One minute, conversation. The next, confrontation. Human emotion can enable poor logical decisions to be made; adrenaline can lead to overreactions.
Then, there are situations where the violence was a long time coming.
Zark Ekan wouldn’t consider himself a violent man; at least, not anymore. But he had a history of violence, as most Jedi did. A history of defending himself and others around him. He had endured violence. He had survived it. But, as was the way of a peacemaker, he rarely initiated it.
Not these days.
At least not until today.
Because today, Ahnk was asking for it.
So when Zark drove him backwards into the door of his cabin with a strong cross to the ribs, he felt no hesitation; he wasn’t wandering down a dark path, giving in to his anger, or any of the tired clichés that others would hoist upon him.
He was taking care of business.
Somebody had to save this galaxy and, like it or not, Ahnk was going to be that somebody.
“President on the bridge,” the command was barked out and Zark had to use the force to dampen the noise of so many boots spinning all at once.
“I thought we had agreed to stop doing that,” Zark said, as he took the first few steps onto the bridge.
“No sir, you had asked me to stop doing that and I said I would consider it,” the ships’ ranking officer replied. “But this is still a Galactic Alliance military vessel and as such, we follow military protocol. Stand at ease.”
There were those boots again. “How long until we enter The Hydian Way?”
“Helmsman,” the admiral asked.
“Within the hour, sir,” the helmsman replied.
“Everything ready for your departure?” the admiral asked of the president.
Zark looked around, as if unsure himself. “I’ve known Ahnk Rashanagok for a long time; known of him, known him as an enemy. But I’ve never actually faced him in battle.”
“You expect he will refuse your offer?” the admiral asked.
Zark pulled his robe back slightly, showing that the clip that would normally fasten his lightsaber to his belt was empty. “If he wants a fight, I’ll fight him. But I’m going down there unarmed. He won’t kill me if I don’t have a weapon and I have no intention of killing him.”
“You’re assuming a lot,” the admiral said. “Ahnk Rashanagok was a Sith assassin for the better part of his life. He’s killed hundreds of unarmed men.”
Zark shook his head. “Not this Ahnk.”
There was a short flurry of alarms and the admiral stepped forward. “Status report,” she asked, sternly.
“We are now entering the Hydian Way and the Damuen Demilitarized Zone,” one of the officers said.
“Admiral Arianna Reznor, as the officer of the watch I am required to inform you that by entering the Damuen Demilitarized Zone you are in violation of Galactic Alliance Treaties 4 and 7 and that by proceeding you may be in violation of intergalactic law,” a tall, stern man informed her from the back of the bridge.
“So noted,” the admiral said. “I hereby denote for the record that I have been requested and required to enter the Damuen Demilitarized Zone by the President of the Galactic Alliance, and that any crew member who wishes to file a formal complaint may do so without reprimand or reprieve,” the admiral said.
“Military protocols,” Zark said, amazed at the routine.
“All power to the shields,” the admiral commanded.
“All power to the shields,” the order was repeated back.
“From this point out it may be best if you returned to quarters,” the admiral said. “No offense, Mr. President, but in a combat situation there isn’t a place set aside for you on the bridge.”
“I’d like to help, if I can, if we are entering a combat situation,” Zark said. “I’m pretty good at the helm of a Starfighter.”
Reznor pushed a button on her chair’s comm terminal. “Hanger bay, please prep one fresh E-Wing Starfighter for President Ekan; he’ll be joining the fight.”
Ekan nodded his respect. “I’ll see you on the other side,” he said, and headed to the hanger bay, prepared to do his bit for the Galactic Alliance.
Zark Ekan climbed out of the cockpit of his borrowed E-Wing and spat a mouthful of blood onto the hanger deck.
Before he could wipe his chin, he was surrounded by people. Medics, crewmen, engineers. “Are you alright, Mr. President?” one of the medics asked him.
His head was still reeling, but as he felt solid ground under his feet, he felt himself start to stabalize. “I’m fine,” he said, wiping the blood coming out of his nose on the side of his hand. “How is my R7? Mac?”
One of the engineers was already examining the damage the B-Wing had sustained. “Looks like mostly surface damage,” the technician said. “I think once we work out this blast mark here he’ll be good as new.”
“I really hope so,” Zark said, “Mac And Me have been through a lot together.” One of the deck crew handed him a rag, and not being a pretentious man, Zark used that to wipe his hands clean of blood. “Is that always what it’s like? Fighting the Damuens?”
One of the other wounded pilots nodded. “They don’t behave like other pilots,” the pilot said.
“That’s because there are no pilots,” one of the engineers said. “We analyzed footage from past battles. Everything is mechanical.”
Zark nodded silently. He turned and began slowly, quietly walking away from the group towards one of the lifts. His experience had been frustrating; normally, the force was his ally, allowing him to read the emotions of the other pilots, giving him an edge. Droid pilots, meanwhile, operated on predictable logic. But the Damuen craft seemed to be… driven differently, by an intelligence, but not one which he could read. It had unsettled him as he began flying, and the longer the battle went, the more perturbed he felt. It had clouded his own senses, to the point where he felt his confidence waning. Taking hits only reinforced that he belonged back on the bridge, for as much good as he had done.
Suddenly, the lift stopped. “President Ekan, you don’t mind if I share your lift do you?”
“Master Dolash,” Zark answered back, and nodded. Dolash entered the lift. “I wasn’t aware you were aboard ship.”
“You’ve been distracted,” Dolash said. “I couldn’t let you face Ahnk alone. He’s too unpredictable.”
“This entire situation is unpredictable,” Ekan admitted. "Nevertheless, I appreciate your support. Just stand back when we get to the surface. Things might get violent."
Dolash shook his head. "I can't have you killing each other," he said. "Despite your disagreements, I do not believe Ahnk has embraced the dark side. He is still a fellow Jedi, and we need as many Jedi as we can get."
Zark reached out and put his hand on Dolash's shoulder. "Ahnk may... need convincing. If it comes to that, you need to stay out of the way. It won't end in death, but it might get ugly."
Dolash sighed, and closed his eyes. "I put my trust in you, Master Zark. I trust you to do what you feel is right."
Zark nodded. "I appreciate that," he said. Silently, to himself, he wished that he had Dolash's confidence.
Now, it was Ahnk spitting a mouthful of blood onto the ground. "You hit like a man on fire," Ahnk said. "I can feel your anger."
"You're damn right I'm angry," Zark said. "You can't just hide here in some log cabin in the woods. People are dying... I watched good men burn to death in fireballs out there in space. The Damuens want you to finish what you started on Mon Calamari. So they come here, destroy our defenses, fight their way to the surface, and then you rebuke them and send them home. Then they reorganize, take several sectors away, then they stop, and try again. We jostle with them back and forth, we take what we can, we lose what we have to. But you're the key, aren't you? You can stop it all... and you're choosing not to."
"This is not our place," Ahnk shouted, so Zark hit him again.
"Gash Damnit Ahnk," Zark said. "These are real people. Flesh and blood. They have hearts. They have souls. And they're dying because you are concerned about quantum mechanics."
"It's not that simple," a voice interrupted. Zark turned to the doorway, where Dolash was waiting... with a woman he'd never seen before. "There is a reason Ahnk is staying out of this fight."
Zark looked to Ahnk, his hand curled up in his robes, his other hand tensing, then back at the woman. He relaxed slightly. "Talk fast," he said. "Start with who you are."
"My name is Emily Montague," she said. "I was a geneticist with The Holy Desmothesian Empire, before Ahnk hired me away. He's... I've been working for him on various projects. Mostly related to theoretical astrophysics. Not exactly my field of expertise, but then not many people can claim that."
"Alright," Zark said, accepting that. "What have you learned?"
"That there is an inherent danger to what The Damuens have planned," Montague said. "The Damuens informed Ahnk of two devices that are what they call 'quantum neutral'. They allow them to plot the flow of atoms and, with enough information, predict the future. That in and of itself is dangerous but it's even more dangerous when you consider what they want Ahnk to do."
Zark had let Ahnk go now. "What do they want him to do?"
Montague looked to Ahnk, and he nodded. "The Damuens believe that Ahnk is an artifact; that he has no quantom resonance, in this timeline or any timeline. Because of that, they feel that if they place him in a quantum dampening field, Ahnk would be able to... well..."
Zark looked at Ahnk's worried expression. "What is she saying?"
Ahnk frowned. "I would be every Ahnk. Every Ahnk they had summoned. Would summon in the future. Every Ahnk, in every universe. I would know what they know. Would ever know. And the inverse would be true. With every Ahnk they add, they have more information to accurately predict the flow of time."
Zark shook his head. "I don't understand."
"I don't know that I do either," Ahnk said. "What I do know, is that the Damuens have the ability to read neural electrical signals, brain waves, thoughts, dreams... and project them as images, like you or I would project a holovid. Imagine then, not only being able to predict this time... but being able to predict every time. Every outcome, every variable, being able to combine all the information from across multiple parallel universes, and mapping that information to extract the flow of reality itself. Imagine, for a second, what they could do with that information."
Zark took a seat inside the house. "I can see, now, why you've been hiding away." He stood up, and reached for Ahnk's hand. "I am sorry for hitting you. Obviously, I can't force you to do something that has that kind of a consequence."
Ahnk sighed, lowering his eyes. He turned to Montague. "Do you want to tell him, or should I?"
Montague smiled softly. "I think this one falls on you."
Ahnk nodded. "I suppose it does," he said, sighing again.
"Ahnk..." Zark said. "Tell me what's on your mind."
Ahnk turned to Zark. "I can't hide from The Damuens anymore," he said. "We have to give them what we want. It's the only way we can save this galaxy. The only way we can save all the galaxies."