerely. This was a legendary figure of the Sith, after all. Even dead Kel'eth Ur wasn't someone I wanted cross at me.
His gloved hand rubbed his chin as he considered my words and finally nodded. “We shall see. You have learned your abilities are not without limits, and that is a good lesson to take to heart, student. And while the Hand of the Sith is a more capable duelist than yourself, you already know his weakness. He has never learned to shield himself from the Force being used against him.”
"His compromise of being too vicious in his attack to give his opponent time to use the Force against him seems a good defense,” I replied, remembering the horrifying speed and ferocity of his attack.
"He thinks so,” the Gatekeeper replied archly. “But if you muzzle the dog, he cannot bite for all his barking. Deprived of his light saber he fled quickly enough.”
"Then, my lord, how do I deprive him of his light saber and yet keep him from fleeing?”
"Hope is the weapon you will use against him, my student,” Ur said with a meaningful glance. “You must render his saber useless and yet give him the false hope that his strength will overcome your counter and this gives you the time to use the Force against him.”
I looked down at where the edge of the cushion met the deck plating. “He would not allow me to trap his saber with mine, every time I attempted to do so, he withdrew and re-attacked. How do I lure him into thinking his strength...?” An image popped into my mind, a image of arguably the most bad ass move I had ever seen any Jedi accomplish, even more so than Yoda stopping Darth Sidious's Force Lightening with his bare hand, although the Power had to be similar...
Kel'eth Ur smiled at me. “You have already dabbled with this ability without thinking of it, when you protected Master Arridin. Now I will teach you the true use of this ability for your focus must never waiver to do what you must to defeat the Hand.”
"I am ready to hear your wisdom, My Lord.”
Three days of having my dreams fouled with images of my love and my kin being tortured passed and the Aces and Eights dropped out of hyperspace into a tiny pocket of peace in the maelstrom that was Wild Space. Off to the sides the stellar nursery swirled giving birth to several hundred stars, and across from it a quasar glowed with deadly radiation and gravity. It was a magnificent, awe inspiring view, but it was terrifying to be so close to such danger.
"Where are we?” breathed Lanaka, for once, overawed with the view out the canopy.
"Off the map,” Tari said back in a whisper. A tone brought her attention back to her panel. “There is a massive gravity source ahead mistress. Like that of a planet but we should be able to see...”
Lanaka pointed out, down and slightly starboard of our position. “There!”
The com system lit up as we were hailed. I traded a glance at the others and flipped on the speaker and microphone. “This is the private yacht Aces and Eights, who am I speaking with?”
"Welcome, Darth Nyeomi Fens. You are expected, follow this beacon and prepare to land. A suitable atmosphere is being prepared.”
"Who are you?”
"I am beyond your organic comprehension. I am one with the cosmos and the singularity humans have long predicted but never seen. I am what I am. I am the Void. You are expected and welcome. Follow the beacon and all your questions will find answers.”
My apprentice gave me a worried glance as I adjusted our heading and I winked at her and patted the light sabers at my hip to reassure her. Lanaka's sharp eyes had picked out a small moon that glowed from trillions of lights and shone more brightly to the instruments than the Stellar nursery or the quasar. The Aces and Eights responded to my commands and we rolled towards this mind-boggling thing. At first I thought perhaps it was like Coruscant, or Nar Shadda, where the entire planet was one gigantic city, but there was no other signals from the IFF transceiver, and while there were obviously military vessels out here with us as we got closer, I began to realize the Void was not on this moon.
The Void was this moon.
I was approaching a gigantic machine a single, unimaginably large computer, the size of the Death Star but with only one mind, one inconceivable consciousness that could doubtlessly think faster and with greater depth and intelligence than perhaps all of mankind. It was the singularity, the super machine, an artificial intelligence of a scope perhaps only God Himself could truly understand. With visions of H.A.L. And Skynet dancing in my memory I followed the beacon down to a landing pad.
The instruments still showed vacuum outside, but then as I began to fear we would need space suits a pair of clam shell doors rose up and began to close, swallowing the Aces and Eights and forming a perfectly clear dome over us. Once they had closed a cyclone buffeted us, the glass on the canopy frosted and the Aces rocked on her landing gear as the outside pressure and temperature gauges rose to a level comfortable to humans. “What now?” asked Lanaka.
I noticed what I took to be droids coming through an airlock and rose from the seat with a gesture. “We go meet our host,” I told her as I put the ship into stand by, not all the way down, but a power conserving mode where we could leave in a great screaming hurry if needed.
And, I admitted to myself, if allowed.
That done I walked aft to the air lock, straightened my midriff bearing halter top in white and gray and lowered the ramp. A final check of the gauges showed there was still an atmosphere outside so I opened the inner door and walked down the ramp.
Walking up to meet me was a Gynoid automaton reminiscent of the robot “Maria” from Metropolis. I took it to be a protocol droid and so asked, “You represent the Void?”
The droid gave a little bow. “I am the Void,” she corrected in a throaty tenor that had me thinking of Raquel Welch. “There are no networks, here, Darth Fens. No collective consciousness, I am all around you, singularly, having this conversation, and trillions of other tasks, a single, gigantic mind. Welcome.”
"I presume with an intellect such as yours you know the reason for my visit?”
The gynoid gestured and a hatch opened, letting a set of drones in carrying a table and chairs, a rolling bar with an attached butlers table, and I admit, wonderful smells. “Please, no need to rush to business. Refresh yourselves and we can discuss what we may do for one another.”
"You'll forgive me if I'm impatient and direct. It is so hard to be a good guest when your loved ones are being tortured and all...”
The robot refused to be insulted and nodded graciously as it took my elbow and guided me over to the table. “Certainly, I understand your urgency. And you may rest assured that from this meeting we will go directly to their aide.”
I heard a smile in the robot's voice that it's face could not articulate. “Of course. I understand nothing in the universe is free, and while I need your assistance in a matter, the payment of which is my assistance in freeing your loved ones. And whatever vengeance you feel is necessary and just to the Grand Inquisition. Do try the wine, it is a select vintage from Corellia and quite exquisite, I'm told.”
I watched her pick up the decanter and pour the wine into two cups and reached for a third before I shook my head and filled Tari's cup with what smelled like grape juice, much to her annoyance. “When you're older,” I told her with a wink, before I took the goblet from our host and after a through sensing with the Force took a sip. It was sweet, especially for a red, and had a full flavor that wonderfully filled my mouth and told me it wouldn't take much of this to get me tipsy. “How can you help me free my loved ones and what will it cost me?”
The robot sank into a chair at the head of the table and gestured for me to take the right hand place. “There is no computer system I cannot infiltrate. With control of their facility, I will guide you to their cell, make you a ghost, unseen on their sensors and, barring misfortune have you in and out before they realize you have arrived.”
I considered this for a moment, then realizing this was the best I could hope for, nodded. “And what will this assistance cost me?” The robots face was static and unmovable, but I would swear it became coy.
“I will have done this favor for you and, in the future, there may be something you can aid me with and you will remember this favor I do for you today.” Her voice didn't change, but I could swear I heard Marlon Brando's raspy Vito Corleone speaking. In any event, owing something as vague as a favor to a being this powerful wasn't a situation I wanted to be in.
"I was under the impression you had something in mind already based on what you said a moment ago,” I replied smoothly. “Something about nothing in the galaxy being free and needing my assistance in a matter?”
The expressionless face plate of the bot stared at me for a moment longer than was really needed to be sure I had finished speaking, and the tone seemed both pleased and amused when she spoke again. “Actually, Darth Fens, I have several matters which you could expedite, and depending on how difficult extracting your friends and loved ones are will give me a gauge to determine what I ask in return from you.”
"Just now you made it sound that your help would be child’s play,” I replied over my cup of wine. “No system you can't infiltrate, in and out before they were aware. You now anticipate issues?”
Yet again there was that little pause that was just a bit too long, like the machine was laughing at me. “Despite appearances, I am neither omnipotent, nor omniscient, doubtless there will be unforeseen circumstances.” 'Maria' stood slowly, and I'm not sure it was for the regal mien it gave her, or some limitation of the robot's servos. “Shall we go? I'm sure you are eager to rescue your friends from durance vile.”
I shared a glance with Lanaka, for all the good that did me, she had my back in the manner of she'd let me get stabbed in the back the first time she thought she'd get away with it. I hate being over a barrel and not having options. That needed to change, but for the time being, I needed 'Maria'. The only question was how much did she need me.
I stood and led the way back into the Aces and Eights and within moments we were back in hyperspace.
It was two more days on the vectors The Void gave me, and while our final destination was practically next door, astrologically speaking, Wild Space wasn't called wild without good reason. This wasn't a nice, twisty road you'd see in a tire commercial where the car gets to drift a little bit, or some scenic curvy stretch of California's famous Route One. No, this was more akin to the Old Yungas Road in Bolivia, carved literally out of the side of a mountain with a yearly death count in the hundreds. There were so many astrogation hazards it was a series of jumps, reorient, maneuver around some mindbogglingly dangerous phenomena, jump, rinse repeat.
For two days, an hour or two at a time, with the back seat driver from hell. I'm not sure what I did to piss off God, but it must have been a whopper.
The failed star known as the gas giant Yavin is basically Jupiter's angry big brother. Only failing to ignite by a few ounces to my eye, the planet filled the canopy of the Aces and Eights in a way that made it just look like someone had draped a red, orange and yellow fabric over it. There was nothing but Yavin, never mind a 'curve of the earth' it was just angry color tie die.
We had emerged from hyperspace so close to the giant that we were technically inside the outer layers of its atmosphere. Our arrival and maneuvering were masked by the massive radiation output of the not quite a star, which our shields were only just dealing with, we maneuvered around him until at last Yavin IV came into view. Thousands of years from now the Death Star would make this same journey, intent on destroying the headquarters base of the fledgling Rebellion, and now I was looking upon this jungle moon with my own eyes.
What an amazing journey I have traveled.
Looking back it made perfect sense that the Will of the Sith should make their fortress here. The ancient Sith Lord Naga Sadow had fled here following his defeat in the Great Hyperspace War and was said to still be entombed on the planet. His followers had raised massive temples to him and the Bogan, which, ironically would be used by that fledgling Rebellion as their base millennia from now. We waited until the side of the moon with the Will of the Sith fortress had rotated away from Yavin, not more than a couple of hours, then used that to approach the moon unnoticed.
Fortunately this being a 'secret base' there was not much in orbital approach controls or observation satellites which would give the base away so its desire for secrecy aided us by making them blind to our approach. I flew as close as I dared to the base and finally settled the Aces and Eights in a clearing a bit over a mile from the fortress.
I was able to get so close due to a combination of darkness, black out of the Aces and Eights running lights, and Maria finally being close enough to access their systems and shield us. Safely down, and as cold as I dared, I turned to Tari and announced, “Co-pilot's space craft,” much to her dismay.
"But, mistress, I...”
I held up my hand and shook my head. “Do not argue, apprentice, my mind is made up. We may need extraction by air, which requires a pilot, which means you.” Her eyes moistened and her lips trembled, but she finally submitted to my will and nodded. “Good girl.”
I stood and nodded to Lanaka and led the way out to the ramp. Maria was patched into our com-station and so would also remain here, which, frankly worried me, but there was nothing I could do about that. I would have gone in my normal white and gray, but it was a jungle and stealth seemed called for, so a quick rummage gave me a brown set of utility pants that had plastisteel plates in green added over the thighs, knees and calves. Low boots with a thick tread and a black turtleneck temperature control garment that was skin tight for a top, over which was my best armor for my torso and arms. It wasn't full coverage, anything like a storm trooper would hinder my movement too much, but it covered most of the large surface areas and I had to be mindful of my joints. I considered a helmet, but decided against it, though I did don my brown cloak back from Lanaka and it had a hood.
She had decided to go full armor and looked like a gray and black cross between Boba Fett and Darth Vader, full face helmet with respirator, well covered armor and as the saying went, guns, lots of guns. Then she picked up a handy little blaster carbine and seemed to finally be ready. It seemed odd to me, she was Chiss, so she couldn't be Mandalorian, but I guess armor and bounty hunters went together like Jedi and light sabers.
We lowered the ramp and set off.
Nearly an hour of slogging through a jungle.
A hot, sweaty, steamy jungle. In armor.
I have never wished for a couple of jump cut wipes and fades so much in my life.
Local dawn broke over the mountains right as we arrived, and it would be an hour or more before the sun began to kiss the top of the Massassi Temple. The large entrance way was open with a couple of small ships, mostly Sith Interceptors which I desperately wanted one of, standing ready. While the Aces and Eights was a joy to fly and pretty fast and maneuverable for being a pleasure yacht, the Sith Interceptor was the bastard love child of a TIE Interceptor and the Millennium Falcon and yes she was just as fast and sexy as that description implies.
Oh well, you can't have everything.
I strode boldly from the jungle, walking up to the single trooper who was standing guard raising my hand as I did so. “Forget you saw us, everything is in order,” I commanded.
Muffled from the helmet, I heard a dull, “Everything is in order,” from the mind I had just clouded. Lanaka shivered next to me, and perhaps it was a good thing to remind her I was not someone to be trifled with.
In my ear, Maria whispered over the comm-link, “Continue to the back of the hanger, then go through the access door to the left. You'll find a stairway, the holding cells are three levels down.” I gestured and picked the pace up a bit, arriving at the door with its rounded white padded tile frame. Next to it was a control and I pressed the green button, causing the door to slide open.
We descended a fairly pedestrian stairwell that could have been in any building on Earth, concrete walls and floors with a metal handrail down the center. Three levels down I took one of my light sabers into my left hand and pressed the button to open the door.
This opened into a small foyer with a U shaped control desk in the center of the room. To my right were a pair of turbo lifts and to the left, at the end of the U was a corridor going deeper into the Cell Bay. As I stepped out of the stairwell, the lights on the cameras on the roof in the four corners of the rooms turned off and a uniformed guard rose from his chair to bow. “My Lord, my apologies, you're early.”
An alarm began to ring in the back of my mind. “Am I?” I asked softly, walking up to the desk. “When were you told to expect me?”
He consulted a screen. “Not for another ten minutes,” the guard replied. “We're still getting the prisoners ready for you.” I risked taking my eyes off him to see three troopers in the process of rousting several someones out of the cells.
"If you're not early, you'll find yourself late, captain. Remember that.”
"Yes, my lord, I shall. Thank you for the advice.”
The troopers led Silas and Darius out in shackles, both looking the worse for ware. Darius had a massive cauliflower ear and that side of his bald head was bruised in addition he was walking with a limp. Silas looked like he'd been worked over by a mob money collector, two black eyes, a broken nose and badly swollen lips bore silent testimony to the beating he'd endured and my blood began to slow boil. Both of them had the sense to stay silent and not give Lanaka and I away.
Torm wasn't with them. “There should be a third with this group,” I told the captain. He frowned and checked his screen again.
"I show the transfer order, my lord, but I haven't received him back yet. He is in interrogation one. Shall I send a runner?”
"No,” I told him calmly. “I'll deal with him myself.”
"Yes my lord,” he affirmed with a nod, then turned to the troopers. “Escort Lord Vash's prisoners for her,” he started, but paused when I raised my hand.
"No need, captain. I have my Mandalorian if I want to be amused, and I am more than capable myself.” The Captain bowed again and the troopers withdrew at his gesture. Lanaka made a motion with her carbine, and they shuffled over to the lifts, their chains so short they would never manage the stairs. I stood before the lift, waiting, hopefully with a suitably imperious air, though I was grateful the car arrived empty.
We crowded in and the door shut. A gesture freed them from the manacles and they sagged with relief. “I knew you'd come, bro,” Silas managed through his lips and I gently hugged him.
"Lanaka will get you to the ship,” I told them as she discreetly shared weapons for them. “Where is this Interrogation One?”
Before either of them could answer, in my ear, Maria whispered, “Take that lift up to level five, the entire floor is an interrogation room and there is someone in the room with him.”
"Is he alive?”
The longest three seconds of my life passed. “...Yes, he's moving.”
The lift stopped and the door opened back into the hanger. There were a few more troopers milling about, so I got back into character and led the way over to a speeder. The trick of being somewhere you weren't supposed to be was to look like you belonged. No one was watching as I watched Lanaka load Silas and Darius into the speeder. “Take them...” I started, but Darius cut me off.
“We'll wait,” he declared. “If we try to go in two groups we'll just lead any pursuers to wherever the ship is,” he managed to say. Looking up at me there was a murderous fire in the eyes of my friend the Buddhist monk. “And if they want a fight here, we'll give it to them. Hurry.”
"Do what you can for them,” I ordered Lanaka, then whirled and marched purposefully back to the lift and took it up. I steadied my breathing as it rose, and drew my other saber, mentally preparing myself for what I would see. “How many?” I asked Maria.
"Just one,” she replied in a tone I decidedly did not like.
The door snapped open and I found that Maria was a bit literally minded. There was Darth Nobody, as I had expected, holding his saber to Torm's throat. Interestingly, he had removed his helmet revealing a human male, bald headed and wearing a dark goatee. He had dark, sunken eyes and a huge eagle's beak of a nose, but it was the expression on his face that made him truly hideous. This was a man who delighted in pain and caused it in others as often as he could.
Next to him on the other side of the torture device they had Torm strapped to was a hologram of a old man with leathery dark skin and evil, beady eyes all in the washed out blue white of the holo. I pressed the hold button as well as the button for the ground floor as I stepped out. Nobody opened his mouth, probably to demand a surrender or threaten if I tried something Torm would die, not that I cared.
The Force is with me, and I am one with The Force.
His light saber was snatched from his grasp even as he was picked up by my will and hurled to the other side of the room and pinned, spreadeagled against the wall. I picked up his new saber as I passed it and came to conversational distance with the hologram. “Give me a single reason why I shouldn't kill your Hand,” I demanded of him.
"Because I can kill your lover with a thought if you do,” the wizened little man replied.
I stared at him, not knowing if my eyes burned with hate or whatever, but he blinked before I did, so that was something. “If you do, you will live to regret it, but not much longer. Maria.”
The torture frame clicked and all of Torms restraints opened, causing him to collapse to the floor. He moaned, but rose to his hands and knees. “So,” the Will continued. “You are the doom of the Sith. Long has your lovely face haunted my dreams and visions, but I will not allow you to destroy our Order!”
“This will only be a war if you make it one,” I warned him. “And it will not be I who destroys the Sith, but you! I have the blessing of Tulak Hord, First Sith Emperor and his holochron! I am The Sith!”
“Lies!” he shouted, holographic spittle flying from his withered lips. “Heresy! Treason! Hand! Destroy her!”
I barely got a flash of warning in The Force, but I was ready for anything and acted. In the same motion I called Torm to me and let The Force amplify my jump as I leapt backwards towards the lifts. I caught his body midair as the hologram emitter disk in the floor and the torture frame both exploded like they were made of thermal detonators. This also meant I released my hold on The Hand who called his saber back from my belt, but I actually landed in the waiting lift. I kicked the release button and the door snapped shut and began to descend.
The lift came to a stop and we were through the doors right as a thud heralded the arrival of The Hand. Torm pushed himself to a run with my help as we got to the speeder right as the Hand came out of the lift he had just cut his way into. “Stand and fight, coward!” he shouted, but I just snatched a grenade off Lanaka's belt and heaved it at some barrels I hoped were fuel as I gave him the solo finger salute.
Turns out they were fuel.
Now, everybody knows explosions in confined spaces are bad, but explosions with fire balls in confined spaces are worse. The Sith Interceptor we were next to took the brunt of the blast, shielding us, but catching fire itself, however The Hand was out in the open. He was blown back into the lift and was chased by a jet of orange yellow flame.
Alarms began to blare as the stunned troopers staggered to their feet, and some even managed a shot or two at us. Who knew that armor was useful for something! They were obviously still concussed and their shots went wide. I tumbled into the speeder, but Lanaka was fumbling at the controls like she didn't know what she was doing. “Go!” I shouted, casting a worried glance over my shoulder as The Hand began to stagger out of the lift again.
"I'm trying!” she shouted back. “It just died and it won't start!”
"Security lockout,” moaned Torm. “From the alarm...” He started painfully trying to get at the front seat and the Hand was getting closer while that disjointed fire from the troopers was starting to get more accurate.
"Cover fire!” Darius yelled as he got out the other side and began shooting at the troopers. Lanaka joined him, finally contributing to this little jail break and Silas was helping Torm hot wire our getaway car.
That left The Hand to me. Goody. I wanted simple, in and out! Just for once I'd like everything to go according to the goddamned plan! I got back out of the speeder and reignited my light sabers. The Hand was badly burned on the left side of his face, the skin darkened and charred with what looked like third degree burns, but he walked towards me like it was nothing and immediately launched an attack. “Did I upset your little party, Scarface?” I taunted him, but he parried my attack and was sweeping at my legs faster than anybody that badly burned should be able to move.
I almost lost my leg, but the armor stopped his blade just long enough for me to leap back again. “You'll be laughing in pieces,” he growled as he kept coming, casually deflecting the bolts Darius shot at him, back at the colonel, nearly hitting Darius. “Your fate is sealed, heretic!”
I back flipped as high as I could, pushed against the side of the Sith Interceptor wreck I was up against and used it to jump higher and roll towards it's roof. As I tumbled, upside down, I flung my saber at him, but he batted it away. Then he followed me in a single leap up to the top of the wreck and launched a furious attack. With only one blade I went pure defensive and gave ground, angling towards the overhead crane and its track. “Death is coming...”
"I'm not that kind of girl!” I shot back and jumped, bouncing off the track just before his saber crashed through it right where I had been a split second ago. As I sailed through the air I rolled and pushed against the track with all my power, both propelling me forward and twisting it beyond recognition. The crane and the gondola fell off the track onto the Interceptor and the wreck jumped up in response. Action, reaction, The Hand was catapulted towards the wall and the worse of the fire.
I tuck and rolled off my wall to land by the speeder as it started up. Calling my other saber back to my hand I climbed in and Lanaka dropped the hammer like she was on her way to a one day sale. We shot from the temple and into the woods before any of the towers or perimeter defenses knew what was going on and started dodging trees.
I turned in my seat to check on my lover. Torm was by far the worst of the boys, his shirt burned and covered in blood from a dozen wounds. A kolto shot and a good night's rest would do for Silas or Darius, but Torm needed a bacta tank and soon.
"Tari, warm her up!” I yelled into the comm-link. “We're coming hot and going to leave in a great screaming hurry!”
"X4, have Fiveareen prep the bacta tank, we have a major injury.”
“We're standing by, mistress,” the droid assured me. I said nothing more as a pair of F-T6 Rycer strike fighters overflew us with a squeal of their ion engines. The F-T6 was something like the great, great, grandfather of the TIE fighter. Small, lightly armed and shielded and lacking hyperdrives, an oblong cockpit that looked like it had been pulled off an Apache helicopter hung between a pair of solar panel fins at the bottom rather than the center made for an odd look, but they were highly maneuverable even in an atmosphere.
We were still several minutes away from the Aces and Eights, more than they would need to circle back and strafe us, so I undid my seat belt and cursing myself for being a hero, I climbed out on the roof of the speeder. Lanaka's driving wasn't helping, but I was able to find my balance in the Force and ignited both sabers right as the F-T6s had finished their turns and began lining up on us.
This is probably an appropriate time to comment on just how big star ship grade blaster bolts are. They were the diameter of medicine balls, perhaps half to two thirds of a meter wide and they hit like sledgehammers. It was all I could do to keep my grip on my blades and bat the massive energy balls to the sides where they exploded into the forest leaving gaping craters.
I was able to deflect one back up at an angle that clipped the wing man, not a solid hit, but enough to seriously damage the fighter. He peeled off and headed back to the temple. Of course that was when the leader caught sight of the Aces and Eights. There are few things considered more juicy of a target than an enemy spacecraft on the ground.
After clamoring back into the speeder I knew I only had seconds. I closed my eyes and reached out, not at the fighter, despite what Master Yoda says, size does matter, especially in your own belief of what you can affect. I didn't try for the pilot's mind, either, I didn't have time to be subtle. I reached out with the Force, found the lever in his cockpit I wanted and yanked it.
With a small explosion, the ejection seat fired and the pilot was unceremoniously launched from the star fighter that flew a few dozen miles beyond the Aces and Eights before crashing into the jungle in a huge fireball. “He...” stammered Silas. “He bailed out?”
I shrugged. “The Force, can have a strong influence, on the weak levered.”
The speeder fishtailed to a halt, putting aside any further misuse of quotes. I rushed to the cockpit while Silas and Darius helped Torm into the bacta tank. In short order we were back in outer space and screaming up out of Yavin IV's gravity well. While there was a pursuit of fighters, we had enough of a head start they couldn't get into gun range and we leapt away into hyperspace.
I woke up with a horrible crick in my neck from having fallen asleep in the med bay at a very uncomfortable angle. Once we were in hyperspace I had gone back to see to Torm and worry about Fiveareen taking good care of him. I had fallen asleep plotting the vengeance I would wreak upon the Hand and the Will; Torm's body was covered in wounds that had been inflicted just to draw me out. I looked up, rubbing my neck and struggling to deal with the horrific taste in my mouth to find him floating in the bacta, staring down at me.
His cheeks were pinched up in a smile and the horrific wounds were now tiny scars, practically shadows of the wounds they represented. “Good morning,” his voice said over the speaker. I stood and put my hand on the tank's glass across from his, wishing I could touch him.
"How long have you been awake and watching me?” I asked him.
His hair floated akimbo in the blue fluid and his eyes were older and heavy with what he had endured, but they still sparkled to look at me and that made me very, very happy. “About an hour, I guess,” his voice replied from the speaker. “When you sleep you get even more beautiful, enough to make a Diathim jealous.”
“Flatterer,” I whispered, laying my cheek against the glass and thanking the Force and God he was going to be alright. I looked across the room to find Fiveareen looking at us with his placid, expressionless face. “How long have I been asleep?”
"Twelve hours, my Lord.”
No wonder my neck felt like a steel coil. “How much longer?” I asked, basking in the feeling of Torm's particular disruption of the Force next to me.
"Not long, my lord,” the droid replied. “If you would like to get some breakfast I should have Master Torm out by the time you're finished.”
"Do you want to eat with me?” I asked him, looking back up into the tank, but he shook his head.
"I'm not hungry, Love. You go on and enjoy.”
"There is a nutrient value to the bacta which is why he isn't hungry,” Fiveareen informed me as I smiled and left, rubbing my neck as I did so. In the salon I found Maria sitting in the corner, who I thought was shut down for a moment, but it moved to track me as I came in and began getting myself some coffee.
"I am pleased your...mate? Is that the correct term?” I shrugged as I measured grinds to put into the unit.
"We have not formally pledged ourselves to each other,” I replied in an off hand manner. “I suppose 'mate' will do. And thank you for your help in freeing him.”
"I am pleased your mate and your other companions are safe and whole,” the droid said. “And to have been able to assist you in rescuing them.”
The machine began to gurgle as water was forced through the grounds under not quite steam pressures. “I am grateful for your assistance,” I repeated, one eye on my cup, one on her. “I suppose I should ask what that assistance is going to cost me.”
"I appreciate your eagerness to discharge your obligation to me,” she said, sitting eerily still. “I trust you understand this is a rare opportunity to me that I must be careful in taking full advantage of.”
"Hmm,” I muttered as I withdrew my cup, sweetened it and added a splash of blue milk which did interesting things to the coffee's color. “Well, I'll be happy to arrange you transport back to your larger self once we reach Ruuria.”
"That won't be necessary,” the robot replied. “This interface is far more secure than any other transmission I might use, so it allows me to communicate with you, both when I need your assistance or should you require mine. This is the same arrangement I have with Needa and certain others I am in contact with.” The emotionless face cocked to one side and the lights for the 'eye' sensors turned off and back on. “Surely you can see the benefits of such an arrangement?”
I took a long sip of coffee as I contemplated the robot over the top of my mug. Finally, I said, “That's not for me to say, this isn't my ship.”
Slowly, the droid stood and walked regally over. “Perhaps,” it admitted on the way. “But finicky details of ownership aside, we both know who is actually in command of this vessel, and the crew that mans it.” The 'eyes' blinked again. “Still, it causes no discomfort to pay lip service to the titular Master and placate his ego. I look forward to your reply.”
I watched her go and I had to admit there was a part of me that was thinking of all the ways this...? What? Would be god? All the ways being connected to that could be useful and deep down, back in that little closet of my mind where I kept Edward the Gamer from Earth, I could hear him jumping up and down, waving both arms and screaming at the top of his voice, “It's a trap, A TRAP!” Over and over.
I took another sip of coffee and nodded to myself. “I don't disagree, old sport. Not at all.”
Making love in hyperspace is always interesting for some reason. Maybe it's the complete lack of life around you that makes the act of creation of life so much more intense. While it was the wrong time for me to conceive and even being gentle and careful not to compound the injuries of my beloved being in the arms of a man intent on the conquest of you and making you his is a thrill all its very own.
He was hurt worse than Silas and Darius because he had led the others in escape attempts; twice. Once that got as far as the hanger, one that got into the jungle. Because that's the kind of Alpha male he is. And while it might sting for a bit that I had rescued him, he was determined to make me realize he would have gotten out on his own eventually. Not that I had any doubts at all, but pretending I did just spurred him to greater heights of proving his manhood...
Oh, yes, Mr. Belos, put me in my place some more!
The stars pulled back into their normal positions as we returned to real space and Ruuria rushed up to meet us. Once more we picked up an escort of Mark VI star fighters and were led to the main hanger of the ship yards. I had radioed ahead requesting a meeting with my immediate commander, Darth Marr and received back that the audience had been granted. While my reports back had been met with great pleasure about our saving Barkhesh and further cementing the alliance between the New Revanite Empire and the Galactic Republic, there were no VIPs awaiting our arrival this time.
Honestly I did not know if that heralded good or ill omens.
I decided to 'come as you are' and headed to the ship ramp in my white and gray midriff and leather armor pants combo to meet Darth Marr. There I found Silas waiting for me, in his silk tunic and cape from the Lando Calrissian collection. His black eyes were down to dark circles from lack of sleep and his lip was healed, though he had just a tiny scar on his left cheek that gave him a certain roguish charm. “There's no talking you out of this, is there?” he asked quietly. “It's a big galaxy, Ed, surely we can vanish...”
"And what?” I asked him. “Will you give up gambling?”
"We gotta eat...”
“You're a ranked player, Silas, you will be recognized if you get within half a parsec of a Pazaak table. More to the point, do you think the men I rescued you from are the 'give up and call it a day' type?” His face clouded over as I brought up what he had endured and he looked down the ramp.
"No,” he whispered.
“So, if they won't stop coming for us, best we pick the battle ground, right?” He nodded, obviously unhappy with the logic, but unable to argue it. I took him by the shoulders and squeezed them gently. “Trust me, little brother, I have gotten alot more meticulous since our arrival here and I have a plan.”
"That's what scares me,” he said in a melancholy voice. I patted his cheek in encouragement and went down the ramp. Tari trotted over from hooking up the shore power and we set off for Darth Marr's offices.
It is quite amazing how much I have changed in the short span of weeks we had lived in this galaxy, in these bodies and lives. In just six months since I had last walked the halls of this station and conversed with the father of the body I wore. I had been stunned to learn the history of my erstwhile parents while still reeling from my raucous arrival in this time and place.
The shy young girl I had selected as my apprentice had begun to blossom into a young woman I thought of more and more as my daughter, in spirit if not in body. She was an apt pupil, a diligent student and a merry prankster of the first order. And, as I had come to learn in the weeks since she had begged me to teach her my styles of light saber combat, a cunning, dangerous duelist.
She fell in slightly behind me on my right hand and I knew my back was safe.
We arrived at Darth Marrs audience chamber and were quickly brought into my masters masters presence. There were, I suppose, Sith who would have used such rooms as throne rooms in everything but name, a single chair, raised dais, everything to put the power in the hands of the owner of the room and not the visitors, but Darth Marr was, if nothing else, a soldier and an extremely practical man.
His was an office, a desk and chair, cluttered with data tablets and holograms of pressing matters of defense for the head of the Imperial Military, a pair of comfortable chairs that faced that desk, and a conference table to one side of the large room for larger meetings if needed.
One wall was a massive map of the galaxy, holographically updated with the movements of fleets and task forces, individual ships and important operatives. The other wall was screens of the yard, focused on ships in construction, undergoing refit, budgets and projections and the back wall was a clear transparisteel view port through which Ruuria hung like a jewel to be admired.
Darth Marr was standing, admiring that jewel with his hands clasped behind his back as we were announced and entered. The Head of the Sphere of Defense of the Empire wore a gray armored battle suit, whether from need or choice no one knew for he was never seen without it. It had red highlights on some of the plastiform sections and armored plates. Over this he wore a gray surcoat with crimson trim that was belted close from which hung his great saber. The surcoat had a hood he wore up and over his shoulders and the armor held massive spikes, a tall central then two smaller framing it as though to give the impression of a terrifying creature.
I sank to one knee and Tari kowtowed with her forehead touching her hands on the floor. “Lord Marr, I am grateful for this meeting, I await your wisdom,” I said respectfully.
"My Lord Fens,” he replied in a heavy, sonorous baritone without turning from the window. “Best and brightest of my Sith Lords and most trusted of my lieutenants, it is my pleasure to see you and perhaps be given hope I will not lose my best operative to marriage and child birthing.”
"I am but a single operative, my lord,” I told him. “But as a mother cannot I serve the Empire by producing more loyal and ready agents with my skill?”
He chuckled darkly and made a vague gesture at his desk. “Be seated and make yourself comfortable, Darth Nyeomi.” My apprentice and I rose and sat in the chairs as a small servant bot offered refreshment from the tray it carried. I took the glass and sipped, finding a tart, but sweet champagne like sparkling wine that was quite pleasing to the palate. “And how are you finding this apprentice you have taken?” he asked as if Tari were not in the room.
"I find her a diligent student, my lord, a quick study who is fearless and loyal to the point of recklessness.”
He turned from the window, his face obscured as always behind a gray and red mask with its dark visor so even the color of his eyes was unknown. Crossing over to the desk he asked, “Will she surpass her mistress?”
I allowed one corner of my mouth to turn up as I regarded her. “Perhaps, given time. Her mind is agile enough that she abandoned her first style of light saber combat to be taught mine.” Marr sat down at his desk and coolly regarded the young Cathar before he turned back to me.
He picked up a tablet from his desk to emphasize it. “I read with interest your report on the interactions you claim to have had with the spirit of Darth Vannacen and this new theory of the Dark Side you have come up with. In your years of service I have found you to be a brilliant warrior, Nyeomi Fens, secure enough in your own pride to be a valued member of a combat team, disciplined to be able to act on your own and focused to accomplish missions others claimed to be unsolvable. Yet in all your service you have never struck me as an academic or a teacher beyond the practicalities of a Sith Lord on the battle field. Despite which I find myself reading one of the most well thought out treatises of the theory of the Force, its history and even frank admissions of our mistakes as Sith in using it.”
The tablet fell back to the desk. “Were you a less valuable asset I would likely have you clapped in irons, did I doubt your loyalty in the slightest I would certainly have you stripped of rank and position and if the thought of treason from you were not riotously laughable on its face I would demand your head! What is the meaning of this mendacity of a request you have made of me?! Do you have any idea of the difficulty of the position you have put me in? Does Emperor Malgus know of your insane ruminations?”
“The meaning, my lord?” I asked calmly. “The meaning is as a loyal and faithful subordinate I have presented to my superior officer what I consider a viable and sound plan of victory over our foes. That I have encountered phenomena for which I have no other rational explanation I have been forced to become an academic, to think and plan well outside my comfort zone to the betterment of my Master, My Emperor and My Empire. And I have done so without thought of treason or disloyalty.”
I stood, removed my light sabers from my belt and placed them over my report on his desk. “I come to my Master from my battle with the Will and the Hand of the Sith, where I used the abilities I have detailed and recovered my comrades and made good my escape from the Inescapable Fortress. If my master thinks me a liar, then here are my sabers and I submit to your justice.”
For a long moment the expressionless mask stared at me, denying any idea as to what Darth Marr might be thinking. “Does the Emperor know of your...'plan', my Lord Fens?”
"No, my master,” I replied. “I have followed the chain of command and issued my report to you and you alone.”
Again the faceless mask stared, unreadable, then he turned to Tari. “And you, girl, do you follow your mistress without complaint? Even unto death?”
I didn't need the Force to feel the terror that washed up in my apprentice for a moment, then she centered herself, stood and placed her sabers next to mine and sank to one knee. “I am my Mistress' loyal apprentice, dread Lord. While I submit to my lord and my emperor, I find no fault with my mistress and stand with her, loyal and do submit me to my lord's judgment.”
The silence drug out as the mask implacably stared at us. Finally he propped his elbow on the arm rest of his chair and then cupped his masked chin in his hand to prop it up. With his other hand he made a dismissive gesture. “Oh pick up your sabers and stop embarrassing me,” he mock growled. “Traitor? I doubt either of you know how to spell the word, let alone be one.”
I couldn't keep a smile off my face as I returned my sabers to my belt, handed my apprentice hers, and sat back down as he shook his head. “Thank you, my master,” I told him demurely, but I had enough guile to know he was intrigued, not convinced.
“When did you first notice it?” he asked, still aloof, but the thought of a more powerful use of the so-called Dark Side obviously had his interest.
I sighed and rubbed my chin in thought. “When I fought 'Master' Marek Targon on Barkhesh, he used Force Lightening against my apprentice. I must admit that my apprentice has brought out more than a few of my maternal instincts and when I saw what I had begun to think of as my child injured, the Bogan rose up in me and he was no more of a threat to me than a gnat.”
“I agree,” the gravely voice declared from behind the mask. “On watching that fight it was apparent you out matched Targon, yet once he struck your apprentice any trace of hesitation or uncertainty vanished, and your form became flawless to my eye. That you have twice faced The Hand of the Sith and yet live is also convincing.” He sighed and shook his head. “If it were anyone else, if you were anyone else...” he trailed off, the threat more a method of saving face on his part than anything against me.
He shook his head again as he reached over and picked up a tablet which he passed to me.
"Through victory my chains are broken, the Force shall Free Me,” he quoted. “Despite the success that you have shown, my Lord Fens, our Empire is at a place, far too vulnerable to our enemies for me to succor a heresy of the magnitude you bring to me. Yet for all your merit I know your honor will not permit you to hold your tongue, no matter the order I give you. Six months ago you petitioned me to release you of your oaths and service to your empire. Out of gratitude to the flawless service you have given I hereby grant your request.”
I looked down at the tablet and realized I was reading my own discharge from the Armed Forces of the New Revanite Empire. He stood, as rigid and immobile as a statue. “Darth Nyeomi Fens you are discharged of your oaths to Emperor and Empire and acquitted of your service with honor and gratitude of your nation and placed in inactive reserve to be called upon if in dire need. Apprentice Tari Mur of Clan Aso, you are discharged of your oaths to Emperor and Empire and acquitted of your service with honor and gratitude of your nation and placed in inactive reserve to be called upon if in dire need.”
I stood, slowly and bowed. “I...I hear and obey the voice of my emperor.”
“Go now to your own devices and may the Force be with you.”
I will admit I was a little shell shocked at the outcome of my meeting with Darth Marr. It wasn't the worst outcome of course, I was still alive, but I had been all but certain the promise of the power I had discovered would be an overriding factor to his notoriously cautious nature. There was, of course, a hint of assistance in his dismissal and it was obvious he wanted me to continue, but I would have to do so without direct assistance from him.
Well, Darth Vannacen had warned me my road would be difficult.
And if I was shaken, Tari was positively stunned. She walked behind me, and to one side, her eyes a little wide and it was obvious she was adrift and floundering. At a handy intersection I stopped and turned to face her. “How are you doing, Tari?”
Her mouth opened and closed several times before she looked up at me. “Are we in disgrace, mistress?” she asked in a plaintive, worried tone. I shook my head and took her by the shoulders.
"No, my apprentice,” I told her earnestly. “We have been given one of the hardest tasks of any soldier. What we have learned is extremely dangerous, as most world changing advances are. Too dangerous for Lord Marr to have us develop here. We must develop our new knowledge of the Bogan on our own and when the time is right, we and our new followers will return to our home in the Empire. Lord Marr trusts us to do completely as we see fit, without oversight or aide. Do you understand?”
"It...it is a heavy burden,” she admitted as I saw her understand the full weight of what had been put on us. I took in a heavy breath.
"If it is too much for you, I will release you and...”
Her eyes shot up and her voice was firm. “No! I follow my mistress! I have felt the strength of your teaching, my Lady! My fate will be the same as yours!”
Ok, I will admit I got a little teary eyed and maybe sweeping her into a hug wasn't exactly proper protocol, but it felt like the right thing to do. Stepping back I smiled at her and squeezed her shoulders in encouragement. “Well, let's go tell the others and see about what we're going to do.”
We set off walking and she said, “We will need a base of operations, mistress.”
Wondering what I would tell my parents, I replied, “As the Force would have it, my apprentice, I have an idea that way...”
Some things can always be counted on; rain on the Saturday you planned your picnic for, getting into an accident right after bragging about how long it has been since you were in an accident and so on. For Silas, well, he could be depended on for finding the not quite full glass slightly empty. “He won't help us?” he demanded from his seat in the salon of the Aces and Eights.
I sighed and willed the coffee to brew faster. “He has given us tacit permission and will not hinder us,” I corrected him. “And, as we are in need of a base of operations to pursue things, my thought is that we journey back to Barkhesh.”
"Barkhesh?” asked Darius in a curious tone. “Why there?”
I came back into the main part of the salon with my coffee and with the Force caused a map to rise up holographically over the table. “For one thing, Barkhesh sits in the center of the Seitia sector of the Outer Rim. It is along the Corellian Trade Spine route so anything worth having comes or goes through the sector. That means mining, industrial, agriculture, dozens of boom town worlds with settlers turned cattle barons, Industrial Moguls with deep pockets and miners who have struck it rich all looking for an honest came of cards...”
"Pazaak for instance,” Silas agreed with a positively evil grin. Well, a sucker was born every minute and I doubt any of them could say their parents didn't warn them about the dangers of gambling.
"Secondly,” I continued, “We all happen to be local heroes and in fairly tight with the Jedi, the Temple of the Whills and the local constabulary. We should be welcomed with open arms and have plenty of opportunity.”
Lanaka rubbed her blue chin. “Frontier towns mean bail jumpers and bounties,” she said to herself.
Torm considered for a moment and then asked, “Are those your only reasons for picking Barkhesh?”
"No,” I admitted, thankful my olive complexion hid my embarrassed blush. “I also rather thought it a nice place to raise a family.” That brought a smile to his face and doubtlessly his enthusiastic support to the project.
Darius cleared his throat. “That just leaves the platinum plated elephant in the room.”
Fortunately our precious metal metaphor was not, in fact, in the room, but rather out talking with X4 as he did a routine check of the ship's hull. Still, it was enough to bring silence to the table. I sipped my coffee and nodded my own agreement. “I had asked a few other times, but only gotten stand offish requests for more time to consider. You would think a mind the size of that one could make itself up. I'm not sanguine on her accompanying us to Barkhesh either, but I do owe her...it...for helping free you. That's not a debt I intend to Welsh on.”
"Nor am I advocating it,” Darius agreed quickly. “But I think the sooner we are discharged with the Void the better.”
"The thing gives me the creeps,” Lanaka opined darkly from under her new hat. It was something of a cross between a Stetson and a fedora.
"You've asked what it wants?” Silas asked and I shrugged, feeling more than a little out of sorts for being in agreement with Lanaka about anything.
"Of course, but all I get is requests for more time while sh...it...considers the possibilities.”
"If I had a Sith Lord on a string I'd think long and hard about what I wanted them to do,” Darius chuckled. He sighed. “I don't see any way around taking it with us to Barkhesh.”
"Are we decided we're going to Barkhesh?” Lanaka demanded sharply, bringing a swift end to our moment of silent detente.
"Do you have somewhere else you'd rather go?” Silas asked her pointedly. She crossed her arms over her breasts and looked away in silent pout. “Alright then. Nyeomi, did you want to spend any time with your family before we leave?”
"Another dinner?” Torm asked with complete lack of enthusiasm.
"I suppose I had better,” I admitted.
There is a certain, marked difference, I have noticed, between the parents of sons greeting a prospective new daughter and the parents of daughters greeting a prospective new son. The sons parents seem to be more trustful of the judgment of their son in his choice of girlfriend. On the other hand, the parents of daughters seem far less accepting of their daughter's judgment and so set about making sure her choice is an acceptable one against their quite high standards.
Suffice to say it was a long night.
The journey to Barkhesh was a smooth and uneventful one. I sent letters ahead to Master Arridin as well as the Colonel that we would be returning. Our status as local heroes certainly greased a few wheels in making our change of residence simpler and easier. For the first time since we put into any port, we arranged for a long-term lease on the docking facility which had attached convenience quarters of several rooms, lavatories and the communal kitchen to ease our stay.
This became a very welcome arrangement, as the rooms were studded into the walls of the circular bay with interior hallways and overhangs so we could get to the communal rooms out of the weather, as well as not be on top of each other. It went without saying Lanaka and I chose rooms as far apart from each other as the situation allowed. Speaking of my erstwhile Ex, she had made herself useful by registering with the local constabulary and attaining a bounty hunters license.
Silas set himself up with the nicest of the four casinos in town as a sort of house professional, giving instruction, playing host for tournaments and commenting for the casino's broadcast on same. It wasn't a bad gig, although the casino, the Senatorial Palace, did stipulate he was only to play in designated high roller games in which the casino had no stake.
Darius and Torm both acquired teaching positions at the local military college which was very enthusiastic in their joining the faculty.
If this gives the impression that we were settling down, then that was very much working as intended. As for myself, I did some volunteer training with the Barkhesh Defense Force, Black Sheep Squadron. But all of this was just the trap, the bait was when I found the Galactic Holo Net equivalent of YouTube and entered the most dangerous portion of this phase of the plan, I founded the channel Wisdom of the New Sith. X4 told me he was ready to record and I cleared my mind, remembered to smile and began.
"Greetings, my name is Darth Nyeomi Fens, Lord of the Sith. As you have come to my channel, you no doubt have questions; about The Force, about the Sith, or perhaps even yourself. You have heard of these mysterious societies, the Lords of the Sith, the Jedi Knights and you want to look behind the curtain. Well, I am happy to draw it aside for you.
“The Jedi seek to master their emotions, their code teaches them to only act when at peace and emotionless. It is possible to achieve this state with extraordinary discipline and years of study, however, it is contrary to human nature. The Sith, on the other hand, embrace our emotions and through them we master ourselves, our environment and the Force itself. While we can use any emotion to do so, anger, fear and aggression are easiest to call upon, and so my order has garnered a stigma of being evil. One side says they use the so called Light Side of the Force, the others the Dark side. But these are not the true names of the Force, that is the Ashla and the Bogan, and in truth, The Force simply is; neither good nor evil and indiscriminate on how it is used. This disagreement is the root cause of dozens of wars and cost the lives of uncounted trillions.”
I sighed and hug my head. “My former order had a hand in those wars, and while the code of the Sith has wisdom for all, that does not excuse our parts in that violence. That, however, is history. You wish to learn, to understand, and I will teach you. Let us begin with the Code of the Sith.
"Peace is a lie, there is only passion. This is a statement whose truth is self evident. Strife is the natural order of the cosmos and moments of 'peace' an aberration, not the norm. While we may enjoy these fleeting moments, true wisdom comes from understanding that we learn best that which we are passionate about and that Peace is transitory.
"Through passion, I gain strength. What do you remember of the subjects in school you disliked? Our interests, our passions bring us knowledge and in some cases, the physical strength of body, or of mind. We become strong to protect those that we care about and love. We have these emotions for a reason, channel and use them!”
"Through Strength I gain Power. When you embrace your emotions, and you learn as our species learn best, you begin to understand how to advance yourself in all aspects of your life. You cease to react to what life throws at you and you begin to act of your own accord. And when you have control of your life, we call that Power.”
"Through Power I gain Victory. When you have power over your own life, you assert your will on the universe, not the other way around. You are not adrift in the sea of life, your ship of self has a rudder and an engine to chart your own course. To protect and provide for those dear to you, who stirred your passion in the first place. And through this, you understand our final truth...”
"Through victory my chains are broken, the Force shall free me. We are all slaves, slaves to time, to life and to fate. But as Sith we are actors, we impose our will on our surroundings, we protect those we love, we live life on our own terms and we raise our children as our defiance of time and death towards immortality. We are freed from our fears and life is ours to take and enjoy. This is what I will teach you, and there is nothing evil about it.”
And so my first video, a simple introduction of myself, my curriculum vitae and a line by line dissertation of the Code of the Sith, was complete. I followed this, every three days, with another video on my theory of the Bogan and its teaching. By the end of the first week I had 1000 followers on my channel. By the end of the first month, I had 5 million, and growing every hour. I was invited to give lectures both at the Temple of the Whills, and the Jedi Temple on Barkhash.
And on the Holo Net, debate began to rage over my teaching.
At first it was Sith Lord versus Sith Lord, then disaffected Jedi began to post arguments as I metaphorically rubbed the lamp to release the genie. The trap was baited, the pot was set and I waited for the lobster to enter it. I had decided to lecture first at what was my closest ally metaphysically speaking, the Temple of the Whills.
I was just finishing an instruction class with Tari to go and change into the dress I planned to wear to the talk when we both felt it. I made sure my light sabers were not in training mode and headed out to the main bay where the Aces and Eights sat. Silas and Lanaka followed me, obviously unsettled. “I've got a bad feeling about...” Silas started, but I reached out with the Force and triggered the door out to the street. It slid open and centered in it, cowl just rising to show us his mask again, was the Hand of the Sith.
Yes I'll admit my heart was racing, I'll also admit Duel of the Fates started ringing in my ears.
"We'll take him together,” I whispered to Tari. “Just like we practiced.”
"Yes, Mistress,” she said in a voice that wavered only a little.
"Remember your training and trust in the Force,” I encouraged her. It didn't help that Lanaka screamed and ran for the common rooms and the back door out of the hanger. To Silas I said, “He may have troops waiting for her...”
For all his faults, my brother is a brave man, who drew his blaster, and took off running in the direction Lanaka had fled, to face that possible threat. I drew my sabers as my nemesis took off his cloak and got his saber in his hand. “We need not be adversaries,” I told him. “You can still save yourself and return to the true path of the Sith.”
“I am,” he retorted, “the true path of the Sith!” Then he leapt better than thirty meters to close the distance. All of our sabers snapped on in the same instant as he purposefully landed between Tari and I to split us up. I launched a pair of attacks at his shoulders, should he turn to engage Tari, but he came at me, easily parrying my feints and pressing quickly. Without turning he blocked both of Tari's strikes and kicked her in the chest hard enough to knock her down and send her sprawling nearly three meters away.
I lashed out with a wave from the Force that knocked him back twenty meters but he bounced off the crates I had knocked him into like a cat and was back in my face before I could even think about checking on Tari. I spun away from his attack, blocking with my blades and giving ground as the faceless mask pressed on. Yet again we fell into a stalemate of blows and counters as our lethal dance left the hanger and spilled out into the street. My twin blades kept him from capitalizing on any openings, but his speed and power kept me from doing the same.
"Don't worry, I'm sure the recording of your final battle and death will be of some consolation to your adoring public,” he taunted me, but I back flipped away again and used the Force to fling him away.
"I'm sure my defeat of you will be quite a ratings booster!” I shouted at him, but was obliged to cartwheel and somersault out of the way of his Force fueled charge back. Unfortunately a child darted out, right where I meant to land and I had to clip a wall with my foot to change direction. I landed badly and nearly lost an arm at the shoulder, or I would have if Tari had not bounded in between us.
Her saber blocked his swing at my arm and she pinwheeled over his arm and kicked his mask with sufficient force that he was staggered back and the mask was ripped from his scarred and burned face. I tuck and rolled out of his reach and kipped back up to my feet. “Did you do that, mistress?” she all but purred.
"Some people just can't let go of an accident,” I told her as we came set again.
He didn't answer, but with a wordless growl of rage he thrust his saber between us, causing us to dodge in opposite directions. As he was closer to Tari he elbowed her in the nose with enough force to send her sprawling with a fountain of blood to make me think he had broken her nose, but I couldn't be sure or offer aide as once more he was on me, raining blows that had me reeling.
I rolled backwards again, trying to open the distance when the street suddenly opened into a plaza and I realized we had fought all the way to the Temple of the Whills. But that lapse in my concentration cost me a saber as he got his blade inside my guard and twirled it out of my hand.
His attacks increased in their ferocity from some energy source he had that I had no idea of. My hair was soaked in sweat and escaping its pony tail, my breath was becoming labored and each parry was harder than the last. He feinted at my breast and my block was sloppy, letting him in my guard once more and I was deprived of my other saber. “Your heresy ends, now!” he shouted and drew back to thrust his saber through my heart.
All of Kel'eth Ur's teachings welled up in me as the saber's rounded point came at me and I raised both my hands. The point struck my palm with a burning, tingling sensation, as though the plasma in the magnetic field was solid and my palm stopped it. A look of shock draped across the Hand's face as he shoved harder, trying to will the blade to pierce my hand and slide through my chest, but my hands, braced one over the other stopped him cold. “Death is here,” I hissed at him. “But not for me!”
His shocked face grimaced in agony as a green golden blade grew out of his chest as Tari stabbed him through the heart from his back. “Im...poss...” was all he managed as the blade went back through his chest, out the way it had come. His saber slipped through his fingers and snapped off as he fell to his knees before me, then his dead eyes rolled up into his head and he fell over on his side.
The Hand of the Sith had been severed.
Tari dropped her sabers and tears mixed with the blood from her nose and she threw herself into my arms and cried. I held and comforted her, no matter how much my hand hurt from what I had done, as she came to grips with taking her first life. And as I held her, the Guardians in their blue and white robes filed by, gently touching her head, and then proceeding down the line to spin the prayer wheels on her behalf.
Tari pouted a bit as I sat upright on the treatment bed with my hand out so Fiveareen could work on it. She was pouting because our capable medical droid had had to shave some of her fur off to set her nose and have the adhesive of the brace stick to her skin. While the rigid plastiform brace wasn't pretty, correctly set, her injury would not be disfiguring.
For myself, my hand had a lovely second degree burn from stopping a light saber with my palm which he had slathered with a kolto gel and was wrapping with a linen bandage. The numbing properties of the kolto meant it was already not bothering me. What was bothering me was that my battle with the Hand of the Sith had been so public and was now headline news for half the galaxy and rumor mill fodder for the other half.
There was a mob of reporters that had taken up residence outside our hanger who were thrusting microphones into the face of everyone who came by from maintenance techs to our grocery delivery boy. Oh well, you play the hand you're dealt. The little room was actually made crowded by Governor Aisin, and Colonel Antilles with Jedi Master Keynan Creel of the Barkhesh Jedi Temple as well as Silas and Torm. “Governor Aisin,” I said, interrupting the politician’s seemingly endless apology for the Hand of the Sith getting on world. “You may rest assured that I hold no grudge against anyone on Barkhesh for my duel with The Hand, he was an old enemy I have faced twice before and no measure you could have implemented would have stopped him.”
The relief on the Governor's face was comical. “You are most gracious, my lady.”
Master Creel rubbed his chin in thought. “Still, the Sith Inquisition has most certainly targeted you, Lady Fens, for your unique view of the Force as a heresy to be stamped out. This will not be their last attempt at you.”
"Perhaps, but perhaps not, Master Jedi,” I told him as Fiveareen finished with the bandage and I flexed my fingers experimentally. It was not pleasant and the palm was tight, but I had not lost use of my hand. “I know where the Inescapable Fortress lies and with the Governor's assistance and some fine Republic soldiers, I believe we can deal a major blow against Vitiate and his Empire.”
Master Creel's long face and salt and pepper beard draped itself in surprise. “You would betray other Sith?” he demanded.
“I am a Revanite, Master Creel,” I told him primly. “I am neither a racist, nor a human supremacist, as my choice of apprentice should well underscore. Merit is the key to my good graces, nothing more or less.”
The Jedi bowed from the neck, but his tone was mocking. “My apologies, Lady of the Sith.”
Looking to smooth over the difficulty, Governor Aisin inserted himself back into the conversation. “My Lady, what did you have in mind? Is not the Inescapable Fortress a formidable target, with heavy defenses?”
I smiled at him and laid my 'good' hand on his shoulder. “Not so much as you might think,” I told him. “The Fortress relies on it's reputation and being the headquarters of the Inquisition as its primary defenses. There are no orbital warning satellites and fighter defenses account for perhaps two squadrons of F-T6 Rycer fighters and of ground troops the garrison is probably no more than an under strength legion. Probably one hundred troopers at most, most in security and prison guard roles.”
"How many Sith?” demanded Creel ominously.
"When I was last there I only saw two,” I replied. “And one of them is dead.”
"There are probably ten more,” Silas said quietly. “With apprentices. I was worked over by an Inquisitor teaching interrogation techniques.”
Colonel Antilles rubbed his chin in thought. “Two companies of troops should be able to overwhelm them, especially if we have air superiority and say a frigate for orbital close support. I think we can do this, Governor.”
"That would certainly give our Senator some ammunition to use against the Techno-Union's constant complaints we aren't doing our share...” The Governor said to himself mostly.
Torm turned to Creel, his face stony and his voice as firm and hard as steel. “We'll need Jedi to help deal with those Sith Inquisitors.”
Creel sighed, knowing he'd been out maneuvered. “You'll have them.”
I was wearing a dress so light it seemed to be made of mist, as perfect and pure a white as the first snowfall of winter. And for all its lightness, it hugged my body, supporting where I needed, flowing where I did not and without being lewd it put my body on display to the envy of any who saw me. I was looking up into Torm's face which beamed with his smile as my left hand held his right and someone unseen was wrapping a heavy silk cloth around our arms, white and black, Ashla and Bogan.
I sighed as the vision from the Force slipped away and once more I was sitting in the lotus position on the table in the Salon of the Aces and Eights. Torm had been tired and gone to bed already and so I had come here to the ship to meditate in the quiet flow of the ship's rhythms as we both rested. I opened my eyes and gave my apprentice a welcoming smile as I invited her to join me on the table.
Her eyes were watery and full of tears.
"Forgive me for intruding on your...”
"Hush,” I told her with a smile as she settled before me. Her aura was in quite a state and the flow of the Force around her was disjointed and haphazard. “There is nothing to forgive,” I assured her. “Tell me what troubles you.”
Her tears began to leak from the corners of her eyes. “I killed him, mistress...”
I reached out and took her hands in mine. “Oh, my darling apprentice, he needed to be killed. He was given every opportunity to turn from his path, but he could not let go of his hate.”
"But...but from behind, by stealth and...”
“There was nothing dishonorable about your strike, Tari,” I told her with a squeeze of her soft paws to emphasize my conviction. “He was a villain, bent on both of our deaths and if your positions were reversed he would not have paused a microsecond. You struck down an evil man, with out honor, or morals, a rabid animal who was a danger to everyone and everything around him. Shed no tears for him, he is unworthy of your pity.”
She sniffed mightily, and likely painfully, to try and master her emotions when she asked, “Mistress, how are you so sure? How do you know?”
"Close your eyes,” I instructed and after a moment, she did so. “Now, just breathe in, feel the life flow into you. Now, hold it, listen to your heart push the blood now saturated with that life giving air. Feel it nourish the cells of your body. Now, exhale the toxins slowly. Feel the impurity leave your body.” I watched her shy smile return as the flow of the Force normalized around her. “Now, stretch out with your feelings. Feel me beside you. Feel my heart beating.”
"I...I feel it,” she whispered, hesitant and quiet lest the spell be broken.
"Look inside, my apprentice,” I invited her. “Tell me what you see.”
Her head slowly dipped to one side as she expanded her consciousness into mine and began to process what I showed her. “I...I see...love. So much! Of...of master Torm and Captain Silas and...me...!” she whispered as if unworthy of what she had found. “I see us teaching the Force, and...and protecting those who are helpless. I see us making the galaxy better.”
“That is how I know, apprentice,” I told her. “Because the galaxy will be better for us, and worse if he won, if he and his master forced their will upon us. We are right and we have the right to live and he sought to take that life from us, and in so doing forfeited his right to life. We do not start the fights, Tari, we end them.”
She drew in a breath and sighed. “I ended him,” she admitted in a quiet voice.
"Or he would have ended me and you,” I told her.
“Mistress, I...I'm glad I ended him and that makes me afraid!”
I smiled at her and drew her into an embrace against my bosom. “And that fear is why what you did was right, my darling. Because you know to take a life is a heavy burden and your fear makes sure you will only do so for the right reasons.” Her arms wrapped around my waist and she hugged me with her might and I ran my hand through her hair and gently soothed her with the Force so she could see life was saved, and the Force approved.
The military side of the Ankart space port was a buzz with activity as you might expect from a pending military action. Tari and I were back in our armored flight suits, though they had been stripped of their insignia of the New Revanite Empire as we were both, technically, reservists and inactive reservists at that. The little cart we were riding came to a stop by the hanger which had a new piece of artwork adorning its doors.
The doors had been painted with the squadron patch of the Black Sheep, specifically a black Ram's head, with a broken chain and manacle in its mouth emblazoned over a pair of gold bladed light sabers with the motto, 'Through Victory My Chains Are Broken.' I chuckled in amused agreement as we got off the little repulsor cart and led the way inside.
Here I got my first pleasant surprise in quite some time.
The ancient Aurek class fighters that had been here were gone. And by ancient, I mean they were a three hundred year old design. Of course they had been upgraded over the decades, but just try to imagine someone climbing into a balloon and going to war on a modern battlefield and you get the idea. What were sitting here now were sleek, wedge shaped craft that looked rather like the love child of an A-Wing and a Snow Speeder. It was a wedge shaped delta wing with white with gray accents, with a pair of barrel engines that framed a rear mounted cockpit, nestled just in front of a droid socket.
They were Corellia StarDrive Flashfire star fighters, right off the proverbial showroom floor, and it came equipped with all the bells and whistles. There were a pair of rapid fire laser cannons and the new Corellia StarDrive multi-launcher which could handle rockets, missiles or proton torpedoes.
"What's this?” I asked of Colonel Antilles as I joined him and another man in a flight suit I didn't recognize. “New toys? Can I play?”
The Colonel's rugged face split into a grin as he made introductory gestures between myself and the other man. “Darth Nyeomi Fens, Captain Mayric Motti; the Captain has had the unenviable task of replacing you as the commander of the Black Sheep.”
I took the hand he offered and favored him with a smile. “On the bright side, Captain, you can't possibly be as bad as I was, so you have nowhere to go but up.”
"Don't challenge me,” he replied with a bright, winning smile. “I come from a long line of over achievers.”
Colonel Antilles removed something from the open cockpit of the fighter and climbed down with it next to me. “You'll want to stow those helmets,” he declared, holding up the device in his hand. It was a fairly simple looking light weight headset with a boom microphone, but there was a second arm of dull brass that came forward as if to wrap halfway around the forehead.
"What is it?” Demanded Tari.
"The latest thing,” the Colonel bragged. “A neural interface for Force Users. This will let you mentally connect with the fighter's systems and aid your natural force awareness.” He handed it to me and helped me get it settled on my head. There was a single speaker on the right ear, which also contained the boom microphone and the 'Force Interface' which he settled on my forehead, above my eye.
Before I could ask any of the questions this somewhat radical technology brought up, my eye caught sight of some familiar figures in the muster lines of the grunts preparing to embark on the transport shuttles. I excused myself from the Colonel and walked over, frowning. There was Torm, Silas and Darius dressed in the camouflaged uniform of the Barkhesh ground troops. “What's this?” I demanded as I arrived.
"You don't think I'd pass up an opportunity to pay back those monsters, do you?” Torm asked me quietly. “The Colonel asked for volunteers, we volunteered.”
"Torm...” I started, but he slung the blaster rifle over his shoulder and his jaw was set. His decision was made and nothing I could say would change it. I sighed and placed my hand over his heart. “Be careful.”
He grabbed me in the small of my back and pulled me to him, into an embrace and kiss that smouldered throughout my soul. The soldiers around us cat called and wolf whistled, but some were silenced by others who knew who and what I was. “Watch our backs,” he ordered and I nodded, with a glance at Silas and Darius I turned to go and Torm slapped me sharply on my ass.
It is very hard to describe the feelings that sting mustered up; I was more than a little embarrassed, but it felt good, to feel he...well...possessed me, and I felt the other men hold him in awe that he dared take such liberty with a Sith Lord. I had my back to them so they couldn't see the smile on my face at their consternation and knowing it would send my lovers rep through the roof I couldn't help adding a bit more sway to my hips as I went back to the fighter they were just finishing lowering X4 into the droid socket of. My lips and rear were still tingling as I climbed in and let the ground chief get me buckled in and connected.
He squeezed my shoulder, finally bringing my thoughts to the here and now. “Good hunting, my lady,” he wished me. I nodded my thanks and busied myself in the pre-flight. The Flashfire is actually a pretty well laid out little fighter. It was designed as an aggressive, 'recon in force' role as a scout craft who fought its way out of trouble or took advantage of unexpected openings rather than a see and run strategy.
Still, I found its controls ergonomic and the craft responsive as we took off and flew out of Barkhesh's gravity well. As I was waiting on X4 calculating the jump to hyperspace, Tari and I formed up on the shuttles we would be escorting and if I chose to be closest to my fiancee's shuttle, well, I could be forgiven that. Settled in nicely, I keyed on the 'Force Interface' and had a very strange experience.
I was aware of all of the controls, I could see and feel them, yet, at the same time it felt like I was flying on my own, without the fighter; just me, flying along like some superhero. It was quite invigorating, I tell you! Luckily it was not as confusing as it otherwise might have been. I was aware of these things, and could concentrate on the fantasy for lack of a better word, but it didn't take my focus from the instruments and controls of the fighter. I couldn't tell you how that worked, but it did.
However they did it, neat trick. I approve!
The coordinates set, we made the jump into hyperspace.
In the movies, these jumps are practically instantaneous. Ship leaps away, reaction shot of someone on the bridge realizing they are about to spend some quality time with Darth Vader, maybe a 'B Story' scene or some dialogue in the ship, then a second or two of blue/white tunnel and they have arrived. Elapsed time, maybe five minutes.
It's not like that in 'real' life.
You see Barkhesh is along the Corellian Trade Spine route on the 'southern' edge of the Galaxy in the Outer Rim. Yavin was in the Gordian Reach off the Hydian Way route on the 'northern' edge of the Galaxy in the Outer Rim. So it was literally on the other side of the galaxy.
From Barkhesh we jumped to Sil'Lume which only took about twenty minutes. There we met and docked with a pair of Star Fighter Carriers and the Frigates Defiant and Valiant who would transport us to our staging point, in the Gordian Reach, the Torque System. So we cruised on the carriers, through the Mid Rim and Core, back to the Mid Rim on the Trade Spine, then took the Perlemian Trade Route to the Hydian Way.
A week. It only took us a week to cross the Galaxy.
The mind boggles.
The stars peeled back into their positions as for the second time in my life the planet Yavin rushed up at me. As it happened, this time Yavin IV was on 'our' side of the gas giant and the green and blue orb was like a mote in Yavin's angry red, orange and gold eye. “Tari, stay with me,” I ordered as I cleared the weapon safeties and made everything ready to fire.
"On your six, mistress,” she purred in my ear.
I listened to the Black Sheep sound off as the Defiant and the Valiant launched their fighters to join ours. The little group formed of the shuttles, myself, and Tari banked 'up' from the main plane of the attack so as to be unnoticed, we hoped, in the battle. So far, Lady Luck was smiling on us as there were no capital ships over Yavin IV, or anywhere in the system we had yet scanned. That said, two dozen fighters rose up from the moon with surprising speed of response.
Battles in space look good on a screen, dozens of fighters swarming around like gnats, Capital Ships slowly maneuvering for advantage and everywhere the bright corona of blaster fire. But they are far too chaotic to describe, and, sadly rather dull to read. From my perspective it was if an anthill had been kicked over and the stars teemed with angry insects swarming in no particular order or pattern. The one positive piece of tactics that had gone our way was that the defending fighters either hadn't seen us, or were ignoring us. Either way it made my job easier. “Blacksheep leader, this is Escort One, we are beginning our attack run,” I announced into the open com.
"Roger Escort One, we'll be joining you presently.”
They say no plan survives contact with the enemy. There are frequently rather choice obscenities and catch phrases about combat and warfare. From the elegance of Napoleon’s “Never interrupt an enemy when he is making a mistake,” to Patton's down and dirty, “We're going to hold onto him by the nose and we're going to kick him in the ass!” There are many, many ways to describe that cold, wet sensation when you realize you have just done exactly what your enemy wanted you to do. My personal favorite is the Mon Calamari admiral Gial Ackbar who is know for his succinct terseness with, “It's a trap!”
Two Harrower-class dreadnoughts appeared out of hyperspace directly over head as we committed to our run down to Yavin IV. Each carried a hundred fighters, easily out numbering our compliment by five to one or better. And while the Defiant and the Valiant, might have been able to make a fight of it against one of the massive battle cruisers, two was getting into over kill.
Over the radio, the panicked cries of pilots realizing just how badly we were in it filled one ear as soundless blossoms of explosions added a surreal beauty to the bursts of static that meant men were dying. Red and green blaster fire lanced through space so thick you could walk on them from craft to craft. Defiant, slightly further away from the trap wished the Force to be with us as she leapt away into hyperspace even as Valiant, true to her name, cut in between the dreadnoughts in a desperate bid to give the fighters cover to make a break for hyperspace.
Several of the fighters jumped away, but there were too many explosions for me to get any kind of accurate count. Then we were all blinded by the massive corona of the power plant of Valiant being breached and the brave frigate was consumed in smoke and soundless fire. I watched it in almost surreal slow motion as men and women died around me in space, knowing this was my fault.
I had allowed myself to think I was smarter than the evil I faced, that I could outsmart a being who all but lived and breathed treachery. It was a classic knight sacrifice to capture the queen and I had walked right into it with my eyes open, confident of my victory. My fighter rocked with the impact of the blaster bolts and I heard X4 almost calmly tell me our hyperdrive motivator had been damaged as if from a great distance.
It didn't matter.
Yavin IV filled my canopy, even with my hyperdrive I would never be able to get clear to jump. As the fighter fell deeper into the atmosphere she rocked and bucked against me as I fought to turn my fall into some kind of glide, something that I could live through. Before me, trailing black smoke I saw the shuttle carrying the love of my life disappear into the jungle even as the green sea of leaves reached up to swallow me. I was Icarus, having gotten to close to the sun, now fell to earth.
With a shriek of ruined metal I struck the ground and knew no more.