In the darkness, I drifted, sightless, surrounded by nothing, vast empty and desolate. I felt nothing, not the soft touch of life around me, nor The Force it created and for a life age of Man, I was utterly alone. For a time I mourned my husband and my children, defenseless against this terror from the unknown that I, in my arrogance, had failed to stop. It was a conceit I lamented bitterly as I realized how smugly I had rushed off, certain of my invulnerability as if I was still playing a game at my computer in a body, on a world I could only just remember.
Your arrogance clouds your judgment.
I had no sense or feel of a body, no light to see or illuminate the darkness, but I was certain I had heard something. I tried to speak, to cry out, to demand my antagonist show themselves, but I could make no sound, nor issue any challenge. I tried to remember my husbands face, the feeling of my daughter in my arms, the pride of watching my son, it was like a dream where you know you are dreaming, but are powerless to act.
Slowly, across uncounted years there seemed to be lights in the darkness, stars in an inky blackness of night. I wondered if I was dead now, or if I had always been so and only now was drawing near my Creator to face Judgment. Perhaps I had already been judged for there is some truth to the axiom that Hell is the absence of God. Certainly I was utterly alone, wasn't I? I had used the Bogan, reveled in its warmth, called upon its power and channeled its might to blast living beings into pieces, but I hadn't been evil...had I...?
Still you do not understand the nature of Power.
I tried to turn about, and it felt like I was both turning muscles I couldn't feel to move a head I wasn't sure I had, but no matter how the lights did not move and the stars remained the same. Again I tried to shout, tried to speak, but the silence of my captivity remained unbroken. I forced myself to remember, to repeat over and over what I thought I had heard, to cling to my sanity or to lose myself to madness, I did not know.
Then, as I chanted, I felt for the first time in so long I could not begin to remember. Under me there was a firmness, an unyielding solid that pressed against me. Under my side, my right side as the epiphany of discovery came to me and I could feel again. I don't know if I opened my eyes or if I stopped being blind, but there was a world around me again, things, hard, rocky things. A desolate, rocky wasteland under an endless night of stars.
Foolish infant, what could you hope to accomplish against me?
I was laying down, I had a body that I could feel was laying down on that hard, but indistinct wasteland. Everything was fuzzy about the edges as if my eyes were caked in slime. But I could feel my body, the tightness of the leather of my working clothes, the rigidness of the plasteel armor, the feeling of my breasts being supported and compressed. I sat up and looked down, almost in tears that I could see again and that I could see the body I had come to call my own.
Standing, I could at last look about, but there was nothing as far as my eyes could see. Just rock and dirt without grass, or cactus or any sign of life. Was it a dream? Where was I? How did I get here? I remembered the death of Darth Marr and once more I felt pain, the overwhelming sense of loss and sadness at his fate tempered with just the tiniest drop of respect and pride in the manner he met that death. And then a tidal wave of guilt that I had stood by, awestruck and watching as he did so and I should have been helping him and did not.
Pity for the dead is a hubris you can ill afford.
“Show yourself!” I shouted, and exalted in that I could shout again. I heard the earthy contralto of my voice with it's rounded, posh Eton accent. Still, there was silence and I once more took stock of my self. My light sabers hung at my waist and I could feel their heft, and drawing one, it snapped on with all of the hum and florescent glow I expected of it.
I had not had them on the shuttle. I remembered, I was certain it had been someone else's saber I had stabbed Valkorion with. I had been defeated, bruised and beaten, but my free hand came up to my face and I felt no bruise on my eye, and I felt the supple calf skin leather of the glove that had been made exactly to fit my hand. Where was I? Was I dead? Was this Hell? Why would I have my light sabers in Hell?
Even in death, the childish turning of your mind to find meaning amuses me.
I glanced at my saber, humming in my hand and deactivated it. Once more on my belt, I looked about, picked a direction that I arbitrarily labeled 'south,' mostly because it was down hill, and began walking. If I was dead, it would pass the time and if I was alive, it might bring me to civilization.
As I walked, I began to try and piece together my recollections, to pick out the details as I ordered my thoughts. Why had the son waited until ordered to kill me to rebel against Valkorion? Was not Marr better suited to help him over throw Vitiate? Again I marveled at his strength in the Force by which he had blown all the guards off the platform, hurtling to their deaths. Was the scarred man really the child of Darth Vitiate? I shuddered to recall the death of Darth Marr and the agony I had experienced beside him as he died. I remembered the mushroom cloud over the grave of Banudan, and I wondered how many billions had died because I had become comfortable and given up chasing the ghost of the Sith Emperor.
Mommy, I'm scared!
My eyes filled with tears as I thought of not being able to comfort my daughter. I tried to be grateful for the time I had been given, the second chance I had seized to have everything I had wanted on Earth and been denied. Though try as I might, I could only lament for time 'taken' from me, not the remembered joy of what I had had. “I'm so sorry, Bree,” I whispered as the tears ran down my face.
If only I had it to do again, what could I change?
Then something did change. From the ends of my toes, and the tips of my fingers, I felt warmth, then heat, then a searing agony that raced up my hands and feet into my arms and legs. I was consumed in fire and I cried out, screaming for release, then I pitched forward and a hard, delightfully cold, smooth surface rose up to me.
The Vault of the Damned, Zakuul, The Eternal Empire, Unknown Reaches
I grunted from the pain of striking the floor, even though it's cold smoothness was comforting. I was grabbed and turned over and above me shapes, blurry and indistinct peered down. My eye was forced open and a bright light shined into it. “My lord?” a woman's voice with a Public School accent asked. “My lord, can you hear me?”
Weakly, I raised my arms to try and fend off the bright light and make my eyes focus. I tried to speak, but only garbled nonsense came out. “Get her up!” someone, a blur off to my right hissed.
“I'm trying,” the Public school girl replied. “My lord, please, wake up.”
My mouth was so incredibly dry. “Where...? Where am I?”
“Arcann's 'Vault of the Damned',” the voice replied. A moist cloth was pressed against my eyes and I allowed it because it was soothing. “It's where he keeps his political prisoners.” The cloth came away and my eyes finally could focus to show me the very last person I expected to see.
“Lana,” I said. “Lana Beniko! How...?”
The blonde Sith diplomat smiled and helped me sit up. “Nice to see you again, my lord. We have to hurry. Can you stand?” She was older than when I had seen her last, her face was mature now and care worn, though still quite lovely. I noted she had taken my advice and let her hair grow out some, it fell to her shoulders now and was very flattering.
“Hurry up!” the voice hissed. I looked over to see a young woman, in the flower of her youth, standing guard by the door. She was tall, and wearing heeled boots that made her taller. Tucked into them were tight black pants that highlighted both her legs and rear, though there were hard plasteel plates in strategic places, held up by a belt covered in pouches and holders. She wore a black, armored tank top that also didn't hide her figure, her dusky skin was darkened by the clothing. Her hair was a dark chestnut, pulled back into a braided pony tail that still fell to the middle of her back. She held a pair of light sabers with blades that were a warm yellow with hints of orange.
“We're coming,” Beniko assured her as she helped me up to my feet. I was a bit unstable, but was quickly regaining my balance. She reached into a satchel around her shoulders and produced the last things I'd ever expected to see again. With a grin, she offered them. “You'll want these, I expect.”
In her hands were the brushed, stainless steel cylinders of my light sabers. I took them reverently and looked into her face. “How, I thought...?”
She took my elbow and helped me over to the door. “Plenty of time to explain later, my lord. We have to...” She couldn't continue as a klaxon began to blare and strobe lights began flashing. She took a comlink from her belt and held it up to her lips. “Koth, what's going on?”
From the speaker I heard a man's voice, with the same kind of inflection that the son's speech had. “I don't know what you two did in there, but there are lots of people unhappy about it. It's getting very busy out here. Do you have her?”
“We didn't do anything!” she replied peevishly. “Yes, we have her...”
A muffled explosion sounded from the speaker. “I gotta move here. Get to the back up pick up!” A burst of static terminated the connection. I took a moment and reached out to the Force and in a way I could never describe found the feel, the 'taste' for lack of a better word, of it different. But when I called, it answered and I directed it into myself.
This was a trick I'd learned years ago, like drinking a highly caffeinated beverage, it covered the fatigue and exhaustion with energy, but there would be a crash later. This masked the pain and stiffness and I felt myself become more awake and alert. The young woman turned to us and snapped, “Get her to the extraction point, I'll see what I can do in that command center we passed to slow them down.”
She whirled without waiting for an answer and took off running down the corridor. “Wait, come back!” Lana shouted, but she was gone. Turning back to me, she shook her head. “Come, we have to get you out of here.”
That, I am a bit embarrassed to admit, was when I finally looked around this room. It was a cavernous space, full of supporting columns, but I could not tell you much about them, or the walls, because every vertical surface was taken up by a block of carbonite with the grimacing, tortured face of someone captured within. There were hundreds, perhaps thousands of them, each with a little hologram in Aurebesh with a name and the word, Traitor. I turned back to the empty cavity that had held me and before it floated The Outlander, Murderer.
My grip tightened on my light sabers as the Bogan flowed through me. “Just you wait, sonny, you haven't seen murder yet,” I muttered darkly, in promise. Turning back to Lana, I asked, “Which way?”
She pointed in the opposite direction the young woman had run. “This way.”
We moved as quickly as I was able down the corridor and oddly to my admittedly cloudy mind we went down instead of up. I didn't care, much, down was easier. She was dressed for action, the same way the other woman had been, but still favoring greens and blacks in her wardrobe, and to be honest her clothing seemed a little, flashy, for strictly rescue work. Seeing her again brought other Sith Lords to my memory and I again felt the shame of not helping my master. “They killed Darth Marr,” I told her as we ran, I think a part of me was hoping she would blame me for it, but she just kept moving.
“I know,” she replied over her shoulder. “They broadcast all of it, including your spectacular strike against Valkorion. Though I always felt it had been heavily edited.” She paused for a moment, then asked, “Did you really yell 'You won't undermine my evil plans?' when you stabbed him?” I let the expression answer her and she chuckled. “No, I thought not.”
“Who is the head of Defense of the Empire, now?”
“It doesn't matter,” she told me, then stopped short and ducked back towards me from the corner she had almost turned. “Skytroopers,” she whispered in warning. “There's no way around, we have to go through them.”
I nodded and brought my light sabers up, ready to activate them. I peeked around the corner to see a pair of the hulking, armored forms about twenty meters away, at an intersection of several corridors at a lift station. I nodded at her, then went wide, selecting the one on the right. I reached out my arm, then reached further with the Force.
I guess I wasn't thinking very clearly yet. Because, as Lana threw her light saber, I reached out with the Force, intending to break the neck of the thing, forgetting it was a robot. Lana's saber cut the head of hers off, then something very strange happened. As I crushed it's mechanical neck with the Force, it dropped it's blaster and began to claw at its throat. It made a horrible, sick choking sound as if I was actually choking a living being. As the Force lifted it off the ground, to use it's own weight against it, its feet began to peddle, again, just like a person might have. Then, at last, with a sickening crunch, the neck snapped, the head came off, and the body clattered to the floor.
Then fluid began to leak from the body and the head.
“What in the name of all that's holy?” I breathed as we walked over to it.
“You didn't know?” Lana asked, then shook her head. “Of course, you couldn't. Look.” She picked up the severed head and carefully carved at it with her light saber. Underneath the armed helmet like outer covering, inside was a container of transparisteel that was the source of the blueish fluid.
Inside the container was a human brain.
I stumbled backwards, my eyes wide in shock and revolted disgust. “This is what they do to us,” Lana declared flatly. “When they conquer a world, or take a star ship. People disappear and then this happens to you.”
I whirled and threw up, horrified. As the bile spattered on the floor, the blue fluid began to mingle with it and I vomited again. She came over and comforted me. “I...I know, but we have to go, my lord.”
My eyes locked with hers and she took a fearful step backwards, terrified by the expression on my face. The Bogan flowed through me and I held up my saber to punctuate my vehemence as I spat, “I will kill that son of a bitch, if its the last thing I ever do, so help me God! No one can suffer evil of this magnitude to live!”
Her hand made a fist over her heart. “I am yours, my lord, to the bitter end.” The commlink crackled on her hip and she brought it up. “Koth?”
“No, it's me,” the voice of the girl replied. “Our problem's just multiplied. There's three transports landing on the roof, probably a dozen or more Knights, not Skytroopers, Knights and...” her voice got small. “Vaylin is here.”
The color drained out of a Lana's face in a manner that made me extremely uncomfortable. “That's enough! You get to us, now.”
“There's no time and you know it,” the girl replied. Next to us, a turbolift car snapped open and I whirled to face it, light sabers up, but it was empty. “Get in the car,” the girl commanded. “I'm going to route it to the concourse, it's closest to the pickup point.”
“But,” Lana protested, but the girl cut her off.
“Don't worry about me!” she commanded. “Get her out! I'll find my way back, trust me!” The line clicked off and Lana shook her head. She took my elbow and led us both into the lift.
“Maybe you can talk some sense into her,” Beniko groused. “If we live through this.” The doors snapped shut and the lift began to descend rapidly.
“The Jedi are allied with Valkorion? And who is Vaylin?” I asked her. The expression on her face told me she was someone I probably would want to kill shortly.
She shook her head. “Not Jedi, Knights of Zakuul. Force users, evidently trained to use both the light and dark, but neither very well. They are trained to work together so don't underestimate them! They're led by Arcann's sister, the High Justice,” Lana told me. “Her name is Vaylin. I'm not sure why Arcann puts up with her, she's a complete psychopath, who delights in things the darkest of the Dark Council members would find distasteful. And she's powerful, my lord, more powerful than...”
“Vitiate is dead, but his bloodline lives,” I informed her regretfully. “They are every bit as dangerous, perhaps more. This 'Eternal Empire' of Vitiate's seems to be the end game of his plans for the galaxy. There's no telling what dark rituals he's performed on them, or secrets he shared.”
“We're not without friends of our own,” Lana told me earnestly.
“Have you been busy?” I asked her and the brief moment of levity felt good, to let out some of the tension and to feel like we were not as whipped as I might have feared.
Beniko smiled and shook her head. “You have, actually. I've called in every favor I could, Sith, Republic, even in the Hutt Cartel and the criminal underworld, but the core of the Alliance was your doing. The Warspite, the Hotspur, they assembled everyone still willing to fight. When you were drug away, we feared the worst, that's when I began working, keeping what you started together.” She smiled and reached out to touch my arm. “You, you can't know the joy that swept through all of us when we found out you were still alive and in the Vault of the Damned. This rescue is the result of eight months of planning.”
“Eight months?” I asked, startled. “Frozen alive for eight months...”
“N...no, my lord,” she corrected me hesitantly. “It...it took us...time, a long time, to find...”
“How long?” I demanded, and seeing her reluctance, I reached out and took her by the shoulders. “Lana, how long have I...”
“Not quite ten years, my lord.”
The lift spun around me and I staggered, nearly falling. I heard her speaking, trying to sooth me, I think, or keep me conscious. I couldn't make out the words; it was if she were miles away and shouting at me, none of it was coherent. Ten years! My children, my husband, the weight of all of it came down on me hard. Finally, her arms around me, Lana's voice next to my ear finally penetrated my mind. “Breathe, my lord, just breathe, I am here.”
It was nearly the same thing I had said to Darth Marr in the shuttle, minutes ago for me, but ten years in the past. It dawned on me that she, and these others she'd mentioned, they were looking to me be some kind of savior. They had risked everything to rescue me, just as I had tried to rescue my master. Now I had to be Darth Marr, for them. I looked into her eyes and in them I saw the same loyalty I felt when Torm looked at me. I nodded and with great effort, I stood for a moment, my mouth worked, but no sound came out. “I'm sorry,” she said, and it was obvious she held herself to blame, so I swallowed hard, and took her shoulders.
“Nyeomi,” I told her. Her head went to one side in confusion and I smiled. “I am Nyeomi to you,” I reiterated. “Not Countess, not 'my lord,' Nyeomi.”
She stuttered for a moment, then bowed her head. “I am deeply honored, Nyeomi.”
“Lana, help me kill those...monsters, and I don't care if you sit on the throne sideways.” She smiled, and nodded. The lift came to a stop and the doors opened onto a plaza of some kind, strung between this building and the next one. I stepped out and looked about, realizing we were a significant ways up, but Ecumenopolis worlds were somewhat old hat to me, now. She led the way, out onto the plaza, into the sun shine. It struck me how many droids were around, and how few people.
Those I did see were brightly clad, bedecked with jewels and now I realized why Lana had tried to split her fashion between glamour and action girl. Just in case we needed to blend in. I could begin to see that the opulence of the palace spire where I had finally slain Vitiate was the tip of a very large, deep ice berg. These people looked like they had stepped out of an episode of Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous, indolent, bored and catered to past coddling. “Where are we?” I hissed at Lana who was walking closely beside me.
“This was the Emperor's grand design,” she told me as we skirted round a planter that I swear looked like it was made of solid gold and down a flight of steps. “The entire galaxy enslaved to pay for this, an entire planet with nothing better to do than worship him.”
“I hope he rots in hell,” I growled, looking at these bored, lazy people made my skin crawl. “How much further?”
She pointed to a sky taxi stand on the edge of the plaza as she plucked the commlink off her belt. “Koth, where are you?”
“Fun fact,” the man's voice replied. “Skytrooper's really don't like people breaking into secure vaults! I'll be there in eight seconds. Jump! I'll catch you.” Lana and I shared a look, then began to run just as a little shuttle streaked around the corner of the building, a cloud of jet pack accessorized Skytroopers on his tail. The shuttle was diving hard to get under the plaza. We reached the edge of the plaza and I reached out to take her arm as we jumped out into the air.
I had no idea we were so high up.
As I fell through the air, on my way to a very sudden stop after a long, long fall, a shuttle streaked into my vision, rolled on it's side with the side door pointing up and open. Then Lana and I were in it, tumbling with the sudden stop after a fortunately brief fall. A dark face with a wide grin and a short goatee appeared around the pilots chair. “It's raining beautiful women! Must be my lucky day!”
Lana rolled her eyes. “Nyeomi Fens, Countess of Banudan, meet Koth Vortena, Zakuul deserter.”
“Not to mention best pilot in the galaxy,” he protested jocularly. “You didn't say best...”
“Yes, yes, Koth,” Lana interrupted him. “Get away first, brag later!”
The door to the shuttle slid shut and he began a series of stomach churning maneuvers. “One fast get away, coming up!” he declared as the buildings turned sideways and did cartwheels out the window. He dove down into the cloud bank below us, but that didn't seem to hinder the troopers, and the blaster bolts kept zipping by, ever closer.
“Does this heap have guns?” I demanded, but Lana shook her head.
From the pilot's chair, Koth demanded, “Guns? On the sacred planet...?”
“Fly, Koth,” Lana ordered. A tremor rocked through the shuttle and alarms began to blare.
“We're good, we're good!” he assured, though I wasn't sure if he meant to convince us or himself. The shuttle lurched again and the alarms got louder. “Ok, that's not good. You ladies might want to buckle up...!”
We broke through the cloud layer and below us, but rising very quickly was either a swamp or a park perhaps, either way it was very green and coming awfully fast. Lana and I shared a look, then threw ourselves into seats and frantically fastened the harness. Fortunately, we were able to get them closed just before Koth piloted this shuttle through its final landing. We hit, hard, skipped off murky water like a stone and buried what was left of the craft into the mud.
The Endless Swamp, Zakuul System, The Eternal Empire
The good news was that we didn't have to worry about the shuttle catching fire or exploding because we had crashed into a swamp. The bad news was the shuttle wouldn't catch fire because it was flooding with black, brackish water and sinking. Fortunately, no one had been knocked unconscious and the shuttle was mostly upright in the water. Free of the restraints, my light saber opened a new hatch for us in the roof while Lana and the pilot, Koth, scrambled to retrieve some bags from the back, which hopefully would be full of things we could use to survive.
I used the Force to augment my jump to the roof of the shuttle, and free of immediate threats, I extinguished the saber to take one of the bags Lana handed me and slung it across my shoulders. “There,” Lana declared while pointing as she clamored out. “There's solid ground over there. Twenty meters.”
“Yeah,” Koth groused as he scrambled up out of the now quickly filling ship. “But I can't juummmppp...!” his protest became a shout of consternation as I picked him up with the Force and propelled him over to the more solid ground Lana had found.
“Can you jump that far?” I asked her. She centered herself, then leapt. Her landing was a bit clumsy, but she had never apprenticed, so it was quite remarkable for someone of her skill level. I soared after her, and yes, I did the 'super hero' landing on one bent leg with the other out sideways. I had been thinking about the little twinge of desperation that had been in her summation of our situation. They really needed Darth Marr, but without him, I had to at least look like I could fill his shoes; that required a bit of flash.
Standing up, I noted the look of awe on Koth's face and mentally decided I chose wisely. Doubtless, by the expression on his face, that little feat would be the gossip of the Alliance when we got back. If...if we got back. I turned back to see the shuttle disappear beneath the vile looking water and at least the crash site would be harder to find. “So, where are we?” I asked, offering Koth a hand up.
“The Endless Swamp,” he declared as he tried and failed to get most of the muck off himself. “One of the last natural places on Zakuul. There was talk of draining it and making a park, but no one cared enough to do it, so here it is. That and a lot of sludge from the city that can't be further recycled gets dumped down here too. Lots of mutants.”
I looked about and decided I was not thrilled to be here. It was everything that was bad about Dagobah turned up a notch. There were massive trees with exposed roots, like Cypress or medusa trees, but taken to absurd measurements like sequoias or red woods. The trees towered over us, some perhaps eighty or ninety meters high with trunks that could have houses carved into them and still stand. It was horribly damp and humid and there was a constant drone of insects and larger, probably more dangerous animals. “What is the chance we can call for a pick up from the fleet?” I asked.
“Impossible,” Lana declared flatly. “Most of the Eternal Fleet is in orbit, any ship trying to land or depart without clearance is suicide. We have passage on a liner that will depart tomorrow, we just have to get to it.”
I arched an eyebrow in disbelief. “No blockade is perfect...” I started, but she shook her head.
“You'll understand when you see it,” she assured me.
After a moment of thought I shrugged and turned to Koth. “So, what is your story?”
He clapped his hands together and rubbed them. He was a good looking kid, now that I could see him, early to mid twenties, still a bit gangly and not quite fully grown. He was wearing a T-shirt and cargo pants under a great canvas duster that had saved most of his clothing from the muck and he wore a pair of black and silver goggles over his forehead. He had that anxious energy of youth that older people find so tiring. “Sorry, sorry,” he hedged as he grinned a scoundrel's grin. “I just can't believe it! The Outlander! Right here, I'm just...sorry, sorry. So, yeah, I used to be in the Zakuul Army, a Captain, Twenty Seventh Lancers. We were deployed to the Occupation of Denon, I was overseeing local security for the transports.”
My look became a bit disbelieving. “You mean the looters, taking their plunder back here?”
He shrugged noncommittally. “We were holding territory on Denon. Locals rioted, and orders were to open fire until they stopped. None of us even wanted to be there... massacring civilians? That's not how Zakuul is supposed to operate.” He shook his head, becoming more somber. “I refused the order. Not that it mattered, the Skytroopers opened up. I was relieved, thrown into the brig. My XO, Len, he and the others thought I'd gotten a bum deal, but nobody was going to really stand up to command for me. Len helped me escape, got me to a neutral port, the Asylum Shadowport, been on the run ever since.”
“I ran into him on Altair 3,” Lana added. “Tracking down leads about you, as a matter of fact. It became expedient to retire from the field together and Koth has been a valuable asset since.” She produced a small holographic imager and it produced a three dimensional representation of the area. The foundation of the two spires was not terribly far, depending on the scale. “We are approximately here,” she said, pointing. “A bit closer to Izak Spire than Capital, which is good, that's where we want to be.”
“Why?” I asked. She manipulated the hologram and showed a good sized liner docked high up on the Spire.
“That's our ticket off Zakuul.” She fiddled with the image again, then turned and pointed deeper into the swamp. “There should be a service road, that way, that will get us to the sub-levels, we can risk a turbo-lift then once we've tidied up.” She looked back at me and smiled. “Then it's just look nice, board the liner and enjoy some hors d'oeuvres and cruise our way out of Zakuul space. I have backup waiting at the first port of call.”
“Well, let's be on our way,” I replied with a chuckle. “Champagne wishes and caviar dreams won't wait for long.”
Slogging through the swamp was exactly the kind of hot, dirty, nasty slog you'd expect. The road was just passable enough that we were able to make decent time, and just poor enough to make it misery. About mid-afternoon we reached the footing of the spire, rising up out of the swamp like a ziggurat, stretching out of sight into the clouds. The lowest opening, a landing platform, was easily two hundred meters above the trees. “Well, there's our first problem,” I declared, looking up at it.
“There's our second,” Koth replied, pointing back behind us. I turned to see a swarm of what looked like official looking vehicles buzzing a few dozen kilometers back in the swamp, obviously looking for us.
Lana put her bag down and opened it to rummage. “I have ascension guns,” she said as she pulled one out and fitted a cartridge of mono-filament line to it. She handed one to me and then a second to Koth.
“Isn't that going to make us perfect targets?” he asked with a worried glance back at the official search.
“We don't have time to be subtle,” Lana told him sharply. I took aim through the viewfinder at a sturdy looking support, just a bit over the landing platform. The launching charge threw the grapple and it implanted itself on the first try.
“You're welcome to stay here,” I told him as I got the gun secure on my belt.
Koth shook his head. “I'm in it this far, might as well go all the way.”
The guns all confirmed they had good locks, but just in case Lana clicked a line between all three of us such that if one failed the others would arrest their fall. Then it was simple matter to key the motor in the gun to retract the line. Once again I am amazed by the simple things in this galaxy, the power density to get a battery with enough oomph to run a motor strong enough to lift all fifty four kilos of me two hundred meters or so, in about twenty seconds.
Fantastic, I tell you.
Fortunately, either no one was looking in this direction, or we just weren't seen, I didn't care which, because we got to the landing pad fine and none of the buzzing troopers and vehicles came this way. Lana ran a lead from her wrist comm. unit to the terminal by the door and after a moment, it slid open for us. The corridor was empty so we got inside and the door closed again while she consulted her datapad. “This is a housing block, mostly for the few people that actually work on this planet,” she informed us. “There's a unit for rent just a few levels up. I'll schedule us a walk through and we can use it to get cleaned up. Then we just take a lift up to the liner.”
“Which way?” asked Koth.
Lana pointed to the left of the hallways at the junction and then led us through a maze of very similar looking halls. Finally, we came to a lift station that arrived surprisingly quickly, but was empty. Once we were all inside, she pressed the button and gave me a smile. “Well, things are going smoother than I'd expected.”
“Lana,” I asked her softly. “Earlier I asked who the new head of Defense of the Empire was and you said it didn't matter. Why?”
She became a little flustered and had to take a moment to get herself together. “My lord, the Sith Empire was conquered by Zakuul. As was the Republic. They are both puppet states to the Eternal Empire in all but name. The only members of the Dark Council you would recognize would be Darth Acina, who is now Empress Acina, and Darth Vowrawn, who was the Sith who formally surrendered the Empire to Zakuul.”
I felt my brows come together, though from shock or anger, I wasn't sure which. “What has become of Emperor Malgus? Or...”
Lana shook her head. “Both the former Emperor and his wife are missing and presumed dead, my lord.”
“It cannot be this hopeless...” I declared and some of Lana's spirit returned to her.
“It's not, my lord!” she assured me. “The fighters you summoned, I've held together. Growing stronger and being joined by both disaffected Imperials and ex-Republicans!”
Koth was quick to add, “Even some Zakuul like me, who know we can do better than this!”
A fire lit behind Lana's yellow eyes. “All we have needed was you, my lord! A leader, a hero, who can show us how to defeat the Eternal Empire.”
I couldn't help reacting with humor and snickered. “No pressure, right?”
“Of course!” Lana affirmed with a smile. The lift stopped and opened onto a thankfully empty hallway. “We do get some illicit help,” she said as she consulted the datapad before leading the way from the lifts. “Both from the Republic and the Empire; planetary governors and Moffs, sympathetic to our cause. They supply us with men, material, a fair number of ships, too. All off the books, and most of it out of date, but it's free and we need all the war material we can get.”
“What about backwards engineering some of the Zakuul technology?” I asked her as we walked, glancing over to Koth. He shrugged with a puzzled look on his face.
“Don't look at me, I'm just a pilot.”
“Here we are,” she declared, pointing her datapad at the door. It clicked and slid open. “Most of the Zakuul technology is droid based, except for the Skytroopers for some reason. They seem to be controlled remotely, but we've had no luck so far in isolating the frequency, let alone what ever encryption they're using.”
We walked in to a fairly generic apartment, two bedrooms, a kitchen that was smaller than the galley on the Aces and Eights, and this central room. It had the virtue of being on the outside edge of the spire so it had a balcony off the main room that overlooked the swamp. The Skytroopers had moved much closer and were buzzing the swamp. Lana keyed a control by the glass door and it turned opaque. “Why do they do...that?” I demanded, but Koth quickly raised his hands defensively.
“Hey, I had no idea they were! I thought Skytroopers were just battle droids! I swear!”
Lana gathered up the bags from us to lay out on the 'breakfast bar' and opened them. The one I'd been carrying had various toiletries, towels and garment cubes. They, the cubes, were an interesting little space saver, put your clothing in it, and it vacuum seals itself. Fold it in on itself and you now had a complete out fit in the space about ten centimeters. Just unfold it and open it and whatever was inside pops back to life, wrinkle free. She handed me a towel, the cube and soaps. “You first, my lord.”
“Nyeomi,” I corrected her, taking the offering.
Lana smiled. “Not in front of the men,” she declared.
Still chuckling, I made my way to the master suite and into the bath. There, I was confronted with my reflection and it felt odd to look at. I was ten years older, now in my middle forties again, but my body was still thirty five. I was dirty and the white and grays of my working leathers needed a good cleaning, but that was nothing new. I reached up and took the pins and the elastic from my hair and let it fall free.
My normal working style was to roll my front and sides up, then gather a pony tail in the back, which was pinned into a bun to keep things tidy and out of the way. Loose, it spilled over my shoulders and down my back. Torm loved my hair and I was more than a little vain about it myself. But the stray thought struck me. I hadn't asked about my family at all!
I turned to do so, then caught myself.
This was yet another instance of keeping a 'face' for the troops. Koth would be watching, and whatever he saw he would doubtlessly talk about. I would force myself to wait while he was taking his turn and Lana and I could be discreet. But there were things I knew I had to get out of my system. One of the down sides of being a Sith is that we use our emotions to reach the Force. Which also means our emotions are much stronger than a normal person, we laugh faster, love deeper, rage harder and everything is never far under the surface.
I had functionally abandoned my family for ten years. Ten years! My children were gone, not the just stepping into adulthood I remembered, they were all but grown now. Yet again I had lost the joys of being a parent I had so wanted to become. I slid down against the wall and let it out, sobbing into my hands so that maybe, hopefully, I could keep it together in front of Koth.
My mind's eye painted a perfect picture of the son's ruined face and I promised myself I would kill him, and not quickly. I would take my time and I would make him suffer. And as I cried and raged, the words of Ferris Organa came to my mind. “No, it won't. But it is something. And that is all I have left.” I sniffed to clear my sinus and nodded while I mentally pledged to send some kind of gift to the only other person in this galaxy who knew what I was feeling.
That done, I wiped the tears from my face and stood up, already picking back up the control of my emotions and forcing them to the back of my mind. Now it was time to be professional. Revenge would come soon; later, but soon. I opened the cube to find a beautiful white shimmersilk gown with a halterneck top that left my back completely bare and fell down to just cover my breasts, then flowed down my sides to encompass my waist. On the right side the hem fell to my ankle, but it sharply rose and was quite daring coming just up over my left knee before looping back down.
Lana knew my tastes well, it was beautiful.
I hung up the dress and stripped out of the armor before I got into the shower. I had to admit, even for working class, the shower was nice. Eight different shower heads, at two different levels and the heat made it wonderfully relaxing. I was able to get the left over carbonite slime out of my hair and came out feeling like I'd scrubbed a layer of skin off.
I put my dirty leathers into the cube, which didn't compact it as much as it had the silk, but it did make it so they would fit into the bag. Koth offered to let Lana go next and she took him up on it, leaving us in a rather awkward kind of silence that I spent rummaging through the bags for something to eat, settling on a ration bar. It must have seemed strange, in that dress and fastening the wedge heels Lana had brought to go with it while I munched a survival ration bar, but my life had taken stranger turns.
Poor Koth was obviously uncomfortable being alone with me, but that wasn't anything I could help so I settled my hair into a completely different style than my normal one in case there were 'wanted' posters out for the 'Outlander'. Satisfied with that, I put on a little make up that would be appropriate for that dress.
“Uh, my lord?”
I turned, to see him standing a respectful distance and with an awkward, hang dog kind of stance. If he'd had a hat, it would probably be in his hands. “Yes, Koth?” I asked, leaving the cosmetics in a organized, but open manner for Lana. “What is it?”
“I...well, I wanted to, um, well, to apologize.” He winced as if he wasn't satisfied with the words his thoughts had taken to try and express himself.
“For what?” I asked in what I thought was a fairly even tone, but I have noted that those who are not used to dealing with Sith Lords, tend to walk on eggshells around us for a bit. Among Imperial troops, there was a certain amount of hazing that went on with new transfers to a unit, trying to get the new guys terrified of the terrible Dark Lord. “I don't hold honest mistakes against people, Koth, I save my anger for treason and willful incompetence.”
His eyes widened a bit and I saw his fear began to gnaw on him. “Yeah...heh...I, uh, I guess you think I'm a traitor...?”
After a moment of consideration, I gave a little half shrug. “It would depend, I suppose, on what oaths you swore in the Zakuul military.” With a sigh, I looked him in the eye to give my words the weight they would need. “I swore an oath to defend and advance the Sith Empire. When I was about your age, it became obvious to me that to fulfill my oath, the Emperor I served, who had abandoned us, had never had the advancement of our Empire as his focus. For me to defend and advance the Sith Empire, I had to side with Darth Malgus, against my Emperor, who you call Valkorion. He would say I was a traitor, I say I was fulfilling my oath.”
“I...I didn't know that,” he said softly. “They didn't go into very much detail about your past in school.”
I nodded. “If you believe you are helping your people by siding with me against Valkorion and his son, then no, I don't consider you a traitor. If you are doing this merely for your own gain? Then yes, we probably should part company.”
He stood up a bit straighter and squared his shoulders. “I'm here because what we did was wrong,” he declared with conviction for the first time in the conversation. “We had no business attacking your Empire or the Republic! If helping you puts a stop to that, it's something I have to do!”
I gave him a little smirk and patted him on the shoulder. “Apology accepted.”
Having gotten Koth sorted, Lana picked that moment to emerge from the shower, her hair wet, but wearing a smart looking tunic and pants suit in her preferred green and black that set off her blonde hair and the scarf around her neck and shoulders was a nice touch. She blinked and asked, “Did I just walk into something?”
I shook my head and gave Koth a little shove at the shower and he took the hint to make himself scarce. “You're fine,” I assured her.
“Good,” she affirmed, heading over to the bar to put her own things in the bag and make use of the cosmetics she'd brought to appear sufficiently 'trendy' for the disguise. “I've never seen your hair like that,” she told me through the mirror. “It looks good down.”
I gave a little shrug as I looked out the sliding glass door over the swamp. The vehicles had increased and the activity looked angrier. “In my line of work, up is usually safer,” I told her absently with a gesture out the door. “Looks like they found the wreck.”
She came over and looked then shared a look with me before she went over to the shower. “Step it up, Koth, we probably should leave quickly.”
“Hey, you two got to take your time!” he protested over the sound of running water.
“Just be quick,” she ordered. She dug into one of the bags and produced a pair of bracelets. “Here, try these,” she said as she offered them.
“Not really my style,” I told her as I took one to look at. It was terribly gauche looking, with swirling overlays in what looked like stainless steel. It would cover my entire forearm and had a pair of odd, U shaped extensions that stood out from the main body of the bracelet, or vambrace, I'm not sure what the more accurate term would be. It certainly fit with this society of conspicuous, public displays of consumption. Don't get me wrong, there are certainly times and places to look your best, even show off a bit, but this place was so over the top it was practically without shame.
She grinned mischievously. “I think you'll like the accessories.” She took one of my light sabers and clipped it into the U shapes, then put the whole thing on my arm. The silver of the bracelet neatly hid the light saber in plain sight as I could never wear my utility belt with this dress.
“Brilliant!” I complimented her and added the other to my left arm to complete the set. She returned the cosmetics to the bag and began tidying up in preparation for our departure. “Lana, what...what is the status of my family?”
I saw her shoulders tense, then she began to pack a bit more urgently. “They...They're fine,” she lied, badly. I think she felt my stare at her back as her shoulders drooped and she turned to face me.
“Tell me the truth,” I ordered her softly.
She took in a breath and nodded. “Torm, your hus...sorry. He...your absence hit him very hard.” she said quietly. “He, he wasn't satisfied with the pace of things and as the years stretched out, he got...reckless. He had to track down every rumor and whisper of you.” She looked up at me, her yellow eyes a touch fearful and concerned. “We all needed you, my lord, but, for Torm, it became a crusade.”
“Where is he?” I asked quietly.
“We...we lost contact...” she mumbled, wincing as she said it. “T...two years ago. Some scientist claiming to have knowledge about how you might be kept, claiming to have multiple instances of backwards engineering the Eternal Empire's technology; ravings really. Torm, well, nothing was too far fetched as far as he was concerned. He made arrangements for the children and headed out. The last we heard he was on Nar Shaddaa.” I closed my eyes to focus all of my energy inward to keep my temper on a firm leash.
After a long moment, I asked, “Where are my children?”
She brightened immediately. “Lieutenant Kale received a field commission from Captain Barsal. He is probably one of the best slicers and ECM men in our little Alliance! He's getting nothing but glowing reviews from the Captain and he's serving on the Warspite.”
The tightness in my chest lifted a bit. “Why didn't he go with his father?”
Lana's eyes met mine. “Torm wouldn't allow it,” she assured me. And that's when Captain Barsal stepped in. He arranged for an academy of the refugees we'd been picking up; a number of them from the Courageous,wanted to enlist. As for Bree, well Darth Mur wanted to give Bree her Lordship, but she insisted she wanted it from you. She means to win your approval.”
“She already had it,” I replied softly. “Where is she?”
Lana's eyes went wide. “She...you didn't...? My lord, she's here.”
A knife of solid ice stabbed my heart as I realized the young woman I had seen with Lana, who had charged off alone, to who knew where... I turned and began to walk to the door, but Lana interposed herself. “No, my lord! I promise you, Bree can take care of herself! I would not have allowed her to come on this mission if she couldn't!” My emotions, shame mostly of not recognizing my own daughter, flared like napalm as I rounded on Lana.
“You brought my daughter into this...!” I shouted, but from somewhere Lana Beniko found the immovable resolve of a mountain.
“My lord, I brought a qualified Sith Warrior, who has faced and completed her trials, with the blessing of her Mistress...”
“I AM her mistress!” I thundered.
“You stopped being her mistress when you left her in the care of Darth Mur and were captured by the enemy!” she shouted back. “Those are our traditions, you know that, my lord! Taybri Fens is an accredited Sith Warrior and she would have come if I needed her or not! At least this way I had hoped to keep her recklessness in check!”
The anger and the rage bellowed up in me and I knew I had to vent it, else I would lash out against my rescuers, so I spun and screamed, letting the Force whip the anger out of me at the glass doors which exploded into a million rainbows as it flew off the spire. Panting, sated for the moment, I turned to Lana, who was even more pale. I gave her a little smile of apology and said, “I think I may have cost you the security deposit.”
“Worth every credit, my lord,” she assured me. “She is very much your daughter. Good and bad, but I know she will be on the liner!”
Lana smiled at me. “Because I know you would be, in her shoes.”
I sighed and gave in to her knowing smirk. Still, I had to know if she was soft pedaling an act of insubordination and asked, “Did you forbid her from coming on this mission?”
Lana shook her head. “No, because I knew if I did she would just stow away. But I trust her, my lord.”
I nodded, lest my control of my emotions slip and my 'face' be shown in front of the men. Raising my voice, I ordered flatly, “Koth, we're leaving. Now.”
“Uh...yes, my lord!” his voice from the showers affirmed as it shut off. Then I heard him frantically dressing.
Lana smirked and laid a hand on my shoulder. “You always were an excellent motivational speaker, Nyeomi.”
Despite my admittedly mixed feelings, I did give Koth the time he needed to actually be presentable. After all, our disguises were worthless if we didn't blend in. If his hair was a little damp, well, we could chalk it up to the humidity. Weapons carefully hidden, we left the apartment and made our way back to the lift. From there it was ten minutes of awkward silence until we reached the top of that lift on this little border area between the few working class, and the hoi polloi, mixed with the idle well to do that we were dressed to blend in with.
It was actually a little hard to emulate the bored, listless carriage and walking speed of them. As a Darth and a member of the armed forces most of my life, in one galaxy or another, I tended to walk with purpose. Even on vacation, I had never been aimless and to putter around in their not quite drunk, ambling manner as if I had no place to go or be was maddening.
It actually took some work to not start shoving them out of my way.
On the plus side, this lethargic style of theirs meant no one really looked into our faces, nor got close enough to make out the Sith eyes Lana and I both had. Still, I'd had my share of dull, attendance is required 'parties' I'd had to attend as a Countess to know how to fix my face into what I called my 'Official Issue' smile and pretend to be having the time of my life. As we walked, I kept close enough to Koth and Lana to discreetly carry on a conversation. “So, bring me up to speed on what's been happening in the galaxy,” I ordered quietly.
I could see Lana had learned the same tricks I had in her time in the Diplomatic service and you'd never know her smile wasn't genuine. “Arcann rules the galaxy with an iron glove over Vaylin's stone fist,” she informed me sotto voce. “Few will dare oppose him after the war of retaliation he launched when you killed Emperor Valkorion. Five years of pointless destruction for its own sake and an additional five years of back breaking tribute wrenched from the Empire and the Republic. We, the Alliance you created, are the only ones who will oppose him, and even that is done as discreetly as possible.”
“Tribute?” I asked through the vapid smile on my face.
“What you'd expect,” Lana replied. “Valuables, precious metals, objects of art as well as enough raw materials to build a fleet of ships. Then, they got creative. Darth Vowrawn has to come once a year to the throne room and crawl to the throne, castigating himself and the Empire for the mercy of Zakuul. For the Republic it's been a series of different professional ass kissers. I don't know who has to this year.”
My eyes drifted over to Koth. “Lovely people...” I drawled.
“Don't look at me,” he protested. “I did say we were better than this!”
“Once word got out that you were going to fight, regardless of what the Empire was going to do, and of course your spectacular assassination of Valkorion, we began to get offers from sources in the Republic. Therran Shan contacted me,” she intimated, giving me a significant look.
“Did you two finally get a room?” I asked her in jest, but her return look was still annoyed.
“Hardly,” she declared, with disdain dripping from her voice. “However, he has been extremely forthcoming with men and supplies from all over the galaxy. Coming up with protocols to integrate two very different fighting styles and equipment has been a challenge, but we're managing. Freeing you has been our greatest victory so far.”
“Don't start celebrating yet,” I cautioned her, with a nod towards a massive, three story tall hologram of Arcann.
“Citizens of Zakuul,” the hologram's voice boomed out over the plaza. “Terrorists have succeeded in freeing our greatest enemy.” Arcann vanished to be replaced with a picture of me, still beaten and bloodied from my capture. “The Outlander, or terrorists that support her, may be among you now. Extreme caution is advised from this dangerous criminal. Do not interact with them if you see them. Report any suspicious activity to the High Justice immediately.”
“Does this change our plans?” I asked quietly as we walked, but Lana shook her head.
“You don't look anything like that,” she assured me. “Still, it might be advantageous to wait on the liner. This way,” she declared, altering her path towards what looked like a train station.
We arrived at Platform Six of the Twin Rail system that moved people across two axis, laterally out to the other spires and vertically, up higher into this spire. The 'rail' was actually a tube, probably kept in vacuum to make the car's speed as fast and efficient as possible, likely with magnetic 'rails' embedded in the tube for movement. We bought our tickets separately so we wouldn't be marked as a group and were diligently loaded onto the next car that came along.
The car itself was in ten decks, sharing a communal spiral staircase down the core. Each deck was further divided into the private compartments, bathrooms, a lounge and just general seating. The track was laid on the side of the spire so the view was spectacular, as we rode up the side of what amounted to a space elevator; a building so tall it left the atmosphere and stopped out in outer space. Even at these speeds, it would take the better part of a day to climb up to the platform.
I spent the time in the smallest of the private compartments Lana had insisted I take. This kept me out of sight while they could discreetly keep tabs on things. While I did so, I fished out a holocomm from the bag and tried to call Torm. Unfortunately, the account number I had for him now belonged to a kindly old lady in a retirement home on Garel in the Lothal Sector who mistook me for her daughter who doesn't call her enough. We had a nice conversation about the gossip around the home and the flowers she had planted out front with several pointed requests for when I would get around to giving her grand children.
I'm sure her real daughter would dismiss the confusing next conversation she would have with her mother about 'their' last conversation as dementia.
My searches throughout the Net for any trace of my husband did yield some fruit. I learned he had become an outspoken critic of the Eternal Empire and what he had called the Rape of Ruuria which seemed to have stuck as a name. The attempts of the Zakuul authorities to shut him down or censor his posts had only underscored the truth of the Streisand Effect and had made re-posting of Torm's videos a relatively safe act of rebellion. This also made finding anything current about him like trying to find a specific grain of sand on a beach.
The news reports suggested that Arcann wanted me back in carbonite very badly, which perhaps I could use as leverage against him. If he was this worried about me, perhaps I could fan that fire into full on terror. Terrified people make all manner of mistakes that can be exploited. Either way, once I was somewhere he couldn't lay hands on me, becoming a celebrity by updating my Wisdom of the New Sith holo-channel would be a primary mission for my psych-ops team.
Lana's bag also had a tablet that had pictures, so I looked at my children, growing up without me, in little videos and snapshots weeks and months apart with no context. I saw Bree become that lovely young woman I could only just remember from my fuzzy brain trying to work again, free of the carbonite. I saw Kale become a tall, handsome young man, half his father's commanding presence and Alpha Male confidence, half the thoughtful, intelligence I had given him.
So I looked at the pictures and I was glad I had the compartment to myself so I could weep.
The Alderaan Princess, Zakuul System, The Eternal Empire
I'm not sure what I was expecting as far as how our escape was going. Something between a stop of all outbound traffic or a line of Skytroopers blocking the gangway, but surprisingly things were quite normal as we boarded the Alderaan Princess. I'll admit I was humming a certain Jack Jones song as the papers Lana had provided me with which labeled me Sutti Jin, a marketing executive with Czerka Arms from Naboo of all places, were checked and authenticated. It didn't surprise me that my assumed corporate affiliate would be Czerka, the company was quite friendly with the Empire and a number of passport blanks and travel Ids that were exact matches of those used by Czerka would mysteriously arrive at the Dromund Kaas headquarters of both Sith Intelligence and the Diplomatic Service when needed.
While there was, evidently, quite a bit of attention being paid to the smaller space ports by the authorities, they seemed to have assumed we would never just book passage on a liner to make our get away. The fake documents breezed through the inspection and I was welcomed aboard. A porter took my bag and showed me to the lovely little suite that was mine. It was certainly quite nice with a little cooling unit that was well stocked with little bottles of adult beverages, a table and chairs for private dining and a bed that had me missing my husband. There was a private bath, or head, as we say aboard, with a positively decadent tub and floor to ceiling windows for the far wall. Next door, with a convenient adjoining door was Lana, or VP of Outer Rim Expansion Maayi Ren-Var as her documents labeled her, was being installed and poor Koth was across the hall from me in the smallest, inner cabin.
The porter set my bag on the bed for me, tipped his cap and left a quarter century credit richer for his trouble. It never hurts to be a generous tipper, after all, word will spread and you'll be taken care of as well as the staff 'forgetting' things that investigator types might ask about to protect the new gravy train.
Outside, through massive transparisteel windows, was a stunning view of Zakuul. We were well and truly above the Kármán line, in actual outer space and the planet was breathtaking. Even as an Ecumenopolis the sky was still blue and there were many puffy, white clouds and rising up through them, like mountains were dozes of spires, stretching up into space. It was as monumental an engineering achievement as I had ever seen, to put the Colossus of Rhodes or the Pyramids to shame.
The sky beyond was positively over crowded with stars and the sky was completely unfamiliar to me as I stared, trying to get my bearings for some clue as to where I was. Then, beyond the curve of the planet rose a red, baleful moon obscuring the odd star field and the blue white gas cloud of some kind of nebula or stellar remnant I didn't recognize.
A brief knock heralded the arrival of Lana through the adjacent door who joined me at the window. “It really is a magnificent view, isn't it?” she asked and I nodded.
“I'm just trying to get my bearings, I don't recognize any of these stars,” I told her.
She touched the window, proving it to have a smart glass element and chose a region to zoom in on. “Those aren't stars,” she told me as the viewfinder leapt up and I had to gasp in surprise. What I had taken as stars were, in fact, a massive fleet, hundreds of thousands, perhaps even millions of cruisers, all of the same, vaguely hammer headed design. Now, I understood why she was so hopeless of breaking the blockade; a fleet that was so vast it could be taken as a star field.
“How does he pay for all of this?” I demanded. “Where does he get the crews?”
Lana gave me a glance and shook her head. “No crews. As near as we have been able to find out, everyone of those ships are robot piloted and completely unmanned. We have no idea how, but we are pouring everything we have into finding it out. If we can subvert the Eternal Fleet, we can crush Zakuul with their own weapon.”
“And how is that working out?” I asked and she arched an eyebrow.
“Well, it got us in to get you out,” she offered and I had to concede the point. “But, I come with good news. I just got the code signal. Bree is aboard and waiting in the first class lounge, as ordered.”
“Which way?” I demanded.
Lana sighed and gave a calming gesture with a little sigh. “An emotional reunion for someone who is supposed to be a marketing executive on a business trip will likely get us the wrong kind of notice,” she declared, and of course, she was right. I nodded and she reached up to squeeze my shoulder in encouragement. “I'll go and get her, you try to relax. I'll be back shortly.”
A little tremor ran through the deck, most wouldn't have noticed it, but we were both sufficiently spacers to know the Alderaan Princess was underway. Lana left and I decided to take her advice to try and relax. I rummaged through the little cooling unit and to my immense surprise and delight found a bottle of Bantha Piss that I quickly opened and savored the first sip. I sat down on the bed, with my legs crossed with the bottle and stared out the window, letting my mind wander back ten years to being astonished to be a woman, a Sith Lord and being pursued romantically by a man.
I took a long sip and let the beer wash around my mouth and remembered happier days.
I tried to spread out my awareness to see if I could sense Torm, but between the beer and the strain of using my Force Trick to carry me this far, I was relaxed enough, safe enough that it was time to pay the piper. I remember finishing the beer and setting the bottle on the night stand by the bed, then my eye lids just became too heavy to keep open.