POLITICS AS USUAL
GRD Draco Maligo(Krath)TYR/Oriens Obscurum of Arcona
“I sense a great deal of anger in you, Draco,” my master said. Templar Drodik Va’lence al’Tor, Aedile for House Oriens Obscurum, sat beside me in his personal ship, a Svelte-class freighter named the Epsilon.
I don’t know if he was making an observation or an admonishment. “There always is, master.” I was in the pilot seat as we hurtled through hyperspace on our way to the planet Fwillsving, on a mission to ensure political stability on the planet.
“You need to deal away with your emotions if you want the Force to truly flow through you.” Drodik was a Nagai, tall, slender and born with an ashen complexion. He wore blue and black robes with his single lightsaber clipped to his belt.
“I thought dark-side users are taught to use their emotions to power their use of the Force. It is unnatural for humans to suppress their emotions.” I was trying to conceal myself in the Force, one of the lessons I worked on during the dull trip, but I suppose that as my mind wandered to the job at hand, my emotions bled out.
You see, Fwillsving provides a great deal of our armaments and supplies, unbeknownst to the New Republic, and although it would be possible to obtain new sources, the planet was nearby, in the Calaron sector, and not currently a member of the New Republic. The Dark Brotherhood had always had cordial relationships with the rulers of the planet. Until recently.
Marrilanya dos Sava, leader of the ruling council of twelve, had been in contact with the New Republic, and had promised to deliver Fwillsving as a member planet for certain political concessions. One of which, we believed, was that she would abolish the council and proclaim herself queen. Once that happened the Jedi would eventually become aware of our trade and of the Dark Brotherhood. We could not allow that to happen.
The outer rim, and especially wild space, were places where for the most part beings minded their own business and got on with their lives. That is one of the reasons the expansion of the Republic and the New Republic stalled once it got this far – the rugged, independent spirit of the beings out here. No one wanted to be ruled from far-away Coruscant, by bureaucrats who lived in the Core worlds and who no longer bothered to set foot from whence they came.
“It is also unnatural for beings to establish governments, yet it is so. We all have to overcome our baser natures when we deal with others, either on a personal level or for governments to interact,” al’Tor said.
“I don’t believe that either. Beings are for the most part social creatures. It is natural for them to band together and relate. There are always pack leaders, followers and outcasts. Many beings band naturally together and compromise while others are loners and somewhat predatory.”
“Like you?” Drodik didn’t say that in an accusatory way. I suppose he felt he still didn’t know me well enough.
“Perhaps,” I said. I wasn’t always this way. Growing up I was gregarious and fun loving, but life has a way of changing you.
“You are still young, you need some growing up to do. What do you make of our present mission?” he asked in a probing manner.
“Do you mean the relative importance of it, or the mechanics of how we should proceed?”
“Why do you always seek to question me?” He sighed.
“Only to understand your intent, master.”
“You should know that by now.”
“I know enough that you are testing me, but as to my seriousness or my thoughtfulness I am uncertain.”
“Address both, then.”
“It is a serious mission. Dos Sava could compromise the Brotherhood’s secrecy, if she hasn’t already. That makes her quite a threat, one we shouldn’t carelessly dismiss. As to our plans, it is my opinion we should go in and gather more information. Our informants might be exaggerating or lying, and we should ascertain the truth before we act.”
Drodik nodded approvingly. “Why would our informants lie?”
“Might be several reasons. Payback for a wrong, either real or imagined. Ambition. Perhaps they feel they can move up if she is removed from her position. Maybe they are just paranoid and are reading something into an innocuous situation.”
“What if they are agents provocateur?”
“Could be, but who would they be representing? There are several interests on the planet. Only the laborers would benefit as a group from being members of the New Republic. The rest of them would seek only personal gratification,” I said. When I meditated upon first learning of this assignment I got the feeling that our informants were telling the truth, but I was willing to be proven wrong.
“Perhaps Jedi, or other government agents.”
“They don’t really work that way. Subversion and skullduggery are our strengths, not so much the New Republic’s, and definitely not the Jedi’s.”
“Perhaps you don’t understand them that well,” said al’Tor.
“True enough, but the more famous ones I have heard of wouldn’t sneak around. They would land and start issuing moral proclamations. And if a junior knight was to become aware of the situation they would certainly report back to Skywalker for instructions. And he is too cautious and indecisive. He would probably notify the GA and have them send out a diplomatic mission, maybe or maybe not including Jedi. And an act that overt we would have discovered.”
A pinging interrupted us. “Decanting from hyperspace in three . . . two . . . one.” I pulled back the lever and the ship slipped back into real space. Once again I could see star fields and felt more at peace. I never felt comfortable traveling in hyperspace; it was unnatural for me. After a few minutes we were in orbit around Fwillsving. It was a typical planet, breathable air, near standard gravity, variety of plant life and terrain types. It hadn’t yet become a slag heap like Fondor, but even from orbit you could see the brown haze coloring the atmosphere a bit.
“Unidentified ship, this is Fwillsving space authority. State your intentions.” Sensors reported a flight of headhunters, old Z-95s, leaving low orbit on an intercept course.
I flicked a switch to transmit our transponder code. “This is the freighter Epsilon, requesting landing coordinates.” I held steady on our course for the capital city, Brialistock, throttling back while they checked our identity. Antei had notified them of our impending visit and the codes for Drodik’s personal ship.
“What is the purpose of your visit?” The nasally female voice droned over the com.
“Routine inspection,” I said and suppressed a sigh. They had had visits from envoys from the Dark Brotherhood before and should be used to us dropping in.
“They’ve had time to decrypt our transponder code, so they know who we are. And they were notified in advance of our visit.”
“They may be trying to show off their stringent security measures.”
“Or planetary security knows about the feelers to the New Republic, and they are stringing us along to backstab us,” I said. If dos Sava was a canny politician she would expect a response from us for what she was doing and be prepared.
“I wish you wouldn’t argue with me.”
“I know I’m your apprentice, but I am a part of this mission.” And I had no intention of letting an unknown situation lead to my death by being complacent and trusting.
“Yes, but not an equal part.”
“Dos Sava is ready to betray the entire Brotherhood. Don’t you think its possible she is ready to kill us also?” I tried never to get angry with my master, and most times I failed. I don’t know if he liked to push me to see how I would control myself, for certainly he was advanced enough to control me easily.
The statement was moot, because the sextet of fighters began firing lasers at us. I sent the ship into a dive and throttled up to maximum thrust. Shields were already up. I don’t trust anyone.
“Don’t fight it out with them, get to the starport,” Drodik said in his usual, unperturbed way.
Like I could in this bucket of bolts. It was a nice personal ship, but compared to even obsolete starfighters it handled like a bantha. My knuckles were white on the steering yoke and sweat beaded on my forehead. Green laser bolts flashed all over the sky, and the smudge of green and brown that represented the planet danced all over the viewport.
“Try not to damage my ship,” Drodik said, smiling.
“I’m not the one doing the shooting!”
“Don’t panic, the shields will take a couple of hits. When we pass this squadron we will be out of their reach. By the time they turn around and come back, we will be dirt-side.”
“The spaceport? They’ll have ground troops waiting for us,” I said, thinking it would be better to drop in somewhere else and try to sneak into the city.
“Maybe not. This might be a misunderstanding.”
“I don’t think I’m having any trouble understanding this.”
“All will be revealed in time,” my master said, all too serenely for me.
I glanced at him out of the corner of my eye to see him sitting there, hands folded in his lap and his eyes closed. I turned the ship over and corkscrewed our way toward the planet. The headhunters shot past us, with only a few hits to the ship. I kept the throttle at full as I flew a couple of hundred meters above the deck. I knew I was causing sonic booms all along our path, and I didn’t care. Correction: I did care, and I wanted my displeasure known. The com beeped and I slapped it off.
“Your anger could cook a side of nerf.”
No kidding. I blasted our way past the control tower at a few meters distance, which I’m sure rattled the teeth of the air traffic controllers, not to mention popping their eardrums. I slowed the freighter, turned back, and landed it gently on the duracrete apron right in front of the building. Of course that spot was meant for landspeeder traffic. I shut down the engines and began clipping on my weapons, Sith sword, Licht blade, Blas-tech DL-18, and a plasma grenade.
“Why a grenade?”
“I might need it. It’s only one,” I tried not to roll my eyes. My use of the Force was not all I wanted it to be, and I needed extra firepower.
“One is too many.”
The hatch opened and the ramp descended, revealing a squad of security beings marching out from the terminal. Without thinking I pushed out with the Force, tossing the cadre of troops back off their feet. I drew my sword when I felt a calming hand on my shoulder. Marrilanya dos Sava walked past the soldiers scrambling to their feet. My master and I stood at the foot of the boarding ramp, his hands empty at his sides, but I kept my sword out and held in a Banlanth defensive grip. Dos Sava was a beautiful woman in her mid-forties, hair dyed blonde, and plenty of makeup on her face. Vain about her age, I thought. She was clad in imported and expensive clothes, in hues of red and yellow, the fabric light and billowy. She bowed before Drodik.
“Put away your weapon,” she commanded while smiling at my master.
I stared at her until she looked in my direction. “I don’t take orders from you.” I glanced at al’Tor who nodded discretely, then I slid the blade into its scabbard I folded my onyx robes over my body and put the cowl up over my head.
“I want to apologize for the unfortunate attack. A glitch in our communications.” It was clear she was very good at lying and manipulating men.
“A glitch?” I asked, incredulous. “Be careful we don’t glitch you into oblivion.”
“It was a mistake,” she said, all sweetness and false regret.
“If you or your people make any more mistakes, you better make sure you kill me first. I’m not as patient and forgiving as my master,” I said, the venom apparent in my lower-than normally pitched voice.
Dos Sava cast me a sideways glance, put her hand on Drodik’s elbow, and led him towards the speeders parked ahead. I followed to his left and a pace behind, glaring at the security force lined up in two ranks, flanking us. I reached out with the Force, pushing fear into their minds. After the attack on the freighter I knew our informants were right, that we would have to kill dos Sava, and that it would be bloody. And if these soldiers were afraid of us that would make them less effective in battle.
The would-be queen of Fwillsving led our little parade to her opulent speeder, her gray-clad chauffeur holding open the rear door. I climbed into the front and waited for the rest to jump in. The security men followed us in a large, armored speeder.
“Henhree, take us to the hotel.” She looked over at my master. “I assume you’ll want to rest after your journey. It’s late in the day. Perhaps we could have supper and discuss the itinerary for your inspections.” She smiled, her pearly teeth glinting in the fading sun.
She dropped us off at the hotel, and a clerk showed us up to the Bespin suite. The digs were posh, highly polished marble floors, rare-metal fixtures, ornately carved wood furniture and paneling. I wondered how many thousands of credits rich kriffers paid per night to stay here as I stepped out onto the balcony. I never cared much for sterile and antiseptic processed air, and even the pungent tang of industrial pollution didn’t chase me back inside.
Master Drodik stepped up beside me. “You’re jealous, aren’t you.” He spoke in a whisper to defeat whatever listening devices had surely been planted in the rooms.
I used the Force to amplify my hearing to make out his words. “A little. Poor people like me respect credits much more than the rich kriffers who can afford this place.”
“You’ve already made up your mind to kill her.”
I didn’t deny it. “Some people deserve to die. My feeling is that she is betraying the Brotherhood, and she’s playing you.”
“Trying to play me. Don’t be so quick to judge. Once you take a life there’s no replacing it. By the way, you played your part well, she fears you.”
“Master?” Was that a rare compliment? I had expected another dressing down about giving in to my anger, and surely he felt me plant fear into the minds of dos Sava’s bodyguard.
“She’s trying to play us off against each other. Distract us. But we still must find out if she has any confederates, so we have to play her game for awhile.”
“If she has allies, I’d bet on councilor de Munford, who controls the security service. She’s going to need muscle to pull off what she has planned.”
Drodik nodded. “He would be a good man to have at her side, since she doesn’t directly control any bodies of troops.”
“What do we do tomorrow?”
“Carry out the inspections. Since there is unrest among the workers it’ll give us a perfect opportunity to grill de Munford.”
“What should I do while you’re out dining with her highness?”
My master sighed. I guess I was quite irreverent. “Work on your meditations.”
“I’ll stretch out with the Force. That way if you’re poisoned I’ll know they’re coming after me next,” I said and smiled.
Drodik fixed me with a gimlet stare, turned, and went back inside.
Patience was never my strong suit, and with action pending soon I really couldn’t meditate. So I practiced my saber drills, worked up a good sweat, and went to bed after stepping out of the sanisteam.
Since joining the Brotherhood I have had these recurring dreams. It was dark and many enemies lurked in the shadows. I pulled out my lightsaber, with its blood-red blade, and slashed away at them. But they weren’t killed, weren’t cut, and weren’t damaged in any way. Then I realized it was a red-bladed training saber, and my anger would grow into a rage that caused my shadowy nemeses to swirl, screaming, into nothingness. I would be left in pitch blackness, and when I reached out to the Force I would sense a deserted landscape, cold and forbidding, but I would be at peace.
I always felt vaguely disturbed when I awoke from those frequent subconscious reveries. Today it was first light, and my master had nudged me with the Force. We meditated together, as we often did, and he stressed the importance of dampening, of suppressing my emotions. Drodik was a Nagai, the only one I had ever met. I wondered often if they were naturally emotionless. They appeared to be bloodless, with a pasty gray-white skin tone, and my master, at least, was a proponent of the light side. He never explained how he became a member of the Dark Brotherhood.
After our morning ablutions we headed out on our rigorous tour. It took us to factories and mines, with a brief swing through farm country.
“You sympathize with the slaves and the workers.”
“Yes master.” I wished he wouldn’t have probed me thus in front of dos Sava’s aide, del Cran’dle. He was sure to report everything back to her, and I didn’t want her to have any leverage over me by knowing my background. Especially not as an escaped farm boy. I wanted her to see me as a dark Jedi. Period.
“The lower class on this planet is made up of useless vermin. If we didn’t give them purpose, they would all be sitting around using spice and watching the holonet all day. Suppose they revolt. Would you have the courage to oppose them, or would you sympathize with their aims?” del Cran’dle said in a snit.
I opened my mouth to retort, when I felt a surge in the Force and turned to see master Drodik raise his arm and blast the transparasteel canopy off the speeder. My danger sense, not as highly attuned as al’Tor’s, kicked in a moment later and I leapt from the moving speeder a split second after he did, just as a plasma beam hit. The heat from the blast singed my robe, and I was pelted by hundreds of pieces of shrapnel from the wrecked vehicle.
I landed awkwardly, sprawled in a ditch by the side of the road, slapping out the flames consuming my robe. Drodik was kneeling in the ditch on the other side, his lightsaber out, the blue blade glowing in the bright light of day. The speeder, a mass of melted plasteel and durasteel, tumbled forward down the farm road, kicking up dust and black clouds of smoke.
“This is the second attack on us by planetary security, and by a different bunch. I think that seals de Munford’s involvement,” I said.
“I’d still like to speak with him, make sure.”
“What do we do about this bunch?”
Drodik looked downcast for a second. “Kill them.” He used the Force to speed his movements toward the AD station that shot us down.
I was surprised that they would kill del Cran’dle, but then I guess dos Sava and de Munford considered him expendable. I ran as fast as I could after my master, and watched as he deflected a flurry of blaster bolts, a healthy percentage zipping back from whence they came. I managed to skewer a couple of soldiers, but Drodik had taken care of most of them.
Looking around at the bodies, I reached out in the Force for other hidden surprises and found none. An armored speeder sat behind the plasma cannon, and we walked toward it. “Do we go in with a direct assault, or sneak in?” I asked.
Al’Tor closed his eyes for a moment. “Sneak in. Most of the soldiers are merely following orders, and in the long run we don’t want to antagonize them by killing their comrades, no matter how misguided. Fwillsving will still need a security force once we stabilize the leadership, and they have to be loyal and committed. We won’t jeopardize that by needless bloodshed. Do I make myself clear?”
I nodded, then we both climbed into the speeder. We flew to the government complex and hovered outside a set of offices on the fifth floor. Al’Tor cut away the plasteel and we climbed into a vacant conference room. Drodik closed his eyes for a moment, then whispered to me, “De Munford has a large number of guards in his outer office and his anxiety level is high.”
“Am I correct in assuming he is guilty?”
“It would appear so, but I want to give him the chance to explain himself.” Drodik raised his arm and blew a large hole in the wall using the Force. De Munford sat at his desk, eyes popping wide, blood draining from his face. I faced the two guards flanking the door while my master stepped up to the desk. The councilor’s mouth opened and closed several times with no sound coming out.
“Councilor, we need to discuss . . .”
“The dark Jedi! Kill them!”
The two sentries raised their blasters as I heard a lightsaber sing to life. I Force-shoved both men hard into the wall, but they were a burly sort, too strong to be knocked-out. They sat there, punchy, and covered with white powder and bits of debris from the gouges taken out of the wall. I unclipped the Rodian throwing razor from my belt and let it fly into the throat of one of the beings, sending a rivulet of blood oozing down his neck and severing his windpipe. I slid the Sith sword from its scabbard as I dashed up to the second guard, slapped away the rising blaster, and stabbed the hapless man through the heart. I looked around to see de Munford’s headless corpse still sitting in his maroon, nerf-skin leather chair and Drodik clipping the hilt of his saber onto his belt.
“Now what?” I asked.
“I suppose its time to confront dos Sava.”
“No more investigation? No need to ferret out addition confederates?”
“I fear we are out of time. We need to move quickly,” Drodik said.
“Let me kill her. You got de Munford.”
“She’s my responsibility, I’ll do it. Besides, it’s not a contest.”
Drodik cut a hole in the floor and we dropped down a level, then made our way toward dos Sava’s suite of offices. As head of the council of twelve she had a large bureaucratic staff and a whole wing of the fifth floor to herself, and no doubt protection equal to or exceeding de Munford’s. The hall was empty, but I could sense a large group of people ahead, some grim determination but a large feeling of dread wafting through the Force.
We rode up the repulsorlifts and walked down the corridor to her reception room. Al’Tor lit his saber and flung the double doors off their hinges and into the crowd milling about the antechamber. Secretaries and clerical workers, just going about their business, began screaming and dashing about in utter confusion. The troops stationed there, about a dozen, opened fire. My master batted the bolts back from whence they came, while I used the Force to knock over the soldiers, then Force-leapt behind them and slashed away with my Sith sword. Drodik ran in and we finished off the squad as the clerical staff melted away from the battleground.
Dos Sava stood up next to her desk, no doubt alerted to our presence by the blaster fire in the reception area. A young man, light brown robes of a Jedi draped over his lithe frame, stood between us and our target.
“I should have known that idiot de Munford would not be able to handle you. I was a fool to trust him. But you’ll get no further.” She turned, activated a panel on the wall, and stepped into the hidden tunnel. The Jedi ignited his green-bladed saber and stepped into an aggressive Shii-Cho stance.
I turned to my master, “You’re the one with the lightsaber.” Drodik ignited his blue blade and moved forward to the attack. I used the Force to fling dos Sava’s desk at the Jedi, then dashed past him and into the escape tunnel. I heard the hum and crash of the lightsaber duel behind me as I raced to catch up to my fleeing prey.
The Force was a melange of death, fear and desperation all swirled up into a ethereal cocktail. I sensed a group of somewhat resolute beings up ahead, just outside the end of the hidden corridor. I unclipped the plasma grenade from my belt, hurled it with all my strength, and used the Force to curve it around the bend in the tunnel toward my enemies. The blast echoed through the area, sending a concentric wave of heat, noise and psychic distress in all directions.
The carnage was delicious. Bodies and body parts strewn everywhere, blood splattered like some gruesome pop-art masterpiece, and a faint, cold dark-side aura hovering about the blast epicenter. Dos Sava was wounded, crawling away toward her escape speeder, her clothes tattered and smoke smudges and gore spotting her being. The guards were all dead. The duracrete walls of the garage were still intact, but the glow panels in the ceiling were crushed, dusting the scene with a white powdered-sugar coating.
I slid the sword back into its scabbard and drew the Licht blade. I walked ahead and planted myself in the traitor’s path. She crawled until she spied my boots, then looked up with a pitiful look on her face.
“How much did you tell the Jedi?”
She whimpered. “Please, I want to live.”
I grabbed a handful of artificially colored hair, dragged dos Sava up to her knees, then plunged the blade into her chest. “Whoever the council selects as its new leader won’t be so quick to betray the Dark Brotherhood.” I felt the life force bleed out of her. I dropped her corpse to the ground and wiped the blood from the dagger on her fancy gown.
I walked back through the tunnel to the office suite and found the dead Jedi and my master, wounded by a saber burn, sitting in the plush executive chair quelling the pain. “You shouldn’t be so happy to kill,” he said.
“I’m not happy, just satisfied. She betrayed us, now she paid the price.”
“Did you let her live long enough to incriminate the rest of her accomplices?” Drodik couldn’t hide the disappointment from his voice.
“She wouldn’t tell, and I refused to promise her her life in exchange. Whomever takes over as the leader of the council will be happy to investigate for us. It will be job security for them. Come on, we should get back to the ship so you can go into a healing trance.”
Drodik pushed my helping hand aside, drew on the Force to give him the strength to stand, and limped toward the turbolifts.