“Alright, set charges every ten feet,” the man said. “And hurry it along, I want to be able to send excavation teams as far as that lift tunnel drops.”
The man was watching his instruments carefully. Every variable had to be right; set off an explosive too close to an oxygen recycler and you could cause secondary detonations that would potentially ripple out of control. Every sensor had to tell him what he wanted to hear before he would okay another round of detonations.
And something his sensors were telling him was off.
“What in the hell…” he said. “Rodriguez, you still working on that lift door?”
There was a buzz of static before a reply came. “Yeah, going at it with a vibroblade but it’s thick material,” he said. “Why, what’s up?”
“You got a droid with you?” the commander asked. When Faulkner had set up this expedition, he had spared no expense and bought half a dozen of top of the line Vinda Corporation HRDs. They had superior to human strength, and since they were resistant to toxins could work in an atmosphere were good oxygen was limited. “Have him lift the actual lift carriage itself.”
“Wilco,” Rodriguez sent back as an affirmation of the order. Then, a few minutes passed. “Sir, you won’t believe it…”
But to Commander Jon Rawsh, who had seen the bodies on his infrared, he could absolutely believe it.
“...a complicated situation turned even more dangerous by infighting within The New Order.”
“I think it’s over dramatizing to describe the situation as infighting,” another voice answered the first. “When Simon Kaine announced that he would be retiring it created a natural power vacuum and power does abhor a vacuum. The New Order, unsurprisingly, founds itself on order, and when that order is disrupted, seeks to replace it with a new, stabilizing order. It’s not surprising that names like Zell and Vos and Desaria…”
“The last thing I wanted to wake up to was goddamned Imperial propaganda,” Ahnk said as he pushed his eyes open.
Irtar turned to him and smirked. “Not much else on; having some issues with the holorelays; plus, these Rebellion types like to keep abreast of the Imperial leadership, insomuch as the leadership lets slip out into the publicly available news networks,” Irtar said. All the same, he muted the feed. “How are you feeling?”
Ahnk looked down, and raised… one arm. “Incomplete,” he said.
“Your mechanical arm had severed wires, so I’ve been tinkering with it in my spare time,” Irtar said, and gestured to a desk nearby. “Thought I could buy you a new one, but then I saw previous evidence of damage and repair.”
Ahnk grinned. “I collect scars,” he said, stretching, and in the process feeling the fresh ache of the new scars this trip had given him.
“You like to think of yourself as a real badass,” Irtar said, “but the truth is, you’re reckless, sometimes even careless. You act before you think and it’s adding up. Every new wound isn’t just a scar on your surface but tears and cuts to your muscles, tendons… some of your bones have been knit back together, I can’t imagine the state of your ligaments. You’re not a young man, Ahnk, and I assumed if you had an unlimited supply of clones, you’d have switched to a fresher body.”
Ahnk didn’t reply, only nodding softly.
“I always thought that training was to give me an example to follow; if I follow you, I feel like it’s going to be to an early grave,” Irtar said, resolutely. “I have come to a difficult conclusion…”
“You don’t have to explain,” Ahnk said. “You don’t want to follow me anymore.”
Irtar raised his hands, defensively. “It’s not that simple…”
“No, it’s alright,” Ahnk said. “I understand. I just would ask you to think about something, Irtar. Maybe the things that frustrate you most about me are things that you see in yourself as well. Tendencies, habits, things that frustrate you about your own way of seeing the world. And maybe, when you look to me for guidance, and see me making the same mistakes… but maybe that is how we learn. I don’t teach you, you don’t teach me… but we learn together, and evolve. If there is a set of Ancient Jedi Texts that codify anything and everything, Leia never let me read them. So I think the best we can do is muddle along… an example to each other, and try and define, day by day, what being a Jedi is. And if we can do that, and help people along the way… if that is, ultimately, how I die… I think it will have been worth it.”
Irtar was silent and sighed softly.
“Maybe I misread you…” Ahnk said, feeling somewhat silly.
Irtar chuckled a little. “What I was going to say was, I don’t want to follow you, headlong into danger, anymore, unless it’s preceded by a long conversation about what we’re doing and why, and a hearty breakfast.”
The two looked at each other in silence for a few moments before they cracked up laughing. It was a healing laughter, bleeding out all of the tension that had been there before, and only stopped because Ahnk’s ribs started to get sore. Then, there was a knock at the door. “That’s probably my hearty hospital breakfast,” Ahnk said, and used the force to unlatch the door, allowing the person outside to step in.
Irtar turned and sized them up, surprised to see someone not in hospital uniform walk through the door. The man set down a briefcase and raised his hands. “In case you’d like to search me,” he said, and Irtar turned to Ahnk.
“Nothing wrong with being too cautious, is there Chang?” Ahnk asked. “Irtar Mal’Gro, this is Chang. He’s an… assistant of mine. I asked him to take care of a few things, procure an item or two, deal with the day to day business while I was… out of the office.” Ahnk looked to Chang and the two shared a nod. “Everything go smoothly, Mr. Chang?”
“Mr. Faulkner has raised a small amount of hell, but nothing that can’t be dealt with financially,” Chang said. “Otherwise, all of your instructions were followed.”
“My meeting later today?” Ahnk said.
“On schedule,” Chang replied. “I should leave you to your work.”
“Wait, meeting?” Irtar said. “Are you really in any condition to meet with someone?”
“Maybe not, but that’s alright; showing a bit of weakness makes me seem more vulnerable, which can be an advantage,” Ahnk said, “the appearance of vulnerability, anyway. I’ll even drag along my arm. You can finish fixing it tomorrow. I have something else to work on tonight.”
Irtar looked at Ahnk, intrigued. “What is that?”
Ahnk allowed himself a small smile. “Grab the briefcase, let’s get some air.”
“I have to say, Mr. Rashanagok, you have been a right and proper pain in my ass,” Commander Rawsh said. “When our business here is done, I will be thankful.”
“For your part, Mr. Rawsh, I appreciate that you have been put in a difficult position,” Ahnk said. He tightened the glove on his artificial hand. “What is her condition?”
“Stable; normally, with injuries to such a large percentage of her body, we’d recommend bacta immersion, but the subdural injuries and damage to her internal organs meant we opted for direct bacta infusion,” he said. “She’ll be fully healed in a week.”
Ahnk nodded. “Remove the ports,” he said.
Rawsh put his foot down. “That would kill her,” he said. “I refuse.”
“Mr. Rawsh, she has already healed to the point where she could effect her escape; the only thing holding her back is your security,” Ahnk informed him. “She’ll wait until someone with a keycard and a weapon enters the room, kill them, take both items, and escape without much effort.”
“If you dies, it will be on your head,” Rawsh said.
“If she dies, it will be by my hand,” Ahnk said. “But she’ll survive pulling the plug. Do it.”
Rawsh programmed the order into the complex’s medical computer, and the droid overseeing her care removed the bacta infusion ports. “Wake her,” Ahnk added, and so the droid gave her a stimulant. “Open the door and leave us,” Ahnk said.
“I hope you are as correct as you are arrogant, Mr. Rashanagok,” the officer said, and offered him a curt salute on the way out of the room.
“Sometimes,” Ahnk answered his question. Then, he walked into the room, carrying the suitcase Chang had brought to his room. “So, we meet at last.”
The woman on the table inclined slightly. “The pleasure is all yours,” she said. “Because of you, I’ll have three artificial organs going forward.”
Ahnk raised his artificial arm. “Talk to me when you get to ten,” he said, and then circled around her bed. “I’ve heard stories. You’re supposed to be a ruthless, viscous killer. But then, I guess everyone looks less threatening on a hospital slab.”
“Let me out of this complex and I will show you how ruthless I can be,” the fireheaded woman said in a mixture of reassuring and threatening.
“I offer you a counter proposal,” Ahnk said, raising the briefcase. “I let you out of his complex… and you just leave.”
She eyed his suspiciously. “You will just let me go about my business?”
Ahnk shrugged. “Plenty of Sith in the galaxy; what’s one more disconnected loner out there following their own ambition? My only condition is that you keep your distance from myself, and the boy.”
She smirked. “You’re weak, and so is he. Why do you insist on protecting him from me?”
Ahnk set the case down and grabbed the bars on her bed. “You really don’t get it, do you? All I had to do was let him go, and he’d have killed you. Maybe not even quickly; might have done it slow, to let you feel it. The Irtar I know is capable of that… but I want him to be capable of more. I want him to move past his violent urges and seek higher challenges than settling old grudges. He needs to overcome his past if he’s going to embrace his future… and that means he needs to let go of you.”
The woman looked down at Ahnk’s clenched fist on her bed, causing Ahnk to become aware of it as well, and remove it. “So I just take your word, you let me go and I can go about my business?”
Ahnk then raised his hands defensively. “Your business is your business and my business is my business; just don’t cross them again, and I will offer you no resistance,” Ahnk stated.
She considered. “Ah, but my work here is not complete; I didn’t come here for the boy,” she said.
“Ah, no, you came for this,” Ahnk said, pulling up the briefcase. He opened it, and the contents filled the room with a glorious orange light. It danced across every surface; in reflecting off the woman’s hair, it made it seem alight. “Of course I know why you came here; I asked for you.”
She looked at him. “What?”
“Oh please,” Ahnk said. “I’ve killed dozen of Jedi and dozens of Sith. I’ve glassed entire worlds. I’ve died more times than I can count. Do you think that planting a rumor of a powerful artifact would be beyond my reach?”
She nodded her head, slowly. She was in awe of it; everyone had heard of holocrons, but there were so few remaining in existence… “What does it say?”
Ahnk closed the case. “The Jedi Order became aware that Exar Kun had discovered a way, using his massive fleet, to hunt them via a unique type of radiation; the radiation created when connecting to the force. In close proximity, it can be used to detect a single Jedi on a world but… when the Jedi came together, Kun was able to detect them from sectors away. They could never find a new home until they destroyed him, and his work. But in order to hide themselves in the future, they needed to know what that radiation signature is.”
The woman’s eyes flashed. “A way to detect Jedi…”
“Force users,” Ahnk corrected. “It doesn’t discriminate between Jedi and Sith. When Kun died, this… signature, such as it was, was buried. The Jedi were worried that if this holocron fell into the wrong hands, it could be devastating.”
The woman smirked now. “You don’t consider me to be the wrong hands?”
Ahnk turned and smiled at her in return. “You don’t have the vast network of sensors you’d need to use that in any meaningful, large scale way; it will most likely, for you, be a warning beacon if another Sith decides to assassinate you,” Ahnk said. “Still, a deal is a deal. You came, as requested. I needed to test Irtar, he’s been tested. And you can take your artifact, and go.”
She sat up, and kicked her feet off the bed. “As tempting as it would be to see if you still have those sabre skills I’ve heard rumors of,” she said, standing. She then held out her hand. “I know a good deal when I hear one. I’ll take that briefcase.”
Ahnk handed it to her. “The guard outside will escort you to a hanger, where a shuttle is waiting for you,” he said. “Go directly, go swiftly, and go peacefully for now. Goodbye, Dehoir. We will not speak again.”
Irtar had quarters, as everyone else did, in one of the Massassi temples. Ahnk had seen to it that Irtar had a balcony of sorts, to stand out and admire the skies. There was something called the red hour when Yavin’s sun struck the gas giant in such a way that it bathed the forest moon in a dark red hue.
Irtar had been left with much to reflect on.
“Do you think it was really her?” Irtar asked. “Dehoir. Her presence… I swear it was her.”
“You would know better than I,” Ahnk said. “If it was her, she will have sensed how strong you have become. I doubt she would have wanted to fight you.”
“It can’t be a coincidence that she was here,” Irtar said.
“The force weaves through everything; don’t make yourself more important than you really are,” Ahnk said. “Thousands of people know about The Lost City Of The Jedi. The timing was unfortunate, but ultimately we escaped with our lives. That is the most important thing.”
Irtar nodded reluctantly. Here, in the second level of the hospital compound erected by The New Republic, the two stood in the open air; at Ahnk’s insistence, having been confined to too many beds too often recently. “Lovely fellow, that Chang,” Irtar said. “Funny, I had trouble getting a read on him through the force.”
“One of the benefits of his employment,” Ahnk said. “When you are a Force user you find yourself dealing with other Force users, so having someone who is unreadable can come in handy. Hardly an original trick I admit, as like much of my business and organizational strategies, I copied that one from Seth Vinda.”
Irtar nodded, keeping his eyes on him. “Do I get to see what’s in the case?”
“Of course; after all, I had Chang bring it specifically so I could give it to you,” Ahnk said. “Open it up.”
Irtar did. When the case opened, it gave off a bright blue light across several meters of the pavilion. “Is this… what I think it is?”
“I realize that when you were masterless, you built your own lightsaber already, but there used to be a tradition, when a Padawan was ready to shed that label…”
“So you mean… I’m a fully trained Jedi?” Irtar said.
Ahnk laughed out loud. “Fully trained? Do you think I am fully trained?” Ahnk offered as a counterpoint. “Irtar, you will go to your grave knowing only a fraction of what there is to know about the force. What you are, is a great student. One who will continue to learn, regardless of whether you refer to them as a padawan… or just a Jedi. A Jedi… it used to be a follower of an ancient religion, and a way of life. Now, it means something different. I don’t know what exactly it is, but… maybe it’s about our choices. Choosing to be bigger than our selfish needs and ambitions. Maybe it’s about overcoming our biases and our baser instincts to be better than ourselves. Whatever we define being a Jedi is… it’s what you are. It’s what you always have been. It’s time to accept the mantle, and everything that comes with it. You are a Jedi, Irtar. With all the honor, and all the horror, that comes with that.”
Irtar didn’t respond right away, needing a moment. “I… I don’t know what to say.”
Ahnk reached a hand, the human hand, around his shoulder. “Tell me you can do something with that crystal.”
Irtar took a closer look at it and frowned. “It seems… raw. Unprocessed.”
“Yeah,” Ahnk said with a smirk. “Didn’t used to do that back then. Flick on that saber, it would roar and hiss like it was alive. It was all intimidation; a bitch to use, all weighted wrong, unregulated, chaotic. But maybe that was part of the fun; feeling how chaotic it was, to be the Dark Lord Of The Sith… Exar Kun reborn…”
Irtar’s eyes widened. “This crystal is from…”
“Exar Kun’s lightsaber, yes,” Ahnk said. “I was one of his last students and, when his physical body was destroyed, I took his lightsaber as my own. I liked to think I was carrying on his mantle; I always assumed someday when I was ready to stop fighting myself, I’d find a Sith worthy of taking the sword. But… things have changed a lot since then. And I don’t feel like that mantle, the mantle of Exar Kun reborn, needs to be passed on anymore. So I had Chang take the saber apart. It won’t take anymore lives. But maybe… maybe, a new, bright blue lightsaber can be born from it’s crystal. And maybe that saber can be used to save lives.”
Irtar was still a little stunned from this all. “Do you think I am… worthy?”
Ahnk looked at him and nodded firmly. “There is no one more worthy in all the galaxy.”
Irtar reached out and closed the case. “Thank you.”
“So, tomorrow is a new day,” Ahnk said. “Let’s start things off properly. Meet me at the top of the temple, just after sunset. We’ll have breakfast... start the day off properly.”
Irtar smirked. “I’d like that.”
And now Irtar stood, pacing and stopping, pacing and stopping. On his table, a mess of mechanical components; a new, old saber crystal. A damaged robotic arm. Parts and tools needed to work on both of them. In many ways, it was the chaos of old in Irtar’s room.
And yet, while he still clearly saw the chaos, in his mind he could also see ways to fit it together. It wouldn’t be easy; nothing ever was. It would take several hours, maybe even days of hard work. But it was possible. There was optimism. And, for the first time in a while, Irtar’s lingering doubts and fears seemed miles away.
Although very little had changed, in some ways, it felt like everything had changed.
The sun poked out past the gas giant in the sky and the red began to fade. In a few hours, the sun would set back behind the other side of the moon and then, after a few hours of sweltering heat, a cool would settle in over the surface of the world. It seemed to odd to start the day when the sun set, but Ahnk wasn’t a fan of the heat on Yavin and would rather begin when the sun faded. They’d probably be leaving the world today… and while Irtar didn’t know where, it didn’t really matter. It would be something. Something new.
Tomorrow would be a new day.
Tomorrow would be a new hope.
OS: In a world of bon-bons, you are a twinkie.
Ahnk: God damn you, I am Count Chocula and you know it.
I'm not spending my anniversary night thumping my head against the wall. - Damalis, on Moderating TRF
Then tell him you want it harder, damnit! - Ahnk, on Damalis