Before Catharsis (KotOR, OCs, Mandalorian Wars) - Chapter 14 Posted (8/17)!

Discussion in 'Fan Fiction- Before, Saga, and Beyond' started by LaForzaViva, Oct 31, 2012.

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  1. LaForzaViva Jedi Grand Master

    Member Since:
    Jul 6, 2008
    star 1
    Title: Catharsis

    Author: LaForzaViva

    Timeframe: KotOR Era (pre and during Mandalorian Wars)

    Genre: Action, Drama, Romance, Politics, Thriller

    Keywords: OC, KotOR, Mandalorians, Jedi

    Summary: Why do we atone for our sins? How can we? Can we atone for the sins of others? When we stray from the path laid before us, how do we reconcile our hopes and fears in order to survive on our waylaid road? The two following viewpoints, one from a young Jedi and another from a Mandalorian, serve to explore these themes (I hope). The two are walking down paths expected of them as the galaxy churns toward pitting the two against one another, but deviations warp the confines of their and others' expectations and lead them to unexpected outcomes, places, and conclusions about their nature, and the nature of mankind, in the galaxy.

    Disclaimer: Playing in Lucas' sandbox yadda yadda we know this part. I apologize if characters names or personalities are similar to others - I in no way built characters upon other poster's characters.



    Chapter 1 - Beginnings



    The blast gate yawned open, its metal hinges squealing out the cries of its victims now long shadowed in dust. In stepped a steel-toed boot, and then another, until a figure clothed in black stood in the darkness of the cell. The haze and dimness of the room seemed to lighten even as a figure closed the door with nary a motion, the hinges hissing loudly in anger at being used for any purpose beyond remaining shut. The figure waited at the head of the room, looking down at the naked prisoner. The prisoner sat with legs folded and his grime-covered hands resting, almost serenely, in his lap. Dirt and dust tracked across the sinews of his thinned frame, skin only revealing itself in the creases of his joints. The prisoner seemed to be ignorant of the man’s arrival, his breathing unchanged, his head remaining erect yet tilted a few degrees to the left. Moments ticked by, the two men waiting for gods know what.

    I have nothing to say, the captive thought, his mind as active as still his form. He kept his eyes closed and hands resting in his lap, his breaths as even as he could make them even with the rattling cough he’d developed over the months spent naked in this cell, a darkened box of a room without light, heat, or respite from its oppressive dirt and blood-soaked walls. His only company were the little rats, sometimes more starved than he, rushing to greet his food before he did. Victories over rats made mockery of his former life, a life where he defeated gods. He would not submit to this person, standing there in his cell with his clothing and his fresh scent and his full belly. A pointless victory in remaining quiet, but a victory nonetheless. They were hard to come by, and he would miss no chance for them.

    A toe scuffed advertently and the figure moved a half meter closer before crouching down, the leather creaking as softly as the door had creaked abrasively. The captive remained with eyes shut as the figure waited for innumerable time before standing back up, the creaking of well-oiled yet worn leather still the only sound in the room besides the concomitant rhythm of the men’s breathing. The robed figure continued his vigilance, whatever vigil it might be, as the captive felt a surprising urge to speak. His mouth clicked open, his tightened jaw fighting the sensation with grating disdain as his tongue rose to shape the warm air rising from his throat into words, words he did not know, words desiring to escape their seclusion and be heard, their arrogance in seeking an audience mocking the silence the captive demanded.

    With effort greater than he had expended in months, tensile cords in his neck rippling with abandon, he forced his jaw to close, holding his now vibrating teeth together, the dysfunctional rhythm traveling down the fibers of muscle and sinew and bone in his body, his teeth and fingers even shaking slightly. The figure stood in front of him and the captive felt the power of the figure watching him, unseen coal-gaze pressing against his lungs as he inhaled through the nose, commanding his jaw and tongue to cease their sedition against his wishes. His breathing, once rhythmic and calm, felt ragged and frenzied. He must control that little which he could control or else...

    The figure moved once more, a latch clanking loudly in the non-silence of the captive’s rebellious respiration, his rasping and ragged breathing betraying him more than movement. The door murmured its annoyance at needing to open again, its shriek soft, but angry. The boots of the raven-clad figure clacked with purpose and echoed down the hallway the captive imagined existed outside his jail. The door clutched its ever-loving friend, the wall, as it closed once more. It had worked harder than necessary in many moons, and as it embraced its friend, it released a low moan of satisfaction, trembling in its sincerity.

    The captive’s heart slowed, his breathing fell under his control once more, and as he sat naked, mired in muck, and perpetually hungry, he clenched his fists, sharp nails curving into his palms. Droplets of blood mixed with the blood of many others forgotten by time and memory and history. A laugh burst from his weak lungs; history would never forget him. Of that he was quite sure.


    Some years earlier…


    “Padawan, what are you doing up at this time? The sun has fallen many hours prior,” the doting librarian queried. Vera turned back in her chair and looked at the elderly man—he was disheveled and, well lopsided wasn’t quite the right word but it fit his posture—who stared at her with a mixture of fatherly fear and administrative annoyance. She flashed a grin at him and saw the latter of his feelings drain away. How could a librarian resist a Padawan actually using the library?

    “I’ll be done soon Master Maloum, I promise,” Vera chirped back at him.

    “My dear, you said that last time and if I recall in these cobwebs of my mind, you happened to be late for a very important meeting. To assuage my eternal worry, do tell me that you don’t have an important date tomorrow, err, this morning,” Master Maloum replied kindly.

    “I don’t,” Vera lied. When Master Maloum’s head and chin dropped a few inches further in an expression of his disbelief, she spoke up again: “Padawan honor! Promise!”

    The old librarian sighed, the fight gone from his bones. “Very well, my dear. I’ll be back after this old body gets its sleep, and if I find you still here, I’m going to drag you into the sunshine myself!”

    “If you can catch me,” Vera replied in a snarky manner, winking. The librarian rolled his eyes and left the room, his steps uneven; an old war wound, he’d once mentioned. I never did ask him about that. I should, Vera thought before turning back to the holocube before her. This night, though, the First Great Schism called her attention, and she dove back into the texts, devouring information faster than a black hole could a wayward ship.



    “Padawan Vera, get up,” came the mild but stern tone of someone.

    “Five more minutes,” she mumbled, trying to fall back into the dream. She was just about to finish reading that holocube about the First Great Schism and it was so good…

    “Vera, now!” the voice sounded once more, a hand grasping her left shoulder and shaking her until conscious consciousness settled in. Her eyes fluttered open, her left arm staring back at her, its olive-tone reflecting the sunlight opposite her, from the east wall…oh crap. She bolted upright and turned around to see the all-too familiar shape of her Master, Kreia. Kreia leaned forward, her milky white gaze tracking Vera’s own. Vera felt an involuntary shudder ripple through her and Kreia smiled, the effect desired and accomplished.

    “Once more Padawan, I find you asleep in the library, drooling on the fine wood the Jedi went to such trouble to secure. I don’t think they intended for you to slobber all over it when they purchased it,” Kreia said, her tone a mixture of frustration and mirth. Vera wiped the drool on her sleeve and began gathering her things, stuffing half a dozen holocubes into her bag before Kreia snatched the rest from the table.

    “Master Kreiaaaa,” Vera said, her pitch rising into a whine. “You took the one on Tython!” Kreia looked through the hefty stack she’d picked up, found the one Vera mentioned and held it out to her. Too eager, Vera lunged for it and suddenly the holocube was floating away, toward the door.

    “No, no not the shelves!” Vera cried, thrusting her hand out and drawing on the Force. The holocube slowed its movement briefly, and then Vera felt Kreia’s power bowl hers over and the holocube disappeared beyond the entrance to the study room. Vera turned to look at Kreia, putting an obvious pout on her normally gentle features (or so that’s what Master Cafran always said).

    “No need to try that with me, dear, I can’t see it,” Kreia said, her laughter more of a cackle as she turned to leave the room.

    “Oh yes you can, you liar,” Vera retorted. Kreia stopped cold and turned that frightening ivory gaze back on her. Vera tried to keep a stiff spine but the shudder traveled through her once more; something visceral and uncontrollable whispered that Kreia could never be someone to trust and love. Vera shook it off, trying to ignore her own thoughts.

    “That’s what I thought,” Kreia simply said, and left the room. “Keep up now, Padawan. We have a long day ahead of us. Double training, thanks to you.” Vera stuck her tongue out at Kreia’s retreated form and then felt a sudden tug, a grip of the Force taking her by the arm and forcing her to walk.

    “Hey, cut it out! I’m coming, I’m coming!” she yelled at the lack of Kreia, jogging to catch up with her Master. She slung her bag across her chest, dismayed to see the annoying obviousness of her maturing body made all the more apparent. She took the bag off and put it on one shoulder as Kreia’s descended on her other.

    “Padawan… ah, Vera. There’s no need to fear what you’re experiencing right now. I will say no more, since I recall how I reacted to the Change and, ah, you so remind me of myself then. But should you like to speak with me about it, I will listen,” Kreia said, squeezing Vera’s shoulder gently.

    “Thanks, Master,” Vera replied, her cheeks bright red. Talk to her Master about that? Kreia was crazier than the other Jedi all said. Vera couldn’t possibly picture Kreia going through… this.

    <I heard that,> Kreia’s Force-voice sounded. Vera frowned. Someday, she’d have to figure out how to stop that; it was more annoying than falling asleep reading. She wanted her thoughts to be private.

    <We can work on that today, you know. After practicing your saber forms, for twice as long, to make up for your intransigence,> Kreia thought to Vera.

    “What does intransigence mean?” Vera asked, pronouncing the word after sounding it out in her head for a few moments.

    “It means stubbornness. For example, Vera, you are intransigent about needing to read so often,” Kreia answered.

    “But reading isn’t bad,” she protested.

    “Child, of course not. But you have many talents, and a Jedi must not forego that which was given by the Force,” Kreia replied.

    “Well, what if I like reading and want to be a historian like Master Maloum? It doesn’t seem like a bad job, chasing instransigent kids like me out of the library,” Vera snapped back.

    “Intransigent, not instransigent,” Kreia corrected. “And Padawan, I don’t mean for this to insult any historian we have, especially since I am one, but to waste the talents you possess would be a true tragedy, worse than any you might see in a holo.” Vera felt a bit of pride well up in her, but it intermingled with the knowledge that she might have to wait years to be a historian.

    “Well, then can I be a historian later?” she asked, looking up at Kreia hopefully. Kreia, knowing whenever someone looked at her, kneeled and bent down in front of Vera, taking her small hands into Kreia’s larger ones, already starting to knot with some age.

    “Yes, my child, yes. But not for many years,” she answered. Vera perked up and grinned at the milky gaze, any fear of Kreia’s blindness overwhelmed by her sudden joy.

    “Good!” Kreia tousled her hair and continued onward. Vera followed along as they exited the library and into the main foyer of the Jedi Temple. She couldn’t remember what day it was—they seemed to blur together—but the Temple was busy this morning. A shipment of something smelly had come in, and a Jedi and two staff were arguing with an equally smelly Rodian.

    “Master Kreia, good morning,” came a resonant baritone from Vera’s left. As she turned to look the Jedi suddenly grabbed her under her arms and then she was whirling about in the air, the giggles flowing freely as Master Cafran’s kind face beamed up at her. He let her down after a few spins while Kreia watched on with dismay.

    “Master Cafran, you shouldn’t encourage her to fool about,” Kreia said despondently.

    Master Cafran grasped his chest and put on a face of desperate agony: “Your words pain me so, Kreia!” he said, feigning injury and a drawn-out death sequence, until he crumpled to the floor, moaning and hacking. Vera laughed and then the Jedi popped back to his feet unnaturally quick for a man.

    “Truth hurts,” Kreia replied dryly, her sense of humor gone decades ago, Vera figured.

    “Vera, what do you think? Is spinning around a few times and getting a bit stomach-sick bad?” Master Cafran asked, kneeling in front of her.

    “No!” she said, giggling back at him.

    “And there’s your answer Kreia. You know, if you’re not willing to spin my little lady here, then I might have to interfere a bit more often,” he said, winking at Vera.

    “Perhaps instead of interfering with my Padawan, you might go get yourself one,” Kreia replied, her tone even less friendly.

    “How droll and… normal,” the unkempt-haired Jedi replied.

    “Sometimes Masters must be droll and normal. Some of us have to do it, while the rest indulge fools like you, wasting their time doing nothing. Come along now, Padawan,” Kreia said, walking away towards the training rooms. Master Cafran had an odd expression on his face for a second and then it disappeared when Vera looked up at him.

    “Go on now, little lady,” Master Cafran said, giving her a little push. She frowned at Kreia and looked back with hopeful gaze at Master Cafran. He shook his head, a sad smile crossing his tanned features. Vera felt a stab of sympathy and pain, recalling the rumors about this abundantly kind Master Jedi; they said he lost his two Padawans to Exar Kun, his best friend, and pledged never to take another. She’d read about Exar Kun before; he was a bad Jedi. A Sith.

    “Bye,” she said clumsily, unsure of what to say to him with those thoughts on her mind. The word was not adequate for him.

    “Bye now,” he called back as she rushed to catch up to Kreia. When Vera looked back, he was gone, his brown robe lost among the dozens in the foyer. Soon Vera and Kreia were standing amongst a small cluster of Masters and their young Padawans, matching the youngsters up for training duels.

    “Master Kreia, good morning,” Zhar Lestin said, his pink skin especially brilliant under the harsher lights in the training area. His Padawan stood next to him; Alek something or other; Vera never bothered to try and pronounce his last name. The others just called him ‘Squint.’

    “Ah, Master Lestin. Excellent timing; this morning Vera needs a challenge. I caught her in the library, once more,” she said.

    Master Lestin laughed, his normally sober expression bursting into a sharp-toothed Twi’lek grin. “If only I could get my Padawan into the library,” he said, putting his hand on Alek’s shoulder. Alek shrugged slightly, trying to get the hand off, but the pink hand remained, oblivious to Alek’s obvious annoyance.

    “Go on, you two. Vera, practice Form IV,” Kreia said, handing the training saber to Vera. Alek took a saber from his Master and listened impatiently to Zhar telling him to practice Form III before walking into the bare room with Vera. The two lined up from each other, bowed, and then turned their sabers on. Ignoring his Master’s previous command, Alek rushed forward, his delighted face lit up with the green blade as he struck high. Vera’s yellow blade caught the blow and she replied in kind, ignoring Kreia’s command. If Alek wasn’t going to listen, why should she?


    ****


    The golden orb hung thousands of kilometers in the distance, the sun of the system blazing its red-color across the blankness of space, coloring the planet from amber to a more pleasing blood-orange. An apt color, Kale thought as he stood in the hangar bay of the warship Kandosii – Mando’a for indomitable, or ruthless. The weight of his armor compared little to the weight of history resting on each Mandalorian waiting, looking down at the blood-shaded planet before one of their largest fleets.

    Ne vode! Mando'ad draar digu! This is our cry on this day! Let no Mandalorian, living or dead, strong or crippled, young or old, forget what we suffered twenty years ago on this day! The Cathar shall rue the day they took arms against us, and today is their day of reckoning. Ne vode, go to battle. Slake the thirst of revenge and raze these people, this world, this culture from the history of our galaxy. Let all species witness the fortitude and duty of the Mandalorian: to let no enemy live when he must die. Warriors! To arms!”

    Bah akaan! To war!” the group replied, Kale’s voice intermingled in the battle cry. The speech of Cassus Fett, broadcast on all channels, inflamed the fury lurking below Kale’s polished armor. The Cathar would pay for their crimes. Kale would see to the vengeance of the Mandalorian people. And of his father.

    The latches hooking his Basilisk droid to the hangar bay’s dock released and the shining silver steel of the interior surrounding him dropped away into the blankness of space. The Cathar homeworld lay below, resting peacefully, suspended alone in the system. No Republic would come to save them. Nothing would stand in the Mandalorians’ path.

    Kale gripped the flight controls of his Basilisk, an olive-painted model with four small blue lines cut across the side; blue for his personal rank, four for his number of drops. Nearby, a Basilisk with over a score of red lines passed him to his left - his commander pulling ahead. Kale accelerated, the golden orb before him suddenly obscuring all the darkness of space.

    The Basilisk shuddered on impact as it encountered the first of many layers of the planet’s atmosphere. His armor, normally blue, slowly morphed into a sparking purple. As the heat of entry increased, soon every Mandalorian and his droid dropping toward the surface appeared as flaming red stars, bringing their tidings of war. The heat of Kale’s fury matched the fire that would melt any other armor but that of the Mandalorians, the famed beskar’gam. A Mandalorian without his beskar’gam was no Mandalorian.

    The heat suddenly dissipated and the golden waves of Cathar’s long, loping fields emerged under the cloudless sky. The momentary discomfort of the drop ended and the prospect of imminent violence coursed through Kale’s body. Sweat of adrenaline dotted his forehead as he twitched his toes inside his boots, anticipating the end of the dive and the start of justice.

    Red and green bolts emerged from below, fired from some sort of planetary defense. A Basilisk by Kale took an indirect hit, swinging toward him before the warrior recovered, his straight-line descent continuing. A burst of green zipped toward Kale but he jammed hard on the left rudder and avoided the blast. The falling Mandalorian stars neared the surface and released their pent-up rage in a blizzard of red hatred.

    Kale gripped down on the trigger and blaster fire poured from his Basilisk toward the coastal city his squadron neared. His helmet display registered the hits as he pulled sharply back on the throttle, anticipating the exhilarating bottom-out at the base of the drop. Blaster fire flew across the battlespace from both sides; the bottom-out was the likeliest moment to get hit as the warrior changed from vertical descent to horizontal flight, exposed to dozens more batteries.

    The stomach-churning change thrilled, terrified, and sickened Kale each time, but he held onto the controls and blasted a defense tower mere meters before him, passing through the fireball of its destruction. Cries of success and rage flowed through his helmet comlink, but he couldn’t concentrate on any of it, all of it static to him. All that mattered was him, his droid, and war.

    A concentrated triple-burst of fire from below smashed into his Basilisk, its shield instantly disappearing. Kale twisted the droid to the left as the Cathar gunner tracked him, the bolts passing barely to his right. The gunner adjusted quickly enough, Kale had time to think, as his comlink was overrun by the Basilisk droid’s computer signaling imminent destruction. He flipped up a small steel cover and slammed down on the button, grabbing the handle of his rifle holstered in the Basilisk’s exoskeleton.

    The small explosion of the escape booster fired two interminable seconds before his Basilisk exploded, its pieces raining below. Kale was an exposed, flying blue target of a man with no chance to avoid a single blast. The city and ground came rushing toward him as he passed the apex of his flight, a blur of people and streets and buildings becoming clearer and closer. He pressed a button on his wrist-computer as the building leered up at him; this is going to hurt.

    He rammed into the tree-like building, tearing through the wood with enough force to dent a starship. His bones and body were saved by the emergency deployment of a thin casing of gelatine inside the armor that absorbed and dissipated the impact at high speeds. Kale came to a stop a couple hundred meters from his initial impact location, his once-polished armor now scratched, the silver beneath the blue coating readily visibile now. Muscles screamed with pain; the gelatine could only be so effective dealing with man versus building at hundreds of kilometers an hour.

    “Corporal, are you okay?” came a query directed to him; Kale recognized his commander’s voice.

    “Sir, yes sir,” Kale answered, standing and looking through his dirty viewscreen at the small city into which he’d dropped. He couldn’t see any Cathar amidst the burning fires in most of the buildings; perhaps they’d fled.

    “Status report.”

    “Basilisk was destroyed; I’m on the ground in sector twenty-four. Beginning sweep,” Kale replied.

    “Keep me informed, out,” came the curt reply. As the gelatine receded inside the armor, his freedom of movement returned and he began to jog towards the center of the city. Each muscle burned with an intense and sharp pain, but he was a Mandalorian. Pain was temporal; glory everlasting. Kale checked his rifle’s power pack; it was full. He patted down his armor and made sure all his equipment was still there.

    From the comlink, he heard that most sectors were rapidly falling to the Mandalorians and casualties were relatively low for a planetary invasion of this kind. He figured the Cathar must not have been ready for them, as the Mandalorians had given no sign of attack in the preceding weeks. Nor did the Cathar have many planetary defenses. Their mistake. The fleet had arrived in deployment range; Fett’s speech was all they heard after dropping out of hyperspace and then it was down to the surface.

    A group of four Cathar suddenly sprinted across the lane Kale was running down. He skidded to a halt and dispatched two of them with quick bursts to the body; the other two were children and his shots went over their heads. He sprinted after them and turned down the alley he thought they went down, but saw nothing. He felt little moral compunction to cease chasing Cathar children; after all, they would one day be Cathar adults, primed to kill. The time for killing them was now.

    The center of the city was a roundabout with a giant statue in the middle, though the statue had been hit by fire and was now little more than a curled sheet of burning metal. Dozens of Cathar armed with rifles were aiming into the sky or at streets, firing at encroaching Mandalorians. Kale ducked behind the side of a building and engaged a thermal detonator, then leaned out and threw it into a small group of about seven Cathar working to repair a planetary defense battery. The shockwave from the detonation rumbled through the ground and up Kale’s legs as he grinned, seeing the bodies, or rather parts of their bodies, burst as wet arcs into the sky.

    With a war cry, Kale emerged from the side of the building, taking well-aimed shots at the furred defenders. After a few seconds of frenzied fire from his direction, a number of Cathar turned their blasters towards him. Shots slammed into his personal defense shields, weakening them to critical levels, but not before he’d taken out at least four more with blaster fire. He ducked down behind a broken piece of a Basilisk droid; the leg of a dead Mandalorian was bleeding blue blood onto the ground, the skin a molted green poking from the torn armor. The rest of the body was nowhere in sight.

    Kale swapped out his shields and popped up over the cover, taking a Cathar in the neck. The cat-like sentient screeched in pain and two more came to its rescue but Kale dispatched them with blasts to the head and body. Mandalorians from other parts of the city emerged from cover locations and within moments, the defenders of this city lay slain. A few Basilisks hummed overhead, tracking any other Cathar and eliminating them.

    Kale relaxed and listened in to the comlink traffic: the planet was nearly subdued. He listened in as Cassus Fett, obviously an attacker in the capital city, began ordering his troops to herd the remaining Cathar in his sector toward the ocean, ordering other sectors to do the same. Kale checked his chronometer: forty minutes from drop to near total subjugation of the planet. Nearly two-thirds of the Mandalorian army participated in the raid, leading to such a rapid victory. It was more than just a victory: it was a statement.

    “Hop on board, ne vod,” a Mandalorian said to Kale from above, reaching an arm down. Kale grasped the red-bodied Wookie and landed behind him on the Basilisk as the pilot raced it towards sector one and the capital city. Dozens of Basilisks from across the now uninhabited sectors of the planet began to converge on the capital city, until the place was awash in olive Basilisks and a host of blue, red, and even a score of yellow-clad Mandalorian warriors.

    Kale thanked his ride and jumped down, jogging toward the beachline. Most of the Cathar had been herded into the water and were screaming for gods know what, but it mattered little to Kale. They’d killed his father and they deserved this fate.

    Ne vode! Witness the final destruction of the Cathar people for their crimes against our people!” Fett shouted, stepping off his own Basilisk droid, nearly golden with its drop count painted on. His yellow armor gleamed in the setting sun as he strode to the head of the beach.

    “Ready your weapons!” he shouted, pulling out his own blaster pistol and aiming into the mass of men, women, and children.

    “Cassus – wait! They’re defeated! We don’t have to do this!” came a voice on the Mandalorian comlink. Kale looked off the scope on his rifle and found a female Mandalorian warrior floating above the water line, her back to the Cathar behind her. She hovered there for a moment, her audacity seeming to stun Fett into silence, his shoulders pulling back as though a blow had hit him. He visibly recovered a moment later, his body leaning forward in an aggressive posture, his free hand curling slowly into a tight, golden fist. No Mandalorian challenged their commander, and to do so before the assembled strike team? Unconscionable.

    “You forfeit your life if you do not obey orders, Mandalorian,” Fett answered, barely above a whisper. Malice oozed from Fett’s clenched hand and sickly hoarse voice. Kale had never met Fett before, but tales of his cruelty beyond that of a warrior sickened even he.

    “There is no need to massacre them! They are defeated and cannot threaten us for decades, centuries even! Look at their world, Marshall Fett. It is burning, burning brighter than our collective anger. We need not commit genocide to demonstrate our purpose and force of will,” the female argued, her voice rising to a plea: “Please, do not kill these unarmed people.”

    “This was never about defeat. This has always been for one thing: revenge. Ne vod, if you believe the Cathar should live, then you forfeit your life with them. Open fire!” Fett shouted. Peace reigned for just one brief second, the terrified faces staring back at the mass of Mandalorians on the beach. The flame of the female’s jetpack burned the same blood-orange of the planet seen from space. Kale could see and feel her plea in the outstretched arms of a person begging for life.

    It was a silence, that one second, so brief and so short in the collected lifespan of the galaxy, that held such promise. Promise of futures come where men and women did not slaughter each other, where beauty and glory was found not in the heated barrel of a gun or core of a lightsaber, but discovered in the ephemeral and fleeting moments of joy between those who loved others and the others who loved them. But it was a moment, Kale knew, that would never last. Not here, not then, and never. Peace was evanescent; war was omnipresent.

    And then the air grew hot with fire and rage as a collective roar arose, the Mandalorians doing their duty. Cathar fell back, clutching wounds and slipping under the ocean’s waves, their lapping gentleness mocking the Cathar’s struggle for life against a veritable tide of red fire, expelled in deepest anger. The female Mandalorian dropped, her armor pock-marked into blackness. Kale watched as she fell, as her lifeless limbs bounced against the shallow water, almost blessing her body with a return to motion. She slid under the water too, water now boiling from the red heat thrust upon it.

    When it was all over, when every Cathar lay dead or drowned, Kale could not muster up a cheer with his vode. His arms fell to his sides, his blaster smoking and barrel red, evidence of his participation in this slaughter of life. He did not know how long he stood there, his gaze cast over the floating bodies of thousands of lifeless Cathar. A hand on his shoulder gripped him, and he turned slowly, looking at the golden neck of Cassus Fett and then to his armored head.

    “For your father and family, Kale Ordo. Nu kyr'adyc, shi taab'echaaj'la: Not gone, merely marching far away,” Cassus Fett said to him alone in the quiet voice of a contemplative man, as though the pale and shimmering anger displayed nary a minute before had never been. Kale looked up at the helmet of Fett and felt more lost than the day his father never came home.

    ****
    Last edited by LaForzaViva, Aug 17, 2013
  2. SoA Jedi Grand Master

    Member Since:
    Apr 2, 2008
    star 3
    Haunting already! Great to have you back and writing. I enjoyed the Cafran cameo. Of course, I'm doing all sorts of speculation over who the characters in the first scene are.

    I may borrow your idea of Zhar as Alex's master. I had not yet decided on a master for him yet.
  3. JediDingo Force Ghost

    Member Since:
    Mar 27, 2005
    star 3
    I can't wait to read this, my friend! Im currently studying for two major tests tomorrow, but I'm looking forward to reading this once I get through all that stuff. If you are a visitor to this thread, READ THIS STORY. I will guarantee it's amazing, and if not I will give your Republic Credits back and punch you in the face for disliking it.
  4. LaForzaViva Jedi Grand Master

    Member Since:
    Jul 6, 2008
    star 1
    SoA - Thank you for the kind words! The beginning characters will be revealed, but not for some time. I decided on Zhar just because he was the training Master on Dantooine, so it made sense.

    JediDingo - Best of luck with your exams! Catharsis will be waiting for you!

    Chapter 2 - Burials

    “Quickly, quickly now,” Master Dorak’s impatient voice urged. Vera had her pack on her back and a second bag in her hand as she clomped down the freighter’s ramp. It was yet another Padawan rotation; this would, thank the stars, be her last prior to the Knighting ceremony. If I even get there. The fresh air of Dantooine agreed with her constitution mightily following the week-long voyage from Coruscant. Unnecessarily long, with that blasted freighter that should’ve been retired when the Force Wars ended, she thought, giving the ship a sharp glance, hoping it understood her frustration. It probably didn’t. That made her sigh.

    “Thank you Padawan Vera, hurry on now,” Master Dorak said again, his gaze continuously flicking upward.

    “What’s the problem?” Vera asked, stepping out of the line of Padawans to stand next to the dark-skinned Master, who seemed far more harried than usual.

    “It’s nothing, just go on and put your stuff away,” he said, nervously fingering a communicator in his hand. As Vera planned to reply, it squawked loudly.

    “Enclave at Dantooine our second engine has failed we’re coming down hard!”

    “By the Force,” Dorak muttered to himself. “Copy that Vinius IV, you are cleared to land at either the docking bay or out in any of the grasslands nearby. We will have medics standing by.” Dorak flipped to another channel on the communicator. “All medical and rescue personnel, to the docking bay, immediately! This is a Code Orange!”

    Code Orange? “Master Dorak, what can I do?” Vera said, still holding her bag. The rotating Jedi going from Dantooine to Coruscant were now rushing onto the ship faster than before. The ramp slammed closed and not a second later the ship was hovering and twisted awkwardly to the left, the metal of the ship almost bending itself with the force at which the pilot maneuvered it, jamming on the roaring engines. Vera’s hair whipped against her scalp so powerfully she felt it might fly off like a wig, but it resettled, frazzled and wind-blown, as the ship curled from the docking bay.

    “Help me stop that ship!” Master Dorak shouted, pointing up at the sky. A missile was tracking toward the enclave, its signature bright orange and red. The medical and rescue teams had rushed up the hall, and a number of Vera’s rotating Padawan were looking up. The ship was bursting through the soft bubbled clouds high above, seeming unstoppable. The Padawans and most of the Knights were staring up agape; only Master Dorak and a few of the other veterans dove into the Force. But they would need everyone and everyone wasn’t doing anything!

    “Put your stuff down and spread out in a circle! Medics, get to either side, all Padawans intersperse with a Master or Knight! Let’s put this ship down gently and safely!” Vera suddenly shouted, the commanding voice coming from out of nowhere. Master Dorak didn’t have time to even glance down at her as he closed his eyes and held his hands aloft, gathering more of the Force. The medics and Padawans rushed to her order, and soon the docking bay of the Enclave contained a good forty Jedi in a circle, their closed eyes skyward.

    “Channel yourselves and together we shall weave a net of safety and rescue this ship!” Vera shouted. She thrust her Force signature into the air and felt dozens lock onto it. She tied into the green ribbons of power emerging from Master Dorak as he began to create a series of Force nets above the docking bay. Each would break, but they would slow the descent of the plummeting ship. Dorak led the charge, his Force signature the commanding weave in the room, regardless her sudden outburst of noisy leadership. Vera added her strands to his as the other Jedi followed her example; soon the sky was filled with invisible quilts of green and gold and blue and purple and red and orange, a beautiful tapestry of life-preserving Force. I hope.

    The ship blasted through the first two hundred with hardly a decrease in speed. Dark images of the ship crashing through the enclave leapt into the now empty and mildly exhausted mind of hers, and she fought them off by channeling her Force further into the next series of nets, but the ship tore through those as well.

    “It’s going too fast!” someone cried out. Vera sensed the fear rising, the unmistakable stink of fear leaking out, its power growing as more and more Padawans and even Knights fell into its comforting grip. ‘If we fear it may happen, then it shall happen’ the Jedi saying came to mind.

    “We can stop it! Push back with all your might! Trust in the Force and in yourself!” Vera commanded, striding to the middle of the circle and thrusting her arms into the sky. She looked up and closed her eyes, feeling the warmth of the sun color her eyelids rust as she grasped hold of the ship and Pulled from its aft while the Jedi surrounding her Pushed from the bow. She could feel it beginning to slow as the interwoven nets now worked in coordination with their now desperate attempt.

    The weight of the ship forced Vera to a knee as she struggled to Pull back on the massive weight of durasteel and life teeming inside. The ship would hardly fit inside the docking bay, but it had to. She would make it so. With its velocity now rapidly decreasing and the darkness of its shadow blotting out the red of the sun’s rays on her eyes, she felt a sudden and overwhelming shade above her. She stood up, still Holding the ship and walked backwards toward Master Dorak, molding her grip to adjust the ship’s nose-down position to a more appropriate horizontal position. As she stopped next to Master Dorak, the ship clanked loudly on the duracrete surface of the docking bay. And then, she was looking up at the sun, its rays highlighting her eyes red and green and orange, those majestic colors of life, as they closed and the energy of her body receded.



    ‘Come to me,’ a voice cooed in the shadow. The image of a stone door, old and worn with the scratches of beasts and time etched into its surface, loomed before her gaze, a door that had seen much… and kept much out. A soft scratching bled quietly into the silence of this space, but on what side of the door? Was something trying to get in, or trying to get out?

    ‘Find my secrets,’ the voice whispered sweetly, its soft embrace gently enveloping her, trying to bring her to its hidden depths. The door would not open, but remained shut tightly, smiling at her in its obstinacy. The stone-carved entrance was a piece of a cave? Vera thought.

    ‘Unlock me, before someone else finds me,’ it said lastly before Vera felt it, whatever it was, leave her as quietly as it had come. It slid away, dragging its presence across Vera’s un-clothed skin, shivering in its faux gentleness. Vera watched its black, slippery form descend into the depths from which it came, leaving her naked and alone, terrified, nonplussed, and intrigued.



    Slowly, the sounds of medical triage woke Vera, the softened lights of the medical room now turned to their highest level. She blinked and worked the sleep from her eyes before propping herself up on the small cot on which she lay, looking about as a number of tan-clad Jedi moved about the room. People lay across the entire space, each bed filled with one and sometimes two patients; Jedi were stepping carefully over extended furred appendages.

    Vera turned and found Alek bent over a young child, a Cathar, she now recognized; he was talking quietly to the small being. Vera’s head pounded and she recalled learning about the aftereffects of Force depletion; lots of headaches, general weakness, and a sense of disconnect. She felt the first two, but not the third and thanked the stars for it. She pushed herself to her feet and slid off the cot; seconds later it was filled by another Cathar. Vera stepped past a number of wounded and suffering Cathar before coming to kneel next to Alek, resting her hand on his shoulder.

    “Oh, Vera, you’re okay,” Alek said. “You had us worried for a little while.”

    “I think I overworked myself. I’m okay now, but you look really tired,” she said, noticing the redness of his eyes and his paler-than-normal complexion. “Go on, I’ll stay here.” Alek wearily nodded his thanks and rose to his full height, his joints cracking audibly as he stumbled from the room. When did he get so damn tall? Vera wondered, remembering looking down at him only a few years ago.

    “Where did he go?” the weak voice of the small Cathar came, trembling mixed with fear and pain. Vera took the small child’s paw in her own hand and looked down at the grey-furred Cathar; it was a girl. A white patch was taped down against her belly with another on her thigh; Vera lifted the first and a waft of rancid and burnt skin and fur mixed with bad blood permeated in the small corner of the room. She pressed her hand down gently on the pad and the child squirmed, her pain quite apparent.

    “He’s not feeling well, but I’m going to stay with you, okay?” Vera said, sitting down and stroking the child’s paw in rhythmic motions. She tried to project calm into her motions and into the small Cathar, but the fear of death remained, its clutches over the child strong and unyielding, gripping with icy power the reality of its ineludible end.

    “But I want him to come back,” the child said, coughing. A spot of blood rested at the edge of her jaw; Vera wiped it away with her sleeve. She shifted her body and put the child’s head in her lap, now combing her fingernails through the soft fur of the child, pushing her most hopeful thoughts towards her. And me.

    “My name is Vera, and I’ll be here for you. What’s your name?” she asked.

    “Amina,” the girl answered after a few seconds spent gathering her breath. The pad by her stomach grew discolored further, yellow and red splotches materializing against the innocent white of the bandage. Vera grit her teeth in frustration and anger; all of her studying was for naught! She didn’t know anything about healing another person’s wounds, only her own. She caught the eye of a Jedi healer and motioned him to come over. He did and looked at the small girl laying in her lap, then looked back at Vera, shaking his head slowly side to side.

    <No, no there has to be something!> she cried out.

    <I’m so sorry, but the wound festered for too long. It’s infected beyond our abilities. Just stay with her and release her soul to the Force,> the healer answered, stepping over the child to look to another patient. They seemed to come and go, even with so many Cathar lying about wounded. Her gaze caught the flutter of a white sheet and a sudden wail; she watched as a Jedi and a Cathar, missing an arm but still walking, covered a stilled body. The two men picked the body up, a blood-covered arm falling to the side awkwardly as they left the room, the sill of the doorway bumping into the stiffened arm. Belatedly, and with some shock, Vera realized it was the first dead body she’d ever seen.

    “Will it hurt?” the little child in her lap said, her head tilted in the same direction as the exit where the once life-filled Cathar departed. Vera inwardly cursed herself for allowing the child to see such a thing.

    “No, Amina, no it won’t. Soon, there won’t be any pain at all,” Vera said, firmly but softly turning Amina’s head from the direction of the exit and back toward the ceiling. More blood was forming at the edge of the girl’s jaw and Vera felt less and less breath from the torn body below her.

    “I don’t…,” Amina faltered, her voice faint, already speaking from the deep beyond, the place where all must go but from which none may return. Vera felt Amina’s pulse slowing and her stomach rose less and less with each passing second.

    “It’s okay, Amina, I’m here. It’s okay to let go now, little one,” Vera said softly, leaning down while combing the child’s ears gently. Amina’s body seized, her muscles tensed, jaw clenched shut and hands wrapped around the loose fabric of her dirty and bloodied clothing. And then with a sigh from the ethereal end, the little girl’s hands released and she exhaled one last, rattling breath, and died. Vera kissed Amina’s forehead and closed her eyelids over her stilled eyes. Two older Jedi stepped from behind her and lay a white cloth, much too big, over the small, helpless body. Master Dorak took Vera under the arms and helped her stand, taking her head and burying it in his chest as reasonably unreasonable emotion overwhelmed her; she cried in anguish as Amina was carried away by the winds of the gods, anger and despair on their breath as the sky above Dantooine cracked with thunder and burst into a rain of tears.



    ****



    The funerals proceeded smoothly and efficiently, with little fanfare. They were all too common in the life of a Mandalorian, that they eventually blended together into a mass of memories filled with gleaming armor, short and punctuating speeches, and a final, hearty roar by the warriors sending their fallen vode to the Eternal beyond. The men and women, still in their armor, were burned in individual pyres stacked in rows and rows on top of each other; some of the largest battles in history had seen thousands of warriors burning together, their smoke of their remains hanging over their homeworld for days, reminding them of their loss. If a Mandalorian was vaporized or never recovered, the last of his personal effects from his ship were burned in place, sending his or her soul to the Eternal.

    Kale roared, half-heartedly, with the others and watched as the small pyre blazed, the acrid smoke of burning beskar’gam liable to choke any warrior not wearing their helmet which thankfully included a specialized breathing mask built into its design. The assembled Mandalorians stood and watched as the three-hundred and twenty-two bodies, stacked in neat rows and columns, lit up and burned. Every warrior present waited until the only remnants were charred pieces of wood and tine along with the unburnable beskar’gam, the bodies inside gone, but the heart of the Mandalorian remaining, burned into the armor.

    Kale loved that the armor would be reused and refashioned for another warrior. In that way, every Mandalorian was part of an everlasting brotherhood, the bones and blood of martyrs gone many years remaining, etched into the armor through the fire of death. Kale’s own armor was over six-thousand years old, one of the oldest ones in existence. The Mandalore, of course, inherited the oldest lasting armor; only the style would change with the armorer re-fashioning it for the new Mandalore.

    But the pyre and its alighted dead stirred a sense of unease in his gut, worming its way up his spine and to his brain. His half-hearted roar at the death of these comrades, did it falter because he’d seen too many of these self-congratulatory funerals of men and women who could not congratulate themselves as the flames hungrily swarmed over their bodies like tiny mites? Or because that image of the purple-armored woman, floating on the calm seas, continued to realize itself before his gaze, reminding him of the hatred he’d poured into the seas?

    He physically shook his head, trying to remove the purple ghost from his sight, but she remained, lingering in her death, as long in his mind as it was short above the Cathar sea.

    “Good morning, ne vod,” a tall Mandalorian in red armor said, extending his forearm, breaking Kale from his self-involved concentration. Kale grasped it and they two embraced briefly, testing the strength of each other’s grip on their forearms.

    “And to you, ne vod,” Kale answered. He knew the Mandalorian in front of him, and guessed what the man had to say, but held his tongue. The man’s command ship had taken heavy fire during the previous night’s battle in the subduing of yet another backwards planet, and a number of well-regarded men were lost from the bridge of the ship. Not every Mandalorian, of course, was a Basilisk droid pilot.

    “You know why I’m standing before you, Kale. So just do me the favor of saying yes to joining my bridge crew,” Canderous Ordo said in that commanding and brusque voice of his. Even without the sight of Canderous’ eyes, Kale sensed a powerful lure lurking in those (assumed) grey eyes of an Ordo. Kale grinned beneath his helmet; he’d been hoping for just such a chance.

    “It is my honor to serve under your command,” Kale said, inclining his head somewhat. Canderous slapped, or rather slammed, his arm down on Kale’s shoulder and let out a fear-inducing laugh. It was supposed to be one of Canderous’ less ominous ones, but any time the man laughed, well, it was terrifying nonetheless.

    “Damn right it should be. I’ve seen you in combat, young man, and I think you’re a fine soldier. But I know when a man is destined to be a strategist, and I think you’ve got it in you,” Canderous said, his helmet impassive. Kale, abnormally (normally?) for most Mandalorians, felt near to bursting with pride and unabashed joy at such compliments. I swear the helmets are just so others can’t see us preen and strut all the time.

    “I’m honored by your words, Commander Ordo,” he replied.

    “Then I’ll expect to see you on board my command ship in two hours, soldier. You’ll receive your assignment from my bridge captain. May the fate of War look upon us with her gaze favorable,” Canderous said, clapping Kale roughly on the shoulder once more and turning to leave, his large presence out-sizing his tall, physical bulk.

    Kale left the large burn-clearing and made his way back to his home village, hitching a ride with a few other Basilisk-free warriors. They were younger than he, chattering excitedly about their first battles. Kale might only be twenty-eight standard years into life, but he’d been in many battles – not all of them involving Basilisks or planetary drops – since that exhilarating first drop at the age of fifteen. As his father had been quick to remind him, before his untimely death, he had dropped at twelve, the youngest in over five centuries. Even Canderous had not dropped until his thirteenth year.

    Kale stepped off the hovercraft in his home village, dominated by sub-clans of the Ordo family. While most of the Ordos themselves lived elsewhere, their subsidiaries lived here, dozens of cottages stacked in neat rows with a few nestled into the wide branches of the forest trees. The avenues were as familiar today as they had been five months ago, the last time he’d seen his wife. With preternatural sense, she stepped out on the landing of their front door, dressed in her blue armor but with her helmet off, her brown tresses hanging with a deep wave, his favorite style on her beautiful, soft features. A Mandalorian never goes without their armor he thought, grinning inwardly at seeing her beautiful face looking on him purposefully without expression.

    His pace quickened almost imperceptibly, but he recovered and forced his body to its natural gait, determined to show fortitude until the moment the door closed. A Mandalorian was a warrior until they crossed the threshold into their home, whereupon they became husband, wife, mother, son, niece. But until that second, one was always ready for combat, and could never seem too eager. Mandalorians were not emotive people. In public.

    Ne vod, welcome home,” his wife, Jena, said to him, bowing slightly at the waist. With sudden aching, he missed her touch, her smell, the warmth of her body against his and he could not hold himself back. He stepped forward the last few feet in one bound and grasped her by the waist, picking her up against him, their armor too cold and unfeeling between them.

    “Kale, put me down,” she cautioned teasingly, the smirk evident in her tone. He put her down and she whacked him gently across the side of the helmet before opening the door and allowing him to step inside. Their home was small and simple, just the way every warrior lived. A stove, a few places to sit, a table, two wooden stands for one’s armor, and a luxury for Mandalorians, a bookcase filled with dusty old tomes. It was home, and even the perfume of it filtered through his oxygen mask.

    The door closed behind him, the old-fashioned wooden door nestled perfectly into its resting spot, a door once crafted by his great-grandmother, still bearing her initials by the hinges. He stood and waited, feeling Jena’s footsteps clack behind him, until the latch on his helmet opened at the back. It detached swiftly and came off smoothly, and then everything before him blazed with life, teeming life held back by the cool steel of his perceptive yet still-limiting helmet. He did not turn, but knew that Jena was placing his helmet on the wooden stand where armor rested while the warrior remained outside of it.

    Next came the buckles and latches holding his chest and back plates together, the compression releasing a slight burst of pressurized air as it opened. She lifted the plates over his head and then returned for the armor on his arms, still opening them from behind, as was custom. Only the placing on of armor was done from the fore, to remind the warrior what he was leaving behind. And to remind him to come home, alive. And if he or she should die, then their final moments of home would be those filled with the most joy.

    Finally, Jena removed the upper and lower pieces of his leg armor and then his boots, placing them to the side. Underneath all that armor was little but a woven jumpsuit; his black. Her gloved hands trailed against his back and he felt the pulse of long-kept desire race through him, but the ritual was not yet complete. Her hands left his back and he turned to face her, her back now to him.

    He took her armor off as well, piece-by-piece, placing it away carefully. Their gazes still had not locked; she still had not looked upon his face, and the intense craving for each other grew with each second of this frustratingly wonderful ritual of disrobing the other. Her boots came off last, and as he turned from placing them down on the ground, suddenly she was there, in his arms, her lips against his, her hands fumbling with the clasp and zipper at his neck.

    “By the gods I’ve missed you,” she managed to eke out between their kisses and he merely nodded, too overcome with desire and joy to care about speaking it aloud; she knew. Her jumpsuit was an obstacle he conquered rapidly the second his fell to the floor. Knowing he had less than an hour with his wife before the start of yet another campaign, he took her in his arms and made the most of every last second.



    “Welcome aboard, Kale,” Canderous said, welcoming him at the foot of the shuttle. Kale was surprised; commanders rarely individually greeted a new arrival. And he used my name, not my rank. He smiled widely, glad the imperturbable mask hid his features. He grasped Canderous’ forearm and then the two departed swiftly for the bridge.

    “She’s been in service for about ten years now, since the beginning of the campaign. One of the newest built at the time, she’s lagged a bit now but performs perfectly well,” Canderous was saying as they stepped onto the bridge. “Now, Kale, flying a Basilisk and commanding are both similar and dissimilar. You need to take control of a large, mechanical object and use it to wage war, but on the Basilisk, it is you and your thoughts and your hopes and dreams on the line, not those of hundreds of others. Here, every action, every choice you make has consequences for not only you, but your men.”

    “I understand,” Kale answered. Canderous looked down at him, still a number of inches taller than he.

    “You understand the concept, but not the consequences of that concept. That notion will be disabused shortly, I am certain,” Canderous answered. “For now, you’ll be an observer. Take note of every person here on this bridge: what do they do? How do they do it? What are their responsibilities? How do they communicate? In the moment, what is their temperament? You must know every single thing about your comrades in order to best direct them.”

    Am I being trained to take over for Canderous? Kale thought, the idea nearly overwhelming him. He knew taking command of ships occurred as the exigencies of the operation commanded, but normal commanders came from previous experience on the bridge.

    “Take particular note of the targeting officer; that’s where you’ll begin. Jordo here is set to take a rotation on one of Cassus’ ships in a week, so you’ll be training up to replace him,” Canderous said, pointing to the targeting officer’s station. Damn. “Don’t hesitate to ask any questions, Kale. You aren’t expected to know much about this yet, and I don’t want inexperienced and afraid-to-ask warriors on my bridge.”

    “Yes, sir,” Kale said, saluting with a nod of the head. He stepped over to Jordo’s station and the short officer in standard Neo-Crusader armor turned to look over him.

    “Confidence, good, you’ll need that,” Jordo diagnosed before turning back to his screens. “Sit down.” Kale looked around and didn’t see a chair nearby. A Mandalorian was sitting before his station with his hands behind his head, in a relaxed pose.

    “If you’re not going to use that chair for anything good, I’ll have it,” Kale said commandingly from the man’s left. The Mandalorian turned and looked up at him.

    “I’m using it,” he replied, and turned back. Kale sighed. Violence felt improper in this space, as though hurting this Mandalorian for his insolence would disrupt the very fabric of camaraderie on the bridge. His mind wandered to what Cassus had said: for the need to make a statement. And so, Kale slammed his fist against the side of the Mandalorian’s helmet, catching him unawares and sent him tumbling to the floor of the bridge. The bridge crew all looked toward him, Canderous included, but Kale merely brushed the chair’s seat off and wheeled it over to Jordo’s station and sat down next to him.

    “Give that back!” the Mandalorian shouted at him, and Kale felt the man’s heavy footfalls on the deck. He pushed the chair backward as he anticipated the man’s lunge, and sure enough, the officer slammed his head into the deck of the bridge, empty air his reward for diving at Kale. The bridge erupted into laughter, Canderous’ the loudest amongst them all. Jordo looked at him over the sprawled body of the Mandalorian unconscious below him.

    “Unorthodox. You’re going to be good at this,” he said dryly and then launched into a lecture about his duties.

    ****
    Last edited by LaForzaViva, Nov 4, 2012
  5. JediDingo Force Ghost

    Member Since:
    Mar 27, 2005
    star 3
    I haven't had a chance to read the second chapter yet, but I just read the first and it was great! So, Kale is Canderous's son? I really loved that scene. I happened to be listening to this as I read it and it made the attack even more haunting.
  6. SoA Jedi Grand Master

    Member Since:
    Apr 2, 2008
    star 3
    Interesting! I am starting to suspect that Vera is the Revan in this story, and great to see a younger not-yet-embittered Canderous. I look forward to more.
  7. LaForzaViva Jedi Grand Master

    Member Since:
    Jul 6, 2008
    star 1
    Jedi Dingo - I hope you've read the second chapter by now! No, Kale is not Canderous' son, though they are relatives. Think of them as second or third cousins in the Ordo clan, which is traditionally one of the 'bigger' Mandalorian families. I love that piece; it would work quite well for a lot of battle scenes!

    SoA - This chapter should make your suspicion even more clear!



    Chapter 3 - Wilds

    Vera put the datapad down, her eyes stinging from the past three hours spent reading updates from the Outer Rim. The prolosphere* was buzzing; hundreds of updates poured in every few moments from diverse planets across the Outer Rim, each connected to the HoloNet at large, but so far, none were actual Republic worlds. The brutality and slaughter documented by those on-the-ground people, sometimes dying mid-report, sustained the nascent movement to get the Republic involved.

    There were a few voices in the wilderness calling for action: a diplomat here, a minister there, a corporate head sometimes as well, concerned with trade routes and business profits, not human lives. Better than the blasted Council, those ‘protectors of life.’ No galvanizing figure, no important voice made the case in public, with substantial backing, to lead the Republic into war to stop the Mandalorians. And they needed to be stopped.

    Vera glanced at her chronometer; it was past three in the morning on Dantooine and her companions in the room were all asleep, peaceful. Alek was in the bunk next to her, and his gangly limbs drifted over the border of his mattress, threatening to trace against the cold concrete floor. She smiled down at his disorderly figure; he was as impetuous as ever, but the atmosphere of Dantooine seemed to soften his rougher edges.

    She swiveled out of bed and slid on trousers and her tunic over her night clothes; nights on Dantooine were chillier than Coruscant, where the temperature constantly fluctuated only a few degrees in the city due to the heat given off across the planet. Not even its polar ice caps remained, unlike on Taris. Still have to convince Master Dorak to let me visit she thought. The Cathar were not allowed to stay on Dantooine, and were sent to Taris; she desperately wanted to know what happened to them. She’d heard… things. Each rumor struck her core like a rancor claw to the stomach, and each time she read a story or heard something, the sharp, visceral pain etched another innumerable wound in her.

    The air was chilly, but its vigor reminded Vera of all the teeming life across the planet, and that led her back to her preoccupations with the Mandalorians. They had sacked over a hundred systems in the past decade, slowly moving closer and closer to Republic space. They were threatening Taris’ trade lines; she knew this was the reason Dorak would not allow her to visit, instead of his made-up reason regarding the completion of her training.

    She was trained, she was ready. Every test given she passed with the highest of marks. She’d studied with three of the best Masters in the Order and was already a full-fledged Knight, her knighting ceremony gone only three moons ago. Her Padawan braid was gone, and attached to her hip, at all times, was her own lightsaber, constructed a year prior. She ran her hand over the handle, feeling the surge of anticipation jump through it. Or was it her hand desiring to ignite the blade?

    The cry of a kath hound pierced the night, its call alarmed and injured. Vera moved towards its continuing cries, passing slowly through a number of fields filled with resting hounds, clearly uninterrupted by the pained screeches of a companion. The fields and canyons slowly became one long, dark green mass in her mind as she moved, solely seeking the location of the call. She felt…possessed to find the source of the cry.

    The cry was loud, so close, and then Vera stepped from a larger field past a few trees and a narrowed wall into an enclosure where the cry was cut short. She peered into the unusual darkness of the enclosure, the night somehow blacker here. There was no kath hound before her, or anywhere, but she knew, she could feel that this is from where the sound had come. She walked closer to one of the breaks in the valley’s rolling hill and fell, the surprise of a lowering ramp catching her unawares.

    She ended her roll with a painful smack against something, its hardness eliciting a sympathetic cry from her. She grimaced and rubbed her left knee, trying to shake off the pain. Mist surrounded her and she could hardly make out what was in front of her, what she’d hit. She pulled her lightsaber from her belt and it snapped on, its purple hue illuminating a blackened doorway, leering over her with ancient menace.

    Vera sat, her lightsaber buzzing loudly in her ear, silencing the sounds of Dantooine’s night as this door, this portal, stood above her, illuminated by the ghostish hue of lavender intermixing with the phantasmagorical mist. It awed her, this piece of antiquity staring at her, inviting her to open its unopened knowledge, to know its secrets…

    Vera smacked herself on the cheek, some impulse long hidden instructing her to awake from the captivation this portal had affixed over her. She scrambled up, her saber cutting through the dirt as she stumbled backward, up the dirty path she’d fallen down, never once taking her eyes from the portal until its disappeared again into the mist, lost to time’s hold once more. She somehow made her way back to the Enclave, the images of death and destruction across the Mandalorian world intermingling with that door, as though the two were connected somehow.



    The return voyage to Coruscant took a number of days, and throughout the entire trip, Vera brooded in her makeshift quarters on the cargo freighter, alone. Alek was also on board, but he knew when she was in one of her contemplative moods and knew to leave her be. The Mandalorians were not stopping, and every dispatch from the distant front pained her to no end, that the suffering and bloodshed could not be stopped.

    Well, it could be stopped, of that Vera was certain. She wanted to talk to the few voices calling for intervention, to find out what they needed and how they could get to doing it, because the survival of the Republic would soon be threatened, and by then, it would be too late. With too much momentum, she knew the Mandalorians could make themselves nearly unbeatable.

    “What’s the plan?” Alek asked as the two Jedi stepped off the cargo freighter, making its only stop on Coruscant in one of the far north industrial districts. The port was grungy and more aliens than humans roamed about; but they blended in with their dusty and dirty robes, though Alek’s height made him look more like a short-necked Kaminoan. And his pale-skin actually reminded her of them even more…

    “Let’s find a caf, first,” Vera said, noticing her fatigue draped over her like a heavy robe. Hours to sleep came few and even then, infrequently, though less a result of training and more of keeping tabs on the Mandalorian’s advance. The consistent buzzing of her datapad’s alert feature eventually stopped stopping between alerts, so she had shut it off. The number of unread alerts was somewhere in the millions, already, and she’d never get through them all.

    Alek led them through a few dingy alleyways, his sense of direction generally better than Vera’s, who was often too lost in her own head to keep track of where she was going. Alek took another left and a slightly broader avenue opened up before them; a rowcenter materialized on their right, the shop faces in bad repair, holo and neon-lighting serving as distractions from the muddied windows and dank interiors. A small diner was one of the fronts, and they stepped inside. It was quiet and a holodroid, without a greeting, simply gestured at a grungy table and banged two cups of caf down, the liquid spilling a bit and steaming, curls rising into the air like deathstick smoke.

    Alek looked at her, some concern knit in his brow. “Are you okay, Vee? You’ve been so quiet lately,” he said.

    She laughed, “Aren’t I always?” she deflected. He gave a half-smile, one of those ‘you-can’t-fool-me’ smiles always too obvious on his otherwise plain features. His smile dissolved into the other omnipresent look on his visage: a neutral frown. She had trouble categorizing it; there was the slightest of downturn in his lips at the edges, as though a sad melody was playing in the background that she couldn’t hear, a melody reminding him of something lost from his youth. But while it was most definitely a frown, it wasn’t a frown, as though he was angry with someone. At least, she guessed. He could be hard to read when his emotions didn’t overwhelm him, broadcasting his feelings through the Force and through his posture, speech, and gaze.

    He remained impassive and raised one eyebrow. She let out a slow sigh. “You’re right, I have been,” she admitted. She took a swig from the burnt caf, somehow enjoying it. It was probably the caffeine. A mild jolt coursed down her spine after the second cup dripped empty. Definitely the caffeine. Alek remained impassive, waiting. His impatience was legendary; somehow being with her made him actually wait.

    “You’re heard it a hundred times from me, but it’s the Mandalorians,” she said more to herself than to Alek. He’d heard her generic speech more than once, and little more needed to be said.

    But this time, he interrupted her: “And what are we going to do about it?”

    She blinked. “Come again?” His neutral frown turned into a neutral smile, the corners rising past horizontal to vertical.

    “Don’t play dumb, Vee. I’m not the bright one here, but even I know change doesn’t happen without something changing it. You can think about the noun the whole time, but to get there, you have to do the verb. And I’ve seen you hunched over that datapad always with you, reading and reading. Sometimes, you know, I’m not sure you realize how long you can look at it. And whenever you put it down, for whatever reason, you look so…hurt. So hopeless, so pained. I don’t like seeing that,” Alek said, his voice trailing softer and softer as he spoke. He looked down and thumbed the mug’s handle, his words perhaps lost. She realized that it was also the most he’d spoken in one go in a number of months.

    In that moment, when Alek awkwardly played with the handle of a caf mug, his gaze cast downward and away from her own, Vera sensed he cared for her more than that of a fellow Padawan, more than that of a friend. She could see in the deep purple surrounding his aura that he was in love with her, and that he would do anything for her. The revelation did not stun her, for she had already guessed on some subconscious level, but the sudden concreteness of it both soothed and ruffled her.

    Dozens of futures materialized before her: futures where she and Alek came together sexually, disdaining the Code to realize the passionate throes of their bodies; futures where his love for her grew too intense and led him to places from which he could not return; futures where they stayed just as they were right now; futures where she spurned him; futures building upon futures until the thought made her head hurt and had her reaching for another caf, thankfully provided by the clanky and somehow rude droid. Could a droid be rude?

    “So what can we do?” she asked him. She already knew what she wanted to do. Was she looking for other ideas? Or just confirmation?

    “We need to stop the Mandalorians,” he said, still looking down. Duh, Alek.

    “Yes, but how do we do that?” she pressed. She sensed him concentrating harder than usual; thinking issues through was not his strongest suit. He started to speak a few times and then lapsed back into silence, the thinking becoming a trial. Maybe it should be his Trial of Skill she thought sarcastically. Now, now, that’s not polite another side of her challenged. She blinked and pushed the dueling thoughts away; now was not a time to be petty.

    “Build a coalition. Do what the Jedi did to Exar Kun. Get the Republic to do something, anything besides sitting across from the helpless systems and watch as they burn,” he answered finally. Not bad, maybe he has a future in giving a basic speech Vera thought, noting his final and defining emphasis on ‘burn.’

    “I agree,” she replied. Confirmation, not new ideas. There were no other ideas to a problem with only one solution. “We need to find other people who support intervention and get them to find others. Jedi, businessmen, diplomats, the elite, anyone. It needs to be such an overwhelming surge that the Republic sees it in their best interest to do it, and then the Jedi see it in theirs.”

    “Isn’t the Council entirely opposed right now?” Alek asked.

    She nodded. “So far, yes. But people change, like you said, and we have to get them to change their minds.”

    “What if they don’t,” he stated, as though it were a solid, rigid fact. That simple phrase, so basic and lacking in finesse, slapped her faster than a jump to lightspeed.

    “They will,” she said confidently.

    What if they don’t.



    ****



    “Target acquired!” Kale shouted over the din submerging the bridge in chaos.

    “Open fire!” Canderous answered in kind. Kale released the hold on the major turbolaser batteries, allowing the red fire to cascade in molten sheets across space and into the Althiri battlecruiser. Flames licked up into the oxygen-less space, their burning raging as oxygen pockets exploded inside the ship. A few bodies leaked from the hull of the cruiser, their flailing forms captured in stark contrast against the bright orange fires; the bodies ceased movement by the time they blurred into the backdrop of black space.

    The cruiser returned their attack as Canderous ordered the ship to roll upside down, presenting its underbelly; the shields below were stronger. The impact of the barrage shook the ship, but no electrical surges found their way to the bridge. The battlespace shifted in Kale’s inner equilibrium; he fought the sensation that they were now ‘upside down’ in space, as though the weightlessness of space affected them inside the gravitationally-balanced cruiser. The Althiri ship now seemed their exact opposite, only one cruiser was badly burned and the other in much better condition.

    “Fire again!” Canderous commanded, sitting on the edge of his captain’s chair, the eager tension visible through his armor in his forward-leaning posture and the soft touch his fingertips left on the armrest, as though he was ready to punch the air in excitement.

    Kale executed the order: a sheet of fire burned more holes into the now fatally wounded Althiri ship. Pods exploded into the darkness, briefly illuminated against the burning hulk. These Althiri, protected from space, were going to survive, even though no escape pod had hyperdrive. Kale had little time to wonder where they’d go except back to the surface of Althir, where they’d be found and killed regardless. Some pods turned back for the planet in the vain hope they could fight off the Mandalorians in their Basilisks; others continued into the expanse of space as though they could travel from one system to another.

    “Acquire another target,” Canderous shouted over at him, his helmet scarlet, visor streaked in oranges and blacks, the aflame hulk sinking slowly toward the planet’s gravitational pull as its engines failed and died. Kale wondered if the captain would go down with the ship. His hands and the more conscious part of his mind had found the next target; a small frigate meant more for cargo transport than fighting. But if this was my homeworld, I’d send everything I had he thought.

    The frigate crumbled in mere moments, unable to defend itself against the waves of blaster fire poured into it. Kale’s display showed a number of still viable targets, but the blue dots of Mandalorian ships slowly began to outweigh the red enemy signature except for a large central cluster. He’d seen so many red targets in the past months, a vague and indistinguishable blur of once bright dots faded to nothing but black. Black meant death part of him said as the space battle seemed at a stalemate.

    But then Kale blinked at the screen, trying to match the sudden idea burning with abandon in his mind as he looked over the battlefield. He flipped the view into a 3D hologram and spun it, calculating vectors of attack in his head, his intuition pushing him in a direction. The Althiri fleet was moving, whether purposefully or accidentally, apart. This left a possibly gaping hole in the center; a quick charge by ten of Canderous’ ships, including the Tranyc, would spell doom for the Althiri. They would wind up in the middle of the fleet, able to use all available batteries while the Althiri would be restricted. But four other Mandalorian ships would be surrounded by the larger cluster to their left. Kale knew they would more than likely face destruction, as a breakaway of the Althiri fleet would turn toward the four and seek to blast through them to avoid the fire from the larger ten ships. Both fleets were partially split, but only one had an advantage in the situation.

    “Captain, look!” Kale said over the seemingly distant roar, pushing a button and throwing the map up on the viewscreen before Canderous. He turned in his seat and watched Canderous’ figure still; he knew Canderous saw what he did. And he knew as commander of the fleet, Canderous would make the choice. His scarlet helmet turned in his direction, and without seeing each other’s eyes, Kale felt the electric connection spark.

    “Helmsman, full speed ahead! Take us between the fleet and open fire; instruct the others to follow us in,” Canderous shouted. The helmsman diagnosed the situation as he slammed on the throttle, sending the ship into a tortured lurch forward.

    “Captain, what are you doing?” came a panicked voice from the lead of the four Mandalorian ships to their left.

    “We’re ending this battle here and now!” Canderous shouted back. As the fleet dove between the Althiri ships, communications failed from jamming. Canderous waved over at Kale but he needed no prompting: the batteries on both sides were opened, seething waves of heat poured from the Tranyc into the Althiri mess. Two of their smaller transport ships exploded almost immediately; their flagship took significant damage from the unexpected closeness of Canderous’ own flagship. Had they not been surprised, it may have been a closer contest. The Althiri flagship turned to its right, the Mandalorians’ left, pouring its missile banks and turbolasers on the four Mandalorian ships in their path.

    But they could not get away; the smallest of the Mandalorian ships, boxes overloaded with turbolaser banks and engines strong enough to propel all the weapons, swarmed over the enemy flagship. Its engines failed, but it slammed into the lead of the four separated ships. There was no sound in space, there never was, but Kale winced all the same as the heavy-metal ships crunched together, their momentums stopped together as they now floated lifelessly like metallic conjoined twins. Within minutes, the battle was over; every Althiri ship plunged toward the planet aflame or broke apart into chunks, bodies floating every direction. But the separated Mandalorian group of ships suffered greatly; none survived fully intact.

    The helmsman turned the ship to face the underbelly toward the planet; a deep shudder rolled through the cruiser as the hangar doors spread open. The distant rumble of engines permeated the celebratory, but still tense air, as the fleet sent their Basilisks toward the surface. Thousands of brightly colored men and women charged toward the surface of the planet, their blues and red and yellows mixing with the blue of the water, the red and yellow of the burning hulks of ships descending into the planet. The drab olive and greys of the common-soldiers Basilisks matched the thousands of floating Althiri bodies. Grey means death part of him said quietly in the sudden stillness on the bridge. Their part in the battle was over.



    “Compliments of Mandalore!” a fellow blue-clad Mandalorian, a Twi’lek, Kale recognized with a start, shouted as he threw a large bottle of Althiri bubbly at him. He caught it, nearly dropping the bottle but managed to hang on. The soldier kept tossing more bottles out at the arriving ground troops, there to survey the damage and mop up any further resistance. Kale awkwardly lugged the bottle around in his left arm, his rifle in his right. He doubted he’d need it.

    Althir III was, overall, in flames. Aside from the thousands of burning fires across its surface, the world was not quite pretty. Interesting might be a better word. Like Alderaan and Corellia and, well ****, nearly every planet, Althir was habitable largely due to its oxygen/nitrogen-producing trees. While on most planets the trees were some verdant color, between a drab olive and a lush emerald, the trees on Althir were a variety of blues: lilacs and sky blues to deeper cobalts and finally to near-black with an iridescent shimmering that rippled over the leafs as the wind and ash of fires swept through them.

    Kale diverted from the city in which he had landed with the rest of the Tranyc’s crew who all spread out, looting homes, killing anyone they found. His wandering steps led him across a beaten road, a hulk of a hover-car adding to the orange flames dotting the landscape. From the road he followed flattened grass; grass weighted down recently by early morning dew and, he guessed, the trail of a hover-car passing over it. He looked back at the burning one; he hoped it was that vehicle and not another.

    The grasses were long, but not blue; they were a moldy green. Soon, the sounds of war passed out of the reach of his environmental sensors in his helmet. In their place sat a deafening silence; no animals made any noise, not a rustle in this band of the forest. The silence fell over him with uneasy suddenness, and the thought of what lay behind him kept him trudging forward, passing into undergrowth. Thorns and shrubs with bright yellow berries scratched against his armored legs; twigs snapped and fell under his boot as the forest beckoned him to continue deeper.

    Tweep. Tweep tweep trooooooo. Kale looked up toward the sound; a few meters above his head sat a small, crimson bird. It looked down at him, its head cocked quizzically toward him. Or maybe he just imagined that the bird was ‘confused’ by his presence, by the firm footsteps of a cobalt-clad walking suit of armor, striding through a forest as though the planet belonged to none but him, his arrogance overwhelming.

    Kale shook his head up at the bird, wishing he could trill back that he wasn’t like the rest of them, wasn’t entirely responsible for the destruction of such a majestic land. Well, not entirely. He wore their armor. He carried their arms. He obeyed their instructions. He walked across the stars like a warrior, impertinent and brazen in his acquiescence to planetary massacres and destructions, as though they were somehow normal.

    The bird jumped in a half-circle, agitated, perhaps by his presence. It cocked its head once more and trilled more sweet notes at him, their music more music he’d heard in months. He reached his arm up, the blue armor reaching for the red bird and then it was gone, wings open and spinning through the crowded forest air until it disappeared to his north. He lowered his arm, feeling stupid. What, some bird on a planet that had never seen a Mandalorian would sense his decency underneath the threatening and impenetrable armor and would climb on his hand, eat from his palm, become his friend? He let out a coarse laugh, more a bark.

    This whole galaxy is so kriffed.

    “Don’t move a damn muscle!” a voice from his left shouted. He wanted to turn; needed to know who was challenging him not to move. His right finger twitched on his weapon. He wasn’t sure if the challenger had noticed his firearm, had circled to his left to ensure any movement to raise and aim it could be stopped.

    “Put whatever you’re holding down and get on your knees!” the voice commanded. Kale let the bottle in his left sink until he held the neck of it, and then bent down to place it on the ground. He kneeled next to it, his right hand still closed around the weapon.

    “The rifle as well, smart ass.” Kale inwardly swore. He let it drop to the ground, its silver form shimmering beneath a mixture of blue and viridian grasses and shrubs. He heard the first step of the challenger crunch and realized the person was far closer to him than he’d expected. Now it sounded like someone was eating wheat pops five feet away from him. He turned his head partially, straining to see with his peripheral vision.

    Not five meters away stood an Althiri teenager, his pants torn and loose scarlet tunic disarrayed. A thin silver line wrapped from the cuffs of the tunic and swirled up the sleeve in a double helix, criss-crossing every few centimeters until the strands connected at the neckline, curving into a silver ring around the circular neckline. The tunic was formal; the pants as well, though they were ripped and even singed, as though some of the orange fires on the planet had gotten to him.

    But it was his face, Kale realized, that affected him the most. He had modest features; high cheekbones, a slightly sallow complexion offset by sharp, angular brown eyes. His eyebrows were nit together in concentration, his nose gently flaring with each breath he inhaled and exhaled. But underneath that taut and concentrated mask of what the boy assumed was manliness, Kale could see the fear. No, not only see it; he could feel it radiating from the young man. The commanding voice did not waver, he recalled, but the blaster rifle pointed at him, though held with two hands, shook ever so slightly.

    Kale knew a killer when he saw one: this was no killer. His mind about-faced: how do you know he’s not a killer? Because he will not do what it takes to kill. And you would, because you know exactly how to kill, don’t you? He frowned as the thought bounced about the interior of his impassive helmet. He did know what a killer was, because he was one. Is one. The elliptical path of his realization disquieted him.

    Knowing the young man would not fire on him, he stood and picked up his own blaster from the ground.

    “Hey, what are you doing!” the teenager shouted, his voice suddenly wavering where it had been strong before.

    “You’re not going to shoot me, son,” Kale said, almost sadly, to his challenger. “And I’m not going to shoot you either.”

    The rifle dipped briefly at Kale’s words and then returned to a more level place. “Don’t make me do it!”

    Kale chuckled, more to himself than to the boy, who was clearly unnerved. “Son, just go. You’d need a solid six or seven shots to penetrate my armor with that rifle, and all I need is one to kill you, because you have nothing to stop my rifle,” Kale bluffed. It was actually three shots to his armor with that rifle, an ArmaCorp PCX-97, at this range of less than five meters. The rifle dipped again, and then fell slack by the boy’s sides.

    “Go on. I’m going to keep walking north. South, you’ll find the rest of my cruiser’s soldiers. I say head west, but that’s up to you. Good luck,” Kale said, giving the boy a nod of respect, and then trudged deeper into the brown and indigo forest, lit softly by the copper flames far behind him.



    The fleet commanded by Canderous exited hyperspace at the far reaches of the Suurja system, linking up with Fett and Mandalore’s fleets. A plurality, though not a majority, of Mandalore’s forces aligned themselves at the edge of the system, cautiously remaining behind Suurja’s sun; the inhabited planets in the system were quite distant due to the white dwarf sun. The three planets closest to the sun cooked themselves over every day; the next two were still far too hot to inhabit. The planet named Suurja was thus the sixth; a large, purple and orange orb, though mostly due to the powerful brightness of the sun casting against its otherwise normal dark blue skies. Three more planets existed beyond Suurja; one was colonizable but only if its denizens enjoyed temperatures below 40 standard and wanted to import their food. The next was a cool gas planet, a rarity and thus quite popular with the mining companies. The final planet was a barren rock.

    Other Mandalorian fleets perched firmly on the edge of nearby systems: Vanquo, Tarnith, and Jebble. Those three systems, added to the under-threat Suurja, made up Taris’ four major resource bases in the Outer Rim; Taris was the mercantile center, the nub of the trading wheel. The diplomatic dispatches and messages sent between Taris and Coruscant were growing more and more frequent; a delegation from Alderaan recently enjoyed a brief stay on Taris at the behest of Lhosan Industries, according to Mandalore’s spies.

    Kale was certain, more than any other Mandalorian except perhaps Mandalore himself, that the Republic was considering, strongly in fact, that the defense of the Outer Rim by the Republic must soon commence if Taris were to be threatened. Scores of unimportant systems had fallen to the Mandalorians, but Taris was the ‘Coruscant of the Outer Rim’ and a major trading partner, even though it fell outside Republic control. The more cynical (and realistic) group of Republic diplomats virtually guaranteed that Taris would join the Republic due to the potential loss of trade, which would be catastrophic to the Inner Rim. Idealists postulated that it the lack of confidence in the Republic should the Mandalorians take Taris being the highest danger, but Kale wasn’t stupid and neither were the Republic diplomats. They would give up Taris if it were just another Althir or Tatooine; but a sister trading ecumenopolis? Defendable.

    The Tranyc pulled ahead of Kale’s own destroyer; Canderous had recently placed him in command of the Be’senaar, which in Mandalorian meant ‘Missile.’ And the name fit: this destroyer was a specialized class in the Mandalorian fleet; its purpose was to hang back and launch waves of concussion missiles and proton torpedoes to soften up other ships for turbolaser fire from the closer and combat-engaging cruisers and battleships. The destroyer’s shields were weaker as a consequence of larger weaponry bays and tube launchers; not enough ship infrastructure existed to provide decent shielding. Canderous’ fleet, the third largest behind Mandalore and Fett’s fleets, had only the one destroyer. And as the third biggest fleet, they were entitled to hundreds of nuclear weapons, all loaded on the Be’senaar; any decision to fire them would come from Canderous to him, though he was the triggerman. It was a grave responsibility, and not one Kale particularly relished. It would be un-Mandalorian of him to admit, but he did not want that many nukes at his call.

    “Captain Ordo, please join us on the flagship,” Canderous’ voice sounded over his helmet. Canderous had recently been promoted to Rear Admiral after the Battle of Althir; Mandalore was annoyed by his loss of the four separated ships, but when presented the battle map, understood precisely why. Canderous took all the credit publicly, as was his wont as captain. And as an arrogant Ordo. Only a few days after the promotion, though, he’d promoted Kale from Lieutenant Commander up to Captain, skipping a rank. And then handed him control of his new destroyer, given by Mandalore to their growing fleet.

    “Commander, you have the bridge,” Kale said to his second-in-command, giving him the briefest salute.

    “Yes sir,” the red-clad Wookie replied in strongly-accented Basic. His bulk barely fit in the captain’s chair, planting a smile on Kale’s face as he stepped into the repulsorlift, on his way to discuss strategies with the other ship commanders.

    ****

    *prolosphere - private log sphere, or personal log sphere. It's a Star Wars version of the modern blogosphere.
    Last edited by LaForzaViva, Nov 23, 2012
    aalagartassle likes this.
  8. SoA Jedi Grand Master

    Member Since:
    Apr 2, 2008
    star 3
    I am growing attached to both Kale and Vera now, and yet I know nothing good is coming for either of them. They're both very human, in the midst of this war.
  9. LaForzaViva Jedi Grand Master

    Member Since:
    Jul 6, 2008
    star 1
    SoA - thank you, that's quite a high compliment. I'm hoping their motivations and personalities are clear and realistic, because they're not going to be static for much longer.



    Chapter 4 - Plans



    “Thank you for your time, Senator,” Vera said, giving the opulently dressed senator a half-bow. The senator merely inclined his head; Vera inwardly despised the condescension. Though he was a prickly, garish, arrogant humanoid version of a nerf, Vera was not idealistic enough to think any plan could succeed without his assent. In matters of war and peace, the senator from Alderaan mattered most; if even the Alderaanians assented to war, then most other peace-loving systems would join them. It was an odd quirk.

    The doors to the office swung open on her command; a burst of surprise issued from the senator seated behind her departing figure. Then his imagination turned to his large and roll-shaped body atop her, a disgusting series of images which flowed through the Force. She nearly vomited in disgust; her well-kept body was not meant to be imagined like that. Then again, Alek would surely remind her, her sexual appeal to male senators would only heighten her persuasive abilities. Pigs. As if I couldn’t persuade them through the Force she thought, briefly, before discarding the idea. True loyalty always lasted far longer than imposed loyalty.

    She closed the doors with a wave of the hand and let out a long sigh filled with frustration and vexation. For all her many gifts, Force-wise or not, dealing with people who disagreed with her agitated her more than one might think. An impassive face was difficult to wear; even more so when the disagreement centered on the ignorance, or denial of, others’ sentient rights. Millions were dying and these senators had the audacity to attend the opera and the holotheatre and spend money improving their apartments and offices? So few credits flowed to the relief organizations; the price of the expensive chair she had just sat in would provide food for hundreds of Cathar refugees on Taris, many of whom now lived in the Underworld, treated like slaves. Or worse.

    The indignant storm swirled up in her chest and she found her walking pace increasing, as if she could outrun the persistent problem with senators and their disgusting expenses. She slowed and stopped in the middle of a hall where one hundred senators’ offices rested, nestled in comfort. Rich blue carpet, mixed with soft tawny accents, played smartly off the golden lights at the edge of the carpet and dangling from the vaulted ceiling. But the carpet did not please her; she wanted to tear it up and hand it to freezing refugees.

    Though the frustrations and obstacles were many, some barriers had come down recently. Lhosan Industries, which had invited the Republic plenipotentiaries to Taris, smartly wooed the group with economic arguments. Taris was a major city-planet; its fall to the Mandalorians would be a serious blow to the overall economic state of the Republic. It was already weak with the resource-intensive industries suffering from the collapse of systems in the Outer Rim, from whom they received natural resources and then to whom they sold finished products, but the economy still limped on with Inner Rim production ramped up to compensate. The biggest worry was the financial market; Taris’ collapse would knock out 30% of the galaxy’s financial trading (Coruscant was 60%) and if the financing went, then so did the manufacturing capabilities through run-on effects of money inflows and outflows to companies, employees, investments, and the like.

    It was rumored (and confirmed by the Alderaanian senator) that the Republic was set to issue a formal declaration of provisional membership to the Republic for Taris; details would be ironed out in negotiations, and then the provisional status would be dropped and Taris would join as a fully-fledged member. As a full member, defense rights in the Republic Code kicked in and thus a fleet could be stationed in the system without the request of the planet; the Navy had presented their deployment plans to the Chiefs of Staff yesterday. Vera had seen the plan and knew it was tactically sound, though it would weaken the western front and thus did not pass strategic soundness, but it was a chance they had to take.

    Taris’ imminent shift to a Republic world was the biggest success Vera had had her hand in; smaller victories still mattered, though. A core of Jedi formed an influential interest group inside the Order; she had two of the twelve Council members on her side, in addition to fifty Masters and Knights; Padawans, though important as foot soldiers in any war, had no sway numerically in her analysis. With the Order at roughly 800 Masters and Knights, she calculated the tipping point of influence to fall around 340; beyond that, her group would seem overwhelming (in addition to noisy), and the rest of the Order would assent publicly, or dissent privately, as opposed to their current vocal opposition.

    Convincing the rest of the Republic was proving faster going, though. While the Alderaanian senator continued to remain non-committal, she had a very public ally in the senator from Corellia, Senator Bandar Ajan. Further, he was a former high-ranking general in the Marines and possessed serious influence in the Republic military from his days on the Chiefs of Staff. Due to his meddling, both requested and unrequested, the Republic military largely agreed with Vera’s prescription: the time to fight was now, before the Mandalorians’ momentum propelled them into the Inner Rim.

    Even with those three success, Taris, the Jedi, and the senate, thousands of logistical problems remained. The military was large, but not large enough: was conscription necessary? Yes. Then came the matter of arming the troops: from where would the arms come? Recent legislation lowered taxes on defense, ship, and arms corporations like Czerka, Kuat Drive Yards, Core Galaxy Systems, Corellia StarDrive, and Lhosan in addition to obvious subsidies for even more shipbuilding. As a matter of fact, arms production was keeping the economy afloat as confidence in nearly every other sector sagged. Those were more problems, problems Vera thankfully did not have to face herself.

    The speeder shuttling her from the Senate to the Jedi Temple landed smoothly in a docking hangar; the pilot was polite enough to wait until she was fifty meters from the transport before revving the engines and taking off. Workers in the hangar said hello as she passed by, and she replied in kind, a false smile hiding her worries. By mere sense, Alek waited at the end of the hangar for her, his head now shaved. In contrast, his rufous armor stood out even more; winglets clipped over the edge of his deltoids while a utility belt in a dull yellow separated the torso piece from matching armor on his legs. He had finally filled out his previous thinness; Alek’s body rippled with muscular intent at every motion.

    “How did it go?” he asked when she was within ten meters. He already knew the answer, but he was polite enough not to rely on their stronger than usual Force bond.

    “Not well enough. That bastard just won’t be convinced,” she snarled, thinking of the portly Alderaanian senator sitting with his platinum nameplate, Senator Arkaddi Nemelto, resting on his burnished wood desk, his pudge attempting to wriggle free of the constrictive buttons on his impeccably starched formal wear. Alek could see the image flash across their minds’ eyes, and he simultaneously laughed and frowned along with her. “Give me some good news.”

    His frown turned to a grimace. “Nothing good, really. Reports have a large Mandalorian fleet massing at Suurja; sketchier intelligence points to smaller fleets near Jebble and Vanquo. There’s also some activity out on the eastern line of control, but sources out there have gone dark, according to military intel,” Alek reported evenly.

    “So that means…”

    “Exactly,” he interrupted with certainty, “they’re going to take three of Taris’ main resource links. We have no idea about Tarnith, but if they’re by the others, I’d wager a fair amount of credits that they’ve got ships there as well.”

    “Kriff,” Vera said, more to herself than anything else. “Anything else?”

    “CGS has upped production at their shipyards; we’re looking at a TTL* of about fifteen standard days per cruiser, which is a 14% increase from before.”

    “Good, we’re going to need as many cruisers as fast as possible. Any news on the conscription proposal we had Senator Bluuo float?” Vera asked, thinking of the amusing senator from Ryloth overselling the proposal before a (usually) empty Senate. Most galactic residents recalled Twi’lek either as shady businessmen or more fondly as their feverish sexual desires grafted onto gyrating and nearly nude Twi’lek women, but Vera knew the Twi’lek to be a kind and generous people in general (the sharp teeth were a confounding distraction). The only reason they were so talented at business, especially the domineering and frankly misogynistic men, was due to their culture’s high value placed on rhetoric: to speak eloquently was a skill to be mastered. And to speak eloquently easily led to the ability to persuade. Sadly, they tended to export their own women in business, as they were valued less, so the gains were limited in Vera’s opinion, but a number of Twi’lek originated businesses in other economic sectors routinely challenged the best Corellian, Alderaanian, and Coruscanti businesses.

    “Mixed, I think. The more war-ready systems support it, but as usual, the Alderaanian faction piped up with some choice words. I think ‘blunder’ and ‘disaster’ were uttered today,” Alek answered.

    “Pfft, as if an Alderaan knew what a blunder looked like. They’ve never been brave enough to have a hand in risking one,” Vera sneered. Alek chuckled quietly.

    “There’s been some interesting scholarship coming out of an unexpected place, though. A couple of galactic political scientists released a study on the Great Sith War. I think you’ll want to read the monograph,” Alek said, handing her a datapad emblazoned with Coruscant University’s seal on the rear. “And seeing that greedy look in your eye, I’ll leave you to your reading now. I’m going to push a bit harder on Master Dorak; I think if we get him, we’ve got an in with Master Lestin too.”

    “Great work, Alek. Let’s see if we can’t get that conscription proposal pushed through. Still too many obstacles, but progress, yeah?” she asked hopefully.

    “Big progress, Vee,” Alek said, a genuine smile crossing his visage.

    “Also why’d you shave?” she asked.

    He rubbed his head and grinned lopsidedly. “Felt like a change. Also the wind is much more pleasant like this. No combs either.”

    “Go without a hood or cap on Hoth and tell me you like the wind then,” she shot back, clapping him on the shoulder.

    “I’ll let you know the first chance I get to such a vital planet,” he ribbed, turning away to his duties. Vera smiled, enjoy the light-hearted moment submerged in a morass of problems and darkness. Sadly, the lightness would be short-lived, unless this report from the university was as positive as Alek let on.



    The monograph from the university was well-worth the read; the two professors (and probably a myriad of unrecognized pupils) looked at the diplomatic-political situation prior to the Great Sith War and compared the record to other notable wars and then applied the findings to the current situation. A lot of the conclusions were obvious, such as a spike in Outer Rim conflict led to economic consequences for Inner Rim systems regardless the diplomatic status of a system (Republic/non-Republic), but one key finding stood out to Vera: that the intervention or non-intervention of the Jedi proved crucial in almost every case. Without their support, the Republic dawdled; with it, the Republic moved to war.

    She had figured this was the hidden key to propel the Republic to war. The irony of the key, though, both miffed and amused her. The Jedi Order, claimants to beliefs in the power of peace, the necessities of diplomacy, the role of the Force as a generally good element, the assumption that the only wars to be fought would be just wars, all those conflicted, strongly, with the evidence that the majority of wars fought since the Force Wars were led by, started by, or accepted by the Jedi. Apart from being protectors of peace and diplomats serving not the Republic but themselves, the Jedi were the most war-like organization in the galaxy’s history.

    And yet that dichotomy, that fundamental disconnect between what the Order was to represent and what the Order was, frustrated every Jedi theologian and practitioner throughout history. Vera, compared to most of the Masters on the Council, felt less torn about that dichotomy, though she supposed it was due to her low station now; as a Council member would she view galactic matters differently from up on high? If I was to be one.

    No. Right is always right. And halting the Mandalorians is the righteous course of action. They pillaged and destroyed for no benefit other than that of ‘glory’ and ‘fame;’ they must be destroyed for the beneficence of the galaxy as a whole. If I must mobilize a war in order to force their recession to the background, then that is what I will do. If Jedi and soldiers and civilians must die now to save untold billions later, then that is what I must allow to happen.

    The realization, previously more amorphous and fluid in her mind, solidified itself as she sat there, the monograph gripped in her hand. She had always known, on some level, that war was evil and vile and horrific, but that war was a prelude to peace.

    “Concentrating Jedi always look constipated,” a weathered baritone sounded to her right. Involuntarily smiling, she patted the bench next to her, and Visto Cafran sat down next to her. He sat there for a moment, knowing that she was trying to form a question to ask him. Always so perceptive she thought.

    “I know the path I must walk, Visto, and I know it is right. But is it right because I’ve convinced myself of its righteousness? Is my opinion, are my emotions making this choice seem righteous?” she finally blurted out.

    Visto wrung some unseen cloth between his slowly aging hands. Vera sensed the thoughts radiating from him: normally so cool on the inside, his inner flame was alight. She guessed, sadly, that reconciling what happened in the war with Exar Kun and what was going on today would not be easy, or even possible for him. He’d been a great champion of peace, often single-handedly solving diplomatic crises and halting wars – Nomi often called on him as the diplomat-in-chief – but she sensed such turmoil coursing through him, such dark pain working in the motion of his hands. She placed her own on his hands and sent calm thoughts, but his conflict did not relent, though his hands ceased their wrenching. When he spoke, it was as though the voice came from long ago, weary of all things:

    “These are the questions no person knows the answer to, Vera. These are the questions, these are the fundamental issues with which the Council struggles every day, and any Jedi worth their teeth contemplates these as well. How do we stop bloodshed, except through further bloodshed? Why is peace so ephemeral, why is war constantly knocking on our door, asking us sweetly to open it?

    “I wish I had an answer for you, Vera, honestly, I do. I’ve been walking about this galaxy, sadly for all the sentients out there, for near on fifty-five years, and I don’t know how to answer these questions except to say that they are your choices. You will lead the Jedi and the Republic to war, or you won’t. Your intervention will lead to the death of billions, maybe trillions, but I cannot say on what side those casualties will fall. You may help save civilians, while leading soldiers and Jedi to their deaths against the Mandalorians. But you cannot know, even with the power of the Force, how all of this turns out.

    “That’s an unpopular opinion around here, especially with so many of these fools thinking the Force is always beneficent, or always leading us on a progressive path. But for me? In my opinion? It’s not. The Force is no god that propels and pushes us, using us as Pazaak cards when it believes it can win the hand. The Force is our moral center, the fabric of our being and our conscience woven together across space and time with untold millions of others. But it is not our guide, it does not lead us; we use it, harness it, lead it. We guide it.

    “I can sense that you want to hear me agree with you, that going to war now is better than having that war foisted upon us. I can sense that you will not sway no matter what I say, that your mind is made up. I can sense that you are going to travel down a path no Jedi should have to travel, but that some Jedi must travel. I may be laughed at around here, joking and lightening the mood, but I have seen the best, and the worst, in Jedi. In myself. All futures are clouded through the Force, but I feel, not sense, that this path you will walk upon and grasp in your hands may lead you to places, to events, to people, to actions that will change you. Irrevocably.

    “And I fear that most will lead you away from your moral center, a moral center you own but that was built here, in these rooms and with these Jedi. We are not always right, we are not always good, but in striving to be good, in our lifelong struggle to preserve peace and lead sentientkind into happiness, we meander closer to that end state, to that ideal. Be not an agent of vengeance, be not a revanchist; fight for the good because it is the good. If you fight to avenge some people or some thing, that ideal will slowly recede into the depths of your dark heart, and you may forever lose sight of it. Never let that ideal go, Vera. Let it guide you, and with it in mind, I believe you will do good in this galaxy, even if you must do evil to realize that good.”

    Vera sat and thought as Visto exhaled, his shoulders slumping, the exhaustion worn in his curved back, hands perched on his knees, knuckles ivory. In that moment, he looked every second of those fifty-five years, as though they weighed incalculable kilograms on his life. He stood, slowly, and placed his hand on her shoulder, his gaze fixed on some distant horizon. He stayed like that for a moment, before squeezing her shoulder and walking away.

    She watched his departing figure until he was lost around a corner, gone from the arboretum. He’d been there for almost every Jedi when they needed someone to hear their voice, even if he could joke and seem flippant instead of coolly serious, which she knew he was on the inside. Kreia’s old refrain about him rang hollow: he was not avoiding the responsibility of having a Padawan learner. Instead, he was a Master for all Jedi, from the lowest to the highest in the Order. In foregoing a single apprentice, all Jedi were his apprentices. And Vera knew that they were the better for it.



    ****



    “Take your seats, ne vode,” came the graveled, worn, and metallic voice of Mandalore. Kale had never seen the warrior in the flesh, or rather beskar’gam, before. He was not as tall as Kale had imagined; Canderous was taller, and Kale figured he might be a bit taller than Mandalore. Yet their leader stood with purpose: shoulders back, chest up, head never dipping below parallel, feet spread firmly apart. Kale could sense a barely controlled authority in Mandalore – something not quite physical, not quite metaphysical, not quite spiritual. But whatever it was, whatever that magnetism was, it was so transcendent that no Mandalorian dared contradict a single order of Mandalore’s. He was as close as a Mandalorian would come to a god, regardless religious beliefs. He was their Mandalore. And he never took off his helmet. And as such, neither did any of them.

    Maps, charts, and screens with statistical data lined the walls of the large, but not too large, war room. A central table, more an elongated and rounded rectangle than an oval, dominated the center of the room; dozens of uncomfortable looking chairs lined the walls. Kale realized this was where he would sit, behind his fleet commander, as Canderous sat two down from Mandalore at the head of the table. Kale took the central seat behind Canderous as three of the other commanders in his fleet sat with him, their names and ranks familiar by now.

    Cassus Fett sat directly next to Mandalore, his golden armor gleaming as though he had not seen battle in many moons, and Kale realized with an uncontrollable sting of fear that a direct hit on the ship would leave the entire Mandalorian command dead or wounded, though he doubted any such thing would happen. The Republic might know where they were, but they were too gizka to do anything about it. Only the Jedi had the stomach to fight the Mandalorians, and everything Kale had heard pointed to them not even attempting to fight. A true shame: I should like to test my beskar’gam and blade against their lightsabers. He grew tired of defeating those who would not fight.

    The meeting began with Mandalore reviewing their deployments and questioning each commander on states of readiness. Following such trivialities, the discussion moved to one grounded on strategy and tactics. From what Kale parsed, Mandalore was seeking to throw four fleets at Taris’ main trading worlds and along two specific corridors to sow havoc on the Republic’s Outer-Inner Rim trade dynamic. As a plan went, it was a good one tactically. But it felt off strategically, and he could sense an underlying current of dissension with Mandalore’s plan, though no Mandalorian spoke up. It was seen in a clenched first here, a tilted head there, a drumming of the fingers on a thigh (not the table, such disrespect that would show). Canderous, one of Mandalore’s strongest right-hand men, did clearly disagree with Mandalore but only in his posture, and Kale only wished he would speak up.

    A few times, aides or captains whispered something to their commanders/admirals; could Kale do so? The other commanders in Canderous’ fleet seemed bored or uninterested in the discussion, one even going so far as to actually look down at his hands. Kale took a chance and leaned forward.

    “Admiral, I’m not sure this is a strategically sound plan,” Kale whispered in Canderous’ ear. The burly man did not turn to face him, but instead replied back quietly, utilizing the channel Kale broadcast on.

    “It is foolish to stage such a large gambit, but it is Mandalore’s plan and in him we trust,” Canderous answered. Kale knew Canderous believed that deeply, but not when it might lead to the destruction of the war’s aims. He took a further gamble and leaned in closer, as though by mere proximity, mere closeness, Canderous could feel his disagreement underneath the beskar’gam.

    “Admiral, such a large-scale attack would send the Republic immediately to arms; public opinion in the Republic would force them to act to protect Taris, Republic-aligned or not. This kind of surprise, large-scale invasion would shock and unsettle, but would also legitimate the few calling for war. We should test their edges, prey on their weakness now and see how they react, find out how they will engage us. We are powerful and strong, but they cannot be underestimated; we don’t know how they’ve adapted since the war with Kun,” Kale said, shocked at himself for relaying so much. Canderous did not reply, did not even breathe; for a moment, Kale wondered if his cousin would turn on him and cast him out. Instead, Canderous gave the slightest of nods, and leaned forward, placing his right hand on the table signaling his resolve to speak.

    “Admiral Ordo, you wish to speak?” Mandalore asked, a slight hint of surprise evident in the lilt as he said Canderous’ last name.

    “I do, Mandalore,” Canderous answered, leaning forward more.

    “Go ahead.” The room was dead silent.

    “I challenge the timing of this initiative, Mandalore. The Republic is cowardly, perhaps even cowed by our advances. They are broken and divided, regardless the emissary to Taris. I wonder: if we attack these four systems at once, do we give cause for the enemy to unite against us?” Canderous said slowly. The tension in the room, only underlying, now seemed visible in waves of motion across the table: heads moving, hands twisting, shoulders tilting, whispers sounding. Mandalore held up his hand and every person turned.

    “And you recommend?”

    Canderous gathered his breath before replying. “I propose testing the water’s edge before diving in at once. This give us three advantages as I see it. First, we free up resources to continue pushing at other edges of Republic space, thus making our forces seem even larger than they are. Second, we can gauge if the Republic responds. If not, they are not as concerned with Taris’ trading worlds. If they do, we see what does push them to the brink. And thus third, if they do, we will gain invaluable intelligence on their mobilization patterns and their overall response before we commit major resources to specific attacks.”

    The hum of a generator somewhere in the ship seemed overbearingly loud, the buzz omnipresent, vibrating in Kale’s feet and up to his head. He’d never heard of a commander – even if he was an admiral – speak so bluntly, forcefully, even if intelligently, to Mandalore. It just wasn’t done. The distant groan of the generator (a shield generator? a ship ready to take off on patrol?) burned louder and lower and Kale noticed the sweat drip slowly down the side of his face inside the now cloying helmet, a helmet he needed to take off now regardless the consequences. But he left it on as Mandalore leaned forward, his posture matching Canderous’.

    “A most persuasive case, admiral. Do you believe that we are not strong enough to defeat the Republic?” came the loaded, deadly question. Kale curled his fist, suddenly sensing that his patronage rested on Canderous staying in control of the fleet; it was no secret who backed Kale in his rapid ascent. All visors turned to Canderous.

    “I believe we are the strongest force in the galaxy as long as the Republic and their Jedi brethren stay silent in the face of our assaults. But I do not, for one moment, believe that we are indomitable, unconquerable, undefeatable because anything can fell a force, even one as powerful as we. One mistake, one fateful battle could end us. Why should we be a blunt vibroblade, smashing forward with no regard, when we could be a just as powerful, but more precise, hydrospanner: useful as a weapon, but able to adjust keenly and intelligently?” Canderous finished, smartly broadcasting his appeal not only to Mandalore, but the other commanders to his right, down the table. The assented murmurs were louder than the fewer dissensions; few of the commanders seemed as shocked once Canderous explained his indomitable remark.

    Mandalore leaned back, his arms off the table. Kale watched him intently, gauging the reaction as the gears spun in Mandalore’s head. Finally, after the room quieted, Mandalore placed his right hand, the one closest to Canderous, on the table. The generator hummed. Armor creaked gently.

    “You speak wisely, Admiral Ordo. We were defeated even while fighting with powerful Jedi on our side; we fight alone in these battles. Caution, though not often in our nature, is a canny tactic, and it is one we should utilize. Long ago, we Mandalorians considered spies to be weak, conniving beasts below our glory. But we have learned much since then about the value of intelligence and foreknowledge in war. When we know what to expect, what we face, we live longer and thus live to fight another day. Admiral, please join the War Council this evening. This meeting is dismissed,” Mandalore said, rising. Every soldier in the room stood as well. “Oya Manda!”

    “Oya Manda!” the others called back, saluting sharply. Canderous wheeled on Kale, his hand gripping Kale’s shoulder tightly. Canderous leaned to his ear and whispered: “You did well, verd’ika. Keep your comm. channel open tonight.”

    Elek, ne vod,” Kale answered affirmatively. Canderous nodded and then left the room third, following only Fett. The rest of the commanders filed out in a hierarchical order, as though each knew their place instinctively. As the others on Kale’s level exited, there were far more awkward bumps as each left, unsure of their position. Kale waited, not bothering with the garish display in rank, and left last, his heart frighteningly loud in his ears, his hands, his toes.



    The War Council endorsed Canderous’ plan mere hours later. My plan Kale thought jealously, though he knew the idea never would have prevailed without Canderous’ endorsement and eloquent defense. Then again, Canderous had ended his short talk with Kale by praising his strategic insight and actually thanking him; now that was rare! That night, Kale slept soundly on a normally uncomfortable pallet, his armor and blaster within reach.



    Canderous’ fleet was given the first testing of the water’s edge; their fleet was to engage the large Suurjan fleet slowly and gently in a first skirmish. As they did so, contrary to Mandalore’s plan, the other three fleets would not attack Taris’ other outlying systems, but each withdrew quietly and moved to various other sectors to poke the sleeping giant.

    As their fleet pulled around the Suurjan sun, revealing themselves, Kale felt a shudder of anxiety ripple through him. He was not just a targeting officer anymore. He was a commander, and under his charge bristled two hundred and fifty nuclear weapons. Two gunboats guarded his vessel at all times, the bridges in constant communication regarding speed, threats, and the possibility of nuclear launch. Kale was responsible for hundreds of warriors’ lives now, and possibly the lives of billions should he fire the weapons of death on his ship.

    And though it was hidden behind that impassive helmet and chestplate, he could feel his mind and body and heart yearning for the embrace of his wife. It had been too many moons since he last held her in his arms; last looked upon her beautiful face, one dimple on the left always present whether she smiled or frowned; last enjoyed the feeling of their bodies entwined, pleasurably sweat-soaked, gasping for air. He smiled a small smile, her face materializing in his mind’s eye, before disappearing quietly as the urgent sounds of battle carried over the communication frequencies.

    Kale’s ship, the Be’sanaar, hung back, the gunboats Kal and Kad remaining with him. Canderous’ fleet diverged as it approached the large Suurjan fleet, though many of the dots present on the battle map represented small destroyers, corvettes, and merchant marine freighters. Fighters emerged from both fleets and began sparring: Kale could see Canderous holding back significant forces. A large weakness appeared on the Suurjan left flank after twenty minutes as a rogue commander in the fleet seemed to want his fighters to join the battle, but Canderous did not send his left flank crashing through.

    Watching the fleet skirmish, though intentional, felt wrong. Both kinds of wrong: Kale could feel his animal desire rear its feral head, lusting for the fleet to fully engage, to smash their opponents to pieces. If he felt like this, he could only imagine Canderous’ bloodthirsty attitude being held back by a will stronger than steel. And Kale also missed the seductive embrace of combat as he sat in his chair, watching from too far away, participating too little; witnessing and not being.

    He sighed. Who knew battle could be so dull while sitting on top of two hundred and fifty nuclear weapons?

    ****

    *TTL - Time To Launch
  10. SoA Jedi Grand Master

    Member Since:
    Apr 2, 2008
    star 3
    Haha... this is how I feel about my jobs right about now. So true.

    This was probably your best chapter yet. Vera's shift from supporting peace as the Jedi teach and war as a necessity is very believable. I was starting to worry that she wasn't quite a forceful enough woman to become Revan, but I retract those doubts seeing her growth in this chapter. Kale is getting himself into an interesting position of almost-power as well.

    As always, I enjoyed that bit insight from Visto. Curiosity: is his back story up to this point any different from Republic & Rebellion now that you have a female Revan?
  11. LaForzaViva Jedi Grand Master

    Member Since:
    Jul 6, 2008
    star 1
    SoA - I'm surprised you've thought my Revan wouldn't be forceful enough - but the next two chapters should dispell that entirely. I wanted her to move from a believably smart, studious Jedi to one that stops just reading and thinking about actions, to actually performing those actions. And that's where we're headed.

    On Visto - yes, same backstory - two dead Padawans and Exar Kun as his former best friend. He's supposed to essentially be an identical version in this story (R&R events, though not completed [sorry!]) do apply, so there's some added weight on his mind you don't know about yet). My male Revan in Republic and Rebellion is far different (in my head) than Vera is: she's quiet, judicious, but burning up inside; he is suave, persuasive and charming, but less attached to the war for its sentient rights ideal and more as a way to prove himself. That probably would never show up in R&R, but that's how I always pictured my male Revan.

    And now, onto the next chapter - and some serious fireworks.


    Chapter 5 - Decisions



    “Vee, you should see this,” Alek said from the now-open door to the training room. Her saber vibrated in her grip, the purple hue washing over the imagined falsities of the holoprojection in the room. Alek, though not intending to, had interrupted a smooth training session; her forays into more difficult forms often frustrated her, but some kind of trance enveloped her this time, helping her avoid her normal tribulations. She exhaled in frustration and depressed the power switch on her saber, its power-down crisply cutting the air.

    “This had better be worth it, Squint,” she said. He frowned; he knew she used that name only when she was angry with him, or the rare occasions she belittled him.

    “It is,” he answered, a trace of annoyance in his voice. She clipped the still-warm handle to her belt and followed a few paces behind his ceiling-scraping figure. He led them out from the training halls and soon into one of the information portal chambers off a side wing of the library. Inside, at least twenty Jedi sat in front of a large holoscreen, with these bold words demanding her attention: TARIS GRANTED MEMBERSHIP; SKIRMISH AT SUURJA. The news program continued on for a number of minutes; a report by Erisi Altathir from Taris received significant holotime, and after about fifteen minutes Vera had soaked up all the information available on the HoloNet.

    “Well, that’s all I needed to see,” Vera said, her mind speeding into hyperdrive. Republic ships, already placed near Taris, had now joined the Suurjan fleet as advisors; if the Mandalorians pressed again, the Republic would engage them, she was sure of it. But now the Republic would mobilize; top placement would go to blunt the Mandalorian advance near Taris. Intelligence placed other fleets near Taris’ resource worlds, but recent attacks on the other edges of Republic space worried her: if those fleets remained near Taris, what forces did the Mandalorians now possess to enable engagements along a nearly 20,000,000km line of control?

    “What are we going to do now?” Alek asked, the concern, tension, and excitement visible all over his visage. Most of the Jedi in the room were part of her convinced group, and she could sense their attention directed more toward her and less toward the ‘Net. Vera thought, the saber still warm on her hip, aching to reignite and cut a Mandalorian’s head off.

    “It is time to make our case to the Council. Now. We shall receive their blessing, and then we shall mobilize with the Republic,” Vera announced. The terse announcement was met with no cheering or clapping; this was war. This was serious, this was dangerous, and she knew these Jedi would all join her regardless if the Council gave their approval or not. But they must she thought, seeing the slanted cursive of destruction writ large over the galaxy. The Jedi in front of her merely nodded and walked away, each going to spread the word amongst their fellow Jedi. Of the 800 Jedi, she had convinced a full 300; this latest move and the mobilization could push them to 320, maybe 325. That was enough.

    “Alek, with me,” she ordered. He followed her two paces behind as she returned to her room, threw on her only cloak, and then moved toward the lift for the Council chambers. There was some hushed chatter in the halls; knowing glances exchanged across long distances; purposeful movements of Jedi preparing for war. The low-lying hum of tension seemed to pulse rhythmically in her ears. All the preparation, for this moment. We will discover on which side the Jedi truly are.

    The lift deposited the two of them before the large wooden doors of the Council. Vera had stood inside the chamber only a few times: as a youngling, an orphan rescued from a distant planet; as a Padawan learner, reciting the Jedi Code; as a confirmed Knight most recently. A few other Jedi waited around the doorway, their talk quiet and then silent as she stepped from the lift. Some were in her camp, others were not. All of them, however, accorded her respect beyond her rank and years, and allowed her to step past them, all of them stepping back as she swept through. On her command, the wooden doors opened without sound. She took a final breath, and then crossed the threshold.

    “Knight Vera, what a pleasant surprise,” came the surly, and particularly unsurprised, voice of Vrook Lamar, enrobed in his rust-red colors. Vera did not rise to the provocation and continued striding forward, Alek now behind her to the right, until she stood on the exact middle of the room. She paused, noting that not even Nomi Sunrider spoke, before she turned her head to look at each member individually. Cold glances, for the most part, met her. Her stomach felt loaded down with ice and combusting oxygen. No matter – this must be done.

    “The Mandalorians have attacked Suurja and the Republic has granted Taris membership. This war, whether we want it or not, is coming like a howling rancor, and it is time we plant our feet and ignite hope in the galaxy by mobilizing for war,” Vera said, her voice a tiny bit too loud for the room. The echo faded after five or six seconds, and each member simply looked at her, judging and probing. She could feel their Force advances cascading against her walled-up soul, attempting to gain access and discover what should’ve been obvious all along. She let them each in gently, comfortingly, leading them to the memory of the small Cathar girl, to the images and videos of slaughtered peoples, of mass graves, of burning stars and starships.

    “Knight Vera, you speak both out of turn and above your station,” Zhar Lestin said soothingly, even condescendingly, from her left. “These are matters left to the Counc-“

    “No! These are no longer matters left to this Council. These matters are greater than you, they are greater than us, they are greater and weightier and heavier than anything we’ve seen or felt or sensed since Exar Kun. The time is now, now to make a decision for all Jedi and for the Republic. This Council has made excuses for too long,” Vera interjected venomously. Zhar looked wounded, almost, his mouth a centimeter open, as though the next words were still on his tongue.

    Vera saw Atris, on her right, lean before the acerbic, snowy woman spoke. “Who do you think you are, Vera, to walk into this august chamber and demand anything from us? Turn, this instant, and depart this chamber now before you are forced,” Atris sneered, her face a mask of anger and derision. Vera had been scolded by the woman before, but the anger directed toward her was beyond one regarding only rank and age: it was personal, wrapped in shame and rage and disgust and loathing and begrudged respect.

    Finally, Nomi raised her left hand and Atris sat back. The Grand Master of the Order, Nomi Sunrider, seemed older than her years, her shoulders sloped forward, deep lines etched in her forehead and cheeks, her hands devoid of all extraneous fat. She knitted those hands together and crossed her legs, the cup her hands formed gripping her knee. She did not speak at first, but waited, bringing all her years to the fore. Pain formed in the creases beside her eyes, normally lines of gladness and mirth turned grey with hurt.

    “Knight Vera, your concerns have been, are, and will be noted. This Council comes to no decision without unanimous agreement. And we have been, are, and for now, will be unanimous regarding the non-engagement of the Jedi in this regrettable state of events,” Nomi said. The faces and postures of the Council told a far different story – judging by the motions of some in the room, she knew instantly that nearly half the Council was in support of war and half against. Vera listened, shell-shocked, at the ignorance and insensitivity and indifference of the Council. ‘State of events?’ ‘Regrettable?’

    Nomi saw the righteous anger spark in Vera and held up both her hands, uncrossing her legs and standing before her seat. She was tall, but the stoop of the shoulders remained.

    “This Order was decimated by the war with Exar Kun. We lost so many Jedi to war, to disease, to hatred, to the fellow saber of their fellow man. I fought in this war, lost my husband to this war. Many seated here fought and lost loved ones as well. Untold billions, perhaps trillions, died. We were too arrogant, charging ahead, believing we could stop those Jedi that had fallen with ease. They took more of us, led us to places unimaginable,” Nomi said. She was clearly not done speaking, but Vera cared not anymore for pretty speeches absolving the Council of doing its job and making the right decision.

    “And that is all the more why we must fight now to stop the Mandalorians as soon as possible before they quit their prancing about the Outer Rim, slaughtering those beyond our protection. They will come for us. We are their only challenge, we are the only ones who can stop them. Our Republic is strong, but we have been, are, and will be always the core of it, the beating moral heart. With this interminable hesitating, this dodging of questions and answers, we falter in our moral leadership. We give confidence to the Mandalorians as much as we deflate hope and trust in us throughout the Republic,” Vera shot back, the anger building with each passing moment the Council did not sanction war.

    “We know the Cathar could have used our protection,” Master Sylvar interrupted darkly, her eyes wet with wrath and sadness. Vera’s soul ached, seeing the only Cathar Jedi seated there, helpless to push the Council to war. She could sense even more now that the Council was heavily split; Nomi was not lying that they had an agreement, though. But who and on which side? Vera thought on the split, trying to tally it up in her head. Pushing just one neutral or anti-war member to her camp might change their decision. Realizing the weight of the entire endeavor, she recognized she was woefully unprepared to persuade these esteemed Jedi, to turn them to her tide. That matters too little now. We have enough Jedi to push the Mandalorians back. We will do what must be done, no matter what it is.

    “As the core of the Republic, as you insightfully dissect, we have a responsibility to remain the most stable organization. If we crumble, if we fall away like we nearly did fighting Exar Kun, then the Republic falls with us. We are the stronger of the symbionts,” Lonna Vash said from behind Vera, her soprano timbre inflected with the purity of honey.

    “The Order was so weak, it is a miracle that we even sit here today,” Dorjander Kace said in agreement from next to Lonna, his blond hair as long as her grey hair. Vera recalled some of his trials: captured by Mandalorians, falling in love and having a child with one, and then losing them following a bombardment of that planet in a rescue attempt. She could feel hatred not of her or the Mandalorians radiating from him, but a hatred of war in its totality. The emotion ran so deep, she knew he would never sanction a war ever again.

    “And without fighting and then, importantly, defeating Kun, we would not have had the chance to perform that miracle,” Vrook commented sagely. Vera almost audibly sighed in relief: having Vrook not oppose her made life much easier. Possibly.

    “There is a lesson in that,” Dorak put in quietly, his hands comfortably intertwined in his lap. Vera saw some serenity in his posture, but did not comprehend which way that pointed him in this issue.

    “There are a great many lessons in all of this. What lessons speak to us, which lessons ignite our passion and anger and justice, those are the lessons to which we listen. Too often, we are ignorant and deaf of the lessons that disagree with us,” Zez-Kai Ell said elliptically, his mustache quivering just as indecisively.

    “And yet it was the path to war that led so many hundreds of Jedi to join with Exar Kun, seeking to slake their thirst for blood,” Vandar spoke, a bite resonating in his words. “You seek to know why at least half of us disagree strongly with your foolish desire for war, Knight Vera? Do you truly wish to know what has been said in this esteemed body, why those arguments for war which have been presented fall by the wayside compared to those arguments against war?”

    “I do,” she answered, though fear trickled up her legs and into her spine at the harshness present in Vandar’s tone. Though small and a potential pushover at first glance, Master Vandar was a forceful advocate for his own opinions, which he believed were rooted firmly in what was best for the Order, damn the rest of the Republic.

    Vandar leaned forward in his seat, a not-inconsequential motion for him. He seemed larger than ever, his gaze directed with such power at hers, as though he could communicate his message without sound, without interrupting the charged silence of the moment.

    “There are parallels on both sides, as Master Zez-Kai states: Master Vrook raises an important point that without defeating Kun, we would not be here. Master Dorjander has raised another one before this outburst of yours, that we only had to fight because one Jedi raised such a large force against us. And every day, I see these parallels slowly, perhaps inevitably, coalescing into another inner-Jedi civil war.

    “You stand before us, cloaked in your bestowed self-righteousness, pushing hundreds of Jedi to your cause. And your cause is war, for the destruction and snuffing out of life. Who does that remind you of, Knight Vera? You may answer that your voluminous historical studies bring to mind our own Nomi Sunrider, or one of the Qel-Droma brothers, or even further back in history, some of those great champions of the Order, that your fight is just to preserve the sanctity of life in this galaxy, that Nomi killed only for those reasons and none others.

    “But for every great champion of the Order, like Master Sunrider, there are just as many, perhaps more, champions of the dark side who believe, in their heart of hearts, that they seek to do only good. And as you stand before us, so sunk in your belief in the righteousness of your cause, I fear I am not seated before a champion of this Order, but before a future Sith Lord. Before war’s powerful embrace, her seductive lure, we are all malleable. Even the greatest of us can succumb at any moment and justify all ends with all means. Exar Kun believed knowledge of the dark side would allow him to control it, allow him to defeat it. And it destroyed him from within and turned his masterful talents with the Force into a whirlwind of destruction and hatred. If you diverge from our orders and walk the unsteady road into war’s dark cavern, not a single one of us knows what you shall be when you emerge. And neither do you, Vera.”

    The full force of Vandar’s soliloquy made her rear back, physically and emotionally. She bumped into Alek’s side and he steadied her, grasped her shoulders with his large hands, felt her entire form shaking in fear and abhorrence. Flashes of futures rotated in speed across her gaze, so fast that she could comprehend none. But all had one identical theme: death. Death everywhere. So many will die, no matter what we do. But we can save so many if we just act! When she spoke, her voice felt tiny and tinny, but laced with justifiable and barely controlled pique:

    “We will mobilize, and we will stop the Mandalorians. We will embark on this journey with or without the support of the Council. There are three hundred of us, and if you will not stand with us, we will not stand with you. There is no more to be said,” Vera said. She bowed, deeply, to the august members before her, and then walked from the chamber, unsure if she would ever return.



    ****


    Mandalore’s (Canderous’) plan was working to full fruition for the Mandalorians: Taris was annexed to the Republic, a battle line was established near her resource worlds, and the talk of war was only loud enough to deploy 20% of the required ships to the battle line. The Republic was so disorganized that every day more entreaties were made to Mandalore to allow them to engage across all sectors, but still Mandalore stayed his hand. He had taken Canderous’ (Kale’s) advice to heart, and now caution and watchful waiting ruled the battlefield. Some called them soft, even some in the cowardly Republic thought the Mandalorians’ best days were behind them.

    But not all of the Republic was filled with cowards. The unequivocal declaration of war came a few months after the third skirmish at Suurja. The Republic was at war, though only nominally. Each ‘battle’ fought along the millions-kilometer line were gentle pulses of Mandalorian action. Each ‘victory’ the Republic claimed was a tactical retreat, all of which were planned in advance to occur at specific moments on the chronometer. Not a single ‘loss’ of the Mandalorians was anything but a purposeful motion.

    In their mistaken beliefs, the decaying carcass of the Republic opened more and more wounds with their various factions; most important among them, the Jedi. The Republic media, a body Kale dearly would enjoy nuking, was obsessed with the competing factions inside the Jedi Order. Half of them advocated war, and the other peace. The war faction, a group the media dubbed ‘Revanchists’ openly disobeyed their high council’s orders; word was some Jedi were even on planets at the front. Their leader was never seen in public, so quiet in his movements. Any word he wished passed on to the media was done through an intermediary, a journalist. Mandalore was itching to discover the identity of the ‘Revanchist’ but all intelligence attempts had failed.

    After the third skirmish at Suurja, Mandalore ordered Canderous’ fleet to be replaced with Fett’s in order for their troops to rest and recharge. The Be’senaar hummed beneath his feet, her hyperdrive speeding her home, to their adopted homeworld deep in the Outer Rim. Soon, though, they would return to Dxun and Onderon and lash the Republic for the loss suffered in the debacle with Exar Kun in that system. Kale did not know the world, though Canderous said he remembered pieces of it from his childhood before fleeing with the others.

    “Leaving hyperspace, sir,” his helmsman said. Kale flicked his gaze to the screen and watched as the streaks of light bled brighter and brighter until the white and blue overwhelmed and then suddenly black replaced white, the distant stars invisible with the viridian and coral after-images flooding his gaze. Below them turned their adopted homeworld, a jungle-like planet filled with more green than blue. Some said it was just like Dxun, though the fauna were nicer, they also said. Kale couldn’t wait to find out if that was true. The talk of ‘Dxun Dxun Dxun’ was all over the place; he feared it would not live up after all this bluster.

    “Put us down, gently, helmsman,” he said. The crew laughed at the routine joke; the knowledge that they flew, slept, ate, and fought with so many nuclear weapons in their ship led every order to be taken ‘gently’ so as not to set off any of their precious weapons. It was a defense mechanism, Kale knew, a rationalization that if any Mandalorian were likely to die without warning, it would be they. At least it would be quick Kale thought. The morbid humor on board the ship was their diversion from facing the actuality of morbid death in a pinpoint fission explosion that could cook the bones of anyone within five hundred kilometers of its blast, blind anyone within two thousand, and irradiate anyone within five thousand.

    The Be’sanaar touched down (gently) on the surface of the planet in its designated landing bay and Kale passed command to a rather junior Lieutenant, his only job to guard the ship with his skeleton crew of the more elderly or youthful Mandalorians amongst them. No one was stupid enough to attack their homeplanet, and every man and woman, old or young, wanted to feel useful. This was a way for the less-talented greens to gain some guard experience, and a path for the growing old to retire peacefully and with honor. Though the most honorable retirement was death, or so their culture said. Kale wasn’t sure he agreed.

    The trip to his home passed shorter than he expected and so did the merciful mutual disrobing of armor with his wife, her face lovelier than the last time he’d seen it. Months and months of passion kept at bay were indulged in for hours, and soon both lay together, exhausted, the smell of dried sweat in every corner of the house.

    “Don’t go back,” Jena said to him quietly. Her head rested on his left shoulder and pectoral, her hair a complete mess. He angled his gaze down at her as she rubbed her hand over his bare stomach.

    “I don’t know if I want to,” he answered, the truth of the thought coming on suddenly. She shifted and looked up at him.

    “Truly?” she asked hesitantly. Kale thought for a moment, looking away from her deep blue eyes. Her breath waited on his response.

    “Truly? Yes,” he said. He knew their conversation would remain in this home, but the actual shock crossing her features unnerved him.

    “Why? You are Mando’ade, clad in the beskar’gam and given the gift of war. I may want you to stay and help us prepare for the return to Dxun, but that’s so far beneath your talent,” Jena answered him quietly. She was a more cerebral fighter than even he, and her gift for organization landed her a high placement on logistics. Though the visceral front of war revolved around the destruction and ending of life, none of it was possible without back-end organization and support. War is logistics went one deeply regarded phrase. Some of the best strategic minds, those oriented toward organization, remained far from the fighting, directing transportation and supplies across the Outer Rim.

    “It’s not a question of my talents, Jena. I don’t know how to describe it, really. Maybe it’s sitting on those nuclear bombs, knowing that I might be vaporized by an accident. And I know that can happen to any other ship in battle, I know, but the weight of those bombs… it feels so heavy on my shoulders and in my hands,” he said quietly. She looked away, her hand still meandering across his form, and he could almost hear her mind working.

    “Is it a fear of you dying? Or is it a fear of using those bombs on someone else?”

    The thought, translated into plain Basic and spoken aloud, resonated in their small home, the idea flicking across the deep shadows and pale glimmers of the three moons surrounding the planet. He was afraid of death – less the pain of it, more the agony of losing his beautiful wife – but what she said turned in his stomach like a twisting vibrodagger: he did fear using those weapons.

    Destroying planets and people, some said, was the Mandalorian way. It was the practical path to glory, that ephemeral, mystical substance that just existed somewhere out there in the dust of space. But a feeling in Kale’s mind kept pestering him the way it had since his father never came home: that glory was never everlasting, that immortality was a sham, and that it could be found, if ever, in and out of battle.

    War reshaped the galaxy and political factions and peoples and even entire species. But it wasn’t the only one to change the destiny of a people or species or place or event. Politicians, those slimy creatures, could change the foundations of power with mere words. Jedi and their Force could reshape the weather and the stars as though they were gods. Black holes devoured planets and systems and ships. Supernovae wrecked systems and breathed new life into old stars, but no human agency made them occur. Should the Coruscanti sun implode and remove the galaxy’s center of power, would that not be an immortal moment? A moment so well-known that it would replace the name of whichever Mandalore gained the greatest glory in history?

    “Yes, I think you’re right,” he answered, his voice distant and pained.

    “Then do not use them,” Jena said simply. His laughter was coarse and sarcastic.

    “So when Mandalore, or Fett, or Canderous order me to use them and I balk, then what? I lose my life, and I lose you,” he said, pulling her closer and kissing her forehead.

    “You’d lose me only a short time. I’d find my way to be with you,” she replied.

    “Now that would be a waste of talent,” he answered. She smiled and nestled in the crook of his arm.

    “May you never have to use them.”

    “May I never.”



    But that likelihood reared its head only a day later. Fett’s advance on Suurja, just another routine skirmish, somehow struck the chains from the Republic’s hesitant hands. A major fleet, intelligence informed them, left Coruscant. And the source said that over two hundred Jedi were onboard various ships leaving Coruscant and going to such diverse systems that intelligence couldn’t track them all.

    The gnawing discomfort in his gut deepened, yet lessened. Now the Mandalorians would face a true challenge. Now the Revanchists and their leader would play their hand and join the war. Nuclear weapons could pulverize Jedi, sure, but how dare any Mandalorian do so when interpersonal combat was an option? Razing worlds and peoples sickened him, he realized, but testing his mettle against a true opponent? With that, he was much more comfortable.

    But wasn’t it all, in some way, murder? Would slaughtering the defenseless Cathar in a blinding burst of nuclear fission have been more humane than massacring them, unarmed, in the midst of a churning ocean? Was it the degree of that killing, the closeness to it or the distance from it, that challenged his inculcated Mandalorian ways? If nuking a Jedi or a people were wrong, was cutting a Jedi’s head off better? Worse? The same? As he lay there, his wife tucked asleep under his arms, these questions went on without end, circling and harassing him like a beastly Firaxan shark.



    “Good bye, my love,” Kale said, holding his wife’s hand in his, his helmet off for the last moment before it must encase him in steel.

    “I love you. Come home to me soon, Kale Ordo,” Jena answered, leaning up and kissing him softly. He held her close to his armored figure, wishing he could take it off and never leave her side, but to war he was called, and to war he would answer. To fight the Jedi.

    “I shall,” he said simply, and then slid the helmet over his head, Jena’s face now a duller beige, her blue eyes a mere flat grey, her enriching scent gone. She snapped the clasps in the back, firing the auto-compressor in his suit. She patted his shoulders twice, and away from his home he walked.

    The Be’sanaar took off, her orders sending her to gather near Suurja. Fett’s fleet would remove itself and Canderous’ would attack from the opposite side, seeking to gain some surprise in movement. At the moment they attacked, two days from now at 0500 hours, three other fleets would smash through the Taris resource line. Once her resource worlds were gone, Taris would be next. And the Republic would never see Mandalore coming fast enough to stop them.

    The journey to Suurja took one of their days, and Kale made sure the bridge and weapons’ crews drilled four times a day, carrying out their preparations for any emergency complications possible during the battle: a loose nuclear warhead, a missile that did not fire, manual firing of missiles if the bridge was destroyed, and more. His crew was ready; was he? Would he carry out an order to fire a warhead? He still didn’t know, and that unnerved him.

    And then the day arrived: Kale took a brief four-hour sleep starting at 0000 hours and made his way to the bridge at 0405 promptly. He could see the nerves in his crew, the way they walked faster and with shorter strides, the way they spoke in clipped, terse phrases pregnant with cloaked fear and obvious bluster. The battles leading up to these final moments were preparations to engage the true might of the galaxy. It was time to test their strength, their dominance, against the Republic. And their Jedi.

    The intercom crackled on, a broadcast from Canderous’ flagship: “Ne vode, today begins the true war. Today we fight for glory and for honor. May our goddess look upon us with the warmest glow,” he said. Kale smiled: Canderous enjoyed speaking to the point, but Kale knew his cousin could be more eloquent than that. But nothing more needed to be said.

    At 0450, Fett’s fleet departed the system, a few Suurjan fighters bursting from the wombs of their starships to make sure the enemy was gone for good.

    At 0455 Canderous’ fleet jumped from their staging area, a few thousand kilometers away from Suurja.

    At 0458 they exited hyperspace at the edge of the system, pointed directly at the Suurjan homeworld.

    At 0459 the fleet engaged full thrust, streaking toward the planet with purpose.

    At 0500 the small satellite batteries were wiped out by the Mandalorian cruisers and destroyers.

    At 0501 the fleet released their Basilisks.

    At 0502 the Suurjan homeworld transmitted to the Republic for urgent aid.

    At 0502 the Vanquoan homeworld did as well.

    At 0502 the Jebblan homeworld did as well.

    At 0503 the Tarnithian homeworld did as well.

    At 0503, unbeknownst to most Mandalorian commanders (and Republic intelligence), Mandalore’s personal fleet attacked Onderon and Dxun.

    At 0504 the first wave of Basilisks landed on Suurja.

    At 0505 the Suurjan fleet turned and swung into low orbit to race around the planet to attack the Mandalorian fleet.

    At 0506 the controlled chaos of war took over and Kale sat in his captain’s chair, watching as war’s insidious energy alighted as the two fleet converged in a tremendous, noiseless battle of fire and death and heroism and cowardice and glory.

    ****

    This will be the last chapter posted weekly; I have half the next one done, but with work and the holidays approaching, my writing will drop off dramatically; sort of a miracle (for me) that I even have 90 pages done right now. Hope you've enjoyed so far but I promise I'll keep writing when I get the time!
  12. SoA Jedi Grand Master

    Member Since:
    Apr 2, 2008
    star 3
    Fascinating and ominous. Vera really did make that switch quickly and believably, and yet she's still human under there. Kale is remaining very human too, nice touch there with home life beyond what he does in the war. I can see both questioning the morality of the systems that raised them. Nicely done.
  13. LaForzaViva Jedi Grand Master

    Member Since:
    Jul 6, 2008
    star 1
    SoA - Thank you, that means a lot. I'm trying for much more depth than before by focusing on just two characters and I hope some of that is coming through, even a little bit. I think you'll like Vera even more after this chapter.



    Chapter 6 - Trials



    Vera stood next to the Grand Admiral of the Republic in the Navy’s war room. As a feat of technical and tactical engineering, it impressed her. The room was a large square; two of the walls, adjacent to each other in the northeast corner, were covered in screens: one with a galactic map able to zoom in on any system or planet or star, and the other wall dripping with various system feeds of the HoloNet, alternate feeds, logistics pathways, intelligence reports, and more. The general hive of activity, though oriented in the direction of that corner, vacillated as various analysts reported new information, shouting out movements of Republic and Mandalorian fleets.

    The galactic map, zoomed in somewhat on the general line of control, fascinated and horrified her. Republic forces, displayed in greens, mingled with planetary fleets, displayed in blues. But an overwhelming line, a red streak of destruction, had moved forward, in every place, at exactly 1600 hours Coruscant time. The swoop cut through many blue clusters, and in some cases a few green ones, with scarlet rage, a splash of hate thrown by a painter irritated with the peace and security of his artwork.

    Within three hours the Mandalorians suddenly controlled over twenty star systems: every resource world of Taris; Onderon and Dxun; and the other two dozen spread out along the line. In three hours Mandalore had struck first and awed the Republic military. She could not lie: his audacity was as thrilling as much as it was terrifying. She could not wait to meet the master of the Mandalorians in combat. Some innate sense told her she would. And that she would kill him, though she had yet to ever take a life.

    The Grand Admiral was trying to communicate with a series of lesser admirals, specifically those closest to Taris. A smart though aging admiral, Noma Sommos, was speaking in hurt and raspy tones, her voice weak through the communicator aboard the hospital ship ferrying her back from the line. Grand Admiral Vesp Kaleerian questioned his admiral about the Mandalorian numbers and tactics and strategy, belittling the wounded admiral at nearly every turn about her preparedness (Vera thought it was more of an interrogation). A male voice suddenly came on the line and told the Grand Admiral that his interrogation subject had just lapsed into an unconscious state, that they would be cutting the line, and would allow him to speak with her when she was in a more proper physical and mental state.

    “These god damn fracking Mandalorians,” Kaleerian swore, his fist clenched and ready to land hard on something, though he had no table nearby to hit. He let the clenched first fall awkwardly as he looked back up at the map, blues and greens anywhere near the red slowly winking out.

    “Communication from Admiral Veltraa from the Reliance!” a comm. officer shouted to the left. Kaleerian wheeled in that direction and stalked behind the officer.

    “Admiral, this is Jimas. We were overrun at the line, and we’ve pulled back closer to Taris and are overseeing an evacuation of as many from the planet as possible. There’s not many of us left, Vesp,” Admiral Jimas Veltraa said wearily, the fatigue resident in his voce basso. Vera closed her eyes and imagined what she thought the admiral may look like, but not much came to mind except the stalking shade of death.

    “What’s your status? How many ships do you have?” Kaleerian demanded, his face empurpled and pallid all at once.

    “We lost so many, by the Force. Officer, numbers?” A mumbled and far-off reply came. “Okay, it looks like we’re at twenty cruisers, thirty destroyers, four hundred fighters, and a smattering of system merchant marine. Lieutenant, status?” Another reply crackled in muffled tones, and Vera suddenly realized every single ear was turned toward this one admiral’s voice, all eyes on the dreadful red line creeping ever closer to this small cluster of ships surrounding Taris. Nor had she bothered to inform any of the top brass that she had dispatched a strike team of three Jedi to Taris, following the loss of the small enclave there. Fear for their safety shook her, but it was too late to do anything. “Fracking Force we’re in terrible shape, sir. A third have no possibility of shields; ten have no working hyperdrives after their last jump; we’re low on fighters and concussion missiles; the infirmaries are overrun. We need reinforcements as soon-“

    A terrified voice cried out from the open line: “Sir! They’re here! Oh my god there’s so many of them!” An electric current sped through the room and a metallic taste wormed its way through Vera’s mouth as her stomach flipped and bile rose in her throat and she realized, like many in the room suddenly had, that they were going to listen to the death of thousands of their compatriots.

    “All hands to battle stations!”

    “Enemy fighters approaching from vector Z-12! Z-14! Y-7! From every fracking direction!”

    “Launch all fighters!”

    “God damnit get the cruisers out front now!”

    “We’ve got a torpedo lock on us!”

    “Shields to front!”

    “Shields to front roger!”

    “Helmsman full speed ahead We’ve got to give those ships more time!”

    An explosion resounded over the channel and the cry of a fatally injured woman sounded with a sickening, petrified scream.

    “Get her out of here!”

    “Oh my god the blood!”

    “This is the Valiance, we’re going to ram!”

    “Sir we just lost the Tarnith VI!”

    “Do we have any more fighters? By the Force launch everything we have!”

    “Oh my god the Justice is just gone. She was right…”

    “Focus! Shields, report!”

    “Down to 14%! We’ve got too many currents shorting them out!”

    Another explosion rocked across the deep distance of space and Vera felt the shudder ripple in her shoulders and neck. Nothing moved or breathed in the helpless war room.

    “Sir, sir are you okay?”

    “Get him to the infirmary now!”

    “I’m fine, I’ll be okay…launch all missiles at their flagship, now!” The voice of the admiral was now pained.

    “Should we pull it out?”

    “We’d kill him!”

    “I’m going to die anyway damnit! Get back to your stations! Weapons?”

    “All fired! We’re out!”

    “Engage ramming speed! Helmsman? Helmsman! Ensign, get on the controls and put us to full speed ahead!”

    “Full speed, ahh yes sir!” came a panicked and, Vera thought with distress, young voice.

    “Karath! Get the rest out of here! Get them, ughhhh, as far away as possible. Oh, oh god,” came the weaker and weaker admiral’s voice.

    “We lost engines! We’re drifting oh my god we’re drifting what the frack frack this oh my god!”

    “Admiral! Admiral!”

    “He’s dead. Force, he’s dead. We’re all dead.”

    An explosion burst in ear-shredding volume throughout the war room, and then the line cut out completely. The static buzzed harshly in the room, filling all the empty space in the room, somehow, with the fear and miasma of the slaughter. An analyst, a middle-aged man with salty hair and bright green eyes, began to cry uncontrollably, burying his face in his hands as his desk mate gently wrapped his arm around his shoulders and whispered “it’s going to be okay, she made it out” in his ear. Vera knew that was not the case. Officers, from lieutenants up through a few commanders in the room, stared at various places of the war room, their confidence shattered, their hearts aching, their hands slack by their sides in defeat.

    The Grand Admiral, a man Vera had seen stand in front of thousands and exhort them to fight for their Republic, a man who stood before the Senate vowing unending vigilance against the Mandalorian threat, a man more powerful than any but Nomi Sunrider and Mandalore, now stood like a cracked husk, the fault lines in his disposition as visible as the rendering flaws in long-abandoned ruins. His hair was a dismembered shock of grey, the mass of it on his skull displaced by his hands that had sought any thing to do but be useless. The top three buttons of his coat were unbuttoned and creases tracked on the back of his pants near his knees and his normally mirror-shined boots were dirty and scuffed. Beyond anything, the remote and grey gaze present in his formerly engaged eyes told Vera all she needed to know: he was a man bent backward over War’s knee and with one powerful stroke, she had broken his spine, and his spirit.

    The amaranthine crimson streak wound its way over the systems once in Republic control; the blue and green fleets on their way to the second line systems were moving not as one mass with purpose, but as pieces of fleets, bound to be overrun in their confused state, most heading for planets that would not secure the line. She could see, invisible perhaps, a line of potential control against the Mandalorian one, but the fleets needed to be redirected. She looked to the commanding figures in the room, but the defeat oozed from them like a bad filling in Corellian fried nerf. The image of the falling Cathar ship flashed in her mind, and she stepped forward, purpose burning in her.

    “Lieutenant, I want you to redirect the fleets: in Sector 5, move the fleet to Corsin. In Sector 6, orient the fleet to the north, not the east, at Velmor. The fleet heading to Togoria? Redirect to Kashyyyk. In Sector 10 position half a fleet at Mimban and the other half at Attanox. And in Sector 1 get a fleet to Iridonia and get those bastards to join our side. They may have broken the Hydian Way for now, but we can reroute along the Perlemian for now and get behind them. Send a scouting party along the Perlemian to check the status of each system – make it a damn fast group of ships, smugglers if you can bribe them to do it.”

    The various officers and commanders in the room, and Vandar Tokare, she noted with interest, all looked at her. Most appeared ill, a few not quite. They were waiting for orders – they were soldiers. And now she would direct them:

    “Men and women of the Republic, I call you to your duties. You are trained, you are capable, and now you are vengeful. This war has just started. Every push the Mandalorians make will find new resistance, new determination in our blood and in our bite and in our blasters. Stand not in fear, shrink not in cowardice, but step forward, lead your fellow officers. Now is the time to start acting like the most powerful force in this galaxy and hit back hard. Now.” Vera commanded, her voice overwhelming the static still humming in the coffin-like war room. The officers in the room gaped at her in various states of disbelief, distress, anguish, rage, fear, and then, with small and growing glimmers: hope.

    And then commotion: orders sent to fleets; reserve battalions and divisions and ships ordered to report for duty; requests put in to the Senate for immediate funding and ramped up shipbuilding priorities; exhortations to nervous and worried and unprepared ship commanders that no matter what, Coruscant stood ready to fight and that all units – Marine, Army, Navy, Jedi – were on their way to the soon-to-be-fortified positions on the front.

    The Grand Admiral slumped wearily in his seat, overlooking the scene. Vera stood next to him, looking down on him in his most pitiable state. But she could gather no empathy for his hollowed soul, nor for any other shocked or wounded or formerly pride-filled man or woman, officer or soldier, Jedi or non-Jedi. Their ignorance of her warnings, their hesitation, their failure to proactively engage made this happen. And she would not allow it to occur once more.

    “Admiral,” she stated firmly. He turned his head slowly, looking up at her.

    “Yes,” came the dull, flattened reply.

    “You are relieved of your command effective immediately. Your failure and lack of readiness cost the lives of thousands of good men and women. Under Corollary 14 in the Galactic Code, I hereby assert complete control of all military assets and mandate their authority under the Jedi Order, and specifically under my own control. You are dismissed,” Vera said. The admiral stared at her, saw the taut lips tightened and heard the sheer determination in her voice, and simply nodded. He stood, his age exponentially increasing as he staggered from the room.

    “Officer, full scope broadcast to the Republic, including full-requisition of the HoloNet,” Vera commanded. The communications officer looked at her with some surprise but shrugged, her voice and posture dominion enough, and he returned with a wireless communicator. He returned to his desk, activated a series of sequences, and then nodded back to her. When she spoke, her voice was choked with emotion, hoarse with trembling, barely restrained rage:

    “Citizens of the Republic, at 1600 Coruscant Galactic Time, the Mandalorian battle fleets invaded Republic space. At this moment, Taris is under siege. Thousands of Republic soldiers and countless civilians, both Republic and not, have perished for the mere sin of life by the vainglorious Mandalorians. This Republic shall not falter, this Republic shall not waver. We hesitate in cowardice no more. To all who wish to join us, speak with your planetary government. I, the leader of the Jedi Revanchists, call all able-bodied men and women to defend their families, their planets, and their galactic government. Join us, and we cannot fail. From today forward, we Revanchists shall lead you into battle. We shall meet the Mandalorians. We shall fight the Mandalorians. And we shall defeat the Mandalorians, once and for all, this I do promise you. May the Force be with you.”



    ****



    The final Republic ships surrounding Taris drifted across the silence of space, the dead bodies of their crews frozen forever in the expanse’s cold grip. The fleet of Ordo surrounded Taris, bombarding the ecumenopolis, demanding its submission. The planet, so arrogant – like its cousin Coruscant – possessed hardly a shred of defense, either orbital or planetary. The galaxy may be run more by economics, but businesses did not possess thousands of warships. In the end, it always came down to war and warriors. And the Mandalorians were the greatest of them.

    The Be’sanaar hung back during the bombardment; after all, she would merely wipe out a sector of the planet in an instant, which was not necessarily the desired outcome. Taking Taris and most of her people and infrastructure intact was the goal – Taris would be their primary hostage. The Republic was aching to hold her system, crossing various trade paths as it did, and Mandalore knew holding Taris was one of the few keys in the war to force the Republic into submission.

    Their brief day spent on Dxun had been, for Kale at least, rather dull. Canderous and the older Mandalorians, those who remembered living there, were agog with sentiment and nearly childish in joy. Kale still could not get the image of Canderous Ordo, the Canderous Ordo, running through an open field on Dxun, arms outstretched and head thrown back in actual joyous laughter. Kale shook his head at the memory. He’d probably never see something so… unbelievable ever again.

    “Sir, we have a new incoming,” his targeting officer reported. Kale flicked the targeting screen onto the main viewscreen: a small transport ship had just exited hyperspace and was zipping through the only gap in the Mandalorian’s coverage of the planet.

    “Do we have the range and ability to fire?” Kale asked quickly.

    “Negative sir, they’re out of our range,” the targeting officer answered.

    “Out of range for the rest of the fleet, too, sir. It’s like the knew the one entrance vector in advance,” his communications Wookie rumbled. Impossible. Unless…

    “Mandalorian brigands, cease your bombardment of Taris and fight an opponent of your own caliber. We await your best,” came the cryptic communication before the transport ship dove into the atmosphere just as Mandalorian fighters closed too late to open fire.

    “Communications from the Tranyc.”

    “Patch it in. Yes, sir?” Kale asked.

    “To the surface, Kale. Those were Jedi, and we are going to fight them on their terms,” Canderous said. A tremor snaked through Kale’s gut: Jedi. Here. Now. His heart beat faster and he could hear the blood pumping in his ears and no sounds seemed to reach him. The crew looked at him and he could sense their adulation in those moments when he stood and walked off the bridge, wondering if it would be the last time he’d see his crew. They saluted him, standing and with their clenched right fist over their hearts, shouting “Oya Manda!” and he turned once more to face them, hoping dearly to see their gleaming armor once more, saluted them back and departed for the Be’sanaar’s armory.

    Inside the weaponsmaster, already alerted to his coming presence, stood before a rack of honed vibroblades, some with short blades, some longer, some double-bladed. Each was a construction of impressive quality, each gleaming brilliantly.

    “Sir, an honor,” the weaponsmaster said, saluting him. He returned it. “Any selection you desire. Your preferred style?”

    “Close-combat, single-blade,” Kale answered. The weaponsmaster made a thoughtful sounding “hmm” and then picked two of the weapons up.

    “Single-bladed, one meter long, Iridonian-made, no cortosis,” the weaponsmaster said, handing the blade over. Kale stepped back and twirled the blade in his hand. It was heavy and thick, a deep groove cut in the sides – the blood groove. The Iridonians were sick bastards, he recalled, delighting in emptying their enemies of as much life force as possible. The construction, regardless its vicious extra, was glorious. He handed it back without a word.

    The weaponsmaster presented the second: “Single-bladed, but a cortosis backweave here, with the bronze filigree. A bit shorter, Mandalorian-made.” The vibroblade felt lighter than its Iridonian counterpart; normally something to despise, but Kale had heard old tales of the Jedi and their unnatural speed. He was a trained fighter, one of the best in Clan Ordo, but even Canderous feared the Jedi at some deep level: true respect for their combat skills, a slight pause in his cadence when mentioning the Jedi, and his desire to overcome that fear through single combat.

    “Thank you Corporal. May the goddess of War bless us,” Kale intoned. The weaponsmaster nodded. The handle felt tactile and powerful in his gloved hand, but even still swirls of anxiety slid around his stomach, presenting itself outwardly in the cold sweat dripping down from his hairline.

    The small shuttle, one of three on the Be’sanaar, shot him down toward the surface. Canderous’ own Basilisk had already streaked to the surface, and Kale followed the broadcasted signal. Entry was bumpy; Kale noticed he’d engaged two degrees too steep. He exhaled slowly, trying to settle his stomach which was turning faster than a Rodian running from a fight.

    Taris’ towers were rounded, dulled pikes of grey and silver steel rising far from whatever foundation existed deep below them. No speeders coursed among the towers, many now blackened by fire, some still burning, others collapsed. One tower had taken a direct hit and now rested, diagonally, against its compatriot tower, the rounded edge now a bludgeon pushing rudely into the formerly pristine spire.

    The signal led Kale down to a wide, spacious concourse nestled among a series of shining towers, as yet unharmed by their bombardment. At one edge of the concourse rested Canderous’ Basilisk as well as two more shuttles: three Mandalorians stood there, red armor bursting scarlet in the hues of Taris’ dying sunset. Kale nestled the shuttle down between the other two and exited, the vibroblade clutched too tightly in his hand, his hair now damp from cold sweats.

    And from the other side of the concourse walked three figures toward them, brown robes billowing behind them, silver handles bumping on their hips. Two were humanoid, another was an alien Kale had never seen before: dark green fur, a nose and eyes too large for a face of deep tan skin and overly large hands in the same tan skin. Walking toward them, of such a normal appearance, Kale felt not the awe-inspiring sensation he expected. These Jedi, spoken of with such reverence, were on the same platform as the greatest of the Mandalorians and yet they looked so…average.

    But as they strode closer, Kale saw the intensity and confidence in their gait, the way they tilted their shoulders slightly forward, how their weapons were both obvious, and yet still hanging on their belts. They projected more than just an air of knowing their purpose: they seemed to charge every step, every facial movement, every twitch of their limbs with purpose. These were the kind of warriors that had that most rare of things: presence. A moment later, and the three Jedi stopped before them.

    “So, these are the great warriors of the Revanchist?” Canderous growled, standing a foot in front of Kale and the other two.

    “If you say warrior to liken us to you, then no, we are not warriors. When we engage in combat, we do so to help and to serve and to save. We do not do so to slaughter. Unlike you,” the leader of the group said, a woman with the beginnings of creases in her forehead and by her eyes. An extra-large handle dangled from her belt, black interwoven with the silver steel. Two red buttons glared from it with vigor.

    Canderous laughed: “You are warriors, Jedi. You carry weapons openly; you use them to kill those that oppose you. Let us dispense with the semantics, though. We are not here to talk. We are here to take Taris.”

    “We will not allow you to do that. For the good of your people, it is time to leave and return to Mandalorian space. The Republic will not question your retention of Dxun. These are the terms offered by the Revanchist,” the woman said. Kale looked at the other human standing across from him: he looked more like a boy, faking an air of security in his motions. He reminded Kale of himself when he was that age.

    “Your ‘terms’ are no terms at all, nor do I speak for Mandalore. And you shall not speak for your leader: should he wish to speak with Mandalore, he can request to do so himself. You have come to challenge us in battle, and we shall oblige you. My name is Canderous Ordo of the Clan Ordo. With me are Kale Ordo, my cousin; Joran Orade, and Meldo Skirata,” Canderous answered, gesturing to each of them.

    “Names shall never be immortal. If you wish to fight, then so be it. We engage you unwillingly, but we shall do what we must,” the woman said. Suddenly and with frightening speed, the long silver handle was in her hands and with a simultaneous glow, two blue blades emerged from the ends of the handle. The other two Jedi now stood ready, orange radiating from the young man’s, and a yellow and purple one from the greenish alien.

    Canderous roared an inhuman cry and launched himself at the woman, his two vibroblades of enormous size flashing molten silver, the Tarisian sun reflecting off their keen edges. Joran Orade and Meldo Skirata launched themselves toward the alien, and Kale realized with a start that the young man was two steps in front of where he’d been last, his weapon already poised above his head and swinging downward.

    Kale shoved off his right foot and dove to his left, his gaze leaving the young man’s for just a second, but as he completed his roll toward regaining his feet, the orange blade whipped toward him, its buzz angry and loud, barely missing Kale’s head. He rolled up to a knee and brought the vibroblade up just in time to catch the saber on it, the sound grating and not nearly loud enough to match the tremor he felt in his arms. Struggling and still on bended knee, he tried to leverage upward, but the Jedi kicked him in the chest plate and he felt the surprisingly powerful kick knock him onto his butt.

    The orange blade sizzled downward but Kale found it in time, blocking the blow. He swept out with his leg but the Jedi was suddenly gone, flying backwards in the air. Kale scrambled to his feet and found the young man rushing toward him, now only a few meters away, the blade driving straight for his heart. He sidestepped the lunge and heard the shearing of his armor, feeling the sudden heat as it burned through layers of the beskar’gam. The youth retracted the weapon and Kale saw and felt the heat rising from his chest, suddenly realizing that this man, boy, whatever he was, was more dangerous than any foe he’d met in combat.

    The saber came blazing toward him again, and he ducked the swing, bringing his blade up from the ground toward the Jedi’s groin. The saber was suddenly there, interposing itself between the Jedi’s body and his blade, but Kale disengaged and rammed the vibroblade straight forward without pulling it back to his body to gain momentum. The motion caught the Jedi by surprise and the saber barely blocked his strike. Kale stepped into his lunge even further and brought the sword back to his right shoulder and with two hands imagined burying it into the Jedi’s collarbone, but his strike was foiled by the Jedi’s unreal reaction speed.

    But the Jedi was within arm’s reach now and Kale could smell the fear and see it in the distantly dilated pupils. He grasped the Jedi’s inner tunic and yanked hard, pulling the Jedi and his weapon toward him. His right forearm connected with the Jedi’s right hand, sending the saber sprawling to the ground, the orange blade now missing. Kale brought his helmeted head down against the young man’s with terrifying force and heard the crack more than felt it. The Jedi fell backward, his head now a river of blood, his eyes confused, his knees buckling and now the Jedi sat on the Tarisian concourse, looking up at Kale.

    He hesitated. The man was more boy than man now, the tears pricking his eyes less of pain than of fear. And then handle was suddenly back in the man’s hand, the tears gone, though the blood coated his tunic. Kale swung his vibroblade down and met the resistance of the Jedi’s weapon, the strength of the young man less than before, though still impenetrable. The Jedi connected with a kick to his knee, but the armor did not buckle and Kale remained standing strong. With a yell, the Jedi pushed at Kale with his free hand and suddenly Kale was floating through the air, the towers winking at his peripherals as he landed, hard, on his back some twenty meters from the now standing Jedi.

    Canderous was holding his own against the woman, the two mere blurs of supercharged light and red armor; the other Jedi had wounded Joran, fatally, with a stab to the stomach, but had lost his own right hand and was using only one of his two weapons, the loss of blood hampering him against Meldo. Kale looked back at the young Jedi, who had seen what he had, and pushed himself to his feet, twirling the vibroblade in his hand. The Jedi set his mouth grimly and rushed forward, blood trailing and coating his tunic, the orange saber spinning before coming down from above toward Kale.

    Seeing the same swing come down, Kale instead ducked and rushed underneath the blow, catching the base of the handle on his right shoulder as he buried the vibroblade into the Jedi’s stomach. The weapon met little resistance, Kale realized, as it tore through the lower abdomen of the young man. The Jedi’s body rested against Kale’s armor, the bloodied head on his left shoulder as though he was hugging an old friend, though the blade sticking from the Jedi’s back and the handle wet with blood and stomach acid told the truth of the moment.

    The Jedi slowly slid back, his body seeking to rid itself from Kale’s weapon and then the young man lay on the ground, one hand over his stomach, the other still clutching the weapon’s handle. A dark red stain pooled underneath the brown robes, the red patch on his tunic receding as the bloodiest item on the Jedi’s body. His breathing was ragged and shallow, his gaze concentrated on some distant place, his lips mouthing words with no actual sound. He shuddered, and died, his final breath a sigh not of pain, but of content.

    Kale stood over the body, his blade dripping scarlet every few seconds onto the dead Jedi. This moment, one every Mandalorian desired, a moment to revel in and to celebrate such a heroic and glorious deed, instead stank of the worst of war: the waste of life. The Jedi was hardly a man, if that, nearly as young as some Mandalorians are sent into battle. Kale felt nearly no glory in this moment, but pity: would he, at such a young age, have stood up to an adult opponent and come out alive? His hand found his chest, the burn far enough to have melted some of the beskar’gam into his own chest, the pain now less dull as the adrenaline wore off. No, he would not have survived facing a Jedi of his own age had he been so young.

    The sound of a cry cut short brought Kale from his self-indulgence and he looked up, seeing Canderous’ vibroblade buried deep through the shoulder of the female Jedi. Her face was a contortion of pain and violence, her eyebrows arched downward, her mouth turned in a grimace, teeth grinding together, the taut cords of her neck muscles engaged less in effort than in pain. Canderous’ other hand was gripped around the woman’s wrist, holding her saber down and away from him. His grip encircled harder as he pushed the blade deeper and then the sick, wet crack of broken bones bounced from tower to tower, and the handle fell, the two blue blades snikking back into the handle.

    Canderous kicked away the handle, extracted the blade, and in one of the cleanest, most graceful acts Kale had laid eyes on, swept the keen, crimson-coated blade through the Jedi’s neck at a slight downward angle. The blade passed through the skin and muscle and bone and spinal nerves with little resistance. Canderous stood, the blade firmly in his grip, feet shoulder-width apart, his broad back twisted at the hint of an angle as the head slid from the Jedi’s neck, dropping with a dull thud onto the ground. A small amount of blood pumped from the neck and head, forming little wet pools on the ground as the body slumped back.

    Canderous bent over, laying the vibroblade next to the Jedi, before rising back up and saluting the fallen warrior. Meldo had defeated the green alien, but the scent of cooked meat arose from a deep gash on his left oblique. Kale rushed back into his shuttle and brought the first aid kit out, applying a thick layer of kolto to the wound before stuffing white bandage against it and wrapping the bandage tightly around his waist until the bandage was secured.

    Ne vode, Joran Orade fell in combat of a glorious nature. He shall be always remembered as a Mandalorian who walked into the darkest and most dangerous flame and was swallowed, to return to his gods in victory and with greatest prestige. But you Meldo Skirata, and you, Kale Ordo, shall always be known as Champions for your defeat of the Jedi, the only warriors able to challenge us in single combat. For your victory and your remembrance, I present you these objects of acclaim,” Canderous said formally, holding out the lightsabers of their fallen opponents. Meldo took the longer handle from the green alien’s two, intoning solemnly that the other should be buried with Joran. Kale took the sleek, metallic handle from Canderous, unsure how to feel. The body rested behind him, but deep thoughts lay before him.

    ****
  14. SoA Jedi Grand Master

    Member Since:
    Apr 2, 2008
    star 3
    Powerful. I'm speechless at this one. I didn't think that your second battle could possibly be as good as the first one, but it was. Incredibly well done.
  15. LaForzaViva Jedi Grand Master

    Member Since:
    Jul 6, 2008
    star 1
    SoA - that's very high praise, and I hope the story will continue to live up to it, but I'm not sure it will! You'll recognize a few people, and the name of a ship (sorry, I borrowed it!) More battles, more choices, more consequences upcoming.


    Chapter 7 - Causes


    "Welcome aboard the Courageous, Jedi Master,” came a rough, low voice. Vera looked at the man, surprised to find she looked down on him. Though he stood shorter than even she (and she was not particularly tall), his posture reflected the arrogance with which he held himself. His fleet uniform, a mixture of red and gold, fit snugly across his form, that of a fit man in his forties.

    And beyond his stature, this man, single-handedly, had prevented the entire fall of the Jebble-Vanquo-Tarnith line. Well, not single-handedly. I directed the fleets to their locations, he carried out the orders with efficiency and rapidity. She inclined her head as he bowed slightly to her, a painted face of condescension clearly imprinted on his visage. They began to walk toward the bridge, flanked by a coterie of advisers and soldiers: at least three Jedi, including an eager Padawan, Meetra Surik, that Vera had more than a good feeling about as a future tactician and overall Jedi.

    Conscious of her public role as the anointed ‘Savior of the Republic’, she politely questioned the admiral: “How is the troops’ morale?”

    “They are proud to be visited by such an important personage, and more proud to be fighting for their Republic with heart and soul,” Admiral Karath answered, the implicit critique evident in his careful choice of words. They are the saviors of the Republic, and you, Jedi, are just an important personage.

    “May their pride in their Republic never waver,” she commented genuinely. Karath’s head began to turn toward her, in surprise she could feel, but he halted the motion halfway through and kept his gaze forward.

    “What news from the capital?” the admiral asked, his coolness to her somewhat reduced as he decided to now engage in the polite discussion.

    “The Senate has accepted and confirmed my use of the Code to take command of the Republic military. This is a temporary measure, and will be rescinded following the hostilities, or if it is determined by myself or the Senate that a better candidate to prosecute the war exists,” she answered delicately. As she spoke, the tremor of envy and anger snaked from his tensely coiled figure, but she brushed it away. Her choice to remove the Grand Admiral from his command following a disastrous loss was seen as a move by the Jedi to usurp power from the normal commands.

    Vera inwardly huffed. At many other moments in Republic history Jedi took command of armies and fleets, and yes, at times, the reins of governance. When the Jedi took control of the Chancellor’s office many thousands of years ago, the galaxy seemed much smaller as fewer planets were under its control. And the power had been relinquished the moment the war ended with that group of rebellious planets. She’d read the critiques recently: it was an attempt by the Jedi to control the Republic for their own gain; it was personal pride bordering on hubris and megalomania for the Revanchist to believe he (she loved the failure to even know her gender, but she had to admit it came more in handy than she first assumed) could lead the war effort; even critiques so far gone as to assert she was a Sith and the Mandalorians were paid agents. Now that was ludicrous.

    But the derision and outright anger of her move in the military ranks, though inspirational at the command center, was greeted with acidity and coolness bordering on cold fire by the ranks of the military. She was “untested, unproven in war, a figure of media popularity and nothing more” many said. The soldiers and admirals and generals were battle-tested and proud. She knew she was imposing on their territory and expertise and pride. She knew she had to prove herself. And she would, without question.

    The coterie arrived at the bridge, and most of Karath’s advisers moved to their stations. The battlespace was displayed on the front screen; red colored much of the screen, but the green line of their blockade thankfully covered Vanquo. Karath had arrayed the ships in an alluring fashion, almost displaying the opening of the line for the Mandalorians to waltz through, though Vera knew from the inward tilt of the fleet, that any such incursion would be smashed with spry speed by a simple curl of the left and right flanks.

    Karath resumed his admiralty duties, commanding with a presence far outweighing his height. His men and women bounced from task to task with exceptional quickness and understanding, never failing to understand his orders. Vera reached out with the Force and felt that Karath’s men, while not fully trusting of their admiral, trusted him at least far more than they trusted the interference of the Jedi on their bridge, particularly the middling height, brunette ‘girl’ that pretended at being a warrior. She simpered at the thought, knowing just how wrong they were, though their feelings were fully valid.

    The furtive glance of a young crewmember, a man with chestnut hair loosely curling from a small pompadour over his forehead, caught her attention. He was in an ensign’s uniform, his face unlined and almost immature looking, though his brown eyes glittered as they lingered on her. He was busy at the helm of the bridge, his hands whizzing over the console with practiced ease and even with a hint of nonchalance. She was to his right, staring at the battlespace, but their intermingling glances lingered just a second longer than that between people who aren’t acquainted.

    Then he rose from his station and proffered his hand: “Ensign Carth Onasi, Ms. Revanchist,” he said boldly. She felt an involuntary grin tug at her corners as she let his hand grip hers firmly, but without crushing power. It was a two-pump handshake, and then his chin popped back above horizon and he put his hands behind his back in a standard military at-ease position.

    “Ms. Revanchist sounds too formal,” she joked back.

    “How about Revan?” he interjected quickly. There was resonance in that word, an elemental yank on her soul. It was not even a word, not one she knew, but its short, sharp punch gave her pause.

    “Revan. I think… that I like it,” she replied. His roguish smile blossomed and then she noticed she was grinning too, his clearly infectious.

    “Very glad to hear that, sir,” he shot back.

    “Now that’s an appropriate moniker, Ensign Onasi,” she retorted. He winked, saluted, and then sat back in his seat, hands a blur once more. She turned back to the battlespace, watching it, her mind suddenly bothered by Mr. Onasi’s mischevious glances and smiles. With greater effort than she expected, she pushed the sensations to the side and continued analyzing the map. Karath stood next to her, and the next few hours were spent discussing the intricacies of tactics and their overall war strategy. By the end of the discussion, she could feel a newfound admiration for her radiating from the admiral. The fleet, it was decided, would branch off and take half to Serroco, which intelligence warned the Mandalorians eyed as a further base of entrance into the Core. She would instead link up with Alek and visit Cathar.



    The small shuttle emerged from the womb of a large battlecruiser, the Taninim, a ship personally commandeered from the Navy by the Revanchist. She disliked its smooth lines and yet still rectangular physique, in addition to the datedness of some of its weaponry. The physical ship would be replaced, someday, but the name would continue to live on. Alek sat with her on the shuttle, as well as Master Sylvar and a few other Jedi, some who still required some persuasion. Cathar would provide that persuasion, and would give the Jedi a story to convince still more in their cause.

    Vera forced the ship into the system, knowing how close they would pass between Mandalorian fleets, and just how likely they would be to face a battlegroup in the system. But the Force was stronger than even the Mandalorians, and it was telling her that she needed to see the planet, needed to walk amongst the destruction there. And it is only the first planet I must visit ravaged by the Mandos. There will be too many more to follow this war.

    The planetary surface appeared calm and natural as they approached; large fires would have burnt out months ago. It marveled Vera every time to see ruins overcome with vines and trees sprouting in the most random of places – Alderaan was famous for its ruins deep in the forests; Empress Teta IV was another favorite locale she’d been taken to on Jedi business recently. Most of the planet was covered, like Taris and Coruscant, but some locations near the carbonite mines betrayed the power of nature and how it fought to remain. She was conflicted about nature fighting mankind’s modernity, but as the shuttle burned through the atmosphere, it was not something to ruminate on.

    She commanded the pilot, a very young Zabrak, to take them the full circumference of the planet to oversee the destroyed cities. No flames of destruction remained. Sound failed to penetrate the shuttle’s confines, but judging from the wildlife moving below, the planet harbored rejuvenated life of a non-sentient variety, for every city and town and village and hamlet below there moved nothing; only the slow growth of the overtaking forest demonstrated that life, of some sort, still grew on Cathar.

    A deep throb of energy, elemental and with power to reach her soul, pulsed through her head with a buzz and traveled down her limbs, sending goosebumps to the surface as it rippled below her dark tunic and armor.

    “Did you feel it?” came the whisper-quiet, hushed voice of Sylvar, a voice that normally commanded instant attention and respect with its level timbre, underlying bass, yet with notes of sopranino mixed in. But now it came with darkness enrobing it, and Vera could sense the rage present in the Cathar Master.

    “I feel it. Deep in my bones, in fact. It is…,” her voice dropped off.

    “It’s pain. Hurt, agony, torment, death,” Alek murmured. She looked over across at her best friend, sensing that the pain of the massacred Cathar affected him more than he wanted to let on. His right hand, his saber hand, was clenched tightly over his knee, the knuckles and tips of his fingers ivory. The veins on his hands stood out in empurpled relief while the cords in his neck registered visible above the collar of his russet armor. And his eyes, how deep and indigo they were in this moment, deeper than their normal periwinkle.

    This voyage of theirs, not only physically dangerous for the threat of the Mandalorians, held within it danger of a far greater kind: the danger of how one reacts to such vivid, recent torment. Master Sunrider and Visto, in particular, lived with such harrowing memories. They both often cautioned her that to immerse oneself in such dark places, physical but mostly emotional or mental, would produce a diminishing measure of psychic distress. And over time, Visto had said with unnatural and lucid confidence, such a decrease in self-agony produced in those moments would normalize those sensations, make them not the exception but the normal. And what was normal was comfortable, secure, something to be sought out.

    “You have such passion for the anguish and torment of the soul of another, Vera. In your soul you swim through the agony of another, you immerse yourself more than you care to admit, even to me. I can see it in you as you sit here, reading those dispatches from the front. I am but a witness to this self-infliction, and how I responded to my trials is and will be different from yours, Vera,” Nomi said to her many months prior, before her declaration of independence from the Council.

    “And though you will respond in your way, I can only use my own example of a life to hope that you will not fall into seeing despair and death and hatred as the common denominator of mankind, as the most normal of situations. Because I do believe, and I think you do as well, that mankind is, at heart, a loving being. But when the hatred, or the love of one’s own kind overwhelms and becomes omnipresent as the normal, I worry that its commonness will numb you to the true exceptional nature of it, will let your response become deadened and callous, and when we lose emotion in our answers, we do much contrary to the benefit and improvement in the sentient condition,” Nomi finished, her voice dropping into a constrained, respectful silence, allowing Vera to process it all.

    And she had, and still meditated on those words. She worried less for her own answer to this place than she did of Alek’s, a man far more sensitive than he would admit, especially considering the awful nature of his youth before he was sent to the Jedi Order. She could see the strife in his tensed musculature and wondered if bringing him to Cathar would rank as a poor decision. But it was too late, and the shuttle bay door swung up and they all together stepped onto the surface of the beautifully destroyed planet.

    A whip of seawater crashed in the near-distance, one of Cathar’s oceans nearby to the city in which they’d landed. The tang of saltwater rippled through the calm air, the taste of brine almost sweet on her tongue. Its sudden beauty contrasted with the ruined city as black does with white: burned out buildings more char than wood, tatters of clothing and woven armor (but no bones or flesh), discarded weaponry, and most horrifically to Vera, the clear stampede of Cathar pawprints from the city toward that briney scent followed with military precision the heavy bootfalls of Mandalorian armor, still sunk so deeply into the grass and sand that rain had not washed their presence away.

    Sylvar and the Zabrak had wandered off elsewhere with the rest of the party, and only Alek remained with her. He was silent, as he usually was, though she could sense more than agitation under his pale frame, but actual and visceral rage. He looked at the city before them, his gaze sweeping the ruins and analyzing it rationally and emotionally. She turned toward the sea and laid her hand on his forearm and squeezed it tightly before continuing toward the ocean. He followed her at a few pace’s distance, as they stepped past the edge of the city and to a beautiful beach and an ocean luminescent with the orange sun of Cathar burning down on it.

    Alek and Vera stood on the cusp of the water’s edge, the blackness of night far distant across the sea under which swam the dead, crying for justice.



    ****

    “Preparing to exit hyperspace, sir,” came the helmsman’s metallic voice. Kale nodded in response, though the helmsman was not facing him. Around twenty seconds passed, and then the ship winked into space previously unoccupied by any vessel. A number of other ships emerged from hyperspace, and finally the Tranyc appeared at the lead of the fleet, streaking forward at full speed toward Serroco.

    “Follow at three-quarters speed,” Kale commanded. Their two gunboat protectors hung back with them while the rest of fleet Ordo surged forward. The communications traffic was crisp and practiced among the Mandalorians; the Republic ships saw this sudden fleet and panicked. Their chatter was rapid, confused, overlapping, contradictory.

    “All hands, this is the Courageous: form to battle group pattern Alpha-4 at count display 1543. Engage,” came a young, commanding voice over the hacked intercom. Kale raised his eyebrows for no benefit but his own, the gesture of surprise automatic.

    “A competent commander. This may be more of a fight,” Kale said to his bridge crew. He received a few nods and words of agreement, but their task lay ahead of them. The fleet approached the now forming Republic fleet, aiming to open fire before the fleet hardened in its defensive posture.

    “Sir, incoming!” the sensor officer suddenly shouted. “Oh, it’s one of ours. Wait. Sir, it’s the Kote!”

    “Fett is here?” Kale involuntarily remarked as one of their leader’s flagship emerged from a different vector, followed by only a small fleet of six other cruisers.

    “Republic fleet, you have disgraced the glory of war through your troop emplacements near the Stereb city-centers on this planet. We have come this day to engage you in combat but you sully war’s embrace through your actions. Your troops will receive no succor from their placement close to the cities. For this action, they shall be punished severely. Fleet Ordo, return to sector B-6,” Fett barked over the open communications wave. Kale felt a creep of dread sweep from his groin to his head, a burst of sweat breaking on his brow.

    “This is the commander of the Courageous, Admiral Saul Karath. You, Mandalorian, have demonstrated your disregard for the rules of war. You slaughter peoples whole and this is unallowable. You shall engage our fleet, and you shall be defeated. We will not allow you to massacre whole planets,” the Republic admiral replied in kind.

    Be’senaar, this is Fett. Target the Stereb city-centers, and open fire,” Fett ordered on the internal Mandalorian channel.

    “Sir?” Kale blurted out in response. He can’t be serious.

    “Kale Ordo, you are a fine young man. But I do not give my orders twice,” Fett snapped.

    The air became suddenly still, his breaths through the respirator louder than anything but his thudding heart, its double-hinged pumps of blood through his arteries and veins overwhelming the hushed silence on board. His hands felt clammy inside their gloves, his breath entering his body ragged. He sought to clutch onto something firmer than the sides of his chair, but even that felt loose and jagged.

    “General Fett, sir, the Be’senaar is loaded only with nuclear weapons,” Kale replied back, his voice weak, his statement ending in more of a question.

    “Captain Ordo, you will obey my order or you will be replaced by your second-in-command. Do not disgrace your father’s memory or your family name, for if you fail to carry out this order this day, you will have not even that in the dust of space,” Fett leveled in a firm and quiet fury.

    Kale sat in his captain’s chair, stunned as his mind digressed to basics. He was a Mandalorian. War had been his calling since he was a boy, training on practice blasters and blades in the forests of the Mandalorian’s second homeworld. War was their life. And now he had been commanded by a leader of his entire people to launch nuclear missiles at city-centers, regardless if intelligence confirmed they had Republic troops stationed nearby, as he could hear someone saying from beyond his own thoughts. Kale was a bright captain on the rise through the ranks, a warrior spoken of by senior leaders as one of the next great leaders of the Mandalorian race. War and the thrill of combat gave his daily life powerful meaning; a day promising combat sent unrealizable rushes of adrenaline through his body, giving him now after years the hunger and taste for war.

    But through that, some elementary foundation still stood powerfully in his moral core recently reshaped by thought and quietly expressed reservations to his wife: that war, though exciting and a true test of life, was not good. Trillions dead in wars small and large over the course of sentientkind’s history, hyperspace or no. War was the omnipresent expression of hatred and love all at once, and his role in it was now, at this moment, no longer an abstraction, a piece of the puzzle of warriors. He held, beneath his single command, the lives of untold millions, even billions.

    “Captain Ordo?” came the quiet question from one of his crewmembers. Kale blinked, realizing he was still rooted to his chair, wondering if his men could see the fear, could smell its stench. If he followed the order and turned the key in his chair that released the nuclear missiles, he would be less a warrior and more a murderer. But if he did not follow the order, he would no longer be a Mandalorian, no longer one of his people. And he had no other people…and his wife. And if he did not follow this order, he would no longer have her, no matter her love for him. She would be put to death by Mandalore himself as the wife of a traitor.

    He hesitated.

    “Lock on and ready to fire,” he whispered.

    “Sir?”

    He coughed. “Lock on and ready to fire,” he said louder, his heart slamming against his ribcage. The targeting and weapons officers replied with curt ayes, pressed a number of buttons on their consoles.

    “Ready,” the weapons officer said.

    “Ready,” the targeting officer said.

    Kale stared at the planet far in the distance, silent prayers to whatever gods or god there might be to forgive him.

    He took the small key from a compartment on his forearm, inserted it into the release mechanism. He turned the key and wept as the Be’senaar rocked gently, the ship launching dozens of missiles that would now annihilate too many lives to count.

    The barrage of missiles flew confidently toward their end goal, the planet of Serroco behind the rather sizeable Republic fleet. Kale watched as countermeasures burst forth from the fleet as the Republic navy sadly mistook the missiles meant for Serroco as aimed at them. The countermeasures stopped not a missile, and they continued past the fleet as the Republic communications channel, previously full of commands for countermeasures, abruptly went dead, all communications silent as the fleet members recognized what the barrage now meant.

    And then terrific points of light, terrifying if close, almost magical at a distance, flared with incandescent brilliance in the blackness of space, illuminating the now burning planet. Each explosion, megatons upon megatons of fissile material erupting with incredible power, overwhelmed the dramatic darkness until all Kale could see was his great sin illumed brighter than a trillion suns, brighter than a trillion lives.

    With alarming speed, the planet’s color changed from a calm azure to a raging orange and red, nearly matching the sun distant to port. And just as rapidly, Fett ordered fleet Ordo forward and they smashed through the confused Republic ships, tearing the enemy fleet to pieces. The Republic fleet broke into dozens of small clusters of ships, torn apart by the professionalism of the Mandalorians and their Basilisks. Kale knew, deep down, that the Republic navy was so shocked by their, no, his action, that any attempt at defense was impossible when troops meant to protect a planet had so utterly failed and instead brought ruin upon them. There was no possible way their morale would recover swiftly enough to allow them to fight back.

    Kale watched as the planet and the Republic fleet burned fires of scarlet and amber long into the night of space.

    ****
    Last edited by LaForzaViva, Feb 23, 2013
  16. SoA Jedi Grand Master

    Member Since:
    Apr 2, 2008
    star 3
    So that didn't get me as badly as it should have, because I know a lot of the Stereb survived underground. Ah, comics. But the thing is, Kale has no idea,ad that's the bigger deal.

    I enjoy the Carth/Revan meeting there. I wonder if he will remember that later in life. Interesting choice, also, to make your Exile a padawan. Whose padawan is she?

    Also, please continue to use Taninim as much as you like. I am all for this becoming fanon.
  17. LaForzaViva Jedi Grand Master

    Member Since:
    Jul 6, 2008
    star 1
    SoA - Ah, I did not even know that either, but yes - it's what Kale thinks (and what the galaxy thinks). I decided to make my Exile a Padawan for a few reasons, the primary being that war is not only horrible for many people, but also an opportunity for growth, learning, and advancement. And I want my Exile to reinforce that, hence the Padawan-ness.

    Big chapter today! Things are moving along, and they'll continue to pick up a bit from here on out.


    Chapter 8 - Memories


    The waves lapped at her armored legs, swishing gently around her body. A phantasm had called her, the voice feminine and pained and genuine, called her to remember always this slaughter, this massacre, and to avenge them.

    When her hand closed upon the cool steel of the Mandalorian helmet and pulled it from the ocean-sand, she was surprised that the voice of the phantasm was not a Cathar, but a Mandalorian who had turned on her brethren and paid the ultimate price for it. She pulled the helmet from the ocean and turned to face the other members of her party who had now arrived, in addition to the unexpected arrival of Vrook Lamar leading a group of thirty Jedi to bring her to heel. Deep down, she knew that Vrook was chosen against his will to perform this task, and that he would not stand in her way. Not anymore.

    And as she turned to display this helmet and challenge the Jedi sent to collect her, a horde of Cathar emerged from the city, down the water’s edge followed by the military march of the Mandalorians. Her saber was in her hand, unlit, when a Cathar woman ran through her, and then she realized they were all witnessing the Force’s Wound revealing itself, where before it had been a miasmic feeling, a constant drumming of soft voices against the Force. The Mandalorians stopped at the water’s edge and from their ranks a purple-clad Mandalorian woman flew above the Cathar, and challenged Cassus Fett not to do what he planned. Fett roared his challenge back, and as one the Mandalorians opened fire, sheets of molten fire rushing toward the Cathars, the sole Mandalorian woman, and her, the raging cries of death sweeping over her soul.

    The woman dropped in the initial haze of blaster fire before Vera, and she watched as the body slipped under the water and disappeared, the phantasms of the Cathar all dying one last time, dropping under the peaceful waves glowing orange. The Mandalorians faded, too, and all that remained were the total party of thirty-six Jedi and the young Zabrak pilot. He seemed calm, calmer in fact than many of the Jedi standing with lightsabers lit. Perhaps he had not seen it? Or perhaps he had already seen enough bloodshed and death that such a vision hardly affected him.

    “Do you see now why we must fight?” Vera shouted to the Jedi party, who only moments before, had demanded she face the Council’s justice and submit in surrender. “Do you see now what we face? The enemy that will go so far as to massacre helpless millions out of simple revenge?”

    And then a Wound far more vigorous than this one on Cathar swept across the vast distance between Serroco and Cathar and slammed into Vera with the might of a charging terentatek. She fell to her knees in the ocean, unable to move as the Force ripped her consciousness and deposited her to float above Serroco, nothing but a disembodied witness to the death of untold millions, even billions. She watched in silent horror and amazement as the nuclear missiles exploded in over twenty sight-numbing blasts of light, sending the once cerulean planet into paroxysms of fire. Vera felt, physically felt the deaths of those millions and billions as the Force rudely tore her back to her present, wet with tears and saltwater.

    “Vera, by the Force, do you?” Alek had time to stammer out from her side.

    I feel it!” she managed to grunt through a grimace. The Jedi that had arrived with Master Lamar wore expressions of deepest pain, first from the vision of the Cathar, and now from the massacre of another people elsewhere by these same evil warriors, cloaking themselves in justifications of war.

    As untold billions perished in washes of nuclear energy, Vera knew that something was different and forever would be different. There would be no more war by war’s normal rules. The Mandalorians were willing to do anything for victory. She resolved, at that moment, clutching the Mandalorian helmet in her hand, her heart torn into untold shards, that she would follow the Mandalorians’ lead. To defeat their supreme evil, she would claw and grapple with them the way they desired to engage in combat. I will defeat this evil and destroy them until they are no longer a threat to this galaxy.

    Visto Cafran’s voice floated to her across the distance of the galaxy, from Duros to where she stood on Cathar, but it was strong and she could feel his presence next to her: <Vera, you above all have felt this agony. You, above all, know what this means for the galaxy. But I beg you, with every ounce of my being, that you fight them with the Jedi Code always present in your mind. I beg you->

    <There will be no succor, there will be no magnanimity, there will be no politeness for the enemy. They have massacred an entire species in revenge, and murdered the millions I emplaced on Serroco. Those lives are on my soul, so don’t you dare tell me how to remedy this agony. More than ever, Visto, I need you to pick up your lightsaber and fight for the just future of the galaxy. But if you refuse to aid me in this endeavor, then by the Force stay out of my way,> she returned, and then brutally severed the connective link he had established.

    With focused effort, she rose from the oceanwater, her armor sleekly wet, her cheeks damp with the salty tears and water mixing. The helmet was in her hand and with little prompt and less thought, she placed the helmet over her head, feeling the compressors click into place. The world looked back at her in shades of greyed-out colors, Vrook Lamar standing in his red robe, a lightsaber handle in his hand, understanding the conversation that had passed between Visto and Vera.

    Alek stood to her side, his face less a mask of concern and more a picture of suppressed rage. His orange lightsaber blazed in his right hand, his eyes empurpled as their indigo mixed with the reflection of his saber blade. Master Sylvar was on her knees behind Lamar, weeping uncontrollably, and the score of Jedi who had arrived to take her to the Council to face justice now stood silently, waiting for someone to speak. It would not be Lamar, she knew, seeing the usual, angrily bored face now filled with sadness.

    Vera pulled her lightsaber from her belt and snapped it on, the hum of the purple blade buzzing in her left ear, the handle trembling slightly with anticipation. Or perhaps it was her hand, hoping to cleave a Mandalorian to death over their horrors. She raised her voice and then immersed herself in the deep webs of the Force, broadcasting her call across every strand she could find, pulling the attention of every living Jedi to her voice.

    “Let no Jedi standing here ignore what we have seen and what we have felt! Any single massacre is a crime against sentientkind. The Mandalorians are perpetrators of the greatest evil this galaxy has seen since Exar Kun’s rapacious destruction. The Mandalorians must be stopped. The time for hemming and hawing is at an end. The Republic is not powerful enough to stop them, nor is any single planet and their defenses. We must band together to defeat them as one galaxy, not as separate poles thinking our own desires are for the benefit of the galaxy. For when lives are in this kind of danger, the possibility of instant destruction by a nuclear explosion, we have no choice but to fight them.

    “Brothers and sisters, we uphold a Code of honor, a way of living. We have shirked the responsibility to which we are called for too long. We are the defenders of the innocent. We are the protectors of peace. We are the guardians of the galaxy. And we are the warriors of the Force. Take up your lightsabers and fight!”

    The connections she accessed through the Force pulsed with emotional responses to her words, the Force alive with martial desire. Only the most ardent against war remained less passionate, less inflamed with the desire to combat the Mandalorians. Visto was one of them, and for that, she felt eternally hurt, betrayed even.

    ‘Come to me… Open my secrets and you shall have the power to defeat all enemies… Find my truth on Kashyyyk…’ The soft voice, tremulous and arrogant all at once, cooed to her across unknowable distance with surprising clarity. The amative voice spilled over the wall she’d built in her mind to compartment it. But the wall, before so resolute, now crumbled as her anger and rage rushed through her bones, calling her to war. She knew then, that she would return to that mysterious door if it could aid in the destruction of the Mandalorians.

    She stood in the water, her purple lightsaber blazing brightly in the descended night on Cathar, the world looking back at her in greys.



    ****



    Kale sat in the steel chair in his quarters, the only amenity a thin blue pillow wrapped over the slick metallic surface. His hands clutched the armrests, his legs carelessly falling over the edge of the seat edge, his back slumped awkwardly. A million kilograms pressed against his chest and shoulders, holding him down. He couldn’t breathe.

    The Be’senaar was far from danger; she was in fact en route to Dxun. His wife had been moved to Dxun to oversee a new logistical effort. She would know what he did. The whole galaxy did. He didn’t know how she would feel, how she might face his crime against sentience.

    He didn’t know how he would face it. His memory ticked slowly back in the hours since the nuclear eruption of Serroco, recalling how his warriors had come to his side, slapping his shoulders and back, congratulating him. They called him a champion with the same ardor Canderous had called him a champion when holding out the dead Jedi’s lightsaber. That saber now rested in his lap, comfortably lying between the gap in his thighs. He looked down and a few quips about manhood came to mind and then disappeared again, their grim lightness, however sarcastic, not welcome to him in this moment.

    How could he be a champion in slaughtering millions? Was inserting a key, giving a few commands based on an order, and having his ship function well enough to fire nuclear weapons – was that all it took to become a ‘champion’? Was there honor in killing so many from a distance, killing so many innocent people who were betrayed by the protection they sought from the Republic?

    He let out a coarse, bitter laugh in the silence of his quarters. He was no champion. He was no hero. He was no leader. He was a murderer, a slaughterer of innocents, a walking crime of horror. He felt his conscience bared in that moment, standing before the tribune of the stars and knowing that he was forever a tainted good, forever cursed to hatred and revilement and even a sickening kind of pity. He had led himself into the valley of shadow and had lived in it, loved its embrace so much that he had killed billions and for what?

    That question, above all, ripped at him. For what? What had he inserted that key for? Was it for his Mandalorian pride? For his arrogant desires to rise further in the ranks and attain some spectre of glory and immortality? Was it to remain in good stead with his superiors, such that he might return to Dxun as now and see his wife? Was it for her – for his selfish and understandable desire to remain by her side as he had pledged so many moons ago? Was it to simply keep her alive, whether he lived or died, in some noble gesture of husbandly regard? Was it because he loved war and glory and desired immortality?

    He shuddered, knowing that every piece rolled over in his mind like clay was in fact a kernel of the truth. His pride demanded he show strength before his men. He hoped for glory and immortality, sought them at the base of his soul, taught since he was not yet a year old that to be a Mandalorian was to be glorious. He had killed so many so that Mandalore would spare him and his wife, so that he could hold her and make love to her and tell her everything would be okay and then one day raise a child, children even, with her. And he had inserted the nuclear key because some piece of him, some element deep within his heart and soul and mind and gut loved combat and war and the rush.

    His memory clicked back to the mortal combat and near death he faced at the hands of that preciously young Jedi. The thrill and rush of hand-to-hand combat, the knowledge that a single mistimed cut or block might be his end, the carnal desire that raged from his toes to his head to his fingers during combat for the spilling of blood – it all made him truly feel life course through his veins. That was what pushed him toward war and violence and the lust for war – that rare thrill in the personal, face-to-face killing of an opponent equal to his might. There was prestige and honor in those fights, in that test of will, in that baptism by saber- and vibro-blade.

    Not the insertion of a key and the command of an order. No tremor of anticipation, no adrenaline was slaked by the distant massacre of untold beings. There was no satisfaction, no rush in what he had done. Instead, the slimy and cold grip of doubt and self-hatred clutched his wrists, holding him to that seat as his comrades had congratulated him for being bold enough to commit such grisly murder. Some piece of him had risen above the moment, looked down on him in that chair as gauntlets thwacked against his body armor in joy, and he had felt something deeper than pity overwhelm him, something worse than shame. It had no name, but it clawed about his heart and was now settled there, weighing him down, crushing him to the spot.

    A question arose, one long formed in his heart but never brought to the surface, and now it bubbled to the surface: could he continue in this life in this way? Was his destiny to remain a Mandalorian, to remain a cog in the great machine of war that rampaged across time and space, spilling the blood of trillions? Could he hate himself this way and still wear that armor, draw a weapon and fight solely for the possible fame and honor and immortality he was taught to desire with every fiber of his being?

    Staring at the helmet on his cot, tilted sideways and open, no life behind the view-bar, he knew the answer – that he could not.

    He was no more a Mandalorian. Seated there, slumped and defeated, his bones fatigued to their core, he knew he was only two things now. A man. And a murderer.



    ****



    Vera stared at the large doors before her, a small, sly smile detectable on her face, if one could see through the Mandalorian mask she now wore. She was back, once more, before the Council chamber. And this time, she was no longer some ‘outcast’ from her elders, but now would stand before them, triumphant. Not in war, not yet; triumphant that her argument for war had been accepted by nearly all Jedi.

    Beyond that, her immense stretch across the Force on Cathar had revealed scores of Force sensitive children, teenagers, and adults. Many had been sought out by the Order and brought to the Temple, and Vera had many plans for them. And in a few moments, she would present her plan for their training, seeking to once more convince the Council of her ideas. She felt a slight quake in her stomach at the thought, that nervous anticipation one gets right before combat. The doors swung open, spilling honeyed light from the early morning Coruscanti sun across her feet, and she stepped through the doors.

    Each member of the Council was seated in person, or their holographic form took the place of their corporeal body. Only Master Aleco was absent; she had been sent to Taris with two others many moons ago and contact had not been made since. Master Sunrider sat in the traditional seat for the Grand Master, and Vera detected from the slight tilt of Nomi’s figure that the Grand Master did not relish her return. No matter, for I was right and she wrong. She shall listen to me, this time.

    “And so the Savior of the Republic returns to the humble origins from whence she came,” came the sarcastic tones of Atris, clad in a billowing white robe. Vera smirked in her direction and gave a slight nod, acknowledging the remark. She looked back to Nomi but did not miss the reddening face of Atris at the reception meant to wound Vera, not puff her up as it had.

    “Welcome home, Knight Vera,” Nomi said softly in stark contrast. “The last time you stood before us, there was a philosophical difference of opinion between your colleagues and this Council. On behalf of the Council, we offer our apologies in refusing to listen to you with truly open ears.”

    “What! I offer no such apologies!” Atris nearly screeched in horror. Nomi shot the snowy mistress a frigid look, and Atris sunk back in her seat, her anger still not sated. Vera took the time to look over at Atris and nodded once more.

    “Knight Vera, I have a simple question. Why do you wear the accoutrements of the enemy before this Council?” Vandar asked politely. She recalled with lucidity the anger and vitriol he had nearly spit at her, and was caught somewhat off-guard by his mannerism. She almost reached to smooth her hair, and then recalled it was now much shorter, and underneath her new helmet.

    “There is a complex response, to this simple question. War is dominated by symbols and by legends and by mythology. The Mandalorians have terrified the galactic populace into fear nearing submission. They have done so through sheer will, violence, and intimidation. And a key aspect of their symbology is here,” she said, tapping her mask. “This helmet and visor terrify all who see it, for it is a symbol of eschatological terror. I wish to remove this symbol of death, to restore to it the idea that all it is, at base, is a helmet, and that any person can wear it.” Nomi nodded thoughtfully while Vandar wore a more bemused expression. Atris, on the contrary, looked as grumpy as a wampa that let its food run off. And as white, actually.

    “A thoughtful response, Revanchist. But there is another reason, is there not?” Vandar inquired.

    “Such as?” Vera answered. Vandar let a small smile slip.

    “You wear it to inspire, how did you phrase it? ‘Eschatological terror’ in the enemy, do you not? To turn their most valuable symbol against them, to use the power of anonymity and fame all-together to show them that they are facing an enemy like them, ready to do all necessary to halt their advance,” Vandar stated with confidence. “But, then again, perhaps I see too much in this symbol you wear.”

    “That’s an astute reading, Master Vandar,” Vera said, conceding his point.

    “Regardless your reasons for wearing the Mandalorian mask, I would like to request that you remove it,” Master Vash asked kindly. Vera turned to her back left and faced the Jedi Master.

    “I’m afraid I cannot do that. I have sworn to wear this helmet until the threat to the galaxy is defeated,” Vera answered. Master Vash pursed her lips, but did not pursue the issue further and instead sat back and folded her hands on her lap. Vera turned back to Master Sunrider.

    “You have gained many converts to your quest,” she noted. Vera nodded, unsure where this was going. Nomi continued: “Can you handle this responsibility you have brought upon your shoulders? You are young and headstrong, even if you are intelligent, well-read, and mature for your age. Are you truly ready to lead a war?”

    Vera paused a beat before answering. “I believe that this war requires skills and traits that may be…lacking elsewhere in this Order,” she replied, diplomatically on its face, but scathing in its implication. Nomi raised her eyebrows.

    “Oh? Is that so? What makes this war so different from others?”

    “It is little different from previous wars, that’s not what I mean. I mean to say that this war requires in its Jedi the courage to face the unknown and the mysterious, to join the field of battle wherever it may be,” Vera said, preferring to finish her point except that Master Dorak interrupted.

    “And you believe that the elders of this Order no longer possess that courage?”

    “No, not entirely. And I know that one of you shall bring up our naivety, and I shall admit, freely, that many of us leading the charge are just that, naïve. But this trait shields us from that which infects the elders here. That naivety allows us to strike out with naught but a saber, an ideal, and courage. We are not held back by our wisdom and our knowledge. This war, at heart I feel, calls for action. Sometimes rash action, sometimes calculated, but it requires that. Not inaction,” Vera answered.

    “So the importance is simply on the action itself, not on the specifics of it?” Master Zhar jumped in.

    “If we talk of symbols, is not action a symbol? We need to inspire confidence in our people, Jedi and non-Jedi. We need them to believe in us, to trust us,” Vera said in an almost pleading tone. It came out more mechanically, though. The one drawback of the helmet.

    “But naïve action costing the lives of millions – that inspires the opposite! That has already happened, in fact,” Atris said darkly, the hint of a smile on her features. Vera wheeled on her, her posture instantly aggressive, her hand on her saber hilt.

    “Did you predict that the Mandalorians would forego a reasonable battle above a strategic planet and instead decide to raze it into destruction? Did your wisdom in the Force lead you to that conclusion? The Force has not allowed me to predict irrationality in a formerly coldly rational war-like populace, but did the Force grant you that power? You can’t assert that because it’s not true, is it? So, Atris, dare to challenge my conscience on that score once more and you shall find what you seek,” Vera snapped back.

    “Have we fallen so low, that we threaten our fellow Jedi?” Master Zhar said weakly from the right. Atris was clearly not paying attention to the Twi’lek as she stood up, taking an assertive step forward.

    “If you wish to settle this through battle then you are less than worthy of your title and should forfeit your saber!” Atris had a hand on her hilt as well.

    “That is quite enough!” Nomi Sunrider roared, standing up from her seat. The sun grew darker in the room, the shadows spilling toward Nomi as all light from the room drew itself to her, seeking the source of sudden and immense power in the Force. Atris shrank back physically while Vera looked on in amazement, having never before seen this dramatic ability Nomi possessed. Her eyes were alight, the same deep lavender as Alek’s had become on Cathar. Atris sat back in her seat and Vera knew her hand had moved on its own accord from her hilt and rested at her side.

    And then as if nothing had passed, the shadows crept away from the sun and the atmosphere lightened. Nomi sat back down in her seat, the fatigue visible on her face and even more so in the slump of her shoulders. When she spoke, it came with a world-weary timbre:

    “Jedi do not raise their blades against another, ever. We are already hewed in many pieces, spread across the galaxy. We are weak, we are tired, we are vulnerable. No right hand needs to be taken off by its left out of spite. Please, do not attempt to draw your weapon in my presence and aim it at your fellow Jedi, whether you sit on this Council or not. Am I making myself clear?”

    “Yes, Master Sunrider,” Vera answered immediately.

    “Yes,” Atris managed to mumble.

    “I think there is much truth in what Vera says. The older we become, the more we experience…it allows us both deep clarity in the trends of history, but also stays our hand too often, or for too long. We so desperately feared the emergence of an Exar Kun or Naga Sadow from our ranks if we waited, but that always felt faulty. I may not be the first to admit privately, but I did fear and still do fear what this war will do to the Jedi Order.

    “We are small and weak and the more cracks that appear between us, the further apart we grow, and the less likely we become to help our fellow Jedi. Whether you choose to join these Revanchists is your sole choice, but the time to actively work against them is over,” Nomi said, glancing over at Dorjander in particular. She paused, curling her hands together and then smoothing the hem of her tunic.

    “Vera, this Council sees in you such incredible potential. Truly, we are proud of what you have accomplished in these past months, whether we agree or disagree with your methods and choices, either individually or collectively. It is humbling to know that any Jedi have been involved in your development as a person, and we hope that is always in the core of your being – that you are a Jedi.” Vera was glad for the mask now, because she was alternately blushing and tearing up.

    “But, my dear, that responsibility still holds. You are a Jedi at core and you must not only act like one, but think, speak, and behave as one. The Code applies to you now just as it did when you were but a Padawan learner. This war can be won if you fight it by our principles. I know you have heard me warn you before of the dark side, but in war more than anything, it is possible to lose oneself. Don’t allow that to happen, Vera. Please.”

    Vera bowed low to Master Sunrider, the words truly affecting, though she knew in her heart of hearts that stopping the Mandalorian threat was her priority, however that needed to occur. “Your wisdom is appreciated and listened to, as always,” Vera said, her words contrary to her thoughts. “And if I may return this gathering to the task at hand?”

    Nomi nodded and beckoned her continue.

    “Due to my…ah, linking across the Force, we have discovered over one-hundred and fifty Force Sensitives. They are here, or en route with some of my Jedi. The question thus becomes: what do we do with them?” Vera asked. There were nods and keen looks exchanged, and Vera could tell the Council had already come to some decision.

    “The Council has decided on a course of action,” Vrook began gruffly. Vera held up her hand.

    “If I may be so rude, this meeting was scheduled in advance in order to help determine that course of action,” Vera said pointedly.

    “While true, the Council still remains in charge of admittance, training, and how best to deal with new arrivals,” Vrook answered.

    “So, then what is this plan decided in my absence?” Vera snapped.

    You are not on this Council,” Atris sneered in response. “You do not have the right for input.”

    “I disagree! These scores would not have been discovered without me, and I have pulled dozens of my Jedi from strategic positions in order to fetch these newcomers!”

    “I keep hearing ‘my Jedi’ and ‘you’ and ‘the Council’ and such accusations of this type. Last time I checked, we were all Jedi and should all have a voice,” Kavar put in quietly from the right.

    “And open each decision we make to all the Jedi? How preposterous!” Atris fumed.

    “Master Atris has a point. Some decisions do not require the input of the entire Order, or may make that decision too difficult to achieve,” Master Ell put in politely.

    “Regardless the decision-making process followed in this chamber, this is an issue I strongly feel I should have been part of,” Vera said, crossing her arms over her chest.

    Nomi held up her hand and the room fell silent once more. “Vera, we have decided to process the incoming Force Sensitives and determine their suitability. More than likely, most of the children will be retained, and the amount will drop as the ages rise, as is traditional and normal, considering how sentients develop,” she said firmly. “Was your proposal significantly different?”

    “Not in the broad outlines, but I feel we must reduce our expectations regarding suitability. We’re in the midst of a war and we need every warrior we can get. I would advocate that any demonstrating significant adeptness in combat, regardless the age, should be kept and trained. Those with other skills that require more years of training, like talent in the Force, should remain and be trained here by Council members in order to bring them up to speed,” she answered.

    “So, the combative ones, the ones more likely to fall to bloodlust and the allure of combat, you want those to have lesser expectations?” Atris asked condescendingly.

    “The power of the dark side reaches out through the Force with just as much power as it does through personal combat,” Vera answered.

    “She makes a notable point,” Dorak put in. “If we shy away from training some because they’re already proficient or adept in combat, we ignore that the dark side’s seductions through the Force can be as equally strong, and as Knight Vera did not mention, even more subtle.”

    “So what criteria are they to be judged on? When this war is finished and the Republic is victorious and we return to our more normal duties, do these recruits have to pass muster on our general outlines, and if not, we take their saber and they’re gone? They would be alienated and even more likely to fall to the dark side,” Dorjander Kace said thoughtfully.

    “The issues following the end of hostilities can wait until we are more secure in our positions and have time to devote to those questions,” Vera answered diplomatically.

    “Or we could just take each recruit and wipe their mind and reprogram them!” Atris burst out sarcastically. Vera knew that additions to the Order not overseen personally by Atris and fitting into the ‘one Padawan policy’ were particular sore points for the snowy woman.

    “Wait, is that even possible?” Vera asked. No one seemed willing to reply until Nomi quietly replied with an affirmation.

    “Yes, it is possible. But we do not do it.”

    “Why not?” Vera asked with actual curiosity.

    “Reprogramming of a mind is not only extremely difficult, requiring at least four Masters trained in it, but runs contrary to our belief in the will of the Force,” Master Dorak answered.

    “And if the will of the Force, whatever that means to most of you, requires more Jedi ready and able to stop the Mandalorians? Does that satisfy this requirement?” Vera shot back with sarcastic venom. Master Dorak looked somewhat affronted and sat back, interdigitating his long fingers.

    “Vera, calm yourself, please. Your conduct before us this day does not inspire confidence in your leadership,” Vandar snapped at her.

    “And your refusal to bring me into this discussion before making a decision does not inspire in me any confidence in your moral leadership,” Vera returned with equal coarseness.

    “Your advice will be taken into consideration,” Nomi began as diplomatically as possible. Vera, frustrated with the Council’s impertinence and arrogance, stepped forward and physically cut Nomi’s speech off.

    “No it will not, and I know that. The Force Sensitives who have already arrived may remain with those who do not agree with my aims and may be trained by such luminaries. The others still on their way and with my Jedi, shall join the fight if they are capable, based on my criteria. The galaxy is changing, Masters, and you’re falling behind collectively. I hope that’s not the case individually. Good day,” Vera said, bowing curtly and ignoring the dying calls for her return to the chamber. It seemed that each meeting with the Council would not go well.

    She would bypass them instead.



    ****
  18. SoA Jedi Grand Master

    Member Since:
    Apr 2, 2008
    star 3
    Wow, well at least Kale knows he's hit is breaking point. Vera, on the other hand, has just broken past that tipping point and gotten a whole lot more dangerous. Especially with Kale, I wonder: now what?

    Nicely done with Nomi, Atris, and Vera. I do enjoy some verbal sparring.
  19. LaForzaViva Jedi Grand Master

    Member Since:
    Jul 6, 2008
    star 1
    SoA - Verbal sparring is quickly becoming my favorite to write, but I can't always forget about the more physical fighting. Some of that to come soon... and answers to Kale's predicament come next. A solo chapter, and one I struggled to write for quite some time.



    Chapter 9 - Quietus



    Dread filled his gut, combining with an ill feeling as the Be’senaar neared Dxun. This would be only his second time on the planet, but now he was a changed man. Before, a Mandalorian. Now, less than that. He did not know what reception he faced and what that would mean to him. So much that had seemed so secure, like a rock in his hand, now felt like a bubble of noxious air, something he could grasp at but could never grip.

    Except Jena. That’s all he told himself over and over. She was secure in his life, a fundamental piece of him that he knew would exist forever.

    He remained on the bridge and directed the ship to land in its expected docking station. The bridge crew all left quickly, as though heading somewhere, but Kale did not feel in any rush to leave the seat of his crime. The Be’senaar had been seated on the ground for nearly twenty minutes before he rose from his seat, took the small pack from his side, wound his way through the ship’s interior before exiting into the bright sunlight of Dxun.

    And before him stood a sea of armor, Mandalorians in blues and purples and yellows and reds, standing in rows and columns of absolute perfection. An initial haze of confusion dawned before the realization broke through with the force of a nuclear blast: they were standing before him to congratulate him.

    In unison, the two columns between which he would walk raised their right arms, vibroblades of varying colors and sizes saluted to him. And then the rest of the crowd roared, in one voice, a voice of cascading power and martial vivacity: “Oya! Manda! Oya! Manda!” they chanted over and over again, beating their chests with their right hands in rhythm. Kale stood frozen on the ramp of the Be’senaar, desperate that this mirage would leave him if only he walked quickly past it.

    He strode down the ramp and kept his helmet high, but ducked his eyes and stared as much as possible at the ground. But the mirage remained, the chanting overloading his sensory processors, the air shaking with each “O-ya! Man-da!” that required a strike of the chest on the first syllable. His gaze came across a set of golden boots suddenly in front of him and he stopped and looked up.

    Cassus Fett stood in front of him, his armor gleaming as though newly produced, the yellow sun of Dxun bouncing in sheets of honey off his goldenrod armor. Two large vibroblades were strapped on his back, and in his left hand he held a small case. Holding up his right, the crowd let out one final battle cry and then fell silent.

    Ne vode! Today, we gather to salute a great Champion of our race! A true warrior, who when faced with the necessities of war, hesitated not a moment to do his duty, to do what was required to defeat our enemy and bring us glory!” Fett shouted, his voice cleverly amplified so that it rebounded against the hangar walls and floated into the open air. The dread weighting him down lifted in his esophagus and he put a hand to his chest to hold the sickness down, bile smoking in his throat. Fett took the hand to mean a salute and returned it, as did the hundreds of Mandalorians standing before them.

    “Captain Kale Ordo, on behalf of Mandalore the Ultimate, our savior and warrior-leader, I present to you the Glory of Mandalore!” Fett shouted, opening the case and turning in a circle, lifting the box over his head. The crowd roared its approval as Fett turned back to Kale, pulled a shining medallion from the box, and affixed it over his heart. Kale looked down at the medallion, a diamond-shaped piece of platinum with two sweeping streaks of blue curving from the top point and conjoining again at the bottom point; between rested a small jewel, gleaming pure white. It felt so heavy, though he knew it weighed nothing.

    Fett closed the box and extended his right arm. Kale looked at that arm, an arm with even more blood on it than his own, an arm that would never have hesitated the way he did. And he took it, squeezing his hand down as tightly as possible against Fett’s armor, feeling the beskar’gam nearly respond to his crushing blow.

    “Well-deserved, Captain Ordo. Hesitate once more when I give you an order, though, and I will cut your head from your shoulders,” Fett said through clearly smiling teeth. Kale had no answer appropriate in this moment, and thought if he opened his mouth he would vomit out of disgust for himself and for the culture that raised him to become what he now was. A celebrated murderer. Instead, he nodded weakly to Fett and followed Mandalore’s Fist down the aisle of his comrades as they chanted his family name over and over again.

    The aisle ended at the doorway to exit the hangar and just as he moved to push the door open and find fresh air, a blue blur slammed into him from the side, the arms suddenly wrapped around his waist, a helmet buried in his chest. He knew it was Jena and he desperately wished it wasn’t, that she wasn’t here to see him in this moment. But it was her, and what she said to him made the weight in his stomach grow even heavier.

    “Welcome home, Champion Ordo.” He heard the admiration in her voice and at that moment he knew he could not stay on this planet, could not stay in his armor a second longer.



    When he was stripped of his armor and Jena was as well, she clearly desired him but now any sense of wanting her had vanished and he begged just to sleep. She assented without a battle and curled up next to him, facing him, stroking his face with her hand and whispering how much she had missed him and how proud of him she was. He closed his eyes and let the guilty exhaustion overtake him into a world of nightmares.

    Every dream, a repetition of darkness, took him from whatever conscious plane his mind existed on and brought it straight to hell, forcing him to relive the massacre on Serroco: first, as a person on the planet, wiped into non-existence; next as a Republic ship commander, watching the explosions in the rearview screen, then watching his ship explode from the might of the Mandalorians; and third and yet seemingly in every memory, he stood to the side, watching a red-armored Mandalorian turn a key over and over and over, cursing that it wouldn’t work, slamming his hand down, begging for his ship to destroy those people and then throwing his fist in the air in joy and happiness as the ship expelled its deadly cargo. Kale watched these and dozens of other nightmares wheel past his unconscious eyes and then he forced himself awake.

    Jena was asleep, sprawled out next to him, the curvature of her chest visibly pressed against the cleaned sheets, her long hair a beautiful, flowing mess, the bed sheet slung dangerously low across her back. He felt himself ache for her touch, for her body against his and nearly woke her until the memory of her body crushing him in an embrace returned, the touch a taint to his memories of her.

    Did she know what he’d done? Did she have any idea the blood on his hands? The door glanced at him from the corner of his gaze; he could simply leave now, get onto a ship and go as far from this world as possible. He wanted to, no, he needed to leave these people and leave this place. He no longer wished to be a part of a society that celebrated war the way his did. Kale just had to leave. Even if it meant leaving her, the only thing he cared for in the galaxy.

    Though every instinct told him to run now, he couldn’t without knowing if she knew exactly what he’d done, if she truly celebrated the slaughter of life. He remembered their last conversation, how she hoped he never used the weapons – whether because of their virulence or because she worried for his psyche, he wasn’t sure.

    “Jena,” he said softly. She turned and reached her hand out and smoothed her hand against his chest and pulled herself closer, her bare chest pressed against his side.

    “Mm yeah?” she asked, still half-asleep. He brushed some of her hair from her eyes and she blinked up at him, slowly waking. Her gaze focused on his face and then a veil of comprehension dawned and she sat up, intent on him and not his body. “What is it?”

    “Yesterday, today, I don’t know, you came to me at the edge of the hangar and… you called me a champion. And later you told me how proud of you were of me. What are you proud of me for?” he asked, his breath shallower as he feared her answer. She swept her eyes over him and then leaned over, hugging him tightly.

    “I’m proud of you because you are a glorious, celebrated warrior. You are a true Mandalorian, Kale, and that’s all I ever wanted to see you become,” she said. He stiffened and she sensed it and backed away, looking at him differently. “Did I say something wrong?”

    “Do you know why they celebrate me?”

    “For your victory at Serroco, for leading the fleet into battle,” she answered, half-sure of herself.

    “Do you know why they celebrate me? Why exactly they call me a champion and pin a stupid piece of jewelry to my heart?” he asked, his emotion rushing into his face, heating it.

    “No…all I know is that you were an integral part of the battle. What happened over Serroco, Kale?” she asked, genuine concern filling her visage.

    “I was ordered to fire on the planet. My ship. My ship filled with only nuclear missiles,” he said slowly. As he spoke each sentence, whatever admiration was present drained away and she grew pale and horrified, holding a hand over her mouth. She placed the other on his shoulder and let it trail up to his neck and she pressed her fingers deep into the muscle of his neck over and over again.

    “By the gods I did not know, Kale, I didn’t! They told us it was a great battle and that you helped lead the fleet into the middle of the Republic lines. I haven’t heard a single thing about nuclear missiles,” she said.

    “And you’re speaking the truth to me, Jena? I can’t bear for you to be proud of me when all I did was sit in a chair and launch nuclear missiles at a helpless population I can’t be someone to look up to when all I did was murder all those people,” he burst out, the tears running freely. She swept her hand up against and pushed them away again and again and then pulled his head into her lap and stroked his hair.

    “It’s okay, Kale, it’s okay. I’m not proud of you for that, I couldn’t be. I only thought you were being celebrated for how we usually fight our enemies. I don’t think many people except the fleet there and the leadership know. Everyone I heard from didn’t know this,” she said. A tiny piece of the weight on his shoulders disappeared and he felt his breaths come to him more peacefully. At least she was with him. That’s what mattered now.

    “Jena,” he said in a quiet voice after twenty minutes of contemplative silence.

    “Yes?”

    “I can’t stay here anymore, on Dxun. I don’t think I can be around all…this after what happened,” he admitted. He heard her sharp intake of breath followed by a smoother release of air as she thought on what he’d said.

    “And where would you go?” she asked. He had hoped to hear the word ‘us’, but hoped that she would say yes if he asked her to leave their tribe.

    “I don’t know, yet.”

    “And what would you do? How would you make a living? You’re a born and bred warrior – what you’ve done your whole life is train to engage in combat. About the only thing that’s good for in this galaxy is being a soldier, a bodyguard, or a mercenary. Not much else, so how would you make your living? We’re provided all of those accoutrements from the worlds we capture, but a lot of the front-liners like you forget where this stuff comes from,” Jena said without sounding overly harsh.

    “I hadn’t even thought of that,” Kale acknowledged softly.

    “That’s why you have me around, silly,” she said, ruffling his hair. He took her arm and brought her hand to his lips and then sat up, taking her other hand.

    “Would you come with me if I left? If I tried to start over somewhere, where I’m not responsible for…what happened?” He looked at her as she thought, her gaze turning away from his, looking at the window turning slowly orange with growing morning light.

    “Yes. I’m horrified that Fett ordered you to do that, that some of us are so bloodthirsty for victory we’ll ignore the most important norms of war. As much as I love our people, as much as I love our culture and our honor and the challenge of combat, you are my everything, Kale Ordo, and I couldn’t bear to know that you left and I wasn’t with you,” she said. He pulled her to him and kissed her with fierce passion. As long as she was with him, he did not need this vicious tribe any more.



    They spent the next day planning their flight from Dxun: would they steal a ship? The Be’senaar herself? Would they try to fly out secretly on another non-Mandalorian ship? They finally settled on the third option; arms shipments to Dxun were an everlasting feature of life, and there was no significant security around the ships before they left after discharging their arms.

    The major problems were two: how to avoid their responsibilities the day of their departure, considering their bifurcated importance to the Mandalorian war effort; and how to reconcile where they would end up with their next step. They had few actual credits; selling their armor was unlikely if not impossible considering that it almost never appeared on any kind of market; and the rest of their possessions were not particularly valuable. They pored over the logs of incoming ships and their usual originating destination and chose the Seaskipper, a small arms transport that was based out of Nar Shaddaa.

    The planet, a hive of scum and villainy, would be an easy point of entrance into the underworld, where their skillsets could yield quick returns – he as a bodyguard for some important personage for a short time, and she as a planner or strategist for the same or a similar one. Within a few months or years, they could build enough reserves of credits to leave and start a life somewhere more pleasant, less illegal, and they both agreed, with lots of trees.



    The day of their plotted escape, Kale was filled with nervous energy. He was to oversee the reloading of missiles onto the Be’senaar as well as oversee checks on the ship’s equipment. His excuse to exit would be to note a few irregularities in ship supplies, leave to speak with his wife, by now one of the top logistics officers. They would then make their way to the major non-Mandalorian spaceport, excusing their presence as searching for those missing supplies. Finally, they would use their time to check on the Seaskipper for possible supplies by only informing the Mandalorian guard by the ship. Preferably the guard would be young and impressionable and would make no bother if he did not see them exit the ship prior to its launch at 1455 hours.

    By 1300, he was so anxious, knowing he seemed out of sorts to his crew, but unable to dampen down on his nerves. He made his excuse, asserting that the ship was lacking in specific power packs for their few blaster cannons, and left to speak with Chief Warrant Officer Ordo. His lieutenant, the intelligent and lanky Wookie, challenged him on the account.

    “I checked the packs myself yesterday and they are fully charged and loaded. We have the required ten as well as three further back ups,” his lieutenant said to him, the Shyriiwook translated by his helmet.

    “There… there is a new regulation on the amount necessary before entering combat,” Kale said, desperate to get away now, already a few moments late. Timing was too key in their plan and he needed to get a move on.

    “I have heard of no such thing!” the Wookie retorted. He never bothered to pronounce his name, and Kale (and the others) had always called him The Wook for short, seeing as he was one of only a dozen of the species to be a Mandalorian.

    “It was communicated only to ship’s captains,” he lied quickly.

    “Why wouldn’t our warrant officer have heard of it? I shall ask him,” The Wook answered, starting to step away to find the ship’s warrant officer.

    “That isn’t necessary, I’ll take care of it myself,” Kale said with a bite in his voice. The Wook tilted his helmet to the left, unused to such a tone. Kale inwardly swore, but put it out of his mind as he stated once more that he would take care of it and then turned to leave. He made his way quickly back to his home, picking up their satchels and walked to the logistics office, requesting to see his wife on concerns that the Be’senaar was missing specific arms that the Seaskipper had. She came quickly and they both walked down to the spaceport, just two Mandalorians on a stroll to escape their people.

    The Seaskipper was in her berth and, thankfully, the sole guard was a very young man in blue; he stuttered when Kale identified himself and requested access. It was 1435 and the ship’s crew was nowhere in sight. The guard assented quickly and Kale told him that they would leave prior to the ship taking off but had another to visit and so would use a separate maintenance corridor to leave. The guard bought it and they walked aboard.

    They scouted the ship carefully and quietly, finally finding concealable space in the engine room, crouching down behind a bulkhead with space behind it. They waited, but as the chronometer approached 1455, they had not heard the engines spin up, nor heard any movement on the ship.

    “Do you think something is wrong?” Kale asked. Jena turned, her helmet impassive, but he could read the motion of her shoulders that said she had no idea.

    1500 came and went, and there was still nothing. Then 1515 came and went as well, and Kale grew more worried.

    “Maybe I should check,” he said. Jena grabbed his arm and seemed ready to speak when the answer came, and loudly.

    “Kale Ordo, exit the Seaskipper immediately!” came the amplified voice of Cassus Fett. “We know you are aboard with your wife; you shall not flee your people without answering for this traitorous crime. You have one minute before we destroy this ship regardless.”

    Kale could not breathe, the thoughts and fears coming too rapidly to pick through. It was Jena who spoke first, softly but with firmness:

    “If we die, then let us die together and show them we are not cowards,” she said, putting her hand on his arm. He put his over hers and squeezed tightly.

    “I’m so sorry,” he managed to get out.

    “I love you,” she answered.

    “I love you too.” With that, she took him by the hand and they walked through the steel corridors of the ship until they exited down the ramp.

    Standing before them was a group of twenty Mandalorians, Fett at the fore, The Wook to his left. His cousin, Canderous, was nowhere in sight. Each man before them carried a rifle or blaster of some sort, until Kale noticed the one Mandalorian in the back, clad in dark grey armor, bordering on black, holding a vibroblade. Their executioner.

    “So, a new order was promulgated for more power packs on ships? It is a good thing your warrant officer and first lieutenant questioned such an order, or else we might have lost our great Champion! So great that he wants to leave his people!” Fett challenged, laughing first, the rest of the Mandalorians joining in with him. Kale felt sick, his body robbed of his energy until the outburst of laughter from some of his own men.

    “Our code of honor does not allow for massacring innocents, Fett! That is not how we fight our-“

    “Who are you to dare question how we fight our wars? These are times that call for all action necessary!” Fett shouted, cutting him off.

    “Do the people know what you ordered? Or are we so craven that we will stand back from an inviting battle and challenge of will to instead launch nukes and destroy innocent people? Do you Mandalorians standing here know that I am some ‘champion’ because I fired twenty-seven nuclear missiles at cities? I did not lead a fleet into battle, I did not do anything but sit at a chair and turn a key to fire these weapons against a helpless population!” Kale shouted at the assembled group. He saw a few of them shift awkwardly in their places, looking over at Cassus Fett in his always pristine armor. Most of them didn’t know. Which meant that the Mandalorians as a people probably did not know either.

    “The Republic placed their soldiers in the cities to stop us from engaging in battle! They needed to be taught that lesson so that when we challenge them as we shall continue to, they will fight like true warriors, not like cowards!” Fett roared back.

    “Tell the people, tell all of us that this is how we fight our wars, and there will be more who wish to leave, who see that you are corrupting the spirit of our honor and combat. We will not be the first, as long as our people know the truth!” Kale shouted.

    “It is of no concern, for your time as a Mandalorian is ended. But, Kale Ordo, there is something else, for you are not so lucky. You will not receive the death you think you deserve. Instead, you will watch your wife die, and then you shall be exiled from our people for eternity, left to remember what you had and what you lost,” Fett sneered. The assembled raised their weapons.

    “Spare Jena! She was unwilling from the start – take my life in place of hers!” Kale shouted, stepping forward.

    “Is this true, CWO Ordo?” Fett asked, the uncertainty clearly voiced. Kale turned to look at the only thing he cared for in this world as she answered.

    “Once I heard why my husband was called a champion, I knew that he was right and that we could never remain among men and women like you, Cassus Fett. I wanted to leave with my husband, and I shall not take a breath in this life if he is not by my side. If you exile him and not me, then I walk to my death willingly and with the pride of a true Mandalorian, which you are not!” she ended in exclamation.

    “Jena, no, please don’t,” Kale begged. She shook her head and grabbed his right hand.

    “There’s no point in living with these bastards if I can’t be with you,” she replied. “But do one thing for me, Kale. Kill Cassus Fett.” He heard the determination and knew she wouldn’t be persuaded, nor could she take back her insult of the man who would now order her execution. Her pride and stubbornness had always drawn him to her and he had never loved her more than in this moment. He forced his helmet off and she did too and they embraced, kissing, until the rough gauntlets of their fellow men pulled them apart.

    Kale drove his fist into the helmet of one, smashing the viewscreen into cracks. A stun burst from a weapon coursed over his armor and he felt the power of it pulse through to his bones but he remained on his feet, turning and ramming his flat palm against the neck of another man, lifting the entire man from the ramp and throwing him to the ground. Another stun burst, and then two more hit him and he felt the strength from adrenaline wane and recede, and he dropped to his knees. Two Mandalorians grabbed his arms and held them behind his back.

    Jena was kneeling before him, looking at him with her face set determinedly. She mouthed “I love you” to him and then looked at Fett. He kneeled before her and ran his gloved hand against her cheek.

    “I hope you burn in hell when my husband plants a blade in your gut,” she said, and then spat in his face. He recoiled, wiping the spit from his face and then slapped her. Kale shouted but a fist to his solar plexus robbed him of breath and he gasped for air. Fett stood and stepped back, motioning over. The executioner strode forward, his large size overwhelming in his frightening armor. Kale tried to exert some kind of sound and struggle to free himself, but the men did not let him go. He saw the Wook on his left and looked at him, pleading without voice, but the Wook instead turned and looked at Jena.

    Kale looked at her, wishing he had never brought this upon her. She could see the guilt and shook her head, giving him one final smile. He did so weakly back, and she closed her eyes, the smile still on her face.

    The vibroblade swept sideways across her neck and like the Jedi Canderous had killed, the body slumped to the side, the life extinguished. Kale looked once more at the serene expression on Jena’s face and then he roared, freeing himself with power he did not know he possessed, dragging the Wook and the other as he exploded up from his knees.

    He leapt toward Fett and in one bound closed the distance and grasped the man’s neck, raising him from the ground and squeezing as hard as possible. Fett swung his fists down at Kale, the metal breaking against his skin and tearing cuts in his face but nothing mattered now except killing Cassus Fett. He clamped down tighter and felt the lifeforce of this murderer begin to recede until a blow came across the back of his head and he fell forward, dropping the near breathless Fett. Hands grasped at him and pulled him back from Fett’s coughing body while the golden warrior scooted backwards away from Kale as fast as possible.

    “Enjoy your pitiful existence,” Fett managed to taunt between coughs. “Get rid of him and get rid of this ship.” The Seaskipper’s crew was pushed toward the ship while three Mandalorians grabbed Kale’s arms and legs and dragged him up the ramp before throwing him on board. His helmet lay on the ramp and he tried to stand to retrieve it, but the blow to his head had done more damage than he’d expected and he fell back, weak and delirious. He closed his eyes and slumped down on the floor of the Seaskipper, hoping this was his final death, so he could join Jena, his love, in the afterlife.

    ****
  20. SoA Jedi Grand Master

    Member Since:
    Apr 2, 2008
    star 3
    You didn't...

    I can see why you had trouble with this one. This just went from bad to horrible for Kale.
  21. LaForzaViva Jedi Grand Master

    Member Since:
    Jul 6, 2008
    star 1
    SoA - I did! I haven't really killed off a main character before, so it was actually kind of breaking a big barrier for me. But, onward we go!



    Chapter 10 - Revolvings



    Vera was only thirty minutes gone from the Council chamber when she heard the news from a trusted source on Taris: Master Aleco had been killed along with her current and former Padawan, all of their weapons taken and their bodies left in the open. Her source had hired a smuggler to return the bodies to Coruscant, and they had just departed Taris. Vera considered returning to tell the Council, but knew the arrival of the smuggler’s ship would provide the news regardless. Master Aleco had been a talented Jedi and she would be deeply missed.

    Vera knew that her death was only the first to come for many of those in the Order. It was inescapable.

    She relayed the news to Alek; he was currently near Duros, negotiating with a few arms companies for reduced cost of armaments provided to the Republic. He was unsurprised and put on a dispassionate air, though Vera could detect the anger swirling in him. He would need to channel it against the Mandalorians, and she reminded him of that necessity.

    “I will, don’t worry. Vera, GAD is not cooperating. They claim that they cannot provide their wares at the prices we are negotiating for, and that higher prices can be found. I was able to ferret out who these high buyers are: the Exchange. I feel the Exchange think they need to build up weapons in case we or the Mandos come for them,” Alek reported.

    “Hmm. We need GAD to set the precedent and then the rest will follow – especially Czerka, our main target after all. The Exchange is going to make plenty of credits during this war and I don’t care how they do it, but not if they interfere with our supplies. They’re based on Nar Shaddaa, right?” she asked.

    “After Taris… yeah,” Alek replied.

    “Then it looks like I’m going there,” she replied.

    “May the Force be with you,” Alek said.

    “And with you.” She clicked the communicator off and turned for the docking bay. As she approached, Padawan Surik bounded out of nowhere, her auburn hair loosely up, highlighting her pale skin and cerulean eyes.

    “Yes, Meetra?” Vera asked, always preferring to call any fellow Revanchist by their name and not their title. It had to do with respect – they were all equal soldiers in their fight.

    “I heard about Master Aleco,” Meetra started. That got around quickly.

    “It is unfortunate, but this is the consequence of war – some of us will join the Force before we wanted,” Vera replied.

    “Whatever is necessary to stop the Mandalorians,” Meetra answered. Vera could see the Padawan wished to ask a question.

    “Go on, ask away,” she said with a polite tone.

    “Where are you going, and can I join you?” she blurted out. Vera thought for a second – this would be a negotiation, nothing more. Nar Shaddaa is a dangerous place, but Meetra was one of the most talented Padawans, training mostly with Master Kavar. Vera felt Meetra was more than capable to join the ranks of the Knights, but it was not her decision. Just as most things aren’t, frustratingly she thought.

    “I’m going to Nar Shaddaa, and yes, you can come,” Vera replied, turning and moving toward the hangar bay. Meetra followed and in a few short moments, they were on their way to Nar Shaddaa aboard her personal transport, a lightning-quick light freighter modified with double the engine thrusters, and to compensate, a ribbed hull providing triple the protection from the breakneck speeds the freighter could handle.

    “Have you ever been before?” Meetra asked her as they sat in the cockpit, lounging as the ship coursed through hyperspace.

    “To Nar Shaddaa? No, I haven’t. Before this war, really, I’d only been to a few planets inside the Core – Coruscant and Dantooine, of course, Alderaan and Empress Teta. Only since the Mandalorians have decided to make war have I needed to go to all these new places,” Vera summarized.

    “Do you like the travel? You don’t think it gets boring?”

    Vera chuckled. “No, not really. My mind is active enough as it is, and sometimes I need the long flights to keep to myself and think things through.”

    “Oh, well if you want me to go, I can go work on my meditation like Master Kavar always says I should,” Meetra answered, not really hurt, but sort of.

    “No, no, you aren’t bothering me at all, Meetra, I promise,” she answered, smiling beneath the mask. “But I do have a question for you, if that’s okay.”

    “Anything, yup,” Meetra replied, looking at Vera with an expectant grin.

    “Why did you choose to join us?”

    “What, the Jedi? I was handed over as a baby, I’ve always been told. Which is okay of course, better to be one than not I think.”

    “No, not the Jedi. The Revanchists,” Vera clarified.

    “Oh! I heard your speech, the one you gave after the Mandalorians attacked Taris. I hadn’t really been paying much attention before that, you know, but when that happened… I just decided that to sit around and let the Mandos wreck everything in the universe wasn’t right at all.”

    “So, it was for the injustice you saw?”

    “Yeah, yeah I guess so. But, not to make it seem less than it is, but the constant training day after day can get a bit boring. I think I just also wanted something exciting, something new, to do, you know what I mean?”

    “Oh, believe me, I do,” Vera said with a laugh. “The days as a Padawan are the dullest – always following instructions, always training, never having much time to yourself. I was not exactly the most cooperative Padawan, either, if you believe that.”

    Meetra looked over at Vera with a sarcastic grin and then burst into laughter. “Of course you were a troublemaker as one. I mean, look what you’re doing now! Making trouble for the entire Order, and definitely for those blasted Mandos,” Meetra said through her chuckles. Vera joined in, the relief of having at least some levity a break from the consistently depressing reports from the front. “When were you knighted?”

    “Knighted? Now, it’s been a few years I suppose. Before the major moves in the ‘False War’. But I am one of the younger ones in the Order, and I was young when I was knighted,” she replied.

    “Is it a huge improvement? In the day to day?”

    “Oh, definitely. You control your schedule, besides your general duties for the Order. I will say, though, since I’ve spent most of my time and energy on this war, even before it was one, that my path isn’t necessarily a normal one.”

    “As if any Jedi have a normal one – I mean, look at the Council; they all have such different histories and ways they got where they are,” Meetra said. Vera detected a hint of envy throughout the discussion.

    “Do you want to be on the Council, Meetra?” she asked.

    Meetra scratched the back of her neck before replying. “Not really,” she lied.

    “So, yes, you do,” Vera said. Meetra gave her an impish grin.

    “Yeah, I guess so.”

    “Any reason why?”

    “Well, I guess I’d say because I’ve seen what they’ve done and what you’ve done, and I’d much rather have people, like you, to be on it. And I think I’m more like you than I am like them,” she ended rather sheepishly.

    “I’m flattered, and I won’t give you any silly ‘you are too young to understand’ like Kavar would, but the Council did have their reasons and there was logic behind it, even if it was convoluted or nonsensical to me. I don’t know if I think the Council is a place I’d like to end up, to be honest,” Vera said.

    “Why not?! They need you!”

    “They might, they might not. But there are always Jedi who go around and do good without being on the Council.”

    “Like Master Cafran, right?” Meetra asked.

    “Just like him, yes. He has his…quirks, but he’s a man who wants to do good, and that’s why he’s Nomi’s right-hand man when it comes to settling disputes before they turn into something really serious. And he’s not on the Council and never will be,” Vera said with sadness.

    “Because of his Padawans?”

    “Yes, because of them. And how he acts – he’s too blunt for the Council. And if he’s too blunt, Force knows they would never accept me based on that alone!” Vera said, laughing, Meetra as well.

    “Do you think we need the Council?” Meetra asked after a moment of silence.

    “That’s an interesting question, Meetra. And a rather bold one, considering,” Vera noted. Meetra shrugged.

    “Well?”

    Vera held up a hand. “Now, now, patience is still a virtue of the Jedi. Do you think we should have one? You did ask the question for a reason, after all,” Vera said lightly.

    “Yeah, yeah I did. I guess…,” Meetra started, and then stopped and chewed on a fingernail. “Okay, I guess I’m split, then. I see why we have one, you know, to lead everything, but if they don’t lead, should we have them?”

    “Well, how are you defining leading?”

    “Umm, I guess by making decisions best for… well I would say the galaxy but I can’t say I feel like they did that recently,” Meetra said, hesitating somewhat in her reply.

    “You see the Council as making decisions best for the galaxy as a whole?” Vera asked.

    “Yeah, I’d say that.”

    “Interesting. Would you agree if I said the Council sees itself as making the best decisions for the Order and not the galaxy as a whole?”

    Meetra nodded quickly. “I’d definitely agree. That’s what I think I meant,” she said.

    “So the problem isn’t how you define leadership, but it’s how you define what that leadership’s foremost aim is. You and I, and many others, believe that the Order should make decisions best for the galaxy. But that’s not necessarily how the Council always sees itself,” Vera finished.

    “Yeah, yeah…” Meetra trailed off.

    “That’s why I’ve done all this – standing up for the trillions without a voice and in such danger that the Council seem cold-blooded and heartless by avoiding the Mandalorians. I feel, honestly, that the Jedi are guardians of the galaxy and law and order, and when the truly large issues present an overwhelming threat to the galaxy, then it is up to us to act. We cannot be everywhere, for we are too small, but the Mandalorians are an existential threat and we are the only balance,” Vera affirmed.

    “You make this all sound so simple,” Meetra said with some amount of awe.

    Vera waved the thought off. “This is what happens when you sit around on long flights and have all this time to think!” Meetra yawned widely, and Vera noticed just how tired she felt as well. “On that note, I think I’m in need of a quick nap as well. I have a feeling negotiating with some of the shadier figures on Nar Shaddaa might be a bit exercise-inducing…” Meetra grinned, and left the cockpit to lie down. Vera angled her seat back, wrapped her cloak around her armored figure, and fell fast asleep.



    ****

    The first thing Kale noticed about Nar Shaddaa was not the sheer amount of people, nor the prolific amount of neon and halogen-lit signs in as many languages as people, nor the open carrying of blasters, blades, and even pikes. It was the smell. The planet stank as though a million dying Mon Calamari lined the surface of the planet and let their scent waft up the cityscape. He despised the planet the moment he stepped from the Seaskipper and tasted the disturbing scent in his mouth.

    The crew of the Seaskipper, witnesses to the murder of his wife, took pity on him throughout the journey to Nar Shaddaa. He despised pity and the weakness he displayed, but had been in no position to argue with them. They were kind people, especially for gun-runners. They had fed him and had their medic tend to his head wound. He was weak and dizzy for the first number of hours, sliding in and out of a strange wakelessness, where all he could see was his Jena and when he blinked, all he could feel was the pain in his head and in his gut.

    By the time the Seaskipper had landed, he was at least able to walk with sure feet, though he still felt less than whole. The captain of the ship, an older but still fit man, had assured Kale that he would help him find some temporary living and a job, though it wouldn’t be anything more than mercenary work. Kale had told him that it was fine, and that he hardly needed anything but a bed, food, and water. The captain took him the first night to his small apartment and allowed him to stay there in addition to a large bowl of noodles and some mystery meat.

    “I have set up a meeting with Forii Haxa tomorrow at 1000 in the Palace District. Forii isn’t the nicest gent around, but employment with him is pretty safe. He has his hands in a lot of muck, but tends to keep his head above water by using people like you to do the dirty work. That’s about the best I could do,” the captain, Mel Kindor, told him.

    “I appreciate you helping me more than you know. One day, I’ll repay you and your crew for your kindness. It would’ve been easier on you to toss me out of the airlock in my condition,” Kale said.

    “I may be a gun-runner and a smuggler and I might just love this hobby I’ve made my living, but I can’t murder a soul. You didn’t do anything to me. If you had though, you’re damn right you’d’ve been out of that airlock in ten seconds flat,” Mel answered, slapping him on the shoulder as he walked out of the kitchen.



    Mel dropped him off at the meeting location and then left, Kale thought, in quite a hurry. He’d been even kinder and given Kale civilian clothing, which fit a bit too tightly over his muscular frame, but it did let him leave his armor in the duffel in his hand, helmet included. He didn’t know if he’d wear it again, but it was valuable in many ways.

    Kale looked around the meeting place, a small end-of-alley spot that felt poorly lit even in the daylight. They were some forty levels down from the ‘main’ concourse, or the main one he’d been on. He wasn’t sure if there were a lot of levels; the whole place was a sensory battle by the moment. Even in this little place, the abundance of the city seemed to cascade over him in an unending series of rustles, constantly leaving him audibly disoriented. The other thing he’d noticed, besides the smell, was the omnipresent sense that the fog drifting through various levels and corridors was not just smoke and ash from the production side of the ecumenopolis, but the dusted remains of all the beings dying left and right on the planet.

    “Look alive, Mandalorian,” came the snarl and Kale turned, moving to his left automatically. The sching of the vibroblade whistled past his ear, clanging rudely into the duracrete flooring. He dropped the duffel and pulled the small vibrodagger from the small of his back. His attacker was large: a human male with shaggy blond hair, large of frame and quick with the blade. It came withering down in a blur and Kale smacked it to the side, the pressure of the blow almost knocking the dagger from his grip.

    He had enough time to notice that he was now surrounded by at least five people, but only one was in the process of attacking. He could see blaster muzzles in the shadows of the meeting space, but not one fired. The vibroblade came whipping back toward him in a horizontal cut; he parried it to the side with a light tap of his weapon as well as a sidestep in the opposite direction. His enemy, though large and quick, easily transmitted his moves with his feet.

    The man turned his right foot inward, to the left, and Kale knew the cut would come from the man’s left to his right, the planted foot turning the hip, which then produced the power of a left-to-right cut. He saw the musculature of the thigh steady and then shift; without even watching for the vibroblade to move, he jumped back a foot, landed on his toes, and then charged forward. The vibroblade was a barely past his charging frame, and the eyes of the large man before him widened as he attempted to hold the swing short, but momentum carried it too far to recall. Kale secured a grip on the man’s collarbone and gripped down strongly, but not hard enough to snap the bone. His other hand circled up from his hip and the vibrodagger curved down from above his head. The man closed his eyes in anticipation, but Kale halted the motion, letting the dagger vibrate centimeters from the man’s throat. The man opened his eyes, understanding that Kale had spared him and that he was defeated, and let the vibroblade clatter to the ground.

    They stood there for a moment, Kale’s hand ready to crush the man’s collarbone, the dagger waiting to make its killing cut. No one around the circle moved or fired their weapon at him, though Kale expected it at any second. Finally he heard the sound of sarcastic clapping from behind him. In a swift motion well-practiced, he pirouted on the spot, shifting his hand to wrap his attacker’s arm behind him, planting his right foot in front of the other’s right foot from behind, and holding the vibrodagger back to the man’s throat.

    The clapping man was short, and was also a dark blue Rodian. When he spoke Basic, Kale heard an incessant buzzing in his voice: “Very well done, Mandalorian. Your skills live up to your reputation.”

    “And you are?” Kale replied, pitching his voice lower to sound more menacing.

    “I am businessman, entrepreneur, cosmopolitan, caring Forii Haxa, at your service,” the Rodian said with a mock bow.

    “And this was some kind of test?” Kale asked.

    “Precisely! Though I had expected you to kill my now former bodyguard, but we can’t always get what we want without doing it ourselves,” Haxa said. He motioned and the gun closest to him fired two shots, both into the chest of the man Kale held in his grip. The man grunted and the scent of roasted flesh mixed with the malodor of the planet. The former bodyguard remained alive but his body forced all strength to his chest in the vain hope that it could save him. Kale let the man slump to the ground, his frustration transferring from being attacked to now watching his attacker die before him, helpless to aid the man. What a waste.

    “But, congratulations! You have now gained employment in my stead. And as my first command to you, my employee, please open your duffel, now, so that I know exactly whether Mel oversold you or not. After all, even an Iridonian not in armor is a wily beast,” Forii said, the buzzing tone everpresent.

    “If I do, the contents remain mine,” Kale said.

    “A negotiator! Look at you, Mandalorian. Armed with a vibrodagger and a dying body, you want to negotiate for your possessions! I admire your audacity, I truly do. But open it, now,” Forii said, pulling a disruptor and pointing it at Kale. “Go on, let’s get a move on. Oh, and put the weapon down, not that I think you can kill anyone with it right now.” Kale switched the dagger off and placed it on the ground, kicking it over to one of Forii’s henchmen. He stepped over the now-still body of the former bodyguard, and opened the duffel, removing the chest plate slowly.

    “Well by the fires of Ryloth you are a Mandalorian!” Forii said, walking closer and kneeling to look at the armor, then brushing his hand across the surface. Kale stopped himself from hitting the Rodian, the distaste visible on his face. Forii seemed to notice, and kept his suctioned-fingers on the armor far too long for Kale’s liking.

    “And you didn’t kill a Mandalorian to get your hands on it?” Forii asked him. Kale imagined crushing the small Rodian’s windpipe, but the look got the message across.

    “Yark, package it up and hold onto it,” Forii waved. A tall and gangly Gand holstered his blaster and politely slid the armor back into the duffel, closing it and then slinging it over his shoulder. The Gand nodded respectfully to Kale and he did so in kind.

    “Now, now, Mandalorian, do you have a name?” The big, buggy eyes turned toward him, the disruptor now holstered.

    “No,” Kale answered methodically. Without his armor, he wasn’t a Mandalorian. Perhaps it was a petty choice, but he didn’t feel as if he deserved his name right now, armor or not.

    “Perfect! I wouldn’t have bothered to learn it anyway. Calling you Mandalorian will do much more for me than calling you by whatever name you do or don’t have. But, Mandalorian, be prepared. When my rivals, ‘friends’, and competitors find out I have hired a Mandalorian as bodyguard, they will test you. Often. This is a nasty business, and it isn’t war. There’s one rule we in The Exchange play by: there are no rules.” With that, Forii stood up and walked away a few paces before turning around.

    “Well? Oh, right, you don’t have a weapon. Yark – blaster and blade. And let’s get him cleaned up and more presentable,” Forii buzzed. Yark offered Kale his blaster, and then his vibrodagger back. Kale sheathed the dagger and then checked the heft of the blaster. It was light, far too light, and felt more like a toy in his hands.

    “If you want me to not only survive these challenges, but also to intimidate, then you’ll tell Yark to give me my armor back,” Kale said to the back of the Rodian. The small, blue alien turned and looked at him with what Kale suspected was a look of incredulity.

    “And if I choose, probably smartly, not to give you your armor back?” he asked, his hand resting on his disruptor.

    “Then I’ll have to eliminate all five of you. Well, maybe not Yark. I like him,” Kale replied evenly.

    “You certainly like to talk a lot for such a quiet and large man, Mandalorian. I suppose there’s a reason your kind seems to be sweeping over this little galaxy of ours with no end in sight. And what if I give you this armor back and you decide to kill the five of us after all?” Forii asked.

    “If I sought employment and money, why would I kill my boss without knowing where to find his money?” Kale answered.

    Forii held up a finger. “Ah, so you’ll wait until you find the goods and then you’ll kill us?”

    “Maybe.”

    “Then let’s settle on this: you get your armor, but you never find out where I stash my billions. Does that sound fair?” Forii said. Kale nodded. “Then we have a deal! But we won’t shake on it, since I don’t trust you yet, plus you’re dirty and I keep these bad boys clean as a Jedi’s conscience. Yark, hand it over. Mandalorian, go ahead, let’s see you in your full regalia.”

    Yark put the bag next to Kale and then stepped back a few meters. Kale stripped out of the borrowed clothing and put his undersuit on, then dressed from the bottom up until the helmet compressor kicked in. The world looked back at him in a series of muted colorations, and he breathed deeply in, the purified air running through the circulator much tastier to breathe in.

    “Satisfied?” he asked the Rodian.

    “You’ll find I rarely am, but in this case, I’m excited to see what you can do. I do feel a bit bad about Nime back there. Clean it up,” he waved at the dead bodyguard. Two of the others in the group holstered their weapons and picked up the body, zipping it into a bag (presumably meant for Kale had he failed to defeat Nime), and then slinging it over one of their shoulders.

    “Ready boss,” one of them answered.

    “Mandalorian, feel free to lead on,” Forii motioned. Kale nodded and moved in front, the blaster even more of a toy in his hands. They exited the small space and ascended a number of levels, Forii directing Kale from a meter behind him and to his left. They walked for quite some time before stopping before a building.

    “And here we are, in 194. Learn this entire building from the bottom up, Mandalorian. You never know when we’ll need to either lock it down, or escape. Such is the life of Forii Haxa!” the little Rodian chirped, waving at the rather well-kept building. It was probably fifty stories high, primarily made from black durasteel with dirty windows, though the light of the multitudinous neon signs glinted oddly against them, and Kale knew they were reinforced. The Rodian wasn’t so stupid after all.

    Forii Haxa lived on the top floor (naturally) and also possessed the next two floors below it, to prevent any sneak attacks from below. There was a reason, and Kale only half-listened to the story, as his new employer was an unbelievable talker. Haxa had half of the entire floor, remade from individual cramped living quarters into a spotless, gold and silver-coated single suite. The rest of his employees lived on the floor, but in decently sized rooms across the hall from their employer.

    Yark showed him his new room and then quietly collected Nime’s few possessions, leaving the clothes for Kale, as the old bodyguard had been roughly his size anyway. He thanked Yark and the Gand nodded without a word and then exited, leaving Kale alone and to his thoughts for the first time in a long while. There was much to think about.

    ****
    Last edited by LaForzaViva, May 5, 2013
  22. SoA Jedi Grand Master

    Member Since:
    Apr 2, 2008
    star 3
    So that was Master Aleco who died on Taris? Interesting choice there. Now I know how she died. I enjoyed that little bit of Meetra, though I'm still trying to imagine how that kid is going to become a famed general. I look forward to how you write that development.

    I see some paths are going to cross pretty soon here.
  23. LaForzaViva Jedi Grand Master

    Member Since:
    Jul 6, 2008
    star 1
    SoA - I decided someone important had to pass away, and since Master Aleco is one of the "oh yeah they died in the war too" characters, I figured it might as well be her. Meetra will, hopefully, develop through the story, we'll see if I succeed, but there will be plenty more involving her. And perhaps!

    This chapter is 100% a nerd-out by me, so it's a fair warning if you don't like it, my reader(s?).



    Chapter 11 - Intelligence



    Nar Shaddaa stank. One of the few highlights of the mask was its ability to block out odors in particular, and to clean dirty air into clean oxygen and nitrogen before one breathed in. Though the mask changed scents, dulled colors, and could be dialed to reduce noises, Nar Shaddaa was even louder than Coruscant, and if not quite ‘brighter’, definitely demonstrated the contrast between bright lights and dark spaces.

    Meetra, before teasing Vera about the mask, was now begging to wear it if only for the scent-destroying power. Vera only teased her back and left it at that, enjoying the rankled nose and forehead of the Padawan as she struggled to figure out a way to breathe without smelling or tasting scents, though she was finding it quite impossible.

    “You’ll adjust soon, don’t worry. Coruscant always smells a bit industrial and like metal whenever I come back to it. But that would be pleasant compared to this,” Vera noted.

    “Yeah, yeah I guess I’ll live. Still might need to put a wrap around my mouth to breathe at this rate,” Meetra said, frustrated. “How are we going to find these people you need to talk to anyway?”

    “I have my ways,” Vera answered. In truth, intelligence collection wasn’t her strong suit. But it did lead her to appreciate the value of military intelligence and the Republic’s civilian intelligence service as well. She’d appropriated both of them, particularly the civilians, and considered them part of the war effort in a major way. Both services shared an office on Nar Shaddaa, and she had committed the address to memory. That was their first stop – they knew what she wanted and had prepared a briefing for her.

    “You say that a lot you know,” Meetra answered snarkily, but fell in line behind her as they left one of Nar Shaddaa’s more dirty spaceports. A spaceport agent came over to register their ship, but Vera furtively wiped his memory and commanded him to walk away and ignore their ship. The Taloron, far from his homeworld, looked confused, his sunken eyes now dull following Vera’s Jedi mind trick. He walked away without a sound and Vera led Meetra out into the cacophony of Nar Shaddaa.

    Vera walked quickly and with purpose through the long, open, yet constricting corridors of Nar Shaddaa. For the walk through Nar Shaddaa, she altered the Mandalorian mask with subtle touches through the Force, so that the mask appeared as a generic bounty hunter’s mask. Helmets were intimidating, after all, but she didn’t need the sentients on the planet to think a Mandalorian was among them. Meetra stayed quietly behind her, wearing more appropriate civilian clothes so as to appear a bit more inconspicuous. Her saber was tucked inside her loose pants, and Vera could sense the agitation of the young Padawan who probably had never worn a saber hidden in such a way.

    After more than an hour walking through one of Nar Shaddaa’s many sarcastically named districts (only after Coruscanti districts), she stopped before a mid-sized tower that blended in with its surroundings. It mimicked its neighbors, but upon close inspection, a few key details stood out: the windows were not only very dark, but small chains of armoring could be seen underneath the darkness. The entrance was recessed a few meters further, and two or three barely noticeable 360 degree cameras oversaw each corner of the building as well as the entrance.

    “What is this place?” Meetra asked, looking at the building skeptically.

    “You’ll see, but have you seen why we stopped here?” Vera asked, testing the Padawan.

    “It’s subtly different from the others, but whoever made it did a good job or making it seem sort of boring and inauspicious,” Meetra noted.

    “Very good. You’ll know why in a moment,” Vera said, and then stepped to the entrance. She knew from the Force that the door was open, but that another series of doors waited behind it, where the actual security lay. They stepped past the first set and then came to another set. She pressed the buzzer and waited.

    “Identification,” came back a mechanical voice – that of a droid.

    “Jedi Knight Vera, identification code BR86YT41, classification code Trandoshan,” she replied. The transmission cut out and she waited. She sensed Meetra wanted to say something but held up her hand and the Padawan closed her mouth.

    “Access granted.” The doors slid open and they both walked through into a very small atrium. On their left stood a heavily armored guard and he waved them over to the scanner.

    “Weapons in the bin,” the guard said firmly. Vera took the saber from her lower back and placed it in the bin; Meetra fished hers out and lay it next to it. The guard closed the bin, locked it with a passcode that Vera easily memorized from his mind, and then walked through a door and came back empty-handed.

    “Please, step through,” he said. They both walked one at a time through the scanner. “Very good. Your point of contact will meet you inside in a moment.” The next set of doors opened and they walked through, coming out into a much larger atrium rather devoid of life. More natural light touches reflected from smartly placed lighting, and the atrium did give off a sense of comfort compared to the previous slate-grey halls and doors they’d seen.

    “So where exactly are we?” Meetra whispered.

    “This is a joint intelligence services building. Military Intelligence and the Republic Intelligence Agency man this outpost together. They mostly work on asset collection, intelligence collection, and analysis to then plan and execute operations against traffickers, criminal bosses, and more. Most of their operations here are specific to the environment of Nar Shaddaa; they do different things wherever they’re based,” Vera explained, also speaking quietly.

    “Have you worked with them much before?” Meetra asked, clearly impressed.

    “Yes, a little bit. The Jedi have a very good relationship with the RIA, who thankfully have a pretty solid one with MI. Since taking over control of the military, I’ve had to learn a bit more about MI than I expected,” Vera said.

    “We have a relationship with the RIA? I’ve never heard of them before except in studies about governance,” Meetra said, her voice trailing off.

    “That’s okay, that’s as much as I knew. As peaceful and kind as Nomi seems, she knows that intelligence is vital for Jedi spread out across the galaxy, since we can’t have eyes and ears everywhere. The RIA helps us with that, alerting us to possible conflict when the emotions in the Force aren’t strong enough to alert us during meditation. Each Jedi Watchman is dispatched to their planet or sector with a small team from the RIA to help increase their influence and oversight. The Council likes to keep the galaxy thinking that Jedi are all powerful through the Force, but that’s not really the case,” Vera said. Meetra nodded thoughtfully and then looked to her right. Vera followed suit and saw a man walking briskly toward them, his footsteps surprisingly silent.

    “Jedi Knight Vera, thank you for coming. You may call me Ralar Voord,” the man said, bowing politely and then extending his hand. He was of middling height, trim and clearly fit, though a few lines in his face and wisps of grey in his beard indicated that he was older than Vera had initially thought from a distance. His beard was closely trimmed, but his hair was a bit freer, worn slicked back. He wore a simple pair of black trousers and a grey short jacket with a dark blue collared shirt below, but with no cravat. She shook his hand and he did the same with Meetra.

    “Thank you for allowing us both to join you,” Vera said.

    “Of course, Knight. The intelligence services are glad to do their part in this struggle. If you would please, follow me,” Ralar said, turning and walking back from where he had emerged. Vera saw that his boots were a fantastic facsimile of popular versions for men but instead of possessing a standard hardened sole, they were instead softer-soled. She also noted, though just barely, that his back seemed wider than it should, and when she reached out with the Force, detected that he wore a compact blaster in a shoulder holster.

    He led them through a few corridors, each empty and with few doors; each door had a keypad, an iris scanner, and a small camera above it. The corridors seemed a maze, but Vera detected a subtle pattern in them and knew the lack of markings were to disorient any unwelcome visitor. Not many on Nar Shaddaa even knew the RIA and MI were present on the planet, but the security precautions were strikingly impressive regardless.

    Finally Ralar stopped before a door, punched in a 12-digit keycode, had both his eyes scanned, and then punched in another 12-digit keycode different from the first. The door swung open silently and he beckoned them inside. The room was not claustrophobic at all, compared to her initial guess, but was instead a vaulted room with double the height than expected, providing a sensation of openness. Analysts sat at desks all across the floor of the room, their individual desks not closed off by any cubicles or walls. Each had at least two or three screens with their terminal, and they were alternately working at their desks, speaking on communicators, or speaking with each other.

    “Very impressive organization you have here,” Vera said to Ralar. She had seen that each analyst and person in the room noticed their entrance without being obvious about it.

    “Thank you. The Republic takes its intelligence very seriously, after all. With such a large galaxy, we need all the information we can get, and then we need to analyze it to see what matters to the decision-makers,” Ralar answered. She’d heard the same words before and knew it was only one part of their mission. They had more “kinetic operations” as she’d heard from them: a euphemism for actual operations. “If you would please step into the briefing room, we’ll begin.” The room was small and separated from the more open space; a Bothan and a Duros already stood across from two empty seats across a small conference table. A screen behind them displayed the bland and forgettable RIA and MI logos.

    “Good morning. I am Io Lysscol and this is my colleague from MI, Lt. Colonel Mai Verbenti,” the Duros said in his radiant bass voice. He also wore a simple pair of trousers with a collared shirt and a jacket, though different in colors from Ralar. The female Bothan nodded her head, her fur cream colored and contrasting beautifully with her burgundy and gold Naval uniform. Vera recalled that while MI worked with all the military services, they all tended to come initially from the Navy and so donned that uniform.

    “I am Jedi Knight Vera; this is my associate, Padawan Meetra Surik. A pleasure,” Vera said, indicating Meetra. Everyone shook hands and then sat down.

    “We were tasked to provide information for you regarding the current Exchange personalities impeding negotiations with various arms corporations. As you may or may not know, The Exchange is a large, multi-armed criminal organization. There is no specific structure overarching The Exchange, and this is a key point: there is no one specific person to whom you can go in order to directly negotiate with the whole organization,” Io began. The screen behind him moved independently to identify a variegated atomic structure, where specific headshots of actual Exchange members appeared. Some of the headshots were generic pictures instead, indicating the intelligence services didn’t know what they looked like or who they were.

    “As a matrix organization, The Exchange benefits from a lack of a leader. Without a head to cut off, the organization can thrive even under intense government pressure. This is not to say that The Exchange is thus indestructible, but that any attempts to destroy it would take effort that is not possible under the current circumstances,” Io continued.

    “A further benefit, more important for our purposes here, is that the Exchange can and does utilize multiple centers of gravity as entrances into diverse markets. Put plainly, the organization’s structure allows members significant freedom to move into any business arena they desire and to then affect the market legitimately or illegitimately. This is without a doubt occurring in the galactic arms market, as you’re well aware,” Mai said with a smoothness attributable to a Bothan.

    Mai pointed to the screen behind her. “The Exchange has at least five major centers of gravity in the galactic arms market. Each center of gravity, expressed here as a major personage, though in actuality more of a small collection of like-minded individuals, interacts with the five major small arms corporations: Czerka, Galactic Armament Division, BlasTech Industries, Merr-Sonn Munitions, and Golan Arms. Our analysis concurs with the analysis you independently produced: that small arms munitions are at an artificially high price due to black and grey market engineering run by The Exchange. You further noted that should one corporation reduce the price of its wares, the market would respond and reduce theirs as well. We concur with this analysis.”

    Io stepped back in: “We have a few options before us. We will begin with the most effective overall option according to our analysis: a direct severing of one of these Exchange nodes from an armament company which would lead to reduced prices.”

    “And what is the likelihood of success?” Vera questioned. Io paused for a moment.

    “We have analyzed a variety of potential outcomes depending on the action you or your colleagues take, Knight Vera. Based on a full-force attack against one of these nodes which would lead to total eradication, we predict a likelihood of 70% success. Based on a smaller-scale attack which would reduce the node’s effectiveness below their current operational status, likelihood of success falls to 40%. Based on a direct negotiation with any of these nodes, we are unable to predict more than a range of success, from 30% to 80%. This analysis is the weakest due to the variables presented: the rationality of the node, the negotiation conducted, and to be frank, the variable Jedi produce in any analysis.”

    “And what would be the recommendation of the RIA?” Vera asked.

    “We believe that a direct negotiation with one of these nodes could produce the most optimal outcome: a nonviolent negotiation that results in lower arms prices in addition to leaving The Exchange fully operational and thus unthreatened,” Io said. Vera could see the hedges in the argument, but decided to hold off for the moment.

    “And the recommendation of MI?”

    Mai hesitated before replying. “Though we understand the value of the argument presented by our civilian colleagues, MI feels that a full-force attack to include eradication of a node would produce an outcome most acceptable at the current moment,” she finished, leaving the negative implications off.

    “Excellent briefing, I’m grateful for the intelligent and frank analysis presented here,” Vera said.

    “Thank you ma’am, that’s high praise coming from a Jedi,” Io said with a bit of a perk in his voice.

    “However, now is the time for questions. I want honest answers, up to and including a ‘we don’t know.’ Is that clear?” Vera asked.

    “Yes,” they both replied.

    “Good. My first question regards the mentality of The Exchange: their organizational structure implies that attacks against one node could safely occur without major repercussions, but structure ignores how the other nodes would react in any such situation. Please provide historical case studies of when attacks of these kind worked, or did not work, against The Exchange or other similar organizational structures,” Vera summarized. Mai held up her hand first.

    “An astute reading, Knight Vera. MI points to similar attacks, internal to The Exchange, for support of our argument. As should be obvious, criminals do not play nice with each other, particularly when billions of credits flow through the economic system day after day. Exchange members, though living by a code not to cause obvious or total destruction to the organization, instead often eliminate potential competitors, actual rivals, or personalities they do not like. This occurs frequently, on average once a year to the figureheads, more often regarding newer or smaller figures. The Exchange has been in existence for centuries, and this habitual self-inflicted violence has yet to bring the organization to its knees,” Mai said. Io stepped in directly after, keen to make his point.

    “While this is in fact true, RIA believes that internal surgical strikes differ strongly from external strikes. The Exchange does play by this unwritten norm – that members can be eliminated to protect one’s own turf, or to take over the turf of the eliminated party. But this is an internal process of creative destruction, if you will. External attacks of the kind proposed have occurred against The Exchange in the past with very mixed results. Attacks originating from another criminal syndicate competitor tend to lead to violent and nonviolent wars of commerce, I’ll put it politely. These are often short-term affairs.

    “Attacks originating from a public sector side as opposed to a private sector competitor, tend to lead to the longer-lasting conflicts: planetary governments, regional organizations, and even the Republic’s efforts to harm, sever, or destroy The Exchange more than not fail to affect The Exchange enough, and often create a sense of solidarity. The RIA believes that these previous attacks from legitimate actors in the galactic arena create a ‘rally around the flag’ symptom, and lead to even stronger organizational cooperation,” Io finished.

    “And how does MI reconcile this with their proposition?” Vera asked.

    “MI believes that a limited strike along with a delivered warning would mitigate this effect. Further, an attack on The Exchange by a Jedi has not yet occurred on the scale imagined here – we do not know whether The Exchange would react as a whole body, as independent pieces, or whether an attack by a Jedi would cow them into acceptance of the strike. The variable the Jedi present is difficult to analyze, due to the informal power they represent, in addition to their ability to seem almost apart from public sector policy,” Mai answered.

    “And how would the RIA account for negotiation with a criminal body? As seems obvious to me, it would appear that a negotiation with The Exchange that is successful initially would either quickly lapse, or would be reneged upon. After all, they are criminals and are not cooperative with any detrimental and influential actor,” Vera said to Io.

    “RIA judges that a forceful negotiation delivered with the threat of impending violence should a negotiation fail, would mollify a criminal’s general modus operandi to renege on an unfavorable agreement,” Io replied.

    “And why does MI believe the RIA has chosen a suboptimal option?” Vera asked, looking back to the Bothan.

    “For the simple fact that all five nodes would still exist. Even if one node determined that it was in its best interest to cooperate with you, the pressure of the other four to keep prices high would be overwhelming, and would lead to the outcome you predicted. We feel that skipping the negotiation step to a direct assault would demonstrate to the other nodes that the attacker is quite serious about keeping an agreement in place,” Mai replied quickly.

    “And so we have the arguments before us. Thank you for the answers, both of you, I am quite impressed that you have thought through the implications and assumptions of your analysis,” Vera said. Both nodded and had very small smiles peek through their normally serious visages. “Now that the options are laid out, please discuss the node most likely to negotiate, most likely to fall, or whether there is a node that is both.”

    Mai and Io looked at each other. “On this accord, we agree that there is only one node worth pursuing at the moment. That is the node led by Forii Haxa.”

    ****
  24. SoA Jedi Grand Master

    Member Since:
    Apr 2, 2008
    star 3
    Ah-ha! So here's where the intersection is coming in.

    Haha... and you really can tell a lot about a person's interests by the type of fanfiction they write. Excellent intelligence scene there.
  25. LaForzaViva Jedi Grand Master

    Member Since:
    Jul 6, 2008
    star 1
    SoA - I hope you enjoyed my nerd-out; this story is a pretty large amalgamation of my major interests in war, diplomacy, leadership, and the nature of power. I hope that's not too boring... but now here is the intersection.



    Chapter 12 - Crossroads



    His first week spent as bodyguard passed quickly and rather uneventfully. Forii seemed to enjoy the lifestyle of a criminal boss, preferring to spend much of his time and money wining and dining, and following that, partying. The Nar Shaddaan night lifestyle was a whole new beast to Kale, consisting of copious consumption of alcohols, drugs, and carnal passion. Forii’s money attracted diverse and interesting characters, and it was Kale’s job to spot a threat before it acted. The personalities of all these characters challenged him to think how they would react in situations Forii might be put into or even create, and he had difficulty figuring out who might be one or not.

    Yark was helpful – the Gand admitted one night that he had been in Forii’s employ for over five years, and understood the kinds of personalities that generally infected the criminal underworld. He gave Kale a tutorial in these kinds of people each night, and then pointed out which he thought a person was. Dress, attitude, speech, species, and motive all mattered and put together, could create quite different possibilities in threat to Forii.

    “In a few ways, it’s not unlike learning the capabilities of certain ship categories and understanding how they best cooperate in strategy in war,” Kale mused to Yark.

    “Yark agrees with this – it might help Mandalorian to think of different types of people as different ships. Might help Mandalorian make analytical connections,” Yark replied in his interesting Gand-influenced Basic. Kale noticed Yark referred to himself in the third person, but always demurred shyly to explain why and instead often changed the subject or left the room altogether.

    “I think that’ll definitely help me out, help me remember how to combine types. I feel a bit better already,” Kale admitted.

    “Good. Mandalorian will need this skill soon not late. Mandalorian aware of schedule change tomorrow?” Yark asked.

    “No, what is it?” Kale asked.

    “New meeting at 1600 with unknown contact. Made contact through deep Net two days ago, wishes to discuss arms purchase,” Yark said.

    “And the person is totally unknown?”

    “Yark was unable to trace any such name. Other contacts in The Exchange know not the person.”

    “Is it common to walk into a meeting with someone you have no intelligence on?” Kale asked. “That seems pretty dangerous, more than usual, I mean.”

    “Happens rarely. Outcomes depend,” Yark answered. “Be ready.” At that, the Gand stood, stretched his limbs, and left Kale’s room for his own. Kale took out his datapad given to him by Forii and took notes on their discussion, reading over the others once more, before turning the pad off and falling asleep.



    Yark woke him at 1200, which meant he only got about five hours of sleep considering Forii’s late hours. The Gand looked perfectly refreshed, but Kale felt sluggish anyway. He put on his armor and then shrugged into his back scabbard, where a vibroblade rested. One disruptor pistol was strapped to his right thigh, and he carried a heavy BlasTech rifle openly, a nasty piece of work with a low firing rate but near perfect accuracy. He always preferred a good shot to spraying bolts around. That seemed different than how most of the low-level guards and enforcers operated. Then again, he was probably one of the few with significant military training.

    Forii had a number of short errands to run that day, leaving much of the four hours prior to the mystery meeting spent in Forii’s planetary transport. It was obscenely decorated in gold on the inside, and Kale could not stand it. Particularly compared to Forii’s most prized possession, a Dynamic-class freighter named the Ebon Hawk. It was all function with little flash: extremely fast, heavily armed for a light freighter, and with quite a bit of cargo space for people and things. Kale loved that little ship almost as much as a Basilisk droid.

    “Mandalorian, you best be prepared today. Not a soul in The Exchange has heard of this mystery person. Usually we can get some information even when they use a pseudonym, but we got nothing from Arev Atreem,” Forii buzzed as they traveled to the meeting site.

    “Did you pick the location?” Kale asked.

    “Yes, it’s the fourth on that list I gave you. You know it?” Forii said.

    “Yes. Forty-two story building, we’re going to the sixteenth floor. Exits on the north and south wings; backup exit one floor down on the east wing that leads to a bridge crossing to the next building. Overall security is weak outside allowing entrance by any party, but internal security on the floor is better. Low likelihood that any Republic intelligence knows about it,” Kale summarized.

    “Well, well, you impress me more and more each day,” Forii said. “I figured Mandalorians were just big brutes rampaging around the galaxy, like what they did on Serroco.”

    The word hit Kale hard, and he felt his thoughts immediately return to that raging ball of fire he had looked down upon, the destruction solely due to his right hand and the key he now did not possess. Someone, probably The Wook, now had that key for the Be’senaar. He did not like to think that key would ever be used again.

    “Snap out of it, Mandalorian. We’re here; check it out first and then signal up,” Forii said. Kale checked the chronometer on his helmet display: it was 1540. Though Forii seemed comically freewheeling most of the time, Kale had seen it was an act: the Rodian was early for every meeting to check security and possessed at least twenty different meeting locations that he never crossed between contacts.

    Kale disembarked from the transport and entered the building from the parking understructure, quickly making his way up one of the back stairwells until he reached the sixteenth floor. Though he’d been roughed up pretty badly by Fett and the knock on his head, after the past week he felt much better, and so the run up the stairs hardly left him winded. The floor was supposed to be empty, and it was; no room went unreviewed, even behind doors and in each part of the floor’s refreshers.

    “Clear to come up. I’ll be in the meeting room; Yark, take the elevator for the visitors,” he communicated down.

    “Yark copies,” came the Gandian reply. Kale waited at the elevator in case the contacts came early, but left when Yark arrived and stood opposite the sole elevator door. Kale made his way to the meeting room and waited until Forii arrived. The room was large, though overtly so, with a simple clean glass table, modern looking blue chairs with high backs and low armrests, and a rather spartan interior otherwise. It was a room that signaled business and business only. The lacking interior reminded Kale of home. He missed Jena terribly.

    “Two entrances pressed for 16, Yark,” came the report of one of their men watching the building’s security feed. “One male, one female.”

    “Yark registers,” Yark answered. Forii was seated in a room next to this one, preferring to enter a few minutes after his visitors had, to keep them waiting. It was meant to inspire a sense of weakness in them, that they were at his mercy. Kale withdrew to that room as well; he would not enter until Forii did. The Rodian was dressed in a rather tame business suit, a dark gold that contrasted well with his blue features. The only hint of opulence was his chronometer, which was a fantastically expensive chronometer from the great makers on Empress Teta. Kale figured it cost as much as his armor would go for on the black market, which was substantial.

    “Two people, hmm. We shall see just what these two want,” Forii hummed to himself, watching the other room on a two-screen monitor. The door swung open and two people entered. The man and woman were almost equally tall, both clearly fit. The man’s hair was closely cropped and his beard was trimmed well, though it still had more hair than on top of his skull. He wore a simple matching suit with an uncollared but starched shirt. Kale could tell he wore a shoulder holster, but Forii dealt with men who openly carried pistols, so this was less than a big deal.

    The woman had short hair that cropped closely to her face and neck, along with big, round eyes. She worse a loose tunic in a dark green with tight fitting pants and, curiously for a woman her age, flat soled boots. She made it seem unobvious, but Kale noticed that she quickly pinpointed the four cameras in the room and then seemed to keep her head low. He couldn’t discern whether she had a weapon, but the loose tunic was a problem as she was clearly much thinner than its wavy bulk made her appear.

    They each took a seat, the man facing the door Forii would enter from, the woman seated with all entrances in sight. Her head remained still except for very minute motions and Kale knew she was casing the room like a professional. The man was doing so as well, actually better than she did. His business jacket was loosely unbuttoned, and his right hand never moved from his mid-thigh. It was in optimal quick-draw position.

    “Forii, these two are more than just interested in buying weapons,” Kale warned. The Rodian looked over at him and tilted his reptilian head to the side.

    “They look pretty normal to me,” he answered.

    “I think they’re intelligence or spies or something,” Kale replied.

    “Now that Yark has been giving you lessons on what to expect you think you’re some kind of expert? Bah. I hired you to be a gun and protector; stop being so conspiratorial,” Forii snapped, waving Kale’s concerns off. “Now let’s go.” The Rodian stood up, adjusted his belt, and opened the door to the next room. Kale followed, the grip on his weapon a little bit tighter.

    Forii walked in and Kale knew he was introducing himself, but from the second Kale and his armor appeared in the room, he saw the woman’s gaze whirl towards him in an instant and remain frozen there. But as he stared into those big, bright eyes, he did not see fear or any lesser version of it. He saw hate, and rage, and loathing of a kind he’d never felt directed at him before. Her gaze was limitlessly powerful, drilling through his T-visor until he could feel her staring at his soul.

    He shook off the sensation as best he could, but his mind felt addled and slow. He couldn’t seem to hear what Forii Haxa was saying to the well-dressed man with an obvious holstered weapon butt peeking out from under his jacket. Kale knew, somewhere inside, that the two people seated before Forii weren’t black marketers, weren’t even businesspeople. Some innate feeling was telling him what they were but he just couldn’t think of the word. It had slipped his mind; hadn’t he just said it aloud to Forii? What did he say only a few minutes ago?

    Forii and the man were discussing something; a datapad had come from someone’s pocket but Kale didn’t remember seeing it. All he could see were those big eyes directed at him, the memories of his recent past flipping past his internal gaze like a storybook: the fight with Nime, the trip on the Seaskipper, the death of his beloved Jena, his acceptance as a champion of the Mandalorians, the moment he stood on the bridge and watched Serroco burn, his hand on the key that released the nuclear missiles.

    But then the memories fell away, the inner distraction was gone, discarded. Whatever haze had fallen over him lifted and he blinked, the sounds and colors of the room returning to their full peak. He know heard Forii saying something regarding the number of crates the two wished to purchase and how he absolutely could not go lower than four million credits a case. But the woman’s gaze was still locked on him, and it seemed in slow motion she was rising from her chair, ignoring the confused question of Forii as she reached behind her back and then a slender, silver cylinder was in her hand.

    She was a Jedi.



    ****



    Meetra had begged to come along, but some quiet, yet unnerving sensation in the Force told Vera that something would happen at this meeting. She had decided and spoken to Meetra separately from the intelligence officers and finally talked the Padawan down. Meetra was gifted and smart, Vera was certain Kavar would knight her sooner rather than later, but Vera couldn’t shake the feeling and would dare not put a Padawan not her own in danger.

    She and Ralar would go instead, posing as two black marketers interested in buying weaponry. At some point in the meeting, they would reveal that they were not actually black marketers, but with the Republic. Their bluff, that the building was surrounded by a massive strike team of agents and Jedi (only Meetra in addition, but Jedi was a handy singular plural too), would be true. They would force Forii to alter his prices in the market with GAD. If he refused, Vera and Ralar were armed to the teeth, and the strike team would be ready at various points in the building.

    Forii believed himself to be trickier and slyer than his opponents, but Republic intelligence knew all about the sixteenth floor, about the escape routes and decoys and traps, and especially about the east wing exit on the fifteenth floor and how it led directly to the next door building. They knew a speeder was always waiting there, fully fueled. Now it was surrounded by five heavily armed operatives, and the engine had been disabled.

    Vera felt anxious the entire ride to this relatively clean, though still seedy, part of Nar Shaddaa. She could not grip the warning in the Force, could not understand what it was saying to her, even when she calmed her mind and felt for the strand. It would materialize and she would grasp at it, but it slipped away like sand seeping through a tightly-closed fist. Ralar could see her anxiety and sternly warned her that any good underworld figure could see anxiety and would latch onto it, so he helped break her reverie and calmed her down. The Jedi breathing exercises helped clear her mind, though the warning remained. She had also been persuaded to remove the mask, but after the months in it, now missed its cool comfort terribly.

    Ralar pointed out the first mark loitering outside the building pretending to be homeless. The next was a drifter inside the building, purportedly reading a daily pad, but in actuality was keenly watching them. The cameras in the elevator were obvious, especially when Vera felt their resistentialism with the Force, and then could sense the four actually in the negotiating room. She sat down in a chair facing both the room’s entrance point and the room she could sense Forii behind, as well as another presence.

    She could not tell whether it was a person, though, the way the Force seemed to run up to the presence and then stop, receding as though it wished not to be tainted. Closing her eyes, Vera could see the tendrils of the Force in its variegated colors twisting and turning, bright points of light outlining human figures about the building, but where a person or figure stood in the other room, there was a black hole, something missing, cut off from the Force.

    Her mind wheeled back to Cathar and the sense of death that hung over the planet. The Wounds in the Force were only growing; Serroco had been spared much loss of life due to underground bunkers, but billions still died, and the Force was irrevocably damaged on that planet. Ossus and the old Jedi library there, Yavin 4 and Exar Kun’s temple, the grand, grand old Jedi Temple on Tython, the gash on Malachor V…all these places were figurative black holes, graveyards of planets, dotted with the darkness that rested on the other side of the Force. And in that room, stood a Wound, in the form of a person.

    And then Forii Haxa walked into the room, his bright blue skin as a Rodian the first surprise. He was dressed conservatively, but an expensive watch glinted smartly as he extended a suction-cupped hand to Ralar first. But her eyes flicked up as the second person entered the room, the physical representation of that gaping hole in the Force. She was unsure what she expected – a Sith? A fallen Jedi? A beast born cut off from the Force?

    But in walked a red-clad Mandalorian, his armor the crimson of the blood of millions that had died at his hand, Vera suddenly knew. She had never been so close to a Mandalorian before and in that moment understood what true fear was: it was a sense that you had no control over what might happen to you next, that your choices did not matter in the face of such willpower, of such physical might, of such sheer power. In that moment, half-seated, half-standing before that Mandalorian and feeling her stomach clench and twist, she knew that this is what Jedi also felt when facing a Sith.

    “And this is how you may inspire others…” came a deep, cooing voice from distance.

    She forced the voice from her mind, the huge bulk of the Mandalorian now somehow smaller and submerged in a corner of the room where he stood, waiting. His visor was turned to her, the mask so familiar she nearly felt she was staring into a mirror-glass, but it was splashed in scarlet. Vera felt rage and hatred spring from this fear deep in her, loathing directed at everything he represented. The Wound before her was a blackness wherein no light could enter, where the Force could not be. And so she pushed her way past that curtain of black death, of quiet and quietus, and dipped her soul into the Mandalorian’s.

    Where the Force’s soul burst with colors of all hues and shades, inside this Mandalorian flowed not a shade of color. Vera felt no comfort in these moments, no security in the missingness inside the man. As his armor was a shell, encasing him in protective security, so was his body encasing his soul, but there was a deep emptiness.

    Vera snapped back to the consciousness of the world around her, the sound of the Rodian’s buzzing Basic now vibrating in the soles of her feet. Whatever he was saying became unimportant as Vera realized that the memories of the Mandalorian were now part of her, living inside her. She dove deep into herself, pushing into this suddenly open book of another’s mind, unaware of the connection now alive between the two.

    She saw terrible things: a fight with a large, long-haired man; a trip on a small transport freighter; the death of a piece of soul and heart as this Mandalorian witnessed the death of his wife; his acceptance as a champion of the Mandalorians in a ceremony enrobed in martial vividness; the moment he stood on a bridge and watched Serroco burn, his hand on the key that released the nuclear missiles.

    Whatever mattered in this meeting now held no importance to her. This man, standing before her, a Wound himself, was the source of the massacre on Serroco.

    The sounds of the world around her collapsed in a shatter of glass. The walls expanded beyond her sight and then disappeared, the physical space of the universe lacking necessity. Before her stood one Wound, one man, one Mandalorian. It was all that gave meaning to her being, to her cause, to her life.

    Vera rose from her seat and reached behind her back, pulling the lightsaber from where it had been attached to her belt. She brought the blade around and depressed the activator switch, the dark lavender blade emerging with a hiss of justice. The blade painted the walls with its unmatchable coloration, the blue of Forii Haxa’s skin now less brilliant than this beacon of power and death she wielded.

    The Mandalorian did not bother with the rifle in his hand, throwing it to the side and reaching behind his back for the vibroblade nestled there. He did not step back to buy himself more time to draw the weapon, but instead exploded forward with a powerful lunge, pulling the blade out mid-stride, closing the distance too quickly.

    Vera managed to bring the saber forward in a strike aimed for the man’s heart but he twisted his torso somehow with a pivot in his left foot, rotating and now spinning, the vibroblade whistling. A deep scar was embedded in the chestplate her saber was now bypassing and a vision of his past battle with a Jedi played past her mind like a short cinematic film: he had killed one of Master Aleco’s Padawans and had taken a saber to the chest. She sensed pride and remorse all mixed at the memory.

    The vibroblade was so close and her saber was not returning to her guard position rapidly enough. With desperate power, she launched her body from her left leg and rotated her core, pulling the saber back to the right, catching the whistling vibroblade near the handle of the saber, stopping the vibrating weapon from burying into her torso.

    She landed, hard, against the ground, the might of the Mandalorian’s strike to her saber in mid-air forcing significant momentum against her body. Her skin-tight pants allowed her to slide on the beautiful wooden floor and she spun in a circle and managed to face her foe, the Mandalorian the only thing before her.

    Dimly and with distant cognizance, she knew that Forii Haxa and Ralar Voord were now both drawing hidden weapons, preparing to fire at each other. Their struggle to kill the other was playing in slow motion behind the furiously approaching body of the Mandalorian. The vibroblade came down toward her fallen figure and she aimed her foot at his hand, managing to connect, rearranging the path of the strike. The blade buried itself into the pristine wood and she lashed out once more, feeling her foot connect with his wrist once more. She grasped the deignited saber and swept her now remerging blade toward the vibroblade, satisfied as the silver metal fell into pieces, half the weapon still embedded in the flooring.

    But the Mandalorian held onto the handle of the now-broken vibroblade, now just a semi-sword, and aimed another strike at Vera. Her left hand snapped forward and she concentrated a blast of power through her hand, channeling the raw energy of the Force against this being so lacking in it, sending the large man flying over the heads of Ralar and Forii. The Mandalorian smashed against the far opposite wall, splinters and cracks visible as he slumped a meter to the floor, landing hard on his back and behind.

    Vera jumped to her feet, aided by the Force, and saw Forii aim for Ralar, the intelligence officer seeking cover behind a couch. Her left hand came up on its own accord and she squeezed her fist down, imagining that instead of air, it was the Rodian’s throat she held. Forii dropped his platinum-encased weapon, both hands reaching up to his neck, his already bulging eyes seeming to grow larger as he looked at Vera, her entire body reflected in the deep black of his insectoidal gaze.

    She saw herself in those now dying eyes, a figure sheathed in the flames of the Force, her shortened hair whipping about her face, framed and etched with pure disgust and rage, her left hand rising higher and higher, the Rodian’s body following the motion. The Force coursed through her left arm and swept through her body with unreasonable power, filling every nook and niche with its limitlessness. The Rodian’s body now bounced against the ceiling of the room, and Vera stood there, unnatural and impossible wind surrounding her as Forii Haxa died, his neck snapping in half.

    The body dropped to the ground, a useless artifact of a former life suitably extinguished. The blue Rodian landed on the floor, his limbs flopping awkwardly against the parquet. The red Mandalorian, his armor in deep contrast to the Rodian’s skin, had watched the proceeding, standing with the broken vibroblade, not bothering to protect his charge. Ralar was now turning from the dead Rodian’s body toward the Mandalorian, his blaster pistol moving with his body. The Mandalorian only looked over at Ralar as the first burst emerged.

    The hatred she felt in those moments, staring at that mass murderer, now did not overwhelm her as it had only seconds before. Perhaps it was the awkward placement of the dead Rodian’s limbs, or the fact that the Force’s unlimited openness to her had frightened some element the Jedi had long implanted inside her soul, but she wished this Mandalorian not to die, not to be given the easy way out, but that he should live and that he should make amends for the blood of billions on his hands.

    She reached out once more with her hand and Pulled the weapon from Ralar as the first burst landed against the Mandalorian’s armor, rippling against a personal shield that briefly shaded him in aureate tones. The pistol landed in her hand and Ralar looked over at her, the question forming audibly already, but she gave him no time.

    “Enough. Mandalorian, surrender your arms now,” she commanded in a voice not of her own. The Mandalorian tossed his broken weapon down.

    “End this life of mine,” he answered, the dullness of the helmet unable to stop the emotion choking his words. She looked at him, the desire to end his life almost too powerful to ignore as many pieces of her, Jedi and non-Jedi, wished the utmost retribution upon his soul. But that deep sensation, that he was not worthy of his death yet, that he should be made to suffer and repent, swept over that first, more base desire for bloodshed and quieted it.

    “No, Mandalorian. You shall live a long while yet with your crimes, and only when you have shown significant retribution for your sins will you be allowed to pass from this life into the Force,” Vera said with resonance. The pistol fell to the ground and she gripped the Mandalorian’s throat in her Force grip and applied less pressure than she had to Forii, lifting the armored foe from the parquet. His legs kicked with hopelessness, and when she felt his lungs empty of air and his brain calling for any oxygen left, she released the hold on him and he fell to the ground, unconscious.

    ****
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