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14. 1. 2014


Seven years after the “destruction” of Abeloth, above Gwallish…

A woman, still young, but apparently seasoned, sat in the captain's chair of a frigate.
Her hair, long and brown, was tied up into a practical bun, offering a perfect view on her pretty face. High-cheeked and clear-faced, she had beautifully curved lips with a little scar in the corner of her mouth, which caused the impression that she was still smiling. She had dark, oval eyes, deep and sensible. She wore dark garments, with cloak and golden-trimmed collar.
Next to her stood a Keshiri, apparently an adolescent one. She was not much tall, but she was lean and graceful in her motions. She was considerably strong in the Force, though not much experienced in hand-to-hand fight. She had a nice, chubby-cheeked face, innocent indigo eyes and long hair worn in a braid falling almost to her hips.
The vessel dropped from the hyperspace. In the forward viewport, a huge ship appeared. It was pearl-grey and apparently of Mon Calamarian design.
A sensor officer raised his head. “As you expected, my lady, we emerged in attack range from the vessel.”
The older woman rolled her eyes. Of course they did.
“Range all our cannons against them,” she said.
“Yes, lady.”
“And open the hailing channel.”
“Got it, lady.”
The woman touched a button on her chair's arm.
“This is Lady Vestara Khai of the Sith battle-cruiser Zaam to the Galactic Alliance vessel.”
A while of silence, then the communication officer shouted, “They are responding, but we have only the audio.”
“Galactic Alliance craft Phantom Rival copy. State your business.”
Vestara cocked a brow. The voice was faintly familiar. Anyway, wasn't it stupid to ask an armed Sith cruiser about their business with their cannons aimed at them?
“We are intending to conquer the independent world of Gwallish, Alliance vessel. Since Gwallishan duchy isn't a member of GA, that is none of your concern,” she said.
“The negotiations between Galactic Alliance and representatives of the duchy about joining the Galactic Alliance are already in motion. Since those negotiations are in process, I have to act as if you invaded Alliance territory. Then, I am afraid, we have to vaporize you if you will not surrender, get out of our territory in two minutes or show that your intentions are purely peaceful.”
No jaw-dropping, Ves, she told herself. Was the captain so stupid or was he mocking… ah, he had to be stupid – just a fool would mock at a Sith Lord when he's facing his whole fleet.
“I assure you, Captain... Anyone, that our intentions are not peaceful, we are not going to move even a centimeter away and we won't surrender.”
“I'm really sorry to hear that, Ves,” the captain said.
Ves? What was, by the dark side, going on?
“I don't remember giving you permission to use my first name, speak nothing of using a nickname while addressing me, captain.”
“Intercepting a holo-transmission, lady Khai.”
Vestara leant forward and winked at the officer. “Put it through.”
Let's have a look at this…
Vestara stared wide-eyed at the nearly meter high image of two men. Both were dressed in Jedi robes. The shorter one was a member of species Vestara wasn't familiar with. He was covered in brown fur, with too-little dark eyes and a particularly ugly face with strange nose and protruding jaw. But he wasn't the one Vestara was staring at. Because she knew the man next to him. She spent quite a time with him on one ship.
He was of average height, with strong but athletic stature, jolly eyes and wavy hair. His face was bore a slight smile, the one mostly used when one met someone he once knew, and found quite nice. Not to old sort-of-enemy. And she could recognize those eyes and the handsome jaw of his anytime.
It was Ben Skywalker, apparently older-looking and apparently with more experiences. Well, when one survives two wars, betrayal of his own kindred and Abeloth, well, he becomes a seasoned man.
“Ben,” she said, letting a little of her shock escape to her voice and thanking gods that her jaw remained at its place.
His smile broadened a bit, more politely than genuinely. “Vestara. Well, it isn't nice to meet you again, but I think you understand.”
His voice was other than it was seven years before, but maybe it was just the comm system tricking her. It sounded lower, more mature. Ben's eyes – which, as Vestara remembered maybe too well, were icy blue – turned to her Keshiri fellow.
“Last time we met,” he said and his voice suddenly had a soft charming undertone, “You didn't have such a beautiful associate.”
A flicker of jealousness crossed her mind and she suppressed a curse. She was long over Ben Skywalker.
“This is my apprentice,” she said, waving toward the Keshiri. “Gavi Fasha.”
Ben dipped his head. “Pleasure to meet you. My name is Ben Skywalker, a Jedi Knight. And this is Jedi Wandaq.”
Fasha cocked her brow. “It's an interesting meeting indeed, Jedi Skywalker,” she said. “I've heard a lot about you – and your father.”
Ben flashed a quick glance to Vestara and grinned. “Well, if you spoke to Ves, you probably heard just the worst about me.”
Fasha's brow didn't drop. “Such as?”
“Well, some false stories about my feeding customs, or her complaining about me singing in a shower so loud she heard me in the cockpit, explaining how stupid I sound when I speak Rodese… you know, just this kind of crap. I assure you that none of it is true. Well, except that shower-singing. Can't help it, y’know? I just love the song “Ramoan Rock”. One time it nearly drove me mad. I simply kept singing it in my head.”
Vestara watched with continuous frustration as her apprentice almost smiled.
“I've never heard the song,” she said.
Ben smiled. “Do you want me to sing it to you?” he asked mischievously.
Vestara never expected Ben to be the one to fall for the breath-taking beauty her apprentice wielded, but she was sure he is trying to impress her. And that just wasn’t like Ben.
“Never want to hear you sing again, Ben Skywalker,” she said.
Ben glanced toward her with something resembling disdain. Then he looked again at Fasha. “Your master is quite snappish, right?”
Fasha's eyes dropped. She didn't dare to insult or to complain of her master when she was right beside her. And that was right.
“Come on, if she will get angry, I promise I will board your ship and save you.”
“That's ridiculous, Jedi Skywalker,” Fasha said.
Ben shrugged. “Well, it is the Jedi way. I didn't come up with it. My dad did.”
When Ben turned his face to the side when he spoke about Luke, Vestara caught glimpse of something. It was a scar, reaching from his ear to jaw.
“What happened to you?” she asked curiously.
He turned to her so quickly the sensor had difficulties catching it and the holo leapt. “What?”
“The scar. You didn't have it last time we met; I'm sure about that.”
He stroked it slightly. “This one? It's from Korriban. A parting gift from tu'katas.”
One of her eyebrows rose. “Korriban?” she didn't add the other question that came into her mind: What the hell were you, Mr. Super-Jedi, doing on a Sith world?
He nodded. “Yeah, we came there searching for Abeloth. Barely escaped with our lives, honestly. Jaina has a better one, but I doubt she will show it to you.”
Vestara knew of the Jedi hunt on Abeloth. They were hunting her all over the galaxy, while she was safe and sound on Coruscant. “I trust that.”
He rolled up his right sleeve, revealing a long scar ranging from his elbow to his wrist. “This one,” he said. “is from Dromund Kaas.”
She swallowed. She knew about the trap on Kaas, too.
Ben studied it almost impassively, but she knew he was going to stab her. Not physically, but mentally. He was trying to invoke guilt in her?
“It was made by parang,” he continued. “Gavar Khai's parang.”
Well, that one hurt. Her eyes angrily narrowed. “Whom you killed.”
He looked into her eyes, impassive. “Yes.”
There was nothing more to say, and Vestara was lost in thoughts. Thoughts that hurt.
She herself faced Gavar. She hoped that she can join him, return to the Tribe, to her family. But he had already joined Abeloth. He attacked her, obviously determined to eliminate her, kill her. She hardly managed to flee the battle. She wasn't able to strike the final blow, to do what was necessary when it concerned her own father. Ben was. He was able to do what had to be done, no matter what the circumstances were. Unlike her. And that's why he always won.
But she was determined that if she had to do the same decision again, now and here, she would do it. Slay her own father. Because it had to be done.
She shuddered.
Ben was watching her all the time. When he realized her attention is fully on him again, he touched the neck of his tunic. “Want to see the scar from Upezkar?” he asked, but it was obvious he knew that his acts had the expected effect. When he became so cold?
“No thanks,” she replied, wondering if he intended to show her every scar whose creation she could prevent. Then she realized. He wanted to distract her. Distract or… delay.
She noticed that he was waiting for her to elaborate. Instead of doing the expected, she folded her arms.
“When will your reinforcements arrive?” she asked sourly.
He didn't even wince, just shrugged, tucking his left sleeve, showing a scarred wrist – the scars, she knew, were from Abeloth. She was there during the final fight, though she and Ben haven't spoke there, nor fought each other. But she saw as Abeloth tried to squeeze his hand out. He mimed looking at his watch.
“Every minute now,” he said when the sleeve was back down and Vestara pushed her memories of Abeloth's presumed destruction away. “Yours?”
No lip-biting, she told herself. She just had to delude him. Deceive till the end of your life.
She cocked her brow. “What makes you think they aren't there already, hiding somewhere?”
He shrugged again. If she shocked him, he covered it pretty well. “Well, my sensors, the Force and mainly your obvious doubt. You are not sure if you can beat us and our reinforcements, if I take it well. And that's quite amusing, giving that you have a whole Sith flotilla and we have only one ship.”
“It's a cruiser. And it can be crawling with your Jedi,” Fasha said.
Ben glanced at her. “Yeah. And we are so great that we can hide a cruiser packed with Jedi in the Force.  Besides, what would a Jedi-packed cruiser do there? If your master forgot something in your training, it was cunning.” He turned his attention to Vestara. “Care to explain it to her?”
Vestara was now watching the Phantom Rival in the viewport. “That wouldn't make sense. If he had a perfect trap on Sith, he would try to lure us into his ship, not trying to hold us.”
Ben nodded like a pleased master. “Very well, Vestara.”
She snorted.
“So, Ves, have you already made it out? Am I bluffing, or not?”
She set her teeth. “There's a considerable chance that you are,” she said, “And a considerable chance that despite these, I will be able to vaporize your pitiful grin along with the Phantom Rival.”
“You forgot the chance that I will pull some Force trick on you and vape your whole flotilla even without reinforcements.”
The ugly being, what didn't pay any attention to them before added, “And don't forget the chance that we will not need the Force for it, Skywalker.”
Ben nodded. “Right, Wan, I almost forgot.”
Wandaq poke into Ben's shoulder and both glanced back at something she couldn't see. Ben nodded.
“Just give me while, would you?” he asked.
The ugly creature made smacking noise with his tongue. “Skywalker, I'm getting bored with hearing this female snapping. Can't you just tell her you want to marry her or something that would close her mouth?”
Fasha grinned.
“It's okay,” Vestara said. “I am done with that chitchat, anyway. Goodbye, Skywalker.”
Fasha got it quickly and turned back, shouting the order everyone was expecting to get.
“Open fire!”
A melodic Keshiri voice said, “Yes, sir.”
Vestara saw Ben as he raised his hand, gesturing toward Zaam. “With pleasure,” he said.
Vestara grinned. If he was genuine, he was on a good way to become a Sith.
The boarding went well. Maybe too well.
Vestara, flanked by Sith boarding party composed of ten Sabers and Fasha, led the way toward the bridge. There was no resistance. The cruiser was calm and silent.
“This smells like a trap,” Fasha said.
Vestara nodded. “This is a trap.”
“What should we do, Lady Khai?” One of the Sabers asked.
“We will continue our approach. They had to hide the crew somewhere.”
“On the bridge,” Fasha said.
Vestara closed her eyes and reached out. “Yes. On the bridge.”
“But the Jedi isn’t there,” Fasha pointed out.
“I think he’s just hiding his presence,” Vestara said.
“Or he’s preparing to make a sneak attack,” a Saber suggested.
Vestara glanced at him. In a way, this one looked a bit like Ben. He had red hair and stubborn expression, but his eyes were as dark as black holes. “Even if he somehow succeeded in launching a surprise attack, Saber Diin,” she said, soft but threatening, “Do you think he, even if he had this ugly Jedi as a backup, would stand against a whole Sith ambush party?”
Despite the fact that Vestara was a lot younger than him, Diin dipped his head. She was, after all, one of the youngest Sith Masters the Lost Tribe had.
“No, lady Khai.”
She sneered.
“Who are you calling ugly, you Sith harlot?”
Her head whipped around, searching for a source of the insult.
She found him, just rounding a corner behind them.
It was the ugly alien Jedi. His lightsaber was in his hand, but not ignited. Typical Jedi arrogance.
She stabbed him with a gaze. “What?”
“I asked you, you filthy Sith schutta, who are you calling ugly?”
This was a Jedi? He certainly had a rich wordage.
He kept walking to them. The trio of Sabers nearest to him raised their lightsabers.
“Where is the other Jedi?” Vestara asked, trying to keep an eye on the corridor in front of her in case Ben came and they tried to encircle them.
“Skywalker?” the Jedi asked. “No idea. Maybe he’s out, courting some nice officer.”
“This is supposed to be the famous Jedi humor?” Fasha asked.
“Of course,” the Jedi – Wandaq, she recalled – said. “It’s famous because it’s not funny.”
“Ah,” Fasha said.
Vestara was becoming more and more nervous with every step Wandaq made.
He smirked. “Are you feared, Sith?”
“I am bored,” she snapped. “Let’s make this quick. Attack!”
Three of the Sith leapt into attack.
Wandaq didn’t ignite his lightsaber.
“Holy Sith,” he muttered and made a back-flip.
Vestara frowned as she tried to make the best decision quickly. “Five of you, follow him!” she shouted then. “The rest of us will continue to the bridge! Saber Tannis, you’re in charge!”
The fair-haired human woman addressed, Ina Tannis, bowed quickly. “Yes, Lady Khai.”
“Should I go…” Fasha started.
Vestara shook her head. “No. I need you there. I think we will have to split up again.”
“Yes, Master.”
Vestara quickened her pace to a light run as she led her remaining six men through countless corridors, through countless turbolifts, through countless places perfect for an ambush, still proceeding toward the bridge.
“Are you really sure we are heading the right way?”
Vestara scowled at her apprentice. “Yes, I am, apprentice Fasha.”
Keshiri girl bowed her head. “I’m sorry, Master.”
“We'll talk about it later,” she said, hitting another set of controls.
The door slid up, revealing a round chamber.
There was no other doorway here, just a round table in its middle and seats positioned along the wall.
“Dead end,” she called at the rest of her group.
Then the table spoke up.
Okay. Either she was becoming crazy because of those kriffing mazy corridors, or the table was a comm table.
She made a vague humming sound.
“Fine. So I found you.”
She frowned. “Ben Skywalker?”
“No, your dead father,” he said impatiently.
That was rude. Was this really him?
“What do you want, Jedi? Are you going to try to persuade me into leaving?”
“I know very well that speaking doesn’t work in your case, Khai.”
Oh, so now she wasn’t Ves, but Khai. Better every moment.
“So what do you want, Skywalker?”
“You hate me because I killed your father.”
“And you hate me because I betrayed you.”
A sigh. “Jedi do not hate, Khai.”
“But you do. You’re good at it.”
“That’s not the point. You want to settle scores. I want to offer you a chance to do it.”
“You want to lure me into a trap.”
“Ah, so you just want to stall? Stalling won’t help, Skywalker.”
He started to sound annoyed. “I am not stalling, Khai. I’m not a Sith, remember? I’m not a backstabber.”
“What about your Jedi friend trying to lure us away from the bridge?”
“What?” he sounded startled. “You met Wandaq? I told him to stay with the crew on…”
He bit away the rest.
“On the bridge?” she asked sweetly. “Oh, it looks like he abandoned his post. Typical Jedi.”
There was nothing but a silence from the comm unit.
“Still there, Skywalker?” she asked.
“Yes,” Ben answered, suddenly not so confident. “Yes, I’m there. And I am waiting for you. If you change your mind…”
“Where?” she asked.
There was a hint of smile in his voice. “Where you always wanted to have me.”
She raised a brow. “In morgue?”
“In bedroom.”
She saw her apprentice grin in her peripheral view.
“I’m waiting, Khai. Think about it. Skywalker out.”
The comm unit fell silent again.
Vestara ignored the smirking teenage girl – she would be smirking, too if she heard someone say this to her old master – and drew her comlink.
“Saber Tannis,” she snapped.
“Lady Khai,” Tannis spoke up, panting. “We are following the enemy. He… I think he’s trying to lead us somewhere. We are headed somewhere up.”
“Forget him,” she said. “Catch up with us. We need all our men for the assault on the bridge.”
“Yes…” Thannis suddenly stopped, letting the sentence fade away to nothing.
“What happened?”
“He led us to the bridge.”
“I am just looking at a big label BRIGDE, Lady Khai.”
She blinked. If this was a ruse, she didn’t get it.
“Don’t go in. Wait for us to join you. Watch your back. There’s at least one Jedi on the loose.”
“Yes, Lady Khai.”
“Khai out.”
She looked up just to see Fasha looking at her, waiting for orders.
“Are you going to go for Skywalker, Master Khai?” she asked.
Vestara considered it. If she went for him and found him, she could delay him long enough for her men to capture the bridge. Maybe even capture him. But if she didn’t, she would let her men alone…
They can make it.
“Yes, I am. I’ll try to prevent him from joining the defense of the bridge. You go with them. I’ll make it alone.”
Fasha bowed quickly. “Yes, master.”
Suddenly, there was a sound from her comlink.
“Lady Khai, this is Zaam. GA reinforcements have just arrived. We’re engaging them.”
“Okay. What about the Phantom Rival?”
“Joins the battle. Still fully operational or just seem to be. But they deploy no starfighters.”
“Any launching escape pods?”
“Not one, Lady Khai.”
“Is there a lot of GA vessels?”
“No, my lady. Just few smaller cruisers.”
“Very well, Saber Aty. Keep on.”
“Yes, lady Khai. Zaam out.”
She extinguished her lightsaber. It seemed odd, but she was no longer awaiting a sudden ambush.
She closed her eyes, trying to locate Ben.
And she felt him, his presence distant but clearly distinct.
He felt a lot like his father. Shining like a living candle in the dark of steel and waste mechanics.
He had to become stronger since the last time they met each other.
She turned to the direction where she felt him and walked this way.
“Master Khai?”
She turned to her apprentice. “Yes, Fasha?”
The Keshiri smiled. “Good luck.”
“Thank you, Fasha,” she said, shaking her head a bit. “But, do you think I will need it?”



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