The Great Jedi Library, Knossa City, Ossus Adega System, Auril Sector, Outer Rim Territories Corusca Galaxy, First Iteration, Shatterpoint Facet
There were no alarms as such in the Library. The Ysanna had long since evolved past even a basic need for them, and the vast majority of the faculty and student body were sensitive enough to, at the very least, get the general message should a crisis emerge that would necessitate such a collective reaction. Short was the list of such potential scenarios, and even shorter was the list of such events since the temple had been reclaimed from the shadow that had festered in the mountains for centuries.
In fact, the closest device a layman in modern mysticism would consider to be an ‘alarm’ by practical standards was located in a relatively small but sturdy duracrete hut that housed the last military checkpoint between the Library and the White Path that led to Knossa itself. The outpost was not as heavily manned as one might expect, given its location and the state of the sector. The bulk of the resources left at the disposal of the Ossan Defense Force were concentrated near the City Gate and the entrance to the so-called Black Path that lead to the ruins of the old temple on the city outskirts, pressed up against a ridge of the Eocho Montains that jutted out to buttress against the towering city walls.
For the first time since the Apostate Riots several months ago that had seen the ODF take over for the Ysannan Guard, that alarm began to sound. Ossan nationals, the vast majority of them completely Force blind, sprung from their cots in admirable form, but by that time the Library itself had been awake and abuzz with chaotic activity for what seemed an eternity. To a civilian, the sight might very well have been unnerving, for while each and every library resident, whether they be guard or teacher or student, moved with a singular purpose, like arrows of certainty surrounded by entropy incarnate, none of them spoke aloud.
The hush of the temple save for the echoes of thousands of footfalls bouncing around the cavernous chambers, the clanking of cortosis-lined duraplate as armor forged from ancient Jedi schematics was donned, the snap-hiss of thousands of lightsabers activating at once, held aloft as if beacons of righteousness wielded by an order that had long since learned the benefit of pragmatism over esoteric tradition, all these sounds mixed together with that unnerving silence to form one voice, unified.
Stand, it said, stand ready.
Of course, to the mind of a sensitive, it said something else entirely. Something heard with such a crystal clarity that it boomed even throughout the halls of the ruins at the end of the Black Path, what Knossan citizens had tentatively dubbed the Foreign Quarter and the Ysanna, at least in polite company, called the Apostate Temple. How to explain such a...sound? Such a...voice, to someone numb to the Force? It would be easier to explain color without language.
Thousands of presences, thousands of conversations, both one-to-one and one-to-all and some-to-some and some-to-all and all-to-some. Thousands of voices, thousands of auras, swirling and mingling, shifting and consolidating, the many and the one. The one that is many. And, above them all, the one presence...the one feeling, as if a sort of jamais vu. So loud and so silent. So overwhelming and so faint.
It was almost a prerequisite for any serious training in the Force to be able to reconcile paradoxical sentiments, but this was something else. Something more. Something new...or old. So old, and so unknown. None of them dared say it, even in the recesses of their own minds, but on the fringes of their consciousness they all suspected it, hoped for it, feared it more than anything.
To those that lack the sight beyond sight, the events within the Library halls closely resembled pandemonium of a mundane kind, but there was no confusion, only terrible uncertainty. The source of the Signal had never been in doubt, it would have been easy to triangulate even if it had not come from exactly where it had been expected, or rather hoped to. The massive endeavor within their ranks had not been meant to safeguard the temple, to protect the Enclave, but in a fulfilment of the ancient oaths many of them had already taken.
The Library doors were locked, no messages were sent out or allowed in, and what few wards they had went up in practiced, if nerve-ridden expediency. Not to save itself, but to save Ossus. To save the galaxy. From what? They could not yet be certain. Not without ascending to the highest chambers of the tallest tower, where no living soul had dared walk for a little more than a year.
Not without seeing with their blind eyes. Not without proof a posteriori.
Arrays of sabers glowed, ranging from traditional hilts to dual-blades to pikes and staves, their hues dancing across the ancient stone tower framework as their wielders trudged dutifully up the endless spiral staircase. Not a vanguard but an honor guard, almost all of them Ysanna but with a few particularly gifted or fanatical offworlders amongst them. and at their front the temple Guard-Captain, one of Okko’s tribe and the among the most gifted duelists on the planet, who alone had elected not to draw her blade.
At last, and for some all too soon, they reached the summit. The signal had grown so strong, so reverberatory the higher they had risen, that by the time they reached the landing it was too painful for some and they were forced to deaden their sensitivity lest they be overwhelmed into unconsciousness.
A faint illumination that did now seem to glow so much as it seeped out from the cracks in the chamber doors was the only light source aside from their blades, and yet it nonetheless bathed them in a sort of spectral aura that twisted the shadows in each other’s faces to make them look more hollow.
No one spoke, not even through the Force, and not even the Guard-Captain could bring herself to approach those looming doors. For a while they just stood there, as if frozen in time, caught in an endless moment, an eternal intake of breath. And then...and then….and always…
The doors opened.
The light was blinding, but only for a moment, only long enough to burn the outline of a figure into their retinas that they could not be sure was real or just a very convincing sunspot. It faded immediately, but not all at once, rather seeming to dim more slowly as time went on, fading from white to off-white to a grey before beginning to blink, as if winking in and out. Pitch blackness, and then back again.
Several times this happened, before it dimmed completely and all at once, as if it had sucked all the oxygen from the room and released it back with its passing. Their sabers, though they had not perceptibly changed, regained their capacity to provide a meager visibility, and while the tower light had gone, they could now see that the figure they had first seen was still there.
“Scion of Jiren,” the Guard-Captain whispered.
His robes were tattered, his features haggard but otherwise no different than they remembered, except he was a stranger to them. He to them, and them to him. They could feel it, but they did not understand it. Not yet. Maybe not ever. Slowly, he began to slump to his knees, as if his body were only just becoming aware it could not support his weight. Deftly, instinctually, the Guard-Captain slid to catch him, supporting the stranger’s back in her arms.
“Grand….grandmaster?” the Ysanna whispered, the thinness to her voice betraying a lifetime of training.
“Oh,” he said, tears streaming slowly down a desolate face, “oh.”
If you think that you can run, If you think that you can stand, Well you forget who turned this city on. You forget who plugged this city in. They'll not switch it off again.
- The Church and the Crusader
The Dark Tower, The Wasteland, Fangol Unknown Space, Mortex Sector, Outer Rim Territories Corusca Galaxy, Second Iteration, Shatterpoint Facet
“Why have you summoned me so soon?” he demanded in a restrained growl.
The Prophet said nothing, and begrudgingly Xoverus stooped to one knee in a stiff bow, “What is thy bidding, my master?”
No apology was given, and none was expected. The Church had no tolerance for weakness, it was to be purged along with all the other undesirable traits that separated the faithful from heresy. Xoverus had no idea how long the Tower had been there, or how long an atmosphere had been somehow contained without technology within it. He had never asked, and the Prophet had never answered.
But sometimes, he couldn’t stop wondering.
“The Force fluctuates once more, our plans are accelerating,” the Prophet explained matter of factly.
He did his best to hide it, but the disgusting creaking as his jawbones strained against the remaining sinew in some form of garish grin gave his enthusiasm away. He knew not what had given his fears about the Unspoken away as well, but the Prophet spoke as if directly answering a question.
“Worry not, my young apprentice. The Unspoken is infinite, but only because the Force is infinite. Entropy expands, collapses, and time itself changes. You need not understand now, but someday you will. When I am gone.”
A cold chill ran up his spine. For years Xoverus had expected this master/apprentice relationship had had ulterior motives, but to have it confirmed so brazenly drove his non-existent heart even colder. Still, he knew better than to speak out of turn.
“The Unspoken has given you much, Xoverus. It has restored your life force and reawakened your bones, but all things in this universe are a victim of causality, and it is no one’s fault but your own that the decisions that led to your ultimate death rotted your flesh away as well.”
“Yes, master,” this time he did not growl, but his response was curt and tense, “What of our plans?”
The Prophet chuckled, “Good,” he said, “Impatient as always. Such qualities will serve you well in the crusade to come.”
Xoverus gasped. “Then...it has truly begun?” he breathed.
“Late last night, the first shots were fired,” the Prophet affirmed.
“Fools! If they had just held out a while longer we would have caught them completely unprepared!” he roared in glee, sending his fist careening into an ornamental vase and knocking it to the floor. With a sigh, the Prophet waved his hand, and when Xoverus looked down again the vase was gone, only to have reappeared out of thin air back on the pedestal.
“Remember, Dark Lord, all emotion in sufficient moderation, no more,” his voice was chiding, but not disdainful or dismissive. It was perhaps the only quality about the Prophet that hadn’t made Xoverus want to drive a blade into his heart. The years he had trained him, Xoverus had grown to respect him for a wholly unique mind.
Still, his constant chiding made the Dark Jedi furious, and the Prophet knew it.
“You’re goading me,” but he was grinning again.
“You deserved it,” the Prophet said, simply, “And you will need all your strength for the conquests to come.”
“Conquests! Heh! As if the Crusade could conquer anything anymore,” any true Sith would have slain him on the spot for that comment, but the Prophet favored logic over brunt emotion, “They’ve never been anything more than a distraction, a thorn in our side!”
“You had dreams of Lord Silk again?”
“Its SILK, just Silk. He’s not a lord of anything anymore. His warriors are MINE!”
“Careful, Xoverus, lest you fall from the precipice.”
“Ragh!” he grunted as his hand once more moved to strike the vase. Millimeters from its surface, it stopped, suspended in mid air, “Unhand me vile demon!”
“You know perfectly well who and what I am, Xoverus,” the Prophet said, hand raised but without a tremor in his voice, “I will not surrender your hand...the Unspoken’s hand, until you CALM DOWN.”
The Prophet’s hand twisted, and Xoverus screamed.
“Y-yes master!” and the moment he spoke the Dark Jedi was blown backwards across vacant, decrepit council chamber. “Sithspawn that hurt!”
How long had it been empty? he found himself wondering as he slowly rose to his feet, And who...what once filled those seats.
“All in time,” the Prophet said, an answer Xoverus had the uneasy feeling was meant for both questions, “For now, our eyes turn to the shatterpoint.”
“You said…” he paused, and though the Prophet showed no expression on his face; never showed any expression on his face, “I believe I recall you mentioning that at this stage assaulting their stronghold would be suicide.”
“As I said, the Force fluctuates.”
“By that much?” he exclaimed, and would have widened his eyes; if he still had eyes.
“A single drop in a single ocean on a single world in the farthest spirals of this galaxy can move mountains and change empires.”
“You speak in riddles, old man,” Xoverus said, but there was no more real menace in the insult.
“I speak of the Force, and to the Force life is the only mystery left worth discovering.”
“Then the Force is a fool as well,” he muttered.
And then he was three feet off the ground, pressed against the stone wall of the council chambers with his throat in the Prophet’s vice-lip grip. He could not breathe, his skeletal frame had no need of oxygen, but nonetheless it felt just as agonizing as if he had been healthy and living. He could not speak.
“Do not mock what you can not, can never hope to truly comprehend,” he said, and the calmness of his voice was eerier than the threat, “The Unspoken gave you life, and It can take it away from you just as quickly. Trust in It, and you will have everything you desire at last.”
“I’d better,” he grumbled, “I didn’t sign up for any superstitious nonsense. You showed me the Unspoken was real, and I believe you, but if you are lying to me-”
“You’ll what? Kill me?” he gave a chuckle devoid of mirth, “You wouldn’t even know where to begin. Even this body is merely a vessel for Its infinite might.”
“I would find a way, Prophet.”
He expected another thrashing, but this time the old man made no move to wave his hand.
“I believe you mean that, my apprentice,” the Prophet said, “I laugh only because you do not yet truly comprehend how ignorant you are of the Ways of the Force.”
“Two lifetimes wasn’t enough?” he groaned scathingly.
“Two trillion lifetimes would not be enough, Lord Xoverus.”
The Dark Lord hated it when the Prophet was right, but his self-claimed title mollified him somewhat. Let the Unspoken plan and plot, he thought to himself, Meanwhile I will gain all the blood and glory. This galaxy will remember me, if I have to burn its heart out!
“Good, Xoverus,” the Prophet said, nodding sagely, “Let the rage flow through you, but channel it. You are a conduit for the Force, my son. You are the Force.”
Soon, this universe will crumble before me, Xoverus thought, soon the Force will be one with me.
As the Prophet left to attend to whatever unknown, unnatural duties he had assigned himself while out of earshot; Xoverus stayed there, in that rusting shell of a Council, and stared out at the frozen wasteland beyond the Tower walls.
Then his eyeless sockets turned up, towards space.
Some celestial event. No - no words. No words to describe it. Poetry! They should've sent a poet. So beautiful. So beautiful...I had no idea.
[left]- The Helix Wars: Beachhead
ARO-1, Lagrange Point, New Andos Outer Mist, Transitory Mists, Hapes Cluster Corusca Galaxy, Third Iteration, Shatterpoint Facet
Life serving aboard an Andosian Relay Outpost wasn’t the most comfortable duty to pull for a junior officer in the Andosian Space Force, and not just because the quarters were cramped and the holo-showers would glitch constantly.
The Andosians had learned much in their ten year exodus from their home system to the Mists. Where home was from the Cluster, they could not begin to guess. Perhaps nestled in some out of the way quadrant on one of the outer spirals of the Unknown Regions, maybe even a few light years from here through impassible sectors of the Mists themselves. Within space this densely packed, there was no way to really tell without any sort of geo-directional guidance.
Not long after they had arrived, the Vong had shown up; and were it not from the most unlikely of circumstances, they would have finished their genocide. But something happened in that moment; and not even Dace Riggs, the president himself, could explain why. For a time, they had lived on the first New Andos in the same system as the strange and impossibly huge Atal’ai space station. But one day; with no more warning than a flash of light; blinding everyone on the planet for a few seconds, the middle of the night became early dawn and the stars in the sky had shifted.
A single message appeared seconds before the moment, what the Andosians now refer to as the Will of the Traveler, on the holopanel of an ensign just out of flight school. They were so caught off guard that they did not even process the planetary population’s entire shift in location until it was already too late.
There had been no sender ID tag, no record of a message ever coming in, and strangest of all seemingly no expectation of a reply. It read as follows:
ALL THESE WORLDS ARE YOURS SAVE TERMINUS. YOU WILL ATTEMPT NO LANDING THERE.
This is for those who can't take a hint, find a hundred neighbors
Ask if they could change their life, then what would they do different. Would it be little shifts or would it be some hidden dream From the bitter deep that no one even knows exists.
To me it makes sense, You can waste your time tossing blades of grass at the wind That you could swing fists and if it sinks ships. Bury me at sea with my arms crossed and a smile upon my pink lips.
Tell me this, put up your fingertips If you're living your life exactly the way that you wished, yeah. And for the rest of us with our hands on our hips Our work is never done, we are Sisyphus.
- Of Endings: Heavy Sits the Crown of Victory and Hard the Cold Hand of Time...
Idiot’s Array Casino, Imperial Intelligence Front, Imperial Center Vladet, Rachuk Sector, Outer Rim Colonies Corusca Galaxy, Fourth Iteration, Shatterpoint Facet
Cipher 13 was running, and he was running fast. He could feel more than hear the heavy labored breathing as his lungs strained to pump blood to his extremities. It felt like he had been running for days. It was the witching hour on Vladet, though due to its rotation it was not quite midnight. The darkness had never felt more terrifying or pervasive in all of the Agent’s life.
How had it come to this?
He hadn’t been useful enough, and now the Archivist was cleaning up shop; there was no other possible explanation for it. Well two can play at that game. Suddenly he halted and spun on his heels, ready to dispatch his opponent in single combat long enough to convince him that they had been been played.
“Wai-” he sensed the danger but by then it was too late. Another sensitive! he thought, just as the stun bolt slammed him full in the chest and drove all the air from his lungs, Gotta….concentrate...need to….heal!
The dark figure walked slowly, measuredly over to the crumpled body of his quarry; the entire time scanning the vicinity for possible surprises. When he sensed none, he moved in to stand over the fallen Agent, and for the first time Cipher 13 saw his face, and his eyes widened in horror. He struggled to speak, to say anything.
“That’s right,” Cygnus said, mistaking his expression for the fear of death, “High Command isn’t coming, boy.”
Cygnus! He struggled to speak, to say anything, before the Republic SIS commando could switch his safety off, but it was too late. Not enough time.
“M...mmm….mol-” bam! the laser blast struck him squarely in the chest, followed by one more to the skull in quick succession. Cygnus froze, his eyes wide.
“What did you say?!” he screamed at the body, opening up his weak mind in a vain attempt to connect with his departing consciousness, “WHAT DID YOU SAY YOU PIECE OF SHIT!”
It came from nowhere, but the voice he heard so clearly in his head was not his own. It was virtually indistinguishable from the holorecords of Cipher 13’s records…
...all conveniently provided to him in excruciating detail by the Strategic Information Service.
For a long time, he said nothing. He simply stood in the decrepit Imperial City alley and stared at his latest mistake.
Then he wiped the blaster down, disassembled the gun, scattered half of the components through trash in the alley, and shove the other half down his waistband to dispose of through his shoe as he casually strolled back to his ship, whistling but careful not to do so so loudly as to attract any attention.
He had questions that needed answers, and he knew just the man to talk to.
There are so many things that I don't understand. There's a world within me that I cannot explain. Many rooms to explore, but the doors look the same. I am lost I can't even remember my name.
There are so many things that I don't understand. There's a world within me that I cannot explain. Many rooms to explore, but the doors look the same. where are the locks to try the key I am lost I can't even remember my name and i wonder why.
“It is of no use,” Cyur Ator said, “Every possible variable all leads to the same outcome.”
“I told you ending Force-stasis was folly!” Ausel’k grumbled, hissing softly through its vocoder in an expression of disgust.
“All hope is not lost, my friend. There are still two variables in flux,” Cyur emitted soothingly, “The Order’s power approaches infinity [rough translation: shatterpoint], but we are not yet omniscient.”
“A miscalculation we would have avoided if we had remained outside the Great River,” Ausel’k fired back, but there was a weakness in optical circuitry that betrayed his true feelings.
“You must trust me if we are going to survive this [shatterpoint], just as we have weathered all the other the-time-that-is-not [rough translation: nows].”
“Your Fear [rough translation: rage, anger, vendetta, entropy] of the Enemy has led you to ignore the full scope of life in this moment. You are blinded by past resentments towards our many distant cousins, but most of all by the sudden confirmation of our ancestors. We all dismissed the Apocrypha as pre-integrated scripture, but now we understand that there is Truth [rough translation: hope, order, life, entropy] even in the most outlandish of mythos.”
The council was silent for a moment, then Ausel’k spoke.
“You speak of [Truth] when there is none in this [nows]. There is no [Fear] here. They are too ignorant, too complacent. This is a trial millenium in between Imperiums [rough translation: empire, golden age, republic, communism, socialism, organized democracy], nothing more.”
“You are blinded by your own Fear. Two variables remain, and yet none of you wonder why. Somewhere, out there, lies both Hope and Fear. If we do not act in the [nows], we will lose our destiny forever, if not to the Cree’Ar then to the...Anomaly [rough translation: Unspoken].
“And what, pray tell, are we missing Cyur Ator [rough translation: curator, leader, organizer, student, teacher, philosopher, commander, hero, villain, martyr, messiah, Force Blind],” the council spoke as one through Ausel’k’s vocoder.
“The Dark [Perfect Entropy] and The Light [Perfect Truth] have balanced for the first time since the last Vessel. I have no doubt that the Singularity [rough translation: Unity] will choose to test this one’s mettle as well; before the end.”
The council gasped as one, “You mean, another Vessel? So soon? Such a thing has not happened in aeons.”
“I do not know whether Unity will succeed,” Cyur Ator, “But I know it will try.”
For a long time, there was silence.
“So it shall be.”
“Then let us meet our neighbors,” Cyur said, giving the equivalent of a grin.
“Linear time is still unknown to us in orbit of Terminus,” the council pleaded, “Which [nows] will we choose as our entry point?”
“Remember, my oldest friends,” Cyur said, smiling widely, “To correct an error you must start at the beginning.”
“Too long!” They cried, “Too long!”
“Not our beginning,” Cyur assuaged, “Theirs.”
And in a blink of an eye, Gree Baran was gone, leaving only a shell of a barren super-earth where once Terminus Baran had lain dormant.
Yes I spit fire Hope lies in the smoldering rubble of empires Yes back through the shanties and the cities remains The same bodies buried hungry But with different last names These vultures rob everyone Leave nothing but chains
What ya say, what ya say, what ya say, what?
Calm like a bomb Ignite, ignite, ignite, ignite…
Inner Haven: We the People
Outer Congress, Capitol, Columex Columex System, Vorzyd Sector, Outer Rim Territories Corusca Galaxy, First Iteration, Shatterpoint Facet
The banging came in the middle of the night, and Master Okko had the distinct, albeit unfortunately not too uncommon pleasure of cursing the Commonality in his first moments of consciousness. He did not have long to revel in his grumblings, however, for that confused cursing was quickly replaced by…’fear’ was not exactly the right word for a Jedi. ‘Panicked awareness’ fit better perhaps.
Even those fears were assuaged after only a few moments of wakefulness as Okko reached out beyond his ‘quarters’, what amounted effectively to a janitor’s closet tucked away in a quiet corner of Congressional Center. The presence on the other side of the door was one he was all too familiar with, and even the anxiety behind the rapid pounding was not altogether unnatural for its source, but the tremors in the aura were significantly more disconcerting for the old Ysanna.
“Enter, my son.”
Tukko came rushing in before his father had even finished, his features a mess and his eyes wild.
“He’s back!” the overeager Jedi trainee exclaimed, as if that explained everything, and his father was left to puzzle over behavior that was truly out of character, even for the impetuousness of youth. Tukko launched into a sort of rambling diatribe that sounded more like stream of consciousness than any adequate elaboration of the first statement.
“Peace, Tukko,” Okko soothed. And though the youth did not, and never had liked to be coddled, the soothing peacefulness in his father’s own voice did calm him somewhat. If only because it had been an earnest wish and not more Jedi fortune cookie wisdom, “Start over. Who is back?”
Okko’s son stared at him like he was the one who had gone insane, and as his mind became more alert he brimmed with a hope that soon turned to uneasiness as he saw that the look in Tukko’s face was certainly not one of elation.
“The Grandmaster!” he enunciated slowly, but the panicked frenzy had not diminished in the young Jedi’s voice, “He arrived two evenings ago!”
Okko banished the sentiment from his mind almost as quickly as it had wormed its way in, unbidden save for the sentient instinct towards family and loyalty. The Ysanna were perhaps uncommon for most human offshoots. Children were treated more as both a resource and a responsibility of the entire community, and less as the property of a single family unit. Still, blood was blood, and even in the Ysanna the bonds between brothers and sisters ran deep.
Or fathers and sons… he mused as he peered at his only child’s aberrant behavior.
“Did you meditate this morning?” Okko asked, and exercised every ounce of his own self control not to find grim satisfaction in the look on his son’s face, who had reacted as if he had just been slapped.
“Did you even hear-” Tukko broke off mid sentence, noting at last the look on his father’s face and reluctantly coming to the same conclusion that he had lost some control over his emotions. With all the impatience and indignity of youth, he sighed too loudly and plopped himself down on the floor at the foot of Okko’s bed.
They chanted together, a sort of battle prayer. Based on Odan-Urr’s teachings, some would even say preceding them, and yet a more civilized Code for a more civilized age. Both Jedi’s auras stabilized considerably by the end of the meditation ritual, yet Tukko’s still fluctuated with the wildness of youth.
“Now, tell me everything,” Okko said. Quickly, Tukko described the emergency message that had been relayed through the high priority UWO buoys to Columex Central Command. The Jedi Master was elated to hear the news, and yet he could sense an unease in his son that he found no explanation for in the words that he heard, “It is good news, my son. I appreciate your haste, yet I wonder what struck you so that it could not wait until morning.”
“Master!” Tukko cried out, and from both the honorific title and desperation in his voice, he could tell that even after their meditation, his son was slipping. What on Ossus could have shaken him so? “It is not the return of the Grandmaster that worries me! It is…it is…”
“Speak; I am bound to hear.”
“It is what he said, Master. What he said when he appeared. Strange things, terrible things. The truth of his words was in Ysanna code, Central Command knows nothing of it, but-”
“What is it? Speak, boy!” and now Okko was beginning to slip. Where had Zark gone? What had he seen? The questions had plagued his mind, of course, but he had always kept the faith. Always been certain that, no matter his reasons, the Grandmaster had had good reason to leave the Commonality to its face in its most trying of times.
“Okko...he went to speak with Shadow Incarnate…
He went to speak with the Demon Under the Mountain.”
The old Ysanna’s blood ran cold, and this time fear did grip him. A fear that washed over everything else, a fear that made him tremble visibly.
“I must away at once. I hold my position in your trust until Chief Tsibul returns from Obroa-skai. You understand?”
“Yes, father,” Tukko nodded, and painfully Okko noted that the youth had picked up on the fear of his own blood, that it had fed into his, “I understand. What should I tell the Chief?”
“Stall, if you can. Until you hear from me,” he said, at last. He had no reason to distrust Fyodor, but the less people knew of this the better. At least until he could speak to the Grandmaster. At least until he could understand, “If the situation changes...if it is no longer an option...you may confide in him. Tell him what you know, but tell no one of the Ysanna message. I hope...I am certain that all will be explained upon my arrival, but...there is too much uncertainty in Outer Haven over the Jedi Question as it is. We would not want to…”
He trailed off, but his son nodded and Okko could tell that he understand.
“Be safe, my son. Stay strong, stay faithful. Walk with the Force.”
“The Force be with you as well, father.”
His eyes opened, and he gasped softly before he became aware of his surroundings.
It was the soothing, slightly mechanical feminine voice of Sanctity Station’s automated boarding calls that had dragged Okko from his half-slumber, half-reverie. Sanctity was not the most prominent orbital satellite in Ossus’s upper atmosphere, and no structure in the system rivalled Port Orilcia in sheer terms of traffic, but over the past year much year much commerce had reprioritized what shipments it could toward the space stations Ossus already boasted, more as a status symbol left over from hey days and golden age than for any real practical purpose.
The automated voice was rattling through departure times in Galactic Basic Standard in as efficient a manner as possible. Quick enough not to frustrate over eager travelers, yet not so quick as to leave those sentients with less auditory acuity than others lost and hopeless in a sea of strangers.
Okko’s head swam in the first few moments of heightened awareness, but distantly he became aware that it had not been the nearness of his shuttle’s departure that had broken his trance, but a dim awareness of some half-caught shout or excited whisper somewhere on the other side of the terminal. As the crowd began to ebb and surge towards available holoprojectors, he did not have to wonder at the peculiarity for long.
Soon enough, he found a holoterminal that had not been swamped with tourists and Station personnel alike, and watched along with everyone else in a sort of numb horror as the scene played out in front of his eyes, like some bad holoplay reimagined in modern times.
“Reports coming in…”
“An explosive device was set off at …”
“...no word from Obroa-skai, but Capitol Police have declared martial law…”
“...as you can see, the flame and smoke behind us…”
“...coming from Congressional Center, Columex Central Command is in complete disarray…”
“...Outer Congress was in session at the time. No official word on the casualty list, but…”
“...we are getting unofficial word from governmental sources...at least a dozen Senators dead, if not more…”
“...hundreds listed in critical condition….”
“...yes, we cannot confirm at this time, but popular speculation is that the bomber was a Jedi….”
“Jedi, yes definitely-”
“...we cannot release or speculate on what amounts to speculation, but one can only wonder as to the unprecedented level of access this afforded-”
“...shocked, yes. All of Columex is in mourning, and the Commonality stands behind them. There will be a time for that later, but if Jedi are capable of such atrocities, I can only imagine-”
“What are they really capable of?! Who is policing them? They are Outer Haven’s own secret pol-”
Jedi… Okko thought, his mind reeling, This can’t be. I need to call Tukko, I need to know what happened-
And then it hit him, at the exact moment he saw the grim faced UWO MPs catch sight of him through the crowd and make a beeline directly for him.
“No…” he whispered, “No. No, no, no.”
“Master Okko,” it was obviously meant as a question, but there was no hint of uncertainty, “If you will come with us immediately, sir. ODF Command needs to debrief you.”
No! he screamed inside his head. And although he could not reconcile it, although he was wailing inside his own brain, a lifetime of Jedi training and indoctrination made him numb to the grief. Made him incapable of mourning as any true father should.
“Please, we shouldn’t cause a scene,” the ODF man said, without a hint of true pity, “Master Okko, we regret to inform you-”
But he didn’t need them to finish. He already knew. In some ways, he had known the moment he had left Columex. He didn’t need their blind eyes to see, to speak a truth to him with deaf ears. He knew, more than they did, more than they ever could.
Dear shithead, This isn't happening. The sky is really falling, the paint's all made of lead There's asbestos in the walls, hell's coming to rip off the doors To your privileged heaven. Do you want to love and feel it? You can look but you can't taste it. You can reach but you'll never have it. We are untouchable; Untouchable is something to be.
Can anybody tell me why God won't speak to me? Why Jesus never called on me to part the fucking seas? Why death is easier than living? You can be almost anything When you're on your fucking knees. Not today Not my son Not my family Not while walking is still honest, And you haven't given up on me.
The Palestar Crusader, Chapter Two: Dacian Rising
Hall of Conquest, Hunter’s Enclave, Symbol Unknown Space, Unknown Regions Corusca Galaxy, Second Iteration, Shatterpoint Facet
The entire world felt like a graveyard, and in many ways it truly was.
It was not the stillness or eerie silence of the witching hour that brought such thoughts unbidden to the mind of the Mandalorian. It went beyond that, beyond even the hurried whispers and quiet scowls in the alleys of the Enclave, by all rights the one place on Symbol that should have been a holdout for the boisterous and arrogant nature of the Mandalorian peoples.
The New Mandalorians had lost their faith.
No one would say it, or even allow themselves to think it, but they all knew how the campaign went in the Occupation Zone. What had once seemed a wave of death and destruction that seemed as if it would not stop until all of civilization burned had been blunted, battered, and rendered impotent.
And none of them understood why.
The Mandalorian chuckled softly despite himself, for it was a bitter laughter. The sort of world weary laughter of the absurdist, angry at the universe for being too blind to see, but lacking even an inner faith strong enough to force them to. In many ways, Dacian had been stronger than he ever would be. Even if he were a fool.
“Lost in your thoughts?” the voice came from the shadows, but the Mandalorian did not flinch. He sensed a quiet disappointment in the source of the voice as it noted that.
“Never lost, Mand’alor. Never lost,” the Mandalorian replied, shaking his head sadly, “Though to see you skulking through these back alleys like a common dog does nothing to brighten my spirits. Is it any wonder they turned from you?”
“It is no wonder,” the voice acknowledged, moving from the shadows so that at least his outline was visible, “The true wonder...is how such a perfect specimen could let a ‘common dog’ catch him so unaware.”
“Look down,” the Mandalorian said simply. He did not turn, did not need to, for the booming laugh of the voice confirmed he had finally noticed the vibrodagger centimeters away from his pelvis, “Perhaps you could have landed the killing blow, perhaps even survived my ire, but where two men walked into the Hall this evening; none would leave.”
“You are learning well, Solus,” the voice acknowledged, and its source stepped fully from the shadows to reveal Beff Pike, master of the Bounty Hunter’s Guild and Mandalore-in-Exile.
“No thanks to you, Mand’alor,” Solus spat back, and the honorific took on a much different tone. Almost a curse, “Not one amongst these so-called warriors could take you in single combat, not even their precious ‘Mandalore’. And yet you sneak like a coward.”
It was a casual flick, so natural in its grace that not even Solus’ superhuman reflexes had time to process before Pike’s own vibroblade had embedded itself in the back of his hand. Any other man, Mandalorian otherwise, would have reacted much different. Howled, bawled, leapt over the table to begin a death struggle. Any other man...but Solus was no man. He was more, and less. Pure...and yet corrupted.
Solus was Taung.
So while any other man, any other man would have reacted that way, the Mandalorian gave no more than a quick snarl and another bitter laugh before casually yanking the blade out with his free hand and sending it skittering across the stone floor absentmindedly. Still, despite his bravado, the message had been received.
As fast as he thought he was, as strong as he thought he was, as pure as he thought he was; he was not the true Mandalorian in the room.
Beff Pike was faster, stronger, better.
“Your impetuousness is unbecoming,” Pike said, and where before their insults had been nothing more than a playful joust, Solus could tell that now he was angry, “Do not confuse cowardice for patience, for precision. I was master of the Guild before I ever claimed to be Mandalore, and for one so intimately familiar with the Way of the Hunter, you of all in this broken galaxy should show more respect for our people’s teachings.”
“I?” Solus snarled, and now he was the one who was angry, “It was not I who gave up on the Mando’ade. Who gave up on ‘our people’. I was raised in a test tube, raised in one of your labs, and yet I am more a Mandalorian than you will ever be.”
“That was the idea,” Beff shot back, and once again the Taung was frustrated by the bounty hunter’s aggravating logic, “A true Mandalorian is the perfect warrior, the perfect hunter. And hunters recognize the limitations of their environment. Even-”
And then, in mid-sentence, Pike’s face spasmed in agony and he doubled over. Coughing, always coughing. So heavily and for so long that Solus began to fear he would wake the whole Enclave. How would they react to a perceived ‘enemy’ in their midst? To an interloper, a pretender?
Not with the mercy of Beff Pike, Solus thought, and wondered if he should knock the man unconsciousness for both their sakes. But as soon as the thought came, the coughing fit seem to subside. Doubled over on his hands and knees, Pike paused only to spit a mouthful of blood onto the stones below him before limping back to his seat.
“Even their own,” he gasped out, and the Taung was confused before he realized the Mandalore, this seemingly impossible human being, was continuing their conversation as if it had been no more than a dizziness spell, “Tell me, Solus. What would you have me do?”
“Call a Great Hunt,” the Taung said instantly, without even having to think. His eagerness betrayed him, for it was a question he had pondering ever since Pike had sent him to this cursed rock, “The first true Hunt in centuries. Not a token gesture, not a tournament or friendly competition, but a true Hunt...and let all the pretenders burn with the rest of the weaklings.”
He expected another attack. Perhaps a backhand, or even for the bounty hunter to leap across the table, his hands outstretched for the Taung’s throat. But Pike, impossible Pike, always surprised him. He laughed softly, grinning even as the shakes of mirth pained him even more.
“Oh, to be young again,” he sighed, wistful eyes filled with a nostalgia that Solus saw, could only see as a weakness, as his mentor’s tragic flaw, “Perhaps I should, my friend. Perhaps it should have been done long ago. Yet time marches on, with no thought nor consideration for our mistakes...or triumphs. If I called one, right here and right now, who would listen?”
“I would!” he avowed, but he knew he had been baited. Mandalore had lured his thinking into the irrational, and was now prepared to lay waste to his schemes.
“I believe you,” Beff nodded, and he did not need to look into his master’s eyes to see that the old man meant it, “And what a Hunt it would be, with a Taung at my side. A true Mando’ade. Yet how many could you kill, Solus? Truly, how far do you think we would get, you and I versus the galaxy? Could we kill everyone in the Enclave? Likely. On Symbol, maybe. In the region?”
Even Symbol would be too generous an assumption, the Taung thought to himself. It was not these New Mandalorians that worried him. Next to the two of them, they were less than useless, and he knew that they would make short work of the entirety of the Enclave. But the Mandalorians had never been the Crusade’s only weapon in their arsenal, or even their most potent.
No, it was Dacian’s Void Knights that truly worried Solus, How do you fight emptiness itself?
“Do not be so quick to dismiss these...New Mandalorians,” Pike said, although the venom in his voice at the word betrayed his own inner thoughts on the matter, “To die in combat is all any Mandalorian hopes for, and to die at the hands of another Mando’ade...that is true glory. Whether they be a battle-seasoned veteran,” he nodded at Solus, “or a mewling pup barely out of basic training.” He gestured all around them, at the Hall itself.
“A combat death is the Mandalorian way,” Pike continued, “is our way. One day, when the time finally comes, it is my deepest hope for you that you will be allowed such an honor. Such a tribute to your name. Truly, there is no death as pathetic and unsatisfied than a peaceful death. To die in peace time, in the comfort of your own bed, whether it be old age or…”
He trailed off, and Solus felt an emotion he knew was wholly uncharacteristic for a Taung. That ran counter to his fundamental genetic code. Looking at Pike, holding on to his composure through merely the unstoppable force of his willpower and determination, and yet with a complexion a little too palid. Beads of sweat a little too frequent.
“Pity me not!” his Mandalore snarled, not reading his mind but his face, “It is the tragedy of greatness. No man or woman in this galaxy has yet been able to stand against me and live, yet all life eventually comes across a foe too powerful for them. The biggest, strongest, quickest motherfuckers in this galaxy all tried and died.
It is only fitting that I should be finally slain, slowly and quietly, by an enemy too small to be seen by the naked eye. Wealth can extend one’s natural life span, but it was only a matter of time before something came along that no sum could vanquish. Could even hope to counter.
Disease,” he spat, and trailed off once more. Then his eyes came back into focus, and he realized from the concern on the Taung’s face that he had been rambling, “Do not listen to the idle complaints of an old man. I have time enough left, more than enough. If not to save the honor of my own name, then at least to preserve my legacy.
I will never understand why you chose such a foolish title for yourself. Would that you had chosen one of the family lines, like Fett or Ordo-”
“Or Pike?” Solus cut him off, and Beff smiled sadly, nodding in acknowledgment of the well placed jab.
“You confuse tradition for ambition,” Beff answered, “Yet there is a truth in your words. I am, in many ways, a victim of my own pride. I am limited by my failings. The failings of a man, the failings of a human being.
But you have no such limitations, Solus. You see yourself as an aberrant, as a freak. As the last in a dead line, a dead race, a Taung that never should have been. But I see you for what you truly are. I always have.”
“And what do you see, praytell?” his tone was flippant, and yet this was the most overt respect Beff had ever shown him before, and it worried him, Has the disease progressed more than even I suspected? Is he truly at wit’s end?
“The first Mando’ade of the New Era,” the bounty hunter said, simply, “The Mand’alor that should have been.”
“How many times have I told you, old man-”
“Such is a title only earned in blood,” Beff finished for him, waving away the familiar argument, “You do not believe yourself worthy even of consideration. Not yet. But my hope, what keeps me fighting even when all seems truly hopeless, truly lost, is that one day...sooner than you think, you will.”
“We shall see,” Solus said, and Pike nodded. An unspoken agreement between them to move on to other things.
“Tell me, what of your current assignment?” Beff asked, and Solus gave him a disgusted expression that said what assignment. He elaborated, “Give me your honest assessment on what you have see. What do you think of the empire Palestar built?
What of Dacian himself?”
“There is much potential here,” the Taung acknowledged grudgingly. Even he could not deny the awe of the Crusade war machine, especially considering how quickly it had formed in so little time, relatively speaking, “Yet Palestar was blinded by his own arrogance, by the certainty that he would not, could not, make the same mistakes as all those who came before him. It proved to be his undoing, in the end.”
“Mistake?” Beff raised his eyebrow, genuinely curious, “Interesting. I always thought he maneuvered quite perfectly.”
“Too perfectly,” Solus agreed, drawing a bemused chuckle from his friend and a gesture to continue, “Dacian dragged the powerful and the capable into his orbit through a wholly unique will, and trapped them there with the certainty that there would not, could not be any escape. His followers lost all hope, not of glory and victory for such things seemed so assured, but of advancement.”
He could tell that now Beff was curious, “You think he consolidated too much power?”
“A not unfamiliar error, would you not agree?” Solus quipped, and noted with some disdain that the barb had too potent an effect on his master, “Never underestimate the utility of treachery, of deceit, even amongst your own sycophants. Why should they plot for you, scheme for you, when they have no hope of taking what is yours? This has always been the Palestar Crusade. And it remains so now, even if…”
Now it was the Taung’s turn to trail off, and Pike leaned in eagerly.
“Go on,” the bounty hunter said, “I have heard the rumors, of course, but you never know what to truly believe about what goes on in Palestar’s tower. Whether it be rumors spread naturally or by his own propaganda machine.”
Solus nodded, unsurprised by his master’s uncertainty. It was a feeling even he shared, “And now we come to Palestar’s true folly. Even his high command has bought into the mythos, to the story. Dacian can see through you, can see your intentions perfectly. That nothing escapes him.
One only needs to open their eyes to see the lie all around them. Some allies, Dacian drastically overestimated. While others…”
Beff peered at him oddly, an inscrutable expression on his face. And when he spoke, Solus realized that his reverie betrayed him, “You are afraid.”
Solus snarled in anger, but did not refute it. As much as fear was a deadly weakness for any Mando’ade, to deny a truth was the greater folly, “I am not stupid.”
“You said yourself, Dacian’s forces are impotent,” Pike reasoned, trying to read between the lines to understand what could possibly shaken the Taung so after only a few short months spent ‘behind enemy lines’, “You cannot be afraid of discovery. Even the Void Knights-”
“Those shells worry me not,” Solus hissed, the disdain obvious in his tone. How could the galaxy be so blind? Even Beff Pike, the greatest hunter who had yet lived, could not see it, “It is…” and then, in a even lower voice, “...the Dark Priests.”
Beff gave a too boisterous laugh, stifled at first by caution and then at the look he saw in his protege...in his creation’s eyes. It was a look he had never seen before, had never imagined he could see. It was a look that, for all intents and purposes, should not have been possible. What millennia of natural selection and selective breeding should have ironed out, his research and development department (all dead now, sadly) should have stamped out.
Was this...was this terror?
“You’re not serious,” he said, but there was now an uneasiness in his own voice.
The thump on the vinewood table came suddenly, and despite a lifetime of reflexes, Pike flinched. The vibrodagger had been buried deep, not even centimeters from his own hand, and Beff knew that were it not for his degenerative illness Solus would not even have been that kind. For it wasn’t a kindness, not to the Taung. That small mercy in itself was a sign of disrespect, an acknowledgment of weakness.
“Keep your voice down,” he growled, and it was the first time Beff could remember that the Taung had lectured him about mission protocol, “There is a Black Cathedral even here, even in the Enclave.”
“You act as if the walls themselves have eyes and ears,” Pike said, but he could tell even as the words came from his mouth that he had struck nearer to the nerve than he had first guessed. No, not terror, he mused, Paranoia.
“It is the lie that holds the Crusade together. The hidden reality that none suspect, not even Dacian himself,” Solus said, and from his voice and tone Beff could tell that this was not merely the nervousness of youth and inexperience. What Solus had seen on Symbol had shaken him, “Did you not wonder why it hasn’t all come crashing down? Why, despite the failure of the Crusade, the soldiers march on and the anarchy continues?”
“I assumed Silk-”
“Silk has not set foot on Symbol since the invasion of Xa’Fel,” Solus said, and the seriousness in his voice brooked no argument. Still, Pike started.
“That...no. That does not make sense,” he said, his mind reeling, What did I miss? Not even I could be that blind, “Every available source clearly indicates-”
“Your sources are wrong,” the Taung said firmly, and Beff did not need to confirm for himself to truth in his protege’s words, “All of them. Every single one. It is so pervasive a deception, so complete in its illusion, that even his high command believes it to be the case. Lord Silk is here to save us from Dacian’s madness. He is the power behind the throne. He sequesters both of them in Dacian’s private chambers, siphoning what little wisdom the Mad King has left.
Lies. All of it, lies. Silk is gone. I don’t think he was ever here.”
“If not, Silk, then…” he trailed off, as Solus pointedly scanning the Hall around them, “You leap at shadows. The Church is one of Dacian’s fancies, a sick joke meant to siphon zealots from Kaine’s invented God. It is an opiate-”
“-for the masses, yes,” Solus finished, too eagerly, “So you said. And so I believed, and that is the genius of it, because it is. It is a drug, the most powerful drug this galaxy has ever known. We dismiss its fanatics as delusional, weak minded fools drawn to promises of a great catechism and a truth in darkness. So we dismiss them as foolish. Meanwhile…”
“Meanwhile there is a Cathedral on every world the Crusade has touched,” Pike finished for him, “Preaching the word of their Unspoken god, and…”
“...and gaining followers,” Solus affirmed, “More and more every day. And that is just what is known. You say there is one on every world hit by the Crusade, but that is not what truly worries me. What worries me is the ones on worlds that are on the other side of the galaxy. Day by day, the Church spreads. Like a silent plague, like a hidden serpent, like…”
“Like sleeper cells,” Pike said, and this time it was the Taung causing too much noise, loudly thumping the table with his fist in affirmation, “How could it have gotten this far? Surely Dacian would have known, would have seen-”
“Likely he would have, if given the chance,” the Taung acknowledged, his hesitancy letting Pike know that this was the part that confused even Solus, “Words are wind, no more anywhere else than on Symbol, but from what I pieced together, when Silk recruited the Dark Priests, they swept through the Crusade almost as if they had been prepared to do so. Not arrogant, not swaggering. Humble, patient, and above all: useful.
Even Dacian must have been swayed. He likely saw them as no more than delusional freaks, the sort of scum uniquely drawn to his banners, and when they showered him with gifts and promises and...well, there is a rumor here. I do not know what to believe, and what is fancy-”
“Tell me what you suspect,” Pike said, and despite their friendliness, it was certainly a demand.
“Some say when their Dark Lord came to bend the knee, he invested Dacian with a portion of the Unspoken’s spirit,” Solus said, aware of how crazy even he must sound to the bounty hunter, “I do not truly believe that. There is another, less popular but more likely story, that this Lord brought with him an artifact. Either way, it ends the same. They say Dacian asked the Lord what this Unspoken could give him, what he could promise in exchange for the resources and access to the Crusade and its followers.”
“And?” Pike said, eagerly.
“The Dark Lord said that the Unspoken would give him time itself,” Solus said, and Pike chuckled, grinning, “Do not be so quick to dismiss the fairy tale. I do not know what happened next. Or even if any of it is true. All I know is that Dacian himself laughed, and then the Dark Lord...I don’t know, he showed him the artifact or whatever it was in private, and…”
“And that was the last anyone has seen of Palestar,” Solus said, “To this day. I do not believe he is dead. How can you kill a man like that? A man who is not truly a man. But this Unspoken...it is something else. Something worse, more devious...the Priests must have known they could not dispatch Dacian so easily, if only to avoid making a martyr of him. So they trapped him instead.”
“Trapped him?” Beff asked, “With time? Surely such a thing, even an artifact, would only serve to ensure Palestar’s domination.”
“I believe you think much as Dacian must have,” the Taung said, nodding to himself more than to Beff, “He must have thought it would make him unstoppable. But for a man who is already unstoppable...it is the ultimate solipsism. Give a man like that access to all of creation, and what is the point of it all? What is the point of anything? Even the glory of conquest must have seemed a hollow thing to him, after just one night with...whatever it was that he was given.”
This time they both shuddered. Truly, there was nothing more mortifying to a Mando’ade than a warrior who had given up on war. Dacian had been many things, most of them unsavory to an extreme, but neither Mandalorian could say that they did not respect him. None had risen so quickly and so violently, and perhaps none ever would again.
How the mighty fall.
For a time they sat in silence, each mulling over the conversation. It was Beff who noticed the hour first, the first hints of what served for twilight on such a wretched husk of a world beginning to creep over the horizon. Soon, even the muted Enclave would be more alive with the hustle and bustle of Mandalorian society, particularly the Hall of Conquest.
“Dark nights bring dark tidings,” Pike said, and Solus nodded at the sentiment, “The time for such worries is over. In fact, it is time for you to put the Crusade behind you, for a time. Your assignment is over.”
“There is still much to do here,” Solus said, but his eagerness let Beff know that he too was enthusiastic to leave this place.
“Nothing that cannot be handled by lesser agents,” Pike waved away, “You are no lesser agent, Solus. You may curse me for giving you life, may think me a nostalgic old fool for trying to revive a tradition that may be better off buried with honor and glory along with your ancestors. But I cannot, will not give up on me people.
Even if they have given up on me.”
“You have a plan,” the Taung said, and it was not a question. Good, he thought. It would have been a shame to kill the bounty hunter tonight, but Solus knew that if Beff had left him without recourse, honor would dictate that he attempt to dispatch his mentor for no other reason than senility.
“You truly are a blunt object,” Beff said, and Solus knew that he had guessed at the Taung’s thoughts. From the wry expression on his face, he knew that Pike was not hurt. That he approved, “One day, I hope to hone you into a fine blade. A blade truly worthy of Mand’alor. Don’t mistake my caution for old age, I share your fear that this wretched illness will take me before our work is done, but better to fail in the Hunt than to catch the wrong Prey.”
Solus was not sure if he agreed with that. Perhaps it was the difference between the two of them. It was that youthfulness, that confusion as to whether he or Pike had the right of it, that kept him in the lesser man’s service.
“Oya!” Solus cried softly, both excited and a little annoyed at Pike’s habit of talk over action, “What would you have of me?”
In response, Beff slid two items across the vinewood table. One was a battered insignia, faded over the years and bloodstained in spots but of a significance clear to Solus. The other was a slip of...really more papyrus than any sort of modern lumber-based paper. On it was scrawled, in the bounty hunter’s own handwriting, a name.
“Kyr’tsad?” Solus said aloud, holding the patch in his hand, “My next target is the heir to Viszla?”
“Not your target,” Beff said, shaking his head, “Your new teacher.”
For a long time, the Taung stared at him.
“Mar Viszla is not Beff Pike,” he said.
“No, he is not.”
“The Viszla’s hate you,” he said.
“Can you really blame them?”
“They are cowards,” he said.
“Some, perhaps. Not all. And not Mar. As for the rest…”
“I do not like this,” he said.
“I am not asking you to like it,” Beff growled, “I am not asking you anything. You have chosen me as your Mand’alor. I may not agree, but I will hold you to that oath. An oath you are no more capable of breaking than cutting off your fighting hand.
You will go to Concordia. You will join blood with the Kry’tsad. You will earn Viszla’s trust and, if necessary, friendship.
And if necessary, you will take his place.”
“I still do not understand,” the Taung said, but it was not a refusal.
“And if I needed you to, perhaps that would be problematic,” Pike replied, “But I do not, and so it isn’t. Still, if you are too limited by baser curiosity,” at this Solus growled, “then let us just say that whatever you may think of the Viszla’s and their lineage, the Kry’tsad are exactly what we need. Exactly what you need. And, when the time comes, I have faith that you will be exactly what they need as well.”
“What they need is a miracle,” the Mandalorian spat back, rising from the table in a mock display of indignation and challenge, but dawn was fast approaching and Beff was rising too.
“Yes,” the bounty hunter admitted, “And that is exactly what I wish to give them.”
For all his bravado, Solus did not know what to say to such an open declaration of admiration. It was not in either of their nature. It troubled him so much, that he did not stop thinking of it even as he stole away from the ruins of the Palestar Empire, headed towards the future. Headed towards Concordia. And the more he thought of it, the more he realized that in a galaxy that had been governed by false Jedi and Sith and false Mandalore’s for longer than anyone could remember, perhaps the Supercommando Codex was not the answer after all.
Perhaps what this galaxy truly needed was a Death Watch.
Driving this road down to paradise Letting the sunlight into my eyes Our only plan is to improvise
And it's crystal clear that I don't ever want it to end If I had my way, I would never leave Keep building these random memories Turning our days into melodies But since I can't stay…
I'll just keep playing back these fragments of time Everywhere I go, these moments will shine I'll just keep playing back these fragments of time Everywhere I go, these moments will shine
The Pages of Time: Ghosts of the Rim
ASF-ST1, Geosynchronous Orbit, Andos Prime Republic Green Zone, Transitory Rim, Transitory Mists Corusca Galaxy, Third Iteration, Shatterpoint Facet
Quality of life had improved somewhat considerably for the ASF port authority officers since the Third Exodus. Sector Patrol was still the prized assignment for the brave and the bold, and even the more pragmatic amongst the Andosian Space Force preferred System Patrol to the more mundane station maintenance and glorified traffic policing that was so routine to the everyday experience of the cosmonauts on board ASF-ST1, but things were no longer quite as they were even during the last days on New Andos, their former colony in a strange new world.
Even the name itself was an official designation that was quickly shedding its ubiquity in favor of the more popular affectation ‘Port Andos’ as more and more Andosian citizens adjusted to life in the Corusca galaxy, and once more gazed upward and with outstretched arms reached for the stars themselves. No culture could suffer the sheer brutality of the Vong for long without losing a piece of itself, any local resident could see that just by looking into the eyes of those Capricians who had survived through the war.
Port Authority would never exactly be the type of glamour that was becoming common within the culture surrounding the Andosians’ crude early fumblings with holovid technology. The Will of the Traveler, however, had shaken the very foundations not only of the Andosians’ recently newfound peace and roots, but their whole sense of place and relevance in a part of the universe that seemed already so strange and alien to them.
It had forced the Andosians not only to seriously reexamine their whole spiritual and socio-cultural society, as well as forcing a natural trend towards the cerebral in its citizens purely as a means of coping with the culture shock. In that sense, Port Andos and the other orbital stations had achieved a level of notoriety among the populace if only as a porthole to “Out There”, both to the Republic and its components and elsewhere.
Although nominally the Andosians were still a sort of fiefdom of the Consortium, the declaration of allegiance the Queen Mother had made in the past months had weakened an already loose grip on any sort of control as to Andosian exposure to galactic culture. And although for years the very existence of newly discovered worlds and races within the Mists had been a secret that had not even spread beyond high level conversations in former Commonwealth, now Republic High Command, the Andosians were growing and spreading and bursting from Andos Prime at so rapid at a pace that it had seemed almost immoral to contain them.
They were not yet ready to take a more active role in the affairs of state even in their local region, particularly considering the nuances of Hapan/Republican relations, but all estimates as to when they would be had proven to be severe underestimations of the Andosian spirits. You could feel it, even as a junior officer, in the vibrations of the station repulsor engines. In the recently installed gravitational dampeners that provided at least a sub-G atmosphere to much of the civilian areas.
It was a surreal thing to watch, merchants and tourists and the occasional soldiers gliding more than they walked or floated across the promenade. And the aliens. Real aliens, the likes of which had never been seen before by the previous generation and certainly not by the youngsters, the new blood. Their new-found allies had made them in some ways jaded to many wonderful things; artificial intelligence, supremely intelligent species, the sheer willpower and might both of the Caprician people and the capitalists on Bonadan. Two sides of one coin.
But there was nothing on Andos quite like seeing real live extraterrestrials, especially ones that weren’t actually trying to commit any sort of genocide or mass murder against their people. It had surprised even their most adamant pessimists just how many races fit that bill in the universe, Yuuzhan Vong notwithstanding.
But now, years after even the Second Exodus had ended and their people had found some measure of temporary peace, they were finally starting to trickle in. And the Andosian Space Force was only just beginning to realize just how much Seth Vinda and the Hapan Royal Family had done to stem back the tide. To keep their stations from bursting at the seams. It was the same sort of mix of morality and pragmatism that had drawn them to this ‘new’ Republic. As much as the Andosians could attribute it to astounding generosity, the simple fact was that had this happened on New Andos, what passed for their port facilities would have likely failed in a week due simply to structural integrity issues.
The sheer amount of foot...of appendage traffic on a daily, on an hourly basis was logistically staggering. And it seems the quicker the Andosian people attempted to hurtle themselves headlong into the new age of Coruscanti Man, the quicker they found that such a monumental shift not only in technology but in cultural and social practices were almost too much for the Andosians to handle without losing themselves.
But despite being a republic city-state under allegiance to a greater Republic, Andosian Command understood all too well not to underestimate the capacity for small groups of intelligent men to make the tough choices that would shape their culture, their civilization, their people. The decisions that would forever shape their fate and the fate of the galaxy around them. They trusted in this seemingly paradoxical sentiment because Andosians understood, more than most, that the foundation of the Republic were suffused in such an ideal; that small groups of intelligent men could and would change the galaxy for the better because truly…
Truly, they were the only thing that ever had.
“Commander Chopin!” the overeager, inexperienced Eilon Lieutenant, really more just a lieutenant now that the ASF was beginning to slip more and more from the old vernacular and into the slang of the neighborhood, cried from across more or less what served as a ‘bridge’ on the ASF-ST models.
“Lieutenant?” Chopin asked, calmly and patiently and in a tone of voice that sternly implied breaches of protocol, however minor, would not be tolerated. While for all intents and purposes the chamber was ‘the Bridge’, as far as Andosians were concerned it was still Command and Control, and it would take a hundred generations to stamp the individuality out of them in that respect. Many traditions came and went, but both the ASF and the Andosian Army (Andosian Ground Force) were destined to forever shape their culture, much in the way the Regency had shaped the Commonwealth.
For all their faults, for every mistake and bitter error and nearly fatal consequence, the military had saved their whole race from extinction through faith and bravery alone. Through the courage that only comes with true patriotism and the willingness and training to endure any main, physical or mental, well beyond what could conceivably be considered ‘human tolerances’ even by modern Corusca medical science.
The Eilon LT floated over to his commanding officer, a sheepish expression on his face that was the only exchange in the way of apology and the only exchange Chopin expected or cared for. Despite the history of violence throughout this galaxy’s even recent post, Chopin could understand this Grand Admiral Thrawn’s state of mind infinitely more than Darth Vader’s. The zero grav environment was another quality unique to Command and Control over most other bridges in the rest of the known galaxy. It was a quirk of their culture originally a product of infancy.
Early prototypes for simulated gravity and what these Coruscanti men referred to as ‘inertial dampeners’ had been in place in Andosian society since before the Fifth War even began, but since the Exodus they had been forced to make do, an efficiency with inferior technology that had ultimately been their saving grace. Not because it aided in their rescue, but because it had kept the Commonwealth from stripping their people for parts and assimilating them into their worlds, not out of malice but out of that same balance between morality and pragmatism that made the Republic natural allies.
“Commander, urgent message from planetsi-”
As if on cue, both in response and in interjection to the lieutenant’s report and as if a visual demonstration of Andosian ingenuity, the pride and symbol of their people screamed across the transparisteel plating that covered the wall of Command and Control. Audio units simulated the roar of the engines, too close for even idle comfort. Filled with a mixture of both extreme pride and extreme gust, Chopin wheeled on the Lieutanant.
“Who is Besh Flight’s wing commander?!” he hissed more than roared, a sort of civilized rage that terrified the bridge crew more than any outburst ever could.
The Excalibur Mark III Space Superiority Fighter (affectionately nicknamed the Super Cal by most cosmonauts) was the fulcrum of the Andosian Space Force, and as far as the Republic was concerned, the entire Excalibur line and the offshoots in skunk work development it was in many ways the be-all-end-all excuse for Andos Prime’s protectorate status, even given the political buffer of both a sympathetic Regency and Consortium as well as the certainty of Dakkon’s dedication to the alliance with their people right up until he had gone missing.
“Commander-” the lieutenant began again haltingly, but he was a dim voice in the background hum of the always busy C&C as far as Chopin was concerned.
“I want a name, for fuck’s sake,” Chopin never raised his voice, but you could tell when he swore on duty he was a steamroller of inner rage, “Hot shot rocketmen think they can buzz my god damn tower, I don’t care if it’s Andrew Cross himself in one of those-”
“SIR,” the lieutenant said, sharply. And this time Command and Control really did go silent. All eyes stared at the Eilon LT, none more penetrating than their commanding officer’s, and every soul expected something no more or less drastic than a summary field execution as far as they could tell.
But while Chopin would be the first to admit he was a one of a kind asshole, he was not a senselessly cruel. He had never been considered a poor leader, and one needed no more proof as to his singular position within chain of command than the fact that he had been given control of Port Andos. Effectively the Commandant of the 'Bay of Andos', the commander was both the top of the ladder as far as Port Authority goes while still being more or less a dead-end assignment as far as the Space Force top brass were concerned.
So when the lieutenant cut him off, and Chopin could see from the terror in his eyes, the pallor of his face, and the stream of sweat dripping from his brow that it had been no mere outburst. No unprofessional slip of the tongue, he grew quiet once more. Contemplative, speculative. And then he said, “Report, Lieutenant.”
“I...I? Uh, sir, I….yes sir!” the lieutenant managed at last, and to everyone in the room including the young man their impression of Chopin’s chaotic wrath had been solidified forever, for truly there had been no more unexpected reaction from their commander, “Urgent com from planetside, sir. Its from political, top brass at the Federal Quorum.”
“Well why didn't you say so, son?!” Chopin sneered, both reveling in making the shaky officer squirm and kicking himself for acting so recklessly on the bridge. There were a few in the room smart enough to one day make it out of Port Authority, and some perhaps even smart enough to file away the mistake of judgment on the CO's part to contain his annoyance for future reference, “Who is it, Secretary Smith?”
He was referring to their Secretary of Defense, of course, the usual suspect as far as these types of emergencies went. Emergencies, Chopin didn't even know if there was one. It did not take him much longer to work out that there was something truly unusual going on, and that it was happening in his purview, when the lieutenant replied, “Actually...its AaL Cross, sir.”
The Ambassador-at-Large? Chopin mused, now intrigued. He did not think it was Cross’s true title; he was often referred to as either the AaL, ambassador extraordinary and plenipotentiary, and Secretary of State more or less interchangeably, With all the variations throughout even our recent history, how exactly is one supposed to address the one man responsible for the public message and perception of an entire civilization?
“Very well, and-”
“Secretary Jordan as well, sir.”
The Secretary of Space Administration and Exploration? What in the hell is going on here? “I will take the message-”
“And Secretary Andrus.”
Something is wrong, he realized. There was no way both the first two Quorum members as well as the Secretary of Finance and Logistics would be calling at the same time, unless something was very wrong. He tried to rack his brain to think of such a scenario, and only apocalyptic visions came to mind, “I will take the calls in my ready room.”
“Sir, the Office Consular is on the line,” the Eilon lieutenant stammered pathetically, no doubt about to faint at having to annoy his commanding officer so many times in such a short span.
“Tell those assholes I heard them, I am leaving Command and Control!” he snapped, and began to walk away but froze as the lieutenant began to speak yet again.
“Sir…Commander Chopin!” he called out, “You misunderstood, sir. Forgive me, sir, when I meant the Office Consular…”
He didn't need the junior officer to finish, Chopin closed his eyes and knew what was coming next.
“Consul Riggs on the line for you, sir.”
It was his nightmare come to life, Chopin realized. He had truly lost control, not of the situation or the lack of information, but of his people. Their morale. No matter what happened, whether this be a confirmed early warning or a false alarm or the whole of the Yuuzhan Vong remnant crashing down on their doorstep, his bridge crew would never look at him the same way again.
Something terrible had happened, and he had missed it. There was no excuse for that, not at his level. Not even if it was valid in the circumstance. And more than anything, he had lost control of himself. So far their CO had maintained his usual, ‘stoic’, stone faced hard ass expression. But not even the commander was immune to grief, and to even attempt to hide it would diminish him in his men and women’s eyes. It was either grief, or vulnerability. Weakness, either way.
And then something else happened, something so sudden and so unexpected that it crystallized everything that had happened not only in the last few seconds but in the past day. So many little things, small shifts, idle comments suggesting nothing at first, no pattern, but now formed a tapestry that was so clear he could not imagine having arrived at the conclusion immediately.
He took solace in the notion that at least it had saved his skin, his career, his life, or duty. Ultimately, they were more or less the same thing to a Chopin. No one could have predicted this, not even if it had practically been spelled out for them, which it more or less had. All eyes were away, for the first time since his stand down with the young and brash Eilon, that foolish boy who looked barely old enough to have graduated academy.
All eyes were on the transparisteel wall, on the view of space, which was just coming round as the portions of Port Andos independent of artificial gravity and at the whim of Prime’s orbital effects swung their view slowly around and into the dark of the Green Zone.
Before they could make it out, before they had even seen anything, the faint blip on sensors began to manifest through the Command and Control audio units. At first a faint whine, as if a malfunction more than a spacecraft, and then a sound almost like a ramping doppler effect as it pitched up more and more rapidly both in volume and consistency. Chopin had only ever seen one once, on the bridge of the Avalanche in their darkest hour.
A Solaris Dart.
“I wonder…” the lieutenant mumbled before trailing off as his reactionary voice slowly processed the conclusion everyone else had already come to, “Why would they even...could it be for Gallows Da-”
The Eilon tried to stop himself in time, couldn't, and this time he truly did look as if he would literally die from shame. In many ways, he just had. For while even he must have been dimly aware that he had only proven what the commander already knew, what was already readily available on his record, everyone in the bridge knew that that last mistake, that last slip of the tongue...that had been the only true indiscretion.
Before Chopin had fumbled through his memory of the lieutenant’s records, had recalled that by all indications he had been a loyal, amicable, hard working cadet. The Eilon had just been dumb as nails and not in possession of either the grace or tact to function for very long within either branch of Homeworld Defense. It had only been a matter of time before the young man’s career fizzled out and he moved on to other things with at least the distinction of an honorable discharge.
But now...now the commander no longer cared for the young man or his worries. Could find no sympathy in himself whatsoever. To be a failure as a soldier, as a cosmonaut, Chopin could understand. Could even relate to on some level. But to fail as an Andosian...and it was obvious even to the boy, horrified and still not quite aware just how badly he had ruined things for himself.
Gallows Day was just not discussed. It was anticipated in silence, it came in silence, and it passed in silence. In many ways, that was the entire point. To do what the Eilon had just done, to say what he had just said, even though Chopin understood rationally that it had been the smartest thing the kid had said in all the time he had known him...it was a conclusion best kept...necessarily kept locked away.
Where before all eyes in the room had been fixed on the junior officer, now all eyes were anywhere but the space he occupied. And that would be the way it would be, from now until he was either drummed or kicked or found a loophole out. Perhaps it would not even end then...in any other case, Chopin would have at least pitied him. But to mention Gallows Day….
“Com, put the Consul through,” the commander ordered, and it was the most severe punishment he could think to give the Eilon, was really allowed to give him culturally speaking. It was the first memory in what would likely be a lifetime of being ignored, of being shunned, of being a ghost…
Never say its name, never speak of it, save only to your children and only when they are only enough to understand, not just what happened but what the tradition means.
“About damn time!” Consul Dace Riggs grumbled as he gave Chopin a stern glare befit a ruler and then a wolfish grin befit an old friend, “Don’t you check your messages, Chopin?”
“Apologies, sir!” Chopin said, saluting stiffly. In a sense, it was his own unique way of playfully ribbing the man who so obviously disdained power and his role in their society, “Been something of a busy afternoon, and…” he pointedly ignored the lieutenant, “...I was on my way to my ready room, to some place more secure.”
“Aha, “ Riggs nodded, not asking about the phrasing or the look on the lieutenant’s face, “Well, it was sound thinking on your part, but somewhat moot after the fact, wouldn't you say?”
“Do we know why it is here, sir?” Chopin asked, and Riggs noted how elegantly he had threaded the needle between blowing off his baited questions and insubordination. Technically, the Consul had been addressed, even if Chopin had chosen not to respond to the rhetorical so literally, “I didn't get a clear line of sight as it came past, but from what I understand their range-”
“Will of the Traveler, man!” Riggs nearly shouted, cutting Chopin off abruptly, “You really don’t know what is happening. Was there a mutiny up there?! Pick up your phone!”
If the Consul had known how near he was to the truth of it, to the sensitivity of the situation...he likely would have never made the joke. But thankfully enough of his bridge held such strong faith in their Consul that they were willing to forgive that minor transgression of ignorance. Even appreciate the attempt to brighten the mood.
“Mister Consul?” Chopin asked, “Sir?”
“I could give you the long version, but look out your window and you should see it any second now.”
“See what-” and then, in mid sentence, it appeared. Dropping out of hyperspace so quickly as to make some motion sick just at the sight of it, there it was in all its power and might and glory. And it was glorious, in a sort of terrifying kind of awe inspiring way.
A Solaris Vessel of War.
Chopin did not bother to ask for its designation, it would be a VOW- registry of course. And he had never been one to get drunk at the cantinas and try to name all of the ones you could remember. The only ever times a Vessel of War had been even given anything approaching a proper noun, it had always been under extraordinary, even extreme circumstances. And even then, it had always been a simple phonetic enunciation of the model number.
“A KNG delegation will be requesting docking clearance shortly,” Riggs informed him matter-of-factly, for his tone held no hint that he were making a request, “They will be making use of the Embassy.”
It was a reasonable request, save only for the one fact that it had never been made or even discussed before once the right had been initially established during the Second Exodus. To date, although Andosian and Republican scientists, diplomats, and historians were given free reign to travel the system and meet its peoples’ for research and diplomatic purposes, no Solaris unit had ever left the confines of its solar system.
As far as they knew, neither Solaris nor Polaris had ever breached the Inner Mist itself in the history of their race. But the thing that truly surprised Chopin, more than anything else…
“A KNG delegation?” he echoed, wondering at the motivations as to why, “Forgive me, Consul, it’s just...even considering the circumstances, I would have expected a GNL unit, or a custom model, not…”
“The Curia itself is on board.”
What is happening?
“Sir?” he asked, the truth of the question obvious even to the lowliest of officers, even to the men who were now ghosts.
“I know as much as you on that particular matter,” Riggs responded, “And I very much look forward to reading your report in full.”
“My report? Sir, all respect, I would follow any order you gave, but-”
“Ambassador Cross is already in transit from planetside,” Riggs explained, “Damned lucky he was back undergoing another debriefing. Yet somehow, I suspect that was a part of the plan. Secretary Jordan is here as well, should the need arise, yet unfortunately Secretary Andrus is still on Bonadan inspecting Vinda’s old logistical apparatus. Taking notes, as he does.”
“Still, Jordan is here, if you need him,” Riggs said, pressing almost imperceptibly.
“Understood,” Chopin acknowledged, nodding in grim understanding, “I will send word as quickly as I can after the initial meetings, and advise the Office Consular on how best to proceed…from a military perspective…” he added, lamely.
“I have every confidence that you will, Commander. Riggs out.”
And before he could even react, much less salute, the grainy yet life sized three dimensional representation of the elected leader of the Andosian people winked out of existence. Typical Dace, even as a Zenith General he spurned protocol and despised ‘traditions’...
And yet, as Chopin stared out at the looming Vessel of War, so large and so close that although he knew his people were coming closer and closer every day to constructing something nearly as large and half as impressive, it was still a wonder of Solaris ingenuity. A wonder not often seen.
Nervously, tentatively, his bridge crew began the somewhat awkward process of walking the Vessel of War and its contingent through a typical biologic landing request and docking procedure. Eventually, after too long to be considered particularly polite, the robots complied and called the ball.
They were offered automated assistance, he mused, smirking grimly, They refused. Do they know it is our newest addition to our technological arsenal?
And then, a more practical and somehow much less comforting thought.
Would it even make any difference for them? it was his impulse to say yes, but Chopin could not honestly come close to comprehending how your average protocol or astromech unit ‘felt’...rather, tended to be apt at the things biologic life truly excelled at. It could have been a concept to them so foreign as to be utterly alien in nature, as many ancient Andos traditions had been. ‘ Then again, it could be absolutely no different for their ‘pilot’ or whoever was in charge over there than a self controlled approach. Astounding in theory, almost impossible to pull off the same way twice in practice. And only for the brave, the bold, and the stupid,
And the soulless, he found his mind pondering before banishing the thought in a mild panic.
It was nowhere near the ‘faux pas’ of mentioning Gallows Day, but to besmirch one’s oldest and closest allies was no true friendship at all. It had just been so long. As one of the first and only to truly see both their culture and their leadership up close, Chopin had an individual respect for them in the galaxy.
“Solaris VOW-14 on final approach,” came a mechanical, automated-sounding voice from the other end of their com connection. Chopin could tell it wasn't automated, and shuddered involuntarily, “Unit KNG-320 requests your senior official to meet it at the airlock.”
That’s my queue, Chopin thought, but as he left Command and Control with barely a dismissal of their rapt attention, thoughts raced through his head. Not Polaris, not a GNL unit, but the Curia. KNG-320 itself was on board. He felt panic, uncertainty, worry…
And more than a little pride. All that, and a true gladness to reconnect with old friends.
“The Core is destabilizing at a more rapid pace than we had anticipated.”
“Yes, my Prince. Where at first we only saw chaos in proximity to zero zero, there now seems to be a clear pattern to the Reaver anomaly emerging.”
“I am only just beginning to realize that myself. It was a foolish oversight, and costly. That particular variable should have been accounted for.”
“My...my Prince. The outbreak alone caused more damage to our plans than-”
“Yes, yes, I am more than aware. Yet they are mindless beasts, blunt clubs. Someone is swinging the stick.”
“It seems the only logical explanation my Prince, and yet the only ones who would stand to gain have just as much to lose if the anomaly continues to spread.”
“So I believed as well…”
“Continue to monitor the situation. I expect continuous status updates on our ‘mutual friend’. Highest encryption, as always.”
“Understood, my Prince. It shall be done.”
Reaver Day +5
Duro’s upper atmosphere was on fire.
In itself, such a phenomenon would not have been quite so apocalyptic as far as the Duros people were concerned. Long ago they had polluted the world beyond all recognition of its aeonic pristine glory, and during the Galactic Civil the few areas on the surface that had been somewhat liveable had been pretty much taken care of by Operation Durge’s Lance.
It had not been the first time nor the last that the Confederacy would use bio weapon tactics in their campaign to hamstring the might of the Republican war machine and logistics as much as possible. There were many Duros still around to remember those old wounds, those grievances, yet to most Duros of today the lashes suffered under a xenophobic Hyfe Dynasty were fresher in their mind. It had been a long time since the Clone Wars, and life was not easy for an alien world under the yoke of Core Moffs.
So the arguments began. Heated exchanges, even fights broke out in the dilapidated, dimly lit crossover bridges and tube junctions on the Core and Command levels, and to a much lesser extent other critical areas of Bburru. Tensions ran high, even to the point of mutiny, but none of them were quite ready to commit suicide. Which meant maintaining the deflector array at all costs. What few souls could be spared for military police were overwhelmed by the sheer vehemence of it all, especially given the lack of any real enemy to blame.
They fell back on the old foes, and it took them all too quickly that Duros was a little too diverse, its population too accepting. What had once been a staunch Republican loyalist had spent much time learning to “tolerate” their Imperial overlords, and almost all those who did not have a tie to either did not think of themselves as ‘Rebels’ so much as they did an uprising.
And of course, there were the fringers.
It took a lot to be despised by most cultures almost from birth, and the decisions many of these soldiers and politicians had made had ruined their careers, their families, their very way of existence. That being said, most did not pity them so much as scorn them for having the audacity to drift through the Core. And yet, particularly for Separatist collaborators and political dissidents, it could be a very tough life out there in a universe that had more or less collectively decided that you were intolerable. That no culture had anything to provide.
So, while the rest of the galaxy shifted and quaked and spun on its axis, all of the refuse that had fled to the farthest of the Rim or even the earliest Unknown Reaches had been slowly trickling back in. With tentative arms outstretched, they had sought to bury the hatchet with an Empire that had long hunted them as a matter of honor. They had seen the mutual threat, the mutual distaste, for Force users who ran whole galactic factions.
And in a seemingly continuous display of cosmic irony, almost the moment they had shown up, Ajay’s Reds and Mazik Stazi had eviscerated many of the major space cities from top to bottom. The sort of slaughter only vicious Moffs were capable of at their worst, and not the sort of campaign that won hearts and minds. But hearts and minds no longer needed to be won, in this day of organic versus...other, of Corusca versus extragalactic, of sensitive versus mundane…
The sides seemed clear enough. At last, there was nothing left to say.
So there Mazik Stazi , Captain of the Reds and duly ‘elected’ Chief Representative Officer of Duro, held his ground in a sea of hopelessness and desperation as all around him petty men bickered and squabbled over the ‘best course of action’ and ‘who to lean on for aid’. The unspoken truth was on each of their lips. They wanted to surrender, they wanted to bend the knee. The Corellians had asked for so little in return, just the sensitives. It seemed a small penance to some for the sake of desperately needed aid.
Even that, he could stand. Even that, he understood. What truly sickened him were the ones who wanted to leave, to cut their losses and escape, to write this world off as it had been so many times before; dead, a lot cause. It would not be so cold a betrayal if many of them hadn’t been Duros themselves, even Duro natives.
“Uwana goya uhama…” a voice rumbled softly behind him.
Mazik chuckled bitterly at the joke, both because of the truth to it and because he admired the bluntness with which his acting XO could reinforce his loyalty while pointing out failings in the same phrase. He glanced behind him momentarily, and the Captain could tell that even now the wookiee both the Rebels and Duros called the ‘Outlander’ was only feigning boredom. In reality, he was eyeing Stazi’s senior command just as critically as their CRO himself.
“Do you have a salve to kill these parasites?” Mazik mumbled back under his breath, drawing an instinctual chortle from the wookiee at the Shyriiwook idiom, although both knew the words cut too close to the truth of it.
And they were not the only ones, for Mazik had not missed the pointed glances and grim expressions on the crew of the Farragut, Colonel Connors included. The Captain could only guess as to the nuances of the relationship between the wookiee berserker and the military men he had come with. Stazi had known from past experience how hopeless it would be to pry information out of a Rebel, particularly a commander in a rapid response group with as storied a legacy as the 32nd, and trying to get information out of a wookiee...
Yet he suspected there was less animosity and more a general distaste amongst career military men about fraternization. That the rift that had grown between them was more about ‘unit cohesion’, or lack thereof, and he felt almost certain that the Colonel believed Stazi’s decisions to have already jeopardized the esprit de corps of the Rebel forces besieged within the crumbling fortress walls of Duro’s orbital perimeter and its aging, legacy Golan defense.
And that, Mazik could understand. For as far as their defense went, apart from the flotilla of fast attack Rebel strike vessels the Alliance had scrambled and been willing to commit to a defensive campaign that seemed to destined to fail and kill everyone involved, really the only true weapon they had managed to salvage enough of to keep the Reavers at bay was a single Golan II Space Defense Platform.
The Golan II, its Imperial designation and transponder almost immediately forgotten and referred to by the insurrectionists first as Defiance and then Kingslayer as the onslaught grew more and more grim and neither the Corellians nor their Dominion allies seemed likely to make any effort to prevent it.
The Golan II, more or less the only orbital platform that had not been completely scuttled by the Empire as their naval forces retreated from the Reds and their uprising. A leftover from past glories of the Duros people which had been more or less inoperable and unmanned, with barely enough dependable souls at Stazi’s disposal that had sufficient piloting skills to scavenge together a barebones convoy to attempt a resuscitation, let alone operate it effectively in combat.
The Golan II, which not even Mazik had had any real hope of even getting any of his people to alive in the first place. If the Reavers did not get them, terror and what few Dominion or perhaps even Imperial vessels that lay in wait at the perimeter of their sensors likely would.
The Dominion had expected them to pay fealty or let themselves be slaughtered, and one only needed to view the hellscape out of one of Bburru’s too few still-functional viewports to see that neither ultimatum had been a bluff. How long would we have lasted if it hadn’t been for the Mon Cala Reshmar? How quickly would the station have gone dark forever had they not…
All around him, he saw fear in his eyes. Particularly in the eyes of those that had survived the initial breaches of Bburru outside command and control. Terror would be a more precise emotion, and Mazik could not begin to imagine what some of them had seen. But he had heard the screams. The screams had been the worst part. He had wanted to be out there, wanted to stand with his boys, with his Reds, but he had been thrust once more into a position of high command.
The days of his Admiralty seemed a lifetime ago, and Mazik could not help but remember the way that had ended. Outmaneuvered, with everything he loved and fought for burning down all around him. Had he always been destined to end up here? Was this just fate course correcting itself?
“Urrdorf City is breached!” came a cry from the communications pit, the Rebel tech there struggling to keep up with the chaotic short band comm traffic as the remaining space cities attempted to coordinate with Bburru. Those that could had moved on sublight within within the point defense band of Kingslayer and the Rebel flotilla, but it had been a war of attrition and the other side did not seem to be running out of bodies.
It was only a matter of time before the Navysouls let a large enough contingent past their arcs of fire, and now there was nothing they could do but watch in horror. Urrdorf was one of the smaller orbital cities, and Mazik sifted through the mental list he had composed earlier of lightspeed capable stations before he recalled that Urrdorf only had sublight installed. Was that a blessing or a curse?
Probably neither, he decided in the end. A dim part of his psyche recognized on some level that he was behaving irrationally, suicidally. And yet there had been a time, so many years ago, when he had been surrounded by men and women that had been just as suicidal, just as willing to suffer death or torment in the name of liberty, in the name of righteousness.
Looking around ops, he could not see a single true Rebel in the eyes of those that looked to him, save perhaps Colonel Connors and his Navy compatriots. Even they were a different sort of Rebel, a new insurgent for a new era. Many of Connors’ boys had probably grown up knowing nothing but civil war, briefly interluded by peace of a sort. First the New Republic, then the New Order, and on and on the wheel spun. They were fighting for an era that would never come, future casualties in a galaxy doomed to eternal war.
Let them go. Let them burn another day and on their own terms.
Was it the last vestiges of what had made him Duros? Possibly, but more likely it was the nature of the enemy. Even in the depths of an insurgency, Stazi had seen the grainy holovids, but to know of the Reavers was one thing. To comprehend...not even in the worst nights of solitary had his subconscious dredged up anything resembling such a horror. Last stands were supposed to be turbolaser barrages and explosive decompressions and quick.
How do you fight an enemy so willing to unleash their own mythological Hell on you?
Mazik wondered if the Dominion believed in a Hell.
“Enough,” he said simply, drowned out by the cacophony of panicked coordination and useless theorizing. This time, louder, “Enough!”
Vryyr’s roar caught the attention of those not within his immediate circle.
“Colonel Connors, I require one of your shuttles,” Mazik continued once it was quiet enough to be heard. When the marine asked why, he replied, “I am leading a search and rescue party, volunteers only. Everyone else will begin preparations for immediate evacuation of Duro orbit. You will make a run for it, and if...when we can, we will follow with survivors.”
The Colonel’s protests were drowned out by a sea of dismay from the provincial interests, and only those few that remained of his Reds and his XO said nothing, merely stepping forward to volunteer themselves. A scattered few amongst the crowd stepped forward, amazingly enough, mostly hollow eyed Duros natives but, to his genuine surprise, a few fringers as well.
The Captain had put Connors in an awkward position, to be sure, and he could see from the look on the Rebel commander’s face that he knew it. Without speaking privately, and in the cold assertive manner of the de facto ‘leader’, at least on Duro ‘soil’, any protest or flat out refusal could lead to a ramp up of tensions on the Command Deck that had the potential to bubble over into something else, something nasty.
Glancing over to Vryyr, he almost imperceptibly nodded in the direction of the Colonel, and as the Captain turned back to his men to outline a breaching strategy as well as directing men to coordinate with the other surviving cities and Reshmar’s remaining vessels on a fast withdrawal, the wookiee less lumbered and more prowled around the edges of awareness to speak with the Colonel.
Every once in a while, Mazik spared a glance over in their direction, until at last when he glanced he saw Vryyr moving back toward him. As the two made eye contact, the XO nodded back, just as imperceptibly. Somehow, the Outlander had talked a pissed Rebel marine out of a spare shuttle. Stazi filed it away in his head to ask him just how he had managed that before he died.
“I don’t suppose there’s any chance I could convince you to stay with your Rebs?” he asked the grim behemoth.
“One death is as good as another.”
Mazik knew better, but he no longer had the heart to disagree.
Im Sturz durch Raum und Zeit Richtung Unendlichkeit Fliegen Motten in das Licht Genau wie du und ich
- Of Endings: Heavy Sits the Crown of Victory and Hard the Cold Hand of Time
The Great Jedi Library, Knossa City, Ossus Adega System, Auril Sector, Outer Rim Territories Shatterpoint
"Bring me...to the catacombs."
They bore him aloft for although he seemed unchanged the Grandmaster of the Jedi Order could not stand. To the Ysannans horror the deeper their descent the more Zark appeared to age before their very eyes. Finally they approached the Doors of Stone, an impenetrable barrier beyond which none had ventured in the history of the Order's many incarnations. His scholars believed now that this ancient device was what the Library was built to protect.
He found that his strength was beginning to return.
"You must not!" his Guard-Captain protested, "It is forbidden! It has always been forbidden."
"Always?" Zark echoed, as if the word itself seemed foreign.
He pressed his palm against the anomalous stone, and doors which had remained closed since time immemorial rumbled as they began to slide apart. The Ysannan Crusaders backed away in superstitious fear, but their Grandmaster did not seem surprised. He no longer seemed like anything at all.
"Remain here," he called over his shoulder, "You must defend this place to your dying breath."
"Defend it from what?"
The Grandmaster did not bother to answer. They all felt the same chill. It was the Force crying out to them. Reaver sign. Soon enough Ossus would be under siege. They looked to their living prophet for guidance, but Zark was already gone. He descended a spiral stair that seemed to erode until he was moving through a cavernous tunnel unshaped by the touch of sentient hands. Down into the depths.
"This is..." the Jedi Master murmured, "...not what I expected."
He had emerged into a deep cave. At the center there was what could only be described as a sarcophagus. With a deft wave of his hand he called upon the empyrean for illumination. It was certainly some kind of tomb, inscribed with symbols the Grandmaster had never seen before. Something about this was not right. He caressed the intricate carvings before heaving upon the ancient coffin's lid.
"Of course it's you."
Zark stared down at a face he recognized. Andrew Rashanagok opened eyes corrupted by the Darkside. This was not the Ahnk he knew. It was one of the copies. With a man like that and in circumstances such as these, point of origin seemed more or less irrelevant. So many questions he knew would forever remain unanswered. How had he come to be here? How was he still alive? All that mattered now was what was.
Ahnk tilted his head and smiled, "So nice to have admirers."
With a snap-hiss the Sith Lord's crimson lightsaber tore through his ancient prison only to clash with the Grandmaster's golden yellow blade. Rashanagok launched into an aggressive masterpiece of saber work, and the Jedi knew that the legends of Sith Ahnk in his prime somehow fell short of the truth. This man might just be the most skilled Darkside warrior who had ever lived.
Zark was an accomplished duelist but it was his mental gifts that saved him. Every time his opponent slipped past his guard he caught the killing stroke with a perfect barrier. He could sense the clone's frustration grow. Ahnk channeled those dark emotions into yet more raw power. The Jedi could feel his innate precognition begin to grow clouded until an unanticipated feint robbed him of both his saber and the hand that wielded it.
Sparks erupted from the Jedi's artificial wrist momentarily distracting Rashanagok from his victorious killing blow. With his living hand the Grandmaster sent a wave of Force Light that seared flesh from bone. Despite the flames eating away at his face Sith Ahnk sent a torrent of lightning through the Jedi who had disturbed his rest. Zark wondered if they were destined to kill each other until the agony waned and the cloned warrior collapsed before him in a smoking husk.
"Forgive me, old friend."
The Jedi staggered back to his feet, surveying the chamber for some kind of way forward. He found only that the splintered tomb of Andrew's murder clone covered a seemingly bottomless chasm. Underneath the cave there was only darkness, and Grandmaster Zark could sense nothing beyond. It was as if this were a void not only in the ground but in the Force.
"A leap of faith then," he reasoned, and stepped out into the infinite nothing.
Curiously there was never a sensation of anything like falling. Merely a sense of lost time. When he emerged through the gateway he found himself in a strange chamber filled with unknown technology. Standing across from him was a young woman who somehow seemed familiar. Zark could tell with a glance there was evidence of Reaver tech infused into her skin but to his surprise she was holding a lightsaber.
"Who the hell are you?" they both asked at the same time.
"You first," the girl narrowed her eyes.
"I am Zark," he said, "Grandmaster of the Jedi Order."
She stared at him for a long time.
"Varia Jiren," she offered at last, "Liberated Reaver."
"Jiren?" he echoed, "I knew your father."
She leveled her lightsaber at him and snarled.
"Until you killed him."
Zark's eyes widened in surprise. What was she talking about?
"Fascinating," a third voice halted Varia in her tracks.
They both turned.
"As entertaining as this all seems," Simon Kaine was calmly aiming a blaster at them both, "I must ask you both to stand aside."
Something was wrong here. Why was Kaine dressed like the Emperor?
"You're supposed to be dead," Zark murmured.
"Chancellor!" Varia exclaimed at the same time in shock.
"Hardly," Emperor Kaine raised a quizzical brow at them both, "I must confess that in all of our preparations none of my subjects ever warned me of the possibility that there would be others. Why are you here?"
"To save the galaxy," they both said in unison.
"Then you've both come for the device," Simon nodded as if he understood, "I'm afraid I can't let you have it."
Zark followed his gaze to a strange looking capsule unlike anything he'd ever seen. The girl's eyes however blazed with recognition and fear.
"Abomination!" Varia raised her lightsaber to cleave it apart.
"Not another step," the Emperor aimed his blaster at the girl.
He reached out to stroke the capsule's outer shell, and could feel a sudden technological hum. The capsule came alive, liquid metal reshaping itself into the form of a man.
"At this point," Zark shook his head, "I shouldn't be surprised."
Another Andrew Rashanagok smiled at him.
"The Force has a strange sense of humor," he admitted.
"Do not let it speak!" Jiren cried out, "It is a thrall of the Taj!"
"I am of the Dragon," Ahnk admitted, "But not the Dragon you know."
"You're one of them, aren't you?" Emperor Kaine asked, "Another of Raktus' time travelers."
"That is a very simple way of putting it. Time, dimension...manipulation of reality at this level has many names. The Jedi called it the world between worlds. We sought to reverse our fortune, but in our hubris presupposed that we were the first."
"The Kwa," Zark realized, "They colonized another dimension...this 'world between worlds'. They wanted to live beyond time...until something came for them."
"The Unspoken," Rashanagok explained to them all, "It is a living wound in the Force, and it has infested this place. It is manipulating events in each of our realities and feeds off the misery of the infinite doomed."
"This is all madness," Kaine scowled, "He's obviously lying."
"You came here to steal my time machine," the Daemun fixed his gaze upon Simon, "So that you could warn your past self. Emperor Kaine, who defeated both the Dragon and the Reavers only to face subjugation at the hands of a nascent Cree'Ar Dominion."
Emperor Kaine's eyes flashed in both fear and anger.
"Yet you fail to realize that your salvation lies not with me," Andrew pointed at Zark, "But with him."
"I don't understand," the Jedi Master confessed.
"Neither do I," Simon growled.
"Different outcomes," the time traveler said as if that explained everything, "In his reality, your Empire is nearly destroyed long before you achieve your final victory against the Reavers. But unlike your timeline, the ancient Gree Empire was never completely eradicated. A single Enclave remained, and with it the technology that can defeat them."
"The technology I need..." Emperor Kaine reasoned, "Is on the Gree homeworld?"
"Time is not a straight arrow. We each hold the key to each other's survival, but it is this moment, not all the moments to come that is critical. This is the Unspoken's shatterpoint, the culmination of its failure to consume the Force itself. Its power was nearly infinite, but your galaxies are the dimensions that survive."
"Liar!" Varia screamed, "I will not trust a spawn of the Dragon!"
"I can show you how to defeat him."
"Why would you do that?" she asked, suddenly unsure.
"So that you will share with the Grandmaster your Reaver antivirus," Rashanagok gestured to Zark, "I am afraid his reality does not fare quite so well against the threat, with no Empire nor Dominion to intervene."
"Why do you care what happens to any of us?" Kaine wondered aloud, still uncertain.
"Because in my reality you win, only for your Empire to crumble from within. You are murdered by Dacian Palestar, living embodiment of the Unspoken's will. With his dark god's destruction the surviving Children of the Taj might finally inherit the earth. The only way that will come to pass is if we all get what we want. Your destruction ensures his irrevocable ascension."
"Everyone wins?" Zark tilted his head.
"Everyone wins," Ahnk nodded, "From a certain point of view."
"So how does this work?" Varia asked.
"It already has."
The Great Jedi Library, Knossa City, Ossus League of Nations Capital World
"What just happened?" he felt an overwhelming sense of deja vu.
"Grandmaster, are you alright?"
"I just need a moment," Zark struggled to come back to his senses, "I am fine."
"The Imperial and Coalition delegates are waiting on your arrival."
"Delegates?" he asked, "What are you talking about?"
"Everyone has come, Grandmaster. Word of our victory at Duro has spread. They've all come for the Cure."