Baleen-class Heavy Freighter Tanduran Queen
Mako sat in his cell, outwardly he seemed completely unresponsive. The recent death of Lilly and Vincent still processing. Inside his mind however he was reliving memories of his path. This was not a voluntary act, it was a reflection forced upon him by his Proconsul. Turel sat opposite his friend, the Quaestor, witnessing the dark path the man had traveled. For approximately 30 years Mako had walked in the dark side, starting with the cold blooded murder of his own family. Turel learned many things about the Quaestor as he watched the man’s memories. But most importantly, he learned it was not too late for the Quaestor to come to the light.
The slow ting, ting, ting of metal on metal contact filled the bridge of the large freighter. The crew sat stiff in their seats, each ting sending a shiver of anxiety down their spines. Their Captain’s metal fingers slowly drumming on the side of her durasteel throne. No one dared pity the First Mate as he stood at attention in front of the Captain. The report he had delivered had contained less than pleasing news.
“So the monster is still alive then,” the crew breathed a sigh of relief as the woman finally spoke, a contained venom permeating her voice. The Captain tossed the datapad at her First Mate, the device bouncing off the man’s head. To his credit, the human never flinched or even reacted as the blood began to flow from the fresh gash.
“Your orders ma’am?”
“Set course so that we intersect their path in the Kiast system.”
“And our excuse?”
“The same as always, we just happened to be here to sell some supplies,” her brow furrowed as she spoke. Her voice lowered as she continued, “How dare he still go by Henymory after what he did.”
Baleen-class Heavy Freighter Tanduran Queen
Her footsteps echoed down the corridor as Alethia made her way to the brig. She’d made this same journey every afternoon since the council had passed judgement during the retreat from Florrum. It had never been an easy or pleasant trip, but today was the first time Alethia had dreaded to make it.
The bored guard jumped to his feet and saluted when he noticed the Major’s approach. Boredom had dulled the trooper’s senses too much for him to be a capable watchman, but Alethia suspected Mako could easily have escaped long before now had he wanted to.
“Could we have some privacy this time, Private?” she asked, though her tone left no room for argument. The young man scurried off with a muttered word, and Archenksova turned to face the cell. Henymory didn’t bother to look up from the datapad in his hands.
“I can’t feel the engines anymore, Major.”
“Yes, sir. We’re moored.”
“Didn’t Turel say I would be released when we arrived?”
"He did, " Alethia conceded. Here it goes. “I convinced him to delay that until tomorrow.”
“You what?” The Quaestor finally look up from his datapad to glare at his Aedile, his outrage nearly boiling over. Alethia thought she could feel the tingle of Force energy crackling in the air. She knew that if Mako let his anger get the better of him - the way some on the Council were sure he would - that he could kill her before she or the guard could do anything about it.
“I did you a favor, actually - unless you’d like to spend six hours smiling and shaking hands and being asked if your lightsaber is real.” She smiled and and brandished an ornately decorated envelope as Mako’s threatening glare dissolved into a look of confusion.
“The Empress is hosting a formal reception to welcome us to the Empire,” Alethia continued. “Formalwear, exotic hors d’oeuvres, small talk with strangers into the wee hours of the night…” She trailed off and let the implications of Vitali hospitality sink in for a few heartbeats. “Forced medical leave is about the only acceptable excuse for someone in your position to ditch it.”
“'Force medical leave?”" Mako murmured, abruptly snapping back to focus from vision of tiresome Sephi dignitaries. “Is that what they’re calling this?”
“It’s what I’m calling it. I believe Master Sorenn calls it ‘time out’ if that’s any better.” Alethia hesitated slightly as the Krath swore under his breath. “Mako, the Council is worried about you,” she continued, her tone softer than before. “Casualty reports and letters to next of kin were the last thing you needed after Florrum.”
“What I need, Major, is to get back to work,” Henymory huffed as he picked up his datapad from the floor.
“Tomorrow,” Alethia promised. “Besides, I don’t think the dress Empress Kaltani sent the acting Quaestor would fit you.”
“I wore a dress once for a mission, I looked krif’n good,” a smirk crossed Henymory’s lips and Alethia breathed a sigh of relief, though the feeling was short lived as the tingle of Force energy being used filled the cell and a delicate, yet surprisingly strong metal hand gripped her shoulder.
“You are in the way,” the unfamiliar female’s voice took the Aedile by surprise. Alethia’s face winced in pain as the prosthetic tightened until her shoulder let out an audible pop. The former Imperial’s hand moved for her weapon, her head turning to take in her attacker. Archenksova was only able to take in two things as her vision panned to the unknown woman. The first was Mako struggling to break free as he floated in the air, the second was a red glowing diamond and metal poking through the skin where the woman’s right eye should have been. Then the world spun as Alethia was tossed like a rag doll against the bulkhead.
“Hurt her and I will end you,” Mako’s rage filled voice reached Archenksova’s ears as she witnessed the scene before her yet was unable to move as the Force keep her pinned into place.
“You failed to do that once before,” the woman’s voice was like venom in Alethia’s ears as she saw Mako pushed via the Force into the cell wall, the metal denting inward from the impact. Mako fell to the ground, a groan of pain escaping his lips. The woman’s boots made no sound and she approached the Quaestor. Alethia tried desperately to struggle against the overwhelming hold of the Force as the woman grabbed Mako by the hair and tilted his head upwards, “***Older Brother.***”
A confused look came over the Quaestor’s face as realization set in, “Gwen, but you died?!”
“Your saber’s thrust barely missed my brain, or so they told me. Mother and Father were not so lucky.”
“I see, you of all people have every right to kill me, so why haven’t you finished me off yet?”
“Because, unlike you, I choose to remain in the light. I made the choice to forgive you instead of hate you. Once that dreamy Proconsul of yours lets you loose we need to have a talk about the monster you have become. Father and Mother left plenty of teachings behind, including ones that will help you master your rage.”
Gwen Henymory released her brother as she stood, and Alethia felt the hold of the Force vanish. Yet the gaze of Gwen’s one good eye and the woman’s sincere smile stayed the Aedile’s hand from her blaster.
“Thanks to the Empress, my company has special trading privileges in this system. As such I will see you tonight,” the woman flashed an ornate envelope identical to the one Alethia had, “As the woman closest to my older brother I have many questions to ask you.”
Alethia blinked as she attempted to formulate a response, yet a single thought ran through her head, Stronger with the Force than Mako, far more dangerous. For the first time the Aedile had no witty reply as Gwen walked from the cell, her footsteps leaving no audible trace.
The Quaestor and his Aedile stayed still for several minutes, as they thought over what had just occurred.
“Tell the crazy tree that I want to see her when she has a spare moment.”
“Of course,” Archenksova replied, it was the only thing she could think of saying to the man as tears ran down his face.
Archenksova was admiring the finished product in the mirror while Major Iode stood at attention. She was still a bit skeptical of the alliance with the Vitali, but if nothing else the Empress certainly had good taste. The gown was elegantly tailored, cobalt blue with remarkably delicate silver embroidery running across it like morning dew on a spider’s web. The choker and earrings were hand-crafted, no doubt by someone with centuries’ experience, and studded with gemstones she couldn’t hope to recognize. It was finery the likes of which she hadn’t seen in decades, craftsmanship that would have put the Alderaanian royal court to shame - almost enough to take her mind off Len’s status report.
It’ll do, she thought, peeling off the last of the bacta-laced bandages from her exposed skin.
“Are you certain they didn’t find any mites on him?” she asked, gesturing to the crimson Tythonian bird dozing on a perch by the window. Armand was a convenience stand-in for Mako and the Tanduran Queen in the event that their conversation was being monitored.
“Nothing that would have survived the trip into the system, Major,” Len replied.
So she didn’t follow us in from Florrum, Archenksova thought to herself. Hopefully the Vitali are her only source on us.
“Keep a close eye on him, if you would, Major,” Alethia replied, gently coaxing the bird up onto her finger and leading him to a small cage. “Have the medical droids run a final scan on him and then take him home.” She handed Len the cage. “And send in my honor guards,” she added as he took it.
“Presenting the Honorable Alethia Thul Archenksova, Aedile of House Satele Shan of Odan-Urr, Major of the Kotahitanga-Unity Defense Force!” the herald bellowed. Alethia steeled herself as she stepped through the doorway into the throne room, the Jedi at her heels towering over her, Korroth to her left and Mar Sûl to her right. The two were a study in the varieties of stoicism, Mar’s face face bearing a near-permanent scowl while the Pau’an was the portrait of serenity. The Human was clad in the black cloth, bronze, and steel that composed his battle dress, while Korroth had donned a traditional white Jedi robe reined in by an emerald sash.
No doubt the assembled dignitaries noticed the lightsabers the two wore at their hips. By order of the Empress, the palace guards had allowed the Jedi to keep them, even as they confiscated any other weapons brought into the complex. That Mar Sûl was wearing two sabers in case his Aedile needed a weapon of her own had gone overlooked.
Alethia couldn’t help but be slightly awed by the glamour and elegance of the room and all within it, most of all the Empress herself. Kaltani Anasaye sat in a throne of filigreed precious metals inset with a variety of sparkling gemstones. The light of Kiast’s twin stars at dusk cast her in a soft golden glow that matched the warmth of her smile.
“Her Imperial Majesty Kaltani Anasaye, Empress of the Vatali, daughter of Darsayi, daughter of Vatal,” the herald began, parading through the Empress’ lineage and titles. Alethia smiled as she scanned the small horde of nobles, generals, tycoons, and other dignitaries. Sure enough, the cyborg was there - off at the furthest outskirts, but there nonetheless. Any hopes that Gwen Henymory had been bluffing about her influence in the system had be stifled, if not dashed entirely.
As the herald fell silent, the three Odanites bowed deeply before their host. “Honored guests,” the Empress began, rising from her throne and stepping forward slightly. “Please allow me to welcome you to Kiast with these small tokens of our esteem.” Valets broke from the crowd and approached bearing various boxes carved from a dark wood and inlayed with a reflective stone.
The gifts were impressive examples of Sephi craftsmanship: a carved figurine of an Old Republic Jedi, a gemstone the size of Alethia’s fist, a pair of ornately decorated and perfectly balanced dueling swords. Impressive, but only one was truly of use to the House: a royal decree granting them dominion over a parcel on Daleem, one of the system’s other planets.
Archenksova drew one of dueling swords, a long, thin rapier with what appeared to be a poem engraved in a spiral around the blade. She couldn’t help but smile as she held it up to the light. So beautiful, she mused, and I know exactly where to put it.
“We are honored and delighted to accept such wondrous gifts, your majesty,” she began, sliding the blade back into the scabbard a nervous valet was holding out for her. “I am, sadly, afraid that my House has neither the skills nor the resources to match such generosity. However,” the Human trailed off, gesturing to her companions. Korroth and Mar dutifully reached into the robes and pulled out two small, humble plasteel boxes and presented them to two of the Empress’ waiting attendants.
“What I can offer you are two of the most sacred reminders of who we are and what we have brought to your empire.” The Aedile gestured first to valet standing before Korroth. The Sephi opened the box and withdrew a small lump of gray rock, holding it aloft before the Empress and her entourage with a mostly-suppressed look of confusion.
“I had this purchased and shipped in from the Core,” Alethia continued, “back when I thought that I would never again lose my home. I offer you a piece of Alderaan, my mother’s homeworld, and my own home for many years. It reminds me of the consequences we face when fear and ambition corrupt the hearts of the righteous, and when those who claim to bring peace and order fall to tyranny.”
A murmur swept through the crowd. Whatever the other guests had been expecting from the Jedi, that certainly wasn’t it, and they were not amused. As they looked to each other and began to murmur, only Gwen Henymory was still, cooling regarding her brother’s second. The Empress, however, regarded the humble rock thoughtfully, and nodded slightly to the other valet. As he opened his box, he held aloft a tiny sliver of green gemstone. Alethia didn’t need the Force to sense the indignation of the dignitaries, nor to feel Mar tensing up behind her.
“This stone was recovered from a vessel belong to Darth Pravus. The inert stone you see now was once part of the body of Solari-Urr, Jedi Master, struck down in the defense of all we hold dear. Even in death, Solari reminds us that self-sacrifice and strength of purpose can snatch victory from the jaws of defeat. If he had not chosen to face Pravus himself, many of us would never have lived long enough to come to your beautiful system. May he remind you, as he reminds me, that justice and hope can never be extinguished by evil.”
The room was silent for a long moment before Empress Kaltani spoke at last. “Thank you, Lady Archenksova. There are some in my realm who did not wish to see the Jedi ever come to Kiast. Some who say that you will only bring war and defeat.” She turned slowly, regarding her entire assembled court solemnly. “I hope these gifts will remind them, too, that we are a noble and righteous people. So long as I reign, Odan-Urr will have a safe haven here.”