"Sihoyguwa, we have temporary passengers. Do not vaporize them if they try to come aboard," Ahnk called out absently as Neela and Mr. Dram followed the Rogue Master onto his personal craft.
"Sihoy-what?" Neela asked clearly impressed with the vessel. She had been expecting a freighter or shuttle.
"guwa," Dram responded when it looked like Ahnk had more important things to do as the ship began informing him of the variety of tasks he had left for it to accomplish prior to disembarking.
"I'll take this bunk!" Neela exclaimed dropping her bags onto a bed in a small spartan room. The vessel was not a cruiser liner by any means but it was spotless which, seeing the robed Ahnk move around, was sort of misleading. She wasn't sure why but robed people automatically made her think they were dirty people. Perhaps it was a biased thought that only lazy people walked around in robes and would probably have trouble keeping their homes clean.
Upon closer examination, she realized the robe itself was not the dirty old rags one would imagine Jedi wearing in old Holopics, but of a much finer quality.
It did nothing to improve her biased thoughts for now Ahnk was a prostitute's pimp. He was large, well built and she found herself wondering if he had a chained harem in his quarters.
"Sihoyguwa, assign this room to Neela," Ahnk's voice was closer than she realized which made her jump.
When Neela and Mr. Dram entered the area next to the cockpit where Ahnk was rattling off instructions to his ship in a language that neither could recognize, she was slightly suprised to see that they were already in space. The liftoff had been smoother than she had expected.
Ahnk seemed to read her mind and added, "No one is chasing us trying to kill us. So the ride is going to be a bit smooth."
As he entered a few more instructions, he finally clapped his hands and turned to his passengers.
"So, where too?"
Neela turned to Mr. Dram, "So, Dram. Where are we going?"
"I need payment up front first," the half-man stated and Ahnk almost smiled at the attempted avarice. Still, while he wasn't sure if the half-man's information was good or not he was sure that the man was what he claimed: A former soldier of Kaine.
His next words were in that mysterious language and the ship's voice chirped compliance.
"If the account numbers you provided were correct, your money should be there."
The man lifted the blanket that covered his bottom half and looked down pushing buttons to some sort of interface. Evidently, there was more to Mr. Dram's repulser lift that met the eye.
When Dram smiled, both Neela and Ahnk knew he had seen his account balances.
"We will need to go to these coordinates," Dram stated and Ahnk ordered his ship to record them.
"What coordinates are those," Neela asked and Mr. Dram smiled. "The Empire had put trackers on some of Kaine's fleet to attempt to keep a record of where Kaine went. When the ship that was following the signal arrived at their rendezvous point, all it found were the trackers floating about."
"So?" Ahnk growled, growing annoyed.
"The coordinates I am giving you are the coordinates to that rendezvous point."
"The trackers will have floated well away from there by now," Neela said, getting angry herself.
"We do not need the tracker's information. I have it!" Dram exclaimed.
"How will that help us?" Neela demanded.
"While it doesn't tell us where Kaine went, it will tell us the vector his fleet took. All we have to do is then advance along that vector until.."
"Give me the vector," Ahnk demanded halting the ship's calculation to make the jump to lightspeed.
"Uh.. ok.." Dram stammered and began rattling off another series of numbers that the ship dutifully recorded.
"Sihoyguwa, extrapolate," Ahnk clipped out.
The exercise took less time than Ahnk was expecting which did not bode well.
"Well, how about that," he murmured as the ship displayed the results of its calculations to him.
"What?" demanded Neela.
"Kaine's fleet went straight for a star."
Mr. Dram's eyebrows rose, "So that's why the Empire could never find out where he went!"
Ahnk stared at him, "You didn't know?" he pointed to the results.
Mr. Dram looked shocked, "How could I? I don't have fancy navigational software on my repulser! It's not like I have a lot of money to rent a navigational computer just to satisfy my curiosity about which direction Simon Kaine went from this rendezvous!"
Ahnk nodded as if satisfied at the man's sincerity. He could see that Neela was a bit skeptical but she did not have his insight.
"I propose we don't go to Kaine's final rendezvous point before disappearing. It will not tell us anything more than we already know.” Ahnk announced drawing an offended squawk from Neela.
“What?! We need to find out where he went..” she started when Ahnk raised a finger.
“I do not know if where Kaine has retired is relevant. I need to know if all of what is happening…” Ahnk paused.
You need to know if all of what is happening is what? Kaine’s fault?
The Rogue shook his head. Even that did not track. Simon Kaine was one man and while he may have commanded the resources of an Empire for quite a long time, that did not mean that everything that has happened has been orchestrated by him. The man was not omniscient nor was he infallible.
“I do not feel that a direct search of his departure route will turn up anything worthwhile.” He finished putting a slight emphasis on the word “feel”.
“Is this one of those force-things?” Neela asked and the large man shrugged.
“Somewhat. It is also a generous application of logic. The Empire, with more resources than we have must surely have already searched that route and still he remains hidden.”
“The Empire’s uppercrust might know where he is and just haven’t told anyone,” the journalist ventured. “For all we know, they executed him and are content to let all of us think he is on some backwater world retired.”
Dram shook his head. “There is no way the Empire would have taken him without a fight.” His voice had the tone of a fervent follower.
“Maybe Kaine saw recent events coming and …”
“Simon Kaine would never flee an enemy!” Dram shouted and an annoyed Ahnk frowned at the little man.
“… strategically retreated,” he finished. Dram seemed only slightly mollified.
“Supposition,” Neela retorted but Ahnk waved a hand forestalling more commenting.
“ALL of this is supposition. Thinking he still is alive, thinking he can be found! For all we know, he really did fly into a star just to see if he could conquer the netherworld!”
Neela giggled a little at that but Ahnk’s point was driven home. Besides, he had his force connection that may or may not be leading him.
She did not understand the force and found force users in general rather dangerous but she did have a healthy respect for the power.
Ahnk, for his part, had something more than the force this time. He had Chang. The Yuuzhan Vong had told him of the Cree’Ar but he had not paid much heed at the time preferring to play out his machinations against those who had wronged him or had stood in his way.
Now he and the whole galaxy was paying for that short-sidedness leaving him to rummage through the past of a retired Imperial. The situation was maddening!
He turned to Dram. The soldier of Kaine was hiding something. He was sure of it! What he was not so sure of was whether the half-man realized it or not.
He just did not know enough of Simon Kaine’s life to make a determination if the man was even relevant to Ahnk’s mission or not. And Ahnk did not have all that much time to waste until he had to follow other leads.
It was the quiet before the storm and he knew the chronometer was counting down until the Cree’Ar struck again. The galaxy was balanced precariously on a knife. One the one side the Reaver threat was spreading and on the other, the drums of the Cree’Ar War were starting to beat. A slip either way would spell the end of everything. That much, he got from the Force.
His eyes flickered to Mr. Dram. “Mr. Dram. What were you before you became a part of Kaine’s command?”
“What?” Dram asked, confused.
“What were you before… becoming a part of Kaine’s command? What did you do?”
“Well..” the man was stalling and Neela suddenly snapped her fingers. “When we first met, you indicated that something was going on right now. You called it a third act of Kaine’s rise only… Kaine is not here. You seemed to indicate that the…err…trouble the Empire was having was a ..what did you call it? ‘A bringing down of his peers’?”
“Well.. I was trying to be dramatic so I would get paid. I only call things as I see them but that doesn’t make them true..” Dram was shifting in his repulser chair.
“What did you do?” Ahnk demanded.
“You were Third Gen, you said!” Neela also prodded. “You were a part of Darth Exceron’s Empire!”
Ahnk was taken a little aback by that statement. He had not heard about Exceron in years. A forgotten remnant of the past.
“I was an Engineer. My name used to be Levinson and I was assigned to the Ebony Vigiliance," Mr. Dram stated recalling the events of the past (Imminent yet Erratic)
“You were not aboard when it and Emperor Hyfe vanished,” Neela started but Dram shook his head.
“Not that Ebony Vigilance. That ESD was the second to bear that name. I was stationed aboard her before she even was the Ebony Vigilance.”
“What happened to that ship?” Neela asked.
“It died along with the New Republic’s fleet over Bastion trying to defeat the New Empire and the Wrath Virus.”
“You did not go down with that ship either,” Neela pointed out to Ahnk’s amusement.
“No. Before the maiden voyage of the Empire’s grand ESD, we were attacked by the New Republic under Gash Jiren. The ship was smashed and presumed destroyed. I was only one survivor out of three hundred and forty-nine survivors. We were given new identities by the Empire under Simon Kaine to keep up the pretense that Gash Jiren’s attack had succeeded and the ESD was lost when, secretly, it was being refitted for operation once more.” Mr. Dram sighed. “A lot of the survivors were given promotions which is how I got fast-tracked to command the Terra Nassar. I was captain of that ship when the Ebony eventually died.”
Neela fell quite and Ahnk sat back in his chair. “I wish,” he admitted, “I knew how that fit or even if it does fit,” he murmured. There was something pushing him to question further but for the life of him, he did not know what the Force was telling him.
Dram, formerly Levinson, shook his head. “I do not know what to tell you,” he said, clearly disturbed by the memories of long ago. His eyes moved back an forth as if seeing something invisible when he looked up and sighed, “I can say that Supreme Commander Kaine always had these side obsessions and that attack was one of them.”
“Why was that?” Neela asked.
“Because we could not find the reason for the New Republic’s attack. It was,” Dram frowned trying to remember, “out of character for them. Kaine always persisted in the belief that it was out of character..”
Ahnk laughed out loud. “The Empire tries to assassinate a New Republic leader and they are beside themselves when the New Republic brings reprisals? Even I thought your damned Empire deserved what it got and more!”
Mr. Dram looked at Ahnk quietly. “You were leader of the Sith Brotherhood at the time weren’t you? Eventually, you would turn away from the Sith but your men would fail to follow you sealing their doom.”
“Your point?” Ahnk growled.
“That when your men failed to follow you, you at least knew why. The reason why Kaine persisted in the belief that there was something more to that attack and why it was so out of character for the New Republic to attack us was because, contrary to claims, the Empire never tried to assassinate that New Republic leader! It wasn't us!!”
“You lie,” Ahnk stated flatly. “I saw the footage damning you!”
“Use your force powers, Rogue Jedi!” snapped Dram. “Am I lying? We saw the same footage! We saw the drumbeating condemning us! Kaine turned it around later saying the assassination attempt was actually carried out by a Sith splinter group called the Order of Golgotha. But even that was an INS lie. The truth is, we never knew who set those damned explosives!”
The half-man, Mr. Dram, leaned forward. “But I can tell you that we almost lost the Ebony Vigilance in that attack. It was set to come online and ready for active duty in just a few more days. It was as if the New Republic not only knew where to hit us but when to hit us as well. Mobilization and response to the attack was extremely fast as Muunilinst was under Simon Kaine’s supervision. If not for the reinforcements, the Ebony would have been confirmed destroyed by the New Republic rather than being forced to withdraw before being drawn into a larger conflict. If the Ebony would have been destroyed, it would have given the New Republic a larger upper-hand with their own Jenova. Imagine unleashing that warship against the Empire with us having nothing to counter it!”
“The Empire would have been forced to surrender,” Neela whispered.
Ahnk frowned, feeling an uneasy stirring in his mind at the mention of the Jenova (Empire's Shadows - Republic's Light). He had surrendered himself aboard that ship to Leia, to Gash… no! Not Gash. To ..
Tempest upheavals of gravel and dust flung unrelentingly…
“All we know,” Dram continued, “is that an explosion occurred on Corellia that injured a New Republic leader… a Jedi Master named..”
“Xylon Hexyra.” Ahnk finished his mind burning. Xylon!!
“Who was Xylon Hexyra?” Neela asked and Dram shrugged.
“A leader of some note in the New Republic but he disappeared before it’s fall. We did not even know what race he was or ..”
Ahnk chuckled mirthlessly. “You know what Xylon was! Everyone knew what he was…. He was.. .a.. a..” his voice trailed off as he tried to search his memory.
Dram was having none of it. “Believe me, when Kaine took Corellia after the fall of the New Republic and the dispersal of the Wrath Virus, he had us combing the records on anything regarding Xylon Hexyra! We found nothing!”
Ahnk stared at the half-man as a memory of the footage was called to mind.
...a petrified Ensign with a hand stiffly pressed against a severed chest. He met startled eyes peering from beneath clasped hands, although wasted no time to realize the news radiated so widespread. Falling exasperated to a crimson puddle not far from the warped entrance, the few to dash to his aid firstly (including himself) received the twisted harmony of his final words.
“Two words,” Dram continued, “and we were damned.”
“It was a setup!” the half-man pounded his fist against a nearby console. “It was a setup that began and ended with Xylon Hexyra!”
Neela frowned, “I do not see how it matters. The New Republic and the Empire were enemies. I mean, of course this Xylon would set up an attack against the Empire. I don’t see why he would need to blow himself up..”
“No.” Ahnk interrupted. “Kaine was right. It would be out of character for a Jedi Master to go to these lengths just to prod the New Republic to attack. The explosion against his person would stir the righteous anger of the New Republic and if the Empire had not luck of the devil on their side, I dare say the New Republic would be in power now and not the New Order.”
His mind skipped a beat.
“But Xylon Hexyra was a Jedi Master. I surrendered to him on the Jenova during another New Republic attack on Dantooine….and my men did not follow me.”
It was a memory that hurt.
“Dantooine was bloody. And Kaine nearly lost his life to Gash Jiren. It was his only recorded defeat,” Neela interjected.
“Your defeat as well, it seems,” Dram pointed out to Ahnk.
“I was..” Ahnk stopped trying to remember, “I was turning to the light! What was supposed to be my greatest personal achievement became the point of my downfall.”
He shook his head, “But Xylon Hexyra was a Jedi Master. I surrendered to him…”
A voice entered his mind… "What if someone implanted that image into you? Suppose everything from before the point of the plant is false?"
His mind was hazy about that day aboard the Jenova.
He forced his mind to concentrate on the memory..
Xylon… what did you do?
A sharp pain began to pierce his mind and Ahnk nearly cried out in pain as Neela and Dram suddenly moved back in concern.
“XYLON!!” he shouted, standing up with a most profound anger.
He realized his was holding his lightsaber as Neel and Dram had turned white in fear.
“I apologize for frightening you,” he said in a calm voice as he sat back down the pieces of a fractured memory suddenly falling into place.
The master of the vessel turned to the Imperials, his eyes widening with revelations, “Your Kaine was correct in presuming something was wrong. The New Republic was maneuvered to attack the New Order not just once but twice. Kaine was probably responsible for limiting the damage they could do during the first attack but Kaine was defeated and prostrate during the second attack. I was defeated as well during the second attack but not in the sense that one might think. My forces and my alliance with the New Republic would have made manipulations more difficult and so I was separated from my people and that… crushed me at the time. Instead of seeing me as a redeemed and valued ally as Gash Jiren once proved to the Jedi Order, I was reviled and held in suspicion. The attack ended abruptly there because I was in his presence and had inadvertently pierced his secret.”
“But why would he do all of that?” Neela asked softly.
Ahnk looked at her, “Because Xylon Hexyra was a Cree’Ar.”