Leveller Of Empires
Posts: 6
  • Posted On: Feb 15 2022 2:29pm

“Telos IV. That’s it.”

Mayfeld sat back in his chair. “That was where my contact said I could drop em.”

The rest of the crew, now sitting aboard Corran Horn’s liberated CEC Gozanti Assault Carrier Antioch, listened with intent. “This is where they told you to bring captured force users?”

Mayfeld nodded. “Kept thinking maybe one day, I’d run into one down on his luck, see if he wanted to light the place up,” Mayfeld said. “Figured if an ex Imperial Sharpshooter and a Jedi Knight side by side weren’t gonna be safe than safe just wasn’t gonna happen.”

“And as far as you know, the place is still active?” Auriga asked.

“This was a long time ago, ho… Auriga,” Mayfeld said. He didn’t want to get too familiar. He wasn’t sure which of them would punch him harder, over protective daddy Ahnk or Auriga herself. “My info is admittedly stale. This line up with anything you’ve heard?”

Corran found himself nodding his head. “They were reluctant to give out the names of active facilities for obvious reasons, but it sounds like their MO,” Corran said. “So, if we’re going do this, we need a plan.”

“Well, the basics of the plan are simple,” Ahnk said, “we go wookiee prisoner.” Ahnk was applying the binders himself, along with a comlink and a device that Auriga couldn’t see tucked beneath it.

“That would be where I come in,” the actor, Griffin Kahane, sat forward. “I’ll bring you and Auriga with me, wanting to claim my reward.”

“And since no idiot in the world is gonna believe you captured one, nevermind two force sensitives, I’m there as your muscle,” Mayfeld said, raising up an E11. “We make the introduction while Corran infiltrates via the Sihoyguawa and gets a location on the prisoners.”

“Then we show them our ace in the hole and we walk out with them nonethewiser,” Ahnk said. “We did make sure to bring him with us from Bonadan?”

“Your gift? It’s in the storage locker in your cargo hold,” Corran confirmed.

“No, not the gift, the passenger,”Ahnk reiterated.

“He’s in the other cargo hold,” Auriga said, “the one that had been mine. I don’t mind telling you, Ahnk, I don’t entirely trust him.”

Ahnk looked around the rest of the room. “Okay, show of hands if there is anyone else on this ship that you trust completely.” After a few seconds, Vonta and Corran Horn, cousins, raised their hands. “You two don’t count.”

“It’s a sound plan, depending on if your passenger can do what he says he can,” Kahane said.

They all turned to Ahnk. “He can. He will. And we go.”

The ship stopped a few klicks out of Telosian orbit, setting off the sensor net on the surface below. “Unidentified Gozanti Cruiser, this is Telos IV Flight Control, please identify yourself and state your business here.”

Kahane sat up, knowing it was his time to shine. “This is Crown Prince Arcturus Valaerian Solo, of The Sons Of Corellia. I have two kidnapped force sensetives to turn over to Dominion custody.”

“Stand by,” the port authority confirmed. “Your clearance checks out. Permission to dock in hanger two. We’ll have a team meet you there.”

“All right, Wook, show me your arms,” Mayeld said, and Ahnk presented his arms so that Mayfeld could lock him in chains. Mayfeld hesitated. “You know, maybe you should do your girlfriend, I don’t want you to…”

Ahnk glared at him. “You’re already holding the cuffs, you can do both of us,” he said. Then he turned back to Auriga. “Remember, they’re just latched. Not locked.”

“I got it,” she said, as Mayfeld latched the cuffs around her arms as well.

The ship rocked a little. “Easy does it,” Mayfeld said. “Nothing to worry about. Touchdown. Alright Crowny, you’re up.”

Kahane, otherwise known as the Crown Prince Arcturus Valaerian Solo, took the lead as the group stepped off the vessel. “Ah, Commander, as you can see here I have a pair of force sensitives in my captivity, please prepare to process them,” he said.

“Very impressive catch,” the commander said, stepping forward. “Where did you catch them anyway?”

“Fleeing the core,” Mayfeld said. “Probably fleeing Coruscant, caught up with them around Junction.”

“How’d you manage to subdue them?” A second officer asked, rifle bouncing on his shoulder.

“Hey, Jedi or no Jedi, everyone dies from explosive decompression, right?” Mayfeld said. “They made the only logical choice at the time. When I heard about this place…”

“Can we hurry this along?” Kahane added. “I am a very important person, as you know.”

“Of course, your highness,” the commander said, stepping forward. “We’ll need to process them, so if you don’t mind turning over those handcuff controls.”

“Whoa whoa, hey, before I turn over these keys, you need to turn over your credits,” Mayfeld said. “This wasn’t charity work here.”

“You mercenaries are all the same,” the commander said. “Isn’t it enough that you have earned the gratitude of a Crown Prince of Corellia?”

“The gratitude of the Crown Prince of Corellia and five credits will still get me five credits worth of coffee, so all the same I’ll take hard currency please,” Mayfeld said, standing firm.

“Do you have any idea how much benefit this work will do to your future asking price?” the other soldier cut in.

“Oh, so I should do this job for the exposure I’ll get on a galactic stage? Listen, you value exposure so much, how about this, I will expose my asshole to you, and you can get me my fucking money,” Mayfeld said, ramping up the tension in his voice.

The first soldier stepped up and looked ready to start throwing hands. “You would DARE…”

Down the hall, a bulkhead door opened, and a truly massive being walked through. The two troopers turned their head immediately and bowed. “My lord, I wasn’t aware that any of your agents would be…”

The creature approached them, his large, red eyes glowing, speaking a language that no one else understood.

“I’m sorry my lord, I don’t understand you,” one of the guards said.

The creature gestured with his hand to the two force sensitives.

The guard snapped to attention. “Ah yes! Of course,” he said, and then grabbed the cuff chain of Auriga. “A gift, to the Cree’Ar Dominion.”

“On behalf of The Sons Of Corellia, as represented by I, Crown Prince Arcturus Valaerian Solo,” Kahane stepped up.

“And me too,” Mayfeld stepped up. “And listen, glory to the great Dominion and all and whatever, but pony up the money or I’ll kill them both before I hand them over.”

That was a great twist. It started a shoving match between Mayfeld and the guards with the Cree’Ar and Kahane trying to talk over them and get them to calm down. It allowed Ahnk, unmonitored, to check in with Sihoyguwa.

“Vonta, report,” Ahnk said softly.

“We may have issues,” Vonta said.

“What’s up? I don’t have a lot of time,” Ahnk relayed.

“Corran has infiltrated the facility, but we have two problems,” Vonta informed him. “For one, the prisoners we are jailbreaking don’t appear to be here.”

“Come again?” Ahnk said. Auriga shot him a very worried expression.

“He’s checked and rechecked the prisoner manifest, no sign of either of the Jedi,” Vonta said. “I have meanwhile rechecked the information I had. According to my sources, they should be here, as of today.”

Ahnk’s eyes widened. “You mean to tell me we might be trying to jailbreak prisoners who aren’t even here yet?”

“Which leads us to our second issue,” Vonta said. “There’s an unidentified Corellian Corvette that has dropped out hyperspace and heading for the planet.”

“Our prisoner exchange?” Ahnk posed. Then, the facility they were in shook as if it had been fired upon. “Oh don’t tell me…”

“Alright, you don’t need to know the unidentified ship just opened fire,” Vonta said.

Ahnk, disgusted, muted his comlink. “Things might be getting a bit complicated,” Ahnk said.

Auriga rolled her eyes. “Wookie prisoner, he said. Works every time, he said. In and out, he said.”

“There is a reason we call it Wookie Prisoner,” Ahnk said. “Sometimes, things get a little hairy.”

The ship rocked even harder; that hit bypassed the shields. “I don’t know what sort of hinky shit is going on here,” Mayfeld said, “but I’m not dying so the Cree’Ar get another couple of captive wizards. So either give me the money, or give me free reign to leave with my prisoners.”

Before the guards could answer, the room was filled with a sound that Ahnk immediately recognized. Auriga saw his look of understanding and poked him. “What is that sound?”

“A Jedi,” Ahnk said, “cutting his way through a bulkhead,” he continued, “with his lightsaber.”

And when he said that, Auriga suddenly realised the nature of their situation.

They’d made themselves wookie prisoners trying to rescue a pair of prisoners, who weren’t prisoners, but were instead coming to perform a jailbreak of their own.

Rebellions are messy things, and sometimes, communication lines can be ragged and dirty. “Go to this planet and jailbreak two Jedi” and “two Jedi are going to this planet for a jailbreak” aren’t radically different messages, but they are different on key and fundamental levels that, sometimes, in the chaos and immediacy of getting information past a totalitarian regime, get lost in translation.

It was a reasonable mistake to make. Auriga couldn’t even be mad.

Ahnk was, though. Auriga could feel it, not even needing the force, just resting her hand on his chest. He was taking furious breaths. He was ready to murder.

He wouldn’t get a chance. When the door popped open, cut free by the lightsaber and shoved into the room by the force, a soldier and a Jedi walked into the room.

Which isn’t a joke, although it sounds like the set up for one. No, a soldier and a Jedi walked into the room. And a minute later, he had a companion step in behind him.

The guards raised their blasters but Kyle Katarn had done this before. He killed both guards before their blasters cleared the holsters.

Then, he analysed the room, and saw Kahane and Mayfeld making absolutely no hostile actions, and keep his blaster movine…

…to the towering Cree’Ar, frozen as if confused. Then, Kyle put two blaster bolts into him too.

And immediately, a wave of cold washed over Auriga. There was grief. And pain. And guilt. And fear. She realized, she had never felt fear from Ahnk Rashanagok before. Now, he was consumed by it.

He threw himself across the room. Already, the Cree’Ar was bleeding, smoke raising from his wounds where the blaster had burned him. “No, no no no,” Ahnk said. He put his hands on the Cree’Ar. Auriga watched, confused, as the massive creature… almost seemed to wilt? Maybe deflate was a better word… under the touch of Ahnk’s hands.

“What the hell is going on?” The second Jedi Soldier, Ganner Rhysode, queried of the group. “Why are you so worked up over a dead Cree’Ar?”

Ahnk turned, and a bit of the anger turned with him. “He’s not dead,” Ahnk said, “and he’s not a Cree’Ar.”

And then Ahnk was gone, shutting out the world, and pouring all of his energy into the wounded man in his arms, Auriga holding him tightly, and the rest of the room slowly coming to terms with how it had all gone wrong.

“A Yuuzhan Vong?”

Kahane nodded. “They have a synthetic flesh that can mold itself, and make it a perfect duplicate of other organic beings,” he said. “Thought it might come in real handy, too, having a Yuuzhan Vong for when we go up against the Yuuzhan Vong.”

“Obviously I didn’t know,” Kyle said, but received no response from Ahnk.

“He’s focusing, Kyle,” Auriga said. “But I don’t think he holds you responsible.”

“Either way, we are in a tough situation,” Rhysode pointed out. “Can we move him?”

Auriga looked down and saw a subtle shake of Ahnk’s head. “Not yet,” she told them.

“Then we need to brace ourselves,” Kyle said. “You… Mayfeld?”

“Yeah,” he responded, “what do you need me for?”

“Your skills with a blaster,” Kyle said. “There is a forty man garrison that got a rude wake up call when we shot on this vessel. They’re on their way here and I figure we have maybe fifteen minutes before they come in the same way we did. We could use some more firepower.”

“You can count on me,” Mayfeld said, but then tapped Auriga on the shoulder. “What can we do, besides die?”

Auriga looked up at him. “He’s in tremendous pain,” she said. “He might die if we try and move him.”

“Well, at least with Ahnk laying over him like that, he won’t take anymore fire,” Mayfeld said.

“I didn’t mean Chang,” Auriga said. When she looked up, she had tears in her eyes. “I meant Ahnk.”

That drew the attention of both the other Jedi, and the other two civilians. They all looked at Ahnk, and saw for the first time, how tired, and damaged he looked. His face had sunken in, and blood had poured out of his mouth at both sides in coughs no one had noticed. It almost looked like Ahnk had been the one to take the shots.

And then they realised what he was doing. Ahnk was using the force to transfer the trauma from Chang to himself. He had saved Chang’s life; he looked stable. Tired, but breathing steadily. But the effect it had on Ahnk was unmistakable.

Auriga reached down and touched his cheek. “Andrew…”

Ahnk’s eyes opened the tiniest amount. “Auriga…” he said, weakly. “Have Kahane help Chang back to the ship. He needs rest.”

Kahane didn’t need to be told once. Auriga meanwhile, just squeezed Ahnk’s shoulder. “Andrew, I…”

“Let Mayfeld take you guys to safety,” he said. “Leave me here.”

She shook her head defiantly. “I won’t leave you alone…”

“I won’t be alone,” Ahnk said, “as I understand it, forty guards are going to be joining me soon.”

Auriga grabbed Ahnk by the shoulders, and sat him up. “Ahnk… Andrew, I… you can’t go. I need to tell you something…”

“I need…” Ahnk said, he reached up his hand to put it on her shoulder. “To tell you something too…”

Auriga noticed, for the first time, the strange device he had been fiddling with before. It was now displaying his vital signs. “What is it, Andrew?”

“I’m… very hard… to kill… maybe this is the time… maybe this is the place… or maybe, I’ll see you on the other side…”

Auriga almost collapsed in grief. What other side? Why did Ahnk have to be such an asshole, even with his dying breath?

Then, Ahnk sighed. His dying breath.

The monitor on his wrist started going haywire. His vital signs plummeted. He was barely still there at all.

“Auriga,” Mayfeld said, his hand on her shoulder. “Auriga, we need to take cover.”

Auriga felt no desire to move. She felt no desire at all. Only an absent, abstract annoyance at the beeping on Ahnk’s wrist. Why was it so powerful? Why so frantic, why so active, why so loud? Of all the things of Ahnk Rashanagok to rage against the dying of the light, why a strange device he had wired to his wrist?

She took one last look down at Ahnk. His tired, worn face. His blood soaked lips. His bruised eyes, closed, maybe never to open again. She could feel the tension of the other Jedi rising. Mayfeld taking position between her and the exposed bulkhead. As she heard boot stomps in the distance, she sighed softly, squeezed Ahnk’s hand, and looked straight out to the rushing violence that came her way.

She felt relaxed. She felt ready.

I’ll see you on the other side.

Posts: 1
  • Posted On: Feb 21 2022 11:14am

Have you ever stopped to smell the rain?

It seems like an absurd question, really. Rain doesn’t have a smell, I mean, not really. Rain is just water droplets. Water itself has no smell. So why would rain?

And maybe it is true, that rain itself doesn’t have a smell. Not when it’s falling. But when it lands? That’s an entirely different story. When it lands, it kicks up all kind of smells. The smell of dust and dirt, the oils from plants and foliage… all broken up and kicked up into the air.

Of course, at that point, are you really smelling the rain?

At a certain point, the distinction disappears. Whether the rain itself, or the act of rain, it was widely renowned, fresh rain creates an amazing smell.

So Ahnk stopped to smell the rain. He had the time, afterall.

“You haven’t been here in a while,” she told him. It wasn’t meant harshly, but it hurt just the same.

“I lose track of time sometimes,” Ahnk admitted. “It’s not like this is a place where I land my ship and walk around.”

“You’re hurt again,” she said, and then she put her hand on his cheek. “And badly as well.”

Ahnk felt himself turn away. “I’ll heal,” he said.

“No but there’s something else,” she said, and then walked around him, looking at him as if he was an out of place puzzle piece. “You’ve met someone.”

Ahnk turned back to face her. No point in hiding it, then. “Auriga.”

Recognition flashed across her features. “After all this time…”

Ahnk shrugged. “What difference does the passing of a day make, to me, or you?”

“But to her, you were a lifetime ago…”

“And yet,” Ahnk began, “still the feelings remain.”

She put her hand on his shoulder. “Then you’ll be leaving us again.”

“For a while,” Ahnk said. “But, you know, no matter when, I will return. I always find my way back here.”

She nodded. And smiled at him. “Give Auriga my well wishes,” she said, as the white light encroached, obscuring her until there was nothing.

Nothing but the rain.

“Easy there, easy now,” a voice rang out into his head, waking him from the pleasant dream he’d been in. “Don’t strain, now. Stay still. Easy now. Follow my voice.”

“Where…” Ahnk began, but found himself held down. “Who…”

“You’re straining,” the voice said. “Don’t worry, you’re safe. And you’re alive. And if you want to stay that way, you’ll listen to me, and stop straining.”

Ahnk groaned, sighed, and then let himself go limp. “I’m… I’m a bad patient,” he said.

Auriga let out a nervous laugh at his side. “So they warned me,” came that voice again. “The great Ahnk Rashanagok. Powerful force user. General pain in the ass. I’m Doctor Richard Maxson. Welcome to my clinic.”

“As gloriously furnished and funded by the Galactic Coalition,” a newcomer offered. That was Kyle Katarn. “We brought you here as soon as we could escape the hellhole that exploded in our face.”

“Well, we came to get you out alive,” Ahnk said, “and so it appears we succeeded.”

“That extraction is not going to go down in the books of cleanest operations,” Kyle admitted. “You’ll be pleased to know, Chang is fine. I apologised for shooting him and he told me that in Yuuzhan Vong tradition, he would be well within his rights to disembowel me.”

That caused Ahnk to smile. “I am sure he was mostly kidding.” He opened his eyes, and then shut them again. “Bloody bright in here,” he said.

“Do you know how damaging it is to your eyes to set the light levels of your ship so bloody low?” Maxson chimed in. “You’ve been cumulatively burning them out for no reason at all.”

“Not for no reason,” Ahnk said. “It’s a stealth ship. It’s supposed to be dark. So that no one sees.”

“No one is supposed to see you,” Maxson corrected. “Anyway, you also just came very close to dying, so your body is slowly coming back.”

“I think I’m going to give you the room,” Kyle said. “Gannar and Chang were sparring, so I should check in and make sure no one has dismembered the other.”

Ahnk then took in a deep breath, exhaling a loud sigh, and gave his eyes another chance. He pushed them open and managed to keep them open, watching as the white light faded a bit and Auriga’s face began to take shape. “Have I told you lately, that you’re beautiful?”

She blushed, but then slapped his shoulder. “If you ever come that close to dying again, I’ll kill you myself,” she said, but then leaned her head into his shoulder. “Don’t do that to me,” she said softly.

“You’re quite lucky,” Maxson advised. “If not for your friend, you might well have died.”

“Ah yes,” Ahnk said, “my friend. I’m making a collection. Friends, associates, odds and ends.”

“This one in particular seems very handy,” Auriga commented. “It was Kyle, Gannar, and Mayfeld against forty armoured and uniformed mercenaries. Then, all of a sudden, a man walks past us, just calm as day, without saying a word, and starts killing people. Chop, punch, chop, he just dismantled an entire army. They put tons of shots into him but he barely flinched, and when the final soldier was dead, he turned to you and said…”

“...Ahnk Rashanagok is my primary target, anything that stands between me and his survival must be eliminated,” Ahnk repeated back to her, a sly smile on his lips. “I programmed it, yes. A little gift from Natalya Vinda. It was originally meant to protect her, but she found it unnerving. Something to do with the previous version. Anyway, her loss, my life.”

“You knew?” Auriga asked.

“I put a dead man’s switch on my comlink; if I died, he was supposed to come and defend you,” Ahnk explained. “And if I wasn’t dead, he was supposed to make sure I stayed that way. Auriga Marzullo… meet Achinta Vega.”

The droid stepped forward and nodded. “A pleasure, my dear,” he said. “Master Ahnk, if you will not be needing me, I believe I will take my leave as well.”

“Thank you, Achinta,” Ahnk said. Then, he pushed himself up a bit. “Ow. That hurt.”

“Well yes, obviously, you idiot,” Maxson chimed in. “For all intents and purposes you decided to absorb the damage two blaster bolts to the stomach will do. You’re going to feel that for a while. I sewed up the wounds, but fuck about, and they’re bound to open again.”

Ahnk grimaced. Then he turned to Auriga. “Sorry dear, doctor’s orders. No fucking about.”

She slapped his shoulder again. “What is his prognosis?”

“With rest, he should be fine; not as young as he once was, which I suspect is why he’s not healing as fast as the force may once have provided,” the doctor said. “Take two weeks. Go on vacation. When you’re done, you’ll be fully healed and ready to get back in the fight.”

“I’m sorry doctor, but there’s a war on,” Ahnk said. “I can’t afford to…”

“I’m sorry, I forgot what part of this was a negotiation,” Maxson chimed in. “This is a Coalition facility and within The Coalition, there is no higher rank of order than those from a chief medical officer to one of his patients.” Maxson leaned down, looking at him sternly. “Take two weeks, rest and relaxation, or I strap you to this bed, kick your girlfriend out, and make you spend two weeks staring at the ceiling. You decide.”

Ahnk looked up at the ceiling for a moment and Auriga slapped him again. “Andrew…”

“I’m deciding,” he said. Then he shook his head. “Alright, doctor, you win. I’ll take some time away from the war.”

“We’re going to need soldiers if we’re going to win this thing,” Maxson said. “I fear that we haven’t seen the true scope of what The Dominion is capable of.”

Ahnk was curious what he meant. “How do you mean?”

Auriga gave Ahnk a little shove to get his attention. “Doctor Maxson was a doctor on a Cree’Ar occupied world. He learned a lot while he was ‘their guest’.” Ahnk sat up as if to inquire further. “Hey, now. Rest and relaxation. We can talk war stories later.”

Maxson smirked. “I have other patients,” he said, then wagged his finger at Ahnk. “Rest! I don’t care if you’re a Jedi, you bleed like everyone else does.”

“Don’t I know it,” Ahnk said. He groaned, leaning back in the bed, trying to get comfortable. “This bed is terrible. Can I at least get a more comfortable one if I am going to stay in bed for two weeks?”

Auriga didn’t answer. She was looking at Ahnk but… not at him. Almost, past him. As if she had realised a dark secret about him, and hadn’t come to terms with it yet.

“Go ahead,” he said, sighing. “I don’t know what you know, but something has bothered you.”

Her eyes moved ever so slightly, so that now, she was looking him in the eyes. “When you were unconscious, you whispered a name…”

“Auriga, I…”

“No, it’s alright,” she said. “You seemed to find peace when you were dreaming. A peace that eludes you in life.”

Neither of them said anything for a long time.

“There’s no next time for you, is there,” she asked.

Ahnk softly shook his head. “I made six clones. Khan killed one. Xylon killed one. Organa killed one. DeVille killed one. The Artefact killed one. One of them is lost to me as an artefact, a condition of ending a cataclysmic event. And another is lost to me, because it hasn’t been created yet.”

Auriga was confused. “That’s seven,” she said, and then sighed. “Everything is so complicated with you, Andrew.”

“The point being, I’m out of do-overs,” he said. “There’s a house, in the woods, I go to when I get like this. Injured. I stay longer every time. She’s there. Emily. Aerith too. All my greatest hits. My failures. My legacy.”

“Are you happy?”

It was something he hadn’t been asked in a very long time.

“I… have things I need to do,” Ahnk said. “I can’t rest until I have done them.”

Auriga squeezed him. “Don’t die for me. Please?”

“It’s not like I can control that,” Ahnk said, frowning. “Listen, you came to me and told me you needed some people killed. I’m going to kill them. Until that’s done, no point in worrying about the existential concept of happiness. I have blood to spill and I can’t afford to second guess things.”

Auriga looked at him. Really looked at him. “Is it… is it too late to change my mind?”

Ahnk pushed himself a bit upwards and looked at her with some surprise. “You… don’t want to save your family?”

Auriga frowned. “I do… but…” she started, fumbling on her words. “I just wonder if it’s even possible. What if the price is too high?”

Ahnk shrugged. “It’s your family,” he said, coldly. “You’ll never forgive yourself if you don’t try.”

Auriga turned her back, looking away. “I don’t want to lose you,” she finally said, but not able to say it to his face.

“Well, you don’t have to worry about me,” Ahnk told her. “I’m not going anywhere.”

She turned and gave him a soft smile.

“Except, apparently, for a vacation.”

Posts: 2
  • Posted On: Feb 27 2022 2:44pm

“Alright, weapons hot,” Mayfeld said.

There were four of them in the cockpit; Mayfeld, Kyle Katarn, Gannar Rhysode, and Corran Horn. Vonta was beneath, with the doctor, the actor and the Vong. The other four took up defensive stances.

Then, they waited.

Normally, the Imperial guards would be cutting through the bulkhead at that very moment. The situation would be hot, with the door finally giving way, a trooper putting his boot into it, and then a cohort of soldiers would stream in and the firefight would start.

But these were unusual times. And Mayfeld had neglected to look the hatch.

So the troopers spooled in, and fanned out. They took up defensive positions opposite the ship’s crew. For a few moments, it was all very tense.

Then, heavy footsteps broke the tension. The troopers kept their eyes where they were, but the shipboard party all turned to the source of the sound, following the footsteps until they stopped.

Then, he stood before them. He was wearing white, a stark contrast to the others, in grey. He almost looked the color of the stormtroopers. He seemed very rigid, and very formal. “Commander,” he asked, and one of the stormtroopers snapped to.

“Yes sir,” the trooper queried.

“Trooper, what is going on here?”

“Well, sir… nothing, sir,” the trooper responded.

“Yes trooper, I can see that,” he said. “My question is why is nothing happening?”

“Well sir…” but the officer had run out of patience and stepped past him.

“Impossible to find good help these days,” he said, and then grabbed a pad from one of the other troopers. “Alright, according to documents filed with my office, one of you gentlemen is Corran Horn, captain of the Antioch, seeking permission to cross into Imperial territory,” the man said, reading from the pad.

“That would be me,” Corran said, stepping forward.

“Captain Horn, do you give your oath that while in Imperial Space you agree to follow all local customs and laws, to the best of your ability, and agree to deal with the consequences should any arise?”

“I do so swear,” Corran said. The Imperial held out his pad, and Corran gave his thumbprint.

“Captain Corran Horn, on behalf of the remnants of The Empire, welcome to The Left Gate,” the officer said. “Troopers… be elsewhere.”

The troopers formally saluted and then went about their business. The crew of the ship relaxed a little now that the weapon count had dropped significantly.

“I apologize for the security, Captain Horn,” the officer said. “My name is Commodore Zuhko, with The Left Gate patrolship Justice,” he offered as a formal introduction. “We haven’t heard much from the outside galaxy for a while, so your request is being taken very seriously.”

“I appreciate that you agreed to meet me,” Horn said, “and the escort provided.”

Zuhko made a dismissive hand wave. “It’s my hope that you consider yourselves our guest, as opposed to under our scrutiny,” Zuhko said. “You may move freely about my vessel. We can arrange for meals or quarters. Or you may stay aboard your vessel, at your pleasure.”

“I appreciate your hospitality,” Horn remarked. “I admit to being confused when we received your response to our initial inquiry. To the best of our knowledge, this area of space was under the command of Bhindi Drayson, and her Yaga Minor Protectorate.”

Zuhko furrowed his brow. “It’s been quite some time since we lost contact with Yaga Minor,” Zuhko said. “We hadn’t heard anything from Coruscant either so, I used my authority to reorganise our command structure, integrating pieces of the former Yaga Minor Protectorate and elements from Theren Gevel’s Bastion Conclave. And we’ve been able to chart out a large portion of space and secure it from both Reavers and The Dominion.”

“And you’ve called it The Left Gate?” Corran noticed.

“The way the galaxy works right now, much of the space east of us is hostile territory, with reavers aboud. Until The Coalition can clean up their house, our protectorate can guarantee safe passage, to the Bastion Conclave, to the heart of the Empire on Muunislist and Dubrillion.”

“I see,” Corran said. “Well, we will stay with you as long as Dubrillion.”

“As I have said, make yourselves comfortable,” he said, “I’ll be hosting a formal dinner this evening. Any of your crew are welcome to attend.”

Corran nodded. “I look forward to it,” he said.

“You know what, I think I’ll pass,” Mayfeld said.

“Mayfeld…” Corran said, with the tone of a disappointed father. “I know you’re no fan of Imperals, but this is a new era. The Empire has broken down a lot of their walls in the interest of the common good.”

“Yeah, well, good for the common good,” he said. “That isn’t going to bring back my friends. Nor is it going to help me sleep at night.”

“I assume I was not invited to this dinner,” Chang spoke up from the back of the room. Most of the others had not noticed him, so good he was at being unnoticed.

“Old grudges die hard,” Horn said. “A lot of them have probably never seen a Yuuzhan Vong, but those who have, met them in battle. I can push to have you there…”

“Don’t make an effort on my behalf,” Chang said with a shrug. “I find it hypocritical of you to chastise Mr. Mayfeld for his preconceptions while allowing them to hold onto their prejudice.”

“You know, for a snakehead, you’re not so bad,” Mayfeld said.

“Hell, now I’m starting to rethink going,” Gannar said.

“You’re going,” Corran said. “Chang, stay with the ship. Mayfeld, watch Chang. Everyone else… formal dress, and best behaviour.”

A few hours later, Corran Horn arrived at Commodore Zuhko’s quarters, along with three fellow Jedi Knights, a doctor of medicine, and a doctor of the arts.

Each of them took seats on one side of the table. On the other, the Commodore’s personal staff, his chief of staff Georgina Golubovych, his executive officer Luka Fadeiev, and an officer dispatched from the Imperial Intelligence Services, who Zuhko identified only as Charles. None of the other people got formal introductions, so Corran tried not to let their presence bother him; maybe Zuhko just wanted to make sure they were outnumbered.

Corran did feel outnumbered, but then, the force was his ally, and he had that going for him.

“So, Mr. Horn, we understand that you have been formed up as some sort of hit squad,” Charles asked.

Opening with a softball, are we? Alright, Corran could get up to speed with that. “Unofficially,” he admitted. “Our targets are to find camps or holdfasts occupied by the Cree’Ar or those loyal to them, being used to house Jedi. We then free those captives.”

“And how do you find these… enclaves?” Charles asked again.

He knows too much, but that is probably a function of trusting the Coalition to keep their secrets. “We have a source in the Republic who provides us with mapping data,” Corran said.

“Mapping data?” Golubovych asked. “Mapping what?”

Again, Horn made a face to suggest he didn’t want to get too specific. “The Cree’Ar seem to use a form of artificial quantum tunnelling to move between systems,” Horn said. “This movement can be tracked by repetitive appearance and decay of strong gravimetric anomalies.”

“I am sure my colleagues are just interested in anything that could provide us with a way to be warned in advance of a Cree’Ar attack,” Zuhko himself interjected. “We wouldn’t ask anything that would endanger your source.

Ahnk would appreciate that, Corran thought. When Ahnk told Corran that the sensor data he had was from a source within The Republic, Corran’s natural assumption was that Ahnk was simply stealing the data. A recent trip to Bonadan did nothing to change those assumptions. “I am sure nothing I have told you is news to your government,” Horn said.

“We’ve been aware of the Cree’Ar means of travel for some time, yes,” Charles interjected.

Not long enough to save your Emperor, Vonta thought, a bit too loudly as Corran, Kyle, and Gannar all frowned at her. “It’s more making sense of the information,” Corran said, giving Imperial Intelligence an excuse why they hadn’t done anything with the information.

“In fact, we have been making plans to assemble an assault team of our own,” Golubovych added. “But without direct contact with Coruscant…”

“Yes, the core does seem to be in disarray,” Gannar said, and tried to even sound a little sad about it.

“Where’s Chang?”

Everyone else went silent, letting Fadeiev’s words reverberate throughout the dining hall.

Corran locked eyes with him. “I’m sorry…?”

“I’d ask you not to disrespect me by denying what I already know,” Fadeiev suggested. “Our intelligence suggests that a member of your entourage is a Yuuzhan Vong who is known to us as Chang.”

“Perhaps now is not…” Zuhko began, but Corran raised his hands.

“We didn’t know that you were so well informed,” Corran said. “We felt it best, given tensions between his people and ours, that he remain aboardship.”

“A shame,” Fadeiev said. “I fought against the Yuuzhan Vong, or, perhaps it would be more accurate to say, the Praetorite Vong.” Fadeiev lifted his arm, and put down a metal hand. It was crude, not covered in any form of synthetic skin. “I have a lot of respect for their warriors.”

Horn looked around, not sure how to answer that. “I don’t know Chang very well, but if you’d like to meet him…”

“Maybe another time,” Zuhko said, glaring at Fadeiev. “Right now, let’s focus on the Cree’Ar. You really think that they are operating so close to our space?”

“We do,” Horn said. Horn put a pad on the table and with the push of a button, projected a map into the air between the two men. “This as you can see is Dubrillion. And this is Dantooine. And this…” Horn pushed another button, with a series of red dots appearing close to both. “...this is a distribution of gravitic anomalies, over a six month period. It’s inescapable to our analysts; Sernpidel is a major transportation hub for Cree’Ar activity.”

“And what do you hope to accomplish?” Zuhko asked.

“Well, if the Cree’Ar are using the world as some sort of staging grounds, our first mission will be to identify it,” Horn began, “and our last mission would be to destroy it.”

“I think that went well,” Vonta commented dryly.

“Ever the optimist,” Corran said. “There’s a process. We’re both apprehensive but we want the same thing. As long as that holds true, then we can cooperate. If that ceases to be true…”

“War again?” Vonta said. “It would almost be easier never to cooperate…”

“Easier, but costlier and less effective,” Corran countered. “Like it or not, the Empire has more resources than you or I, and…”

Suddenly, both were distracted. “I felt it too,” Vonta told him, and she reached down for her saber…

…only to have Corran put his hand on hers. “Stay thy hand, good cousin,” he said. “Whatever it is, it approaches slowly, and that suggests intrigue rather than peril.”

Vonta relaxed her grip on her sword. “How do you want to play this?”

“Why don’t you go to the fresher and take off your face? I can handle whatever darkness this way comes,” Corran said.

“Might as well send me to bed,” Vonta said gruffly.

“I didn’t realize that was on the table,” he said. “Go; I’m the better diplomat, but that only works if I am alone.” Vonta, for all her protestations, ultimately agreed and left the room. Corran felt the dark feeling growing closer until it was just outside.

Then, the door chime sounded.

Well, that was a good sign. An assassin wouldn’t use the chime. “Enter,” Corran said, and Captain Luka Fadeiev stepped into the room. “Captain… I wasn’t expecting you. Is there something I can do for you?”

“Perhaps there is something I can do for you,” Fadeiev said, stepping into the room. He had come alone. “I apologize for our tense exchange at dinner.”

Now Corran was really taken aback. “No apology necessary, I can understand…”

“With respects, no you can’t,” Fadeiev pulled his uniform top so that the clothing on his arm broke away, showing off the metal exoskeleton beneath it. “This wasn’t acquired in battle. It was a present, from Chang.”

“I don’t understand,” Corran said.

“Then perhaps this might shed a little light on things,” Fedeiev said. He did the same with his other arm, exposing the flesh beneath the uniform, and a large, black logo tattooed on his wrist.

“I don’t understand,” Corran said.

“I do,” Vonta said. “I’ve seen that symbol before. Ahnk Rashanagok had it tattooed in about the same place, before I cut his arm off.”

Fadeiev nodded. “This is the emblem of The Brotherhood Of The Sith, Yavin Temple. I was a student there.”

“Under Ahnk?” Vonta asked.

Fadeiev spat on the floor. “In his absence, chaos reigned. I do know that I was taken at one point by Chang. Him, and his master, believed that to suffer was good for the soul… so I was made to suffer. The damage done to my arm, with poison, left it in such a state of disrepair, that amputating it carried less risk of permanent injury.”

Corran tried to follow the thinking. “I am still a little lost. You blame Chang…?”

“Of course I blame him,” Fadeiev said, “but at the same time, seek no ill will towards him. He was a man, carrying out orders. I have carried out brutal orders on behalf of others, or on behalf of myself. I have no interest in Chang. But if you are travelling with Chang, that means you were travelling with Ahnk.”

Corran found himself on the spot. They had been, of course. But now Ahnk was gone. And even if he wasn’t… “What is your business with Ahnk?”

“I feel I owe him,” Fadeiev said. “When he returned to Yavin, he cut through the leadership holding the temple as pretenders. Then, told us he no longer sought to train students. That we would need to find our own path. Ahnk set me free that day, in more ways than one.”

“That’s nice,” Vonta said, sarcastically. “Why do we care, again?”

Fadeiev smiled. “I have informed my master of your mission,” he said and then Vonta was at his throat with the sabre.

“You did what?”


“Don’t Vonta me, give me one good reason why I shouldn’t cut his head off,” his hot-tempered cousin asked him.

“Well, for one, he would probably tell us who he told and how to find them if we just asked,” Corran countered.

“I will, and I think you will like what you have to say,” Fadeiev went on. “He’s agreed to come to Belkaden and meet with you. I think that he would like to join your quest.”

“Never,” Vonta said. “I don’t work with…”

“What my cousin means to say, is that any enemy of the Cree’Ar are enemies of ours,” Corran said.

Vonta pulled her sabre down and now it was pointed at Corran. “Don’t put words in my mouth…”

“We need all the help…”

“Not that help!” Vonta said. Corran could feel her anger. “Working with Ahnk is bad enough. Now you want his student…”

“Former student,” Fadeiev corrected, “only briefly.”

“...to lead us into a trap?”

Corran didn’t have a good answer, so he offered, “Ahnk gave me advice once about traps, and how best to walk into them,” he offered, and Vonta sheathed her sabre.

“Trade carefully, Corran,” she said, and then she stormed out of the room.

“Well,” Fadeiev said, straightening up what was left of his uniform. “Her temper comes as advertised.”

Corran shrugged. He was used to butting heads with her. “So who am I to expect, when I get to Belkaden?”

Fadeiev smiled a little. “An old friend, lost long ago.”

Posts: 2
  • Posted On: Mar 12 2022 3:54am

“I don’t like the idea of you going alone,” Ganner said.

“Well, I don’t like the idea of taking anyone else with me, and since this is my ship, I get to make the final decision,” Corran said.

“You could be walking into an ambush,” Ganner suggested.

“All the better that I go alone then; less casualties,” Corran said.

“He’s got a point, Corran,” Vonta said. “Two Jedi is…”

“I said that I would go alone,” Corran said. “What I need you guys to do is run interference for me.”

“Oh sure, leave us the easy work,” Ganner grumbled. Corran smirked and closed the cockpit of his U-Wing, and Ganner hopped off. Corran accelerated and his ship shot out and through the Imperial docking shield, and then out into open space.

Then they waited. They didn’t need to wait long.

“Antioch Captain, this is flight control aboard the cruiser Justice, we detected an unauthorised launch from our port hanger bay, please explain,” a voice over the radio asked.

“Uh, flight control, this is Ganner Rhysode, acting captain of the Antioch, the flight was a… technical malfunction… due to a domestic dispute, nothing to be concerned about Justice,” Rhysode explained, badly.

“...a technical… domestic dispute…? Sorry, who I am speaking to?” flight control asked again.

Ganner and Vonta looked at each other and Ganner shrugged. “Excuse me, flight control,” Vonta said, “but I really don’t appreciate your tone. We are guests of your captain and this is a private domestic matter, and I would highly appreciate it if you would keep out of it.”

“...I see. I am terribly sorry to disturb you. Our apologies.”

The comlink went dead and Vonta and Ganner both relaxed. “Probably bought us an hour,” Ganner said.

“I imagine the captain comes personally after they kick it up the ladder,” Vonta said. “We better work on our story…”

Belkadan wasn’t just a world. It maybe wasn’t even two worlds.

To look at Belkadan from orbit told most of the story. This was a world that had been burned badly in a devastating war, and then slowly, delicately, had tried to piece itself together again. Corran was caught unawares at first when he saw the world, as he had heard of The Themien War, but only in whispers.

This wasn’t a war of whispers, Corran thought to himself. This was very nearly an annihilation.

It was obvious when you saw above, the capital centres of the world, that had been pieced back together, and the intervening network left behind. The world had bloomed, been leveled, and slowly was starting to bloom again, but not always in the same way or for the same reason. It created a weird pattern of life, death, destruction and recreation.

But there was something else too. Because this wasn’t even the first time this had happened.

The Vong had come. Then the Empire afterwards. Then the Themiens. Then the Empire again. And now, apparently, The Sith were here.

But then the movements of The Sith were shrouded in darkness. Maybe they had been here all along.

He’d been instructed to land halfway up a mountain, which was where the third world showed itself. There was a natural beauty to this place that had survived every war; the Themiens and their conflicts with The Empire, the Vongforming, all of it. It was just rocks and trees. It wasn’t altogether unlike Yavin, when Corran looked at the mountains.

He led his ship down to the indicated coordinates and opened his cockpit.

“Smells a bit like Yavin,” Corran said, as the air replaced the stale smell of the cockpit and woke him right up. This was the kind of world a Jedi thrived on. Full of life.

Of course, there was a lingering darkness here. There had been many dead throughout the vast history of conflict on this world. Many dead lingered, unable to find rest. And Corran wondered if part of that was the presence of the Sith…

He put the darkness out of his mind, finding his inner peace and started to walk into the woods. He didn’t need to go far, seeing an opening into the mountain not that far from his current path. So he headed towards it, feeling drawn to it.

As he pushed into the mouth of the cave, his enhanced Jedi senses helped a little, but he found himself reaching for a torch all the same. He lit it, and listened to it hiss as the chemicals interacted, causing steam and light as byproducts, filling the room with both.

What he found was incredible.

“Old bones,” a voice deeper in the cave cried out. There was an echo that made the mysterious voice even more ominous than it otherwise would be. “Some of them we can identify, some of them not.”

“These look old,” Corran remarked. “These aren’t from The Themien War.”

“These are from far older wars,” the voice said. “Come deeper.”

Corran collected himself, shaking off the seduction of the bones before him. “I was told to meet someone here,” Corran said.

“You were,” the voice answered back.

“Are you him?” Corran said.

“Bold of you to assume you know who we are,” a different voice, a female voice, answered back.

“I was asked to come alone,” Corran said.

“And you follow instructions well,” the first voice chimed in again. “Come deeper.”

Corran felt like he wasn’t being given much choice. He walked deeper into the cave, torchlight illuminating the way. He saw more bones. Three sets of humans and…

…it couldn’t be.

“But it is, Corran,” the female voice told. “It defies everything we know, and yet, there it is.”

The three humans had fallen in battle. Their wounds obvious, bones, including ribs, broken in such a way that surviving would have been difficult at best. They had fallen together, having cornered a larger pray, which too had fallen and lay as bones…

…a Cree’Ar.

“How old…?”

“Thousands of years, Corran, maybe tens of thousands,” the male suggested. “Come deeper.”

Corran’s hesitation had left him long ago. He walked deeper. His torch flickered, a sign it would die soon. He had more, but it was a sign. A sign of how far he had come, and how far he had to go back.

He persisted nonetheless.

Then, he knew why. The voice had beckoned him here for a reason. This room contained skeletons too, and one of them was Cree’Ar. And while Corran wasn’t an expert, he knew these bones belonged to a people he had fought, from their shape and the type of weapons that had fallen too.

They were Yuuzhan Vong.

“Before the Empire, before Blood, before the Empire and the Yuuzhan Vong… before even the Cree’Ar… this world has stood, and will stand, a history of bloody conquest… once, it belonged to the Infinite Empire… then the Empire… now, it belongs to The Sith…”

Corran nodded. “I’ll make sure someone tells Simon Kaine…”

Then his torch died. For a moment, the room was bathed only in the ambient light reflected into the cave…

…then, everything turned red. “Tell me, Corran, have you ever danced with the devil in a pale cave’s light?”

Corran steeled himself, and frowned in the general direction he thought the question came from. “I’m sorry, what?”

“Just something that came to mind,” the voice said, and then the room lit up. A series of overhead lights, linked together by a chain, illuminated the cave. “Corran Horn. Welcome to Belkaden.”

Corran’s eyes took some time to adjust to the light, and when they did, he couldn’t contain his surprise. “Kyp Durron?”

“It’s been a long time, old friend,” Kyp said. He offered his hand.

Corran hesitated, but then seized it. “It’s been a very long time.”

“Luke Skywalker’s Jedi Praxeum on Yavin, yes,” Kyp said. “Before Exar Kun’s spirit chased us offworld.”

“Then took over the world entirely,” Corran remembered. “Kyp, that was decades ago. What happened since then?”

Kyp shrugged. “I went back to the only home I knew… Corellia. I’ve been there until a few years ago.”

Corran nodded. “Doing what?”

“Training, of course,” Kyp said. “I didn’t have the luxury of training with Luke Skywalker… I had to find a new master. Or rather, let one find me. I am the right hand of the Dark Lord Of The Sith, Lupercus Darksword.”

“Former ruler of Corellia, Imperial Puppet Lupercus Darksword?” Corran asked. “I never expected, after the spice mines of Kessel, to see you lapdog to any Imperial.”

Kyp shrugged. “I was angry, when he came out and made himself a public figure, but I knew the truth; Lupercus wasn’t an Imperial, he was an inside man working his way to take over an Empire. See, Lupercus had gained control of an advanced imperial AI, which was called COMPNOR. And he used his political position to sequester power away from humans and into COMPNOR, expecting that when the time he was right, he could seize COMPNOR and take the entire Empire for himself.”

“Only that didn’t happen,” Corran said. “We had heard about some sort of revolt inside the Empire but…”

“Information is sketchy, but what I do know is, with the arrival of the Cree’Ar and the changing political winds on Corellia, it was time for me to leave,” Kyp said. “I took a few close associates and travelled here. Lupercus had a fallback plan, in case his control of COMPNOR was compromised. A… backdoor, if you will.”

“What does any of this have to do with me?” Corran asked.

“Because I need your help,” Kyp said, “and you need mine. You want to fight the Cree’Ar? Believe it or not, you’re basically on the front lines.”

“I believe it,” Corran said, referring to the corpse.

“That’s nothing,” Kyp said. “Part of why I love this place, like a Duro durian, you peel it and then there’s just another layer underneath. Come on, let me show you something that surprised even a young Colonel Kaine…”

So Corran followed. They left the room of the cave they were in, and Corran looked around. “That’s a lot of firepower,” Corran said. “E-11, E-17d, E-22, DC-17m… either you guys are organising some sort of uprising here or someone in logistics is going to be in a lot of trouble when they realise he shipped a small armoury to some outer rim cave network.”

“The best laid plans,” Kyp began a quote, but then decided to just brass tacks it. “There’s been a lot of instability in the government here. Elements that were loyal to the old Themien regime, people who felt like the planet should align itself with the ExGal Corporation, or the so-called Left Gate. You know how things are. A power vacuum creates chaos.”

“Chaos you felt you could exploit?” Corran continued.

“Without The Blood, The Themiens would be easily cowed. And unless the Coalition or one of the Republics rose to support them, ExGal is just a corporation, and would be easy to steer from behind the scenes. The biggest threat has always been The Empire exerting their control over Belkaden, which given its history, seemed likely.” Kyp said. “But now we have bigger problems.”

Corran stopped. “My god…”

Kyp stopped too. “Ah, yes, my favourite collection of bones,” he said. “Do you recognize them?’

“Never seen them in person, only from databanks,” Corran said. “A… Gree, a Kwa, and this one…”

“A Massassi,” Kyp said. “I believe what you’re looking at is a conspiracy from aeons before our times.”

“Conspiracy?” Corran asked.

“What you see here are three of four races of what once comprised what was known as The Infinite Empire,” Kyp said. “The only race missing is a Rakata. I believe that missing skeleton found his three comrades here having a clandestine meeting, and that meeting was the last that they would ever hold. I’m not the only one who thinks this either,” Kyp went and grabbed a small notebook from a nearby stone. “It can’t be a coincidence to find them like this, together. I wonder what else, given time, I could find.”

Corran was intrigued. “Whose journal?”

“A young Colonel Simon Kaine,” Kyp said. “Seemed this was one of his first assignments. He’d never have the time with this place that we have had. Even in only a few years, what we have managed to do…”

Corran could immediately see what that was. So far, as they’d walked through the caves, everything had been narrow and cramped, with each section about the size of a small room. Not so now, as this particular section of cave had been narrowed out and widened. The size of this chamber was massive; it wasn’t entirely covered, as the smaller chambers were, with the lights, so it faded to darkness in some places rather than have clean ends. But all of the size, all of the space, was in service of something.

They had found something.

It was about forty, maybe fifty metres tall and just as wide. It was round, and looked like it part stone, part metal, and part plant. Corran realized what he was looking at was a piece of ancient technology that had been partially overgrown from the neglect. And he realized what that technology was too.

“Amazing,” he said. “Does it work?”

Kyp nodded. “We were able to get it to go to six different places. We figure those were the closest locations to here. Most places were uninhabited. But one was very inhabited; it was a staging point for the Cree’Ar. While we were deciding what to do about what we found when we went through, something unexpected happened. That was around the time word filtered to us about your mission, so we figured we’d wait until you arrived.”

Corran followed Kyp as the two left the grand chamber, in which the unearthed hypergate had been partially exhumed. They went back into a smaller cave, this one once again filled with boxes. Only against one of the boxes, a small grey humanoid had been tied up.

“Oh, well hello,” the being said upon seeing Corran. “Are you here to set me free?”

Corran looked from him to Kyp. “About a week ago the gate activated, and he came through,” Corran said. “We don’t know who he is, why he is here, or where he came from.”

Corran furrowed his brow. Well, this was a complication…