|The New Imperium Plotline Forum
|"Remembrance" - By Joshua Ausley - Completed!
|Page 3 of 4|
|Author:||J.A. [ Mon Jul 19, 2010 3:22 am ]|
|Post subject:||Re: "Remembrance" - By Joshua Ausley|
Titan-class Battleship Grand Crusader
In Orbit, Mizar System
“Sir, a Titan-class battleship had just decloaked a point two-five-seven!”
The call blared out from beside his cot, waking him almost instantly. With the lights still dimmed, he nevertheless dressed in a rush, then strode out of the ready room, where he’d had a makeshift quarters set up so he could be close in case something happened. Somethinmg like this.
Gaius was on the bridge within moments of the call going out. The fatigue from the short, fitful sleep he’d been having quickly vanished as he saw what was waiting for him outside the forward viewports.
A monstrosity eating away at least a quarter of the sky floated out in space in front of them. It was pitch black, making it stand out in sillouette against the Galbagos Nebula filling the sky behind it. Two massive, wickedly-curved arms stretched out in front of a broader central hub, making it look like a massive, spiky beetle’s head floating in space. But there was more than just a visual sense about the ship. Through the Force Gaius could feel the evil emanating off of it. It wasn’t just the ship that was the threat; there was a powerful presence inside of it, and it felt more dangerous than the Titan ever could be.
It was nearly fifty kilometers long. He remembered a time he’d stood in disbelief at seeing a ship of that size. No longer. Now he was commanding one of his own.
Walt Amason had been watching the bridge in Gaius’ off-shift. He spun around in Gaius’ chair as he noticed the fleet commander’s entry. The whole bridge was a bustle of activity behind and below him.
“What have we got?” Gaius asked as he walked up.
“The ship is called the Dark Sun,” Walt said, coming to his feet. “We’ve never seen this particular Titan before.”
Gaius took a deep breath, looking out the viewports again. The ship outside was huge, but not as large as the Grand Crusader. They weren’t outmatched yet. The question was, however, was this ship alone, or were there others, cloaked just as theirs were?
A chime sounded throughout the bridge. “We are being hailed,” the Comm officer reported.
Gaius exchanged quick glances with Amason. “What are they saying?”
The Altarin’Dakor officer paused, perhaps to translate in his head what she was hearing. “They are asking our purpose for being here, and to speak with the commanding officer,” she reported.
“That would be me,” Gaius said. Walking over, he took the empty chair that Amason had vacated. Walt took up a place beside him, for support if needed.
“What is our response sir?” the woman asked him.
Gaius put an elbow up on his armrest and stroked the stubble that had started working its way out of his chin. He hesitated before replying to the woman. This situation was delicate. He needed more information. Was it just one Titan, or more? He had three more cloaked Titans in close formation around him, his surprise card. But he needed time to assess his enemy before he knew which action to take. Could this be decided diplomatically, or would force be necessary”
“Maybe we can scare them off,” Walt suggested at his side.
Gaius considered his options. He didn’t want to reveal his hand prematurely, but he also couldn’t ignore the communiqué, either. “Send them a message,” he ordered. “Ask them what they are doing here. Tell them the Mizar is under our jurisdiction.” He hestitated, mind working quickly to find a way through this. “Tell them it’s under Nimrod’s jurisdiction,” he finished.
For a moment the officer just stared at him, doing nothing. Gaius wondered if he’d somehow violated a cultural taboo or something by invoking Nimrod’s name. You just never know with these blasted Altarin’Dakor, he thought. He wished he had the dayshift officer here instead, but there simply weren’t enough NI personnel to man all the shifts. “Is there a problem?” he asked finally.
The woman straightened, as if realizing she’d been gaping at him and that she wasn’t supposed to do that. “No sir,” she said in a monotone voice. “It is… an unusual thing to say.”
“That’s the idea,” Gaius told her. “Send the message.”
“Understood, sir.” Then she leaned over her console and began speaking into the receiver.
For several moments, Gaius and Walt waited without any sign of a response. The constant hum of activity on the bridge around them was the only thing to be heard.
“Well?” Gaius asked.
The Comm officer looked back up at him. “They are not replying, sir.”
“Figures,” Walt spoke up.
“They’re trying to decide if we’re bluffing,” Gaius told him. “This should buy us some time.”
“Time for what?” Walt asked.
“To figure out what our next move is,” Gaius said.
* * *
Titan-class Battleship Eternity
Days had passed since Maarek’s sudden promotion, and his decision to stay with Strife’s fleet. They had left Tritonia, jumping to another system, though Maarek wasn’t sure where. It had to still be inside Epsilon Sector, though. He knew they weren’t leaving, yet.
The days of downtime had also given him as much uninterrupted time with Alona as he could have hoped for. During that time, their bond had deepened even further. Hours on the observation deck, long walks in the envirodecks, and most importantly, lots of conversation. He had been fascinated to learn about where she was from, and what turns her life had taken to bring her to this point.
She’s been trained almost from birth to be a Jedicon pilot, he thought. Maarek could only imagine what it must have been like to have your destiny set for you for as long as one could remember. Alona had been the star of her class, and her amazing powers in the Force had put her on track to become one of the Shok’Thola’s most elite squadron pilots. Slowly, Maarek came to understand what her position truly entailed. The chances of being selected to serve in the position she held were literally one in a million. Alona was the envy of thousands, millions of Altarin’Dakor pilots and Jedicon alike all throughout Strife’s vast empire. She was a personal servant to their supreme ruler, a man their great-great grandparents had learned to serve and worship from the day they were born.
In comparison to that, Maarek didn’t consider his own life to be that remarkable. Yet Alona was fascinated with every aspect of Maarek’s life from his childhood to his Imperial pilot days, all the way to his time in the NI. She didn’t take it offensively that he’d killed Altarin’Dakor pilots – after all, she reasoned, it was a war – and she found it especially interesting to hear how Maarek had saved Emperor Palpatine – the former ruler of this galaxy. He supposed that she could relate well to what his role had been, at least for that mission, anyway: the personal bodyguard of an unquestionable authority.
She also wanted to know all about Maarek’s parents, Kerek and Marina Stele. Maarek was reluctant to reveal too much, however, especially what their current whereabouts were. It wasn’t that he didn’t trust her – no, he trusted her more than anyone – it was just that old habits died hard. He hadn’t spoken of his parents to anyone in years. Not since Vader had lied to him about releasing his father.
The days went by so quickly that he didn’t even notice the fact that Strife’s fleet was amassing in a single location again until they had already done so. One evening, on the observation deck, he noticed far more ships around than he’d ever seen in the fleet before. Strife was getting ready for another big move. Maarek understood – he’d defeated one big opponent, now he wanted to keep the momentum up. But what would their next mission be? Would they go up against yet another Shok’Thola? Or would they be turning their guns onto the New Imperium next?
His questions about Strife’s plans were soon answered. Maarek had been called back to the Warlord’s war room, for what would now be the third time. Each one so far had signified a momentous change in Maarek Stele’s life. Would this one be the same?
Now, staring at the giant map floating in the air with Strife standing on the other side, he held his breath in anticipation for whatever he was about to hear. Because whichever direction it went from here, the changes would be momentous, indeed.
“Here,” Strife said, gesturing at the holographic representation of the Mizar system floating in the air between them. “From this you can see that the New Imperium Starfleet has amassed in the Mizar System. They moved in several weeks ago and secured it before anyone else could move in.”
Maarek looked at the map, feeling more than a bit of shock. The New Imperium had taken Mizar! The first time they’d tried, it had been one of the worst defeats of the war, and one of the bloodiest battles Maarek had ever seen. Now the NI had been successful, and Maarek hadn’t been there to see it. “What are these other blips?” he asked, pointing.
“Unfortunately,” Strife said, “a coalition of Shok’Thola appear to have banded together and positioned their fleets opposite those of the NI. My sources tell me that the fleets belong to the Shok’Thola Asellus, Kronos, Calvernic, and Velius.”
Maarek felt a chill run down his spine. Four Warlords together!
“This is an unprecedented opportunity,” Strife said, glancing sideways at him. “One we cannot afford to pass up. Five Shok’Thola, including Zalaria. If they can be eliminated, then there would only be four Shok’Thola left remaining within the entire Altarin’Dakor, including me. In addition, my superiority over the others would be unquestionable, as I would be the strongest by far. The entire Altarin’Dakor empire might even fall under my command, at that point.”
“So, we’ll be going in, then,” Maarek said, taking a breath and glancing again at the map. It would be oa battle of legendary proportions.“When?”
“Our forces will assemble immediately. We will hold just outside the system, in Ultraspace, and wait for the right time to enter the engagement.”
Maarek nodded slowly. Then, irresistible, the next question on his mind came to his lips. “Whose side will we be fighting on?”
Strife met Maarek’s eyes with his own. “That has yet to be determined,” he said. “We will continue to watch the situation, and when the time has come, we will move.”
Maarek merely nodded, turning to study the holographic display in more detail. He pushed aside his worries; he had to trust Strife. And even if things turned out differently, he knew that in war things were never clear. Allegiances shifted.
“You must obey my commands no matter what, Maarek Stele,” Strife said, taking his attention again. “Even if you do not understand them at the time.”
“I understand,” Maarek replied profesionally.
“You belong to me, now.”
Maarek glanced back at him, and he knew he couldn’t deny that fact any more. “I’ll be ready,” he said.
* * *
|Author:||J.A. [ Sun Jul 25, 2010 4:32 am ]|
|Post subject:||Re: "Remembrance" - By Joshua Ausley|
Angol Moa’s Laboratory
The experiments continued for quite some time. Xar was beginning to lose patience with Angol Moa.
Xar seriously doubted that Angol Moa was what she and Icis claimed. The thought that anyone could be as old and as smart as her, and could accomplish so much, was starting to feel a bit far-fetched.
After all, he’d been here for weeks, now, and still she hadn’t figured out a solution to his problem. If she couldn’t do it, then he’d rather have her come out and admit it, rather than keep leading him on like this. If he was going to go insane, then he didn’t want to do it cooped up inside her laboratory.
Now he found himself in yet another scanning chamber. She must have run the same scans on him a hundred times by now, he surmised. What good was it to do more? Sitting there at her hovering seat, there was an almost haunted look to her face. It was barely perceptible, well hidden. But more than ever he felt a sense of sadness about her. Maybe she was realizing that Xar couldn’t be saved.
“Any progress?” he asked for what must have been the thousandth time.
“Progress is always being made,” she said. “I must assemble more data before I can give you a more accurate picture of the situation.”
Xar grunted; he’d heard that answer quite a few times already. She never said any more than that. She just kept working, her eyes rarely blinking, fingers working furiously. There. The corners of her eyes dropped just slightly. It was barely noticeable, but the sadness was definitely there.
“What’s with the look?” he said.
“What do you mean?”
“You’re not exactly your normal, perky self,” he said in a sarcastic tone.
She glanced down at him. “We Kajeat are highly sensitive to the feelings of those around us,” she said softly. “It helps us to understand others better, and therefore chronicle their lives. Certain things in your life… remind me of tragic events in mine,” she finished.
That was about as open an answer as he’d ever gotten out of her. “Did you… lose someone?” Xar asked. He was guessing – but maybe it really was just disappointment in her lack of progress. Was this creature even capable of something resembling a normal relationship – much less love?
She frowned for a moment, as though she knew exactly what he was thinking. Then she sighed. “My… husband, and my child, both perished in our home dimension. They were too close to the Entity, and I could not save them.”
Her words struck a chord in Xar. He’d never considered the possibility that she could have been married, once. And a mother.
He frowned. “But couldn’t you… you know… draw them back here? Couldn’t you pull them out whenever you draw a new Traveler into this dimension?”
“It doesn’t work that way,” she told him. “We cannot choose a certain individual to bring back. Believe me, I’ve tried.”
“I… see. I’m sorry,” he said.
“You must reconcile yourself to the loss of the boy,” she told him eventually.
Xar snapped his head up in surprise. “What does that mean?”
She didn’t answer him. Instead she said, “You have to move on, Xar.”
“That’s none of your business,” he snapped. But after a moment, he relented. If what she told him was true about her family – and that was a big if – then she should understand what he was feeling. But then again, he didn’t fully understand it, himself.
“I should have protected him,” he said finally.
“You have to forgive yourself,” she said instead.
Xar took a deep breath. His voice had become unsteady – he hadn’t spoken about this with anyone, yet. “I can’t let his memory die. D…” Stang, but it was hard to say that name… “Derek would have been stronger, greater than I ever could be,” he said. “He had a bright future – a destiny. And it was snuffed out.”
“It is not your place to make that determination,” she said. “The boy Derek’s destiny was his own. Who is to say that his sole purpose was not to draw you into what you now face?”
“How can you say that?!” Xar exclaimed. “You coldhearted…”
“Do you know yourself believe in sacrificing your life for that of others?” she interrupted him. “Haven’t you risked your life many times for your wife, for your people?”
He broke off. The casualness of her comment was dismaying, as though she were suggesting that Derek had been something less than a real, living being. Xar shook his head. It was impossible. The Force couldn’t be that cruel. “You’re forgetting one thing,” he said. “I was supposed to die. We never would have discovered something was wrong with me if my son hadn’t come back to save me. If only he could have saved Derek, too…”
“You have to focus your mind into the present, boy.”
“I have to mourn him!” he countered. “And I won’t tolerate your disrespecting him again.”
She sniffed loudly again. “Perhaps. But there is little time for the healing process, I’m afraid. You are holding back, and I cannot help you if you won’t let me.”
“What do you know about healing wounds?” he shot back. “You’re a killer, too, far worse than me. Oblivion’s too good of a place for your soul to rest.” And he hoped she burned there, when she finally died – whenever that might be.
Angol Moa arched an eyebrow. If his words perturbed her, she showed little more, yet that one gesture felt like a yell. “I am not playing games, boy.,” she quipped back at him. “Consider this: you may have lost one who was like a son to you, but you have gained two other, true sons, instead.”
Xar looked up. “What do you mean by that?”
“You have Derek, the son resting within the womb of your wife. And you have the Derek who came from the future and saved your life – soon he will return to be with you.”
“But that can’t be,” Xar countered, shaking his head. “How can there be two at the same time?”
“Your son Derek has the ability to transverse the pattern of space-time,” she said. “Perhaps you do not fully realize the implications of his decision to help you. When he altered history in that way, he changed forever the future that he knew. Now he is all that remains of that timeline, of that entire universe.
“Now the boy who grew up without you will never be. The child that is now within his mother will grow up a different reality, with a father to guide him. Future Derek still has those memories, of course, but the moment he changed history, the mother that raised him alone and the timeline in which he grew up have now effectively ceased to exist – or at least, they are now inaccessible to him. He is trapped in this timeline forever, now. He gave up all of that – everything that he knew, Xar. He gave it up for you.”
Xar listened, but didn’t look at her. He was at a loss for what to say.
“He shouldn’t have done it,” he declared finally. “One man’s life could never be that important, to trade for everyone else’s.” Everyone in the universe.
“So you wish that you had died?”
“Don’t play games with me,” he said. “You’re just trying to justify killing off everyone in your universe. My son would never do that. He’s a good man – better than you’ll ever be.”
“Whether his actions were right or wrong is irrelevant, now,” she told him. “The universe is amoral, Xar. Decisions are made and must be lived with. I have come to terms with myself. You must do the same for you.”
“We’ll see about that,” he said, wishing he knew of something better to say. All he could think about was what his son Derek had told him, that he’d grown up with only his mother to guide him, and that he’d taken an incredible risk to come and save his father, to change history.
Xar was supposed to die on Varnus, that day. Derek wouldn’t have traded an entire universe just to save his father’s life, would he? Did time really work that way? He didn’t know – and that lack of knowing was unbearable. It couldn’t be true. Derek had to be a better man than Xar was.
Angol Moa began typing on her screen again, and he heard the scanners firing up once more. “What’s done is now in the past, Xar,” her words echoed throughout the chamber. “What matters now is that you must live in such a way as to prove his actions worth the cost.”
* * *
That night, the nightmares came in force.
Xar rolled over, burying his face into his pillow. Heaving sobs, dry sobs without tears, raked through his body. He gripped the sheets in clenched fists, pulling on them tightly as he could in a body that suddenly felt sapped of strength, as impotent as his ability to turn back time and change what had happened.
Why had she had to mention the boy? Xar had managed to push it far, far away, into the deepest corner of his mind where he’d locked the events away tightly. He hadn’t had time to think about it, and he knew that he wasn’t strong enough to take it even if he did. That day on Varnus part of him had died just as certainly as if hi son hadn’t rescued him.
In fact, that was the key; Xar was supposed to have died. If he had, he never would have known that the boy had been killed by those Jedicon. Xar could have slept in peace forever. But instead he had to live now in the agony of that knowledge. Angol Moa had thrust those doors in his mind open, and now the full power of that devastation rushed through him in a chaotic maelstrom.
Derek was dead. He accepted that fact, now, and the despair was overwhelming. He was never coming back. Never! It was so surreal, like a dream that he had to wake up from. How could it be?!
He was just a boy! The thought tormented his soul endlessly. Xar had done everything – everything! – in his power to keep him safe, away from the conflict. Why had hit happened? Why?! Derek had been so kind, so endearing, so innocent! He hadn’t deserved this!
Oh, kriff! his mind raced. Kriff it all! It’s not FAIR!
Suddenly, the room felt different.
“You’ll soon be joining him,” a raspy voice sounded from within the darkness.
Xar jolted awake, sitting upright, his heart racing. Sweat-soaked sheets fell to his waist as he looked around. There, in the doorway, was a sillouetted figure. As he watched, heart pounding in his chest, the figure moved forward slightly, just enough for the light to illuminate his features.
The man had long, dark and unkempt hair. His face was marred by the ugly scar stretching across his face. His eyes were dark, sinister. It was Dasok Krun.
“What’s the matter, Kerensky?” Krun taunted him. “Afraid to die?”
Xar screamed, lunging out of bed and reaching desperately for the Force. “Lights!” he shouted, causing the room to illuminate. He cast about for his lightsaber, but it took only a second to remember he’d left it back on the Black Star.
He turned to look back at the figure in the doorway. Then Dasok Krun turned and ran from the room.
Xar took off after him, allowing the Force to rush through his body. He passed through the doorway out into the cool night air, the sounds of Angol Moa’s forest surrounding the apartment he’d been given to sleep in.
Dasok Krun was already a good twenty paces ahead of him, barreling towards the entrance to Angol Moa’s laboratory. He glanced behind him as Xar stood there, hesitating. This isn’t real, he thought. It had to be an illusion, a product of his own mind working over time. But Krun looked so real… Could it really be him, still existing somewhere inside Xar’s mind? Was that was was controlling this image in front of him?
“Come get me, Kerensky!” shouted Krun from below. “Do you think you can kill me? Do you think you’ll be able to stop me? I killed your whole family, Kerensky! Your father, your mother, your sister and your brothers.” He laughed then, a sound rich with the utter vileness of the dark soul that rested within. “I even killed your uncle,” he finished with a grin.
Xar was running again in an instant, barreling towards the murderous creature below him. He didn’t care whether Krun was real or not; he was going to kill him tonight. Even if he had to burn part of his brain out to do it.
Krun turned and continued running, heading for the entrance. He slipped through into the laboratory just ahead of Xar, disappearing for a moment out of sight.
Xar passed through the entrance and paused, scanning the giant vaunted area beyond. Krun had vanished.
Ahead lay the gardens situated directly underneath the first massive dome, the one with the holographic creatures.
“Over here, Kerensky!”
There he was. Standing over near the side wall to the right, just in the shadows, grinning wickedly.
With a roar, Xar thrust out his hand and send a blast of energy out at his enemy. The flash of energy crossed the space and slammed into Krun, who exploded into a hundred pieces. Glints of metal and plasteel flew through the air. It didn’t take long for Xar to realize what it was.
One of Angol Moa’s droids.
“I’m here, Kerensky!” Krun’s voice came.
Xar looked up at the bridge arching ten meters above the gardens, allowing its travelers a superb view of the scenery below. Krun was standing directly in center of it, glaring down at Xar, hands on the banister.
Xar sent another blast out towards his enemy. Dasok Krun exploded. Sparks and pieces of synthetic material flew everywhere, and a cloud of smoke rolled upwards from the wreckage.
Another droid down, Xar thought. Maybe at this rate I’ll destroy all of those blasted things.
But what about Krun? What if he didn’t go away, this time? Would he really go insane?
“Kerensky!” Krun laughed wildly from somewhere else. Xar snapped his head around and saw the man darting from one of the side hallways.
He took off after him, following him into the gardens. If Krun thought he could lose him there, he was sorely mistaken.
He followed a narrow path into the gardens, temporarily losing sight of his quarry. He could still hear Krun’s footsteps, though, coming from somewhere. Crouching down, he slipped off the path into the dense foliage.
Tracking more by his natural instincts than the Force, he skirted through the tall ferns surrounding him, coming around to flank his opponent. He finally emerged into a clearing a few moments later. Sure enough, there was Krun, standing still next to a babbling brook and waterfall, his back turned to Xar.
Drawing on a surge of the Force, Xar lunged forward at his enemy. At the last second Krun turned, a mad smile painted across his face, then Xar thrust out a fist with all his might and sent the man’s head flying from his shoulders.
Sparks flew from the headless droid as it collapsed into the waters. The head crashed into the underbrush somewhere out of sight. Another one down, Xar thought feeling a wicked grin creep across his face. This was actually becoming enjoyable…
“That will be enough, boy.”
Angol Moa’s voice cut through the air like a knife. He turned toward the sound, over to where a short bridge rose up to cross the brook as it flowed downstream.
There she was. Standing there in all of her terrifying glory, her hair spreading out in the darkness wildly like rays of dusk sunlight. The woman who, so he was to believe, was the oldest living being in the universe.
If Shok’Thola were guilty of horrible crimes in the thousand generations they’d lived – if they deserved to die for what they had committed, then what must this woman have done after four times that lifespan? What must she deserve to endure for her own crimes? The Warlords had wiped out whole races, but this woman had destroyed an entire universe. And Xar was the only person who knew. He was the only person who stood in a position to bring about justice.
“I said that’s enough,” Angol Moa repeated. “Stop this nonsense.”
“I will not,” he said back defiantly. “I’m through taking orders from you. You’ve wasted enough of my time. I know you can’t help me.” He gave her a wicked grin. “Admit it! You’ve finally met your match! A problem you couldn’t solve! Well, from here on out I’ll take my chances elsewhere. I’ll defeat Krun and Runis on my own, on my terms.”
“Focus, Xar!” she shouted at him. “Search your feelings. You are not yourself! Krun is inside your mind!”
“Part of Krun,” he countered. “But I have my whole mind. I’m stronger than he is. Stronger than both of them combined!”
“Don’t be a fool! If I lose you then our chances of defeating the Entity…”
“I’m not listening to any more of this!” he spat at her. “You created that thing! You’re as guilty as the Altarin’Dakor!”
Her eyes narrowed. “I’ve never denied my…”
He stopped listening to her. His vision had d gone red, and all he could focus on was the anger and rage boiling inside of him. “It’s time you learned to deal with your own problems!” he shouted, shaking his head. He couldn’t believe the audacity with which she walked around, pretending to be some great matriarchal figure, all the while hiding the fact that she was the biggest killer in all of history.
“You’ve killed far more than the Altarin’Dakor ever will,” he declared. “In fact, the Altarin’Dakor are your fault! Every death they’ve caused can be placed in your hands! Even…” He flinched as the realization suddenly hit him. The AD killed Derek. It was like a sledgehammer to the stomach. The sense of loss hit and overwhelmed him instantly. The anger, the frustration at not being able to do anything, at being powerless to change the past, sent the rage spiking in his mind.
Xar glared at Angol Moa with hate-filled eyes. “YOU killed him!” he shouted.
He clenched his fists, reaching out to draw all of his power, enough to destroy her. He reached out – and froze in complete shock.
He couldn’t touch the Force! At first he thought she’d outsmarted him, and his hatred boiled all the more. But no – the Force was there, just not in the way that he was used to. This feeling, this way – it felt old and familiar. He could take hold of it once more, if he wished.
Letting his anger fuel him, he reached for the Force again and seized it by force, commanding it to do his will.
He reached out towards Angol Moa, and sheets of lightning shot out of his outstretched fingers at her.
She looked almost as shocked as Xar felt as the dark power flowed through him again.
Her surprise lasted only a second. The lightning didn’t come within two meters of her – it simply dissipated against an invisible bubble surrounding her that he hadn’t been able to see.
His anger unabated, he let the lightning die. Very well then. If that wasn’t strong enough for her, then perhaps this would be. Clenching his fists together, he drew on all the Force he could muster, then thrust his arms out at her and sent a blast of Force Destruction erupting from his palms.
Angol Moa’s eyes widened. She took a step back, thrust out a hand just as Xar’s blast reached her. Light and energy shot out from her hand and touched Xar’s
The blast illuminated the jungle all around them, and a gust of wind made Angol Moa’s hair stand out behind her head. Her robes flapped wildly, and the foliage around them swayed violently.
Finally the eruption died down, and dark and quiet settled around them once more. Xar cursed at seeing how ineffective his attack had been. There had to be some way…
“How far will you go to satisfy your thirst for vengeance?” Angol Moa said, her voice eerily still, yet somehow piercing the quiet like a thunderclap.
“Kriff you…” Xar spat. “I’ll show you…”
“Will you allow the dark side to consume you once more? Tell me Xar, who is in control, now?”
“I…” he began to say, then paused. The dark side.
Realization struck so hard that he collapsed to his knees instantly. He fell over in shock, hunched over on the ground, hands sliding through the wet soil beneath him.
Just as quickly as it had come, the anger and the hatred faded away to nothing. He understood now what had been happening. I let Krun take control, he realized. I used the dark side. I swore I never would again. What have I done?
The sense of guilt was overwhelming. In a moment Xar had thrown away everything he believed in. He’d even tried to kill Angol Moa. What has happening to him? How could he live with himself like this?
Suddenly he was aware of Angol Moa standing over him. He pushed himself up on his hands and knees, forced himself to look up at her. He wondered if she was going to kill him now. If so, he knew that he deserved it.
“The transition is almost complete,” she said. Her eyes – and her voice – were both full of pity. “We don’t have a lot of time left, Xar.”
“I…” he tried to say, choking up. He stared at the ground, water dripping down off his face. “What’s… happening to me? I don’t understand…”
She knelt down in front of him, and he felt her hand touch his shoulder. “This is a most sinister attack against you, Xar,” she said. “There is no way you can defend yourself against it.”
Suddenly her hand was under his chin, guiding his head up. “Look at me,” she said.
He met her gaze, his emotions welling up like a bursting dam, unstoppable. “I hate them so much…” he croaked. “They took everything away from me. My father… My mother… My brother and sister…” Even his uncle, Aron. “Even Derek. He’s dead…!” he broke off, unable to utter another word.
“Oh, child,” she said. “Come here.”
Willingly, he collapsed into her arms, put his head into her lap, and wept uncontrollably. Great sobs ripped through him, muffled only by his face buried in her dress.
“Your pain runs deeply, child,” she explained her voice coming soft to his ears. “You were not allowed a normal life to grow up in. As a child you were forced to grow up quickly. Then that young man was subjected to endure things very few people ever have to endure.”
He cried for a long time, letting out all the hurt, all the anger at what Runis, Krun – and the Altarin’Dakor – had done to him. To his family. He felt he would never heal from the pain, it was so debilitating. How could he have been so stoic, so emotionless, for so long? He hadn’t mourned them; he’d held it all inside. Now it was coming out at a rush, uncontrollable.
After what felt like an eternity, he felt her hands on his face, her touch soothing as cool water on a hot day. He felt warmth spreading throughout his body, filling him with a sense of reassurance, of safety, of hope. “There, there,” she whispered, rocking him back and forth.
Xar let himself become lost in that warm embrace. He couldn’t help it; never before had anyone felt so much like a mother to him. He understood now that she was the oldest living woman – the oldest living mother – in the entire universe. She may not have created it herself, but she surely knew more than anyone else possibly could. A thousands questions surfaced in Xar’s mind, questions about himself, about his life. Would she have the answers to all of them? To the things that Xar had always wondered?
Sometime later Angol Moa lifted his head up to look into his eye.. He saw little more than a blur as she spoke to him. “We will have to deal with these issues inside of you if you wish for true restoration to take place,” she said. “But for now, child, rest. Come. I will help you keep the dreams at bay.”
* * *
Grand Master Alyx Misnera sat with the remaining members of his Jedi Council, attempting to solve the problems only they could, using what creativity and resources they had, even though each of them probably hadn’t had a decent sleep in months, at the least.
Cups of caf sat in front of each member gathered, steam wafting inexorably upwards from the dark liquid inside. Some were on their second or third cups. Alyx blinked until the stinging sensation left his eyes. He hadn’t gotten much sleep lately, and Force-induced trances only helped for so long. He was long past that point, now.
Every day from the moment he awoke to the time he fell asleep was spent trying to piece Vectur back together. Xar had dropped the whole disaster squarely in Alyx’s lap. He’d never asked to be an administrator – Xar was better at that, even though he’d always shirked those kinds of duties. How was he supposed to put an entire city back together?
And now, it was clear that even the combined knowledge and know-how of Kiz Thrakus, Vynd Archaron, Jinx Skipper, and Atridd Xoan wasn’t enough to solve all their problems.
Alyx had had enough.
“Construction has stopped once again,” Jinx reported. “Contractors are tired of not being paid, and we don’t have enough money in the treasury to pay…”
“What about clearing the rubble from the streets?” Alyx cut in.
“A lot of progress has been made,” Thrakus added, “but it’s the same problem now. We haven’t paid wages in six weeks now.”
“Let them do it volunteer, then,” Alyx countered gruffly. “They live here too, don’t they?”
“Sir, people need to earn money to buy food so they can eat,” Kiz replied. “Not to mention to pay back their debts, their houses, transportation… The economy can’t recover from this overnight. With our infrastructure having taken so many hits, it may never recover.”
“We might as well face it, Alyx,” Jinx spoke back up. “We can’t rebuild Vectur just like it was. Not for… well… years. We might not even be able to rebuild the palace like it was. People don’t want to work here anymore.”
Alyx dropped his head, feeling the steam of his caf waft up over his nostrils. They were right, he knew. The whole NI economy had collapsed. It had become impossible to undo the damage done by the Altarin’Dakor invasion. It would take years just to get them back to where they had been, and that was assuming people stayed around to invest in the NI all over again. That didn’t seem likely – people were leaving in droves, calling themselves “refugees”. He shook his head in disgust. Refugees from the government that protected them.
“Keep sending out the recruiting advertisements,” he told them. “And the marketing campaigns. Maybe we can keep people from leaving and attract people back to Vectur. Promise them we won’t let any AD near Varnus, ever.”
“But, sir, with due respect, they’re already here…” Thrakus began.
“I am aware of that,” Alyx said, grabbing his caf in a clenched grip. “But we have to do whatever it takes. Even if it means kicking any AD off of Varnus, whether they’re helping us or not.”
“We can just make sure all AD are with the main fleet at Mizar,” Vynd put in. “They need all the forces they can get, and we certainly don’t need – or want – them here.”
“Gaius is still asking for more of our Jedi to supplement the forces there,” Atridd said.
“He’ll have to do without,” Alyx declared. “We’ve hardly any Jedi left to even rebuild the Order. Xar’s managed to run off even his most loyal followers.”
That comment sent silence around the table for a long moment. Alyx shook his head in disgust. Things were bad – they didn’t even speak up when he put Xar down in front of them. Alyx didn’t care; the man deserved every bit of it, and more. Even Akala had resigned, six weeks earlier. Citing that Xar had abandoned him, he’d left in disgrace. Alyx couldn’t forgive Xar for that.
“I’m tired of fighting Xar’s personal wars,” he said. He looked up, met the gazes of the other men around the table. They looked tired – but he felt more fatigued than any of them appeared.
“With all due respect again,” Thrakus spoke up, “This isn’t about Xar anymore. The New Imperium needs us. The question is, are we still a part of it? I, for one, am.”
“And I am, too,” Jinx added. “If for no other reasion, the NI is the only hope my people have at this moment.”
Suddenly the doors burst open without warning. Ready to expect anything at this point, Alyx spun towards the sound, already drawing on the Force, feeling the men around him doing likewise.
Standing in the doorway was a tall man in worn robes. His long, dirty blonde hair hung down from his head, framing a face full of weariness and pain. Alyx hadn’t seen that face in months.
It was Bren.
“You,” Alyx said. “What are you doing here?”
Alyx had heard from Rynn and Jinx that Bren had run away, overcome with guilt about Derek’s death, but as far as he was concerned the man had gone AWOL.
“You look like you’ve seen better days,” Atridd told Bren.
Bren stayed where he was, taking in everyone seated in the room. “I have seen better days,” he replied in a hoarse tone. “Much better.”
Alyx took in Bren’s posture, his weary eyes, and the fresh-looking scars on his face. Atridd was right, the man didn’t look good. “Where have you been?” he repeated.
The long-haired man took a deep breath first. “I was with the Shok’Thola Akargan,” he breathed finally.
“What?” a chorus of shouts came.
“Doing what?” Alyx asked. He noticed Jinx’s hand had dropped to his waist, where his lightsaber hung.
“Trying to stop him from invading,” Bren said more energetically, apparently stirred by their aggressive remarks.
“How did you know where he was?” Kiz demanded.
Bren hesitated visibly.
“We knew each other during the Great War, before I was put into stasis,” Bren answered. “We were close friends.”
The room suddenly became deathly silent.
“You never told us about this,” Xoan accused him.
Alyx considered the possibility that they might all be fighting for their lives in a few moments. Bren was strong in the Force, he knew, but he didn’t know exactly how strong. Could they all take him, if necessary?
“I thought that I could turn him away from this war,” Bren said quickly. “I thought he could be saved.” He looked down. “I was wrong.”
Another moment of silence. “So, he’s coming here,” Thrakus whispered.
Bren shook his head immediately. “Akargan is dead.” He looked back up at them. “He was killed by Strife, an even more powerful Warlord. I saw it with my own eyes. It was… unlike anything I’ve ever seen. Now Strife is on his way to the Mizar system.”
Alyx exchanged brief glances with the other Council members. None of them said a word.
“The New Imperium fleet – it’s at Mizar, isn’t it?” Bren asked.
“That’s classfied information,” Alyx told him.
“Strife told me personally,” Bren countered. “He said they were already there.”
“Maybe he was lying to you,” Jinx suggested.
Bren just shook his head. “No way. I know they’re there. Just admit it.”
“We don’t have to admit anything,” Skipper countered.
“This isn’t a game!” Bren said forcefully, and Alyx reached out to the Force just in case something was about to happen. “The future of the NI is at stake here!”
“They’ve already been there for three weeks,” Thrakus stated. “Now they’re at Mizar, in a standoff with an enemy task force.”
“The NI fleet is in grave danger,” Bren said.
“I don’t think you can really call it the NI fleet anymore,” Alyx added bitterly. “All we’ve got left are four Altarin’Dakor Titans. But I’m sure they can handle themselves.”
“Strife told me they’re up against four Shok’Thola,” Bren said.
The room became deathly quiet again.
“What?” whispered Atridd.
“No one can withstand the power of four Shok’Thola working in tandem,” Bren continued. “But to make matters worse, Strife is on his way too, like I told you. He has at least four Titans of his own, and he may have as many as three of Akargan’s with him! With his reinforcements the NI won’t stand a chance. They’re walking into a trap!” Bren said, desperation clear his voice. If he was faking it, Alyx remarked, then he was doing an incredible job of it.
“We have to help them,” Jinx said.
Alyx looked at him in surprise.
Atridd spoke up first. “What good could we do? A couple of dozen Jedi wouldn’t make a difference.”
“We have to at least warn them,” Jinx countered.
“We’ll have to move fast, or it’ll be too late,” Bren said. “Please, take me with you.”
Alyx stared at the man, considering his words. Could he risk trusting Bren?
“We could try and talk them out of it,” Xoan said. “Bring them back here.”
“Don’t count on it,” Alyx countered. “With Zalaria there, you might as well try and take a Titan apart with your bare hands.”
“Maybe Xar’s son will help us again,” Vynd suggested.
“Do you really believe that tale?” Kiz asked him. Vynd gave a sheepish shrug in response.
Alyx shook his head harshly. “We cannot count on anything like that. We don’t even know if he really exists, and even if he does there’s no indication that he would choose to help us.”
“Besides,” Kiz offered. “He might be able to kill one Warlord, but what about four or five at once? No one is that powerful,” he finished.
“So what are we going to do?” Xoan asked. “Just keep sitting here and talking about it? Or are we going to decide and do something?”
There was a moment of silence as the Council members took turns exchanging glances. Alyx considered his options. As the Grand Master, he of course had the final say. He didn’t want to embroil the Jedi Division in any more unwinnable situations. With the losses they’d taken, it would already take years to recover, if they ever could. But he also knew that if the Altarin’Dakor weren’t stopped, there wouldn’t be a Jedi Division left. Nor would there be a New Imperium. Or a New Republic. Or anything else.
“I’m in,” Jinx spoke up first. “I’d rather face them out there than wait until they come here again. They’re not just going to pass us by, and they’ll hit Varnus next if we don’t face them off at Mizar.”
Kiz nodded agreement. “Jinx is right. We don’t have much choice in the matter.” A round of nods around the table completed the silent vote.
They were right. Better to choose your battles than have them chosen for you. They would have to do this. And more Jedi would die. Each remaining one at this point was precious, so very precious, for the NI.
“Blast Xar and that woman of his,” Alyx declared. “Gather what people you can,” he said. “We don’t have much time.” The repairs in Vectur would have to wait – probably until the end of the war. If there was an end.
“I hope that Xar appreciates how often we have to go in and save him from the messes he gets himself into,” Atridd said, standing.
“This isn’t for Xar,” Alyx announced, letting them all hear as he stood also. “I’m doing this for Gaius. He’s saved our butts quite a few times.
“If Xar doesn’t want to help us, then he can rot for all I care,” he continued. “But the NI… That’s something I’m not going to let go down without a fight.”
A chorus of agreement rose through the room as the Jedi Masters began to disperse and get ready for the challengeswaiting ahead.
* * *
|Author:||J.A. [ Sun Aug 01, 2010 3:46 am ]|
|Post subject:||Re: "Remembrance" - By Joshua Ausley|
Angol Moa’s Laboratory
Over the next few days Xar made a conscious decision to change his attitude about Angol Moa and her tests.
He now accepted the fact that it was really the influence of the dark Jedi inside his mind that had affected his personality over the last month – in truth, the last years – making him harsh, angry, impatient – even ruthless. On the other hand, he knew he couldn’t shirk all responsibility for his actions by blaming it on them. Ultimately it was he, Xar Kerensky, who decided what he did and what he said. But it wasn’t just out of a sense of regret that he accepted Angol Moa’s tests more readily. He knew now that if she didn’t find an answer soon, he was most likely going to lose his mind.
He dreamed constantly of Runis and Krun, now. It was as if, by acknowledging their existence as real, he’d given them some kind of power, more strength to reach out and affect him. He even caught glimpses of them out of the corner of his eye when he least expected it, like the night in the garden. It was a terrifying testament to the fact that he was slowly going crazy, and that things would only get worse from this point onward.
At times, the stress of waiting, of enduring more tests, of not knowing if any progress was being made at all, was overwhelming. Fortunately, a few days after the incident when he’d broken down, there was some good news that – at least temporarily – brought his spirits back up. Gave him hope.
He was at a table in the gardens one morning, having breakfast alone among the sounds of nature, when Angol Moa appeared. Standing at her side, dressed in a white robe, was a very familiar face. Xar felt his jaw drop as they approached. His spoon fell from suddenly limp fingers, clattering to the floor.
“Nico!” he exclaimed. “You’re alive!”
Angol Moa put on a grin. “Of course he’s alive, boy,” she said. “He was always alive. Just not very mobile.”
Nico, practically hanging off her shoulder, blinked sleepily. Xar arched an eyebrow in confusion. If Nico recognized Xar, he wasn’t showing any sign of it.
He glanced from Nico back to Angol Moa. “Is he all right? How did you heal him?”
“Don’t get too excited yet. ‘Heal’ may be too strong of a word. I’ve only woken him up, so far. I haven’t been able to restore his memories. What you see here is just a shell.”
Xar felt his expression fall. “A what?”
“An empty vessel. An incomplete person. Physically, he is perfectly fine, but his mind is a blank slate right now.”
Xar fought the sudden surge of anger and frustration that flared up inside of him. “What’s the point of reviving him if the real Nico’s still gone?” he demanded.
“Progress has to be made in stages, boy.”
“He looks just like the normal Nico to me,” Xar countered. “Nico!” he addressed the man. He just stood there, looking just like his onetime friend. “Do you recognize me?” he asked.
Nico just stared at him and smiled for a long moment. Xar thought he saw a hint of recognition in his eyes, and for a moment he was sure that Nico had remembered.
“You look friendly,” Nico said finally. “What is your name?”
Xar felt his smile fade as disappointment came over him. So, he didn’t remember a thing. The Nico he knew was still gone. He turned away, unable to look any longer. Seeing a shell of a man that he knew was even worse than having him lying motionless in a coma.
“I’ve only imprinted him with a temporary personality set,” Angol Moa explained. “I had to do a complete reboot of his mind – consciousness, subconscious, the id, the ego, the whole mess. Until I can restore his memories, I had to replace it with something that would enable him to at least function nominally.”
Xar turned to stare at Angol Moa. “I thought you could do anything. Can’t you fix him completely?”
“I’m working on developing the technology necessary as we speak,” she said.
“Why do you have to invent a new technology just to help him?” he asked.
“Well, it’s not like I’ve dealt with someone with this problem before. I’m doing the same for you.”
Xar put his elbows up on the table and rubbed at his eyes, suddenly feeling weary, even though the day had just begun. “So how about you tell me about this technology you’re going to create?”
“I’m glad you asked!” she said, perking up so suddenly Xar nearly jumped. She held up her right hand and started folding down one finger at a time. “My current theory is this. All biological matter has memories imprinted onto it at the cellular, atomic, even subatomic level. Everything that has happened in a person’s life is stored somewhere in his body, through electric impulses, soundwaves, synapses firing. I should be able to retrace that information by reading the stored information and extrapolating the results.”
“I see,” Xar said, though he certainly didn’t in truth. He just hoped the madwoman could actually do what she claimed. If not, then he knew he’d never be able to stand being around this… shell… of his onetime friend. Only the fact that Nico was physically up and walking kept some hope alive within him. “So how close are you to making this work?” he asked skeptically.
“I have no idea.” She grinned at him. “That’s the fun part.”
He wondered who was craziest: him, or her.
* * *
|Author:||J.A. [ Mon Mar 28, 2011 5:15 am ]|
|Post subject:||Re: "Remembrance" - By Joshua Ausley|
Titan-class Battleship Grand Crusader
The Grand Crusader was still at a long-distance standoff with the Dark Sun, and the time was beginning to grate on Gaius. Something had to happen, soon.
This was a battle they absolutely had to win, or the war would be lost. He wished he knew how many Titans were out there. It had to be more than just the one. Blast the AD, he thought. Every time we think we gain some ground they just hit us with an even bigger force. He wasn’t even sure if all the ship he’d brought with him this time would be enough. He needed more time, until Zalaria returned from wherever she’d gone to give birth.
His limited resources told him that the Dark Sun belonged to the Shok’Thola Asellus, but it had virtually no information on the Warlord herself. Zalaria hadn’t returned yet to shed any light on the situation; in fact, she hadn’t been heard from at all. What if they were attacked while she was gone? All the firepower in the galaxy wouldn’t save them against a Force-user of this capability.
Still, they had no choice but to stand their ground. If they ran, the AD would sweep over NI space and wipe out everything they knew and loved. And the disperate forces of an unsuspecting galaxy might not be able to muster a defense in time.
Gaius took mental stock of his task force. He had four Titans, three of which were cloaked but within a hundred klicks or so from the Grand Crusader’s position, all in high orbit over Arcadia, Mizar’s third planet.
Resting just beneath his flagship was the New Imperium’s Task Force Darkstar, consisting of the MC-120 of the same name and a cluster of Imperial-class Star Destroyers. They were the most fragile of his ships, unable to bear the brunt of a Titan’s direct assault. But they offered necessary morale support to the NI forces; without them, how could they even call themselves the NI anymore?
Finally, there was the fleet that Amason had promised – some ten Majestic-class Cruiers. They were waiting just outside the system, ready to jump in on a moment’s notice. Gaius hadn’t wanted to tip off the enemy that they had them; best to have an ace in the hole whenever possible.
He’d brought virtually every major capital ship he had to this engagement, knowing that the battle for Mizar would make or break this part of the war. If they won, then they could begin preparations for the attack on the Gate and try and seal the Altarin’Dakor out of this galaxy. But if they failed here, none of that would happen; the NI would be finished.
Below, on the surface of Arcadia, he had several battalions of troops stationed just outside the main Altarin’Dakor base. Unfortunately, since the arrival of the enemy ship, the local Altarin’Dakor command had barred them from entering, recognizing that two conflicting forces were demanding authority over the system. They would wait, and side with the victor once the outcome was ascertained.
Gaius raised a cup of caf to his lips and took another sip, only to realize the liquid had cooled to an unappetizing lukewarm temperature. He drank it anyway.
A chime sounding throughout the bridge took his attention immediately.
“What is it?” he asked, standing to his feet and looking over the railing towards the bridge’s forward viewports. The enemy Titan still hung out there, just a few hundred kilometers away.
“A message from the Dark Sun,” the comm officer reported. “They wish to speak with the Shok’Thola.”
“We’ll have to disappoint them,” Gaius said, "as we don’t have one for them to talk to.”
“Shall I refuse to answer them, sir?”
Gaius thought for a moment. A lack of response might provoke them into attacking. He’d already delayed them several times. He should at least tell their commodore personally.
“Put them on the main screen,” he ordered.
Moments later a holographic projection appeared in the center of the bridge’s atrium, a large open area three levels deep separating Gaius from the forward viewports. The image was huge, many times life-size. But it wasn’t the size of the speaker that appeared that shocked him. It was the figure itself.
This was no mere ship’s commodore.
A waist-up image of a woman seemingly made of golden light filled the air, her head adorned with an ornate crown and wings made of some unrecognizable material floating behind her. Golden hair fell straight to her shoulders. He eyes were a glowing blue; her lips were full and pursed in seeming annoyance. Her features were flawless – it was impossible to guess at her age. She could have been Gaius’ age, or she might have just turned twenty for all he could see.
All he did know, however, was that she was one of the most beautiful women he’d ever seen in his life. Definitely on par with Zalaria, yet somehow as different from her as night and day.
The woman opened her mouth to speak. Her voce echoed in the chamber, not matching her lips, for she was speaking in Altarin’Dakor and the computer had to translate her words.
“I ordered an audience with Nimrod,” said the woman in Altarin’Dakor. “Not his lackey. Begone.”
It took a moment for Gaius’ mind to process her words, as he had to read the translation subtitled beneath her image. Her voice was smooth as honey, melodic in tone, almost certainly artificially enhanced. It sent chills across his skin.
Gaius’ mind raced for a suitable answer. The woman’s visage had captivated him so completely that he’d lost all sense of where was or what he was doing. The feeling had come so suddenly and unexpectedly, so different from anything he’d ever experienced before, that he hadn’t known how to react. He fought the feeling now, forcing his mind to realize that this was an enemy – an enemy perhaps more powerful than any he’d faced before.
“My Shok’Thola is indisposed at this moment,” Gaius said finally. “I was sent to speak with you. My apologies for the delay.”
“You are not Altarin’Dakor,” she replied, switching to flawless Basic. The honey-sweet chime of her voice seemed just a tad harsher now that the complex tones of the Altarin’Dakor language were replaced by the harsh syllables of Gaius’ own tongue. “Has Nimrod allowed outlanders to speak for him? Or do you represent Zalaria? Perhaps Nimrod truly is dead, as the rumors say?”A pause. “Speak!”
Quickly Gaius realized he was unprepared for this; he hadn’t planned on talking directly with an Altarin’Dakor Warlord.
“You are the Shok’Thola Asellus, I presume,” Gaius said, still trying to buy time to think. “It is an honor to speak with you. Nimrod and Zalaria have an… arrangement… with the New Imperium. We are now under their control. They ask that you acknowledge their authority here and bypass this region as you continue with the Return.”
Bald-faced lies, he knew. He just hoped that she couldn’t read it from him. He couldn’t sense her using the Force on him, just yet.
The massive image of Asellus regarded him for a moment. “Do you think me a fool?” she asked finally.
“Of course not…” he began before her words drowned him out.
“Silence!” she cut him off. Then her attack came into his mind so suddenly that he gasped in shock and pain.
The defenses of a Jedi Master were no match for an immortal Altarin’Dakor Warlord. Her attack broke through his barriers in an instant, and suddenly she was inside his mind. He could feel her there, rummaging through his thoughts and recent memories, trying to find whatever it was he was looking for. With all his might he struggled against her, trying desperately not to think of Zalaria or Nimrod, for fear that she would know that neither Warlord was on this ship. He knew his efforts were futile; once she found out the truth, they were all finished.
“Do not resist me,” her voice warned, filling his head. “Perhaps if you cooperate, I will allow you to live on as my slave once I defeat your fleet, your mind wiped of everything except for me, your Great Mistress.”
Gaius opened his mouth to scream, but not sound would come out. She had him, now. He couldn’t even control his own body. He heard Amason cry out, yelling for someone to sever the connection with the enemy warship, but Gaius knew it was too late. He was nothing to her. Soon the end would come, and Gaius knew that he had just doomed the New Imperium.
Just as he felt her mind reach into the deepest recesses of his brain, causing pain to explode throughout his head like he’d never known, he felt something pass between his mind and that awful touch. A barrier, invisible but seemingly impenetrable, slid instantly into place, and the pain was suddenly gone.
Gaius gasped, opening his eyes just as Asellus’ shocked face vanished from the holographic display. With her image gone, the bridge looked as normal as if the whole thing had never happened.
Suddenly there was a whooshing sound as the bridge doors split open behind them. Gaius spun around, and his breath caught at the sight of the woman who strode through the entranceway.
Zalaria had saved him.
He should have recognized her touch when the barrier had manifested, blocking the attack. He was sure that Asellus was about to find out everything, and probably destroy his whole psyche in the process. If Zalaria had been half a second later, Gaius would most certainly have been dead now.
Now, suddenly, Zalaria was back, though there’d been no indication as to where she’d gone or how long she would be there. He’d nearly given up hope that she would even return. Now she stood and surveyed the bridge, as beautiful – and as thin – as he’d ever seen her. There was no longer any sign of the pregnancy. She wore a snug-fitting, long-sleeved dress in black, emblazoned with gold and red dragons scross the torso and with flowing sleeves and train stretching out behind her. Her hair fell in intricate curls, framing her amazing features, the face of a goddess. She was far more beautiful than Asellus, Gaius decided, then chided himself for even having such as thought at a time like this.
“This is not good,” Zalaria stated, coming straight for Gaius and Walt, who had placed a hand on his arm to steady him. Zalaria’s expression was not in the least bit jovial. Gaius couldn’t help but stare at her midsection. There was no indication that she’d ever been pregnant at all. But where was the child?
“You,” she said, coming to a half a scant few paces away, “made a foolish mistake, and nearly cost us this battle before it’s even begun.”
Gaius held his tongue, wanting to question her for her absence, to ask her how he was supposed to know he was facing a Warlord. Instead he forced himself to say, “Thank you for saving my life.”
“Don’t be so hasty to thank me,” she said dourly. “Your life may yet be forfeit this day.”
Beside him, Walt couldn’t hold his tongue any longer. “Zalaria, where’s the ba…”
“Safe,” she barked, cutting him off instantly. “We will speak no more of that issue this day. Now is not the time.” She glared down at Gaius. “Deploy the fleet for battle immediately.”
Gaius made a slow, even turn to look out the forward viewport and the enlarged image of the enemy ship there. As his sense of events came back into full awareness once more, he realized the alarm klaxon that was blaring a low, even drone. The Dark Sun was moving into attack position.
“It appears we managed to provoke Asellus into moving first,” Amason noted.
Zalaria stared at him and shook her head slowly. “Not Asellus. Four Shok’Thola.”
There was silence for a long moment. “What?” Amason finally whispered.
Gaius stared at her speechlessly. Four enemy Warlords? Why hadn’t he been informed of this before now?!
“Who are they?” Amason asked.
She paused for a moment, staring out into the void. Finally, she spoke. “Calvernic, Asellus, and Kronos.” Another pause, and she licked her lips. “And Velius.”
Gaius had heard of some of those before, especially Kronos and Velius. Supposedly both she and Xar had encountered them before, and somehow they’d lived to tell about it. Judging from the dead seriousness of her expression, he didn’t think she wanted to try her luck against them again.
“We’re pinned against the planet below,” Gaius told her. “Retreat isn’t really an option unless we can make it to the other side.”
She shook her head. “There is no option but to fight. We can’t outrun them. We cannot move back into New Imperium space or we risk defending our own ground once more. Our stand must be made here.” She glanced at him, her eyes taking on a strange light. “This battle is going to decide the course of the entire war.”
Gaius stared at her, taking in her words. They hadn’t been prepared for something like this. If there were four Warlords, then how large of a force were they facing out there? Beside her, Amason paled visibly and swallowed hard.
Zalaria’s eyes narrowed. “The situation is not totally helpless. We have the advantage of surprise. Our ships are cloaked, and they do not know how many Shok’Thola we have.”
“I strongly implied that Nimrod was still in charge here,” Gaius told her. “But can’t they sense that he isn’t really here?”
“Nimrod and I knew a few tricks that we never revealed to the others,” she said. “One was the ability to emulate each other’s Force signatures. We knew each other well enough that we could pretend to be one another most convincingly. It proved useful on a number of occasions when we needed to appear stronger than we really were.”
“So the Warlords think they’re facing you and Nimrod,” Amason said. “But that’s still two to one odds.”
“Correct,” she replied tersely, “but only a fool would attack Nimrod without taking the utmost care and preparation. If we continue to foster the illusion that we are stronger than we are, it could buy us time to exploit their weaknesses.”
“Their weaknesses?” Gaius asked her.
“Shok’Thola are not unbeatable, Gaius,” she said.
She cut off as alarms began blaring all over the bridge. The comm officer’s voice echoed out a moment later.
“Enemy Titans de-cloaking, sir!”
So. The enemy was making their move, laying their cards on the table. “How many?” Gaius demanded, stepping to the rail and staring out the front viewports.
There was a pause the the alarm klaxons seemed to reach their peak. “The comm officer shook his head as though not believing what he was seeing. “They keep coming! They’re just… everywhere, sir!”
The three of them watched the holographic display in the center of the bridge as it made real-time updates of the battle theater. Gaius watched the enemy Titans appear, staggered in a loose formation with each ship only a couple of hundred klicks from the others. They varied from thirty to fifty klicks in length, the largest of them on a par with the Cataclysm, or even the Grand Crusader.
Within a minute there were eight massive shapes floating in the air. They were spread out wide enough to effectively block in the NI fleet from escaping.
“Eight confirmed Titans, sir,” the comm officer said. Gaius didn’t need to hear; his eyes were working just fine.
The ships were as varied in appearance as any other Titans he’d seen. No two were alike. They were identified by labels floating beneath each ship, with its name, vital statistics, and the Shok’Thola to which they belonged.
In the center were the Dark Sun, the Vertigo, and the Nightlord, all belonging to the Warlord Asellus. To the side and resting slightly aloof from the others were the Violator, the Tormentor, and the Defiler, three of the most wicked-looking ships Gaius had ever seen. They looked more like instruments of torture than starships, and their names seemed suitably apt. They belonged to Velius.
On the other side of Asellus’ vessels were the Death Wing, flagship of Kronos, and the Invasion of Light, belonging to Calvernic.
He glanced at Zalaria. “Are we facing more illusions this time?”
She shook her head. “They aren’t fakes. These are all real.”
Gaius took a deep breath. They were outnumbered two to one. But in truth those odds were overly optimistic. Because they have four Warlords to our one, he thought.
“A message from the enemy fleet,” the comm officer spoke up. “Surrender or be annihilated.”
“Couldn’t someone a thousand generations old have a little more original line to say?” Gaius muttered under his breath. “Send a message to the enemy flagship,” he ordered. “Tell them that the New Imperium is our territory, now. And tell them that unless they leave immediately we’re going to destroy them all.”
He glanced at Zalaria, sharing a glance with her. “Be careful,” she warned. “Provoking them might make them become rash and act unwisely, but it could also backfire. I shall be in the Meditation Chamber to coordinate our forces.”
“Very well,” Gaius told her. As she turned to leave, he stepped back up to the railing. “Alert all commands! Disengage cloak and launch fighters. Move into attack position!” Then he turned and nodded at Walt. “Call in our forces. Bring in the Majestics and everything else we have. If we’re marching to our death, then so be it. We draw the line here!”
* * *
|Author:||J.A. [ Fri Nov 18, 2011 4:50 am ]|
|Post subject:||Re: "Remembrance" - By Joshua Ausley|
Royal Palace, Varnus
The New Imperium sigil faded from the screen, replaced by the visage of the Diktat himself. He was awake and on duty, even though on Tralaria it was already well into the night. Rytor nodded, acknowledging the caller. “Misnera. What can I do for you?”
The Diktat’s face was not as Alyx had remembered. The man’s eyes seemed more sunken, with dark bags underneath them, and he seemed just a bit thinner, his wrinkles a bit more prominent, than the last time they’d spoken. Clearly the war was taking its toll. Running a government on the brink of its own destruction was not an easy task.
“How are things, Gene?” Alyx asked.
The Diktat sighed in response. Behind him Alyx could catch a glimpse of the man’s quarters, though it was sparsely decorated, with little in the way of personal possessions. Rytor had always been a secretive man, showing little of himself on the outside.
“Most of the damage from the attack has been repaired,” Rytor said finally. “Yes, I wish the same could be said for Varnus, as well. The economy though, and morale… Those are different matters entirely.”
“I know that you have a lot on you right now,” Alyx replied. Though he didn’t want to burden the Diktat any more than he already was, Alyx felt compelled to at least be accountable to him for what they were about to do. After all, he might lose the whole Jedi Order because of this.
“As you know,” he said, “Sector Admiral Gaius has led the fleet to Mizar and is currently holding it. They are at a standoff with enemy forces. I need to inform you that I will be taking a contingent of Jedi with me to the Mizar System to assist in the engagement there.”
“I see,” said Rytor after a pause. “Any particular reason for the change of heart? I was under the impression you were not participating in the offensive.”
“I think that Gaius and the others may be walking into a trap,” Alyx said. “I don’t like it.
“I don’t like it either,” said Rytor heavily. He let out a long sigh. “We cannot trust the Altarin’Dakor forces that we are working with, yet we cannot survive without them. This is a very precarious position, Alyx.”
“I know.” Alex took a deep breath. “I’m taking most of the remaining fighting force of Jedi that the NI has. If we lose, there won’t be much left.” Not that there is now, either, he thought to himself.
“It’s all or nothing at this point,” Rytor said, nodding. “These are tough decisions that we face, now. But it is the only viable thing that we can do. We must take the battle to the enemy, otherwise we will be trampled as their conquest pushes them deeper inside the galaxy.”
“My main objective is a rescue,” Alyx told him. “If they are trapped there, then we will get out everyone that we can. But I don’t harbor dreams of going up against Warlords with what little forces we have.”
“I understand. You must take the utmost care,” Rytor said.
“We will.” Alyx reached forward to cut the connection, but the Diktat raised a hand, stopping him. Alyx paused, looking askance at him. The Diktat seemed to hesitate, as if uncertain whether or not he should speak.
“Misnera,” he said finally, “Before you go there is a piece of intelligence I have come across that you may find useful.” He paused again, looking indecisive, though Alyx could not read his face, much less his emotions across the light-years that separated them.
“I don’t know how reliable this information is, but considering the circumstances, I am compelled to relate it to you.”
“Please,” Alyx intoned. “Any intelligence is welcome.”
“It’s more of a theory, really. An idea. Something that might give you an advantage, should you encounter one of the Warlords directly.”
“If we do, then we’ll need any advantage we can get.”
Another brief pause. “Misnera, have your forces ever used a Null Sphere to encase a Warlord within its bubble? Even Zalaria, perhaps?”
Alyx bit back a laugh. “Are you kidding? We’d have been dead before even getting close to her with one of those things.”
“Well, I suppose not. But have you considered the possibility of what effect it may have on them?”
“Not really,” Alyx admitted. “Again, it never seemed likely we could ever get it close enough to one of them.”
“You have some examples of the artifacts in your treasury, as I understand.”
Alyx nodded; the Diktat undoubtedly had his sources as to what lay within the royal treasury. He was correct on this one.
“Take one with you, Alyx. Take as many as you can spare. It could mark the difference between life and death. If it can isolate them from their powers, as it does a normal Jedi, then perhaps they would be vulnerable. Perhaps you could even kill them.”
Alyx thought on it. It made sense, though only on a theoretical level. And he wasn’t generally prone to acting on anything not backed by hard evidence. “I’ll take it under consideration,” he said.
“I urge you, just in case, to take it. You never know.”
“May I ask where you came by this bit of intelligence?” Alyx asked him.
But the Diktat shook his head. “Sadly no. As you know, many of my sources must remain confidential or risk losing their cover. And I’m afraid that information is classified as need-to-know, only.
Alyx didn’t press him further. Rytor would always remain the spymaster that he was legendary for being. He was said to have contacts and informants in virtually every major government or organization in the galaxy. Besides, whatever the source, Alyx supposed it would not do any harm to take the Null Spheres with them. The devices were invaluable – no one knew how to make them anymore – but if they were never actually used, then what good were they anyway? “Very well,” he agreed.
“I’m glad to hear it. Then may the Force be with you on your journey,” Rytor told him.
“Thanks,” Alyx said. Then he reached over and closed the connection.
* * *
In Orbit, Arcadia
Space rippled as the Altarin’Dakor Titans de-cloaked.
This was more ships – and more firepower – than Salle Darl had ever seen in one place.
From the cockpit of her modified TIE Avatar, she watched her display screen as all around the Dark Sun, the flagship of the Warlord Asellus, more Titans began to appear.
The Vertigo came into view just off to the Dark Sun’s port side, looking like a massive instrument of torture, the color of dried blood. The ship was oblong, with two massive prongs jutting out of the front and various fins protruding along her sides and at the rear. Countless windows and viewports peppered the hull like stars in the night sky.
On the other side of the Dark Sun, the Nightlord appeared. It was midnight black, and would have been virtually invisible if it hadn’t been framed by the Galbagos Nebula behind it. As it was, the nebula provided a stark silhouette of the ship, an impossibly long monstrosity that fattened into rounded orb-like sections three times along her hull, each connected by a thinner hull section. The bow gradually thinned as it extended out like the tip of a sword, and whether in form or function, contributed to make the ship nearly sixty kilometers in length.
To one side of Asellus’ ships was the Invasion of Light. In stark contrast to the first three, this ship was painted solid white, and consisted of maybe a dozen solid rectangular blocks connected by thinner, tubelike structures. Each block pulsed with engines at the rear and bristled with weapons all around its hull. It sat like a boulder, looking impervious to attack. Though the rectangular sections looked as though they could easily be severed from one another, Salle wondered if should that occur the sections could each fight independently, anyway. She hoped she wouldn’t have to find out.
On the other side of those ships hung the Death Wing, the only ship Salle had ever seen before, in recordings of the initial Altarin’Dakor attack on Varnus. This ship was listed as the flagship of the Warlord Kronos, and she could see why he might have chosen such a vessel as his command ship. It was broad and long in the hull, but with two massive wings that jutted forward from the front third of the ship. In the center of those arms was a gaping black opening that chilled Salle’s blood – because she knew what it contained. Resting within was a mauler-class weapon capable of sending an invisible pulse of energy strong enough do destroy an ISD in a single blow. Should that turn against her – or anything but a Titan for that matter – they would all be dead before they knew what hit them. The rest of the ship extended winglike structures as well, two each angled upward and downward along the ship’s middle, with a massive engine array at the rear. The ship was over fifty kilometers long, making it a match for even the largest NI Titans.
Finally, settled somewhat aloof from the rest of the group, were three wicked-looking Titans that, despite the variation each Titan had, were still of a class by themselves, separated from the others by both structure and distance. Resting around five hundred klicks to starboard of the Death Wing were the Tormentor, Violator and Defiler. The Tormentor was colored a reflective silver, and looked as though its hull had burst open into scores of needlelike projections at key intervals. Red lights pulsed out from the bays and openings along her visible port side. As Salle looked closer, though, she saw that many of the projections held cannons along their tips, while others seemed to be fighter launching tubes.
The other two ships were just as disgustingly intimidating. The Violator looked like a sculpture carved out of a mountain-sized rock, but carved by a madman. It held a central core and rock-like arms that extended out and forward asymmetrically, each dotted with blinking openings containing beam emplacements and missile tubes. It looked like a giant, alien hand carved from stone. The Defiler, by contrast, was an ugly, bloated ovoid colored a nonreflective black, its dimensions assymetrical as well, like a cancer that was spreading out wherever it could. Though shorter in length, it made up its mass in the sheer volume of space it occupied.
Filling the space between the Altarin’Dakor Titans were nearly a hundred support craft – cruisers, battlecruisers, destroyers, and frigates. Now that all of the enemy ships had appeared, Salle and the NI forces could finally take true stock of what they were facing. Eight enemy Titans to their four. They were outnumbered two to one.
She hadn’t faced an enemy force of this size since the battle at Varnus, overwhelmed by the Titans in Nimrod’s forces. She still had nightmares of that day, months after it had happened, reliving the scenes of death and destruction around her. Why had she survived when so many others in her squadron had died? Why, later, had Commander Stele gone away, leaving her to pick up and rebuild the battered remnants of Inferno Squadron?
There were no clear answers, and there was no time to consider it, now. The Altarin’Dakor forces had revealed themselves first, and now it was time for the New Imperium fleet to do the same.
Space around the Grand Crusader rippled as the other NI Titans de-cloaked. The Ascendancy appeared beside the new NI flagship first, a massive dreadnaught encased in reflective armor and its iconic staircase-style, multi-tiered structure. Beside that ship came the Nimbus, with its dark outline and wavelike structures resembling its namesake.
Then, on the other side of the Grand Crusader, the Cataclysm de-cloaked. The ship that had caused so much damage to the NI forces at Mizar before was now on the opposite side of the conflict. Painted black and stretching for fifty kilometers in length, it was an entire fleet in itself.
For a moment the four Titans hung in orbit of the planet Arcadia. Then, seconds later, from the far side of the world a large cluster of capital ships swung into view. Without cloaking devices, the rest of the NI fleet had been hiding just out of sight, waiting for just this moment. Dominating those ships was the MC-120 Darkstar, the remaining super-class capital ship from the original NI Starfleet. Accompanying her were several dozen capital ships from what had formerly been the First and Second Fleets – Imperator-class Star Destroyers, as well as a score of cruisers, destroyers, and frigates.
The NI fleet raced forward to close the distance, launching fighters even as they came. Then, less than two minutes later, there was a flash of movement as nine streamlined Majestic-class cruisers exited hyperspace practically on top of the NI fleet, using one of the planet’s so-called “pirate” points. They appeared just behind and beneath the NI Titans, pulling up within the boundaries of the larger ships’ powerful force field shielding, where they could launch their rail weapons at the approaching enemy.
In addition to the Grand Crusader, the Cataclysm, Ascendancy, and Nimbus began disgorging their contingents of starfighters, even as their Altarin’Dakor opponents did the same. Soon space was teeming with thousands of small dots, filling the space between the huge floating cities moving ever closer to each other.
On Salle Darl’s cockpit controls, the launch button began to pulse green, their sign to go. “Inferno Squad, launch!” she ordered, then pushed the throttle forward. Her Avatar shot down and out through the Titan’s massive hangar bay opening, with the rest of Inferno Squadron hot on her tail.
They emerged into open space, with thousands of ships already surrounding them, and more coming every second. Behind them hung the NI fleet and the blue-green orb that was Arcadia. Ahead was a wall of enemy ships and the purple-blue nebula that stretched across the sky behind them.
Surrounding Inferno on either side were several thousand Altarin’Dakor fighters – their Zalaria-loyal ‘allies’. She tried not to think of the risk they were taking in fighting alongside one another, nor dwell on what could happen should their ‘friends’ decide to betray them.
Inferno Squadron soared ahead, a cloud of fighters at their back. Ahead, sunlight glinted off thousands of points of light, each one growing closer by the second. Salle took deep, meditative breaths as she had learned to years before, attempting to force the pre-battle fear and nervousness in her gut to dissipate.
Every time you fly, you know it could be your last, she reminded herself. The odds didn’t matter. She was a fighter pilot. She was born to do this. She thought of herself as a force of nature, an unstoppable warrior riding a perfect war machine into battle.
Salle’s comm suddenly crackled to life. “This is Sector Admiral Gaius Adonai,” said the fleet commander’s hardened voice. “Stand by for capital ship volleys. We will hit them hard, then move forward to engage the enemy only on my command. May the Force be with us.”
Salle guided her fighter into their designated vector, then watched as the fleets kept moving closer to each other on her screens.
This is it, she realized. Time to do or die.
* * *
Royal Palace Grounds
A strange silence had settled over the skyline of Vectur, replacing what had been a constant hubbub of demolition crews and reconstruction work. But now the massive construction droids had stopped working. The crews that had been taking down damaged buildings were nowhere to be found. All of the work had stopped. There was simply not enough money left to pay for it.
The NI economy had fallen flat; the government was now bankrupt, writing itself deeper into debt with lines of credit no one wanted anymore. Varnus was no better; even the once endless Royal Palace coffers were but a fraction of their former strength, unavailable for use in a challenge of this magnitude.
Now the massive skyscrapers surrounding the palace in the city center were dark, empty husks, their shattered windows now gaping holes reminding its occupants of the damage that had been done. Few of the buildings were populated by workers and businesses. Why work when you weren’t going to be paid for it anyway? Instead, the population milled about in the streets in shelters, some provided by the government, others in makeshift areas cobbled together by the local population. People burned fires outside to keep warm, especially during nights, which had started becoming progressively colder again as winter steadily approached.
The Varnusians were legendary for being hardy. They were survivors. They had, in fact, weathered worse damage than this only decades before. The Varnusians’ lives continued, one way or another. Many continued to work and rebuild in and of themselves. Makeshift economies had sprung up as survivors adapted, learning new trades. People shared with each other.
But not all the city’s occupants were Varnusians, anymore. The majority were from off-world, hailing from different cultures, different histories. They didn’t know how to react to such a dramatic change in their lives. They didn’t automatically pick themselves up and keep pressing forward, sharing what they had with others.
And so the reconstruction efforts had ground to a halt. The silence of the city stretched across the Royal Palace as evening fell and the light faded.
Inside the Royal Palace’s hangar bay, two dozen Jedi were carrying their bags up the boarding ramp of the Lambda-class shuttle that would take them into orbit, where the Marauder-class Corvette Annihilator awaited them.
Grand Master Alyx Misnera stood near the boarding ramp, watching each member of the team ascend into the waiting vessel.
Alyx watched as each of the nearly two dozen Jedi boarded the ramp. Jacob “Jinx” Skipper went in first, toting his bag across his shoulder. Though she often accompanied him, Rynn Mariel, unfortunately, had decided not to accompany them, and Alyx didn’t blame her. She still hadn’t gotten over the loss of young Derek. Alyx sighed, forcing that line of thought out of his head; he had to focus, now.
Next came Atridd Xoan and Kiz Thrakus, discussing something amongst each other in low tones. Then came Vykk Olyronn and Draken Ar’Kell, leaders of House Ar’Kell – or at least what remained of it. Also with them were Colin Moore, Sim Zaphod, Junor Brajo, Varanus Templar, and Satai Dukhat. After them came the leaders of Vortigern’s remnants, Roger Macreed – recovered from his injuries and malnutrition at the hands of the AD – and Neres Warjan. Accompanying them were Mrax Satai, Rilke Darcunter, Eric Donos, and Aethar Daemonstar, the latter two newly raised to knighthood.
Alyx was surprised to see Nadia Ispen join the party, giving him a level look as she turned and carried her satchel up the ramp. He’d asked for volunteers, and everyone onboard had responded to the call without any prodding or incentive from Alyx. He supposed that Nadia must have come because she thought it was what Xar would have wanted. The woman was one of the few remaining Jedi who still practically worshipped the man.
When everyone was onboard, Alyx picked up his things and prepared to follow them. That was everyone who had signed up, including the rest of the Jedi Council not away or incapacitated. He’d only left Vynd Archaron, the Warden, to stay behind, putting him in charge in their absence. Someone at least had to hold some semblance of order and authority in Vectur.
It was virtually everyone left in the Order at or above the rank of Knight – the whole of their fighting force. They had lost so many over the past two years, especially during the attack on Varnus itself. That had been the worst by far. The fighting had been brief and bloody. In the aftermath, nearly half the Jedi in the order were found dead within the span of that one day. Now this was all he had left. If they lost this time, if this turned out to be a suicide mission, the Jedi Order on Varnus would never recover from the loss – at least, not in Alyx’s lifetime.
“Just like old times, huh? The whole gang’s here.”
Alyx paused at the foot of the ramp and turned back at the sound of that familiar voice behind him. He looked over and saw that Mathis Organa was standing there, a bag slung over one shoulder.
“Mathis,” he started.
“Count me in on this one, Alyx.”
Alyx shook his head immediately. “Sorry, but you’re a liability. You’re still not over your addiction.”
Mathis flashed him his famous grin. “Give me a chance, Alyx. I haven’t touched spice since the attack on Varnus. That was six months ago.”
“Five,” Alyx corrected him. “Look, Mathis. I appreciate what you did to save the Stormwatch. If not for your warning, and stopping the Crinn attack, who knows where we would be now. But this is a special operations mission if there ever was one. I can’t jeopordize it.”
A light of defiance came into the man’s eyes. “If I get in the way, I give you my word that I’ll do the honors of dispatching myself.”
“I can’t let you do that, Mathis.” Alyx sighed. It wasn’t that Alyx just didn’t trust him. He also wanted someone to survive in case the worst happene, to carry on at least the memory of the Order, and those that had been in it.
Alyx looked at the man, unable to remove from his impression the years of history between them. Mathis was one of the men who had re-founded House Ar’Kell after all those centuries. They’d known each other for a long time. “We might not make it back from this one, Mathis.” He owed it to the man to be honest.
But Mathis was adamant. “All the more reason I should go,” he said. “Do you think I could live, knowing that everyone I cared about went up there and sacrificed their lives for our freedom, and I wasn’t able to join them? Don’t do that to me, Alyx.”
Alyx considered it. He didn’t like it, but he knew how the man must feel. He must be desperate to prove his worth, not just to others but also to himself. This could possibly be just the kind of therapy that Mathis needed. Whether one more hand would make the difference if they found themselves in all-out war – Alyx didn’t know. But in the end, Mathis was still someone he considered to be a friend, someone he wanted to see succeed. If this was the last interaction they would ever have together before their final fate was revealed, he wanted it to end on a positive.
“Get in the shuttle,” he said finally.
* * *
In Orbit, Arcadia
The nine Majestic-class cruisers opened the battle with their rail cannons, firing corvette-sized slugs from their shafts at hypersonic speeds towards the enemy Titans. An instant later, bright flashes lit up space as the projectiles penetrated their shields and struck home. Explosions blasted across the front of the Dark Sun, the Vertigo, and the Death Wing, massive fireballs accompanied by large chunks of armor and hull plating.
The Majestics reloaded as quickly as possible and fired again, dealing even more damage to their targets. By now, the Altarin’Dakor fleet was rapidly accelerating, coming up to attack speed, the NI Starfleet following suit.
As the two fleets neared each other, space became crossed with beams of energy as both sides opened up with their fusion beams. Force fields on both sides lit up under the hits, glowing blue hemispheres of energy surrounding the Titan-class battleships in both fleets. Ship-to-ship missiles streaked out on tails of light, and the Majestics kept firing, sending their slugs through the shields to blast away more armor. Large gouts of flame, atmosphere and debris shot out of hull breaches as sections of the ships were exposed to vacuum.
Then, finally, the fighters got their orders to accelerate and engage. Salle led Inferno and the rest of their forces forward, keeping beneath the streams of energy crisscrossing the sky above them. She knew that if any of them got caught by one of those beams, their fighters would be reduced to their constituent atoms.
Ahead, a cloud of innumerable enemy fighters glittered like diamonds in the night, and the screens on her HUD showed simply a wall of red, far too many ships to try and count. Reports had cited over twenty thousand fighters, and the number was still rising.
“Report in,” she ordered, keying the squadron frequency.
“One Flight, on your wing,” said Gren Pabos, in his matching modified TIE Avatar close by.
“Two Flight, in formation,” announced Kikitik, who now led Flight Two.
“Three Flight, ready for action.” That was Narm Greyrunner, the last surviving member after the battle at Varnus. He led Flight Three.
“Stay close,” she ordered. “These new TIEs should take them by surprise at first. After that, if we stay together and work in tandem, we can take them out one at a time.”
She received a chorus of affirmatives, then took a deep breath and flexed her fingers on her flight controls. The numbers were counting down fast, now, the two sides eating away at the distance to their targets. Salle fought down her nerves, the sense of fear that threatened to sweep over her as she looked at the tidal wave approaching them. It felt almost unnatural, unearthly, not at all like the nervousness she normally faced in battle. Was it the sheer number of enemy ships? There were so many of them!
But no, she realized. She had felt this once before. She realized that she’d felt the same way at Varnus, faced with the fighters belonging to the Warlord Nimrod. She now recognized it as coming through the Force, caused by the enemy commanders. No, she thought. I will not panic.
“Stay firm,” she said over the link. “Don’t let them trick you with fear. Think about Bast. About Rann and Tanya. Think about Petur and the others.” The ones they’d lost. “We will avenge them!”
The feelings of fear slightened, then suddenly were replaced by a warm feeling in her chest. She felt her skin flush, as a wave of optimism washed over her. She felt invulnerable. This was coming from their side, she knew. From the Warlord Zalaria. Somehow the woman was counteracting the enemy’s tactic. Salle felt like a pawn in some massive board game, controlled like a puppet by godlike figures above her. But despite the feeling, she welcomed it this time. They needed all the help they could get.
On her HUD, the enemy wave coalesced into hundreds of clusters of enemy fighters, the dots like grains of sand on her screens. Those clusters became groups of dozens, which broke down into squadrons, and finally became individual fighters on her screens. By now it was too late to get out of the way even if she’d wanted to.
A green indicator light began to flicker on her HUD, and she knew it was time.
“Enemy in range,” Salle announced. “Let’s show them what these new fighters can do.”
The shimmering wave in front of them had become individual points of light, now, stretching above and below, left and right as far as she could see. It was a target rich environment like she’d never before known. Using her target-by-sight capabilities in her helmet, she selected half a dozen enemy targets, knowing the rest of her squadron, and in turn the rest of the entire NI fighter group, was doing the same. Of course, so were the enemy.
As the tone sounded in her helmet, Salle tightened her right index finger on the trigger. They cut loose first with missiles, sending them out on trails of light. Then, a second later, the enemy came within beam range. Salle tracked her crosshairs over a target and squeezed the trigger again, sending four yellow-white beams of energy out at the enemy, one from each wingtip’s hardpoint.
Sure enough, the Altarin’Dakor wing, never expecting their opponents to have the same range as they did, was caught completely unawares. Ships began exploding left and right. Some returned fire, but it was clear they were in a state of total confusion.
Salle had logged over a hundred hours of practice firing with fixed beam weapons. At first they had felt unwieldy, and it had been difficult to hit anything. Overcorrection was easy, and the slightest nudge of her controls could send the beams wide by dozens of meters.
Not anymore, though. Her first target exploded in an incandescent ball of hot vaporized gasses. No sooner had she confirmed the kill than she switched to her next target, which had been riding off the first target’s wing. Adjusting her controls, she panned right, aiming for the wingman. The fighter juked, reacting to the destruction of the first target, but too shocked to return fire. It went evasive, and Salle’s beams sliced underneath it. Reacting quickly, however, she pitched up slightly, raking her beams along the same trajectory as the enemy fighter and finally making contact. Her beams sliced into the target’s starboard wing just before they died out, cutting the wing cleanly away. An explosion on that side threw the fighter off course, spinning away and out of the fight.
Salled let her guns rest for a second – they had reached their maximum firing time and needed a moment to cool down once more. It was a drawback she’d never had before, but she knew everything was a tradeoff; more firepower meant more waste heat.
In her helmet, she heard the other members of Inferno calling out their kills: “Inferno Seven, one bogey down.” “Inferno Ten, kill confirmed.” “Inverno four, target destroyed.” The reports rolled in on top of each other in a mixed jumble of sentences. Nearly all of them had cited multiple kills from the first volley.
Only seconds had elapsed since the engagement began. The sky lit up with fireballs as Altarin’Dakor fighters exploded. The several thousand NI-allied Altarin’Dakor fighters at Salle’s back, launched from Grand Crusader, Ascendancy, Cataclysm and Nimbus, added their missiles and beams into the fray.
Then the return fire from the enemy forces began, as Salle had known it would. She went evasive, rolling and juking along with the rest of Inferno Squadron. Blips on her screens began to indicate NI losses. Then, a dozen seconds after the two sides had engaged, Salle saw enemy fighters streaking past and turning. The initial run was over, and the entire thing was about to devolve into the biggest furball she’s ever seen.
“Great job Inferno!” she managed to stammer while the metallic flashes of enemy fighters shot past faster than the eye could follow. “Hold course on me until they’re past, otherwise you’ll have someone right on your six!” A chorus of clicks sounded acknowledgement of her orders.
She waited until most of the enemy fighters were past, then pulled up sharply, arching back onto their tails. The looming bulks of the enemy Titans soared past her field of view. The nearby masses of Death Wing and Nightlord continued pumping out cascading of energy at the NI forces, and as she watched, a enormous flash of light came from the center of the Death Wing’s outstretched, fan-like arms, the flash lasting only an instant. She didn’t have time to see its effect before it was out of sight again.
Her comms were alive with chatter, as some pilots called for help, while others died in screams punctuated by bursts of static. It was a maddening cacophony of sound that she mostly tried to drown out, except for the Inferno local channel. The voices on her squadron members, she heard loud and clear.
“Five, target eliminated.”
“Twelve, got one on my tail!”
“Twelve, this is Six. I’m on him. Break hard right!”
A second later, an audible sigh of relief: “Thanks Twelve!”
Salle took it all in even while searching for her next target. Back in the fray once more, she quickly locked onto the tail of a retreating enemy fighter and sent two shockwave missiles streaking out towards it. Then she continued her climb, finding more fighters that had nearly come back around to face them once more. She thought she saw a flash on her HUD indicating the destruction of her first target, but by then she was already firing her beams at another fighter heading to her starboard. Her beams intersected with the enemy’s path, but a last minute course correction caused the attack to miss by only a few meters. Only one of her beams struck a glancing blow against the enemy’s shields, causing them to flare up for an instant.
The target pulled around and was out of range a second later, and she wasn’t sure if it was coming back for her or not. There were just too many targets, making it impossible to have a protracted dogfight with anyone without becoming vulnerable to an unseen attacker.
Even as the thought went through her head, her missile alert went off, its tone indicating that it was already close by. Jerking the stick back instinctively, she made a tight loop, dropping chaff as she did so. She barely missed crashing head-on into an enemy Stiletto that flashed past in front of her, and her breath caught. A second later the lock tone stopped. She could only assume that her chaff worked, or that the missile had found another target.
As she pulled around, she saw a sky crisscrossed with multicolored beams of light as the Titans and support ships continued to pound each other. A cold, stark realization hit her then about how truly small and limited she was in the scheme of it all. She had to rely on her computer to even keep track of what was going on in the near vicinity of her fighter, while all she could focus on was what her two eyes could see. Each passing second was a frantic struggle to survive, and not much else.
Her warning alert went off, and she rolled just as an enemy fighter opened fire at her eleven o’clock. Its beams seemed to spear straight through her eyes, leaving afterimages trailing across her vision, but somehow they didn’t impact her fighter. The enemy’s beams died, and she pulled around to try and make a return shot. Before she could, however, four yellow-white beams lanced down from above her and speared the enemy figher, detonating it.
“Two, target destroyed,” came Gren Pabos’ smooth voice.
“Thanks, Two,” Salled said, breathing a sigh of relief.
“What are wingmen for,” came the reply.
The words brought a stab of regret into her chest. Not for the first time her thoughts flashed to Commander Stele, and she wished for his reassuring presence. She should be on his wing.
Why had he left them? Why had he put all of this responsibility on her?
The answers still didn’t come, and she had no time to consider it now. Turning to port, with Gren on her wing, she arced back into the furball.
* * *
|Author:||J.A. [ Sun Dec 04, 2011 4:27 am ]|
|Post subject:||Re: "Remembrance" - By Joshua Ausley|
Angol Moa’s Laboratories
Icis emerged from the teleporter and fell to his knees with a gasp. He remembered the look on his father’s face at the end. What had happened after that?
Slowly, it came back to him. What he’d given up. What he’d seen – and learned.
His time with his father had opened his eyes. Moa Gault was, he finally realized, just a man. He was a Kajeat, of course – he wasn’t fully human any more than Icis was – but still, he was a man in the sense that he was an individual, a person of limited intellect and ability. He’d had only his wits and experience to guide the decisions he’d made. No longer did Icis see him as the cold, stoic, imposing father he’d known growing up. He understood – really understood, now – that his father was just as fallible as anyone else.
Moa Gault had been more open with him than ever before in his life. Perhaps now, he too understood that Icis could never have been anything except what he now was. Perhaps he had finally come to accept the son that Icis had so unexpectedly become. The personal secrets he had revealed to Icis – knowing that this might be the last time they ever spoke – they showed a man who’d had to make decisions no one should ever have had to make alone.
Those revelations had sent Icis back into the Chamber of Shadows a second time, something no Kajeat had ever done, to his knowledge. And there, in the Chamber, Icis had finally understood what it was he’d been called to do:
The Chamber of Shadows. It was a place that struck a strange combination of terror and awe in the heart of every soul who had experienced it's warped effects. The chamber itself was located deep within the heart of Ka'Jaarn, on a level of the artificial planet that was seldom visited and mostly consumed by a sprawling museum of Traveler history. The section of the museum closest to the Chamber told of its origins 90,000 years ago, when Angol Moa, the oldest member of the Ka'Jaet race, had fashioned it herself according to her extreme but unstable genius.
Every Ka'Jaet youth, upon reaching maturity and being deemed prepared to venture out into the universe and begin his/her/its life of quiet research, was required to enter the Chamber of Shadows. It was the ultimate rite of passage and to Icis' knowledge, no one had ever gone in twice. No one would ever want to. The effects were straining upon the sanity and always left a lasting impression. Some were moved to absolute silence and awe, some screamed in fear or sobbed in anguish, some were inspired, some ran out of the chamber and refused to ever speak of what they had seen, a few were driven mad, and a rare few disappeared into the Chamber never to be seen again.
The Chamber of Shadows, as every Ka'Jaet was told before entering, was a containment field for a temporal vortex, which constantly raged in the distance like a shifting sideways tornado of crackling multicolored energy on a plane of absolute black darkness. There the young Traveler would be shown... something. It was different for each person. The thing that the Traveler saw was a result of his own temporal signature's influence on the vortex and would have great significance to that person's life. Icis Novitaar knew all of this because it had been told to him, but he had never experienced it. When he had entered the Chamber at the completion of his training, he hadn't been shown anything. He stepped through the door to the Chamber of Shadows, and found himself exiting out the same door almost immediately. No time had passed for everyone else (it never did), but no time had passed for him either. There had been nothing to see.
Now, Icis had stepped through the Great Door to the Chamber of Shadows a second time, and his fears of seeing nothing were immediately put to rest by the awesome terror and beauty of the temporal vortex. It was both unbelievably immense and distant at the same time. In fact, if it occupied real space the vortex would be far too large for the Chamber of Shadows to contain, but there was a certain degree of dimensional compression associated with the vortex and the chamber. As such, issues of space (or time, for that matter) were never a limitation. There was no visible floor, but the darkness below Icis’ feet was solid and allowed him to step forward and slowly approach the vortex. Having been shown nothing the first time, he had no idea of what to expect.
Part of Icis' mind began an analysis of the situation and concluded that the entire exercise was pointless, because there was no possible way such a tiny and insignificant creature as himself could exert enough influence on such a tremendous force of nature as the temporal vortex to have any useful effect. In fact, it was far more likely that the visions and experiences were all granted at random and that...
All thought ceased for a moment. A long moment. In the seemingly endless black expanse, Icis Novitaar caught sight of what was surely impossible. Totally irrational. At odds with the known laws of physics. And yet, it was there. HE was there. A young man, maybe thirty years old, stylish black tunic of a senior-class student of the Ka'Jaet education system. Two meters tall, black haired. He was...
Icis almost called the man's name, but the words caught in his throat and threatened to choke him. How long had he been there? Who could know in a place like this? “Has he seen me?” Icis thought. No. His back was turned. The young man was completely focused on the temporal vortex. And Icis was completely focused on him.
The Traveler stepped forward, closing the distance by degrees as he began to circle off to the man's left. Finally, as Icis came into the man's field of vision, the Traveler gathered up the nerve to speak. One word. One name. His own. “Icis?”
The young man turned upon hearing his name spoken. Of course he wasn't that young. He may have looked thirty but he could easily be hundreds of years old. Young for a Traveler. Young and very surprised. “Who are you?” he asked, eyes wide with amazement.
There was a moment of silence in which Icis debated what he should or shouldn't say to himself. Then, coming to the conclusion that the universe had gone mad and it really didn't matter what he said, replied, “I'm you.”
“You can't be me.”
“Yes, I think you'll find that I can and I am.” Icis stepped forward, closing the gap between the two men until they were only a few meters apart.
The younger man shook his head in disbelief. “That's impossible!”
Silence. Two men, or perhaps one man, standing facing each other, neither blinking.
“How?” spoke the younger.
“I don't exactly know,” the older replied, “but I can guess.”
The younger man's bewilderment was beginning to fade, and he didn't wait to hear the guess. “The temporal vortex has created a future time duplicate of me based on one possible future timeline and brought that duplicate here.”
Icis, the older Icis, could tell that his younger counterpart was waiting for confirmation. No such luck. “No, not really.”
The younger Icis furrowed his brow. “What do you mean?”
“Well, first of all I'm no time duplicate, I'm you. Secondly, this... thing,” the older man waved an open hand at the swirling storm of temporal energy, “didn't bring me here across time to meet you. It's brought us both to a place outside of time.”
“Outside of time?”
“How old are you?” Older Icis asked, eying his younger self for any signs that he may have entered at a different point in time than...
“I'm 171 years old.” The young man paused. “And you?”
The younger man's jaw went slack. “Really?” he sputtered.
“You've just entered the Chamber of Shadows at the completion of your training to become a field agent. I've just entered it 4,843 years later. However, to the temporal vortex, both of our signatures are the same, so it brought us to the same place.” Icis didn't know if that was correct, but at least it sounded reasonable.
“I can accept that,” Icis replied. “But why did you reenter the Chamber?”
It occurred to older Icis that he could probably get himself into a lot of trouble by giving too many future details to his past self. In fact, he had probably already caused irreparable damage to the timeline. Hoping to prevent further damage, the older traveler replied, “I have my reasons.”
“Your reasons?” It was crazy, thought the younger man. Did the older man really expect him to accept that? “Well, I suppose we all have our reasons,” he said. “What're yours?”
The older man sighed. “That's something I can't tell you. I'm afraid it'll do too much damage to the timeline.”
“Don't hide behind that,” young Icis replied, suddenly becoming aware of a critical fact. “Why can't I sense you?” Confusion. Frustration. “You're not a Ka'Jaet. You're not even Force-sensitive? ... You're a fake!”
“Hold on now,” the other man, who looked like Icis but obviously wasn't, held up his hands in what was surely intended as a calming gesture.
“No, you hold on. I don't know what you're after, but you're certainly NOT me.” Icis examined the man, or whatever he was. “Perhaps the vortex has created you based on some fragment of my own consciousness and you think that you're a future version of me, but you are in fact more a figment of my imagination that you are a man.”
The counterfeit Icis seemed shocked and mildly offended. “If I'm not really a man, then how do I know that you were originally Jascar Brodan, small time thief and no account. If you'd like, I can relate a fairly sound narrative of the first twenty years of your life.”
“Which proves nothing as you are a construct based on my own intelligence and I possess all of the information you are presenting.” Icis would not be so easily convinced.
“I can also provide you with a meticulously detailed account the next 4,843 years of your life ahead,” the man told him.
“Which could all be fabrication, and proves nothing,” Icis countered again.
The older man sighed. “I can see that I will not be able to convince you I’m real. But why should I, anyway? Maybe it’s better for you this way.”
“What do you mean by that?”
“I mean it’s hard to stand here looking at the man I used to be, remembering how young and foolish I was. You still have a lot to learn.”
“Wait a second,” Icis sputtered, feeling indignation rise within him. “You can’t talk down to me like that! You’re just a figment of my imagination. What if I just imagine you away?”
“Go ahead and waste your time if you like,” the man said. “I came here for reasons of my own…”
He broke off, their conversation interrupted, and Icis followed his gaze to see a pulsating ball of semi-transparent energy spiral out of the swirling fiery orange vortex, directly toward the younger Icis, who watched it in fascination.
Suddenly the older man gasped. “Of course! The charge!”
Young Icis watched as the older man leapt forward ahead of him, rushing toward that glowing, pulsating ball. “What are you doing?!” he shouted.
Then, out of nowhere, an even older man appeared directly between the vortex and the other two men. He held out something in his hand, something that appeared mechanical, a metallic box that dangled from his outstretched arm. Doors on the box slid open with a click, and before either man could react, a light streamed forth out of it, drawing the ball of energy away from its toward younger Icis. The ball flew toward the box in the newcomer’s hand and entered inside. Then the doors clicked shut again.
The newcomer turned to face them then, and both versions of Icis gaped in surprise.
“Hello, Icis – and Icis,” he said, nodding at each of them in turn.
It was him. A third version. This one looked to be in his mid-fifties, with a closely trimmed beard and an eyepatch over his right eye. His beard was mostly white, and he had salt-and-pepper hair. He wore a high collared black duster with tall back boots and black-gloved hands. Beneath the coat he wore a white shirt made of a course fabric, and his tan pants had a dark brown stripe down the sides. His wide belt held various pouches and a blaster holstered on his thigh. He seemed somewhat grizzled and worn, but he also had an air of peace and wisdom that young Icis couldn’t quite identify.
“Who are you?” both Icis’ blurted out at the same time.
The older man held a bemused look on his face. Young Icis continued to stare at him in disbelief. What had happened to him? Why did he look so old, and why did he have an eye patch? As an immortal Kajeat, he knew that aging and infirmities were things he would never have to know. What had happened to this man was impossible – unless, of course, he was no longer immortal. But that was crazy!
“I’m sorry to disturb you,” said the elderly man, “but I had a feeling this would happen. To my knowledge, no one else has ever come in here three times before.”
“Please,” said the other Icis, the one who had appeared in the chamber earlier. He stepped forward, reaching out a hand to the older man. “The charge you just captured – I need it to restore my Kajeat essence. You… You’ve obviously aged. That implies I still haven’t recovered my immortality. The charge could return it to us!”
Young Icis gaped at the other men. Lost his immortality? How in all the galaxies could that be? No, it was a lie; it had to be!
The elderly Icis shook his head, a bit sadly it seemed. “I’m sorry, but I need it for something else even more.”
“What?” asked the middle Icis.
“To stabilize the temporal field of a time machine,” the older man replied.
Now middle Icis gaped at him as well. “To do what?”
“Apologies, but I cannot reveal more than that. Talk to Angol Moa when you leave.”
“What could be more important than restoring our Traveler essence?!” middle Icis demanded. “As a Kajeat you realize nothing matters more than that!”
Young Icis glanced back and forth between the two men. If he understood them correctly, they were squabbling over a ball of energy that could theoretically restore Icis his Kajeat essence, assuming it had been taken from him in the first place. But young Icis himself was immortal; he had been ever since merging with Jascar Brodin years ago. This didn’t make any sense! How could he lose his immortality?
To a Kajeat, their longevity was what made them who they were, what made them want to travel the galaxies and record events. To not be able to do that, to have only a finite number of years, would be to fall victim to the turning of time, to become part of history instead of hovering outside it. Without the immortal life essence, one could not be Kajeat at all!
“I fully sympathize with you, since I am you,” the old man said. “I’ve felt age creeping up on me in a way I’ve never known in 5,039 years. But you have to trust me when I say that this is far more important than you and I regaining our immortal Kajeat essence.”
“What happens in the future?” middle Icis asked suddenly. “Do we defeat the Ones, and Altima? Is the battle going on, or is there some new threat?”
“There are always threats,” the older man said. “But you know I can’t answer your questions about the future, just as you cannot tell the young Icis there how much we’ve meddled in galactic affairs, how we lost our immortality in the first place.”
“You just did,” pointed out the middle Icis.
The older man just smiled. “It’s all right. You see, I remember when I was you, meeting the older version of me. I remember everything you’re thinking and feeling right now. I also remember, when I was you, that the older me wiped the memory of the younger Icis standing there.”
The old man turned toward young Icis then, and stretched out a hand. Before Icis could react, he felt the other’s mind touch his, instantly breaking through his defenses, and a white light flashed in his vision, searing away every coherent thought…
Middle Icis – current Icis, he reminded himself – watched the older man wipe the memory of the younger Icis, and a revelation suddenly struck him. This was why he’d had no knowledge of his time in the Chamber of Shadows! He remembered clearly stepping into the portal and coming straight out the other side, with no knowledge that this meeting had ever taken place. But he had been here, in the chamber! He had seen all of this, and it had been erased from his memory!
This scene, this event, had happened all those years ago, when Icis had been the young man standing there just as he saw him now, and he’d never known it. Even then, when he’d entered the chamber, he had spoken with two older versions of himself – one of which Icis was now experiencing firsthand. Simultaneously, the same meeting had occurred at three different points in his life.
This was scarcely beyond his ability to comprehend. How many laws of space-time were being broken, right now? The sheer implausibility of it all made his head want to ache.
“My work is done,” said the older Icis. “I have to leave now.” He nodded to Icis then, giving him a mock salute. “Until we meet again.”
Then he turned and walked through the doorway just as it reappeared beside him.
Icis looked at the younger version of himself, who was still staring blankly ahead, not yet returned to his normal state. Icis knew that by the time he came to, he would be stepping forward through the doorway back into the outside again.
The doorway appeared in front of current Icis first. He took a last glance around the chamber and the young man still standing there, thinking back to all that the young man would experience in his next four thousand nine hundred years. It was a lot of time for change. If he could go back now, and do some things differently, would he? Probably.
He stepped through the doorway…
…and had appeared outside the chamber once more.
His reverie was interrupted as footsteps echoed into the chamber behind him. Icis turned and saw Angol Moa enter. Her expression was, to his surprise, completely solemn. He wondered if she would be angry with him for entering the Chamber of Shadows twice – no make that three times, now.
She stopped in front of him and visibly studied him for a moment. Then the barest hint of a smile curved her lips, and her voice broke the silence. “So what did you find?”
“I made it inside,” he said, searching for the right words. “It… wasn’t what I expected. Some kind of temporal paradox, I think.” He looked at her, searching her deep emerald eyes for some hint of wisdom. “I now know that I made it inside during my first trial, too. There was a younger version of me in there. He was young and inexperienced; he didn’t know anything. Then suddenly the charge came out of the Vortex. I thought I could use it to restore my Kajeat essence; something had obviously happened to it since I hadn’t received the vision all those years ago. But then…”
“Then your older seld appeared, stole the charge and told you he needed it to fix the time machine in the future,” Angol Moa said off-handedly.
She fixed him with a level look. “He was telling the truth, or rather, you were telling the truth. He did need it, for something of the utmost importance. I hope you believe that.”
It took Icis a moment to realize his jaw had dropped open. “And just how in the galaxies do you know all that?” he demanded.
Angol Moa gave him a knowing grin. “Because you told me every detail of it twenty thousand years ago when you came to me.”
At that, Icis was rendered completely speechless.
“You know I can’t reveal too much about the future,” she told him with a wry look. “But since he told you to ask me, suffice yourself with this: I first met Icis Novitaar around twenty thousand years ago, from where he had traveled back in time using a device I will eventually – but haven’t yet, by the way – create. He then explained to me everything that happened to him during his life, including everything that we are currently living through. Obviously he was not afraid of risking the future by revealing it to me, and in this case he was right in doing so.” She paused, and gave a sly grin. “So now do you see why very little actually surprises me?”
Icis just shook his head in complete disbelief. Her words – her story – was so unexpected and strange that it sounded like a fairy tale. Even if he wanted to believe her, he had no frame of reference with which to begin to fathom the implications of what she was saying.
“I… I don’t understand,” he admitted finally. “It’s too foreign. I can’t see myself there, doing something like that. It shouldn’t be possible.”
“But you know, Icis,” she said seriously. “You realize that the future is not completely set. It can be altered. You could still die before you ever reach that age.”
He nodded again. “I know that.”
“Very well. Anyway, there is something else that I want to do for you.”
He blinked and looked up at her. Something she wanted to do? For him?
“I cannot restore to you the Kajeat essence,” she said, “That was a gift from the Vortex, and it has only ever given it once to an individual.”
“The Vortex… it’s alive?” Icis asked.
“Not exactly. It is full of life energy,” she said. “It exists as a buffer between this dimension and that from which we came. To plug the gap so that the Entity cannot cross over.”
“So the charge,” Icis said, excited. “Its energy comes from our home dimension?”
“Residue that bleeds though, yes.” She glanced down. “Another way I hope to eventually right the wrong I caused.”
“You’ve done enough,” Icis said. “No one can blame you anymore.”
“You’d be surprised,” she said, giving him a knowing look. “But we’re talking about you, not me. I think that you’ve suffered enough for what you’ve done. Everyone should have a chance to atone.”
“What are you talking about?” he asked, bewildered.
“Have a seat,” she instructed him. “It has been long enough since you have known the touch of the Force.”
Dumbfounded, Icis found himself guided through the corridors of her lab, into a chamber he’d never entered before. The room was roughly a sphere, with its walls cut into dozens of angled surfaces, all made of a substance so dark it appeared black. The walls were featureless and polished almost as clearly as mirrors, though there was little to reflect, as the only source of light came from a circle of light directly above the center. A seat extruded itself for him directly below the shaft of light angling down in the middle of the room. He sat, completely at a loss for words. What was she doing? Was she actually going to give him the Force back? And now, of all times?
It wasn’t that he doubted she could do it. It has just never occurred to him that she would. His powers had been taken away twice – the first time, it had been halved by the Supreme Council of Elders. The second, barely two years before, they had been removed completely. Icis had resigned himself to the fact that he would never use the Force again.
“Supreme Elder, I don’t know what to say,” he managed.
She walked a slow circle around him, tapping instructions onto the holopad floating in front of her. “It will take some time for your abilities to come into full effect,” she said. “Think of it as retraining an atrophied muscle. But once they do, you will be as powerful as you have ever been, before even your first banishment.”
She stopped pacing in front of him, and her holopad disappeared. Icis heard a high-pitched whine building throughout the chamber.
Icis felt a chill of fear and awe creep through him. He’d gone so long without touching the Force, he had no idea what to feel about getting it again. And what she was saying, what he hoped against hope was true – was that he would finally be restored to his full power level. He’d lived with his crippled Force abilities for over two thousand years, and in the recent few years had lost its touch entirely. What would he feel like with all of his power restored to him once more?
A jumble of emotions were inside him: giddiness, trepidation, awe. Fear of change, fear of failure, fear of losing control of himself. Despite himself, despite how badly he had wanted this for so long, he felt himself say, “I… don’t deserve this.”
The last thing he saw was her standing in front of him, stretching out a finger towards his head.
“Sometimes we all need a bit of grace,” she said.
Then she touched his forehead, and a blinding light consumed everything.
* * *
The two lines of Titan-class battleships continued to rain barrage after barrage of fire upon each other. What had been an initial surprise advantage for the NI forces, however, had quickly deteriorated as the vastly superior numbers of Altarin’Dakor began to turn the tide back in their favor. The amount of fire the NI ships were taking was easily double what they could return.
The only thing saving them was the mysterious force field extending in front of the Grand Crusader, preventing any of the blasts heading her way from getting through.
Sector Admiral Gaius stood on the ship’s massive bridge and watched everything unfold, feeling almost powerless to do anything that might really effect the outcome of the battle. He still gave orders to the other Titans, directing their fire. Amazon was still issuing commands to the fighter groups and the rest of the NI Starfleet.
But it was Zalaria, deep inside the bowels of the ship inside her so-called meditation chamber, that was really keeping them alive right now.
It was a trick of the Force, something on a scale Gaius had never experienced before. Somehow the meditation chamber she was in could enhance her powers even beyond her normal, unfathomable levels. Enough, apparently, to counter the other four Warlords sitting opposite them inside the Dark Sun.
The flagship of Asellus sat directly in front of them, sending a steady barrage of beam weapon fire directly at them. But instead of hitting the Grand Crusader’s shields, the beams hit an invisible barrier much farther out, far enough to cover quite a few other NI ships, as well.
He had no idea how she was doing it, only he could feel it, and he could also feel the assaults of the enemy Warlords against her. It made his own powers feel as insignificant as a drop of water in an ocean. He only hoped that her defensive action would hold out. There had been no communication at all from Zalaria since she had gone down there.
The other thing that seemed to be playing to their advantage was that the enemy Titans didn’t seem to be acting with any level of coordinated effort. Rather, each Warlord’s fleet acted as though it were operating independently, choosing its own targets and eschewing the advantage of overlapping their fields of fire. Similarly, the enemy fighter formations moved independently of one another, preventing them from overwhelming the NI fighters all at once. Some groups had even been pushed out of the engagement zone, it seemed, as other units asserted the areas as “their” field of battle.
It was typical Altarin’Dakor behavior – factional to a fault. Gaius had never seen it happen so clearly before now. But how could they be anything else? Their own supreme commanders fought each other in a constant power struggle, and their temporary alliance against the New Imperium, appearing at first as one, unstoppable force, was looking more and more to be a fragile and tentative situation.
Meanwhile, the NI Titans continued to pour fire into the enemy ships. He’d ordered them to focus on the center three, with the Dark Sun especially as the priority target. Attacks from the Cataclysm and Grand Crusader lit up the shields of the Death Wing and Dark Sun in a continuous cycle of shimmering waves that lit up around the massive vessels. Every once in a while, some got through, scouring their hulls with deep furrows that leaked atmosphere and liquefied armor.
The Majestic-class cruisers continued their firing as well, from their positions just beneath Grand Crusader. As he watched, some of their slugs penetrated the shields of the Death Wing and blasted into one of its outstretched wing arms, ripping through its hull plating and sending massive gouts of flame and debris launching back out into space.
On the other side of the Dark Sun, the Vertigo was taking an equally hard pounding from the combined forces of Nimbus and Ascendancy. Their beam weapons had broken through the smaller Titan’s shields and were carving their way through the front of the ship, leaving it aglow against the rest of the ship’s dark hull.
Not all was going well, however. The Invasion of Light was pouring fire into the Nimbus, and the ship’s starboard side was taking a pounding, leaking fire and gasses in spots that glowed red from the heat of the assault. The Ascendancy was also taking some fire, lying just outside the Grand Crusader’s protective bubble.
Gaius refused let himself feel optimistic about the battle, yet. Rather, a feeling of unease had continued to grow within his gut ever since the battle began. The situation was precarious, and he knew that if anything at all happened to Zalaria, the tide would be turned instantly. In fact, things had been going entirely too well. That was probably what was worrying him. Something bad was bound to happen, he just didn’t know what it was or when it would occur.
And the worst part was, he felt powerless to stop it when it finally came.
* * *
Salle dodged and weaved her TIE Avatar through the fray, soaring through spiraling clouds of gas and smoke and dodging past twisted chunks of ballistic debris. Several times she saw fighers colliding by accident, mutually destroying each other in flashes of light that neither pilot had even seen coming.
NI losses had begun to mount quickly, as the vastly superior number of enemy fighters began to take its toll. Blips vanished from her screens so quickly she couldn’t begin to keep count.
Her own shields were down to half, and she only had four missiles left. She’d narrowly escaped getting speared by enemy beam lances half a dozen times, now.
Inferno had lost two pilots already. Eight and Eleven had been shot down by enemy fighters. Though the rest of the squadron had avenged them, their losses were a hardened lump inside Salle’s heart, one she had to hold there until this was all over. Time to mourn would come later, if she survived.
She lined up her latest target, then led her sights just in front of it and squeezed the trigger. Her yellow-white beams shot out directly in the target’s flight path and the enemy flew straight through. It came out in two pieces, which quickly exploded in a double blast that sent pieces of its fuselage everywhere.
“Inferno Six! I can’t shake this one!”
The voice of one of her squadron mates immediately caught her attention. She saw his icon flashing on her screens, then pivoted her fighter to bring the targets into view.
She was too far away. Six had an enemy fighter on his tail, and somehow he had gotten separated from his wingman. As the Avatar pitched and rolled, the Altarin’Dakor fighter – another Stiletto – stayed close on his tail, firing mercilessly. One of its beams clipped the Avatar’s wing, shearing half of it off, and Six’s fighter fell into an uncontrolled spin.
“Eject, Six!” Salle shouted, an instant after he had already started the process.
“Ungh!” The cockpit canopy burst open as the pilot rode his seat out on a jet of flame. An instant later another blast hit the fighter dead center and it blew apart. The Stiletto shot past, already looking for another target.
Watching her pilot flying ballistically up and to her right, Salle grabbed her comm controls and switched to the emergency frequency, which would key her into the retrieval corps onboard the Darkstar. “I need a pick-up in sector 26-B!” she said desperately. “Inferno Six is EVA!”
“Negative, Inferno,” the voice came back after a few seconds’ pause. “That zone’s too hot. We’ll have to wait for it to clear first.”
“He’s not going to last that long out here!” Salle shouted back.
“Sorry, no can do. We’re under orders here not to take unnecessary risks with the pick-up craft. We’re not picking up anyone at all right now. Darkstar out.”
Biting back a curse, she growled in frustration and switched off the channel. Six’s floating figure quickly faded to a speck that was lost among the endless debris field all around them.
Her comm crackled to life again almost immediately. “Inferno Squadron, Chalice Squadron, Vengeance Squadron, Nova Squadron and Reaper Squadron. A large force of enemy assault ships are on an attack vector to Task Force Darkstar. Fall back and defend, ASAP.”
“Roger,” Salle replied as soon as the order was finished. “Inferno on its way.” Then, keying the squadron frequency, she added, “Inferno, form up and full throttle back towards the NI capital ships!”
Suiting words to actions, she looped her Avatar around back towards the formation of the NI fleet and gunned the throttle, the acceleration slamming her back against her seat. She knew that while the Star Destroyers and other large capital ships of the NI fleet were in the relative protection of the Titans’ force fields, they would still be vulnerable to smaller Altarin’Dakor strike craft that might want to take them out.
Inferno formed up on her wing, and together they began to extract themselves from the furball. Thousands of fighters swam through the space in front of her, glowing like pinpoints of light. Salle pushed her Avatar as fast as it would go, leading the squadron back towards the NI position.
“Lead, we’ve got bogeys in pursuit!” shouted the voice of Narm Greyrunner over the comm.
Salle checked her screens and saw a full squadron of enemy fighters coming down hot on their tails, clearly looking for easy kills on the retreating fighters. “Evasive!” she shouted. “But keep on course! Try and outrun them!”
She suited words to action, juking and jinking her fighter this way and that. Stray beams of energy began to pass by from behind, continuing on into the endless night of space.
A missile warning went off, and she immediately rolled and dropped chaff. Less than a second later her fighte shook as something detonated directly behind her fighter. Salle’s breath caught in her throat; that had been way too close.
“Inferno Squad, Vindicator has a bead on your pursuers,” came a voice over her comm.
The NI Starfleet was looming ahead now, with the central bulk of the Darkstar surrounded by over a dozen Imperator-class Star Destroyers along with dozens of support ships. Of the ISDs, the wedge-shaped hull of the ISD-3 Vindicatar had somehow ended up closest to them.
“Copy, Vindicator,” Salle said into the comm. “We are closing! Just another minute!”
She angled her fighter towards the Star Destroyer’s hull, leading her squadron on a virtual ramming course with the capital ship.
The Altarin’Dakor fighters continued their pursuit. There was a burst of static, and Inferno Twelve’s icon blinked out on her screen. “Kriff!” Salle cursed, still jinking her fighter hard as lances of energy shot past her cockpit.
The Vindicator’s comm officer shouted over the comm. “Inferno, break hard in five… four… three… two… one… now!”
Salle immediately yanked back on her controls, sending her fighter arcing into a loop so tight that she nearly blacked out. The rest of
Inferno broke hard in all directions, as an instant later a barrage of green-white turbolaser fire blasted through the space they’d just been in.
The barrage slammed into the pursuing Altarin’Dakor fighters, ripping them to shreads. Some were vaporized instantly; others exploded in satisfyingly large fireballs. Only a couple emerged unscathed, looping back around to gain distance on the Star Destroyer.
“Thanks for the save, Vindicator,” Salle spoke into the comm. “We owe you one.”
“Not a problem, Inferno, but you can return the favor now. Incoming enemy squadrons at point oh six eight.”
“Roger,” Salle replied, noticing what was easily a hundred enemy fighters fast approaching the NI Starfleet’s position. “Inferno, on me!”
* * *
Angol Moa’s Laboratory
“What am I going to feel?” Xar asked.
He was in a new chamber, one that Angol Moa had just finished constructing, apparently. The circular chamber’s walls were encased in reflective gold panels. It was incredibly bright in here, Xar realized with some discomfort.
After several more days of waiting and meditating alone in Angol Moa’s laboratory, she had come to him with the news that she had perfected her technique for removing the other personalities from his mind. Xar had assumed that meant she would simply perform some strange procedure on him, but apparently it would have to be something more involved than that. It seemed Xar had work to do, as well.
In any case, it was not a moment too soon. Xar could feel the madness growing closer, like a monster just on the other side of the door, clawing its way through.
“I can’t tell you that because no one has ever done this before. Now, take a seat, you.”
Reluctantly, Xar complied, sitting down in the chair that materialized itself in the center of the chamber. “That’s not very comforting,” he said.
Angol Moa looked down at him and winked. “I never claimed to sugar-coat anything, did I?”
“I suppose not,” Xar said drily.
“Now in order for this to work,” she continued, “I’m going to separate your life essence – your mind, spirit, whatever you want to call it – from your physical body. Only temporarily, mind you,” she added, raising a finger.
“What do you mean?” he asked.
“What I mean is that this battle must be waged within your subconscious. It is the only way to separate that part that is you from the parts that are Dasok Krun and Runis. You’ll have to somehow force them from you – to bring about a split – ejecting them from your psyche.”
“How am I supposed to do that?” he asked.
“I cannot tell you that,” she replied. “Perhaps you will have to work out a… deal… with them.”
She shrugged helplessly. “You’ll know once you get there. No use asking for all the answers now.”
“So that’s all the help you can give me?” he asked incredulously.
“Be glad that I came up with this. It’s your only chance, boy.”
“And I’m going to do all this while I’m asleep?”
“Exactly!” She winked at him again.
“How long will I be under?” he asked.
“I can sustain your body’s need for sustinence indefinitely. However, you can’t last forever like that. Your body will get weak if you take too long. Keep in mind that the longer it takes inside, the weaker you become, and the stronger they may be.”
“I don’t like the sound of that,” he admitted.
“Look, boy.” She leaned down and stared straight into his eyes. Her face had gone deadly serious for the first time in a long while. Xar felt suddenly an immense weight in that gaze of hers. It was like with one of the Shok’Thola, but somehow this was even stronger. “You must take this seriously. If you fail, you are going to die. The Xar that you know will cease to exist.”
“I am taking it seriously,” he countered. “I just wish I knew more of what to expect.”
“Everything you will encounter is something created inside your own mind. Remember that,” she said.
He sighed. “I will.”
“Be strong. Don’t give up, no matter what happens. No matter what you feel, and no matter what they might tell you. They’ll say anything to get their way, to take over.”
“I understand,” he said. He knew Krun and Runis well enough to know that was true. But he was years more experienced now than when he’d first faced them. He should be ready for anything they had to throw at him.
One last question knawed at him before he was ready. “When I wake up, will you know if it’s the real me or not?” he asked her.
“I’ll know. Now lie back.”
With that she nudged the seat back until he was lying down. She placed something around his head, something that sent cold needlepoints into his scalp. His head began to tingle.
“Good night, Xar,” she said.
She turned away. Less than a minute later Xar felt himself getting sleepy. He closed his eyes, waiting for sleep to come, hoping that dreams would come, and hopefully along with those dreams, a measure of closure.
* * *
|Author:||J.A. [ Sun Dec 04, 2011 4:39 am ]|
|Post subject:||Re: "Remembrance" - By Joshua Ausley|
Titan-class Battleship Dark Sun
Velius sat cross-legged on the floor, deep in meditation.
Calvernic kept glancing at him in uncertainty. He couldn’t tell through the Power what the man was doing, but whatever it was, he was oblivious to everything else going on. Kronos and Asellus, in contrast, stood facing the battle that was raging outside, portrayed by the holographics surrounding the entire command chamber. Their faces were masks of concentration. Calvernic knew exactly what they were doing: fighting Nimrod and Zalaria and the ancient Power artifact they had onboard the Grand Crusader.
Amazing, how powerful that artifact made them. Normally the sibling Shok’Thola would never have been powerful enough to stop the combined strength of Kronos and Asellus, let alone Velius, as well. Yet somehow they were able to erect an impenetrable force field around their command ship, strong enough that nothing Asellus’ uneasy alliance had tried had been able to break through.
Calvernic, aloof from the other three, instead focused on rallying his forces to assault the enemy ships outside of that containment bubble. He knew better than to embroil himself in a fight against Zalaria or Nimrod. He was far too inexperienced, yet. It maddened him that there were still so many secrets he hadn’t been made privy too. But Zalaria’s tutelage had been relatively brief, only a few hundred years. Barely even a start.
Asellus kept staring out at the battle with a faraway look. Calvernic could feel the arcane energies emanating from the two of them. He knew that she hated Zalaria more than anything in the universe. Whatever had happened between them, millennia ago now, it had created one of the worst feuds in Shok’Thola history, exceeded only, perhaps, by the one between Strife and Akargan.
Every once in a while Asellus would hiss in apparent frustration as another ploy she tried was turned back ineffectively. Finally she turned and looked at Kronos with a withering stare. The other man’s face was far more composed and placid, a stark contrast to her mask of effort.
“Link with me. Lend me your power,” she told Kronos.
Kronos barked out a laugh of derision. “I think not.”
Calvernic watched as she glared death at him, then turned away. The two of them would never link, he knew, because that would make each vulnerable to any surprises the other had planned. No Shok’Thola would ever be exposed like that. Although linking was possible, Calvernic knew of no instance it had ever been done, except possibly between Zalaria and Nimrod.
“You,” Asellus hissed.
Calvernic jumped, realizing she was addressing him. He looked askance up at her.
“Link with me,” she commanded.
A feeling of dread shot through him. He couldn’t refuse as easily as Kronos had. Still, he was a Shok’Thola. She had no right to demand that of him. “I have other matters to attend to…” he began.
“Link with me, or die,” she said, voice dripping venom. “You are useless, otherwise.”
He rose, chafing at her words. Perhaps she would kill him, but what threat was that to him? He had more than enough clone bodies secreted away in the home galaxy, waiting for him. Indignation bloomed within him.
He opened his mouth to retort, and thus doom himself, but before he could speak a leathery growl emanated from the direction of Velius.
All three heads turned to look at him.
“Nimrod is not on that ship,” Velius said, with a drip of finality. His eyes were still closed. “We have been fooled.”
“What?” Asellus blurted, then her eyes narrowed.
Velius’ eyes opened then, revealing their solid white irises, their vertically slit pupils. It was like looking at the dead. “It is Zalaria,” he said.
He closed his eyes again, a smile forming on his lips.
Then Calvernic felt a welling up of the Power so strong he nearly bolted from the chamber. But that power suddenly shot outwards, invisible, like a hand grasping out at a something to squeeze it to death. The sense of pressure was overwhelming.
“I have you now,” Velius whispered.
* * *
The moment the meditation chamber died, Zalaria knew it was all over.
The room had gone dark, her augmented powers and sense of the battle vanishing simulataneously.
She knew she had only seconds to react. Reaching deep into the Power, she wrapped it around herself, focusing on the first nearby location that came into her mind.
All around her, the chamber walls, each more than a kilometer distant due to the chamber’s huge diameter, suddenly buckled and burst forth, contracting down towards the center of the room in an eyeblink.
An instant before she was crushed to death, Zalaria teleported from the room. Then the walls met each other and obliterated the command seat, crushing together with unstoppable force.
Then the chamber exploded.
* * *
Calvernic felt the barrier vanish the instant the Dark Sun’s fire began hitting the front of the enemy command ship.
Velius opened his eyes with a sigh of obvious satisfaction. The presence of Nimrod, as clear as day a mere moment before, vanished as though it had never been. Now Calvernic could feel only Zalaria on the ship directly facing them.
“She survived the attack,” Velius said with an grin of pleasure. “I’m… impressed.” He also sounded more than a bit glad.
“You have crippled them,” Asellus said, walking over to stare down at him. “Now, destroy them!”
“No,” Velius hissed, still not looking up at her. “I want to capture them. I want to kill them slowly.” His tone made him sound like a selfish child. For all Calvernic knew, his plans and desires were just as simple.
“Agreed,” Kronos added, coming to stand beside Asellus. “I want Kerensky. I will enjoy exacting revenge for what he did to me. Let us go onboard. Zalaria cannot stand against us.”
“You are both fools,” Asellus said. But she obviously knew that the consensus was against her.
“Does that mean you’re not joining us?” Kronos asked, giving her a baleful stare.
She narrowed her eyes, her holographic servators fluttering behind her in apparent agitation. “I will come. I will not miss that woman’s demise.”
“Then it’s settled,” Velius said, rising to his feet.
Calvernic moved as well, taking several steps forward. He did not want to be left here alone. But before he could reach them Asellus shot a hateful look at him. “Not you. You’re not going anywhere.”
“He goes,” Velius said before Calvernic could open his mouth. He stepped forward and rested a hand lightly on Asellus’ shoulder. “He goes, or you don’t.”
The woman’s face went pale, but she didn’t question the order further. “Where do you want to take them?”
“I tire of space,” Velius said turning his gaze on Calvernic, who felt his blood run cold. Then he smiled, and the feeling grew infinitely worse. “Let us go down to the surface.”
* * *
At first, the dreams felt normal. Xar found himself reliving pivotal moments of his life. He would find himself in situations that were impossible in real life, such as Zalaria and his parents, together in the same place. Every time he realized he was dreaming, the dream would change. Then he would forget he was dreaming again, and the process would repeat.
Some of the dreams weren’t pleasant. He dreamed about being Krono’s prisoner, of the time he had hung immobile while the Warlord had tortured him. Though this time there was no pain, there was instead a feeling of terror as the Warlord loomed over him, the mere threat of violence and death enough to break through his fragile inner psyche.
But even those dreams didn’t last long. Gradually, at least in his dream-altered reality, he felt himself slipping further, into realms he had rarely glimpsed before. At one point he realized that someone was doing this to him, that someone was making him go deeper and deeper into sleep, but that half-memory quickly faded away again.
Xar slipped through the dreamscape into another place. He was in a hallway, in the Royal Palace. The corridor was lined with doors, but as he walked to each one, they were locked tight, and he couldn’t get in.
A moment of lucidity came to him. Were these memories that were locked away from him? If so, how could he open those doors and find out what was inside?
The lucidity faded, and once again he was immersed in the dream. He felt – something – behind him. But when he turned to look over his shoulder, there was nothing there. The corridor ended in a plain wall. But in the other direction – the direction he was initially facing, the doors continued on until they reached a wider set of double doors at the end.
Walking that direction, he continued to try each of the doors as he walked. No luck; they were all locked tight. After several minutes of walking, he finally reached the doors at the end. They were ornately adorned, with large golden rods that ran up and down the edges to act as handles. The wood was carved with images, and for some reason he had the impulse to study them. As he looked closer, the images sharpened into focus, causing him to gasp.
The carvings were of him. They depicted scenes of his life, which up until just then he’d forgotten about. There were ships flying through the air, duels fought with blades against a myriad of figures. And there were creatures, too. Or rather, it was one creature, depicted over and over again in a variety of postures, always lurking near or below one of the other events. He recognized it as the mythical, dragon-like animal that was the subject of Varnusian legend. A Sauron.
Xar was gripped by fear, and an inexplicable urging not to open the door. The feeling of being watched was stronger than ever. He risked another glance behind his shoulder, but saw nothing except empty corridor.
He looked forward again, and pushed on the door. It opened. Darkness waited beyond, sending a chill up his spine. Without knowing why, he stepped over the threshold, into the unknown.
For a moment he stood amidst total blackness. Even beneath his feet there was nothing, just an endless void. Yet somehow he was standing on a solid surface.
Xar wasn’t sure where he was. In fact, he didn’t know how he had gotten here in the first place. And now that he thought of it, he couldn’t seem to recall anything except being here in this room, for what felt like a very, very long time.
It could have been years, he was here. It could have been seconds. He had no way of knowing. He thought he had gotten here… somehow. He knew he hadn’t been born here. Yet however it was he’d arrived, or whatever he’d been doing before this, it had slipped from his memory like oil on water.
Suddenly he realized he wasn’t alone. He could feel someone else in the room. He cast about, gripped by fear, looking frantically for the source of that feeling.
Then suddenly, standing just opposite him, he saw two figures. Though there was no visible source of light, they stood out from the blackness just as well as Xar’s own hands and feet did.
One man stood enveloped in a massive black cloak, with only his face visible. He had dark eyes above a face framed with a close-cropped white beard. Another man stood beside him, lithe and muscular, dressed in a kind of form-fitting armor. His long, dark hair tied was behind his head, and his scarred face was twisted into a grin.
“Who are you?” Xar asked, feeling his pulse beginning to race. The fact that they were human – and not monsters – didn’t do much to dispel his fear. There was something about these two, something almost… familiar.
“You don’t know who we are?” asked the older man. His voice sounded fatherly at first, but the words were punctuated just a little too finely.
“What are you doing here?” Xar demanded, the words flowing out from him without thought. “Stay back!”
“Are you afraid?” asked the other man, the smirking one. His voice was deep and gravelly.
“I know you,” Xar admitted, feeling intense sense of déjà vu. “Both of you. I’ve seen you before.”
“Of course you have,” said the long-haired one. “In fact, we’ve never been more than this far away from you.” He lifted a hand, thumb and forefinger a hairsbreadth apart. “All this time we’ve watched you up there, patiently waiting for you to come down and join us again.”
“You’ve seen us down here before, though,” added the cloaked man. “Haven’t you?”
Starkly, Xar realized this was true. In his dreams, he’d seen these men many times. Sometimes he even saw them while he was awake. “What do you want from me?” he asked.
“What do you think we want?!” barked the long-haired man suddenly. His eyes gleamed with hatred. “We want your life, kriffer! We want everything! Everything you took from us!”
Xar gasped as the truth finally struck home. He knew them; he knew them as well as he knew himself. In fact, they were part of him, and had been for a long time, he realized. Because he had killed these men. He had killed them and then had taken them into himself.
“Good news,” said Runis, Xar’s original master in the ways of the Dark Side of the Force. His bearded face broke into a grin that Xar knew all too well, revealing a row of gleaming white teeth. “We have decided to join forces against you. That will allow us to dispose of you quickly.”
“After you’re gone,” added Dasok Krun, “we’ll fight each other for control of your mind. When you wake up, there will only be one of us left… and you will be gone forever.”
“No,” Xar whispered involuntarily. This couldn’t be real… These men were dead! He must still be dreaming, but it felt so real!
“Oh yes,” Runis chimed in. “You see, my apprentice…” He stepped forward, spreading his arms wide. “You were a failure as a student, and you are a failure as a man. I should have known better than to place my hopes in you. I never should have trusted you with my knowledge. You squandered it!”
“You knew only death and destruction! You were killing me!” Xar retorted, his voice cracking. Fear had evolved into pure terror, now. He was afraid of these men – he was afraid he was going to die.
“Because you were too weak!” Runis spat. “You could have been great, but you threw it away like a fool. Now it is time to cut the dying flesh out and start over. It is your mind that is weak, but your body will readily serve my purposes.”
“Stay back!” Xar warned them, starting to find his voice again.
“It’s two against one, Kerensky,” Krun added. “You don’t have a chance. We’re going to kill you, but we’re going to savor it.”
Xar glanced back and forth from one to the other. It was surreal, seeing them both here, alive again, right in front of him. He now remembered seeing them many times in his dreams, but this time felt different. It felt real.
But surely it wasn’t real. Years had passed since Xar had killed these men. Memories floated just out of reach, but gave him the sense that he should be, in fact, much stronger than the two of them, even put together. That gave him some amount of confidence back.
“It’s been a long time since I faced you,” he said to them, watching their faces carefully. “I am much stronger now. You cannot defeat me. I want you out of my head, out of my life. Go now or I’ll be forced to destroy you.”
Dasok Krun let out a laugh of contempt, while Runis shook his head, grimacing. “You don’t understand,” he said. “Think, boy! You’ve been sharing our power this whole time. But here we are equal. Here, we have our own power, and you are nothing more than the wretched princeling you would have been without us.” He pointed straight at Xar. “Here, you are just a frightened little boy from Varnus, the boy that you would have been without my hand to guide you.”
Understanding hit Xar, then. Now he knew. All this time, ever since he’d killed Runis and accidentally absorbed part of him, that influence had been there. All this time Xar hadn’t been living his own life. Runis had always been there, subtlety affecting him. And so had Krun.
“Ah, so now you see it,” Runis said, grinning widely again. “You are not as infallible as you thought you were, are you?”
Runis was right: Now that he thought about it, Xar felt different, here. Something was missing. He felt weaker. His sense of self-confidence, always so assured, was gone now. He suddenly felt very, very vulnerable.
He was scared.
Runis and Dasok Krun laughed for a while, relishing the moment.
Then, without warning, they both rushed at him, blades of light snapping to life as they came in.
* * *
Titan-class Battleship Grand Crusader
The bridge of the Grand Crusader shook in a way that Gaius had never imagined could actually happen, not on a ship of this size.
He lurched forward, gripping a handrail for support as he looked the three stories down to the floor of the bridge’s lower level. An intense vibration ran throughout the ship for several seconds, as though an ongoing detonation were occurring somewhere. Sparks were flying from control panels all over the bridge itself.
Gradually, the shaking lessened, then stopped altogether.
Amason was at his side in a second. “That didn’t feel like an impact,” the man said.
Gaius looked at him and nodded. “Our shields are still up. Nothing got through. Damage report!” he shouted over the din of voices that had broken out.
“Sir! The explosion was internal!” reported one of his officers. “It came from the meditation chamber where the lady Warlord was! Sir, the chamber… It’s gone!”
“Gone?” Gaius breathed, looked up at a schematic status display of the Titan. “What could…”
“We must retreat immediately.”
Gaius started at the voice, then turned to see Zalaria standing behind him. He had not heard the bridge doors slide open; she had simply appeared inside.
That should have been impossible. But he was beginning to expect the impossible from her.
“What happened down there?” Amason asked.
“The chamber is destroyed. Our advantage is lost,” she said in a flat tone that implied that any further conversation was a waste of her time. “We must run now before it is too late.”
“We have already committed to the battle,” Gaius told her. “I have thousands of fighters out there. We can’t just turn around!”
She glared at him, and Gaius wondered if she was going to turn violently upon him. But he realized she wasn’t looking directly at him, but through him. Her focus was elsewhere.
“Perhaps you are right,” she said finally. “It is already too late.”
“Admiral!” someone shouted from the comm station halfway across the bridge. “Something’s wrong! We’ve lost contact with the rest of the fleet!”
Gaius turned to look in that direction. “Comms are down?”
“Yes sir! I don’t know what happened!”
Seconds later someone from tactical chimed in. “Admiral! Something strange in the engagement zone! Many of our Altarin’Dakor fighters are breaking off! They’re heading back this way!”
“They’ve disengaged?” Amason spoke up.
“I’m also getting reports of firefights breaking out throughout the ship,” the officer adjacent to the first called out.
Gaius took a deep breath, the reality of the situation sinking in. “So, they waited until the tide turned to make their move.”
“What do you mean?” Zalaria asked, turning to look at him.
“Mutiny,” Gaius told her. “Nimrod’s forces that we captured. They’re casting their lot in with Asellus’ group.”
“Impossible!” she hissed. “That is unprecedented. No army has ever turned against their Shok’Thola!”
“Maybe,” he said, giving her a level stare. “But this wasn’t your army.”
“Then they will learn what happens when you betray a Shok’Thola,” she said coldly. “I will…”
Suddenly she broke off, giving a single, sharp gasp, her eyes going wide. “No…” she whispered.
They all turned as a terrible wrenching sound came from the rear of the bridge. Gaius looked around to see dozens of glowing cracks appear in the massive armored doors. The cracks widened, turning bright white, while the spaces between glowed a hot red. Then abruptly a hole appeared in the center and spread rapidly out like an iris, and the doorway that had stood there seconds ago had simply melted away.
Striding through the opening was a being that sent shivers down Gaius’ spine.
“Velius,” Zalaria breathed, and Gaius could hear terror in her voice.
On his heels were more figures Gaius recognized. Asellus, still wearing a crown and golden armor, her holographic wings stretching out into the corridor behind her. Next to her was a man Gaius recognized from reports as Kronos, the Warlord who had initially attacked Varnus and captured Xar. Behind those two was one other man Gaius didn’t recognize, wearing a set of custom-fitting armor, but somehow nowhere near as impressive as the other three. They had no guards, nor anyone else accompanying them.
Velius took the lead, striding into the bridge as confidently as though it had always been his. He took everyone in with a slow, deliberate gaze.
“Don’t worry, we’re not going to kill you… yet,” Velius said, speaking Basic with a smile. “We’ve decided to take you all prisoner. So we can have some… fun… later.”
Some fool in the navigation area moved then, raising a blaster at the Warlord. Gaius started to yell out that he stop, but it was too late. The man fired, but the bolt of energy dissipated two meters away from the Warlord’s body.
Velius glanced at the man, and the officer’s skin literally ripped itself off of his body, every inch of it flying upwards where it was plastered against the ceiling. The man, now covered in streaming rivulets of blood, released a horrifying scream and collapsed onto the floor, where he began convulsing uncontrollably. Several other bridge officers near the dying man began retching loudly as blood spread across the floor in a circular wave.
Gaius wanted to act. He knew that he should think of something; these were his people, his responsibility. But there was absolutely nothing he could do. By example, Zalaria stood completely still beside him. He could feel nothing from her in the Force, as though she’d relinquished it completely.
The Warlord Gaius recognized as Kronos stepped forward, looking impatient. He addressed Zalaria. “Where is Kerensky?”
Zalaria looked at him, and for the first time Gaius thought he saw a hint of defiance in her eyes. “He isn’t here, Kronos. He’s far away, somewhere you cannot possibly reach.”
The other Warlord’s eyes glared. “Spare me the dramatic banter. You will take me to him. If you don’t, I will skin you alive, not nearly so fast as this one was.” He indicated the corpse now cooling on the deck nearby. “I will kill you more slowly than you’ve ever before experienced. But before that, I’ll make you kill him, when I find him.”
She shook her head, still showing a mark of defiance. “You don’t understand, Thule. He is gone, and he may never return. I couldn’t reach him even if I tried.”
“Don’t call me that!” Kronos shouted.
Velius raised a hand, cutting him off. Surprisingly, Kronos listened. “We will find him in time, my friend,” the nightmarish man said, throwing patience into his voice.
Taking a deep breath, Gaius pushed the despair and panic that were palpable on the bridge out of his mind, and he forced himself to address the Warlords standing in front of them. He knew that it was his duty to speak, here. It was his job to try and save everyone that he could. Even if it meant forfeiting his own life.
“I am Sector Admiral Gaius Adonai, War Coordinator and commander of the New Imperium Star Fleet,” he said, managing to keep his voice from cracking as the formal words came out. “I assume you’ll be wanting to discuss our terms of surrender.”
Velius blinked slowly, then brought that reptilian-looking gaze to bear on him. Gaius felt physically assaulted by an overwhelming sense of hopelessness. His knees wanted to buckle. He was consumed with a nearly uncontrollable urge to weep. It was all he could bear to even remain standing.
“We don’t want you to surrender,” Velius said in his scratched-steel voice, as if it were the most obvious thing in the world. “Your fleet will be destroyed. Every last one of your soldiers will die. But you,” he took in Gaius, Zalaria and Amazon with the slightest nod of his head. “You and your friends are coming with us. As I said, we’re going to have a little fun.”
* * *
Grand Master Alyx Misnera watched the starlines retract into starscape as the Marauder-class corvette Annihilator, his personal ship, dropped out of hyperspace in the Mizar System.
They had taken a calculated risk, popping our at one of the third planet’s so-called “pirate points”, so named because pirates and smugglers often used them to avoid local authorities. There was always the chance they could run into something, or even that the planet’s gravity well might rip them apart if they miscalculated. But space was wide, and there was usually a little room for error.
Not this time, though.
The ship buckled as things began impacting against the shields, accompanied by pops and flashes of light. A collective gasp went up around the room. The planet Arcadia loomed beneath them, right where it should have been. But what they hadn’t expected was the wall of ships that filled the viewport in all directions.
The battle was already underway.
He immediately recognized the NI Starfleet directly ahead. The Grand Crusader, Cataclysm, Ascendancy and Nimbus were all there. So were the Darkstar, Vindicator, and a host of other NI command and support ships. But he also saw – once he took a moment to count them all – a full eight Altarin’Dakor Titan-class battleships. And they were pouring heavy fire into the NI ships.
“We’re too late,” Jinx said from his position beside him. “This is a lot worse than we feared. The trap’s already sprung. The fleet’s in trouble.”
Alyx quickly took stock of the situation as the Annihilator continued to close the distance with the battling fleets. The NI ships floated in a cloud of debris and gasses. Ships and chunks of ships made streaks of light as they fell back into the planet’s atmosphere below. Hits from the Altarin’Dakor ships were penetrating the weakened shields of the NI Titans, leaving glowing furrows of destruction in their wake.
In the center of the NI formation, the Grand Crusader still sat. That was where Gaius would be. Perhaps they could still be of some use, here.
“Take us to the Grand Crusader,” Alyx ordered. “Bring us in close and open a channel.”
“On it,” Jinx said.
He watched their angle of trajectory shift slightly as they aimed the ship up and over the Cataclysm, bringing her on an intercept vector with the NI command ship.
“Are our Avatars ready to launch?” he asked, turning back to Kiz.
“Prepped and ready,” the man replied.
“Get them out there to support us. Tell them to watch for enemy fighters that might see us as easy pickings.”
It only took seconds before the order was carried out. Their pilots must have truly been ready to launch as soon as they’d arrived.
“Fighters away,” Thrakus announced.
Alyx watched as the icons of the six TIE Avatars left the Annihilator’s hangar. Vykk, Draken, Macreed, Neres, Nadia Ispen and Malik Raven were in those fighters. Alyx had determined that those six were the best pilots they had, among those who weren’t actually on the Council itself.
The other twenty Jedi, along with the rest of the crew, were at maximum readiness, already at their battle stations. Bren, Mathis, and the rest were all manning turbolaser emplacements, giving them not only a view of the battle but teeth to fight with, as well.
On the bridge, Alyx sat in the captain’s chair, while Jinx oversaw navigation, Thrakus sat at weapons, and Atridd Xoan watched over comms. A Marauder-class corvette’s bridge was relatively small, which enabled each of them to do enough multitasking to keep the ship going on a skeleton crew.
“I’m not getting a response from the Crusader,” Atridd Xoan spoke up suddenly.
Alyx glanced back and saw a concerned expression on the man’s face. “What’s the matter with them?”
“I have no idea.” Xoan pushed the button again and again, in obvious frustration. “They can hear us, but they’re not responding at all. It’s like they’re ignoring us.”
Alyx frowned. The Titan-class battleship was growing enormously large, now. Soon its fifty-kilometer bulk filled virtually the entire viewport.
“But why would they do that…”
Suddenly a blast of light erupted from the side of the Grand Crusader, and the deck dropped out from beneath Alyx’s feet.
He lurched forward out of his chair, hitting the console in front of him, hard. The lights momentarily went out before being replaced by emergency lighting. Display screens sent out showers sparks and consoles erupted into flame all around the bridge.
“We’re hit!” someone shouted. Alyx felt weightlessness for a brief second as the ship’s artificial gravity temporarily failed, then kicked back in, and he fell to the floor before he could catch himself. He forced himself up, staring ahead at a starfield that was spinning slowly in front of his eyes. Warning klaxons began sounding all throughout the bridge.
“Damage report!” he shouted.
“Critical damage to all systems!” Jinx said. “Direct hit from a fusion beam, I think. Look!”
Alyx looked to where Jinx was pointing, and saw a schematic of the Annihilator. Large parts of the ship were glowing red, but the starboard wing had gone black. That meant that it was completely gone, sheared away by a single blast from the Grand Crusader’s batteries.
“They fired on us!” Thrakus yelled. “Couldn’t they see that we’re friendly?”
“Maybe they just reacted,” Jinx said, coughing through the cloud of smoke rising above his station. “We came out of lightspeed so close.”
“Then tell them we’re on their side!” Thrakus said.
Suddenly a growing feeling of dread made its way into the pit of Alyx’s stomach. A premonition, through the Force. They were in serious danger. They had to get out, right now!
Desperately he hit the shipwide comm. “All hands, abandon ship immediately! Drop everything and get out NOW!”
The rest of his bridge had picked themselves up off of the floor by now. “Alyx, are you…” Jinx began.
Alyx chopped a hand through the air, cutting him off. “Come on! Get to the escape pod now, before they fire again!”
Suiting action to words, he ran to the side of the room that held the bridge escape pod’s hatch, punched out the protective glass with his fist, and threw the lever. The door opened immediately, and he threw himself inside, abandoning all pretense of professionality as he collapsed inside. He turned and saw that the other men had taken him seriously, because a second later their bodies slammed into him one by one, pressing him him up against the restraining couch.
It was a tight fit, but they were all inside. Alyx slammed a hand on the “Eject” button, and the door closed with terrifying rapidity. Then an instant later crash webbing shot out all around them, holding them in place, and the crushing force of high-g acceleration took his breath away.
The escape pod had one viewport, angled back the way they’d come. He saw his corvette spinning outside the window, saw more escape pods bursting their way out all over the ship.
Then a beam of blue-white energy flashed into existence, this time working its way straight through the center of the Marauder-class corvette. Before it could finish slicing the ship in half, a chain reaction began in the engine section that lit up the entire ship and blew it apart in a massive conflageration.
Alyx had barely time for thought before the shockwave hit the escape pod, sending them reeling even more strongly than their initial launch had. The pod spun so violently that he couldn’ move a muscle. Stars whirled outside the viewport, and occasionally the image of the Titan or of a blast of energy would sweep past. Someone retched loudly, but Alyx couldn’t see who it was.
Then something else began to flash across the viewport – the blue-white surface of the planet below them. Alyx knew they were going in, and going in hard.
“I think we’re on an entry vector!” Thrakus grunted through the strain.
“Can we make it?” Atridd’s voice came from somewhere to Alyx’s left. “We must be coming in steep!”
“These things are built tough,” Thrakus shot back. “Autopilot should land us safely – I hope!”
“Let’s just hope the others made it out, too!” Jinx said.
Alyx took a few deep breaths and delved into the Force. The sense of claustrophobia faded, and he was aware of the space around them. The pod was still spinning, but was already beginning to slow as it started encountering the friction of the atmosphere. He couldn’t sense any danger from potential attackers around, which meant they should land safely on the surface within a matter of minutes. He could also sense familiar presences around, but not within the pod itself. That meant at least some of the other Jedi had made it out of the corvette before it blew.
What would happen after they landed, he had no idea what to expect. His ship was gone, and he had no idea how many of the others had survived or how they would continue their mission. For all he knew, the planet below was full of hostiles, and they could be attacked as soon as they landed.
If they survived the landing, of course.
He knew that missions rarely went they way that you planned them to. But even this, he remarked, was getting a little too ridiculous.
* * *
|Author:||J.A. [ Sun Dec 04, 2011 4:41 am ]|
|Post subject:||Re: "Remembrance" - By Joshua Ausley|
Nico opened his eyes. And screamed.
“No please, don’t!” he yelled. “Please leave me alone!”
He broke off suddenly. Zalaria was gone. The pain was gone, as well. What had happened? Was he dead?
He looked around at the unfamiliar room around him, at the ceiling that soared overhead, lit softly from lights set so they were just out of view. He was lying down on a bed in the center of the room. He didn’t remember how he’d gotten here.
In fact, the last thing he remembered was kneeling, collapsed, in front of Zalaria, her mind violently invading his own. He’d felt helpless, like prey in the clutches of a predator. Even now the terror of that memory hadn’t fully abated. But where was he now? Surely only a moment had passed…
“You are in Angol Moa’s laboratory,” someone answered beside him.
He turned, blinking in surprise as he saw Icis Novitaar towering over him. He glanced down, seeing that he was lying on some kind of medical gurney. “I’m where?” he asked, his voice coming out in a croak.
“It’s a long story,” Icis said. “Welcome back, old friend. Let me help you up.”
He pressed a button on the side of the gurney, and the bed tilted Nico up into a sitting position.
“How do you feel?” Icis asked him.
“I feel… fine,” Nico replied, answering truthfully. “I’m thirsty.”
“Here.” Icis reached over and took hold of a drinking tube that extended from the gurney’s side, then angled it towards Nico’s head.
Nico drank greedily, then finally stopped when he felt satisfied. “I could use some food, too.”
Icis smiled cordially at him. “I already asked one of the droids to prepare something for you.”
“Droids?” Nico ran a hand through his hair, then felt his face. He pulled his hand away in shock. He had a beard! “How… how long was I out?”
“Do you really want to know?”
“Over six months.”
“What?!” Nico exclaimed.
Icis raised a hand to forestall any further questions. “You were… in bad shape, friend. Zalaria did serious damage to your mind, damage we couldn’t repair. Xar and I brought you to Angol Moa.”
“Xar!” The man’s name brought back another flood of memories, and Nico’s head was starting to ache. “Where is he?”
“He isn’t here at the moment. It’s just you and me.”
“And where is ‘here’, again? Who is… Angle Moa?”
“Angol Moa,” Icis corrected. “And… As I said, it’s a long story. You should get some rest. You’re safe here.”
“I really feel fine, Icis,” Nico said. “Physically, at least. Mentally, I’m ready for some answers to what’s been happening to me. It feels like I just woke up from the longest, strangest dream ever. Or maybe all this is the dream.” He put a hand on his head again, which had started aching worse than ever. “It’s like my mind’s been locked up inside a room, and now I have a key to open the door, but I just don’t know where the door is. If I could just figure out which…”
Nico stopped speaking. A new memory had just popped into his head, something that froze him in his tracks in sheer terror.
“Black sands of Sacorria, no,” he whispered. How could this have happened? What in the galaxy had he done? How had he not known?
“What is it, Nico?” Icis asked, concerned.
Nico reached out and grabbed the man’s arm in wide-eyed horror. “Icis! We have to do something!”
The memories were coming back in a flood, now. The problem was, they were memories he hadn’t known he had. Memories that had been taken from him, by someone. Someone terrible.
The words spilled out from him in a rush.
“Something… Something horrible has happened, Icis! The Diktat of the New Imperium!”
“The Diktat?” Icis asked, confused.
“He’s an Altarin’Dakor agent!” Nico swallowed hard as the full realization of what he’d done set in. “And I… I helped put him in office!”
* * *
With the Grand Crusader’s batteries gone silent, the tide of battle was quickly turning against the New Imperium. The remaining NI ships were getting pummeled. The ISD Crusader went up in a chain explosion as beams tore into her interior from multiple angles. The Titan Nimbus had gaping wounds in her side opened to the vacuum of space, while the Ascendancy’s chrome-like armor was losing its sheen as large swaths of it were melted into slag.
The Majestic-class cruisers, without the protective bubble that the Grand Crusader had offered, found themselves directly exposed to enemy fire. Beams reached across space, slicing two of them in half in rapid succession. The others weren’t running, though; they continued firing stalwartly, sending their projectiles slamming into the front of the Dark Sun and penetrating deeply inside, through layers already exposed due to repeated assault. Huge explosions ripped out of the front of the ship, sending more fire and debris into the field of battle.
Another Majestic took a hit directly amidships, and the entire ship exploded in a miniature nova underneath the bulk of the Grand Crusader. Meanwhile, Altarin’Dakor fighters had begun strafing runs on the other ships in the New Imperium fleet. Although NI fighters had returned to ward them off, it was fast becoming apparent that there were simply too many Altarin’Dakor forces to handle. With the defected AD fighters from the New Imperium turning against their former allies, it was clear that soon as the mopping-up was over, the NI Starfleet would be no more.
Suddenly, without warning, portals of light materialized in the space above the NI Titans. From inside those holes, a writhing kaleidoscope of colors swirled, revealing another universe existing outside the realm of starships and worlds.
And out of those portals, a fleet exited Ultraspace practically on top of the battling forces.
Calvernic recognized those ships immediately, but he still couldn’t believe his eyes.
Seven Titans had emerged from Ultraspace. Four of those Titans belonged to the Shok’Thola Strife: Eternity, Oblivion, Abyss, and Maelstrom. But what was completely unexpected were the three Titans that belonged to the Shok’Thola Akargan: Exterminator, Warhawk, and his flagship, Overlord.
Those two would never have traveled here together. This shouldn’t be happening.
“Impossible,” Asellus whispered, speaking as the last of the bridge’s former crew were being escorted from the chamber. They were all in the process of moving to the surface, allowing their admirals to mop up the remaining NI forces. This, however, had just changed everything.
“Apparently we know why Akargan never rendezvoused with us,” Kronos observed, standing stoically near one of the bridge’s massive
“Strife and Akargan would never join forces!” Asellus snapped at him. “Not even to catch us all here and kill us!”
“Obviously,” Kronos replied, his voice flat, “the great rivalry is finally over.”
Asellus gasped, and Calvernic looked at the man in shock. Could he be serious? Had Akargan and Strife finally fought to the death? Their feud had gone on for so long, flaring up into large-scale wars and yet without ever actually confronting each other. But the times were different, now. The Return was at hand. Apparently it was time for a winner to be chosen.
But who had won? Calvernic only had to feel the currents within the Power to know the answer to that question.
“It is Strife,” Kronos stated, about the time Calvernic reached the same conclusion on his own. That meant that Akargan was dead; his flagship would not be here, otherwise. Strife had defeated his rival and taken his fleet and territory as his own.
And now, he comes to Mizar to eliminate more of us with his reinforced strength, Calvernic thought.
“His ships are moving into attack formation,” Asellus said. “He is launching fighters, but against whom?”
Calvernic watched as countless fighters were disgorged from the seven Titans that Strife had brought into battle. The formation of the ships tightened, bringing them closer to the battle. Soon they would be able to engage either side with equal effectiveness.
“It does not matter,” Kronos said. “He will move against us, or he will attack both sides. Either way, he must be dealt with.”
“Surely Altima will not condone a confrontation on this scale!” Asellus declared. “He will intervene personally for this!”
Kronos sighed, putting on an air of patient endurance that was obviously meant to antagonize her. “Altima has given us free reign to invade this galaxy as we see fit. Remember his words? ‘All of your concerns are beneath my notice.’ The longest sentence I’ve heard him speak in ages. He has not intervened in our affairs for a very long time. Even by our standards.”
Asellus’ face held a dark look, but she didn’t speak. Calvernic flicked his eyes from the two of them to massive new fleet that was now approaching. There were now at least six Shok’Thola involved in this battle, more than had fought together in millennia. He knew that Strife could easily defeat him; he had already killed Mordachus, Calvernic’s contemporary, and now Akargan, one of the mightiest of the men, had fallen, too. He was fairly sure Asellus was weaker than Strife, but Kronos was a mystery, perhaps close to the great blademaster in strength. Together, they might all be able to stop him, but Calvernic had no intention of getting anywhere near Strife, himself.
“One of us must stay behind to oversee the battle,” Kronos stated finally. “Unfortunately, its outcome is no longer certain.”
“Suit yourself,” Asellus said flatly. “I’m not fighting him. I am here to deal with our prisoners. Then I will return to my worlds to plan my next move.”
“You called this alliance together,” Kronos warned her. “Do not think to back away now.”
“An alliance is only valid for as long as interested parties benefit,” Asellus told him. “With Zalaria out of the way, my objectives have changed. I am sure you are capable of dealing with Strife,” she said, her voice changing to a cooing sound as she finished. “However, if you feel uncertain, I can ask Velius to come and assist you.”
Kronos’ eyes glared at her with sudden hate. Calvernic thought he might try to kill her then and there, and he prepared a special fleeing technique he’d been saving for just this sort of occasion.
But Kronos did not strike. “Begone, woman!” he shouted finally. “And pray I do not see your face again.”
Asellus narrowed her eyes at him. “The next time you see me, I will have become the next Altima,” she said, her voice barely above a whisper. Kronos didn’t respond; his eyes stood locked on her. She turned to Calvernic. “Come with me. We have unfinished business on the surface.”
With little choice in the matter, and with no desire whatsoever to stay with Kronos and watch this battle unfold, Calvernic moved to follow Asellus as she made her way towards the exit.
* * *
Maarek Stele exited Ultraspace in the shadow of the Eternity, his Archon fighter ready for anything they might encounter. Once again he had returned to the Mizar System, once again he was arriving to do battle there. In front of him lay the largest fleet engagement he’d ever seen; the amount of fighters alone numbered in the tens of thousands.
But the swarm of Archon fighters surrounding him gave him a complete sense of peace and confidence in the situation. Furthermore, he had Alona on his wing. That made everything perfect. He felt that with her by his side, he could fly straight into the mouth of hell itself and not bat an eye.
With his supersensory view of the space around him, he quickly took stock of the battle raging above the third planet, the one known as Arcadia. The NI fleet was doing badly. Outnumbered two to one, they had begun to take a serious pounding from the approaching Altarin’Dakor Titans.
If they had gotten here even an hour later, Maarek guessed that the battle would have been over, and there would have been nothing left of the NI fleet except debris and wreckage.
Maarek waited for the inevitable order to engage. His only uncertainty was who they would be ordered to attack. Strife had not given him any hint at their last meeting, nor since. Would they attack the stronger Altarin’Dakor force, eliminating the most serious opponent first? Or would they be ordered to finish off the damaged NI forces? Maarek didn’t know what he would do if it was the latter. But he had faith in the Warlord. Over the past few months, he had found a change in himself that he never would have believed. He had begun to believe in Strife – that he was who he said he was, and could do what he said he could do. And, even stranger, Maarek was beginning to trust him.
Suddenly a voice sounded in his ear. Maarek started; it was the voice of the Shok’Thola, himself. He had expected some sort of fleet-wide communiqué, possibly from the commodore of the Eternity. Instead, Maarek could hear Strife’s voice coming over a private channel. Of all the members of his vast fleet, Strife was speaking to Maarek personally. Irregardless of the circumstances he found himself in, Maarek still felt an involuntary swell of pride inside.
“Seitann Maarek Stele,” Strife addressed him. “We have arrived at your greatest test of fortitude, a return to the system where I first found you. It will be a glorious day. We have the chance to eliminate many of our opponents today in a single stroke.”
Maarek forced himself to take a deep breath before responding. To do so he had to imagine his body inside the Archon – the bond between man and fighter was normally so strong that Maarek felt he was the fighter. He could feel it moving, feel its “pain” when it was damaged. Compared with that sense of oneness, returning to reality and exiting the fighter was extremely difficult, and oftentimes depressing. He didn’t know what he would do without Alona there by his side.
Now he pushed those thoughts aside, focusing on the task at hand, and his master’s commands. “Awaiting your orders,” he replied professionally.
“Take the Archon Wing and cut off the ships attacking the New Imperium vessels,” Strife said.
Maarek tried not to let the relief show in his voice. It was little use; the Warlord could probably sense it, anyway. “At once,” he replied.
“Once those targets are neutralized, launch an attack against the main body of command ships including Dark Sun, Death Wing and Nightlord, destroying any targets of opportunity along the way. Also, reduce their amount of enemy fighter escorts as much as possible, especially those piloted by Jedicon.”
“Your own friends may attack you. They will not understand what you have become. Hold fast.”
“I will,” Maarek promised, knowing that he must.
“Have you finally discovered who your true enemy is, Maarek Stele?” Strife asked suddenly.
Maarek was surprised at the question. He hadn’t thought about the Warlord’s cryptic question in weeks, or even months. Yet the first time he had posed it to Maarek had been right here in this system, at their first meeting.
Strangely, Maarek realized that he now had the answer that Strife sought.
When had it dawned on him? Was it just now? Or had he thought it through in stages, working it out all this time without realizing it?
"I now understand what you meant by ‘true enemy’,” he said finally. He looked out at the warring fleets, at the NI ships and personnel who were valiantly fighting on the very edge of their own destruction. He now knew his enemy wasn’t any particular faction or government. Neither was it as simple as concepts such as ‘injustice” or ‘cruelty’ or ‘selfishness’. His true enemy – the thing that they all fought to stop, the thing that they could not afford to give a single step of ground to, was far more profound, and deadly.
“My true enemy…” he whispered. “Is Despair, itself.”
* * *
|Author:||J.A. [ Sun Dec 04, 2011 4:44 am ]|
|Post subject:||Re: "Remembrance" - By Joshua Ausley|
Xar fell back before the onslaught of the two Dark Jedi.
His lightsaber materialized in his hands, its yellow-white shaft snapping to life just in time. Runis and Krun struck almost simultaneously, and Xar threw his blade out defensively first against one, then the other. Fear gave way to desperation as he fought for his life. Light flashed off their blades into the darkness beyond.
He retreated before the two men, completely on the defensive, their three blades a whirlwind of yellow, red and purple clashing over and over again. Krun came in with aggressive abandon, launching powerful blows with his deep crimson blade that took all of Xar’s strength to fend off. By contrast, Runis’ attacks were more conservative and precise, requiring deft skill for Xar to parry, his dark violet blade snaking this way and that.
With his vast and varied experience and skills, Xar knew he should have the advantage in a duel, but even in good times he wouldn’t have liked to face both of them alone. Making things worse, to his dismay, he found his arms wouldn’t move quite as fast as he was used to. The coordination of his limbs was just slightly off, and he didn’t seem able to see as many moves ahead as he normally could. More than just his Force strength had been taken away.
It took every ounce of skill and luck to keep from getting killed. And yet he knew it was only a matter of time. He blocked one strike from Krun, then another from Runis. The two men were coordinating as though they had practiced this, and Xar felt sorely underprepared. Krun tried to goad him towards Runis, leaving Xar’s back exposed to the dark master. Xar sidestepped, always trying to avoid getting flanked. Runis, when faced against Xar alone, fought more defensively, biding time for Krun to come in and tip the scales in their favor. Runis’ cloak billowed out behind him as he came in, swinging again and again.
Xar parried his attacks and slid to the side, only to find himself defending against Krun again. The wild-haired man struck overhead hard, and Xar barely got his blade up in time to keep Krun’s from slicing into his head. He retreated again, Krun’s blade flashing in again and again, Xar’s parries sending flashes of light out into the darkness. Their faces were bathed only in the light of their blades, yellow, red and violet light reflecting off their features.
Xar had to break off again to block Runis, who was trying to flank him. He struck at his former master in a complicated series of strikes, and for a second they seemed equally matched, before Runis took a step back, unable to follow Xar’s more advanced technique. Yet Xar had no time to press the advantage. Krun was there again in a second, dancing on air with his speed, his crimson blade a blur.
Krun swung horizontally, the powerful blow catching Xar’s and trapping it to the side for an instant. At the same time, his foot snapped out and caught Xar at the knee, the booted foot sending pain shooting through Xar’s right leg. That leg buckled, and he sank to one knee. Instinctively he ducked and rolled forward, barely missing the return stroke that Krun had intended to decapitate him.
Feeling Runis moving around to the other side and knowing they were about to box him in, Xar did the only thing he knew to do. He pushed himself up, turned to the side, and ran as fast as he could.
He didn’t know if he could outrun them; he did his best, with what Force abilities he still had in this place, to increase his speed. But running would only buy him a few seconds, he knew, and would ultimately drain him of vital energy.
Xar ran forward into endless blackness. He didn’t know how long; it might have been only seconds. But just when he despaired that the darkness went on forever, it suddenly parted before him, splitting like a sheet of paper. In an instant, he was beyond it, and somewhere else entirely.
The scene had changed. They were in the Royal Palace on Varnus.
Xar stood in the grand atrium of the Royal Palace, the entranceway that virtually all visitors had to transverse before heading deeper inside. Beneath his feet, the seal of the royal family spread out across the floor, a sunburst with the family crest beneath. A balcony surrounded the massive chamber, and exits on both floors lined the walls, leading to the various hallways of the palace.
The place was totally deserted.
He turned, and saw that his quarries had followed him through. Runis and Krun cast wary-looking glances at each other. They seemed as uncertain of why they were here as Xar was. They both stood in front of the closed main entrance doors. A flashback to a similar scene, of waiting for Nimrod to burst through those doors, flashed in Xar’s memory.
How did he get here? Was he trying to tell himself something? He thought about running for his personal quarters, but surely Runis and Krun knew them as well as he did. None of his tricks or booby traps would be able to work against two men who’d been inside of his head for years, now.
How much of this dream could he control? Was he merely a spectator? After all, this was his body, wasn’t it? He tried imagining them somewhere else, but nothing happened. He then tried imagining other weapons, and failing that, even death to fall upon the two men attacking him out of his past. But it was all to no avail. He didn’t even know if he could control it at all.
The two dark Jedi were beginning to circle him now, each moving in opposite directions. Xar stood in the center of the seal on the floor, turning slowly, keeping both men in sight.
“Why not give in?” Runis sneered, moving with the grace of a viper. “Make this easier for us all. You’ve had a decent span of life, now it is time to move on. Nothing you do will make a difference. You were supposed to die on Varnus, Xar! Let go and join your fallen comrades in the sleep of death that you were meant for.”
“You should have died there,” Krun echoed. “Your life is meaningless, now.”
The words struck Xar like a knife. They were the exact words he had heard in his mind ever since nearly dying at Nimrod’s hand, instead being saved by someone who shouldn’t have even been there. All those insecurities crept up to a head once more within him now. These men knew everything that had gone through his mind since that day, and they were ready to use it against him.
“My life is not meaningless,” he tried to counter, his voice sounding hollow in his ears, unconvincing. “I can still do good. I can still stop murderers like you.”
“What difference does it make?” Krun jeered back. “You’re just one man. Do you think you can stop all of it by yourself?”
“You’ve seen so much death and destruction already,” Runis added, grinning. “Or actually, we have.” He threw his head back and laughed.
Suddenly the two men rushed at him again.
Xar spun, lurching his way out of the trap, moving closer to engage Runis first. He clashed blades with his former master, throwing all his strength into the attack. Runis parried, but Xar continued his move, bringing his blade back around to strike beneath his opponent’s grip. His blade sliced through part of Runis’ dark cloak, but failed to connect with his body.
As Runis stepped back, Krun jumped into the gap, throwing a series of powerful attacks that took all of Xar’s strength and speed to counter. Still, he fell back, leading Krun on a slow circle around the Royal Family’s sigil.
A flash of danger sense alerted Xar to Runis’ flanking maneuver, and he switched course, blocking Krun’s attack right and throwing himself to the left. Suddenly he was facing both men again, and they came forward together in a renewed assault.
Xar fought, letting instinct guide his actions, feeling his body grow weaker with every block and deflection off his blade. His stamina seemed to be fading far too fast. He began to slow, to make clumsy parries and blocks.
He took a light slash to the left thigh that sent fire burning in his leg. Then a light touch to his ribs, maybe a centimeter deep, and a gouged left shoulder right after that. A moment later he blocked a stab from Runis just an instant too late, and the man’s blade left a seared cut beneath his right eye.
Xar stumbled back, his wounds aching him, stealing away his strength. They were wearing him down. The stench of his own burned flesh filled his nostrils, making him want to gag.
Runis and Krun both held victorious and mocking smiles. Now they were feline predators playing with their prey before the kill. Xar had backed up nearly to the far wall.
“Would you like to know a secret?” Krun asked with a sneer on his face.
Xar didn’t respond. His eyes darted from one man to the other. Two faces out of his nightmares, that had haunted him from the moment he’d met either of them.
“Your uncle is still alive,” Krun whispered.
Xar’s eyes went wide, the words shocking him senseless. It was impossible. “No! You killed him. I saw the recording.”
“You saw the flash of his blade against mine,” Krun said. “I nearly killed him before he had time to reveal himself as an Altarin’Dakor agent.”
“Liar!” Xar shouted at the accusation. “Don’t you dare talk about him like that!”
“Think, Kerensky!” Runis spat at him. “How do you think Akira was able to coordinate such an attack on your family so precisely? How do you think he knew exactly how your father would react and where he would be? Did it never occur to you that there must have been someone on the inside amongst your own people? It was Aron Kerensky all along!”
Xar just shook his head, stupified. He knew that they was lying. They had to be! It was just a ploy to through him off guard!
“He was a good servant of the Altarin’Dakor,” Krun said with a sneer.
The scream emanating through the air was his, Xar realized. By then he had already launched himself from the wall at Krun.
He struck at the dark Jedi with all his might, screaming and grunting with the effort. Krun fell back and blocked, but the smile was still on his face. Xar’s attacks were clumsy, born of anger and hatred. Runis had moved out of the way and was laughing. “Good!” he shouted. “Embrace your true nature, Kerensky!”
Xar let up, realizing what they’d made him do. It was a fatal mistake.
Krun’s counterattack came in force, then. He batted Xar’s blade to the side, again and again, and finally, with a blow of force, knocked Xar’s to the side and then snapped a foot out, catching Xar straight in the chest.
Xar flew backward and slammed into the wall, sending a crack through the air and a jolt of pain through his body. Something broke in his shoulder, and he felt himself collapse to the floor, agony washing over him.
Just then, an earthquake hit the palace. The ground trembled, hard enough that vases with decorative plants and trees fell over or toppled from the balconies above, shattering to the floor. Streams of dust and bits of rubble rained down from the ceiling above.
Krun was standing over him, laughing triumphantly. But Runis had a concerned expression on his face. The ground continued to tremor, a sound like a mountain collapsing filling the massive domed chamber they were in.
Krun raised his blade overhead, and Xar forced himself to his feet, pain shooting through his body. His own blade felt like a lead weight in his hands. He was weary, and knew he couldn’t physically fight much longer. It was nearly the end.
“Wait,” Runis called out towards Krun. “Something’s not right. This isn’t happening how we expected.”
Xar looked at where the man’s gaze was, and saw up through the arched skylights above. The sky overhead had gone dark, filled with rolling clouds and lightning. A moment before it had been calm as a midwinter’s day.
Something was happening to Xar. It was as if getting weaker was breaking down the dream, and everything in it, including them, was being affected.
“What difference does it make?” Krun snarled, not looking back at the other man. “We have to do this. Either he dies, or us.”
Seeing the uncertainly in Runis heartened Xar’s sense of hope, but then Krun’s eyes filled with even more determination, and that hope faded away once more.
Xar had no choice. He turned and ran toward one of the corridors as fast as he could.
He could feel them following right on his heels. Enhancing his speed with what little of the Force he could still muster, Xar turned this way and that down the corridors, leading them deeper inside the palace. He let instinct guide him, focusing only on running, only on staying ahead of them, and staying alive for a moment longer.
He finally turned a corner and saw the massive doors of the royal treasury lying ahead of them. The doors were closed, the room sealed. There was no other way out; this was a dead end if he couldn’t get through them.
Xar could feel Krun right behind him. As he got close to the doors, he turned and slid to a halt. The dark Jedi was right behind him.
Krun’s blade slashed in, and Xar blocked, the force throwing him even further backwards. Runis caught up and appeared just beside the man.
“This ends now, Kerensky!” Krun shouted, his blade bearing in once more. Xar blocked again and again, his muscles crying out in protest, and he could feel the last of his strength ebbing away. His wounds burned with agonizing fire. Krun’s crimson blade struck his again and again, each blow coming closer to finding its mark.
Finally a massive swing swept Xar’s blade to the side, and Xar felt the tip of the man’s blade burn a line across his chest as it passed. He screamed and fell back, nearly dropping his blade.
“Die!” Krun yelled, making a return swing. Xar barely got his blade up, but the man’s powerful blow batted his own aside. Krun stepped in and let go with one hand, throwing a backhand across Xar’s face. He reeled back, slamming into the doors.
The corridor lurched as another earthquake hit it. Glowlamps burst outwards in an array of sparks. Something gave way behind him, and he looked back to see the door collapsing into blocks of rubble.
Xar barely held onto his blade with one hand. He looked down at the cauterized wound spreading a diagonal scar across his chest. The flesh beneath his shirt was blackened, and this time, instead of hot, it was a cold fire burning through his body.
Krun seemed oblivious to the collapse that was taking place over their heads. Runis called out to him, but the man was enraged. He leveled his blade at Xar, ready to deal the death blow.
As Xar’s pain continued to rise into a crescendo, the floor suddenly began to collapse beneath them, its large stone blocks dropping away from the center of the hallway between the men and spreading outward. Xar glanced down below, seeing at first only darkness. Then he made out what looked like a curved shaft below, another corridor deep below the basement they were in. He remembered the catacombs beneath the Royal Palace. That had to be what was down there.
Krun moved forward tentatively, and Runis stepped up behind him, cutting off the only exit. Xar glanced around, knowing he was trapped. He could try to cut a hole in the wall, but then he’d have to turn his back on his opponents. On the other hand, he knew very little about what was in the catacombs beneath them, and he knew that neither of the other men would, either.
Faced with a desperate choice, Xar made the only one that seemed to make sense.
He dove into the opening in the floor, and the darkness rushed up to envelop him.
* * *
|Author:||J.A. [ Sun Dec 04, 2011 4:46 am ]|
|Post subject:||Re: "Remembrance" - By Joshua Ausley|
Salle wove her fighter through the melee of ships and blasts of energy filling space all around her.
“This is starting to look real bad, Lead,” Gren Pabos said from his position off her port wing.
“I know,” was all she knew to say back. The number of enemy fighters around them was overwhelming, now. At first, the NI forces had seemed to hold the enemy at bay. But then, suddenly and without warning, many of the AD fighters belonging to the NI’s Titans had disengaged from the battle. It had all happened about the same time the Grand Crusader’s force field dropped and the Titan’s weapons had gone silent. Command and Control, generally under the watchful eye of Fleet Admiral Jann Percy, was no longer responding to any hails.
Something very bad had happened.
Analysis from the Darkstar indicated that most of the defecting AD fighters had belonged to the Grand Crusader. It really left only one possibility: there had been a mutiny onboard the NI command ship. There had been no word from War Coordinator Gaius Adonai or his staff, or from the Warlord Zalaria, for that matter. Either they had been captured, or they were fighting for their lives over there, or they were already dead.
None of those options bode well for the surviving NI forces. In the War Coordinator’s absence, Fleet Admiral Tam Eulicid had assumed command as acting fleet commander, based on the Titan Ascendancy. But that ship was taking a renewed pounding from the enemy Titan-class battleships. They couldn’t hold out for too long.
Inferno was in deplorable shape, as well. They’d lost Infernos Three and Twelve trying to defend the NI ships against wave after wave of enemy fighters. Their losses were a cold knot buried inside her chest. The rest of the squadron was low on fuel, shields, and expendable munitions. Salle only had two missiles left, and she guessed most of the squadron was in the same situation or worse. That left them with primarily beam weapons to engage with.
Though their upgraded Avatars were a match for any comparable AD fighter – with their chizon-class beams and their Altarin’Dakor power plants giving them enhanced thrust and shields – they were still sorely outnumbered, and the Avatars just couldn’t make up all the difference. In addition, some of the heavier AD fighters still had them outgunned and outshielded.
One of those was the dreaded Punisher¬-class heavy fighter that had comprised the last few waves. And now, Salle’s screens showed yet another squadron of Punishers fast closing with their position.
“On me, Inferno,” she ordered on the squadron frequency. “We can’t let them break through to our cap ships. Conserve missiles if you can; engage with beam weapons only, if you can. Let’s do it.”
They looped back around, passing the twisted, glowing debris that were all that was left of the ISDs Dragoon II and Majesty. The two ships had been systematically taken apart by the combined beam weapons of Nightlord and Death Wing.
Meanwhile the Cataclysm, rising like a mountain behind them, was taking heavy fire along her port side from Violator, Tormentor and Defiler. The Warlord Velius’ ships still hung aloof from the other enemy Titans, but they poured fire mercilessly into the now shieldless Cataclysm. The latter ship’s port side was now heavily damaged, leaking vast swaths of fire and atmosphere as beam weapons continued to cut deep inside her amidships.
All of the Majestic-class cruisers were gone. The Darkstar had lost her shields and was still taking hits. The NI’s standard Imperial and Alliance design fighters were becoming scarce as the vastly superior AD craft systematically kept shooting them out of the sky.
But she couldn’t focus on all that right now. They had to protect what ships were left while they made an organized withdrawl from this battle. They had lost again, only this time it was more than that. This would be the worst defeat they had suffered yet. And after this, with most of their Titans and even their regular capital ships gone, she knew the NI would never recover.
They soared across the bow of the Darkstar even as a beam of blue-white energy flashed out from above, penetrating her shields and cutting an ugly scar across her back. There was nothing that their small starfighters could do about such an attack, she knew. But they could do something about the squadrons of assault fighters fast approaching the surviving NI capital ships.
The Darkstar was slowly turning, and all they had to do was give her a clear path to microjump to the other side of the system. The ISD Vindicator and several other capital ships were already heading that way, their engines flashing light across her canopy.
That was when she glanced at her screens, and blinked at them for a moment in disbelief.
There were many, many more ships on her screens than there had been a moment before.
“By the Core,” said Gren over the comm. “Where did all those new ships come from?”
Salle didn’t answer; she had nothing to say. She’d been so distracted the last few minutes that she hadn’t even noticed the arrival of another fleet. Realizing she hadn’t even monitored the fleet channel due to so much chatter, she cursed herself for making such an grave error. At the same time, a wave of despair swept over her.
Seven more Titans had entered the engagement zone almost on top of the NI Starfleet. Most of them were huge, as big as the largest Titans she’d seen. This new fleet was as strong as the original AD force, at the least. And they were all fresh and fully-armed and armored. Although the NI had dealt some damage to the enemy, the overall battle had been horribly one-sided already. Now, with this new, fresh fleet the battle would be over within minutes.
Her screens told her that the seven Titans were split into two groups, one consisting of Eternity, Maelstrom, and Oblivion, while the other held Overlord, Warhawk, and Exterminator.
And filling the space in front of the ships were thousands upon thousands of new fighters, all painted with the red IFF indicator of enemy craft.
“Major, what do we do?” Narm Greyrunner’s voice came over the comm. “We don’t stand a chance out here!”
“Keep covering the retreat!” she ordered tersely. It was all the more reason to get out of this Force-forsaken system. She targeted one of the approaching enemy Punishers, which were just now coming into range. “Break and attack!”
She clocked onto her target and fired one of her last two missiles, sending the warheard streaking away on a tail of light and gas. Several more missiles joined hers as the other Avatars of Inferno cut loose, too. Her missile impaced against the heavy fighter’s shields, weakening them but barely slowing the larger craft. Multiple other flashes registered more hits on the enemy squadron, which largely ignored them. A couple of Punishers turned to face them, however.
Salle stuck with her original target, letting her other flights rain combined fire on the two approaching craft. She rolled and dove downwards, Two and Four on her wing, and put her crosshairs over the fast approaching fuselage of the Punisher heavy fighter. Her reticle went red, and she squeezed the trigger, sending four lances of yellow-white fire down onto her target. The four beams cut a swatch through space and finally met together on the center of her target. The fighter exploded, sending fire and debris rushing onward towards the Darkstar.
A second target took hits from Gren’s fighter and exploded. Four’s beams cut away the wing of a third craft, sending it spinning wildly out of control. The remaining three fighters in the group continued on before Salle could pull down onto their six. One fell victim to turbolaster fire from the MC-120 and was vaporized, but the other two unleashed a hail of torpedoes and then pulled out.
Salle felt a stab of panic as the warheads screamed in, too close for the Darkstar’s turrets to target. With the ship’s shields down, the torpedoes would open her up like a cracked egg, exposing thousands of personnel to violent deaths.
The warheads began exploding as blasts of energy shot them out of the sky.
Almost faster than she could follow, several dozen silver shapes flashed across her field of vision and were gone.
“What the…” Gren’s voice started, but broke off as Salle executed a sharp turn that he was forced to match.
She pulled back onto an intercept vector with the next wave of approaching fighters, and was shocked yet again. Enemy blips were vanishing rapidly as the newcomers scored hits on target after target. Bright flashes of fire lit the sky in front of her.
“Major, what’s happening? Are these hostile or friendly? I’m still getting enemy IFF codes!”
Salle just watched as the silver-winged shapes continued to twist and turn through the engagement zone. She had never seen this particular kind of fighter before. Its wings swept forward, their size implying atmospheric maneuverability as many Altarin’Dakor designs did. But these ships were faster and more agile-looking than any of the other fighters she’d seen. None of them were being shot down yet, either. Some enemy craft turned to engage, but Salle watched in stark amazement as they pulled turns that would cause a normal pilot to black out. Then they rained down fire upon their targets from angles that shouldn’t have been possible, nearly ninety degrees in some cases. They seemed to fire a combination of pulse blasters, beam weapons and – of all things – mass drivers, which could pivot and fire at wide angles.
Their weapons seemed more advanced too. Those unlikely mass weapons seemed to penetrate enemy shields, ripping fighters apart almost instantaneously. Their blue-white beam weapons, instead of dispersing their energy across the enemy and blowing up ships after overwhelming their shields, instead seemed to cut, slicing ships in half before they exploded due to exposed power cores or fuel reserves.
It was unlike anything she’d ever seen.
“They’re Jedicon!” Gren said fiercely in her ear. “They must be! They’ve developed a new kind of Jedicon fighter even more deadly than before!”
Salle shook her head in disbelief. Jedicon in even more advanced fighters? It would be a slaughter.
“Major! Do we engage?” asked Narm.
She didn’t know what to tell him. So far, the newcomers seemed to be destroying only Altarin’Dakor ships, but they were still painted as enemies. She needed to get an update from Command and Control.
Salle hit the frequency for the fleet channel. “Inferno Squadron, Major Darl speaking. Request stance toward newcomers.”
She didn’t recognize the voice of whomever it was on the Ascendancy. “Targets are still listed as hostile. Engage until otherwise ordered.”
Salle swallowed hard. She wished it was Fleet Admiral Percy on the other end of the line, but the Admiral was probably dead by now. “Repeat last order,” she asked. “Enemy fighters are very advanced, and only engaging hostiles so far.”
The voice that came back sounded more than a bit irate. “Until we know more, we can’t take any chances, Major. They could cut into our capships like they aren’t even there.”
“Understood.” Salle cut the transmission, then switched back to Infero’s channel. “You heard the man. Inferno Squad, break and attack. Engage all targets of opportunity.” And may the Force protect us.
Then she suited words to actions, and targeted the nearest enemy prototype starfighter.
Her Avatar whined in protest as she gunned the throttle and tried to pull onto his tail, but the ship was still too fast. Within seconds it had passed out of her effective targeting range.
Another prototype flashed past the other way, blasting an enemy Punisher out of the sky with a deceptive casualness.
“I don’t think this is a great idea, boss,” Gren’s voice came into her ear.
“Me neither,” she whispered, though she didn’t hit her comm.
In the distance, she watched as Inferno Four, part of her flight, tried to pull down onto the tail of one of the agile new fighters.
Suddenly, the silver-winged fighter pulled into a tight loop, far tighter than the Avatar could match. Salle watched on helplessly was the enemy fighter actually rolled as it turned, surely putting unimaginable stresses on its pilot. Yet, impossibly, the pilot managed to stay in control, bringing the ship around on a head-to-head with Inferno Four.
The Altarin’Dakor craft opened up with its beam weapons. Four had no time to react.
The beams crossed over the TIE Avatar, splitting it neatly in half from cockpit to engine arrays. The two halfs drifted apart for an instant, revealing light and gasses leaking out between them. Then the fighter exploded.
“No!” Salle shouted. But it was far too late. Inferno Four was gone.
The enemy fighter continued its turn, an arc that would take it across Salle’s field of view. A cold feeling sank into her gut, and all thought of avoiding conflict with these fighters vanished.
Okay, she thought, steeling her nerves. You’re mine.
She snap-rolled and pulled back on the stick, taking her on an intercept arc with the enemy’s trajectory. Then she squeezed the trigger, sending four beams of energy striking out at her target.
The fighter either didn’t notice her, or else he saw her coming too late to change course. Her starboard beams missed wide, but her two port beams too the target on its port wing as it flashed across her targeting sights. The left wing was severed as it passed and detonated, blowing the fighter out of control, spinning and leaking flame and smoke.
A second later Gren’s last missile slammed into it, blowing it into a thousand fragments.
“Payback! That’s one down!” Gren shouted over the comm.
But there were plenty more where that one had come from. She noticed another one angling in towards her. A second fighter hung low off the first one’s wing. In her slower, less maneuverable Avatar, she knew that the only way she’d have a chance against these was to go all out, to fly like she’d never flown before.
Well, if that was the case, then that was what she was going to do.
The lead fighter looked like it would barrel straight for her, but suddenly it veered away sharply. Its wingman broke in the opposite direction. Trying to split up and flank us, she realized.
“Break and attack!” she ordered, sending Two and Three after the second fighter while she pulled into a tight loop on the first. The enemy was about to cross past her on her right, but before it could she wanted to get one good firing run in. She cut her speed dramatically, throwing her forward in her seat, and tried to put her crosshairs in the general vicinity of the enemy fighter.
To her surprise, she got a solid tone almost right away. She squeezed her thumb trigger instinctively, sending her last remaining missile streaking out at the enemy.
The enemy rolled and cut back towards her, cutting its own speed. As Salle’s missile neared home, the opposing fighter’s mass driver guns opened up, and incredibly their slugs found their target. The missile exploded a few hundred meters from its target.
But Salle had a backup plan, as well. As the enemy concentrated on her missile, she closed the gap even further and switched to beams. Her crosshairs passed over the craft and she fired again.
This time, her beams narrowly missed, cutting through the air where the enemy fighter would have been had it continued on its previous course. Instead, it had veered sharply away, looping back away from Salle’s approach. And though her attack had missed, the enemy’s vector forced itself away from her, allowing Salle to pull right onto its tail.
“Let’s see what you’ve got,” she whispered fiercely.
It was time to dogfight.
* * *
Maarek pulled his Archon away from his approach as he realized who his target was. It’s Salle.
Then his missile alert went off, and he was forced to go defensive. He turned back, locked his eyes on the the sillouhetted object approaching him, and fired his rail guns.
As the missile exploded, he felt a familiar tingling in the back of his mind, his still-new danger sense warning him of impending attack. He rolled and turned his fighter away instinctively, avoiding the strike but knowing the move would let her onto his six.
He gunned the throttle, hoping to outrun her. Unfortunately he had slowed down drastically, and it would take a few moments to get his advantage of speed back. Meanwhile Salle Darl was dead on his tail.
He was going to have to outfly her.
Maarek weaved and dodged, using the Archon’s superior maneuverability to keep her from getting a solid lock on him. Her beams flashed across space ahead of him as she fired again and again, missing every time. Still, she might get lucky if he didn’t lose her soon.
He started to open a channel and tell her to break off – but he froze at the last second. As far as Salle knew, Maarek Stele couldn’t even fly a fighter at all. She still thought he was completely incapacitated by his illness, and on his way back to Kuan. She’d never believe that he was here in this battle, much less flying an Altarin’Dakor fighter. She’d probably think it was some sort of trick.
So instead, he went evasive, throwing every trick he knew of to try and shake her off his tail.
He knew he could reach into her mind and throw her off course. But if he did that, he was almost certain she would recognize him. Even though she wasn’t Force Sensitive, she knew him well enough that there was simply too much risk in touching her mind with hi. He was still no expert at the technique by any means, and he knew the slightest mistake might give him away.
Of course, the way he flew might give him away, as well. She knew all of his moves, though she might not be able to pull them all off as masterfully as he. And Maarek was not ready to reveal his new role, either to her or the New Imperium, as part of the forces belonging to the Altarin’Dakor Shok’Thola known as Strife.
Fortunately he had the Archon’s advantages over her Avatar, and he used them to full benefit. He rolled and looped, throwing her aim off even as his speed steadily increased. The TIE Avatar stayed right on his tail, for now.
She’s good, Maarek thought to himself, and not for the first time. Salle was better than almost any opponent he’d ever faced. He’d always been impressed by her flying – he just never expected that he would ever fly against her.
Finally, however, his speed had increased once more to the point where her Avatar could not keep up, and her fighter grew steadily smaller behind him, her beams missing by wider margins. Finally he pulled up and gunned the throttle, rising so rapidly that their engagement was effectively broken, since even other fighters would be closer to them than they were to each other, now.
He froze as he noticed some of those other fighters. Even now two of them were on an attack vector for Salle’s craft. But these weren’t just ordinary fighters.
Knowing he had to act fast, Maarek rolled back down and pulled back into the fray.
* * *
Salle didn’t give up until the enemy fighter was well out of her effective range.
“Stang,” she cursed, watching the enemy fighter pull away into the distance. Whoever he’d been, he was a blasted good pilot.
“Major, you’ve got two coming in at your three o’clock!”
Gren’s voice shocked her mind back to the present. She glanced to starboard and held back a cry of despair. Two heavily-armed Altarin’Dakor fighters were heading straight in, on course for a strafing run on her side. Already their outlines were clearly in view, and her computer told them they already had lock on her.
Worse, the profiles of those fighters shot dread into her heart the moment she saw them. Widowmakers.
Those were real Jedicon fighters. And they were closing in, fast. She was already in their sights, having missed their approach. In another second she was going to be space dust, and there was nothing she could do about it.
“Punch out!” Narm shouted in her ear. But it was too late. She knew they’d shoot her down even if she did, and she’d rather go down in her fighter than out there among all that debris.
Salle waited, holding her breath, wondering if she’d feel anything when her fighter was vaporized around her.
Then, just as she was sure they were going to fire, the fighters pulled up slightly and flashed past her craft, passing so closely that their wake sent her Avatar bucking. She turned to look the other way, trying to follow their movements as best she could. They might come around for another pass…
But they didn’t. Instead, they were heading away from her, directly for another target – the prototype fighter she had been chasing. The silver-winged craft was making a head-to-head with them – pure suicide. But instead, the Widowmakers held their course without even firing, as if uncertain what to do.
They ran headlong into a hail of mass driver rounds fired from the prototype.
The shots hit both approaching fighters in succession, shearing through the port wing of one and nailing the second straight on, blowing it to pieces. The first fighter went into an uncontrollable spin and flashed by behind the prototype even as the silver craft blew its way past her cockpit going the other way.
Salle blinked in amazement. What had just happened? Why had the enemy pilot she was pursuing saved her?
The fighter didn’t turn back. It kept on course, moving away from her too fast for her to possibly pull on its tail. She’d never catch it, now.
Frustrated, with a dozen questions running through her mind, she keyed the comm, open frequency. “This is Major Salle Darl to enemy pilot,” she called out. “I’ll get you next time.”
There was no response, and she hadn’t expected much of one. She didn’t even know if her opponent could understand Basic, but she felt it was right to at least acknowledge what he’d done. But that didn’t change the fact that he was an enemy. And his ships had killed one of her fighters. It didn’t matter that they had been following orders to attack. The enemy might have thought it was self-defense, but that didn’t matter to Salle. One of her pilots was still just as dead as if he’d been killed in cold blood.
There would be a rematch coming.
* * *
Maarek looked back at the trailing group of Avatars, feeling a momentary stab of regret. He wanted to call out to Salle, to reach her on the squadron’s comm frequency. Salle, it’s me. I’m alive, and I’m flying again. He wanted to share that excitement with her. He’d been close to them once, to Kikitik and Gren and Salle. It felt like a lifetime ago.
He knew he couldn’t. He couldn’t tell her or anyone else. They wouldn’t understand.
Salle was leading Inferno Squadron in a heroic battle to protect the NI capital ships, fighting against impossible enemy odds. Maarek felt a nearly irrepressible desire to fly on their wing into battle once more, to use his powerful fighter to protect them from any further harm. But he knew he couldn’t. He had to let them handle it, had to trust them.
And he had his own orders.
The pride he felt in Salle was overwhelming. She had grown, had built back the squadron and taken it into battle, whereas Maarek, injured, had run away like a coward.
She was a far better squadron commander than he.
If anyone had a chance to survive this, he knew, it was Inferno Squadron.
“Good luck” he whispered.
Then he turned his fighter, ordering the rest of the Archon Wing to form up, and began his run on the enemy command ships.
* * *
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