How do I describe a Force dream?
How do you convey the feeling of being completely, lucidly awake and yet also know you are dreaming? There are those, I'm sure who have had lucid dreams, to go through a morning routine and be halfway to work before the alarm clock they hit 'snooze' on goes off again and they realize they dreamed their shower, breakfast and commute. Force dreams have that sharp, bang your hand on the table realism, but they are never about your routine. They are always novel, even when I've had a vision of the past it was different than how I remembered it happening. Almost like the pulling back of the curtain and getting to see a bit of the road you didn't take.
So they are horrifyingly real, except, they are also obviously not; so much so it makes you aware you are dreaming. When you have a Force vision, you know it, almost instantly, you both have agency to change it and yet also are completely helpless and a voyeur unable to turn away. I once spent a nightmarish month as Nyeomi come to planet Earth and waking up in horror to be fat, male and middle aged.
I have never been so thankful to wake from a dream!
It is disturbing, that surreal passage of days and weeks mixed with the rock hard certainty of it taking place. There are days I wish I just got badly spliced and color keyed tunnels of light and tight close ups of people crying. Luke saw himself as Darth Vader because he didn't understand the Bogan, nor the true nature of the Force. No Jedi, in fact, understands the nature of the Force, so Yoda could not answer Luke's questions. That ignorance, coupled with his teacher's inability to explain it to him frightened him and in his fear, he saw himself lost and turned into his father.
You can never come to the Force with fear.
Fear robs you of reason and rationality, it folds and contorts on itself, warping reality and your perception of it and worse, it amplifies that fear. Fear is the mind killer. To touch the Force with fear was to throw wide the Gates of Hell and unleash the very worst of the psyche to indulge itself. The monsters of the Id are unchained and no one is safe. I had collapsed on the bed, spent and weary of the torture I had endured and into darkness, the Force brought me back ten years in time to the throne room of the Eternal Empire. Once more` I saw Darth Marr die as I stood by and did nothing. My heart was filled with shame as his shade rose from his charred and blackened corpse, as horrific as Anakin after the fire, his finger pointing with all the judgment of victim to murderer, directly at me.
I felt the horror and the terrible fear that I could not, indeed would never amount to more than a pale shadow of his glory, that I had doomed our resistance to Valkorion before it was even properly underway. The terror gripped at my heart and the Bogan whipped it into a fury as I heard Darth Vitiate's laughter as my chest was on fire. I looked to see, to feel the light saber that had melted my heart and set my lungs on fire.
I screamed and felt, felt that horrible heat in my body as I was cooked from the inside out.
As I lurched and writhed in pain that seemed it would never cease, suddenly Darth Marr's mask was before me, his strong, massive hands gripping my shoulders, forcing me to look him in the face. “Fight, Nyeomi!” he shouted at me. “You can win! Fight!”
I jerked awake, the sheets soaked with sweat, my thoughts as scattered and broken as a stained glass window just after a rock is thrown through it. The room was lit by the blue white chaos of hyperspace making crazy patterns and swirls on the walls like light reflecting off a pool. My heart was pounding in my chest, making me reach up to assure myself I did not have a two and a half centimeter hole in it.
The voice was lower than I remembered, very similar to my own earthy contralto, but just a note or two higher. My eyes were immediately brought to the little table by the window where Bree was sitting, her eyes, the same golden yellow of the Bogan mine were. Her face had filled out from the round, smiling visage of the little girl I had helped make her first light saber and now was a subtle mix of my own oval with full lips, and her father's high, prominent cheek bones and his cleft chin. She was so tall and regal and beautiful!
I scrambled out of the bed as fast as I could and pulled her into my arms.
It was more than a little awkward as she was my height now and had, I discovered, inherited my generous bust line, but none of that mattered. My daughter was in my arms where she belonged again. “Mommy I've missed you!” she cried into my shoulder and that set my eyes to tears and for a long time I just held her as we cried together.
I became aware I was babbling, “I'm sorry!” over and over again, so I forced myself to stop and just revel in the moment. After an entirely too short eternity, she stepped back reluctantly and sniffed to clear her sinuses, which set both of us to laughing. I took her face in my hands and tried not to start crying again. “My beautiful daughter!” I exclaimed, making her smile and her dusky skin darkened a bit.
“Look at you!” she declared. “You...you're just like I remember.”
“You're grown,” I replied, melancholy and sad.
She fetched some tissue she shared with me and we dried our eyes. “Twenty one,” she told me as we made use of the tissues. “Lana didn't want to let me come, but...”
“No, that doesn't matter,” I told her. “First things first. Kneel.” She sank down to one knee, looked up at me as I laid my hand on her forehead. “Taybri Fens, for dedication, by example through skill and aptitude, I bestow upon you the rank of Lord of the Sith.” I saw her eyes fill with tears again, so I reached down and took her shoulders. “Rise, my apprentice, my Lord.”
“Th...thank you, Mistress,” she whispered, and we hugged again. Parting, she had that crooked smile on her face that I remembered from her childhood as the normal expression on the face of my little girl. “Commander Beniko told you I wouldn't let Aunt...er, Darth Mur award me?”
“She did,” I admitted. “Not that I needed to hear it from her. You have always made me proud, Bree.” I wagged a finger at her. “Though I am more than a little concerned about this reckless streak of yours...”
She rolled her eyes. “Oh, mom! I haven't done anything you wouldn't have!”
“As our current situation should underscore,” I told her sternly, “I can and do make mistakes! This last one was the worst in my life!”
She rounded on me, quick to take up my defense, even against myself. “You did what needed to be done, mom! You were right to try and rescue Prince Marr and that brought us the Courageous! That ship saved...”
“Mom?” I demanded with playful sternness. She suppressed a giggle and gave a very mocking bow.
“Forgive me, my master!”
We shared a laugh and then were up the rest of the ship's night and well into the next day, catching up, reminiscing and bonding as mothers and daughters, after too long a separation, do. But, those are the kinds of things that are particularly private, so I think I'll skip ahead just a bit.
The Alderaan Princess, Keskin System, The Outer Rim Territories
The Alderaan Princess emerged from hyperspace and the Eternal Empire in the Keskin System. No, I hadn't heard of it either. It gives you an idea of exactly how far out into the Unknown Reaches Zakuul was that the system closest to civilization from it was this little nowhere planet, on the tail end of an unused trade route, such that Hoth and Bespin are the closest well known planets. You know, those two scenic places picked by the Rebel Alliance for their secret base...because they were so remote?
Keskin, who's entry in most tour guides and navigation databases only list it as a star system, and the trade route it's on, had suddenly become relevant because it was the gateway to the Eternal Empire. There was a nice little third world shithole city that had sprung up on the planet, mostly made of garbage and prefabricated everything. However, most of what went on took place in the space stations in orbit. Yes, stations, plural; one for the Galactic Republic and one for the New Sith Empire, they were both required to take this long way around to get to Zakuul so as to pay homage to their lord and Master Arcann.
The Alderaan Princess docked with the Republic station, named Thon Station after the ancient and mysterious Jedi master who stated his home world was deep in the Unknown Reaches, as she held Republic registry. Though the Princess did offer a shuttle service to Exar Kun Station, likely named in a bit of tit for tat digging by the Empire naming their station after Master Thon's enemy. You might have assumed we would take that shuttle, but we didn't, for several reasons. First, our documents had us as Republic citizens, but, more importantly, it was known that the 'Outlander' had been a Sith Lord so if the Zakuul forces were watching for me, it was hoped their focus would be there.
I had, reluctantly, swapped out that lovely silk dress for a more casual look of black leggings under a red tunic dress I wore with my utility belt while keeping my sabers on the bracelets and a pair of sandals that would have been at home on a mountain trail. Really, the tread and grip of them were remarkable! While not as dressy, if I had to fight in this outfit, I could, without fear of flashing everyone watching. So, Sutti Jin disembarked on Thon Station, followed by her executive assistant, a twenty-something BeAnn Sundar from Tattooine along with VP of Outer Rim Expansion Maayi Ren-Var and her body guard Koffi Tan.
We got through customs with a minimum of fuss, largely because 'Koffi' had all the permits for his blaster pistol and weapons scanners have a lot of trouble picking up light sabers. Why? I hear you ask. Well, it's simple. There might be ten thousand Jedi, give or take a dozen right now, with an approximately equal number of Sith. Now, even if the Eternal Empire's Knights of Zakuul had the same numbers, that's around thirty thousand people who use a supremely unique weapon in a Galaxy. While that sounds like a great number, consider,there are more planets than there are Force users of these three orders. Most people in this galaxy would never see one, Jedi, Sith or Knight, in their entire lives.
Put another way, most security wouldn't think twice about an older man leaning heavily on a cane, not realizing the other uses that steel cane would make a truly excellent use of. In fact, more than a century ago on Earth there was an entire martial art built around walking sticks and canes; did you know that? More to the point there are dedicated groups of slicers employed by the Jedi and Sith whose sole job is to crack the firmware of every scanner on the market so that when it 'sees' a light saber, it marks it as something innocuous. 'Industrial Tool' is a common favorite. Between that and most people living their entire lives never seeing a light saber, most of the guards didn't even know to look for one.
We didn't head directly anywhere, just in case we were being followed, so we meandered through the concourse of the star port, looking at overpriced junk in the shops before we stopped at a food stall and has something that was a mix between a falafel and a taco, with odd looking vegetables and a meat. I'm not sure what kind of meat, I'd long since learned not to ask about things like that in this galaxy if I wanted to enjoy a meal. It was meat and it was delicious and that's all I needed to know.
No one seemed to be inordinately interested in us, more than healthy males taking note of three attractive, athletic women. I noted that Bree chose to sit between Koth and myself and her body language seemed to me to be expressing more than casual interest in the young man, which I filed away for follow up later. I was about to suggest that we make our way to whatever Lana had planned, when we all felt it.
People strong with the Force cast ripples, if you will, throughout it; like a stone dropped into a lake. The stronger one is with the Force, the more powerful the ripples. Torm said, from years of being near me, that he could tell when I entered the room because he felt a thrill, like being young and excited again. This, however, was like walking into a graveyard at midnight. It was the opposite of everything warm and inviting, with just a hint of...it's hard to describe the 'flavor' of someone who is both strong in the Force and also mentally damaged. A number of Sith became damaged because they concentrated so much on anger, but I'd never felt someone who was...broken...before they learned how to touch the Force. This wasn't malevolence, it was apathy, a complete disregard of anyone or anything else. Like a child on a playground, holding all the toys and screaming “Mine!” This was that creeping sensation of someone who looked human, but very much was not; a monster in human guise.
In a word, evil.
Koth had noticed us and asked, “What?” Just then, the station's PA system clicked on and a voice I remembered well came over the speakers. It was a raspy, nasal voice, with the same odd intonation that I was coming to associate with Zakuul, but like nails on a chalkboard, or teeth scraped over a metal fork. It was the voice I remembered, half conscious and being drug from my killing of Vitiate, that was so outraged.
“Subjects of Zakuul, this is High Justice Vaylin. The terrorist known as 'The Outlander' may be among you. Everyone on the station is to report to the central concourse to have your IDs checked. If you see The Outlander, report it at once!”
“How well will your documents hold up?” I whispered to Lana, who shook her head.
“That isn't the problem, my lord,” she assured me. “The documents are fine, but they will likely be using facial recognition.”
“Vaylin isn't easily fooled,” Koth added. He pulled out his tablet and made some adjustments. “Worse, looks like Vaylin brought a good chunk of the Eternal Fleet with her,” he said, holding it so we could see. I'm not sure how many ships she had, but thousands would be a good rough guess.
Then, the last thing I expected happened. The fleet opened fire on Exar Kun Station and within seconds it was a ball of rapidly cooling plasma and expanding gas and debris. She had ordered the entire station destroyed on the off chance I'd gone there. I turned to Lana and whispered urgently, “We have to get out of here, now! Where are your people?”
We stood from our half eaten lunch as her already alabaster skin paled. “This way,” she declared. We blended into the crowd making it's fearful way to the main concourse, but the stench of fear was everywhere. It would not take much at all to turn this mob into a panicked riot. We worked our way to the 'outside' edge of the flood of people, towards the outermost edge of the station, where the individual docking ports were for small ships.
It was here, we began to move against the flow of the crowd and so, we stood out. “Hey! You four! Halt!” The shout was actually in front of us, so we couldn't play that we hadn't heard. There were already Zakuul soldiers on the station and fanning out to herd us to their choke point. Ahead of us was one of the humans in the armor with four Skytroopers at his back. His lightsaber was in his hand and he ignited it.
Like all of the other Knights of Zakuul I'd seen, it was blue and I wondered for a moment about that before I hissed, “No one do anything before me.” I led the group to him, stopped just at the edge of conversational distance. “We need to get our documents from our ship,” I lied and he held up his empty hand.
“Then I'll accompany you...” he started and began to reach for his commlink. I snatched my saber off the bracelet and snapped it on. I have to give him credit for how quickly he dodged, but I was still able to hit the radio, destroying it.
Next to me, Lana and Bree both acted fractions of a second faster than Koth, who I must admit, has excellent reflexes. Lana's strike severed the head of one Skytrooper, while Bree bifurcated one and decapitated the other on her backstroke while Koth's blaster walked three holes up the troopers armor in a Mozambique Drill center mass, neck, forehead. “You!” the Knight shouted as he got back on his feet's center of balance. His saber came up into a double handed Ko Gasumi guard that brought me back to my Kendo days. “For Zakuul!” he shouted.
I settled into my Ataru ready stance, left arm out and the saber pointing at him at shoulder height. My right saber parallel to it, over my head. “You don't have to...” I started, but he was already moving, coming at my left side, angling to get around to my back. I whirled, clockwise away from him, drawing his strike that my right hand saber came down on, forcing it out of line. My left saber entered his body, just under his right armpit, slowed slightly by skipping off the armor that resisted it.
Not that it mattered.
Bree's left blade had taken his left leg from the knee down, right below where the armor stopped so the knee joint could bend. As he fell, she spun, rolling her right saber over the back of her hand to seize it in a reverse grip. She swung at the opening in his helmet, which was a type that showed his face called a Barbuta. The blade tip struck exactly where the T shaped opening was wide enough and sank about five centimeters into his forehead. The precision of her strikes was fluid, masterful. He was dead before he hit the floor. It had all happened in perhaps three seconds. She stood up to face me, her blades snapping off with a hiss. “Forgive me, mistress, their armor is resistant to light sabers, and they never surrender.”
I stood up, extinguishing my own sabers. “You've fought them before, apprentice?”
She looked down, her face hard and her anger welled up a bit. “I delight in killing them, Mistress.” Her eyes came back up and they were full of hate that was slowly fading as she looked at me. “For taking you away from me.”
I looked at the dead knight for a moment, hearing Lana's voice, but not really able to make out what she was saying. I had fought many Jedi in my life, and more than my share of other Sith. Some of them could be reasoned with, nearly all would engage in what we Sith called Dun Möch or the Way of Domination in which we taunted our opponents into making mistakes, battling against their will to fight. I'd never encountered a Force User who would so blindly attack with neither defiance or call to surrender.
I'd never fought a Force User who was a zealot before, and it meant that our war had just become orders of magnitude harder.
Lana's hand on my arm pulled me from my thoughts as she forced me to turn and face her. “My Lord, we must flee!” she shouted, finally breaking through my mental fog. I nodded and we took off at a trot around the outside perimeter of the station, finally coming to a halt at a Defender-class Light Corvette that was painted red in broad stripes over the gray metal, meaning that it was an ambassadorial craft, in service to the Jedi Order.
The Defender-class was a horizontal hammerhead style of ship, popular in this era, with a flat, somewhat boxy body that went down the lateral axis to a pair of large, round engines at the rear. It was a contract ship, built by Corellia's Rendili Vehicle Corporation, for both the Republic Diplomatic Service and the Jedi Order. It's armament was nothing special, a pair of dual laser cannons mounted on either end of the hammer head that only rotated on one axis that were remotely controlled from the bridge.
Which meant they couldn't hit the broad side of a barn from the inside.
They did have excellent shields for the power plant making them a very good choice as a get away vehicle. I wondered briefly how Lana had stolen one. After a few seconds of frantically pushing buttons on the console by the airlock, it cycled open, revealing the airlock of the ship, but there was no one in it waiting for us. We quickly got inside and cycled the door shut, then opened the inner door.
I'm not sure why the Republic loves odd design choices with stairs, but this ship was a prime example of their love affair with them. This was, as I'd mentioned, just a catwalk, around a central stairwell that went down and forward to where the boarding ramp was that lowered in the nose of the ship. To the rear was a pair of stairwells, one going down to the engine room and cargo hold, the other going up to the galley and main lounge. Forward were more stairs, going up slightly to the captain's cabin, port, a conference room starboard and the bridge. We hurried to the bridge and still there was no one on board. “Where are your people?” I asked as I began the pre-flight checks to bring the ship up.
“If they followed orders they left the station six hours ago,” she informed me from her own work on the pre-flight from the co-pilot's chair. “If they didn't, there's nothing more I can do for them, you're too important.”
My hand hesitated over the button that would unlock us from the station. “They're going to open fire on us as soon as we unhook,” I warned, but Lana only grinned at me.
“No, they won't,” she assured me, then brought the comlink on her left bracer up to her lips. “Starfall,” she commanded it. The ship lurched as the station uncoupled from us and the last bit of air in the airlock shoved us away as it rushed out into the vacuum of space. Out the window, I saw every other ship I could see also expelled and every escape pod on the station launched. “Punch it!” she commanded me.
Our deflectors snapped on as I fire walled the throttles and the little corvette responded spiritedly. I ducked under the broad, mushroom dome of the station to put it between us and Eternal fleet which was already beginning to shoot the escape pods and suddenly drifting starships. This caused the star ships to begin to flee in a panic, further confusing things nicely. I ran the corvette down the isolation spire to the station's power plant hanging nearly half a kilometer below the main body of it. This gave the Navicomputer time to plot the jump to hyperspace.
We had only just started drawing fire when the stars rushed at me and we were safe once more in hyperspace.
Hyperspace, aboard The Messenger, Gendius sector, on the Cerean Reach Trade Route
After five hyperspace jumps in random directions, Lana had finally given me a heading that would bring us to the fleet. Our choice of destinations had been something of a debate, that had Lana and I dismiss my apprentice and her 'best pilot in the galaxy' to busy themselves somewhere else while the Brass had a disagreement out of sight of the men. Lana had been dead set to get us back to the little fleet I had summoned ten years ago and she'd held together and added to over the years. Getting me safe to serve as some kind of symbol and to begin the planning of the strategy of toppling the Eternal Empire was her only concern.
I had wanted to go to Nar Shaddaa as that was the last known location of Torm and, frankly I wanted my husband back, but she managed to convince me that I was being selfish. I was in command now, and I had people for that sort of thing. Trouble was, I was used to being Darth Marr's 'people for that sort of thing' and I knew that if you wanted something done right, you do it yourself. I finally relented and begrudgingly programmed the navicomputer for her rendezvous. I didn't like it, but then I didn't have to.
So I sat, pouting frankly, in the pilot's place, watching the tunnel of hyperspace go by and wondered what I would do next. Vitiate was dead and that was a very satisfying thought, but now I needed to find a way for his children to follow him into the hereafter. Arcann had basically put the entire Galaxy to the sword with five years of rape, rapine and pillage while his psychopathic sister destroyed a space station killing God only knew how many people just on the off chance I'd gone there.
As they say down in Texas, 'They need killing.'
As we hurtled through hyperspace, Lana had sensed my sour mood and withdrawn, to the galley based on the smell of coffee brewing, to let me sulk. I had to admit, I had absolutely no idea of what to do or how to proceed. I worked best as a soldier, give me an objective or a target and I would build a team and accomplish it, but I wasn't a politician, nor did I want to be. I wasn't comfortable picking the targets and the objectives. Especially not for others to go risk their lives without me in the front, leading and braving the dangers myself.
I read the summaries Lana had left me and tried not to get emotional.
Algon and Jadzeea Fens, the parents of this body...no, my parents, were dead. Their calendar had them both in Banudan at the time of the attack. Their remains, like so many, had never been found, so I was now the Duchess of Ruuria and my daughter was the new Countess of Banudan, Countess of a city that didn't exist any more. I was already indulging myself, so I didn't hold back the tears that flowed when I gazed at the statue of my mother and father that had been erected in the little memorial to the one and a half million people who had perished in the first nanoseconds of this new war.
Silas, my spirit brother, was waiting at the fleet, having finally, married Fable. I don't envy him being in his forties with three kids under ten. But, at least, there was a feeling that life was springing back. But there was still plenty of tragedy to go around. Darius, my best friend, had led the team that had extracted my whereabouts and planted the data spikes that had allowed Lana and Bree to gain entry to free me. That team had made it back because he had sacrificed himself to cover their escape.
So much death, I sobbed to myself and immediately felt more than a little ashamed and hypocritical considering I wasn't even sure how many lives I had taken in the years I had spent in this galaxy. Was that different? I asked the cosmos, Wasn't I just defending my home? Or was I as guilty as the children of the man I had killed?
“Don't suffer alone,” Lana's voice scolded me as she entered the bridge once again and offered me one of the coffee's in her hands. I shook my head, grateful for the beverage and let it's warmth flow through me.
“Do you ever get tired of war, Lana?”
She looked out the view port for such a long while I thought she wasn't going to answer, but finally, almost to herself, she said, “Darth Marr always said that war was the crucible that perfected the Empire.”
I chuckled darkly to myself as I finished the quote, “Savagery was the forge and desperate odds the hammer that tempered the Empire to a razor's edge.”
Her eyes came back to me, to the here and now. “You don't believe that?” she asked philosophically. “You, the war hero and Darth Marr's Good Right Hand?”
“I fought to prove myself, to protect my home, and those I loved,” I told her. “My mistress, Darth Vannacen asked me once, when I was her apprentice, if I knew why we fought. I told her what I just told you, and that, honestly, I didn't know why the Empire fought. She started to say that we, the Sith and Jedi have hated each other for so long we've forgotten how to set our differences aside, how to let the other live and be left alone in return.”
She took a sip from her cup and licked her lips. “Sounds like she was very wise,” she told me. “What else did she have to say?”
I shrugged and took a sip myself. “I don't know. The speeder we were in crashed just after she'd started talking this way. She never brought it up again.” I sighed and looked out into the bright chaos. “I wish I knew what she was going to say and never did.”
“I suppose we'll find out soon if we can live and let live,” she told me cryptically. “About half of our force are ex-Republicans. Not to mention a third of the Force Users are Jedi.”
There was no stopping the eyebrow I cocked as I looked at her askance. “Jedi have joined us?” She nodded with a little smile.
“It hasn't been easy,” she admitted. “Keeping this coalition together. Having the goal of freeing you has helped, but now that it's accomplished, I worry this fragile alliance may fall apart. And we can't spare to lose anyone.”
“Having lost Marr and Darius, I don't know that we can win against Zakuul, Lana.”
“He said you'd say that, and that if he didn't make it back, he told me to say to you, 'Even the pacifist has a right to protect himself, and the moral obligation to protect others he can protect.' Do you know what he meant?”
I smiled and nodded, holding back my tears, being brave for his memory. “He belonged to a religion that espoused Pacifism. He always said he fought to reach the day he could stop fighting.”
She stood and drank the last of her coffee. “I'm not sure how well we'll fair without him, but we'll try. We have you, your grace,” she said, for the first time, recognizing my new status as a Duchess. “That's important. Perhaps all the difference. I am here for you, Nyeomi. For whatever you need.”
“Thank you, Lana.”
It's very hard to commune with the Force in hyperspace, due to its relative isolation from life itself. It wasn't impossible, mind you, just hard. After being reminded by Lana of just how much the idea of me being the key to throwing off the oppression of the Eternal Empire had become required, I decided to get my keister in gear and put my professional face on.
Or, more to the point, take my sulk out of sight of the men.
So I took myself to the captain's quarters, which boasted a private head, complete with a shower, and a fairly sizable bed, stripped myself naked and sat on the bed to get back in touch with The Force. I had long since inured myself from the instinctual reaction of flinching away from the incredible emptiness that is the Force in hyperspace and began to reach out to what life there was around me. I touched Lana's mind and was surprised to find it so un-shielded and the worry that both she and I were not up to this task bothered me, but I kept my curiosity to myself, moving on before she became aware of me accidentally eavesdropping.
Koth and Bree stood out like a beacon as they were, ahem, indisposed.
It took me quite a bit of self control to not stand up and go running to the defense of my daughter's virtue in permanent ways to the Galaxy's Best Pilot. That was the mother in me. The Sith Lord in me was able to remember my daughter was a grown woman and she could have sex with whomever she wanted; with, or without my approval. Still, there was a portion of my mind thinking of both how much pain I could inflict and for how long should he break her heart.
Very, very long and unspeakable agony, I assure you.
Then I reached out into the endless void and sought the mind I knew best from years of love making and affectionate, playful exploration. I knew everything about Torm Belos; his taste in women and how many he'd been with. The heady mix of lust and fear that had driven him to pursue me, the cocky, self congratulatory high he got when he gave me multiple orgasms as we made love and the amazement that he had found a woman who could love him back just as hard as he loved her.
As my awareness went further and further, I came to realize just how much I had leaned on Torm, for more than just love and validation. I came to realize that a great deal of my surety and confidence was anchored around him and his approval, frankly, of me. The little part of me that was still Edward needed Torm to feel as if this was more than a stolen body and role he was playing at. The Nyeomi part of me had not been alone for a long time and she didn't like it.
But Edward was afraid.
Immediately, I returned to myself, lest I allow that fear to touch the Force. I stood and walked over to the mirror above the sink and looked at myself. It wasn't a girl in the glass, but a woman, full on and grown. She was still beautiful, but her beauty was due now to an exercise regimen, not the flower of youth. Her chestnut hair was around her shoulders still, in the disguise, and her critical eye found the gray hairs in it. Her yellow eyes were intense, but tired and the strain of what she had just done was plain on her face. “I don't know if I can do this,” I whispered to her, doubting everything I had done and every choice I had made in ways I hadn't in years.
The face in the mirror raised her chin a bit and her eyes narrowed. “You are a Lord of the Sith,” she told me. “The Duchess of Ruuria! You can accomplish anything you desire. You must do this, for our home, our Empire and our parents!”
“I cost us ten years!” I told the stern face. “I did that! How do I...?”
“Stop!” the Sith Lord commanded. “There will be time to grieve. But that time is not now. Now is what is important! Now is when you are living. Don't waste time now wailing about what happened then! Use now! Live now! Nothing else matters!”
I swallowed and nodded into the mirror. “I will,” I promised myself. “I just miss Torm...”
“I miss Torm,” the Sith Lord admitted. But that admission didn't diminish her. Her eyes bore holes in me and made me feel ashamed for being weak and wallowing in self pity. I splashed some water in my face, then changed my mind and scrubbed the makeup off my face. My reflection was clean, fresh faced and her hair was a bit damp. “No more hiding,” she ordered. “Time to make them pay.”
Conscious of everything, even my posture, I walked, ramrod straight and head held high to the bed. I needed rest for now, and when we arrived, the real work would begin. I climbed into bed and tried to get comfortable, though I have to admit the buzzing awareness of how my daughter was spending her evening was more than a bit distracting.
After an hour of tossing and turning, I grumbled at the holographic display of the chronometer, “Even a train has to stop...!” It was then, with a soft tone, the door to the cabin slid open and framed Lana in it, back lit, her face in shadow. “Lana?” I asked.
She shifted her weight from foot to foot and looked over her shoulder as if she was wary of being seen. Finally, she turned back to me. “I...I could feel how lonely you are feeling, my...Nyeomi. I...I know I put a heavy burden on your shoulders, and I'm sorry for overwhelming you.”
I turned my head a bit, as if changing my perspective would help me understand her better. Suddenly, her mind, which had thoughts and fears spinning all over made a decision and locked to it. She stepped across the threshold and allowed the door to close. “I said I was here for you, for whatever you needed,” she declared softly. “I meant it.”
Like a bolt from the blue, I finally understood why she had always been scornful about my teasing her to get a room with Theron. Now she was getting a room, but I wasn't Theron. “Lana...I...”
She crossed the room and sat down on the bed next to me, her eyes glowing in the darkness. “I'm not asking for forever,” she said. “I know how much you love him, but I can feel you don't want to be alone, do you?”
Oh, Torm, please forgive me.
The Messenger, Endor System, Modell Sector, The Outer Rim Territories
The next morning, I awoke early, feeling more than a little strange that Lana was in the bed with me. I had a very unpleasant mix of emotions, to be honest. While our vows had not had the traditional 'forsaking all others' line when Torm and I married, I felt more than a bit guilty about not being stronger and gently refusing Lana's offer. I had been weak, and I had been lonely, but, I told myself, I mustn't let that become an excuse. I swore to myself I would confess everything to Torm the moment I saw him again.
Which lead to the disquieting thought of, what if I never see him again?
I found it wonderfully ironic how easily I'd allowed myself to be with Lana. I had been with Torm for so long, I had stopped being self conscious with him years ago. I wasn't just comfortable making love to him, I desired it; to revel and relish being a woman with a man. I hadn't really looked at another woman sexually in a long time. I guess it really is like riding a bike, except it was very much different too.
Also, I had to admit, I was more relaxed and rested this morning than I had been on the Alderaan Princess. I had to admit to myself that I had enjoyed being with Lana and the differences underscored how much being with a man was different than being with a woman. Even though I, well, Nyeomi, had been a virgin, Torm's past history with women hadn't bothered me. I could see in his mind he felt me superior to all of them, but now that I had this on my conscience, how would I feel if he had sought solace with someone in the decade I had left him alone? After a long and unhappy line of thinking, I resolved that if that was the case, we would be adults and discuss things rationally.
Yeah, and while I'm dreaming, I'd like a pony for Christmas.
I shook my head as I got my working leathers from the cleaner unit and put them on, then returned my hair to it's normal style. Being 'me' would help me think and decide what to do. I couldn't ignore the fact that being with Lana had been beneficial to me, and I needed to decide how I was going to proceed. I supposed I would also have to have a conversation with Lana. As far as Torm went, I would hope that men in this galaxy were like men from my own galaxy and that the thought of his wife being with another woman he wouldn't mind so much. First things, however, did come first. I spied Koth walking from the refresher, so I changed course, walked by him as I let the Force reach out and grab him, pinning his arms to his sides and physically picking him up to float after me. “Koth, I'd like a word, if you don't mind?”
“Uh, of course, my lord,” he stammered as he floated behind me, down the steps into the engine room.
A glance at the control and the hatch slid shut with rather ominous finality. “Koth, I want to express to you how grateful I am for your part in my rescue,” I told him as I turned to face him. He started to stammer out how it was nothing, but I held up my hand so I could continue. “As a token of my appreciation, we are having this conversation this morning, rather than last night.”
His face paled as I kept my gaze direct. “My daughter's choices are her own, she is now a grown woman even if, from my point of view, she was eleven three days ago. So you can imagine just how angry a Sith Lord could become over someone taking inappropriate liberties with her eleven year old daughter?” He nodded vigorously, his eyes wide. “Fortunately, for you, my daughter is twenty one, not eleven.” I sighed. “It's very, very hard for me to internalize how much of my daughter's life I've not gotten to take part in, the pain of not being there for her is very new and deep in my psyche. So, as a word to the wise, Koth, if you are trifling with my daughter's affections, you'll be far better off putting that blaster in your mouth and blowing your own head off compared to what I will do, and how long I will do it, to make my displeasure known to you. Do we have an understanding between us?”
He tried, several times, to speak, and when his voice failed him, he just nodded vigorously.
Looking him in the eye, I let the mask slip a bit and said, “I can only imagine what they said about me in your history classes school; the terrible Outlander, am I right? They probably went on and on about how evil I am, my depraved indifference to life, my sadistically creative streak, goodness only knows what kind of terrible monster they painted me as. While, I am hardly any of those things, if you break my daughters heart, Koth Vortena, I will do everything in my power to live up to those slanders and surpass them.”
“I...I would never...!”
“Good!” I told him with a smile as I released him and he staggered back to the deck. “And so long as my daughter is happy, you won't ever find out otherwise. I'm glad we talked! Good morning!” I cupped his cheek and went back up toward the galley, keeping my self congratulatory snicker at his reaction to myself.
Yes, sometimes it's good to be a Sith!
So, Mr. Vortena put into his place, I ascended the steps to find Lana in the galley, toasting bagels with the coffee making. “Smells delicious,” I complimented as I poured myself a cup. She just rolled her eyes and kept spreading butter.
“Yes, I can toast with the best of them,” she declared.
My coffee sufficiently creamed and sweetened, I took a fortifying sip and turned to face her. “Lana, about last night...” That drew her eyes from the toast and she actually smiled.
“Don't over think it,” she scolded me. “I told you I wasn't asking for commitment. I take happiness where I find it, and I encourage you to do to the same. If you need me, I'm here. I'm not in competition with Torm.”
I laid a hand on her shoulder. “That seems terribly selfish of me,” I replied. “Just using you...”
“If you start 'using' me, I'll let you know,” she promised. “Otherwise, we're both adults, and we both know each other's situations. You haven't lied to me, nor I you.” She took a sip of her coffee and winked at me. “We both know that battlefield friendships can be...intense. At least, I assume...”
I couldn't help but chuckle as a bit of anxiety penetrated her confident exterior. “I've been in many battles, but I've only had two lovers...”
Her eyes went a little wide. “Oh, oh, I see. Really? I mean, I beg your pardon...”
“I thought we were being 'adults'?” I teased her and she finally relaxed a bit. “I certainly see now why Theron wasn't your type.” She shrugged around her bite and leaned against the counter.
“Theron isn't my type because he's a professional liar,” she told me. “Not because of his gender. You never know where you stand with a spy, and that makes me nervous.”
I felt my eyebrow ascend my forehead. “And diplomats don't lie?”
Her chin lifted in disdain. “Diplomats are vague,” she declared haughtily. “Spies are liars.”
I almost lost my sip of coffee via my nose, and the look on her face told me she'd timed it that way on purpose. I would have taken her to task over it, but the autopilot alert began to sound, meaning we were arriving at our destination. We finished our breakfast on the way to the cockpit and settled into a nice, relaxed routine of bringing the ship back to manual control.
We dropped out of hyperspace in the last place I expected, above the moon of Endor.
Yes, that Endor. Of course, there was no under construction Death Star, nor was it a trap, thankfully. Those events, if they happen at all, are well into a future I won't live to see. There was an admittedly startlingly large fleet, a collection of ships worthy of that name. There were nine Dreadnoughts of the Harrower-class, Courageous, I was delighted to see, was one of them. In formation with them were three Valor-class Republic battleships, faster and more nimble than the Harrower, but had neither the punch, nor the armor of them. While the Harrower resembled the Star Destroyers of old, or rather the future from my point of view, the Valor were a cross between the outboard motor shaped Nebulon-B medical frigate and the bulbous spheroid of the Mon Calamari MC80. With and around them were hundreds of smaller ship and thousands of fighters flying a C.A.P. around them. Several had already broken off to meet us, and Lana sent the code to identify us.
It wasn't a fleet large enough to defeat the Eternal Armada, but it was a far better start than I had accomplished. It was a fleet capable of showing the galaxy that the Eternal Empire could be fought, and with the help of the Force, beaten. Already, my mind was turning on how to best take advantage of these assets, to take the fight to our enemy. There was still a lot of work to be done, but I had to hand to Lana, she'd taken my Hail Mary pass and ran with it.
“Well done, Lana,” I complimented her as we picked up the escort and were guided to the flag ship. “Well done.”
We shared a glance and she smiled at me. “Thank you, my lord.”
The Courageous, Endor System, The Outer Rim Territories
Of all the changes I have recommended, in tactics, in training, and doctrine, the one I am most grateful to have been adopted is Darth Marr's indoctrination that Sith be able to work with the military first. All of the Sith that had rallied to my call, both the initial, ten years ago, and over the years to Lana since, all of them had been younger than me, and thus trained from their first day in the academy how to work with the military. I knew this because I'd made time to read Lana's summary of the current state of the fleet and I knew that the ability of my Sith Lords to cooperate to achieve group goals as a way of proving their individual worth and thus their individual power via awards and promotion meant the scuffles between the Jedi who had answered my call and those same Sith Lords had stayed as arguments and debates and only a couple of fist fights and 'spirited' training sessions.
So, in a very calculated manner, I had put on my dress uniform to address the fleet. This meeting, broadcast by Holo fleet wide, was both my assuming command, and our collective decision of what comes next. My medals jingling slightly on my chest, my daughter a step behind me, also in her dress blues, we not quite marched up to the small assemblage of commanders, Tari, the senior Darth in command of my Sith, Jedi Master Tunan-Obi Vost, of all people, the senior Jedi, Admiral Bey'wan Aygo of the Republic Navy and Commodore Tucmax Barsal, formerly of the Warspite for the Imperial Navy.
It was hoped, this formal ceremony would take these groups of factions, and make them a team. I hoped so, anyway. I started with Commodore Barsal, who, with his back to the pickups could grin at me. I saluted. “I relieve you, sir.”
“I am relieved,” he replied, returning my salute, then marched smartly behind me. A sharp right face then a left brought me to my senior apprentice who, for a change, was not pregnant.
“My lord, I relieve you.”
“My Mistress, I am relieved,” she replied, returning my salute then she joined the Commodore. I repeated my maneuver to reach Admiral Aygo. Aygo was a Bothan, a vaguely dog like species with a short, wide muzzle and tall, triangular ears. Though he was quite short and I loomed over him by better than thirty centimeters.
I saluted. “Admiral, I am grateful for the Republic's answer to my call for assistance.”
His arm came up crisply. “It is our honor, Duchess Fens.”
“I appoint you Admiral of our combined fleet, under my leadership. Carry out your orders, sir.”
“Aye aye, Ma'am!”
Master Vost was last on the platform, a grayer, more weathered man than my memory painted him as from Alderaan. He bowed, which I returned. “Duchess Fens, my Jedi are honored to answer your call to the defense of our galaxy, if you will have us.”
“The honor is mine, Master Vost, you and your Jedi are most welcome.” We bowed again and he joined the little crowd at my back. I took a few steps forward to the podium that had been erected. “As of this date and time, I, Nyeomi Fens, Duchess of Ruuria, Lord of the Sith, take command of this fleet. Duty officers of each vessel shall so note in your respective logs.”
There came a brief pause as, simultaneously, the flags, which were actually cloth, but held out rigid in respect to old naval traditions were lowered on each ship, Republic and Empire, to be replaced by the flag of our rebellion, a flag designed to show and honor two sides that had been at war, who were now united in common cause. Half the winged phoenix of the Jedi Order, half the Sith pictogram for Order, the symbol of chaos contained that was the heraldry of the Sith Order. The colors properly changed, I took a hold of the podium. “Ladies and Gentlemen, we are, all of us, in desperate defense of our galaxy. We are many, from many different worlds, of many different species, united in the defense of our homes. The governments we once served cannot, or will not resist our conqueror, so that falls to us.
“I do not promise you victory, nor even that you will pass the coming conflict unscathed. But I do promise you this, on the graves of the destroyed city of my world, that I will fight the Empire of Zakuul until they surrender, or I die in the attempt of it!”
There are times I am sad there is no air in space, for I am sure if there were, the shout that rose up from every one of these ships would have been deafening. “Our first order of business is a base of operations. It will be difficult, carving a safe haven from the wilderness, but it will give us a place of safety for the families we have brought with us, and a fortress to gather our strength. There is much hard work ahead, but together, we will throw off the yoke of our oppressors and free the galaxy! Captains, see to your individual vessels.”
I turned to Admiral Aygo. “Admiral, deploy the fleet!”
He saluted. “May the Force be with us! Captains, on the One MC, Hyperspace!” The stars leapt forward and we were under way to our rendezvous with destiny.
“So, where are we going?”
A grayer, more fine-lined face of my spirit brother Silas asked. We had retreated a bit from the somewhat excited introductions of his children to their aunt for the first time. Now, in a quiet room off the quarters he shared with Fable, he, Lana, myself, Bree and Koth, along with Tari had gathered, my 'privy council' if you will. It was Lana who answered him. “Odessen,” she declared. “Remote, unsettled... and strong in the Force. But unlike Korriban or Tython, Odessen is altogether balanced.” She sighed and looked around. “Between that, and it's location deep in Wild Space, we should be able to come and go as we please, and have a secure base of operations.”
Koth shook his head from where he sat next to Bree. “Odessen, huh? Could it be there's really a place where no one wants to kill us?”
“There shouldn't be anyone on Odessen,” I replied. “It's a blank slate. But, we'll have raw materials to upkeep the fleet, food to feed everyone and a safe place for kids. Seems ideal.”
“And then we get serious about killing Zakuul?” Fable asked darkly. I looked at her, wondering who she had lost to make the easy going Special Forces trooper I remembered be so anxious to spill blood.
“Hey!” Koth protested.
I crossed my arms. “It's war, Koth, there's going to be a lot of blood shed, so grow a thick skin.” He raised his hands defensively, but I could tell he'd taken the message to heart. “We're going to have to figure out how to hurt them, to bring them to their knees.”
“I'll keep putting effort into figuring out how the Eternal Fleet is controlled,” Lana replied. “If we could just capture one...”
Koth shook his head. “Forget about it,” he declared. “No one has ever been able to board one of the ships of the Eternal Fleet.”
“Do they have an interior at all?” Fable demanded. Koth nodded. “Then they can be taken. We just need to figure out how.”
Tari, who I could see had a bit of gray around her nose and her eyes were so much older than I remembered turned to me. “Mistress, there is one ally we could seek.” A shudder ran down my spine as I instantly knew what she was suggesting. I walked over to the window and looked out at the blue white chaos of hyperspace.
“I'm not ready to try to make a deal with the Void, Tari.”
“I pray you don't wait until it's too late, my mistress.”
“We'll see,” I said, mostly to myself. “We'll see.” I made my decision and turned back to them. As much as I wanted to go myself, I was the Alliance's Darth Marr now. I had to send others to do what I needed done. “Apprentice,” I called and at once Bree stood and knelt before me.
“What is thy bidding, my mistress?” she asked formally.
“You will take a ship and go to Nar Shaddaa,” I instructed her. Seeing Koth's expression, I added, “Take whomever you need to accomplish this task. You will seek out your father and inform me of his fate. If he is alive, you will bring him to Odessen. If he is dead, you will report that to me.”
“May I avenge his death, my mistress, if that was his fate?” she asked softly, and I felt her emotions well up in her, buoyed on an ocean of anger at the thought of her father being dead. I realized she had inherited my temper and I felt more than a little guilty for passing on my bad traits along with my better ones.
“If possible, you will capture those who are responsible and bring them to me, alive,” I ordered, one part of my mind, and I'm sure, a part of hers, pondering what unspeakable things a Sith was capable of in vengeance of the death of a loved one. “Once we are both avenged, the killing blow shall be yours.”
“Thank you, mistress.”
“Go. Let no one hinder you. Do what must be done and return safely to me.”
She bowed low over her knee. “It will be as you command, my Mistress.”
Bree stood, her eyes on fire, before she turned to her lover. “Koth,” she commanded. “Come with me.” She strode out without waiting and the Galaxy's Best Pilot looked at me. I gave him a little smile as he left.
You knew the job was dangerous when you took it, I thought. I turned back to hyperspace and sighed, knowing that was true to both of us, now.
Now, the War of the Eternal Alliance had begun.