A year and and a bit more ago, Nar Shaddaa:

*CRUNCH*

The holocom lay in pieces, the durasteel wall indifferent to the bit of electronics that had been hurled with such violence against it.

“That … that… nerf herder.” Ker’ase was nearly apoplectic with sudden rage, the giggledust in her system singing, trying to make things funny, and just irritating her more. “I am … AAARGH. ‘take care of’… I just..” A chair went after the holocom, bouncing with a dull thunk to the floor.

The pit security at the casino took one look at the raging twi’lek and fled, talking into their own commlinks. She scooped up the bottle she’d already paid for and took a long pull, stomping toward the exit. “Accuse me of /stealing/ spice. Kriffing sanctimonious …” She switched to huttese, punctuating the air with gestures for emphasis (and causing more than one tourist to blanch) as she headed for the taxi platform. When her creativity in that language ran out, she went to Ryl, and then back around to Basic.

It was time to make a point – and, by the /Goddess/, if it gets me killed, so /be/ it. How /dare/ she!

Ker knew the spice was singing, that the synthol was talking – but it didn’t matter. This time, she wasn’t rolling over.

The docking bay was bright – far better than hers – and Lord Keid’ece Sathar’s Fury was a polished, gleaming example of the best imperial ship architecture, parked primly and precisely in the center of the bay. Droids busily scuttled around the landing struts as the twi’lek stalked toward the landing gantry.

She was in full armor. Neither the droids nor port security had seen anything odd in that; heck, the Cartel guardsmen near the door even exchanged pleasantries with her as she flashed them a brittle smile and swept past with a small satchel bouncing on her hip.

She made the ship’s hatch in record time. A quick tap on the panel showed that the door codes had been changed – she snarled, then. Really? Petty, Kei. Very petty. In the lenses under her mask, three countdown timers glowed blue in her combat overlay, and a tap on her wristcomp started the first one.

Two minutes until Sally checks the security monitors. Give her one minute to talk to Kei. Thirty seconds to the door. The plan went through the Twi’lek’s head again. Five minutes for Cartel security response. She reached over her shoulder, unlimbering that warstaff and powering on the vibroblades. One minute until the bay’s sealed. Secondary out is atmospheric.

Behind her mask, she grinned – wide and feral, as she fished the saber out of the satchel, and, dropping the bag, flicked it on with a familiar motion. Yellow-black light snapped into focus with the ‘saber’s characteristic hiss; for a moment, she enjoyed the smell of ozone, that distinctive static crackle of contained plasma before simply driving the blade into the door, the durasteel instantly superheating.

Three minutes to talk. Should be enough.

A few hours later:

By the ship’s chrono, it was very early – Ker’ase rolled herself out of bed with the easy stealth that comes with long practice at not waking whoever else may be sleeping there; Keid’ece shifted, but her eyes did not open. The Twi’lek paused, assuring herself that Pureblood continued to sleep before padding out of the bunkroom and into the hallways. An observer might see the scars, the bruises – she knew that she, for once, didn’t feel her age or the mileage.

The ship was dead quiet; she snagged one of Sally’s shifts as she passed the slave’s quarters, absently pulling it on in a deference more to Kei’s servants than her own modesty. A quick stop by the galley netted a breadfruit and a small glass of something sparkling that wasn’t too terribly sweet. On bare feet, she made her way to the Fury’s cockpit, dropping languidly into the pilot’s chair and pulling up the ship’s status with an automatic few taps on the controls.

She perused the ship’s diagnostics as she ate – then tapped into the recorded comm records, relistening to the chatter around the Family’s base and its closure, the cold dictates of Darth Nala and the surprise revelation of mutiny. Rummaging around the cockpit produced a stylus and a datapad – she scribbled absently in Basic, reviewing and re-reviewing each communication, picking apart words, identifying speakers. Speculative she tapped stylus against her teeth, curling up absently into the chair.

“… that doesn’t /feel/ right.” She shook her head, then, bringing a lek forward, draping it around her own neck. “Ah, well – old girl, don’t look at a gift too closely.” She set the stylus down, picking up her glass, replaying Nala’s final communication once more:

“The reason is mutiny.” Nala’s chill voice on the ship’s speakers echoed hollowly through the cockpit. “Clearly some of you have forgotten that we are Sith, this is the Sith Empire and I am your Dark Lady. If there is any response to my orders short of complete obedience, you will find yourself in a cell as the others are, and you will suffer until you have been reminded of who and where you are.”

Ker shivered, then. “They got close. Oh, my Kei, I’m not sure this is the right time for anything.” She tapped on the console again, glancing back at the wall – vaguely in the direction of the Pureblood’s cabin. “I hope you know what you’re doing.” Suddenly, she grinned – flicking off the console. “Well, either way, it should be fun.”

And that, that was the best thought of all – she stretched languidly, propping bare feet up on the control panel – for the first time in ages, feeling warm.

The Holocron:

A Jedi does not require purpose; they thrive in purposelessness, in the absence of ambition. In that state, they can leverage their passivity into something more than mere complacency – it can become a powerful tool for reaction. Think of the Jedi philosophy as a great well with a small tap – there is phenomenal power in their approach, but their ability to apply it is limited by their fear of power. In that sense, reaction serves them better, allowing them to apply a minimal force to change the direction of events.

The Sith are something else – the Dark Side is a blade, a weapon, a scalpel, a storm. It is at its strongest when wielded in firm conviction, in pursuit of the passions that drive us to ever move beyond ourselves. We are the instigators, the throwers of rocks, and a rock is at its most powerful when thrown with overwhelming force.

A Sith without a goal is a sad and aimless thing, a spectre of sorts, driven to conflict only for conflict’s sake and to the accumulation of power without reason or focus. This can never create greatness, rather, the sort of scattershot ennui that comes from this empty waiting can only mark time and lend to the kind of self-destructive contemplation that lies at the core of the traps of the Dark Side. It is through focus that we are granted power, through targeted ambition that we achieve legendary feats.

Yet, it remains important to recognize that not all goals are grand ones. For each Sith engaged in actions that shape the very nature of the galaxy, another quietly pursues their own aims that are both personal and potentially forgotten but no less useful or focused. To be Sith is to recognize that you have the freedom to choose your own path, and the vitality and importance of that path is your own.

Not all are made to pursue the conquest of the galaxy or the reshaping of the very destiny of the universe. All could do so, but simpler ambitions are no less valid – as long as they are ambition, and not simply marking time.

Remember always this truth: it is in our lack of direction that we destroy ourselves, for it is ever the nature of the Dark Side to destroy and – lacking another target – it will turn on ourselves, on our own structures, and our own existence. There must always be purpose and direction, or there is nothing but decadence and doom.

A year and a bit ago:


She ached.

From the tips of her lekku to the tips of her toes, she was one solid, frozen bruise – or at least it felt. She flopped in the military cot underneath a ceiling made of ice, turned her suit heaters up to full, wrapped a blanket around her head and tried to get warm.

Oh, what I wouldn’t give for a /bath/. She could feel the grit and sweat under her clothing, and it itched. An entire day of heavy lifting, moving loader droids, and then working in the workshop? It was enough.

But she couldn’t sleep – her encounter with Red replayed through her mind, and the rage kept her awake, burning bright but doing little to warm her numbed fingers. A grunt, and she turned over, reaching for another blanket.

She was just deciding she was almost warm when, of course, her holocom went off. For a brief moment, she considered simply smashing it to bits and staying under the blankets, but responsibility got the better of her, and she snaked an arm out to acknowledge the call. She could only imagine what the caller would see – a pair of eyes and a lump of blankets and thermal gear. “Yeah?”

“Ker’ase Tia’ferra?” The caller’s image was distorted with distance, but he was still identifiable as a somewhat portly Zabrak in rough clothing.

“Yup.”

“I.. ah. Is this a bad time?”

“If it were a bad time, I wouldn’t have answered. It /could/ be a /better/ time. What?”

“Ah. yes. Gram Esser – I understand you have a scrap ship for sale.”

For that, she sat up.

Twenty minutes later her credit accounts had a few thousand credits in them, and the ownership papers for the Skyfall had been transferred. It was surprisingly easy – and she felt a curious sense of loss. The ship was gone – she was committed, now. But –

There was always a but.

– But her starfighter was gone, too, with her resignation. Committed indeed. She pulled the blankets around her, and tried to get warm again. If she survived tomorrow, with Novius coming to the base? That would be something to worry about.

Holocron:

“One of the things you’ll learn, Seeker, as you investigate philosophy among the Order, is that those who are minded to do so find themselves at odds over the simplest of concepts – definitions, raw and base understanding, are notoriously slippery in Basic, and in most of the other sentient tongues. It is the classic philosophical conundrum: while it is perfectly possible to identify something as ‘red’, when I tell you to picture ‘red’, the shade you chose in your mind does not match the one I see in my own.

“So, too, is the inherent difficulty of the Code. ‘chains’ comes to mind as a particularly difficult word, a remarkably bad choice for poetic phrasing in the core philosophy of the Order. What are chains? How can they be defined? What do they represent?

“The answer, insofar as I have been able to determine it, is that chains are those connections which burden you, rather than empower you. They can be obvious: in war, a broken supply line is an obstacle that absolutely must be overcome. An initiate often must kill their rivals to become an apprentice – ties of friendship or comraderie in the Academy are never anything but a burden.

“Things are far murkier in the reality of life within the Order, however. Each Sith must serve, and must be served in turn. Service, therefore, cannot truly be a chain as long as it serves your own ambitions. Personal relationships that render you vulnerable are chains, but those that improve you, intensify you, focus your understanding or ignite your ambitions? That is something else entirely. It is obvious, then, that ‘chains’ are the obstacles and bindings that stand in the way of our choices, that lead us away from our own desires into passivity and loss of focus.

“Then, these chains are addictions: addictions to pleasure of the flesh, drugs, even pain and rage. A chain may be a one-sided relationship, one in which the Sith is dragged down by the person to whom they are bonded, rather than buoyed by them. Loss of ambition may be a chain, as may a dozen other potential situations.

“It is important to note, however, Seeker, that the simple axioms taught by many in the order – ‘love is nothing but chains’, or ‘friendships, affection – this way leads to burdens only’? These are foolish. They certainly lend to personal power, to ruthelessness that serves a Sith well, but it ignores that one of the greatest sources of lasting power is the willing service of others, the respect that comes when a leader leads well, and the connections made that transcend payment or fear.

Through victory, yes, your chains can be and are broken – but you cannot break a chain you do not understand, nor see as one.

Two years ago, Belsavis:

Seven paces across, nine paces long, twelve paces along the diagonal.

She walked it again. Then again. Then again. The lighting never changed – without day and night, she had lost track of just how much time had passed, how long she’d stared at the same four walls, the same unblemished not-quite-durasteel ceiling, the semi-crystalline floor. The only constant sound was the low rumble of some massive engine below, a vibration that had stayed unchanged since she woke in this room.

It was at least comfortable. There was a bed, a ‘fresher – the blankets offered weren’t the sort of scratchy, institutional thing one would expect in a prison, but, rather, far more comfortable fabric. Food came through a slot in the door – irregularly, as best she could determine, but always enough. Clothing, now and again.

But there was never conversation, never anyone else and she knew, she knew that it was a way to break down resistance, to create a connection with an eventual interrogator, she’d read the literature, and she hated herself for – despite knowing, despite everything – still being desperate for a voice, for some change in the routine, for some sign that out there, beyond the massive door, was someone other than herself, pacing the same triangle over and over again.

For the first week of her incarceration, she’d tested the cell methodically. Lightning, strength, focus, listening, looking for some break in the routine, some chink in the armor of her imprisonment. She had learned patience, but as the days wore on and she lost track of them? That patience wasn’t enough. It was just so… quiet. So empty.

When the voice came, masculine, calm, even warm – she was deliriously grateful, and hated herself for it.

“Nima. Good to see you’re awake.”

“I .. yes. Yes, I am. Who are you? Where is this?”

“All questions in time. Are you comfortable? Hungry?”

“no. I’m.. I’m fine. Thank you.” She found herself moving toward the door, resting fingertips against it. The unyielding durasteel was warm against her fingers – she could feel nothing beyond the door.

“Good. Good. We wouldn’t want you complaining about our hospitality. We’ll check in later.”

“Wait! Where is this?”

There was no answer.

It could have been hours, or days – she knew she slept twice again before the voice returned. “Nima.”

She was quick to move to the door – “Who are you? Why do this to me? Where is this place?” The questions came quickly, hungrily. “I know I’m on Belsavis. Where is my crew?”

“Your crew, Lady, did not survive your landing – you, in fact, were touch and go for a time. Luckily, you were responsive to bacta treatment.”

“How.. how long have I been here?”

“Does it matter?”

“Yes! Yes.” She sank against the door, fingers pressing against it – she still felt no presence beyond the durasteel. “I have to know.”

“Patience. We’ll determine what you need to know – and is that important? Is it really? This is your reality, Nima Passik.”

She raged, then – “how /dare/ you?” Lightning erupted from fingertips, splattered uselessly across the door, clawing at the metal. She snarled. “I will not be contained. /kept/.”

“It’s no use talking to you when you’re like this, Nima.” The voice spoke as though talking to a child – and then it was gone.

“No! Come back. I.. ” With a scream, lightning arced around the room, tracing harmless lines over the durasteel.

In the intervening weeks, pacing became automatic. The voice spoke to her like a stern parent, requiring specific behaviors to stay longer and longer times, to discuss more and more; oh, how she hated it, and hated what it was doing, how easy it was – but she listened anyway. She obeyed far too often.

It talked to her about the Jedi code, about what it meant to be a creature of passions when there was nowhere to spend them. It instructed her in meditation techniques, and hammered home how good it was when there was no conflict. Over and over again, the same themes one after another – and, despite herself, she felt who she was slowly slipping away, and it terrified her. She took to humming a lilting melody, a song from her mother – it helped, but it only kept so much of the loneliness at bay. She was losing, in inches, and she knew.

Then she remembered.

It was a small thing, noticing the scar, there on her shoulder – but as the voice talked about detachment, as it presented peace as the idea of living in the moment, she suddenly found herself not listening, instead, looking to the small mirror above the ‘fresher, seeing the ragged scar on her shoulder. Her fingers traced it, and she smiled – because, in that moment, she wasn’t stuck in a tiny room… she was on a ship, curled over and around a Pureblood who, in her sleep, had managed to open a wound with one of those silly, oversharp face-weapons she insisted on keeping. She remembered the blood, yes, but also the Fury, the raw storm when they fought and the something more that they became together.

And she laughed. The voice paused. “Nima?”

“It was working, you know. It was. I believed you, with your specious logic and your hypocritical philosophy.” Quiet – so very quiet – “You talk about peace, about how your people, your Order, serves, how you alleviate suffering- and you simply lie. I… I believed you. But you don’t /love/. You have no fire, no soul – you can’t even understand suffering.”

“I think that..”

“no. No. No more. Leave me alone, let me go or leave me to rot – but stop talking. Enough. You and your Order are /lies/.”

Again, she laughed, softly – and she looked up at the recessed lighting of the room, “You are right in that I am not a terribly good Sith, but I am enough of one to see you for what you are. And I? I’m not alone. I have /lived/, I have loved – and you cannot take what you can’t understand away from me.”

The voice sounded oddly sad. “I see. Then you leave us no choice, Nima Passik.”

She shrugged. “Kill me if you like.” She stood, then, and crossed to the ‘fresher, “It won’t change anything.”

But the voice was gone.

A year and a bit ago, The Fury Victus:

The hatch cycled with a hiss marred by the scraping of metal on metal – and Ker’ase muttered something about cheap contractors even as she levered the bags she carried up and around the entryway. She grunted under their weight, making her way with the heavy clomp of boots on deckplating in the direction of the ship’s small galley, calling – “Hey, Sally? Cara? I know Lord Keid’ece will be away this evening – either of you two up for a holovid? The new Yesk Tran feature’s out on the h-net.”

From the cargo bay came a muffled, huttese, “<Sure! – let me get my Lord’s worktable organized – >”

“no rush, Sal – I want to cook. Between that new Chiss and Cara, tonight’s shaping up to be a full house.” The twi’lek busied herself at the galley, leaning her warstaff against the wall, unpacking ration containers. “Cara up and about yet? And .. has that silly Chiss stopped panicking?”

“<No idea on the second. Cara’s still out, or was last I checked.>” The sound of a heavy crate scraping on the deck was accompanied by a handful of grunts. “</move/, you stupid thing.>”

Ker grinned to herself, and offered in the same language – “<It isn’t trying to spite you. It’s just its nature to irritate you. They do that at the factory – all crates must irritate all Togruta at every opportunity.>”

“<Not funny.>”

“<Says you.>” The twi’lek finished up unpacking – and headed for the captain’s cabin. “<I’m going to change – I stink.>”

“<Yes, you do. Like old socks.>”

“<Not funny!>”

“<Says you.>”

Ker’ase sang as she used the fresher – even took a few extra minutes to see to her armor, setting up the powercells to recharge, going through the logs and downloading them to the ship’s archive. She pulled on pants, tossed on the first top that came to hand – a simple workout thing that would win no fashion awards – and, taking up a curious handheld unit, one visibly cobbled together from other parts, headed for the bunkroom. “Hey, Cara – you up? I grabbed some of those little dough things you’ve gotten me addicted to – if we’re doing something stupid tonight, might as well eat bad for us in the bargain, right?”

She poked her head into the room, with a grin – “I think I can get that col..” She broke off, with a frown – the room was empty, the bed made, several of Cara’s meager things missing. Her eyes narrowed – with sudden worry, she turned, heading for the other side of the transport. The engine room? Empty. Cockpit? Empty. Hold?

Sally was finishing up with the workbench, a repulsorjack with a crate getting tucked into a corner.

“<Sal – did Cara come in here?>”

“<Nope. She should still be in her room.>”

“<… she’s not. You’ve been here the whole time, right?>”

“<Yup. Maybe she went to the promenade?>” The togruta looked worried, at that.

“<Maybe. I’ll check – don’t you /touch/ my galley. I won’t be long.>”

“<Who, me? Never.>”

Ker’ase padded back into the main hallway, turning the device over in her fingers, heading to the ship’s computer. She scanned the logs then, quickly, and her frown deepened. Then, she keyed in a frequency on the comms, “Lia’ry? Ootay’sef eyi? Planning dinner, nef?” After some pause, the comms remained stubbornly quiet .. and she moved to the couch.

With a somewhat stunned expression, the Twi’lek settled heavily onto the spartan cushions, staring at the device in her hands. “.. I was coming to take it off, Lia’ry.” She sighed, then, and just tossed the cobbled together thing aside. “You should have told me.”

A moment more, and the twi’lek came to a decision, unfolding from the couch and heading for the computer once more. Fingers flew over controls, and she agonized only a moment before slowly typing in one long string. Her voice was a near whisper – “It will have to do, lia’ry.” She rubbed at her own neck. “It’ll have to do.”

Author Aunne
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