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Beyond - Legends THE NEW IMPERIUM - The Second Great War 6: "Remembrance" (COMPLETED 2/19/12)

Discussion in 'Fan Fiction- Before, Saga, and Beyond' started by Sauron, Nov 13, 2009.

  1. Sauron

    Sauron Jedi Youngling star 1

    Dec 20, 1999
    The longest-running (and longest, period!) Star Wars fan fiction series on the Internet!


    This is the next-to-last story in the series, and should be wrapped up shortly. Then there will only be one left, bringing this 13-year saga to a close!

    Catch up on the entire saga of THE NEW IMPERIUM at [link=][/link]!

    SUMMARY: In the aftermath of the Battle of Varnus, the shock and loss have proven too much for some to bear. As friendships are broken and loyalties tested, some flee the devastation. The New Imperium War Cabinet realizes there is no time to rest. The rest of the Altarin'Dakor Warlords are coming - and this time, all at once. As the inner machinations of the Warlords throw everything into chaos, new revelations will change lives almost beyond recognition. And with little choice but to keep fighting, the NI decides to strike at Mizar once again, setting the stage for the greatest confrontation yet. The struggle goes on...

    These stories feature Maarek Stele and Kir Kanos, as well as a host of completely original characters. The majority are all-original.


    Prologue: Aftermath

    The first time he regained consciousness, it was like rising from the depths of a dark ocean, light slowly filtering down, growing brighter and brighter until only white light filled his vision, rippling like waves in front of his eyes. That light resolved into several brighter spots, occasionally broken by dark shadows that danced in front of them. Memories floated just beyond reach, refusing to come. Even thoughts came only briefly, like a wisp.

    Those overhead shadows became outlines of figures, people. A dark figure whose face was covered by a mask loomed above, his arms reaching downwards. Voices came to his ears, but were muffled, impossible to make out. Where was he? What was happening?

    The vision narrowed, and gave way to darkness again.

    Dreams came, the dreams of deep sleep, making no logical sense yet seeming very real. In them he was fighting against something or someone, trying to get towards a certain goal ? a person, an event. In others, he was running, escaping the conspiracy of an evil, corrupt entity that only he dared resist. In his dreams he was always fighting or running, and each time, the circumstances were different, but held a strain of familiarity, like he had witnessed all this before.

    The next time he awoke, he felt cool air rushing into his lungs, filling him with a refreshing sense of life. He opened his eyes, but closed them again immediately; there was something touching them. Something liquid. Oddly though, his eyes weren?t burning. He opened them again, and saw a greenish blue blur all around him. He blinked, and then he could make out the tube snaking its way down to his mouth, and the glassed-in walls of the cylinder he was floating in. Blurred shapes moved around outside his tank. He was in a bacta bath. Funny, how that familiar sense reassured him. He floated there, naked except for his underpants, tried to look down at himself. His body felt numb. Fresh, life-giving air continued to flow through his nose and mouth. Probably mixed with a high dose of oxygen, too. He was being treated for his injuries.

    The crash. Suddenly memories came rushing back. Kamren Thansil. The duel. And before that, Rann Wosper and Tanya Vinikoro, plunging to their deaths in the streets of Vectur. Maarek?s own fighter, diving downwards, the ground rushing up to meet him, knowing this would be his final moment of?

    Sleep came again, but this time, the dreams were real. He relived that moment, watching Rann and Tanya die, feeling the helplessness, the anger, and the terror of knowing that he was next. The shame and denial, and the desperation. In his dreams, he yelled at them to pull out, to wake up from the trances they?d been placed in. But every time he was too late. They were gone. He had failed.

    Maarek Stele awoke once more, and this
  2. Sauron

    Sauron Jedi Youngling star 1

    Dec 20, 1999
    Varnusian Productions Presents:


    Royal Palace
    Vectur, Planet Varnus
    1200 Hours

    Varanus Templar made his way through the now near-empty palace corridors.

    It was eerie, seeing these hallways once so bustling and full of people, now sparsely-populated and quiet, his footsteps actually echoing off the walls. Many of the refugees that had taken shelter here had been moved on, either back to their homes or to some planet that offered better opportunities and protection than here.

    Most of the rubble had been cleared from the palace already, though there were clear visible signs of the damage that had occurred, and repairs would be long in coming. Walls had gaping holes in them, some leading right out onto balconies or into open air, and had yet to be barricaded off. Floors had huge chunks blown out of them, or massive cracks splitting the once polished tiles. Glowlamps, tapestries and decorations had been destroyed by fire and explosions.

    At least the bodies had all been removed, and blood no longer stained the floors where he walked. Some of that had been blood he'd shed; some of it had been his own.

    The world had been turned on its head in the span of the last two weeks. On the brink of its destruction, the New Imperium had somehow survived, yet were still within the shadow of their enemy, the Altarin'Dakor. The official story was that their leader had been killed and a cease-fire arranged. Rumor said that the Altarin'Dakor had inexplicably surrendered, though Varanus wasn't sure if that was true or not.

    Now all the AD forces had retreated, but were still up there in orbit, hovering like a menace. Rumors said they were under NI control, or were at least working with them. But how could that be, after they'd nearly been wiped out just two weeks ago? It was unthinkable. The mere thought nearly drove him mad with anger.

    Varanus burned with the desire for revenge. He could still see Amleth, his mentor, the man who had recruited him into the Jedi Order, rushing headlong to attack that monster. He hadn't stood a chance. So what if Nimrod had been killed? His forces were still there. How could they just sit here and not attack? Every single one of those heartless, kriffing AD deserved to die.

    Days ago there had been a mass funeral service, a makeshift graveyard set up in what used to be one of the palace's larger courtyards. There had been so many bodies. Even though only the Jedi members were buried there, it had taken all day. Varanus had helped dig the graves himself. The names on that list - those he would never forget. Gui Sun Paan. Ken Nandos. Val Ricaud and Huan Knor'lian. Sturm Brightblade, leader of House Ar'Kell. And Amleth Uiara - leader of House Vortigern, Varanus' closest friend. More than half the whole Order had been killed. Initiates now outranked the higher ranks more than two to one. What were they going to do now?

    He could still remember yelling for Amleth to stop, while cursing himself for not having the courage to step out there and face certain death himself. How could he be dead? How were they going to kick that brutal dictator Tains off of Sinorel, now? How was Amleth going to take his birthright and avenge his parents' deaths? How could Varanus ever take his place, fill his shoes? No, this wasn't right! The AD had to pay for what they'd done. They had to!

    He quickened his pace, mind racing as he ascended a flight of stairs, heading towards his destination. He passed few people in the hallways - most of them were workers cleaning up, anyway - and he returned no greetings as he passed. More things had happened, faster than he could comfortably deal with, and it would still take him some time to process.

    He'd seen a Holonet news report this morning. Apparently the network - wiped out by AD scouts to disrupt communications - had been restored, and the first reports were coming out. Apparently what had happened at Varnus had extended all across the territory taken by the Altarin'Dakor, meaning that many of the captured worlds were now in the process of being freed
  3. Sauron

    Sauron Jedi Youngling star 1

    Dec 20, 1999

    Velanon Shores, Great Ocean
    1920 Hours

    Xar Kerensky sat on the shore, his bare feet in the sand, watching the breaking waves coming in. The setting sun glinted off the waters, an orange ball of flame reflected in the breakers that crashed just a stone's throw away. The sky above was painted in vibrant blues and purples, turning abruptly to bright oranges just above the horizon.?

    Xar wore a loose-fitting, comfortable white shirt and black trousers. His shoes sat nearby, and it felt good to have his toes in the cool sand beneath him. The wind blew in the scent of the sea, stirring a sense of longing in him, a desire to be away from this place, away from the cares of the world. That breeze ruffled his hair, and felt strange on his face, with two weeks' growth of beard on it, now. Some things hadn't been important enough to worry about taking care of.?

    No, what was important was what lay in front of his eyes.?

    Zalaria walked along the shore, the waves barely reaching up to lap at her feet and fill in her footprints in her wake. They touched them gently, reverently, as if aware of the privilege that they, out of all the ocean's waves, held. His wife wore a long white dress of soft, thin material, leaving her shoulders bare and dipping halfway to her bosom, where an ornate necklace rested. Her gown swayed regally out behind her, stirred by the evening breeze as she walked.

    She was so beautiful. And she was carrying his child.

    Her appearance suggested that she might be twenty-five, though every time he looked he couldn't be sure if she wasn't even younger. She was tall, but not too tall. Thin, but not too thin. It was still too early for her to be showing that she was with child. In fact, she was still perfectly proportioned for most species' ideal specimen of a woman. Immortality had given her face and skin a perfection that no other woman could hope to match. Xar knew that there was no one else in this galaxy - or any other for that matter - who could match her. And she was his. Not because he was entitled; no man could ever deserve her, really. No. It was because she had chosen him. He still could not understand it, only appreciate it, and thank the Force itself. ?

    Zalaria was making her way towards him. Her dark hair was tied back behind her head, and her dark eyes held his as she approached, eyes that he never tired of staring into. How had he ever doubted her??

    She finally reached him and, wordlessly, sat down next him on the sands. They sat there for a long moment, watching the sunset, and Xar pretended that they were completely alone together, on a deserted world, far from any concerns or responsibilities.?

    ?Why the long look?? she asked suddenly. Her voice rang like soft music in his ears.?

    Xar glanced at her and saw her looking over at him, knowing that her all-penetrating gaze, coupled with their Bond, could see what other eyes could not. For as captivated as he was, it couldn?t completely fill the hole in Xar?s heart. But she was all he had, now.

    For Xar, everything had changed. Everything he'd worked so hard to achieve had ultimately turned out to be utterly pointless. He understood, now. History was simply a repetition of the same events, played out by different characters with different names, with only slight variations in the circumstances. But Zalaria - she stood outside of history. Immortal, unreachable. He had been given a short life to enjoy her presence, a span of time blessed beyond measure. He had nearly thrown it all away. He shouldn?t even be sitting here, now, talking with her.?

    She continued speaking, catching his attention once more.?

    ?I have accelerated the development of our son," she said.?

    He looked at her again, intrigued. "What do you mean? With the Force?" he finally asked.?

    She nodded, staring back out towards the horizon. "It's relatively simple. I can safely shorten the amount of gestation time by approximately half without affecting the baby adversely." She paused, letting him digest that information before she continued. "That means he will be bor
  4. Sauron

    Sauron Jedi Youngling star 1

    Dec 20, 1999
    Maintenance Bay
    ISD Vindicator

    The swirling sky of hyperspace spun outside, sending bluish light through the small viewports onto Salle Darl and her companions. Their Avatars hung from their racks, both their internal and external routine inspections completed. Salle was perched on top of her craft's fuselage, inspecting where the body met the port solar panel. Everything looked good. The other three members of Inferno Squadron sat clustered around a small table nearby, the lights overhead dimmed, their conversation quiet.?

    Over the last week, things had happened fast. Her promotion and transfer of the squadron to her command had been completed, and new orders had come in quickly. They had been assigned to the ISD Vindicator to escort Sector Admiral Gaius back to Tralaria, where he would be instated as the new War Coordinator. After that was to take Inferno to Tralarian surface to rebuild the squadron. ?

    She remembered blasting off from Varnus with Gren, Narm and Kikitik, watching the palace and the city receding below her, the devastation still clearly visible. She'd wondered if it was the last time she would say goodbye. ?

    It had been strange, flying with the squadron without Commander Stele. She wondered if he'd already left Varnus, too, whether he was feeling any better. Salle jumped off her fuselage and landed smartly on the deck and started towards her comrades.?

    "Major Darl?" came a voice from the bay entrance. She turned to look, and saw an officer approaching. He had the insignia of a Colonel on his crisp uniform, a thick but neatly trimmed beard on his face, and an accent from somewhere in the Outer Rim that she couldn't quite identify.

    ?I?m Colonel Dunn, Wing Commander onboard the Vindicator. Welcome aboard.?

    ?Thank you, sir,? Salle replied. ?It?s a pleasure to serve with you.??

    "Likewise.? He glanced over at their fighters. ?I wouldn't bother polishing those rust-buckets anymore," he drawled. "You won't be needing those much longer."?

    "Sir?" she asked. Her squad mates came up behind her, curious as to what the commotion was.?

    ?I hear your squadron has been assigned the new, modified TIE Avatars,? the commander told her. ?My congratulations.??

    Salle felt a rush of excitement, and looked over at her squadron mates. Gren stood gaping, Narm looked flustered, and Kikitik - well, she couldn't read his expression, but his antennae were twitching, at least.

    ?You mean, the ones with AD tech in them? The ones with the beam weapons?? Gren asked.

    ?Those are the ones.?

    ?Sir, how did you hear about this?? Salle asked.

    ?I just received my orders from Tralaria,? the Colonel replied. ?They want Inferno working with us here on the Vindicator for a while. The ship is to be refitted with a new fighter compliment. Almost exclusively the new model.?

    ?Seriously? How could they have built so many so quickly?? Gren exclaimed.

    Colonel Dunn looked at him reprovingly, doubtless noticing the breach of verbal protocol. Inferno had been run a bit more lax than most squadrons were used to. ?Apparently they?ve been in development in a top secret location. Someplace separate from the starfighter manufacturing facilities on Rhiannon. Nobody knew they were building them.?

    ?That?ll help even the score,? Kikitik said through his vocal translator.?

    She turned back to the commander. "Thank you, sir," she said, feeling slightly overwhelmed. First command had been given to her, and now this?

    ?Well, that?s all I wanted to speak with you about. You might as well make yourselves comfortable here ? you might be here a while.?

    With that he turned and left. Salle walked back over to the table, where the others were sitting down.

    "I don't know, Salle," Gren called said. ?How are we going to find enough good ? much less living ? pilots to full out the squadron again? There are only four of us left.?

    Salle picked up a datapad from the tabletop and pointedly handed it to him. "I mean to make Inferno strong again, Gren. Here's a list of potential candidates. I've been scouring the
  5. Sauron

    Sauron Jedi Youngling star 1

    Dec 20, 1999

    NI Senate Complex
    Tralaria, Tralar System
    1600 Hours

    ?Ah, do come in,? the Diktat told his visitor.

    Gaius Adonai moved over in front of the room's massive desk and folded his hands behind his back. He wore his ceremonial uniform, now white like that of an Imperial Grand Admiral, completely with shoulder tassels and a spattering of medals and commendations he'd received during campaigns with the NI. He dark reddish hair was close-cropped and just starting to show the first hints of gray.

    He watched as, on the other side, Gene Rytor - dressed in robes reminiscent of an Old Republic Chancellor - took out a flask of fine Correllian brandy and poured a generous amount over the ice resting inside a crystal goblet on his desk. He poured another in a second goblet and then, setting the flask aside, took both glasses in his hands and made his way around the desk.

    To your new position, War Coodinator." He handed Gaius a glass. "My congratulations to you." He brought the goblet to his lips and took a long sip.

    "Thank you, sir." Gaius took a cautious sip of his own, glancing around the room. He and Rytor were the only two present except for Quat, the thin, middle-aged man who was Rytor's aide, standing aloofly in the corner.

    Today, however, the back wall panels behind the Diktat's desk had been pulled away, revealing transparisteel windows that looked outside. The Diktat's office was high enough in the Senate Complex to see over the surrounding buildings, and a panoramic view of the ocean filled the scene, whitecaps cresting off endlessly into the distance. Cruise ships rested out there, private yachts or touring vessels for wealthy patrons. Closer in, a white sandy shore held swaying palm trees and sporty bars for off-duty personnel.

    It was a relaxing view, symbolic of the idyllic world that was the NI's capital, yet far too soft for the likes of Gaius. He'd spent too much time in the cold darkness of space, lately.

    "Apologies that Sector Admiral Dogar could not be here to pass the baton personally," Rytor said. "As you know, he had gotten quite introspective lately, and thought it best to retire quietly."

    "And what of the other fleet commanders?" Gaius asked, turning towards him. He preferred to get straight to business. There was much to discuss. He'd only just learned that both Fleet Admirals Caramon Majere and C'sill Shok'fur, both task force leaders in the Second Fleet, had taken a large part of their fleets and personnel, along with hundreds of thousands of civilians, and left New Imperium space. "How was this decision reached?" he demanded.

    Rytor sighed. "It was a decision based on pragmatism and timing. I'm sorry you weren't when it was made, but it wouldn't have changed anything."

    "They committed treason," Gaius said flatly.

    "No, we reached an agreement," Rytor said. "We had countless demands from civilians for transport out of the New Imperium. As you know, we're not exactly the most desirable place to live, at the moment." Rytor glanced at him, and at Gaius' nod, he continued. "We couldn't stand up under that kind of pressure for much longer. Majere and Shok'fur both volunteered to escort those who wished to leave out of the New Imperium. They also took the remnants of their fleets. though they left behind some of their forces to help us."

    "They led a mass exodus out of the NI," Gaius countered. "They've weakened our military presence."

    "By an insignificant amount. Compared with the Titans we now command, they were as good as useless. We've restructured the Navy into three simple task forces, each led by one of our new Titans."

    "That's the whole problem," Gaius said. "We truly are at her mercy now, aren't we?"

    "Unavoidably, you are correct. I won't mince words with you, Gaius. We are in a desperate situation."

    Gaius shook his head. He still couldn't believe that the two fleet commanders had left. They had been latecomers to the NI, and had never wanted to lose their autonomy of their own fleets. "Those two wanted o
  6. Sauron

    Sauron Jedi Youngling star 1

    Dec 20, 1999

    Planet Tritonia
    1450 Hours

    The figure strode along the dark, empty streets, the hood of his cloak pulled up, the rain softly pelting the fabric and running down in thin streams. Empty buildings towered all around him, their shattered windows gaping out at him like soulless eyes.

    Lightning flashed high overhead, merely illuminating the thick layer of clouds that hung only a few hundred meters above the ground. There was no thunder to be heard ? the flashes were higher up, far from the surface. A thin misting of rain slowly fell onto the dark streets. It was still daylight somewhere up there, the day still far from over, but the sun hadn?t been seen here in months, perhaps even years. The perpetual layer of clouds surrounding the planet effectively plunged it into an endless night.

    This was the figure?s second visit to the planet Tritonia. It was the second time he?d come here in search for someone. And again, he?d been inexplicably drawn here, knowing this was where his quarry would be found. It was as if they had some connection, the two of them, one that spanned both space and time. He wouldn?t be surprised.

    The planet was empty. A dead world. Its population had vanished millennia before, leaving everything standing as though they would return at any moment to continue their lives. But the world was run-down, now. Nothing of value seemed left intact. Trash lay in heaps on the sidewalks. The entrances to the buildings around him stood open, beckoning, yet promising only more emptiness amongst the darkness inside.

    Yet there was something alive. He could feel their eyes on him, watching from the blackened interiors of the buildings, the alleyways. He didn?t know if they were intelligent remnants of the population, turned into scavengers and cannibals, or whether it was simply some kind of feral animal out there, tracking him and waiting to make its next kill.

    Lasitus didn?t care. Whatever it was inside, they were no match for him. And so they kept their distance.

    He turned into one alleyway, uncannily knowing where he was going even though he?d never visited this area before. At the far end of the narrow passageway stood a figure, similarly cloaked in black, face obscured by the rain.

    ?Who are you?? The words, spoken in Altarin?Dakor, echoed their way along the walls of the alley before reaching Lasitus.

    As the distance closed between them, the figure threw back his hood, revealing a long-haired man, his face heavily tattooed with black markings. Lasitus could sense that he was quite strong in the Power, probably marking him as one of his master?s top Jedicon, this close to his domain.

    ?I am here to speak with Akargan,? he said.

    The Jedicon?s eyes widened at the mention of that name. Nevertheless, he placed a hand on the hilt of his lightsaber, clearly determined not to let him pass. ?Outsiders are not welcome. Turn back or you will be destroyed.?

    Lasitus was in no mood for games. ?You can feel my power,? he told the Jedicon, standing his ground. ?You know that I could kill you if I wanted to. But I am not here to fight. What is your name??

    ?I am Naguis?Dakor Moyabi,? came the reply.

    ?Well then, Moyabi. Take me to your master.?

    The Jedicon seemed to consider for a moment. The rain kept pouring all around them, down onto the streets, its drone filling the silence.

    ?And who are you?? Moyabi finally asked.

    Lasitus smiled, then. ?An old acquaintance of your master,? he replied. ?My name is Lasitus.?

    The Naguis?Dakor known as Moyabi led Lasitus through the streets, eventually coming up to a massive duracrete structure, spanning what must have been at least a dozen city blocks. Its walls were a hundred meters high and filled the whole view at the end of the street as they neared. Every visible entrance and window in the structure was sealed from the outside with metal plates. But as one of the entranceways opened up and Moyabi took him inside, all thought that the place was abandoned left his mind.

    Ducking inside, Lasitus realized that this was where Akargan had set his base. The walls and floors were
  7. Sauron

    Sauron Jedi Youngling star 1

    Dec 20, 1999
    Detention Center
    NI Senate Complex, Tralaria
    1800 Hours

    Gene Rytor stepped into the detention cell and stared down at the man inside. Queklain stood up as he entered, a force field providing a blue curtain separating him from his captors. At Rytor?s nod, the two guards in the room filed out, closing the door behind them. He?d also ordered them to switch off the room?s holocams. The men holding Queklain were all hand-picked by the Diktat himself, and fully understood the gravity of the situation.

    They could not run the risk of a trial or give the prisoner any opportunity to escape. The Null Sphere had been housed in the cell directly above this one, overlapping both with its Force-canceling field. But Rytor was taking no chances. He had come to deal with this Warlord, and get some answers.

    ?I have some questions for you,? he began, crossing his arms and staring at the man.

    Queklain simply sneered at him. He said nothing in reply.

    ?I?m not going to torture you,? Rytor said. ?I doubt it would do any good. Why don?t we be civilized and chat for a while instead??

    Again, his comments were met only by stark silence. After staring at the Warlord for a moment, Rytor realized he wasn?t going to get a response. Very well then. He began to pace back and forth in front of the glowing blue field.

    ?You see, I have my own contacts, even among the Altarin?Dakor,? he continued, explaining. ?No one has heard of a Shok?Thola named Queklain. The only mention of that name is in some of the most ancient records of the original Great War.?

    He stared at the man in front of him, an image of hate glaring back at him through the force field.

    ?And yet,? Rytor continued, ?Here you are, with all the powers of a Shok?Thola, acting the part and with the same name from those legends. I don?t think you?re an impostor.? He raised a hand to forestall any protest. ?You?re very much real. Somehow ? and I don?t have any idea how ? you ended up here in our time. Now you?re acting behind the scenes, playing both sides against the middle. I?m going to take a chance and say this: I believe that you?re acting on your own. And I think that if we kill you here, now, none of the other Shok?Thola will ever know anything happened at all. You are, I?m afraid, all alone.?

    ?You fool,? Queklain finally said.

    ?What did you plan to achieve here?? Rytor asked him, ignoring the man?s confident tone. ?What are your plans for the New Imperium??

    ?I will kill you very slowly, Rytor. Do you know how long I can keep a body alive while I torture it? A very, very long time.?

    Rytor brought his pacing to a halt, reached to his waist and pulled out the blaster he had there. Then he walked over to the wall and hit the button to deactivate the force field. Once the wall over energy vanished, he trained his blaster straight for the Warlord?s chest. Queklain didn?t use the moment to make an attack, something which increased Rytor?s confidence level just another notch.

    ?Why don?t we put my little theory to the test,? he offered.

    The Warlord?s eyes narrowed. ?You can?t kill me. You know that. You?ve doomed yourself and your pathetic little empire. You could have had everything??

    ?That?s enough!? Rytor shouted. He released the blaster?s safety and took a step forward. ?I?m going to give you one last chance. Do you have anything useful to say about your plans, or do you just want to die here in obscurity??

    Queklain glared at him for another long moment. But Rytor refused to budge. Finally he spoke.

    ?What do you want to know?? he growled.

    ?Tell me why you are here,? Rytor ordered.

    The man took a deep breath. He seemed to believe Rytor, now ? and that convinced him that his theory was correct. He?d been uncertain before, knowing that making a gamble like this could be the last thing he ever did. But Queklain seemed genuinely afraid of Rytor?s blaster, what with the Null Sphere still in place.

    ?I was imprisoned a long, long time ago,? Queklain said. ?During the Great War, yes. I was freed by your unfortunate friend known as Nico.?

    Rytor nodded slowly. So he?d only emerg
  8. Sauron

    Sauron Jedi Youngling star 1

    Dec 20, 1999
    Titan-class Battleship Eternity
    Ven?lar System
    1440 Hours

    Maarek brought his fighter to a perfect landing on the hangar?s deck plates and began to power down., He disengaged from the Archon system, then pulled the opaque blast shield off of his face, taking a moment to catch his breath.

    The nausea and emotional swings he?d had when first flying the fighter were nowhere to be found. Best of all, he was able to fly the Archon without even a hint of vertigo. He felt completely free again ? more free than he?d felt in a long time, in fact.

    Unfortunately, however, the effect lasted only as long as he was jacked in. He had to take his time getting out, readjusting to the real world around him. But that gave him time to think about all that had transpired so far.

    He had spent the last several days re-acclimating himself to the Archon and its systems. It had taken surprisingly less time than he?d thought. In fact, as soon as he?d climbed into the cockpit of the fighter, it had felt like revisiting an old friend, one that he knew almost as well as he did himself.

    Of course, Alona had been there to help, too. Every day she met him at the hangar and met his every need from start to finish. She?s helped him get reacquainted with the controls, simply getting the feel for the fighter and running simulations for the first couple of days. Then, after that, she?d gone out with him, flying another Archon on his wing as they made a test flight once around the Eternity. If Maarek had thought that the ship looked massive on a holoscreen, it was nothing at all compared to seeing it in person, up close.

    He?d also seen the other three Titans in formation with the Eternity: the Abyss, the Oblivion, and the Maelstrom. Each one was near or above fifty kilometers in length. Now he understood the kind of firepower that Strife had.

    Maarek had heard that Nimrod had the largest fleet of all the Warlords, so he?d naturally assumed that all the Titans he?d hit Varnus and Tralaria with were the bulk of his fleet. Now he understood that they were simply an advance task force ? and all the other Warlords had theirs, as well.

    Now Maarek was flying missions for one of them. It took some effort to settle his gut every time he thought about that.

    Having Alona there to help him was an incredible boon, and he enjoyed every moment that he was able to spend with her. It calmed him for some reason, and made him feel more comfortable about what he was doing. After all, it wasn?t like he had switched sides. They weren?t going to attack the New Imperium; they were going after another Warlord. He was actually helping the NI, he reminded himself.

    In fact, he found himself enjoying spending time with Alona a lot. Not only was she stunningly beautiful, but as their time together stretched on, he was able to get more and more in the manner of conversation out of her. And he liked what he was learning. As stoic and composed as he?d found her to be at first, he understood, now, what that was. That was the Jedicon in her, the façade that, as a warrior, she was required to have.

    Underneath that, she was a highly perceptive ? and incredibly self-confident ? ace pilot. And he found himself liking that, a lot.

    He?d never expected to actually meet a Jedicon pilot. The mere thought of them had struck fear into his heart ever since encountering them at the Battle of Mizar. Jedicon had killed most of his wingmen in Inferno Squadrons, and their deaths were like holes shot straight through his heart. They?d nearly killed him, too.

    If he?d known from the start that Alona was a pilot, he probably never would have even spoken to her. But instead, he?d gotten to know her first before discovering what she was. His guard had been down, his mind open. Now he realized that Jedicon pilots weren?t evil. Merciless killing machines they might be, but they were simply people underneath it all.

    He knew that he wouldn?t stand a chance against Alona in one-on-one fighter combat. He still hadn?t learned anything about the Force yet, so he had no idea how to block her abilities. But
  9. Sauron

    Sauron Jedi Youngling star 1

    Dec 20, 1999
    Titan-class Battleship Eternity
    Ven?lar System
    1840 Hours

    Maarek was beginning to get the hang of the Archon. Each day, he was able to stay out in it a little longer. And each day, he felt the fighter?s system melding with his mind even more deeply.

    This ship was beyond any other kind of fighter he?d ever flown or encountered. It was, in every sense of the word, a superfighter. With the meld, he could control the fighter with his mind, enabling him to fly harder and pull turns that conventional pilots could never dream of doing. The ship also increased his response time and decision-making abilities, meaning he could go faster and more aggressive than anything else out there. He could outfly virtually any other fighter in the Altarin?Dakor fleet ? which also meant that anything coming out of his home galaxy couldn?t even come close. He?d been flying the TIE Avatar for a few years now, and had gotten used to it even over his classic Defender. But compared with this, the ship felt like an Ugly ? an amalgam of random, outdated parts assembled by amateurs. One Avatar could easily dispatch a whole squadron of Avatars or Defenders. He knew that if he?d had this at the battle of Varnus, his fight with Kamren Thansil ? and even the Jedicon, maybe ? would have turned out very differently.

    Maarek was enjoying the time spent with Alona, as well. She went out flying with him every day, and though she was an excellent pilot of the Archon, Maarek knew that soon he was going to surpass her in his mastery of the ship. But that didn?t matter to him; it was her presence he valued most, especially their times in the briefing room once their test runs were over.

    He?d found himself spending more and more time with her outside the training. Her high position within the hierarchy of the Altarin?Dakor enabled her to go virtually anywhere she liked. She?d come to him on the Envirodeck a lot, but just as often had taken him to places on the Eternity that he?d never been to before. So far they?d gone to an envirodeck simulating a desert paradise, apparently a kind of reward location for Altarin?Dakor officers.

    All the other Altarin?Dakor except for she, and Strife himself, had treated him rather indifferently. Still, he?d counted himself lucky. He?d been fighting the Altarin?Dakor ever since they?d entered NI space, and it felt completely strange and surreal to receive anything but hostility from them at this point. But he was beginning to understand that not all Altarin?Dakor were the same. The AD onboard this ship, serving Strife, were completely different from those who had been in Nimrod?s fleet. In fact, he?d remarked to Alona that they seemed like totally different militaries, or even different races. She?d responded by telling him, to his surprise, that was exactly the case.

    She?d also shown him areas on the ship that were technically off-limits. He?d known better than to press his luck and go alone into restricted areas, but Alona had taken him past checkpoints with ease. As such, he?d inspected one of the main hangars, as well as a strategy room filled with an incredibly detailed, interactive map of the Altarin?Dakor galaxy. Some of the things he?d seen on some of the worlds there he wasn?t sure he could even believe.

    Their favorite place to visit, however, was the observation deck. There, with a virtually uninterrupted view of the stars, he shared more intimate conversations ? and many more kisses.

    Maarek was starting to realize that he was changing at an alarming pace, one he couldn?t exactly fathom. Only a few weeks ago he had hated all Altarin?Dakor, and the Jedicon most of all. But now was he actually falling in love with one? Wasn?t he betraying what his squadron members had died for? Or was this different, since they served a different Warlord? Did any of that even matter at this point?

    Besides, Alona felt like a real person, not a Force-wielding killer. All he knew was that flying the Archon, and spending time with Alona, he was happier than he?d been in a long, long time. Probably, in truth, since the Empire had
  10. Sauron

    Sauron Jedi Youngling star 1

    Dec 20, 1999
    Titan-class Battleship Grand Crusader
    Varnus System
    0430 Hours

    Zalaria strode alone into the midnight interior of the Grand Crusader?s meditation chamber. The entranceway closed shut behind her, plunging her into complete darkness.

    Then the lights came on, and the vast expanse that had been her brother?s ultimate weapon revealed itself.

    She was a lone speck of shadow amidst a sea of light. The chamber was a cylindrical space at least a kilometer in diameter. Its white walls shone, burnished, all around her. Silently she strode along the thin walkway that suspended her out into midair in the center of the structure. There, a seat descended down from the ceiling, a throne awaiting the return of its master, the steps leading up to it angled to as to make the approaching person knees in obeisance.

    Zalaria approached the dais and paused, considering what it might enable her to find ? and to do. This was how Nimrod could exercise instant command over all the forces within his empire. This was how he reached out across dozens of light-years to cause whole stars to supernova. This could be the key to winning this entire war.

    But she had other concerns, as well. Earlier in the day, she?d received a jolt of surprise as her sense of Xar through the Bond suddenly became dimmer. It had been completely unexpected; her sense of Xar was always something in the back of her mind. One moment she?d been feeling his presence as always ? if not close, then at least on this side of the galaxy. Then, in the span of an eyeblink, he was gone, and she could not even begin to guess where. It was the furthest removed she?d ever felt him before. Xar was far, far away, now.

    At the moment it wasn?t important. She walked up the steps to the seat and finally sat down, its bulk engulfing her lithe frame. It hadn?t been intended for someone of her size, but nevertheless, she knew how to use its controls. She had put off coming to this room for quite some time, but knew she eventually had to use its unique advantages.

    This would be the second time. The first, she?d attempted to establish contact with the remainder of Nimrod?s forces, both here and in the Altarin?Dakor galaxy. She?d given them orders to send as many forces through the Gate here to supplement what she already had. Unaware that they were now being controlled by her, they had agreed. It was time to check their progress.

    She needed as many reinforcements as possible. Her own fleets, ordered through the Gate, had met with unexpected resistance from some of the others. Only a few had made it intact. In truth, a civil war had already broken out amongst the Shok?Thola. Sides were being drawn and alliances were forming. Currently, she had yet to make one herself.

    The chamber came to life, and suddenly the walls were gone, replaced by the magnificent void of space. Suddenly she was aware of everything happening within Nimrod?s empire.

    Immediately a hundred pressing concerns were thrust upon her. Requests for orders, information, and aid had poured in during her absence.

    Nimrod?s empire was dying.

    She was beginning to understand, finally. The Shok?Thola truly were the keys holding the Altarin?Dakor together. For millennia, they had held the
    galaxy in a state of relative peace. Only minor Warlords had been killed throughout the last ten or so millennia; none of the major ones had perished. It was unthinkable to their thralls that their masters ? their gods ? could die. So when the inevitable happened, their empires collapsed under their own weight.

    Sometimes Shok?Thola would lose a border skirmish or even a major conflict. Sometimes they would actually be defeated and their bodies destroyed, only to return in a regenerated form shortly thereafter. But lately, Shok?Thola had started to die the final death. The Altarin?Dakor were not prepared for that.

    When word finally arrived that Nimrod was truly dead, his empire had descended into chaos. Various monarchs and grand admirals had decided to seize power for themselves, plunging nearly half the Altarin?Dakor galaxy into civil wa
  11. Sauron

    Sauron Jedi Youngling star 1

    Dec 20, 1999
    Titan-class Battleship Warhawk
    En Route: Borrose System
    1450 Hours

    Lasitus stood on the bridge of the Warhawk, arms crossed in front of him, watching the crew flawlessly performing their tasks in a state of near total quiet. Beside him stood Kodonn?Dakor Moyabi, dressed in his battle armor, standing silent watch over the ship?s commodore.

    Unlike the other Titans he?d been on so far, the Warhawk was one hundred percent a warship. The bridge was smaller, more stripped-down, more functional. It was split into various, self-contained levels, each devoted to one section of the massive vessel under its control. The bulkheads were thick, and unlike many other ships, the bridge itself was located deep inside the Titan, surrounded by kilometers of armor.

    It brought back memories of his past life, vanished ages ago, when he?d led legions into war against the forces of the galaxy, intent on claiming ultimate victory for the Altarin?Dakor. Those memories had been shrouded in mystery to him before, but thanks to Akargan, they were now laid bare in all their ugly truth. He had wiped out entire worlds from the bridges of ships like this one.

    Was he about to do so again?

    ?So we go in, accomplish our mission, and destroy the base,? Lasitus said, speaking for the first time in an hour. Moyabi seemed to lack a single hint of something that could be called a personality. Most likely during his lifetime of training, he?d never found the time to try and develop one. He was the stereotypical Jedicon, and Lasitus hated him for that.

    Akargan had given him virtually no information about this mission he?d been sent on, and Moyabi hadn?t deigned to enlighten Lasitus any further. All he knew was that on Borrose was one of Strife?s communications bases, secreted in amongst one of the local cities. Apparently inside was a database of all of Strife?s agents currently employed throughout the galaxy. If it was true, it would be a treasure of a find for Akargan to get his hands on. But how well would it be protected? Would there be failsafe measures to destroy the data should the facility be compromised? Was Akargan even telling him the truth?

    ?There is one correction,? Moyabi said at last, staring straight ahead.

    ?What?? Lasitus asked. He?d nearly forgotten asking the man a question.

    ?First we must go to the base. There is a database there of Strife?s operatives. We must ensure that we have the names of any and all spies that are within our own forces,? Moyabi stated flatly. ?After we leave, we will bombard the planet from orbit. We are to leave no survivors at all, Lasitus.?

    ?I? see,? Lasitus answered. So, that was what Akargan had neglected to inform him about. Not until it was too late.

    He didn?t voice the panic that suddenly welled up inside him. What was he going to do now?

    ?We have arrived at the entry point to the Borrose System,? an announcement came over the bridge just then.

    ?Excellent,? Moyabi replied. ?Open the wormhole and take us into orbit.?

    And with that, Lasitus realized he wouldn?t have enough time to decide. He was on a ship with hundreds of thousands of Altarin?Dakor warriors, and enough firepower to level a planet. And Akargan had been one step ahead of him all the way ? now he was trapped, and if Lasitus played his hand now, he knew he would never make it close to the Warlord again. He had failed.

    Lasitus realized he had made a terrible mistake in coming to Akargan. Now, more people ? perhaps millions of them ? were going to pay the ultimate price for his foolishness.

    * * *

    Titan-class Battleship Eternity
    Ven?lar System
    1750 Hours

    Maarek was coming to grips with the grim reality that it now took longer than it used to in order to get around. Still, with his now trusty cane in hand to help bear his weight should he become too dizzy, he was eventually able to make it to the briefing room and sit down. Mercifully, everyone had waited for him to arrive. He was, after all, their star pilot, so he supposed it made sense.

    Maarek had wondered if Strife himself would be here to give him his first real mis
  12. Sauron

    Sauron Jedi Youngling star 1

    Dec 20, 1999
    Titan-class Battleship Abyss
    Entering Borrose System
    1220 Hours

    Maarek half-stumbled as he tried to hurry his way across the flight deck, but caught himself in time to avoid too much embarrassment. He paused, enduring a moment of agony as the world seemed to spin around him, then slowly started forward once more as the sensation faded.

    Alona and the others were already in their cockpits and were linking in and powering up their powerful Archon fighters. The rest of the hangar was a sea of organized chaos, with Altarin?Dakor pilots and troops everywhere, working to get the strike team launched as soon as possible. They worked with speed, but were composed, not panicked.

    Maarek?s own fighter lay only ten more meters ahead. Gritting his teeth, he pushed himself forward, his cane clinking every time it touched the deck beneath his feet. The air smelled of coolant, polished metal and exhaust.

    The strike team of Archon pilots would fly into Borrose first, escorting a small formation of troop transports carrying Jedicon and shock troops down to the surface for the counterattack. Then they would provide air superiority until the Abyss arrived to drive off the invaders from orbit. In theory, the Titans would do little more than take potshots at each other before one of them decided to leave. Ships of this size and expense rarely engaged one another directly ? much like top-level predators on most habitable worlds.

    Nearly to his fighter, Maarek spotted Chele in the distance, leading a group of elite Jedicon into one of the sleek armored transports. Each of them wore a suit of black stealth armor. Their job would be to enter the base and eliminate whatever attackers had infiltrated inside. He felt a pang of fear for her safety, just as he did for Alona, who would be flying with him. Chele caught his eye and raised a hand in mock-salute at him, then flashed him a wink before she ducked inside.

    The day before, they?d had a grueling training lesson in which she?d assaulted him mentally for two hours straight. He?d done better than he ever had before. But he still didn?t know if he was ready. The whole time, she hadn?t spoken to him about their relationship, and she still hadn?t mentioned Alona. He was unable to tell whether she was growing impatient waiting on his decision.

    But Maarek felt he had made his decision, or perhaps it had already been made since the beginning. He had wanted to tell Chele then, had wanted to tell her that he had chosen Alona. But for some reason, he hadn?t been able to bring himself to say it. Maybe he was afraid of disappointing her. Maybe he still wanted to keep his options open. But there was another possibility he was afraid of, one that sent self-doubt stabbing into his mind. Maybe he really did want two women at the same time.

    He shook his head, then immediately regretted it as the world spun again. Blast it! Now wasn?t the time to consider such things! He took the last few steps up to his fighter and made his way up the steps leading to the cockpit, knowing if he let himself get distracted out there, he was as good as dead.

    After a moment he dropped into his seat, and the ladder pulled away and the cockpit sealed, cutting off all outside sound. He took a deep breath and closed his eyes, relishing the peace and quiet for a split second. Don?t screw this up, he told himself. He had to remember, he?d been given another chance at this. Flying was life, and this was his second lease on it. Better make it good.

    The built-in connectors in his headrest reached out and touched the implants in the back of Maarek?s head. From that point onward, Maarek stopped seeing things with his own eyes. Now, he was the Archon. He could feel its wings like his own arms, and its rear ailerons were his legs. The armored exterior was his skin, and its powerful array of weapons were his teeth.

    Now, he felt invincible.

    The pre-flight sequence took less than a minute to complete. Just as the last of the troops finished entering their transports,
  13. Sauron

    Sauron Jedi Youngling star 1

    Dec 20, 1999

    Planet Borrose
    1450 Hours

    Lasitus followed Moyabi?s retinue through the interior of the spaceport, stepping carefully around the bodies strewn across the floor. The nerve gas that Moyabi?s men had attacked with had done its job well. At least they were enemies ? Strife?s forces, he reasoned. At least, most of them were. Quite a few were dressed in civilian clothing. He tried not to look at their faces.

    What was he becoming? Did he have to accept responsibility for their deaths, as well?

    The throng of shock troops led Moyabi, Lasitus and the other Jedicon deeper inside without incident. There had apparently been no survivors. It made Lasitus suspicious. This was far too easy; it had to be a trap of some kind.

    He kept his eyes straight ahead, watching Moyabi?s back. But still, he couldn?t erase the stench of death that came to his nostrils. It brought painful memories back into his mind, ones he had shut away as tightly as he could. He couldn?t deal with those, not now. The wounds were still too fresh, the events that had caused them transpiring just a matter of weeks earlier.

    Lasitus knew that it wasn?t just the death of someone who had been closest to him. It had been what he?d been willing to do to avenge that loss. He knew he was a killer ? plain and simple. And he?d enjoyed it. The old Lasitus was still very much alive, and always would be.

    But the truth was, even his love of shedding blood didn?t disturb him nearly as much as another, inescapable fact. What brought that true horror was how he?d stood by to begin with while Derek was killed. His moment of indecision meant that the boy?s blood was on his hands. Lasitus was responsible for his death just as much as those Jedicon had been, and that thought was unbearable. He had to do something to try to atone, even though he knew it would never be enough. He would never forgive himself for his failures.

    The man who had been Bren ? he still existed too, somewhere deep inside. Slowly, Lasitus had come to realize that he hadn?t reverted completely to the old man. It wasn?t glory personal power he lusted for, anymore. The violent man inside was still there, and he had no compunctions about using it to accomplish his goals ? but those goals had changed. He wanted to protect. He would not stand idly by again.

    Perhaps that was what had driven him to Akargan, the only remaining person from his former life. If he could somehow save his former friend from what he had become, would it validate Lasitus? own second chance at life? And yet, after only a few days with him, Lasitus knew that his cause was hopeless.

    He couldn?t allow Akargan to destroy Borrose. Millions would die, and their blood would be on his hands, too. He had to figure out something, fast. He knew he could dispatch Moyabi fairly easily. But would that be enough? If he wanted to stop the Warlord, he would have to take up arms. But deep down he knew that it was a hopeless cause. He didn?t stand a chance against Akargan.

    Moyabi had stopped in front of a closed hangar door inside one of the private docking areas. The spy reports had said that Strife?s base was in a sealed area within the spaceport. It took only moments for Moyabi?s slicers to override the door?s controls.

    Sure enough, the secret base was there, hidden deep within the spaceport itself. The doors opened to reveal rows of computer banks and workstations, the whole hangar itself having been converted into a complex to house Strife?s spy activities.

    It was also occupied ? apparently the base was on a separate ventilation system, because its denizens were still very much alive ? and ready.

    The firefight lasted only moments. Moyabi?s Jedicon and the shock troops rushed in as the base?s dozen or so occupants let loose with their weapons in a desperate bid to stop them. Within seconds they were cut down ? whether by lightsaber or pulse rifle, the end result was the same.

    As the smoke cleared, Moyabi and the slicers picked their way through the room towards the main control consoles. Lasitus followed them at his own pace, his mi
  14. Sauron

    Sauron Jedi Youngling star 1

    Dec 20, 1999

    Planet Kajarn

    Icis knew immediately that they were now inside Kajarn. However, he also realized that they were probably in a lot of trouble.

    The reason was clear to him ? this wasn't one of the massive interior biospheres that had been created to house the billions on denizens that lived on Kajarn. This was a security sector, with no unrestricted access to the outside. He?d been to one of these sectors twice before in his lifetime. Each of those times, the end result for him hadn?t been favorable.

    They were marched down a much wider, yet still solid white corridor. This one, however, was quite populated. Icis saw beings from hundreds of the innumerable different species that made up Kajeat society. They were all shapes, colors and sizes, yet they were all Kajeat. The Travelers were probably, he figured, the antithesis of a homogenous people group.

    Unfortunately, all of the Kajeat in this sector wore security uniforms. Although crime was virtually unheard of on Kajarn, one could not have a society of billions without some form of law enforcement, and this seemed to be the central location for most of them.

    "Icis, I thought teleportation was impossible," Xar spoke up from beside him.

    "Sorry I didn't have time to fully brief you on Traveler technology," Icis said, feeling a twinge of annoyance. Didn't the man see they were in serious trouble? "Besides, if I'd simply told you, would you have believed me without seeing it for yourself?"

    "You have a point," came the answer.

    "We've got to figure a way out of this," Icis said frantically, keeping his voice down.


    "They're going to lock us up straight away. We'll never get our meeting this way!"

    Xar spitted him with a hostile stare. "Maybe you should have let me do things my way."

    Icis shook his head. "You don't know what you're saying. You're on Kajarn, Xar. I don't care how strong you are, you can't fight you way out of this one."

    Abruptly they seemed to have reached their destination. They were in a large intersection, and corridors branched off into many different directions. Solus Emsu had turned to face them and was addressing the officers.

    "Take the prisoners to their cells," he was saying. "Those two to the standard holding cells." He pointed to Xar and Nico, then to Icis. "That one goes directly into isolation. He is to have no contact with anyone until the Council decides his fate."

    "Elder!" Icis found himself crying out instinctively. "You know who I am. I ask to speak with my father, Moa Gault! He is on the Council of Elders!"

    Solus Emsu turned to him sternly, and Icis felt himself automatically beginning to wilt beneath that furious gaze. This was an Elder, many times Icis' own young age of five thousand years. He was probably much older than any of the Altarin'Dakor Warlords. It was difficult to even speak to him, much less defy such a person. Yet he had to. It was his only chance!

    "Moa Gault is indisposed," Emsu snapped at him fiercely, his feathers ruffling. "He will not speak with an outsider. That right is only reserved for Kajeat, and you are no longer a Kajeat. Take them away!"

    Icis felt like his heart had dropped out of his chest. This was it. They were going to put him in a cell for the rest of his life! How could he have been so stupid as to come back here? This was the end!

    "Icis," Xar said in a warning tone. "This is about to get messy. You'd better stand back."

    "No!" He whirled to face Xar. "You can't fight them! That is not our way!" How could he make the man understand? He was nothing, here. The Kajeat authority was unquestionable!

    "I don't care anymore. I came here with nothing to lose. Either I find what I came for, or I?ll die trying." Xar fixed him with an intense stare, and Icis felt a chill run over his skin. Then the man turned towards the officers.

    "Hold it right there," the leader of the officers said, stepping forward. "You two will come with my while they rest of you take this one to Isolation!"

    Suddenly, everything seemed to happen at once. Officers rushed toward Icis and Xar, while out of the corner o
  15. Sauron

    Sauron Jedi Youngling star 1

    Dec 20, 1999
    Titan-class Battleship Abyss
    Leaving Borrose System
    2210 Hours

    There was no funeral. There was no memorial for those who had fallen. Altarin?Dakor couldn?t spare time for the dead.

    Maarek tried to pull himself out of his cockpit, but he couldn?t even stand on his own legs. He collapsed in a pile on top of his seat, the world spinning, and he lurched over to the side, vomiting wretchedly.

    Once he was finished, he pushed himself back upright with no small effort, breathing heavily. It wasn?t the first time he?d thrown up in the cockpit.

    Despite the nausea and disorientation, his mind couldn?t stop replaying what he?d seen and heard down there on Borrose. The sense of loss, the despair and the pain, had flared up again just like on Varnus. It was beginning to feel all too familiar.

    Chele was dead. And he hadn?t even been able to say goodbye. He hadn?t been able to tell her that he was planning to choose Alona. She?d probably gone to her death with hope still in her heart.

    The pain was unbearable. The faces of everyone he?d lost kept flashing through his head. Bast, Rann, Tanya ? and countless others. His friends and his comrades.

    Chele had been somewhat different. She?d been his teacher, albeit a harsh one. But during the last few months they had become familiar with each other, and they might have become more, given time and the right circumstances. But now that was gone forever, extinguished.

    Burn him for a fool! What an idiot he?d been! How foolish of him to play two women at the same time! What had he been thinking? He should have told Chele before, let her know the truth at least?

    ?Look up, Maarek Stele.?

    He raised his head at the sound and saw only a light blur above him. He knew the voice, though. Alona.

    She was leaning down into the Archon?s recessed cockpit, one arm extended downwards toward him. He reached up, grasping her wrist, and he felt himself being lifted bodily out of the fighter.

    A moment later he was sitting on the flight deck, waiting for the world to right itself around him. He felt Alona slide down to sit beside him. At her presence, his sense of balance seemed to return again, for the most part.

    Slowly he turned to look at her. She was still wearing the pilot?s dark jumpsuit, her azure hair flailing wildly around her head, some of it plastered to her forehead by sweat. Those incredible eyes of hers peered into his like firebrands. Her sheer beauty, at that moment, took his breath away. But the feeling couldn?t last long. The harsh reality of memory made sure of that.

    ?We must return quickly to the Eternity and report this incident to my Master,? Alona said.

    Maarek just stared at her speechlessly. It took a moment for her words to register; they weren?t at all what he?d expected to hear. Chele?s dead, he thought. The pain clenched his heart once more. He shook his head, confused. Was the pain all for Chele? Or was it for his squadron, coming back with a vengeance?

    ?The enemy forces have retreated from the system,? she continued. ?However, they may have escaped with data that is vital to our Master?s plan.?

    Maarek blinked at her. Her words were calm, analytical. Was that all she had to say?

    ?What is wrong?? she asked him finally.

    What?s wrong? He wasn?t sure he could even speak. ?Chele, she?? he began weakly.

    She immediately interrupted him with an upraised hand. ?She earned much glory, and brought great honor to the Altarin?Dakor. Is this what disturbs you? There is no shame in death, Maarek Stele.?

    ?Shame?? he asked incredulously. ?Of course not. I? Don?t you feel sorry she?s??

    ?Do not dishonor her memory!? she interjected. ?To die in the service of my Shok?Thola is the greatest privilege I could ever hope for. May I one day be as fortunate as she was this day.?

    ?Are you crazy?? he whispered. ?You actually want to get yourself killed??

    She leveled her gaze at him then. ?If you would have me, Maarek Stele,? she said, ?You must accept who I am. And you must accept that risk. I live for my Master?s glory.?

    He stared at her transfixed, feeling as if in a stupor. What was i
  16. Sauron

    Sauron Jedi Youngling star 1

    Dec 20, 1999
    Titan-class Battleship Grand Crusader
    Mizar System
    1800 Hours

    The New Imperium fleet had met with little resistance when it arrived at Mizar. Sector Admiral Gaius Adonai watched from the bridge of the Grand Crusader, gazing down at the pristine violet-blue world spinning slowly below him.

    Zalaria had taken her leave, presumably to deliver her baby after a mere three months? gestation. It was unbelievable. But then, most everything she did was unbelievable.

    ?Report,? Gaius ordered sharply. Space around them was quiet, empty except for the New Imperium vessels. Something wasn?t right.

    ?Sir, no further activity has been reported within the system,? replied the comm officer, a female NI officer he?d brought over from his command. ?Mizar central command remains on standby, awaiting further instructions.?

    Gaius repressed the urge to snort derisively. The Altarin?Dakor forces on Arcadia were acting cooperatively, apparently convinced that Gaius? forces were bona fide Altarin?Dakor there to assume regional command. How long they could maintain the charade, he didn?t know. But for now, at least, things were quiet.

    A battle was going to happen ? he knew it as well as the enemy did. The Altarin?Dakor wouldn?t concede Mizar without a fight. If they still intended to prosecute their crusade, they would have to come through here sooner or later. The fact that they hadn?t yet done so disturbed Gaius more than if he?d found a whole fleet here waiting for them.

    Gaius was tired of this war. He was tired of fighting, and he knew with each successive battle the odds against his survival were mounting. But they had to fight. It was the only way the Altarin?Dakor could be stopped. Giving up wasn?t a concept they understood.

    ?Engage cloaks on all ships but ours,? he ordered. At least if ? no, when ? the enemy arrived, they wouldn?t know how many ships the New Imperium had. And if they could maintain the element of surprise, that might just give them a bit more chance of survival.

    He then turned his attention to the array of New Imperial vessels that had followed them into the system ? Star Destroyers, Majestic Cruisers, and the MC-120 Darkstar. ?Tell our forces to deploy formation Beta ? close proximity.? Perhaps the Grand Crusader?s mass shadow would help hide them until it was too late for the enemy to realize they were there. Besides, if things got hot, they would need to rely on the Titan?s shields to protect them. In truth, those ships shouldn?t even be here.

    He watched outside the bridge?s viewports as, one by one, the hulls of the Cataclysm, the Nimbus, and the Ascendancy rippled in space, turned transparent, then vanished altogether. Now it would appear that only the Grand Crusader remained in the system.

    Gaius still hadn?t gotten completely used to the bridge of this ship. He had been on the bridge of the Nexus for too long, growing accustomed to its 360-degree holographic environment. This ship?s, by contrast, felt empty, more expansive. Controls were more spread out, making it not as easy to keep abreast of everything. Gaius knew that it wasn?t a design flaw ? this bridge was merely meant to serve secondary functions. Normally, the Warlord Nimrod would be inside his meditation sphere, deep within the heart of the ship, controlling everything. Unfortunately, Gaius couldn?t access that particular feature of the ship. He?d been kindly informed by Zalaria that he wasn?t powerful enough in the Force.

    His thoughts were brought back to the present as he heard bootsteps coming up behind him. A second later Walt Amason appeared at his side, joining him in front of the viewports.

    ?How much longer do we intend to wait here?? Amason asked.

    ?As long as it takes,? Gaius said, turning back to the view.

    After a moment, Amason spoke again. ?Sitting here only invites a trap. We could at least move further in, attack them in their space. We?ll have to eventually.?

    ?Cross the Rift now?? Gaius shook his head. ?Not until Zalaria returns, at least.?

    ?Maybe she?s setting us up.?

    ?You?re not being very optimistic today,? Gaius pointed out
  17. Sauron

    Sauron Jedi Youngling star 1

    Dec 20, 1999
    Titan-class Battleship Dark Sun
    Mizar System, Epsilon Sector
    1600 Hours

    Asellus stood on the bridge of her flagship Dark Sun and watched the chaotic red sky of Ultraspace swirling all around them. Her cold blue eyes seemed to penetrate the curtain like a fog, fathoming the secrets it held within its depths. Her golden hair hung extended down nearly to her shoulders, straight as a laser, framing a face that was nearly as beautiful as Zalaria?s.

    Today she wore an outfit of burnished gold and purple fabrics, with an elaborate angled-winged cape and crown, as well. Holographic projections surrounded her, adding further wings behind her as she walked, and generating curious creatures that seemed to attend to her every move. It was a lavish display of excess that suited her perfectly. In fact, the whole ship was custom-made to suit Asellus? purposes and her character. It was elegant and foreboding ? a massive weapon of war ? yet darkly beautiful as well, with giant black wings stretching out in different directions. And it was only one of three Titans Asellus currently had here. The others, the Nightlord and the Vertigo, were equally intimidating warships.

    Behind her, Calvernic kept careful watch, his dark eyes reduced to slits as he kept the other three Shok?Thola in view. He sat in one of the bridge?s empty, ultra-luxurious seats, the rest of the chamber completely empty except for the four of them. A view of Ultraspace and meticulously-detailed images of their ships, as well as their empires and resources back home, surrounded them. Asellus had kindly offered her services to them, as well as her flagship as a meeting point, but Calvernic knew it was merely meant to flaunt her power. He leaned back in his chair, touching the fingertips of each hand against the other, waiting patiently as he watched the others.

    Nearby, standing against a railing, was Kronos. His shock of blonde hair took on the lights of Ultraspace raging around them, while his mismatched eyes cast to and fro, as if looking for something to destroy. They?d been waiting here for days, now. Kronos had come bearing only his own flagship, the Death Wing. It was one of the few he?d retained after losing a proxy war with Nimrod, but it was all he usually needed ? a nearly sixty-kilometer behemoth with enough firepower to level whole fleets. Kronos was itching for revenge, Calvernic knew. The New Imperium had stopped his initial advance ? and subsequently stripped him of his status as Spearhead. Kronos ? self-proclaimed Lord of Time ? sought vengeance.

    The final member of their party was standing somewhat aloof on the other side of the bridge, but Calvernic hoped he stayed there. Velius was as unpredictable as he was strong in the Power. He was currently dragging a dead body around with him wherever he went, lugging it around by one of its ankles while the rest of the corpse lay with its limbs spread out. Rigamortis had long-since caused the cadaver to stiffen out like a board, and judging by the look of it, Calvernic estimated the creature had been dead for a week at least. Why was Velius still carrying it around like a child?s plaything?

    Velius currently looked a lot like a corpse, himself. Today he had skin as white as paper, and a shock of red hair that stood straight up in a series of spikes above his head. When he smiled, Calvernic could see a row of sharp-filed teeth that glowed a dark blue. How or why the man chose the way he looked was beyond Calvernic. In fact, practically everything Velius did was a mystery. The only thing he knew for sure was that Velius was insane ? and not someone to be trifled with.

    Velius had brought three Titans with him as well, a sizeable portion of his active fleet. The Violator, the Defiler and the Tormentor were as wickedly-shaped and terrifying as their names implied. In Altarin?Dakor space, merely seeing one of those ships enter a battle was cause for despair. Not only for what firepower it contained, but also for what it represented ? it meant that Velius, most powerful of the Shok?Thola, had come to play.

  18. Sauron

    Sauron Jedi Youngling star 1

    Dec 20, 1999
    In Orbit
    Tritonia System
    2100 Hours

    Deep within the Archon System, Maarek Stele felt only a strong sense of purpose as he entered the atmosphere of the planet Tritonia. The view around him ? the cold, dark world below and the glittering stars at his back ? was all that he could see save for the status displays that stayed in his sight wherever he looked. The pinpricks of light that were Akargan?s fleet had passed out of view beyond the event horizon ? they were approaching the enemy?s base from far off, so as to get under the planetary shields and get in undetected. He wasn?t quite sure what would happen once they made it, though.

    Somewhere below his fighter, nestled into a coffin-sized pod attached to the underside of his fuselage, was an Altarin?Dakor Warlord. That fact still felt very surreal. How had he been selected for a duty like this? Why Maarek? And more importantly, what if Maarek got randomly shot down? Would his passenger protect him ? or die along with him? Rhetorical questions, perhaps ? but many things went through Maarek?s mind as they flew down into the atmosphere.

    A few months ago Maarek never would have believed he was doing this. A lot had happened since then.

    The Archon entered the cloud layer, and a simulated image from the Archon?s computers pierced the obscurity, revealing an endless array of buildings covering every square meter of the planet below. Maarek watching in awe ? it was like Coruscant down there, only without a single visible sign of life.

    They flew on, cloaked, moving at hypersonic speed toward their destination. Lightning flashed around them, illuminating the darkness for split seconds before surrending it once more. On the comm, Maarek listened to the reports of the unfolding battle as it began. The chatter was unlike anything he was used to. The comm lines were almost completely silent except for cold, hard movement reports. Strife?s fleet was just beginning to reveal itself, and Akargan?s was moving forward to engage, almost too fast a response for the attack to have been a surprise. Could this be a trap?

    He immediately worried about Alona. She was flying out there, leading the wing of Archon fighters. She had to make it. He couldn?t lose her and Chele in the same week. He had to trust that she?d make it.

    ?Keep your mind focused on our mission,? Strife?s voice came over his private channel.

    Surprise jolted through Maarek ? but he immediately realized that the Warlord was reading his thoughts. It was the only way he could have been so dead-on at that exact moment. Maybe he really was as powerful as everyone proclaimed he was. Maarek tried to steel his nerves. ?Yes, sir.?

    ?When we arrive, you must leave the atmosphere as quickly as possible. Rejoin the battle and wait until the surrender is announced from Akargan?s forces.?

    Pretty self-confident of winning, aren?t we? Maarek thought.

    ?I am.?

    Maarek would have swallowed hard if he could have felt his body through the Archon System. Instead ? he was the fighter, after all ? it simply made him feel even more exposed. ?Understood,? he replied.

    They began to pierce through openings in the clouds. Dusk had settled into night, and the sky was blue-black overhead. There were no lights from the cities below. How many people had lived here, once?

    From the comm traffic, it became clear that the two forces had engaged each other. Fighters were being shot down by the dozens already, and the Titans had directly engaged one another with their beam weapons. It would be an incredible thing to see. Maarek just hoped he survived to make it back up there.

    A bracketed object appeared overhead. They were now less than five hundred klicks from their target.

    ?Prepare to release,? Strife ordered. ?Then get out as fast as you can.?

    ?Can I ask you one thing?? Maarek said. He knew this was the best time to have the Warlord?s full attention.

    ?What is it??

    A hundred questions were racing through Maarek?s mind, things he wanted to ask of a Warlord. Was he really immortal, and a thousand generations old? What would happen after this ? wou
  19. Sauron

    Sauron Jedi Youngling star 1

    Dec 20, 1999
    Angol Moa?s Laboratory
    Location Unknown
    Time Unknown

    In the past few days, Xar had been poked, prodded, scanned, and numbed so many times that he really did feel like someone's guinea pig. And his patience was beginning to wear thin.

    Now he was sitting in a golden chamber surrounded by equipment whose function he could not begin to guess. Angol Moa sat above him in an extended chair, her floating holoscreen in front of him. Her fingers danced lightly across its glowing surface.

    After what seemed like hours, he decided to break the silence.

    ?What happened to the Celestials??

    At first, she said nothing, the light reflecting off her face as she stared at her screen in concentration.

    ?You do know, don?t you?? he said again after a while.

    Her eyes glanced over at him, and for a second he thought they flared in annoyance. ?Of course I do. It?s my position to know. There isn?t a scientific mystery in the known universe I haven?t already figured out. Except for one,? she added, tapping her cheek thoughtfully.

    ?What would that be??

    ?It?s those little flakes that get stuck in your teeth when you eat gooji chips? I just can?t figure out how to stop them,? she said, grinning oddly again.

    He grunted and looked away. ?You?re making fun of me again,? he said.

    ?Maybe you need it,? she replied, suddenly cool again. ?There?s far too little humor in your life, my boy.?

    ?Thanks for the advice,? he put back. ?I?ll put that on the list somewhere after I?ve killed the last Altarin?Dakor.?

    ?You need to let go of your hate.?

    ?Just answer my question,? Xar said flatly.

    She frowned, then shook her head. ?I can?t. This is not the time to discuss that. If we did, it might distract you from our mission.?

    ?What do you mean?? he asked.

    ?The only thing we need to worry about is how to stop Altima from finding Malduke,? she responded. ?That is our only objective.?

    ?That?d be a lot easier if you were a little more forthcoming with information,? he told her.

    ?I?ve told you what I know about him,? she replied.

    He waited again while she kept doing whatever it was she was doing. He took a deep breath, impatient. He remembered once being far more calm and reserved than this. Used to be, he could wait for hours to get the information he needed. He?d been composed, collected. Was this Krun?s influence again, or Runis?? It seemed more like Krun, to him. Runis had been patient.

    The shook his head. This line of thinking was too disturbing to think about. It felt like? Like giving it legitimacy gave it power It was almost like he was considering those two ruthless killers in his head comrades, now.

    ?I saw him on Varnus,? Xar said, turning his thoughts elsewhere. ?Malduke was there, at least a couple of years ago.?

    ?Humph. He could be on the other side of the galaxy by now,? she replied idly.

    ?We?ll put everything we have into finding him,? Xar said. ?Everyone leaves a trail. If he did leave NI space, we?ll find him sooner or later.?

    ?You?ll have to do better than that if you want to find him before Altima does,? she said. ?He has resources far beyond anything you might have.?

    ?Don?t any of the other Warlords know?? he asked suddenly.

    She glanced at him. ?Know what??

    ?About Altima?s true objective. The whole Altarin?Dakor, the Return itself. It?s just a farce, isn?t it? Altima doesn?t care if they succeed at all. He just Malduke. The Warlords have been completely duped.?

    ?People come up with their own reasons for doing what others want,? she said softly. ?Wouldn?t you want to give some purpose to your life if you had lived for a thousand generations??

    ?They want to take over our galaxy,? he said. ?And not just ours. They want to conquer them all. They?ll come after you eventually, too.?

    He looked up as she gave a snort.

    ?Bah,? she said. ?The Altarin?Dakor wouldn?t have a chance if they attacked Kajarn. Much less the other races of the intergalactic community.?

  20. Sauron

    Sauron Jedi Youngling star 1

    Dec 20, 1999
    Titan-class Battleship Grand Crusader
    In Orbit, Mizar System
    1600 Hours

    ?Sir, a Titan-class battleship had just decloaked a point two-five-seven!?

    The call blared out from beside his cot, waking him almost instantly. With the lights still dimmed, he nevertheless dressed in a rush, then strode out of the ready room, where he?d had a makeshift quarters set up so he could be close in case something happened. Somethinmg like this.

    Gaius was on the bridge within moments of the call going out. The fatigue from the short, fitful sleep he?d been having quickly vanished as he saw what was waiting for him outside the forward viewports.

    A monstrosity eating away at least a quarter of the sky floated out in space in front of them. It was pitch black, making it stand out in sillouette against the Galbagos Nebula filling the sky behind it. Two massive, wickedly-curved arms stretched out in front of a broader central hub, making it look like a massive, spiky beetle?s head floating in space. But there was more than just a visual sense about the ship. Through the Force Gaius could feel the evil emanating off of it. It wasn?t just the ship that was the threat; there was a powerful presence inside of it, and it felt more dangerous than the Titan ever could be.

    It was nearly fifty kilometers long. He remembered a time he?d stood in disbelief at seeing a ship of that size. No longer. Now he was commanding one of his own.

    Walt Amason had been watching the bridge in Gaius? off-shift. He spun around in Gaius? chair as he noticed the fleet commander?s entry. The whole bridge was a bustle of activity behind and below him.

    ?What have we got?? Gaius asked as he walked up.

    ?The ship is called the Nightlord,? Walt said, coming to his feet. ?We?ve never seen this particular Titan before.?

    Gaius took a deep breath, looking out the viewports again. The ship outside was huge, but not as large as the Grand Crusader. They weren?t outmatched yet. The question was, however, was this ship alone, or were there others, cloaked just as theirs were?

    A chime sounded throughout the bridge. ?We are being hailed,? the Comm officer reported.

    Gaius exchanged quick glances with Amason. ?What are they saying??

    The Altarin?Dakor officer paused, perhaps to translate in his head what she was hearing. ?They are asking our purpose for being here, and to speak with the commanding officer,? she reported.

    ?That would be me,? Gaius said. Walking over, he took the empty chair that Amason had vacated. Walt took up a place beside him, for support if needed.

    ?What is our response sir?? the woman asked him.

    Gaius put an elbow up on his armrest and stroked the stubble that had started working its way out of his chin. He hesitated before replying to the woman. This situation was delicate. He needed more information. Was it just one Titan, or more? He had three more cloaked Titans in close formation around him, his surprise card. But he needed time to assess his enemy before he knew which action to take. Could this be decided diplomatically, or would force be necessary?

    ?Maybe we can scare them off,? Walt suggested at his side.

    Gaius considered his options. He didn?t want to reveal his hand prematurely, but he also couldn?t ignore the communiqué, either. ?Send them a message,? he ordered. ?Ask them what they are doing here. Tell them the Mizar is under our jurisdiction.? He hestitated, mind working quickly to find a way through this. ?Tell them it?s under Nimrod?s jurisdiction,? he finished.

    For a moment the officer just stared at him, doing nothing. Gaius wondered if he?d somehow violated a cultural taboo or something by invoking Nimrod?s name. You just never know with these blasted Altarin?Dakor, he thought. He wished he had the dayshift officer here instead, but there simply weren?t enough NI personnel to man all the shifts. ?Is there a problem?? he asked finally.

    The woman straightened, as if realizing she?d been gaping at him and that she wasn?t supposed to do that. ?No sir,? she said in a monotone voice. ?It is? an unusual thing to say.?

    ?That?s the idea
  21. Sauron

    Sauron Jedi Youngling star 1

    Dec 20, 1999

    Angol Moa?s Laboratory
    Location Unknown
    Time Unknown

    The experiments continued for quite some time. Xar was beginning to lose patience with Angol Moa.

    Xar seriously doubted that Angol Moa was what she and Icis claimed. The thought that anyone could be as old and as smart as her, and could accomplish so much, was starting to feel a bit far-fetched.

    After all, he?d been here for weeks, now, and still she hadn?t figured out a solution to his problem. If she couldn?t do it, then he?d rather have her come out and admit it, rather than keep leading him on like this. If he was going to go insane, then he didn?t want to do it cooped up inside her laboratory.

    Now he found himself in yet another scanning chamber. She must have run the same scans on him a hundred times by now, he surmised. What good was it to do more? Sitting there at her hovering seat, there was an almost haunted look to her face. It was barely perceptible, well hidden. But more than ever he felt a sense of sadness about her. Maybe she was realizing that Xar couldn?t be saved.

    ?Any progress?? he asked for what must have been the thousandth time.

    ?Progress is always being made,? she said. ?I must assemble more data before I can give you a more accurate picture of the situation.?

    Xar grunted; he?d heard that answer quite a few times already. She never said any more than that. She just kept working, her eyes rarely blinking, fingers working furiously. There. The corners of her eyes dropped just slightly. It was barely noticeable, but the sadness was definitely there.

    ?What?s with the look?? he said.

    ?What do you mean??

    ?You?re not exactly your normal, perky self,? he said in a sarcastic tone.

    She glanced down at him. ?We Kajeat are highly sensitive to the feelings of those around us,? she said softly. ?It helps us to understand others better, and therefore chronicle their lives. Certain things in your life? remind me of tragic events in mine,? she finished.

    That was about as open an answer as he?d ever gotten out of her. ?Did you? lose someone?? Xar asked. He was guessing ? but maybe it really was just disappointment in her lack of progress. Was this creature even capable of something resembling a normal relationship ? much less love?

    She frowned for a moment, as though she knew exactly what he was thinking. Then she sighed. ?My? husband, and my child, both perished in our home dimension. They were too close to the Entity, and I could not save them.?

    Her words struck a chord in Xar. He?d never considered the possibility that she could have been married, once. And a mother.

    He frowned. ?But couldn?t you? you know? draw them back here? Couldn?t you pull them out whenever you draw a new Traveler into this dimension??

    ?It doesn?t work that way,? she told him. ?We cannot choose a certain individual to bring back. Believe me, I?ve tried.?

    ?I? see. I?m sorry,? he said.

    ?You must reconcile yourself to the loss of the boy,? she told him eventually.

    Xar snapped his head up in surprise. ?What does that mean??

    She didn?t answer him. Instead she said, ?You have to move on, Xar.?

    ?That?s none of your business,? he snapped. But after a moment, he relented. If what she told him was true about her family ? and that was a big if ? then she should understand what he was feeling. But then again, he didn?t fully understand it, himself.

    ?I should have protected him,? he said finally.

    ?You have to forgive yourself,? she said instead.

    Xar took a deep breath. His voice had become unsteady ? he hadn?t spoken about this with anyone, yet. ?I can?t let his memory die. D?? Stang, but it was hard to say that name? ?Derek would have been stronger, greater than I ever could be,? he said. ?He had a bright future ? a destiny. And it was snuffed out.?

    ?It is not your place to make that determination,? she said. ?The boy Derek?s destiny was his own. Who is to say that his sole purpose was not to draw you into what you now face??

    ?How can yo
  22. Sauron

    Sauron Jedi Youngling star 1

    Dec 20, 1999

    Angol Moa?s Laboratory
    Location Unknown
    Time Unknown

    Over the next few days Xar made a conscious decision to change his attitude about Angol Moa and her tests.

    He now accepted the fact that it was really the influence of the dark Jedi inside his mind that had affected his personality over the last month ? in truth, the last years ? making him harsh, angry, impatient ? even ruthless. On the other hand, he knew he couldn?t shirk all responsibility for his actions by blaming it on them. Ultimately it was he, Xar Kerensky, who decided what he did and what he said. But it wasn?t just out of a sense of regret that he accepted Angol Moa?s tests more readily. He knew now that if she didn?t find an answer soon, he was most likely going to lose his mind.

    He dreamed constantly of Runis and Krun, now. It was as if, by acknowledging their existence as real, he?d given them some kind of power, more strength to reach out and affect him. He even caught glimpses of them out of the corner of his eye when he least expected it, like the night in the garden. It was a terrifying testament to the fact that he was slowly going crazy, and that things would only get worse from this point onward.

    At times, the stress of waiting, of enduring more tests, of not knowing if any progress was being made at all, was overwhelming. Fortunately, a few days after the incident when he?d broken down, there was some good news that ? at least temporarily ? brought his spirits back up. Gave him hope.

    He was at a table in the gardens one morning, having breakfast alone among the sounds of nature, when Angol Moa appeared. Standing at her side, dressed in a white robe, was a very familiar face. Xar felt his jaw drop as they approached. His spoon fell from suddenly limp fingers, clattering to the floor.

    ?Nico!? he exclaimed. ?You?re alive!?

    Angol Moa put on a grin. ?Of course he?s alive, boy,? she said. ?He was always alive. Just not very mobile.?

    Nico, practically hanging off her shoulder, blinked sleepily. Xar arched an eyebrow in confusion. If Nico recognized Xar, he wasn?t showing any sign of it.

    He glanced from Nico back to Angol Moa. ?Is he all right? How did you heal him??

    ?Don?t get too excited yet. ?Heal? may be too strong of a word. I?ve only woken him up, so far. I haven?t been able to restore his memories. What you see here is just a shell.?

    Xar felt his expression fall. ?A what??

    ?An empty vessel. An incomplete person. Physically, he is perfectly fine, but his mind is a blank slate right now.?

    Xar fought the sudden surge of anger and frustration that flared up inside of him. ?What?s the point of reviving him if the real Nico?s still gone?? he demanded.

    ?Progress has to be made in stages, boy.?

    ?He looks just like the normal Nico to me,? Xar countered. ?Nico!? he addressed the man. He just stood there, looking just like his onetime friend. ?Do you recognize me?? he asked.

    Nico just stared at him and smiled for a long moment. Xar thought he saw a hint of recognition in his eyes, and for a moment he was sure that Nico had remembered.

    ?You look friendly,? Nico said finally. ?What is your name??

    Xar felt his smile fade as disappointment came over him. So, he didn?t remember a thing. The Nico he knew was still gone. He turned away, unable to look any longer. Seeing a shell of a man that he knew was even worse than having him lying motionless in a coma.

    ?I?ve only imprinted him with a temporary personality set,? Angol Moa explained. ?I had to do a complete reboot of his mind ? consciousness, subconscious, the id, the ego, the whole mess. Until I can restore his memories, I had to replace it with something that would enable him to at least function nominally.?

    Xar turned to stare at Angol Moa. ?I thought you could do anything. Can?t you fix him completely??

    ?I?m working on developing the technology necessary as we speak,? she said.

    ?Why do you have to invent a new technology just to help him?? he asked.

    ?Well, it?s
  23. Sauron

    Sauron Jedi Youngling star 1

    Dec 20, 1999
    Titan-class Battleship Grand Crusader
    Mizar System
    1850 Hours

    The Grand Crusader was still at a long-distance standoff with the Dark Sun, and the time was beginning to grate on Gaius. Something had to happen, soon.

    This was a battle they absolutely had to win, or the war would be lost. He wished he knew how many Titans were out there. It had to be more than just the one. Blast the AD, he thought. Every time we think we gain some ground they just hit us with an even bigger force. He wasn?t even sure if all the ship he?d brought with him this time would be enough. He needed more time, until Zalaria returned from wherever she?d gone to give birth.

    His limited resources told him that the Dark Sun belonged to the Shok?Thola Asellus, but it had virtually no information on the Warlord herself. Zalaria hadn?t returned yet to shed any light on the situation; in fact, she hadn?t been heard from at all. What if they were attacked while she was gone? All the firepower in the galaxy wouldn?t save them against a Force-user of this capability.

    Still, they had no choice but to stand their ground. If they ran, the AD would sweep over NI space and wipe out everything they knew and loved. And the disperate forces of an unsuspecting galaxy might not be able to muster a defense in time.

    Gaius took mental stock of his task force. He had four Titans, three of which were cloaked but within a hundred klicks or so from the Grand Crusader?s position, all in high orbit over Arcadia, Mizar?s third planet.

    Resting just beneath his flagship was the New Imperium?s Task Force Darkstar, consisting of the MC-120 of the same name and a cluster of Imperial-class Star Destroyers. They were the most fragile of his ships, unable to bear the brunt of a Titan?s direct assault. But they offered necessary morale support to the NI forces; without them, how could they even call themselves the NI anymore?

    Finally, there was the fleet that Amason had promised ? some ten Majestic-class Cruiers. They were waiting just outside the system, ready to jump in on a moment?s notice. Gaius hadn?t wanted to tip off the enemy that they had them; best to have an ace in the hole whenever possible.

    He?d brought virtually every major capital ship he had to this engagement, knowing that the battle for Mizar would make or break this part of the war. If they won, then they could begin preparations for the attack on the Gate and try and seal the Altarin?Dakor out of this galaxy. But if they failed here, none of that would happen; the NI would be finished.

    Below, on the surface of Arcadia, he had several battalions of troops stationed just outside the main Altarin?Dakor base. Unfortunately, since the arrival of the enemy ship, the local Altarin?Dakor command had barred them from entering, recognizing that two conflicting forces were demanding authority over the system. They would wait, and side with the victor once the outcome was ascertained.

    Gaius raised a cup of caf to his lips and took another sip, only to realize the liquid had cooled to an unappetizing lukewarm temperature. He drank it anyway.

    A chime sounding throughout the bridge took his attention immediately.

    ?What is it?? he asked, standing to his feet and looking over the railing towards the bridge?s forward viewports. The enemy Titan still hung out there, just a few hundred kilometers away.

    ?A message from the Dark Sun,? the comm officer reported. ?They wish to speak with the Shok?Thola.?

    ?We?ll have to disappoint them,? Gaius said, "as we don?t have one for them to talk to.?

    ?Shall I refuse to answer them, sir??

    Gaius thought for a moment. A lack of response might provoke them into attacking. He?d already delayed them several times. He should at least tell their commodore personally.

    ?Put them on the main screen,? he ordered.

    Moments later a holographic projection appeared in the center of the bridge?s atrium, a large open area three levels deep separating Gaius from the forward viewports. The image was huge, many times life-size. But it wasn?t the size of the speaker that appeared that shocked him. It was
  24. Sauron

    Sauron Jedi Youngling star 1

    Dec 20, 1999
    Personal Quarters
    Royal Palace, Varnus
    1440 Hours

    The New Imperium sigil faded from the screen, replaced by the visage of the Diktat himself. He was awake and on duty, even though on Tralaria it was already well into the night. Rytor nodded, acknowledging the caller. ?Misnera. What can I do for you??

    The Diktat?s face was not as Alyx had remembered. The man?s eyes seemed more sunken, with dark bags underneath them, and he seemed just a bit thinner, his wrinkles a bit more prominent, than the last time they?d spoken. Clearly the war was taking its toll. Running a government on the brink of its own destruction was not an easy task.

    ?How are things, Gene?? Alyx asked.

    The Diktat sighed in response. Behind him Alyx could catch a glimpse of the man?s quarters, though it was sparsely decorated, with little in the way of personal possessions. Rytor had always been a secretive man, showing little of himself on the outside.

    ?Most of the damage from the attack has been repaired,? Rytor said finally. ?Yes, I wish the same could be said for Varnus, as well. The economy though, and morale? Those are different matters entirely.?

    ?I know that you have a lot on you right now,? Alyx replied. Though he didn?t want to burden the Diktat any more than he already was, Alyx felt compelled to at least be accountable to him for what they were about to do. After all, he might lose the whole Jedi Order because of this.

    ?As you know,? he said, ?Sector Admiral Gaius has led the fleet to Mizar and is currently holding it. They are at a standoff with enemy forces. I need to inform you that I will be taking a contingent of Jedi with me to the Mizar System to assist in the engagement there.?

    ?I see,? said Rytor after a pause. ?Any particular reason for the change of heart? I was under the impression you were not participating in the offensive.?

    ?I think that Gaius and the others may be walking into a trap,? Alyx said. ?I don?t like it.

    ?I don?t like it either,? said Rytor heavily. He let out a long sigh. ?We cannot trust the Altarin?Dakor forces that we are working with, yet we cannot survive without them. This is a very precarious position, Alyx.?

    ?I know.? Alex took a deep breath. ?I?m taking most of the remaining fighting force of Jedi that the NI has. If we lose, there won?t be much left.? Not that there is now, either, he thought to himself.

    ?It?s all or nothing at this point,? Rytor said, nodding. ?These are tough decisions that we face, now. But it is the only viable thing that we can do. We must take the battle to the enemy, otherwise we will be trampled as their conquest pushes them deeper inside the galaxy.?

    ?My main objective is a rescue,? Alyx told him. ?If they are trapped there, then we will get out everyone that we can. But I don?t harbor dreams of going up against Warlords with what little forces we have.?

    ?I understand. You must take the utmost care,? Rytor said.

    ?We will.? Alyx reached forward to cut the connection, but the Diktat raised a hand, stopping him. Alyx paused, looking askance at him. The Diktat seemed to hesitate, as if uncertain whether or not he should speak.

    ?Misnera,? he said finally, ?Before you go there is a piece of intelligence I have come across that you may find useful.? He paused again, looking indecisive, though Alyx could not read his face, much less his emotions across the light-years that separated them.

    ?I don?t know how reliable this information is, but considering the circumstances, I am compelled to relate it to you.?

    ?Please,? Alyx intoned. ?Any intelligence is welcome.?

    ?It?s more of a theory, really. An idea. Something that might give you an advantage, should you encounter one of the Warlords directly.?

    ?If we do, then we?ll need any advantage we can get.?

    Another brief pause. ?Misnera, have your forces ever used a Null Sphere to encase a Warlord within its bubble? Even Zalaria, perhaps??

    Alyx bit back a laugh. ?Are you kidding? We?d have been dead before even getting close to her with one of those things.?

    ?Well, I suppose not. But have you considered the possibility of what ef
  25. Sauron

    Sauron Jedi Youngling star 1

    Dec 20, 1999
    Angol Moa?s Laboratories
    Unknown System

    Icis emerged from the teleporter and fell to his knees with a gasp. He remembered the look on his father?s face at the end. What had happened after that?

    Slowly, it came back to him. What he?d given up. What he?d seen ? and learned.

    His time with his father had opened his eyes. Moa Gault was, he finally realized, just a man. He was a Kajeat, of course ? he wasn?t fully human any more than Icis was ? but still, he was a man in the sense that he was an individual, a person of limited intellect and ability. He?d had only his wits and experience to guide the decisions he?d made. No longer did Icis see him as the cold, stoic, imposing father he?d known growing up. He understood ? really understood, now ? that his father was just as fallible as anyone else.

    Moa Gault had been more open with him than ever before in his life. Perhaps now, he too understood that Icis could never have been anything except what he now was. Perhaps he had finally come to accept the son that Icis had so unexpectedly become. The personal secrets he had revealed to Icis ? knowing that this might be the last time they ever spoke ? they showed a man who?d had to make decisions no one should ever have had to make alone.

    Those revelations had sent Icis back into the Chamber of Shadows a second time, something no Kajeat had ever done, to his knowledge. And there, in the Chamber, Icis had finally understood what it was he?d been called to do:

    The Chamber of Shadows. It was a place that struck a strange combination of terror and awe in the heart of every soul who had experienced it's warped effects. The chamber itself was located deep within the heart of Ka'Jaarn, on a level of the artificial planet that was seldom visited and mostly consumed by a sprawling museum of Traveler history. The section of the museum closest to the Chamber told of its origins 90,000 years ago, when Angol Moa, the oldest member of the Ka'Jaet race, had fashioned it herself according to her extreme but unstable genius.

    Every Ka'Jaet youth, upon reaching maturity and being deemed prepared to venture out into the universe and begin his/her/its life of quiet research, was required to enter the Chamber of Shadows. It was the ultimate rite of passage and to Icis' knowledge, no one had ever gone in twice. No one would ever want to. The effects were straining upon the sanity and always left a lasting impression. Some were moved to absolute silence and awe, some screamed in fear or sobbed in anguish, some were inspired, some ran out of the chamber and refused to ever speak of what they had seen, a few were driven mad, and a rare few disappeared into the Chamber never to be seen again.

    The Chamber of Shadows, as every Ka'Jaet was told before entering, was a containment field for a temporal vortex, which constantly raged in the distance like a shifting sideways tornado of crackling multicolored energy on a plane of absolute black darkness. There the young Traveler would be shown... something. It was different for each person. The thing that the Traveler saw was a result of his own temporal signature's influence on the vortex and would have great significance to that person's life. Icis Novitaar knew all of this because it had been told to him, but he had never experienced it. When he had entered the Chamber at the completion of his training, he hadn't been shown anything. He stepped through the door to the Chamber of Shadows, and found himself exiting out the same door almost immediately. No time had passed for everyone else (it never did), but no time had passed for him either. There had been nothing to see.

    Now, Icis had stepped through the Great Door to the Chamber of Shadows a second time, and his fears of seeing nothing were immediately put to rest by the awesome terror and beauty of the temporal vortex. It was both unbelievably immense and distant at the same time. In fact, if it occupied real space the vortex would be far too large for the Chamber of Shadows to contain, but there was a certain degree of dimensional compression a