Sins of the Past - Plot Updates


(Terran Koul) #38

T+102:15:12
Estle City
Selen, Dajorra System

She wasn’t allowed to see Daddy anymore.

The last time was two whole forever days ago. His spots had gotten bigger and yuckier and started leaking and they smelled. He coughed more than he talked and slept more than he was awake and then he mostly just slept except for when he was barfing and when he did barf it was red. Bright red. Scary red. Ever would have thought it was cool except something just seemed too wrong and everything was wrong wrong wrong.

Ever’s stomach growled and she curled tighter around her legs, back pressed into the kitchen cabinets. She liked the corner spot. It was good for sitting against, made her feel small in the good way, not the bad one, which was how everything forever felt now.

Lea sulked at the table. While Ever wasn’t allowed to see Daddy, he wasn’t supposed to see Daddy unless Mother really needed Lea’s help for something, which wasn’t very fair, but it was something, so she didn’t complain. Only Mother went into the bedroom or saw Daddy anymore, and she spent hours at a time running in and out with a towel tied over her face, carrying more rags or bandages or usually just water in glasses or bowls and lots of trash.

Ever didn’t see her eat or sleep anymore. It seemed like she was always awake — every time Ever fell asleep and when she woke up again, there Mother was, on her feet. She looked like a pretty blonde skeleton, but she wasn’t sick like Daddy, and for that Ever was happy. She was scared already and she didn’t think she could be brave like Daddy wanted her to be if Mother got sick too because it was already so hard and she was really, really scared…

A clatter drew the little girl’s head up from where it had slumped over her arms. She blinked owlishly, turning towards her parents’ bedroom, and felt a little bit dizzy.

The door was wide open. Mother was sort of screaming, darting around the bed.

Before she had even finished deciding to do it, Ever was up and running, running for the open door, running for her parents — but her brother got in the way, bodily, blocking the door with all his big stupid tall self. And then there was something wrong with him too because he wasn’t trying to shove her away or being mean so much as he was just standing there, half-twisted to stare into their parents’ bedroom, and he was really still and stiff and just not right, not breathing.

“Sasalea,” Mother was saying, and it sounded distant and scratchy, “take your sister to her room.”

Lea shook, hard, she felt it. He made a sound like he was gonna cry, she heard it. Ever squirmed all the harder, trying to get around him, to look, to see his face, to see Daddy. She caught just a peak of her mother bent over her father, holding him down, or something. She saw him thrashing on the bed, like a monster in a holo. She saw foamy stuff at his mouth. She saw red all over.

“Sasalea!” Mother cried again, sharper. Was she crying too? No no no Mama wasn’t supposed to cry. "Take care of your sister. Sasalea, your sister. Take care of Everlily, go on now. Go on. Go. Go on."

Her brother jerked, stumbling back out of the doorway, back into her, forcing the girl to scramble away so she wouldn’t get sat on. Lea turned around and his face was red and his eyes were big like they were gonna fall out of his head and he was totally definitely maybe crying but he just half-tripped towards her and grabbed her arm and dragged her through the kitchen.

“Nooo! No, Lea, I wanna see Daddy! Let goooo!”

“N-no, Ever, c’mon,” he said, pulling. “We’re going to your room.”

“But Daddy—”

“Don’t look, Ever, you don’t wanna see.”

“I do! I do! I do! Why d’you keep sayins that I don’t? I wanna see Daddy!”

“No you don’t, okay? You don’t. Don’t look, Ever, don’t. Come on, do what Mom says.”

“What’s wrong with Daddy? Leeeeea! LEA LEMME GO I WANNA SEE HIM!”

"EVER, NO!"

He yanked and shoved and she yelped but he got them into her room and closed the door behind them. As soon as they weren’t moving, she knew something was wrong, because Lea shook really hard, really bad. He shook so hard that Ever pulled her arm out of his grip because it hurt and he let her.

Then, he broke, stumbled, tripped, and barfed too. He tried for her little waste bin and missed. It got all on her floor and down the side of the trash unit. It wasn’t red. Mostly clear. Not red. There wasn’t anything else there really because Lea was hungry too, as hungry as she was. Not red. It just smelled. Not red. Not red. Not red.

Her brother punched the floor weakly when he was done being sick, one twice, sagging, curling, flopping all limp in on himself, falling back against the bedframe. He hugged himself and shuddered and coughed.

And he cried. He cried bad and his face was ugly like it was melting with all the tears and snot and barf.

In a bad kind of small voice, Ever asked, “Is Daddy dead?”

Lea cried but shook his head.

"Is he dyin’?"

This time her brother nodded and tried to wipe his face on his arms but just got yuckier and then Ever was crying too. She dropped onto her butt where she stood, with her legs stretched out to kick into his, and cried and cried. He reached over and hugged her and they cried and cried together.

They cried, because they were hungry and Mother was sad and Daddy was dying and there was absolutely nothing else they could do.


(Terran Koul) #39

Brought to you by the furry, former face of the Nighthawk and current Galeres Aedile, Kordath!

T+106:09:42
The Brig
Port Ol’val, Dajorra System

“She pays very little because she can. She likes having another Hutt under her control. She believes it gives her status and prestige,” grumbled El Gordo, sounding weary. The Hutt had taken to settling outside of Kord’s cell on his off-time, conversing with the widely traveled Ryn about the spacelanes and adventure. To say the younger Hutt had a craving for excitement was an understatement.

“Should find another gig, Gordo. Workin’ for a gangster like Whaley is never gonna get ya where ya wanna go.”

“Whallata holds my contract, and I do not have enough saved to secure my freedom. Even if I did, where would I go?”

Kordath grinned. Those words felt like the hook he’d needed to get the amenable Hutt on his side. He’d come to think of Gordo, or El Gordo, as a mate. As Hutts went, he wasn’t a bad fellow, in Bleu’s opinion. As he went to open his mouth, sales pitch ready, alarms began to blare throughout the facility. A cursory check through the Force told him the time had come, and his grin returned, brighter. Twisting his arm uncomfortably through the bars of his cell, he placed a hand over the keypad outside.

“What are you doing!? Why are the alarms going off?”

“Shh, lemme concentrate,” grumbled the Ryn, eyes closed as he focused on the security panel, drawing on its past with the Force. Gordo watched him punch in a series of keys and heard the door click open, the cell door swinging out and Bleu swaggering out with it. Which was a feat, considering how he was still dressed.

“Not gonna miss that wheel,” he growled, glaring back into the tiny cell. “Look, mate, those alarms mean it’s time for me ta go, yeah? Some very angry, well armed folk are comin’, and they’re gonna do some nasty things ta anybody who stands up to 'em. So let’s get, yeah?”

“You suggest I go with you? You’re a prisoner!” Gordo pulled himself up to his full height, an impressive display of power from the young Hutt that gave Kordath pause.

“Uh, yeah. Oh! Look, mate, come work for me, yeah? Got a lovely ship, need a pilot for it, I’m terrible at the whole space thing. Ya can even use it ta go off doin’ the whole smuggler thing when I don’t need a lift, yeah? Adventure, excitement, you’ll find plenty workin’ for me.”

“I don’t know,” started the young Hutt, giving him a look of suspicion.

Didn’t matter, the Ryn was on a roll now. “And, it means gettin’ out of here alive. Stick with me, those nice folks comin’ ta off yer boss lady might let ya by. Course,” Kordath dropped the grin, giving his captor a serious look, “with all the trouble she’s causin’ on Selen, they may not. Not unless you got somethin’ worth turnin’ over. 'Sides myself, of course.”

Gordo’s large eyes bored into him, the gears obviously turning. “You mean the plague.”

“I mean the plague. You and me go get all the info about it so we can turn it over, they make a vaccine or cure or whatever the hell they wants ta call it, we get ta be big damn heroes, yeah? Free pass for workin’ for her Tubbiness and a ship ta fly ta your heart’s content. One time only deal, El Gordo.”


They were running. It was impressive to see how fast the Hutt could move when he had to, but the guy was still young and relatively light compared to his boss — ex-boss. Gordo fired his pistolas down the hall behind them, delaying pursuers while Kordath used the Hutt’s bulk as cover, a stack of datapads and notes clutched to his bare chest. Hopefully it would be enough for the mad bastards, or Ood, to turn out a cure when he got back to Selen. He tried not to think of Shay being trapped on a planet full of sickness, worrying more about the now.

Behind them, the sound of fighting died down, and he sensed a presence ahead. Elation filled him before he recalled his attire, skidding to a halt and almost being bowled over by Gordo.

“I need pants, I need a shirt, a jacket, a sheet, somethin’, mate!”

“We don’t have time, we need to get out of here!”

“Ya do nae understand, they find me like this and I’ll never bleedin’ hear tha end of it!”

“I have foundt him, Captain! And an enemy!”

Oh no.

“No, no! He’s with me, luv, don’t be callin— is that me jacket?”

Tali Sroka stared wide eyed at the slave-attired Ryn, her own past giving her some room to not judge, his coat hanging limply from her hand.

“Ve neededt it to track you,” she said, her mind trying to blot out the sight before her.

“Give it over, please? Before tha rest—”

“Is he injured?” That was Xenna’s voice, oh joy. The Human came around the corner, skidding to a halt and going as wide eyed as her Twi’lek companion.

“Just give me tha blasted jacket,” hissed the Ryn, reaching out to grab it. Tali’s hand wouldn’t let go. “Tali, lass, please, before tha rest of tha—”

“Captain, the Warden located that blasted Hutt— Oh my gods, my eyes, why!?”

“LONG STORY, GIVE ME MY BLASTED COAT!”


Clad once again in his familiar, nerfhide coat and still stuck with the Hutt-provided loin cloth, Kordath looked quite comical as he followed Xenna, Tali, and the Nigthhawk team into Whallata’s throne room, dodging dead Besadii gangers along the way. Everyone came to an abrupt halt as they took in the sight of the Gate Warden, perched upon the expansive Hutt’s body, tearing her electrostaff out of the twitching slug’s mouth. Kord didn’t look away to see where the retching noise behind him came from, but he was pretty sure it was Gordo.

“Well, that’s done, let’s just find Bleu and get—" the hybrid began to say, turning to jump down and spotting him. The staff, covered in questionable liquids and little bits of what may have been the late Hutt’s lunch, hit the floor as she ran over and embraced the Ryn. She pulled back abruptly, holding him at arm’s length and turning red as she realized all the people watching them. “I’m, uhm, glad you’re okay.”

“You’ve been busy,” he managed to say, trying not to stare past her, towards her handiwork.

“What is all this?” She thumped the materials he was hugging to his chest.

“Info about the plague. Might help, ya know, treatin’ it? Umm.”

“What? And what is with the, umm, where are your pants?”

“No time ta be worryin’ about pants, luv. Is, um, is Shay okay?” He swallowed, looking, for the first time since his ordeal with the crazy Hutt crime lady started, a bit worried.

“I’m sure she’s fine, let’s get this intel to the people who need it. And find you some pants.” He listened intently as she turned away to retrieve her staff, certain he heard a quiet ‘eventually’ muttered.


(Terran Koul) #40

A huge thanks to Maenakiethsaoi for this terrific set of PoVs!

T+106:20:01
Estle City
Selen, Dajorra System

Estle City was unusually hot, its normally temperate climate now blazed beneath a cloudless blue sky and raging golden sun. The alleys, once teaming with life and sound, now echoed each scattered rock as an invader approached. A single misplaced step created enough ruckus to alarm any who were hidden inside the pitch black nooks that pierced the stone walls. If one watched closely enough, they could see the shaded figures pressing themselves back from the sun-burned streets and deeper into the shadows of their once safe homes. From within, quiet sobs had been stifled for the time and were replaced by soft gasps as the two Shadow Hearts stalked the streets.

Strategos and Timeros Entar Arconae, brothers not of blood but of cause, walked the city, collecting statistical data on the bodies they saw littering the streets in heaping piles. Strategos placidly kept pace with the other Adept, blocking out the stench of decay as he smoked on a large cigar. His cantankerous companion flicked his fluid gaze from the refuse to his datapad, recording every death the plague caused.

“So, Timeros,” Strategos smiled with an offhanded gesture of his cigar, “I heard you went to visit Ol’val before your arrival here. I also heard it was coincidentally after the arrival of a crazy purple tailhead we all all know.”

“What you have heard, Strategos, is of no importance. The current problems we face and level of contamination demands our attention. Not hearsay and rumors.”

“Ah, touchy subject I see. Don’t worry, I won’t tell anyone you mur—"

“Not the time, brother.” Timeros’ tone was more jagged in its frigid manner than even Strat was accustomed to hearing but, considering the circumstances, it was understandable.

“Fine, fine. How many corpses do we have so far?”

Timeros scanned the street, looking quickly to the left before turning. Without missing a beat, he moved his gaze back to the datapad.

“Three hundred and forty-two people.”

“That isn’t so bad." The dark haired Entar grinned as he flicked his wrist in dismissal. "Does our Consul realize she’s overreacting?”

“Overnight.”

Strategos glanced at Timeros from the corner of his eye and sighed. This was looking to be far more work than he had signed up for.


T+107:18:37
The Citadel
Selen, Dajorra System

Livana wiped a bead of sweat from her brow with the back of her wrist and pulled in a deep breath. She glanced over at Koliss as he shifted around a makeshift cot, pressing a cloth to a young girl’s forehead as he ran a scanner over her. The Gatekeeper stepped back from her table when the Human turned to her and shook his head. A twinge of sorrow struck at the woman’s heart, but she grit her teeth and moved towards her next patient.

Last night, the old woman who rested in the small cot before her had told her how proud she was of her. She had mistaken the Equite for her granddaughter while one of the other nurses did a biopsy of one of the pustules on her neck. Tears had streamed down her wrinkled face as she promised Livana a warm meal and cup of tea later, once the nightmare ended. As the young Arconan pressed her lips together and moved next to the cot, she fought back a sorrowful gasp as she glanced down at the fragile body before her.

The Loyalist clenched her jaw and held up the datacorder near her chin. Biting back any waver in her voice, she recorded her findings.

“Sallow bruising darkened the eye-sockets. Lips have turned blue from lack of oxygen in the blood. Each of the boils have drained into the sheets, unlike the previous victim’s which seemed to seep back into the corpse.”

She paused, glancing up towards the doors. An angry huff escaped her lungs as she glared at the doorway. She brought the data recorder back to her mouth, letting her fury seep into her words.

“Perhaps if our efforts could be directed to our patients… And their efforts directed at seeking medical attention, instead of spending days at home with tokens of exploitative charlatans claiming a rock will heal their nausea and fend away the boils. Then maybe, maybe we would be able to save some lives instead of merely tending to their deaths.”

A sudden hand on her shoulder caused her to jump backward and yelp angrily as she spun around. Koliss stood before her, a concerned frown creasing the corners of his mouth.

“Don’t worry, Liv. A cure is coming. It has to be. As hard as it seems to realize right now, this won’t last forever. We will get through this.”

“And how many will we lose in the progress? How many will slip by as we watch, able to do nothing?”

Koliss took a step back from her rage, putting up a hand to quiet her down.

“Have you slept?” he asked, watching the woman slump.

“I don’t know. I can’t remember anymore. Last time I tried…you remember that tiny boy from the other day?” Koliss nodded. “I couldn’t get his face from my mind. How he just begged me to stop the pain and there was nothing I could do. His pleas accuse me of letting him die everytime I close my eyes. And those accusations are continually growing in number.”

“But look,” Koliss gestured to the room, “look at what that is doing to those around you.”

Livana’s icy gaze scanned the room, watching as Vivibelle gave a brave smile to another dying civilian. To the other side of the room, Kharroc frantically scrubbed an empty cot, the mask on his face filtering the strong antiseptic spray. The recently arrived Gatekeepers and members of Nighthawk worked together, fighting against an intangible foe with all the fervor of soldiers mid-battle. The Human nodded at Koliss, regaining her composure and stiffening with renewed determination.

“You’re right. I’m not in this alone. We just need to give the Gate Warden more time. Thank you, Koliss.”

The Field Medic gave her a small smile and headed back into the fray. With a steadying breath, Livana steeled herself for the next fight and moved to the next cot in her row.


T+108:14:01
Planetary Orbit
Selen, Dajorra System

“Making our descent through atmo now.”

“Ye, I got it. Descent in 45 klicks.” The under-fluffed, angry teddybear growled under his breath.

Terran nodded absently, watching Kolot pull his feet from the main console and flicking off the main thrusters, allowing gravity to do the work. Once through the stratosphere, the Ewok Fade pressed the auto-landing button and let the ship move towards the docking port. The bay doors opened, allowing the Kiffar access to the Citadel. He gently landed the Interceptor and shut it down.

A moment later, the holocommunicator’s green light flashed. Terran glanced down and flipped the switch.

“I take it your arrival has gone as planned, m’Lord.” The figure it projected showed her hair had been tied into a series of long braids, her hands folded in front of her and an eerily placid smile on her face.

“Mae, what did I say about appellations?” he sighed. “Are the reparations and repairs underway?”

“Yes, Quaestor. I am sorry I could not be of more aid, but my talents are best suited for the Qel-Droman situation.” Her pointed ears twitched in frustration as she made a small gesture with her folded hands.

“Don’t sweat it. Make sure we have some place to bring our people back to.”

Maenaki gave Terran a curious look, smiled and whispered, “Make sure enough people survive to make it worth it.” Then she cut the feed.

The Qel-Droman Quaestor narrowed his eyes and raised an eyebrow as Kolot tugged his striped orange and yellow hat, stretching the knit fabric over his wide furry head.

“Where did you get that thing?” Terran asked, flicking the puff of fabric that wiggled between the Ewok’s ears.

“Crazybraids made it," replied the pint-sized pilot in passable Shyriiwook. "Said it would keep my ears warm in space.”

Terran took a moment, looking directly at the ears poking out of the woolen garment and quickly shook his head.

“You stay here. I’ll let you know if we are headed back out as soon as I can. Need to assess the sitch here first.” With a nod, Terran stepped out of the cockpit toward the open hatch. He slipped out of the ship and glanced around. The hanger was near-to empty and there was an oppressive stench of death to the air as the hanger closed over head. With the daunting weight of the dismal situation resting upon his shoulders, the Quaestor made his way down the Citadel halls. Hopefully Bleu’s team had gotten the info here in time.


(Terran Koul) #41

And from our inestimable Consul…

T+108:22:04
The Citadel
Selen, Dajorra System

“What have you got for me, Ood?”

“Ahh, Lord Consul. Good, good, come here, just in time, hmm.” Gesturing her at the nearest empty, cold metal slab with one branch, the Neti scientist brandished a syringe in the another, all while still prodding at a corpse on an opposite table.

Obligingly, Atyiru held back a tired sigh and sat, rolling back the sleeve of her protective gown — she would need to change it now, but necessary measures. Ood lowered the injector, speaking as he did so, “My first attempts were remarkably unsuccessful — this strain is a masterpiece. Yes, yes. I could not synthesize a vaccination that would be effective without being more trouble than it was worth. An inactivated vaccine did not produce a strong enough immune response in the test subjects—”

“—the rats?”

“Hmm? Yes, yes, of course. Most likely. But! Not strong enough. And the attenuated version struggled as well. I could not weaken the virulence enough without killing it entirely and now we just have more sick patients—”

"You mean rats."

“I said that didn’t I? Hmm. Anyhoo.” He jabbed her arm precisely and depressed the plunger. The Miraluka gave a slight yelp at the unexpected movement. “Congratulations, you’re now infected. I’m thinking of calling it Haemorrhagic bubonus albana bacteriosis. Though, the intern was calling it White Death type II or some such nonsense.”

“We don’t have any interns! And what do you mean infected? Did you just give me an experimental vaccine?”

“Oh! No, no, my Lord, I’ve introduced a new strain of the plague into your system.”

“…pardon?”

“You see,” the Neti began, speaking loudly - and happily - to be heard over the bonesaw that began whirring behind him as the Consul’s glower grew cold. “Even with the information brought to us by our compatriots from Ol’Val, I was not able to create a sustainable, effective treatment. I was able, however, to recreate the pathogen…with my own alterations, of course. This particular version of the disease is just as virulent, just as rapidly spread and grown, and just as deadly — but not to the host! It attacks the previously introduced strain, if present, and is inert otherwise.”

“…the infection attacks the other infection.”

“Indeed!”

Atyiru’s lips pressed into a thin line. “And you’ve tested this?”

“You’ll be the first truly randomized patient, but yes. Tell me, are you feeling nauseous or feverish?”

“Exhausted and growing impatient — but no.”

“Right then! If you would, my Lord, do stay for observation…with your leave, I would like to begin testing some of our charges within the day. If it holds true, we will want to disperse as soon as possible.”


“My Stars…it’s actually working,” breathed one of the nurses to her side.

The Shadow Lady gave a bruised smile, staring sightlessly into the main medbay window, where their first crop of test patients were beginning to show signs of remission. A small girl actually stood from her bed. An expectant mother would not lose her babe. A man held his brother who had been ill a day before.

“So it is, thank Ashla and Bogan,” Atyiru murmured. “Though it may not arrive in time to save those who are already very ill — for them, we must also pray. But, the Force willing, those who have just caught it or may soon do so before being ‘vaccinated’ will be saved.”

Turning away from the window, she gestured for her chief medical officer to follow, and made her way over to a quiet swathe of hallway where Captain Bly waited with both her Quaestors and Rollmaster. She nodded to each of them, speaking quietly and firmly. “I want every Arconan, resident, and operative we have to be given the treatment immediately.”

“And the citizens?” Qyriea broke in, hands on her hips. “Are we giving this kriffing thing out or what?”

“Not so easily without exposing ourselves, and certainly not conveniently or rapidly enough. That is our second step. The first is to effectively inoculate a sizeable portion of the population, and for that, we need to go to the sick, not ask them to come to us.”

“So what, drop med packages on their steps?” Terran snorted.

“Something more proven than that. We spread this infection the same as the first — as soon as one of the Clan has been treated, they are to go out amongst the populace. They’re carriers. It will disperse exponentially just as the plague did. We be quick, we be discrete, we hit major population areas first. Start spreading word of a cure, lift the quarantine, coax people from their homes. Visit those who won’t or can’t leave their dwellings. As many as we can reach, we must try.”

“It will be done,” Timeros said mechanically, already typing on his datapad, no doubt sending orders.

“All we can,” Atyiru reminded grimly. “We save all we can. And the rest…the rest, we let go.”


(Terran Koul) #42

T+109:09:51
Estle City
Selen, Dajorra System

Ever watched someone die that day.

Face hollow. Empty. Like a ghost from holos she wasn’t supposed to watch but that Lea let her sneak with him after Mother and Daddy went to bed. He was so white, and the room was so dark. Hair white, skin white, drawn tight. But not his eyes. They made hollows. Black hollows, little pits. Empty. Gone. And his nostrils. Mouth. Black too. Black hollows. White face. Surrounded by people, surrounded by walls, in his bed. They were all so dim though. Their bodies slump. It’s like weights on their arms. They can’t lift their shoulders or heads. A child crouches on the floor. She cries. No one holds her. An older boy in the bathroom. He leans on the wall. Can’t look. Woman by the bed with the ghost. She’s there, but he’s gone. Ever just saw him breathing. Just checked. Touched his arm and hands even though she wasn’t supposed to. He was breathing but not good. Not enough air. Not enough air in him. So low. So. Low. Got Mommy. Got help. No help. There’s no help when they’re already dead and dying. Ever was only out the door a minute. Turned around to get Mommy. Turned around. In the bed, Daddy one second, ghost the next. Like his everything left out his hollow eyes. Gone. Gone. Gone. Empty. Black and empty and white.

Black and empty and and and—

Arms wrapped around her. Ever startled, hands darting out to shove but not doing much. Lea pulled her into a tighter hug, lifting her off the kitchen floor. She’d been sitting in the corner where she liked it and things didn’t feel so bad.

“He’s breathing again,” her brother said, and was he crying? Maybe. He sounded like it. “It was just for a minute, he just stopped for a minute, so it’s okay, Ever, okay? Gonna be okay.”

She wanted to ask him why he was lying, and tell Mommy and Daddy so he’d get put in timeout like she would when she got caught. But she didn’t. She just stared over his shoulder. His hair was lighter than hers and it tickled her nose. She sneezed on him. He made a noise but didn’t let go or call her gross or a punk.

“Leeea, stop,” Ever finally complained, struggling out of his grasp. “Let go, I don’ need a hug. I’m goin’ outside.”

“You’re…Ever, hang on, you’re not allowed out. C’mere. Sit with me.”

“You never agree with Mother. You said we should go out.”

“Yeah, but not right not. Come on, we gotta stick together, Ever, it’s gonna be okay.”

“I know.”

“…what?”

“Daddy’s dead,” Ever said. “So…so it’s over right? So. So it’s okay.”

Lea looked at her funny.

“…Mom!” he called over his shoulder as Ever sat back down on the floor, a little ways away from him. Fine, she wouldn’t go outside. But she didn’t need hugs. She wasn’t a baby. She was big already. Daddy had said so. Daddy was dead. But he’d said so. “Mom! Mom! I think something’s wrong with Ever! MOM!”

Mother came stumbling and tripping into the room in a hurry. “Wh-what? Is she sick? Does she have spots? Did she throw up? Oh, please, Stars, no no no—”

“No but she’s acting freaky, like scary freaky, she keeps saying Dad’s dead—”

“Well she’s just confused—”

“I told her he was okay, she isn’t listening, she’s just — look at her! She’s staring off, she keeps doing that! What’s wrong with her? Can she even hear us right now?”

Ever realized Mother was touching her, was in front of her. Lea was next to her again too and — couldn’t they just go away? Daddy had. Gone, gone.

“I-I don’t know,” Mother was saying. “Shock, maybe? Can…children can go into shock…can’t they? Yes…”

“You don’t know?! You’re — but you’re supposed to know!”

“I have never had to deal with as much, Sasalea!”

Ever got up and started walking to her room. They gaped after her, then grabbed her. Mother dragged her back into her chest, rocking. “Everlily, sweetheart, look at me. Listen to me, little flower. Look at me, can you do that?”

She stared at the floor.

“We’ve gotta do something, Mom.”

“The…” Mother shuddered, rocking her, petting her hair. “The Citadel…they will…”

"MOM! Dad’s gonna go any second and now Ever? COME ON! Forget the stupid karking Citadel and let’s, let’s do something we have to do something!"

“I DON’T KNOW WHAT TO DO, LEA!”

More crying. All the crying, all the time now. Why? It was over. Ever had seen it. Ever wiggled out of her Mother’s arms and went to Daddy’s bedroom where the ghost was, since they wouldn’t let her go to hers. The pale thing was in the bed. Its chest rose and fell. It looked like him but wasn’t. She knew it. She did.

Her vision got blurry and she wiped at her face. Stupid crying. Stupid hugging. Stupid everything. She thought it, but it didn’t bother her. She wasn’t afraid anymore. She didn’t really feel like anything anymore. Was this brave? Was she being brave like Daddy had wanted her to?

The body in the blankets stopped breathing. Again.

“Mommy,” someone said, then louder, "MOMMY! MOMMY HELP!"

Was that her voice? Was she yelling? She thought she was being brave. Did that mean yelling too? She didn’t know…

Mother rushed in and so did Lea. Ever sat down on her knees where she stood. And she stared. She didn’t understand. Daddy was gone. Back?

Gone.


(Terran Koul) #43

T+110:13:40
Phantom Complex
Port Ol’val, Dajorra System

Broken stone and bent metal bars stuck out from extreme angles in and around the emptied halls of Qel-Droma’s former headquarters. Abandoned refuse littered the corridors, casting ominous shadows beneath the flickering emergency lights. The lower levels had been previously evacuated as their specialized shield doors slammed shut for the last time, locking away any unfortunate soul to be trapped within the chaotic rifts of their once-carefully designed, gravitational flux. In the upper levels, deterioration from explosives and shrapnel had been scattered about, smearing long streaks of blood across the floor. A handful of corpses remained as obstacles for any survivors who crawled from the rubble.

The sound of a turbolift echoed through the escape tunnels that led out of the Complex and opened up into a large, dimly lit room. The darkened room was lit by shaded lights along the stone walls, giving the space an unhealthy burnt orange glare. Inside, a dozen people, Arconans and civilians alike, stood in various poses of wariness. Some seemed braced to jump into immediate combat, while others looked ready to run into a corner from fear. A scattered number of Nighthawk crew and Gatekeepers paced the area, eyes darting to and from the lift with increasing apprehension.

Their leadership, Terran, Kordath, Xenna and Zujenia were all gone and their Aedile had not been seen in several hours. The last they had heard, Terran, along with anyone with medical training, were on route to Selen. Zujenia and Xenna were on the hunt to find and rescue Kordath. With the absence of leaders among the Journeymen and Novices, Maenaki had quickly stepped up when it came time to evacuate. Servants, civilians and Force Users alike were rounded up and escorted to three of the still functional escape routes. Routes that had been repurposed from entrance points into the Phantom Complex were now the only means of survival for the Qel-Dromans.

“Where do you think she is?” a young, stern male in civilian dress quietly asked a dangerous-looking pale woman with shaggy dark hair. The Gatekeeper’s mercurial eyes pierced through the man before she shrugged and stepped further away.

Juliane Kelrune could not have cared less where the creepy half-breed Aedile had gone. The Acolyte had allowed the half-Zeltron, half-Sephi woman to convince her to leave a drink on the bar and, hours later, she still could still not figure out why. Any other time and that mug would have been carried along until empty, but something Maenaki had said or done managed to keep Juli sober and the drink out of her reach; and this realization did not set well with the short-fused Echani.

On the other side of the slowly-heating room stood Adem, an Umbaran whose sullen frown creased his handsome, pale features. The Aedile had, in her calm and quiet manner, ordered him to stay behind with the rest of the escapees while she went back in search of other survivors. He contemplated going in despite her demands, but something prevented him from entering the turbolift. The Gatekeeper stood next to it for a long while before he heard someone call out.

“Should we send someone after her?” Silence filled the air, but not his head. The lilting calm voice of Adept Sildren Lyonsbane pressed into his mind with the gentility of a vice.

No. We should wait. The former Daughter of Sadow made the slightest gesture with her fingers as her icy voice pierced through the young man’s resolve.

“No. We should wait,” he murmured before turning towards a wall and sitting down with his back against it.

Sildrin gave the man the slightest twist of a smile before she slowly turned away, gliding between the spaces of people and towards the door on the far side. The first civilians off the turbolift had made their way to the exit and were attempting to open it without success. Something had gone wrong with the lever and the first wisps of panic were seeping from the group as they tugged at the metal closure. The Sephi took interest for but a moment before she heard the sound of Juliane’s lightsaber ignite.

“Hey, you guys forget something?” The dark haired Echani heaved an aggravated sigh as she stomped over to the door, forcing the superheated plasma blade deep into the thick metal barricade. “Sometimes, I swear you people are dumber than you look.”

A few low, embarrassed chuckles escaped as others looked on in condescending dismissal.


Aedile Maenaki Dalevi’in slowly walked the emptied halls. Having tripped twice already since her return to the Complex, she fought to keep a steady pace. Most of the levels had been near-to fully demolished, but the Seltron needed to assess the accessibility and damage to the Quaestor’s Office on Beta Level.

“Rrogon, darling, are you there?” Maenaki purred into her comm as she gingerly stepped over the body of a woman who had been blown back and impacted the wall before slumping to the ground. The Aedile had watched as she pointed her charges to nearest exit.

“I’m here. What do you want?” the growl came, slightly muffled by what Maenaki assumed was his distance from the port.

“The Phantom Complex was compromised and destroyed. I need you to go retrieve the Arconan survivors from the Vannacutt Hotel.”

The silence lasted just long enough for Maenaki to get a view of the partially ajar door of Terran’s office. She smiled, ears twitching with glee as she approached.

“What made you think I would help them?” Rrogon Skar hissed through the crackling device.

“I know who killed your wife. None of these people, your former comrades, know. They’re innocents. Will you leave them trapped for me?” The Seltron tilted her head, curiously awaiting his response.

“Why would I care?”

“Simple. If you don’t, I can gladly turn you in and keep my knowledge to myself…Or,” she paused glaring at the device on her wrist.

“…or?”

“Or you can meet up with them, gain a target for your vengeance and someone on the inside to guide you to them. What do you say?”

“I’m on my way. You’d better come through, or it will be you who tastes my ligh—" Maenaki flicked off the comm, having grown bored before he could finish his barbaric threat, and chose instead to focus her attention on the door.

Most of the consoles had been disabled in the first few blasts and this one was no different. The Seeker sighed, looking down to her waist as she began unlacing her corset. Once the metal-laced garment hit the floor, the Aedile pulled her lightsaber from the holster that was hidden beneath. With a flick of her wrist, she activated the crimson blade and drove it into the broken entrance.

Once she had carved a large enough hole in the thick metal, Maenaki delicately slipped inside and thumbed her comm again.

“Juliane?” she whispered.

“What the hell? Where have you been? It’s frakking hot trying to burn down a stupid door. And bring my drink back!” Maenaki struggled not to frown in disgust at the string of obscenities that then poured through the communicator.

“Help is on the way. I have one more level to check before I can work my way out. How is everyone holding up?”

“How the frak should I know? Half these people look this glum all the time!”

This time Maenaki laughed. “Don’t worry your beautiful head. We will have you out of there in no time. And Julie?”

“About damn time. What?”

“I will owe you several drinks after this. Let the survivors know to expect rescue.” Another long list of profanities came from the furious woman before Maenaki interrupted, “Thank you, darling.” The Seltron flicked the device off as a high pitched metallic screech keened from the speakers and made her way to the powerless console. A wicked smile crossed her lips as she bent down and pulled a palm-sized device from her boot.


Rrogon Skar considered his options as he flew into the closest entrance to the shadowport. Thoughts of hunting down the Qel-Droman traitor, killing everyone who escaped the bombing and making his way to Selen were all floating around his mind. With a loud growl, the Kaleesh slammed his fist against the pilot’s chair in which he sat, rigid and fuming.

But Skar knew that killing everyone was not going to be as simple as he wished. Especially not without help from the inside. Although he knew little of the new Aedile’s motivations, he had his suspicions. No longer did his own loyalty lay in Arcona’s grasp, and as much as the Battlemaster did not like Maenaki, he knew that she was his best hope for vengeance.

His deep crimson eyes glowed from an inner rage as he approached the small docking bay. Rrogon ignored all signs of the chaos, blinded by his determination to get the Arconans out of the safehouse and receive his prize.

In the meantime, the survivors grew restless. And one in particular became enraged


The scattered remains of Juliane’s comm lay at her feet as she grit her teeth, pouring all of her fury into the door. To her, it felt like her skin was trying to crush her bones, her pulse racing so fast she could feel a nerve pulsing in her forehead. Although the Acolyte had not noticed, the majority of the Qel-Dromas had moved as far as they could from her, pressing themselves into one another rather than face her wrath. All but Sildrin, who stood exactly where she had before, the placid disinterest freezing her already icy feature in a look of curious indifference.

Juliane drove her shoulder into the metal door with a growl of rage, gasping as she stumbled forward into an ominous hall of deep red carpet and flickering lights. At the end of the hall a large figure was silhouetted by the dim glow. Her instinct was to charge at the being, her lightsaber blazing, screaming for more blood. But her blood suddenly ran cold as a white form stepped forward with a small, delicate hand outstretched.

He is not our enemy…yet, the soft voice tickled the Acolyte’s mind as her mercurial eyes caught the colourless gaze of the Adept. Juliane flashed the Sephi a distrusting glare, but lowered her weapon for the time being.

Rrogon Skar stepped closer, slowly, and nodded down the hall in the direction of the exit. A general sigh of relief flooded the area as people pushed their way out of the hot room and into the cooler, less claustrophobic hallway.


Tucking the portable power generator into her thick boot for later disposal, Maenaki switched off her datapad and headed back to the turbolift. Her face showed no signs of success or failure as she made her way out of the Phantom Complex and towards the rest of the survivors.

“Did you find anyone else?” Adem’s voice came from just around the corner as he briskly walked toward the Aedile.

“I’m afraid I did.” Maenaki’s ears swiveled as she dropped her gaze to the thick and gaudy carpet. “Those I found were long past my ability to save. Perhaps others made it to another exit…”

A soft sigh escaped her slightly parted lips as she gave the Umbaran a gentle pat on the shoulder on her way past. She stopped suddenly, realizing she had a very angry half-Echani possibly awaiting her around the next bend.

“Adem?” the Seltron asked, turning back to him as a tear ran over her cheek. She flicked it away and lifted her chin as he faced her again.

“Uhm, yes Aedile?”

“I…Is everyone here safe? Or did they all go to the safehouse?” Her brow furrowed and she took a long breath, seeming to stifle a yawn.

“Yes, ma’am. I chose to stay behind. Juliane had a message for you, but—" he paused a long moment, growing uncomfortable.

“It’s alright, darling. I know she’s angry with me. Could you do me a favor? Would you stay here, downstairs, a few hours while I rest? I fear I am not quite used to the same level of excitement and horror you Arconans are and I feel like I could collapse at any moment. Now would not be the best time to get into a verbal debate with the girl…or worse.”

“Most likely worse. There were a lot of threats upon your life, Aedile.”

“Please, darling, call me Mae.” The Aedile smiled, giving a small nod to the Mystic as she rubbed one of her eyes. “Juliane will come around one day. Now, about my favor.”

“I’ll give you a few hours before I report your return, and wait here until you’re ready.”

“Thank you. I will make it up to you whenever you need. For now, I’m going to find a room to retire to. I appreciate your understanding. Qel-Droma is lucky to have you,” she spoke as she walked off, allowing her voice to trail away while opening the door to the nearest room of the currently vacant hotel.


The rest of the Arconans had gathered separately throughout The Shack, discussing where the future would lead them. Many lives had been lost while the Hutt’s forces wreaked havoc on the port and its inhabitants. Although they had won, everyone knew there was no time to breathe or to celebrate. Repairing their home must be the next course of action. Several Qel-Dromans, however, had dismissed this notion and found their way to the nearest empty club or bar still standing to blow off steam. Rrogon Skar had left Ol’val as soon as he could, before he could make a rash mistake, and Juliane glared deeply into a large glass of deep violet liquid, the rage in both people coating their insides with nearly tangible fury.

Civilians slowly came from their homes, exiting into the streets to call out the names of their absent loved ones, fearing the worst. Smouldering rubble, scattered throughout the extended conflict, met them along their paths, and corpses were as common as the sound of mournful weeping. Other people grit their teeth and heaved broken bits of building and mined walls off of the weak and injured survivors they came across.

Maenaki had dismissed Adem and taken a backdoor exit from the Vannacutt, calling Terran on her way.

“We need to meet. I have an update on the Lucine situation.” Her tone was on edge as she stumbled over a set of jagged rocks that had embedded themselves in the street. Her high stilettos were not meant for walking on such terrain and she tripped more than once on her way to one of the other safehouses. She stopped halfway to the decimated Lucky Lekku, having grown aggravated by the inability to find a path less wartorn. Her comm finally crackled to life and she sighed in some semblance of relief.


(Terran Koul) #44

T+110:18:42
Estle City
Selen, Dajorra System

The first rays of sunlight rose over the far horizon and dappled through the trees that lined the streets of Huascar Ring. A caratou whistled in the distance, and the silent Kiffar could imagine its iridescent plumage ruffling in the intermittent breeze. He closed his pale blue eyes, shutting out the view of the Estle City Hospital.

So much death. So much pain. Even now he could feel the echoes of the plague, not just in the hearts and minds of those around him, but as if the city itself grieved for their loss. And his heart, though lightened by the news that the Netti’s mad plan had worked, felt as though it had been haphazardly stitched closed, the wellspring of pain and grief barely held back by the makeshift sutures of their narrowly-won victory. He knew they had triumphed. Whallata was dead. Her forces had been fought back. The tide of plague that had ravaged their system had turned. Yet still durasteel crates filled the street. Cargo containers packed with corpses, death in such numbers that even the incinerators couldn’t keep up. They had to be stored somewhere until they could be burned. Have hope, she had said. This too will pass. It passes even now. And we’ll be the stronger for it. Then she had coughed, and the sound had cut through the room like the Neti’s scalpel through a corpse. None of them had spoken. All of them had wondered. She had smiled her bright, reassuring smile. It had reminded him of his family, and she couldn’t have known how deeply it cut him to see it. We will be. Find that hope in yourselves, else how can we hope to bring it to those we serve?

That had been hours ago, and the young Quaestor had roamed Selen’s silent streets ever since. Capac Ring was near deserted, only a handful of transients and emergency workers roaming the streets. Even now, months after Lorden’s initial assault, half the city’s industrial district still lay in ruins. Efforts had begun to rebuild it, but even in the best of circumstances, such a massive undertaking would take time and resources. There was little of either to spare, these days. Sinchi Ring was, if possible, even worse. Though the buildings stood, and the carry crews had finally finished collecting all the corpses, the streets were entirely empty. Not a light shone through the shopfronts, and in the hour he had spent wandering the circular streets, the only transports he had seen belonged to the city’s civil service. He wasn’t sure of the final death toll, but estimates ranged from 5% to 50% of the city’s population. It was expected that the other islands’ casualties were even worse. Time would tell. Walking those empty streets, though…if someone had told him there had been no survivors, he would have believed it.

So he stood, silent, outside Selen’s largest medical center. His eyes were closed to the world, his mind was open to hope. Perhaps she was right. He had spent so long faking it. Maybe, if she could see a cause for hope, he could find one too. He breathed deeply, as he’d learned so long ago on Susevfi, straining to quiet the maelstrom within. He pictured a thousand leaves, each an emotion, a thought, a memory, tumbling around a tree that was his center. The winds of life and time carried them, whipping them into a frenzy, and he sought to calm that wind and let the leaves fall. His breathing deepened, and the wind grew still. The leaves fell, and he could feel a light rising, in time with the sunlight across his too-pale skin.

Then his commlink chirped, and he swore as he pulled it impatiently from his duster pocket.

He thumbed a button on it, and pursed his lips thoughtfully as his half-Sephi Aedile’s voice tumbled from it. “We need to meet. I have an update on the Lucine situation.”

Pulling a small earbud from another pocket, he pressed a second button to pair it securely with the commlink before placing it within his ear. “Go ahead. This line is secure.”

Maenaki’s normally-composed voice was strained, tired from lack of sleep, but that just meant its usual steel was closer to the surface. “You were right. When she saw the counterattack, she led her little coalition of gangs against Whallata’s forces. They proved an ideal distraction for the main assault.”

Terran allowed himself the briefest of smiles. “As were you, it seems. I hadn’t been sure they would band together under her, or that she could keep them reigned in if they did.”

“She’s nothing if not resourceful,” the Battlelord replied. “I can see why the Consul likes her.”

“How many are left?”

“Enough for our purposes, My Lord. Not enough for their own.”

A small ball of tension eased within the Kiffar’s chest. Maenaki’s plan had been a risk. He had wanted to reach out and stop Lucine from uniting the gangs. A combined force, in the aftermath of Whallata’s destruction, could have proven too strong to root out. Shadow Gate might have defeated the Hutt, just to lose their home to the new coalition. But, as usual, Mae had proved herself reliable.

“Very well. Extend the survivors an invitation on the Blindman’s behalf.”

“And those that refuse?” He thought he could almost hear the corners of his Aedile’s mouth quirk up in anticipation.

“We’ve seen casualties enough in the past few months.” With a resigned sigh, the Quaestor considered the question. Finally, he took a deep breath. “But we’ll see more in a power struggle. We’ve lost too many as it is. If any decline the invitation, give them the shuttle in Docking Bay Gamma and send them packing.”

“My Lord, we haven’t begun repai—”

“I’m aware, Maenaki.”

“Of course, My Lord.”

“And don’t call me—” The commlink clicked off before he could finish, and Terran pocketed it angrily. It had seemed a simple assignment. Infiltrate the smugglers and pirates that operated out of Port Ol’val. Track down his target. Bring her in. In lieu of the bounty on her head, Kravat had offered the first tangible information on his family that the Kiffar had heard in years. Kolot had been sore at the idea of eschewing credits, but Isshwarr had understood, and talked the mercurial Ewok around. That had been nearly two years prior. He couldn’t point to when things had changed. But they had.

With a brief growl, the Kiffar spun on his heel and began the trek back up to the Citadel, the dappled sunlight rising through the leaves just another swirling memory.


(Terran Koul) #45

T+112:01:08
Unknown Location
Unknown System

“Let’s call it a partial success.”

The Muun felt apoplectic at Mr. Blue’s words, but he swallowed his irate response and chose his words carefully. “Success? They retain their precious Ol’val and, rather than having been rooted out, it appears this Blindman has consolidated his hold on the shadowport.”

The cloaked figure scoffed at the moniker, then gestured dismissively. “This so-called Blindman is unimportant. Losing Ol’val is a disappointment, to be sure. It would have made an excellent staging area through which to funnel our operatives. But that’s why I have you, Mr. Gray. Logistics. Find us another way to get our forces into Dajorra undetected.”

Undetected. Undetected! Lorden tamped down on his anger. He had come to suspect that his mysterious benefactor had installed equipment that could read his thoughts. And his ever-increasing certainty had made him careful, even in his own mind.

“As you wish, Mr. Blue. I’ll look into a replacement for Ol’val. And the rest of the system?”

Crimson eyes blazed. “Whallata’s secondary objective was successful. Eldar has been ravaged and is all-but abandoned. Selen itself has suffered catastrophic casualties. Our bioengineers estimate a death toll nearing forty percent. They discovered a way to treat the Deathwalker strain, as anticipated, but the citizenry is shaken and panicked.”

Tehr Lorden forced a small smile onto his thin lips. “In other words, they’re primed for when we launch our next attack?”

“My dear Mr. Gray,” the hooded figure chuckled. “It’s already begun.”


(Terran Koul) #46

T+114:20:09
Estle City
Selen, Dajorra System

A young girl stood on the peaked top of a roof.

Her tangle of long, messy, wheat-blonde hair stirred just slightly in the breeze, like even the wind had been sick and was too tired to really bother. The tiles scraped rough and cold and nice under her bare feet, still dampish, still chill. Her stomach dropped into her toes where they curled and gripped at the shingles’ edge and flip-flopped back up to her throat where her little heart hammered.

She could see everything: the empty streets, dotted with big boxes and still shapes, the ten-hundred grayish-washed colors of the roofs and buildings, the silent speeder lanes, and faraway, big black billows of oily smoke. If she stood on her tiptoes she could see the market Mom took them to, over the edge of one of the apartment buildings whose fence she liked to climb. She could even see where Daddy worked.

Ever stared right at it. The Citadel, the castle on the hill. Mother always said, “‘the Citadel will protect us.’”

Ever had never been happier that her mother knew everything, that her mother was right.

The little girl on the roof jumped up and down where she stood and laughed. Her giggles were bell peals in the warming morning light. They filled the air. They rose and popped like bubbles, sparkling and bright. She laughed and laughed and twirled in place and almost tripped and didn’t care when she scraped her elbow because everything was okay. Everything was awesome. Everything was right.

Daddy was coming home.

“Everlily Pele! Everylily! Are you up there? Come down, Everlily!”

The happy, giggling, red-cheeked child tumbled and skipped and danced down to the edge of her home and poked her head over the lip of the tiled roof. Below, her mother’s tired, sunken, softly smiling face stared back, her golden hair and green eyes bright specks of color against the ground.

“I’m watching for Daddy!” shouted down the child. She pointed frantically, waving her arms. “I’m, I’m gonna be the first one ta see him and Lea is gonna be the loser and, and I’ll yell when I see him and then he’ll be home!”

“You know you’re not supposed to be up on the roof, Everylily… But you can watch for your father later, alright? Just this once. I want you to come inside now though. He hasn’t left yet! He’s on the comm and wants to talk to you.”

Gasping, Ever nearly jumped down right from where she was, but thought better of it when her heart about stopped in her chest as she lost her balance. Scrambling, she darted back across the roof and down the side and crashed into the door just to push it open and ran for the comm set into the wall by the door.

The girl skidded to a stop and grabbed at her older brother’s legs as her mother came in the front, shutting the door behind her. She tugged at his pants as he scowled down at her and tried to shake her off, comm still pressed to his ear.

“Yeah, Dad, I love you too. Ye— yeah, I’m listening to Mom, don’t worry. And looking out for Ever. I know. I know. Yeah. I’ll be good, I swear. I love you too. Here she is, okay? Come home soon. Just— please. Yeah. Okay, love you, here, bye,” he was saying, FINALLY extending the device to Ever as she clung to his ankle with both hands and he had to drag her a step or two before she’d let go. “Geez, punk, here—”

She snatched it from him, yelling, “Daddy!” into the piece and smushing it to her cheek. She bounced in place. “Daddydaddydad d-daddy, Daddy! Are you coming home yet? Is you okay? Are you good? Still all better? Where are you it’s almost breakfast Mom said you’d be back—”

“Everylily,” her father’s voice croaked on the other end, hushing her. He still sounded like he had a sore throat. Ever felt bad for him. She hated sore throats the most. “Shhhh, little flower, slow down. I’m fine, I promise you. I’ll be home soon. They just need to discharge me. That means make sure I’m extra super okay and then I get to leave, alright?”

“Okay, Daddy.”

“Now are you being good for your mother and brother?”

“'Course I am.”

“That’s my girl. Can you just be one thing for me too, little flower?”

“Whatever you want, Daddy,” Ever said quickly, seriously, and she meant it.

“Keep being brave for me, sweetling. Alright? Be my big brave girl.”

“I will!” cried the child, lip wobbling. “I-I was, Daddy, I was brave the the whole time. I promise.”

“I know, dear, and I’m so proud of you. It was easy to get better with someone so brave. I love you, okay? I’ll be home soon.”

“I love you too, Daddy.”

“Give the comm back to your mother, alright, little one? I’ll see you at dinner.”

“Okay, Daddy.” She obliged, stretching on her toes and handing Mother the communicator. Mother patted her hair and took it, smiling, wiping her eyes. She walked away, speaking too quietly for Ever to hear.

Ever didn’t care. Everything was okay. Daddy would be home soon and she’d get all the hugs and sit with him at dinner and it was all okay and he was alive and and and—

She laughed again. At the table, Lea grinned at her. He looked better too, like Mother did, like Daddy sounded. It had all been Bad Bad Bad, and Daddy had been dead, she was sure of it, but then they’d seen people going outside, and other people knocking on people’s doors, and some people taking people who were really sick and leaving and other people whispered that they’d gone to the castle. The Citadel. And so some of the neighbors helped Mother take Daddy to the Citadel and Lea and Ever had waited and waited and Ever was sure Daddy was dead and his ghost was gone too but then— Then Mother had come home and said it would be okay. Said Daddy was better. And Ever hadn’t believed her but then Daddy had called the first time and it was him, it was him, it was him, it was him, she knew it, she did. And then other people started getting not sick too, better, and it was really okay?

It was really okay.

Excitement buzzing all through her and an uncontrollable smile on her face, Ever spun and darted out the back door, waving at Lea, who just winked at her. She climbed back up to the roof and climbed up to the peak and stood up and stared out at the Citadel and—

Watched, waited, knew: it was okay, it was all okay.

Daddy would be home for dinner.


(Terran Koul) #47

T+114:02:09
Estle City
Selen, Dajorra System

The cool night breeze ruffled Gren’s muddy hair, and the sweet scent of sasalea blossoms filled the air. They were unique to Selen, and the night-blooming orchids were Delia’s favorite. He paused for a moment, considering picking one to bring home, but then shook his head ruefully. The Citadel had gone through a great deal of effort to plant and cultivate the infamously fickle flowers throughout Estle City, and it seemed somehow wrong to disturb them. Particularly after they had just saved his life. Besides, knowing Everlily she might read into my bringing home her brother’s namesake and not her own. Quirking a smile at the thought of his rambunctious daughter, he made his way through the Citadel’s open gates and down the causeway that led to Huascar Ring.

Lea, always the skeptic, remained unconvinced that the Citadel was responsible for halting the plague. But then, Gren himself had been a skeptic before he met Delia. Raised by spacefaring merchants, there had been little time in his life for fairy tales or mysticism. Besides, in the wake of Emperor Palpatine’s New Order, such beliefs were dangerous. He didn’t know what had eventually led his parents to settle on Selen, but not a day had gone by in the past eighteen years that he wasn’t glad they had. Some men longed for greatness. Some for power. Others for riches. Some, like Gren Pele, just wanted a safe place to raise a family. And in the long years since he first saw her sparkling green eyes, he had come to believe Delia was right. The Citadel provided that.

When blight struck the crops, it was the Citadel that somehow managed to deliver food to the people of Estle City. When the unknown alien invaders had attacked, monstrous creatures of bone and sinew who had destroyed their city’s provincial beauty and turned it into a coral nightmare, it was the Citadel who had protected them, who had led the charge to fight back and reclaim Selen. When plague swept across the system, it was the Citadel, not the government, who found a cure and risked their lives to distribute it. Pele chuckled to himself, and muttered his wife’s oft-repeated catechism. “The Citadel will protect us.”

“Watch where you say that.”

The voice cut through Gren’s reverie and his eyes snapped up, scanning the night. A tall man in a nondescript cloak stood a few meters ahead, blocking Pele’s path.

“What’s that, sir?” asked the engineer, flashing a cautious smile at the man.

The figure gestured towards a park to Pele’s right, where a few hundred people gathered. Gren had seen them from a distance and assumed them to be holding a vigil for the dead. At the head of the crowd, a short, bulky man in drab laborer’s clothes stood behind a makeshift podium, speaking unaided to the crowd.

“That group’s none too friendly to the Citadel. You’ll want to keep those thoughts to yourself until all this blows over.”

Gren paused to listen to the crowd, shaking his head slowly as the rhetoric washed over him. “It’s madness. They brought us food. They cured the plague. They even, I’ve heard, kicked the Hutts out of the system. How can they buy into this propaganda?”

The figure shrugged and smiled sadly. “Some people aren’t looking for reason. They just need someone to blame.” He stepped forward, extending his hand towards Gren. “I’m Varon.”

Pele returned the sad smile and grasped the stranger’s hand. “Gren. Pleasure to meet you. Has this been going on long?”

Varon gestured down the street and resumed walking, lowering his voice as the two passed the increasingly-incensed crowd. “Hard to say. There’s been unrest brewing for some time. Ever since the terrorist attacks. The plague kept people indoors, which helped stall out the budding riots…but now that it’s been beaten, they’re back out in force. There’s even talk that the Citadel started the plague to keep people from gathering.”

Gren’s mouth was half-agape and he had to stop. “That’s insanity. What? They release a plague, kill off half their population - when every able-bodied hand is needed to rebuild - then cure it to look like heroes?”

Varon shrugged again, as if at a loss for words. “Like I said, people aren’t looking for reasons.”

The engineer shook his head in frustration before the pair continued walking in amiable silence. They turned the corner past the park and Varon nodded to a member of the civil defense force as they passed. They continued down the sidewalk, the streetlamps flickering on and off overhead - no doubt a sign of the ongoing repairs to Estle City’s infrastructure. Finally, Gren stopped chewing his lower lip, drew a deep breath and spoke.

“I just don’t understand it. Until recently, Selen has been so peaceful. Almost idyllic. I mean, sure, we have our problems. The occasional drought. That crazy alien invasion. Even the attack from the One Sith last year. But we’re still here. We’re still alive. And it’s not our military, or our civil defense, or even ordinary citizens who keep things going. I’ve lived on Selen for two decades, and every time things get bad, it’s the Citadel who is out in front, working to make things better. I get that they’re secretive, and that makes people suspicious. But so what if they like their privacy? They’re making our world a better place, and they ask nothing in return. And now that they’ve cured the worst pandemic this world has ever seen, people want to riot? It’s not going to happen, not on my watch.”

The father’s voice had raised steadily throughout the speech, and by the end his conviction was unequivocable. Though the lights overhead had flickered off during his speech, his dark eyes burnt with an implacable light of their own. Fists clenched at his side, he turned to his new companion. The figure smiled broadly beneath his light blue eyes, and his too-pale skin nearly gleamed in the moonlight. “You’re absolutely right.”

Gren Pele felt fire pierce his gut, dropping the big man to his knees. The flame wrenched, and his new friend pulled a blade free. He wiped it on his coat, and under the light of the pregnant moon it gleamed too.

“But then, your watch is ended.”

Then Gren felt nothing at all.


(Terran Koul) #48

Plaintext Version


(Terran Koul) #49

Ten Months Ago
During the Assault on Nancora

Tehr Lorden caught his hand halfway through scratching his head and jerked it back down angrily. The Muun had worked studiously to curtail his frequent signs of nervousness - especially when dealing with Mr. Blue. Despite the vast distances separating the pair, Lorden was sure now. He didn’t know if it was hidden holocams, or an implant in his mind, or nanodroids his frequent sweeps had missed, but the crimson-eyed bastard always knew when Lorden was nervous. And he didn’t respond well to any sign of weakness.

Suppressing a sigh, Lorden turned away from the datastream flowing across the holoscreen - he’d gladly spend weeks watching and analyzing the ever-growing list of assets spread throughout the Dajorra system - and pulled out his datapad. He called back up the terse communique from Mr. Blue and tapped the address into his comm system. A small burst of static filled the air as the holocomms on either end negotiated encryption, then the display lit up with the blue scanlines of an active transmission.

Even at 1/8th height and transmitted across several sectors, irritation was plain on the Mr. Purple’s hybrid face. The corners of Lorden’s lips turned down in displeasure as well. He may be a distasteful tool, but he’s the tool for the job. The Muun forced his face to impassivity and pulled up the notes on his datapad.

“I assume from the data we are receiving that the insertion was successful?” The Muun spoke in precise, clipped tones.

Mr. Purple’s tones were equally clipped, and, despite his foibles, he spoke with a brevity Lorden could appreciate. “We’re in place, Mr. Gray. The Selenians are hungry, scared, and desperate for someone to blame.”

“And Arcona?”

A feral snarl stalked briefly across the hybrid’s face, but vanished so quickly it could have been imagined. Mr Purple’s words, however, belied the monotony of his voice and gave truth to the rage simmering below Mr. Purple’s reasoned tone. “Those doshing pfassks have taken half their fleet to Force-knows where. By the time they get back, we’ll be so deeply embedded they’ll never pry us loose. They won’t even know we’re here until we sink the vibro-shiv between their ribs.”

The Muun nodded slowly. “What about those they have left behind? They would be fools not to leave at least a few Force-sensitives to keep an eye on local affairs.”

Mr. Purple scoffed in response, his mouth twisting angrily at the suggestion. “Their so-called Shadesworn are a joke. What I have made, I can unmake. Despite their conceits to the contrary, they know nothing of the darkness. But before I’m through, they will…”


(Terran Koul) #50

Eleven Months Ago
One Month Before the Assault on Nancora

Grief tasted of ashes, seawater and brine, and copious amounts of blueblossoms, everliliess, rojos and lorchads. The vibrant bundles of flowers made the air almost sickly with their airy, heady scent, mixing noxiously with the other smells hanging nearby. Terran breathed shallowly, catching a vague memory of a woman with blooms in her hair on the roof of his mouth with every inhalation.

The floral display was, he’d been told, a favorite on peaceful, blooming Selen. He did not know exactly how many people, from where, had laboured to see these flowers here now; but the red-eyed and hollow-stared mourners seemed grateful for them.

“As we commend your souls to the Force, to the Light of the Stars and the Dark of the Void and the Embrace of Eternity, blessings of the moon and sun upon you, for you are the salt and earth of this land, our beloved…"

Atyiru’s voice was strong and rose over the near-silent congregation. Her copper and silver features were tired with grief, but she stood tall and delivered the last rites of any Selenian with a compassion that hummed deep to his bones. Terran silently hoped for her peace, knowing she was going to carry every death here like she’d caused it with her own hands.

Just as silent was the lie of that hope.

There were, of course, no bodies, and there would be no burial in any family crypts or graves, no ashes consigned to the empty and starlight of space. They’d had to burn every corpse in the mass pits they’d dug, to be sure the plague wouldn’t spread any further while inoculations were delivered. Even those who had died of some other cause at the time — a murder or two, some accidents, an overdose — had been included in the cremation. The risk was too great that the disease could’ve found a home within them.

Thus, they had all come together for this makeshift, heartfelt ceremony.

He broke his vigil over the immense display of personal effects, flowers, and various offerings to various faiths that had been brought by so many survivors; so, so many holos of their dead family members, wives, husbands, children, grandparents, friends, so many trinkets and candles and messages on scraps of flimsiplast. The piecemeal shrine presided over the scene, and Atyiru stood at its head, as far as the citizens were concerned, as the Principal Trustee of the Commonwealth of Selen.

Her speech changed then, as she finished the last of her recitation, pausing before its closing lines. Faces rose from where they’d lowered, some confused, some expectant. What would she say?

“I know now how terrible this is, how nothing can make better our pain or return what we have lost, how deep this wound,” the Consul murmured, clear and quiet but suddenly sharp, like a mountain peak. The crowd rustled around her, the sentence hanging in the air a long, long few heartbeats, silence speaking more for all the dead than anyone still breathing could. Terran felt in the center of his chest a tendril of the Force, light and small and sweet, a caress, and knew that she was reaching out — to him, to them, to every heart and mind here, enfolding them in calm.

“I know,” she went on eventually, turning to sweep her blindfolded face over the assembly, “that here is a sorrow too terrible to name. We are going through that which nothing I say can encompass, that which has no words; we are going through the unimaginable. But here, too, is this truth: we are alive. And we are not alone.”

Her face was so very kind. It was full of true answers and love and heartlight and it made the hope she spoke of seem a tangible thing. Like the free-floating petals around them that tried so hard to cleanse any lingering smog or stench of sickness.

“We are alive and we are not alone,” repeated the robed Miraluka. “I know it is just as unimaginable to hope right now, but though hope is frail, it is hard to kill. And our hope is alive. It is in all of you. We must remember that in the days to come. We must rise each morning and know today is a better dawn than the previous dusk, for we are alive, and we hope, and we stand together. Together, we have withstood the plague that assailed us. Together, we begin rebuilding efforts immediately. Together, we will nurture and reap the new crops soon coming. Together, we will join hands as one and cross this river, overcome this which is unimaginable. The Force is with us all, my friends, my family. We builders, we survivors, we who hope so strongly. The Force is with us all! And we are all with each other.”

Her smile was bright with a better bright beneath, like copper-gilded gold. Terran noticed a few tentative, teary smiles directed back.

“So come, my friends. Come and live with me. With each other. With those who have gone still alive in each of us.”

Bending, Atyiru placed a bundle of green springs before the flames of a brazier at her feet. Then, lifting her arms, she called out one last time.

“Farewell, daughters and sons of Selen. May we soon meet across the stars.”

“Farewell,” the entire congregation echoed, voices mingling, some strong, some scratchy, some bearing the weight of the entire world. Their mournful wish seemed to hang in the air, perhaps trapped by the oppressive flowers and smoke, perhaps so heavy with grief that the words could not reach the next realm.

Atyiru doused the fire. Another crisp mountain breeze whisked away some of the lingering scents, cluttered with flower petals. Silently, in groups and one by one, the gathered witnesses, friends, acquaintances, and various debtors walked away. The Shadow Lady smeared ashes over her delicate cheeks and lowered her head in what had to be prayer, standing there until even the longest lingering had gone.

Terran wondered if he should maybe go shake her, eyeing some of the other Summit members who seemed to be thinking the same, glancing at the prone Miraluka for a cue. Others marched off, Qyreia surly and grieving, Timeros never one to spend more than a necessary second on any task, Kordath probably needing to lie down before the booze did it for him. Zujenia escorted the Ryn inside, while Uji stood away conversing silently with a woman, and Lucine left swiftly as soon as it seemed courtesy was done. But their leader of endless Sunshine and Rainbows…

Other eyes wouldn’t have caught it, but the Kiffar’s did, crystalline and sharp: Atyiru’s shoulders gave a fine tremble, her mile of hair hiding her face. Was she crying? Or doing whatever an eyeless woman did to cry?

He almost went to her.

But then Ishwarr’s heavy, furry paw settled on his shoulder, nudging him along, because of course — he was the one that had argued these people were his responsibility now, that he couldn’t leave them, that he owed them care. He had work to do.

The Quaestor turned away, muttering to his Wookiee companion about her nagging, if only for show. The glint in her warm, caramel eyes told him she knew better, but he wasn’t about to give her the satisfaction of acknowledging it. They climbed up the steep mountain path to the plateau where the Citadel lay, crossed the long bridge. Work to do. Hope to be had, if Atyiru was to be believed.

She didn’t join them inside for a very long while.


Present Day

The monument had been defaced again.

It was nothing new, exactly, not recently. The scrawl was done in cheap paint, and one of the Nightlighters - a weird religious cult that had sprung up after Atyiru’s death - was scrubbing at it furiously, muttering about respect for “Our Lady of the Night.” The Selenian’s fellow zealots, a small enough group to avoid violating the new assembly restrictions, were leaving flowers and talking at the stone and hopefully not leaving any blood behind this time. Terran eyed them a second longer just be to be sure nobody was cutting their hands open.

The smooth, low wall of obsidian rock was full of fine crystal edges that glittered in direct sunlight and made the whole thing almost iridescent during the day. Thousands of names were imprinted on it, row after cramped row, lines of neat, laser-cut Aurebesh. Standing above the wall as she had above the crowd at the memorial was a woman’s figure, smiling and eyeless but otherwise relatively vague in feature; long hair morphed into flowing robes morphed into the edge of the wall as if water flowing to the ground. The obvious parts were her prayer-folded hands and her upturned lips. She watched over the plague and war victims like some shepherd for the dead.

The sculptors hadn’t caught more than a piece of her fire, but it was, admittedly, a pretty fancy piece. He wondered whether or not she’d have hated it.

He had asked her, after the ceremony, not sure why or where the words came from, “Have you ever wondered what they’ll say about you, when you’re gone?”

She had tilted her head towards him, her tapered ear twitching in acknowledgement, her smile soft and secret. Though her expression was perfectly serene, he’d gotten the distinct impression she was laughing at him.

“No, dear, I haven’t. Such a silly thing, don’t you know? It is as I said. No one is ever truly gone.”

The words echoed in his ears, soft as a cricket-song, powerful as an ocean in storm, smashing up against his ribs to the beat of his heart.

Liar, he thought, without venom. He wanted to be angry at her memory, but the truth of it was, she wasn’t gone. She haunted him. Her smile haunted him. It seemed like she haunted all of them.

The Kiffar Proconsul sighed heavily and turned his cool gaze back to the tiered city sprawling out below him. The memorial was a good spot to see from, not so distant as the Citadel tower but nearer to the edge of the Huscar Ring than the plateau — exactly the reason they’d chosen it for the service.

His view was a dismal one. He knew, logically, that it was just his tiredness and mood that made Estle look grayer, but that knowledge didn’t prevent the effect. And it wasn’t any trick of the eyes that things were patently worse - buildings having been burned, others falling into disrepair, more and more graffiti sprayed in the streets while the number of bodies idling in those same walkways increased. Signage now mostly reminded of curfew time and the feeding hall schedule for the day instead of advertising local entertainment. Troops in full kit patrolled in small groups, constantly on alert for signs of simmering violence. Citizens skipped work that either couldn’t pay or couldn’t function and milled about on their stoops and roofs and flung invectives about the heat, about their power still being out, about their rations. Everything was just…hungrier, angrier, crueler.

Just worse.

And they were responsible.


(Terran Koul) #51

Eleven Months Ago

This is how it goes:

A man who is your father’s friend, not one whose name you remember, comes to your door. He talks to your mother, then he leaves. Your mother calls to you after a very long time. You climb down from where you were waiting to see your father come home. You do not go because she called you but because when she did her voice broke and there are tears there. You go because you know something is wrong. Because she is crying. Your mother tells you, “I’m sorry.” She keeps saying “I’m sorry.” She tells you, “your father passed last night.” She tells you, “I’m so sorry, Lily.”

You say, “what?”

What?

And she says that Topher, the man who is father’s friend told her, and she needed to tell you. That father was found dead in the streets. That he was murdered. Do not know when. He called last night at around nine from the Citadel where he works and then did not get home. He passed. But now he is not in pain. He is better now. Better. I’m sorry.

You do not believe “better” when she keeps saying, “I’m sorry.”

So this is what Everlily does:

She keeps losing time.

Little pockets of it, big swathes. Her head floats while staying grounded. It is not like she goes somewhere else. She stays exactly where she is, but she is not there either. She is not thinking. She can’t focus enough to think. There’s just noise and silence, memories, flashes, then floating, then numb. She spends a lot of the time she does not lose numb. She spends the rest lost.

She remembers: apples. Sitting watching sunsets. Goofy faces, jokes, laughter. His laugh, his smell, scratch of beard. Talking late at night. Games. Reading books together. Speeder rides. ABCs. Him singing her her song, “I love my Everlily, I love my Everlily,” to her locket’s tune. Bits of granola floating in milk, her bowl. Her bowl for her that he gives her. Smile. His mustache. Warm hands, big hands. Big hugs. Hairy chest. Tickles in her nose. Climbing up into his chair with him to nap. He sings. He sings, “I love my Lilybug, I love my Lilybug,” over and over. ABCs. Apples. Cheesy noodles. Forgot her lunch for school once, had dinner ready before she even got home. Music, loud. Speeder lamplights in the night. Smooth rumble. Lets her sit up front with him. She’s copilot. Special. He sings. Makes faces. ABCs, their favorite holo.

She sleeps. She sleeps a lot. When she is awake she loses time and she remembers. She spends lots of time in the bathroom, under hot water — they don’t have a shortage of water. It’s the one thing, Lea says, that they don’t have a shortage of. He teaches her what shortage means. She remembers that, but forgets other things. She sits in the warm wet air and drifts. She hurts.

She keeps thinking she needs to go to her father. He is the one she went to when it was this bad, when it hurt this bad, when it was terrible awful no good very bad never be okay. And he. He made it okay. With his big hugs and tickly mustache. She thinks she needs to call him at work, and he’ll make it okay. But then she remembers: he is the reason she is not okay. He is gone. Her daddy is gone. Her daddy is dead.

Her daddy is gone.

That is how it goes. In waves. Remember, then lost. Remember, then lost. Time is funny and she loses track of that too. Can’t remember things, little things, even things about him. Her mother cries, and Lea leaves a lot. He goes places and when he comes back he talks to her but they’re not his words, they don’t sound like him. He’s learning something too, but it seems worse than whatever Ever is learning. Somewhere inside, it worries Ever. Her big brother is so, so angry. Scary angry. Mother doesn’t stop him though. She says, “he’s grieving, give him time.” She says, “the Citadel will take care of us,” and “there’s a service they’re holding for Daddy and the others tomorrow.”

She says, “I’m sorry.” She says, “I love you, sweetie.”

She says it and Everlily doesn’t care. She thinks, you’re not the one I wanted to live. She hates her mother’s hugs because they are not the ones she wants.

She doesn’t say that, though. She doesn’t say much of anything at all. She sits, and she eats sometimes, when they have food, and she bathes, and she sleeps, and she turns eight years old and does not care.

This is how it goes:

Her daddy is gone.

And she loses time.


Eight Months Ago

Lea keeps coming home angry, and it makes him mean.

He’s shouting at Mom right now, because he’d started talking about something being the Citadel’s fault, and Mom had been saying that he was wrong. Overreacting. Projecting. Whatever those meant. Ever only half-listened, blinking every minute or so at the wall across from where she laid curled on the couch…

“Sasalea, none of this is anyone’s fault. Please, Flower, don’t—”

“Not anyone’s — ? Dad was murdered! OF COURSE IT’S SOMEBODY’S FAULT!”

Mother flinched, but Ever didn’t. The loud noise didn’t bother her. The static crowding in her ears and behind her eyes mellowed it. She fiddled with her Daddy’s locket.

“You’re scaring me,” Mother hissed, pleading. She grabbed his sleeve. “Sasalea, you can’t blame anyone. These things, even your father— it must have happened for a reason. The Stars have a plan, and it was just his…h-his time. The Citadel watches over us.”

“Stop saying that,” growled Lea, pulling away. "You’re just making excuses. You don’t care that Dad is dead. You don’t care about me and Ev. You’re just stupid. Open your eyes, Mom! The Citadel did this.

“You don’t believe that.”

Which part of what he’d said she was rejecting was unclear. Everlily opened and closed her locket, the tiny clasp making a satisfying snick-snick every time she did.

I know it. And you would too if you’d just pull your head out of the clouds and listen to me. Come to one of the rallies. You’ll get it, when you hear. It all makes sense then. It’s the only thing that makes sense. This stuff doesn’t just happen.”

“Yes, it does, Sasalea. People die. It is terrible, but it’s true. No one could have—”

“I could have!” cried her big brother, but he sounded little then, like he was whining. Mad and scary but small too.

Snick-snick, went her locket. Snick-snick, snick-snick, snick-snick, snick-snick—

DAMMIT, EVER, STOP IT!” Lea rounded on her suddenly, just there in front of her in one big stride, snatching the necklace out of her hands. Her fingers stung when the chain pulled through them too fast, scraping. He threw it across the room.

"Sasalea! Do not treat your sister that way!"

“I’m not the one screwing her up! Look at her! She’s karking crazy now and you just keep filling her head with that Citadel crap so she can grow up and get herself killed dreaming about them too!”

“Sasalea!”

“No, I’m done. I’m going out.”

“Sasalea, stop. Don’t go out there. It’s past curfew, it’s— you could be hurt. Like…”

No one needed to finish that sentence. Everlily got up, went to pick up the locket, then sat back down there on the floor and resumed toying with it.

“Go to bed, Mom,” spat Lea, stomping out the front door and slamming it behind him.

Mother cried for a little while, then started moving around, putting away the discarded bits of a thin dinner Lea had left. They had to save everything now, crusts, cores, pits, rinds. She packed it up and then came over to Ever, patted her cheek, tried to talk. After a few minutes, she stopped that and told Ever to go to bed and went to her and Daddy’s room.

Everlily didn’t move. Through the closed door, in the dark, Mother cried.

And Lea went to get angry again.


(Terran Koul) #52

Eight Months Ago

The tepid, humid, stale night breeze ruffled Sasalea’s wheat-colored hair but did little in the way of providing any relief to the stickiness of his skin. Deep into autumn now, the temperature stayed even throughout the day and night, neither cold nor uncomfortably hot. It was mild and sort of dreamy, like walking in a haze. Perfect weather for being outdoors, for playing games or sports, for strolling or gardening or walking his little sister to school.

Autumn had been his dad’s favorite time of year.

Lea kicked a stone on the ground as hard as he could, hands stuffed in his pockets, watching it skirt and clang away against a gutter pipe. It didn’t help. In fact, it made him want to scream even more. He was just angry.

His chest ached, empty, and every moment he let himself think was just one that felt like choking. Choking on everything. Choking on the autumn air, on his clothes his dad had taken him to buy, on his hair that he’d styled like his dad’s, on Ever’s little lost face, on his mother’s sobs, on how small and needy and stupid he felt every single second. He felt drunk on it half the time. Feverish. And, all the time, without fail, he felt angry.

So. Kriffing. Angry.

Angry at himself, angry at the world, angry at his sister and mother — angry at her especially. He found himself angry at his dad too, burning under his own skin every time he remembered that their father had gone out and hadn’t come back. Why did he get off that easily? Why couldn’t he be here dealing with this just like them? Why wasn’t he the one hurting and failing to be the man of the house? Why couldn’t—

“Dammit,” Lea muttered to himself, clenching his fists in his hair so he wouldn’t hit a wall. That hurt too much and if he busted his hand there was no way they could afford to fix it right now.

Why can’t dad be alive? Why did he leave us?

But that wasn’t a fair thought, and the young man immediately felt guilty for it, something else he felt about as constantly as he felt mad. Their dad hadn’t chosen this. He’d been taken. By them.

“‘The Citadel will protect us?’” Lea mimicked, voice cracking around the attempt at mockery. “Mom, the Citadel is killing us.”

“You’re right.”

The words cut through Lea’ spiraling thoughts and his eyes snapped up. A tall man in a cloak stood a few meters ahead, blocking his path.

“What?” asked the teenager, suspicion and a thrill of fear freezing his spine and stomach. Had they heard him? Were they going to kill him too? In a flash he suddenly felt terrible for yelling at his mother and sister. Everlily couldn’t lose him too—

But the man just gestured up the block the way Lea had been heading, toward the closest park and a crowd gathering there. At the head of the crowd, a couple guys and a woman stood up on the edge of a fountain, yelling out to their audience who cheered back.

“You’re right. And you’re not alone. That group’s none too friendly to the Citadel, too.”

Lea paused to listen to the crowd, then looked back at the stranger, some of his sour fear turning into a kind of excitement. He might have been giddy, face kind of smiling but also scowling, when he said, “You really think so? My mother is so brainwashed by this stuff, even after my dad…”

The figure shrugged and smiled sadly. “Some people aren’t looking for reason. They just need something to believe in, no matter how wrong or contradictory it is or what evidence we show. They’re desperate. It’s self-preservation, honestly. When you believe a lie for too long, the truth doesn’t set you free. It tears you apart.” He stepped forward, extending his hand towards Sasalea. “I’m Varon.”

Lea straightened up to his full height and shook the stranger’s hand. His father was dead, but the manners he’d taught weren’t. “Lea. Great to meet you.”

Varon gestured down the street and resumed walking, raising his voice as the two neared the chanting crowd. “Hard time to be making new friends. They’re trying to keep us from gathering or gaining any movement — the plague to thin us out, and now keeping us under arrest and marching troops through the streets if we dare leave our homes. We’re prisoners to them now that they’ve got our numbers down to manageable levels.”

Lea growled, fists clenching. “What about all that ‘cure’ stuff?”

Varon shrugged again, as if at a loss for words. “Convenient, isn’t it? They help just enough to make those like your mother believe, so they indoctrinate their children in turn.”

“How can people not see this?!”

“Like I said, people aren’t looking for reason.”

They turned the corner past the end of the street, the burned-out street lamps overhead a sign of the damage to Estle City’s infrastructure. They stood at the fringe of the little rally, where they could still speak. So much of what he was saying was everything Lea wished to hear. That he wasn’t crazy, that someone believed him.

Maybe too much like what he wanted to hear.

After a few minutes, the speakers changed, a new group stepping up to voice their concerns. Varon stared at him steadily and kept staring. Finally, Lea stopped chewing his lip, drew a deep breath and asked, “What?”

“You mentioned your father. Did the sickness take him?”

“No,” Lea answered bitterly. “He was murdered.”

Varon frowned. “That is unfortunate. And at such a time…”

“It was the Citadel, I just know it.”

“Come now, Lea. Your family can’t be that important. Why would they target you?”

“My dad worked there! He was on his way home from the Citadel after getting their ‘cure’. He…he probably found something out, or saw something, or…or…it had to be them.”

“Are you certain you don’t just want it to be them? Easier to blame one party for everything. But you should be smart about this. It could have been anyone, and a mugging is a lot more likely in times like these when riots are rampant and people are starving.”

“No, I know it was them. I just know it.”

Varon stared at him for a long time, appraising. Lea felt oddly like he was being taken apart, and rubbed his arms in discomfort. Maybe he shouldn’t be talking to a stranger like this. What if he was with the Citadel too, just being sympathetic to make Lea confess?

“Lea…you said your father worked with them. What was his name?”

“…Da— Gren.”

“Gren Pele?”

Lea froze.

He tried to speak, but the words wouldn’t form.
Varon gave a little expression that looked like a grimace and a smile, as if he could read Lea’s mind and the questions unasked. “I knew your father. He was helping me. I can’t believe I didn’t recognize you— he spoke so fondly of you and his family.” A shake of the head. “And you’re right. You’re much more right than you know. The Citadel is evil, and when Gren tried to smuggle out proof, they killed him. I tried to prove it years ago and barely escaped with my life. But I’m not going to give up. Not while they control this city, not while they keep getting away with killing those who oppose them. And I’m not alone this time. I’m finding help, like your father, like others. You could help me too, if you wanted. I can tell you so much. I can tell you everything.”

And for once, listening to that offer, Sasalea didn’t feel angry. He didn’t even feel scared or paranoid or crushingly, crushingly guilty.

He felt hope.

“Tell me.”


Present Day

Lea loved this part.

“…so how do they pull all this kark off, and why? It’s because the Citadel…are evil Jedi.”

The looks he got weren’t skeptical. They’re weren’t disbelieving. In fact, they weren’t much at all. Just a little bit wide-eyed, a little more solid with realization. There it was. The pieces all clicking into place inside their heads. It wasn’t a surprise; it was obvious, so obvious.

Of course, the reaction sometimes varied a bit, based on the audience, especially with older people who saw him as too young to be telling them anything; but Lea had gotten pretty good at giving this speech. Varon had him do it all the time now.

Varon trusted him to do it, just like he’d trusted Lea with the truth all those months ago.

He had to struggle not to show any of the pride lighting up his insides and keep a very grave face. This was, after all, important. Entrusted to him. He wouldn’t mess it up.

And this group was ready. They’d been with the Underground — as Varon called them — for a month or so already, had been told about the deliberate food shortages and the plague and the way the Citadel snapped up dissenters and all about the shadow government they had set up by paying off or corrupting members of the Commonwealth. How what happened to the Kadeans on Eldar was all a cover up for their experiments on population control, through mind-altering drugs in the food and daily torture and breeding the people for obedience like chattel, women raped and subdued and men killed once spent. They’d been told all of it and accepted it slowly but surely, seeing more and more evidence of the truth.

There was just the last bit of knowing. Too much knowing, really. It had nearly broken Lea. But Varon…Varon insisted the evil Jedi could still be beaten. He talked like he knew them, divulged their weaknesses and confessed secrets he was ashamed of. He’d told Lea over a drink once, one night when they watched the city sleep restlessly, that he’d done terrible things working for the sorcerers on the mountain, that he regretted it deeply. He’d worried Lea would reject him.

Of course not. They had to make this right. They had to try. And Varon…Varon was good. Even with what he’d done or allowed to happen. Lea’s father had probably been just like Varon, hating what he saw but fearing for his life and family if he stepped out of line. The revelations had shone in a new light every time his dad had come home tired or shaken. No wonder he insisted so much on following Mom’s ridiculous faith. If he didn’t, he’d put them all in danger.

But of course Dad had been too good to let it go forever. Not once they released the plague. And because of that… because of them…

Lea wouldn’t stand by ever again. Not even against terrible witches and gods.

“Aren’t those just stories?” people would ask. Or they’d say, “not here, surely.” Because that’s what the Jedi were. Stories. Tales. Silly old myths, for other people, in other places. Not here, not in Dajorra. Never here.

But the problem was, they weren’t just stories, and everyone knew it. They knew there was a grain of truth there. That once, an order had existed for thousands of years. And it wasn’t just far away, a problem for the Core worlds, anymore. It was here. It was now. It was real.

That realization was the worst part, for most. But Lea talked them through it. Just like Varon had him.

And now here they were, thriving. Lea had brought his best friends in, knowing he could trust them. Then they brought in some of their friends and family. Then neighbors. Then the local shopkeepers, smiths, engineers, factory workers…it just kept growing. Carefully, in fits and spurts, they were gathering their people, forming cells.

They were making a rebellion.

It sent an electric flare of desperate, angry excitement straight to his gut every time Lea thought of it. His mother and sister would be okay. He’d free them. All of them. And then everything would be better.

The young man answered a couple of questions from his newly inducted group, welcoming them to the Underground. After another hour he sent most of them off to get ready to go out that evening, and gave them each a ration pack. They always made sure they got extra rations for their people, extra medicine or supplies to give out to the needy. It was risky, stealing from the Citadel, but it was worth it.

Standing and stretching, Lea went to the little, tiny cooler they kept in the corner and grabbed a bottle of water. He drank greedily, needing to wet his throat after such a long session. He’d never much thought himself a speaker, or a leader, or any of that. It was crazy stuff. But Varon had convinced him otherwise, encouraged him, and Lea trusted Varon.

Rubbing at his eyes as he finished his drink and opened his own rations, he noticed one of the group, a boy around his age with dark, muddy yellow hair and freckles, was sitting in his seat and staring into space.

“Hey,” he called, getting the boy’s attention. “Misha, right? You should hurry up and eat, man, we gotta go soon.” Lea gestured at the ration pack sitting untouched by his elbow.

“Oh.” Misha shook his head. “No, thanks, man. I’m saving mine for my neighbor. Her name’s Mrs. Havesh. She can’t walk to the food halls, y’know? All her grandkids took care of her, always runnin’ around everywhere. But they all got turned, yeah?”

Lea grimaced in sympathy. Stories like that were too common, families abandoned when half or more of them had been turned — slang for those taken by the plague, because they hadn’t just gotten sick. Someone had made them that way. The Citadel had made them that way.

“Here,” Lea said, motioning the fellow over. “We can split mine. Better something than nothing.”

“You don’t hafta do that.”

“Hey, we gotta stick together. We’re brothers now. We’ve gotta look out for each other. C’mon, eat.”

There was a pause of hesitation, but hunger obviously won out over politeness. Misha darted close and voraciously took a bite, and Lea couldn’t blame him. The dried and rehydrated goods or bits of nutrient block weren’t much, but it wasn’t starving, so it tasted like chalky, flavorless gold.

“Thanks,” Misha said around his last mouthful, too soon later.

“Welcome. I usually skip mine too, so my mom and sister can have more.”

“They doing okay?”

“Not really.” Lea frowned hard. His family was…hard to think about. He wondered way too often if maybe he shouldn’t take Ever and just leave, settle with her at his Underground branch, a little clothing store that had been foreclosed months ago. He could take care of her better, and wouldn’t fill her head up with nonsense like their mother did. But they were also all Mom had anymore. He wasn’t sure he could bear taking them from her too. He kept putting it off and just tried his best to bring food and try to get Ever to talk again. He missed her voice. He missed her. But his mom always made him angry again, and then…

“Hey, it’s okay, yeah? We’ll make it better, right?” Misha asked, nudging him out of his sullen reverie. Lea shook himself and mustered up a smirk.

“Yeah, we will.”

They clapped hands, and then Misha went to get ready. Their job today was simple: they were just going to go out to the rallies at Euphoria, Wicked Sister’s, and the Pub. The other cells would tackle other areas of the city. Most days they just went out to try to help people: fixing up homes, delivering food, or getting in contact with relatives who’d been separated, things like that. But they also spent a lot of time watching and listening; watching the movement of the “government” troops and trying to figure out their patterns, to identify who the real politicians were and who was in the Citadel’s pocket, to look for sympathizers they could recruit. It was hard work, but good work.

Lea’s unit included nearly all of his old classmates and running teammates and most of his neighborhood. They were going to change the world. Make it better, just like Varon and his allies - his Shadesworn - said.

The teen relaced his boots then pushed himself up, that scary-angry-excitement coming back. Varon had taught him, and he believed.

With hope and hard work, even the worst empire could be beaten.


(Terran Koul) #53

Present Day

The ticks drummed in slow metronome.

Timeros was punctual, dutiful and obedient. Whether it was shuffling papers for the Dajorra Intelligence Agency or gutting an enemy with his lightsaber, the machine-like steadiness of the Elder was an integral part of him. Timeros was also accustomed to sacrifice. Every breath he took and every waking moment was permeated with duty to a greater cause. He had known for decades the path his life would take. He would serve loyally, fight efficiently, and someday die for his Clan.

Neither of these qualities assuaged the displacement the Arconae felt just underskin when he looked upon Arcona now. The Brotherhood had become an alien thing, shrinking as it left behind the timeworn Elder and moved beyond his understanding. It was a place of confusion, now, with a thousand rules and restrictions he understood as little more than abstractions, and most of his generation long dead in a dozen fratricidal wars. And the Clan he defined himself by grew ever more foreign.

Because his last proper Consul, his eternally smiling Entar sister, had spent her days supporting a Jedi Clan whose survival required precious resources Arcona needed for itself, before giving her life in an utterly pointless engagement. Because his next Consul was a mundane and an outsider who openly derided her Clan, who spat on Timeros and his fellow title bearers. Because the Consul who came after her, the current Consul, was a weak-willed and weak-minded lech and drunkard who could barely conceive of an ounce of respect towards the Throne he besmirched, a poor excuse for a Force-User and a Shadow Lord both.

Because their clanmates had accepted all of them, and the number of them who knew better, who guarded the Clan even against itself, had dwindled and dwindled. Sashar had challenged Satsi in a fit of impatience and had been defeated. Strategos was content to abstain. Wuntila was in the wind, waging some nameless battle within and without. Rayze was too young to understand what it was his father, Zandro, had fought for. James and Marick had both surpassed him and gone to the Council, enemies and rivals now. Legorii was gone. Teroch was dead for his betrayal. Mejas rotted in his madness. And Atyiru—

Arcona defined Timeros, but Timeros did not seem to match Arcona’s definition any longer. And where, then, did that leave him?

“I needs ya ta look inta these messes.”

He held no regard for the Ryn speaking the words, but in them was a command, and Timeros, above all else, could execute commands. Arcona was slipping away from him, but it still had need of him, and for as long as that truth held, so too did Timeros.

In this, he had a mission. In this, he could still be Timeros, with a foe to fight and a purpose beyond question. It called to him, seductive and exhilarating.

The enemy was here, somewhere. Somewhere in the ruined paradise of the city below. The Elder but needed to find them.

So he went. He collected himself and his arms and what data he deemed necessary and set out to his first destination in Estle’s city proper.

And as he was so bidden, a death would follow.


The warehouse in the Sinchi Ring was modest, having been repurposed into a staging area for supplies, equipment, and medical relief. Still, it had obviously undergone some renovation over the months of its new usage, organized into neat sections for communications, distribution, storage, and gathering, with staff members or volunteers fluttering about the citizens that came to visit.

Timeros’ presence descended upon the room like a curtain made of lead, darkness, and malice. People scattered, the space quickly clearing out with only a few stragglers remaining. After a solid minute of trembling amongst themselves, one of them finally broke into motion, and the Entar was directed by a mousey waif of a Selenian towards the back of the warehouse where the office was located. In truth, it was little larger than a storage closet with a single table-turned-desk, a few chairs, and a holoprojector assembled above to display the city.

The siblings were in said office. The man sat stiffly and intent on his data display. The woman lounged upon the desk face, cleaning a pistol. Both bore marks of exhaustion and stress but glanced up at his entrance.

Timeros spoke without preamble. “I need to speak with Tameike.”

The twins shared a long stare, conversing silently, and then the female unfurled herself from her perch like a sort of feline predator and stepped up in front of the Adept.

“Speakin’,” she replied, eyes narrowed, brow raised. Her arms crossed over her chest, defensive, posturing. She had placed herself deliberately between them.

“Uji Tameike,” Timeros clarified in monotone, not blinking.

“He’s not here right now. Busy.”

The Arconae spent another heartbeat staring over her shoulder at the very man he had come to address before flickering his icy gaze unto her.

“There are matters I must inquire after at the Shadow Lord’s behest. I require your organization’s input before I conduct my investigation.”

“Oh, I’m great at input. What you need?”

“Your staff’s efforts are currently the largest in direct contact with the citizenry. I am in need of information about the populace in sectors sixteen, ten, nine, and five.”

“Real specific there, pretty-eyes. That’s a lot of damn people. How about we take a walk. Show and tell. You are down here to look around too, right?”

“Yes,” answered the Arconae. Then, “I am not proposing a joint effort.”

“Too bad. I’m coming. Any sort of info you need is probably the kind we don’t got, and no one is going to talk to you. At least one of us should be capable of functioning like a frakking living being.”

The ticks sped up marginally. Identified: irritation. But his facial muscles did not so much as twitch. He calculated briefly.

Both Tameikes claimed to have the same information, their telepathic bond strong enough to evidence such results. The woman was difficult but able and would not slow him like her brother would in his lesser physical condition. She had shown herself ruthless and manipulative as a Consul, no matter how undeserving of the Throne. She had even bested Sashar in a lethal duel despite her inability to use the Force.

“We must be discreet, and I will not tolerate any petulance you display. You will be effective or you will be discarded.”

“Fine by me, sugah. I ain’t here to make nice with your robot ass. I’ll grab my gear and we’ll get gone. You got anything more…casual than that?”

She flicked a fan of fingers, indicating his robes. The Elder stared her down until she grimaced, rolling her eyes.

“Right. 'Course not. Well, at least it’s drab. Maybe put away the saber, though.”

He had already intended to do so, but commenced with tucking his weapons out of sight as the woman puttered about gathering a small arsenal all her own and stashing them on various points of her person. His gaze flickered about the rest of the warehouse space as she exchanged some of her clothing for other pieces and stopped to smear dirt on one cheek, under her fingernails.

Timeros returned his clockwork attention to the mundane Tameike only when she approached, the calm metronome of his mind having catalogued all features of the area, weighed them, and found any threats wanting, and had resumed considering his duty. Satsi nodded to him, and he pivoted on his heel.

Just as they proceeded to make their exit, Uji’s cool voice spoke up behind the mismatched pair.

“To be clear, Arconae, my wife goes with you for our interests alone. We owe nothing to Arcona or the Arconae any longer. My debts to Sashar and Atyiru have been paid in blood and service.”

Timeros did not so much as pause, did not turn to blink at or otherwise acknowledge the man. He merely noted the information — the Tameikes had long been on his list of highly probable treasonors — and walked on. The woman called platitudes over her shoulder. The Elder did not bother to listen to them, waiting as his eyes adjusted to the emberant sunlight outside.

“So what’s the job?” Satsi asked, crowding both him and his quietude. He smoothly took a half-step away.

Rather than bother with redundancies, the Arconae extracted his datapad from his robes and offered it to her. She took it with a noise of annoyance. Timeros started down the street, aiming silent footfalls for the nearest gate to the Capac Ring.

They walked in step as he waited for her to finish reading.

“A murder? Why do we care about a murder?” Her tone increased in pitch and stress, conveying disbelief, sarcasm. “We have people for this. This is what the ECSF is for.”

“The Estle City Security Force closed the matter eight months ago as an unresolved case when other incidents became priority. In the four weeks spent investigating, no suspects were found or questioned.”

“So? Too bad for,” her eyes went back to the file, “Gren Pele. Kark happens.”

“Atyiru had earmarked the incident for me to investigate before we moved on Nancora.”

“We’re doing her a frakking favor a year later?”

“No. Such sentiment would be pointless. We are investigating as ordered because there have been four more murders of the same description in the last three weeks.”

“Let me guess, in the sectors you mentioned, or near enough.”

“Correct.”

The woman resumed reading, silent and concentrated for several minutes. Then she started muttering to herself. “So four new murders; and the original, as far as we know, was Pele. So that’s five. Sad frakkers are all unrelated, but killed in public areas, no witnesses, and in a similar way. Cause of death is usually stabbing, but there’s also…maiming? Maiming both before and after death, it varies. Man, I’ve done better than this. Guy either wants the attention or is sloppy as hell. I’m thinking the former since it’s been like this for all of 'em.”

Timeros realized she had moved to speaking at him at some point and focused a piece of his attention on her words.

“The most recent was Peeka Gesh in sector five but the one before that, Farr Dulusu, was found in nine. Well we’re…” she paused, stood up on her toes, squinting about and shading her eyes, “yeah, almost to Secondhand Jane’s, so edge of eight. Nine is all shops and storage, residential starts in eight. If somebody was killed there, they probably lived here. Let’s hit up the plaza on Helo and 30th where the kitchen is at and then we can work around the neighborhood.”

“Very well.”

“Chatty as ever, Arconae.”

Timeros did not reply, merely adjusting his course in the direction she indicated without breaking stride. The kitchen, as Tameike labeled it, was one of the several public feeding halls the Clan had funded in recent months. There were many people present. The Adept’s mind and eyes both spun in countless revolutions, taking in all they could, searching for anything unusual or dangerous.

“Shadows above,” Satsi swore, watching the mundanes move away from his approach unconsciously. “You stay way, way over there. I’m gonna work the crowd. You just… Watch, or go into low power mode, or whatever the hell it is you do.”

The mundane wandered off, making some circuit that only made sense to her. She circled as if shopping and watched several groups and individuals before finally striding up to a couple.

They spoke, and Timeros observed. She leaned forward as the others talked, displaying interest, but did not loom. Nonthreatening. Engaging. Her gestures were unnecessary, causal and extremely often. To convey sloppiness? Nervousness? No, the targets lost tension at them, repeated some of them. Another ingratiating tactic. Just like changing her accent and words. Make herself similar to them.

The ticks slowed.

She was executing her programming. This, he could understand. It was like the bladework and blood built into his hands, the bone-deep loyalty beat into whatever remained of his personality. He had observed works like hers in his many decades, the best disguises being those that were poured out of the heart rather than painted on the face. Satsi Tameike became a shadow in her own mind, and her complicated lies were a new identity’s truth.

He wondered, briefly, what it was to reinvent oneself so many times and still find a way back. He had long ago ripped out his heart and set Arcona as a lodestone in its place. Without it he was broken. Useless. Nothing. The Tameike woman though, this insignificant creature, seemed to function by breaking.

Curious. Curious but unimportant.

“Nobody I talked to knew the guy personally, but they know people’ve been getting killed,” confided Satsi when she returned to his side after a time, shedding skin as did a snake and resuming her own, or whichever vestment of herself she consistently presented to him. “Crowd’s buzzing about it. They’re saying to stick together in groups, not go near the aid stations or guards, kark like that. Say the Citadel is murdering people who talk back. Do we know if any of our dead guys was arrested recently?”

“None had criminal activity on their records. However, data gathering has been lax of late. The majority of curfew violations or assembly warnings go unreported. Our stance has been soft.”

“Helpful. Well, we ain’t killing the protestors, right?”

It was not an accusation, merely a question.

“No.”

“Somebody is.”

The Arconae did not deign to reply. He left the building and began walking again, foot traffic flowing around him like a river bent to a jut of stone midstream. Satsi grimaced at the small, invisible boundary around them, and so he made a conscious effort to dampen his presence, drawing the Force’s dark tempest tight to his skin where it pulsed like a living thing.

“Couple of frakking kids told me there’s another rally tonight, outside Euphoria. Idiots getting caught up in all this.”

“Did they speak of any leaders to the movement?”

“Doesn’t really seem like a movement. Just a bunch of people getting mad and shouting about it.”

“It is a movement,” Timeros droned, “or a pattern would not be present. We will attend and assess the speakers, then ascertain whether or not any of our victims were known to them.”

“They’re not just gonna tell us.”

“They will.”

She stared at him, then shrugged. “It’s supposedly late, probably so people got time to sneak out after curfew. We’ll be waiting awhile. Somewhere inconspicuous,” she added, as if expecting the Entar to stall unmoving in the middle of the road for many hours.

“We will reconvene at this point at sundown.”

With that, Timeros blinked and pivoted, movements clockwork, and strode away. Tameike trotted after him, making to grab at his arm. He side-stepped in staccato stop-motion, settling her with a frigid stare.

“What?”

“What are you going to do?”

“Observe. Examine the scenes of the murders. Search out my target.”

“Shadows. Just don’t go scaring anybody off. You really want to find whoever has this thing going, we best lay low, wait for them to show.”

“Inaction is inadvisable. I was instructed to prevent any further victimizations if possible while eliminating the threat.”

“And who’s to say it was possible? You sparkies can basically sense death, right? So we just…arrive a little too late, and catch our guy then. But that won’t happen if they get spooked by you dancing all over the frakking place.”

The Elder appraised her silently, then tipped his chin in acknowledgement.

“We will wait. Tonight. If they have not revealed themselves by the morning, then I will drive them out.”

“Fine.”

Timeros’ mind ticked steadily on.

And they waited.


(Terran Koul) #54

Present Day

The public feeding halls that had been opened before the war were overrun. Most had fallen into disuse or disrepair in the months the Clan had been gone, the buildings raided for any scrap of food when no one came to restock the shelves or open the doors. It had been a top priority after Nancora to re-establish the shelter kitchens — up until other matters…replaced them in priority.

Now, they had managed to resupply and restaff, and had even lured distrustful crowds back in with warm food and medicine, but it simply wasn’t enough. Every day they ran out early and had to turn away long lines of hungry people; children, families.

Tali Sroka sighed in soft dismay, her golden eyes watering ato the the gaunt face of a young boy with his mother. She gave him a smile as she knelt down and placed a snug hat on his head while behind them his parent gathered what portion she could for them both.

The boy gave her a cheerful little grin back, tugging in the extensions of his cap where normally lekku would sit. The Twi’lek had brought another donation box of lekwear from Les Lekku et Vous today. Across the street, Threader’s Place was offering discounted sales on their already cheap stock, the gruff and, in Tali’s opinion, scary proprietor outside speaking with his fellow citizens in surprisingly commiserating tones.

“Vell, there you go, little one. Nice andt varm.”

The Arconan valiantly ignored that it was desperately hot outside, hot and humid enough for a miasma of sorts to hang around the factories that were still able to run. This was all she could do.

“You talk funny,” giggled the boy, grabbing her fingers to play with. She tickled him, and his mother gave the tiredest of smiles.

“Jab, don’t be rude,” the woman sighed, coming to gather her youngling. Tali stood too.

“It’s no trouble, ma’am, don’t vorry,” the violet alien assured. “Please, be safe.”

“We will,” replied the mother, though her gaze spoke of deep worry and fear. She clutched her meager tray tighter. “Come on, Jab. Let’s eat.”

“Yay,” said Jab. “I’m sooo hungry.”

Tali watched the pair go to sit at the bolted down communal tables and then turned back to the food lines with another sigh. Behind the hot line counter, Luka, with their kind, quiet eyes, and Blithe, a Pantoran from Galeres who the Qel-Dromans were working with today, flicked a sympathetic grimace at her and offered up another bowl of watery soup to a needy Selenian.

It was the best any of them could do.


(Terran Koul) #55

Present Day

The light of Selen’s bright white star slowly gave way to her single, solemn moon, staining the sky in hazy bands of tropical violet and gold almost too vivid to be real. Soon, it would sink below the horizon where endless ocean met open air, and the colors would bleed to black and die, as did the light in caught prey’s eyes.

“We have things well in order here. Stay there to lend assistance where it is more needed.”

The Chiss’ voice held no real warmth or concern for the needy he spoke of, despite his false expression of sympathy. The tiny hologram disappeared a moment later as Voidbreaker’s leader bid her goodbyes and sighed.

“Looks like we’ve got another shift yet. Stay sharp, boys and girls,” the petite Pantoran said to the group.

Grot scented the air and hissed in displeasure, reptilian eyes blazing orange and flickering with multiple sets of lenses. He shifted next to his Zeltron underling, Lucifer Romanov.

“I am never unsharpened,” replied the other Battleteam captain, and Leeadra gave a small snort, aiming a finger at him as one might a pistol.

“Don’t make me come up there, big gut. You will regret it. Now, look, Lucy and me will go over to the market and send the shoppers home, you all can get the bars, yeah?”

Grot flared his nostrils to snap a response, but Kelviin gave a loud, good-natured roar and made the finger-weapon gesture back at Leeadra. The two laughed.

Other sentients were so strange.

Their group split, and the Trandoshan began lumbering down the road towards the closest cantina full of desperate, stinking mammals. Rulvak ghosted along behind him while the Wookiee continued to chatter. It grated.

They spent perhaps an hour directing or removing patrons from their stools or booths in various establishments about Sinchi Ring. It was nearing dusk by the time they finished; the lockdown would soon be in effect. And yet the streets were not yet deserted. Spotting some loitering Humans whose age and gender he could not immediately place, Grot growled and approached.

“You there! Leave!” yipped the hunter, drawing the attention of the group. They quickly began to stink of perspiration and fear-anger-fight-run.

“You should get home. Curfew is coming up,” Rulvak Qurroc explained coolly, emerald eyes chill. The assassin and intelligence officer normally preferred not to deal with people, but since they had split from Leeadra Halcyon and Lucifer Romanov earlier, spokesmanship fell to him as much as possible.

“It’s not even late yet!” protested a boy, and Grot flicked his tongue, tasting the air. “We’re not doing anything.”

“It will be late by the time you reach your destination. Better that you move now. Please,” Rulvak pressed.

“You’re just trying to bully us.”

The Sephi hybrid sighed, “I am trying to corral you. Now go.”

[PLEASE VERY MUCH AND THANK YOU], added Kelviin in the mechanical tones of his datapad speaker.

“You don’t tell us what to do! You’re not even security,” shot back one of the youths, fists curling at his sides in the familiar fashion of drawing a…

“Weapon!” growled the Trandoshan, swiftly pulling his newly-issued blaster pistol and firing. The stun bolt slammed into the male and crumpled him.

The commlink he had drawn lolled from his slack fingers.

“Tyz!” gasped some of his fellows, rushing forward to grab at him. A girl shrieked nearby.

“Gggrrooow,” Kelviin spoke as gently but urgently as he could, trying to calm, but to ill effect. The Wookiee had been brought for his renowned kindness and previous appointment as a diplomat, but all the citizens seemed to see in that moment were two beasts attacking them, their compatriots forgotten.

Some people shouted curses and insults, some spit and cried at their inhumanity, but Grot didn’t care about them. He could not spare even a moment for these nerfs, for at the back of the crowd he could already see the nexu circling. Packs of them, with angry eyes and grim expressions, the scars of wounded pride clearly written on their faces. Young men. Strong men. Desperate men.

From around the corner, Leeadra came running, golden eyes alert and aghast. “What’s going on?” the Pantoran sprite gasped, her lilac braid flying behind her as she threw her small self between the enforcers and the citizens. Lucifer jogged up behind her, already with his weapons drawn.

It was doomed. As soon as they saw others approaching, the young man’s friends went into a panic over their downed brother. One of them screamed and pointed at Lucifer while the other shouted, “THEY’RE TRYING TO KILL US! HELP!”

Punches were thrown, though who started it couldn’t be said. Things became a blur of confusion and raucousness. Shouting went up, more bodies came from the shops and sidewalks and homes, more shots went off. Even non-lethal, the violence was like a match lighting dry tinder. Before the Arconans could truly regroup or think, they were surrounded, bodies pressing in around them in a mess of flailing limbs and torn voices. The rioters weren’t even focused on them; it seemed the blame had spread and so ensured an all out brawl that quickly turned its anger on the military vehicles and then the storefronts. And blame, Grot knew, spread unchecked, was just like fire.

Everything it touched, it burned.


(Terran Koul) #56

Present Day

Her head was warm, her skin was soaked. The moon still hung bright and swollen against the stars, the night so black that the darkness hummed. It smelled out here, though it hadn’t always, and it had never gotten as bad as Coruscant’s undercity streets. They had tasted perpetually of heavy spice, factory smog, wet charcoal, feces, piss, fetid oil, and rotting flesh from where rat-gnawed bodies wasted away in a garbage heap half-full of droid parts.

For awhile, last year, Estle had smelled like sick and smoke. Now it just smelled like sweaty summer skin and desperation, which was a flavor all its own. The occasional breeze would’ve been nice if it’d come down off the mountain behind the Citadel, but the wind was hot and rolling off the ocean and then over the city, so it just pushed more of the stench inward.

I could be home right now, Satsi thought tiredly, rolling her shoulders and stretching her legs. A full afternoon and evening of unplanned mingling was taxing, but she felt like she had a good grip on the crowd around her, at least. She’d even made some new “friends” with a couple Selenian housewives and another set of dockworkers antsy for a fight, but had parted from both groups before they got to memorizing her face. One of the dockmen, though, had confirmed the earlier rumblings; they had the right location for this particular get together.

Euphoria seemed to support the movement, or at least the opportunity to sell drinks; apparently pints were half price tonight. It showed in the sway of the press of bodies and looseness of lips, voices raised in rancor that would have been too anxious otherwise. Many remained cognizant though, and she observed the protestors stringently whether they were wasted or sober. The participants all varied in stature and apparent wealth, but leaned heavily more male than female, and seemed to be of an age ranging from young adults to middle-age; there were, thankfully, no children, and only a handful of graying seniors.

Things were pretty unfocused, with multiple speakers standing up just about whereever they pleased and shouting out their thoughts, often times over one another. After about an hour of this, some of the more clear-headed present tried to narrow their efforts, directing everybody’s haphazard attention to the edge of the warehouse lot closest to the neon glow of the club.

A man took his turn up on some stacked crates beside the wall and started shouting passionate rhetoric.

“My people! My friends! You all know why we’re here…it’s up to us to hold this government accountable, to make sure they hold the Citadel accountable. Selen isn’t just part of the Confederacy, it’s its own…and maybe it’s time to leave if the Confederacy has grown so corrupt and lazy!”

Satsi listened with an unconscious piece of her mind as her thoughts turned elsewhere, eyes scanning the street and all its denizens and blemishes. She spotted more potential weapons than she liked, but it was mostly equipment that peaceful builders like the Selenians would have: servodrivers, a hammer in a belt loop, what was probably just a kitchen knife sheathed in a pants pocket like the completely hopeless civilian its owner probably was.

Still, she resisted grimacing and said, “What did we ever do to deserve this?” as a young woman beside her made eye contact while bemoaning the food troubles. Her comment garnered more fuel for the little cluster’s ranting, and she moved on easily after just a minute or two of angry grumbling to fit in.

The crowd shifted again, and Satsi stepped swiftly to change her position, so she could better see.

There.

Movement caught her eye. Specific movement, out of place for its fluidity among the slump-spined and tight-shouldered Selenians.

She changed direction again, slowed her gait, put her back towards the nearest building in case she needed to retreat. Her eyes flickered away from her target only long enough to confirm Timeros was still idling near the edge of the gathering like they’d planned, then fixed them directly back on the man she’d seen.

He was tall, large. Cloaked, so she couldn’t see his features to determine if he was a local or not. But the way he moved, that told her plenty, set off every warning instinct ingrained in her steel spine.

“…the Citadel is at the heart of the corruption that has infected our communities and brought pain and death to our families and they do nothing about it. We must do something about it. We have to protect each other and our freedoms. We can’t let them walk all over us…”

Most people would say one couldn’t tell a Jedi just by looking at him, but most people were wrong. It was the way they carried themselves, the way they moved, recognizable the second one saw them. Confident. A sense of self-satisfaction. An assuredness. The grace about them was unnatural, and as natural as breathing, their power in every motion of their limbs, inherent and unquestionable. It was as if they couldn’t quite hide that they weren’t quite mortal anymore. Only the ones very aware and very dedicated ever got good enough at obfuscating their grace to pass as normal people.

“Him, there,” Satsi murmured aloud, just low enough for the Elder to hear her with his enhanced ears, flicking her gaze at the strange, hulking figure. “He’s a Force User.”

“Yes,” Timeros intoned, suddenly right next to her, nearly making her leap from her skin. His nearness, his presence, was an uncomfortable, frigid intrusion that made her shoulders lock, but she fought past it with years of ingrained training alone and relaxed her muscles to lean towards him. She thought, for a moment, she saw a flicker of surprise in those winter pale eyes. But when she looked again his expression was still as unmoving as a monolith. Right. Of course. Sparkies. He had probably sensed the other man long before they’d even gotten to the bloody square.

The supposed-Jedi moved again, and Satsi moved after him, her lurch easy and discreet, equally ready to take him down with a tackle or tail him leisurely.

“Do not follow.”

The scarred woman stopped in place as her target disappeared behind some more bodies, even his tall frame lost in the crowd and the dark. The directive had not just been a whisper, but laced with just enough of the Force to bend her will slightly. She hissed through her teeth, wanting to spit and scream and dig the Arconae’s presence out of her skull with her bare hands then wrap her fingers around his pale throat.

But she had a job to finish and a kid with a fever to get home to, to make soup for, and this kark was dangerous, clearly dangerous, so all she could do was snap, “What, why?” under her breath and wait for an answer. Better an Elder in her corner than in her way.

“I am going. Stay here. Watch,” was the Adept’s stunted command, and then he was brushing off and away on soundless steps, too fast for the eye to really follow. It was a strange thing, trying to stare after him, like her eyes couldn’t quite focus even though he wasn’t going all invisible with the Force like some of them could. She realized belatedly that her chest was constricted, that other people moved out of his way automatically, even as they listened to the current speaker.

Fear was an excellent device to keep people from noticing too much. She hated him for it, but marveled all the same.

Resigned as she lost sight of Timeros too, the mercenary shook herself and tried to relax, to meld back into the crowd so she could slip out. If the Elder wasn’t on the outside of this mess, then she needed to be.

The speakers changed again as Satsi nudged through the press of bodies, and this one, whoever he was, was much angrier. He made spirited, vicious calls to action that really got the crowd’s attention, and soon she was being jostled and shoved just because of how many present were shaking their fists in the air, shouting hoarsely back for violence. Oh, for Shadow’s sakes… she thought, gritting her teeth. She had hoped they’d have a calmer evening and not a lynch mob.

Bruised, the scarred woman finally disengaged from the congregation, earning herself more than a few glares from those at the back. She knew what those looks meant — traitor, weakling, pet. The citizens were getting so desperate and so bitterly enraged lately that anyone who wasn’t as angry as they were became an enemy. Why don’t you stay? those glares asked. Are you on their side?

Satsi glared right back at them, this time dropping a hand to her belt knife to make it obvious. This keyed up for blood, they’d only understand a threat in reply.

The faces grew angrier, but they also turned away with a few curses and some spitting in her direction. They went back to cheering on their red-faced orator.

Shaking her head, the gangster took a moment to breathe in the sudden spaciousness, glad to be free of the press of bodies. She wondered where Timeros and the mystery man had gone, and if the Arconae had noticed any of the patterns he was looking for, and if maybe they’d caught the guy before any more corpses dropped by some rare stroke of dumb luck…

An awful noise filled the air, a woman’s scream, down the street somewhere.

Her mind went blank, thoughts washed away in white noise as the shriek she focused on came with echoes of flailing hands, a sense of panic and pain. She saw in her mind’s eye a round face, a young face, her daughter’s face — the face that she pictured any time she was near some source of distress these days. Her pulse kicked into overdrive, and her blood went pounding, screaming through her veins.

It was half-instinct that spun her on her heel, sprinting in the direction of the noise with empty hands. She ran down into darkness, the lights dead from one outage or another for whole blocks, making the night pervasive where Euphoria’s neon didn’t reach.
Her post-traumatic stress episodes had turned into some sort of crime-fighting stint ever since they returned to Estle. It was why she helped Uji with the community, why she organized her gang and kept down others. It seemed she couldn’t stand to ignore anyone’s pitiful, quiet sobs or pained screams anymore as they were raped or stabbed in an cantina alley. She just had to stop it.

Still, though, she had presence of mind, and it was only half instinct. As the former Fade neared where she thought the shout had originated, still listening to the rally boiling over a street or two behind her, she drew her dagger from her belt and a tiny emergency glowrod too. Her pace slowed, and she made an effort to make her approach quiet, gritting her teeth every time her boots crunched on dirt or litter. There was no telling what she was about to find.

Creeping along, she passed by a burnt-out speeder and another warehouse, knowing she was near the edge of Capac Ring. A few people passed by and she tensed at each one, but they all kept going without noticing her, just more idealistic or irascible youths escaping curfew to head for the meeting. She watched them go safely then kept moving, coming up on a thoroughfare that was more of an alley between two buildings.

Just there. Shapes caught her eye, familiar ones: bodies. Of what kind or state she couldn’t say, but all the angles were right. Her brown eyes narrowed, skin tight and hackles raised, peering closer at them and knowing something was very wrong.

“What the fra…” Satsi whispered, raising her glowrod higher as she drew near.

The small pool of light illuminated a sickly scene, a pair of kids, couldn’t be more than their late teens, lying at unnatural angles in splashes of red that looked shiny and black in the lamp’s glow. She knelt quick to check the boy’s pulse and found he…didn’t have a throat left to check. Her fingertips touched chin and then went right to vertebrae.

Definitely dead, then.

The girl, though, she twitched and rattled at Satsi’s approach, and the Arconan went quickly to her with a curse.

“Hey, hey,” she whispered to the Selenian, moving closer and squinting to examine her, for what little good she might do — she should’ve commed someone at the Citadel for help already, commed Timeros, anyone. Reaching for her communicator became a distant concern though as she got a good look at the damage.

What sort of thing left wounds like that? A virboknuckler? A blade? No, no…they were large teeth marks. They littered her body and her blood pooled in the deeper bites. Her leg was lame, the pink-tinged milky white of a twitching tendon visible where it was bared over bone. She wheezed and shook, vacant eyes glassed with fear and pain.

Satsi felt a curl of rage flare in her gut, even as she sighed and relaxed in resignation. No way would this kid make it to any kind of treatment, if they could even spare any of their limited bacta supply for some civvie. Shaking her head, she raised her knife to end the pain.

A chill crawled over her spine, sharp in the heat. She looked up. Saw new eyes watching her.

I’m not alone out here.

The figure was hulking, tall but obviously hefty beneath his cloak, body warped and twisted unnaturally in some places as if there were extra bones or muscles where there shouldn’t have been. The glimpse she caught of his too-pale visage was narrow, with high cheekbones and incandescent blue eyes much too large for his face.

The creature lunged.

She turned and ran.

The cobbles disappeared under her feet. Her stomach surged up her throat, and then she was crashing back to the ground, sharp white noise splitting her vision. Her flesh dragged on bits of gravel and detritus, leaving behind small flaps of bloody skin, and she felt a tooth swimming in her spit-flooded mouth as she pushed up onto her feet with legs and arms that she couldn’t feel. The numbness of impact still rang down her bones but she had to move.

Shadows, but she really, really, really was tired of getting thrown around by sparkies.

Her thoughts spun, fast but sluggish, caught between adrenaline and trauma. Fight here or make a break for the crowd?

The decision was made for her when another telekinetic blow hammered into her gut and left her flat on her back, gasping up at the black, black sky. Satsi choked on nothing, unable to draw a breath, and gagged as footsteps approached and a slow, reedy chuckle rumbled from her opponent.

Craning her neck around, the mercenary spat her mouthful of blood and mucus, pulled her gun out of the holster at her boot, and fired off three rounds that crack, crack, cracked in quick succession. The strain made her joints whimper but she swallowed the ache and rolled over, climbing back upright and aiming again.

All her blind shots had missed, but this time she could see. The muzzle flashed and the air shattered with noise again, while her assailant jerked unnaturally to the right then left, faster than her eye could follow. The clip of eight was empty in just a moment, and Satsi hissed.

Frakking. Force-users.

The man caught her pause and leapt forward with sudden speed. She backpedalled, reaching for her second pistol instead of trying to reload the first. She didn’t even yank it out of its holster, just threw herself backwards in a roll and fired right off her hip when the gun pointed his way. He jerked again, but this time it was with the momentum of a slug round, and he yowled in pain.

Satsi was about to fire again when a blinding eruption of amethyst fire flooded her field of vision and made her cry out. Heartbeats later, another agonized warble came from somewhere in front of her, then retreating steps and a whisper of cloth in pursuit. She rubbed fiercely at her abused eyes, watching through spots of phantom color as none other than Timeros chased the cloaked man like some monster out of a holobook, his lightsaber a glowing scythe in his hand.

They both went vaulting onto rooftops and she lost sight of them. Again. Without any warning.

“Ugh,” groaned the woman, slumping down and holding her abdomen tight. Her ribs were cracked, she could feel, and her cuts stung. “Bastards.”

After a second to regain her breath, she forced herself up to search for her dropped blade and glowrod. Once shed collected them, reloaded her guns, and checked on the bodies — the girl was dead now too — she finally headed back towards Euphoria. The glow of neon lights would at least be more to her advantage.

However, as she grew nearer, she realized the rally had surpassed an uproar and moved on to full blown anarchy. Maybe it was because of the speakers, or her gunshots, but the crowd had obviously been spooked. They were all busy pushing each other along and marching towards the inner city, various weapons or tools raised and screams calling for blood. There was fighting happening right there in the lot. Someone threw a bottle through one of the club’s windows, and then it was a race to see who could break the most glass first.

Maybe not the best place to be, then.

Satsi stopped in her tracks and let herself sag against a flickering lamppost. She needed to wrap her ribs. She needed to get back to the Citadel where it was fortified for kark like this. She needed to call Uji and tell him to take Samantha and the ship and get the hell off planet just in case. She needed—

“He has escaped.”

“HOLY FRAKKING HUTTSLIME—” the mercenary shrieked, and this time she did jump. She rounded on the Arconae with a grunt of pain for her poor ribcage. “Stop doing that.”

“What?”

“Sneaking up on me!”

“It would behoove you to be more alert.”

Satsi’s inarticulate noises of rage didn’t seem to count as as a reply.

“He is gone,” Timeros repeated. “The situation has degraded. We ought to return to the Citadel to recoup and organize a battalion.”

"How did you lose him twice?!" snapped the woman. “Are you frakking kidding me?!”

“No. He is disguising his Force Signature. I cannot detect him.”

“What about before?”

“I sensed nothing of him then. Your observation revealed him to me.”

“Oh, great,” Satsi groaned. Bad enough when it was people on her side that could do sithspit like this, but an enemy? One good enough to completely evade not only the other sparkies all over this city, but Timeros too? They were so kriffed.

“Not particularly. The glimpse I detected, however, was familiar. I will search the archives and speak to my brethren.”

“I got a look at him, but not a good one. Definitely a User. And he killed two more.”

“Hm. Come. We need to move.” His expression was a blank page, his words as flat as a page. “Will your injuries allow you to keep pace?”

There wasn’t concern there, just pure, clinical pragmatism. Satsi nodded.

“I’m fine. Let’s go.”


(Terran Koul) #57

Present Day

Kordath Bleu tossed back his third caf and grimaced, coughing at the burn. It wasn’t quite like downing a drink, made his throat sore, but at least he didn’t have to taste the bitterness as much. Blue light from his datapad screen washed out the bloodshot red of his eyes and highlighted the bags underneath, the worry lines of his face and droop of his brows. The door to the office flickered open, and he glanced across the broad desk that he hadn’t bothered to make his own — still marked with the knife carvings Satsi had left behind, Atty’s things stuffed into the drawers like bad memories — and squinted as his gaze adjusted to something that wasn’t words on a datapad.

It was reports. It was always reports. Lists of damages and casualties from the security forces at work in Estle City, putting down crime and trying to maintain some form of order. Food shortages, labor issues, infrastructure in desperate need of repair after fires and plague had left things an absolute mess. A mess that had festered like an open sore with them gone so many months and chasing their tails to get the Collective. Since they’d gotten back from Nancora and then Canto Bight, Arconans had been actively working down in the city to correct things. Escorting food and aid shipments, policing ration stations, relocating people, rebuilding homes, finding lost loved ones, putting out literal fires. They’d also had to do things like defend shipments from desperate people and break up skirmishes, which had spawned bouts of violence assuaged by police intervention.

People were still starving, and not everyone was keen on trusting the aid centers that had sprung up despite the Tameikes’ highly organized and aggressive efforts. They’d enlisted various contacts, including criminal elements like smugglers and gangs, to shore up the work where bodies were lacking due to the stretch of resources being spread so thin. At least Ol’Val was doing alright thanks to Zuji, Rhylance, Lucine’s efforts: the port was all but rebuilt, especially with its shiny new Obsidian Marketplace, they had the Blindman in control again — yay. But Selen….was less good.

“My Lord?”

“What now, Bly? Is the blasted Arconae back yet?” the Consul answered, not even trying at this point to get the clone commander to stop throwing titles around. He rubbed at his eyes, wishing he’d gotten more than a few winks, but he had awoken before dawn that morning with a deep sense of dread in his stomach and bones, a sharp shout and a painfully familiar flash of a white braid yanking him from sleep. There hadn’t been anyone else there in his lonely quarters though, and he’d checked with the guards outside and his Skitters units; nobody’d seen or heard anything. It was just bleedin’ night terrors.

Had to be.

“Alert has come in about another riot."

“Again?” muttered Kordath wearily. These things were a nightly — and sometimes daily — occurrence now, though usually it was just groups of folk protesting or venting their frustrations with some angry shouting. Very angry shouting. Actual tussling broke out maybe half the time, but was usually over quick, just folk riled up and pissed about the wet summer heat and their conditions and woes.

Hard to say if it had gotten worse or better since they’d implemented a curfew and started limiting the number of people allowed to gather at a given time. That had been on the advice of his many advisors. He didn’t imagine it’d help.

Bly continued, "Sprang up just now, but it’s already spreading from sectors six and nine in Capac to ten and five in Sinchi, and we’re estimating it’ll grow before we can get enough troops down to subdue. It’s bad, sir. Requesting use of force.”

“The people nae are that violent, now is they?”

“We have casualties, sir. It is a full-blown uprising this time.”

Kordath’s throat tightened. “Dammit. Any dead?”

“Not that we can tell…yet.”

“Then send out tha…whoever deals with this. Wake up Qyreia and bloody Skar. Get them on it. And get Spectre Cell deployed to tha front of it, they’ll move faster than tha uniforms. Wake up Rhylance too. Just wake up everybody.”

“And use of force, sir?”

“Ya keep sayin’ that, Bly, doesn’t mean nothin’ ta me.”

The commander grimaced, but only delicately. He was unflappable after having dealt with so many…diverse…Consuls.

“It means the extent to which we can respond, sir. Lady Entar often forbade it outside wartime conditions. Lady Tameike ordered the release of arms for warning and defensive purposes with the citizenry, lethal if necessary in regards to special conditions.”

“So yer askin’ me if we’re killin’ our own folk or not.”

“Such is the burden of the Throne, sir.”

“Ahh, shove yer bloody burden.” The Ryn clenched his eyes shut, breath whistling out his fluted nose in a pained breath. He still hadn’t opened them when he replied, “Tha boys can have their weapons but I want stun equipment only. People get karkin’ stupid when they start shootin’.”

“Yes, my Lord.”

It was going to be one long damned night.