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"Remembrance" - By Joshua Ausley - Completed!

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Offline J.A.

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PostPosted: Sun Mar 28, 2010 4:19 am   Post subject: Re: "Remembrance" - By Joshua Ausley   

Titan-class Battleship Warhawk
En Route: Borrose System
1450 Hours



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

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

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

Was he about to do so again?

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

Akargan had given him virtually no information about this mission he’d been sent on, and Moyabi hadn’t deigned to enlighten Lasitus any further. All he knew was that on Borrose was one of Strife’s communications bases, secreted in amongst one of the local cities. Apparently inside was a database of all of Strife’s agents currently employed throughout the galaxy. If it was true, it would be a treasure of a find for Akargan to get his hands on. But how well would it be protected? Would there be failsafe measures to destroy the data should the facility be compromised? Was Akargan even telling him the truth?

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

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

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

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

He didn’t voice the panic that suddenly welled up inside him. What was he going to do now?

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

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

And with that, Lasitus realized he wouldn’t have enough time to decide. He was on a ship with hundreds of thousands of Altarin’Dakor warriors, and enough firepower to level a planet. And Akargan had been one step ahead of him all the way – now he was trapped, and if Lasitus played his hand now, he knew he would never make it close to the Warlord again. He had failed.

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


* * *


Titan-class Battleship Eternity
Ven’lar System
1750 Hours



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

Maarek had wondered if Strife himself would be here to give him his first real mission. He’d had no further contact with the Warlord since their first meeting. But Strife was nowhere to be found. From now on Maarek’s orders would be passed down through Alona, it seemed.

Over the last few days Maarek felt he knew the Archon well enough to take it into combat. And even more important, his mastery over the Force had improved to the point that he was able to keep his shield up at all times, subconsciously projecting it while going about his day-to-day tasks. He still needed to improve, however, on the strength of it.

He’d taken the squadrons out into a mock battle. During the fight, he’d asked Alona to try and disable him through the Force, something that he now wished he hadn’t. Alona, a powerful Jedicon, was able to break through his barrier within seconds. For a moment he’d relived the horror of that day on Varnus, when his ship had barreled straight down towards the city streets, and he’d been forced to watch Rann and Tanya’s fighters explode as they impacted on the surface.

The terror had been so much that Maarek had been out for several minutes. Later, however, during their private time together, Alona confessed to him that she was surprised he’d lasted as long as he had. He told her about the fateful day, and what his pilots had meant to him. Perhaps, as a wing commander herself, she would be able to empathize with him.

He didn’t fault her for putting him through that again, though. He knew she hadn’t meant it; she was simply doing her job. And that job was to make Maarek as ready as he could be for actual combat against other Altarin’Dakor – especially Jedicon.

His failure tore at him inside, and he had rededicated himself to making his barrier as strong as possible. Perhaps other Jedicon pilots weren’t nearly as strong as Alona was. Against them, she said, Maarek would fare better. But regardless, he wouldn’t give up. He would be ready before he faced a Jedicon pilot again. And next time, his shield would hold.

Alona came into the center of the briefing room and began to address all the pilots in the wing encircled around her. Maarek finally eased himself into his chair, surrounded by a room full of Altarin’Dakor pilots – many of them Jedicon.

After a moment the room stopped spinning around him, and Maarek focused on Alona, standing there in her white Jedicon robes.

“We have our first mission that will take us into actual combat,” she announced in Altarin’Dakor. The earpiece in Maarek’s ear translated everything she was saying into Basic almost as soon as the words were out of her mouth.

“We have received a distress signal from our base in the Borrose System,” she continued. “They are under attack from a Titan-class Battleship belonging to a rival fleet. Our first real combat will be against enemy Altarin’Dakor pilots. May we bring glory to Strife with an overwhelming victory.”

The round of applause filled the chamber and sent chills down Maarek’s spine. He couldn’t sense the slightest trepidation from them, or the smallest sense of remorse that they were killing other AD. As far as they were concerned, they were the enemy.

“As you know, one of the key reasons for developing the Archon System is to combat against Jedicon pilots. Should our minds become clouded, our link with the fighter should protect us and enable us to function normally.” She spun in a slow circle, glancing at the rows of soldiers gathered in the room. “Our integration with our fighters is virtually complete. We are the ultimate elite pilot-warriors. Honor to the Altarin’Dakor! Glory to Strife!”

The call was taken up, reverberating throughout the chamber. And even though Maarek didn’t join in, he still felt a sense of pride rising up in his heart. He was one of them. He had sat with them, had trained with them, and was now about to fly the most advanced fighter the galaxy had ever seen. Whatever it was out there they were about to face, they were more prepared for it than anyone else could ever be.

It was time for the real testing to begin.


* * *


Titan-class Battleship Grand Crusader
Varnus System
1700 Hours



Gaius followed Zalaria through the double doors from the conference room onto the ship’s massive bridge. Unlike some he’d been on, the Titan’s command chamber was a silent and completely composed environment. Holograms hovered here and there – maps of the galaxy and of NI space, status reports, and fleet orders of battle. He still hadn’t gotten used to it all yet.

Assembled and waiting for them there were Walt Amason, Rodin Kaler, Stan Sanders and Jann Percy. Stan wore a frown on his face, while Amason was sitting in a chair at one of the consoles on the side. Kaler and Percy stood near one of the ship’s wide, spread-out viewports, having a quiet conversation between themselves.

Gaius knew the men were uncomfortable, here. They were surrounded by even more Altarin’Dakor than they had been on the Nexus, with far fewer NI personnel. At least on the former flagship, they’d started to become familiar with some of the bridge crew. Now, looking around the massive chamber – three stories of walkways, command stations, and bewildering equipment – he knew that some of these officers had actually served Nimrod, and had fought against the NI. How long would their loyalty hold if they actually went into battle?

Standing several meters away – but still within earshot – was the ship’s new commodore, a bald, middle-aged man with a muscular build that made him look more like a grunt than a commanding officer. He, at least, had been one of Zalaria’s men, though how well the Titan’s crew were accepting him, Gaius wasn’t sure. The man barely spoke a word of Basic. That made Gaius nervous. In battle, clear and concise communication was vital to survival.

The NI officers – now the members of Gaius’ so-called War Cabinet – looked at him expectantly as he and Zalaria came to a halt in their midst. Gaius wasn’t sure what they were expecting him to say, but he hoped they would be willing to accept the decisions he was having to make.

“Some good news,” Zalaria said first.

Eyes slowly shifted to her. Gaius knew that they still considered him to be the sole commander of the navy. And they didn’t like deferring to her, not one bit. If any of them were shocked by how large her abdomen had become, they were hiding it well – somewhere behind the expressions of disdain on their faces.

“It’s about time,” Stan said finally.

Inclining her head, she raised her hand out towards the stars outside the viewport. Gaius followed her hand with his gaze. Through the forward windows he could see the massive trunk of the Grand Crusader extending for tens of kilometers ahead, along with the two giant wheel structures that housed much of the Titan’s formidable forward weaponry. The sheer bulk of the ship was still hard for him to comprehend. Due to its shape, it was many times more massive than the Nexus had been. So far he’d personally seen less than one percent of the ship, and he doubted that amount would increase by much.

Then, outside the viewport, stars began to shift positions as a ripple seemed to blossom out in the void. Then, fading into view like a phantom, another Titan-class Battleship appeared.

“Gentlemen, I give you the Nimbus,” Zalaria said.

The vessel was massive, as most Titans were. But whereas he remembered the Nexus, Zalaria’s last ship, as an elegant, almost fragile-looking ship, this one was different.

It was clearly a ship meant for war. Well over forty kilometers in length at Gaius’ guess, the new ship was armored in dark metal. The bow began in a sharp, spear-like point, from which the hull rose and flared in a series of ribbed sections edging ever higher, creating what looked like sharp-pointed, forward-sweeping waves rising upward all across her spine. It was far more massive than the Nexus had been, that much was clear. What was confusing, however, were the numerous blackened spots along her hull, including sections where holes had been carved, exposing some of the internal decks to the outside, along with the unmistakable gash marks of Altarin’Dakor beam weapons.

“She’s damaged,” Percy remarked.

Zalaria nodded. “Unfortunately, the Nimbus is the only ship that survived running the blockades that the other Shok’Thola have in place at the Gates – both on our side, and yours. I have yet to discover if any of my brother’s former forces were able to make it through, either. Apparently, several of the others have somehow decided to join forces. It could things a bit more difficult for us.”

The news cast looks of alarm between the command staff.

“That’s putting it mildly, don’t you think?” Rodin Kaler said, his face turning livid. “How long have you known about this?”

“Long enough to develop a counter-strategy,” she quipped back smoothly. “Do not despair.”

“Well, we now have four Titans,” Stan Sanders commented. “We have more firepower now than we ever had with just the NI forces alone. That gives us a better fighting chance, doesn’t it?”

She shook her head once. “We are still not unbeatable. We have no Jedicon other than those that have just arrived. Mine were wiped out at Varnus, and Nimrod’s all had to be slain. We still need more reinforcements, as many resources as we can gather.”

“Why can’t you muster more of your forces back in your galaxy – or Nimrod’s?” asked Percy.

“You must understand,” Zalaria explained, “Nimrod controlled nearly fifty percent of the Altarin’Dakor galaxy. His territory is now a lawless region, in a state of chaos and civil war. What is more, other Shok’Thola are invading his space and stealing territory for themselves. Our entire society is extremely unstable at the moment. Only the other Shok’Thola can reestablish order and keep things under control, but they are currently all focusing their efforts here, in this galaxy.”

“Do you think the other Warlords will come after the New Imperium?” Stan asked. “Will they be looking for payback, or might they bypass us entirely to strike into the rest of the galaxy?”

“Their strategy is still unclear,” she replied, “But we do know that Mizar is still under their control. Therefore they may wish to take advantage of its useful position as a staging base.”

“We have to finalize a plan of attack on Mizar, and soon,” Gaius said, watching to gauge their reactions. No one seemed overly surprised; they’d almost certainly expected this time would come.

“What’s the status of the new Majestic cruisers?” he asked Amason.

The other man blew out a sigh and pushed himself up out of his chair. “I placed an emergency order for ten of them, back among some of our allies,” he said, starting to pace anxiously. “Since we lost Moro we have no capacity to build ships ourselves. I had to incur a massive debt on this, since we currently do not have the funds to pay for them.”

“We’ll do our best to reimburse you after the war is over,” Gaius told him.

“I’ve heard that one before.” Walt shook his head. “At any rate, they’re supposedly on their way. I guess they’ll get here when they get here.”

“And what’s our logistical status?” Gaius asked, turning to Percy. “Is it as grim as I’ve heard?”

“Probably more so,” the man replied. “As you know the NI is down to about a fourth of its original size. We don’t have the forces or population to occupy all the space we once held. Our economy has completely crashed and the local population doesn’t know what to do, but they do know as well as we do that we can’t keep going like this. There isn’t enough revenue coming in to pay our soldiers or purchase new supplies.” He gave an exasperated look at everyone gathered. “We have to end this soon if we still plan on living out here. Once the war is over we’ll have to try and pick up the pieces that are left.”

Gaius nodded. It was a grim situation. “We have to consolidate, until the war is over at least.”

“What of your quest to find allies among some of the oldest races?” Kaler asked Walt Amason.

“The mission was a disappointment at best, a failure at worst,” Amason said. “We made some allies along the way, but nothing remotely even as strong as the NI. The Barabels sent us a few divisions of troops, which helped some. But the Sharu – they weren’t interested in helping us fight the Altarin’Dakor. They didn’t even give us the time of day. None of the other, supposedly super-advanced, civilizations did. If you ask me they’re not quite as advanced as they try and make out. I think they rely on gimmicks, mostly.”

“Hmm. Well, only on battalion of Barabel troops isn’t going to recompense my losses from Varnus or anywhere else,” Kaler complained. He shifted and turned to look outside the window as the room fell silent once more.

“Tell us about these other Warlords,” Stan told Zalaria.

“Yes, I think we’re at the need-to-know point, don’t you think?” Amason stopped pacing to add.

She grimaced, but complied with their request anyway. “When my ships passed through the Gate into this galaxy, they were able to obtain an order of battle of all other Altarin’Dakor vessels that have passed through the gate recently,” she explained.

“Unfortunately, they discovered that the flagships of virtually all the major Shok’Thola were on the list. These include Akargan, Velius, Strife, Asellus, Calvernic, and Raftina. That means that they are all now in this galaxy. They must eventually be dealt with.”

Percy made a low whistle, while Stan looked down and shook his head slowly. Amason blew out a long sigh and started pacing again, his boots echoing off the polished metal floor.

Stan looked about to respond, but she stopped him with a raised hand.

“There is some good news, however. Altima’s personal flagship was not on the manifest, which means that he is probably still in the Altarin’Dakor galaxy. This presents us with a unique opportunity. If we can make a strike at the Gate and destroy it on the other side, we might be able to prevent Altima from traveling to this galaxy, and delay the return of more Altarin’Dakor forces for decades or even centuries, considering the chaos there.”

“Finally, a proactive approach,” said Percy. “I like that. How could we implement such a plan?”

“It will require a strike with massive force. We’ll have to take all the firepower we have. It may leave the New Imperium nearly undefended, but such a brazen move might actually draw the others after us, instead.”

“Then maybe that’s what we need to do,” Amason added. “We can’t keep fighting a war of attrition. We have no chance if we do.”

Everyone looked at Gaius, obviously wanting to know what he thought. But Gaius had already made his decision. He’d spent hours deliberating over it in the ready room. There was only one way they could ever hope to stop the Altarin’Dakor, and that was to destroy the Gate. Otherwise, the galaxy would continue to be ripe for invasion no matter how many Warlords they killed.

“First things first,” Gaius said. “Deploy the fleet. We head to Mizar. Then, after that, we’ll look at this plan.”


* * *

Onboard The Black Star
Location Unknown


Eventually, Icis' eyes adjusted, and he saw that instead of a surrounding brightness, they were actually traveling through a tunnel of light, the sides of which were just slightly brighter than that ahead. How long they traveled that way, he could not have said. Time did... strange things... whilst in transit.

Beside him, Xar had a look on his face that seemed part bewilderment, part worry. Icis did the best he could to explain that this was, in fact, the normal procedure though which all Travelers passed back and forth to Kajarn, the home of the Travelers.

After a while, the brightness that lay at the end of their tunnel of light began to take on a significantly bluer hint to it, and Icis felt a wave of nostalgia begin to wash over him. He had only seen that blue a single time in the last several thousand years. This was it. He was almost home.

Suddenly, the light around them vanished. All that remained was the blue, like that of a bright azure sky, enveloping them on all sides. Xar actually gave a small gasp at the transition.

Then, as through a haze of blue, a circular object appeared ahead, growing quickly darker, quickly closer. Soon it was clear what it was. The Traveler Homeworld.

The surface was completely gray and featureless, save for an equatorial line that itself emitted a bluish light. Constructed artificially by the Kajeat eons before, it actually had self-contained environments of all types in special zones designated within. And to actually access the planet's interior - and surrounding the planet itself like a broad ring - were the docks.

The docks were a series of broad platform structures hovering anywhere from one to a hundred kilometers above the surface, linked to one another by narrow tubes, forming a latticework that wrapped around the entire planet. Transport actually to Kajarn itself, of course, was done by teleporter, so the connecting tubes were rarely used anymore.

There were ships, too. Countless ships. Docked at those structures, and moving in between and away from them, of all shapes and sizes. Thousands upon thousands of them.

"I... I've..." Xar whispered softly, struggling to find the words. "I've never seen anything like this." He turned to look at Icis, his face bathed in blue light. "I mean, I've seen Celestial constructions this big. But they're abandoned, just relics. This..." He glanced out the viewports once again. "This is alive."

Icis understood how he must be feeling. It was his first time to the Travelers' homeworld. Compared with their artificially-constructed planet, even the Empire's Death Stars would have looked primitive in comparison. "You are now among one of the First Races," he said. "Welcome to Kajarn."

As they grew nearer to the planet and the platforms loomed ahead, Xar looked down at the controls with a bewildered look. "Gravity's not pulling us in," he remarked.

"Each environment has its own gravitational field," Icis explained. "The space outside Kajarn is kept gravity-neutral." A second later, the Black Star passed through an invisible force field, and trails of air began to stream off the ship's wings. "We are now inside atmosphere," Icis said.

Xar simply shook his head in disbelief. "So where do we go?"

Icis pointed towards the nearest platform looming ahead. "That will do."

The platform was maybe a kilometer wide. Xar guided the Black Star up to one of the obvious airlock ports on the side and slowly floated them up until they nearly touched, then activated the docking system. A series of magnetic clamps locked them on, a short tunnel extended from the platform to the ship, and seconds later they were officially docked.

"Well, this is it." Icis said. "Let's get our stuff. We should probably bring Nico, as well."

"What, now? How do you know they won't be hostile toward us?"

"I don't," Icis told him. "But we can't just leave him here."

With that, they unstrapped and made their way towards the back. In a short time they had gathered their bags, and Xar was wheeling Nico out on his hoversled, and they passed through the Black Star's airlock into the stark white corridors of the nexus hub platform.

The first hallway was empty. That was good. Now all they had to do was get to the teleporter and enter Kajarn before security caught up with them. Once inside, they could make a scene and, when it was obvious that the general populace knew there were outsiders onboard, he should be able to appeal to speak with Angol Moa herself. Should being the operative word, of course.

They weaved their way through the featureless white-lit hallways, blue light streaming in through the occasional window. Icis knew his way through; fortunately, all the platforms had the same general layout. Also fortunately, they were almost always unoccupied unless someone was actually docked there. He had chosen an empty one, trusting that would be just the case.

There were no security droids or checkpoints in the platform, nor were there any customs or immigration protocols. It was usually assumed that only Travelers could conceivably come to Kajarn in the first place - and rightly so. After all, Icis was one.

In fact, they made it all the way to the teleport chamber before their luck ran out. There were guards there, all right, and they had been waiting for the intruders to come to them.

"Halt!" the lead officer shouted as they rounded the last corner. He and seven others stood directly in their way, in front of the teleport pad. All of them had guns trained on Icis and Xar. They had managed to get here just in time, it seemed.

"Don't shoot!" Icis said, dropping his bag and raising his hands immediately. Xar glanced over at him, and after a second slowly did the same.

It took Icis a moment to realize how ridiculous they must look. Two intruders, calmly sauntering their way through the corridors as though they owned the place, one of them pushing an unconscious patient on a hoversled, complete with life support equipment attached and running.

Unfortunately, all eight of these officers were Kajeat, which meant that they were all Force adepts. This could be bad.

"My name is Icis Novitaar..." he began.

"You are not Kajeat!" the leader shouted. "Only Kajeat are allowed here! Outsiders are not welcome on Kajarn!"

Icis froze. It was a harsh reality, having your own people refuse to acknowledge you as one of them.

"I am Kajeat," he protested, keeping his voice calm. I was raised here and achieved full Traveler rank. "Please, let us pass. We seek a meeting with Angol Moa."

The man kept his gun pointed straight at Icis. "You are not one of us," he said stubbornly. "You can't fool our scanners. Outsiders are to be turned away and sent back immediately and without question. Turn around now!"

It was impossible to tell the age of a Kajeat by their appearance, but apparently some of them were still fairly young. At least two of the guards had begun to gape openly at Icis when he'd mentioned his name. Apparently his reputation as something of a rebel was still floating around the homeworld.

However, they made no move to countermand their superior officer.

"Gentlemen, I suggest you let us pass," Xar said, speaking up for the first time. "You should know that I can probably defeat all of you at once."

Several of the officers took on expressions of disbelief, and he heard Xar grunt beside him in surprise as their weapons remained steady.

"Icis! Don't they know who I am?" Xar asked, looking over at him.

Icis turned slightly towards him, careful to keep his hands raised. "I'm afraid not," he said.

Xar just stared at him.

Icis sighed. "I'm sorry to disappoint you, but most Travelers don't know you exist. They have no idea what goes on in our galaxy. Neither we nor the Altarin'Dakor galaxy are part of the intergalactic community."

"But the war..."

"Is a minor one by our standards," Icis explained. "Frankly put, we're a backwater. Most of the Kajeat that do know about it consider it a local dispute."

"A local dispute!" Xar snapped. "Are you insane? Do you know how many people have died in this 'local dispute'?"

"Imagine wars that happen between different galaxies," Icis countered. "How many lives do you think those cost?"

"That's beside the point!" shouted Xar.

"Quiet!!" the officer bellowed, straining to drown out their yelling at each other. "Turn around and leave! You can continue you argument on your way out of Kajarn!..."

He broke off as a flash of light enveloped the teleport pad. When it was gone, there was someone else standing there, and Icis immediately recognized him as a Thiganik'llor. His blue-skinned body was covered with white feathers, and he had a set of wide wings folded behind him in addition to his clawed hands and feet.

"Stop immediately!" the newcomer ordered. At his word, the officers turned back in surrprise. The 'Lor sauntered over to them and began speaking with them in sharp tones. Icis took that moment to edge closer to Xar.

"What was that?" Xar whispered to him.

Icis cocked his head over towards Xar. "That is a teleporter," he explained. "That's how we get around Kajarn."

"A what?"

He broke off as the 'Lor turned to them and the officers trained their guns on them once more. "I am Solus Emsu," he announced. "You are to come with me at once."

Icis felt his jaw drop. An Elder was here?

He gestured Xar to move forward and do as they were told. Xar took hold of Nico's hoversled once more and steered him toward the teleport pad. The officers all began to file in around them.

Icis couldn't believe that an Elder had actually come. This was either going to be good, or very, very bad.

"Are we actually going to..." Xar began as they stepped onto the teleporter.

"Don't worry, you won't feel a thing," Icis assured him. "Some people get disoriented, but that's all." His own stomach was starting to feel queasy, but for completely different reasons.

There was a flash of light, and suddenly they were all gone.


* * *
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Offline J.A.

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Joined: Tue May 20, 2008 8:29 pm

Posts: 88

PostPosted: Thu Apr 29, 2010 3:54 am   Post subject: Re: "Remembrance" - By Joshua Ausley   

Titan-class Battleship Abyss
Entering Borrose System
1220 Hours



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

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

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

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

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

The day before, they’d had a grueling training lesson in which she’d assaulted him mentally for two hours straight. He’d done better than he ever had before. But he still didn’t know if he was ready. The whole time, she hadn’t spoken to him about their relationship, and she still hadn’t mentioned Alona. He was unable to tell whether she was growing impatient waiting on his decision.

But Maarek felt he had made his decision, or perhaps it had already been made since the beginning. He had wanted to tell Chele then, had wanted to tell her that he had chosen Alona. But for some reason, he hadn’t been able to bring himself to say it. Maybe he was afraid of disappointing her. Maybe he still wanted to keep his options open. But there was another possibility he was afraid of, one that sent self-doubt stabbing into his mind. Maybe he really did want two women at the same time.

He shook his head, then immediately regretted it as the world spun again. Blast it! Now wasn’t the time to consider such things! He took the last few steps up to his fighter and made his way up the steps leading to the cockpit, knowing if he let himself get distracted out there, he was as good as dead.

After a moment he dropped into his seat, and the ladder pulled away and the cockpit sealed, cutting off all outside sound. He took a deep breath and closed his eyes, relishing the peace and quiet for a split second. Don’t screw this up, he told himself. He had to remember, he’d been given another chance at this. Flying was life, and this was his second lease on it. Better make it good.

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

Now, he felt invincible.

The pre-flight sequence took less than a minute to complete. Just as the last of the troops finished entering their transports, Maarek’s wing of Archons launched out of the belly of the Titan-class battleship.

Once in space, Maarek guided his ship into formation with the other group of Archons as they streaked away from their mothership. The transports launched seconds later. Maarek was able to switch his vision to an aft view of the fighter almost without even thinking about it, and it brought the Titan into view behind and overhead.

The Abyss resembled nothing so much as a wickedly-carved dagger out of some fantasy Holo-drama. Black, and sharp-pointed at the bow, it contained four wing-like areas that fanned out in different directions near the stern. It was fast, stealthy, and extremely well-armed, perfect for this mission.

“Setting a course for the target system,” Alona’s comforting voice entered his head.

“Understood. Locked in and ready,” Maarek sent back. He didn’t actually have to speak the words. Just thinking about it made it happen. The sophistication and beauty of the Archon fighter never ceased to amaze him.

Moments later, all the ships were in formation. But when Maarek expected the whole lot of them to jump into hyperspace, that didn’t happen. Instead, there was a flash of light ahead of the leading ship, and as he watched in amazement, a hole opened up in space, filled with an unearthly red light shining out from within. Then, one by one, the fighters and transports passed through onto the other side. When it was Maarek’s turn, he felt his Archon moving forward on autopilot, the anomalous opening filling his vision, unable to look away, as the ethereal light of ultraspace expanded to surround him.

Then he was inside.


* * *


Spaceport
Planet Borrose
1450 Hours



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

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

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

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

Lasitus knew that it wasn’t just the death of someone who had been closest to him. It had been what he’d been willing to do to avenge that loss. He knew he was a killer – plain and simple. And he’d enjoyed it. The old Lasitus was still very much alive, and always would be.

But the truth was, even his love of shedding blood didn’t disturb him nearly as much as another, inescapable fact. What brought that true horror was how he’d stood by to begin with while Derek was killed. His moment of indecision meant that the boy’s blood was on his hands. Lasitus was responsible for his death just as much as those Jedicon had been, and that thought was unbearable. He had to do something to try to atone, even though he knew it would never be enough. He would never forgive himself for his failures.

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

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

He couldn’t allow Akargan to destroy Borrose. Millions would die, and their blood would be on his hands, too. He had to figure out something, fast. He knew he could dispatch Moyabi fairly easily. But would that be enough? If he wanted to stop the Warlord, he would have to take up arms. But deep down he knew that it was a hopeless cause. He didn’t stand a chance against Akargan.

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

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

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

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

As the smoke cleared, Moyabi and the slicers picked their way through the room towards the main control consoles. Lasitus followed them at his own pace, his mind still working desperately on his own situation. They didn’t need him, anyway. He hadn’t had to do anything since shuttling down to the surface, and even during this firefight, he hadn’t felt he was in any real danger.

The main control consoles had only received minor damage from the shootout. It took less than half an hour for them to break through the security system and get inside. Again, too easy. Something didn’t feel right about this.

“There is a large store of information here,” one of the men reported.

“Just take everything,” Moyabi ordered them. “We will sort through the data on our return.” He turned away to allow them to work, and looked back towards the entrance. “Let us return to the ship so that we can turn this miserable rock into space dust.”

Lasitus’ mind was racing a million klicks an hour as he followed the Jedicon out. What was he going to do? He couldn’t let them kill everyone on Borrose. Every passing second made the sense of panic inside him grow stronger.


* * *
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Offline J.A.

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Joined: Tue May 20, 2008 8:29 pm

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PostPosted: Mon May 24, 2010 4:31 am   Post subject: Re: "Remembrance" - By Joshua Ausley   

Borrose System
1530 Hours


The dust-covered world of Borrose hung suspended in space, growing closer in Maarek’s cockpit window every second as they approached. In the distance hung the Titan-class Battleship Warhawk, one of the Warlord Akargan’s ships. The vessel was massive, with a bulky finlike projection extending downwards almost as far as the ship was long. A retinue of smaller ships surrounded the Titan, while their target – the capital city’s starport – lay on the other side.

Maarek guided his Archon in between the cluster of transports and the rest of his wing. As the planet grew closer ahead of them, he saw another large blip appear on his screens – the Abyss was coming out of hyperspace behind them.

“Two minutes to engage,” Alona’s familiar voice came to his ears. “The transports should be on the surface thirteen minutes after that.”

“Understood,” Maarek said back. Following his words was a flurry of chatter in Altarin’Dakor that he didn’t understand – probably acknowledgements from the others, or supplementary comments. He knew that this was to be a fast mission: go in, kill the invaders and prevent the base from being compromised – most likely by blowing it up – and getting back out. They didn’t want an extended engagement with the enemy here.

Enemy squadrons were beginning to turn to engage them, now. Maarek recognized Stilettos, Aggrssors, even a few Nightstars and Punishers. No Widowmakers yet, thankfully. He wasn’t ready to face a Jedicon again just yet.

This would be a tough engagement, but he was sure the Archons would still make space dust out of them. “Alona, I need you to guard our exit corridor while the transports go in…” he began to say.

“Do not try to protect me, Maarek Stele!” she shouted over the comm, her voice startling him with its ferocity.

He bit off what he was going to say back. Her decisive tone left no room for argument. He knew she was right. To treat her with favor would be a grave insult both to her rank and her honor. It would mean she was too weak, unworthy of her high position. It would be a death sentence among her peers. He would lose her by trying to save her

“I meant, take the approaching squadron at two o’clock!” he said instead. He would just have to trust her not to get herself killed. Chele was going down to the surface too, he knew. There was nothing he could do for her, either.

Suddenly Maarek was aware that they were in firing range. Glancing at several enemy fighters, he targeted them and began to unleash his craft’s beam weapons, sweeping from one target to the next. The Archon’s next-generation Xyrilan-class beams operated on a different frequency than normal, and were able to penetrate opponents’ shields and cleave clean through their fuselages. His beam weapons hit one enemy Punisher and sliced it in half, swept over to an Aggressor and cut away its port wing, sending it spinning away. He also opened fire with his craft’s mass driver rail cannons, their projectiles laced with anti-shield charges. The slugs slammed into a Stiletto, blasting it into a thousand pieces.

Craft after craft split open and explosions blossomed in the distance ahead of him. The enemy returned fire, but their beams went wide; the Archons were moving too fast, their pilots able to anticipate their attacks just before they happened. This was uncanny; Maarek had never felt this calm in a dogfight before. Even though his actual body was completely enclosed in an opaque cockpit and even his helmet had no visor, he could see and feel everything going on around him. Remarkable that it no longer felt odd at all.

More enemy ships were exploding, and Maarek was feeling more invincible than he ever had before. With every passing moment he felt himself grow more excited, and he knew the fighter was building off of his own emotions again, making him even more aggressive, more dangerous. His earlier fears that he wasn’t ready to take the Archon back into combat seemed laughable. Nothing the enemy had could challenge his Archon Superfighter. It wasn’t even a fair fight.

Within seconds a handful of enemy squadrons were obliterated. The entire wing of Archons blasted through the first wave without losing a single fighter. Alona and half the wing turned back to reengage, while Maarek the rest of them continued to escort the assault transports toward the surface. Behind them, the Abyss began to vomit out hundreds more conventional fighters into the fray.

More enemy blips appeared on the edges of his vision, and the sky around his fighter began to light up with beam weapons from the enemy capital ships and enemy fighters. Glancing to port and locking onto a half dozen opponents with merely a thought, he sent missiles streaking out towards them. Seconds later, Maarek and the first line of transports hit the upper edges of Borrose’s atmosphere, and his wingtips began to glow.

“Ten minutes to the surface!” Alona announced. “Provide air cover while they operate!”

“Copy,” Maarek said. Time to see how well this thing performs in atmosphere, he thought. Chele, be careful down there. He knew that she would attack her task with the utmost ferocity and determination. He did not envy whatever opponents she was going to face at the base, Jedicon or not.

At least fifty enemy fighters had pulled in behind them, but the Archons and transports hit solid air well ahead of their pursuit. Ahead, he could see a few squadrons rising up to meet them from the vicinity of the capital. Not enough to stop them, though. Maarek would see that those transports made it safely down to the surface, then he would pick off any fighters that tried to make a run at them.

Then he would have to trust Chele to do her job and come back in one piece. Just as Alona had made very clear to him concerning her, as well. This was war, and you had to take chances.

He engaged the approaching fighters on the way down, sending out more missiles and beam strikes. Their blitz was strong enough to scatter the enemy formations, giving the assault tranports enough room to blast through to the surface. Within moments they would be making hot landings and disgorging their troops into the interior. Maarek kept one eye on them and one on the sky, watching and waiting – even while fighting – to see what would happen next.


* * *


Starport
Planet Borrose
1545 Hours


Lasitus and the team had nearly reached the hangar again when the attack came.

Beams and blasts of energy erupted from troops and Jedicon hidden behind counters, terminals and benches. The first line of Akargan’s troops went down immediately, simply cut apart by the barrage. The rest scattered and returned fire, taking shelter behind anything they could find on the terminal floor. Within seconds the whole place was a war zone as probably fifty or more soldiers on each side opened up on one another.

Lasitus dove down behind an information counter as Jedicon rushed forward against each other, lightsabers blazing. Shock troops screamed as they poured fire into one another or engaged in single-handed combat. Explosions erupted in the air from propelled grenades, blasting transparisteel panels and holographic displays into fragments that scattered across the whole terminal. A group of four soldiers to his right screamed as their bodies were pierced by blasts of energy and supersonic projectiles, and they clattered to the ground just outside of arm’s reach.

Still in shock from the unexpectedness of the attack, Lasitus hunkered down in his position, the sounds of battle filling the air around him. He was still trying to get his bearings when he saw two enemy shock troops rise to his right, training their weapons on him. A surge of panic shot through his body as his fight-or-flight instincts kicked in.

Until now he had avoided using the Force; in fact, he’d refused to even touch it since that horrible day on Varnus when he’d slaughtered those Jedicon. Even when facing Moyabi and even Akargan he’d managed to find a way around even touching it again. But now he was faced with a familiar decision – defend himself, or die.

Thrusting out a hand, he sent out a wave of force that blew the two troops off their feet, hurling them backwards through the air and sending them through one of the far wall’s floor-to-ceiling windows. He couldn’t even heard their yells over the din of battle raging around him.

That threat abated, he glanced over to take in the rest of the fight. Screams and explosions continued to fill the air, and he could feel his blood beginning to heat up. The warrior within – his true self – wanted to get out. He knew that if he let it, he would be able to deal with the rest of the enemy with impunity.

He had to make a decision. He didn’t want to kill anyone, and he didn’t want to let Moyabi destroy everyone on Borrose. He could help these attackers right – even kill Moyabi, or at least allow them to do it for him. But if he did that, if he didn’t stop this attack, he would never be able to return to Akargan, and his chances of affecting the Warlord would be lost forever. He had to decide fast.

He saw Moyabi moving forward, his lightsaber spinning in his hands as he deflected bolts of energy from one opponent, then clashed against an enemy Jedicon’s own saber. His long, braided hair swung wildly behind his head as he struck with all the ferocity of a Jedicon in the midst of battle rage.

Standing, Lasitus drew on the Force and stepped forward.

Using the power within him, he extended a bubble of protection around both himself and – meters away – Moyabi. Suddenly bolts flew at him, but impacted harmlessly against an invisible field two meters away. Moyabi was protected, as well, and he began to cut through opponents with renewed vigor.

Following Moyabi, Lasitus strode forward one step at a time, allowing the Jedicon to kill each enemy in turn before moving on. A dozen warriors threw themselves at the Jedicon, only to be cut down mercilessly like mere training dolls. Moyabi kept pressing forward, not looking back, not even acknowledging Lasitus’ assistance. They were nearly to the hangar doors, now.

Then suddenly, appearing from inside the door, a new figure came into view, hoisting something large in its outstretched arms. There was a flash, followed by smoke, and Lasitus dove instinctively to the side.

The bomb went off about ten meters away in midair, and the force of the explosion sent him reeling. He let his body roll with the momentum, crashing into a table and chairs set up outside what had been a tapcafe. After a moment, ears ringing, he pushed himself up to his hands and knees, surveying the scene to assess the damage to the terminal.

His central group of shock troops had been obliterated in the blast zone, along with all but two of Akargan’s Jedicon. As he watched, the figure from before – a red-headfed woman, he realized, clad in close-fitting battle skin – dove onto those last two Jedicon. Her opponents reacted well, brandishing their blades and coming against her at one time, slashing at her as she came in. But Lasitus quickly realized this was no ordinary Jedicon. Not one, but two azure blades snapped to life, one in each hand, and she took them both on in a lightning-fast flurry of strikes. One of the Jedicon fell with a gash across his chest, then a second later his companion followed suit, his head sliced cleanly away and his lifeless form falling to the ground.

The woman whirled, snapping locks of auburn hair away from her face as Moyabi – the last Jedicon alive – came in next. Lasitus stood to his feet now, eyes fixed on the pair as they met in a clash of light and noise. Moyabi attacked with powerful strokes from his muscled arms, his blade a whirl of light under his Force-enhanced speed. Somehow, thought, with her twin blades the woman was able to parry his strikes, spinning just out of reach and then coming back in, sending him retreating backwards with a complicated series of strikes of her own.

Locking bladed with her for an instant, Moyabi glanced back and met Lasitus’ gaze once, inquiringly – almost asking for help, perhaps? It didn’t fit the Jedicon. Lasitus knew he should have been helping his ally regardless, but he found himself standing his ground. Let it play, a voice inside of him said.

The woman attacked with a fury, spinning both blades in a deadly dance overhead. Moyabi fell back, defending, then with a yell he ran stepped in a desperate attack. Their glowing weapons met once more, then there was a flurry of light from her blades as she spun. Her weapons weaved once, then twice through the other Jedicon’s body, and Moyabi’s arm fell away first, then his torso split open in three sections, spilling his innards onto the floor at the woman’s feet.

“Only you remain,” she turned to him and spoke in Altarin’Dakor. “What is your name?”

Lasitus didn’t respond. He respected this woman’s skills, but she was no match for him. He didn’t want to kill anyone else unless absolutely necessary.

“If you will not respect the honor of the Jedicon, then you will die a nameless memory!” she shouted at him, stepping forward.

“Don’t do it!” he yelled at her in Altarin’Dakor. “Do not force me to kill you!”

Her mouth twisted into a grin, and she lunged at him.

She left him no choice. It was kill or be killed. She ran forward, blades twirling, and he thrust out a hand at her.

The blast of Force he sent this time could have stopped a star cruiser in its tracks. Targeted against a single body weighing maybe half as much as his, she had no hope of escaping its grasp. Her body flew backwards in the blink of an eye, slamming into the far wall hard enough to leave an imprint of her form in it. He heard bones crack, her weapons flew from her hands, and as he released her she fell, dead even before she hit the ground.

Not for the first time, Lasitus felt the rush of the kill flowing through his veins. And, also not for the first time, he hated himself for it.

He looked back across the terminal interior, now little more than a blasted shell, and saw that there was no one else remaining to fight. His allies were all dead, as well. Some distance behind him, overturned in one of the blasts, was Moyabi’s cart containing the data discs stolen from the enemy’s secret base, their cartridges scattered across the floor. Moving over to them, he began to scoop them back up. This was what Akargan wanted. This was why they’d come. Without them the mission would still be a failure.

He would bring these discs back to Akargan and complete his mission. Now that Moyabi was dead, Lasitus was in charge of the Warhawk and the task force. They would do as he said, or else. And there would be a change to the plan. No attack against Borrose would occur before they left. Let Akargan react to that as he willed.

Seeing the body of the dead woman lying lifelessly as he passed, Lasitus made up his mind again; he would not kill anyone else. Especially not a woman. Not again.


* * *


Borrose System
1600 Hours



Maarek banked hard to port, the angle of his maneuver only possible thanks to the Archon system encased around his body.

As he pulled around, his two pursuers came back into view. Switching with a thought to his rail guns, he opened up on them. Supersonic slugs of shield-penetrating metal alloys pierced the air in an instant, ripping into the enemy fighters. The port wing of the first one disintegrated, sending the fighter plunging towards the ground. The other was hit head-on, ripping first the Stiletto’s cockpit to shreds, then blowing the rest of the fighter apart in a gout of flame and gas.

Rolling over, Maarek dove for the ground, then pulled up in a split-S to avoid the trio of enemy fighters that had been circling above him. His opponents were good, and he knew that like all Altarin’Dakor pilots they were connected to their fighters through the neural implants in the back of their heads, enabling them to perform far beyond a mere humans’ capabilities. But their technology primitive compared to the Archon. Maarek was his fighter.

Shaking his pursuers took only a few seconds, then he pulled another tight loop to track one of them down. An Aggressor, it dove for the ground to try and escape. Maarek rolled and pulled right onto his six, then fired with two of his cannons. The beams of blue-white energy reached out and sliced the craft cleanly in half, separating it into two halves. A second later both pieces slammed into the dirt of the surface.

“Maarek Stele, what is your status?” Alona’s voice sounded in his head.

“Situation nominal,” Maarek thought back. “Just mopping up here. How are thing in orbit? What’s your tally?”

“The situation is still a standoff. We have lost five Archon fighters so far.”

Maarek felt a twinge of disappointment. They weren’t completely invincible. “How many enemy have you killed?” he asked.

“To date the Wing had eliminated three hundred and twenty enemy fighters.”

Maarek felt himself smile – or at least he thought he did, since he couldn’t feel his actual body at the moment.

“There is a problem, Maarek. The strike team has been neutralized.”

Maarek’s attention snapped back to her. “What do you mean?”

“They failed their mission. It seemed they would success at first, but there is an extremely powerful enemy down there. I can sense his presence even now. It is far stronger than any Jedicon I’ve ever felt before.”

Maarek couldn’t believe what he was hearing. All he could feel was a rising sense of panic. “What about Chele?” he asked, the world feeling more surreal by the second.

“Her transmitter is off. She is dead.” Alona said simply.

“No!” Maarek shouted. He rolled his fighter around again and dove for the surface.

“You cannot go down there!” Alona warned. “The Abyss is going to bombard…”

He cut her signal off with a thought, adjusting his dive to bring him back over the city, the lights of the spaceport standing out against the ground below. This couldn’t be happening! Not again!

The two fighters he’d let live had circled around and were ahead of him. He felt their attacks before they came, and jukied his fighter to starboard. Their beams of energy sliced through empty air beside him.

Locking missiles on one, he fired two warheads, then targeted the other and cut loose with all five beam emplacements.

The enemy fighter didn’t stand a chance. All five beams hit dead on. There was a flash of light and a glowing halo that appeared where the fighter was, then the beams died and Maarek could see a strangely colored cloud of gas and two small pieces that had been wingtips falling towards the ground. The rest of the fighter had been vaporized.

His missiles hit the other fighter and exploded, sending fire and metal flying in all directions.

There was nothing else remaining between him and his target. Diving his Archon downwards, he rained death upon the spaceport.

Switching to missiles, he fired every last one he had left, sending each one into a different building. The warheads penetrated inside and exploded, blasting duracrete into the air and sending fireballs rising into the sky. Two of the smaller buildings collapsed, consumed in fire.

Maarek’s rage was far from abated; in fact, it was rising with every passing second, a thirst for vengeance and blood impossible to ignore. The Archon made him invincible! He would make the enemy pay! They would know the power he held in his hands!

Oh kriffing kriff, they’d killed Chele! NO!

Maarek leveled off, coming in fast on a strafing run. Opening up with his rail cannons, he sent the slugs into the main terminal building, raking them back and forth to get maximum dispersal. Then he fired his beams next, pouring fire through the main building as he passed overhead at a blur. His beams sliced through the complex, sending explosions of fire pouring out in their wake.

As soon as he was past he immediately began to loop back around for another pass. He could see the complex below, clearly divided in two by the glowing line his beams had left. He leveled back off, then dove in again. Another couple of runs and he should be able to finish the whole place off. And whoever was left alive in there – whoever it was that had killed her – well, he would make sure their remains would never be found. Ever.


* * *


Starport
Planet Borrose
1610 Hours



Lasitus ran as fast as he could back towards the main hangar as explosions continued to rip through the base.

The attacks seemed to come from everywhere at once. At first he’d thought it was orbital, but he realized that if it was he’d already be dead by now. A squadron of fighters must be strafing the place after realizing their strike team had failed.

With half of his power enhancing his speed and the other forming a protective shell around himself and the hovercart with the datatapes, Lasitus ran hard. The transparisteel roof and windows shattered into thousands of deadly shards that filled the air. Metal beams and girders fell down from above, proceeded by explosions and blasts of flame that chewed through the interior of the place.

Lasitus sped forward, never stopping, relying on the Force to avoid falling debris and explosions an instant before they occurred. The floor was littered with rubble, and he leapt over piles of duracrete, collapsed support beams, and crushed dividing walls. If he could just get back to the main landing pad, the shuttles they’d come in on might still be there in one piece.

Suddenly a blinding light filled the terminal once more. Lasitus let the Force guide him, diving instinctively to the side as a massive beam of energy tore through the air once more. Searing heat touched his skin, seeming to suck the very air from the room. Explosions ripped through the building, shaking the ground beneath him as cracks split the floor. By this time all he could hear was ringing in his ears.

Just as suddenly the light was gone, and Lasitus’ danger sense flared again. He pushed himself up and ran, dragging his cargo with him with the Force, as fire fell from the ceiling towards him.

At the far end of the room he could see the exit. He ran for it as fast as he could. Glass shattered at his feet as it hit the ground, and chunks of duracrete impacted against the protective bubble over his head.

Something huge exploded in the room. He took an instant to glance back, and saw that the entire central structure of the terminal had collapsed. A wall of fire was rushing towards him as if in slow motion.

With the Force filling him, he put everything he had on speed and ran, knowing he had only seconds to get out. Ahead, the ceiling above him finally caved in, and he watched it descending in a painfully slow fashion in front of him. Adrenaline and the rush of battle surged through his veins. Almost there.

With a final burst of speed he dove through the hatchway, flames licking at his heels as he emerged into the night air. He hit the duracrete floor of the pad and rolled, letting the cart go behind him. It hit the ground, and datatapes scattered across the ground. Then the terminal behind him collapsed, and a blast of fire and dust rushed out of the entrance.

I made it. Breathing out a long-held breath, Lasitus picked himself back up to his feet. His blood was rushing in his veins – he felt alive! That had been too close, he decided. He looked back at the devastation that was all that remained of the spaceport. Then he glanced into the sky in the direction the attack must have come from.

There. A fighter of a design he’d never seen before was streaking skywards, away from him, merely a speck in the night sky now. Cold rage poured into his veins. That pilot had nearly just killed him. He could feel the old Lasitus welling up again, the desire to exact vengeance suddenly overwhelming.

Despite what he’d told himself just moments earlier, he instinctively reached out, knowing he could eliminate the enemy who’d nearly just done him in. A voice in the back of his mind reacted against that, telling him to let it go, but in the rush of the moment he refused to listen. It’s kill or be killed, he reminded himself again. That was all it was. This one was just another enemy that had to be eliminated.

The Force welled up in him once more, and just as he was on the cusp of swatting the fighter out of the sky, he literally jumped backward as a familiar presence hit him. He knew the person flying that fighter! He’d encountered that presence in the Royal Palace before, on Varnus. But how could that be?

Maarek Stele wasn’t a close friend, but he wasn’t an enemy, either. Why would he be here? And even more, why would he be flying for the Altarin’Dakor? Was something else going on here that he wasn’t aware of?

He pulled away. He certainly wasn’t going to kill Maarek Stele, even if the man had unknowingly just tried to destroy him.

He looked down at the datatapes lying inside the hovering cart. What if there was really nothing of value on them? Maybe this was all a setup. Perhaps it was merely a ploy just to see if Lasitus would obey Akargan’s command and slaughter millions of innocent people.

Then he thought about Moyabi again. The man was dead, and now Lasitus was in charge. The Warhawk would respond to his commands. He would tell it to turn around and return to base, and then he would face Akargan and the consequences.

He made his way for one of the surviving shuttles, eager to be away from this place as quickly as possible.


* * *
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Offline J.A.

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PostPosted: Wed May 26, 2010 3:13 am   Post subject: Re: "Remembrance" - By Joshua Ausley   


Planet Kajarn



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

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

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

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

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

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

"You have a point," came the answer.

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

"What?"

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Suddenly, everything seemed to happen at once. Officers rushed toward Icis and Xar, while out of the corner of his eye he saw someone coming up to grab Nico’s bed. Desperately he turned away and threw himself over Nico’s gurney, shouting at the men to stop. Xar crouched low like he was about to attack the two men coming towards him. The captain raised his sidearm, striding purposefully toward them and barking orders, looking like he was actually going to fire at them at any second…

He froze in mid-step, and his shouted words became fuzzy, befuddled, as though he were speaking underwater. Everyone around them slowed to a halt, their hands still reaching out to grab their prisoners.

Then they began sinking into the floor.

Icis and Xar gasped at practically the same time. Everyone in the room was sinking, except for them! They stood like statues, their bodies vanishing into the perfectly white, solid floor, up to their waists, up to their chests, their necks.

As their heads vanished beneath the floor, the muffled speaking stopped. Icis and Xar stood there in silence, Nico's bed hovering just behind them.

"What... in... the... blazes...?" Xar whispered.

Then suddenly, in front of them another figure came up out of the floor, rising until she stood perfectly level, right in front of them.

Icis' jaw dropped even wider, this time. It was her.

She was tall for a woman, almost Xar’s height – which still meant she only came up to Icis’ chest. She wore a long black overcoat, cut wide at the shoulders and folded over at the chest, which tapered down and concealed everything but her boots just above the floor. The coat’s breast was embroidered with red and gold patterns, and underneath she wore a violet button shirt.

All of this was, of course, secondary to the long, flowing mane of bright red hair that came out of her head and went everywhere. It must have been of a dozen different lengths, because parts stuck out like spikes from her head, while others curved downwards, ending around her shoulders, while the longest segments trailed down almost to her thighs.

Her face was mature, yet young-looking. Her large eyes were of a deep, emerald green like he’d never seen before. Her face held a smirk that said she knew exactly who they were and all about their mission here. Which of course, he didn’t doubt in the least. She was so striking that it took Icis a moment to realize he still had his mouth open. He tried to work it, to say something, but his mind had frozen like a ball of ice. It was her.

Finally she put her hands on her hips and blew out a sigh of pure annoyance. “Well, it’s about time. I’ve been waiting for you two for a while. Come on.”

“Ex… Excuse me?” Xar spoke up from beside Icis. His face was still frozen in disbelief at what was going on – which, of course, Icis himself had no idea, either.

“What did you do to those guards? Where’d they go?” Xar asked.

“Hmm? Oh, the officers? They didn’t go anyway, dearie. You came down here.” She pointed a finger at him. “I pulled you into this parallel dimension. It makes it a bit easier to get around, wouldn’t you say?”

“A… A what?”

Abruptly she looked down at what appeared to be a chronometer on her wrist. “Oh, good. We should have plenty of time left.”

“Left for what?” Xar asked.

“Why, to save the universe, of course,” she replied with a grin. And with that, she turned and began walking away.

Icis still hadn’t managed to get his mouth working right. He turned to Xar and grunted loudly.

“What’s going on?” Xar asked, obviously still dumbfounded.

“J… Just follow her!” Icis managed. He ran around to the other side of Nico’s bed and started pushing it forward, rushing to catch up. Xar complied, coming up beside him.

Xar glanced over at Icis and nodded at their guide. “Who is this woman?”

Icis worked his tongue, swallowed hard, then cleared his throat before answering. “This, my friend,” he replied, “is Angol Moa.”

“That’s the person we’ve been looking for?” Xar seemed shocked.

“It would seem she’s been looking for us,” Icis replied gruffly.

“She said she was waiting on us. Who is she, exactly?”

Icis glanced between the two of them, then shrugged helplessly. “Angol Moa is Eldest of the Travelers, and our Supreme Leader. And, quite probably, the oldest living being in the universe, as well.”

Xar looked back at Angol Moa, who gave him a sly wink.

“The Force help us,” he whispered.

Angol Moa turned slightly and waved them forward. “Come, come. I’d like to get there this century, please.”

“Where are we going?” Xar asked.

Instead, she simply quickened her pace, heading down one of the main corridors. They walked in silence for a few moments before Icis realized they must be heading for another teleport room.

“How did she do what she did just before?” Xar whispered, looking at Icis. “I couldn’t feel her using the Force.”

Icis stared at him in confusion for a moment. The man had to keep asking questions Icis didn’t know the answers to. What did it matter how she did what she did?

“Well?”

“I have no idea,” he said finally. “Xar, Angol Moa created Kajarn. She created the Teleporters. She created all our technology! But… Of course she can use the Force as well, as any Kajeat can.”

“But I can’t feel her in the Force, Icis!”

Angol Moa glanced back at them just then. “Ah, don’t worry about that. This is just my astral projection,” she said matter-of-factly.

“Your what?” Xar asked.

Just then they reached the teleporter. “Step inside, boys,” Angol Moa said, gesturing to the pad. “I’ll be happy to answer all your questions in just a few moments.”

They complied, with Icis pushing Nico’s bed onto the pad and stepping up beside Xar. They watched as, whether for their benefit or for some other reason, Angol Moa stepped up to the pad as well. Then came that familiar flash of light…

Suddenly they were in a darker room, one made of metal, not painted solid white. Yet it was still obviously a teleport room, and could have been one of thousands on Kajarn.

“This way,” Angol Moa said, heading towards the room’s only exit. The door slowly split open, letting in a shaft of natural light into the room.

They stepped through the doorway and onto soft green grass. And as his eyes adjusted, Icis gazed at the scene in front of them in utter amazement and shock.

The teleport room was a single structure built into the hillside on which they now stood. And stretching before them was a large valley full of multicolored trees, with a deep azure sky resting above wispy clouds. Mountains rose in the distance, towering, craggy rocks with white-capped summits. It was one of the most beautiful places he’d ever seen.

“Come on now,” she said, then began walking down the hill, moving in the same ethereal-looking motion as before. Icis and Xar moved to follow, with Nico in tow.

“S… Supreme Elder,” Icis spoke up, finally managing to address her. “Where on Kajarn are we? I am not familiar with such a place.” Yet it must have taken up a large chunk of the interior to be this vast!

The astral projection of Angol Moa smiled back at him. “We aren’t on Kajarn anymore I’m afraid, kiddo. The Council of Elders gave me my own personal planet a while back, mainly to keep me out of their hair, to keep me from interfering with their politics and running of things. Gives me more time to do my research.” She paused, cocking her head to one side. “Of course, they were also worried that my experiments would blow up the whole planet one day, so better this one instead, don’t you think? Ha!”

Icis continued to follow her in a state of semi-disbelief. Now he and Xar were in the same situation, and he knew exactly what the other man must be feeling. This was just simply… unprecedented. Icis had never expected to find anything like this.

They reached the floor of the valley, where yet more wondrous things lay in wait. Huge, white organic-looking structures rose from the ground, spreading out into the sky and flattening like giant, spindly mushrooms, serving some completely unknown purpose. All around them rose trees of myriad hues – mainly green interspersed with red, yellow, and orange. Some were even pink or purple. Exotic birds and avian creatures flew through the air between them, their species unidentifiable.

The air was thick with the smell of flowers and nectar, and the sound of the birds and other creatures, as well as a chiming music that seemed to come from everywhere and nowhere. The temperature was just right – not too hot, not too cold. A slight breeze blew across his skin, rustling the leaves of the trees. Everything was just right. It felt good to be here.

The apparition led them down a grassy hillock surrounded by exotic trees sporting luscious-looking fruit. At the bottom of the hill was a pathway nestled next to a babbling stream, crossed by a bridge spanning the stream’s width. Nearby, sitting on a hovering high-backed chair, was another Angol Moa, a semi-transparent holoscreen floating in the air in front of her, her fingers tapping on a similarly semi-transparent keyboard hanging just beneath her hands.

The first Angol Moa walked around to the other side of the second, seated one, turned around, and sat down, passing into the one already in the chair and matching her position precisely. And then there was just one of her, typing away at her screen, ignoring the three of them completely.

Xar and Icis stood there with Nico for a long moment, so long that Icis began to wonder if the real Angol Moa had even noticed them at all. But she had to have, hadn’t she?

“Are we…” Xar began.

Suddenly she whirled in her seat, and Xar found her index finger suddenly touching his nose as she stared him down. “You really looked better without that scruff of a beard. Lovely weather today, isn’t it? I made sure it would be.”

For once, Xar seemed completely for lack of words. Icis understood; Angol Moa had that effect on everybody, including himself. It was like she knew what you were going to say before you even said it.

“Well. Anyway, welcome to my home. Or my testbed, if you prefer. I don’t have a preference to what you call it, personally. I haven’t decided on a good name for it, yet. Make yourselves at home.”

It was then that Icis noticed that they were not, in fact, alone. Other figures were present, walking down the path, or coming out from the forest of exotic trees surrounding them. Yet they weren’t human, he could tell. In fact, he didn’t think they were even alive. All of them were humanoid in appearance, but their skin glowed, and was semi-transparent. He thought he could see machinery inside, so they were droids, most likely.

“Those are my assistants,” Angol Moa said, looking at Icis. “I found they usually listen better, have more patience, and last a lot longer than most organic species.”

“You created them too?” Xar asked.

“Of course. Would you like to be my guinea pig?”

Xar opened his mouth, but only a croak came out. "Your what?"

"You know. A subject for my experiments," she said matter-of-factly.

"I, ah... No," he stammered finally. "No, I don't think so." Xar looked like he'd seen a ghost.

"Ah. Too bad." She simply shrugged. Icis cringed inwardly. This was Angol Moa, all right.

An awkward silence ensued. Icis couldn't really think of anything to say at a time like this. Xar cast about as though looking for something to relieve the tension. “Ah, what’s all this?" he said. "You must really, ah, love insects.”

Icis looked at what Xar had made a sweeping gesture to indicate. There were bugs, he realized. Not small ones, but big ones, of bright colors and interesting shapes. They weren’t real bugs, of course. They were really normal objects, simply made to look like insects. She had insect pins in her hair, he could see, and now that he looked closely, even the embroidery on her coat was of some kind of insect. Then there were insect shapes laid into the railing along the side of the river, and there were insects on her large holo-screen, moving across it like some sort of screen saver. Insects everywhere.

Angol Moa nodded matter-of-factly. “Of course; I used to be one myself.” She gave him a glance and must have seen something in his face, for she blinked. “Well, never mind that.”

“What? When was this?!” Icis blurted without thinking.

“What? Oh, fifty-seven… No, sixty. Wait… Maybe… Sixty-two thousand years ago? Way before your time, Icis.”

“And how long have you looked like this?” Xar asked.

“Um…” She paused, tapping her lip. “That’s a good question. I’m not really sure. Certainly for fifty thousand years, but… Well, it all blends together, eventually.” She turned back to her screen. Letters and numerals were flashing by in patterns that Icis couldn’t begin to decipher.

Xar glared at her in disbelief. “Is she insane?” he whispered to Icis.

“Seventy-eight percent of people who meet me answer yes to that question,” she said without looking back.

Icis simply shook his head. It was hard to imagine the supreme leader of the Travelers as a giant insect. It was like having a Verpine as the Diktat, or as Chief of State.

“All right,” she said finally, tapping a button and causing the hologram to collapse in on itself and disappear in a flash of light. “Would you like to come to my laboratory with me?”

Xar glanced at Icis, who shrugged. “I don’t think we really have a choice. Lead the way.”

They took off again, and she led them away along the path into a copse of vibrantly-colored trees. On the other side was a grassy hillock, which they climbed leisurely, Xar pushing Nico's gurney ahead of him. Something that looked like a butterfly floated in front of Xar and landed directly on the unconscious man’s nose, seemingly along for the ride.

As they crested the hill, the trees gave way to a panoramic view ahead, and despite everything he knew about Angol Moa and her achievements, Icis' breath still caught in his throat.

It was like a shining white city spread out before them, but all made of one single, congruous structure. There were giant domes hundreds of meters in diameter and spires that towered into the sky. Structures of odd shapes and sizes were spread out here and there, each surviving some unknown yet inevitably scientific purpose. Everything gleamed in the sunlight like a colossal white palace. There were even floating structures, small and large, whole buildings or facilities that hovered at varying heights. Giant, transparent orbs rested nestled between buildings, with strange lights glowing within.

Icis shook his head in awe. He knew that Angol Moa was legendary for her brilliant intellect and amazing inventions. But to actually see it with his own eyes was something else altogether. They were on Angol Moa's planet! He was sure that few Kajeat had ever been granted this kind of honor. And the fact that he, who was an outcast, was actually here was too wonderful for words.

"Shall we?" Angol Moa asked, gesturing the way forward. "We have a lot to discuss."

They nodded, and shortly they were descending the hill towards the large, gaping entrance resting below them. Icis could make out more glowing droids inside, waiting for them.

It had to be one of the strangest retinues he'd ever been part of, he realized. Himself and Angol Moa, with Xar pushing Nico's bed, all of them walking along a stone pathway towards the most magnificent center of scientific research he'd ever heard of.

It felt surreal. He was really here at Angol Moa's lab. She had invented most of the technologies that the Kajeat used. She had built Kajarn itself.

He knew that the surprises, and the revelations, were only just about to begin.


* * *
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Offline J.A.

Kodonn'Dakor


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Joined: Tue May 20, 2008 8:29 pm

Posts: 88

PostPosted: Mon Jun 14, 2010 3:51 am   Post subject: Re: "Remembrance" - By Joshua Ausley   

Titan-class Battleship Abyss
Leaving Borrose System
2210 Hours


There was no funeral. There was no memorial for those who had fallen. Altarin’Dakor couldn’t spare time for the dead.

Maarek tried to pull himself out of his cockpit, but he couldn’t even stand on his own legs. He collapsed in a pile on top of his seat, the world spinning, and he lurched over to the side, vomiting wretchedly.

Once he was finished, he pushed himself back upright with no small effort, breathing heavily. It wasn’t the first time he’d thrown up in the cockpit.

Despite the nausea and disorientation, his mind couldn’t stop replaying what he’d seen and heard down there on Borrose. The sense of loss, the despair and the pain, had flared up again just like on Varnus. It was beginning to feel all too familiar.

Chele was dead. And he hadn’t even been able to say goodbye. He hadn’t been able to tell her that he was planning to choose Alona. She’d probably gone to her death with hope still in her heart.

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

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

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

“Look up, Maarek Stele.”

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

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

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

Slowly he turned to look at her. She was still wearing the pilot’s dark jumpsuit, her azure hair flailing wildly around her head, some of it plastered to her forehead by sweat. Those incredible eyes of hers peered into his like firebrands. Her sheer beauty, at that moment, took his breath away. But the feeling couldn’t last long. The harsh reality of memory made sure of that.

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

Maarek just stared at her speechlessly. It took a moment for her words to register; they weren’t at all what he’d expected to hear. Chele’s dead, he thought. The pain clenched his heart once more. He shook his head, confused. Was the pain all for Chele? Or was it for his squadron, coming back with a vengeance?

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

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

“What is wrong?” she asked him finally.

What’s wrong? He wasn’t sure he could even speak. “Chele, she…” he began weakly.

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

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

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

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

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

He stared at her transfixed, feeling as if in a stupor. What was it with Jedicon and their death wishes? Why didn’t they value their own lives?

Stark realization hit him, the answer to his question he’d been wondering ever since arriving here. Even before that, really. So, he reflected, this is what it means to serve one of the Warlords… Utter devotion, complete and passionate loyalty. Placing value on their lives so far beyond your own that if even your death could bring them just a bit more glory, it would all be well worth the experience.

Now he understood why the Altarin’Dakor lived and fought with such passion and unity. They truly did believe that they were serving a god. Next to that, what did one’s personal life matter?

She was telling him that one day she might suffer the same fate as Chele had today. And he would lose her, too. The thought of that was unbearable. Could he dare to live like this? Knowing that she would welcome death, despite the happiness they shared together? Could he open his heart again, knowing the pain that it might cause him as it had so many times before?

“You must not dwell on the past, Maarek Stele. Let us not mourn for her,” Alona told him. “Instead, be thankful for her sacrifice, and for what she gave to you in this life.”

He nodded, at a loss for how to argue the point with her. At least the competition was over, he realized. The decision had ultimately been made for him.

That, to his surprise, was some consolation. He had to admit that part of him was glad that it was Alona who had survived, who hadn’t had to sacrifice herself today for the sake of a Warlord. He knew it was wrong, even despicable, to actually be glad that Chele had died instead of her. But it was the truth. Why should he deny it now? He didn’t care anymore. If it had been Alona, it would have been far worse.

Perhaps he would lose her someday, too. Or maybe during one of these missions Maarrek’s time would finally be up. But for now, he knew that he had only one choice. Either way, at least he was with her right now, and that was all that mattered.

“I guess I’m all yours now,” he said. Then he leaned down and buried his face in her rich azure hair, and forgot about everything else.


* * *


Planet Tritonia
2200 Hours


As he waited, Lasitus once again went over what he intended to say to Akargan, playing and replaying possible conversations over and over in his mind. He also fought against the fear that was resting deep within his gut. He didn’t know what to expect from the Warlord this time.

The trip back to Tritonia had been full of tension and unrest. The crew had not been happy that Lasitus had assumed command; they’d been even less happy that they hadn’t bombarded the planet like they’d been told they would. Their disappointment at not being able to slaughter those innocent people had turned Lasitus’ stomach inside out.

Upon arrival, he had demanded an audience with Akargan immediately, but had been refused. He was informed that Akargan was visiting his harem and would not wish to be disturbed. Instead he was told to wait in the audience chamber, which was where Lasitus now stood along with a dozen or so of Akargan’s other top Kodonn’Dakor. They were watching him like hawks. Of course, Akargan didn’t need any of them to protect him, which made Lasitus wonder why they were even there.

Everything he’d seen here so far indicated that Akargan had built a different kind of organization than what Lasitus had experienced from other Warlords in the past. The fact that he allowed his minions to know of his presence here, that they were allowed to persist in his presence for any extended period to time… Even that a visitor could actually obtain an audience with Akargan rather than be told he didn’t even exist – all these were strange ways for a Shok’Thola to run things. Perhaps it was Akargan’s military background. Or maybe he’d gotten sloppy.

Lasitus could still remember serving their old master, in whose former palace they were actually now located. Murgos had been the kind of Shok’Thola Lasitus has come to expect. During all his years of preparation and service, he’d only been allowed in the Warlord’s presence once, and even then had not been permitted to look upon his master’s face. That was the kind of Altarin’Dakor that Lasitus was used to.

The audience chamber was massive, and located deep within the heart of the palace. From the outside there was virtually nothing to give it away, but the deeply hidden fortress was in fact the size of a sprawling city. The fact that Akargan had changed little in its décor unsettled Lasitus. Maybe it was just that the Warlord had moved in recently, and didn’t intend to stay long. But something told him that Shok’Thola were far more fickle than that. They were pompous and arrogant, and loved edifying themselves through any means available. Akargan wasn’t as vain as some others had been, but he was still a Shok’Thola.

Suddenly, without any warning whatsoever, a side door to the chamber burst open and Akargan strode through, dressed in leisurely robes. His long, heavily curled hair swung freely behind him, and the massive muscles of his chest and arms were shone like burnished metal beneath the sleeveless garments that he wore.

Akargan didn’t even acknowledge Lasitus as he walked in, moving over to the central dais where he relaxed onto a couch very similar to the one when Lasitus had first arrived. There was no other furniture in place.. Above them towered the massive statues of Murgos in various forms, their aged and weathered nearly indistinguishable now after a thousand generations.

Almost immediately, servants appeared bearing wine, fruit and other savory delicacies to their Shok’Thola. Instead of speaking, Lasitus continued to wait. He would not show that he was in any hurry to report about the mission. The sense of anxiety in his stomach, however, refused to leave. There was no way to gauge how Akargan would react to his report of the mission.

Akargan sat and ate, taking his time. Occasionally he would speak a few words to one of his other Jedicon. Whatever they had to report, Lasitus was unfamiliar with their missions, because he couldn’t make sense of their cryptic conversations. After nearly an hour had passed, Lasitus was beginning to wonder if he would even be called on. Perhaps Akargan was showing him that he wasn’t important, after all.

He was starting to wonder if this would be his last day alive.

“Lasitus,” Akargan cooed after a while longer had passed. “Moyabi is no longer with us.”

“That’s correct.” Lasitus said, finding his own voice after a second. He began to walk forward, not stopping until he came within two paces of the couch that Akargan was reclining on. He reached out a hand, holding an Altarin’Dakor data reader into which they’d encrypted all the data from Strife’s base on Borrose.

“Here is the list of Strife’s spies within your fleet,” Lasitus said.

“Ah, yes.” Akargan didn’t look at the reader. After a moment, Lasitus simply tossed it onto the couch beside him. The Warlord’s eyes were still fixed on him, sending tremors down his spine. It was just like when he’d met gazes with Zalaria – those eyes seemed to strip his very soul away from him.

“Is there something else?” Lasitus asked after a moment.

Fast as a viper, Akargan moved to his feet, and his backhand sent Lasitus reeling off his feet. Stars exploded across Lasitus’ vision.

A second later he felt the cold stone floor against his cheek and realized that he’d gone down. Slowly, he pushed himself up, his head throbbing, vision swimming in front of his eyes.

He’d taken worse before. He knew that if the Warlord had put the Force behind it he could have taken his head clean off. He looked up, and saw the Warlord towering over him.

“I told you to wipe out everything on the planet! To leave no survivors!” Akargan bellowed down at him. Sheer terror worked its way through his body, but somehow he found the strength to resist it enough to speak.

Lasitus looked up at him defiantly. “I am not going to do that!”

Akargan sneered suddenly. “Yes, I know, Lasitus. That is why I sent the Extinction to do it after you left. Unlike you, they actually completed their mission.”

Coldness gripped Lasitus, the Warlrod’s words sending rivulets of shock through him. It… It couldn’t be! There had been no communiqué, no word of any other mission at Borrose! There had been millions of innocent people down there!

He stared at the Warlord, his vision going red, his hands clenching into fists beneath him as he pushed himself to his knees. Fear was suddenly gone, replaced by cold, hard rage.

“Just so you know,” Akargan continued arrogantly, “the data that you brought me is a fraud. Strife wanted to lure me into a confrontation there, but I was aware of his tricks. But I thought sending you might be a good way to test your loyalty.” He smirked. “Their deaths are all on your hands, killer.”

“No!” Lasitus shouted.

Akargan’s smile widened. “What? Do you want to kill me now, brother? But I thought you were here to save me!” His laughter rang through the halls.

Lasitus couldn’t feel anything, anymore. The man standing above him, jeering – there was nothing left but raw, unbridled evil. “It’s too late to save you,” he whispered. He had been a fool to think otherwise.

Akargan’s face snapped from bemusement to anger in the span of an instant. “Get away, Lasitus!” he yelled. “You are too weak to serve me! Don’t let me see your face in my presence again! If I do, I will destroy you.” He turned to his retinue of Jedicon encircling the dais. “Take him out of here! Place him in the holding cells so I can deal with him later!”

It was then Lasitus realized his plan had backfired. Akargan was far, far beyond salvation – Lasitus had known, but simply let himself be blinded to that fact. How could he have expected a Shok’Thola to be anything but ruthless and totally without conscience?

The Jedicon moved in to pull him away, and he realized that his naivete – and his stubbornness – had just cost him his life.


* * *
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Offline J.A.

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PostPosted: Thu Jun 17, 2010 3:33 am   Post subject: Re: "Remembrance" - By Joshua Ausley   


Titan-class Battleship
Grand Crusader
Mizar System
1800 Hours



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

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

“Report,” Gaius ordered sharply. Space around them was quiet, empty except for the New Imperium vessels. Something wasn’t right.

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

Gaius repressed the urge to snort derisively. The Altarin’Dakor forces on Arcadia were acting cooperatively, apparently convinced that Gaius’ forces were bona fide Altarin’Dakor there to assume regional command. How long they could maintain the charade, he didn’t know. But for now, at least, things were quiet.

A battle was going to happen – he knew it as well as the enemy did. The Altarin’Dakor wouldn’t concede Mizar without a fight. If they still intended to prosecute their crusade, they would have to come through here sooner or later. The fact that they hadn’t yet done so disturbed Gaius more than if he’d found a whole fleet here waiting for them.

Gaius was tired of this war. He was tired of fighting, and he knew with each successive battle the odds against his survival were mounting. But they had to fight. It was the only way the Altarin’Dakor could be stopped. Giving up wasn’t a concept they understood.

“Engage cloaks on all ships but ours,” he ordered. At least if – no, when – the enemy arrived, they wouldn’t know how many ships the New Imperium had. And if they could maintain the element of surprise, that might just give them a bit more chance of survival.

He then turned his attention to the array of New Imperial vessels that had followed them into the system – Star Destroyers, Majestic Cruisers, and the MC-120 Darkstar. “Tell our forces to deploy formation Beta – close proximity.” Perhaps the Grand Crusader’s mass shadow would help hide them until it was too late for the enemy to realize they were there. Besides, if things got hot, they would need to rely on the Titan’s shields to protect them. In truth, those ships shouldn’t even be here.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Maybe she’s setting us up.”

“You’re not being very optimistic today,” Gaius pointed out.

“I haven’t had much reason to be, lately.”

Gaius snorted then. “Without her we don’t have a chance of these AD soldiers doing what we say. If she decides to betray us, then we’re doomed anyway.”

“I see you’re not very optimistic, either,” Amason remarked.

Gaius looked over and gave him a hard stare. “Fleet commanders rarely have that luxury, my friend.”

He took a moment to ponder the changes that had taken place since he’d taken this role. Though life and his career had been pushing him towards command, it had still come sooner than he’d expected. He might have spent more time in his Force studies if he didn’t have an entire navy to run, now.

His thoughts were continually full of everything that was happening. The theater of war was a constantly shifting thing. As soon as the plan to move and take Mizar had been enacted, it was already outdated. Upon arriving Gaius had to improvise and act on what limited intel he could obtain, but what was going to happen next was anyone’s guess.

They had retaken the rest of the eastern half of NI space, at least in theory. In truth, however, it was uncertain if the NI would even survive once this was over. Worlds had been devastated, whole populations killed, relocated or turned into refugees. Economies and infrastructure had been shattered. The NI didn’t have enough credits to pay for restoration.

Others had refused to rejoin, most notably Pax. However, instead of making an example of them as the Empire certainly would have, Gaius was simply content to leave them alone. Isolating themselves both economically and militarily would only hurt them worse in the end.

The only real chance they had, according to some, was to somehow harness the wealth and power of the Altarin’Dakor. But to do that would mean embracing at least some aspects of the AD, which the population would be loathe to do. They could possibly pillage and plunder AD worlds, assuming they won in the military theater, but if they did that, what difference would there be between the NI and the AD? Gaius shook his head in frustration.

The Comm officer spoke up again. “Sir, you have a meeting with the other fleet commanders in fifteen minutes.”

He nodded; he was still well aware of the time. “Send them to the War Room,” he told her.

“Aye, sir.”

In fifteen minutes he would have to listen again to reports of exactly how much in control of their fleet the NI actually was. The Altarin’Dakor forces – now making up the majority of this task force – were growing more impatient by the day. Either they suspected that the NI really was calling the shots now – and that their blessed ‘Return’ was no longer an agenda – or they simply wanted something to attack, someone to fight.

If, for some reason, they lost control of those AD forces, it would be all over. Zalaria had assured him it would never happen, not with her in charge. But it was far too large a hope to be riding on her word alone. Gaius had felt a sickening feeling in his stomach since before this mission had even gotten under way.

“You should get some rest,” Amason said beside him.

Gaius gave him a smirk. “You rest, Walt,” he said mirthlessly. “Rest for me.”

Then he turned and began the long trek across the bridge back to the meeting area.


* * *


Titan-class Battleship Eternity
Ven’lar System
0800 Hours



“Maarek Stele, get up. The Master wants you.”

Maarek opened his eyes, and it took him a moment for him to see Alona standing in his bedroom, fully dressed in her Jedicon garb and white robes. He blinked sleepily, then pushed himself up into a sitting position. She had let herself into his apartment again, he realized. Of course, privacy wasn’t something he could expect on an Altarin’Dakor vessel.

They had just returned to the Eternity the night before, and he wasn’t fully rested yet from the previous mission. His is body still felt the fatigue as he tried to sit up. He hadn’t slept well thanks to that blasted vertigo, making him sick every time he tried to close his eyes. How was he going to live with this the rest of his life?

“Get dressed and come quickly,” Alona said, then moved back into his living quarters to wait.

As quickly as he could, blinking away the sleep from his eyes, Maarek got out of bed and dressed himself. It wasn’t easy with his head swinging constantly – he stumbled over to his dresser first thing, got out some of his meds, and swallowed them with a glass of water he’d left there the previous night.

Fifteen minutes later, cursing himself for everything taking so long now, he made his way into the living room where Alona had been patiently waiting for him. Without further word she rose and led him to the exit, where they found themselves quickly crossing though the Envirodeck and into the ship proper.

Cane in hand, Maarek did his best to meet her stride for stride as they walked down the corridors. He kept his eyes switching back and forth between her back and the floor, and avoided looking far down the corridor – beings traversed it as far as the eye could see, and its glowing overhead lights seemed to stretch on forever. Not a good combination to mix with his illness, for sure.

“Do you know what he wants me for?” Maarek asked along the way, trying not to stumble as he walked.

“It is a mission,” was all she said back.

He stared hard at her back, wondering what was the problem with her. Was she upset that he’d taken Chele’s death hard? After their previous discussion and the running rivalry – nearly courtship – he’d had with both of them, he didn’t believe she was the jealous type. It must be something else. Had Strife told her something that had disturbed her? Was he angry that their mission had failed? Could Maarek be walking to his doom?

Suddenly the reality of his situation sank in – this wasn’t the New Imperium anymore. He was working for an insane Altarin’Dakor Warlord, now. The rules were completely different from anything he’d known before.

A lot had changed in the weeks and months since Varnus. His whole life had been completely turned on its head, and he’d jumped headlong into it. Wherever this new road took him, it was his own decisions that had gotten himself here. He didn’t regret it – not yet.

Passing Jedicon and Altarin’Dakor shock troopers in the cooridors no longer disconcerted him. They had been the enemy before, but now they were not. That was the nature of war. Things weren’t just black and white – there were endless shades of gray. Nobody was innocent, that much he knew from experience.

Maarek took a deep breath once they got close to the Warlord’s chambers, and he paused before entering through the polished metal hatchway. This would be only the second time he’d met with Strife since coming onboard. He had no idea what to expect.

Alona led him in. As before, Strife was not alone. At least twenty Jedicon served as retainers, all of them seeming perfect physical specimens of their race and gender. In the center of the room, facing a massive holographic display of what Maarek immediately recognized as Epsilon Sector, stood Strife. He was dressed in fine robes that hung loosely over his lean form.

As the doors slid closed behind Maarek, Strife turned to face him. His expression was… placid.

“Welcome back, Maarek Stele,” the Warlord said, his voice sounding as sweet as dripping honey. “First, allow me to assuade your fears. I am not angry with you, or with Alona. You did well on Borrose.”

Maarek had felt nothing to indicate the Warlord had touched his mind with the Force. Either he was inferring Maarek’s thoughts naturally, or he was good enough to completely bypass Maarek’s own rudimentary training in the Force he’d received.

Maarek gave a respectful nod in response. He felt better, but he still had no idea why he’d been summoned. “Thank you,” he offered.

A slight smile touched Strife’s lips, then he turned and gestured to the floating holomap in the center of the room. “As you can see, I have begun an offensive front all along Akargan’s territory here.” At least a dozen systems began to pulsate as he indicated them. “However, in addition we will also launch a direct attack against his home base of operations.” Another dot - the Tritonia system – became enveloped in red brackets. “My main fleet will engage his here, just inside the jump point for the primary planet.”

Maarek listened, taking it all in, wondering what the Warlord wanted from him. Alona had moved to join the other Jedicon, so Maarek stepped forward until he was beside Strife. The light from the holograms sent multicolored hues across the Warlord’s face.

Maarek studied the map spinning slowly in front of them both. It would be a massive engagement. It looked like Strife was looking to finish Akargan off for good.

“So, his base is on Tritonia,” Maarek remarked. “I wouldn’t have thought it so close to NI territory.”

“We have been closer than you realized,” the Warlord responded.

“What do you need me to do?” Maarek asked him. “I’m ready to help you take him down, however you plan to do it. The Archons are ready for combat.”

“I am aware of that. And I am pleased by the progress you all have made. However, I have a special mission for you.”

Maarek looked up at him curiously. “What do you need me to do?”

Strife’s cold blue eyes turned and bored into him. “All these attacks are but a ruse, Stele. The true battle will be between Akargan and myself. We will face each other, and only one of us will survive the encounter.”

Maarek swallowed hard under that gaze. “You’re going to fight him directly,” he said after a moment.

“Correct.”

For a minute there was silence as the two of them stared at the map. Maarek wondered what exactly Strife was asking of him. He was, after all, just a fighter pilot. Why would Strife need his help fighting another Warlord?

“I will need you to fly me in quickly, using the Archon,” Strife said.

Maarek blinked. It wasn’t exactly what he’d been expecting to hear. Actually, he hadn’t known what to expect at all, but why would he need Maarek to fly him in? If he was the great Warlord he proclaimed himself to be, couldn’t he find an easier way to get himself into Akargan’s base? Couldn’t he teleport or…

“Since you are wondering why I need you, suffice it to say that Akargan will not be expecting this tactic.” At Maarek’s look, Strife made another half-smirk. “You see my friend, unlike the so-called Jedi Masters of your galaxy, Akargan and I really have completely mastered the Force. He will have traps set, using the Force, that detect and attack anyone who attempts to enter his domain directly using our powers. The only way to feasibly enter will be for you to drop me off.”

“You’re going in alone?” Maarek blurted. Was he crazy? He must believe himself as invincible as his minions did.

Strife waved him off. “Don’t concern yourself for me. Akargan is the only threat to me, and I will face him directly. When it is over I will not need you to return, so get out as quickly as you can.”

Maarek could do little else but nod. “If you say so. But there’s only one problem. There isn’t room for two in the Archon’s cockpit,” he reminded.

“My men have attached a special missile pod beneath your fighter. I will be inside of it.”

Maarek stared at him. A missile pod would give him barely enough room to fit inside. He wouldn’t even be able to move in there. He hoped the Warlord wasn’t claustrophobic.

“You are the best fighter pilot in my arsenal,” Strife told him. “Even better than my Jedicon pilots.”

Suddenly aware of all the Jedicon in the room, Maarek glanced around but saw no change in their expressions, no acknowledgement that they even heard this conversation taking place, He didn’t respond to the Warlord’s praise of him. Instead, he was thinking of Alona. Was she expendable to Strife, too?

Of course she was.

“Don’t become too attached to temporal things,” Strife’s voice broke softly through his thoughts. “Nothing is ever permanent within the shifting seas of time.”

The Warlord’s voice had taken on his lecturing tone Maarek was used to, again. “So you don’t care about them,” Maarek said, aware of the accusatory tone in his own voice. “Their lives mean nothing to you.”

“If they did, then that which I am would be compromised,” the Warlord answered. “You understand this, deep down. In the end both parties benefit from this scenario.”

“But I’m not like you,” Maarek countered.

“Then what have you to complain about? You have what you desired most – your woman, and your fighter. I have given both of them to you. Your relationship with Alona was something that I desired – fortunately for you both, the feelings have become genuine.”

Maarek just shook his head, trying to process what the Warlord was telling him in such a short time. That Alona had been sent purposefully to him – he had suspected as much. But he knew his feelings for her were real, more real than anything he’d known in a long time.

“Why do you think I sent her to bring you here?” Strife said. “As for the Archon – it is custom-tailored to fit your own neural pathways. My scientists developed that during our last absence from one another. You have me to thank for all of this, Stele.”

Maarek stared down at the floor. Why was Strife doing all this for him? Was he trying to develop Maarek into some kind of guinea pig, a super test pilot? Deep down, he knew it was true – the Warlord deserved his gratitude… however crazy that might sound to say.

“Have you discovered yet who your enemy is?” Strife asked suddenly.

Maarek shook his head. He’d thought about this question a lot since coming here. “Not yet,” he answered honestly. “I know now that it’s not a particular group or side; that’s too naïve a view of the universe.” He saw the Warlord watching him curiously, so he continued. “At first I thought it was evil,” he said, “but then I realized that evil is too hard a concept to label. Each side sees its enemy as evil.” He shrugged finally. “I’m still not sure. But I know I have to find out for myself.”

The barest of smiles touched the edges of Strife’s mouth. “You are getting closer,” was all he said.


* * *
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Offline J.A.

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Joined: Tue May 20, 2008 8:29 pm

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PostPosted: Fri Jun 18, 2010 2:46 am   Post subject: Re: "Remembrance" - By Joshua Ausley   


Location Unknown
Time Unknown



It was beyond anything Xar had ever seen. They were inside Angol Moa's laboratory, a city-sized facility that allowed its owner to perform virtually any type of scientific experiment imaginable. They were in a gigantic domed chamber, within which rested one of the most beautiful gardens he'd ever seen, complete with waterfalls, flying birds and other creatures. There were what looked like colorful butterflies, with wingspans of at least half a meter. There were lizards whose scales blended in with whatever surface they were lounging on.

Those glowing droids of Angol Moa's were walking around everywhere, conducting research and tasks for her that he couldn't believe she could possibly keep track of by herself. Holographic representations floated about the chamber, some stationary and containing data in strange symbols and unknown numbers, while some took the form of mythical-looking creatures, flying through the air like expressions of art.

It had taken Xar a little while, but he had finally come to the conclusion that they were actually in a different galaxy. It was really hard to fathom. He had spent his entire lifetime in an environment where his home galaxy was everything. Oh, he knew that the universe held billions of them, but since one could never reach them no one gave them any special thought. For all practical purposes, it was as if everything that existed was held within his own home galaxy.

It wasn't until the Altarin'Dakor invasion that he'd actually seriously thought of other galaxies and what they might contain. They had always been unknowable, unreachable. A mysterious hyperspace barrier prevented anyone from traveling outside their own galaxy. Then Xar had learned about the Galactic Gate, allowing instant transport between the Altarin'Dakor galaxy and theirs. Xar hadn't actually been there, but he knew that it was a cruel, harsh place. Every corner of it was under the iron grip of the Altarin'Dakor.

No, this was the first time he'd actually been in another galaxy, if indeed that was where they were. Though he'd visited a hundred different kinds of worlds in his own galaxy, somehow just that knowledge made this place feel strange and exotic.

He and Icis were seated at a table that vaguely resembled a large beetle – albeit in abstract art. Their bags, containing their personal belongings, lay on top, while Nico hovered nearby on his bed, eyes closed, face tranquil. Xar wished he could have been awake to see all this.

Of course, he was seeing this too, but he still wasn't sure if he believed it.

Presently, Angol Moa was listening to a diatribe of scientific jargon that Xar couldn't begin to comprehend, spilled out by one of her ubiquitous droids. She seemed to have forgotten him, Icis and Nico completely. After what seemed like an eternity, the droid turned and began walking away without any discernible notice. Angol Moa continued to stare ahead.

Xar watched her for a moment, expecting her to finally address them. When he'd waited for about a minute without any apparent acknowledgment from her, he cleared his throat rather loudly. "I, ah, have some questions," he said.

She continued to ignore them.

Xar watched her for another few minutes. Then, exasperated, he turned to look at Icis. His patience was wearing thin. Ignoring them, was she? Well, two could play this little game of hers.

"What do you think of her?" he asked Icis.

"What do you mean?" the man replied.

"I mean what I just said. What do you think about Angol Moa?"

"Well..." Icis shrugged, as if he didn't get Xar's meaning. "She's the Supreme Elder, Xar. I'm in awe of her, just sitting here." Then he cleared his throat awkwardly, and his face started to turn red.

Xar arched an eyebrow. "She seems kind of motherly to me," he said. "When your mother gets older, maybe. Just before senility, maybe."

"Xar!" Icis sputtered, glancing at the woman present, still turned away from them.

"Just making an observation," he replied.

"Well that's not the effect she has on me at all," Icis said. He adjusted the collar on his coat, and his face still hadn't paled back to normal. What was the matter with him?

"I don't believe she's seventy-five thousand years old," he said, shaking his head. He knew that the Travelers were energy forms that bonded with living creatures. Their life energy endued them with an immortality as functional as that of the Altarin'Dakor Shok'Thola. If a Traveler was killed, he or she could simply find a new host to join with and continue on living, indefinitely. Icis was five thousand years old, but was considered relatively young. He'd claimed Traveler society was seventy-five thousand years old. But could anyone still be alive after all that time?

He glanced at her - and saw her staring straight at him.

"I do look so good for my age!" she said, grinning widely.

He nearly jumped out of his seat at the abruptness of her words. Was she really insane? Zalaria's words came back to him, words about surviving the monotony of life for twenty-five thousand years. But this woman was three times that age! How had she managed it?

She glanced at him and cocked her head to one side. He tried not to think of the motion as insect-like.

"So, what can I do for you gentlemen?" She clasped her hands together in front of her and took a few steps in Nico's direction first. "What's wrong with him?" she asked.

"His mind was wiped by an Altarin'Dakor Warlord," Xar explained.

"I see." She walked over to his gurney, then moved around to stand near Nico's head. She reached out a hand, placed it on his forehead, and closed her eyes. Before he realized it Xar was halfway out of his chair to stop her.

“Hold on just a second…” he began.

“It’s okay Xar,” Icis said, keeping him in check.

Xar felt a ripple in the Force as Angol Moa delved inside Nico’s mind. "Yes," she said after a few seconds. She released him and looked at Xar. "He's messed up pretty badly."

Xar blinked. Stating the obvious wasn’t what he’d been expecting. "So... can you help him?" he asked.

"Of course I can," she replied, her tone still jovial. "Now, what's wrong with you?"

Xar opened his mouth to protest at her tone of voice, but hesitated. They were here for he help after all, he had to remind himself. But he was a loss at what to tell her.

"He's absorbed the spirits of two dark Jedi into his subconscious," Icis replied for him. "They're slowly driving him insane."

"Really, now?" she asked, raising her eyebrows at him. "Now that's quite interesting. May I?"

Xar took a deep breath. He didn't like it, but he nodded anyway.

She walked up to him, and reached out to place a hand on his forehead, just like with Nico. As she did, he was suddenly overwhelmed by a feeling of belonging, and peacefulness. He felt... He almost felt like a child again. Angol Moa closed her eyes and he felt the Force flowing into him, yet it wasn't invading in the least. She felt... yes, quite motherly, indeed. It was something he hadn't experienced since...

Since his own mother had died.

"Hmm." She released him and took a few steps back. The sensation faded slightly, and he shook his head to clear it. What kind of affect was she able to cause on him? Was it some kind of defensive mechanism?

"Well?" he asked.

She was standing there, looking deep in thought. Birds flew from tree to tree in the distance behind her. It was hard not to feel like a child asking his mother. It was hard to feel angry, or annoyed. How could anyone be hostile to someone that felt like that?

"I will need to run some more tests," she said, crossing her arms and tapping her lips thoughtfully. "This is new for me. I've never treated someone with your condition before. I'll probably have to invent a new device to scan deeper into your psyche."

Then suddenly she grinned, and threw her finger into the air. "Don't worry, though! I love a new challenge!" she laughed. "Make yourselves at home. We'll have you fixed right up in no time!"

He gaped at her. She seemed to change moods like the wind!

“Well? What are you staring at? Let’s get to it, gentlemen. We have a universe to save.”

"Why do you keep saying that?" he asked her. "I thought you were going to answer our questions!" Blast it, but he did have questions! None of this made any sense at all!

Abruptly she blinked, then cocked her head to the side again. "Of course. What would you like to know?"

He stared at her some more. She was just watching him, as though seeing what he was going to do next, like some sort of menagerie. It was disconcerting, to say the least. Where was he supposed to begin?

"First of all," he said, "Where are we? And who are you? Icis says you're the leader of the Travelers. Then why are you cooped up in here like a recluse? And for that matter, what do you do here? And what do you mean by saving the universe? What do our reasons for coming here for have to do with that?"

Angol Moa crossed her arms in front of her. "Wow. That's a lot of questions," she said, grinning. "And what makes you think I can answer all of that?" Then she actually winked at him! Was she taking this seriously?

He started to reply, but hesitated. Why was he so focused on getting answers from her? What did make him think she knew? Was it her age? Or was it that strange, motherly sense he got from her? A child asked its mother questions about the world, about the universe. Wasn't he like a child compared with her? She was seventy-five thousand years old, and he hadn't quite reached forty.

"Angol Moa knows more, I think, than we can ever imagine," Icis said, speaking up next to him.

The knowing smile on Angol Moa's face held all the confirmation than Xar needed. This woman was powerful, indeed. He'd been feeling a premonition in the Force from the moment Angol Moa had saved them from those Kajeat security officers.


"You've been waiting for us," he said.

She nodded.

"Not just to help with whatever it is that's wrong with me."

"That's right."

"So." He crossed his arms in front of him. "What is it that you want from me?" He knew that must be it. Everyone wanted to use him for something.

“Ah, now we get to a useful question." She grinned, then her voice took on a softer tone. Her eyes took on a distant look.

Suddenly she seemed old. Very old. Ancient.

"The End of Everything is coming,” she said.

The end of everything, Xar thought. That sounded strangely familiar. “It doesn’t sound like you’re talking about the Altarin’Dakor,” he surmised.

She nodded again.

“The Ones.”

Angol Moa smiled.

"Xar," Icis began. "I don't think..."

Xar held up a hand, stopping him. Realization had slowly begun to set in. He now felt that he understood what the Force was trying to tell him.

"We stand at the cusp of history, gentlemen," Angol Moa said. "Like I said, I've been waiting a very long time."

She knew about the Ones. She knew about the so-called end of the universe. The exact same things that had been told to him by a visitor, just weeks before. Xar didn't believe in coincidences. Now he knew what he had to ask, as ridiculous as it might sound. It was time to take a chance.

“You know how all this ends, don’t you?” Xar asked her. “You’ve been visited by him too. My son, Derek.”

It wasn’t really a question, and she didn’t respond. He leaned forward. “That’s his name, isn’t it? Derek?”

“His name is whatever you choose it to be,” Angol Moa replied. “For all I know, it’s changed every time the timeline gets altered.” Her quirky grin sent a shiver down Xar’s spine.

Xar just sat there, speechless. Angol Moa had met his son.

Then it was real. Everything his son had told him was true.

"The... The timeline?" Icis asked.

“I told you," she said, "that we have much to discuss."

"When did you meet him?" Xar asked.

"Long ago," she said. Then she made a half-grin. "And recently."

Was was that supposed to mean? "I don't care for cryptic answers," Xar stated. "My son. He told you about the Ones. You know they're coming. What do you know about them?"

Suddenly melancholy, Angol Moa began to pace back and forth in front of them.

“Bah. That boy changes space-time like you might change clothes. Anyway, I suspected that something like this would eventually happen," she said, "after the conclusion of the Dark War. That was when the Avatar appeared… That’s your son, by the way.” She nodded at Xar. "When he appeared, he confirmed everything. Since then I have been waiting for events to fall into place. For the right players to appear."

“The Avatar?” Xar asked.

“Yes. There have been many of them. Altima is one; your son is another."

"Altima?" What did she know about him?

"Well, you might say Altima is the Entity’s avatar, but that wouldn’t be entirely accurate…”

The Entity! So, Angol Moa knew about everything! But then, why shouldn't she? She was the head of all the Travelers, and they recorded all major events in history. "But why is my son an avatar of the Force?" Xar asked.

She shrugged. "There are theories. Almost as many schools of thought as there are researchers."

"There are researchers?" he asked.

She ignored the question. Instead she leaned over the table and leveled a finger directly at him. "What does the reason matter? You both came in contact with a Celestial artifact, did you not? It is called the Collector."

"So?" Xar blinked. "What about it?"

She leaned back and crossed her arms again. "It is not, as some have mistakenly thought, the source of the Force itself. The Force is created by all life and has no central source. However, the Collector is able to gather some amount of latent Force energy from all across the universe and put it to use. It was the Force's will that your son be born, and the Collector inadvertently carried out that will."

"The Force's will?" He'd heard people say things like that before. Though he'd seen plenty of strange things in his lifetime, he still wasn't sure if he believed the Force had a will. "Why is that?" he asked.

"To fix things," she replied. "To bring things back into balance. The Entity's touch has corrupted this universe as well as well as the one in which is resides. It has created immortal beings here that shouldn't have existed. It created Altima, their leader. The Force is always trying to bring things into balance. Your son has been born to right what has gone wrong."

"What has gone wrong," Xar repeated, digesting the thought. "The Warlords. They got immortality because of the Entity. Because of a power source outside of our universe. They then tried to take over the galaxy. They did things that would never have been possible without the Entity."

“The Warlords are a perversion of life,” Angol Moa said with a derisive shake of her head. “They should have died eons ago.” She walked over and placed a hand on the table's remaining empty chair, glancing away. “Humans were never meant to be immortal.”

Xar reminded himself that this woman was, in fact, very much not human.

"You mean because the Warlords' power didn't originate in this universe, the Force itself is trying to fix it?" Icis spoke up.

"Correct," she nodded. "Now, we have digressed far enough, I think. Can we get back to our original topic?"

Her words surprised Xar enough that he had to think about what she was referring to. "The Ones?" he asked.

"Actually, you first asked me what I wanted with you," she said, holding up her index finger. "The answer is this: You are one of the players I have been waiting for."

"Why me?"

"Why isn't important. What is, is that the Force showed you to me. You are one - or rather, the means to find one. I am searching for Sado."

"The Shok'Thola?" Xar asked.

"I would very much like to speak with him."

Xar gave a bewildered laugh. "I'm sorry. I can't help you. I've never met him. And I doubt an Altarin’Dakor Warlord would be very interested in talking to you. Torturing and interrogating, maybe, but not talking."

Angol Moa gave him a curious look. "We'll see," was all she said.

Xar shook his head. What was that supposed to mean? "Who are the other players?" he asked.

"Your son is one," she said.

"My son?" Well, he could have guessed that, he supposed.

"Quick repeating what I say, boy. It’s annoying.”

Xar blinked.

“He'll be along shortly."

Xar felt jolt of exhilaration. "You mean, he's coming here?"

"Of course. You didn't think he was just going to show up once and then not see you again?" She grinned quirkily again.

Xar took a deep breath. So, Derek was coming back to see him. The thought made him feel giddy with anticipation. He wanted to see him again, very much. After all, this was his son!

"All of these players have something to contribute," Angol Moa said. "We must all sit down and find out what each other knows. I have most of the puzzle pieces, but not all of them."

"What do you mean by that, Supreme Elder?" Icis asked.

She glanced at him. "You and I have spent a lot of time together, as well. I will have to show you some things before you can understand what I mean, though. You are another of the players, an important piece of this puzzle."

Icis looked at her in obvious confusion.

She gave him a compassionate look, her big green eyes practically sparkling. "What I mean, my dear, is that I only have part of the picture. I know only part of what will - of what must - happen. Maybe ninety percent. But that is not enough. Not nearly enough," she said, shaking her head and rustling the huge red mane of hair behind her.

"My son said that someone named Malduke is the key to all of this," Xar added in. "Is he one of these players, too?"

Angol Moa turned to look at him. Across the table, Icis seemed as though he'd seen a ghost.

"Your son is right," she said. "But Malduke won't be meeting with us. He is beyond speaking with anyone, actually."

"Why is that?" Xar asked.

"He is completely insane," she replied. "Rational thought is beyond him."

Xar shook his head in confusion. This was too much to take in. "So why is he so dangerous? Who is this Malduke?"

Icis jumped in. "Malduke was the only Kajeat to ever rebel against our society. He believed that our powers entitled us to rule over the other races. He raised up thousands of races to join his cause and started a war that spanned between galaxies. He even developed a weapon that could kill a Kajeat."

“Kill you? I thought you were all immortal.”

“Malduke was very smart,” Angol Moa told him. “He used to be a pupil of mine.”

"So how was he stopped?" Xar asked.

"The Kajeat joined with all the other races and fought back,” Icis said. “His weapon was destroyed, and eventually he was captured. Malduke was sentenced to solitary imprisonment for the rest of time in a remote location."

"Actually," Angol Moa chimed in, "not so far from your corner of the galaxy." She looked at Xar. "We built a nebula around his prison so that no one would ever find him."

"Not the Galbagos Nebula?" Xar blurted.

"I'm afraid that your friends released the worst criminal in intergalactic history," she chided.

Xar sat back in astonishment. He'd heard passing mention in the report from the nebula mission that they'd found a spacer stranded on one of the worlds deep inside. He'd been released, then come back with the troops to NI space.

A cold feeling came into his gut. He knew he'd heard that name before. Someone named Malduke had come to Varnus, had been inside the Royal Palace! Xar had even met the man! He knew from the first time that he'd seen him that the man was a raving lunatic! What had he been doing there, hanging around Draken Ar'Kell and Omega Kira? Could he still be on Varnus, even now?

"By the Core..." he whispered.

"Relax, my boy," Angol Moa said, waving a hand at him. "He's not on your homeworld anymore. Malduke is long gone, by now. No one knows where he is." She pursed her lips together. "Actually, if anyone knew where he really was, this would already be over."

"Why is that, Supreme Elder?" Icis spoke up.

"Because if we find him, we can win this. But if Altima finds him, then he - and the Ones - will win."

"Then we have to find him first," Xar said.

Angol Moa merely nodded, tapping her lips again thoughtfully.

“But why is Malduke so important to the outcome?” Icis asked.

She sighed before replying. “Because,” she said, “He is the key to releasing them.”

They sat there in silence for a moment. Xar listened to the sounds of the waterfalls in the garden in the distance. Bright beams of sunlight shone through viewports in the ceiling.

He decided it was time to ask the most important question.

“What are the Ones?” he asked.

For a long moment she didn't speak. It was as if she had forgotten they were there.

“I saw them,” Icis spoke up instead, “using the Scepter of Karanishma. They are horrible, powerful. Some kind of spirit, not
physical. Almost like us, but stronger. They consume everything in their way. An unstoppable force that will destroy everything. As far as I can tell, they just appear out of nowhere sometime in the future. I have no idea where they come from.”

“The Ones are the souls of dead Kajeat,” Angol Moa said softly.

Icis’ mouth clamped shut. His eyes went wide, and he looked as though he were going to choke. Angol Moa turned to look at him.

"They are willful energy, Icis, just like we are. And just as any Kajeat could, conceivably, forcibly bond itself to a host body, the Ones are able to take possession of any physical creature they come in contact with. However, instead of bonding to form a new, sentient creature, the possessed are rendered insane, a mindless, unstoppable killing machine controlled only by their hive mind, and that itself by their leader - Altima. The possession cannot be resisted, except for us Kajeat, and when bonded to a host body they become extremely powerful, more than any of us can overcome, I'm afraid."

“But why is Altima in control of the Ones?" Xar asked. "I thought he was controlled by the Entity.”

“Of course. The Entity is the Ones. Or rather, the Ones are the Entity. Their hive mind is directed by its avatar - Altima.”

“What?!” Icis blurted.

"Then how are the Ones the souls of dead Travelers if they're part of the Entity?” Xar asked. “How'd they get into the Entity's dimension?"

"Because that is where we were originally from," she replied.

Xar felt a chill wash over him. He glanced over at Icis. The man's jaw had dropped. Angol Moa simply continued.

“In our home dimension, a device was made. It was to absorb the latent life energy of all creatures in the universe, just enough that no one would ever notice, yet even that tiny fraction would have been enough to accomplish anything. However, the device was flawed. Instead of taking just some life, it started taking it all, beginning with its surroundings, and spreading out quickly to cover all life in the entire universe.”

Xar listened in awe. She actually knew what the Entity’s origins were! Moreover, it sounded just like the Collector that she said the Celestials had built! Did that mean the Celestials built this device, too? If so, that would mean the Celestials had gained access into other dimensions!

“The device eventually consumed everything in our universe,” Angol Moad said. “But before it could take us all, I invented a device that transported us into this dimension. In the process it had to convert us into a new form, that of living energy. Only energy was able to cross the divide between dimensions.”

"Supreme Elder, a question if I may," Icis spoke up. His voice sounded unsteady. These revelations seemed to be hitting him harder than they were Xar. Of course, Xar was no Kajeat. What was it like to learn the origins of your race in such a manner?

"Supreme Elder, you said that the Force itself is trying to right the wrongs of the Entity. If that's true, then why hasn't the Force done the same with us?" he asked. "Since we are from that same dimension?"

She turned to Icis. "I surmise that we were spared because we have not created the turmoil that the Entity has. We live in symbiosis with the life forms of this universe. Where the Entity destroys, we ourselves keep our involvement to a minimum. We observe, but do not interfere. Now do you see why we chose the path we've taken?"

Icis’ face looked as though he'd just realized that for the first time. He probably just had.

Xar struggled to absorb this information. The Travelers were originally from the same dimension as the Entity. Then they had fled into this dimension to escape the Entity, but anyone who had been left had been consumed and turned into the Ones. "How many of you managed to flee here?" Xar asked.

"Only a few thousand," Angol Moa replied.

"But that's... that's a whole universe full of people that were lost!" Xar blurted.

She nodded, and Xar felt colder than ever.

A universe full of Ones.

"And if they come into our dimension, there are enough of them to consume everyone in this universe, as well."

Xar's breath caught. He may never have felt so horrified in his life as he did at that moment.

“The Entity destroyed all life in our home dimension,” Icis said, as if trying out the words for the first time.

“Yes. Ever since then we have put ourselves at great risk to bring some of our brethren into this dimension, cleansing them in the process. That’s how new Kajeat are born.”

Icis looked up at her. “Wh... What? You mean I was a… a One?” he whispered. Xar had thought that the man couldn't get any paler.

“Technically yes. But you could have no memories of life before arriving here.”

The look on Icis face held more horror than Xar could bear to see. He looked at Angol Moa instead. Her eyes took on a soft look, and that same motherly feeling washed over him again.

"Don't despair, child," she said, her voice full of warmth and compassion. "All Kajeat were Ones that were redeemed, except for those few who were part of the First Generation, those of us who originally came here. All of you have been redeemed. The process of birthing a new Kajeat cleanses the insanity of the Ones forever." She looked away, and her face fell slightly. "Except for a Death Child, of course, but even then the process is almost always complete, anyway."

"But I was a Death Child," Icis said, staring up at her. His eyes looked bloodshot. "What about me?"

"Don't worry, child. In all probability you will be just fine. You've lasted this long, haven't you? You haven't manifested the kind of madness that took hold of some. Your independent streak may have been influenced somewhat by it, but I'd rather think that you take after me in that regard." She gave him another quirky grin.

"What's a Death Child?" Xar spoke up

"A Death Child results when one or both spouses die during the birthing process," she said. "Depending on the stage of the birth, the Kajeat could be perfectly normal, or could come out completely insane." She looked down. "Those have to be locked away permanently, I'm afraid."

"Why can't you kill them? Xar asked.

"We have no form of capital punishment," she said, looking at him. "The only Kajeat ever to develop a weapon that could kill another Kajeat was Malduke, and even when he was defeated, we imprisoned him."

"And now he's back and is going to destroy the universe," Xar said. "How brilliant. So much for not interfering. That's what your sense of compassion has gotten you."

"Malduke was a Death Child," Icis said suddenly.

Xar looked at him in surprise.

"He was the first one," Angol Moa agreed.

"They compared me to Malduke when I was growing up," Icis said, shaking his head. "I was always looked down upon."

"I'm sorry for that, child. But you have risen above those trials. You are stronger because of it."

"I know, I..." Icis broke off, going silent.

Xar wondered what other world-shattering revelations Angol Moa might have for them. Surely this was enough for today. It hurt to even look at Icis. The man was usually so composed, so proud.

"I can't believe all this is so tied together," he whispered, shaking his head. "Something that was invented eons ago in another dimension now threatens to destroy ours, as well. But why didn't it work? The Celestials built it, didn’t they? It sounds just like the Collector you were talking about. Why wasn't this one successful?"

"You are correct in your comparison," Angol Moa told him with a nod. "They are virtually identical. Ours failed, yours was a success." Her voice became distant again. “It was my one failure,” she said.

Xar snapped his head up to look at her. "What was that?"

"I have visited the Collector here, of course," she continued on. "I now understand what went wrong. I was too young, then. Too ambitious. I know what I did wrong, but I will never try it again. It is the one thing I will never build again."

Her words registered in his ears, but were dismissed as unimportant. Xar's vision had gone red. “Wait a second,” he said. "You're saying you... You created that thing?!"

"The Entity was my failed creation," she admitted. "I will not deny it. I knew this would be hardest for you to accept."

"Hard to accept?!" he shouted, jumping to his feet. "Are you serious?! If what you're saying is true, then you're responsible for all of this! The Entity, the war, the Altarin’Dakor everything!" He threw his arms wide.

"I am aware..." she began.

"All their deaths are on your hands!" Xar yelled at her. "If you hadn’t created that thing, there never would have been any Warlords! Everyone they’ve killed, everyone that died in the Great War, in their galaxy, and in ours are all your fault!"

Even Derek’s. The thought came all of its own.

“I know that,” she said, meeting his gaze. "I have dealt with it. I've had a long time."

Xar leveled a finger at her and shook his head. His anger was unabated. This woman - this creature in front of him - was a monster! “That’s right," he accused. "You knew! And you just sat there and did nothing!”

Icis seemed as though he'd just come out of a deep sleep. He blinked slowly, shaking his head, as if in disbelief.

“You hypocrite!” Xar snarled. "You're all hypocrites! You talk about not interfering! But you caused the biggest interference in the history of the galaxy!”

“Xar, hold on…” Icis began.

“I don’t want to hear it!” he shouted. “I don’t need any help from her! I don’t want your help!”

He turned and started walking away. His footsteps echoed loudly on the polished floor beneath him. He made it to a railing that overlooked more of the gardens below and grabbed the rail, gripping it with all his might. Righteous anger exploded within him. Xar had fought all his life to stop the evils in the galaxy! And all this time, beings this old and this powerful had sat idly by, letting things take their course. Letting evil prevail! Just watching!

“You know, your son is a fine young man,” Angol Moa said, suddenly behind him.

He turned to look back at her darkly. “Kriff you.”

"Xar!" Icis shouted.

If his words perturbed her, she didn't show it in the slightest. She took several steps toward him, though Icis looked as though he might try and stop her. "Supreme Elder," he said. "He is not himself, recently. It may not be wise..."

She cut him off, still addressing Xar. “He has visited me a number of times throughout my life, you know. We first met just after the conclusion of the Dark War, more than fifty thousand years ago. Since then, he pops in every few thousand years. He often asks for my advice. We've talked extensively about you,” she said. She seemed to hesitate. "He loves you, even though he'd never met you."

Xar stared at her. Was she telling the truth? He had no reason to believe anything she'd said so far.

"I know this is hard for you both to accept, but know that there were necessary reasons for what I have done. If I could, I would have done something."

She paused for a moment. Xar continued to watch her. Behind her, Icis stood up slowly, as well.

“I... I didn’t know,” he said.

“Only the Supreme Council of Elders knows,” she said, looking back at him. “Only those of the First Generation, who came to this dimension, like myself.”

“But why?”

“You are capable of handling this information,” she told Icis. “That's because you’ve already believe that we should interfere. You’ve broken the Traveler code already. But to others, this information would be too volatile. It would tear our society apart. However, the time is coming soon when all Kajeat must know.”

“You’re all fools,” Xar shook his head in derision. He didn't care what reasons she felt justified her actions. It was too late, now. How could she ever atone for what she'd done? “Why didn’t you do this before?" he accused. "You had plenty of chances. You let thousands of years slip by! You could have stopped the Altarin'Dakor when it all started!”

She held up one finger. “First of all, I could not have stopped it, because even I cannot defeat Altima. All of the Kajeat together could never have stopped him." She raised a second finger. "Secondly, the timing was not right. Things have to fall into place. I know this, partially, because of your son. It is he that we are waiting on.”

"So you're using the Force to justify your actions, is that it? Let prophecy take the blame."

"When was the last time you focused on anything other than gaining strength in the Force?" she asked. She still had not raised her voice back at him. "When was the last time, Xar Kerensky, that you felt the Force speaking to you? That you saw a vision of what was to come?"

He had no answer to her question, and it didn't matter. Xar had made his choice. This was war, and strength was what was needed. He didn't have the luxury of focusing on the Force's finer flows. "Do you know how many people have died because of your decision?" he asked her.

"I assure you that you have no idea," Angol Moa said calmly.

He stared at her blankly.

"My dear, every living creature in my entire dimension was consumed," she said softly. "Do you know how many beings live in an entire universe?"

He shook his head.

She remained silent for a moment. Xar - reluctantly - tried to think about how many beings there might be in a universe. He couldn't even begin to imagine it. It was impossible.

Suddenly, the anger fell out of him in a rush. He felt bone-weary.

The sheer sadness of it all was overwhelming. More people had died in her universe than he could ever fathom. All because of an accident. “You’ll be brought to justice for your actions one day,” he said.

“You think that I haven’t paid a high enough price already?” Angol Moa looked at him sadly. "The Supreme Council has been reluctant to take action to rectify the situation. They hold firmly to the beliefs that our society is built upon, especially the belief that we should never interfere, no matter what. They believe that enough damage has been caused, and to continue to interfere would simply cause more problems."

Her voice took on a hard edge. "But soon the time will come, and the Council will understand that this fight is necessary. The Kajeat must take responsibility for what we've done. Even if it means interfering one last time."

Icis nodded slowly, considering her words. Xar turned back to the railing, staring into the foliage. For a long time, no one spoke.

"Do you have any more questions for me?" Angol Moa said after a while.

Xar said nothing. This had been enough for one day. He hadn't imagined there could have been so much already.

"Then you should settle into your quarters," she said. "We have a lot of work to do while we're here."

As he looked back, Xar saw one of Angol Moa's droids walk up out of an alcove. The droid took hold of Nico's bed and began guiding it away.

Angol Moa stood next to Icis, looking up at him. She barely came up to his shoulders.

“You should go speak with your father,” she told him.

“My father?” Icis asked.

“There are things that need settling. Now is the best time to do that. I will work with these two in the meantime.”

"Supreme Elder, are you sure that I should leave you with..." he began.

"Trust me," she said, reaching up and laying a hand on his chest. Icis gave a visible shudder.

"How... how do I get to him?" he asked.

"Don't worry - I have teleporters throughout the laboratory here, so you don't have to go back outside. There's one down the hall. It will take you wherever you tell it to."

"I... see." Icis looked uncomfortable at the idea, but he nodded respectfully, nevertheless.

Then Angol Moa looked at Xar. "You should get some rest too," she said, giving him another wink. "Tomorrow I will be doing a lot of experiments on you."

With that she turned and started following her droid assistant, the one leading Nico's gurney away. Another droid appeared to Xar's right and gestured to him and Icis. "This way, sirs," chimed its voice.

Xar shared a glance with Icis. Then he shook his head, retrieved his travel bag from the table, and followed the machine as it led him further into the depths of Angol Moa's laboratory.


* * *
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Offline J.A.

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Joined: Tue May 20, 2008 8:29 pm

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PostPosted: Sat Jun 26, 2010 3:20 am   Post subject: Re: "Remembrance" - By Joshua Ausley   

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

He pushed down the sense of unease that arose as Velius began walking towards them across the bridge, his prize in tow. Unlike most of the others, Calvernic didn’t have a morbid fascination with death. But then again, he’d only been alive for around five thousand years, a mere fifth of the time that most of the others had. He hadn’t yet experienced the profound sense of boredom, the monotony of life that the others called the Hunger. Would he go insane, too, as others had – as Velius clearly had? Or would he commit suicide, and sacrifice himself to the very creature that had granted him Immortality in the first place? He could not yet say. He intended to live long enough to find out.

“He isn’t coming,” Velius growled as he neared, his voice sounding like sandpaper rubbing against itself. “It’s been too long.”

“Akargan should have joined us,” Asellus said after a while. “It would have been in his best interests. Surely he cannot hope to win this war all by himself.”

Calvernic nodded his agreement. It was unfortunate that Akargan had declined their alliance, but not unexpected. He’d always preferred to go it alone. And his sources told him that Akargan was currently feuding with Strife, as the two often did. Perhaps they’d actually have a winner this time.

“Asellus,” Calvernic began, “I believe that Akargan…”

“You will address me as Great Mistress!” she snapped at him, causing him to jump. “The time has come for you to know your place. If I desire your opinion, I shall ask you directly.”

Calvernic bit off the words that he intended to say in return. He did not try to deny the fact that his current position was… altered… from what it had been a few months ago.

The Altarin’Dakor galaxy had erupted into civil war, or so all reports said. Those Shok’Thola left in the home galaxy were all feuding with each other. Calvernic wasn’t nearly as old or as strong as even some of those, and he was actually here among some of the most powerful of them all. In order to survive, he had to accept himself as having a lower status than the others. He was younger, weaker, and had a smaller fleet. He’d only brought along his flagship, the Invading Light. If he didn’t attach himself to the most powerful, he knew he’d be gobbled up with the rest once the civil war reached its end.

Calvernic looked out at the starfield before them, wondering what might be lying in wait for them out there. They couldn’t be entirely sure who they were playing against, here. This new enemy, calling itself the New Imperium, had been completely unexpected. That they could delay the Return itself for the past two years was nearly unthinkable – yet somehow, it had happened.

Kronos’ defeat at first could be explained away readily enough. After all, the man was overconfident, and a narcissist in the extreme. The Outlanders had simply gotten lucky, getting caught up in one of Zalaria’s schemes to overthrow him. It was obvious that had been Zalaria’s plan all along.

Understandably, Kronos hadn’t been forthcoming with any further information. Wounded pride was a hard thing to suffer. He stood now with his arms folded, watching.

The events of the next phase of the war were not so easily accounted for. When Nimrod had announced his plan to lead the way in and reclaim the galaxy, Calvernic and the others had despaired. It had seemed inevitable that Nimrod would achieve his goals – after all, no one could have matched strategies against the greatest military genius in history. When news had come of Nimrod’s death, it had shaken the Altarin’Dakor to its core. The home galaxy was now in a state of chaos and uproar, and the Shok’Thola – well, they were left with merely unanswered questions. Unlike Kronos, Nimrod had not come back yet.

Had Nimrod truly been killed? The only explanation was, again, Zalaria. Could it be that the only person Nimrod had ever underestimated was his own sister? Surely he hadn’t expected her betrayal, as none of them had. Could she have outsmarted him? If so, then that meant she was far more dangerous than even Calvernic knew. Rumors abounded that she had even somehow survived a direct assault by Velius, something which was utterly impossible, and that Velius himself refused to either confirm or deny.

Calvernic didn’t believe for a second that it had happened like he’d heard. Stories regarding Shok’Thola became easily exaggerated, even amongst the most trusted couriers. Zalaria had trained Calvernic and even sponsored him to become a Shok’Thola. No one knew her better than he, except perhaps Nimrod, and now he was no more. But he felt confident that he hadn’t underestimated her by that much.

At any rate, almost certainly their opponent on this battlefield was Zalaria, once again. But this time, there were four Shok’Thola against one. Between himself, Asellus, Kronos and Velius, she didn’t stand a chance. The four of them were powerful enough to destroy stars, and turn whole planets into mere interstellar dust. They could easiliy take over this entire galaxy by themselves.

But what if there were other, unknown factors? How much of Nimrod’s former fleet was in Zalaria’s hands? They had seen to it that no other forces were allowed through the Gate, but Nimrod already had many Titans on this side before the blockade had been placed. And Zalaria’s forces were currently unknown. Finally, what of these Outlanders? Could they had some secret weapon that hadn’t been accounted for? Had they discovered some long-lost technology, perhaps even another Infinity? The thought of being obliterated within the blink of an eye was an intimidating thought.

But, like all Shok’Thola, Calvernic did not fear the destruction of his physical body. He had ample clone bodies to transfer his essence to, which he could then reshape into his own preferred, individual form. There was only one person in the universe that could take away their Immortality, and as long as they were doing his bidding, they had nothing to fear. Besides, Altima was currently still in the Altarin’Dakor galaxy.

A servant appeared and dropped to his knees in front of Asellus. “Our scouts have entered Mizar, Great Mistress Onrai,” he chimed out.

Calvernic resisted the urge to laugh derisively. After all these years, eons after being ousted from power on Coruscant, Asellus still held on to her claim as the mother-goddess of all humankind. Though most Shok’Thola were worshipped as deities inside of their own territories, Asellus wanted herself reinstated in this galaxy into a position above that of all the others – one that they had never agreed to allow her in the first place.

He watched to see if she would execute the messenger, as she often did for sport, but this time she did not. Calvernic was only slightly disappointed. It could be amusing to watch her tantrums sometimes, as long as they were directed at someone other than himself. She was in an unusually good mood for some reason, this day.

An image was displayed in front of them, showing the third planet of the Mizar System – Arcadia, Calvernic remembered. There was only one ship visible in orbit. Calvernic’s eyes widened when he saw what it was – the massive bulk of the Grand Crusader.

“That is Nimrod’s flagship,” Asellus said. “What is it doing there?”

Kronos pursed his lips as he watched the holographic displays encasing the room around them all. “Zalaria must have taken control of it, hard to believe as it may seem. That brazzna. My scouts reported that the Mizar system is currently under Zalaria’s authority,” he said, pausing. “If not… Could the New Imperium have actually captured such a vessel?”

“Impossible!” Asellus snapped. “They would have been wiped out long ago if not for Zalaria’s assistance.”

“Maybe Nimrod is still alive.”

All eyes turned to Velius, who held a half-smile on his face as he stood nearby. His voice sounded like creaking metal when he spoke.

“You’re saying this is a ruse?” Asellus asked.

“It would be like him,” Kronos said.

“They’ve teamed up against us,” Velius added with a grin. “But don’t worry; the odds are still in our favor.”

“That the odds are in our favor goes without saying,” Asellus said adamantly. “However, I am interested to know why – and how – they have joined forces. That such a thing could even occur concerns me a great deal.”

Calvernic hid well the sense of unease that such a thought put into him, as well as his displeasure that Asellus continued to feud with Zalaria. He knew the woman was bent on killing her rival, and she had right to assume that if Zalaria had joined forces with her brother, then she would be that much more difficult to exact vengeance upon.

However, he had to admit it was a logical conclusion. Misinformation was a powerful tool of war. The siblings united would be a powerful force to be reckoned with. Perhaps they thought they could slay all the other Shok’Thola and take the entire galaxy for themselves. They might even have a chance, as fragmented as the Altarin’Dakor had become.

“So, we are all in agreement that it is possible it is Nimrod we’re up against,” Kronos said. “We face two options. Either Zalaria has convinced yet another Shok’Thola to mutiny, or else he defeated her and has brought her back onto his side.”

“If Zalaria joined with her brother, then why would they be at Mizar?” Asellus asked. “Why wouldn’t they have conquered all of Epsilon Sector by now?”

Three sets of eyes turned towards Calvernic. “You,” Kronos said, his voice dripping venom. “You are her lackey. Tell us what Zalaria is doing here.”

Calvernic ignored the derogatory words the man used against him. “It must be true,” he surmised, shaking his head. “As impossible as it seems, the only reason Nimrod would return here is to face us. He intends to defeat us all before he continues taking the rest of the galaxy.”

“There is no way he only has one ship,” Velius said. “Either his other ships are cloaked, or are elsewhere.”

“Cloaked, most likely,” Kronos surmised. “The question is, how many?”

“What does it matter?” Asellus inserted. “We have nine cloaked Titans. Nothing can stand against us – not even Nimrod.”

Calvernic nodded his agreement. Whether Nimrod was alive or not – and whether Zalaria was with him or not – nothing could stop four Shok’Thola working together. That was the purpose of this alliance. Singularly, they might conceivably be defeated. But Calvernic had seen the wisdom in this alliance. Asellus had forged it first with Kronos, and the two of them had drawn in Calvernic, a logical choice among the rest of them. Velius’ joining had been unexpected. It had thrown things out of balance, but they weren’t about to send him away. His addition had ensured that this alliance would be unstoppable. There wasn’t a force in the universe powerful enough to stop them save Altima himself. Even if Zalaria and Nimrod were working together, it simply wouldn’t be enough.

“Don’t undersestimate Nimrod’s genius,” Kronos countered sharply. “Many are the Shok’Thola who have, and are fallen now. We need more information.”

“Then we will enter the system and speak with him,” Velius said suddenly.

Calvernic turned to look at him, as did the others.

“Do you have any objections to that plan?” Velius asked.

“I do not,” Kronos said. His face twisted into a sneer. “I’ve been looking forward to seeing Kerensky again.

Calvernic didn’t bother to add anything. He wasn’t sure Asellus would approve, and he didn’t want to test her, today. After a moment she spoke up.

“I do not object, either. Bring us into realspace. All ships save for my flagship shall remain cloaked. We will hail them, then we shall see what kind of game our opponent is playing. Perhaps diplomacy will suffice for this engagement.”

From the looks on their faces, Calvernic was willing to bet the three other Shok’Thola were hoping that wouldn’t be the case.


* * *
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Offline J.A.

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Joined: Tue May 20, 2008 8:29 pm

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PostPosted: Wed Jul 07, 2010 4:29 am   Post subject: Re: "Remembrance" - By Joshua Ausley   

In Orbit
Tritonia System
2100 Hours


Deep within the Archon System, Maarek Stele felt only a strong sense of purpose as he entered the atmosphere of the planet Tritonia. The view around him – the cold, dark world below and the glittering stars at his back – was all that he could see save for the status displays that stayed in his sight wherever he looked. The pinpricks of light that were Akargan’s fleet had passed out of view beyond the event horizon – they were approaching the enemy’s base from far off, so as to get under the planetary shields and get in undetected. He wasn’t quite sure what would happen once they made it, though.

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

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

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

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

He immediately worried about Alona. She was flying out there, leading the wing of Archon fighters. She had to make it. He couldn’t lose her and Chele in the same week. He had to trust that she’d make it.

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

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

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

Pretty self-confident of winning, aren’t we? Maarek thought.

“I am.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

“What is it?”

A hundred questions were racing through Maarek’s mind, things he wanted to ask of a Warlord. Was he really immortal, and a thousand generations old? What would happen after this – would he continue on take over the galaxy? If so, did he plan to spare the New Imperium? Perhaps even more pressingly, had he actually orchestrated Chele’s death in order that Maarek would draw closer to Alona? Many questions floated in his thoughts. Most of them were not appropriate to ask in this situation.

Instead, there was one thing that he did want to know more urgently than anything. And he didn’t care if it was appropriate or not.

“Alona,” he said. “Does she really love me?”

A pause. “I told you to focus on the mission,” Strife said.

“I know. But I have to know this. If we don’t survive… Well, if you can read my thoughts, then you must be able to read hers as well,” he said. He already knew that Strife had planned for them to be together. Had he planned for them to become this close, though? He didn’t care one way or the other that Strife had been pulling the strings all along. Just as long as he knew whether her feelings were genuine or not.

“I know my Jedicon better than they know themselves,” Strife answered. “Alona would fight alongside you. She would die alongside you. She would even wed you if you asked. Yes, as you count it, she loves you.”

Maarek suddenly felt like a burden had been lifted from his shoulders. He didn’t know what to say. He hadn’t expected the Warlord to answer him, to tell the truth.

“Begin our descent,” Strife ordered.

Snapping back to reality, Maarek obeyed, edging the Archon downwards. They had already slowed to begin their descent. Now they fell below cloud level, and soon they were beneath the tops of the towers that rose up like skeletal fingers piercing the night, some even piercing the clouds at points. Maarek found the appropriate thoroughfare that they’d mapped out, a wide avenue lined with skyscrapers on either side, and he brought them down to within a hundred meters of the ground.

Then suddenly, as the wall of buildings rose on either side, a sense of panic gripped him. The street below, the buildings around, and the sense of it stretching on forever in front of him – it was too familiar, still too raw after Varnus. He could almost see Thansil’s fighter ahead of him, about to blast him out of the sky and send him rocketing out of his fighter to a certain death. He could almost see Rann’s and Tanya’s fighters plunging to their destruction on the streets below.

Then, just as abruptly as the attack came, it faded, leaving only a sense of peace. He felt… something… within himself, calmly assuring him that it would be all right, that he had nothing to fear.

He knew it was Strife, controlling his emotional state. But for once he didn’t resent it.

Strife’s voice came into his ears. “Now I have a question for you, Maarek Stele. Your galaxy is already controlled by unseen forces, powers hidden in the darkness. What difference does it make if a new power conquers it and assumes control?”

Maarek thought for a moment, pondering what the Warlord meant. Was he saying it didn’t matter if the Altarin’Dakor took over the galaxy? True, the New Republic currently held power, and it was plagued by problems. The Empire before that had been ruled by an evil tyrant – he’d come to accept that fact, now. Before that it had been a corrupt system controlled by bureaucrats and powerful corporations. What difference did it really make? It was always the same, but with different faces and names attached to the banners on Coruscant.

Yet each time that happened, each time power exchanged hands, it was the result of wars, assassinations, genocides. Millions, sometimes billions died simply so that a new government could assume command. Change always brought with it destruction. But the cycle itself never really ended.

“Because many people die,” he answered finally, choosing his words carefully. “And a lot of those are innocent people who don’t deserve to.”

There was a long pause before the Strife answered, and Maarek began to wonder if his words had been audible or not.

Finally, the Warlord spoke. “That is a good answer. Now, release me.”

Startled, Maarek realized they were within ten klicks of their destination. Mentally issuing the command, he released the clamps that held the pod beneath his fighter. He felt it drop away, lightening his load, and saw the coffin-shaped device fall down toward the streets below.

Suddenly, Maarek was alone again.

He knew there was no time to reminisce. Akargan’s base had guns that might be able to track him if he got too close, and had a firing range of many kilometers. Maarek pulled his fighter into a sharp climb, rising above the buildings, and turned away to head out on another heading.

He’d only been pulling away for a few seconds when he noticed fighters heading towards him.

There were three of them, turning away from their patrol to head towards him, soaring over the tops of the skyscrapers. They were small and compact, with four short wings surrounding a central ball-shaped cockpit.

Maarek felt a chill as he recognized what they were. Widowmakers. Jedicon fighters.

I’m not ready, he thought desperately. But the thought quickly faded. No, he was ready. He had trained for this. He knew what to expect. These Jedicon pilots, however, would not.

Was it the Archon System again, making him feel invincible? He couldn’t tell anymore. It didn’t matter, anyway. He turned into the attack, going head-to-head with the three enemy fighters. Then, calling on the Force as he’d been taught, he put on a mental shield around his thoughts.

Within seconds he felt the attack hit his mind. It wasn’t concerted; if it was, he might not have been able to block it. He only felt one Jedicon mind – and it wasn’t as strong as Chele’s – assaulting his consciousness. The enemy had been overconfident. They hadn’t been expecting to find resistance.

To Maarek’s relief, his barrier held, the attack sliding off just as he’d been had in a thousand practices. He immediately felt shock emanating from the pilots of all three approaching fighters that their sure-fire tactic had failed. Undoubtedly they realized they’d made a fatal judgement error. Maarek didn’t give them a chance to rectify it.

He opened fire on all three simultaneously. Bright blue beams pierced the air, slicing the leftmost of the Widowmakers in half crossways and detonating it in a massive fireball. His rail cannons spat out death at hypersonic speed, taking the center fighter dead in the heart and shearing through it like flimsiplast. The fighter exploded, raining pieces downward.

The one of the right tried to dodge, but he wasn’t fast enough. Maarek’s remaining beam weapons found their mark, slicing away two of the fighter’s four winglike projections. Bleeding fire from the gaping wound it had sustained, the fighter plunged toward the ground, doomed.

Maarek goosed the throttle and pointed the Archon’s nose at the sky. He’d gotten lucky, but the element of surprise would work only once. He wasn’t about to stick around for more. The next batch surely wouldn’t make the same mistake their predecessors had.
The clouds enveloped him once more, and soon even they gave way to the starlit sky of space above – and the intense battle raging overhead. Already he could see bright beams of light piercing the darkness of space. Hundreds, thousands of fighters milled in orbit above.
He might be leaving one deathtrap behind, but there was another one waiting just in front of him. But by this point, he was used to it. His Archon wouldn’t let him down. Wishing Strife success below, he rose to find his next challenge.


The pod descended as it sped towards its destination, its built-in repulsors keeping it along just above the surface of the long street it was barreling down at breakneck speed.

Inside, Strife prepared himself for the crash, and the inevitable death that would follow. He knew that Akargan’s fortress was warded against use of the Power.If anyone tried to use it to penetrate its walls, powerful defensive mechanisms would activate, well-prepared defenses that could not be nullified. The attack would have to put him inside completely on its own.

However, once inside, it would be a different situation.

It took only seconds more. The pod sped down the street, headed straight for one of the palace’s side walls, its stained-glass windows boarded up to keep any light escaping from within.

Then the pod hit the wall, punching a hole straight through with its reinforced tip and front end. Debris blasted everywhere as the pod penetrated through the wall into the interior of the fortress before coming to a crashing halt inside.

The initial impact hadn’t destroyed the pod completely. It lay on its side in a large, empty room, half-buried in one of the interior walls. Its occupant, however, had been killed instantly.

For Strife, everything had gone black. But only for seconds.

Within what seemed like an instant, he was back. His body, of course, writhed in agonizing pain as it healed, mending bones that had been shattered and organs that had been liquified from the impact. He hated it every time he experienced this. But despite the torturous pain, he held his tongue, waiting the healing process out.

Within moments Strife was completely self-aware again. Seconds after that he could move his body once more.

He called upon the Power now in earnest.

The pod ripped open, pieces flying out in all directions. Strife stood up and took in his surroundings in a glance before moving forward. Then he ducked down a dark corridor nearby, in search of his target.

Akargan would be aware of his presence by now. Unfortunately there was nothing he could do about it now that Strife was inside his fortress, nothing save confronting him directly. Strife smiled as he called on the power to increase his speed, moving him down the hallways at blinding speed. So be it.

He wore all black, a one piece padded jumpsuit that wouldn’t restrict his movements or tear if he moved at supersonic speed. He brought no equipment, save for his hypersaber, Nakti. Its half-meter, bone-white shaft of a handle was strapped to his back, already repairing the minor scuffs and scratches it had received from the crash.

Strife reached an intersection and paused, his straight, stark white hair – cut to mid-neck level, now – swaying back and forth as he looked down each path, then chose the one that felt right. The one with the group of Jedicon at the end.

They never knew what hit them. He sent out a thought towards them, and the six warriors fell upon each other, their blades igniting in their hands and slicing through one another as Strife flew past them in a flash. Alarms began blaring in the distance.

He touched the doors beyond and they collapsed before him, not breaking his stride. The room beyond was a massive stairwell, and he vaulted over the railing and dropped the ten stories or so down to the bottom. He dropped into another room with at least ten Jedicon inside of it, this group more prepared than the last. They had their lightsabers out as he landed on the floor in the midst of them, raising their blades and rushing towards him with mouths open, roaring wordlessly.

To Strife, it was as if they moved in slow motion. Pulling out Nakti from his back, he set the blade for whip with a thought and spun it around in a circle in the blink of an eye, its four-meter blade slicing through bodies, arms, and handles all in one fell stroke. He was on the move again even before they realized they were dead, their bodies falling in pieces on the floor behind him.

Another group stood before him, guarding a set of ten-meter-high sealed doors with markings scrawled across them. He gathered the power, thrust out a hand, and the whole lot of them disintegrated before he ever reached them, not having time to even scream as their bodies turned to dust. The blast hit the doors next, and they flew off their hinges, spinning into the hallway beyond.

A troupe of would-be assassins awaited him. Crossing his arms in front of him, fingers extended, he sent out tendrils of energy from each of them throughout the hall ahead. Soldiers and Jedicon fell, sliced into pieces. A few survived and sent blasts of energy his way, but he merely ignored them as they hit – none were powerful enough to cause damage to him anyway.

The doors at the end exploded before he reached them, and he slid into another large chamber. At the far end were a series of columns leading into an even larger room, undoubtably the throne room he was seeking. A dozen warriors jumped up from their positions around a group of tables, raising the alarm as they saw him. Shaking his head, he ran forward and waved his hand across the lot of them, using the Power to touch each of their minds with enough force to scramble their brain matter, killing them instantly.

He pierced the far wall, passing through the columns decorated with friezes of various Shok’Thola ¬– including himself – and leapt over the railing into the chamber beyond.


Lasitus had been in the dark for three days. He’d been given little food or water, and was sure each day that Akargan was going to come in and kill him. But so far, he hadn’t. Why the delay? Was he going to let him rot down here? His cell was featureless – one of the deepest in the ancient palace, meant to demoralize whatever prisoners were placed inside of it.

Lasitus realized his mistake, now. He never should have believed Akargan would value their former friendship. That relationship meant nothing to him, now. For Lasitus it still seemed like it could have been yesterday, but for Akargan twenty-five thousand years had caused it to fade far from memory.

Suddenly he heard a commotion outside of his cell. He took a deep breath, expecting to see Akargan enter at any moment.

The metal door slid aside, and a figure was sillouetted there. Lasitus blinked at the sudden light, but he knew that the outline wasn’t Akargan’s. He didn’t know who it was.

“Don’t stand there! Get out!” a voice growled harshly in Altarin’Dakor. “We are under attack! Get up and help us!”

As soon as he’d appeared, the figure was gone, leaving a door of light in his wake. Tentatively, Lasitus moved forward, unsure what was going on. He had no idea what the man was talking about. Why had he let him go?

Inside the cell he’d been within the field of a Null Sphere. But as soon as he exited, he felt its presence fall away, and suddenly he felt the Force again.

And felt the death all around him. There was an intruder in the palace. Someone very, very powerful. A Shok’Thola.

It must be Strife, Lasitus realized. How had he found them, and why come so soon? Was it because of the data that Lasitus had taken from Borrose? But Akargan had said it was all a fake!

It didn’t matter; this was real. He could feel a battle going on far overhead, as well – in orbit, no doubt. He glanced down the hallways, where jailkeepers and Jedicon in the area were already disappearing through the exits. Feeling disoriented after so long in the dark, Lasitus moved to follow them, wondering what he should do next.

Should he help, as he’d been ordered? Or should he try and escape? Obviously he was not working for Akargan anymore – he’d been branded a traitor and jailed. He knew he should flee, but what would happen if the two Shok’Thola fought? Would Akargan win, or would Strife? Which outcome should he want to see? Which would be better for the New Imperium and the galaxy as a whole? Lasitus didn’t know. Perhaps he should help Strife, but maybe he should assist Akargan despite everything, if he would be easier to deal with. But based upon what he’d done to Lasitus, he was no longer sure if the Warlord could be reasoned with or trusted to keep his word at all.

He found himself moving upwards, taking the stairwells toward the main chamber once more. He knew this was probably a bad idea – on that might even get him killed – but he had to know how this battle would turn out. A fight between Shok’Thola was a rare thing, and it would have consequences that would affect billions, even trillions in the Altarin’Dakor galaxy. And it could determine the entire fate of this one, as well.

Calling on the Force to restore his weary muscles, he kept heading up.


The Extinction had been blown to bits by the time Maarek got back into orbit. Pieces of it, still kilometers wide, were spreading out into the void, gravity pulling them inexorably down towards the surface, where they would eventually enter the atmosphere and crash into the endless cityscape of the ecumenopolis.

It was now three on four, with Strife's warships still holding strong despite suffering some damage of their own. The front side of the Oblivion glowed in places, leaking smoke and atmosphere, but the Abyss, Maelstrom and the Eternity were still relatively unscathed. They continued to pour fire into the enemy formation, Akargan's remaining Titans Exterminator, Warhawk, and his flagship, the Overlord.

Beams of energy crisscrossed the space above him, and thousands of small, shiny objects flew amongst the larger warships - dogfights involving the fighters of both sides. Fusion beams, neutron cannon blasts and even mauler weapons blasted out between the Titans, taking any smaller ships that might be unfortunate enough to be in the way. It was unreal to witness - if it had been the NI fighting here, they would have been wiped out almost immediately.

As he rose into the fray, he immediately tracked down Alona's Archon signature, leading the wing of Strife's elite forces as they weaved back and forth between larger ships, picking Akargan's fighters out of the sky like flies. He felt a blossom of relief as he found her; not only was she still alive, but she appeared to be dominating the skies. He rushed to join her.

"Alona, I'm here," he sent over the wing's comm line. "Where do you need me?"

"Form on me, Maarek Stele," he felt her say, sending elation into him with her words. "Help us wipe the scourge of our enemies from the skies."

"With pleasure," he sent back. They were the words he'd been wanting to hear, the chance to actually fly on her wing into real combat. Eagerly he pulled his fighter around and fell into the cloud of silvery Archons that were just regrouping beneath the Maelstrom.

Almost immediately he noticed two Punisher-class heavies coming towards him from around two o'clock low. An alert appeared in his vision as four missiles streaked out from the fighters, heading his way. Feeling their incoming trajectories with the Force, he fired his beam cannons, aiming each one at a separate warhead. One by one the beams found their mark, detonating the missiles prematurely in flashes of light.

The Punishers opened up with beam weapons next. Maarek pulled up and snap-rolled, watching the beams pass beneath him harmlessly. He goosed the throttle, moving to slide past the fighters on their starboard side. At the same time, he angled his rail cannons along their fight path and opened up on the one on the right. The high-velocity slugs pierced the fighter's shields and punched through its armored fuselage. The cockpit shattered first, then the fighter flipped over and Maarek's projectiles ripped through the fighter's underside, piercing the engine housing and causing the fighter to explode brilliantly.

The other fighter flashed past to the right and began a tight turn to get on Maarek's six. Straightening his own turn, he went vertical instead, pulling g's that he could never have sustained without the Archon System. He came around, inverted, and came in above the enemy fighter on a head-to-head. Spitting the fighter in his sights, he fired with two of his beams, the blasts meeting just as they reached the enemy's fuselage and slicing the ship cleanly in two.

He turned again without waiting to see the inevitable explosion, already searching for his next fight. In a TIE Avatar, he knew those Punishers would probably have done him in. But the Archon made enemies like that no more than child's play. Not only could they not match his fighter's agility, but with the Archon's ability to give him uncanny accuracy he had unrivaled dominance over the skies.

Ahead, he could see the gigantic, ethereal mass of the Eternity beginning to square off directly opposite Akargan's flagship Overlord, a massive oblong-shaped gargantuan bristling with cannons all across its bow. Thick beams of energy began to fill the space between the two, catching any unlucky fighters that got in their way and vaporizing them instantly. The shields of the two ships were lighting up, walls of bluish energy kilometers wide. Maarek definitely wasn't going to find himself getting in between those leviathans.

Despite their seeming advantage, Maarek knew that this fight was far from over. The battle could still go either way, and he knew that the fight between the two flagships mirrored what was unfolding on the surface. That was the duel that would likely determine the outcome of this day. All they could do was hold out the best they could, and hope that it was Strife who emerged the victor.

Looping around again, he rejoined his comrades - his siblings among a family of superfighters - and moved to take the fight to the enemy once more.


Strife dropped down into the chamber, landing nimbly, and stood to his full height. There – standing in the center of the room, waiting for him – was Akargan.

He was ready – but that much had been expected. The chamber had been emptied, the furniture moved to the walls. Akargan stood on a dais beneath the gaze of his former master, with three massive fireplaces behind him lit with orange fire. A cloak of animals’ pelts hung from his shoulders, and his curled black hair was tied behind his head. A smirk decorated his face.

Strife stood at his ease, waiting for his quarry to make the first move. Everything that happened from here on would have significance that would last for millennia.

“So, the time has finally come,” Akargan said, licking his lips. “I knew this day would arrive, Strife. I’ve been waiting for this.”

“Twenty-five thousand years is a long time,” Strife said, putting on a cordial smile. “It was always destined to be this way. Only one of us will emerge alive.”

“Agreed,” Akargan replied eagerly. “How shall we do it?”

Strife gave a smirk he knew would anger the other man. “You’ve always wanted to prove you were better than me with a blade.” He held his hypersaber’s handle up in the palm of his hand, gave it a toss. “Weapons only.”

“Perfect.” Akargan’s expression betrayed no emotion. “And the Power?”

“Enhance speed and strength only,” Strife replied.

“Accepted.”

Akargan appeared eager, but there was uncertainty lurking within his eyes. Strife knew that despite his words, Akargan hadn’t been eager to see this confrontation through to the end. It was he who had put this off for so long, delaying direct duel between the two of them until millennia had passed by.

They had faced each other before, but not in thousands of years. The last time, Strife had bested him also. Perhaps Akargan merely thought this was yet another confrontation in an endless war between the two of them. But Strife had other intentions – this would be the last day. Altima had given him the tools before, when he’d been sent after Mordachus.

Akargan might not keep his word. He might truly wish to prove that he was the superior swordsman, but if things became dire he might regress and unveil his full power. Strife intended not to give him that chance. He preferred the elegance of a real duel to the messiness of destroying whole cities with the Power.

“For far too long you’ve thought you were the god of War,” Akargan said gruffly. “That title belongs to me. And today I am going to take it. Today we’ll find out who’s the strongest.”

Strife put on a mocking smile. “After all this time, you still don’t understand. Titles mean nothing to me, Akargan. Strength means nothing. I have a far greater power. I am of the true blood. I was old before the Altarin’Dakor were born. I have nothing to prove. A Jedicon’s marks have never touched my face,” he said.

Akargan’s face twisted into a sneer, but he didn’t fall into the trap. He did not devolve into a fit of rage. He was keeping his head for this battle. “Your words border on treason, Strife,” he taunted. “Altima has granted me special knowledge. There will be only one Shok’Thola in the end. And that will be me.”

Strife paused, but dismissed the man’s words as bravado. He wasn’t going to be taken in, either. It didn’t matter what Altima said. Strife had chosen his path.

And he’d just discovered the way to defeating Akargan before he ever drew his blade. “Thank you for passing on that information,” he said. “Quite interesting, since Altima has ordered me to eliminate you next. Just like he did with Mordachus,” he lied.

He watched as Akargan’s eyes widened, then took on a wild look. This was it. The battle rage that the man relied on when fighting. It gave him incredible strength, but poor judgement. In response, Strife called upon the immense reserves of power within that always lurked just beneath the surface. He reached through that barrier, like reaching through the oily surface of a pond, tapping into the vast well below, yet feeling its taint – the unnatural touch of the Entity upon his soul, the thing that he’d called master for a thousand generations.

“You are a fool, Strife!” Akargan barked. “And now I will end the universe of your existence once and for all!”

“Then come!” Strife shouted.

With a growl emanating from his throat, Akargan pulled out his own hypersaber. Sha’kira ignited with the sound of a thunderclap, its blinding two-meter white blade snapping to life and banishing shadows from the room. Four smaller blades shot out from around the emitter nozzle, forming a guard of energy. Strife could feel Akargan powering up to his full strength, like a giant mountain of the Power welling up in front of him. Akargan’s furred cloak ripped itself free from the man, revealing a massive chest and arms that rippled with muscles. The air rippled out from around him in visible waves.

Strife raised Nakti as well, igniting the blade with a hiss. Three meters of purple-white energy shot out of one end as though the blade itself was anticipating this battle. Strife drew in all of his power, allowing it to fortify his body, to increase his speed to the point that the flames in the fireplace appeared to stand completely still.

Together they could have certainly destroyed the entire planet. Yet contained, they focused on each other, enhancing their speed and strength, in the controlled chaos of the Power preparing to engage in the ultimate duel between two warriors.

Then Akargan barreled towards him, and Strife rushed forward to engage.

Raising his blade high with a scream, Akargan struck like lightning. Strife’s blade snapped out and the two blades met with the sound of a thunderclap. They clashed and held for a nanosecond, then were on the move again before the sound even had begun to spread through the air. Akargan brought his blade around low and to the side, and Strife dipped his blade down to parry. The force of the blow was like a mountain crashing against him, but their strength did not depend on muscles. Strife’s power was at least equal to Akargan’s – in truth, it was greater – only the perfect combination of strength, speed and skill would proclaim the victor this day.

Strife fell back before the furious onslaught, as Akargan struck in a maddened rage. Letting the Power guide him, Strife blocked fifty different attacks in the span of a single backstep. His hair whipped around as if in extreme slow-motion, and the flames of the hearth creeped upwards at a snail’s pace. Booms filled the air as their arms broke the sound barrier repeatedly.

As his foot struck the floor again, he pivoted, ducking beneath another blow, then bringing Nakti around in a strike. Akargan caught the attack on his guard and forced Strife’s own blade around and down. Then he disengaged and swept upwards at supersonic velocity. Strife leaned back at the last nanosecond, allowing the blade to merely scrape the surface of his suit with millimeters to spare from breaking his skin. Then he spun, sweeping his blade overhead to block devastating downward blows from the larger Warlord. With each successful block, he attacked, but Akargan’s blade met his blow for blow.

He was enjoying this.

Stepping back, he commanded Nakti with a thought. He released the shaft and it flew back to settle on his forearm in a split second. As Akargan’s strikes came in again, he used his whole arm to direct his motions, blocking his opponent high, then low, then stabbing back in with lightning speed. Akargan dodged, his body writhing like a viper’s. Strife struck at his head again and again, but the other Warlord rolled his head left, then right, then sweeping his blade up to bat Strife’s away with ferocious force.

Spinning with the blow, Strife released Nakti and let it hover over his arm for a moment. Responding to his direction, it changed once more, its blade contracting, forming a protective shield above his arm. Stepping forward, Akargan attacked again, swinging with massive blows. Strife moved his arm to block, the blade crashing against his shield of light repeatedly. With a yell, Akargan swung rapidly, hammering the shield a hundred times in the span of seconds, but the barrier held.

Feeling a smile touch his lips, Strife sidestepped again, releasing the shield, gripped Nakti’s shaft once again, and set the blade for whip. Flicking the handle, he sent the energy cracking through the air, then whipped it around and swung. Akargan’s eyes went wide and he stepped back, blocking with Sha’Kira, and Strife’s blade struck his, wrapping partway around the other’s blade before he could fully arrest its motion.

Strife launched into the offensive, striking out with Nakti in a fury. Akargan fell back, each time careful to block the light whip near the end to avoid being sliced from the blade’s wrap-around. Strife cracked his blade again and again, and Akargan dodged in a blur, the blade slicing into the floor over and over again, sending chunks of stone blasting into the air. He spun, bringing the whip down in a complex arc, and passed Akargan’s guard to cleave away a few centimeters of hair tied behind his head.

Akargan slid back out of range, spinning Sha’Kira in his palms. Pausing, Strife set Nakti back into blade mode and smiled again. His opponent stared at him in malevolent hate. They stood there for several seconds, long enough for sweat to begin to bead on their foreheads.

“You have improved your skills since our last encounter,” Strife offered. Then he narrowed his eyes, smiling harder. “But you see I’ve saved a few special techniques for this particular fight.”

“You’re no match for me,” Akargan sneered. “I’ve merely been toying with you, Strife. Perhaps it is time to unveil our true power.”

“Agreed,” Strife said. Then he took a breath, and the stones at his feet split as he launched himself forward.


Lasitus ran back into the audience chamber and skid to a halt. He could barely believe what was unfolding before his eyes.

Below him, on the main floor, the two Warlords moved like lightning. Even fully powered up, Lasitus could barely even see their movements as they fought. He froze, unable to take his eyes away. The two Shok’Thola glowed like stars with the power. He could feel it, right down to his very soul. It made him want to fall on the ground and weep.

He’d never felt anything like this before. Two Shok’Thola, fully powered up and engaged in combat with one another. Even during the Great War nothing like this had happened. The strength of the two men down there – it was incredible! Strife he could understand; after all, he’d been a legend long before Lasitus had been born. But Akargan – Lasitus remembered fighting alongside his former comrade as though it was yesterday. That man was not the same being as the one who now fought below him. He had… changed, utterly and completely, into something far beyond what mortal men could be.

Somewhere, among the maelstrom of emotions and thoughts running through him, a new thought emerged. I could have had that, he realized. If he’d somehow escaped imprisonment, it might be him down there instead of Akargan. Even after that, if he’d served Akargan well, then perhaps he might have become a Shok’Thola, too.

The thought disgusted him, yet at the same time he couldn’t deny its reality. Lasitus was still the man that he’d been before the long sleep, before amnesia had turned his former life into a hazy mist. But that could have been me, he thought, and the sense of longing nearly drove him mad.

In a flash the sense of reality returned. His eyes were transfixed on the Warlords below. And what he saw took his breath away.

The two Shok’Thola twirled in a dance of light, their blades moving so fast around their bodies they seemed continuous streaks of light surrounding them. They moved across the floor as they fought, their motions a blur.

Akargan struck with furious aggression, his face a mask of rage, his muscles rippling like wild, living creatures inside his body. Strife countered him, his lean form by contrast somehow able to parry blows that send shockwaves through the air. His face remained calm, composed, his eyes glowing like blue fire. He jumped, ducked and spun away from the massive Warlord’s attacks, dumbfounding Lasitus with each successive move. He stepped back, and somehow his blade became livid, snakelike, blocking and whipping around to strike Akargan from the side, from above – every conceivable angle. But Akargan’s speed kept him from taking hits, and he came in all the harder.

Akargan stabbed straight him them, his blade guards pinwheeling as his pommel spun in his hands. Strife parried and turned, spinning his body, swinging his hypersaber around to strike at his opponent’s back. Akargan rolled foreward and turned, then brought his blade up to parry the violet-white blade as it extended at least five meters to strike out at him. Then Akargan launched forward in a blur, forcing Strife back once more, but the man’s lithe body slid out of the way, twisting his blade and swinging as he moved. His blade passed underneath Akargan’s guard and split a gash across the man’s side as he passed.

By the time Lasitus realized what had happened, Akargan had already spun back around and the two were facing each other once more. Vaporized flesh and blood formed a small cloud that wafted away from his body. His face betrayed no pain – only surprise, visible in his widened eyes that had become almost pure white.

Before he realized it, Lasitus had leapt over the railing and dropped to the floor with a thud. The two Warlords continued to face off against one another, oblivious to their intruder’s presence.

“Akargan!” Lasitus yelled, staring across the floor at the Warlord.

The Warlord spared him a brief glance, no more. There was no sense of hostility there, yet neither was there a feeling of camaraderie. There was no request for help in that gaze. Lasitus was just an observer, a complete stranger.

Strife attacked.

If he’d appeared as a blur before, he seemed twice as fast, now. Akargan fell back, meeting him stroke for stroke. The sound of their clashes tore through the air, falling far behind the movements of their blades as their movements barely became visible. The two Warlords moved across the floor as though locked in an elaborate, beautiful dance, their blades wrapped in a continual clash of expertly-executed strikes, blocks and parries. Strife stuck, then fell back under a counterattack from Akargan, parried and went offensive again. Lasitus watched, unable to move, paralyzed with terror. If they even came near him, he’d be killed by a stray swing he might not even see.
The two Shok’Thola clashed again, held against each other for a split instant, then pushed away from each other again. Once more each measured the other, Akargan’s face a strained turmoil, Strife’s a mask of smiling confidence.

“DIE!” Akargan’s voice boomed throughout the chamber as he came in, striking horizontally with Sha’Kira, the blade glowing like the sun.

Strife blocked, but the force of the blow threw him back. He spun with the motion, allowing Akargan to pursue him, his blade suddenly changing back into its whip-setting again. He snapped the blade up, slapping Akargan’s next attack away, then slipped past his opponent again.

The two faced off once more. Then Strife moved forward in a blinding assault, his light-whip cracking through the air. He lashed out, striking Akargan’s blade on one side, then the other in the blink of an eye. Akargan parried, but the other’s blade was too fast, too mobile. His motions became just a nanosecond too slow. Strife’s blade bounced off his light-guard, striking twice on the left, then on the right. The unanticipated move succeeded; the glowing violet blade touched on one side, and something flashed, then the blade hit the other side and sparks flew out from Sha’Kira’s handle. Akargan ducked a wide horizontal blow and stepped back.

Two of his light guards had gone out already. As Lasitus watched, a second later a third light guard flickered and went out. Only one remained. Akargan glanced from his blade back to his opponent. Strife’s face was composed, deadly serious.
No words were exchanged, with a scream, Akargan ran forward, his veins near bursting, his eyes white. He glowed like the sun. Sha’Kira stabbed forward too fast to follow. Somehow, Strife moved out of the way. He slapped down Sha’Kira again and again, driving Akargan back has he spun one way, then the other. Akargan countered, Strife parried Akargan’s blade, then spun in close once more. His blade slashed upwards in a return stroke, and the violet-white blade severed Akargan’s right arm at the elbow.

Vaporized blood shot through the air. The blade and the arm holding it flew away. Akargan turned, his face a mask of shock. He did not cry out.

Like lightning, Strife struck out again, cleaving Akargan’s right leg off just above the knee.

Akargan pitched forward, catching himself with his remaining left hand. He fell to his remaining knee, his right leg a stump touching the floor. He grunted, then looked up at Strife, his face a mask of hatred. Strife stood above him, looking down dispassionately. Lasitus stood transfixed in shock, unable to look away. No...

…something… happened in that moment. Lasitus felt Strife reach out with the Force and touch Akargan in a way that he’d never felt before. Akargan’s eyes went wide. Even from this far away, he could clearly see as the Warlord’s gaze went from one of chagrined defeat to one pure terror in an instant, and he gasped, lurching forward as if in sudden agony.

Strife raised his blade. Akargan raised his head, struggling, as if feeling pain for the first time. He finally meet his opponent’s eyes.

“…Kigiras?” Akargan whispered. “What…”

Strife swung his blade in a final, horizontal strike, his massive blade cleaving Akargan’s head clean away from his shoulders. The head hit the floor and bounced, rolling away. The headless torso slumped to the ground.

Lasitus could only stare. It was over.

Then he felt it – a scream so visceral it sent shivers across his whole body. It wasn’t audible, it was felt, filling the Power within him and reverberating within his mind until he felt he would go mad. And it was made all the worse because he recognized the voice of that scream. Akargan’s voice.

Something terrible had just happened. And whatever it was, somehow Lasitus knew that Akargan was far worse than simply dead. It was as if he’d just heard a soul falling into hell itself.

He stood there, paralyzed, as Strife turned slowly away from his fallen opponent, surveying the room. Lasitus knew he would be seen; there was no escaping now.

The Warlord's eyes shifted to take in Lasitus, and he felt sheer terror run through him.

“So. Do you wish to try your luck?” Strife asked simply.

Lasitus stared at him wordlessly, unable to speak even if he’d known what to say. If the Shok’Thola decided to kill him, then he wouldn’t have a chance.

“Wait, I know you,” Strife said then, arching an eyebrow. "Isn't that yours?" He glanced down at the floor. Lasitus followed his gaze, and saw what the Warlord was gesturing at. Sha’Kira.

Lasitus tried to swallow hard, but his mouth was too dry. Strife had recognized him. But what did he want from Lasitus? Was he going to let him live? He dared not hold out hope. As long as he didn’t suffer the same fate that Akargan had, whatever it was…

“Take it,” Strife ordered, jolting him once more.

Obediently, Lasitus reached out with the Power. His onetime hypersaber lifted up off the floor and soared through the air to land in his hand. As his fingers fell around the hilt, a deluge of memories assaulted him. It had been a long time.

“You should return to your New Imperium,” Strife said, breakting through his memories. Lasitus looked up at the Warlord in shock.

“Tell your friends they are walking into a trap at Mizar,” the Warlord continued. “I will be there personally within days. I must first consolidate Akargan’s fleet.”

Lasitus blinked in dumbfounded shock. Why was the Warlord telling him this? He wanted to ask a question, to discover what he meant, but the words wouldn’t come out.

Strife’s gaze rose to the massive domed chamber around them, and when he looked back down, his expression became deadly serious.

“Akargan has many Jedicon in this place,” he said. “They must be neutralized. You have thirty seconds to be at least ten kilometers away from this facility before I completely obliterate it. Get as far away as you can. For someone of your level it shouldn’t be difficult.”

Lasitus felt his jaw drop. He gaped at the Warlord in shock.

“Go!” Strife shouted at him. He raised a hand at the ceiling, and Lasitus felt a blast of the Power unlike anything he could hope to equal. The domed roof caved in, creating a tunnel that rose steadily higher above him. Then the Warlord held out a hand, and a ball of pulsating energy began to grow within his palm.

There was no longer time to think. Gathering the Power within him, Lasitus jumped, using his strength to catch himself in the air and propel him upwards. The tunnel streaked past him as he flew, then suddenly the walls ahead gave way to open air.

He burst out of the palace, calling on the Power to give him speed like he’d never known before. The air ripped at him as he flew away, its fury abated only by the shield he erected around himself.

Lasitus flew away as far and as fast as he could, unable to comprehend what was happening. Why had Strife let him live? Why had he warned him about Mizar? How was he going to get back to Varnus and warn them?

His thoughts were dashed away as a brilliant light began to fill the air behind him. He spared a single glance backwards, just long enough to see the explosion reach up and fill the sky, turning the cityscape behind him into dust as the shockwave blasted out towards him.

Throwing every last ounce of energy into speed, Lasitus flew hard and fast. And he screamed, a wordless, thoughtless roar. And as the light reached out and enveloped him, he realized that he really didn’t understand anything at all.


* * *
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Offline J.A.

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Joined: Tue May 20, 2008 8:29 pm

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PostPosted: Thu Jul 08, 2010 3:32 am   Post subject: Re: "Remembrance" - By Joshua Ausley   

Angol Moa’s Laboratory
Location Unknown
Time Unknown



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

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

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

“What happened to the Celestials?”

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

“You do know, don’t you?” he said again after a while.

Her eyes glanced over at him, and for a second he thought they flared in annoyance. “Of course I do. It’s my position to know. There isn’t a scientific mystery in the known universe I haven’t already figured out. Except for one,” she added, tapping her cheek thoughtfully.

“What would that be?”

“It’s those little flakes that get stuck in your teeth when you eat gooji chips… I just can’t figure out how to stop them,” she said, grinning oddly again.

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

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

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

“You need to let go of your hate.”

“Just answer my question,” Xar said flatly.

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

“What do you mean?” he asked.

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

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

“I’ve told you what I know about him,” she replied.

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Don’t any of the other Warlords know?” he asked suddenly.

She glanced at him. “Know what?”

“About Altima’s true objective. The whole Altarin’Dakor, the Return itself. It’s just a farce, isn’t it? Altima doesn’t care if they succeed at all. He just Malduke. The Warlords have been completely duped.”

“People come up with their own reasons for doing what others want,” she said softly. “Wouldn’t you want to give some purpose to your life if you had lived for a thousand generations?”

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

He looked up as she gave a snort.

“Bah,” she said. “The Altarin’Dakor wouldn’t have a chance if they attacked Kajarn. Much less the other races of the intergalactic community.”

“The technological difference is that great?” he asked.

“Of course.”

He looked around the room. “You use nanotechnology,” he remarked. It was the only way they could do things like this, to cause matter to change so quickly and inexplicably. “So do the Altarin’Dakor. It’s called Shadowtech. Intelligent machines.”

“It is quite primitive, I assure you,” she said. “A pale comparison to ours. It’s actually flawed, which gives rise to the large rate of anomalies and malfunctions they’ve experienced. In the grand scheme of things, the Altarin’Dakor are mere cosmic adolescents,” she told him. ”The races of the intergalactic community are much older, and far more advanced. Your Altarin’Dakor foes wouldn’t get very far should they venture into a properly settled galaxy.”

“Then tell me,” he said. “If you’re supposed to be the greatest scientific genius the universe has ever seen, then why haven’t you been able to duplicate what the Celestials did?”

“What is it with you?” she sighed, shaking her head. “Are you trying to make me slip? Always asking about the Celestials... Always wanting to know secrets…. When will you learn?”

“Learn what?”

“That some things are best left alone.”

Xar snorted. It was just a simple question. She didn’t have to take it so personally. Xar had always had an insatiable thirst to know more about the universe, especially its ancient secrets. What was so wrong with that? “Sorry to bruise your ego,” he said. “We all have our limitations.”

She glanced sideways at him. “Who says I haven’t duplicated it, boy?” She gave a loud sniff. “Actually, I copied Celestial technology millennia ago. In my own way, of course. What they did wasn’t quite so impressive as you imagine, I’d wager. If you knew half of what the members of the intergalactic community are capable of, you’d probably wet your pants. Manufacturing planets, terraforming, stellar gateways, transplanted star systems – even virtual immortality. These things are readily available. There’s nothing the Celestials built that I haven’t already duplicated – or could surpass, if I chose to.”

She broke off then, and turned back to her screen. “Some things, however, are just too dangerous to play with.”

He thought on that for a moment. “The Collector?” he asked finally.

For a moment all he heard was the sound of her computer, beeping at her in a code that he supposed only she understood.

“It’s the one thing I swore I would never build again,” she said after a while. “Now, are you ready to begin?”

“I’m ready whenever you are. What are you going to do?”

She glanced down at him. “I’m going to put you to sleep for a while. Then I’ll find out some more.”


* * *


Titan-Class Battleship Eternity
In Orbit, Planet Tritonia
1900 Hours



Maarek no longer doubted the stories that he’d heard about Strife. They had to be true. Besides, at this point he’d probably believe anything he heard about him.

Strife had already been onboard the Eternity when Maarek landed. Somehow, he’d gotten offworld and returned without a single shuttle or ship of any kind returning from the planet. And after the explosion that had lit up the atmosphere, clearly visible even from space, Maarek hadn’t thought there was any chance the man had survived at all.

Yet somewhow he had. And as the Warlord stood in front of Maarek, he couldn’t help but acknowledge that the rumors had to be true.

“You performed excellently,” Strife said, standing in his robes in front of Maarek. “Well worthy of reward.”

“I have all I want,” Maarek heard himself say. “You’ve already given it to me.”

He knew it was true. There was no denying it. He felt more at home here than he’d ever had anywhere else.

He watched as Strife grinned at him. “Indeed. You have proven your loyalty to me, Maarek Stele. I know this because I know your innermost thoughts, and I know that you serve me faithfully. Therefore, for your service I will give you a new title, a new name for you to bear. From this day forward you will be known as Seitann Maarek Stele. In Altarin’Dakor, the meaning of Seitann is that of an emissary. From now on you are one of my emissaries, Maarek Stele.”

“Thank you,” Maarek said, unsure of what else to say. Some kind of title would have been the last thing he’d expected to receive.

The Warlord made a sound like a muffled chuckle. Then his face turned serious.

“And now that you have proven your loyalty, I would like to address the second thing I require of you, Maarek Stele.”

It took a second for Maarek to realize what he was hearing. Then he remembered their original conversation, over two months ago now. “And that would be?” he asked.

“Clones.”

Maarek blinked. Clones? “What kind?”

“Clones of you, Maarek Stele,” Strife replied, grinning again. “Now that I know you are able to master the Archon in every way, I will build an entire navy’s worth of Maarek Steles piloting my Archons. They will be more than enough to stop any military opponent that comes against me.”

Maarek stood in silent shock. Clones of him? He’d never thought anyone would want to do something like that to him. Was that kind of thing even possible? Besides which, he wasn’t sure how he felt about that concept. “That’s… quite a big commitment,” he said. “How long will it take to do?”

“It is already done,” Strife replied, sending him reeling again. “I merely required your DNA, Maarek, and full scans of your brainwaves and patterns, which we have already obtained,” Strife said, offering a hand. “If you wish, you are free to go. Or, you may live out the rest of your live in luxury in my territories. You could take wives…” He arched an eyebrow at him knowingly. “You could have anything you desire, Maarek.”

Alona’s face instantly popped into his head. Following some time after was Chele’s, and the thought of her dead body lying somewhere on the planet Borrose. The twinge of pain knowing she was gone bloomed back in his mind. He pushed it all to the side with some difficulty. “And the clones?” he asked.

“I will use the clones as I see fit, even taking them back to the Altarin’Dakor galaxy.”

“And will you use them to conquer this galaxy?” Maarek asked gruffly.

“That question is irrelevant to our deal,” Strife countered. “Assuming the Altarin’Dakor invasion is successful, the clones might not even be ready until it is all over. Perhaps the galaxy will already be under my control, or that of another Shok’Thola.. I am looking to the future, to what lies ahead, quite a few steps more than some of the others. There are many other galaxies out there, Maarek Stele.”

“I see,” Maarek replied, thinking. What did he have to lose? He was home here, anyway. He had carried the Warlord personally onboard his own fighter. He supposed that he had proven his loyalty, at that. “Well then… Let’s do this,” he said.

“You will stay with us, then?” Strife asked.

Maarek nodded once. “I will.”

The truth was, he didn’t care anymore, either way.


A few hours later, Maarek was back on the Eternity’s observation deck, watching as Akargan’s former ships were brought into formation with Strife’s fleet. Presumably commands were changing hands, and those factions that would be unwilling to change allegiances were being eliminated even as he watched.

He was aware of Alona’s presence even before she stepped up beside him. That he could do that now – with his budding Force abilities – continued to amaze him. But not as much as the look in her eyes as he turned to look at her.

“You are staying with us,” she said.

“I’m staying with you,” he said, staring into her eyes.

She didn’t even blush. She merely returned his gaze. “There are more battles ahead, you know.”

“I know,” he said. “And I’ll fight them beside you, every step of the way.” He glanced back out at the stars again. “I’m a pilot, Alona. Stang, war is all I’ve known for so long, there’s nothing really else out there for me. Except for you. I’m glad we can do this together. This is what we were made for.”

“I understand what you mean, Tan Stele,” she said.

Maarek turned his head to look back at her. “Why do you call me that?” he asked.

“It is the short form for Seitann. It is a term of endearment,” she explained.

A smile played across her mouth. He stared into her eyes for a moment, then reached a hand behind her head, taking hold of her thick azure locks, and drew her lips to his.


* * *


Angol Moa’s Laboratory
Location Unknown
Time Unknown



“Welcome back,” Angol Moa said as Xar’s eyelids flickered back open. He looked up at her and saw her still sitting above him just as she was before.

“I have good news,” she said, then broke off and paused thoughtfully for a moment. “Well, I suppose it’s actually bad news, but at least it is progess.”

“What do you mean?” he demanded. “Just tell me.”

“I have isolated your problem, my boy. The good news is that you’re not completely insane. The two personalities within you are very much real. They’re not a physical manifestation on your brain at all. Part of their spirit is trapped inside you, intertwined with your own.”

“So how do we get them out?” he asked.

“That is the part you’re not going to like,” she said. “Their personalities have nearly bonded to yours, making you a completely different person from what you might otherwise be. It is good that you came to me now. If you had waited much longer it might have been too late. But I cannot forcibly remove them from the outside. The only way to do that is deep within your own psyche.” She arched an eyebrow at him. “You’re going to have to face them. You’ll have to fight them off, eject them from your own psyche. And if you lose, it might be yourself who is cast out, instead.”

He shivered at that thought. “Can’t you help me?” he asked.

“I’m afraid this is something you’ll have to do by yourself,” she replied. “I can only provide the doorway inside.”

For a moment he didn’t speak.

“Give it some thought,” she said. “When you are ready, let me know when you to want to proceed.”

That night, he didn’t sleep well. In his dreams, he did bad things, hurt people that he knew he really cared about. In his dreams, he was a different person. And when he saw his face in those dreams, it wasn’t himself that he was seeing. It was always the face of Krun, or Runis. It was never Xar.


* * *
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