The Reaver menace had made sure of that. No one was sure what they were, or where they came from, only that they were a real threat to the safety and security of everyone within striking distance, and as the lines of opposition collapsed, more and more people were placed in danger.
Fortunately, The New Order was in a talking mood. With the Coalition and The Jedi Enclave already collaborating as best they could to halt the Reaver advance, the addition of support from branches, if not the entirety, of The New Order could provide significant relief to the war weary men manning the barriers against the approaching storm.
If that wasn’t enough to let a man rest in peace, nothing was.
So he laid his head down, hoping that tonight, he could sleep tight. He had a lot on his mind, but his questions could wait until the morning.
It had worked. For a while.
But a good sleep can only last so long. Then, alarms start going off.
He shot up in bed, expecting to hear the alarm of the ship’s emergency call to action stations. It happened often; a Reaver attack during the normal dark hours on the vessel.
But as soon as he sat up, he shot back down. He felt as if he had been shoved backwards with the Force, and crushed to the bed. His mind was on fire and he found it hard to breathe. He could not shake the feeling that something was wrong.
As he sat up, he realized the alarm he heard was not the ship’s emergency broadcast system, but the door chime.
He wasn’t aware that he had a door chime.
“Come in,” he said, hoping whoever was on the other side of the door would hear him.
The door slid open with a soft hiss, and a man in a clean, red vest walked into the doorframe. “Senator Ekan,” he said, bowing slightly. He then seemed to take a visual appraisal of the situation. “I’m not disturbing you, am I?”
“No,” the man in the bed replied, making sure that nothing vital was exposed. “I’m sorry, I’m still half asleep… what did you call me?”
“I’m sorry, sir, but you are Zark Ekan, correct?” the man in the door asked.
The man on the bed, Zark, nodded. “Yes, that is my name.”
“And you are the Senator of The Mid Rim of The Galactic Alliance, are you not?”
That was news to him. The Galactic Alliance? Zark wasn’t even aware there was a Galactic Alliance. Somewhat shaken, he tried to play along anyway. He would need to get answers but for now, better to just watch and learn. “Yes,” he said, “yes, I’m sorry, my mistake.”
“That’s alright, Senator. I’m sure these negotiations are very tiring,” the man replied.
“Yes… negotiations…” Zark replied, completely at a loss. “So, why are you standing in my doorway, Mr…?”
“Mr. DuBois, Senator,” the man said, bowing again. “You asked for a wakeup at seven hundred hours, and we prefer to handle wakeups in person. That way we can confirm if the guest in question would like any amenities replaced or any breakfast while we are there. Would you care for something to eat?”
Zark considered for a few minutes. No, better not. That way he would have more time alone to learn what was going on. “I’m alright for now,” he said. “Tell me… I’m still somewhat tired. When am I expected to… rejoin the negotiations?”
Mr. DuBois smiled. “As the negotiations are currently in recess, there is no definite timetable for the next session. I believe Senator Jiren will let you know when you are needed again.”
Zark did another double take. “I’m sorry; who did you say would let me know?”
“Senator Jiren, of Ossus,” DuBois replied. “Are you feeling alright, sir?”
“Yes, I’m sorry,” Zark said, trying to hide how shaken he was. Senator Jiren. Of The Galactic Alliance. Something had changed. Something very big had changed and he felt very, very out of place. “Thank you for your hospitality, Mr. DuBois. If I need anything…”
“I’ll be right outside, Senator,” he replied. “You let me know directly and I will get you whatever it is you require.”
“Thank you,” Ekan said, and watched as the man left the room. Immediately, he threw off the covers and stood.
Everything was different. This wasn’t the same room he’d slept in. It was bigger, the furniture was better, the color was darker. There was an outside his door, waiting to serve him. There were no such men on Coalition military crafts. In fact, he didn’t feel as if he was moving at all. He stepped toward the window and yanked open the cloth covering.
There were no starfields outside. This wasn’t a Coalition military vessel.
This was Coruscant.
Once again, Zark Ekan could not shake the feeling that something was wrong.
The door chimed again. Once again, Zark told them to come in.
When the man walked in the door, that shaken feeling came back over him.
“Zark…” the man began, and then stopped. “Are you alright, my old friend? You look like you’ve seen a ghost.”
“I feel like I have,” Zark admitted. After several years of believing the man to be dead, to see Gash Jiren in the flesh was quite the shock to his system. “You’re… don’t take this the wrong way. But you’re dead. You’re supposed to be dead.”
Gash simply stared at him for a few seconds before bursting into laughter. “You realize, of course, that if you have me assassinated and take my place, it’s just more bullshit and paperwork, correct?” He sat down at the table, and slammed down a bottle. “Sit down, have a drink with me. It looks like you need it.”
Deeply confused, Zark took a seat. “None of this makes any sense,” he said. “You died. I was at your funeral. I watched them bury you.”
In front of him, Gash’s expression changed. “You’re serious, aren’t you?” Zark nodded. “Well… shit. I suppose the drinks can wait,” Gash said. He shrugged and downed the shot he had poured, which caused Zark to raise an eyebrow. “Sorry. You just told me I’m supposed to be dead. That one justifies a good, stiff shot.”
“I… I woke up this morning and everything was different,” Zark said. “I don’t remember a Galactic Alliance. I don’t remember you being a Senator or me being one for that matter. Everything that I remember from last night seems to have changed. I fell asleep on a fucking starship and now I’m on Coruscant!”
“Okay, slow down,” Gash said, trying to calm Zark down a bit. “Let’s not panic. There’s a rational explanation for this. Now, let’s start at the beginning. You say you don’t remember The Galactic Alliance. What do you remember?”
Zark struggled to push aside the fog inside his head. “We were… Regrad and I… we were on our way to meet with Imperial diplomats in the Borderlands. We were hoping to get the Empire’s help with the Reaver incursions.”
“Okay, stop,” Gash said. He put a hand on his chin. “What kind of incursions did you say?”
“Reaver incursions…” Zark said. He could tell by the look on Gash’s face that he had no idea what he was talking about. “You… haven’t heard of the Reavers?”
“No,” Gash admitted, “no, no I haven’t. So, you haven’t heard of The Galactic Alliance, and I haven’t heard of the Reavers. There’s a missing piece in here somewhere, Zark. Somewhere, something happened to you.”
“Me?” Zark asked. “Why me? What about everything else?”
“Later today, I’m going to walk into that conference hall with the other members of The Galactic Alliance. I know them. They know me. We all know what we’re talking about. But not you. To you, they’re strangers. Alive, dead, they’re different people. You have no idea what you’re saying because you’re not supposed to be here,” Gash concluded. “Now, we have to figure out why.”
Zark sighed. “How do we even start?”
“Well, that’s not going to be easy,” Gash said. “You said you were with Regrad, right? You’re talking about Regrad, the Azguard, yes?”
Zark slapped his hand against the table. “Yes! Gash, you’re a genius,” he said, standing up. “Let’s go talk to Regrad.”
“Well, hold on,” Gash said. He motioned for Zark to sit back down, and Zark did. “It won’t be easy. Regrad is sitting in an Imperial jail right now.”
“What?” Zark said, somewhat taken aback. “What did he do?”
“He tried to take a swing at Zell,” Gash said, sighing. “Zell is a pompous ass and he had it coming, but Regrad as a diplomat should know better. We elected to not make an incident and waived his diplomatic immunity on the promise that he would be held but not tried. Hopefully after a few days of cooling his head, we were going to negotiate for his release. We might need to change the timetable on that now.”
“What do we do in the meantime?” Zark asked. “Just sit here, and wait?”
“Mostly,” Gash replied. “We also have a conference to attend.”
“Senators Gash Jiren of Ossus and Zark Ekan of The Mid Rim, representing The New Republic,” the man at the door called out as Zark and Gash strode into the hall. Gash nodded in the direction of a woman at the table, and Zark made his way to the seats indicated beside Leia Organa.
“Did we miss anything?” Gash said, sarcastically, fully aware that besides Leia, there was only one other person in the room.
“Who is he?” Zark asked of the other person in the room.
“Nas Choka,” Gash said. “Last Warmaster of the Yuuzhan Vong. He’s the one who opened these negotiations and the one who formally surrendered on behalf of the Vong.”
“Zark,” Leia asked, “you don’t know who that is? You’ve been…”
“Not now,” Gash said. “We need to talk about this later, Leia. For now, just step in whenever a question comes our way. Leave Zark out of the conversation.”
“Governor Seth Vinda of Bonadon, representing the Commonwealth Of Systems,” the man at the door announced as Vinda entered.
“My god,” Zark said, as he watched the man. “He looks so… old. Defeated.”
“The Vong devastated the Commonwealth. The Caprican system suffered unimaginable losses and The Anthos Republic was completely destroyed,” Gash said. “This peace couldn’t come soon enough for him.”
“Regent Azreal Zell and Supreme Commander Simon Kaine, representing The New Order,” the man at the door stated. Zark tried to suppress a gasp as both men walked in.
“More ghosts?” Jiren asked.
“Kaine retired and hasn’t been seen in over a year,” Zark answered. “Zell was on Coruscant when it was… well, suffice it to say things are different in my memories.”
“I can only imagine,” Gash stated.
“Lordess Skye Keller, representing the Eternal Rogue Order,” the man announced, and the Sith Lord entered the room and took a seat at the table.
“Negotiating with Sith?” Zark asked.
“This seems to be our only chance to stabilize the political situation in the galaxy. The Sith are very powerful,” Gash said. “Most of them, anyway.”
“Lord Recon Klain, The Ziost Sith Empire,” the man announced and Klain, looking as surly as usual, entered the hall.
“No Klain where you come from?” Gash asked.
Zark shook his head. “He’s just been… quiet lately. Been a long time since I’ve seen him.”
“Lord Ahnk Rashanagok, The Sith Brotherhood,” the man announced, and Ahnk walked into the chamber.
Gash smiled. “Don’t tell me you’re lucky enough to not have an Ahnk Rashanagok.”
Zark turned to Gash. “I don’t think you’d believe me if I told you,” he replied. He barely recognized it; it had been over a decade since Zark had seen Ahnk Rashanagok, the tattooed Sith Lord, and now, here he was. It was very much a shock to his system.
“You’ll have to tell me about it later,” Gash said. Zark nodded; he definitely would.
“Lord Maim, The Crimson Empire,” the man at the door said and Maim, flanked by two Royal Guards, entered the hall.
“He has an escort?” Zark asked.
“Everyone has that right, but most choose to waive it,” Gash replied. “I don’t think Maim is the trusting type, though.”
“Emperor Chadd Fearsons, The Jutraalian Empire,” the man chimed out, and Fearsons, arrogant smirk on his face, strode in and took his chair.
“I can’t believe this many egos fits in one room,” Zark said, making sure to keep his voice low.
“It’s worse when you’re your usual self,” Gash shot back, and Zark glared at him in reply.
“Cardinal Alexander Cross Under His Godship The Taj Damuen, representing the Black Dragon Empire,” the man stated. A robed figure, hidden under the shadows of his black cloak, entered, taking his place amongst the table.
“Be careful with him,” Gash said. “Everyone I’ve spoken to agrees that he is far too conciliatory in these discussions. It implies that his focus is elsewhere, on something we haven’t seen. He’s sneaky, and I don’t trust him.” Zark nodded in reply.
“Grand Admiral Bhindi Drayson, representing The Holy Demosthenes Empire,” the man announced and a sharply dressed and heavily decorated officer stepped in, standing briefly at attention, and then taking her seat.
“She’s wearing the wrong uniform,” Zark replied. Gash raised an eyebrow. “I remember… when Kaine retired, Drayson stepped in and took his place as Supreme Commander of The New Order.”
Gash raised his eyebrow even higher. “Her father was in the Rebellion. The Rebellion against The Empire. But she joined The New Order and became their Supreme Commander?”
“Don’t ask me to explain that one,” Zark said.
“All of the participants have now arrived. This session of The Galactic Alliance preliminary meeting is called to order. Lord Rashanagok, you have a proposal to make.”
It was said that diplomacy was war, only with words instead of weapons.
Zark had never seen it that way, but then, this was his first Galactic Alliance meeting.
“Their entire warfleet?”
“As far as we know, everything that The Vong brought into Dragon space was destroyed,” Gash clarified. “A week later, their new Supreme Commander, Warmaster Nas Choka, arrives and proposes peace. He vows to repair the damage he did to Coruscant and all of the worlds in the Commonwealth. We called everyone involved in the various wars together to hammer out a treaty.”
“And you’ve only had two hurdles?” Zark asked.
“Oh, at first, we had lots of hurdles,” Jiren said. “The Empire originally refused to sign the treaty unless we branded The Diversity Alliance, The Bothans, The Noghri, The Azguards, The Wookies, etc, as ‘servant races’, making it legal for humans to enslave them and use them for unpaid labor.”
“Sounds like something they would ask for,” Zark said, shaking his head.
“Now, though, it’s down to us figuring out what the hell Cross wants,” Jiren said, “and, until today, Ahnk.”
“You said he seemed different today?” Zark said. “How do you mean?”
“Every single meeting with Ahnk goes the same way,” Gash said. “He claims that his people, The Brotherhood Of The Sith, have an ancient and indisputable claim to Yavin, The Hydian Way, The Tion Cluster and Hapan Space. As members of The New Republic the Hapans dispute this, and as a Jedi, I dispute his claim to Yavin.”
“He proposes shrinking the size of the Empire he claims by about sixty percent, giving up all disputed territory, and only hanging on to fringe worlds in the Ison Corridor and Outer Rim,” Jiren said. “It’s a complete reversal of everything he’s ever said. He’s given up everything. And, frankly, as relieved as I am, I am incredibly uneasy. Something has changed.”
“Something has indeed changed,” a voice called out from farther down the hall.
Zark and Gash both looked up, breaking their focus on the conversation. Standing in front of them, cloaked in a black flowing robe, was the man himself. Lord Ahnk Rashanagok. He stood, arms crossed, blocking their path forward.
“Lovely night for a walk, isn’t it?” Gash said. He was nervous; Zark could feel it. Both men instinctively reached for their lightsabers.
“Stop,” Ahnk said. He reached his hands to his sides and opened his robe, revealing a saber clipped to each side of his hip. “Put your weapons on the ground, and let’s have a civilized talk, shall we?”
Jiren shook his head. “You’re outnumbered here, Rashanagok. There’s two of us and one of you.”
Ahnk grinned. “I’ve had two Sith Lords walking ten paces behind you for the last twenty minutes. Lord Jas and Lord Zeta will get to you long before you get to me.”
Zark reached out and confirmed what Ahnk was saying. Neither man, though, was ready to drop their weapons. “What do you want, Ahnk?” Zark asked.
“I just want to talk,” Ahnk said, raising his hands away from his sabers. “I think you’ll want to hear what I have to say, Master Ekan. It’s about the Reavers.”
Gash and Zark shared a look, and slowly put their lightsabers on the ground.