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Beyond - Legends Chase (Evil Author Day 2021) (Dankin, Jacen, Tahiri, Ben)

Discussion in 'Fan Fiction- Before, Saga, and Beyond' started by Tarsier, Feb 15, 2021.

  1. Tarsier

    Tarsier Jedi Grand Master star 4

    Registered:
    Jul 31, 2005
    Title: Chase

    Author: Tarsier

    Timeframe: ~41 ABY, post-Sacrifice AU (about a year after Caedus/Jacen has been redeemed)

    Main Characters: Ben Skywalker, Dankin, Jacen Solo (redeemed), Tahiri Veila

    Genre: Drama/Action/Angst, novella

    Summary: Ben, Jacen, Tahiri, Dankin: Each so battered by war they don’t see much reason to go on. Forced together, they may kill each other, they may save each other.

    Other stories in this timeline: You Found Me – Dankin and Callista one-shot; Chasing Whisperkits - Jacen's redemption; Not the Beginning – Ben songfic, set immediately before Chase.

    Author Notes: 1) Posted for Evil Author Day 2021. I am releasing this story into the wild! I do want to finish this story someday, but it's not going to happen for a very long time. If anyone would like to continue it, you have my blessing. Just please let me know if you do. I'm happy to share what I had planned. :)

    2) I last worked on this story in 2014. I have seven complete chapters out of probably about twenty-two total chapters. I have a bit written beyond those chapters, which I may or may not post.

    3)
    This story is supposed to be roughly canon through Sacrifice, with a few caveats: first, I have not read anything from the NJO or later, so my knowledge is somewhat limited; second, although I try to work with at least the major canon events, there are certain details that I just can’t accept—for example, Tahiri has never molested Ben in this timeline. [2/15/21: I wrote this note long ago - did that really happen?! I don't even know.] The differences should become evident as the story unfolds.



    [​IMG]



    Dramatis personae:

    Primary:
    Ben Skywalker (Jedi Knight)
    Dankin (smuggler pilot)
    Jacen Solo (former Jedi Knight; former Sith Lord)
    Tahiri Veila (former Jedi Knight; former Sith Apprentice)

    Secondary:
    Allana Djo (Jedi child)
    Hunter (unknown)
    Jagged Fel (Imperial Commander)
    Jaina Solo (Sword of the Jedi)
    Tenel Ka Djo (Hapan Queen Mother; Jedi Knight)
    Zekk (Jedi Knight)

    Gone But Not Forgotten:
    Anakin Solo (Jedi Knight)
    Callista (smuggler; former Jedi Knight)
    Luke Skywalker (Jedi Grand Master)
    Mara Jade Skywalker (Jedi Master)
    Odonnl (smuggler)

    Whisperkits:
    Satin (red-gold)
    Snip (grey with white markings)
    Whiskers (white with blue eyes)
     
    Last edited: Feb 15, 2021
  2. Tarsier

    Tarsier Jedi Grand Master star 4

    Registered:
    Jul 31, 2005
    Chapter 1: Rain

    When my master and I were walking in the rain he would say, “Do not walk so fast, the rain is everywhere.”
    – Jedi Master Shunryn Suzuki


    The rain fell steadily, as it had for hours. The air was crisp and cold; combined with the rain it created an inescapable chill. Ben Skywalker shivered despite his many layers.

    The rain is good, the young Jedi told himself. It’s an extra layer of cover. Another source of distraction.

    He glanced at his chrono, for the tenth time in as many minutes. He futilely tried to suppress another shiver as he slowed his breathing. He forced himself to ignore the weather and focus completely on the task at hand. He had to calm himself. He focused on softening his breathing, softening his muscles, softening everything until he faded into the Force. If the other Jedi sensed he was up to something, the whole plan would be ruined. He may not get a second chance.

    After a final excruciatingly slow breath he glanced at his chrono again. And smiled. It was almost time.

    *

    Three blocks from Ben, Dankin stared at the ground, watching the rain form little streams and puddles in the aged ferrocrete. He couldn’t bring himself to look up, for fear of seeing the man who had saved his life so many years ago. The man he loved like a father. The man he’d betrayed.

    For good measure, Dankin’s hands were bound behind his back. But the cuffs were not his primary restraint. Jagged Fel, a muscle-bound military officer, had his hand resting on the back of Dankin’s neck. A few inches over and it would have been a friendly gesture, a pat on the shoulder. But as it was, with his fingers pressed against the nerves of Dankin’s neck, it was a none too friendly restraining hold. If Dankin tried to escape he was sure the larger man wouldn’t have a bit of trouble throwing him to the ground.

    “They’re coming.” The voice came from a few feet to Dankin’s right and, still not looking up, he shifted his gaze to the knee-high leather boots of Jedi Knight Jaina Solo. She’d been pacing restlessly, splashing through puddles and kicking up water in all directions, since they’d arrived at the abandoned landing pad twenty minutes ago. She finally stopped for a moment, facing toward Jag, but the heel of her boot continued to tap the ground in agitation.

    “Is she with them?” Jag asked. The hand on Dankin’s neck shifted ever so slightly as he spoke, the only outward signal that the stoic solider behind him was as agitated as the Jedi Knight.

    Though Dankin didn’t see it, he surmised Jaina nodded in response because Jag tightened his grip and pulled Dankin closer to him.

    Dankin lowered his head still farther. Until now he’d held onto the faint hope that they didn’t really have Tahiri, that she was still free to roam the galaxy. That perhaps she would even come to rescue him.

    Not that he actually expected Tahiri to come for him. But hopes and expectations did not always align.

    *

    As the smugglers led her along, Tahiri Veila knew she had to escape before they got to the Jedi. The smugglers had taken her lightsaber and slapped a set of vibrocuffs tightly around her wrists. They carried heavy blasters, but in a fight she much preferred her odds against a handful of partially trained smugglers who had been grumbling about the rain since they left their ship, to her odds against Jaina and however many other Jedi and soldiers she had with her.

    Tahiri was barefoot and wearing short sleeves, but she didn’t even notice the pouring rain. The biting cold and penetrating dampness barely registered to her body, hardened by years of torture and anguish. She used the Force as an additional sense that more than made up for any limitations the dark, leaden sky and falling water put on her vision.

    As she ran through options in her head, searching for the right time and place to make her move, Tahiri noticed a subtle but familiar Force-signature nearby. She had a friend she hadn’t counted on. A friend her captors would never see coming. She may yet be able to pull this off. Save herself and maybe even Dankin too.

    *

    It was time. Wiping rain out of his face and taking a final deep breath, Ben moved forward, his lightsaber gripped tightly in his right hand.

    He stood before the cell door thinking—not for the first time—how excessive it was. Four-inch thick, blaster-proof titanium and rigged with a dozen different sensors to detect damage, sound, and motion. No one went through the doorway without the security team knowing. That meant Ben would have to move quickly—even with Ben’s careful timing, they would have less than two minutes to get out once the threshold was broken.

    It was now or never. Ben ignited his lightsaber and with a few quick slashes he had eliminated the hinges and locks on the door. He held his hand up and used the Force to pull the top of the door toward him. It fell forward heavily and landed at his feet with a loud thud. There was no other sound—the alarms were silent—but Ben had no doubt the security team was on its way.

    He quickly strode across the door and into the dark room beyond. His boots left sloppy wet footprints on the shiny metal surface.

    Scanning the familiar room for its lone resident, Ben smiled. It felt good to be in control of his life for once.

    *

    Jacen Solo inhaled sharply, abruptly ending his mediation. Something bad was about to happen—No, it had already happened. His breath came in short, shallow gasps. Opening his eyes, Jacen saw dim light spilling into the small room he now called home. He scowled. He’d made it perfectly clear to Ben that he did not want his company, yet the child refused to cooperate, refused to act like a being who possessed even a shred of rationality.

    What part of I killed your mother did the kid not understand?

    With a groan, Jacen got to his feet. It was then that he noticed the door lying broken on the floor. His heart stopped. He looked to Ben, standing casually a few steps inside the doorway.

    “What have you done?” Jacen demanded.

    “Come on,” Ben replied. “We have to go.”

    “I’m not going anywhere,” Jacen snarled.

    “You have to go!” There was genuine fear in Ben’s voice. Apparently he’d expected Jacen to just play along with whatever insane scheme this was. “They’ll kill you if they find you now. You know they’ve been just waiting for an excuse.”

    That part was true enough. In fact, Jacen had dedicated the last year and a half of his life to avoiding giving “them” such an excuse. It looked like that was just about to be all for naught. Which was, of course, the crux of Ben’s plan, Jacen could see clearly. Ben was attempting to force Jacen to go with him or face certain death. So many people had been clamoring for his demise, that when an official execution had been thus far denied, half the galaxy was hoping Jacen would make an escape so it would be open season on former Sith Lords.

    “Jaina’ll get here first,” Ben added, a note of desperation in his voice. This fact, it was clear enough to Jacen, was not true. Or at least Ben did not believe it to be true. But Ben, his intentions ever so easy to read, knew that though Jacen did not fear death, he did have a strong desire to not be struck down by his twin sister.

    Jacen hesitated, knowing he had only seconds to make a decision that would almost certainly determine whether he died within the next few minutes. Panicking at Jacen’s reluctance to play along with his plan, Ben grabbed one of the few pieces of wooden furniture in Jacen’s room and threw it as hard as he could across the room. Jacen observed as it crashed into the far wall and splintered into several pieces. He was faintly aware of the fact that he’d spent many days building the piece with his bare hands, and here Ben had destroyed it in a matter of seconds.

    Next, Ben went to the dishes stacked neatly beside the small cistern. He picked up the entire stack and tossed it high into the air. Shards of ceramic burst out from the point of impact with the floor in all directions. Jacen felt a surprising pang of loss at the broken plates. It was only recently that he’d been allowed ceramic plates instead of the flimsy paper kind and he’d become quite fond of the delicate designs that had been painstakingly painted around the rims.

    “Anger,” Ben explained with a devious grin. He seemed to have overcome his panic, although Jacen didn’t much care for the new direction his emotions were taking. “She won’t think twice about putting you down once she sees you’ve succumbed to your anger.”

    Jacen hardly needed the narration. As he’d noted before, Ben’s intentions were painfully easy to read. But Jaina wasn’t coming for him, not right at this moment, so Jacen may yet be able to control the situation.

    “Stop it,” Jacen said as Ben surveyed the room in search of something else to destroy. “Get out of here.” Jacen grabbed the boy by his upper arm and hauled him toward the open doorway.

    “Happy to,” Ben replied. Jacen released Ben’s arm with a shove out the door and spun around, trying to decide how he would clean up the mess before anyone saw it. However, Ben had other ideas and grabbed the back of Jacen’s tunic, pulling him along as Ben fell backward through the doorway.

    As soon as they crossed the threshold of the door, the hallway erupted with blaster fire.

    Jacen twisted in the air, throwing himself between Ben and the blaster bolts, all the while cursing himself for letting Ben catch him off guard. Together they hit the ground and rolled.

    A barrage of panicked thoughts peppered Jacen through the Force: Wait! That’s Ben!—I see Jacen!—He’s turned! He’s turned!—Don’t hit the boy!

    Panic was Jacen’s friend. When people panicked they got sloppy. This was going to be far easier than Jacen would have ever imagined. Letting go of Ben and turning his roll into a slide, Jacen adjusted his trajectory so he came to a stop at the feet of the security squad. With a flick of his wrist, he yanked the blasters away from each of the security men, six altogether he noted absently, and tossed them casually out of reach. Then Jacen leapt to his feet and plowed through the group, which was now so utterly disconcerted they hardly provided more of a barrier to his escape than a small herd of nerfs would have.

    One solider, apparently with quicker wits than the others, pulled a vibroblade from his belt and attempted to sink it into Jacen’s side. But Jacen’s hand darted out to intercept and bat the blade away without him even breaking stride.

    And that was that. Jacen Solo, former Sith Lord and convicted war criminal, was roaming the open streets of Coruscant, his young liberator close on his heels.
     
    Last edited: Feb 18, 2021
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  3. Tarsier

    Tarsier Jedi Grand Master star 4

    Registered:
    Jul 31, 2005
    Chapter 2: Small World

    There is not enough darkness in all the world to put out the light of even one small candle.
    – Robert Alden


    Several weeks earlier....

    The prisoner stared back at Jaina Solo with clear green eyes. He was small of stature, not only fine-boned but looking like he’d missed more than a few meals in recent months. She’s been sure she could break him in a few hours. But hours had turned in to days and it seemed the more time passed, the more uncertain she became.

    “Tell me your story again,” Jaina ordered.

    “I’ve told you ten times already,” the prisoner replied. He was clearly frustrated, but not overtly hostile.

    “Well, then you’re going to tell me eleven times,” Jaina snapped, as frustrated as he was. She rose from her chair so she could stare him down. “Start talking.”

    With a resigned sigh he began. He told the same outlandish tale as always. And as always she sensed no hint of deception from him.

    According to the prisoner, who claimed he went only by the name “Lucky,” he and Callista (yes, that Callista) had spent several years rebuilding a starfighter that supposedly had once belonged to Anakin Skywalker. They had intended to present the ship as a gift to Luke Skywalker once it was complete. Callista had died, killed by Darth Caedus, before the ship was complete. Lucky had finished rebuilding the ship without Callista, but then Master Skywalker passed away before he could give the ship to him. So Lucky had decided to leave the ship near the Jedi Temple on Coruscant. Finding himself without a way home, Lucky had attempted to take a ship from the Jedi docking bay, which is when he was caught.

    Perhaps the most unbelievable part of story was Lucky’s claim that the ship he was attempting to take actually belonged to him. He didn’t just claim that he was entitled to the ship, as a sort of one-to-one exchange for the starfighter he left. No, Lucky alleged that he had owned the ship for many years and lent it to Master Skywalker right before his final showdown with Darth Caedus. In fact, according to Lucky, it was the very ship Master Skywalker had boarded Caedus’ ship with. This particular claim was especially frustrating to Jaina because, although she was sure it was pure bantha poodoo, she couldn’t prove him wrong. No one had any idea where the ship came from, the Jedi she talked to all said it just appeared one day. Nor was there any record of what ship Master Skywalker was flying when he confronted Caedus. How Lucky knew could possibly know that his absurd claim was so difficult to disprove, was another fact that irritated Jaina no end.

    The fact was, with Callista and Master Skywalker both deceased, there was no way to disprove any part of the story. Her one would-be witness, her cousin Ben Skywalker, who was with his father when he confronted Darth Caedus, claimed to have virtually no recollection of the entire incident. Though this memory lapse concerned Jaina as Ben’s cousin and fellow Jedi, as the commander in charge of the prisoner it made her grind her teeth with infuriation and it took every ounce of self-control to keep herself from grilling Ben until he cracked.

    So at the end of the day, there was only one other person who might be able to tell Jaina what ship Luke had at the time in question. That man was Darth Caedus himself, or rather Jacen Solo, as he was calling himself now. But Jaina was not about to break her two year vow of silence, having not spoken to her twin brother since before he declared himself a Dark Lord of the Sith, for something as trivial as the stupid ship. She could not even begin to fathom how this innocuous looking prisoner before her had managed to back her into such a corner.

    But somehow or another he had backed her into a corner, and with no way to disprove his story and no hint of deception in either his earnest green eyes or his Force sense, she was on the brink of having to release him despite her deep reservations.

    “Jaina.” A crisp military voice cut through her thoughts and interrupted the prisoner midway through his latest rendition of the Tale of Ancient Jedi Starfighters and Borrowed Starships.

    Jaina looked up to see Jagged Fel standing in the doorway to the interrogation chamber, gesturing for her to join him outside. “What is it?” she asked as she secured the soundproof door between the interrogation chambers and the adjacent viewing room.

    “We learned something,” Zekk, Jaina’s Jedi partner, replied as he peered through the one-way glass at the prisoner. “His name’s not ‘Lucky.’ ”

    “Not exactly the shock of the century,” Jaina replied drily. “Did you happen to learn what his name really is?”

    “As the matter of fact, we did.” Zekk grinned, clearly feeling quite proud of himself. “Not just his name, but now we’ve got a pretty good idea of why he didn’t want to tell it to us.” Zekk gestured to Jag, who presented Jaina with a datapad.

    Jaina took the datapad and looked at the screen. It showed an image of a man that appeared to be a slightly younger version of the prisoner. Below his image was a credit amount and the letters “DOA.”

    “He’s got a bounty on his head,” Jaina remarked. “That explains why he’s been so squirrelly.”

    “Not just one,” Jag added. “Three.” He punched a button on the datapad and a slightly different image appeared, along with a slightly higher credit amount. And, most interesting to Jaina, a name.

    “ ‘Dankin,’ ” Jaina read aloud. It didn’t sound familiar to her, not that she’d really expected it to. “So what’d he do?”

    “Well, the bounty listings don’t say. But I’m pretty sure he’s a thief.”

    “We did find him trying to steal a ship,” Jaina said.

    “That’s the thing,” Zekk replied. “Based on this I’d say his business isn’t something as pedestrian as stolen property. The bounties are offered by NRI, Mirax Terrik, and Talon Karrde. The three biggest intelligence organizations. I’m betting he doesn’t care a thing about ships. He steals secrets.”

    “Or at least he did,” Jag added. “All these bounties are nearly fifteen years old. The first two haven’t been updated in ten years, who knows if they’d even pay. But the last one—that’s the one offered by Talon Karrde—was updated less than six months ago.” He clicked another button on the datapad and a third bounty appeared. This one had multiple pictures and a full description, including height, weight, and hair and eye color. It also had a credit amount three times that of the other bounties and the words “ALIVE ONLY” in bold letters. “NRI and Mirax Terrik have lost interest. But Talon Karrde is still eager to find him. Alive.”

    “Is that important—that he wants him alive?” Jaina asked.

    “It could be,” Zekk replied. “Alive only bounties are rare, and hunters don’t like to take them. DOA is much easier.”

    “The point is,” Jag continued, “It looks like Karrde is positively desperate to find him.”

    “Which leaves only one question,” Zekk finished.

    “Why does Karrde want him so bad?” Jaina suggested.

    “No,” Zekk replied. “The only important question is: What can Talon Karrde do for us?”

    *

    Jacen Solo’s world had become very small. He lived in a single room, roughly eight meters by eight meters. He had a cistern and a refresher stall in one corner and a thin mattress in another. He had not left the room in over a year and only two beings other than Jacen had set foot in the room in that time. One of these beings was Jacen’s pet, a small furry whisperkit.

    Her name was Snip. Her fur was smoke grey except for a perfect triangle of white over her nose and three white paws. She was the only reason Jacen had to get up each morning. With the exception of his mattress and a small food cooler, all the furniture in the room had been designed and constructed for Snip’s benefit. He felt bad about keeping her confined in such a small space when she had done nothing to deserve it, yet he couldn’t imagine giving her up, so he did his best to make her comfortable and make the room seem bigger to her. There were a series of shelves and ramps built along three walls and climbing trees and makeshift tunnels dotted the floor-space throughout the room.

    Jacen had built it all with his bare hands. The raw materials for Snip’s playground, and even Snip herself, had been brought to Jacen by the other being who had set foot in Jacen’s room—Ben Skywalker, his fifteen-year-old cousin.

    Ben was the only member of Jacen’s family who was speaking to him. In fact, as far as Jacen knew, Ben was the only member of his family, and perhaps the only person in the galaxy, who didn’t want Jacen dead. Which was ironic because Ben, of all the beings in the galaxy, had the most reason to want Jacen dead. Not that the rest of the galaxy didn’t have perfectly good reasons to call for Jacen’s execution, but Ben’s reasons were, or at least should have been, especially potent. The pain Jacen had caused Ben was especially keen. He had tortured Ben. He had killed Ben’s mother. He had betrayed Ben’s trust on so many levels he couldn’t count them all. None of this should have been forgivable, yet Ben was Jacen’s lone supporter, the only one advocating for Jacen’s life and freedom. The only one who saw Jacen as a living, breathing human being and not a soulless monster.

    Clearly, the kid was unstable. Jacen told him not to come, warned him to stay away. But it seemed the more Jacen tried to discourage him, the more adamant Ben became about visiting. Although Jacen was sure Ben’s father hadn’t like it, oddly he hadn’t stopped Ben from seeing Jacen. Perhaps Master Skywalker had known that Ben would only have resented his father if he tried to stop him and would have done his best to go behind his father’s back if for no other reason than teenage rebellion.

    And as much as Jacen knew Ben shouldn’t come here, and as much as he wished Ben would just stay away for his own good, Jacen had to admit it was nice to have someone to talk to. Well, someone who talked back, unlike Snip.

    So it was not surprising that Jacen missed Ben when he did not come by.

    “I guess he’s not coming,” Jacen said, making sure it came off as a statement and not a complaint. Snip, of course, did not know the difference. She gave a small mew and rubbed against Jacen’s leg. “Which means,” Jacen continued, scooping up the fluffy animal, “that we won’t be getting the carpeting we need to finish your new climbing post today.”

    Jacen wasn’t allowed much in the way of supplies—soft wood, carpet fragments, a few short lengths of sisal. He was not allowed any tools or glue, so he had to be creative about how to build the whisperkit’s playground. When Jacen was young, his sister Jaina used to build elaborate cages for his pets. Now he was on his own. Currently his sister was a lot more likely to kill Jacen than help him with his hobbies.

    Jacen was confined to his small living quarters because he was under house arrest. The house arrest order was supposed to be temporary, lasting only until he was formally sentenced. His sentence was to be given by the head of the Jedi Order—Grand Master Luke Skywalker. However, Master Skywalker refused to render a judgment on Jacen until he had forgiven Jacen for killing his wife and Ben’s mother, Mara Jade Skywalker. Master Skywalker had died two weeks ago, never having determined a sentence. This left Jacen in a sort of limbo—it had taken a lot of time, negotiation, and general angst to finally get all parties involved and the general public to consent to allow Master Skywalker to pass judgment. With Master Skywalker’s death occurring before giving a verdict, the whole process of determining a judge to give a sentence to Jacen had to be started over. It was a process nobody wanted to be part of. Thus, Jacen remained under house arrest until the powers that be came up with a new plan.





    Chapter 3: Escape

    Do not go gentle into that good night.
    - Dylan Thomas


    Coruscant, the prisoner exchange…

    Dankin felt an odd sensation at the base of his skull. At first he thought it was just the rain pounding on the back of his neck, or maybe Jag had pinched a nerve, but after a moment he realized the sensation was actually radiating from within his body, not a force striking the outside of his skin. No, that wasn’t quite right either. The sensation was not in his body at all, but rather in his mind. Someone was touching his mind, tapping at his consciousness. He took a sharp breath in—someone was trying to get his attention. And there was only one person who would possibly try to contact him in such a way.

    Tahiri had come for him, after all.

    He had no idea where she would come from, or what she would want him to do. So he put his senses on high alert and waited for a signal, all the while trying his best to look casual. Fortunately Jaina seemed agitated enough that she wasn’t paying Dankin a lot of attention and Jag, standing as he was nearly directly behind Dankin, couldn’t see Dankin’s face.

    When the moment came, Dankin didn’t have time to think or process anything. It was pure reaction. The first thing he saw was Jaina, out of the corner of his eye, whipping around to face him. Then there was a weight pulling on his leg and a split-second later something was pressing against his palm. Instinctively, he closed his hand, still bound behind his back, around the object. He didn’t even remember pushing the button, but suddenly an ice blue blade of light shot out of his grip. Jag leaped back, a hair’s breadth from being bisected by the blade. Then, still holding the blade behind him, he leaned forward and swung his entire body in a frantic circle. Jaina, who was in the midst of a charge toward Dankin, ducked and rolled away to avoid the deadly blade. As Dankin came full circle, the metal handle flew out of his grip and through the air away from him.

    With Jag and Jaina startled and a few precious feet away from him, Dankin knew he had the only opening he was ever going to get. Without stopping the momentum from his spin, Dankin ran. He ran wildly, aimlessly. But it wasn’t long until he hit a narrow alleyway between tall buildings, and they hadn’t caught him yet. Maybe, just maybe, he could lose his captors in the maze of the city.

    *

    Tahiri could not see Dankin and the others, they were still too far away and the rain obscured everything beyond her arm’s reach. But she’d tracked the movements of her unexpected ally and she felt the commotion as Dankin made his escape.

    Her captors, meanwhile, fumbled around in confusion. The man in the lead had noticed something brushing against his leg, and immediately saw that the lightsaber clipped to his belt—Tahiri’s lightsaber—was missing. But he hadn’t seen the flash of white fur and he had no idea what had happened. He yelled at his compatriots, accusing them of having lifted the weapon. This gave Tahiri just enough space to step backwards over her cuffs, bringing her hands in front of her. Then, sensing Dankin no longer needed her lightsaber, she called it back to her. The smugglers, still arguing, caught sight of the flesh-eating line of light twisting toward them just in time to dive out of its path. Even before they hit the ground, blasters were drawn and wild shots were directed at Tahiri. But the first two shots went wide, and by the time the third blaster bolt was coming at her, Tahiri had the lightsaber in her hand and easily deflected the next three shots.

    Then Tahiri took off, sprinting in the general direction Dankin had headed.

    *

    Dankin ran, barely able to see a meter in front of him because of the rain and having absolutely no idea where he was going.

    After a minute or so of blind running, something caught Dankin’s eye—a blur of white moving along his right side.

    Whiskers, Dankin thought, his brain only just now catching up and realizing the weight on his leg moments before must have been Tahiri’s pet whisperkit climbing his body in order to deliver the lightsaber to his hand.

    The blur of white suddenly cut across Dankin’s path, racing down a passageway to his left. Dankin followed.

    *

    As her legs churned mechanically beneath her, Tahiri reached out through the Force. There was much excitement and confusion coming from behind her, but Tahiri ignored that, searching for something else.

    There, she found it—a soft, fluffy presence. Yes, whisperkits—or at least her whisperkit—felt fluffy, even in the Force. Tahiri pulled at Whiskers, encouraging her to come towards her. Dankin, ever so easy to read in the Force as he ran alongside the whisperkit, his mind always open and radiating a sort eager friendliness that seemed out of place everywhere he went, veered off his path to follow Whiskers.

    Good, she thought, He’s figuring things out better than I could have hoped. I just hope Jaina does not find him as easy to track through the Force as I do.

    Tahiri recognized this part of the city and was amazed at her good luck in being brought here. Or perhaps it was a certain cockiness on the part of her would-be captors. Of course Jaina would want to make the exchange near the Jedi Temple; it was a convenient location for her. Apparently she wasn’t worried about the fact that Tahiri knew the area well and would have a much easier time eluding capture here that a place with unfamiliar terrain.

    Being near the Jedi Temple meant they were also near the docking bays of the Jedi. This meant that if Tahiri had any luck left at all, they were near a ship that was both fast and ripe for the taking.

    Jedi, being Jedi, tended to load their personal transports with security features that were extremely difficult for the vast majority of the population to break, but were extremely easy for themselves to disarm. This usually meant that the security systems were extremely easy for any Jedi to disarm. And if the particular ship she had in mind had a more traditional security package, Dankin just might be able to prove himself useful.

    Speaking of which, she noticed that Dankin had lost considerable speed. The adrenaline was wearing off and exhaustion was starting to set in. She gritted her teeth. She could not afford to let him slow her down. If he didn’t catch up soon, she may have to leave without him.

    Finally, Tahiri turned the corner to the Jedi docking bay and gave Whiskers a final Force-nudge. It took Tahiri only a few seconds to scan the ships and find the one she wanted. It was a bit away from the other ships, but appeared to be in good repair. Hurry up, Dankin, she thought as she strode to her target. He was close now and perhaps gaining a second wind.

    Staring at the hull of her chosen ship, Tahiri tried to determine what sort of security the ship had in place as she approached it. She stopped abruptly. It appeared she wouldn’t need to worry about security at all—the boarding ramp of the ship was already lowered. For several seconds Tahiri’s mind raced. Who would have lowered the ramp? Was this a trap? How could Jaina have known she would be here? Or had the ramp been lowered by someone else entirely?

    Tahiri was suddenly aware that she could feel her pulse pounding in her head. If she could just relax, she would be able to use the Force to answer her questions. But there was a panic, a sense of dread filling her. She couldn’t get herself to move, or to reach out to the Force. It wasn’t until Whiskers ran up to her and climbed to her shoulder that she realized the dread had nothing to do with Jaina, or her plans for escape.

    No, her sudden dread had been ignited by a familiarity. By being near someone she knew. Someone she hated with all her heart and soul. Someone who was standing between her and her best hope for escape.
     
    Last edited: Feb 18, 2021
  4. Tarsier

    Tarsier Jedi Grand Master star 4

    Registered:
    Jul 31, 2005
    Chapter 4: Convergence

    Success is not final, failure is not fatal: it is the courage to continue that counts.
    – Galactic Senator Winston Churchill


    Jacen took three steps down the corridor of Jade Shadow before spinning on his heel and charging back the other direction. “Keep going!” he shouted to Ben as he sensed the teenager hesitating.

    He paused at the top of the boarding ramp. Jacen had hit the button to raise the ramp as he ran past, but apparently someone had hit it again because the ramp was once again lowering. He drew his lightsaber as he confronted the intruder.

    His thumb was on the ignite button, but he never pressed it. Instead he froze as soon as he saw her.

    *

    Tahiri was relieved to see Dankin catch up to her as she hesitated just outside the ship. She used the Force to punch the ramp button within the ship and the ramp reversed his direction and began to lower before her. Turning as he approached her, Tahiri could see Dankin was wild-eyed and panting like a rabid rancor. Not about to explain the situation to him, and knowing that a few more seconds of hesitation could cost them their lives, Tahiri placed her hands on Dankin’s back and gave him a hard shove forward before he could come to a halt beside her. “Just get the ship in the air and get us out of here!” she snarled at him, far more harshly than she had intended.

    Though he was clearly exhausted, Dankin complied. He bounded up the ramp and ducked beside the figure standing just inside the ship. The figure made no move to stop him, his focus entirely on Tahiri.

    Bracing herself, Tahiri walked steadily up the ramp. This ship was her only chance of escape and she was not about to let the monster from her past stop her now. Neither of them said a word as she paused before him; they just stared at each with lightsabers drawn but not ignited. Memories and emotions flooded Tahiri’s mind, momentarily drowning out all thoughts of those who were chasing her. It was a reckoning, or at least it seemed like it should have been. But nothing happened. He said nothing, he just looked back at Tahiri, his face giving away no emotion.

    There were a million things Tahiri had been dying to say to—or to scream at—Jacen Solo, also known as Darth Caedus, the man, if she could even call him that, who had made her who she was today. But somehow, in this moment her throat was tight and no words escaped her lips.

    Jacen tilted his head ever so slightly and the ramp began to rise behind Tahiri.

    *

    Dankin raced toward the cockpit, ignoring everything but the goal of reaching the pilot’s seat where he might finally be able to relax enough to gather his wits and sort through what had happened in the last ten minutes. He’d vaguely noticed that someone had been standing at the entrance to the ship, but remarkably that person had not attempted to stop him. It was odd, certainly, but it was the sort of oddity that would be well-suited to sorting through once he had the comfort of a mottled view of hyperspace around him.

    Dankin was indescribably relieved when he finally spotted the doorway leading to the cockpit. The thought of collapsing into the pilot’s seat and giving his burning lungs and utterly exhausted legs a break was so irresistible Dankin practically threw himself the last few meters. And so it was that his legs went completely out from under him and he landed in a heap on the floor after discovering that there was already someone seated in the pilot’s seat.

    *

    Ben had just begun the preflight checks when he heard a commotion behind him that culminated in an older man falling to the floor beside him. Ben jumped at the sight, wondering how in blazes someone had gotten past Jacen. Or if he hadn’t gotten past Jacen, what in the galaxy he was doing already on the ship. “Who are you?” Ben demanded, glancing briefly over his shoulder to see if Jacen was nearby.

    The man just stared dumbly up at him. He was breathing heavily and was completely drenched. Either he just stepped fully-clothed out of the refresher shower, or, like Ben, the man had come from outside in the pouring rain. Something beeped on the console in front of him and Ben turned toward it, keeping the man in his peripheral vision. Where was Jacen and how was he going to get rid of this bizarre stranger?

    His questions were pushed aside as the console continued to beep, but louder and faster, and the lights that normally turned green after a successful preflight check turned red. Ben experimentally flipped various switches, hoping he had just performed the necessary checks in the wrong order and needed to reset the various systems.

    “Did you power her down correctly last time you flew her?”

    Ben jumped again, suddenly aware that he’d taken his focus off the stranger, who was now standing, peering over Ben’s left shoulder. But after a moment to recover from being startled, Ben responded, being sure to his tone reflected his indignation at the man’s comment. “Of course I powered her down right. What do you think—”

    “Has she been sitting long?” the man interrupted, ignoring Ben’s tone.

    “A couple months,” Ben replied, not quite as defensively.

    “Good,” the man said, sliding into the copilot’s seat and tapping at the controls. “She may just have a little water collected in the fuel tank. I’m guessing you didn’t refill her before you left her, did you?”

    “No, it was almost full—”

    “Then we’ll assume that’s it and override everything. I don’t know about you, but I don’t have time to play it safe and check every system one by one.” The man stood up and felt around the ceiling behind the pilot’s seat. “There,” he said and pushed a button. One by one the lights changed from red to green. “Well don’t just sit there, get the engines going,” he instructed Ben.

    *

    After several seconds of staring mutely at Jacen, Tahiri got a grip on herself. She shoved her emotions and desires down, and forced her rational brain to engage. She hated that he was the one who had taught her the technique, but she couldn’t afford to be distracted by her hatred and disgust.

    Finally able to think clearly, Tahiri figured that if Jacen was here, it must mean that he too was on the run. And that probably explained why Jaina had not given her or Dankin more trouble—she would undoubtedly have been more concerned with stopping Jacen than the two of them. This also meant that she and Dankin were now exactly where Jaina wanted to be, so they’d best keep moving.

    Tahiri felt something touch against her neck and her body tensed. It seemed a terribly disappointing way to die, to be Force-choked by the supposedly redeemed Darth Caedus in the entryway of her would-be getaway ship. It wasn’t until she felt the touch relax and then return to her neck that she realized the touch had nothing to do with Jacen, or indeed the Force at all. The touch came from Whiskers, who had climbed to her shoulder without Tahiri even realizing it and was now slowly swishing her tail across Tahiri’s neck.

    Feeling foolish, Tahiri exhaled slowly and turned away from Jacen. He was making her paranoid when she badly needed to focus. If he intended to harm her, she just hoped he be swift about it. She headed towards the cockpit, wondering why the ship hadn’t started up yet.

    *

    Jacen hadn’t seen Tahiri since she’d killed an innocent woman in front of him to prove a point to him. Since moments before he fell to his knees before Master Skywalker and begged for his help. He had no idea what to say to her. He knew he owed her an apology—a million apologies, and maybe even a thank you—but it was not shame or contrition or gratitude that rose in his chest when he saw her. Instead he was filled with resentment and bitterness at what she’d done. Determining that neither a half-hearted apology nor a caustic accusation would help anyone in this moment, Jacen remained silent. He studied her, trying to determine why she was here and where she had been since the last time he’d seen her.



    Chapter 5: Flight

    You can’t take the sky from me.
    – Captain Mal Reynolds


    Finally, the ship was in the air. They had no trouble leaving the hangar bay, but once they entered open space and had the elements to contend with, things took a turn for the worse. It was immediately clear to Dankin that the teenager was both unfamiliar with flying through a storm and intimidated by the prospect. He flew slow and unsteady, fighting the wind instead of gliding with it, trying to see with his eyes instead of the sensors.

    If there was one thing in this galaxy Dankin could do, it was fly a light freighter, rain or no rain.

    “Move,” Dankin said. “I’m flying.”

    The teenager—who was vaguely familiar to Dankin, though he had far too many other things on his mind to worry about trying to match a name to the face—was about to object, but was cut off by a sharp male voice from behind them. “Let him,” the voice commanded. The teenager complied, fixing a studious glare on Dankin as he did so.

    Dankin spared the briefest glance over his shoulder to see who had spoken before he slid into the seat and grabbed the steering controls. He couldn’t tell much about the man, except that he was tall with dark hair. Tahiri had joined them in the cockpit as well, and was standing a few feet from the mystery man. Dankin decided to assume if the mystery man was a threat Tahiri would have taken care of him.

    For the first time since he been taken prisoner, Dankin took a deep, relaxing breath. When he was flying he was in control.

    The ship was oddly familiar. Dankin hadn’t paid any attention to the exterior during his headlong rush to get inside, so he couldn’t say for certain what type it was. But the handling was very familiar. He couldn’t quite put his finger on why, until another ship popped into view just as he was cornering a building. Fortunately, the ship reacted instantly and dramatically when he pulled up, easily avoiding a collision. He’d only ever flown one ship that fast and sensitive to the controls. It was his all-time favorite ship, and it had belonged to someone he adored. The ship was Jade’s Fire; the person was his former boss, Mara Jade.

    And if this was Mara’s ship . . .

    Sparing a glance to the teenager in the copilot’s seat, Dankin noted that his hair was much darker than Mara’s. But his eyes sure looked like Luke Skywalker’s.

    “What are you looking at?! Fly the blasted ship!” the teenager shouted. Seeing Mara’s son was unsettling in itself, but far more alarming was what that fact implied about the identity of the man behind him. The last, and until now the only, time Dankin had been face to face with Mara’s son, the boy and his father were on their way to confront the Sith Lord Darth Caedus. Dankin hadn’t paid much attention to news of what happened during the confrontation—all that had mattered to him was that they hadn’t saved Callista. But it would have been nearly impossible for him not to have heard that they had returned with the freshly redeemed Jacen Solo.

    “Watch your mouth, Ben.” Dankin turned toward the voice, getting his first good look at the man’s face. Though his expression was neutral, there was a fierceness in his unfocused but steady gaze that made Dankin regret turning around. Nonetheless, Dankin forced himself to stare deeply into the other’s eyes. They were a deep brandy brown. He couldn’t help but wonder if they were the last thing Callista saw.

    “They’re almost here.” Jacen’s words brought Dankin back to the present.

    “What do we do?” Ben asked, the fear in his voice a sharp contrast to Jacen’s icy calm.

    “Fly faster,” he answered.

    “What if we can’t?” Tahiri interjected.

    “No, he’s right,” Dankin replied. Did I really just agree with the murderer? “We’ll lose them in the clouds. Starfighters are too light; they’ll have a much rougher time in the storm.”

    Taking a deep breath and tightening his grip on the controls, Dankin eased the ship upward into clouds responsible for the torrents below. Fortunately, most people weren’t foolish enough to fly directly into such storm clouds, so the traffic thinned considerably. “Fasten restraints,” Dankin said automatically. No sooner were the words out of his mouth than the ship began to buck and thrash, nearly escaping Dankin’s control. The two standing in the cockpit went sprawling, but collected themselves and strapped in with remarkable ease.

    When in doubt, fly steady, the words of Dankin’s older brother rang through his mind. Forcing himself to ignore everything but the job at hand, Dankin ran his eyes across the various sensors arrayed before him. Stang.

    “They’re here.” Jacen, with his unnerving calm, confirmed what Dankin had spotted on the sensors—three ships closing fast.

    Green light flashed over the cockpit viewport as one of the starfighters opened fire.

    “You said they couldn’t follow us into the clouds!” Ben exclaimed.

    “I said—” Dankin began, but broke off as a gust of wind slid the ship sharply starboard, almost wresting control away from him. If it’s bad for me, it’s worse for the starfighters. Right? Dankin’s attempt to comfort himself was disrupted by the fact that he had only very rarely flown starfighters and didn’t really know how they handled in a storm. They were lighter, but, it belatedly occurred to Dankin, they also had less surface area for the wind to push on.

    Dankin had virtually no control over which direction they flew—that was determined by the wind—and only minimal control of their speed. The starfighters were still behind them, but clearly having their own problems as they spun and thrashed, only occasionally getting a shot off. However, if they made it out of the storm with the starfighters so close, they would almost certainly be caught before they could make hyperspace. The storm, unpleasant as it was, was the only thing keeping away their captors.

    CRACK! The cockpit was flooded with light and Dankin could feel the hairs on his arms rise with electric current. They’d been struck by lightning. Always an unsettling experience, but typically not a particularly dangerous one as the lightning usually just traveled across the outer surface of the ship. Usually, not always. That gave Dankin an idea. It was foolish and risky, but they weren’t exactly in a position to play it safe.

    “Can you make the lightning strike us again?” he asked. He’d seen Jedi do many incredible things in his life; he figured controlling the weather would be easy enough for a Sith Lord.

    “I think so. What’s your plan?”

    “When lightning strikes again, we cut all power, play dead.”

    “We’ll drop like a rock,” Ben rejoined.

    “Exactly, right out of the storm,” Dankin agreed.

    “Then what?” Tahiri asked.

    All his focus on battling the storm, Dankin gave a fractional shrug. That was as much of a plan as he had.

    “Then we disappear in the Force, fly beneath the storm, cloak the ship, and exit somewhere where we can get lost in the traffic,” Jacen finished.

    “Ah, simple,” Tahiri intoned drily. “We’ll be home free in no time—assuming we aren’t killed by the lighting, or the freefall through the atmosphere, and that we actually succeed in losing our highly-trained, highly-motivated tails.”

    “Obviously,” Jacen replied dismissively.

    *

    “Well, we know one thing for certain,” Zekk’s voice whispered into Jaina’s ear as she tried her best to keep her x-wing from being flipped upside-down by the violent winds. “That ain’t Jacen flying.”

    The larger ship Jaina was pursuing was lifted up by the wind, then smoothly glided laterally, like a hover-raft on open water. Her ship, on the other hand, tumbled through the sky like a pebble in a crashing wave.

    “Nor Tahiri,” Jag added. “Nor Ben.”

    Neither Jacen nor Tahiri had ever had much interest in flying. They could each pilot a ship, if circumstances required it, but there was no way either of them would have flown straight into a storm. Or if they had, they would not have survived this long. Ben, on the other hand, was a natural pilot and loved to fly as much his father. Also, flying straight into a storm to escape pursuit sounded exactly like something Ben would do. But Ben was still inexperienced, and always seemed much bolder in an x-wing than a yacht the size of Shadow. Jag was right, that wasn’t Ben flying. Which meant it must be their little prisoner behind the controls. Well, isn’t he just full of surprises?, she thought bitterly, mentally kicking herself. Jag had been inches away from recapturing the thief when Jaina had called him off, not wanting to waste a second on a smaller quarry when she’d known Jacen was on the loose. Her only comfort was that Jag was not one for I-told-you-sos, so at least she’d be spared that. As long as Zekk didn’t find out, anyway.

    Jaina’s attention snapped back to the current situation as her ship was caught in a gust of wind and tossed abruptly port. Jag and Zekk were caught in the same gust and for a moment she was certain the three starfighters would collide. Somehow they managed to avoid each other but by the time she had regained the slightest semblance of control, Jade Shadow was out of visual range. Looking at her console, she saw no sign of the ship on her sensors.

    “The second strike must have fried their electronics. They’re dropping fast,” Jag said. “And . . . now they’re out of sensor range.”

    Jaina narrowed her eyes. Second strike? She’d seen the larger ship be struck by lightning once—it had barely even twitched from the electric current—but she must have missed the second strike while trying to avoid a collision.

    “Hey, Jaina,” Zekk’s voice chirped, “I don’t sense them anymore.”

    Jaina closed her eyes, reaching out with the Force. She didn’t sense Jacen or the others, but that didn’t prove anything. Jacen was very good at hiding his presence in the Force, he’d done it many times before. And furthermore, Jaina could hardly do a thorough search for him while simultaneously fighting the deadly winds. “Don’t let them fool you,” Jaina snapped. “Pursue them. This is a trick.”

    There was silence on the comm and neither of the other starfighters attempted to change course. After a moment Jag carefully asked, “How are we supposed to pursue when we have no idea where they’ve gone?”
     
    Last edited: Feb 18, 2021
  5. Tarsier

    Tarsier Jedi Grand Master star 4

    Registered:
    Jul 31, 2005
    Chapter 6: Destination

    When all choices seem wrong, choose restraint.
    – Jedi Master Yoda


    By some miracle the plan actually worked exactly as it was supposed to. Tahiri stared out the viewport, still not quite able to believe they were free. She tore her eyes from the mottled image of hyperspace and took in her travelling companions. Ben was silently glowering. Dankin was exhausted—from running, from flying, from fear and panic—and stared blankly ahead, his breath deep and shaky. Jacen was tired—hiding four people in the Force that long took its toll—but nowhere near exhausted. Tahiri couldn’t help but think how foolish Jaina and all the others were to think they could keep Jacen caged against his will.

    “What the hell happened?” Tahiri tore her gaze from Jacen and turned to Dankin.

    Dankin’s eyes focused enough to see she was looking at him. “I got caught.”

    “No Sith,” Tahiri growled.

    “Karking ship locked me out,” he added.

    “You said it was your ship.”

    “It is. I also told you it’s a chunk of space debris. I was trying to slice my way in when they caught me.”

    Tahiri was silent, there didn’t seem to be anything more to say on the topic. I-told-you-so would be redundant at this point, he’d acknowledged before he left that trying to deliver the ancient starfighter was a remarkably stupid plan.

    “Why did you come for me?” he asked.

    Tahiri shrugged. “You had your fool’s errand and I had mine.”

    No one said anything for several long minutes. Finally, Dankin broke the silence. “So where are we going?”

    Tahiri didn’t have an answer. There was nowhere in the galaxy they would be safe for very long. Nowhere that Jaina would not eventually track them down.

    “What do you mean, ‘we’? You two can go wherever you want, but you aren’t going anywhere with us,” Ben snapped.

    Dankin looked to Tahiri. She didn’t particularly want to be here, on this ship, with these people, but she didn’t have a lot of better options. Tahiri looked at Jacen, trying to get a read on him. Frustratingly as always, she couldn’t get a whisper of what he was thinking. He appeared to just be staring off into space, like he’d been mesmerized by something just beyond the edge of the cockpit window.

    “What exactly are you proposing?” Tahiri looked at Ben when she asked the question, though she was more curious what Jacen would have to say.

    “We drop the hitchhikers at the nearest spaceport, and then Jacen and I take my ship and get as far away from Coruscant as possible,” Ben replied.

    “It’s not your ship,” Dankin retorted. “It’s Mara’s.”

    Ben looked incredulously at Dankin. “My mother left this ship to me!”

    Jacen’s cheek twitched, seeming to bring his attention back to the cockpit. “Take us to the nearest spaceport,” he stated firmly, cutting off any further argument from Dankin or Ben.

    Ben flashed a victorious smile.

    “I’m turning myself in,” Jacen continued.

    “What?” Ben cried. “You can’t do that.”

    “Of course I can,” Jacen growled. “I don’t know how I let you get me this far. But your ridiculous little game ends now.”

    Tahiri scoffed. “You can’t go back. They think you kidnapped Ben. They’ll kill you on sight.”

    “Not after we explain the situation,” Jacen replied firmly.

    “No,” Ben replied quickly. “I’ll tell them you kidnapped me. They’ll never believe you.”

    Jacen stared at Ben. “Fine, then they’ll kill me. It’s about time.”

    “You can save us your speech about how you’re ready to die, ready to be accept punishment for your crimes,” Tahiri spat. “Because what I don’t think you realize is just how seriously Jaina takes what she believes is her destiny as the Sword of the Jedi. If you go back, you won’t just die. You’ll be struck down by your twin sister. How do you feel about that?”

    Jacen studied Tahiri for several long seconds. Ben took advantage of the silence to argue for his plan. “No one even invited them. It’s just supposed to be you and me.”

    Jacen’s eyes flashed as he focused on Ben. “I’m supposed to be in my room on Coruscant. Or else dead and gone. But things don’t always go the way they’re supposed to. You’d best start getting use to the idea.

    “And we aren’t kicking them off.”

    “Why not?”

    Jacen stared hard at Ben. “Because Jaina probably thinks they helped me kidnap you. And I won’t let them go down for something they didn’t do because of your childish antics.”

    “Fine,” Ben said, knowing he wouldn’t win a fight. “I guess I’ll let them stay. For now.”

    “We still don’t know where we’re going,” Dankin reminded everyone.

    “Yes we do,” Ben answered. “I know exactly where we’re going. We’re going to Dagobah.”

    Tahiri looked to Jacen, curious what he was going to do with that one.

    *

    “Dagobah?” Jacen repeated incredulously. “Why the Kessel would you want to go to Dagobah?” The kid was even crazier than he’d realized.

    Ben scowled. “Because it’s where my dad first trained. Because the Force is concentrated there. Because people get visions and see ghosts there. And because I’ve never gotten to go there before.”

    Jacen rested his chin in his palm as he tried to gather his patience. “You do realize that the reason your dad didn’t take you there is because the entire planet is a useless swamp? If people get visions there, it’s probably because they get loopy from the stench and the suffocating humidity and the swarms upon swarms of nasty bugs. Trust me, you should consider yourself lucky you’ve never had to go there.”

    “Don’t pretend to know what I will think of it. I’m sick of people trying to tell me what I need, what’s good for me. I want to see for myself. This is my ship and I say we’re going to Dagobah.”

    “Well, I doubt they’ll be looking for us there,” Tahiri offered.

    Jacen bit back a curse. He really didn’t want to go to Dagobah. But unfortunately he didn’t have any better options on the tip of his tongue. And he was pretty sure the harder he fought Ben on the point, the more determined he would be to go there and the longer he would want to stay once they got there. He’d be better off just agreeing to go and hoping Ben would become bored of the murky planet quickly. Unless . . . “Did you ever tell Jaina you wanted to visit Dagobah?”

    “No,” Ben replied.

    “When did you decide you wanted to go there?”

    “I don’t know. Earlier today.”

    Jacen sighed. It didn’t look like Jaina would have any reason to look for them on the swamp planet. Which made it as good a destination as any. “Fine. Reset the coordinates,” Jacen instructed the pilot, whose name he still didn’t know.

    “No! It’s my ship,” Ben interjected. “I’ll reset the coordinates. I’m piloting this ship.”

    Jacen smirked. “Just as long as it isn’t raining, right?”

    Ben glowered. The pilot glanced to Tahiri, then obediently rose from the pilot’s seat and, carefully avoiding both eye contact and physical contact with Jacen, slipped out of the cockpit.

    Tahiri looked coolly at Jacen and followed the pilot.

    Jacen had to admit his final comment to Ben was harsh, and perhaps a bit gratuitous. But frankly, if being mean made the kid like him a little less, that could only be a good thing.

    *

    Two hours later, Tahiri, Jacen, and Ben were gathered in the rec room. “I don’t trust you,” Tahiri said simply. “And I’m not spending the foreseeable future trapped on a ship with you fully armed.”

    “You know I don’t need a lightsaber to kill you,” Jacen replied flatly.

    “Then you shouldn’t mind giving it up,” Tahiri retorted.

    “Fine, but if I’m giving up my lightsaber, then you are too.”

    Tahiri exhaled loudly between her teeth. “Fine. We’ll all get rid of our lightsabers.” Tahiri set her lightsaber meaningfully on the table. Jacen placed his beside hers. “Ben,” she prodded.

    “Why me?” Ben asked. “I didn’t agree to this.”

    “Do it, Ben,” Jacen ordered. Ben gave Jacen a look that clearly indicated he was going to vehemently object, so Jacen added, “You said you wanted me to be your Master. Well, I’m your Master and I’m telling you you’re giving up your lightsaber.”

    With teeth clenched tightly, Ben set his lightsaber on the table.

    “Now what?” Jacen asked. “I assume you aren’t actually planning on shooting these out the airlock. And there’s nowhere on this ship that we won’t all be able to get to pretty easily.”

    Tahiri thought for a moment. “Dankin,” she said. “We’ll give them to him for safekeeping.”

    “What?” Ben exclaimed. “So he’ll have three lightsabers while the rest of us are unarmed?”

    Tahiri gave him a patient look. “Yes. He’s utterly harmless, lightsabers or not.”

    Ben narrowed his eyes and looked to Jacen, who shrugged. “Do what you want.”

    *

    Dankin had found an empty sleeping cabin in the aft of the ship. It was away from the other cabins, near the cargo hold. It contained a small cot and little else. He wondered if it had ever been used before. He sat on the cot with his knees to his chest wondering what would happen next. He knew he should be glad to be out of jail, but he did not feel free. He was trapped on this ship, maybe for the rest of his life. Maybe for a very short rest of his life.

    A sudden pressure against his elbow caused him to nearly jump out of his skin. Looking, he saw that it was only Whiskers. She mewed at him and he stroked her long ears. He didn’t know how long he sat petting the whisperkit and trying not to think about anything, but eventually he was interrupted.

    “Dankin, come here for a minute,” Tahiri called from down the hallway.

    Slowly Dankin rose and moved toward her voice. In the doorway to his room he paused and picked up Whiskers. He felt a bit like a small child with a security blanket; still, he clutched Whiskers close as he made his way down the hall.

    Warily, he entered the rec room.

    Jacen didn’t bother with small talk. “We need you to do something. We need you to keep our lightsabers. Since you aren’t a Jedi, we know they’ll be safe with you.”

    Dankin looked questioningly at Tahiri, ignoring the others. “Just keep them with you. That way none of the rest of us will have them. We should all feel safer this way,” Jacen continued.

    Three lightsabers were lying in a row on the low table in the middle of the room. Setting Whiskers on the arm of the chair Tahiri was seated in, Dankin carefully reached for the nearest cylinder.

    “They don’t bite,” Ben scoffed.

    Sparing a brief glance at Ben, Dankin collected the lightsabers, then hurried out of the room.

    *

    Once again alone in his room, Dankin placed the three lightsabers before him and looked them over. He stared at one in particular. It was Ben’s, or at least Dankin surmised that it was the one that had been in Ben’s possession. But in fact Dankin had seen it before, he knew it quite well. Or at least he had, years ago. Before Ben was even born, when Dankin had worked for Mara Jade, he’d become accustom to seeing the silver hilt hanging from Mara’s belt. It was disconcerting to see it now, to know that it would never again be wielded by Mara. That it had been passed along to the next generation.

    Dankin shook his head. Thinking about Mara wouldn’t help him now. Initially, he’d been quite confused that the others had been so willing to just hand their weapons over to him. But it didn’t take him long to realize why. They thought they could take the weapons from him with ease. Even if Jacen was unarmed and Dankin had three lightsabers at his disposal, Jacen didn’t expect there would be much of a fight. And Jacen was right. Dankin had heard of Force-choking and all kinds of other ways Jedi and Sith could kill you with their minds. But even that wouldn’t be necessary. In all his life Dankin had never once been in a fight, to his knowledge had never harmed another being. Even if he decided he was going to draw a lightsaber and fight Jacen Solo to the death, there would be no question whose death would end the match.

    This led Dankin to the somewhat more sinister realization that if he couldn’t fight off Jacen to defend himself, Dankin wasn’t going to be much good for keeping Jacen’s lightsaber away from him if he decided he needed it to go after Ben or Tahiri. Or, for that matter, if Ben or Tahiri decided they’d sleep better with a weapon under their pillow. And of course everyone knew this. This meant that Dankin was never intended as a vault. Rather, he was an alarm system. He wouldn’t keep anyone away from the lightsabers, but if someone came after the weapons and he struggled against them, it would give the others warning that someone was up to no good. Whether they would be able to intervene in time to save Dankin’s life was a different question entirely. Dankin swallowed hard, but then collected the weapons one by one and clipped them securely to the inside of his jacket.

    He may not stand a chance against any of the others even when they were unarmed, but surely giving them back their weapons would not improve his position any.



    Chapter 7: Dagobah

    Adventure. Heh. Excitement. Heh. A Jedi craves not these things.
    – Master Yoda


    When they arrived at Dagobah, Ben was once again behind the controls. Jacen rather regretted his comment to Ben about flying in the rain, because he knew finding a decent place to land and landing successfully on the swamp planet was extremely difficult, and he would have felt much better having Dankin in control. Jacen had yet to learn much about the man he inexplicably found himself travelling with, but he did seem to be a good pilot. However, given Jacen’s earlier comment, there was virtually no chance Ben was going to admit he couldn’t handle landing the ship and hand the controls over to the more experienced pilot.

    Dankin too seemed to recognize the predicament as he sat nervously in the copilot’s seat.

    “Are we going to Yoda’s hut?” Tahiri asked.

    Ben nodded, but continued to stare intently out the viewport. Jacen debated pointing out Ben’s uncertainty, admonishing him for letting his doubts roll off him in waves, but ultimately he decided against it. Upsetting Ben was only going to reduce their chances of a successful landing.

    Jacen himself had never been fond of ships or mechanics. It seemed his siblings had inherited all of the mechanical abilities, leaving Jacen with skills more related to the natural world. Normally Jacen was perfectly happy to have as little to do with ships as possible, but in this case it would have been nice to be able to confidently take over and show his apprentice exactly what to do.

    The ship entered atmosphere and eased toward the planet’s surface without incident. “Target’s coming up in fifteen-hundred meters. Start looking for a place to land,” Dankin instructed.

    “I see it,” Ben bit out, glancing at the screens to his right briefly before returning his gaze to the viewport.

    “Six degrees starboard and five hundred meters ahead the ground appears a little firmer,” Dankin said. “Let’s head that way.”

    Ben did not turn starboard. If anything he eased the ship more to port. “Ben,” Jacen said warningly.

    “I know what I’m doing,” Ben snapped.

    The tension in the ship was ratcheting up with each passing second. Jacen silently cursed himself for not fighting harder against coming to Dagobah.

    The ship was nearly to the treetops. “You’re too fast,” Dankin said. He tried to say it gently, but his voice was tight with fear. Thankfully, the ship slowed. A lot. Too much, it soon became evident from the way Dankin’s fear turned to full-fledged panic.

    The ship, having lost all forward momentum, began to drop toward the surface of the planet over one of the rare places where there was an opening in the trees large enough to accommodate a ship the size of Jade Shadow. Apparently suddenly working out Ben’s plan, Dankin cried, “You can’t do that!” He then stabbed several buttons around his console in quick succession. Then he yanked on the copilot control stick and jammed on the accelerator. The ship shifted its momentum so it was going more sideways than down. There was a lurch as the bottom of the ship tapped the murky ground and then a series of shudders as the ship scraped along the trees adjacent to the opening Ben had been trying to land in.

    The shuddering caused by the trees smacking against the hull lasted only a few seconds and then the ship was once again in the air, high enough to avoid the landscape. As soon as it was clear of the treetops, Dankin, now in control, swung the ship starboard.

    “What are you doing?” Ben demanded. “How did you . . . ?” He seemed equal parts baffled and furious to no longer be in control of the ship.

    A few tense minutes later and Dankin had very carefully set the ship down on a patch of relatively dry dirt and low brush a few kilometers from where Ben had attempted to land. As the ship settled and the ground thankfully did not give way, Jacen felt his muscles relax and his heart rate slow. Stang, did he hate flying sometimes.

    But his relief was short-lived. No sooner was the ship settled than Ben tore off his restraints and threw himself at Dankin. Before Jacen could move to stop him, Ben had Dankin pinned on the deck and was screaming in his face. “What did you do to my ship?!”

    “I kept you from sinking it in a swamp, for one,” Dankin answered calmly, making no effort to get away from Ben.

    “You hijacked the controls, you crashed it through the trees, you landed it in the bushes! I’m sure you’ve destroyed the hull, and—and what did you do to the controls? How did you take them from me?”

    Before Dankin could respond, Jacen grabbed Ben by the back of his tunic and hauled him to his feet, freeing Dankin. Dankin sat up but did not attempt to get to his feet. Ben wrestled free of Jacen’s grip. Jacen let him go, then shoved him onto the passenger bench before he could accost Dankin again.

    “This is Mara’s ship. I knew she would have a failsafe in place in case an enemy ever got his hands on the main controls. She had the same system on Jade’s Fire, though I never had to use it. Hit the right sequence of buttons and the copilot has primary control of the ship.”

    Ben seemed even more aghast after hearing the explanation. “My mom did not rig this ship so you could steal it from me and crash it into the trees!”

    Dankin gave a small shrug. “Apparently she did.”

    Jacen stepped closer to Ben and put a firm hand on his shoulder, preventing him from charging the other man, still seated on the deck. Deprived of an alternative release for his emotion, Ben buried his head in his arms and started crying. “You’ve ruined the ship. My mom never even let the paint get scratched.”

    “And it still wouldn’t be scratched if you’d left the flying to someone who knows how,” Dankin retorted.


    “Come on, Ben,” Jacen cut in before Ben could respond. “We’re here; we might as well look around.”

    The two left, leaving Tahiri and Dankin alone on the bridge.

    *

    Tahiri had not known Dankin very long, but somehow his behavior lately had seemed very strange to her. At first she has assumed it was due to a very justifiable burning hatred for Jacen, or maybe even an equally justifiable growing resentment toward her. But oddly, his hostility seemed directed more at the perfectly innocent Ben than anyone else.

    They’d been on Dagobah for three days. Dankin had only set foot outside the ship to inspect and attempt to repair the damage to the hull, which did involve significant scratching of the paint, but not much more. He’d spent many hours smoothing and buffing the hull plates and when he was done the damage was not noticeable unless you were looking for it.

    Tahiri hoped that Dankin’s efforts were meant as a peace offering to Ben, though she had to admit it was far more likely he was thinking of Mara as he carefully buffed each section of hull.

    Before the ship was even powered down after landing, Ben and Jacen had headed off to find Yoda’s hut with, of course, the requisite grumbling by Ben of how far away it was and how much closer he had wanted to land the ship. Tahiri was not one-hundred-percent certain, but she was willing to bet that had Dankin not taken over, they would all be standing around a giant mudhole wondering if there was any chance the ship would still fly after having spent three days immersed in slime. Since she had not heard Ben declare that he had found the exact spot he tried to land on and it was perfectly solid, Tahiri assumed she had won her silent bet.

    Ben and Jacen did not discuss their explorations with Tahiri, however she’d overheard Ben speaking of his disappointment in Yoda’s Hut and Dragonsnake Bog. Apparently he’d expected his parents to just be waiting for him in ghost form.

    It was a hard lesson to learn, but eventually he’ll realize that the dead don’t speak, Tahiri thought bitterly.

    She spent her time climbing trees and running through the forest. She had no particular destination in mind—she knew the planet held nothing of interest to her—so she just headed off each morning in the opposite direction as Ben and Jacen. It was odd to run aimlessly through the forest with no mission in mind. Sometimes it felt as though she wasn’t even alive, like she couldn’t really exist if there was no driving force behind each action. She was free, as free as she’d ever been in her whole life, yet she felt imprisoned by the pointlessness of it all. She pushed herself to run faster and faster through the forest, to climb each tree higher and higher. Each night she returned to the ship exhausted yet restless. If her life held any meaning at all, it was not to be found on this planet.

    *

    Dankin polished the hull until his arms were sore. Still, the scratches were highly evident. In many areas the branches had scraped through the non-reflective paint to the shiny metal beneath.

    He wanted to fix the ship largely because it was Mara’s ship and he knew how protective she was of her vehicles. However, he spent as many hours as he did because he had nothing better to do. Though Mara had been known to threaten people who scratched the paint on her ship, the truth was Dankin knew Mara was more practical than that and wouldn’t really come unglued over a few nicks. In fact, he’d put a scratch or two on Jade’s Fire and lived to tell about it. Still, without her around to tell him not to worry about it, or to grump at him for his carelessness, Dankin felt guilty about the damage.

    In a way Dankin sort of liked minor scratches and dents on ships. They added character, made it look like the ship was working hard to earn her keep. Then again, Dankin had only ever had one ship that actually belonged to him and him alone. It was outdated, falling apart, handled terribly and, worst of all, it was slow. He never really liked it, so of course he didn’t care if the hull was dinged.

    As much as he like the idea of having his own ship, he much preferred to fly fast ships that belonged to someone else than his own slow poke. He wondered where the ship was right now. The last time he’d seen it had been in the Jedi docking bay, after he’d landed the Azure Angel and was trying to reclaim it to make his escape. The worthless thing had locked him out, deciding it no longer liked his access codes. He’d been in the process of trying to slice his way in when he’d been caught. The fact that he was unable to unlock his own ship had not helped the credibility of his story, even after he explained that the computer in the ship was over twenty years old and had had similar memory failures and glitches numerous times before.

    This was Mara’s ship, but spending so much time working at the tedium of polishing the hull, he couldn’t help but think of all the time he’d spent working on ship repairs with Callista. It was painful how much he wished she was there with him.

    After Mara and Odonnl were gone, there had been a huge emptiness, a hole in his life. He’d missed them fiercely, and he’d felt incomplete and lost without them. Losing Callista was different. He hadn’t known her long enough to feel a great emptiness without her. It wasn’t that his life was vastly different once she was gone. It was that it was on the brink of changing before she died. He’d been falling for her. Hard. And, as unbelievable as it sounded, she just might have been falling for him too.

    He had the potential to be a different person with Callista. Now that she was gone he would go back to being who he always was, who he was before he met Callista. But for the first time he did not want to be that person.

    *

    Ben seemed to be growing bored, though of course he wouldn’t admit it. Jacen was glad. The stink of the planet seemed to get worse every day and the bugs were getting to be damn near intolerable.

    So far they’d explored Yoda’s hut (which took about two minutes, the place was the size of a refresher unit), several thousand meters of trails around the hut that presumably had been where Ben’s father had trained carrying the decrepit Jedi Master around on his back, and even the “Dark Side Cave,” as it was known. Nothing even remotely interesting had happened since the entirely too exciting descent onto Dagobah and Jacen was beginning to doubt he was cut out to be master to Ben’s apprentice.

    “Isn’t there . . .” Ben started hesitantly, “Isn’t there anywhere else to go here? I thought. . . I just thought there was more to it.”

    I told you so. Jacen couldn’t help but think the words; however, he resisted saying them out loud. He’d told the kid there was nothing to see and there wasn’t. If Jacen could just keep himself from making Ben feel too foolish about his absurd expectations, they just might get to leave soon. “I’m afraid this is it,” he said aloud. “Not worth the hype, huh?’

    Ben shook his head slightly and looked sideways at Jacen. Jacen could feel the young Jedi reaching out in the Force, nudging at the edges of Jacen’s mind. He thinks I’m hiding something, Jacen thought. He’s still convinced there must be more to this planet.

    The only way to completely assuage Ben’s suspicions would have been to drop his guard and let the teenager explore his mind until he was convinced nothing was being hidden from him. Unfortunately that was not an option because Jacen’s mind was not fit for exploration by anyone, much less Ben. So Jacen settled on the second best option, a little something he’d learned from his own parents.

    “We can stay as long as you want. Maybe there’s something more here I don’t know about. Might be good for you to spend some time exploring on your own. Or maybe meditating in the deep forest. Tahiri seems to be content exploring the wilderness and I think Dankin rather enjoys getting to know the inner workings of your mother’s ship. And I think the warmth and moisture are a nice change from the dismal room I’m used to. Now that I think about it, maybe we should just stay here permanently. I doubt anybody will ever think to look for us here.”

    Jacen had the pleasure of sensing the exact moment when Dagobah went from being a must-see haven of intrigue for Ben, to being a boring, pointless location where Ben was loath to spend another second of his life.

    “I think maybe I’ve seen enough,” Ben said coolly. “I’d be okay with leaving now.”

    *

    The man called Hunter assertively strode into the Coruscanti police precinct and placed a flimsy of a bounty on the counter. “I need all the information you have on this person,” he declared.

    The clerk asked, “You a bounty hunter?”

    He’d been called Hunter as long as he could remember, but the “bounty” was new. Still, he nodded an affirmative. Lately he found himself unsure how to behave in many situations. He’d learned that if he could mask everything in confidence he was rarely questioned and minor social errors seemed to be overlooked.

    The clerk hesitated, as though not quite convinced, but placed four holos before Hunter. The last was the only one of interest. Hunter snatched it off the counter and examined it closely.

    “We believe the four are still travelling together. This is Ben Skywalker,” the clerk said, indicating a particular holo. He spoke slowly, deliberately, as if he thought perhaps Hunter was dense. “Do not hurt Ben. Do what you want to the others, but be blasted sure no harm comes to Ben.”

    Hunter looked blankly at the clerk, sure he wasn’t doing anything to change the impression that he was dense, but completely unable to focus on anything other than the fact that he was one step closer to that which he sought.



    Author Note: ...And that's it. At least as far as a relatively complete draft. I may post some more rough draft, summary, and/or ideas.
     
    Last edited: Feb 19, 2021
  6. Tarsier

    Tarsier Jedi Grand Master star 4

    Registered:
    Jul 31, 2005
    Author Note: I looked through my files and was pleasantly surprised that I had somewhat more complete drafts of the next few chapters than I expected, and they actually aren't quite as cringeworthy as I thought. So I'll post the rough drafts of the next few chapters, and then probably a partial summary of the rest.




    --- Rough Draft ---

    Chapter 8: Dangerous Mistakes

    The only way to endure your pain is to let it be painful.
    Jedi Master Shunryn Suzuki


    Dankin sat alone in the rec room as they left Dagobah. He listened to the activity in the cockpit in case he was needed, but he decided to let Ben do the flying. He wasn’t up for another fight over the controls and taking off from the swamp world ought to be a whole lot easier than landing. He felt a slight rock as the repulsors engaged and couldn’t help but smile, just a little. He really loved flying. That, at least, was something he would never lose.

    Just as he felt the ship rising gracefully upward, Dankin noticed Whiskers padding across the room toward him. She jumped into his lap and he stroked her long silky fur.

    “There you are.” Dankin heard Tahiri’s voice behind him and wondered if she was talking to him or the whisperkit. “Jacen and Ben are still arguing over our next destination,” Tahiri stated, taking a seat across from Dankin. “Do you have any ideas? They can’t be worse than what’s on the table now. Ben has some idea about using the Force to blindly pick coordinates, which I’m pretty sure is just a fancy way of saying making random jumps until we wind up in a black hole. Jacen’s got some strange notion about checking out something in The Maw. So really, anything that doesn’t involve black holes would be the clear winner at this point.”

    “Sorry, even if I had a great idea I think they would both choose death by black hole over following me.”

    Tahiri gave a half-shrug as she settled into the deep cushions. “You’re probably right.” Whiskers jumped out of Dankin’s lap and started rubbing herself against Tahiri’s legs. She noticed a loose string hanging from Tahiri’s tunic and reached a paw to bat at it. Amused, Tahiri grabbed onto the string and moved it away from the small white paw. Whiskers followed the string and Tahiri moved it again. Before long, Tahiri had Whiskers darting and pouncing in her pursuit of the string.

    Dankin was so enthralled by the antics that he hardly noticed the jump to hyperspace. Whiskers had just pounced on the string and was clutching it in her paws when Tahiri rather abruptly stood up. “I’m going to try to get some sleep,” she told Dankin and headed toward the living quarters with Whiskers on her heels.

    “There’s something I don’t understand.” The voice startled Dankin and he turned to see Jacen had entered the room behind him. “Why don’t you hate her?”

    Dankin, not liking the idea of being alone with the murderous Sith Lord, and liking even less the idea of having a personal conversation with him, didn’t answer.

    “You hate me because I killed Mara. You were at least as close to Callista as you were to Mara. Tahiri killed Callista and you know it. So why do I see you in here watching her play with her pet like a schoolboy with a crush?”

    Dankin didn’t like the question and didn’t think he should have to answer it. But it seemed easier to just answer the question rather than find an excuse not to. “You made her kill Callista. She did what she had to do.”

    Jacen studied Dankin for several long moments. Finally he asked, “You believe that, don’t you?” He cracked that vicious half-smile of his. “She’s more devious than I thought.”

    Even though he knew he didn’t want the answer, Dankin heard himself ask, “What do you mean?”

    Jacen looked Dankin straight in the eye when he replied. “Callista’s blood is on my hands. I accept that.” Jacen continued to stare intently at Dankin. “But if you think I held a blaster to Tahiri’s head, if you think Callista’s death was my idea, then you are dangerously mistaken.”

    Suddenly the ship felt very small. Dankin didn’t want Jacen’s words to affect him, he tried not to listen to them, he tried to doubt their truth. But the walls were closing in on him and there was nothing he could do to stop it. He didn’t remember getting up, he didn’t remember moving from his spot on the thickly padded couch, but he found himself in the room he’d come to think of as his own, out of breath as he leaned against the door.

    He locked the door. Shoved the bed against it. It wasn’t enough.

    Tahiri murdered Callista.

    There was no more furniture in the room, so he huddled in the far corner. Squeezed his eyes shut like a terrified toddler who believed that he would be safe from any danger he could not see.

    Tahiri murdered Callista of her own volition.

    His back pressed against the wall, Dankin suddenly imagined the wall giving way, felt himself floating out into space. He was finally able to release his breath as he imagined spinning weightlessly through the star-studded darkness. Suddenly he was falling, and his breath caught in his throat. He felt the cold metal wall against his back, the hard floor beneath him.

    Tahiri murdered Callista and then I helped her escape.

    Jacen and Tahiri, the two people I am absolutely dependent on for survival, could kill me at any minute. They’ve killed before, they’ll kill again. And I’m helping them.

    Terror and dread fought for the forefront of his mind. He thought he no longer feared death, yet here he was, his insides on fire as he shivered from the cold. Sweating and shaking, he knew he had to calm down, he had to think this through.

    He had their weapons. He could kill them. It would be best. For everyone, even them. They no longer desired to live, that much was clear. He had saved her life once. Platt had been on the brink of executing her, and he had stopped her. Because Callista would not want any more death in her name, he reminded himself. Was that really it? Had he saved Callista’s murderer for Callista? Or was it just because he so feared death, even when it wasn’t he who was dying? Was saving Tahiri really just another act of cowardice?

    He could kill her now. And Jacen too.

    That would leave him alone with Ben. Somehow being alone with Ben was even worse than where he was now. Somehow he feared Ben the most. He could not identify with the child, who had suffered his own devastations yet evoked no empathy from Dankin.

    No, Dankin wouldn’t kill anyone. It was simply not in him. He was a coward when it came to death, his own of anyone else’s. There was nothing he could do but wait.

    Wait, and hope his future held nothing worse than the death he so feared.

    *

    Dagobah had been a massive disappointment. Scratch that. Dagobah just plain sucked. Ben was finally in control, he was finally able to do exactly what he wanted to do and he was just as miserable as he’d been before.

    [[[add more]]]




    Chapter 9: Turbulence

    “Train yourself to let go of everything you fear to lose.”
    – Jedi Master Yoda


    “Tell us about your past,” Jacen suggested.

    “What?” Dankin replied.

    “You know all about us. It’s only fair we know about you.”

    Dankin twisted his lip, clearly not thrilled with the idea. “I worked for Karrde my whole life.”

    “As a pilot? What else did you do you?”

    “I was always a pilot first. But I dabbled in other things. I can slice a little. Repair ships. And I guess you could say I was Karrde’s right-hand man for a while.”

    “What about before you worked for Karrde?”

    “I worked for Karrde since I was a kid. There was nothing before that.”

    “Then tell us about your home planet, your family. You had a brother right? Odonnl?”

    “Technically—biologically—Odonnl wasn’t my brother. But he was my first friend and in some ways it was like he raised me.”

    “And your home planet? Your parents?”

    “I grew up on Coruscant. I didn’t have parents.”

    “You must have had somebody around.”

    “Okay. Fine. You want to know? I was a born a slave.”

    There was a few seconds of silence, and then Ben asked, “What kind of slave?”

    Dankin turned an incredulous look to the teenager. “ ‘What kind of slave?’ What kind of question is that?”

    Ben shrugged. “There are different kinds of slaves. My grandfather was a junkyard slave. Was it like that?”

    “No. It wasn’t like that. It wasn’t like that at all.” Dankin stood up and left the room.

    Ben started to call after him, but Jacen silenced him with a look. That was enough information for today.


    *

    Dankin awoke the next morning to soft rubbing against his cheek. He opened his eyes to see fluffy red fur. He sat up abruptly, to put a little distance between his face and the unfamiliar animal. It was Satin, Ben’s whisperkit. But Satin had always seemed very aloof and Dankin had never been close enough to touch her before now. As soon as Dankin moved, the whisperkit leapt off his bed and ran out of his room. She must have thought I was Ben, Dankin decided. He was debating whether or not he should try to go back to sleep when he noticed the sound of loud breathing and a repetitive banging coming from somewhere in the ship. He walked as quietly as he could to the rec room to see what was causing the noise.

    [[[rewrite this section]]]
    “Do it again!” Dankin heard Jacen’s voice boom down the corridor before he turned the corner to the open area of the rec room. When he did peer around the corner, Dankin was startled by what he saw. Ben, bruised and bloody, was slowly rising to his feet. In his hands was a large wooden stick he was using to pull himself up. Jacen was standing a few feet away from Ben and just as the teenager was getting his feet under him, Jacen lashed out with a stick that matched Ben’s and swept his legs out from under him. Ben fell heavily, smacking his face against the floorboards.

    “Again,” Jacen commanded. And again Ben struggled to get to his feet.

    Ben charged forward at Jacen, swinging his stick at the older man’s shoulder. Jacen brought his stick up in an easy block, thrusting Ben’s arms back and up, leaving his torso entirely open. Jacen planted a kick square in Ben’s unprotected chest.
    [[[/rewrite]]]


    Dankin couldn’t take any more. “Stop it!” he yelled, running into the room. Ben and Jacen both turned toward him, although Ben with a significant effort because he was doubled over and struggling to regain his breath.

    “I’m sorry to have alarmed you,” Jacen said smoothly. “But if you don’t mind, we’re in the middle of a training session.”

    “You’re beating him senseless,” Dankin retorted. “How is he supposed to learn anything when you don’t even give him a chance?”

    Jacen gave a half-smile. “You misunderstand, Dankin. This is not an exercise in fighting technique. It is training in pain tolerance, stamina, and tenacity. He doesn’t need to fight back; he just needs to endure the pain.”

    “Yeah,” Ben agreed, finally having caught his breath but still sucking in deeply with each inhale. “I don’t need your help. I can handle it.”

    Dankin glanced from Jacen to Ben and back again. When he spoke his words were slow and deliberate. “Just because he can handle it, doesn’t mean he should have to.”

    For several long seconds Jacen said nothing. Then he looked at the stick in his hand and then at Ben and finally at Dankin. “You’re right,” he said, an odd quality to his voice. “Good work,” he said distantly to Ben. “That’s enough for today.” Then Jacen turned and left, throwing the stick down as he did so.

    [[[add more]]]
     
  7. Tarsier

    Tarsier Jedi Grand Master star 4

    Registered:
    Jul 31, 2005
    Chapter 10: Hunger

    After a great tragedy, I ran into the forest. I ran and ran. When finally I collapsed, my master said to me, “Do not run so fast. The pain you wish to escape is everywhere.”
    -Unknown Padawan to Jedi Master
    Shunryn Suzuki


    “If you could bring one of them back,” Jacen asked, “Who would it be?”

    Dankin glared at Jacen. “What kind of question is that?”

    “Odonnl, Mara, or Callista? Who would it be?”

    “Are you offering?” Dankin returned.

    “Of course not. It’s just a question.”

    “I don’t want to play your games.”

    “It’s a simple question. Just give me an answer.”

    “Mara,” Dankin replied. He eyed the doorway, wondering if there was any way he could make it there without Jacen stopping him. “She’s the only one with a child.”

    “This isn’t about Ben,” Jacen replied calmly. “It’s about you. Who do you want back?”

    “I’m not going to choose. I’m not going to answer your question; I’m even going to think about it.” Dankin knew his thoughts were not private in Jacen’s presence, thinking about something was as good as saying it out loud.

    Her darted for the doorway, but Jacen was faster. His tall frame filled the exit and loomed over Dankin.

    The fear rose in Dankin, and the adrenaline spike kicked old instincts to the forefront. Help me, Mara, he silently pled.

    “She’s gone, Dankin,” Jacen said. “I killed her, but not before she left you.”

    He didn’t want to do it, he knew he shouldn’t do it, but Dankin felt his right hand form a fist, and felt that fist launch towards Jacen’s cheek.

    Dankin’s fist never made contact with Jacen’s skin. Jacen took a quick step back and raised a gloved hand to catch Dankin’s punch in his palm. He absorbed Dankin’s forward momentum, and sent some of it back at him, pushing him away.

    “You need to widen your stance,” Jacen said. “The power is going to come from your legs. Push off hard and let the momentum travel all the way through you to the point of impact. Try again.” The words had the tone of any reasonable suggestion.

    So that was it. That was what Jacen wanted, for Dankin to attack him.

    Dankin didn’t want to do what Jacen told him to. He didn’t like what was happening and really didn’t like knowing that Jacen was in control of him, Jacen was manipulating his actions. Still, Dankin was curious and going along with Jacen might just get him through this faster. Besides, Jacen’s suggestion was to punch him in the face, and Dankin could hardly argue against that. He balled his left hand and, trying to gather power with his legs although he didn’t quite grasp how that would work, he let loose, aiming again at Jacen’s cheek.

    This time he made contact. Jacen’s head shifted only a few degrees away from Dankin’s fist but there was unmistakable surprise in his eyes.

    “He’s ambidextrous,” Tahiri scoffed from across the room. “You’d think a Dark Lord of the Sith would pick up on that.”

    “I knew he was ambidextrous,” Jacen growled. “I just didn’t realize anyone could be so perfectly ambidextrous. Which hand do write with?”

    How exactly the conversation had gone from bringing back the dead to writing preferences Dankin didn’t know. But he much preferred this line of questioning, so he responded. “What language?”

    “Aurebesh.”

    “Right.”

    “Huttese.”

    “Left.”

    //////

    “Better,” Jacen replied. His eyes had widened slightly, perhaps with surprise. “You do have a few secrets, don’t you Dankin? I didn’t realize you were so ambidextrous. You almost got me with that one.”

    “I see you’re back to teaching violence.” Tahiri’s accusing voice rang across the small room.

    “There is no harm in knowledge,” Jacen replied easily. “The harm comes in what you do with that knowledge.”

    “Dankin doesn’t need to know how to fight. It’s not in his nature to be violent.”

    Dankin had the unsettling feeling of forced eavesdropping one gets when referred to in the third person by someone standing in the same room. He wondered if Jacen would notice if he tried to leave. Almost certainly. But if the lesson was over, and Tahiri was here to play his silly word games, maybe he wouldn’t try to stop him.

    “Dankin is just as nonviolent as he ever was, I haven’t changed that. But now he’s an unthreatening, nonviolent man with a punch that might surprise his enemies.” Dankin didn’t hear the rest of the conversation. He’d slipped past Jacen into the corridor and then into his room where he closed and locked the door, not sure if he would ever open it again.

    He feared the others. He hated them. But he needed their protection, he could not survive without it. He needed them and he had nothing to offer in return. Nothing but forgiveness. Forgiveness they didn’t deserve. Forgiveness he wasn’t sure he could muster.

    *

    “I’m hungry,” Ben complained. Jacen tossed him another ration bar. “I don’t want that. We’ve been eating ration bars forever. Don’t we have any hot rations left?”

    “Sorry, those ran out long ago,” Jacen replied.

    “But I’m sick of these stupid ration bars.”

    Jacen shrugged and took the last bite of his ration bar. “It’s all we’ve got.”

    “Then we’re stopping somewhere to get real food.”

    “No way,” Jacen said shortly. “Food equals civilization. Perhaps you’ve forgotten—we’ve been outcast from civilized society.”

    “We’re going to have to stop somewhere before too long.” Tahiri had just entered the cockpit and leaned against the doorway with her arms crossed. “We’ll need to refuel.”

    Stang, Jacen mentally cursed. He’d forgotten about fuel. He looked up at Tahiri. “How long do we have?”

    Tahiri looked to Ben. Nervously he started pressing buttons on the console, changing the displays on the various screens in front of him. “We’re at fifteen percent,” he said after running through several menus.

    “Okay. How far is that?” Jacen asked patiently.

    Ben continued flipping through various menus and displays. “A few more good jumps,” he finally declared.

    Jacen wondered distantly what it would take to get Dankin in here to give them an actual, precise answer. A temper-tantrum from Ben and a hell of a lot of apologizing and coaxing for Dankin, at least. Probably not worth it.

    “I guess we’ll have to stop somewhere. Pull up the planetary directory.”

    Ben complied and Jacen starting flipping through the listings on the computer in front of him. There were thousands of planets out there, one of them must be out of the way enough for them make a quick pit stop without drawing notice from those who were hunting them. But it was going to take some time to figure out which one. He plugged a datachip into the console and downloaded the directory. “I’m going to look through these and find a destination. Stay out of trouble, will you?”

    Ben nodded and Jacen left the cockpit, trying hard not to brush against Tahiri, who was still standing in the doorway and made no move to get out of his way.

    *

    “The crime scene is a disaster,” Jag said grimly.

    “Everyone was freaking out and preservation of the evidence pretty much went out the window,” Zekk added.

    Jaina hissed between her teeth. “Were you able to learn anything?”

    “Well,” Kyp began cautiously, “Maybe. But the evidence we have is little . . . strange.”

    “Strange how?” Jaina asked.

    “For starters, it looks like the door was knocked inward.”

    “Normally if someone was breaking out of a room, they would knock the door outward,” Jag explained.

    “Yes, but Jacen could just as easily have Force-pulled the door in,” Jaina said.

    “Right,” Zekk replied. “Jacen could very easily have ripped the door off the hinges and tossed it aside. We’ve always known he wasn’t secure in there, we just hoped we would have enough warning if he tried to make an escape. Which is why it’s weird that the hinges appear to have been sliced with a lightsaber.”

    “It’s not that weird,” Jaina replied. “Maybe he thought a lightsaber would be quieter than ripping the metal apart with force.”

    “Fine,” Kyp said, “But where’d he get the lightsaber?”

    “He must have stolen it . . .” Jaina trailed off, realizing how silly her comment was.

    “Ben must have brought it to him,” Jag supplied.

    “Okay, so Ben goes to visit Jacen and brings his lightsaber. Something sets Jacen off—the room was trashed right?—he goes Sith, takes Ben’s lightsaber, kidnaps Ben and makes his escape.”

    “About that. There was some broken furniture and dishes, but, well, it’s hard to say because so many people had trampled through our crime scene, but it doesn’t look like the furniture was knocked over and pushed around like you would expect if there was a struggle. It looks like each item was thrown across the room, like they wanted to destroy the stuff,” Kyp explained.

    “Jacen must have been really angry—“ Jaina began.

    “Maybe,” Zekk cut in. “But there’s more. There are boot prints on the door. Some of them belong to the soldiers, but some of them don’t match the boots of the men on duty. Jacen was barefoot. We think some of the boot prints on the door must belong to Ben.”

    “What does that prove?”

    “The boot prints are leading into the room. We think Ben must have walked on the door when he was entering the room,” Zekk paused, waiting for Jaina to put the pieces together.

    “If he walked on the door when he was entering, that means the door was already knocked down. So Jacen didn’t snap after Ben came in for a regular visit.”

    “Right. And add in the sliced hinges—something Ben would be likely to do since he would have a lot more trouble using the Force to knock the door down—and it looks like Ben purposely freed Jacen,” Kyp finished.

    “Jacen must have brainwashed him or something. Taken control of his mind somehow,” Jaina said.

    “Maybe,” Zekk allowed. “Then again,” he looked to Kyp. “You weren’t there at the last meeting of the Jedi Council. Ben was there, arguing that he should be the one to sentence Jacen. He said Jacen’s fate should be in his hands.”

    “And then there was the time, a few weeks ago, I was trying to help him with his lightsaber technique. He didn’t like the way I corrected him and he muttered something about how that wasn’t what Jacen, his real Master, told him to do.”

    “What are you saying?” Jaina asked.

    “We’re suggesting,” Jag said carefully, “That maybe it wasn’t Jacen who kidnapped Ben.”

    “At the very least,” Kyp added, “It looks like Ben, willing or not, assisted Jacen with his escape. Which probably means Ben isn’t going to be trying to get free or contact us. We may need to change tactics.”

    [[[is the scene above necessary???]]]

    *

    “She didn’t suffer.” Jacen offered the words quietly, standing in the doorway of the kitchen. He knew Dankin had been getting hungry, and he’d waited patiently for him to make a break for the ration bars. He felt guilty for having spent so much time antagonizing the older man. It had been necessary. He’d needed to test him, to know what he was capable of. At least, that was what he told himself.

    Dankin jumped at Jacen’s voice and whirled around. He said nothing, so Jacen continued. “The poison was numbing, and spread quickly.”

    Dankin was silent, his mind in turmoil. A turmoil that Jacen did his best not to hear, not to feel despite the rolling waves it created in the Force, like a storm at sea. “Poison,” he repeated after a while. “Like Mara?”

    Jacen nodded. “The same. But Callista had a much higher dose. It didn’t take long.”

    He didn’t explain how he knew it wasn’t painful. He didn’t tell Dankin that he’d felt Mara’s last moments vividly in the Force. That her anguish was intense, but it was not physical.

    Nor did he tell Dankin that he couldn’t sense Callista, so he really didn’t know how she felt, that he was only guessing her physical pain was no greater than Mara’s. Or that she’d had the anguish of loss in her eyes and he’d only recently begun to understand exactly what that loss was.

    Maybe he should have explained. Maybe it wasn’t his place.

    Dankin stared at the floor for a long time. “That’s something,” he finally said.

    “Not much,” Jacen replied.

    “No,” Dankin said, looking up into Jacen’s eyes for the first time. “Not much.”

    *

    “I’ve found it,” Jacen declared as he entered the rec room where Ben was playing dejarik by himself.

    Ben looked up expectantly.

    “Triquis. An uninhabited planet that briefly served as a Rebel base during the Galactic Civil War. It was abandoned quickly and it doesn’t look like they had a chance to collect all their supplies before they left.”

    Ben wrinkled his forehead. “Why was it abandoned?”

    Jacen gave a small shrug. “It was near the end of the war, so maybe the Rebels just decided they didn’t need it any more.” Ben looked unconvinced so Jacen added, “It’s been tagged with some warnings that the native fauna is dangerous. That’s why I’m hopeful that we’ll be able to find some leftover fuel. Looters and scavengers tend to be easily intimidated by unknown wildlife. Plus it’s not far from here. We’ll be there in a couple days.”

    “You aren’t worried about the dangerous fauna?” Ben asked.

    Jacen gave a derisive snort. “I think I can handle a few fuzzy critters.”

    Jacen handed Ben his datapad, with the coordinates to Triquis pulled up. Ben took the datapad and headed to the cockpit. Once Ben was out of earshot he allowed himself to wonder out loud, “How do you know they’re fuzzy?”




    Chapter 11: Fuzzy Critters

    When you can’t run anymore, you crawl. And when you can’t do that . . . you find someone to carry you.
    – Captain Mal Reynolds

    [[[Author Note: This is about my only story with a playlist, and this is the only chapter with one specific song - "Dog Days Are Over" by Florence + the Machine]]]

    The creatures were in fact not fuzzy. No, it was slick as could be, with scales so shiny they were nearly reflective. When Ben first glimpsed it, he was taken aback by its elegant beauty. It was the deepest black he’d ever seen with a small triangular head set atop a long curving neck. He’d been searching for food, small brightly colored berries growing on low bushes a little ways away from the abandoned base. Jacen and Tahiri were searching for buried fuel tanks. Ben didn’t know or care what Dankin was doing.

    It was a dragon, that was the only way to describe it. There were a few different types of animals scattered throughout the galaxy that were considered to be dragons, but this put them all to shame. It was huge and majestic. Ben knew he should ask Jacen about it, but he wanted to get a closer look first. The dragon was settled in a valley below the rocky cliff the base was built into. Ben couldn’t tell how far away it was and with nothing but dirt and some rocks around it, Ben had no sense of scale. He told himself he would look silly and waste Jacen’s time if the animal proved to be the size of a small pony, Ben having been deceived by the strange angle of the cliff looking into the valley.

    The cliff face was rocky, but Ben found footholds easily enough. He was halfway to the flat plain of the valley when a voice came from above. “Where are you going?”

    Ben glanced up, though he recognized the voice without needing to see the face. “None of your business, smuggler” he grumbled continuing on his way.

    “You sure you can get back up?” Dankin asked.

    Ben smirked. He was a Jedi. He could make it back up in three leaps if he had to. Preferring to demonstrate his point rather than speaking to Dankin, Ben, still a good five meters from the valley floor, leapt away from the cliff certain he could slow himself enough with the Force to ensure a soft landing. Or at least he tried to leap. The rocky soil proved to be not as solid as Ben thought and just as he tried to push off, the ground fell away from his feet. He stumbled, then tumbled down the cliff face. Much of the surface of the cliff fell with him in a rockslide. Ben managed to get his feet more or less under him before he reached the bottom and slid to a stop. He was a bit bruised, but his ego had taken the brunt of the damage.

    He turned to look up at Dankin, struggling to think of a clever retort to what was sure to be a sarcastic jab at his expense. But when the dust cleared enough for Ben to spot Dankin’s small frame above him, he saw that Dankin wasn’t looking back at him. Instead he was staring out into the valley. Ben turned to follow his line of sight. He was startled to discover his little mishap seemed to have attracted the attention of the dragon.

    For a moment he was disappointed at just how slow the beast was. It was clearly moving towards him, but did not seem to be getting much closer.

    “Get back up here,” Dankin yelled down to Ben. Ben was still transfixed by the dragon. It had wings he now noticed. Huge wings that seemed to grow with each step. It was as he was watching the wings appear to grow before his eyes that Ben’s stomach suddenly flipped over itself, a queasiness washing over him as he realized the dragon wasn’t growing. It was getting closer. Looking at the animal’s feet, Ben’s mind finally grasped the scale of his surroundings. It was still a hundred meters away, but it took up a distressing percentage of his field of vision. The creature was massive.

    Ben scrambled to climb back up the cliff face. The rocks were loose now and the footing shifted and sank with each step Ben took. He called on the Force to move faster and when he was nearly to the top he used all his strength to jump upward. He fell short. As he landed on a pile of rocks they slid out from under him. He feared he would fall back down the slope when something grabbed his arm to steady him. It was Dankin, Ben noted distantly. Ben spared a glance back over his shoulder to see where the dragon was.

    [[[^not sure the weird misunderstanding of scale actually works above]]]

    [[[more stuff happens]]]

    They had the massive animal partially surrounded. Or, perhaps more accurately, the dragon had landed in the middle of them. Tahiri was most directly in front of the creature, with Dankin standing just behind her. Jacen stood to Tahiri’s right and Ben to her left. The three Jedi had lightsabers drawn and ignited, ready to fight.

    Tahiri struck first. She swung her lightsaber into the side of the creature’s relatively narrow neck. The battle should have ended there. But it didn’t. The blue blade of Tahiri’s blade seemed to pop and then give way as it contacted the creature’s flesh. It brought to mind Jacen’s first battle with a lightsaber he’d built himself. It was friendly duel with Tenel Ka. Her lightsaber had malfunctioned just as Tahiri’s had just now. Jacen had found himself unable to stop his own blade after the resistance of Tenel Ka’s blade suddenly disappeared. The result was Tenel Ka losing her right arm just above the elbow.

    But Tenel Ka had been a child, no more than fifteen when it happened. Tahiri was an adult, one who should not have been fallen prey to such a sloppy mistake. Annoyed at Tahiri’s negligence, but still not really concerned about the dragon, Jacen charged forward. He swung his saber in a downward arc, intending to slice through the thick muscles on its forelimb. Just as he made contact, inexplicably his lightsaber malfunctioned, the blade disappearing just as Tahiri’s had. Though shocked by his suddenly faulty weapon, he noticed Ben had moved in for attack only seconds after Jacen. His lightsaber shut down upon contact with the animal just as the others. Obviously there was no way all three lightsabers would fail due to poor construction at the exact same time. Either something had happened to compromise all the weapons at once, or there was something about the creature’s hide that repelled the blades.

    Jacen didn’t have time to contemplate the possibilities. He suddenly found himself unarmed and very near to the sharp teeth and powerful jaws of a very large predator.

    “Run!” Jacen yelled.

    Tahiri and Dankin were already moving. Dankin had drawn his berry-colored stungun and shot it at the dragon’s face. The animal appeared to be startled by the sudden burst of energy and drew its head back quickly. But the stun ray did not appear to slow it down or even to dull its senses after it recovered from the surprise and charged after the fleeing humans.

    Ben was in the lead and Jacen was bringing up the rear, their relative positions having been determined by the fact that they were all running south, deeper into the valley and Ben had started off farthest to the south giving him a few steps head start.

    Jacen gained ground quickly and was soon on the heels of Dankin and Tahiri. He grabbed Dankin’s arm as he passed and half-dragged the smaller man along. Dankin stumbled and as he fell to his knees Jacen snatched the stungun as it fell from his grip. Jacen turned to face the dragon as Tahiri helped Dankin to his feet and hurried along. Jacen let the others get a few steps ahead of him and the dragon a few steps closer before he opened fire on the beast. He shot three rounds in quick succession which brought the dragon to a confused halt. Knowing he’d bought them only a few seconds, Jacen turned and charged back towards the others, once again grabbing Dankin to roughly haul him along. When he got caught up to Ben, Jacen grabbed his arm as well to help propel him forward at a faster clip. Unburdened, Tahiri kept up easily and spared several glances over her shoulder to monitor the progress of the dragon.

    We can’t keep going like this, Jacen thought. Finding some large boulders that would provide a little bit of cover, the four stopped to restrategize.

    “You have to talk to it.” Dankin was breathing heavily and Jacen got the gist of his meaning more from his mind than the words he wheezed out.

    “What?” Jacen was sure he understood Dankin’s meaning, he just wasn’t sure how the man expected him to go about it.

    “It’s just a crystal snake,” Tahiri added helpfully.

    The humongous black dragon was most certainly not a crystal snake. But Tahiri’s words did at least illuminate Dankin’s expectations. As a child Jacen had theorized that it would be possible to communicate with animals through the Force. He’d had a menagerie of pets when he was a young student at the Jedi Academy, but it wasn’t like he’d carried on regular conversations with them. The most he’d achieved was something along the lines of a suggestion of warmth and safety to comfort a distressed creature. Then start there, the rather obvious thought entered his mind. Lacking a better idea, Jacen took a deep breath and turned to face the oncoming creature.

    His crystal snake was a reptile and the dragon appeared to be one as well. Perhaps the two creatures were more similar than it appeared at first blush. His primary attempts at communication with the crystal snake had been attempts to calm the creature and to send it back to its home, a cage in his room. He’d soothed it with thoughts of warmth and safety. That was as much of a starting point as he was going to get.

    He thought of warmth and security. A big warm blanket, soft from years of use. He focused on the feelings associated with the blanket, not the physical blanket itself; he knew the dragon would not understand the purpose of a sheet of softness. He reached for the dragon’s mind, tried to pick up its thoughts.

    Surprisingly, it seemed to understand Jacen far better than he would have guessed. The feelings he sent it brought definite image to the surface. Images of a cave strewn with dry grasses and bits of fur. The dragon’s home. And in the middle of it were three miniature versions of the beast in front of Jacen. The creature was not an “it,” but a “she.” A mother with three babies to take of. This caused Jacen some concern—a mother protecting her babies was one of the most dangerous of all creatures.

    He turned, deciding that their only choice was to keep running. As he came around, he saw Ben was sitting on the ground, his hands gripping his ankle, clearly in pain. He could make the boy get up, make him run through the injury, whatever it was. And the boy could do it. And he would do it, because he had to.

    But Jacen hesitated. Maybe there was another way. Maybe he owed his cousin to try and spare him unnecessary pain. The stungun should still have a round or two in it, he could probably disorient the dragon and get it to pursue him and give the others time to escape. And he had a few seconds before the dragon was on him, he still might be able to think this through and find a way to dissuade the dragon from attacking them.

    He knew what the dragon’s home looked like, and what its babies looked like. That was an interesting point—he knew the smaller animals he’d seen in the dragon’s mind were her babies not because of anything she had communicated to him, their exchange had not involved words, only thoughts and feelings, but rather he knew they were her babies because they looked just like her, only smaller. Perhaps she would be empathetic to another creature that wanted only to protect its young.

    He closed his eyes and called upon the Force, summoning its energy to expand his consciousness. He reached out to the dragon, touching its mind just enough to see what it saw. It saw him and the other three. A pack of predators. No, he corrected gently. Not predators—just another parent protecting his young. He took his own most identifiable features, his clothes and his hair, and imagined that the others were dressed just the same, that they had the same hair as him, that they were smaller versions of himself.

    The dragon slowed. She looked curiously at Jacen, then at each of the others. Jacen took a step forward firmly putting himself between her and his companions. I only want to protect them, he thought at the dragon. I’m not going to hurt your babies. And you shouldn’t hurt mine. He knew she wouldn’t understand the words, but he desperately hoped she would understand the feeling behind them. She pressed her nose closer to Jacen. He thought he could probably Force lift her if he had to. And probably sling her a good distance. Far enough for them to resume their escape, perhaps hard enough to injure her and slow her down. But something inside Jacen told him not to, so he stood still, without a muscle twitching as the dragon pressed her muzzle against him. She blew a hot breath out her nostrils and still Jacen did not move. Finally she gave him a slight nudge, just enough to knock him off balance, then she backed away. Her way of getting the last word? Jacen wondered idly.

    After a few cautious steps backwards with her eyes locked on Jacen, she spun and galloped back the way she came, spinning her body with far more grace than Jacen would have thought possible for such a large creature.

    After a half step back to regain his balance, Jacen continued to stand frozen in place. He didn’t realize he wasn’t breathing until Tahiri placed her hand on his shoulder and startled him back to reality. “You did it.”

    Jacen turned to face the others. And for the first time in a long time, he felt an uncontrolled smile tugging at his cheeks. “I did it,” he repeated.

    “How?” Dankin still looked terribly unsettled. [[[replace this line]]]

    “I think,” Jacen shifted his weight from one foot to the other, “I told her the three of you were my babies. And I only wanted to protect you.” He couldn’t help but notice his voice sounded odd to his own ears. He was…well, he was proud of himself. He’d gotten them through this and no one had gotten seriously hurt. Somehow he’d found a solution that didn’t involve sacrificing anyone to the cause. At some point he’d stopped believing in victory without pain. He was elated to have proven himself wrong.

    “Are you okay?” he asked, suddenly remembering Ben’s injured ankle. He knelt beside Ben and carefully felt around the joint. “’I don’t think it’s broken.”

    The four of them returned to the ship, Jacen carrying Ben in his arms. Jacen moved quickly, knowing the other two couldn’t keep up with his longer stride. He knew they would think it was because he was showing off, displaying dominance in some way. But really he just didn’t want them to see his face. He’d managed to bury the smile on his lips, but he was afraid they would see something in his eyes. He didn’t want them to see that he didn’t hate himself. For the first time since he could remember, Jacen felt more like a hero than a monster.




    [[[The rest of this isn't even a proper draft, just a few vague scenes]]]

    Chapter 12: Rescue

    [[[lots of stuff happens]]]

    “What happened to Odonnl?”

    “He was murdered.” Dankin hesitated. Jacen thought he would have to prod for more details but after a moment Dankin continued on his own. “Odonnl and several other guys had gotten together to play sabaac and watch smashball. They were robbers. Or gangsters of some kind. Well, that’s what the police thought. But they really didn’t have a clue. They barely even investigated.

    “I found them. Or the crime scene anyway. There was blood. So, so much blood.

    “I never saw his body. At least, I couldn’t identify it.” He paused again, gathering his wits. He didn’t want to talk about the crime scene, so he moved on quickly. “It was just so random. And brutal.”

    “You never found out who did it?”

    “No.” Dankin shifted. He glanced at Ben and then quickly away. “I wanted to ask Mara to investigate. But Karrde said no. She had her own life now, we shouldn’t bother her. Not while she was busy being a Jedi. Especially not while she was pregnant.”

    Ben sat up a little straighter at the mention of his mother.


    [[[add more]]]

    [[[lots of stuff happens]]]

    [[[probably Ben leaves before the scene below]]]


    No, Force no.” Jacen had just turned on the Holonet.

    “Allana, Princess of Hapes, has been kidnapped.”

    As the story was revealed, it became clear that Allana had been missing for nearly a week and she was presumed to be kidnapped. By Jacen.

    “If they think I did it, they won’t be looking for the real kidnapper. We have to find her ourselves.”

    “How are we going to do that?” Tahiri asked.

    “First we need more information. We’ll have to go to Hapes.”


    [[[So they go Hapes, but then realize...]]]


    “It’s a trap.”

    I can’t believe Jaina would do this. Use my daughter against me.

    If Jaina is doing this it must be my fault. Either I’ve become such a vile character that I deserve it, or she has become a different person—one that would do such a thing. If that is the case I’m sure a large part of what made her that sort of person was having a brother like me. It’s the same as it was when Tahiri killed Callista. Jaina’s actions are a reflection of me.


    [[[^probably gonna trash the paragraph above]]]


    [[[random scene below - maybe should be earlier. or cut]]]

    Dankin stared at her, as if for the first time. His gaze was filled with fear, but also understanding. “You’re cold.” It was not an accusation, just a statement of fact.

    Tahiri nodded. “I would kill you in a second if I thought it would bring Anakin back. But it won’t, so you have nothing to fear from me.”

    “You killed Callista. In cold blood, of your own accord.”

    “Yes. To save Jacen.”

    “Would you kill me to save him?”

    Tahiri shook her head. “As far as I’m concerned, Jacen has run out of second chances.”




    Summary/Notes:

    Around chapter 11 or 12 Jacen sends Ben home for Jaina's lifeday. He says they can meetup later, but hopes Ben will stay with Leia/Jaina. Reluctantly Ben agrees, in part to show he will obey his Master, and in part to see what Jaina is up to and persuade her to leave Jacen alone. At some point he overhears Jaina talking to one or more of the boys and realizes she is still dead set on killing Jacen. He leaves abruptly (I envision him climbing out a bathroom window or something). He doesn't have a way off planet, but runs into Hunter, who recognizes him. Ben may have spotted Hunter following them earlier. They end up travelling together to try to get back to Jacen, Dankin, and Tahiri. Hunter somewhat becomes Ben's Obi-Wan, which is of course ironic because Hunter is about the farthest thing from a Jedi and is suffering from amnesia and doesn't know who he is or really how to function in society.

    Jaina tries to lure Jacen to her by pretending Allana has been kidnapped. I don't really remember how that was supposed to play out. Except Jaina never catches Jacen. And it provides Jacen a reason to reconnect with Tenal Ka and Allana. I don't think Tenal Ka is in on the deception - I think Jaina tricks her, or locks her up for a while or something.

    I see I have a note about flow-walking into Dankin's past. Pretty sure it is to when Odonnl was killed, but I'm actually not sure what story purpose it serves.

    So I sorta had this idea that Jacen really can't move on until he faces judgement. And at some point, Dankin is standing over him with Mara's lightsaber, and finally passes judgment on him, once and for all. And Dankin grants him mercy. Not necessarily because Jacen deserves it. More because Dankin is staying true to himself, and he is merciful. But I don't know, it all seems a bit overwrought.

    At some point they come across a secret ysalamir ranch. The ranchers have discovered that if a ysalamir dies of natural causes, and not if it is killed, it will leave behind a tiny gem sort of thing that will continue to block the Force in a very small area. Put the gem in a necklace around a Jedi's neck, and they are cut off from the Force. Jacen realizes this is what he needs - silence. And peace.

    Jacen and Tahiri, with their ysalamir pendants, join Tenel Ka on Hapes. They change their appearances to appear more native Hapan. Jacen even changes the color of one eye - but not the other, so everyone will be able to tell if that eye ever turns Sith red. (My description of Jah-Sah: tightly-curled caramel-colored hair; right eye brandy brown, left eye brandy/gold; "Hapan" features; Force muffling necklace; two long thick lines tattooed over right eye - "Mara Jade" and "Anakin" in mirror-image, very stylized Massassi language; asymmetry of eyes and tattoos meant to mask/distract from familiar features. And Tah-Ree: short, slicked back caramel colored hair; "Hapan" features; no forehead scars; Force muffling necklace; two long thick lines tattooed over right eye "Callista" and "Anakin" in mirror-image, very stylized Massassi language.)

    Ultimately, Jaina et al. suspect something is up with Tenal Ka's new husband Jah-Sah and his sister Tah-Ree, but she can't be certain and no longer senses Jacen in the Force, so she decides to give up the chase.

    Dankin reunites with Karrde, realizes Karrde was never upset with him for his betrayal, he only ever wanted him to be safe.

    Ben probably ends up back with his remaining family and the other Jedi.


    Potential chapter quotes:

    "What's done is done, it's in the past, it's ashes." - Pepper

    "Know thyself." - Socrates

    "Any life, no matter how long and complex it may be, is made up of a single moment--the moment in which a man finds out, once and for all, who he is." -Jorge Luis Borges

    "Who would have thought forever could be severed by the sharp knife of a short life?" - The Band Perry

    "To thine own self be true." -William Shakespeare

    "Sometimes it's extraordinary just to be ordinary."

    "Sometimes goodbye is a second chance." - Shinedown

    "In silence there is peace."

    "It is never to late to be who you might have been." - George Eliot

    "Do not run so fast. The grace you seek is everywhere."
     
  8. SiouxFan

    SiouxFan Jedi Master star 4

    Registered:
    Mar 6, 2012
    It'd been a long while since I've read this, and I thank you for posting what you have! You write damaged characters very well....and almost everyone in this story is severely damaged.

    Thanks!
     
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  9. Tarsier

    Tarsier Jedi Grand Master star 4

    Registered:
    Jul 31, 2005
    Hey, @SiouxFan ! I thought you may be the only person to read this :)

    I had an idea that maybe I needed to be a better writer in order to finish this, so I thought I putting it on hold for a while might be a good thing. But now the canon has changed and everyone seems to have moved on. I suppose the story more or less stands on its own, but it is really a reaction to the canon, so if no one is even aware of the canon anymore, there may not be a lot of point to this story. So I guess I'm saying I may never finish this. Never say never, if inspiration strikes, it would be nice to see this through, but that doesn't seem likely at the moment. Anyway, thanks @SiouxFan for caring about this story, and for your comments here and on FFN. I'm sorry to I wasn't able to complete it in a reasonable timeframe, but please know I really do appreciate the time you have given it.
     
  10. SiouxFan

    SiouxFan Jedi Master star 4

    Registered:
    Mar 6, 2012
    Which probably points to how completely predictable I tend to be!

    Don't kid yourself, there are lots of us who are....less than impressed, I think is the term...with the new 'canon'. As you mentioned, this story does stand on it's own -- even if people are totally unfamiliar with the characters, you've built an impressive story. I think that telling it mostly from Dankin's POV was a great way to get into everyone's 'skin'.

    My take on 'your' characters: Jacen still wants everyone to hate him, because they really should. Ben still longs for 'acceptance' and Jacen still gives him that more than anyone else. Dankin is kinda stuck--he realizes that any of the other three could kill him out-of-hand, but I think he also knows that none of them will. It's almost as if he's resigned to be the 'fixer-in-chief' for the others...but doesn't seem to mind that as much as he thinks he should. Tahiri? Well, I really can't figure her character out (clearly, I need to re-read 'Chasing Whisperkits')....which actually makes her more interesting, not less.

    Having Jaina use Allana as 'bait' is something I'd never have thought of...and is really a genius way to progress the story. It shows how far the 'Sword' will go to achieve her goals, and is a great way of showing that the difference between her and Jacen is really quite small. That alone is great way to build tension.

    I kinda like the ysalimiri thingy....it's a great way to allow both of them to 'disappear'. I did something like that in 'Traitors and Trades' as a way to hide Jacen on Hapes.

    Again, thanks for writing.....and if you ever want to start it again, let me know!
     
    Last edited: Apr 23, 2021
    Tarsier likes this.