- Posted On: Dec 10 2022 10:32pm
The small shuttle approached the large shuttle. As it did so, the large shuttle opened its cargo bay, encompassing the small shuttle. The small shuttle's passengers debarked quickly, seven humans ranging from adolescence to extreme old age. Three of them carried small bags; the others had no personal effects save whatever was in their pockets.
Three droids approached. They exhibited design characteristics chiefly associated with ASP series labor droids, but were of no make or model registered anywhere in the galaxy. “I am Groot,” the central one said, its vocoder tuned to produce a softer, more human-like tone than its design template was intended for. “Please, this way.” It gestured toward the interior of the vessel.
The humans exchanged a series of silent glances, and then in unison they moved forward. “What kind of ship is this?” One of the elders asked the question.
“We are the Ferrymen. The vessel has no registered design or formal designation.”
“That's impossible,” A middle-aged woman said. “You can't maintain a ship like this without registration.”
The droid's head spun around as it continued to guide them into the ship. “We are the Ferrymen; we do not maintain the ship.”
“What government do you work for?” the woman asked.
“There is no government here,” the droid answered, its head spinning forward again. “You are safe in the embrace of the River.”
“We're not safe,” the old man said. “There were no gun ports.”
“Where we're taking you, you won't need guns,” the droid replied.
“Yeah?” the old man barked, incredulous. “And where is that?”
The droid stopped just inside a newly opened door, revealing the vessel's mess hall. “The River has many tributaries, and many distributaries. I don't know where the ferry will take you, but the journey will be safe, and the destination safer still.”
What use is a secret, desolate, automated world to those who seek to safeguard the font of life itself? What does a rag-tag band of Force Users and their eclectic allies need with a rote, emotionless, unliving machine? In the war against extinction itself, what benefit could a droid with delusions of personhood provide?
Something has to run the ferries. Something has to forget where they've been, and where they're going, and where they'll one day return.
In the foundries of the Global Machine, in the countless fractal branching processes of its artificial mind, and even in that tiny spark of awareness that so many refuse to believe exists within it: Guardian Prime is seized by the whisper of a dream.
The Force is life, and we, the unliving, may be the shepherds of its fate.
* * *
Rashad the Seer
“We really must stop meeting like this.”
There was no menace in the woman's voice, but in his state it's hard to believe he could discern such subtlety were it present.
Rashad the Seer was fading. The Great Power bound within him demanded too high a price from his mortal flesh. The man was all but gone now, and the Spark that burned in him . . . it burned.
Seeing without looking, moving without feeling: all that remained of the Azguardian man stepped into the circle of Fallanassi and spoke, his voice a cracked and ragged whisper. “Quex could not see. Not from so far away. If he had seen, he would not have had the strength to tell. I know that I don't. Not to my own. Not to Azguard.”
“What have you seen?” Akanah asked, the compassion pouring from her in that moment so strong that even Rashad in his ruined state stirred at her approach. She took one of his hands in both of hers, reaching out with mysteries beyond even his Sight to soothe his tormented soul.
He turned his gaze to her, his clouded eyes matching her piercing stare. She did not look away. The grip on his hand did not falter. The mystery of the White Current did not recede from him.
“If you cannot say, then show me.”
His hand warmed in her grasp, the clouds of his eyes burst forth a pure light, and all the world dissolved into gray rain and the rolling crescendo of thunderclaps. The ground rose up in a clawing maw of black, fetid tar. The gray sky drew smaller and smaller as she was dragged deeper and deeper. But as the gray drew in overhead, the light within it grew brighter, concentrating into a point, a pinhole of light in the world engulfed by darkness.
And through the pinhole, she could See.
It was only a glimpse, a momentary flash stretched out across the eons of time and the boundless volumes of space. But she Saw it, and it could not be Unseen.
The darkness cracked and splintered. The light shattered and rained down all around. The light and darkness mingled back into a blurred gray, the rolling thunder broke and receded, and they were returned to the world together.
Akanah looked to her sisters, but they had not shared in the vision. Rashad withdrew his hand from her grip, and she did not resist his retreat into himself.
He had done it, and for all it cost him, there was a kind of peace in that. He had found a way to tell someone what he had Seen, to Show her what he could not tell:
The Azguard are not the saviors of this galaxy. The Vision of Darkness is not theirs to defy. If life is to triumph over the coming doom, the Azguard will not be its champions.
She was trying to find words for what she had Seen. It was a task he understood too well, and no longer had the will to share in.
“I must go,” he said. “I have a final act of service to perform to my gods.”
“Rashad . . .” It was the only word she could form. He felt her reach out as he moved away.
But it was no longer his burden to bear, or his duty to serve.
If life was to prevail, if Light was to triumph . . . it would cost far more than the Azguard with all their Devotion could pay.
* * *
Stella the Secretary
He had buzzed her in. He loved that. Buzzing. It was really pretty fucking annoying.
But at least he wasn't eating this time. “You needed something, Sir?”
Interim Prime Minister Pro Moon didn't look up from the pile of work on his desk. “The door.”
So it was one of those kinds of buzzes. She palmed the activator to close the door behind her, then checked the security readout to make sure the isolation field was active. “We're good,” she said, turning back toward him.
Pro Moon was staring daggers. His shoulders were square and his hands hidden beneath his desk.
“Are you going to use your words, or . . .”
“Tell me,” he deadpanned.
“You know I didn't hire you for 'plausible deniability', Stella. I hired you for this. This moment, right here, when I stop ignoring.”
“Prime Minister,” she started, moving toward the chair opposite his desk.
“No!” It was so forceful that she stopped in her tracks. She'd never seen him like this.
“Mister Prime Minister,” she tried again, but he shook his head and she knew not to press further.
“I have to leave for Varn,” he said. “I have to stop those lunatics from starting a war with our only ally.”
“Okay . . .”
“So I have to know. Before I leave you here alone: spinning your webs, hatching your schemes . . . and using my name to hijack the CIB. It's time. Tell me.”
“It's not the right time,” she pushed back, standing her ground.
“It's the only time we've got,” he insisted. “So tell me or get out.”
Pro Moon was not the kind of man to have a blaster hidden under his work desk, but she sure as shit wished she could see his hands! She crossed her arms, leaned heavy on her right leg, and shrugged. “We're saving Force users.”
“Who's 'we' and what does 'saving' mean?”
Stella frowned and stopped herself from turning toward the door. “Some people you don't get to know, and some things you don't get to know.”
“I'm serious, Stella.” The daggers just kept staring
“So am I.” She matched his growing intensity with a detached indifference. “What we're doing goes beyond the Coalition, and it's for something more than the Coalition.”
She shrugged again. “The Galaxy. The Light, if you're into that sort of thing. Life itself,” she sort of muttered the last two words.
“Well that's a little dramatic!”
“That's why I'm doing this whole 'too cool for school' vibe right now,” she said, smirking. Even if she had to tell him, she was going to do it in a way he could spin for plausible deniability if necessary.
“So . . . commandeering Coalition resources, intercepting CIB communiques, forging the Prime Ministerial Seal . . . It's all just . . . 'saving the galaxy' stuff?”
“Pretty much,” she nodded.
Pro shook his gargantuan head. “What am I supposed to do with this?”
“Nothing,” she replied. “That's literally why you picked me for this: so you wouldn't have to do it.”
Pro sighed, sinking back in his chair. “It's not good enough. You have to give me more.”
“Then kill me.”
“Come again?” He was definitely taken aback by that one.
“You can't lock me up for this; it would put the work at too great a risk. So if you're really done with me, then kill me. It's the only way that you can be sure I'm not abusing the power you gave me, and the only way I'll be sure I'm not compromising the work. Are you ready to kill me, Pro? Are you the kind of man that would have me killed? I'm ready to die for this, but I'd rather get back to the work. Your call.”
Interim Prime Minsiter Pro Moon stared in disbelief at the unassuming woman facing down the most powerful man in the Coalition. After a long moment of outright shock, he pulled his hands up from beneath his desk, grabbed a pile of papers and started shuffling them into a neat stack. “That's all for now, thank you Miss Stella.”
* * *
“This is impossible.”
It was hard to disagree, so he didn't.
“I mean, it literally can't be real.”
Tempting as it was, Lando kept his eyes on the control readouts, aiming his vessel at the small landing pad that was their destination. The landing beacon was a low-power general-use type that wasn't connected to any sort of automated landing system, so Lando had to bring the Lady Luck in manually and line her up between the too-small pad's blinking corner lights.
It was night time here, but judging by the rotation rates his instruments were showing, that wouldn't be the case in another twenty minutes. Even in the darkness, the environment was a devilishly tempting distraction.
“I mean, it's some kind of multimedia holo-illusion or something, right?” Wanda seemed dead-set on pestering him into crashing the Lady right into the ground.
They came to rest on the platform with only a little bump, Lando satisfied enough with his rusty landing skills. Just ahead was a catwalk running from the landing pad to the only nearby structure, a squat prefab building sporting a ring of floodlights. The whole outpost was ill-kept, with the long grass of the surrounding field having grown right up to the edge of the pad, and tattered, thick blades of grass poking up through the metal grating of the catwalk's floor. The base of the building was buried in the unkempt grass, no sign of a ground-level door on this side of the building.
“Lando, it's impossible,” she said, earnestly, grabbing him by the arm to ensure she had his attention.
Well, at least she'd waited until he stuck the landing. “Try not to gawk when we meet the locals. There are no second first impressions.”
By the time they made it down the forward ramp, a trio of humans had appeared at the far end of the catwalk. Light was spilling out from the open doorway behind them, showing a glimpse of the gray-walled interior. As Lando approached with his companion in tow, the trio approached at a matching pace. Drawing near each other, Lando made out the uniforms of the strangers: all three of them were clad in the dark green of New Republic Intelligence.
“Lando Calrissian,” the middle man said.
Lando paused when he heard his own name. It wasn't a question, was it? It didn't seem quite like a question. Was it a question? An invitation? Or . . .
The man in the middle stepped closer, less of the light from the floodlamps hitting his face. “You probably don't remember, but -”
“Kessel!” Lando exclaimed as he finally matched the man's unevenly illuminated face to a memory. He accepted the man's outstretched hand, shaking it vigorously. “Colonel . . . Colonel!” He exclaimed, noticing that the man's rank had not improved since Lando had last seen him.
“Colonel Thaddeus Stevens,” he reintroduced himself, breaking the handshake and regarding Lando's companion, though he didn't offer her his hand.
Lando glanced over, and then down, where Wanda had crouched to pull at one of the more intact blades of grass sticking through the catwalk. “This is impossible,” she whispered, seemingly oblivious to the conversation going on in front of her.
“Last I saw you,” Lando began, pretending not to notice Wanda's behavior, “I was pretending not to know that you were heading into the Maw Cluster.”
“Well of course I can neither confirm nor deny the location or duration of classified Intelligence deployments,” the colonel said, sounding a little rusty as he recited what had surely been a standard disclaimer in his earlier life.
“I guess there's no point in asking how you ended up here then, huh?”
The other man betrayed the barest hint of a smile. “I'm afraid I'm going to have to ask that exact question to you, General Calrissian.”
Lando caught himself before he replied with the now-instinctive “I'm retired” that he'd come to rely on over the course of this mission. “Wanda?” he said, turning his attention to her in a bid to buy himself a little time.
“It's real,” she whispered, cradling the blade of grass carefully, wonder and disbelief coloring her tone. In the distance, an unfamiliar bird call rang out, snatching her attention. Other, similar calls rang out in response. “This is impossible.”
“Wanda, I could really use your help, here.”
The comment seemed to trigger something in her, and she rose slowly to her feet as she gave up the search for the alien birds still shrouded in night. Her hands held gently to that blade of grass though, unwilling to surrender the physical representation of this impossible reality. “You mean you really didn't have a plan for this part?”
It was a harsher response that he'd expected, but a fair enough point. After a brief pause struggling to formulate a response, Lando decided to ignore the question altogether and get back to the colonel. “Thaddeus – can I call you Thaddeus?”
“'Colonel' will do fine, Mister Calrissian,” he replied.
Well, that wasn't an encouraging change in tone. “Alright. Well, Colonel: this is Wanda. She's an Emissary of the Cooperative.” The colonel didn't seem to be familiar with the government. “It's a member of the Galactic Coalition.” There was no hint of recognition in the colonel's eyes. Instead, he grew stone-faced and unreadable. Now Lando really didn't like how things were proceeding. “You've been here since the Republic fell, haven't you? But it's worse than that: you've been cut off all this time, hiding away, hoping not to be found.” Still nothing from the intelligence officer. “Colonel, it's been over a decade!”
“I need to know how you found us, Mister Calrissian.”
Lando sighed, doing his best not to take notice of the half-dozen troopers who had just appeared in the doorway of the building. “We accessed an NRI data cache at Ord Pardron, one of the Coalition's newest members.”
“How did you break the encryption?”
“We had a key.”
“How did you steal the key?” Colonel Stevens was starting to let his frustration with Lando's answers show.
Wanda took offense to the question and jumped in, squeezing the blade of grass as her hand balled into a fist. “It's been in the possession of the Coalition Intelligence Bureau for years. Most of what survived of the New Republic found their way into the independent governments that eventually created the Coalition. CIB has been cataloging and consolidating those intelligence resources since it's founding. Nobody stole anything, Colonel. It was given to us by people who trusted us.”
“That's an inexcusable - and frankly unbelievable - violation of security protocols,” the colonel said, unimpressed with her outburst.
Lando was just about out of patience for this man. “There's no Republic left to establish 'protocols'! It's all just a bunch of random guys, running around without a plan, doing the best they can in a galaxy that is rapidly running out of hope.” Lando didn't like how grim and desperate he was sounding, but it was the truth, and he was getting too old to play this game for long. “That's why I came here: for hope. Hope that this place was real. Hope that it was still here. Hope that it was as much as we needed it to be. And hope that whoever was still here, were the kind of people who would understand our need.”
The troopers were approaching, a pair hugging either side of the catwalk, almost up to the trio of Intelligence officers now. But Lando didn't let up. “You let us land, Colonel. Of all the people in the galaxy who could have been here, now, with the power to make that decision, it was you: the New Republic Intelligence officer who I helped dig through the ruins of the Maw Installation.
“I have to believe that means something. I have to believe this journey was for something. I have to believe that you're going to help us.”
“Yeah, about that,” the colonel said, suddenly a little uncomfortable. “I'm not the one who let you land.”
The colonel stepped aside and Lando made out the slight frame of a humanoid woman standing in the doorway. Backlit by the interior lights, her powder blue skin was washed out and barely perceptible. But the crown of pearlescent, feathered hair that ringed her head caught the light and shone a rainbow cascade of color.
Qwi Xux smiled, hard to make out with the backlighting, but when she spoke it was with the soft, warm, familiar voice of a long lost friend. “Welcome to the worldcraft Rebirth, Lando.”
Lando Calrissian had trouble finding his voice. When he finally did, all he could manage was: “This is impossible”.