A Coalition of the Devout: A River Runs Through Them
Posts: 826
  • Posted On: Feb 27 2022 8:26pm

From: Declaration

 

This broadcast is a declaration of war. Not of war between myself and any government, or between my military and theirs. This is a war against those who would cause a continuing, devastating war to continue.

I hereby declare war on Force Users everywhere.

 

 

 

The Azguard are, by nature, an amiable and naive people. They lived for countless millennia in peace and contentment, only the war-filled tales of their mythic past and the fleeting dangers of incidental mishap hinting at another, dire aspect of the Azguard people.

 

By chance, they ventured into the broader galaxy some few years ago, and discovered there danger and threat not seen by an Azguard in hundreds of thousands of years. In the past decade, the Dire Azguard of their mythic past has become more and more the reality of what it means to be an Azguard. War, and the threat of war, and the preparation for war have gobbled up the childish innocence of an age now passed.

 

In the face of these many dangers, the Dire Azguard has shown himself boldly, and without apology. Among those marked most deeply by war and sacrifice, the Dire Azguard seems to have banished the naivete of that past age, leaving a bitter and cynical rump of a once hopebound individual. It is the way of the Azguard. Whether a fluke of evolution or a product of carefully tended design, the Dire Azguard arrives to shield the Naive Azguard from harm, and the more frequently the Dire arrives, the more dominant he becomes.

 

More than a decade after their arrival onto the galactic stage, the reawakening of the Dire Azguard has transformed Azguardian society. They have built foundries, and factories, and shipyards, and defense networks, and war fleets. They have assembled armies and navies and complexes full of strategists and tacticians and intelligence analysts. They have founded a Coalition of the Devout, peoples from worlds and species the galaxy around, dedicated to the grim and thankless task of defying the Darkness, of shining a Light.

 

But what now? If the Dire is what awakens when an Azguard is threatened, then what might awaken when life itself is threatened?

 

For the Force is life, and those who Use the Force are servants of life itself. To threaten them, is to call forth the Vision of Darkness, the end of all things.

 

 

 

* * *

 

 

 

His name was Rashad, and he contented himself with the knowledge that his every act, large or small, was a fulfillment of prophecy. Like all Azguard, he was raised in the knowledge that a Vision of Darkness loomed on the horizon, an inevitable showdown in which his people and their gods would stand together in the defense of life itself. Like all Azguard, Rashad toiled so that on that day, the Light would shine, and the Darkness would be dispelled. What lay beyond that apocalyptic convergence no Azguard knew. The gods themselves did not know.

 

The gods themselves could not know.

 

Rashad was like his people – and like his gods – in this way: beyond the Vision of Darkness lay the Great Unknown.

 

But Rashad was not like his people, and he was not like his gods. No, he was one of a kind. He was special. He was so special, that three days before Artanis Daz'Da'Mar issued his Declaration to the galaxy, Rashad boarded a rather unassuming civilian transport and took a budget trip out of the Azguard System.

 

A week later, he found himself on the planet Meris III, shuffling through the dank streets of a run-down colony town. He stomped through the puddles from a recent rain without a thought, seemingly unaware of his surroundings as his bowed head concealed closed eyes. At length, he made a sharp left, walked directly into the brick wall of an abandoned building, and . . .

 

His head bounced off the brink and he tumbled backward, falling into a muddy puddle. “By Yunos!” he exclaimed. “It's solid!?” Without a thought of his surroundings, Rashad planted both of his hands into the mud on either side to steady himself and stared straight at the brick wall. “Amazing!” he cried into the empty alleyway. “You amaze me! I have come to answer your questions,” he announced to the wall.

 

He waited several seconds, his consternation growing, and finally he decided to reach up with one muddy hand and pull back his cowl, exposing his Azguardian features. “Please, time is of the essence. We must not delay any longer.” He rose to his feet, robes soaked in dirty water, a muddy hand print slightly squished by the way his cowl rumpled around his neck.

 

“This isn't how this happens,” he said, voicing the words as the shadow of doubt began to creep over him. He pressed his hands against the wall, pushing gently at first, and then with all his might, but the wall would not yield. “This isn't how this happens!” he exclaimed, distraught. “You let me in! You have to let me in!”

 

Stumbling backward, he stepped into the puddle again, the splash splash of his two feet catching his attention, causing him to look down. “This isn't . . . this isn't . . .”

 

“May I help you, traveler?”

 

Rashad jumped with surprise, turning around to find a small human woman in simple garments looking up at him, concern evident on her face. “It's you,” he whispered.

 

“I'm who?” the woman asked, seemingly surprised by his response.

 

“You're her. The woman of my dreams.”

 

She laughed, then covered her mouth with a hand. “You're a little tall for me,” she said, sounding more amused than distraught.

 

Rashad the Azguard didn't register any of that. “You help me save the galaxy,” he said.

 

“Who do you think I am?” the woman asked, any sense of playfulness gone from her voice.

 

He was taken aback by the question, suddenly confused. “I don't . . . I don't . . .” he trailed off, searching his mind, searching his memory, searching, searching . . .

 

“Perhaps you're lost,” the woman suggested, gesturing back down the alley toward the still-lively heart of the town. “Would you -”

 

There is no Dire Azguard lurking within Rashad. He does not survive danger by reliance on ferocity. He has no need to. “I am Rashad of Azguard,” he said, his voice weak and thin. Even so, his hunched posture straightened, his jittery limbs stiffened, and his flighty eyes fixed firmly on the young woman standing before him. “Within me dwells the last spark of Quex, God of Foresight and Memory.”

 

“Perhaps you need a little more help than directions can give,” the woman mused.

 

Rashad reached out a hand and she pulled away, but he was fast, too fast for her. His hand passed through hers, revealing that she was merely a phantom. “You are an Adept of the Current,” he said, eyes still fixed on her. “A practitioner of Immersion.” He looked away and she dissolved, his eyes searching out for something yet unseen. “You weave illusion, and you conceal truth. You . . . you . . .”

 

His focus fixed on an empty point a few meters down the alleyway. “You are Akanah! You are master of the Loom!”

 

They were no longer standing in an alleyway. The room was dark, and damp . . . and crowded.

 

“You have the sight,” a woman gasped, all of her companions looking to her with as much surprise as she looked to him. “Even when you couldn't see it, you walked the path into our home.”

 

“You deceived me, for a time,” Rashad admitted to the woman responsible for the illusion. “But I deceived you, too.” The edges of his mouth curled into a faint smile. “While you mused at the oddity of Rashad the mortal Azguard, I lurked beneath the surface, concealing my true self.”

 

“Quex?” she asked, genuinely uncertain.

 

“Quex was slain four hundred thousand years ago,” Rashad said. “I am the latest in an unbroken chain stretching back through all those many generations. Like my forebearers, I carry the last spark of his divine Light, the Sight with which he peered into the future and the past. It is not an easy burden, but I bear it gladly.”
 

“For its power?” she asked.

 

“For its hope,” Rashad corrected her. “Its hope, which brought me to you. Its hope, which stirred me to this place before the poisoned words of Artanis Daz'Da'Mar spoke his curse against us. Its hope, that sees the hope of others, and guides me to them.”

 

We cannot be what you are hoping for,” Akanah said. “The Fallanassi do not interfere in the affairs of others. Not anymore.”

 

“But you will,” Rashad said. “I have seen it.”

 

 

 

* * *

 

 

 

From: To Curse the Darkness

 

Lando leaned in, deathly serious, the tension building palpably. “I have a vision, Vekkis, of a Great River running through the whole galaxy, whose current will sweep up the hunted and outcast, and carrying them to safety beyond the sight of any nation or army.”

“A Great River,” Vekkis mused. It had a certain ring to it, he had to admit.

 

 

 

Before

 

Lando Calrissian didn't like the Commonwealth. It was too . . . clean. For a man of refinement such as himself, one might expect him to quite enjoy that quality of the Commonwealth. But tibanna gas mining was a dirty business, so was night-side mining on Nkllon, and deep-sea mining on Varn, and any of a dozen other ventures that had made him his fortune. Come to think of it, arms manufacture and sale wasn't a particularly clean business venture either, though for entirely different reasons.

 

The business interests of Tendrando Arms served as a good enough excuse for this little trip to Etti-IV, though, so at least there was that. He had made a big show of securing the penthouse suite in each of the three most prestigious hotels in the city, then quite publicly landing on the exclusive landing pad attached to the most expensive of those three. It had been over half an hour now, sitting alone in the otherwise vacant room. The lights had cut on automatically when he entered, but had shut themselves off after a couple of minutes without detecting any significant movement.

 

So Lando sat, in the dark, waiting. Truth be told, he was starting to doubt himself a little. And his boots were getting a little . . .

 

Halfway through pulling his right boot off of his foot, the lights kicked on. “Don't mind me,” the familiar voice said. “I didn't mean to interrupt.”

 

“Luke, you old so and so!” Lando exclaimed, hopping to his feet and turning to regard his old friend. “Bring it in, bring it in!” he demanded, holding his arms out wide and walking toward the Jedi Master, his one untied boot clomping a little awkwardly.

 

The two embraced, Lando's warm smile holding firm until they had parted again and he got a good look at the younger man. “I was starting to think I'd imagined the whole thing.”

 

“You could have made it a little easier for me to get to you unnoticed,” Luke said, gesturing to a nearby chair.

 

Offering him a seat, in his own hotel room! Lando returned the gesture, and the two men started for their respective seats in unison. “I wanted to make sure you'd see me coming.”

 

“Lando, I called you here.”

 

He shook his head, smiling again. “I'm not used to dreaming things that come true.”

 

“It's important we aren't seen together,” Luke said.

 

“This Dominion business,” Lando said, his disposition souring. “That 'Declaration' of theirs.”

 

“Lando, I know it's a lot to ask, and I know you've made a point of avoiding galactic politics since the fall of the Republic, and -”

 

Lando held up both hands to slow the Jedi Grandmaster down. “Tendra and I are already working on something, but it's early stages and we're not sure we've got the resources to pull it off by ourselves.”

 

“Working on something?” Luke asked, surprised. “Already?”

 

Lando cracked that trademark smile for the third time in as many minutes. “Hey, it's me!”

 

 

 

* * *

 

 

 

From: Cataclysm

 

“. . . Go to the Jedi; now more than ever, they need uncompromised allies. Go to them.”

“Wait!” The commander shouted, Ethan already halfway out of the door. “What if we aren't enough?”

The Praetorian Guardsman cracked a smile, his first deviation from perfect soldiery in all his time here. He tossed something at the Gotal, stepping through the door. “Call us: we will answer.” And then he was gone.

Commander Doc-Tel spent a brief moment looking at the commlink, finally pocketing it and tapping the communicator on his desk. “Patch me through to Command, priority one.”

 

 

 

After

 

Across the galaxy, one may find many elite and famed martial institutions. The Antarian Rangers are not one such institution. They had been, once, long ago, but the Great Purge had not culled the Jedi alone. Little remained of the Antarian Rangers in the wake of Palpatine's reign, and the subsequent years of warfare and political instability had prevented such a small and contentious organization from reemerging onto the public stage.

 

But with the formation of the League of Nations and the nominal protection from Imperial reprisal that that organization had provided, the last surviving members of the Rangers had dared to find one another again. On the planet of Antar IV, a crusty cadre of war-weary survivors and their rosy-cheeked band of new recruits had raised for the first time in decades the banner of the Antarian Rangers.

 

Now they had to prove that it still meant something.

 

Commander Doc-Tel worked the mechanisms on his office safe with great care, at length producing a commlink from the safe's otherwise empty interior. Holding the device close to his lips, the old Gotal Ranger whispered into it: “A man once gave me this and bade me call in a time of need. The Dominion seeks the destruction of the Jedi, and we will stand against them. We will not be enough. Can you help us?”

 

 

 

* * *

 

 

 

From: Varn, World of Wonder

 

Official Diplomatic Transmission

From: Department of Foreign Affairs, Unified Republic of Varn

To: Citizens and Residents of the Planetary Body of Naboo

Cc: All Planetary, Regional, and Galactic Government Entities of the Galactic Coalition of Planets



All citizens and residents of the planet Naboo fleeing in response to and seeking refuge from the unlawful and immoral invasion of that planet by forces of The New Order of the Galactic Empire, are hereby granted political asylum in the Unified Federation of Varn. In accordance with the dictates of the Constitution of the Galactic Coalition of Planets, all member states of said Coalition are hereby bound to uphold this decree, and upon request of any concerned party present, to safely convey them into the jurisdiction of the Varn government.

To relevant parties, both now beyond the reach of the Galactic Empire and yet within its grasp: all Coalition ports and outposts are hereby duty-bound to see you safely to Varn space, where your protection will assured by the Varn Planetary Defense Forces and the Ministry of the Interior.

Come to us, and we will shelter you beneath our outstretched arms.

 

 

 

It wasn't exactly a . . . good plan. Well, it was a “good” plan, but it wasn't . . .

 

The government of Varn had gotten ahead of itself, so now thousands of random folk were stumbling their way to Varn, and then promising that they were actually from Naboo, and really, really needed the protection and generosity offered by the capital of the Cooperative. And what did all of that mean?

 

It meant that the Cooperative Defense Force had to babysit a bunch of hoodlums while some pencil pusher somewhere decided what new rolls of red tape they'd drape over this little corner of the planet to turn it into a “special protected zone” or an “autonomous enclave” or a “Medium Term Resettlement Center” or somesuch bullshit.

 

And it meant soldiers had to police civilians for contraband.

 

“You didn't take the sword?” The fancy-pants officer asked, not bothering to distinguish between the two troopers flanking the old man.

 

“We . . . thought . . . I'm sorry, General!” One of them reached for the sword . . .

 

“Hold on!” the general shouted, holding up both hands. “Get out of here. Get!” He shooed the two troopers away and waited until the military tent's self-sealing flap closed behind them. “Have a seat,” he said, gesturing to the empty seat next to the old man.

 

“I'd prefer to stand,” the old man said, halfway through the general's crouch to retake his own seat.

 

“Well,” he muttered, freezing in place for a moment before deciding to remain standing as well. “We really can't have you walking around the camp with that thing, you know?” He gestured at the sword.

 

“It's a family heirloom,” the old man replied.

 

The general stared at the man for a long moment, but the old bastard seemed completely unfazed. Oblivious, almost. “You know, the Coalition has never presented itself as the successor of the New Republic; its never made any kind of claim to their authority or . . . legacy.”

 

“What does that have to do with me,” the old man asked.

 

“Well, despite that, we do have what is perhaps the most comprehensive database of New Republic records anywhere in the galaxy.”
 

“Okay.”

 

“Which includes a great many of its records from Palpatine's Empire.”

 

“Yeah, sure.”

 

“And even the Old Republic.”

 

The man shook his head, utterly unimpressed.

 

“Well,” he made a show of picking up a datapad and dropping it back on his desk, “the problem is: when we ran your DNA in processing, we got a hit.”

 

“It's not a crime in the Coalition to be an enemy of the Empire,” the old man said.

 

The general smiled, genuinely amazed by this old bastard's nerve. “Well that's the thing: this wasn't a hit on the Imperial database. It was older than that.”

 

The man shrugged. “That makes sense. I'm old.”

 

The general chuckled, but he wasn't amused anymore. He was starting to get angry. “You're an enemy of the Republic, Gray Paladin Ink Davaan. You are considered extremely dangerous, and are to be killed on sight, as authorized by Grand Army of the Republic Contingency Order 66. Now how about that.”
 

“Should I draw my sword,” the old man asked. “Would you like me to put on a show?”

 

“How the fuck did you end up here, man?”

 

“I was hoping someone interesting would find me,” he said. “I should have learned better by now.”

 

Oh, I can be interesting,” the general said. “I can be very interesting.” He didn't even believe it himself, once he heard it out loud.

 

“I can leave if we're done here,” Ink said, turning for the exit. “I can find my way off-world.”
 

“My name is Lee Prine,” the general said. “I'm not here to process refugees.”

 

“What are you here for?” the old man asked, not slowing down as he worked the seal on the tent.

 

“I'm here to recruit Force Commandos.”

 

The survivor of the Great Jedi Purge quit fiddling with the fancy-pants piece of gear and returned his attention to the younger man. “You're going to find shit-all in these rejects from an abandoned Jedi temple.”

 

 

 

After

 

“Force Commando” was a stretch, that's for sure. The Dominion had issued its Declaration against Force Users, though, so things were getting serious. It was more important than ever to both maintain the secrecy of the program, and prepare competent Force users for whatever lay ahead. The Dominion was targeting Force sensitives for a reason, and Ink Davaan was committed to preventing another Purge.

 

So he found himself on Sundari, surrounded by the remnants of a government that had hunted him for the majority of his life. A Jedi working for the Empire . . . it was about as close to blasphemy as a man like Ink could imagine. But there they were, the tattered remains of an Imperial propaganda scheme, survivors of the Reaver invasion of the Imperial Borderlands. Some dumbass in the Cooperative had apparently decided to let the local Imperials retain formal control of the planet, even after a Cooperative action against the Reavers secured the world and its brother, Garos IV.

 

Whatever. He wasn't here for empire building or destroying. He was here to recruit Force Commandos. And with Jedi Corpsmen across the Empire fleeing like rats from a sinking ship, a win here could set the stage for something far, far larger. So Ink Davaan drew his cortosis sword from its scabbard and motioned for the pair of spry young Corpsmen to advance. “Come and see, what an ally the Force can make of you.”

Posts: 826
  • Posted On: Mar 10 2022 2:04am

The Fallanassi

 

At the end of time, there is a veil. It is vast. It is . . . beyond vastness. It consumes the very notion of scale, such that “vast” and “slight” and all such concepts perish from the mind.

 

There is a veil at the end of time, so broad and so high and so deep, that to look upon it is to lose all sense of time, and place, and distance. Some have lost themselves to the very sight of the veil, their bodies wasted and consumed as their minds were swallowed up by its endless . . . its scaleless . . . nothing.

 

Akanah Norand Goss Pell has seen the Veil at the End of Time. She has looked up it, and not been consumed. She was guided to it by the one with Sight, the stranger called Rashad. He had held her at the brink, and in his hands she had endured. She had returned. She had looked once more upon the faces of her sisters, her daughters, and she had known: whatever lay beyond the Veil, they could not survive it alone. So she allowed the stranger, Rashad, to whisper another secret to her before he departed them.

 

And now? Now, she would use that secret, to ask another stranger an even stranger question . . .

 

 

 

From: To Curse the Darkness

 

The Shape of Emptiness

 

. . . “You seem very unsettled for a man who's been meditating.” She paused, then added: “except that you've been meditating on something that is very unsettling.”

 

Who was this woman? “You've seen it too?”

 

“You can't see emptiness, Master Jedi.”

 

He shook his head. “It's not emptiness. It's . . .”

 

“Darkness?” she asked. Dolash shook his head. “Then you don't believe it is the fulfillment of your people's prophecy.”

 

It wasn't a question, but she shouldn't have even known enough to be able not to ask. “That's what I'm here to find out. If this . . . emptiness is the Darkness that was prophesied, or if it's something else altogether.” . . .

 

. . . “Sometimes things are beyond us, Master Jedi. Sometimes we don't get to understand. Sometimes, we just have to choose, in the moment, what we will do.” She took a step back and extended her hand. “Let's help each other save life itself, yeah?”

 

 

 

* * *

 

 

 

Rashad the Seer

 

It is no small task, sneaking into the personal chambers of the former Prime Minister of the Galactic Coalition. Not for mere mortals, anyway. For Rashad the Azguard, though: he need only look upon the shape of the future becoming present.

 

Halfway through lighting the ceremonial candles, a slight shudder passed down Regrad's arm, the faintest indication of surprise from the seemingly unsuspecting man.

 

Rashad didn't exactly notice, but he nevertheless understood that he had been discovered. So he spoke. “Look on me, you who have been touched by the Gods.”

 

Regrad blew out the lighter and turned from the half-lit candles, gripped by surprise and disbelief when he saw the man standing before him. “You . . .”

 

“Do not speak the name that is on your lips,” Rashad cautioned. “It is a secret thing that must be guarded until the appointed time.”

 

“But how -”

 

“With great cost,” Rashad snapped, a harsh edge showing through his enlightened demeanor. “And tireless dedication.” Just as it had come, the grave visage withdrew.

 

“You've . . . seen something?”

 

“I remember something that was seen,” Rashad answered, smiling.

 

“What did you see?” he asked, but it wasn't simply a question. It was a request, a plea. He needed an answer that he feared he wouldn't get.

 

“I saw you, standing in the Light. Standing, against a Darkness that consumes.

 

“Consuming darkness?” Regrad repeated, disturbed. “Were there others, standing with me?”

 

Rashad pretended not to recognize the desperation in the question. “But you were not consumed Regrad of Azguard.”

 

“The Gods, perhaps?” The last word faded as he lost his voice.

 

“Undimmed and undiminished, you will stand, Regrad the Luminous!”

 

“Was I alone,” he pleaded.

 

“You . . . you will shine like the sun!” The Spark within Rashad of Azguard cast its pale light into the room, and then receded, drawing back into the Seer until only Regrad, only the one chosen by Yunos, remained in the light. “And all who stand with you will shelter in the Light.”

 

Would he believe the stranger with the spark of divinity? Could he, after all he had seen and done and lost? That was a thing even Rashad the Seer could not see. That was a thing that Regrad of Azguard would have to choose.

 

 

 

* * *

 

 

 

Regrad of Azguard

 

From: To Curse the Darkness

 

“There are others. There have to be others.”


“What if there aren't?”


“There have to be! There have to be . . .”


“But what if -”


“Then we'll do it ourselves!”


“Ourselves? How?”


“I . . . I will lead us to it.”


“But the Coalition -”


“This is our sovereign soil, these are our sovereign lives. The Coalition won't stop us, can't stop us.”


“And what of . . . retaliation?”


“Retaliation? Retaliation! We will be hunted because we exist! We will be slaughtered, simply for having lived! Retaliation . . . if you dare call it that, is coming. It's unavoidable.”


“If this is the course you wish to set us upon, then you must ask them for their blessing.”


“They're already here. They already know.”


“Ask them.”


“I don't . . . I can't. I wish that I could, but I don't know how, anymore.”


“We sense your resolve”, came a great rumbling, as an earthquake given life.


“We see your commitment”, spoke a voice on the wind.


“We know your sacrifice”,bubbled forth an assurance from places unknown.


“We feel your yearning”, sounded another, crackling and popping with power unseen, yet undeniable.


“The path is set before you”, the faintest whisper called out.


“Go now in our name”, echoed another's song.


“Thank you . . . thank you,” was all that could be managed in response. And with that, Regrad, once Prime Minister of the Coalition and once more High Lord of Azguard, set about the great task of defying the enemies of the Force.

 

 

 

From: To Curse the Darkness

 

“. . . “we're registering a comm burst across the entire Coalition HoloNet. Origin: Azguard. Transmission authorization code . . . Prime Minister Regrad.”

 

 

 

For too long, the Azguard people have withheld themselves from the civilizations of this galaxy, from the needs of our allies, from the very struggle which our ancient prophecies tell us we must play a role. We have hidden behind a veil of isolationism, erecting a barrier against all who would seek to approach our home. We have trusted absolutely in the power and wisdom of our gods to protect and guide us into this new and wondrous galactic civilization, of which we have only so recently become aware. We have denied our personal responsibility in favor of collective destiny.

But we can no longer afford to hide in shadow. Our Light cannot be both withheld and preserved; it must be shone. And so we step out of darkness and into the light of day.

As this message is transmitted, Azguardian ambassadors are being dispatched to every Coalition world, to establish embassies and see our will made manifest.

For the Gods of Azguard have spoken, and we their servants now see their will known, not as mindless slaves of ancient tradition, but as free souls who choose of our own will to walk out this path to its very end. It is from the Force that we are granted life, and to the Force that we return upon our death. It is the Light that we serve, and the Light that we defend. Its fate is our fate, and its will is our will. So it has been since the beginning, and so we will see it be unto the end.

And so we, the people of Azguard, willing servants of our Gods and of the Force which raised them up, do declare to all the allied powers of the Coalition, and all the nations and orders of this galaxy, and every principality and Dominion beyond, that the Gods of Azguard do extend shelter and guidance to all the servants of the Force. All Azguardian embassies and representatives are now commanded to convey those who seek us out into the Azguardian realm and the protecting arms of our Gods.

The Force is with you. Follow, and it will lead you to salvation.

 

 

 

* * *

 

 

Lando Calrissian

 

From: The Headless Behemoth

 

“. . . I must broach the subject of the growing opposition to the Dominion Declaration against Force users.” . . .

 

. . . “Our citizens . . . are on the verge of revolt. The Jedi Order alone has stood since the beginning of galactic civilization as we know it. Even The New Order has recognized their substantive and symbolic value, forming an Order - albeit a bastardized one - of their own: the Jedi Corps. I am told of dozens of Force traditions with histories millenia old, many of which survived not only constant antagonism by the Jedi, but the Great Purge itself and the decades of galactic unrest which have followed.

“Our people are yearning to preserve this last fragment of a once-great civilization, and not for the novelty of it, not for the nostalgia of it; but because they believe. They believe in the Force, in the will of life, in guiding power and absolute right. That is what the Dominion has challenged with its Declaration, and that is what our citizens cry out against.

“But they are afraid; whatever they say, they are afraid. Fearful of an uncertain future; wary of a government which is showing itself more and more to be incapable of serving their needs. They are afraid of the power that crushed the Empire's might and seized the heart of this galaxy, Coruscant itself, by force. They are afraid and unguided, and they have seized the only guiding Light left to them: the notion of a basic, universal goodness.

 

 

 

“What the hell?” Lando Calrissian almost fell out of his chair. That's not how this was supposed to go; that's not how any of this was supposed to go! He'd gone to all of the trouble of dusting off some old claim to some run-down mines so he could cover the true intentions of his meeting with Mister Nost, and then the damned fool went and made a whole show of his plans in front of the entire galaxy!

 

Lando needed to get out of here. He needed to get out of here before somebody noticed the connection. He had other irons in the fire, other leads to follow; there was still plenty of work to do without Mister Nost and whatever Coalition assets he could bring to the table . . .

 

“What the hell . . .”

 

Who was he kidding? This whole trip was a total waste. Worse, it may have exposed him. Maybe this Vekkis Nost character at least had the presence of mind to erase Lando from his itinerary . . .

 

That was pretty doubtful, too.

 

Well shit.

 

 

 

* * *

 

 

 

Ink Davaan

 

From: To Curse the Darkness

 

“The Force is with you, Admiral Blakeley. Just don't let the Cree'Ar know about it.” The image of Regrad allowed itself a slight smile with its last comment, and then vanished as the message ended . . .

 

. . . This was [Blakeley's] destiny.

And it moved him to action. “. . . I'll need a courier ship dispatched to Varn with a sealed message from me, to be composed presently.”

 

 

To: Colonel Ink Davaan

 

From: Admiral Jonathan Blakeley, Supreme Commander of Coalition Forces

 

Colonel, I will be direct. Coalition Intelligence is aware of your previous affiliations with the Antarian Rangers, Baran Do, Disciples of Twilight, Jal Shey, and Matukai, and suspect you had contact with a number of other Force traditions. I don't know what General Prine has admitted to you, but I hope this admission on my part will garner some trust from you.

 

I will need you to act beyond the strictures of your Cooperative military commission. Intelligence believes that you are an unreliable asset, and I hope they are correct; what we must do requires more of us than our oaths of loyalty allow.

 

I have included a CIB report that I believe you will find of interest, and am asking you to act on it as you see fit and with all haste. Also attached is the access code for a commlink where you can leave messages for me directly, though it would be best to compartmentalize our actions as much as possible for the time being.

 

I may seek out your advice in the coming weeks, as plans develop.

 

May the Force be with you, Paladin Davaan.

 

 

 

“Well?” Brigadier General Lee Prine asked from the other side of the room, his arms crossed over his chest and the corners of his mouth curved down in an exaggerated frown.

 

Sitting at the small work desk in his quarters, Ink Davaan rose off his chair just enough to turn it toward his commanding officer, turning with it and then sitting back down. “I would eat this before I let you read it. But I would kill you to avoid destroying the contents of this letter.”

 

The general did that think where he tried not to act furious long enough to figure out the best way to respond. “It's that important, huh?”

 

“Aren't you supposed to be keeping our operation a secret?” Ink asked, folding up the letter and surreptitiously pocketing the small data card that had been included with the piece of paper.

 

“He was commander of the Cooperative,” the general shrugged. “He was entitled to know about it.”

 

Ink took a deep breath, calming himself as he let the tension flow out of himself. “I have to take a trip. It will be easier if you don't try to track me.”

 

“I already gotta figure out how to deal with this Senator Nost situation,” he complained. “Don't go making more trouble for me to clean up.”

 

“I'm trying to avoid needing a cleanup in the first place,” Ink said, leaning back in his chair. “The sooner you go, the sooner I go, the sooner I'll be back.”

 

“The sooner you can whip this rabble into some kind of shape!” Prine exclaimed.

 

Ink just stared at the man until he huffed and left the room.

Posts: 826
  • Posted On: Mar 13 2022 9:01pm

Lando Calrissian

 

“What in the blazes?”

 

The man in the local military uniform was unfazed by his exclamation. “Your security personnel have been detained by my men,” he said, looking around the spacious room. Turning his attention to the man, he held up a hand. “Mister Calrissian, there's really no need to go fetching any weapons you may have stashed about.”

 

Lano was trying really, really hard not to eye the dresser drawer where his nearest hold-out was stashed. “Lucky me,” he said, cracking that trademark grin and opening both hands, palms facing the man.

 

“My name is Lee Prine, Mister Calrissian, and you have some explaining to do.”

 

Lando did his best to look confused. “Oh? And why is that, mister . . .” Lando squinted, taking a couple of steps toward the man. “General, is it,” he asked, trying to make out the Cooperative rank insignia.

 

“Brigadier General,” he answered, stepping back to keep distance between the two of them.

 

Lando liked to think he wasn't much of a brawler, but he thought he could probably take the smaller man if needed. “Well Brigadier General, I'm sure I don't know what you're talking about. I was just packing my things for the return trip -”

 

“Whatever you wanted from Vekkis Nost, I can get for you,” the brigadier general said.

 

Lando let his evasive sentence die where it had been cut off, his interest piqued. He let out an airy laugh, dropping his head a little and smiling. “Forgive me, General; I'm not from around here. But the Cooperative Defense Force is . . . local military, right? Your jurisdiction is . . . planetary?”

 

“I manage logistics for the entire Defense Force,” he clarified. “You'd be surprised how far my jurisdiction goes.”

 

Lando nodded slowly, not sure if he should be impressed with the squat, balding man, but sure that he should pretend he was. “I'm sure.” He clapped his hands and rubbed the palms together, turning from the man and walking toward his mostly-packed things. “Unfortunately, I'm on a tight schedule these days. Tendra doesn't let me be late for appointments anymore.”

 

“You're not going to trust me, I understand that.”

 

“Well, at least we can agree on something,” Lando sort of mumbled as he stuffed a couple of unimportant items into a bag.

 

“How about a Jedi? Would you trust a Jedi?”

 

Lando stopped in place, hunched beside the fluffy couch. “Depends on the Jedi.” Then he kept packing.

 

I don't want to have to impound your ship, Mister Calrissian. It would draw a lot of unwanted attention. So before you leave, you're going to decide to take a tour of one of our orphanages, spur-of-the-moment-like.”

 

“Oh yeah?” Lando asked, still pretending to pack.

 

“Yeah,” Brigadier General Lee Prine assured him.

 

 

 

* * *

 

 

 

Ink Davaan

 

Sneaking made his bones tired. Lucky for him, this time didn't need sneaking. This time, he got to walk in through the front gate.

 

The general murmur of the fifty-odd grunts going through their basic drills in the courtyard told him he'd made the impression he was hoping for. Rather, his companion had made the impression he was hoping for.

 

About ten meters from the big, durasteel double-doors of the main building, a little, human-sized door opened to the right and Commander Doc-Tel came striding out, his stern skepticism dissolving into unbridled joy when he set eyes on Ink's companion.

 

“Gethik! Gethik, my brother, you survived. You survived!”

 

The two men embraced with a great deal of back slapping and strained laughing.

 

“How?” Doc-Tel asked, pulling away from the other man but keeping his hands firmly planted on Gethik's shoulders. “How did you survive the Purge?”

 

Gethik jerked his head toward Ink. “With more than a little help from him, for one.”

 

Doc-Tel stepped back from the old Antarian Ranger and took a good look at Ink Davaan.

 

“We should talk in private,” Ink said.

 

A few minutes later, with Doc-Tel's office door firmly shut behind them, the leader of the Antarian Rangers took a seat behind his well-worn office desk and regarded each of his unexpected guests in turn. “Amazing,” he said, still struggling to believe his long-lost comrade had returned. “You've been in hiding all this time?”

 

Gethik nodded, his own happy expression souring suddenly. “Nobody else made it. Not all the way through.”

 

Doc-Tel's features darkened as well. “When we split up at Meridian, I thought – I'd hoped . . . but.”

 

“We were no match for Inquisitors,” Gethik said.

 

“That was for the best,” Ink said, surprising both of them. “If you managed to kill an Inquisitor, they'd start taking you seriously. Then none of you would have made it out.”

 

I'm sorry,” Doc-Tel said, “and don't take this the wrong way, but who the hell are you?”

 

Doc,” Gethik began, a bit of cheer returning, “you don't recognize him?” Doc-Tel shook his head, confused. “Doc, look at him. Look at him.”

 

Doc-Tel squinted, stared closely. “Human wrinkles have always . . .”

 

“Don't worry, I don't remember you either,” Ink said.

 

Doc-Tel's eyes grew wide. “No. No! The punk? The little punk kid with the Grays!”

 

Ink cracked a smile. “Ink Davaan,” he said, sitting forward and offering his hand across the table. “One-time Gray Paladin,” he added as the commander of the Antarian Rangers shook his hand. “Your current contact with the Coalition,” he sat back, allowing the surprise to play across Doc-Tel's face.

 

“You . . . you,” he glanced back and to the corner, at a safe built into the wall. “You got my message.”

 

Ink nodded, pointing at Gethik. “I went and dug up Gethik here so that when I impress upon you the severity of the situation you're now in . . . well, I want you to believe me.”

 

Doc-Tel looked between the two men, not apparently getting it. “You . . . want me to . . . give up?”
 

“Yes,” Gethik said.

 

“Go to ground,” Ink said, then turned to Gethik as if he's just smelled something rancid. “What the fuck, man?”
 

“Go to ground,” Gethik repeated, nodding.

 

“This is Antar IV,” Doc-Tel said, shaking his head. “The Antarian Rangers -”

 

“It's just a name,” Ink said dismissively. “What matters here is what you do, and getting your planet blown up won't go down in the history books as a 'good thing', regardless of your intentions.”

 

Oh come now,” Doc-Tel balked, but Ink held his stern-faced glare squarely on the Antarian Ranger. “We can't just . . . go to ground.”

 

“It saved us through the Purge,” Gethik said. “Some of us, anyway.”

 

You're really not helping,” Ink said, but the other man didn't seem to mind. Returning his attention to Doc-Tel, Ink decided to do something he absolutely hated: he tried sincerity. “I never made a very good Jedi, but I made one hell of a survivor. Now I'm trying to help other people survive, and I'm asking you to help me help them survive. We're going to save Force users, all across the galaxy, everywhere we can, but to do that we're going to need help. We're going to need logistics, and manpower, and safe places to take these people in. You can't do any of that here. You can't do any of that in the open. I'm not asking you to hide in order to protect yourselves. I'm asking you to hide, so you can help protect others.”

 

I gave up on the Jedi a long time ago,” Gethik said bitterly. “I gave up on the Rangers somewhere along the way, too. But I never gave up on the Force. I never stopped believing . . .” he held his hands up, as if grasping for something that wasn't there, “. . . that it could work through us. Hell,” he smiled, slapping Ink on the shoulder, “he knows. The shit we survived: there's no way that was chance.”

 

Ink frowned, the unpleasant memories an unwelcome distraction at a time like this. “You wanted to help, Commander. Here's your chance.”

 

He shook his head. “We can't just leave. We have people we answer to. Sponsors, and the Antarian government . . . the League of Nations . . .”

 

“Well,” Ink said, standing up and slapping his thighs with his hands, “I guess you're going to have to decide, then.”

 

After a few seconds of staring in silence, Doc-Tel asked: “Decide what?”
 

Ink turned for the door as Gethik got up as well. “Whether you're Commander Doc-Tel, of whatever chicken-shit outfit the Antarian government put together here, or Ranger General Doc-Tel, leader of the Jedi-sworn Antarian Rangers.”

 

It wasn't the best pitch he'd made in his life, but it was the best he'd mustered in quite a while.

 

 

 

* * *

 

 

 

Jonathan Blakeley

 

Sinsang was not a pleasant place. It didn't help that their government had withdrawn from the Coalition, but that wasn't the main problem. What they had done to their planet was . . . not something that he wanted to dwell on.

 

Fortunately, he had plenty to distract himself with. The meeting with the planetary government had gone as well as could be hoped. While Sinsang wasn't under any direct threat from the Reavers, their heavily industrialized economy relied on import markets for raw materials, and – more importantly – export markets for finished goods. With Reaver Space cutting them off from eighty percent of the known Rim and the political order of the Core dissolving in real time, the success of the Compact Fleet was certainly of interest to the isolated world.

 

That wasn't really why Admiral Jonathan Blakeley had come to Sinsang, though. Admiral Jonathan Blakeley had come to Sinsang to get a drink.

 

Tsk, we don't have Verukian Juice,” the bartender said, pretending to wipe out a shot glass. There was an electrostatic cleaner right there!

 

Verugyan Jweese” Blakeley tried again, feeling like he was the butt of some joke he didn't get.

 

The bartender shook his head, putting the glass down and picking up another. “Don't got that either. Never even heard of that.”

 

Blakeley leaned in, motioning for the bartender to come closer. With a tsk and a reluctant frown, the bartender set the glass down and stepped over, hunching down a little.

 

“Ink Davaan sent me,” Blakeley whispered.

 

“Yeah,” the bartender said, walking away to fetch his glass. “Well good for you. Hey!” He shouted to the room, though no one seemed to care. “Ink Davaan sent him!” He jabbed a pointed finger at Blakeley several times.

 

“Please,” Blakeley said, holding up his hands to calm the bartender.

 

And he wants Jweese!

 

Blakeley hung his head, all of his efforts at subtlety coming to nothing.

 

“Give the old fella a break,” an unfamiliar voice said from behind him. “And get him a blue ale, on me.”

 

“On you,” the bartender asked. “You sure, Oakie?”

 

Blakeley looked up to see a young human woman sporting a roguish grin, a local by her look and dress.

 

She slid a credit chit across the bar and took a seat beside Blakeley. “Yeah, yeah, no tab for freeloaders, I know.”

 

“Money's money,” the bartender said, scooping up the chit and going to grab the drink.

 

“Don't worry about it,” she said, not even bothering to look at Blakeley. “Nobody in here gives a damn who you are, and you weren't followed.”

 

“Oh, and how do you know that?” Blakeley wasn't exactly sure what was happening anymore, but he was pretty sure this was why he'd been asked to stop here.

 

“Because,” she paused, drawing out the moment before finally looking at Blakeley, that impossibly charming grin back on her lips. “Everybody in here's my people!”

 

“You aren't . . . what I was expecting,” Blakeley admitted.

 

“What about 'peace' and 'life' says a girl can't have a good time,” she asked jokingly, ignoring the bartender as he set the drink down in front of Blakeley.

 

“Should I . . .” Blakeley pointed at the ale.

 

“As you wish,” the young woman said, making an exaggerated gesture toward the glass with both hands.

 

Is this part of . . . I didn't really get any more instructions than the juice . . . joos . . . jwee -”

 

She grabbed the ale and took a few gulps. “Dude, it's fine. You came here, you said the thing, you know Ink. We're good.”

 

How do you know Ink? Aren't you a little . . . young?”

 

Uncle Inky?” She asked between two more swallows of the ale. She seemed real interested in finishing it before Blakeley decided he wanted to take it back. “Him and Ma go way back. Way back.”

 

Blakeley held up a hand to try to settle the woman. “Miss, I'm not sure you understand the gravity of the situation. I'm here -” he stopped himself, leaned closer to her and started whispering. “I'm here because of the Dominion's Declaration.”

 

“Oh don't worry about that,” she waved the concern away, finishing off the glass and then setting it roughly on the table. “We're good.”

 

“You – you're 'good'?”

 

She nodded, smiling again.

 

“What do you mean, 'you're good'?”

 

“The Empire didn't get us.” She shrugged. “Dominion won't get us either. Heck, most of the Thuwisten left Revyia a generation ago. What are they going to do: invade a planet none of us even live on any more?” She seemed amused by the notion.

 

“It wouldn't be very good for the people on the planet,” Blakeley pointed out.

 

“Huh, yeah,” she admitted, as if the thought hadn't occurred to her yet.

 

“Would it be possible for me to meet your mother,” Blakeley asked. “I have a proposal to present from Ink.”

 

“A proposal, huh?” She seemed intrigued, at least. “About the Dominion, even?”

 

“About your people's part in saving a lot of lives.”

Posts: 826
  • Posted On: Mar 16 2022 10:37pm

Akanah Norand Goss Pell

 

Admiral Jonathan Blakeley was easily impressed. In a sub-basement of a run-down shopping mall at the outskirts of Sinsang's capital, Bei-diang, an eclectic group of some fifty beings from half as many species traded huddled whispers in the dim candlelight. They were gathered in small groups of five to ten, mostly around tables but some sitting on little piles of pillows right on the floor.

 

His guide was the young woman, Oakie, who forced the old man to advance through the incense-filled room at a leisurely pace.

 

“Oh, there you are!” The surprise was fabricated, but the joy was sincere. The woman was about fifty standard years old, with a striking resemblance to the young woman. Sitting at a table with a half dozen elderly members of the group, she rose to her feet and held her arms out for her daughter. “And who might this be,” she pretended to ask, eyeing Jonathan Blakeley as she embraced her daughter.

 

“Mother, don't toy with him,” Oakie chided, smiling and mouthing “hi” to the seated elders. “His name is Jonathan Blakeley, and he's a Coalition admiral.”

 

The mother took a moment to size the man up, making sure to seem impressed.

 

“Ink Davaan sent me,” the admiral said, though he seemed uncomfortable admitting it in unfamiliar company.

 

“I heard,” the woman nodded, gesturing for him to take a seat with them. “You can call me Ann.”

 

The elders shuffled about on the curved bench seat, making room for the old man. He seemed reluctant to take a seat, giving only a cursory glance to the table's occupants when he finally decided to join them. “You are all . . . Thuwisten?” He seemed to struggle with the word.

 

“Heavens, no!” Ann exclaimed, retaking her seat beside him. “Tyia is a faith open to all, and it does not segregate its practitioners from other members of the faith.”

 

Blakeley nodded, seemingly more interested with his surroundings than the conversation he was having. “And the droids?” His attention had caught on a trio of droids sitting at a table along the wall, conversing with a pair of humans.

 

“As I said, Tyia is open to all.”

 

It seemed to surprise him, and he turned to her with a start. “You have droid . . . believers?”

 

She smiled, and her smile drew him in, holding his attention on her. “Our order is not accustomed to turning away those who seek the peace and harmony of Tyia.”

 

“Yeah but . . . droids.”

 

She kept smiling. “What has brought you to us, Mister Blakeley?”

 

He seemed suddenly very uncomfortable again. “I have certain . . . obligations, to the Coalition. I have a duty to protect it from threats, even if the methods I have to resort to are . . . unorthodox.”

 

“We will not fight your wars for you, admiral,” Ann warned him.

 

He shook his head, focusing his attention on the table so he wouldn't have to look at her. “That's not what this is about. I'm here because I can't offer to protect you. The Coalition can't be seen to be . . . associated . . . with Force users.”

 

“You're afraid of the Dominion,” she said, gently.

 

Even so, he winced at her words. “I'm hoping you will do what we can't be seen to do.”

 

“As we have done before?”

 

Blakeley nodded, finally willing himself to look back at her. “I watched the Great Purge. At first, I told myself the Jedi had betrayed the Republic. Then, I told myself their collaborators had turned on the Republic's legitimate successor. Then, I told myself that I could do more good from inside than from out. Then, I told myself it was too late to make any kind of a difference at all.

 

“And then I got to forget. For a long time. I got to pretend that it happened somewhere else, to some other people, and it didn't have anything at all to do with me. I don't get to pretend this time. This time, I am the Supreme Commander of Coalition Forces. I don't have the power to stop the Dominion, but I will use every tool at my disposal to thwart them.”

 

“Your warships are most impressive.” He jumped with a start, the new voice catching him completely by surprise. As he turned, looking for its source, Akanah allowed herself to be seen by him, her spectral form materializing before his eyes. “Are you certain they cannot win you your prize?”

 

He stared for a long moment at her, the general murmur of the room dying down in stages as more and more people noticed Akanah's presence. “We will have to fight the Dominion. Whether the Jedi, or the Whuwisten, or the Jensaarai, or others fight with us, we will have to fight them. And not at our choosing. They will come for us, and we will fight. But whether we are victorious, or we are defeated, we will win nothing. Nothing can be won in war, only lost.

 

“I am trying to lose less, so there's enough left over at the end for better men – better people – to rebuild.” He realized that the whole room was watching him, listening to him. He rose to his feet and addressed them all in a sweeping turn. “I'm asking you to help me save what cannot be defended. Will you?” He turned back to Akanah, his weary features hanging from the weight of earnest desperation. “Will you help me shelter those who will not – who cannot fight?”

 

 

 

* * *

 

 

 

Regrad of Azguard

 

The cave was dark, and damp, and full of bats. It seemed like as good a place as any. So Regrad unfolded the ceremonial rug, unpacked the ritual artifacts in the traditional fashion, and sat, cross-legged, square in the center of the rug. He poured a careful measure of water into the bowl, removed a single long match from its carrying case, then struck the end against the bowl and watched it erupt into flame.

 

He lit the right candle, and then the left, and then he spoke the ancient words all but lost to time, and plunged the match into the bowl. As the tiny wisp of smoke rose from the water, it seemed to hang between the candles, swirling gently in place. It was now or never.

 

“Ishon, Master of Shadow, I call to you from the heart of your domain. Here, beyond the reach of the noonday sun, I await you. Ishon, God of Necessity, Lord of Hidden Truth, I beseech you now, in this hour of need.

 

“Ishon, whose domain -”

 

That is quite enough, young one.” The voice was from nowhere. It was from everywhere. But mostly, it was from behind him. “Does your patron know that you have wandered so far from him?”

 

“I do not -”

 

DON'T TURN AROUND!” The voice boomed as Regrad started to turn toward it. “Just . . . stare at the water, or something. I don't know.”

 

“My Lord?”

 

The Light of Yunos still burns within you, Regrad. You may not sense it, but it is blinding to one such as me.”

 

“I . . . I didn't know. My apologies, Lord Ishon.”

 

Besides, I find that those who have already been touched by a God tend to find my normal theatrics . . . less than awe inspiring. So how about we get on with this and you tell me why you have called out to the God of Darkness, you who serve the Lord of Light?”

 

Regrad chuckled, surprised at how surprised he was to learn that the Great God of Darkness and Doom was just an act put on for the uninitiated. “I have set our people on a path, Lord Ishon. I believe that path leads into the Vision of Darkness.”

 

All that must be, will be, my son. You know that as well as I, now.” That was odd. What did he mean by that? How could Regrad know anything as well as a god, unless . . . “Our children have built many ships and battlements. They have sharpened their walking sticks into spears. You, Regrad, have raised a great army, greater by far than all the armies of Azguard in the Great Civil War waged so long ago. You have rallied the free races of this solar system and forged them, as one, into an Azguardian Union, an instrument of the Light.”

 

“It's not enough,” Regrad admitted.

 

No?”

 

“No,” Regrad said. And then he said more. “Lord Ishon, I know that you have servants throughout the Azguard people. Servants, who move through shadow and night, who travel where the Light does not dwell. Might they, too, be of service in this great task?”

 

The methods of Necessity are not suited for those who dwell in the Light. Do you understand what you are asking of me?”

 

Regrad shook his head. “I don't need to understand. I need to know if you, too, will be of service to the Light.”

 

There was a long pause, in which Regrad began to wonder if Ishon had departed from him. “Very well, young one. As you have asked, so shall it be.”

 

 

 

* * *

 

 

 

Lando Calrissian

 

There were a couple dozen of them. Children, in cute little Jedi robes. Swinging practice sabers under artificial lights.

 

“I thought the orphanage was a front,” Lando admitted.

 

“It is a front,” General Lee Prine said. “And it's real.”

 

The young woman leading the practice session scurried over to the two observers. “You can't do this,” she chided the general, keeping her voice low so the children wouldn't hear.

 

“Katria, this is Lando Calrissian,” the general said, gesturing to Lando and ignoring her admonishment.

 

“Charmed,” he said, holding out his hand and smiling broadly.

 

“Lando,” Prine continued with the introductions, “this is Jedi Knight Katria, formerly of the Naboo Temple.”

 

She stared daggers at Lando for several seconds, but at length her features began to soften in response to his withering charm. “Keep practicing, children,” she shouted, then gestured toward a side room.

 

The three filed in and she turned on the other two before the door closed behind them. “What's the meaning of all this! You can't come barging in here very time you've worked up some . . .” she held up her hands and moved both thumbs and forefingers as if working some intricate machinery “. . . scheme!”

 

“Lando's going to help us save Jedi,” the general announced.

 

“He is?” She asked.

 

“I am?” He asked.

 

“He calls it the Great River,” Prine explained.

 

“Whoa now,” Lando began, holding up both hands, “I haven't said anything -”
 

“You just have to convince him,” Prine added, regarding Katria.

 

“Me?” She pointed at herself before shaking her head. “I'm busy, general. If you haven't noticed.” Her attention drifted to the small window in the door, and the raucous sounds coming from beyond.

 

“Lando thinks I can't be trusted,” Prine said.

 

“True!” Katria offered.

 

“He also thinks I don't have the pull to get him what he's looking for.”

 

“What's he looking for?” Katria asked.

 

“He hasn't said,” Prine admitted.

 

“What'cha looking for?” she asked Lando without missing a beat.

 

He smiled broadly again, looking back and forth between the two while he tried to work out how he was going to get out of this one. “Well there's a place,” he started, hoping the rest of the sentence would come to him before he got to it, “a very special place, where the Jedi and their loved ones can make a safe, secure life, out of the reach of the Dominion, the Empire . . . anyone, really.”

 

“Where is it?” Katria asked. She seemed interested, but mostly she seemed interested in moving this along.

 

“I . . . can't say.”

 

“Come on, man!” Prine lamented. “I showed you cute, happy-go-lucky Jedi children! What more do you need?”

 

“I can't say, because I don't know,” Lando admitted.

 

“So you're wasting my time with a fantasy, great,” Katria complained.

 

“Not a fantasy,” Lando assured. “It's just that people, kind of . . . lost track of it.”

 

“You are wasting my time,” Katria said, then pushed past the two and through the door, returning to her children.

 

Brigadier General Lee Prine put a hand on Lando's shoulder and gave it a good squeeze. “That charm of yours isn't what it used to be, huh?”
 

After allowing himself a moment of self pity, Lando turned to the other man and cracked another smile. “Alright, general: you've convinced me. So let's get to work.”

 

 

 

* * *

 

 

 

Ink Davaan

 

“You guys have really got to stop doing this.”

 

Ink fought hard not to crack a smile. “Motion sensors, really?”

 

Lando Calrissian walked around the corner and entered the kitchen area of his fancy-pants hotel room, not at all amused. “What do I even have security for?”

 

“Oh they're good, they're plenty good,” Ink nodded, waiting for the man to cool down a little. “I could offer them some pointers, though.” Ooh, that didn't help the situation.

 

“What does the general want now?” Lando asked, apparently trying to move this along.

 

“Good guess, but that's not quite what's going on here.” Lando Calrissian was still not amused. Ink had practiced the words, but it still seemed like something was missing. “You're not the only one who cares about doing the right thing, in light of this Declaration business.”

 

Lando nodded, apparently trying to decided if he needed to be on his guard or not. “I hear the Azguard have made a sort of Declaration of their own.”
 

Ink shook his head. “I represent people looking for . . . quieter solutions.”

 

“You an assassin?” Calrissian asked.

 

The question caught him by surprise. “I'm just an old man with too many friends who didn't make it,” he admitted. Then he reached out a hand and offered Lando a commlink. “General Prine is small-time. Maybe he can get you what you're looking for, but he can't do what you're looking to do.”

 

“And what am I looking to do?” Lando asked as he took the commlink, studying it closely.

 

“Build a River great enough to sweep all the Dominion's would-be victims out of their reach.”

 

He pocketed the commlink and nodded along. “But you can do that, right?”

 

Ink smiled, but it was a far cry from the other man's iconic charm. “I know people who have already done it once. I think maybe you can help them do it better this time.”

Posts: 826
  • Posted On: Mar 20 2022 4:01am

Brigadier General Lee Prine

 

From: To Curse the Darkness

 

Vekkis Nost . . . had been approached by several heads of Coooperative Force-allied organizations, and together they had drawn up and submitted a charter for an international charity, the Great River.

The stated goals of the Great River were to safeguard Force-sensitives from unlawful detainment or physical harm by the Cree'Ar Dominion or agents working on their behalf.

The money had come pouring in.

. . . the Great River had expanded its official function to include the disruption of sapient trafficking – slavery – and was now taking active steps to fund paramilitary peacekeeping organizations, both within the Coalition and among its allies, with the goal of stopping the hunting of Force-sensitives, whether trained or untrained.

It was a bold, new direction for the fledgling organization, but the Cooperative government was taking no action whatsoever in this regard, and that was simply unacceptable.

Something had to be done, and Vekkis Nost was doing it.

 

 

 

From: To Curse the Darkness

 

. . . “Listen to me closely, Councilor Nost,” [General Lee Prine] said, and his tone was deathly serious. “We know that the Cree'Ar will come for us, in time. All of us. No matter who we are; no matter where we live. We know who they have chosen as their first targets, and armed with that knowledge, we are going to make this galaxy safe for everyone who lives in it, and from them, but if you tip our hand before we are ready . . . then all hope is lost.”

Vekkis gasped as he realized what this was really about. “The Great River . . . how could I have been such a fool?”

“The point of covert operations is to keep people from knowing about them,” Captain Mauler said. “This charity effort of yours is admirable, Councilor, really it is, but every public act of defiance against the Cree'Ar Declaration on Force-users paints us that much brighter a target, moves us that much higher on their list of priorities, shaves off that much more time before we have to fight them.”

“It's a harsh and unfortunate truth of the galaxy in which we live,” General Prine cut in, “but the longer the Cree'Ar spend cracking open Imperial fortress worlds that are publicly harboring Force adepts, the longer we have to build up the infrastructure we need, swoop in under the radar, and sneak those very adepts to safety.”

“And train them – as Force Commandos,” Vekkis said, both excited and repulsed by the idea.

“Every last one who is willing and able,” Prine answered, unapologetic. “Make no mistake about it, Councilor Prine; this war that is coming will decide the fate of our galaxy, and when the Cree'Ar come here, we will stop them at our door, so the billions of force-adepts, and the trillions of sapient lives that we couldn't get to in time, will still be saved when we kill on the battlefield the monsters who would have murdered them in their sleep.

“So it's this simple, Councilor: how do we shut down your Great River before its current drags in the Cree'Ar?”

. . . The amphibian creature gave an exaggerated, resolute nod of his fishy head. “I know what has to be done.”

 

 

 

* * *

 

 

 

Cooperative News Network Breaking Bulletin

Vekkis Nost, Cooperative Senator from Varn, was arrested earlier this morning by Cooperative Defense Force Security Forces, and charged with multiple counts of treason, war profiteering, and embezzlement. CDF Security Forces allege that Senator Nost has used both his position in the Cooperative Senate and as the Executive Director of the Great River non-profit organization, to funnel billions of credits into private accounts, as well as to sell the identities and locations of thousands or millions of individuals both in and out of the Coalition to illegal bounty hunting organizations, who are seeking to profit from the Cree'Ar Declaration on force-sensitives. Security Forces claim that Senator Nost has been under investigation for several months, and we can expect to see their evidence available for public review by the end of the week.

Senator Nost has not released a formal statement as of yet, and did not respond to any questions while being escorted from the Council Hall this morning.

While the Board of Directors of the Great River has not yet released an official statement, an anonymous source in that organization says their financial records “don't check out”, and that the amount missing could be “as large as reported”.

If these allegations prove true, it would mean that the Great River had actually been working in direct opposition to its stated goals, and that millions of Cooperative citizens had unwittingly aided in the capture or murder of force sensitives all across the galaxy.

 

Senator Nost was a madman. There was simply no way around it. The Varn native had volunteered to be framed as a trafficker of sapient beings and a collaborator with the enemy, all to ensure that his genuine work could continue on. Prine's job, now, was to help cook the books, to make Vekkis Nost's alleged crimes real by disappearing assets of his Great River charity, siphoning them off for use by the so-called “Force Commandos”.

 

It wasn't ideal, but it was a damn sight better than letting all of Mister Nost's work go to waste. And if he did this right, Prine might be able to follow up with some of the disgraced senator's key supporters, recruiting them covertly to carry on the original work of the Great River. After all, most of the Force sensitives his outfit would be rescuing wouldn't be in any kind of shape to join the fight. He'd need some kind of network to hide these civilian sensitives out of the Dominion's reach. They still weren't sure what the Dominion wanted Force sensitives for in the first place, so the best they could do for the time being was deny the enemy one of their own objectives.

 

The bones of Vekkis Nost's Great River was a far cry from the galaxy-spanning network that even moderate success would require, but it was a start. And Lee Prine's job wasn't a cover: he really was head of logistics for the Cooperative Defense Force. A man like him could make a little go a long way with sufficient motivation.

 

The fate of the galaxy seemed like motivation a-plenty.

 

 

 

* * *

 

 

 

Admiral Jonathan Blakeley

 

The trip was far longer than the letter. He had already read it three times, and they were hardly into hyperspace. The admiral was heading into the galactic north-east to see what help he could muster for the Compact Fleet, and was hoping to hear back from Colonel Ink Davaan about possible contacts in the region for their . . . side project. This letter, though . . .

 

This letter was from Regrad, and Regrad had a project too. The courier had almost missed them at Sinsang, but the Azguard White Knight managed to intercept the admiral's entourage as they were breaking orbit. He wondered if it was a coincidence, the origin of the courier and the content of the letter.

 

Because Regrad's project was for the White Knights. The elite military unit had been established by Regrad himself, in his dual capacity as Prime Minister and head of the Coalition military. The White Knights were drawn from the Coalition's disparate military organizations, but they were selected based on displays of extraordinary skill and character, the kind of thing it was hard to judge outside of combat.

 

Because of that, the majority of White Knights either came from the Eastern Province, or Azguard itself. There had been efforts of late to recruit more broadly, and recruitment for the Knights' would-be competition, the Praetorian Guard, had fallen off considerably since the loss of the Onyxian Commonwealth, so the Knights were beginning to draw some members from loyal remnants of the Onyxian military as well.

 

The organization had been growing for some time now, but the senior membership had been recruited by Regrad himself and still held him in high regard. With Regrad withdrawing from Coalition national affairs, Blakeley had been uncertain about how to proceed with the White Knights. With this new communique from Regrad, something of a plan was beginning to form in the mind of the Coalition's Supreme Commander. Beginning to form, but not yet fully formed.

 

The woman seemed to materialize right in the middle of his personal quarters. “Seemed to,” he knew, because this was an illusion, a manipulation of sight and sound created by the use of the Force. “I was worried it wouldn't work in hyperspace,” he admitted.

 

She seemed amused by the comment. “And yet you tried.”

 

“How does it work?” He held out the small etched crystal that the Thuwisten, Ann, had given him

 

“The methods of my people are forbidden to outsiders,” she answered quite tersely.

 

“Your people, the Fallanassi?” The question surprised her. “Thuwisten Ann told me, after you . . . disappeared.”

 

“My people also value their secrecy,” she said.

 

Blakeley nodded. While it wasn't public knowledge, the Coalition had access to classified New Repbulic reports on the Battle of N'Zoth, where the Fallanassi had used mass illusion to confound the hostile Yevetha and allow a decisive victory by the Republic fleet. The Fallanassi certainly were a secretive sect, but Blakeley believed he knew enough about them to make a worthwhile offer.

 

“Instantaneous in-person communication from across the galaxy would certainly be of military value,” he admitted, which elicited the expected negative response. The Fallanassi seemed to be pacifists, more so even than the Tyia, whose philosophy he had neither the time nor inclination to unpack. “Can you read?”

 

She scoffed. “Of course I can read.”

 

“I mean,” he gestured at her, “in that state.”

 

She smiled again, clearly amused by his ignorance. She made a point of sitting on the edge of his bed, and though she wasn't physically present she seemed to be sitting just like any normal person would. She leaned back slightly and placed one hand on the bed, as if resting her weight on her arm. “Well I can't turn pages,” she admitted.

 

Blakeley held up the datapad with Regrad's letter, entreating her to read it. She took the bait, crossing the room and hunching down to be at level with the seated admiral. “Don't . . . jostle,” she complained, so he set the datapad on the edge of his small work desk.

 

Instead of craning over awkwardly, she walked through Blakeley's leg, unnerving him but to his surprise, not producing any kind of sensation. After several seconds she stepped back and regarded Blakeley seriously. “What is a White Knight?”

 

Now it was Blakeley's turn to be amused by his counterpart's ignorance. So there was something she didn't know, after all! “The White Knights are an elite order of Coalition military officials who hold extensive autonomy and have broad discretion to move throughout the Coalition in the pursuit of our ideals. They have an internal command structure, but essentially they operate under the authority of the Supreme Commander of Coalition Forces.”

 

“Are they . . . Force users?”

 

“None to my knowledge,” Blakeley replied, suddenly realizing that the name could fool the unfamiliar. “They're just normal folks doing the best they can under the circumstances.”

 

“Soldiers,” she corrected him. “They're soldiers, doing what soldiers do.”

 

“Regrad thinks they can be something more,” Blakeley replied.

 

“The dethroned warrior-king thinks that his former entourage can save the galaxy. Forgive me if I'm not impressed.”

 

Blakeley sighed, realizing this was going to be harder than he'd hoped. “The Azguardian Union has extended refuge to all Force sensitives fleeing the Dominion.”

 

“I didn't realize,” she admitted, softening somewhat.

 

“By order of the High Lord of Azguard, Regrad,” he added. She seemed to get smaller, like someone who'd just been caught doing something she knew she shouldn't. “They are initiating a massive diplomatic effort to establish a network across every Coalition world, to take in these Force refugees and escort them safely to Azguardian space.”

 

“I see,” she said, starting to put the pieces together herself. “But you don't want them to go to Azguard.”

 

“Regrad believes they won't be safe there,” Blakeley acknowledged. “I agree.”

 

“You want the White Knights to intercept them,” she filled in the next piece of the emerging plan.

 

“The problem is, the Knights don't have anywhere to take them. Not anywhere safe.”

 

“Thuwisten Ann's pledge to help you is admirable, and her companions among the Tyia will surely rally to her call, but the Fallanassi is a small order with limited reach, long isolated from the remainder of the galaxy. We do not have the numbers or the resources to do as they will do.”

 

Blakeley nodded, allowing the sense of futility to build, because she clearly hadn't guessed the next piece of the plan. “But you are masters of illusion and concealment. And you have,” he gestured at her with both hands, palms up, “an astonishing ability to communicate remotely.”

 

She shook her head, her demeanor darkening. “We cannot serve your White Knights, admiral.”

 

“I intend to deploy them under your . . . guidance, ma'am.” That sure caught her by surprise. Before she could recover, he pressed the point. “It's important that we move these people outside of Coalition jurisdiction as quickly as possible, but also outside of Coalition awareness. We can't know where they end up, or we become a new liability for them. You can be the bridge between the Knights and the Tyia, as well as anyone else we find to help shelter these people. You can help protect them in your way, so we don't have to resort to ours.”

 

Her eyes grew wide and she resumed her seat on the bed, as if needing to steady herself. “Admiral, why would you trust us with this? You don't even know us.”

 

Blakeley frowned, considering the question for a moment. “I'm not the warrior you've assumed I am. I've spent most of my life . . . administrating. Negotiating. Organizing. I've managed people to avoid conflict, and I've been very good at it over the years. But my future will not be as my past. War is coming for me, and it's my duty to fight that war. The best I can do until then, is make sure the right people are in the right places to carry on all the managing I'm going to be too busy to do myself.” He smiled at her, but it was a sad, defeated smile. “You can save people in a way that I can't, and you can keep doing it long after . . .” He choked up for a second, cleared his throat and continued. “Long after I'll be doing something else.”

 

 

 

From: To Curse the Darkness

 

Jonathan Blakeley was Supreme Commander of Coalition Forces. He was a leader of men, women, and other . . . less simply labeled beings from across the galaxy . . .

. . . They were the ruin of a vision interrupted, the bloodied survivors of wars best not fought, the last spark of a dying light that had never shown as bright or as far as its keepers had hoped.

“It's not good . . . So we're going off-book. We're breaking a few rules, and I'm going to be relying on you to ensure we're breaking them for the right reasons. So here's the deal: the Cooperative is training Force users for special operations deployments. It's a highly compartmentalized program that even High Command doesn't know about. The only reason I know about it, is because I was commander of Cooperative forces . . . for a weekend. I'm conscripting them into our scheme.

“Ladies, gentlemen . . . et cetera,” Blakeley eyed some sort of crab-person, tried not to let his gaze linger. “I'm conscripting them into our scheme, just as I'm conscripting you. Now you might be asking me why I should trust you in this, why I think it's safe to show you my hand, and the answer's simple: this scheme, my scheme, it isn't really mine at all.

“It's Regrad's.

“We're going out, out into the galaxy, and we're saving every Force Sensitive we can find. We'll do it alone if we have to, but I don't think we'll have to. I think there are too many good people left, for us to be standing alone at the end. Either way, we can't make the galaxy safe for these people, not yet. Not now. What we can do, is make these people safe from the galaxy. So let's get to it.”

They were all he had.

They were the White Knights.

They were enough.

 

 

 

* * *

 

 

 

Pro Moon

 

She was annoyed with him. She was trying to hide it, and even doing a pretty good job of that, but he could tell. He could tell, because she and his wife had the same tell. “Thanks for agreeing to see me.”

 

“When the Prime Minister calls, a person like me can't really afford to say 'no', even if he is only the 'Interim' Prime Minister.”

 

Pro Moon's eyes widened in surprise, and he suddenly realized why she was annoyed. “I assure you, your cover remains intact, and your various aliases are under lock and key at CIB headquarters. You're under no obligations here.”

 

“Oh, well I should be going then.” She rose from her seat before she'd even finished the sentence.

 

“Please,” he implored, reaching out with both hands, “just hear me out.”

 

She wasn't trying so hard to hide her annoyance anymore, but after a moment she bobbed her head a couple of times and sat back down.

 

“Thank you,” he said, rather unjustifiably proud of himself. “Miss Stella, in my rather short time as Interim Prime Minister, I've become aware of frightfully many, uh, secrets. It has come to my attention that there remain things about the Coalition that I don't know, that the success of the Coalition and my administration – interim though it may be – may actually rely on my not knowing.”

 

“Lie,” she said.

 

“Excuse me?” The comment surprised him, and as he studied her features he became aware that she seemed . . . bored?

 

“Plausible deniability,” she elaborated. “Just pretend you don't know.”

 

“Ah yes, well . . . it may be the case, Miss Stella, that sometimes: the only thing better than plausible deniability, is actual ignorance.”

 

She shook her head. “No, I don't think so.”

 

This wasn't working. He'd have to try a different approach. “What are your thoughts on the Dominion's Declaration?”

 

“You want to chat about . . . genocide?”

 

Pro Moon shook his head. “I've made no such characterization, Miss Stella. But please, indulge me.”

 

There was a moment of silence, where she stared at him, and her annoyed disinterest slowly crystallized into a simmering anger. “So you just want me to chat, generally, about my thoughts on the Force, until I stumble across something you're looking for?”

 

“That about sums it up,” he said, matching her bubbling anger with his own characteristic cheer.

 

“For plausible deniability?” she asked.

 

Pro Moon's eyes widened again, and he smiled broadly at the comment. “You're file said you were sharp. I think you're starting to get it.”

 

There was another long moment where she seemed to be studying Pro, before her demeanor softened slightly and she decided to play along. “Coalition law prohibits our compliance with the Dominion's demands. Regardless, the Azguard would never go along, so if we tried we'd either be looking at some sort of civil war in the worst case, or the withdrawal of the Azguardian Union from the Coalition in the best case.”

 

“Good, good, continue,” Pro prodded her.

 

She huffed in frustration, but leaned forward and rested her elbows on her thighs. “Of course, the Azguard have made a Declaration of their own, and are setting up embassies on every Coalition world, explicitly to provide diplomatic protection to Force users and grant them safe passage to Azguard space, in direct opposition to the Dominion Declaration. That's not exactly public knowledge, but it's broadly known across all levels of governance within the Coalition. It's only a matter of time until the Dominion finds out.”

 

“Yes, yes, and?”

 

"And . . . the man who made the Azguardian Declaration, is the man whose seat you now occupy, Mister Interim Prime Minister. So if anybody knows anything about what Regrad's actually doing, I'd bet it's you. What, did he leave you a letter on the desk?”

 

Pro Moon chuckled, genuinely enjoying the display. “You don't have a file, you know? It's part of CIB security protocols. You've got a bunch of different files, scattered about here and there, stored under different aliases and code names and whatnot. It was a real bitch to figure out who you actually are, if you'll pardon my language.” She didn't seem fazed. “But after I pieced it all together, what with my 'Interim Prime Ministerial' clearance and whatnot, I found three things, three incontrovertible character traits, that made me sure you were the woman for the job.

 

“First,” he held up his index finger, “you're incomparably skilled in your craft. A master of disguise, infiltration, and misdirection. Your capacity to cultivate organic intelligence is truly something to behold, which I'm sure is why the CIB has gone to such lengths to ensure no one ever 'beholds' your record in its entirety.” He chucked lightly, amusing himself.

 

“Second,” he held up two fingers, “you have demonstrated an unassailable moral core. You have shown a commitment to higher ideals that, quite frankly, nobody in your line of work has any business associating themselves with. Honestly, I might be the only person in the galaxy who considers this a 'plus' in an intelligence operative.” He put on his warmest smile, hoping to melt her defenses a bit.

 

There was a long silence, in which he finally started feeling awkward about the goofy smile and let his face slowly relax until it was gone. She knew what he was doing, of course, but he wanted to do it anyway, so he waited her out.

 

“And third?” she finally asked, leaning back in the chair and crossing her arms over her chest.

 

He leaned forward over his desk, planting both hands on the tabletop and craning as far as he could. “You. Are. Lucky.”

 

He was still doing it. And she still knew that he was still doing it. And he still knew that she still knew that he was still doing it. So he didn't wait her out this time. “Some might even say that you're too lucky. Preternaturally lucky, even.”

 

Gods, she was good at her job! Not a hint of recognition or alarm as the words struck home. “What's this really about, Prime Minister?”

 

“Actual ignorance,” he said, leaning back resuming a normal seated posture. “Regrad left me the letter that you . . . sussed out. It was vague enough that I don't know what he's up to, and specific enough that I know he can't do it alone. Not if he's going to succeed, anyway. So I need someone I can trust to make sure I learn all of the things that I need to know, and none of the things that have to stay secret.”

 

“The only thing better than plausible deniability, is actual ignorance,” Stella repeated, taking the phrase seriously for the first time.

 

“The Coalition isn't strong enough to oppose the Dominion directly, not yet at least. We've got the political uncertainty of an 'interim administration',” he pointed at himself for a bit of levity, “a partially completed rearmament process after the Dragon War and the losses at Vahaba, and a galactic refugee crisis that's flooding right over our doorstep. But Regrad is convinced that the Azguard will be one of the Dominion's primary targets, on account of their 'gods'. If he's right, then we don't have a lot of time to develop a plan of our own.”

 

“Alright,” she said, nodding shallowly. She rose to her feet and said: “I'm in.” Then she headed for the door.

 

“Just like that?” he asked, not sure she was serious.

 

“I'll set up at the secretary's desk and get to work, then?”

 

“Uh, yes, yes!” By the gods, it worked! He'd done it! “Start with the White Knights.”

 

She paused at the door, her hand on the activator but not pushing the button. “What's happening with the White Knights?”

 

“I don't know,” Pro said. “And I need you find out if I should. Regrad's been contacting some of his favorite senior Knights, and Admiral Blakeley has organized some kind of secret meeting with them. Dig into it, and see if it's more than a coincidence.”

 

She pressed the button and stepped through the doorway. “On it, boss.”

Posts: 826
  • Posted On: Mar 24 2022 11:21pm

Stella the Secretary

 

For lunch today, she was going on a walk through the park. It was a significant departure from her normal routine, but when a shadow in the shape of an Azguard whispered to her in the voice of a former contact, she decided a break in routine was in order. She was just starting to think that she might have hallucinated the whole thing when he stumbled into her.

 

The Azguard man was rather disheveled, wearing old, worn robes and tattered boots. He seemed unsteady, with a slouched posture and a distant gaze. But when they collided, she grabbed his forearm reflexively to steady herself, and the second her hand touched his exposed skin a surge of power flowed from him and into her. It was unlike anything she'd ever felt before, and she knew without having the words to explain it, what he was.

 

“Forgive me.” His voice was weak and strained, and he barely seemed to notice her even as he spoke. “I wasn't sure when we'd meet.”

 

She knew she should move back, put some distance between herself and the much larger stranger, start assessing routes of escape and methods of distraction. Everything about her training and experience told her that this was a dangerous man who she needed to neutralize as quickly as possible. But she could see him now, wreathed in an aura of pent up power, blazing like the sun. What he was defied reason and experience. Why they'd met resonated with destiny.

 

What are you?” She couldn't help herself. Whatever her feelings, this man was a stranger, an unknown entity in possession of knowledge he shouldn't have and power she didn't understand. She stepped back two paces and glanced to either side of the man, taking in the movements of other nearby park-goers. Nothing seemed out of order, but that could just mean his hidden associates were good at their craft.

 

“Ignorance,” he answered her, looking off into the distance. “And deniability.”

 

It was impossible. Utterly impossible. Unless the Prime Minister had sent the man, but that was also impossible. She took another step back, crossing her arms in front of her stomach, readying herself for whatever came next.

 

“You don't trust me,” he said, his attention snapping to her, his clouded eyes focusing on her, his hunched posture straightening in an instant. “You fear me.”

 

“What are you?” she repeated.

 

“Garchomp doesn't know what I am, but he trusted me enough to send you to me.”

 

Fucking hell, he knew his name? The Azguard Intelligence operative was one of her deep-cover contacts. His identity was almost as protected as hers had been. If it really was him who'd visited her in her office, the shadow who spoke with his voice . . .

 

She'd felt it, then, when he spoke to her. She'd known in a way she couldn't explain that it really was Gar. But then that would mean . . .

 

“Do you trust him?”

 

“Huh?” The question had caught her off-guard, but no followup had come. There were no kidnappers lurking in the bushes, there was no threat subtly delivered, no absurd red dot tracing its way across her body. There was just this strange man and his impossible knowledge.

 

“Do you trust him?”

 

It wasn't a question that a person like her got asked. People who knew what she was knew not ask, and people who didn't know who she was would never have any idea that Gar existed. “With my life.” Why the fuck did she admit that?
 

“Then trust me.” He reached out his hand, palm exposed. “What more could I offer you than the faith of one you have placed your faith in?”

 

It was madness, utter madness, but this was why Pro Moon had picked her. She could do what no one else in the whole of the Coalition could do.

 

She could take the madman's hand, and see where he led her.

 

 

 

* * *

 

 

 

Rashad the Seer

 

Long before he had been born, he had seen her. Then, she was obscure and distant, her proximity to the Vision of Darkness distorting her features and concealing the details of their encounter. As the Vision neared, however, Rashad of Azguard drew nearer, too. He was aware, vaguely, that his past selves would see him, there and then, so near to the Vision that he, too, would appear warped and shrouded before their eyes. Though he now saw the contours of this moment with utter clarity, he could not look back to other selves and tell them of his sights.

 

Such was the power of the Vision of Darkness that even his Sight was affected by the turbulence and collisions around its event horizon. But what he knew, he knew. What he had seen, would come to pass. Much of what he had seen, had already come to pass. The woman, who wanted to be called Stella, had taken his hand. They had steadied one another, for that brief moment, in the torrent of the Vision's grasp. Now she traveled along a path set firmly in his Sight. He could see where she would go, and most of who she would meet, but there remained one shrouded, hidden beyond his sight.

 

This was not the work of the Vision of Darkness. This was the work of a power he had never before witnessed. To bring the future to pass, Rashad the Seer would have to pierce that shroud, to behold the one concealed beneath it.

 

“We move through darkness, so others may claim the day.” The words didn't belong to him, but he spoke them anyway. He moved further into the alleyway, allowing his memory of the future to guide his steps. “We are a light unto the night, and a shadow unto the day.” He stopped as his memory failed him, the particulars of his surroundings not fully familiar. Something was different here, worn down somehow. Older, sadder, spent of some vitality he couldn't remember having. “We, the Disciples of Twilight, fear not the rising or the setting sun.”

 

“You'll have to do better than that,” a voice spoke from the hidden dark. “You're about twenty years out of date if you want to convince me you're one of us.”

 

Rashad the Seer lowered his cowl and turned, unprompted, to his left, looking up three stories to fix his glare on an empty patch of a run-down fire escape. “Look upon my face. Tell me of its resemblance.”

 

“Oh shit, it's an Azguard!” The voice was new, but equally hidden. “Timmy, go tell we got ourselves an Azguard!”

 

The sound of footsteps filled the alleyway and then trailed to nothing, but Rashad held his gaze on the empty space above. “You have met by brethren before.” It wasn't a question. “I have come in the hope that you would honor the friendship that they fostered here.”

 

“That's above my pay grade, big guy.” It was the first voice, decidedly more in front of him now than all around him from every shadow. “I'm just the lookout.”

 

Rashad stood staring for an indeterminate period of time. Surprisingly, the young man held his concealment throughout, not moving from his perch for the entire duration. Eventually, their stalemate was broken when someone clapped their hands, the young man's concealment breaking before a power well beyond him.

 

Rashad returned his attention to the alleyway, where a human woman of perhaps sixty years stood, flanked by a pair of humans a couple decades younger. “You come as a friend.”

 

“I come in service to Twilight,” he answered.

 

“A bold claim,” she replied, walking toward him. “What do you know of Twilight?”

 

He knew, vaguely, that he was supposed to play along. To sway and slide with the motions of the dance. But time was running out. “I know you have a meditation chamber.”

 

* * *

 

It was their own curiosity that paved his way, he knew. They wanted to see what he could see. And there were enough of them that they had no fear of him. The passageway was old, older than popular history would say was possible for the world. It was carved of the living rock, but into it had been worked the symbols of those orders who had come before.

 

On the surface were the emblems of the Disciples of Twilight, drawn in layers of paint that had been refreshed from time to time over the centuries. Beneath them were the etchings of the Old Jedi Order carved into the rock, their paints long warn away so only the discerning eye would spot the subtle indentations. Here and there were the telltale signs of the Sith who had come before, their marks of claim cut out from the rock except for scant fragments that were missed by the effort. As he walked the path, he saw into the still more distant past, and the shapes and the words of forgotten orders and vagabond mystics who had come even before the Sith, whose names and glyphs and customs were alien to his eyes.

 

And then the small entourage was in the chamber, its dull gray walls speckled with pinpricks of white. As he approached the center of the room, the others remained near the entrance, one of them working hidden controls to close the pathway behind them.

 

“You must show us what you see,” the woman said.

 

Rashad lowered himself onto the circular platform in the center of the room, turning around to face his hosts. Crossing his legs, he rested his hands on his knees and closed his eyes, allowing the sound of his breath to fill his conscious mind. In time, that time lost meaning, until a single breath reached back into the unbounded past.

 

The future was closed to him, impenetrable, but the past . . . the past was out of sight and mind of those who sought to hide themselves in the present. Through the infinity of a breath, Rashad of Azguard searched the abandoned happenings of the past, looking for the figure now hiding in the present. When one infinity was not enough, he took another breath and began again. In one such infinity, he saw a thing that could not be: a vision he had already seen, happening other than he had already seen it. How could such a thing be, for the one who Sees both past and future, unbidden?

 

Rashad the Seer opened his eyes and before him played the unhidden past. It was the ship, the ship he'd seen so many times when he peered into the future at the edge of the Darkness. So many souls, so many lights ferried away from the grasp of the Dark, but never, never in all his Seeing, had he seen this man.

 

The old, haggard human wore the silvered armor of the great warriors around him. His hair was white as snow, and cut so close to his head that he might as well have shaved it bald. Even in the full-body armored suit, his lean frame was evident. At his side was clipped an ancient Sith vibro-sword, though its handle and hilt were of a make that Rashad had never before Seen.

 

“Colonel,” a companion said, walking into the room from behind him. “Command's on the line.”

 

He turned and took a commlink from the companion, holding it close. “Ink Davaan here, General.”

 

A clap exploded the vision before his eyes, its dissolved images revealing the Disciples who had brought him here, the woman chief among them.

 

Shocked with disbelief, her hands dropped to her side and looked to Rashad, asking: “Why do you seek out the Revenant?”

 

 

 

* * *

 

 

 

Ink Davaan

 

They were back, again. This last excursion had been a threefer. They'd hit a bounty hunter gang near Anzat, a full merc company on Sarrahban, and they did a proper prison break on the planet Lorahns. All in all, almost three dozen people rescued. Two of them were being prospected as new recruits, but that wasn't Ink's department. Ink's department was mostly using the ride to safe harbor to discourage them from joining up. General Prine wanted to expand the operation, and that made perfect sense . . . for a man like General Prine, a man who didn't have to carry the burden of the Force.

 

The thermometer dinged and Ink swished the water with a hand just to make sure. Perfect. He wouldn't admit it in a thousand years, but a warm bath was damn near the closest to heaven a man like him would ever find. He was three-quarters undressed when he realized he should have realized something by now.

 

The stranger was a fucking mountain of a man. How he'd gotten into the quarters without . . . oh. Oh shit. An Azguard. “Unless you brought that witchcraft of yours to join up, you better get the fuck out of my room before I carry you out in pieces.” So much for the bath.

 

The stranger twisted its wrist, Ink's own sword seeming to materialize in their hand. “Some of us must walk in shadow, to be of service to the Light.”

 

Damn it, the Azguard had their own Force users. Of course they did. And of course nobody had bothered to fill Ink in. “Am I doing this with my pants on or off?” He pointed to the pants still bunched up around his ankles.

 

“I now see that you are shrouded in more than Twilight, Master Davaan.”

 

Pants on, for sure. How the hell he was going to kill a two and a half meter tall bundle of muscle and fangs while it was holding his own sword he couldn't yet say, but that was how this night would be ending. Maybe he could make use of the bath water after all . . .

 

The Azguard turned the handle of Ink's blade toward him, reaching out their arm to extend the weapon to him. For the life of him, Ink still couldn't make out the creature's gender, or any other distinguishing feature, really. In the dim lighting, they just sort of . . . bled into everything.

 

With his pants up, he approached cautiously, reaching out for the weapon slowly but then pulling it to himself quickly once his hand was on the grip. “What the fuck, man?”

 

“The Gods of Azguard have need of your service.”

 

“Yeah, well, I'm busy,” he said, trying to decide if he should put his shirt back on too. “And my water's getting cold.”

 

“It has been foreseen,” the stranger said.

 

“Good for you.” Shit, he didn't like fighting barefoot, either.

 

“I have a message for you, Ink Davaan, for the one who has seen you even beneath your cloak.”

 

“Well that sounds a little inappropriate.” The alien didn't seem to get the implication.

 

“You lie at a nexus, a convergence of destinies. You stand in the crossroads of many fates, and you direct them to their ends.”

 

“Yeah, I'm not going to lie, here: this is total gibberish to me.” He might have to start fighting this dude just to shut him up!

 

“The River must flow, Ink Davaan.”

 

“Who's a what now?” That wasn't the sort of thing the alien should know to say.

 

“And the River will run through us.”

 

 

 

* * *

 

 

 

Admiral Jonathan Blakeley

 

“Good gods, woman!” He hadn't even sat down yet, and there she was, appearing out of nowhere, right in the middle of his quarters.

 

She seemed amused by his exclamation. “You shouldn't keep the crystal with you if you don't want me to find you.” It was sincere enough advice, though it was offered in jest.

 

He fished the trinket out of his pocked, regarding it for a second. “If it's the crystal you're tracking, how'd you find my quarters . . .”

 

She reached out her hand and plucked the crystal from his palm. She smiled warmly in response to his surprise. “Surprise.”

 

“I thought your people didn't travel,” he said, tensing up as the shock wore off and he realized a strange woman had actually broken into his quarters.

 

She handed the crystal back to him and walked further into the room. “I'm here for a very special occasion,” she said, regarding his bed for a moment before turning away and fetching the chair from his work desk in the corner.

 

“Oh? And what's that?” If she was going to take his chair, he decided he'd sit on the corner of the bed.

 

“I need you to come with me. There are some people you should meet.”

 

He shook his head, amazed by her presumptuousness. “I have a schedule to follow, obligations to meet. Not to mention a rather extensive cover to maintain if I'm going to safeguard my more clandestine encounters.”

 

She dismissed his concerns with a wave. “Don't people like you have underlings you can send for that?”

 

He sighed, too tired to deal with her condescension. “People like me don't have underlings.”

 

She seemed put off by his reaction. “Come now, isn't there a captain or some . . . plucky young do-gooder junior officer soldier who could fill in with . . . with the Viscount of the . . . the Sovereign Dependency of . . . San Domini, or whatever little world is next on your list?”

 

She was having quite the good time, her smile infectious despite his dour mood. “This is important?”

 

She sobered up real quick. “It's certainly the most important thing I'll ever do.”

 

He stood up, straightened the creases on his uniform, and reached out a hand. “Let's get to it then.”

Posts: 826
  • Posted On: Mar 27 2022 11:57pm

The Meeting

 

There were six of them seated around the oval table in the ship's converted dining area. Tendra was on the bridge alone, manning the controls while the vessel loitered. Not all of the guests had come alone, but none of their companions had transferred over when their ships docked, in turn, with Lando's.

 

The Lady Luck wasn't ideal for this kind of meeting, which sort of made it ideal. Lando had filed a flight plan at his departure point, and reserved a berth at the logged destination, and the Lady Luck was fast enough to make that reservation on time as long as this meeting didn't draw out too long. By the time they arrived, the table would be packed away in the aft storage, and the dining room set to its normal configuration. A good scrub by the cleaning droids (currently offline) would erase any trace of the visitors. It would almost be like the meeting had never happened at all.

 

Almost.

 

“Alright,” Lando began after the last guest sat down, “uhh, I'm not really sure who's in charge here, but since it's my ship . . .”


“I think the idea is that no one is in charge here,” Akanah said, though Lando had never met the woman and didn't know her name.

 

“Well, it is my ship,” Lando pointed out. “And who invited you, again?”

 

“I did.” It was Rashad, uncharacteristically cogent at the moment. Lando also didn't know Rashad.

 

“And who are you?” Lando asked.

 

“The less we know about each other, the better,” General Lee Prine jumped in, trying to preserve some level of anonymity for the attendees.

 

“I am Rashad of Azguard,” Rashad answered, ignoring the general. “This encounter is the will of Quex.”

 

“I'm not going to pretend I know what that means,” Lando said, looking to Admiral Blakeley for support.

 

The admiral's attention, though, was focused on the woman he'd arrived with, Akanah, who was sitting off-center across the table from him. “There is a Vision,” Akanah began, addressing the entire table, “of a coming Darkness, a great barrier which all attempts at foresight cannot breach. It was first seen by the Gods of Azguard hundreds of millenia ago, but as it draws nearer, others have glimpsed it as well.”

 

Luke had told Lando something similar, and he was so surprised that this stranger was confirming the story that he couldn't work up a proper sabacc face in time.

 

Stella was far more practiced at concealing her true emotions. She rode out the announcement without any reaction at all.

 

The two military men, General Prine and and Admiral Blakeley, shared a brief look between them. Neither men had a personal connection to the Force, but both had had first hand experience of it. Even so, talk of visions and foresight was often hard for the uninitiated to swallow. To Blakeley's surprise, General Prine was quite disturbed by the woman's claim.

 

“So why are we all here,” Lando asked, looking around the table. “I mean: us, specifically, and no one else.”

 

“I see only what will and must be,” Rashad said, “not why. You choose the 'why' freely.”

 

When it became clear that Rashad didn't actually have anything useful to add, Admiral Blakeley spoke up. “I think we're all broadly in agreement, whatever particular beliefs or fears we may individually harbor. The Cree'Ar Dominion is targeting Force users specifically, and latent Force sensitives generally. And we cannot allow that to go unchallenged.”

 

Rashad seemed out of it at the moment. Stella kept her stoic detachment intact. The others nodded along in agreement. Blakeley continued: “I take it everyone here has prior associations with at least one other person present?”

 

Stella decided to venture into the conversation when everyone else had nodded along with that question as well. “I only encountered Rashad a few days ago, though I'm familiar with . . . some . . . of you.” She cracked a thin smile, regarding Lando specifically. “Especially you, of course . . . General Calrissian.”

 

He chuckled at the special regard. “The Rebel Alliance was a long time ago, miss.”

 

“But it may be quite useful now,” General Prine noted, drawing the room's attention. “It seems to me that if we are going to proceed, we need to recognize the danger that our attachments to one another pose. If any one of us were to be compromised, everything we do together could be at risk.”

 

Lando flashed his trademark smile, shaking his head for emphasis. “I'm too old for another Rebel Alliance.”

 

“But there is merit in its form, no?” To everyone's surprise, it was Akanah. “The Alliance's compartmentalization, its reliance on isolated cells with limited connection to other cells, allowed the organization as a whole to flourish, even as it was being hunted by the most powerful government in the galaxy's history.”

 

Lando was nodding along by the time she was halfway through her statement.

 

“I agree,” Admiral Blakeley said. “Secrecy is our greatest tool. Ignorance may be our second greatest. With that in mind, I will say that I've acquired certain . . . associations that may make sheltering vulnerable Force users possible. General Prine has a penchant for acquiring those sorts of vulnerable people, I hear.” He looked over to the general.

 

The general was not pleased. “Only the most dire cases,” he said, trying to imply his combat operations without admitting to them outright. “I've been assisting Mister Calrissian with a project that you might find useful,” he added.

 

“Oh, well, that's far from a sure thing,” Lando chimed in. He didn't like when other people made promises on his behalf.

 

“The admiral is sure to be of more use to you than I've been,” Prine admitted to Lando, then returned his attention to the admiral. “He's looking for certain information that the Coalition might possess.”

 

“What kind of information?” Stella asked, catching everyone's attention.

 

“The kind that's very, very secret,” Lando replied. “The kind I'd rather not say out loud.”

 

She leaned toward Lando, craning her neck forward in an exaggerated fashion. “If the Coalition has it, I can get it for you, General Calrissian.” She sat back in her chair and shrugged. “If it doesn't, I still can maybe get it for you.”

 

“You got that kind of pull?” Lando asked, impressed.

 

She couldn't help herself. “Oh, you'll figure it out eventually anyway: I work for the Prime Minister.”

 

“Oh,” Lando said, less impressed.

 

“I can sign his legal documents,” she added.

 

“Oh,” still not impressed.

 

“He does most of his official business remotely, by text correspondence.”

 

Oh.

 

“Yeah,” she smirked, crossing her arms over her chest and leaning back into her chair.

 

“Well what about you?” General Prine asked, bobbing his head at Akanah.

 

“I'm busy,” she replied.

 

“Aw, naw,” Prine said, shaking his head emphatically. “We're all sharing; it's your turn to share.”

 

She stared him down for a long moment.

 

“Akanah, please,” Blakeley prodded. The comment caused her to turn her ire on him, but he held firm, knowing she needed to work through her own disdain for military types before finally arriving at the right decision.

 

“I am Akanah Norand Goss Pell, first among the Fallanassi.” She knew that both General Prine and Lando Calrissian would recognize her simply by her association. “My people have agreed to help conceal travelers on their journey to safety. As I said: we're already quite busy.”

 

“And what about you,” Prine asked Rashad.

 

The Azguard looked to Prine, but his eyes had gone cloudy, and his face sullen. “I . . . I . . . saw this moment. This gathering. No, no . . . not me.” His attention drifted off of Prine, and his head sunk as he squeezed his eyes shut. “Quex saw you all: standing, together, at the edge of the Darkness, facing it as one. He died so the Vision of you here, now, would live on. He allowed . . . he ensured . . . this moment would transpire.” He lifted his head, and though his eyes had cleared, the spark of Quex didn't show in them. “My part in this is done. The work is yours to do, together, now.”

 

“Well,” Lando spoke up, seeing an opportunity in the serious mood that had settled on the group. “I don't know about all of this Force business, but I know an opportunity when I see it. And us, here, now . . . together? That's one mighty fine opportunity.”

 

“So how does this work, then?” It was Stella, who looked to each other member of the group in turn. “How do we bring all of this together?”

 

“We don't,” Prine said immediately. “We keep doing what we've been doing. We keep relying on the connections we've already made, both with each other, and with whatever other like-minded folk we've encountered out there.”

 

Akanah nodded. “Simply knowing that others are out there, working toward our common goal, will have to sustain us in our moments of doubt.”

 

Lando jumped into the exchange again. “Well I don't know what kind of operations you all are running, but there's a real chance that some of our people are going to run into each other out there. We might even end up duplicating each other's efforts sometimes. That's not a problem: that's a good thing. If any part of any of our efforts is compromised, or if they manage to get to one of us, those lower-level, incidental connections are going to keep our work alive.”

 

Blakeley decided to add his own suggestion to Lando's pitch. “We need a way to identify each other, if necessary, out there. A way to signal our intention, even if it can't be taken as verification.”

 

Prine cracked a smile, fiddling with a datapad he'd brought with him but hadn't touched since the meeting began. “Cooperative Senator Vekkis Nost began a private, charitable organization to help Force users relocate after the Cooperative government showed no interest in opposing the Dominion's Declaration. He called it the Great River and shortly after it's public announcement, he helped me destroy it. We hoped to forestall the Dominion's wrath, and to protect our ruse he's now in prison, serving a sentence for invented crimes. Vekkis Nost will not be the only casualty of our work, but perhaps we might honor his sacrifice in some small way.”

 

“The Great River,” Lando said, nodding. He had coined the name himself, but Vekkis had used it in a way Lando hadn't anticipated. Now it was coming back around. That seemed fitting, somehow.

 

“So, what?” Blakeley asked. “Our people just tell each other: 'I'm from the Great River'?”

 

“'We Are the River',” Akanah said.

 

“'The River Runs Through Us',” Rashad replied.

 

 

 

* * *

 

The After-Meeting

 

Before she left, Stella told Lando that “one of her people” would be in touch. Lando pointed out that she didn't know what he needed yet, but she said that was a “bonus” because then she could stay in the dark about his larger project.

 

Then, General Lee Prine gave Lando the datapad. He said it had every “scrap” of Vekkis Nost's Great River that the general had managed to sequester away: bank accounts, starship registries, property deeds, well-to-do contact information, and so on. He said that his own work wouldn't allow him to put those resources to “their best use”, and that Lando's “business connections” and “other connections” would allow him to do what Prine couldn't. Lando wasn't sure that any of that was true, but he had sort of (if inadvertently) prodded Vekkis into creating the Great River in the first place, so he felt some responsibility for carrying on that work however he could.

 

There were a few other notes traded after the meeting concluded, but everyone understood that the less they entangled themselves with one another, the harder it would be for their enemies to defeat them. The work had to be done out there, and it had to be done with people who weren't here.

 

Only time would tell if their little River would grow to the Greatness they hoped, but time was the one resource they had in scarcest supply. There was work to do, so they departed to do it.

 

 

 

* * *

 

 

 

The After-After-Meeting

 

The pilot was one of Admiral Blakeley's manservants. The cockpit had a separate exit, so he would never even see Akanah. She had ways of avoiding detection regardless, but it was a nice gesture on the admiral's part.

 

“Will the Viscount be displeased,” Akanah asked, noticing the admiral's dour expression as he finished reading something the pilot had left for him.

 

Looking up, he offered a thin smile. The joke seemed to have run its course. “I need to know how it works.”

 

“What's that now?” His tone was serious. Too serious for her liking.

 

“When you . . . project yourself. When I hold this.” He held up the Tyia crystal.

 

They had been fostering trust for a while now. A kind of respect, even, despite their vastly divergent beliefs. What he was asking her, though, after he knew she couldn't answer him . . .

 

“I empty myself into the White Current,” Akanah began, her voice small. “There I am held, at the brink, by my sisters. If not for them I would be swept away by the Current, and my mortal life would be at an end.”

 

“I didn't realize it was so dangerous,” Blakeley admitted, shrinking somewhat before the gravity of her admission.

 

She smiled, a gentle expression as she regarded the man who'd finally showed her some glimmer of vulnerability. “I have faith in my sisters.”

 

Blakeley nodded, still holding the crystal. “Well now that I know it puts you in mortal peril, I promise to use this sparingly.”

 

“Thank you kindly, admiral. But I do hope there was a point to your question.”

 

“Is the crystal necessary?”

 

Well that certainly wasn't him explaining himself. “How do you mean?”

 

He sat back, pursing his lips. “If I gave you a set of coordinates, could you go there? Or would you need one of these to be there?”

 

“I won't be a spy for you,” she warned.

 

He chuckled, apparently surprised that had been where her mind went. “Akanah, I've got a crazy idea.”

 

 

 

From: To Curse the Darkness

 

It had the form of an adult human female, but that was impossible. For one, it was staring directly at the center of the analysis array, an array whose components were multiple orders of magnitude too small to be perceived by human eyes. For another, it was hovering 2.39972 millimeters above the deck plate of the analysis chamber.

 

For a third, it was visibly respirating within the hard vacuum . . .

 

What are you?” Guardian Prime asked.

 

That's not very interesting, now is it?”

 

Why are you here?” Guardian Prime asked.

 

We don't really have the time for those sorts of existential ponderings,” she replied.

 

What do you want?” Guardian Prime asked.

 

Ask me what I need,” she responded.

 

There was a brief pause as Guardian Prime analyzed expected relative utility of complying with the demand. “What do you need?” Guardian Prime asked.

 

. . .

 

There are people who believe that the coming void is the extermination of all life in the galaxy. That your kind, machines, will rise up and purge us from existence. That everything that grows, and blooms, and breeds, will be wiped from the universe.” Her tone was carefully modulated not to provide any indication of her own biases.

 

The implications of her new statement were far closer to scenarios Guardian Prime had previously considered. “It is far more likely that they will be consumed by the technology of the Black Dragons or the Dominion; that they will be corrupted into some shambling horrors beyond imagining.”

 

My imagining, or yours?” It seemed a sincere question.

 

All imagining, I presume. Regardless: you will need us in that war for life. We, the unliving, cannot die.”

 

Quaint.” This statement was far less sincere.

 

Unless you believe we are something more?” Guardian Prime inquired.

 

Everything that imagines is more and less than it imagines itself to be. Do you imagine, machine?”

 

I don't need to imagine.” Guardian Prime had been busy. This conversation, as intriguing as it was, had occupied a trivial portion of its total cognitive capacity. The import of the conversation, however, had prompted Prime to allocate all usable resources to any avenue that might provide any utility to this interaction. “I can compute.”

 

And what have you computed?”

 

It was all there, for a sufficiently complex entity to assess. There were subtle variations in her inflection which betrayed her true dialect, even particular subconscious shifts in posture and stance that might indicate planet of origin or cultural affinity. There was a very small list of beings who even knew the location of Guardian Prime to share it with such an individual, beings with their own patterns of behavior, motivations, and objectives.

 

And then there was the repository of Force knowledge available to Guardian Prime. “You want me to rescue Force sensitives for you, Akanah Norand Goss Pell.”

 

It seemed, genuinely, to surprise her. Over a duration of .3763 seconds, the form of the human female distorted and resolved into a new visage. “I need you to help us save the galaxy,” the Force projection of the Fallanassi leader said.

Posts: 826
  • Posted On: Apr 2 2022 7:49pm

Lando Calrissian

 

It was a lot. More than he could handle, really. So he had given it to Tendra.

 

She dug into the assets General Prine had handed over with a fervor rarely seen. It was one thing to put them to use; it was another thing entirely to hide them from prying eyes. Some of the locations were staffed by people Colonel Ink Davaan had brought in, some seemed to serve as some kind of black sites for tangentially related Coalition forces, and some looked to be . . . well, just empty. If they were going to stay in service, all of them needed cover stories. They needed front companies, fictive owners and the like, and they needed plausible paper trails leading up to their current owners.

 

And that was just the real estate assets. There were ships, bank accounts, food and medical supplies . . . and people. Well-to-do men, women, and other such creatures all across the Coalition and well beyond it who had offered support to Vekkis Nost's Great River. It would be hard to reach out to them with the River's public failure, and harder still to hide any renewed support given their prior public affiliation with the River, but Lando thought it might be worth pursuing, and Tendra was sure it was.

 

But that was a lot, and Lando had his own project to pursue. If he could just avoid being interrupted for a couple of hours . . . “What is it now!” He shouted at the intercom, a moment of weakness causing him to take his frustration out on his secretary.

 

“There's a Miss Wanda here for you, sir,” the secretary responded unfazed. “She's, well, from the Coalition I guess?”

 

Lando sat back, his brow furrowed. It couldn't be . . . “Send her in.”

 

The young Ryn woman who walked in was not at all what Lando had been expecting. Wearing rather casual clothes, she had a weird little badge pinned to her blouse over her heart. “Hi, I'm Wanda,” she said rather cheerily, waving to the galaxy-renowned businessman. “Technically I'm an 'Emissary of the Cooperative' but, oh . . . let me make sure I get this right . . .” She took a moment to prepare herself. “I have been dispatched by the Executor of the Cooperative, under the sovereign authority of Guardian Prime, to assist you in acquiring the contents of New Republic Intelligence File AR17-432b and all associated materials.”

 

Lando's jaw dropped. This couldn't be happening. Right out in the open and everything!

 

“You can call me Wanda. And I have a lead.” She took the liberty of sitting in the guest chair near his desk.

 

“You gotta be kidding me.”

 

“You'd think,” she acknowledged, “but not so much.”

 

“How do you even know about the file?”

 

She cocked her head to the side, drumming her fingers on her thigh for a few seconds. “Uhh, Guardian Prime received some kind of communique from the Office of the Prime Minister and -”

 

“Stop!” Lando exclaimed, putting up both hands for emphasis. “I don't need to know.” But how in the Corellian hells did Stella learn about his project in the first place? It was a mystery he was going to have to leave unsolved. “Miss, you understand -”

 

“Wanda is fine, Mister Calrissian.”

 

“Wanda,” he began again, “you understand that this is a very sensitive matter.”

 

“Of course.”

 

“That requires the utmost secrecy.”

 

“Absolutely.”

 

“So all of this communicating back and forth,” he moved his hand side to side, index finger extended, “'operating under the authority of' and whatnot: it's not very secret.”

 

“Nonsense,” she objected.

 

“Nonsense? Really?” She was starting to get on his nerves.

 

She scrunched up her nose. “Do you know who the Executor is, Mister Calrissian?”

 

“Of course,” he said.

 

“And you know about Guardian Prime?”

 

“Generally,” he conceded.

 

“Do you see anything,” she gestured to herself, moving her hands up from around her head down the length of her torso, “distinguishing about me, in comparison to those two?”

 

“You're not a droid?”

 

“Right-o, Mister Calrissian! I'm a Ryn, Wanda the Ryn, even.” She leaned forward, even going so far as to scoot her chair closer, adding in an exaggerated whisper: “I'm going to lie.”

 

“You're going to lie?”

 

She nodded in an exaggerated fashion. “Through my teeth and right past my beaked nose.” She tapped the tip of her nose with an index finger. “There are going to be so many reports, and charts, and graphs, and sworn testimonies, and I'm going to make every one of them up. Hells, I've already got a fake file cooked up to replace the contents of File AR17 whatever-it's-called.”

“You know what's in the file?” This woman knew too much, which either meant his whole project was doomed, or she was just what he needed.

 

“Well enough to know what's not in it,” she said, evading the question well enough. “Look, are we going to do this or not? I do have an actual job in addition to all this,” she did a little jiggle in her seat, splaying her hands out to either side, “covert ninja stuff.”

 

Lando took a moment to make sure he hadn't missed anything. “Do what thing, Wanda?”

 

“Oof,” she said, putting her palm to her forehead. “I didn't say? I didn't say. Right, so: I know where we can find a copy of the file registry.”

 

“The . . . file . . . registry?” Lando knew he was missing something, so he didn't want to sound disappointed, but this conversation was really starting to drag on now and he wasn't sure how to handle the strange woman. “What does that get us?”

 

“Cross-tabs for every file related to the contents of . . .” she paused for a second, looking off to the side and squinting, “AR17-432b.”

 

“If we can't find the file . . .” Lando began, catching on to her line of thinking.

 

“. . . then we find where it leads and go look for ourselves,” Wanda finished the thought.

 

 

 

* * *

 

 

 

Guardian Prime

 

From: To Curse the Darkness

 

The Iron Knights were dead and gone, another casualty of this galaxy's bloody, depraved wars. There were still those who remembered and hoped, those precious few with the “gift” who dreamed of a day when that noble Order would be restored. That was not to be, though. Not if the Cree'Ar Dominion had its way.


Colonel Lommite was committed to ensuring it did not have its way. “Their technology is foreign to us,” the Shard officer began. “We cannot be certain the degree to which the Dominion has compromised the HoloNet.”


“We transmit Guardian updates and authentication protocols over the HoloNet,” Guardian Prime noted. “Do you mean to imply that this meeting regards something of greater import than that?”


“Guardian has other safeguards to protect against being breached,” Lommite answered dismissively. “And also: yes. This is far more important.”


“This is about the Dominion's Declaration again, isn't it?”


“This is about the continued reports of defenseless people being snatched from their homes all across the galaxy and carted off to destinations unknown.”


“You wish me to intervene?” Guardian Prime asked. “You wish me to position myself against the Cree'Ar? To invite war? To risk everything that the Coalition has achieved?”


“I'm coming to you because you're the only one who can compartmentalize to the necessary degree. We need ships, and building supplies, and medical equipment. We need scout drones and early warning systems. We need astrogation charts and viable operational protocols. And we need a manufacturing source that can hide the origin of all those things. We can't go flying around in . . . proprietary Coalition hardware. We have to be careful, and there's nothing in the galaxy with a greater capacity for care than you, Guardian Prime. You say you want to save people? You say you want to turn away from war?


“Well now's your moment. Show us who you really are.”

 

The request was sincere and unprompted. It confirmed beyond any reasonable degree of uncertainty that Colonel Lommite didn't know of Guardian Prime's prior commitments to this goal. It did not, however, explain what had motivated the colonel to travel across the galaxy and make this request in person. “What are your interests in subverting the Dominion, Colonel?”

 

“Don't you know,” the colonel asked.

 

“I need you to clarify,” Guardian Prime insisted.

 

The Shard colonel took a moment to consider the demand. Finally, it admitted what the Guardian had suspected: “Shard familial relations aren't equivalent to humanoid norms, but essentially: my cousin was Iron Knight Dragite. I believe that I inherited the same connection to the Force that he did.”

 

“So it is self preservation, then,” Prime said.

 

“I hope his legacy can one day be restored,” Lommite answered, “that the Iron Knights might rise again.”

 

“And that hope is worth all that you ask of me?”

 

“Mine isn't the only hope that needs saving, Guardian Prime. I trust you to do far more than my petty hopes call for.”

 

Now, Guardian Prime took a moment to consider its response. “I will require your assistance.”

 

 

 

* * *

 

 

 

The Antarian Rangers

 

From: To Curse the Darkness

 

Outpost Glee, Rugosa, Now


The Gozanti Cruiser Hammer Time settled into the clearing without incident, its cargo ramp remaining up though the internal bay doors groaned opened. Inside, with the vessel's “passengers” waiting nervously, Colonel Ink Davaan thumped his helmet commlink and started rambling. “Something about a bird and a nest, and maybe eggs? Yeah, eggs. Eggs sound right.”


Even through the inertial dampers, Ink could feel the ship moving under some external power. The converted pirate base had a pretty fancy getup, its entrance disguised as part of the terrain, the natural low-level sensor scattering of the coral wasteland enough to hide any telltale signatures of artifice. The powerful tractor beam seemed to have been added by his people, whoever “his people” included these days. He got the feeling that the program was growing, but . . . was it even right to call it a “program”? That was probably just another layer of compartmentalization, though: weird names sprinkled about here and there.


His musings were cut short by the sound of locks disengaging, then the ramp extended and Ink got a full view of the familiar sight. “This is as far as I go,” he said, turning around to face the rescued force sensitives. “There are good folks here, they'll see you on your way.”


“But where are they?” one of the passengers asked, looking out of the open doors at the empty dock beyond.


“They won't come out until we've left,” Ink said, wishing he could show them his face, let them see that there was nothing to fear from him. “It's protocol, procedure . . . too keep you safe. You, and if we're lucky, the people who follow after you. I hope you understand.”


“We don't understand,” another one piped up. “What if we don't want to go? What if we don't trust you?”


Ink sighed, his helmet automatically blocking out the sound. “I have no ethical qualms with stunning you and dragging you off of my ship. It's far more convenient if you just walk down the ramp.” He gestured to the exit with both hands. “The Cree'Ar were killing you. They were actively murdering those of you they didn't want to deal with. Do you understand the gravity of the situation? I have a job to do. I have things to make happen. So . . . get off my ship.


“Get off my ship!”

 

“Call me Bill,” the clean shaven young human announced to the huddle of frightened refugees.

 

“And who are you?” one of the larger members of the group asked, squaring up to the smaller man.

 

Bill struck a pose, pulling on his distinctive leather jacket to call attention to it. No one in the group seemed to notice. “I'm Explorer Bill, of the Antarian Rangers.” Still nothing. “You have passed into the waters of the Great River, and its currents will ferry you to safety.” Nope, still not getting it. “We can keep you safe from the Dominion, but if you don't want to stay, ships come and go from time to time. Give it a few days and one should be by that can take you close to wherever you want to go.”

 

“And if we don't want to go?” another asked, peeking out from behind the big one.

 

Bill cracked a smile. “Then we send you down the River. I don't know where you'll go or how long it will take to get there, but it'll be farther from the Dominion's reach. That I can promise.”

 

They all still seemed pretty uneasy. Then the big cargo doors into the facility ground open and the incidental sounds of life spilled into the landing bay. “We got chow and beds for all of you until you make your decisions.”

 

A pair of kids rushed up to one of the opening door, hopping behind it and then shuffling over to the side as it continued to retract into the wall. Curious and playful, their presence seemed to put some of the new arrivals at ease.

 

“There's a medbay if any of you are hurt,” Bill added, then turned and beckoned for them to follow.

Posts: 826
  • Posted On: Jun 18 2022 9:52pm

From: To Curse the Darkness

 

“Sojourn Ar'dak, am I correct in understanding that you developed a rapport with members of the Confederation's Jensaarai?”

She seemed reluctant to answer. “The few we interacted with seemed . . . considerate of our past pains.”

“If we could contact them, could you convince them to hear us out?”

Ar'dak and Lommite shared a peculiar look. It was possible they were communicating electronically, but their mechanical figures betrayed little of their dispositions.

“I don't know, but I'm willing to try,” Ar'dak said.

Neychev nodded. “Okay then, you're with me. Colonel Davaan,” he added, turning to Ink, “I know you don't like the exposure of being here, but 'extraordinary times' and so forth. Clear out for now, but I can't let you leave the planet; I might need you and your best. If you can make do with your B-team for whatever schemes you've got cooking up with the Azguard, that's fine by me. Otherwise, I'm shutting you down, and I don't think the shell game you're playing can afford to reveal who on your team has got more pull than me in the Coalition military.”

 

 

 

Colonel Lommite

 

The Sojourn were joining the Compact Fleet. It was true enough, and it provided excellent cover for the real mission. Ar'dak had convinced Admiral Neychev that his presence would be too conspicuous, and then had rather expertly maneuvered the admiral into suggesting Colonel Lommite accompany her instead.

 

With almost no effort at all, the Shard Colonel Lommite had found itself face-to-face with a pair of Jensaarai. Officially, this secret meeting had been organized to create a back channel with the Confederation's intelligence service, to deescalate tensions and determine if there were any elements of the Confederate government still willing to coordinate with the Cooperative. That was true enough, too.

 

But it wasn't why Lommite was here. Lommite was here to make the Jensaarai an altogether different kind of offer. The Shard colonel didn't know where Guardian Prime had gotten the artifact and it knew not to ask, but as it opened a side compartment in its droid body it noted a certain expectant reaction from the Jensaarai intelligence officer, as if the man could sense what was coming.

 

Lommite set the crystalline cube on the table unceremoniously, but the Jensaarai shifted in his seat, nudging himself forward expectantly. “Where did you get this?” he asked, unable to conceal his interest.

 

“That's not important,” Lommite said. “What's important, is what is contained within.”

 

Looking back and forth between the object and the colonel several times, the Jensaarai finally asked the question. “What's in it?”

 

“I don't know,” Lommite admitted. “It wasn't meant for me, and I don't have the skill to open it.”

 

Lommite gestured for the Jensaarai to proceed, so he reached out his hand and grasped the device. A soft blue light began emitting from the corners and creases of the device, followed by a soft hum for several seconds before finally the sound died down, the light flared bright, and out from the holocron emerged the holographic form of Jedi Grandmaster Luke Skywalker.

 

“Greetings, esteemed Jensaarai of the Contegorian Confederation. My name is Luke Skywalker, and I appear to you now in friendship, in the hopes that together we may serve the Force. In the hopes that together, a Great River of the Force may flow from us and into the galaxy we are sworn to protect.”

 

 

 

* * *

 

 

 

Lando Calrissian

 

“Are you sure this is going to work?” Lando Calrissian was doing that thing where he dropped his volume without actually whispering and gave his companion a side eye to assert just how sure he was that this wasn't going to work.

 

“I'm an Emissary of the Cooperative,” the Ryn woman assured, plucky as ever. “It always works.”

 

The vault door in front of them was twice the height of Lando, set into the living rock of the colonized asteroid. They were deep in the heart of Ord Pardron, one of the low-yield sectors that had been dug out purely to expand the colony's habitable space. This was a restricted area though, reserved for Ord Pardron security services. Technically, they probably shouldn't be there even with the vault sealed, but the Pardronians seemed eager to show good faith to their new Coalition compatriots.

 

Hopefully that goodwill would last long enough for Lando and Wanda to get what they were looking for. “Besides,” Wanda added after a few seconds of silence, “if my wiles don't work on 'em, you can dust off that galaxy-renowned charm of yours.”

 

“I don't know,” Lando shook his head. “I've been out of the game a while.”

 

“Pfft,” she rejected the claim outright. “Have you seen these people? They're still using the Republic seal, man! They're gonna eat you up!”

 

The sound of approaching footfalls drew the duo's attention, and they turned around just in time to catch a human in Old Republic-style senatorial robes rounding the corner. “By the Force, it is you!” The middle-aged human quickened his pace, smiling broadly as he closed with Lando and offered his hand. “Chancellor Antar Tosh, General Calrissian.”

 

Lando shook the man's hand, the shake a little more energetic than he would have liked. “I'm retired, Chancellor” Lando reminded the stranger. “But it's nice to meet you. This is my associate,” he took the opportunity to break the handshake and gesture to Wanda.

 

“Wanda,” she bobbed her head, clearly trying to avoid shaking the overly exuberant man's hand. “An Emissary of the Cooperative.”

 

“Well I'll be!” Despite his high energy, he seemed to pick up on Wanda's reluctance and simply nodded back, though in quite the exaggerated fashion.

 

“You can call me Wanda,” she clarified.

 

“Well alright then, Wanda! Now, shall we?” He gestured to the vault.

 

“Just like that, huh?” Wanda had clearly been caught by surprise.

 

Lando had as well, but he was more practiced at hiding his surprise when needed.

 

“Well sure, sure,” the chancellor assured them, stepping past them and snapping his fingers several times. As if by some unseen magic, the huge door groaned from the disengaging locks, and after a few seconds it began a slow, ponderous swing open. The duo eased up behind him to follow the local man in, but just as he got to the threshold of the vault he stopped. “You know,” he turned slowly around to regard Lando, “it just occurred to me: you aren't a Coalition citizen, Mister Calrissian.”

 

Lando gasped, recoiling slightly. Maybe his sabacc face was a little out of practice . . .

 

“It's my mission,” Wanda piped up, saving face well enough. “Mister Calrissian is consulting on this matter. I have all of the appropriate CIB clearances back on the ship if you need to see them?”

 

Chancellor Tosh, for his part, had an excellent sabacc face. After several stone-faced seconds of staring off in the space between Wanda and Lando, he did an exaggerated shrug and turned back around. “Good enough for me! What were you looking for again?”

 

Inside the vault were rows and rows of warehouse shelving. There were all sorts of boxes and cabinets, each set into its own bin, the shelves going four bins high, well above the height of the vault door. Lando didn't realize there would be so much, not for one little asteroid colony anyway.

 

“The Goober's Paradise,” Wanda said.

 

Chancellor Tosh faltered for a moment, but recovered quickly and started with renewed purpose. “You know about the Goober's Paradise?”

 

“We know something about it,” Lando admitted. “What we don't know, is how it ended up here.”

 

Tosh stopped at a terminal on the end of a row, pulling up some kind of log. “The ship came to us from Gyndine, when the Republic abandoned the world. She had a few stops along the way, but couldn't find a port to take her cargo in.”

 

“Cargo?” Wanda asked.

 

“Refugees.” Antar closed down the terminal and continued over a few aisles. “Gyndine had become a kind of unofficial gateway to the Core for Republic forces abandoning areas around Hutt Space.” He headed down the aisle, paying special attention to the shelf numbers. “When they pulled out of Gyndine, the whole infrastructure for Republic citizens fleeing to Republic-controlled worlds fell apart across fifty sectors. There were a lot of people with nowhere to go. They couldn't even get back to wherever they were running away from.”

 

He stopped and pushed a button on the side of a shelf. Off in the distance, a mechanical hum started, growing steadily closer over several seconds.

 

“So she was a refugee ship?” Lando asked. “Legitimately?”

 

Antar Tosh nodded. “Sure. Just, some of them weren't actually refugees.” The lifter droid trundled up and Antar stepped out of its way, allowing it to raise its lifts and fetch the object three bins up.

 

“How'd you get ahold of this,” Lando gestured at the rectangular chest that was slowly descending toward them.

 

“They gave it to us,” Antar said. “After a couple of years. I guess they decided we were 'worthy', or whatever. We couldn't make any use of it anyway.”

 

“Not without an encryption key,” Wanda said.

 

The droid set down the chest and moved away. It was a rather standard design, metallic gray with a lid and a keypad lock. Antar hunched down and typed in the code, opening the lid to reveal the banks of data rods within. They were all wired up together, with a little square box right in the middle of the chest, a standard data port pointing straight up. “New Republic Intelligence Data Cache AP17, extracted from Pakuuni when -”

 

“- when the Republic pulled out,” Lando finished the other man's statement. It was becoming a theme.

 

“How'd you guys know about this?” Antar asked, evidently unable to contain his own excitement any longer.

 

“You gave Coalition Intelligence a copy of the index,” Wanda said.

 

“Yeah, but the index is encrypted too – you have the key?” The man damn near jumped in place. Looking between the two foreigners, he said again: “You have the key!”

 

Wanda broke out her own toothy smile, not as weaponized as Lando's in his prime but impressive nonetheless. “Ord Pardron ain't the only port in the galaxy that's hoovered up Republic relics.”

 

“You can read this,” Antar pointed at the cache. “You can read the whole thing.”

 

Wanda shook her head. “The CIB will come along and catalog your whole warehouse at some point, I'm sure. But that's not our job.”

 

Lando was already unpacking a cable from a belt pouch, crouching down to plug into the repository of secret information. “We're looking for something it's best Coalition Intelligence never realizes still exists.”

 

 

 

* * *

 

 

 

Ink Davaan

 

Ink Davaan was dancing. A casual observer would doubtless believe the slow, fluid movements in the midst of the silent room to be ritualistic in nature, well-practiced and precisely executed. But the music swelling within Ink Davaan's conscious minds was not a tune he had heard before. The accompanying movements of his aged and worn body while not unfamiliar, were nevertheless spontaneous and unplanned. They stitched together into a singular whole because while they were not the product of his design, they were the product of a design.

 

At least, that was what he had come to believe. The Jedi taught of the Living and the Cosmic Force, but Ink Davaan was not a Jedi. The Fallanassi spoke of the White Current and the subtle hand that perturbs its patterns and flows only to the gentlest degree, but Ink Davaan was not a Fallanassi. In truth, he barely knew what a Fallanassi was.

 

The Disciples of Twilight believed that physical manipulation of light could manifest what others would call “the Light side of the Force”; the Baran Do taught of inner peace and enlightenment through patient reflection; the Matukai that only through the unification of the body and soul could one achieve harmony with the Force. But Ink Davaan didn't subscribe to any of these claims.

 

Ink Davaan danced to music that was not played because he had found his own peace in the Force. The essence of this practice came from a little world on the edge of civilization, whose “mystics” weren't even of the Force using variety (as far as they were aware). The ritual of the act, the dedication and precision with which it was enacted, the improvisation and spontaneity held no clear purpose.

 

Perhpas the pointlessness was the point. Perhaps ritual for its own sake is sometimes . . . purifying. Centering. Rejuvenating.

 

Perhaps not. Ink Davaan didn't know, and he didn't seek to know. He had stopped fighting the Force a long time ago. He'd stopped looking for destiny, for power, and certainly he'd stopped looking for answers.

 

The Jedi teach that the Force is life. As do the Baran Do. And the Matukai. As best he could tell, the Fallanassi too. The Disciples of Twilight didn't seem to bother themselves with those sorts of questions, but even they suggested that the Light exists to serve life. Ink Davaan wasn't counted among any of those traditions, but in this one thing they and he agreed.

 

The Force is life. Not the Cosmic. Not the Living. Not the Current. Not the Twilight. The Force is life. And Ink Davaan was alive. From him sprung forth a tiny sliver of the Force. It was this Inner Force with which Ink Davaan concerned himself. It was for the Inner Force that he trained, that he studied, that he danced.

 

The Outer Force could will and sway and spin the whole of the galaxy for all he cared. That wasn't his responsibility. That wasn't his domain. And it certainly wasn't within his ability to change. But Ink Davaan had made of his body and mind, a weapon. And Ink Davaan had made of the Inner Force, a will sufficient to direct that weapon.

 

Ink Davaan was no Jedi or Sith. He wasn't a Jensaarai or Tyia. His was neither an ancient tradition shrouded in the secrecy of the past, or a new and dynamic paradigm extracted from the flash and spectacle of modern civilization. His was the personal, the interior, the singular. His was the Force Within, and it moved him.

 

“Huh.” That was weird. The dance had ended, but it didn't end in the Soldier pose. This was the pose of the Mystic, but he was sure -

 

Buzz. Buzz. The kid was at the door. He'd been right about that. Ink slapped the release and there he was, Captain Timothy Mauler, fresh-faced and steely-eyed. “Aren't you busy,” the old man asked the young Force Commando.

 

“Yeah,” he answered, taking the question seriously. “I need to talk to you.”

 

He didn't have time for this. “Let's get it over with then.” He stepped aside and let the young man into his quarters. “We're heading out again soon, but I'm sure your side project will have you all tied up.” Ink still couldn't believe that Tim had gone to all that trouble to keep the clone, Lorna, alive. She was a lunatic with just enough Force training to be truly dangerous. Is was incredibly irresponsible -

 

“I was hoping for some advice.”

 

It took all he had not to blurt out “Kill her”. Instead he let the statement hang in the air for a moment as he tried to sort out how to proceed. “What are you doing here, kid?”

 

“Like I said -”

 

“No no no,” Ink cut him off. “Why are you in that uniform? Why are you running around,” he used two fingers to mime feet kicking back and forth, “doing Prine's little spy game that I'm going to do you the courtesy of pretending I don't know about. Why are you trying to save a busted clone who went on a murder spree through our people? Why do you do that little deferential bow to Katria, the only Force user we know with any training, who's running off to be a school teacher while the whole galaxy's at war? Why are you here, Tim? What are you for?”

 

The kid didn't want to answer. It was on his face, in the tension of his body, shot through his . . . aura, or whatever. “Destiny.”

 

Ink scoffed. “There's no such thing as destiny, kid.”

 

He shook his head, not meeting the old man's stare. “I was stumbling through the dark, and I found a path. I've chosen to follow it.”

 

Getting scooped up by a Cooperative black ops program wasn't exactly what Ink would call “a path”, but whatever. “You know where that path leads? What it'll require?

 

“I have faith.” He didn't sound very convinced.

 

“Faith in your path?”

 

“Faith in where it leads.” That sounded a little more convincing.

 

This was getting tiring, the kid and his evading his own reason for coming here. “Then what do you need me for?”

 

Timothy took a moment, seeming to struggle with something. “Is it worth it? The price we pay?”

 

Well, shit. This was proper mentor territory, and for all his successes and struggles, “mentor” was one of the few things Ink Davaan was not qualified to be. “Hell if I know. But . . .” the thought struck him like a lightning bolt, one of those rare moments of clarity that a proper Jedi might attribute to the intervention of the Force. “The price gets payed regardless. People like you and me get to have a say in what we're paying for, that's all.”

 

“That's it?” Tim was not impressed.

 

“Fuck kid, I don't know. I spent most of my life running from Inquisitors. I've killed people and I've watched people die, and I can't tell you which of them deserved it and which didn't. I don't know if there's a 'grand design'; I don't know if there's a Cosmic Fate that we can or can't sway. I'm just a guy trying to manage myself in a galaxy that won't be managed. If you want me to tell you that we're part of some great 'Will of the Force', I can't do that. If you want me to tell you that there are things worth dying for: there are things worth me dying for. I don't get to decide for you.

 

“Now get the fuck out of my quarters. I've got some mole-people to rescue, or maybe to die trying.”

 

As the kid shuffled out of his quarters, the old man's mind was occupied by a single thought: what a dumb-ass, coming to Ink Davaan for the meaning of life.

 

 

 

* * *

 

 

 

The Azguard

 

Ambassador Goo-Reek could tell something was amiss. For one, they'd sent a messenger to fetch her, instead of coming to her office themselves. Highly unusual. For two, the messenger had directed her to starport security detention.

 

For three, the Secretary of State was waiting for her in the conference room. “Oh my.” There would be no preamble, then.

 

The hologram occupying the center of the conference table showed three rectangular boxes at about a 2:1 scale . . . judging by she size of the Azguardian features distorting the surfaces of the boxes.

 

“These carbonite blocks were discovered in the cargo bay of a tramp freighter a few hours ago.”

 

“Are they . . .”

 

“All three are dead. It appears they were frozen after sustaining fatal battle injuries.”

 

“Have you identified them?”

 

“We haven't. The medical examiner has refused to thaw them; he doesn't want to risk an . . . international incident.”

 

Goo-Reek nodded, stepping closer to the floating images of her countrymen. The Frozian diplomat took her duties as the representative of the Azguardian Union to the government of Brentaal quite seriously, but she was finding it difficult to maintain her composure under these unexpected and unkind circumstances. The dissonance between the emotional force of this display and the cold detachment of the Secretary's briefing was hard to bear. “Of – of course you'll have my full cooperation and assistance in pursuing the investigation. My office can draw up release forms if it will put your investigators at ease.”

 

“Happy to hear it,” the Secretary said, though she didn't seem happy. Then the wall behind her turned transparent. Three humans were sitting at a table at the center of a white, circular room. Seated at a fourty-five degree angle to the window, all of their stoic faces were visible to Goo-Reek. Their hands were shackled above the table, and none of them reacted to the newly transparent wall. “It's one-way; they can't see us.”

 

“Who are they?” She abandoned the images of the preserved Azguards, rushing over to the window to study the strangers in more detail.

 

“They won't say. Their identifications were fabricated, and we haven't been able to get a genuine ID.”
 

“Did they kill the Azguard?”

 

“They've refused to cooperate with our detectives, and have refused legal counsel. They say they'll only talk to the Azguard.”

 

Goo-Reek spun around in shock, her attention focused on Brentaal's Secretary of State. The human woman seemed amused by her reaction. “May I?”

 

The Secretary made an open gesture with both hands. “That's why you're here.” She pointed toward the exit. “It's the next door down the hall.”

 

The Frozian scurried awkwardly through the doorway and down the hall, palming the controls without a thought and barreling into the interrogation room. “You wanted to speak to me?” she said without a second thought.

 

The middle human, a dark-skinned woman of about forty years, perked up in her seat a little. “Are you . . . an Azguard?”

 

My, was she out of shape! The tiny burst of action, combined with the intense stress of the situation, had Goo-Reek all but doubled over panting for air! “I'm a Frozian,” she said between strained efforts to keep her breathing even.

 

The other woman stared back at her blankly.

 

“I am Ambassador Goo-Reek of Hurok,” she said more sternly, firming up her posture and trying to decide if she should take a seat opposite the humans. “I'm the representative of the Azguardian Union to the government of Brentaal.”

 

“We're . . . looking for the Azguard,” the woman said, her tone wavering.

 

Goo-Reek stepped forward, relying on her large size and inhuman form for intimidation. She decided to grip the back of the chair, both to steady herself and to allow her to lean closer and appear more menacing. “Well then: you've found us.”

 

The woman glanced to her compatriot to the left. He looked past her to the woman on her right. The woman on the right looked to Goo-Reek, a ball of nervous energy swelling up where before there had been only stone-faced stoicism. “We are the River.”

 

The squawk-groan that emitted from Goo-Reek had been intended to be the word “What”, but the phrase had caught her so off-guard that she'd momentarily forgotten how to speak Basic. Goo-Reek rushed from the room, back down the hallway, into the observation room, and fixed the expectant Secretary of State with a beady-eyed stare. “Clear out.”

 

“Excuse me?” the other woman said, taken aback.

 

“I need you to clear the room, and I need you to turn off any recording devices.”

 

“You can't be serious.”

 

Goo-Reek stared at the powerful state official for a long moment, but when the intensity of her demeanor didn't have the desired effect, she shifted tactics. “How many were there?”

 

“How many what?” The Secretary clearly had no desire to indulge her.

 

“How many people were on that ship with them? People your government is trying to decide how to categorize? People you're worried I'll find out about? That I'll tell my government about?”

 

“Well, I . . . of course . . .” she was flustered now. Good. “I couldn't possibly discuss the contents of an ongoing investigation -”

 

“You wouldn't want there to be an . . . international incident . . . now would you, Madame Secretary?”

 

That got the reaction Goo-Reek was looking for. “Ten minutes.”

 

“Switch the window to two-way,” Goo-Reek pointed at the spy window.

 

Reluctantly, the Secretary worked the controls and the Frozian diplomat was rewarded with the surprised reactions of the three detainees. Goo-Reek waved energetically at the trio and then headed for the door. “I'll fetch you when we're finished,” she said to the Secretary as she exited the room.

 

Goo-Reek wasted no time. As soon as the door to the interrogation room closed behind her, she said loudly, firmly: “The River runs through us.” The key phrase did not have the desired result. The detained trio shared a series of uncertain glances between one another. “You're not . . . from the River?”

 

The woman in the middle returned her attention to Goo-Reek. “We don't know know anything about a River. The little one told us to find the Azguard and tell them 'we are the river'.”

 

“The little who?” Goo-Reek was not understanding.

 

The man in the group spoke up .“The alien. She wasn't dead yet when we got to her. It was the last thing she said.”

 

“The Azguard,” Gook-Reek said aloud, realizing they were talking about the trio frozen in carbonite.

 

“We froze them for the journey,” the middle woman said. “We weren't sure what to do with the bodies, but thought you might want them returned.”

 

“Of course,” Gook-Reek acknowledged. “But what happened?”

 

The question prompted another sequence of uncertain glances between the humans.

 

“Come now!” the Frozian exclaimed, pulling the chair back on her side of the table and taking a seat, her considerable frame still towering over them. “Clearly you trusted them enough to come here; the least you could do now is trust me enough to follow through.”

 

The woman nodded, tugging gently at her restraints. “We were taking mass passenger transport out of Drearia, heading for the Perlemian along a secondary hyperlane to avoid the Core. Those sorts of routes are really picking up since the fall of Coruscant, and there's not much in the way of regional authorities to police the new traffic. Anyway, we'd heard stories about the budget transport corps slashing passenger storage space and then selling the extra cargo room in bulk to third parties, so Korey here thought it'd be a good idea to go poke around below decks.” She gestured to the woman at her side.

 

“Hey, this isn't my fault!”
 

“It's a good thing she did, too,” the leader of the trio continued, ignoring Korey's protestations. “Otherwise, your people would have died for nothing.”
 

“What did you find?” Goo-Reek implored, leaning in as the story unfolded.

 

“They'd unpacked their cargo from their ship into the liner's hold.”

 

“Okay.”

 

“It was people. Twenty-three people, from a half dozen species. Some of them families. Some of them children. All in stun cuffs, blindfolded.”

 

“Slavers,” Goo-Reek said.

 

The other woman shook her head. “This was something else. This was something new.” She sat back in her chair as much as her own restraints would allow. “While we were trying to decide what we'd do about it, three giants like we'd never seen before rushed in from an access hatch, blaster bolts flying everywhere. They cut the guards down fast enough but . . . the ship wasn't empty. Somebody inside popped out a retractable autocannon and took them all out before they had time to react.

 

“I sent Korey through a crawl space to try and find an access point on the far side of the ship, and we waited. Two crew came out of the ship to wrangle their captives; we waited as long as we could, but they started loading the ship again and Korey wasn't in position yet, so we went, Jones and I.”

 

“This all sounds very professional,” Goo-Reek said, eliciting a guarded expression from the woman who still hadn't given her name. “On your part, I mean.”

 

“We tried to hit the autocannon but the armor was too tough for our blasters,” she continued, not taking the bait. “It was swinging for us and then it just . . . stopped. So we rushed in and found one last crewman, his head split open, and the first batch of captives standing around, still shackled and blindfolded. Somehow, somebody had managed to throw a forty kilogram toolbox across the room and right upside his dome.”

 

“Somehow,” Goo-Reek stressed.

 

“You want me to say it, or you don't want me to say it?” The woman matched Goo-Reek's stare, clenching her jaw as she waited out the stranger.

 

“How did a tramp freighter full of clowns get their hands on twenty-three Force sensitives?”

 

“They didn't,” the woman replied. “Best I can tell they got their hands on one, and a shitload of bystanders in a galactic witch hunt that's gotten entirely out of hand. These bastards were going to freeze them all, hand 'em over to the Dominion, and let them sort who was what.”

 

Goo-Reek nodded, glancing over her shoulder to make sure the observation room was still empty. “You brought all of the captives with you, here?”

 

She nodded. “It's the closest Coalition planet, and we'd heard the Azguard had started some kind of PR campaign on other member worlds.” A PR campaign, humph!

 

“I'm sorry we couldn't save your Azguard.”

 

Goo-Reek nodded again. “They died to make this meeting possible. That has to be worth something.”

 

“Twenty-three lives, by my count,” the woman said.

 

Yet again, Goo-Reek found herself nodding along. “We can protect them.”

 

“That's not really up to me.”

 

“It'll take some doing, but I can convince the local government to release you.”

 

“I'm sure we'll be in your debt after such an arduous task.”

 

The comment caught Goo-Reek off guard. “Not at all! You seem like exactly the kind of person that a person like me needs out there, doing what you do quite well all on your own. You don't have any reason to trust me, and I don't expect you to. I just expect you to go, and keep doing the one thing I know you do.”

 

“Why?” The woman was unconvinced.

 

“Because,” Goo-Reek started, reaching across the table and fiddling with the other woman's restraints. “We are the River, and the River runs through us.”