Jan 20 2011 10:57am
It was hard to rest easy in a galaxy at war.
The Reaver menace had made sure of that. No one was sure what they were, or where they came from, only that they were a real threat to the safety and security of everyone within striking distance, and as the lines of opposition collapsed, more and more people were placed in danger.
Fortunately, The New Order was in a talking mood. With the Coalition and The Jedi Enclave already collaborating as best they could to halt the Reaver advance, the addition of support from branches, if not the entirety, of The New Order could provide significant relief to the war weary men manning the barriers against the approaching storm.
If that wasn’t enough to let a man rest in peace, nothing was.
So he laid his head down, hoping that tonight, he could sleep tight. He had a lot on his mind, but his questions could wait until the morning.
It had worked. For a while.
But a good sleep can only last so long. Then, alarms start going off.
He shot up in bed, expecting to hear the alarm of the ship’s emergency call to action stations. It happened often; a Reaver attack during the normal dark hours on the vessel.
But as soon as he sat up, he shot back down. He felt as if he had been shoved backwards with the Force, and crushed to the bed. His mind was on fire and he found it hard to breathe. He could not shake the feeling that something was wrong.
As he sat up, he realized the alarm he heard was not the ship’s emergency broadcast system, but the door chime.
He wasn’t aware that he had a door chime.
“Come in,” he said, hoping whoever was on the other side of the door would hear him.
The door slid open with a soft hiss, and a man in a clean, red vest walked into the doorframe. “Senator Ekan,” he said, bowing slightly. He then seemed to take a visual appraisal of the situation. “I’m not disturbing you, am I?”
“No,” the man in the bed replied, making sure that nothing vital was exposed. “I’m sorry, I’m still half asleep… what did you call me?”
“I’m sorry, sir, but you are Zark Ekan, correct?” the man in the door asked.
The man on the bed, Zark, nodded. “Yes, that is my name.”
“And you are the Senator of The Mid Rim of The Galactic Alliance, are you not?”
That was news to him. The Galactic Alliance? Zark wasn’t even aware there was a Galactic Alliance. Somewhat shaken, he tried to play along anyway. He would need to get answers but for now, better to just watch and learn. “Yes,” he said, “yes, I’m sorry, my mistake.”
“That’s alright, Senator. I’m sure these negotiations are very tiring,” the man replied.
“Yes… negotiations…” Zark replied, completely at a loss. “So, why are you standing in my doorway, Mr…?”
“Mr. DuBois, Senator,” the man said, bowing again. “You asked for a wakeup at seven hundred hours, and we prefer to handle wakeups in person. That way we can confirm if the guest in question would like any amenities replaced or any breakfast while we are there. Would you care for something to eat?”
Zark considered for a few minutes. No, better not. That way he would have more time alone to learn what was going on. “I’m alright for now,” he said. “Tell me… I’m still somewhat tired. When am I expected to… rejoin the negotiations?”
Mr. DuBois smiled. “As the negotiations are currently in recess, there is no definite timetable for the next session. I believe Senator Jiren will let you know when you are needed again.”
Zark did another double take. “I’m sorry; who did you say would let me know?”
“Senator Jiren, of Ossus,” DuBois replied. “Are you feeling alright, sir?”
“Yes, I’m sorry,” Zark said, trying to hide how shaken he was. Senator Jiren. Of The Galactic Alliance. Something had changed. Something very big had changed and he felt very, very out of place. “Thank you for your hospitality, Mr. DuBois. If I need anything…”
“I’ll be right outside, Senator,” he replied. “You let me know directly and I will get you whatever it is you require.”
“Thank you,” Ekan said, and watched as the man left the room. Immediately, he threw off the covers and stood.
Everything was different. This wasn’t the same room he’d slept in. It was bigger, the furniture was better, the color was darker. There was an outside his door, waiting to serve him. There were no such men on Coalition military crafts. In fact, he didn’t feel as if he was moving at all. He stepped toward the window and yanked open the cloth covering.
There were no starfields outside. This wasn’t a Coalition military vessel.
This was Coruscant.
Once again, Zark Ekan could not shake the feeling that something was wrong.
The door chimed again. Once again, Zark told them to come in.
When the man walked in the door, that shaken feeling came back over him.
“Zark…” the man began, and then stopped. “Are you alright, my old friend? You look like you’ve seen a ghost.”
“I feel like I have,” Zark admitted. After several years of believing the man to be dead, to see Gash Jiren in the flesh was quite the shock to his system. “You’re… don’t take this the wrong way. But you’re dead. You’re supposed to be dead.”
Gash simply stared at him for a few seconds before bursting into laughter. “You realize, of course, that if you have me assassinated and take my place, it’s just more bullshit and paperwork, correct?” He sat down at the table, and slammed down a bottle. “Sit down, have a drink with me. It looks like you need it.”
Deeply confused, Zark took a seat. “None of this makes any sense,” he said. “You died. I was at your funeral. I watched them bury you.”
In front of him, Gash’s expression changed. “You’re serious, aren’t you?” Zark nodded. “Well… shit. I suppose the drinks can wait,” Gash said. He shrugged and downed the shot he had poured, which caused Zark to raise an eyebrow. “Sorry. You just told me I’m supposed to be dead. That one justifies a good, stiff shot.”
“I… I woke up this morning and everything was different,” Zark said. “I don’t remember a Galactic Alliance. I don’t remember you being a Senator or me being one for that matter. Everything that I remember from last night seems to have changed. I fell asleep on a fucking starship and now I’m on Coruscant!”
“Okay, slow down,” Gash said, trying to calm Zark down a bit. “Let’s not panic. There’s a rational explanation for this. Now, let’s start at the beginning. You say you don’t remember The Galactic Alliance. What do you remember?”
Zark struggled to push aside the fog inside his head. “We were… Regrad and I… we were on our way to meet with Imperial diplomats in the Borderlands. We were hoping to get the Empire’s help with the Reaver incursions.”
“Okay, stop,” Gash said. He put a hand on his chin. “What kind of incursions did you say?”
“Reaver incursions…” Zark said. He could tell by the look on Gash’s face that he had no idea what he was talking about. “You… haven’t heard of the Reavers?”
“No,” Gash admitted, “no, no I haven’t. So, you haven’t heard of The Galactic Alliance, and I haven’t heard of the Reavers. There’s a missing piece in here somewhere, Zark. Somewhere, something happened to you.”
“Me?” Zark asked. “Why me? What about everything else?”
“Later today, I’m going to walk into that conference hall with the other members of The Galactic Alliance. I know them. They know me. We all know what we’re talking about. But not you. To you, they’re strangers. Alive, dead, they’re different people. You have no idea what you’re saying because you’re not supposed to be here,” Gash concluded. “Now, we have to figure out why.”
Zark sighed. “How do we even start?”
“Well, that’s not going to be easy,” Gash said. “You said you were with Regrad, right? You’re talking about Regrad, the Azguard, yes?”
Zark slapped his hand against the table. “Yes! Gash, you’re a genius,” he said, standing up. “Let’s go talk to Regrad.”
“Well, hold on,” Gash said. He motioned for Zark to sit back down, and Zark did. “It won’t be easy. Regrad is sitting in an Imperial jail right now.”
“What?” Zark said, somewhat taken aback. “What did he do?”
“He tried to take a swing at Zell,” Gash said, sighing. “Zell is a pompous ass and he had it coming, but Regrad as a diplomat should know better. We elected to not make an incident and waived his diplomatic immunity on the promise that he would be held but not tried. Hopefully after a few days of cooling his head, we were going to negotiate for his release. We might need to change the timetable on that now.”
“What do we do in the meantime?” Zark asked. “Just sit here, and wait?”
“Mostly,” Gash replied. “We also have a conference to attend.”
“Senators Gash Jiren of Ossus and Zark Ekan of The Mid Rim, representing The New Republic,” the man at the door called out as Zark and Gash strode into the hall. Gash nodded in the direction of a woman at the table, and Zark made his way to the seats indicated beside Leia Organa.
“Did we miss anything?” Gash said, sarcastically, fully aware that besides Leia, there was only one other person in the room.
“Who is he?” Zark asked of the other person in the room.
“Nas Choka,” Gash said. “Last Warmaster of the Yuuzhan Vong. He’s the one who opened these negotiations and the one who formally surrendered on behalf of the Vong.”
“Zark,” Leia asked, “you don’t know who that is? You’ve been…”
“Not now,” Gash said. “We need to talk about this later, Leia. For now, just step in whenever a question comes our way. Leave Zark out of the conversation.”
“Governor Seth Vinda of Bonadon, representing the Commonwealth Of Systems,” the man at the door announced as Vinda entered.
“My god,” Zark said, as he watched the man. “He looks so… old. Defeated.”
“The Vong devastated the Commonwealth. The Caprican system suffered unimaginable losses and The Anthos Republic was completely destroyed,” Gash said. “This peace couldn’t come soon enough for him.”
“Regent Azreal Zell and Supreme Commander Simon Kaine, representing The New Order,” the man at the door stated. Zark tried to suppress a gasp as both men walked in.
“More ghosts?” Jiren asked.
“Kaine retired and hasn’t been seen in over a year,” Zark answered. “Zell was on Coruscant when it was… well, suffice it to say things are different in my memories.”
“I can only imagine,” Gash stated.
“Lordess Skye Keller, representing the Eternal Rogue Order,” the man announced, and the Sith Lord entered the room and took a seat at the table.
“Negotiating with Sith?” Zark asked.
“This seems to be our only chance to stabilize the political situation in the galaxy. The Sith are very powerful,” Gash said. “Most of them, anyway.”
“Lord Recon Klain, The Ziost Sith Empire,” the man announced and Klain, looking as surly as usual, entered the hall.
“No Klain where you come from?” Gash asked.
Zark shook his head. “He’s just been… quiet lately. Been a long time since I’ve seen him.”
“Lord Ahnk Rashanagok, The Sith Brotherhood,” the man announced, and Ahnk walked into the chamber.
Gash smiled. “Don’t tell me you’re lucky enough to not have an Ahnk Rashanagok.”
Zark turned to Gash. “I don’t think you’d believe me if I told you,” he replied. He barely recognized it; it had been over a decade since Zark had seen Ahnk Rashanagok, the tattooed Sith Lord, and now, here he was. It was very much a shock to his system.
“You’ll have to tell me about it later,” Gash said. Zark nodded; he definitely would.
“Lord Maim, The Crimson Empire,” the man at the door said and Maim, flanked by two Royal Guards, entered the hall.
“He has an escort?” Zark asked.
“Everyone has that right, but most choose to waive it,” Gash replied. “I don’t think Maim is the trusting type, though.”
“Emperor Chadd Fearsons, The Jutraalian Empire,” the man chimed out, and Fearsons, arrogant smirk on his face, strode in and took his chair.
“I can’t believe this many egos fits in one room,” Zark said, making sure to keep his voice low.
“It’s worse when you’re your usual self,” Gash shot back, and Zark glared at him in reply.
“Cardinal Alexander Cross Under His Godship The Taj Damuen, representing the Black Dragon Empire,” the man stated. A robed figure, hidden under the shadows of his black cloak, entered, taking his place amongst the table.
“Be careful with him,” Gash said. “Everyone I’ve spoken to agrees that he is far too conciliatory in these discussions. It implies that his focus is elsewhere, on something we haven’t seen. He’s sneaky, and I don’t trust him.” Zark nodded in reply.
“Grand Admiral Bhindi Drayson, representing The Holy Demosthenes Empire,” the man announced and a sharply dressed and heavily decorated officer stepped in, standing briefly at attention, and then taking her seat.
“She’s wearing the wrong uniform,” Zark replied. Gash raised an eyebrow. “I remember… when Kaine retired, Drayson stepped in and took his place as Supreme Commander of The New Order.”
Gash raised his eyebrow even higher. “Her father was in the Rebellion. The Rebellion against The Empire. But she joined The New Order and became their Supreme Commander?”
“Don’t ask me to explain that one,” Zark said.
“All of the participants have now arrived. This session of The Galactic Alliance preliminary meeting is called to order. Lord Rashanagok, you have a proposal to make.”
It was said that diplomacy was war, only with words instead of weapons.
Zark had never seen it that way, but then, this was his first Galactic Alliance meeting.
“Their entire warfleet?”
“As far as we know, everything that The Vong brought into Dragon space was destroyed,” Gash clarified. “A week later, their new Supreme Commander, Warmaster Nas Choka, arrives and proposes peace. He vows to repair the damage he did to Coruscant and all of the worlds in the Commonwealth. We called everyone involved in the various wars together to hammer out a treaty.”
“And you’ve only had two hurdles?” Zark asked.
“Oh, at first, we had lots of hurdles,” Jiren said. “The Empire originally refused to sign the treaty unless we branded The Diversity Alliance, The Bothans, The Noghri, The Azguards, The Wookies, etc, as ‘servant races’, making it legal for humans to enslave them and use them for unpaid labor.”
“Sounds like something they would ask for,” Zark said, shaking his head.
“Now, though, it’s down to us figuring out what the hell Cross wants,” Jiren said, “and, until today, Ahnk.”
“You said he seemed different today?” Zark said. “How do you mean?”
“Every single meeting with Ahnk goes the same way,” Gash said. “He claims that his people, The Brotherhood Of The Sith, have an ancient and indisputable claim to Yavin, The Hydian Way, The Tion Cluster and Hapan Space. As members of The New Republic the Hapans dispute this, and as a Jedi, I dispute his claim to Yavin.”
“He proposes shrinking the size of the Empire he claims by about sixty percent, giving up all disputed territory, and only hanging on to fringe worlds in the Ison Corridor and Outer Rim,” Jiren said. “It’s a complete reversal of everything he’s ever said. He’s given up everything. And, frankly, as relieved as I am, I am incredibly uneasy. Something has changed.”
“Something has indeed changed,” a voice called out from farther down the hall.
Zark and Gash both looked up, breaking their focus on the conversation. Standing in front of them, cloaked in a black flowing robe, was the man himself. Lord Ahnk Rashanagok. He stood, arms crossed, blocking their path forward.
“Lovely night for a walk, isn’t it?” Gash said. He was nervous; Zark could feel it. Both men instinctively reached for their lightsabers.
“Stop,” Ahnk said. He reached his hands to his sides and opened his robe, revealing a saber clipped to each side of his hip. “Put your weapons on the ground, and let’s have a civilized talk, shall we?”
Jiren shook his head. “You’re outnumbered here, Rashanagok. There’s two of us and one of you.”
Ahnk grinned. “I’ve had two Sith Lords walking ten paces behind you for the last twenty minutes. Lord Jas and Lord Zeta will get to you long before you get to me.”
Zark reached out and confirmed what Ahnk was saying. Neither man, though, was ready to drop their weapons. “What do you want, Ahnk?” Zark asked.
“I just want to talk,” Ahnk said, raising his hands away from his sabers. “I think you’ll want to hear what I have to say, Master Ekan. It’s about the Reavers.”
Gash and Zark shared a look, and slowly put their lightsabers on the ground.
Jan 21 2011 9:35am
“In life, no one gets exactly what they think they should.
There are no miracles.
You simply have to do the best you can with what you have. Play what you have. Lay it out, or walk away. You have to do what you think is best for you at the time.
Morality is a secondary concern.
Reputation not even a consideration.
History will judge you. Man is not fit to judge man no more than the blind are fit to lead the blind.
When I look back at my life, now, the several lives that I have led, I have few regrets. I know that may seem hard to believe for someone who has done what I have done, but I feel vindicated in knowing that now, in the end, I have devised a way to make things right.
There is a balance to justice, and that balance is level for me now. I have done terrible things with the time that I have had, but the suffering born as a result of the consequences of my choices is fitting to the actions I have undertaken. Those who wish to see me punished are unaware of the punishment I already endure. I have refused to answer to you because I already answer to those that I have hurt. Every single day, in every waking moment, I hear the angered cries of the dead within my mind. There are those who want me executed for what I had done. Some days, I would welcome that.
I have experienced things that no man should be forced to experience. Pain and suffering the kind of which would kill an average man has been my daily routine for decades. Even so, I have born the pain. Because, in the final analysis, it is indisputable that to suffer the unimaginable horrors that are laid upon me is exactly what I deserve.”
He sat back for a moment, considering. “Computer,” he said, and the computer acknowledged with a soft beep. “Pause recording.” He leaned back further in his chair, setting down the pencil he had in his hand. “How long have you been standing there?”
The man in the doorway chuckled softly. “If you knew I was here, why did you keep going?”
“I don’t like to leave anything undone,” the man at the desk said, setting down the pad of paper he had as well. “Come in, Bill. Can I get you a drink?”
“Thank you, Andrew, but no,” Bill said, walking into the room a bit. “I just came to let you know that the core installation has been completed and the engines and powerdrives are installed. We’re ready for the shield generators tomorrow evening. So far, everything is on schedule.”
“Good news,” Ahnk replied. Despite Bill’s presence and declination of the invitation, he felt like a drink, so he poured himself a fresh glass of Cadinth Sasoma. “I have a confession to make, Bill.”
“You mean other than the one you’re recording for your log?” Bill asked, and Ahnk nodded. Bill sighed. “You’re not going to wait for the shield generators, are you?”
Ahnk smiled. “The plan I passed to Zark is a good one, but it wouldn’t work. In the end, the Reavers would destroy this vessel just as they did any other. Trust me when I tell you that my way is the only way.”
“It’s a one way trip,” Bill said. “Of course, you know that. And you’ve come to terms with that.”
“I’m taking this ship out of dock after the last maintenance rotation,” Ahnk told him. “I need you to make sure that everyone who is working on this vessel, every last man and woman, is off before I depart. This is a mission that I have to undertake, but I refuse to drag anyone with me. I need you to take care of this for me, Bill. It’s… my last wish, in a manner of speaking.”
“And the paper?” Bill asked, of the pad Ahnk had put on his desk.
“Open it after I leave,” Ahnk said. “It’s my last will and testament.”
Bill shook his head, softly. “You’re sure there isn’t another way?”
Ahnk stood. He stepped twice broadly, cutting the room in half until he could reach his hand out to Bill. “It has been an honor, and a pleasure, having you as a friend.”
Bill shook his hand without hesitation. “The honor has been mine, Andrew Micheal Rashanagok.”
Ahnk smiled, nodding. “Will you do me that one last service?”
“They’ll all be gone,” Bill said, stepping back, “within the hour. Ahnk…”
Ahnk softly shook his head. At last, there was nothing left to say. Only one thing remained. “I will see you,” Ahnk said, “in the next life.”
Bill, softly nodding, turned, and for the last time, walked slowly away from the mystery that was Ahnk Rashanagok.
Ahnk sat back down in his chair. He scrawled one last addition to the paper notes then, satisfied, tore off the page, folding it in half and tucking it into an envelope. He closed it, and took a long sip of his drink. “Resume recording,” he said, leaning back.
“Not everything happens as you think it should. That’s one of the fundamental truths of the galaxy.
The other is that everyone dies.
The fortunate among us are those who have the time to make sure that what we have to offer in death is meaningful, and substantial. I know that, with the time I’ve had, and the effort I’ve put in, that this is how things were meant to be.
I hope that, in death, I can find the peace that has eluded me in life.
If I had the time, I would apologize here to those I have wronged. Sadly, I do not. Take this to heart, though; if you wanted to see Ahnk Rashanagok burn, your wish will soon be granted. And I promise that no matter where you are with your grief right now, when I go out, you will see the flame.
And I promise that for every person I killed while I was alive, when I die, I will kill twice as many Reavers.
In my sacrifice, I intend to balance the scales. I can never make right what I did wrong. But I can try and make right the wrongs that are now. A small consolation, perhaps, but I give my life for this. Will that it not be in vain.”
He leaned back a bit more, and poured himself another drink. “Computer,” he said, and once again the computer acknowledged with a beep. “Save recording. Leave in active memory.”
He stood up, finished off his drink, and began to walk to the ship.
Bill shook his head softly, watching the glowing blue burn of the engines of the vessel.
Ntchwaidumela, it had been called. It meant something scary and ominous in the language of the Sith. It had been Exar Kun’s flagship during the reign of his empire. He had passed the ship to Ahnk who had used it for decades to murder and oppress.
During the tail end of the Golden Sith Empire, the Yuuzhan Vong had invaded the galaxy for the first time. They were mostly beaten back by the Capricans, but they also invaded the sovereign space of Ahnk and his Sith Empire. They did significant damage to Ahnk’s mighty warship at a time when he did not have the available resources to properly repair it.
So he deconstructed it. Had the pieces built into his buildings instead. A power generator. A shield generator. The massive Eclipse Star Destroyer soon made up parts of over a hundred bases on a dozen planets. Shield generators of Yavin came from the Eclipse. The power cores that Ahnk installed during his time with the Rogue Jedi Order on Ossus had been part of the stardrive of the vessel during it’s service of the Sith. When the Reavers came, Ahnk began to slowly put the pieces back together, and now, half complete, Ahnk was taking it to war.
His plan, as outlined to Zark Ekan, Regrad, and all the present members of The Coalition, had been inspired. Fly the Eclipse to the last located Reaver attack. Power up the superlaser. That kind of energy output would draw every Reaver within scanning range. When they arrived, channel the superlaser blasts through the turbolasers. The Reavers would be caught with a massive barrage of energy flying at them and would be severely crippled. Then The Coalition and, maybe, The New Order as well, would jump fleets in to clean up the mess. The Eclipse would lumber away and everyone would be happy ever after.
But The Ntchwaidumela was not ready for that plan. It had no turbolasers, no hull, no shield generators. It was sublight engines, a hyperdrive, and a superlaser core. No capability to fire the blast. Only a reactor, and a switch. The switch to blow the core.
Ahnk was insane. An insane genius, perhaps, but still insane.
“We better tell Ekan,” the man said as he watched the ship fly away.
“Zark Ekan is in the Borderlands right now meeting with representatives of The New Order,” Bill pointed out. “You send a holonet transmission and you’re painting a big target on that meeting for Reavers to drop in. No, we wait. We wait and see if what Ahnk wants to do works. If it does, then it’s done, and there’s nothing left to shout angrily about. If it doesn’t, then god help us all.”
The man, disgruntled but knowing that Bill had a point, turned and stormed off. The chaos on the shipyard would continue throughout the day. Bill knew that if Ahnk were here, he would be smiling.
A few hours later, Bill listened to Ahnk’s complete log entry. Then he opened the envelope.
The contents read, “give everything I own to Varia Jiren.”
Then scrawled underneath, in less legible handwriting, were the words, “tell her I’m sorry”.
“Unless there was somewhere more important you had to be, Lord Ahnk.”
Ahnk opened his eyes to a face he had not seen in a long time. Skye Keller, Sith Master and Lordess of The Eternal Rogue Order. She glared at him, sternly. Apparently she had been talking to him.
Apparently, she was alive.
Ahnk was good; an accomplished liar from his decades of experience, he was easily able to let the fact that he was staring at a woman that he believed to be very dead to not rattle him whatsoever. “I apologize for my distraction, Lordess Keller. Please continue.”
“No; I’ve heard enough,” came a gruff voice from across the room. Ahnk turned his head to the crimson armor and sour scowl of Maim. “I’m sick of this. We all agree with the endpoint destination. Our only obstacle is you, Ahnk. Your stubborn and steadfast refusal to make concessions is preventing us from concluding this ridiculous democratic farce and getting on with our real objectives. Now, it’s time to make a decision, Ahnk. Are you in, or are you out?”
Maim was staring daggers of hatred and loathing at him. Ahnk knew if he said no that Maim would kill him. Likely not at that moment; Keller would, Ahnk assumed, step in. She’d… well, for that matter, no one really liked Maim. But Ahnk knew that by telling Maim what he didn’t want to hear, that the man had committed in his head to the execution of the obstacle between what he had and what he wanted. So Ahnk would play ball. He wasn’t entirely sure what he was agreeing to, but he felt compelled to agree to it regardless.
“I, too, am tired of arguing with you, Maim,” Ahnk said. “I will do what I must. I only hope that the benefits are as you have promised they will be.” Ahnk could see Keller brighten considerably, and Maim, for his part, soften slightly. “You need only tell me what it is I must do.”
“When the time is right, Ahnk, Lord Krayt will reward you for what you do today,” Keller told him. She then began outlining the plan. Ahnk sat back, casually listening, realizing all the time that something very substantial had changed. As he looked down at his hand he saw the dark green mark of the Korriban sun on the back of his palm.
Ahnk was going to need to be very careful. Very deceptive. And very attentive to every detail.
And, soon… he was going to need to find out exactly what had happened.
Jan 27 2011 10:30am
Gash and Zark were on the balcony of Coruscant, overlooking the traffic below. The Vongforming of the planet had changed the surface of the buildings but, as they did, the human presence reasserted itself, scrubbing, burning, and wiping away in ash what the Vong had tried to create here. The air on Coruscant, normally stained with the smell of traffic and life, instead had a slight twinge of burnt fruit.
"You trust him?" Jiren asked. He wasn't sure what to make of the entire situation; to him, their entire discussion had been nonsensical, and in direct opposition to his frame of reference.
"Never completely," Zark offered back. "I've learned from my history with Ahnk Rashanagok that to trust him completely is usually an invitation to some form of treachery. He doesn't always see it as treachery, mind you; he simply doesn't allow himself to be terribly concerned with proper conventions of ownership, rights, and desires."
Jiren chuckled. "Sounds like the true model of a rogue to me," he commented, and Zark shrugged. "I mean, what he was saying."
"It matches my experience," Zark said. "Go to sleep fighting the Reavers, wake up making peace with the Vong."
Gash nodded. "Yeah, I thought so," he added, leaning against the rail. "With what Ahnk said about the Sith planning to ambush the peace, we need someone we can trust on our side. If you don't trust him..."
Zark turned. "I trust him to continue to update us to the Sith plans, but... there is something... off, about him. He seems distant," Zark observed, and then shook his head. "He's a hard man to read. You are right in that we need more allies. Obviously, the Sith are not an option, and neither can we trust the Vong. Do you have any other ideas?"
Gash smiled. "You might not like it," he said, "but I do have an idea..."
"Senator Ekan, how unusual for someone of your stature and position to be on this side of Coruscant," the man at the desk offered. "Normally you'd request that we come to you."
Ekan furrowed his brow. "Yes, well, these are different times," the apparent Senator offered. He had made his way to the visitors quarters that had been set up for dignitaries of The New Order. Azrael Zell was sitting at the desk, scotch in hand; Simon Kaine stood observing, hands folded behind his back. "With Coruscant the way it is, there is no real order here. Are we not meeting as equals to discuss peace?"
"Yes," Kaine noted, "are we not meeting to discuss things in one big group?"
Kaine's insinuation was clear; he knew Zark wanted something, and he wanted to negotiate for it off the record. "Yes, please cut the bullshit Ekan," Zell added, always a sentence or two behind the seasoned military commander over his shoulder. "Tell us what you want so we can dismiss and get on with our day."
Ekan let a sarcastic smile splash across his features. "Good to know you're open to considering what I have to say, Zell," Zark chewed out, turning to Kaine instead. "You're holding a man, an Azguard... Regrad... I'd like you to release him."
Zell scoffed. "Hardly much of a man. More like a fucking animal..."
Kaine, for his part, merely smiled. "Done. I'll have him released into your custody within the hour."
Zell turned and stood, furious. "The fuck you will!" he shouted, and pointed to his face. "Don't forget what that little fucker did to me."
"All the more reason to keep him well away from us, no?" Kaine countered, sarcastically, but he raised his hand before Zell could shoot anything back. "He's offered us nothing in our questioning. Therefore I see no reason to hold him unless you want him executed."
"Yes!" Zell said. "Hang the fucker! Shoot him! Hell, hang him and then shoot him!"
Kaine's smile grew. "But I assume any attempt to put Regrad on trial would result in The New Republic asserting a claim to have the proceedings blocked under his diplomatic status under their flag."
"You assume correctly," Zark chimed in, and Zell turned to him fuming. "Though if you'd like to try and settle things, I'd be happy to brawl with you, Zell, to let some of your anger out."
Zell spat. "The only Jedi I'd like to tussle with is that Organa, and we'd not be fighting," he offered, lewdly. He shook his head. "Fine. Take the rat. Just be aware, any more outbursts from him, and we'll have his fucking head!"
Zark nodded. "So noted. Do note as well that any provocation on your part will be considered when and if such incidents take place," Ekan noted, "and we will be sure to note any such provocation as an action against the best interests of fostering peace at these meetings."
"There is one condition, Master Ekan," Kaine said. Zark turned to him. "We know you recently had a discussion with The Sith Lord Ahnk Rashanagok. The fact that you came out of that uninjured suggests insight into his frame of mind. I am... as a man... bothered somewhat by his sudden change of position. Is there anything you can offer, outside of potential Sith/Jedi confidence, that can... assuage my nervousness?"
Zark wasn't sure how to answer that. Did Kaine know? Was he, as was Ahnk and Zark, a stranger in a strange land here? Or did he ask the question, hoping for a face value answer? Zark had to be careful not to say too much; if Kaine wanted to know more, he would need to ask for more. “Ahnk’s motivations are his own; why he changed his position remains a mystery to me. What I do know is that neither he, nor the Sith at large, are to be trusted. There’s a shell game being played… I suspect they simply want the table set before they make their move.”
Kaine nodded. “We had assumed as much,” he said, and turned his back. “Be aware that we are monitoring the situation, and will do what we can to ensure that any powerplay made here is unsuccessful. The balance we hold now is of benefit to all.”
“Unless a play presents itself that benefits you, of course,” Zark dryly remarked.
Kaine turned, and smiled. “I do only what is best for the Children Of The Empire. Will that I never need to juggle the will of two Empires,” Kaine said in a nod to Zark’s role as ambassador of The New Republic, and as a Jedi Master.
“It’s easy when the only ambition is peace,” Zark said.
Zell finished his drink and allowed the ice to clang around the empty glass as he casually dropped it across the table. “If there’s nothing else…”
“Nothing else,” Zark said. He bowed deeply; Zell scoffed and turned, but Kaine nodded his head in a measure of respect before the Jedi took his leave.
When Ekan and Jiren met again, they had a man each as company.
“Regrad!” Jiren’s company exclaimed, seeing the man he knew well, safe and free from Imperial Custody. “I was told of your arrest.”
“Indeed,” Regrad offered back. “I was held for several days but it turns out that they actually let you go if you legitimately don’t know anything,”
“So, all of us…?” Dolash asked, allowing the question to hang. Everyone nodded with the exception of Jiren, who was only as informed as Ekan had allowed him to be. “I do admit, this is taking a lot of effort to keep a secret. Just not gasping when I see Sith walking the same halls as Jedi, or seeing Master Jiren again…”
“Wish everyone would stop treating me like a ghost,” Gash commented dryly.
“Revering you like a ghost, you mean,” Ekan sarcastically offered back. “But yes. As far as I can tell, anyone who was on the ship with us is here as well… with the same gap in knowledge and understanding we all share.”
“I should begin rounding up those I can find… our officers,” Regrad said, and Ekan nodded. “If they’re as lost as we are, we should try and find them, bring them all together, explain the situation… assuming we can offer them any kind of explanation at all.”
Gash turned to Zark for that one. “Any luck on figuring things out? Putting what Ahnk told you, with your own knowledge, into some sort of hypothesis?”
Zark shrugged. “I’m not that versed on quantum theory, but what seems to have happened is that the quantum reality that we were in has somehow moved, shifted, so that we find ourselves in a separate reality. Because we were all in close proximity… the three of us being on one ship, Ahnk being on another in the same system… whatever happened to cause that shift must have encased us in some sort of bubble… so that while all of those around us changed, we retained the knowledge and experience of the other reality, including the knowledge that we are somehow out of place in this reality.”
“What caused us to be stuck here?” Regrad asked.
“And, perhaps more importantly, how do we get back?” Dolash added, finishing the thought process.
“That’s all jumping the gun a bit,” Ekan admitted. “I think the first step is figuring out what is different here. If we can trace back what the difference is then perhaps we can figure out what caused that change in the first place… and if we know why this happened, then we can work on figuring out how to undo it. It’s either that, or a lot of quantum theory and theoretical astrophysics and I don’t know about you guys but I fucking hate math.”
Jiren chuckled. “Information gathering seems like a much more worthwhile pursuit to me. Where do you guys want to start?”
“The Jedi in this reality doubtless keep extensive records of history and galactic observation, as they do in our reality,” Dolash suggested.
“Yes,” Ekan noted, “but according to my knowledge, the Sith are even more widespread here then in our own reality. They hold Naboo… no use looking for information there.”
“Yes, but Gash still established a base on power on Ossus, did he not?” Dolash asked, turning to Gash. Gash smiled and nodded. “Not the Rogue Jedi Order, but the Jedi Enclave… there must be something there?”
“You guys are thinking too much,” Jiren said, allowing his smile to drift a bit into a smirk. “You’re standing on Coruscant. This was the Capital of The Jedi for the better part of the history of time… why not start there?”
Dolash turned to Zark. “No Endgame…”
Zark nodded. “No gods, no masters.”
Jiren sighed, brushing both aside. “Yeah, whatever. I’ll lead the way.”
He began walking in the direction of the temple, and after composing themselves, Ekan and Dolash both began following behind.
Jan 29 2011 12:58pm
“I don’t understand why you didn’t have us kill them.”
The man was pacing; he was not one for patient discussion. In his mind, questions and answers were very much pointless; one could learn more from violence then from suggestion and gathering of information. He was a coiled viper, always prepared to leap from the deep grass to latch on to a victim, draining them of their ability to offer even the simplest of lies.
Ahnk Rashanagok fancied himself as more of a lion. A patient predator; happy to gaze across the plains, waiting for the perfect opportunity to use his strength to reassert his dominance across the kingdom. Each beneath him had their place… each sometimes tried to cross the line between that which made them effective, and that which made them a complication.
“Patience, Zeta,” Ahnk offered. “Keeping Zark and Jiren close allows me to be sure of their presence when the final pieces come into play. I worry less about them and far more about the supposed alliance we are forming.”
Zeta nodded in agreement. “I wish I could cut out Klain’s heart and crush it under my boot,” the tattooed Sith Lord stated bluntly.
Ahnk laughed softly. “In time, Master Zeta, in time,” he said, and rose. “Would you do me the honor of sparring with me, old friend?”
To that suggestion, Zeta’s eyes flashed. “Always,” he said, legitimately excited. Zeta was a purity of form; perfected martial sciences constructed into a human form warrior. His ability to stand his ground in hand to hand, or saber to saber, combat was second to none. Ahnk himself was a seasoned warrior, having learnt martial arts since his aborted childhood, but Zeta was older and wiser, without losing any speed along with his experience.
The two were evenly matched from Ahnk’s recollection; his recollection went back to his days as a Sith Lord, the leader, and self proclaimed Dark Lord Of The Sith, of The Sith Brotherhood, in it’s days as the sole holder of the world of Yavin. That had been a long time ago… Ahnk had died, and lived, and died again since he and Zeta had last crossed blades. But that was a different reality… a different Ahnk. That was a different Zeta, for a matter of fact. In this arena, nothing was equal until it was earned.
Both men grabbed wooden shafts; long enough to simulate a second blade on a lightsaber while still short enough to allow for single handed use. They bowed in a legitimate offering of mutual respect, and then attacked.
Zeta moved much as Ahnk remembered, and relearning his patterns of attack put Ahnk at a significant disadvantage. Countering a motion was best made when the counter can begin before the motion itself. If you know what your opponent will do, then stop him before he starts; that was basic martial arts, but Ahnk was removed from Zeta by several decades inside his head. It would take time to sync himself to Zeta once again.
Zeta seemed to notice. “You’re getting slow,” he said, with a smirk. Sweat dripped from his brow, breaking across the tunic he wore. “Perhaps I should tie a hand behind my back?”
Ahnk grinned in return, and sidestepped a lunge by Zeta, grabbing his shaft between the Sith’s hands. Before Zeta could fully turn his head, Ahnk’s other hand crashed into his jaw, causing the Sith to stagger and release his hold on the training staff. With both staffs now his, Ahnk used his foot to collect the one he had started with, kicking it up, and then across the room, allowing it to fall at the Sith’s feet. “Perhaps you should stop being so arrogant,” Ahnk countered, and the Sith’s smirk grew wider as he kicked the staff up to himself, gripping it and twisting it rapidly in his palms.
No more games, then, Ahnk denoted, as the Sith charged at him.
“When Klain makes his move, I will stand with you,” Zeta offered between strikes.
“I appreciate your loyalty, Master Zeta,” Ahnk relayed back between blocks. “My fear is that Klain controls a more sizable number of Sith. Us alone may not be enough to stop him.”
“Your army extends into the dozens, not including apprentices we can offer as veritable meat shields,” Zeta said. He struck a blow on Ahnk’s ribcage, but Ahnk twisted away from the follow up, kicking Zeta in the back of the thigh instead.
With separation between the pair, Ahnk brushed his hand over his ribcage. “I trust that many will die, but how many die in our defense is a number of which I am very much uncertain,” Ahnk offered, and Zeta lowered his shaft to consider the inquiry. “None are as loyal as you.”
Zeta nodded, and both raised their weapons again. The Sith charged. “That much is true, and will always be,” he said.
Ahnk spun away from a block, and before he’d even set his feet, had to make another. “Do you ever think of the end, my brother?”
Zeta’s smirk deepended, as a sense of his bloodlust began to cloud his features. “All of the time,” he said, striking hard again. “I train as I do and fight as I do so that we may see the Jedi trampled beneath us; their temples aflame and their warriors severed and blanketed in blood.”
Ahnk found himself grinning too. “What if I told you I’ve seen a different future?” Ahnk said, and Zeta looked deeply into his eyes as they both pressed their training staffs into the other. “What if I told you of a future without the Sith?”
Zeta shook his head. “Impossible,” he said, and pushed Ahnk’s staff away. “The Sith will never die. We will live in, and strike from, the shadows, always obscured from the wielders of the light. We will be forever.”
“And if we don’t?” Ahnk queried. He allowed his staff to rest in one hand, lowered to his side. “What if we hunt ourselves into irrelevance? Reduce our numbers through treachery and assassination to the point of oblivion? What then?”
Zeta pointed his staff directly at Ahnk’s heart. “You speak of hypotheticals,” he said, “and worry too much of probabilities. You need to learn to follow your heart.”
“My heart speaks of a time when the line between Jedi and Sith is no longer visible,” Ahnk said, crossing his training staff across his chest. “Already here, we are seeing it. Sith and Jedi forming unions… spawning children.”
Zeta smirked and scoffed. “Your future is half bred mongrel children,” he remarked, with biting cynicism. “I would rather die who I am then live as one of them.”
Ahnk considered, and then nodded. “May you never face that choice,” he said, extending the nod into a form of bow. Zeta mirrored the gesture in a mark of mutual respect. “I suddenly find myself thirsty.”
“Indeed,” Zeta remarked. “Shall we prowl the night look…”
The two stopped. They turned to each other. “You heard it too,” Ahnk stated, and Zeta nodded. Suddenly, a louder noise came; the breaking of glass. “Above!” Ahnk pointed, and both men split up, running to their respectively discarded functional lightsabers.
Neither made it before the purpose of the broken windows became clear; a pair of metal canisters dropped to the stone floor. “Gas!” Zeta shouted.
In most situations, both would be able to resist the gas for a period of time allowing them to exit the room. But whoever it was who had gassed them had done their homework, for with both men having spent the past hour sparring, both men found themselves taking short, quick breathes to regulate their circulatory system. Suddenly stopping that proved to be impossible, and before either man could ignite their lightsaber, the gas began to take hold.
The world faded into a blurred swirl as Ahnk watched the rest of the glass fall, several heavily armed blurs of black following behind.
Then everything was black.
When Ahnk woke up, he did so with a splash.
Or, perhaps more correctly, from a splash.
He recognized the smell; it was alcohol. Something relatively pure and unsweetened. He shook his head to shake it from his face, and blinked his eyes rapidly to clear them, and allow his vision to return.
What he saw, he didn’t like. “You,” he let fall from his lips, not hiding the derision in his voice.
“Lord Ahnk Rashanagok,” the other man offered, derisively. “Look at you now. Gassed. Beaten. Stripped. You’re a defeated man, Ahnk, and we’ve only just begun. Welcome to your own personal hell. I hope that sleeping gas left you well rested. You’re going to need your strength.”
The two men holding Ahnk pushed him forwards, causing him to brace his fall with his hands. Lowered so, on his hands and knees, Ahnk had to admit he was not in the best of positions. “Mark my words,” he offered up, however, “before the night is over, you’ll be the one in hell, Somir.”
The man standing over him smiled. “We shall see.”
Feb 4 2011 11:04am
“What do you mean he’s… gone?”
The man’s grin was repugnant to Zark’s eyes. “Such things happen between Sith,” Recon Klain answered back. “Sometimes when one Sith wants what another Sith has, one Sith has to… concede what he has. Sometimes the Sith does so, and does not return.”
Zark slammed his fist on the table. “You murdered him!” He tried to shrug free, but Gash held him fast. “You just killed him, just like that?”
Klain’s grin grew wider. “If you honestly want to know, no, we didn’t kill him just like that,” he said, standing taller. “We made sure it was slow.”
“You Sith Bastard,” Zark spat out. Gash finally pushed him down.
“I was doing you a favor anyway, insolent Jedi child,” Klain remarked. “He was always planning something. His refusal to negotiate here proved as much. I probably saved your useless life.”
Zark fought to stand again, but Gash held him fast. He leaned in, putting himself within whispering distance of Zark’s ear. “Calm down. Ignore him. Don’t make it obvious, but look at her.”
“Gentlemen,” Simon Kaine said, speaking, as he often did, as the voice of moderate reason. “If this matter should be considered to be resolved…”
Zark moved as if to turn to Gash, but Gash held his gaze where it was. “Keller. Look over at Keller,” he whispered. “Keep it subtle, then back to Klain.”
Zark did as Gash instructed. Whereas Klain was smirking and looking at Zark, Keller wasn’t. She kept her eyes down, away from all. Zark hadn’t known her much before these meetings, but he didn’t know her to be the shy type.
“She knows something,” Gash said. “She’s in the Sith Inner Circle. She knows what happened to Ahnk. We’ll talk to her. All we’ll get from Klain are boasts.”
Zark softly nodded his head, turning from Klain to Kaine. “Now, I believe the next topic of discussion was Corellia,” Kaine said, turning to Gash. “I understand that the Jedi and the New Republic are largely responsible for repatriating the planet from the Yuuzhan Vong invasion. However, the planet Corellia has always been one of the New Order’s most important worlds. We would like it back.”
Gash snarled. “I’m sure you would,” he said, immediately digging in his heels.
The debate lasted well into the night…
No one challenged the curse… it seemed, in fact, to be the prevailing mood in the room. All of them were tired, worn down, and frustrated.
“Negotiating for this treaty is going to kill me,” Gash said, pouring himself a stiff drink. He offered one to both Zark and Dolash, but both declined. “Suit yourself,” he shot back, then he shot back the drink as well, immediately pouring another. “Did you get a chance to talk to Keller?”
“Briefly,” Zark said. “She told me that Ahnk is not dead. At least, not yet. He was ambushed last night and taken by associates of The Somir Crime Family. They were working for Klain.”
“Somir,” Gash said. He scoffed. “Nasty fuckers. Criminal Sith, run underworld enterprises on worlds across the galaxy.” He swirled his drink again. “Did she say where he was?”
“Here,” Zark said. “He was brought to a place called Netu. I looked it up. It’s a den of sin located in the lower levels.”
“Netu, huh?” Gash said, smirking. “That’s from the ancient tongues. Refers to the dark world, or the netherworld. The barrier between hell and this world.”
“Sounds appropriate,” Zark commented. “Supposedly the club is known to sport prize fights between Somir members and local gangsters. The gangsters are usually people who owe the Somirs money. The Somirs use them as a punching bag, but eventually kill them after having them fight each member of the family in order.”
“That’s probably their plan for Ahnk, as well,” Gash said. He chuckled, then slammed back his drink. “I wish them luck with that.”
Zark and Dolash shared a concerned look. “You don’t seem very worried about him,” Dolash noted.
“Yeah,” Zark said. “I’m a little disappointed. Our Gash would probably relish the fight to get him out.”
Gash brushed that comment off with his hand before pouring himself a fresh drink. “You might have had a different Gash, but I’m guessing you have a similar Ahnk,” Gash said, causing Zark to pause. “I was talking to Kaine about what we’d do if Ahnk didn’t budge in negotiations. Kaine told me a story. Exceron had ordered a fleet to Junction, which at the time was thought to be unoccupied by any governments. The fleet returned and said they’d met resistance under the flag of Exar Kun. Exceron thought nothing of it and simply refocused his Empire more towards the core.”
Gash stopped, causing both Dolash and Zark to share another look. “And then what happened?” Zark asked, wanting Gash to get to his point.
Gash chuckled again. “Ahnk decided he wanted a face to face meeting with The Emperor. So he strolled into his office, and set down a map on the table in front of him. Ahnk used a dagger to spill his own blood, and then drew a line on the map. He said if Exceron crossed that line again, Ahnk would spill more blood then just his own. Then he left. But before he even got to that office, Ahnk killed six Royal Guards. Elite Royal Guards, who spend their entire lives training martial arts and combat in order to protect The Emperor, and Ahnk dispatched them, handily, in hand to hand combat by himself.”
Zark nodded, slowly, starting to understand. “You think he’ll be fine,” he said, and found that saying it aloud was slightly reassuring.
“I think that when it comes to Ahnk Rashanagok, there’s a line I’m not willing to cross,” he said, and then offered a silent toast to Ahnk. He didn’t sip his drink though, instead stopping to swirl it around in the glass. “You know, Kaine told me that Thrawn had that map saved and added to the collection of works he kept on his ship. Must be saying something if your philosophy is admired by Grand Admiral Thrawn.”
“I suppose,” Zark said. “I still want to make sure. If he needs backup…”
“There is another matter I wanted to discuss,” Dolash interjected. “Regrad and I have accounted for most of the crew of my vessel, either in person, or confirming through the Jedi Archive terminal that in this reality, they do not exist. However, we have been unable to locate several senior and junior officers. Namely: Teebo, and any other Mon Calamari.”
“Well, shit son,” Gash said, sipping his drink and offering a bitter sigh. “A few years back, before the Vong came, the Republic went to war with The Black Dragon Empire. When they struck back, they struck back at Mon Calamari. It’s been in their hands all this time.”
“I realize that,” Dolash said. “Beyond simple concern for the people, I am concerned about the effect it may have of having people from our quantum reality in the hands of the Damuens.”
That caused Gash and Zark to share a concerned look. “I hadn’t thought of that,” Zark said. “That kind of information…”
“Would do what, exactly?” Gash said. “Convince the Dragons that they’d conquered an insane, backwater fish stick factory?”
“Gash…” Dolash said, imploring him for some compassion.
“No,” Gash shot back, not offering any. “No, I’m fucking tired of this. I’ve been stuck in that goddamn conference room for days, meeting with boring as fuck politicians and working on new maps and treaties and concessions and considerations, I am too fucking tired to go on any goddamn halfcocked adventures. No saving Ahnk. No saving the fish people. I just want to get drunk and spend the night with my wife instead of with you two clowns.”
“Clowns?” Zark asked.
“Wait, wife?” Dolash asked.
“Yes, wife,” Gash shot back.
“Clowns? Really, clowns?” Zark continued on. “Wait, wife?”
“Yes, wife!” Gash repeated. “I haven’t seen her outside of those silly meetings for about a week. A man has needs, damnit.”
“Too much information,” Dolash said, turning and walking away.
“Wait a minute,” Zark said, doing the math in his head. “You can’t be talking about Drayson, or Keller…” Gash smirked when Zark put it all together. “Oh, you sly dog.”
“Well, someone had to make an honest woman out of her,” Gash commented, tongue in cheek.
“I never took you for the marrying type,” Zark said, honestly. “And I never took her for the type that could stand you for more than five minutes.”
“Things must be different where you come from,” Gash said, and Zark nodded. “Will you drink to that?”
Zark smiled, but then shook his head. “No, I need to check on Ahnk. He knows things he shouldn’t know. If anyone can figure out a way to get us back to our own quantum reality, it’s Ahnk Rashanagok.”
Dolash stepped back into the picture. “As much as I hold deep concern for the former Dark Lord Of The Sith, I have to find my people,” Dolash said. “If you need me, I’ll be making a suicide mission into The Black Dragon Empire.”
Zark put a hand on his chest to stop him. “Dolash, wait,” he said. Dolash stopped. “When you and I met… not here, in the other reality… we made an agreement to work together to stop The Reavers. I told you I’d have your back. And I still will. But Ahnk could be in immediate mortal danger. I want to make sure he makes it. When we’re done, we can find Teebo… me and you, together. I’ll even try and strong arm Ahnk into coming.”
Dolash stopped, and considered. “Very well,” he said. “One more night Teebo. Hang on one more night.”
The two Jedi nodded to Gash, who offered a partially drunken nod back. When they left, he chuckled. “Two Jedi going to save a Sith from dying in a bar fight,” he commented, amused. “Fucking crazy,” was his expert opinion as he settled in to have another drink, not, apparently, bothered by the concept of alternate quantum realities and the existence of a way to transport someone between them.
Not as long as he could still drink.
Feb 9 2011 4:49am
As rave clubs went, this one wasn’t so bad.
At least it was quiet. In his time, post galactic despot and pre attempt at redemption, Ahnk had found himself in a lot of dirty dives and the one thing they generally had in common was awful music.
This place had killed the music for the night, and that made the atmosphere much less annoying. It was still too dark, and what light was there was far too neon a shade of color to be palatable. It was still too smoky in the air for Ahnk’s taste, but he had conditioned his body to run on far less oxygen then was present. The common citizen likely wasn’t as comfortable.
Ahnk realized, of course, that the lack of music was almost directly related to him.
He’d been sitting down on a bench in a cage in the club for ages now. Occasionally, people sipping martinis glanced his way, and he politely nodded his head in his only way of saying hello. His arms were chained flat in his lap, wrapped with connecting chains to a pair keeping his thighs confined to the metal bench. At the entrance to the cage were a pair of Somir thugs, just in case he got free.
But Ahnk knew how this had to play out.
Eventually, the two guards came in and undid the chains keeping his thighs to the bench. They stood him up, and undid the chains around his wrists. Once he was free, they told him to sit on the bench with slugthrowers pointed directly at his heart. Ahnk obeyed and sat down as requested.
“Ahnk Rashanagok,” Diette Somir spoke, walking up to the cage, “you are a former self-proclaimed Dark Lord Of The Sith, trained under the tutelage of Exar Kun. You know four forms of lightsaber combat and untold forms of martial arts. You’ve killed dozens…”
“Hundreds,” Ahnk interjected, “if you count padawan learners who challenged me out of turn.”
Somir smirked. “Nevertheless. You’ve killed Jedi and your fellow Sith in both armed and unarmed combat. You stand here reduced of weapons and with no escape. Are you prepared to die, Ahnk Rashanagok?”
Ahnk stood. “If I am to die, then I will be taking my place in a specially reserved corner of hell. Should I find myself there, I promise that I will have a lot of company. Now send me your worst.”
Somir nodded. “Begin,” he said, then clapped his hands.
The first of his gang walked into the cage, and nodded his head in Ahnk’s direction. He pulled his shirt over his head, revealing a body marked by ink; dragons, knights, and fire crossed his skin. Ahnk replied in kind, revealing a body darkened by death and then tattooed in live green; his body, however, told a story written in bars, lines, and bends, each one made at an appropriate spot to tell a tale of a life, here or there, incorporated into the flesh of the warrior who took it. Ahnk stored their lives inside of himself, and wore their tales on his skin.
The warrior raised his fists, assuming a standard stance amongst kickboxers. Ahnk folded both hands behind his back, showing no respect for the man’s abilities.
The gangster charged, faster than most humans, but slower than Ahnk would have expected. Ahnk dodged his first punch easily, and the second missed of its own accord. Ahnk used the high blow as an opportunity to raise his left knee into the abdomen of the warrior, breaking three of his false ribs in a sharp blow. The man then doubled over, which allowed Ahnk to lock his head and arm into a front chancery, with the man’s head in Ahnk’s armpit, and Ahnk’s arm hooked under the man’s arm and tucked into his back. With the arm and back of the man, Ahnk pulled. With his head, Ahnk held. The result was a loud crunch that reverberated throughout the silent club as the man’s spine broke under the torque, snapping where it passed the shoulder blades. His body went limp, and Ahnk allowed it to fall to the floor.
Ahnk turned his tattooed head to Somir with a neutral facial expression. “I assumed I would be fighting your Sith,” he said, as a pair of gangsters dragged the body out of the cage.
Somir’s annoyed glare told the story. “In time,” he said, then gestured with his hand. Another warrior followed the gesture and walked into the cage.
This warrior raised his arms higher, more of a standard of akido and similar styles. Again, Ahnk kept his hands behind his back and allowed the man to make the first strike.
This time the warrior fired a kick directly at Ahnk’s midsection. Ahnk stood firm as the foot reverberated off of his ribs, absorbing the blow, then responded in a similar fashion. Ahnk’s kick, however, was more pointedly directed at the man’s knee, and he immediately found it unable to support his weight. Ahnk then launched a second kick, which more or less went entirely undefended and unchecked. This kick was from Ahnk’s strong leg and carried more force behind it, and when the man’s ribs folded inward and punctured his lungs, he knew he didn’t have long to live. Ahnk, however, wasn’t willing to wait for a man to slowly bleed out from a punctured lung, and used his other foot to make a direct kick to the man’s nose, knocking the pointed piece of cartilage free and shooting it into the soft tissue behind. With his brain folding and tearing around the hard triangle of death directed into it, the man’s eyes became vacant and glassy, and his body turned rigid as it fell flat to the ground.
Ahnk turned back to Somir, whose disgust was growing. “You send common thugs to fight The Dark Lord Of The Sith, Somir. You disrespect me.”
“We shall see,” Somir said, and then gestured for another warrior to enter.
This one ducked low, holding his hands up and moving like a boxer. Ahnk took his usual posture and waited for the man to charge.
This man moved like a man possessed, which almost caused Ahnk to grin. Ahnk found himself moving with the man instead of moving in front of him, as he had with the others. The man altered his movements partway through, showing adaptability as well. But as Ahnk continued to block his punches, his mind began to move beyond. He realized he was allowing himself to move with the speed of his challengers, and not his own speed. With that in mind, this opponent lost much of what Ahnk had been excited about. So when he fired his next punch, Ahnk caught it in his arm and then twisted his other arm up, driving his palm into the man’s forearm and shattering it. Ahnk then slid his hand down the man’s arm to his shoulder, then grabbed the back of his neck. He looked the man in the eyes, nodding softly in a measure of respect, and then pulled towards himself with one arm while pushing out with the other. The two arms would have met, except that one was holding the back of the head of the gangster and the other was simply an elbow pointed in his direction. The force of the blow, though, was enough to cause the man’s facial features to crumple as his skull bent inwards, and when his body fell to the ground, Ahnk ended his suffering by lifting a boot and dropping it sharply on the man’s cerebellum, instantly ending his life.
Ahnk once again turned to Somir as the dead body was dragged away. “I thought you were supposed to be killing me, here,” Ahnk said, feigning the wiping of his brow to indicate he hadn’t yet felt challenged.
Somir turned to one of the guards inside the cage and nodded. The man dropped the body he was dragging. “Very well, Ahnk. Let’s see how you deal with this,” he said, and watched as the other man locked the cage behind him.
This man did not take any sort of fighting stance. Instead, he simply pulled the weapon tucked into his belt into his hand, turned it towards Ahnk, and twice squeezed the trigger.
Ahnk felt a smile grow wider with both bangs. “Slugthrowers against a Sith?” Ahnk questioned Somir. He raised his left hand and snapped his fingers. Inside the brain of the man, a blood vessel suddenly ruptured, and he found his world exploding into white light as the final agony of his life took hold, causing him to spasm as he fell. Ahnk opened his right hand and dropped both of the bullets to the ground, allowing the sizzling flesh that had caught them to begin to heal in the open air. “Next time use blasters,” Ahnk remarked as the second guard dragged the first out of the cage, his body still shaking and drooling from the repeated seizures that would kill him in short order.
Somir turned to someone at his side. “Myka,” he said, and the person nodded. The warrior moved quickly from Somir’s side to the entrance of the cage. They stopped there, then turned and handed their lightsaber to the guard. They discarded their robe and Ahnk saw for the first time the face of Myka Somir.
She was lighter than he and shorter as well, but there was muscle on her bones. She was a Sith; Ahnk could tell as much by the hardened look in her eyes. She had endured pain. That would serve her well. Being given an opponent who may challenge him, Ahnk finally acknowledged her with a nod of his head, and placing his hands in front of him. She snarled, not wanting his respect, and instead charging for his blood.
Her first blow struck true as the side of her palm struck Ahnk in the clavicle, though Ahnk was sure it was aimed for the throat. He countered by striking the arm away, but she spun out of his blow and fired a spinning backfist with her other arm, which hit Ahnk flush in the ribs. He stepped back away from the blow and she took her chance, firing a kick aimed at his temple. Ahnk saw it coming, and backpeddled away again, impressed at her speed.
Her next blow was a punch aimed for his face, which Ahnk ducked under. He then slid his hips into hers, causing her momentum to carry her over his shoulder, flipping her body onto her back. Before Ahnk could turn and strike her, though, she had hopped back to her feet, and was looking over her shoulder at him should he approach.
Ahnk approached but she turned before he reached her. He thrust a palm towards her, which she deflected aptly. But Ahnk had intended for her to deflect it, and used the new position to clamp down on her elbow. She tried to shrug free, but Ahnk held her fast, and used his other arm to grab her wrist. He pulled tightly, yanking her wrist back over her shoulder and tucking her elbow under her chin, then grabbing his own arm. With her arm lodged firmly in her own trachea, her struggles became less forceful with each passing second.
When she had waned enough, Ahnk let go of her arms, settling instead to grab her head directly. With one arm Ahnk held her neck in place, using the other one to jerk her head hard towards her shoulder, snapping her vertebrae and causing her death.
This time, Ahnk held her head in his arms as the guard entered to take the body. He could see the rage boiling in Somir. “Was she your daughter, Diete?”
“No,” a voice came, from the cage door. “She was mine.”
The warrior there was about Ahnk’s size, perhaps taller, and stood poised to fight. As the guard took the body of the woman, Ahnk turned all his attention to the man. “Another Somir?”
“Nathaniel,” he said. “The last man you’ll ever meet.” He bent his fingers, cracking the assembled cartilage, and then stretched his shoulders.
Ahnk dusted off his hands. “Perhaps,” he said. “I haven’t seen Athena. I don’t suppose she’s here tonight.”
Nathaniel spat. “You’ll never see her again,” he remarked.
“Oh, it would be nice were that so,” Ahnk admitted. “I was just making a checklist. One Somir down… how many to go?”
That comment riled Nathaniel enough to charge. His punch struck Ahnk clean, and the follow up palm strike to Ahnk’s chest pushed him flat against the cage.
The following blows to Ahnk’s head shook his body, as he bent from the force of one blow before being driven the next way with the next. The pain coursed through him; entering through each point of impact, passing through the musculature of the face, into the blood vessels in the cheeks, down and around, and back into the brain. Somir did not notice that with each punch, Ahnk’s smile grew wider.
Finally, one blow missed. Ahnk hit Nathaniel Somir with an uppercut to the sternum, which fractured under the force of the blow. Somir barely slowed, lunging forward with rage, but Ahnk side stepped his punch, which tore a small hole in the cage wall. As Somir fought to pull his hand free, Ahnk fired four small kicks at Somir, each to an undefended rib. Each would, in time, be fatal to a normal man, but to a Sith like Somir, they were barely an inconvenience.
When he had his hand free, Somir turned to Ahnk with murder in his eyes. Ahnk blocked the first punch, but Somir’s second punch found the jaw of the former Sith and caused him to backpedal, spitting blood. With blood soaked teeth, though, he found the wrist of the Sith’s next blow, causing Somir to spit out in hatred and fury.
“You animal,” Somir said, looking down at his wrist. Ahnk had bitten deep enough to make a cut in the radial artery in Somir’s wrist. “You bit me!”
Ahnk spat out blood again, now a mixture of Somir’s and his own. “All is fair in a fight to the death,” he commented.
Somir charged him again, but he did so at reduced speed; with his body focused on repairing the damage to his artery, which would be fatal for a normal human, he could not propel himself with The Force as he had before. His punches were easily blocked, and Ahnk now had room to maneuver. He caught Somir’s punch and drove a fist into his abdomen, which caused him to double over. When he was so bent, Ahnk grabbed him by the hip and the collar of his shirt, and drove him face first into the hole his hand had created in the fence, forcing his entire head through the cage.
“You’re sadly mistaken,” Somir said, putting his hands against the cage, “if you think this will stop me,” he offered as he struggled to free himself.
“Oh, that wouldn’t,” Ahnk said. He slid his hand across Somir’s hip, which caused Somir to gasp as his intent became clear. “This,” Ahnk said, gripping Somir’s lightsaber and pulling it from his belt, “however; this will stop you.”
“Nathaniel!” Diete remarked angrily, realizing the gravity of the position he’d put himself in.
“Don’t be too hard on him,” Ahnk said, thumbing the activation switch of the lightsaber, causing it to snap into existence with a sharp hiss. “It’s the last mistake he’ll ever make.”
Nathaniel had stopped struggling, and simply looked at his father with shame. “Father, I’m sorry,” Nathaniel said, and Diete turned, unable to watch anymore.
When Nathaniel’s body fell limply to the ground, Ahnk turned, and with a simple glance, crushed the trachea of the guard watching the cell. He fell back against the nearest wall, choking to death, as Ahnk began to use the saber to cut his way through the cage. “Just me and you now, Diete,” Ahnk mused, “unless you have any more bastard offspring you want me to dispose of.”
“You’ll pay for what you did in that cell,” Diete said. He stood, and beckoned his guards to leave. This was personal now; shooting Ahnk would be too swift a death. He was convinced he would do it with his own hands.
When Ahnk was free, he began to walk his way to Diete. “You made a mistake latching yourself to Klain,” Ahnk said, twirling the saber absentmindedly. “You backed a loser, and now you’re going to pay the price for his failures.”
“Klain is a smart man,” Somir remarked. “He fell in line with Krayt before anyone. When Krayt launches his plan, we’ll control everything.”
“I doubt that,” Ahnk said. “For one thing, grand schemes of conquest rarely work. For another, there are a lot of very smart and very determined minds on the lightside of The Force. They can usually thwart said plans even if they reach the implementation stage, if not before. And lastly… you’re about to die, Somir, so I don’t see you controlling anything.”
“You underestimate my mastery of The Sith Arts, Rashanagok,” Somir said, pointing a glove at the warrior. “I am not simply the king of the gangsters. I am a Lord Of The Sith!”
With that proclamation, lightning spat out from the tips of his fingers, cutting the distance between the two warriors in seconds and digging sharply into Ahnk’s skin…
…drawing no reaction from the other warrior. “Lightning?” Ahnk said, dismissively. “I endured lightning for hours as a simple Sith initiate. I would have expected more from you.” Ahnk took a deep breath, and closed his eyes. The lightning began to bend away from his body and strike the nearest path to the ground instead. “The ability to control the outside elements is the simplistic approach to The Force. But there’s something that the true Lords have learned. Something that, in your lust for position, you never stopped to pick up.”
“What is that?” Somir said, no longer shooting lightning, but still sneering in hatred.
“Controlling the elements inside,” Ahnk said. “The Force, so they say, is in everything around us, but it is also inside us.” Ahnk turned a flat palm to him. “Even in someone as dense as you, The Force flows. And to draw energy from others to turn into others… that is something no apprentice could know. That is power beyond you, Somir. Now…” Ahnk said, closing his eyes, “feel that power.”
Somir twitched. A little at first, but then he threw a powerful shudder. He stumbled backwards into his chair, and grabbed it, mouth thrown open in pain. Lightning broke again, but not from his hands. It came instead from his veins; his body was on fire and engulfed in electricity that came from within. It froze him to his seat, even as it burned him alive. He had no recourse but to try and grasp the arms of the chair and withstand the storm, hoping that Ahnk would stop.
Ahnk, in fact, did stop. He allowed Somir to slump down in his seat, in great agony, seconds away from death, so that he could close the distance between the two. “I want you to send a message to Recon Klain,” Ahnk said, watching to see that Somir’s eyes saw him. He raised the saber. “Tell him he has signed his own death warrant. And tell him to expect this as his fate. And don’t worry, I know you can’t talk. You can tell him in posture instead.”
With that, Ahnk plunged the lightsaber into his heart. He pressed it forward until it began to burn through the chair and then turned it off, keeping the handle of the weapon inside of his chest. Ahnk stepped back, admiring his handiwork, knowing that when Klain’s men found the dead Sith Lord, they would be absolutely furious. “Now,” Ahnk said, turning to the bartender, still at his place though his face was frozen in awe, “you, bartender. I’m thirsty. Get me a round of your finest Sesoma, for me and the Masters Ekan and Dolash.”
Zark Ekan stepped forward, face also displaying awe. “I’d buy you a drink,” he said, “but I forgot my wallet at the hotel.”
Dolash did not step forward. “I cannot condone what you did here today, Master Rashanagok,” he denoted. “There is a darkness in your actions in this place.”
Ahnk nodded. “Maybe this is a darker universe,” Ahnk theorized. “Maybe I’m just playing the part this universe offers me.”
“Even so,” Dolash said, “I believe actions like this would stain a man’s soul.”
Ahnk considered that sentiment, then shrugged it off. “Then I’d best start staining my organs as well,” he said, turning to the bartender. “Keep them coming.”
Zark, uncertainly, toasted.
Ahnk might not be sane, but at least he was safe.
Feb 24 2011 10:53am
“What a ragtag collection of sorry asses I see before me.”
The man’s appraisal was harsh, perhaps, but not without some measure of accuracy. “We have a clown painted Sith Lord , a broody Senator and Jedi Master, and… you. Whatever the hell you are.”
“I’m an Azguard,” Dolash said, proudly.
“Right… an ass guard…” the man said, smirking. “Well, either way. I can’t think of what could possibly cause an eclectic mix like you to come together and I certainly can’t draft a reason why I should give a shit.”
“We need a bass player,” the tattooed Sith let out sarcastically. “We have a hit record pretty much all written, but none of us can play six string bass.”
“That’s funny,” the man said, chuckling slightly. “Quit wasting my fucking time.”
The moody Senator sat up straight and turned to the Sith. “Tell him what you told me,” he said, and the Sith nodded.
“I told my friend Mr. Ekan here that the job he was proposing was going to be a bastard cross of absolute insanity and a clusterfuck of gruesome brutality. I didn’t think the three of us could handle it ourselves, but I told him I knew someone. Pretty much the toughest, craziest bastard I’ve ever had the pleasure of running into. And that if he thought the job could be done, then it could be done. And if he didn’t, then the job was impossible and we’d just be heading to our deaths.”
The man on the other side of the desk took a few seconds to chew on that. “So you’re walking into a shitstorm, and you want someone to back you up.”
“Actually,” the Sith said, “we’re looking for someone to lead this merry band. Someone who knows tactics and logistics for an operation like this.”
“Operation like what?” he said. The Sith grinned and the man on the other side of the table frowned, knowing he’d been a bit too quick to ask that and had betrayed his interest.
“Smash and grab,” the Sith told him. “Heavily guarded facility housing a person of interest we want to extract. We get the person or any associated persons and escape the way we came in.”
“That sounds like suicide,” the man said, honestly. “Four guys against an entire facility which I’m sure is full of armed guards? Whose facility?”
“The Black Dragon Empire,” the Azguard chimed in. “More specifically, their facility on Mon Calamari.”
The man on the other side of the desk tapped his fingers against the wood. “Well, what’s in it for me?”
“Four things,” the Sith said. “Firstly, we’ll pay you a lot of money.”
“Secondly,” the Senator continued, “you’ve been sitting here waiting for someone in the peace negotiations to backstab the other. I have it on good authority that every major player is content to do their own wet work, which would leave you in the cold. And there’s nothing sadder then a washed up, left behind mercenary down on his luck.”
“Thirdly,” the Azguard offered, “you have a chance to get your hands on some weapons and technology belonging to the Black Dragon Empire. I know that you like to expand your arsenal and keep yourself technologically cutting edge. Your investment into Mandalorian research and development houses proves as much. You want technologically advanced, you’ll find it on Dragon corpses.”
“Finally,” the Sith concluded, “I have it on good authority that Recon Klain contracted out the Bounty Hunter’s Guild two years ago to have me assassinated. I was told that you, personally, took the job and managed to infiltrate one of my bases and execute one of my clones. I am quite fond of those clones. If you agree to take this job, it will give me a good reason to restrain myself from flipping over this desk and removing your trachea with my bare hands.”
“Ahnk,” the Jedi said, sternly.
“Sorry,” the Sith said, apologetically. “Did I mention that we’ll pay you a lot of money?”
The man on the other side of the desk considered the offer carefully. “How much money, exactly?”
The Sith gave him a figure. “And then again when we get outside Dragon space.”
The number caused the finger tapping to increase in speed until the man on the other side of the desk gave a soft sigh. “Well, so much for time off,” he said, and stood. “Alright. I assume you brought a ship here. Let’s go.”
The Azguard was somewhat taken aback. “You want to go right there? Right into battle?”
“No,” the man said, “but if we’re going to do this, we need to do it right. That means the money you’re giving me is going to The Warehouse.”
“The Warehouse?” the Senator asked. “What warehouse?”
“Don’t worry,” the man said, standing up from the desk. “I’ll tell you how to get there. You just get to work transferring that money.”
The three others shared a look before deciding that, having gotten what they’d come here for, they should probably do what the man said and follow him to The Warehouse.
The Smuggler’s Moon, they called it. It was a hidden enclave for those who operated outside the law. The Hutt’s Law. The Republic’s Law. The Empire’s Law.
The motto on Nar Shaddaa was: Fuck them, and their law.
Nar Shaddaa, from Ahnk’s point of view, was always like a little Coruscant. If you wanted something on Coruscant, all you had to do was find the right person to ask. In a planet spanning city, that could take days. Nar Shaddaa was only a moon, so it usually took a few hours.
In this case, Pike knew what they needed and where to find it. So it would only take a few minutes.
While onboard The Sihoyguwa, Zark pulled Ahnk aside, drawing him close enough for a whispered conversation. “Are you sure you can trust him?”
“Trust him? No,” Ahnk said. “I don’t trust anyone, least of all hired mercenary scum. But he is a bounty hunter; in fact, he’s the leader of the guild of bounty hunters in this reality. That means he has a code of ethos; no failure, and no betrayal. He will only turn on us if there is money in it and, fortunately for us, the Black Dragon Empire doesn’t use money. So no, I don’t trust him. But I have faith in him to pull his weight in a firefight. And that’s what we need.”
“What if Klain got to him?” Zark asked, referring to the Sith Lord who very much wanted Ahnk removed from galactic politics.
Ahnk, for his part, merely grinned through the black and green tattoos. “Klain got to Somir; look how that turned out.”
Zark didn’t want to speak anymore of that. “This… warehouse. Have you ever heard of it?”
“No,” Ahnk admitted, “but that doesn’t mean much. I don’t spend much time on the Smuggler’s Moon no matter which reality I happen to be in. Again, though; this is the best bounty hunter in any reality. If anyone can prepare us for a job like this, it’s him.”
“Alright, land us over there,” Pike said, and Ahnk turned. He punched in the coordinates into the computer. “Has my fee been transferred?”
“As agreed,” Ahnk said. “Half now, half when we get out of Dragon space. That should give you incentive enough to come and fight with us, instead of just sitting in the ship counting your fortunes.”
“I do like a fight,” Pike offered in defense of his reputation as a badass. “So, it’s… four of us, against several hundred of the Black Dragon Empires possibly genetically engineered, very likely cybernetically enhanced, and almost certainly expertly trained soldiers.”
“Sounds like long odds,” Dolash admitted. “I have faith that The Force will guide us to victory.”
Pike scoffed. “Yeah, I’m sure we can use Force Tickle and leave them peeing their pants on the floor,” he shot back. “What we need, gentlemen, is some materials. We can’t just walk in and start throwing punches and expect to survive. Well, except maybe Ahnk. I’ve seen him clear a bar before.”
“Astoria?” Ahnk asked.
“Corellia,” Pike countered.
“Ah, right, Corellia,” Ahnk said, smiling at the memory. “There was this…” Ahnk began, trailing off when Zark’s expression remained serious. “Maybe you’d rather hear it another time.”
“I doubt it,” Zark said.
“Well, the man was…” Ahnk began, then trailed off again. “Oh, right.”
“You were saying something about materials, Pike,” Ekan asked, changing the subject.
“Well, there’s a principle in my line of work called ‘force multiplication’. It’s not actually a Force power you can learn in Jedi school, mind you, but something else,” he said, sarcasm sneaking into his voice again. “The idea is to give yourself something that can turn the force that you can do as an individual into something exponentially more effective. Force multiplication.”
“And how do we go about procuring… such materials?” Dolash asked.
Suddenly, the ship gave a small shudder. The other three turned to Ahnk. “Pressure seal confirmed,” he said, checking the instruments. “Pike?”
Pike stood up, quickly making sure his helmet was screwed on straight before stepping out of the Sith Infiltrator and walking inside. “The beauty of Nar Shaddaa is that anything you want is within grasp,” he said. “They’ve got anything you want, as long as you know the names. Find the right person here, and nothing is impossible. The Warehouse is a perfect example of that. Hey dollface.”
Dolash seemed somewhat stunned until he realized Pike was talking to someone behind him. “Mr. Pike; Welcome back to The Warehouse,” she said, standing attentively with hands folded behind her back. “What can we do for you today?”
“I’ll go browsing with my party here. I think we’ll start on Level 47,” he said, and threw her a chit, likely with credits on it. “See you in an hour or so.”
“Of course, Mr. Pike, please take your time,” she said. She slowly lowered herself down, sinking into a chair. Ahnk raised an eyebrow; their hostess moved like an assassin.
“What’s on Level 47?” Zark asked, as the group made their way into a small elevator.
“Something that will make a man better able to deal out force to another group of men,” Pike said. “Hopefully, what we pick up there will enable us to multiply the force we deal to the point where we can successfully pull of this insane stunt of yours and still survive.”
Ekan shook his head. “Okay, but that doesn’t answer my question,” he said. “What exactly is it that we’re getting?”
Pike turned to him, and although the helmet obscured it, the bounty hunter smiled. “Level 47 is where they keep their guns,” he said, then elaborated, “lots and lots of guns.”
The elevator door slowly slid closed, sealing the four into the endeavor.
So much for time off.
Mar 6 2011 12:06pm
“In the distant lands, beyond the protection of your God, evil has conspired to seed worlds with corruption and heresy. On these worlds, are armies raised, and ships constructed, to enforce a policy of domination over the ignorant and enslaved. Only through our will and dedication can these worlds ever know true freedom. Only through acceptance of the word of God will these people ever break the chains that hold them to subservitude under corruption and evil. The heretics must burn. Such is the word of The Taj.”
“Hallowed are the words of The Taj,” came a reply, thousands strong.
“Hallowed are The Children of The Taj,” the solitary man echoed back. The crowd before him bowed. “Go now.”
The four men looked carefully at each other, with Dolash being the first to say anything. “Are we sure this is going to work?”
Ahnk turned to Zark to gauge his opinion. “You’ve faced off with a few hundred stormtroopers before, no?”
“Primary difference here is that when these guys shoot, people die,” Beff offered up. “Imperial Stormtroopers are assembly line creations designed to intimidate through numbers alone. These guys move in unison, and not because they’re all clones. They also have religious ferventism on their side, which means they’ll fight to the death instead of making any tactical retreats. These guys are the real deal.”
Zark turned to him instead of Ahnk. “Do you think it can be done?”
Beff pointed to someone beyond the crowd. “Watch him,” he said, and they did. He was dressed almost like the soldiers, but he was taller… and it almost seemed as if the armor he wore wasn’t armor at all, but was instead a part of who he was. It had no creases, or seams, as did the plate armor the soldiers wore. The assembled group watched as he walked to the wall at the edge of the valley… and slowly slid into it, as if becoming a part of it. “Those guys worry me more than the soldiers.”
“What is it?” Dolash asked.
“It’s almost like he can move through walls,” Zark commented.
“More likely he’s made of the same thing the walls are,” Ahnk theorized. “Some sort of cyborg.”
“My helmet tells me that the soldiers are organic, but those big beastly ones are genetically and cybernetically constructed weapon husks,” Beff chimed in. “I’d say they break down and turn into dust, then the dust is sucked into the holes in the wall. They can then reform anywhere they wish. That kind of mobility makes the four of us pretty much screwed.”
“So logistically, it’s impossible,” Zark said.
“Not necessarily,” Beff continued. “I assume those things are mortal, so really all we need is to plug them with enough slag and they’ll die. If I’m wrong, then yes, we’re totally FUBAR. But that aside, we should simply divide ourselves up into two pairs of two. Dolash, you seem to be the jumpy one. Who do you trust to have your back?”
Dolash took a few seconds to consider. “Well, you do have the most guns,” he said. “Besides, Zark and Ahnk seem to work well together.”
“You two lovebirds fine with that?” Beff asked sarcastically, and both nodded. “Alright then. You three are all Jedi. You know where your target is?”
“Fear,” Ahnk said. Zark frowned at him, but Ahnk nodded. “Deny it though you will. There isn’t anything wrong with fear. In this case, their fear of the Dragons is the best way to locate them.”
“You’d be afraid too,” Dolash said, defending the honor of his people.
“Perhaps,” Ahnk said. “Maybe I’ll get myself captured and you guys could come rescue me.”
“This isn’t helping,” Zark cut in, sternly glaring at Ahnk. “We know where our people are. Zark gestured. “How do you think we should approach it?”
Beff considered, scanning the terrain. “The hills up there seem like an obvious place to set up shop. Dolash, you and I should come in from above. You two up for a frontal assault?”
“No,” Zark said.
“He’s just shy,” Ahnk said, cocking his rifle. “Don’t worry, we’ll draw so much heat to the front door you guys can slide right in the backdoor without them even knowing.”
Beff nodded his helmet. “Just remember not to get yourselves killed; you still owe me money.”
With that, the four men dispersed, trying to stay within the holes in the terrain that kept them hidden from onlookers across the valley…
“I seem to remember Mon Calamari having water,” Ahnk denoted as Zark and he walked.
“I guess The Dragons don’t care much for water,” Zark offered back as his only possible thought on the matter. He’d been thinking of other things… namely, how they would get back. “So Ahnk… how do you think we came to be here?”
“Dolash wanted to rescue his people, and I said I’d help you,” Ahnk told him without a trace of humor in his voice.
“You know what I mean,” Zark countered. “Here, in this reality.”
“I don't know,” Ahnk said, somewhat dismissively. “I don't see that it really matters either.”
“What do you mean, you don't see that it matters?” Zark asked. “Don't you want to go home?”
“Not particularly,” Ahnk shot back. “I had written a suicide note and everything.”
“I don't understand,” Zark said, and Ahnk turned.
“You have something to go back to,” Ahnk said. He raised his gun. “Hell here, hell there. It matters not to me.”
“I wish...” Zark began.
He didn't get to finish, as gunfire began to rain down on their position.
Dolash had stopped to simply stare at the bounty hunter's raised hand. “What am I...”
The hand curled until only one finger was still extended. “Be quiet,” he said, pulling the finger from his helmet and placing his hand on the rock. He slowly raised his head, and then dropped it back down again. “Trouble across the valley.”
“With Zark and Ahnk?” Dolash said, and Beff nodded. “We have to help them!”
Beff's hand stopped him from standing. “Do we?” the bounty hunter posed, and Dolash glared. “We have a route to the facility that hasn't been compromised. As far as I've been able to observe, we have no one following us. We help those two, they make our position. They make our position, we come under fire ourselves, maybe don't make it to the target.”
“What other option do we have?”
“We secure our objective,” Beff said, through his vocoder. “Maybe they don't make it.”
Dolash shook his head. “No, Jedi don't work like that. We came in as a team, we all go out together. All of us.”
Beff nodded his helmet. “Your call. Admire that. Of you. Not practical. But fuck it. Operation Impossible anyway. Might as well blaze of glory.”
Dolash didn't know what all of that meant, but he knew when Beff stood and opened fire he was meant to open fire too.
Zark felt chunks of rock go flying away from behind him as bullets slammed into the face of the wall. “You have a plan?” he shouted, loudly, to have Ahnk hear him over the sound of the gunfire.
“Do I look like a man with a plan?” Ahnk said, similarly trapped. “Alright, how about this. On three, you roll out from behind your wall. Hopefully they'll all be distracted killing you, so I can roll out a few seconds later and save myself.”
“Brilliant plan,” Zark said. “Now mull it over a bit more, come up with something that doesn't involve either of us dying.
“Wait,” Ahnk said, raising his hand.
“Waiting hasn't helped us so far, we're still stuck here!” Zark lamented.
“No, shut up,” Ahnk said. Zark could see him concentrating. “Alright, now! Turn and fire now!”
Ahnk and Zark both popped out from the cover of the facing rock wall. When they did, they saw the soldiers who had been shooting at them frantically swing their rifles back towards them, but the two Jedi were faster, and the soldiers were felled by their gunfire before they could aim at the Jedi again.
“What else could they be aiming at?” Zark asked, curious.
“Beff and Dolash broke cover and drew their fire,” Ahnk said. “This won't last. Once they realize we have two teams they'll just split their forces, but let's enjoy it while it's there. Got your sprinting shoes on?”
“Always,” Zark said.
“Alright then, last one to the treeline buys the first round of slutty half-zeltrons,” Ahnk said. Both began sprinting, stopping their run only to slide flat and fire a round at a soldier before continuing their run of death.
Apr 28 2011 9:36am
“Pike, come in,” Zark said into the communicator he had strapped around his wrist.
“Pike here,” he said. “Talk fast. Under fire.”
“We’re at our entrance,” Zark said. “Where are you?”
“Close,” Pike said, then the sound of gunshots erupted through the speakers. “Delay not. Will meet inside.”
“Copy that; Ekan out,” Zark said. He stopped to check his weapon. Then he turned to check on Ahnk. “Andrew, you with us?”
“That… man…” Ahnk said. Zark realized he was staring off into the distance, and followed Ahnk’s eyes to see a man, dressed simply in black and red robes, in a clearing some distance away. “He’s watching us. He’s watching me.”
Zark raised his rifle, but Ahnk reached back and forced it down. “We can’t afford to be followed in,” Zark said. “There is enough resistance inside without people streaming in behind us.”
Ahnk nodded. “He won’t send guards after you,” Ahnk said.
“And how can you guarantee that?” Zark asked, staring directly at the tattooed warrior.
“He’s not interested in you,” Ahnk clarified, “he’s interested in me. So I’m going to go talk to him.”
“You’re what?” Zark asked, wanting to make sure he’d heard that right. “We need you. We’re facing a huge numbers disadvantage as it is.”
“You don’t need me,” Ahnk said in reply, turning to face Zark Ekan. “I have faith in you, as Gash had faith in you. You are a competent and capable warrior, and you can survive this situation and hundreds beyond it.”
Zark tried to shrug that endorsement off. “Even so, with the four of us, this was a suicide mission. With just three…”
Ahnk put his hand on Zark’s shoulder. “This is something that must be done,” he said, before turning. He stepped away, then turned back. “You can handle what lies inside.”
The distance between the tattooed warrior and the robed man was considerable, but Ahnk walked it without violence or fear of violence. The Force had laid the path for him and now he followed it, knowing that the beginning and the end were linked and that nothing would separate the two. Finally, he climbed up a small cropping of rocks that had once been deep under Mon Calamari’s oceans, and stood face to face with the man who had been watching him.
“I’m here,” Ahnk said, simply.
The robed man nodded his head. “Sith Lord Ahnk Rashanagok, presiding over The Brotherhood Of The Sith,” the being said. “We are Cardinal Alexander Cross, of the Universal Damuen Church.”
“You can call me Ahnk,” he said, not wanting the official title to hold up the conversation. “I saw you staring at me and I felt drawn to this conversation. I want to know why.”
The robed figure nodded again. “Before our conversation begins, we have anticipated that you will offer us an ultimatum in regards to your continued presence here. As such, you should know that all of the guards within the facility have been killed.”
Ahnk felt his eyes widen, involuntarily. “Why would I demand that?”
“At the apex of this conversation, you will state,” the figure said, and then there was a clicking noise of some sort from beneath the robes before it stated “if you want me to continue this discussion, I want you to promise me something; you let my friends go. The three people I came with, and the people they came to rescue. You do that, we keep talking.”
The last few lines were said in an exact imitation of Ahnk’s own voice. If he didn’t know better, he’d say it was a recording. “I see,” Ahnk said, despite his confusion. “So you’ll let them go free?”
“We will keep the promise we will make to you in the future,” the being said in affirmation. “We have learned all we can from the original subjects; however, it has been supposed that you are an artifact, and as such, you are more valuable to us than what was gleaned before.”
Ahnk’s confusion wasn’t clearing at all. “An artifact?”
“The Mon Calamari’s exhibited a sudden shift in their quantum resonance field,” the man stated. “Such a drastic realignment in something usually so constant proved extremely damaging to the Damuen’s who were tasked with monitoring the facility. In time, we were able to mute the effect of the fields enough to begin to experiment as to the origin of the shift. It was through direct cerebral marking replication that we came to realize the nature of the shift.”
“Wait, hold on,” Ahnk said. “You’re talking too fast. You said something about direct cerebral marking replication. What the hell is that?”
“We are capable of analyzing the energy patterns stored within the cerebral cortex of most humanoid species. Once those energy patterns have been analyzed, we can replicate their makeup to create a visual representation of the imprinted images through the noosphere,” the being offered up.
“Right, because that makes sense,” Ahnk said, his understanding of Damuen technology being slightly below par. “But continue on as if I understood.”
“Are you familiar with the concept of parallel quantum universes?”
“In so much as that I seem to have landed in one, you could say so,” Ahnk offered back casually.
“In the universe, there is a singular constant that drives the ebbs and flows of matter at a subatomic level, known as quantum resonance. The quantum resonance causes elements within atoms to shift, which then through their shifting causes their state to change, and through their state changes is a change in their energy field, relative charge, relative mass, and electromagnetic effects. However, the quantum resonance field is consistent in all matter and all anti matter contained within the universe. To find matter with different quantum properties means that it is from an alternate universe.”
“And you’ve noticed that my field is the same as the Mon Calamari,” Ahnk surmised.
The creature shook his head. “No,” it said.
That surprised Ahnk. “No? But, how can that be so?”
“We believe you to be special, Ahnk Rashanagok,” the being told him. “We believe that your interaction with a divergence of the regular quantum resonance and, possibly, exposure to a state of quantum neutrality has altered you. We believe that you are a fissure in space and time. And we have observed you to not have a quantum resonance field at all.”
“Wait, hold on,” Ahnk said. “Now, I’m not an expert in theoretical… for humans, I mean… physics, but… how is that possible?”
“It is not probable,” the being replied, “but it is observable.”
“But isn’t quantum resonance sort of… necessary? Doesn’t it provoke state change, subatomic orbits, weathering, decay?”
“Your subatomic particles move in predictable patterns,” the being said. “In observation and with knowledge of the quantum resonance field, such is not unheard of, but the consistency with which the interactions inside your affect field generate the same results is anomalous.”
“What does that mean for me?” Ahnk asked. “Is there an inherent danger?”
“The elimination of subatomic chaos provides a measure of stability that would otherwise not exist,” the being offered. “As such, natural processes such as cellular death…”
“I don’t need numbers,” Ahnk said, following the line of thought. “What does it mean for you?”
“This is the part of the conversation where you insist that we provide a means for your friends to evacuate the planet, and safe passage out of Damuen space,” the being answered back. “Such has been arranged. They are exiting the facility now.”
“And if they come looking for me?” Ahnk asked, thinking Zark might do exactly that.
“The Dhrazi Damuen have instructed them not to do such a thing,” the being told him, “and have assured them that no harm will come to you.”
“Will you make me the same promise?” Ahnk asked.
“Your fate is not in our hands,” the being told him. “What happens from here depends on what you desire to happen. We have only created the playing field.”
“Playing field?” Ahnk said, curiosity peaking. “That’s a metaphor. You seem more efficient than that.”
“We have observed that in explaining the situation, it was often simpler to offer a metaphor instead,” the being added. “This conversation is happening in other places, with other iterations of Ahnk Rashanagok. Not all. There are many copies of Ahnk Rashanagok across the various quantum realities. Some will accept what is proposed. Others will reject it. Others still are in no position to have this conversation. In other situations, we are in no position to make any such offers. But we will arrange for the intersection all the same.”
”Intersection?” Ahnk asked. “You’re planning to merge me with copies of myself from other quantum realities?”
“Actually, after four years of discussion, analysis, mathematics, and consideration, you will propose the idea,” the being told him. “We have simply put the scenario in place to allow you to eventually reach that decision at a time which is convenient to you.”
“Convenient,” Ahnk offered back, sarcastically. “Tell me why.”
“Through our discussion, you will reveal knowledge of a device that you refer to as an ‘Astoria’. We speculate that it was the destruction of this ‘Astoria’ which created the incident by which you were created,” the robed figure told him. “We investigate by seizing the ‘Astoria’ in a universe where it remains and find it, as well, to be a quantum neutral technology. We ascertain that it functions to travel through vertices within the barrier between space and time and shift from one quantum reality to the next. We believe it possible that other such devices exist, so we conquer the entire galaxy and find another two. One of them is a measurement device to detect the use of the other two devices or similar technology. The other is used to plot the flow of atoms as the quantum resonance field is altered for the purpose of studying the implications of time travel. We adopt such technology into the noosphere. Then, we inform you. This happens three years and four months from now.”
“You keep talking about being able to see the future,” Ahnk said, growing somewhat frustrated. “If you can see how this all ends, then why put me through it at all? If you have seen what happens and what I learn, why have me go through it? You can’t learn anything you don’t already know.”
“We never learn anything,” the being tells him. “After the procedure, you demand to leave. We allow you to do so. You then retire to Yavin. We do not approach you again.”
Ahnk was somewhat surprised by that. “So… you’ve gone to all this effort, in all of these universes, spent all of these resources, to put me in this situation… even when you know there is no benefit to the situation for you, whatsoever? Why?”
The being never wavered in his voice. “God has told us to follow a process, and we do so,” the being answered. “We do not question his will.”
God. Right. That was reassuring. “So what happens if I say no?”
The being looked at him as if confused. “You don’t.”
With a swift movement of his shoulder, Ahnk swung his arm around as fast as he could muster. The robed creature made no motion to indicate it intended to defend itself before Ahnk’s saber plunged into what, had it been human, would have been a neck. With a sizzle and a hiss as the ‘flesh’ of the creature burnt under the heat of the weapon’s blade, Ahnk watched the creatures head slip from the robes and fall to the dirt, having been disconnected from it’s body.
Ahnk looked down and met the eyes, which still moved to his. “I just did,” the tattooed warrior offered, shutting off his weapon.
“Your mind will change,” the severed head told him. “You find no peace in this reality, Ahnk Rashanagok. And when you are ready, you will come here for answers.”
“I wouldn’t hold my breath,” Ahnk said, knowing that the creature did not, in fact, need to breathe. As expected, with the conversation finished, the head, the body, and the robes themselves faded into dust. Ahnk turned, feeling his presence on this world no longer to be required, and began walking towards his ship.
The worlds now are made of steel and glass.
Before, it was wood.
Wood was easy. A society built a city out of wood. And, for whatever reason… a storm of biblical locusts, a great flood, invading barbarian hordes… they moved on. The city stood, and decayed. The wood splintered and rotted, fell to pieces, and rotted further until it was dust, and dirt. As dirt, it became the feeding ground of more parasites that churned it and regurgitated it into something better. Soil.
Then, nature built a new city out of wood.
Steel and glass are different. If man abandons a city of steel and glass, it can stay for a while. Oh, yes; it will fall into disrepair. Many a city has found itself suddenly plummeting as the too tall towers collapsed under their own weight as the foundation began to decay. But the materials itself… that would take time. Thousands of years, perhaps, for bacteria to evolve that could survive on metal and glass. Then hundreds for that bacteria to thrive. In the end, though, it would fall all the same.
Now the ancients… the ancients got it right.
Ahnk walked into the temple he had termed Muul-il Al Tsatan. Loosely translated, it was known as The Pyramid Of Ashes, or as the other students called it, The Temple Of Death. As he did so, he had to appreciate the fact that this temple, built of stone, had stood tall through the rise and fall of himself and his Sith Empire. Only moss, and the webs of the spiders that had made the entrance to the temple their new home, indicated any signs of decay.
Ahnk had overseen the construction of The Temple Of Death himself. Inside was a sarcophagus, which Ahnk told people contained his original body; salvaged from his first death, and used to clone the new incarnations of the warrior. The truth was something more complicated; the sarcophagus was an elevator that led to a massive complex built beneath the temple. The complex served as Ahnk’s biological research and recreation center. In other words, it was where he made his clones.
In his own reality, Ahnk ensured that the facility was protected by a shield. The shield vaporized anyone who did not have DNA on file; anyone Ahnk had cloned, whether they be students, or other warriors he had fought, would be able to enter here, but all others would be killed. When the shield did not activate and pass over his body, Ahnk looked around and confirmed that the spiders from the entryway had moved beyond where the shield would have been. A quick touch of the panel on the sarcophagus told Ahnk that the power here had failed.
His own reality, Ahnk had stolen an Arbiter; a device used by the spy, Zeratul, that Zeratul had been forced to abandon when his deception was discovered. The Arbiter had a core capable of mixing anti-matter and matter, and containing the energy release from that mixture to power itself. What the device did beyond that, Ahnk wasn’t sure; but he was sure that that reaction would create massive amounts of power for a very, very long time. In this reality, it was possible he’d procured the Arbiter… in that case…
Ahnk had to climb down twenty stories of solid rock before his feet found the metal platform where the elevator stopped. The platform itself was the top level of many levels of the facility, but it was served by another elevator. When Ahnk touched the floor, the motion sensors should have turned on the lights, but the only light here was the soft, reflected light of the magma from the lava fjords below. That was his second warning.
He couldn’t be sure, though, until he touched the transparisteel casing itself.
“Oh, Aerith,” he said, softly.
The clear casing had been stained with blood; the pattern of the blood was clear. She had fought; had scratched and clawed until the ends of her fingers were bare and bloody stumps. But the tank… the tank could not let her go. It was sealed shut.
Like a coffin.
“You deserved,” he said, pulling it open now, being able to unlock the physical seal from the outside even after the hermetic and energy based seals had failed with the expenditure of the remaining power. “You deserved,” he said, finishing his sentence as he ran a hand along the bones of her cheek, “a fate much better than this.”
He pulled the remains from the stasis chamber, the one he had designed to keep her alive so many years ago. Now it made sense; why the Ahnk in this reality was so insistent on not surrendering any territory. Why he wanted Yavin back so badly. He knew when the New Republic and the Jedi had taken the world back from the Vong, that the clock was ticking. He just ran out of time.
“I’m sorry,” he said, as he took the bones into his arms, allowing the skull to rest on his shoulder, “I’m sorry I couldn’t save you.”
And as he rocked, slowly, back and forth, Ahnk knew The Damuen was right: he would find no peace here.
Dec 31 2011 12:56pm
The journey back to Coruscant was filled with a strange, awkward silence.
Zark Ekan looked at the creature manning the vessel often, but it never showed an indication of noticing it was being watched. When Zark, or any of the others, attempted to use any of the controls, it delivered a previously recorded message.
“There is a terminal and a monitor at the entrance to the bridge that will accept your commands. It connects to the communications array. All other terminals are secured for Damuen access only.”
Zark had heard it said a hundred times, but still… it broke the silence.
None of them wanted to talk about Ahnk.
Pike had taken his payment; Ahnk had arranged the details in advance and left them with Zark, in the event that he didn’t make it. And, in a way, Zark supposed that was what had happened.
He believed Ahnk when he had turned to him and said, “I have faith in you”. He thought that Ahnk was referring to the current situation, but, maybe he was referring to a larger scale.
Zark would not know until he returned to Coruscant.
So he paced.
He ate with Dolash and the Mon Calamari. They had been treated well; simply asked questions. Eventually, all avenues of conversation were exhausted.
The trip was not long; a few days. Zark kept in touch with Gash; Gash told him Ahnk had been spotted on Jaminere, where he kept a home. It was likely that he was heading to Yavin, but tracking his stealth ship was something Gash couldn’t do. If Ahnk wanted to talk, he knew where Gash was, the elder Jedi reasoned. Zark was forced to agree.
Finally, after what seemed like weeks, the ship set down atop the central chambers of The Republic on Coruscant. As it did, the walls began to crumble and fade, turning into dust before their eyes.
“Your journey is now complete,” the being said, before it, too, began to crumble into dust.
Charming people, the Damuens.
Gash was waiting for him, and greeted his old friend with a large hug. “Welcome back to the normal galaxy,” he said with a wry smirk. “How was life in Damuen space?”
“Strange,” Zark said. “I’m glad to be back on a world where I’m not having to worry if the ground I just stepped on was a person a few moments before.”
Gash’s smirk grew wider. “Things have been quiet here,” he said, then pulled Zark a little closer. “There’s something you need to know, though. We have agents on the staff in Kaine’s hotel. He’s hosting Ahnk Rashanagok right now.”
Zark was somewhat taken aback. “Coincidental timing,” he said.
“Probably,” Gash said, “but it should make the discussions more interesting later.”
Zark could only imagine that.
Seth Vinda had found himself in an interesting position.
Since his territory was mostly confined to the Corporate Sector, and most other galactic governments had stayed away from the Corporate Sector due to their dealings with him, he was one of the few people at the treaty discussions who had no conflicts of interest in terms of his claims to territory. So, it was he, and the fellow delegates from his Commonwealth Of Systems (the Capricians and the Anthosians), who were now serving as moderators.
And what he saw, in that capacity, caused him to shake his head in disbelief.
“I’d just like to confirm,” Seth said, “with the parties in question, that this is legitimate. Simon Kaine, this paper signed by you… is legitimate?”
Kaine stood, and nodded his head. “So it is.”
Vinda’s eyes turned. “And you, Mistress Keller. This is your signature?”
The Sith rose from her seat. “It is mine, yes.”
Vinda’s eyes jumped to the next person on the register. “Warmaster Nas Choka. You also signed this document?”
The Vong stood. He grunted, and nodded his head.
Vinda turned his eyes a final time. “And you, Ahnk Rashanagok?” That was when Zark turned. “You read, and signed, this document?”
The tattooed warrior nodded. “I did.”
Vinda nodded, still somewhat taken aback. “Very well; then allow it to become a matter of public record that Ahnk Rashanagok is withdrawing from the discussion and formally declares the dissolution of The Sith Brotherhood.”
“What?” Zark said, standing. He couldn’t contain his shock. “Just like that, you’re walking away?”
Gash pulled Zark back down. “This is not the place,” he said.
Ahnk, for his part, met Zark’s eyes, but gave him no answers.
“According to this document, Ahnk has agreed to transfer his territories between The Eternal Rogue Order and The New Order, in a manner agreed upon by all three parties. Warmaster Nas Choka has agreed to withdraw Yuuzhan Vong vongforming efforts from Jaminere and to turn the planet over to Ahnk Rashanagok for his personal administration.”
Gash stood up. “I assume that Ahnk’s claims to Yavin are also dropped?”
Vinda turned to Ahnk, and Ahnk stood. “Take it,” he said, a trace of bitterness in his voice.
Zark turned his glare to Gash as the Jedi Master sat down. “Figured I should just make that official,” he said, shrugging.
“Then if there is nothing else,” Vinda said, turning to Ahnk, “Lord Rashanagok, you are excused, and we thank you for your participation.”
Ahnk nodded, curtly, then turned to Kaine. Kaine nodded in return, and then the Sith strode from the room. Before Gash could stop him, though, Zark followed him to the hallway.
They’d reached the balcony overlooking Coruscant before Ahnk stopped and turned. “You haven’t said anything,” Ahnk said, looking Zark in the eye. “Why?”
“You were walking away from me,” Zark said, “and I figured I’d wait until you got that out of your system.”
Ahnk’s eyes narrowed. “This isn’t about you,” Ahnk said.
“No, it’s about what that Damuen told you,” Zark said. Ahnk turned, and Zark angrily grabbed his shoulder and forced him to turn back again. “You owe me this conversation, Ahnk Rashanagok. You got me here. You created this situation. Now you owe it to me to see out this discussion.”
Ahnk stood tersely, but relaxed when he slowly nodded. “I consider you a friend, Zark Ekan, so we will have this conversation,” he said. “You want to know what the Damuen told me. But you already know.”
“So why the sudden change?” Zark asked.
“After we spoke, I went to Yavin… and what I found there…” Ahnk said.
Zark suddenly began to understand. “You lost someone,” he said. “Someone who, in this reality… you thought you could save.”
Ahnk didn’t answer that, except to look out over the planet wide city and it’s never ending flow of traffic.
“I don’t mean to belittle your loss, Ahnk,” Zark said, drawing the Sith’s attention. “But you know that Klain and the other Sith had plans. Krayt? That must be coming soon. We need to be ready, to do our part, to fight back.”
Ahnk turned to him, and his expression was cold. “Why would I fight to save a galaxy that I no longer have any stake in?”
Zark was shocked at the answer. “Ahnk, people are going to die.”
Ahnk nodded. “In the past, I destroyed something in the present, so that in so being destroyed, it never existed in the past, which therefore altered the future. But because it never existed in the past, it never existed in the present, so I could never destroy it. But somehow, it never existing at all altered the future, and that altered the present, because of the differences in the past. And you’re telling me, I can stop the loss of human life. And what if I do? What if in the present, I save someone who was our ally in the past, so that they can become our enemy in the future, and kill people in the future who are our friends in the present? What if I do? What if I don’t? To what difference does my interference make?”
Zark was becoming angry. “Don’t try and shirk this off,” Zark said, pointing a finger. “This is a very simple question of evil people wanting to kill innocent people, and you being able to stop it.”
“Maybe I can, maybe I can’t,” Ahnk said, voice generally indifferent. “But you and I both know that this is not our reality. And our reality is the only one of consequence. Unless you want to proclaim yourself the quantum reality police and stop injustices everywhere, what happens here doesn’t concern us.”
“But we have a chance to make a difference!” Zark countered.
“But we don’t belong here, so we don’t have the right!” Ahnk shot back. “Events here must unfold as they would if we were not here. Us being here is a coincidence of quantum resonance, and us taking the chance to make a difference is all well and noble, but that’s not what fate designed.”
“You say that as if you’ve ever been one to sit back and see what fate had designed,” Zark said. “Come on, Ahnk. There’s something else going on here.”
Ahnk shrugged. “I told you on Mon Calamari. Hell here, hell there. It makes no difference to me. To be honest, I’m tired of fighting other people’s wars. I told you what I told you because Krayt and the Sith have the potential to massacre millions through their schemes. You would want a chance to stop that. Now you have it. My work is done, and all I want to do is retire.”
“And what if Krayt comes after you?” Zark postulated. “What then?”
“I’ve made no secret of where I’m going,” Ahnk replied.
“So you wait for death to come to you?” Zark asked.
Ahnk closed his eyes. “Maybe,” he said. “Maybe, in this new reality, a new life will find a new Ahnk Rashanagok. Only time can tell.”
“There’s one more thing I want to know,” Zark asked. “Kaine… he must have given you something in exchange for your territories. What was it?”
Ahnk opened his eyes again. “A promise,” he said, “and a woman. Neither of which I will elaborate upon.”
Zark nodded respectfully. “Then I suppose this is goodbye.”
Ahnk shook his head. “Goodbye implies a sense of finality,” he said. “This is farewell. But we will meet again.”
Zark stuck out his hand. “I will hold you to that,” he said.
Ahnk took his hand and shook it firmly. “You know where to find me, if you need me,” Ahnk said, “and I get the feeling you might.”
As the two parted company, Zark looked out over the relative calm of the consistently chaotic skies of Coruscant, and had the feeling that he would need all the help he could get…
Five Years Later
The voice cut into his sleep like a sharp knife; his brain felt the pain as if it was as well. He hadn’t realized he’d drifted off. He hadn’t realized he wasn’t alone. And now that he realized both, he wished he hadn’t.
“I’m sorry to disturb you sir, but Regent Kaine is here.”
President Zark Ekan rose his head off the desk, dragging himself up to a proper, upright, seated position. “Send him in,” Ekan said, reaching over to the shielded compartment behind him to grab clean glasses and a pitcher full of water.
Simon Kaine walked in, unaccompanied as was his custom these days, and stood formally, waiting for Ekan to gesture him to sit. Ekan did so. He’d long since realized Kaine was a man of tradition and respect when it came to gestures like that, and so telling Kaine to knock it off was a waste of time. For an Imperial, Kaine had a sense of unconventional tactical thinking like no other, but he was still an Imperial, and damn if they weren’t pompous asses at times.
“Regent Kaine,” Zark remarked, and added a short whistle. “I thought you said you didn’t want the title, Supreme Commander.”
“Things change,” Kaine said, in his usual fashion; he betrayed nothing of substance and simply waited for Zark to make substantial conclusions himself.
So Zark did. “I heard Vladet got hit pretty hard,” he said, and offered Kaine a water.
Kaine took the glass but did not drink it. “Much of our leadership had been stationed there; keep a separate branch there in the event that Bastion was attacked. Seemed like a good idea at the time.”
“Hindsight is twenty twenty is the expression, I believe,” Zark said. He, in counter to Kaine, drank his water.
“Is that true of Jedi as well, or can your visions of the future make things more accurate?” Kaine countered sarcastically.
Zark nodded, smirking. “The war goes well for us as well. The Damuens have shown a particular interest in Yavin. They launch an attack, break our defenses, begin making motions to land on the planet… and then withdraw. They’ve done this a few times a month for the past two years.”
Kaine didn’t immediately answer, instead taking the time to study the water in the glass. “You have an idea of what they want,” he then drifted out. It wasn’t a question.
“As do you,” Zark countered, also, not a question.
Kaine didn’t confirm or deny that, instead, simply putting his glass down on the table. “On an unrelated note,” Kaine said, changing the subject without changing the subject, “I’ve been having a bit of a Sith problem. The divisions between Keller and Klain are becoming more obvious all the time, and I can hardly get them in the same room together. I realize the failed coup of Darth Krayt drove that situation to where it is now, but I can’t work with these people and fight a war against the Damuens if they want to war with each other.”
Ekan could understand how that could be difficult. “I don’t understand why you’re bringing it to me, though.”
Kaine leaned back a little bit. “One of them needs to die,” he stated, plainly. “I’m not in the Sith killing business or I would have it arranged.”
“I’m not going to do your dirty work, Kaine,” Zark said. “You’re here as a political partner in The Galactic Alliance, not as a contractor for mercenary Jedi.”
“I’m not asking you,” Kaine said, “I’m asking for him.”
Zark, now, leaned back a little from the table. “Always comes back to him, doesn’t it,” he said, then blew out a sigh. “Alright Kaine. First things first though; it’s been five years since I’ve even spoken to Ahnk Rashanagok, and the last thing he said to me was goodbye. In all this time, he’s gone about his business and I’ve gone about mine, distinctly under the impression that he was indifferent to this war. Now you want him involved, after he already gave you everything you needed to arrest Krayt. There’s no guarantee he’ll want anything to do with this situation.”
“I understand that,” Kaine said, “but as I can’t approach him myself, I can’t find that out.”
Zark took a few seconds to mull it over. “Alright, well, I need you on my side if we’re going to keep this galaxy from falling to The Damuens, and I need your side stable. So a civil war between the Eternal Rogue Order and the Dark Sith Order doesn’t benefit me at all. So I’ll ask. But on two conditions. The first one is, you OFFICIALLY sign the treaty papers to formalize our alliance. I understand that you and Zell wanted to have your cake and eat it too by having an alliance agreed upon, but not ratified, so that you could still have your Empire when the war is over. But it’s long past time to put that bullshit behind us. We’re losing the peace here, Kaine. And me, and you, in this war… it’s our only hope.”
Kaine nodded. “As Regent, I have the authority to sign that document,” he said, “but I will need to sell it to my political backers first. Once I have their support, you’ll have my signature.” He clutched the water glass, raising it, then lowered it back to the desk. “What was your second condition?”
“Ahnk told me before we parted company that he’d asked two things from you,” Zark said, recalling their final conversation before Ahnk had taken his leave of the galactic stage. “He said you gave him a promise, and a woman. I want details about those gestures.”
Kaine nodded. “The promise was simple; we’d leave him be. He was aware that we were making deals to get both of the Sith Orders aligned with us outside of the official treaty negotiations. He wanted to be kept out of it; no power, no reason to have the Sith come after him. We let him be and let him disappear. Ahnk told me that he would deal with any personal grudges that any Sith, or any Jedi for that matter, had with him. But he didn’t want to be fighting political battles for the rest of his life. He wasn’t interested.”
Zark took all that in and it made a lot of sense. “What about the woman?”
Kaine shrugged. “I’d never heard of her; she was a research scientist, specializing in biological and bioengineering programs at the Holy Desmosthesian Empire. Had to get…”
“Biological and bioengineering?” Zark repeated back, curious.
“Yes,” Kaine said, slightly irritated at being cut off. “I can look up her name and information if you want, all I remember was Bhindi Drayson being incredibly reluctant to terminate her contracts.”
Ekan shook his head. “It’s alright, I have a pretty good feeling I already know who she is anyway,” he said, and then turned slightly. “New Ahnk my ass,” he said to himself.
“I’m sorry?” Kaine asked, curious.
Zark took his turn to shrug, not interested in going into it. “Regent, it’s been a pleasure,” Zark said, standing, and offering his hand.
Kaine stood as well, taking a second to swallow down his water before placing the empty glass on the table and shaking the President’s hand. “President Ekan, the pleasure was mine,” he said. He turned, then stopped at the door. “Keep me updated with regards to what we’ve discussed.”
Ekan nodded. “You get me that signature, and we’ll talk again,” the President said. Kaine saluted, a gesture Ekan mirrored, and then stepped from the room, the door sliding closed behind him.
When Kaine was gone, Zark walked from his office to the room outside. It was an enclosed garden, essentially, set on the balcony of this tower on Coruscant. The garden was new; the Vongforming had ruined it, then the Republic had burned the Vongforming away, and replanted it, so many of the plants and trees here were still vibrant and alive, growing, much as was Zark, trying to fill the shoes left to him when Gash Jiren and Organa Solo retired to enjoy their marriage over three years ago.
It was this balcony, minus the garden, that Zark had stood on when he’d last seen Ahnk Rashanagok.
While Ahnk had provided information that had led to the arrest of Darth Krayt, a man trying to set the Imperials and the Republic against each other and seize control of the Sith, the Empire, and eventually the galaxy, Ahnk had stated, plainly, that this war was not his concern. He didn’t want to be involved and he didn’t want to be invested. He didn’t care. So he’d left.
In his wake, he’d left a fractured and unstable Sith that stood poised as much to murder each other as to murder their mutual enemies. He’d left Simon Kaine more of an ally than an enemy and that scared Zark Ekan greatly. But perhaps, more than anything else, he’d made Zark Ekan the most powerful Jedi in the galaxy with the retirement from active service of both Masters Organa and Jiren, and that should be enough to terrify anyone.
So Zark would talk to Ahnk.
Because it was time to fix the problems Ahnk had walked away from.
Ahnk Rashanagok wasn’t just going to walk away from the galaxy. He was going to have to own up and fix this situation, or Zark would just have to kick his ass and make him fix it. That choice Ahnk would make when Zark saw him in person.
"Jenny," Zark said, addressing his presidential aide, "I need a ship, a small crew, and no questions asked."