Knights of the Old Republic: Outcasts
Chapter Three: Aeron
Daj huddled in a small uncomfortable chair. Two meters away from him was a small desk and another chair, this one currently occupied by a Sith naval officer, a Major judging by the decorations on his uniform. The officer looked coolly at him and Daj shuddered.
"Now," the Sith said, "tell me again, why did you authorize the Wanderer to launch?"
Daj stammered something about a glitch in the system, that a clearance had supposedly been issued by the traffic computer, but he could tell his questioner knew it to be a lie by the darkening of the man's expression.
The officer had just opened his mouth to speak again when the door opened. A regal man in gold- and jewel-bedecked robes entered.
"Forgive the intrusion, Major Alsten. Our time does not allow for the normal methods of questioning, I'm afraid. I will deal with this man personally."
The officer rose and bowed. "As you wish, my Lord." He turned on his heel and left.
"Lo-lord?" Daj echoed fearfully.
The man did not reply. He merely gazed levelly at Daj. His eyes were two depthless dark pools of night, and Daj felt something, something altogether wrong.
When it passed, he slumped in the chair. The Lord said something into a comlink, then turned back to his prisoner. "Return to your work," the Lord commanded.
He moved woodenly through the hallways of the Sith ship, and finally outside, through the docking bay and towards a transit center. He took a droid taxi back to the Ohtani spaceport and entered the control tower. He climbed stairs, walked down hallways, all without acknowledging anyone.
He sat at his desk, watching the blips on the screen through tears. He reached for buttons automatically, performing tasks with the air of old habit. He could feel those deep, dark eyes still on him, even now.
Finally, he took his required break. He left the office, and climbed another set of stairs. He found himself on the roof. The dark eyes followed him, watching, piercing, seeing everything he was, everything he would ever be.
He could not escape them any other way.
He took one more step, and the world lurched.
Aeron Rhade, humble traveler of the ways of the Force, knew that his all-consuming quest for knowledge could not possibly end in his lifetime. His was a life of service to the future, to those who would follow in his footsteps as he had followed the way pointed by the Masters of old.
This fact brought him peace. Most beings his age were concerned with more mundane things: finding a mate, gaining material wealth, and so on. Few, if, indeed, any of them, would ever know their place in the world, or know the contentment borne of acceptance of that place.
Yes, young Aeron Rhade's feet were firmly on the well-trodden path of enlightened study. He knew how his days would flow, one into another, as he sat with his books and with his Masters, learning the will of the Force and contemplating the nature of life itself.
And so it was with profound doubt and disquiet that he found himself awaking in a small shipboard dormitory.
A bipedal droid stood nearby, watching him with obvious intent.
"Where am I?" he asked it.
"The men's dormitory," the droid answered with infuriating accuracy.
"Why am I here?" Aeron demanded.
"Is that a philosophical query, or a request for historical account?"
Sitting up abruptly, the entire room spun before Aeron's eyes. He reached inward and the Force stabilized his balance. Feeling about him, Aeron started in shock.
"Where is my lightsaber?!"
"I do not know, sir. Where did you leave it?"
"Blast it, you hulk of artifice, I want answers and I want them now!"
It not a comforting feeling when the droid replied by speaking into a comlink. "Captain, your 'guest' is awake, and he appears to be in a rather foul mood." The report concluded, the droid continued to stand and stare at him, as if awaiting further instruction.
Kara and Liana entered the men's dormitory together. The Captain stayed by the door, crossing her arms over her chest, while the girl took a chair across from the occupied bunk. "What's your name?" she asked.
"Aeron Rhade," the man replied curtly. "Am I your prisoner, Dark Lord?"
"I don't know where you come from," Kara replied dryly, "but if I look like a 'Lord' to you, obviously they don't let you out often."
Liana chuckled at that. "You are no one's prisoner, Jedi. We brought you with us after you were stunned by the Sith back on Derra IV."
"But her weapon, it's a Sith blade..." he interjected.
"My weapon," Kara replied, "is an heirloom of my family. I don't even what 'Sith' means."
Aeron's dark eyebrows arced sharply downward. "Family?" he echoed. "Are you, perchance, Bladedancer's kin, then?"
Kara recognized the name from the strange message she'd found when she found her weapon. "And if I am?" she asked.
"Then you are the one I seek!" he said, all traces of bitterness leaving his face.
"You and everybody else apparently," she muttered. "Why are you seeking me?"
"I saw you in a vision," Aeron said. "I saw you fighting a man, then I saw the end of everything."
"Who was I fighting?" Kara asked.
"I don't know. I've never seen him, but he bore a lightsaber, and you were fighting him with your double-bladed weapon. In the midst of the fight, it split into two lightsabers."
Taking out her weapon, Kara examined it closely. "Split?"
Aeron nodded. "Yes. Only one person in all the archives of the Jedi is mentioned as having a blade that could do that. Selene Au Vanden, better known as Selene Bladedancer."
"That was my grandmother..." Kara eyed this stranger warily. "Selene. But she was no Jedi, she came to Derra IV to hide."
"Selene Bladedancer," Aeron began with the tone of a scholar explaining the obvious to a rock, "was the foremost blade master in all the Jedi Order, even while a Padawan learner. She followed Revan into the Mandalorian Wars, but disappeared near their conclusion. Revan's fall to the dark side marked the rise of the fallen Jedi known as the Sith, and the start of the Jedi civil war."
"So you thought I was some kind of evil Jedi for having her lightsaber?"
"Traditionally, only the Sith carry red blades. It is possible that your grandmother followed Revan in her fall, I suppose, but I had not seen anything in the archives about that."
The words rang false. Everything about them stood in stark contrast to what little Kara knew of Selene. "My grandmother fled to Derra IV to hide herself and the Music from the outside world. That does not sound like a betrayal to me."
"Music?" Aeron echoed.
"The song sung by all life. I hear it, inside," Kara explained.
"The Force... I was not mistaken when I saw it burn brightly in you," Aeron breathed. "Have you had training?"
"My mother taught me what Grandmother taught her. Why is it important?"
"You need to accompany me to the Academy," he declared firmly. "The Masters must be informed of your existence."
"What Academy? Where?"
"The Jedi Academy where I learned to feel the Force, what you erroneously call 'Music'. I cannot tell you where it is, but you must be taken there at once."
"Forget it. I have commitments."
"What 'commitments'?" Aeron demanded.
"First, I agreed to help Liana and Renn, for taking me off Derra IV, and for getting you out of Sith custody. Then, I mean to find those responsible for the death of my family and... deal with them."
"You cannot!" Aeron exclaimed, aghast.
"Don't tell me what I can't do." Kara's voice grew cold, her eyes burning like star fire. "They were murdered, chained and burned alive. I mean to find out why and see that their killers suffer and die!"
"That is not the Jedi way-" he began, but she cut him off before the words had left his lips.
"I'm not a Jedi. I didn't ask to be in the middle of this, and I sure as hell didn't have to save you. I don't need any lectures from you." She turned and stalked out of the room.
Liana did not follow Kara from the room immediately. Her face grim, she took Aeron's lightsaber hilt from a pouch at her waist. "Be assured that your weapon is safe, but I intend to keep it until I am certain you can be trusted. Which I am not."
She paused, then slipped the weapon back into her pouch as he spluttered something incoherent about a Jedi's weapon being his life.
"The cub has just lost her family and all that she has ever known. I had heard that the Jedi were a compassionate people. I am sorry to see I was wrong." With that, she left, locking the door again behind her.
To hell with it, Renn thought, pushing himself up out of his seat in the cockpit. He wasn't actually doing anything up here other than finding excuses to keep from going back to his room - or rather, the dormitory, now that he had an involuntary roommate. He knew he needed to try to catch some elusive sleep now, just in case. The fact that the Jedi idiot was now awake made that prospect much less appealing, but it was sleep or stims, and the latter was something he tried to avoid if he could help it.
He started down the corridor toward the back of the ship, wondering if Liana would be mad if he stunned the Jedi again, when another body came around the bend and slammed into him. He stumbled back, catching hold of the other for a moment, but then he let go quickly when he saw that it was the girl, Kara. "Watch where you're going," he growled.
"Sorry," she snapped back. "You were right, by the way. We should have left his sorry carcass back on the cantina floor."
Renn's eyebrows shot up. If it were up to him, he'd have left them both, but the girl was paying, at least. "What did you expect, answers? He's a Jedi. They make a living being cryptic and self-righteous."
"And you make yours being snotty and obnoxious?" She pushed past him and stormed towards the other dormitory.
"What the hell--?" He stared after her for a moment. Behind him, he heard the door of the men's dormitory slide open. "Don't you start too," he muttered.
"Start?" Liana inquired.
He turned to look at her. "What's with the kid?"
"Ah." His partner's ears twitched in the manner he'd come to associate with annoyance. "The Jedi was not very sympathetic to her loss." She looked down at him. "You could stand to be a little more compassionate toward her as well, Renn." She continued past him toward the cockpit.
He gritted his teeth. Why was everyone against him today? He practically slammed his hand down on the panel to unlock the door. He glanced at the Jedi for a moment before throwing himself down on his own bunk. He hoped his desire for silence was something the man could read with those magic Force tricks of his.
"Tell me," the Jedi asked, "where are we bound?"
Renn groaned. "Ord Mantell." Hopefully without the Sith finding out, but he didn't have a lot of faith in that outcome. Come to think of it, were the Sith after Kara or this idiot? Or both?
The Jedi made a small gesture of annoyance. "Tell me on what business."
It was not a question.
For a moment, Renn wanted to tell the Jedi all the details of their delivery. He opened his mouth to speak, then closed it again, frowning. What--? No. No, this was not going to happen. He pushed himself up from the bunk violently, staring at the other man. "You don't try that again, you understand me? Next time you do, I push you out the airlock. Hell, I think the kid would help."
"Very well, then tell me why I am held prisoner."
"Because of tricks like that," Renn retorted, sitting back down on his bunk and surreptitiously checking for the blaster he kept hidden in the wall compartment above the bed. "This is our ship. We don't trust you, and you just confirmed why we shouldn't."
"Forgive my rudeness," the man replied. "But see it from my side. I am stunned by Sith troopers and awaken in a locked chamber aboard a ship headed for parts unknown and crewed by people whose motives remain unclear. I required information and sought to obtain it the most reliable way I knew." The grimace he wore showed that he wasn't used to apologizing, or explaining his motives. "Let us begin again. I am Aeron Rhade. I would like to know what you intend for me at our destination."
"I don't intend anything. The kid paid your passage, and it's up to her what to do with you. If I had any say in it, we'd dump you both at Ord Mantell and be done with it."
"I see..." he fell into silence. He sat, arms and legs folded on the bunk, eyes fluttering closed, silent as a stone.
Renn found the blaster and slid it under his pillow before lying down again, hand curled over it, to try and sleep. For a long while he lay there, eyes closed, but his mind just wouldn't shut off. It kept chasing itself around in circles.
After what felt like hours of this, his eyes snapped open and fixed on his new roommate. "Would you stop that?!" he growled, seeing the man still sitting in his meditation pose. He couldn't quite say why, but he found it intensely irritating.
Eyes still shut, Aeron responded dryly, "Am I thinking too loudly? I would do so elsewhere, but I am still prisoner."
Renn groaned and rolled over to face the wall. This... this just wasn't going to work.
Liana looked up at the blinking light that had just come on on the console beside her. A message? She leaned over to check it. It was short, saying only that their contact, Boss Qui, would meet them in orbit above Ord Mantell, due to certain unfortunate circumstances on the surface. She considered this. Perhaps some local law enforcement was upset with him. No matter; they could rendezvous with him just as easily in orbit. She sent back a short acceptance before settling back into the pilot's seat.
Footsteps behind her brought Liana out of her reverie. It was Kara.
"That's a very, um, interesting astromech droid. Are they all that," she searched for a word, "aggressive?"
Liana looked over her shoulder at the girl. "Not really. I understand that series is prone to strange personality traits, but we cannot afford to wipe its memory. The last time we tried, its efficiency dropped dramatically. Has it been disturbing you?"
"Very little of this trip hasn't disturbed me," she said. "Sorry, I didn't mean that as an insult. I just seem to butt heads with everyone lately."
"It is understandable. You are surrounded by strangers and far from home. It will get easier with time." Liana nodded toward the co-pilot's seat, indicating that the girl should sit if she wanted to. "I should apologize for Renn. He is not an easy man to get along with at times."
"Please," she said, taking the proffered seat, "don't worry about it. He's right, I'm basically an unneeded complication to you two. It's good of you to take me on, payment or no."
Liana gave her a small, feline smile. She saw a lot of a girl she once was in this human cub. "I would not have left you in need. It is not my way."
Kara smiled, then yawned so wide she felt her head would split. "Excuse me," she said embarrassed.
Liana's ears dipped. "How long since you last slept?"
"Far too long," Kara was forced to admit.
"Go then, and rest. I will call you. We have some hours yet until we reach our destination."
Nodding, Kara excused herself and went back to the dormitory.
"We've arrived," came Liana's voice over the ship's intercom. Renn rolled out of his bunk on auto-pilot. At least he'd managed a few hours of sleep. Stopping to straighten his clothes, he saw the damn Jedi was still in that pose. He shook his head, then let himself out of the dorm.
He had just stumbled into the cockpit, feeling only slightly disheveled, when the comm chimed. He dropped into his chair and thumbed the button. "Greetings, Wanderer," said a smooth voice.
"Boss Qui, I presume," he responded.
"Indeed. So glad you were flexible enough to agree to meet me in orbit." Renn shot a perplexed look toward Liana, who nodded.
"Anything for a customer," Renn improvised, with another sharp look toward his partner.
"A good attitude to have, Wanderer. I heard of poor Thes's demise from a mutual contact. I assume you were able to load the goods before leaving Derra IV or else you wouldn't have come all this way."
"Yes, sir, and we'd be happy to deliver them to you for half the fee originally promised."
The voice on the other end of the com laughed. "I see. My ship, the Gray Specter, is en route."
"We'll be waiting."
When the comm cut off, Renn turned to Liana. "And we agreed to meet him in orbit, why?"
She stared back at him, implacable. "He requested it."
He bit back a sharp response. It wasn't her fault she thought everyone was honorable unless proven otherwise. That was what she kept him around for. "I think it's a trap."
"Why would he want to trap us? We are bringing him something he needs."
"Because if he just takes it without paying us, he gets it for free with no witnesses." He punched a few buttons. "I might be wrong, but there's no harm in being prepared. Let me go tell the girl. He might not know about her, and if he doesn't and she can fight like she did in the bar, she might be able to bail us out if it comes to it."
Liana's tail lashed. "Very well," she said finally.
He made his way toward the back of the ship again, this time stopping by the door to the women's dormitory. He stopped himself from barging right in (his usual habit) and pressed the door chime instead. "You awake?" he called.
"Yeah..." said a sleepy voice within. "Are we there yet?"
"There might be trouble. Grab your weapon and be ready." He briefly wondered if he should tell the Jedi, too, then decided against it. It wasn't like he'd do a lot of good without his lightsaber, and Renn wasn't about to suggest that Liana give it back.
"Give me a bit." She emerged a minute later stifling a yawn, but otherwise ready for action. "What sort of trouble are we in?"
"Well, our crime lord may or may not be planning to stab us in the back, and they probably don't know about you, so you may be our advantage." He shrugged. "Other than that, just the usual possiblity of being caught by some kind of law enforcement."
"Oh. Joy," she said acidly, "I always wanted to be a criminal. Ah well, my father always said, 'no use worrying about the storm till it hits you, as long as you're prepared.'"
It was with a great act of will that Renn bit back a response that would have started another war of words that, frankly, they didn't have time for. "Just keep that lightsaber of yours handy and don't attack until we're sure he's gonna betray us." He started back down the corridor. "Liana doesn't think he will but she has a hard time believing bad of people."
"You two work well together," Kara said sincerely. They moved out into the hallway, back towards the cockpit. "You cover each other's weak points."
Renn snorted. "If that's your way of saying she's the nice one and I'm the bastard, you're right."
She laughed. "I didn't mean that exactly, but as a case in point, yes."
Renn didn't deny it. "You'd better hope you never see her when she's really angry."
They walked into the cockpit a minute later to see a large gray bulk freighter almost filling the viewport. "I take it that's them?" Kara asked.
"It is," Liana answered.
Renn slipped into his seat. "They're requesting permission to dock with us."
"Granted," the captain replied. The Wanderer shook a little as the other ship's docking ramp attached to its airlock. "Come, we should get the cargo ready."
Renn glanced at Kara. "Stay out of sight until it's apparent we need you. We want you to be a surprise."
She nodded and melted back the way they'd come, finding a nice nook to hide in with a view of the main hold and hatchway. She brought her lightsaber out, but didn't activate it. "I have a bad feeling about this..." she muttered to no one.
Boss Qui was a large man, fattening now that gray hairs graced his head but with every sign that most of that bulk had been muscle in his younger days. He was flanked by several bodyguards of different species, including a few aqualish and a twi'lek. "Captain Liana," he said as he stepped through the airlock. "And this must be the famous Renn Falani."
"I wouldn't say famous," Renn quipped. "Just well-travelled."
The crime lord laughed. "Indeed. And this would be the cargo?" He motioned to the four crates stacked now in the middle of the hold.
"Yes, sir," Liana replied.
He looked around. "And where is your little Jedi friend?" His smile widened as he took in their expressions. His men fanned out and surrounded them, blasters out and pointed toward the pair. "You see, I recieved an interesting message this morning. It seems the Sith have offered a bounty for a ship called the Wanderer, along with any and all persons found aboard. Being a good businessman, it would be foolish for me to ignore a sum of 50,000 credits."
"50,000 credits?" Renn choked. "There's no one on board worth that much--" he fell silent as the muzzle of a blaster rifle pressed into his back.
"That's for the Sith to decide, I think." He motioned to a pair of his men. "Search the ship. Bring anyone or anything you find here."
The two men went down the starboard companionway, right toward the niche where Kara was hiding. She withdrew a bit, then, coming up with a desperate plan, she dug out a small coin and threw it down the hall, squeezing further into shadow.
The two thugs brought their weapons up and slowly crept down the hall, right past her and toward the tinkling sound at the far end, near the open hatch.
In one swift move, Kara pressed the end of her lightsaber to the head of one thug and triggered it. The man's head sloughed off her blade and he dropped. His partner whirled in time to catch a wicked slash that almost cut him in half.
"Get her!" Boss Qui shouted. He and one of his bodyguards kept their rifles trained on Renn and Liana; the rest rushed toward the girl, opening fire.
Retreating down the hall, Kara extended the other blade and surrendered to the Music. It showed her an intricate dance, and following its direction, she twisted her blade roughly, it came apart, half in each hand.
Following the Music's guidance, Kara deflected the bolts sent her way. As often as not, the returned fire hit those who shot at her.
Finally, only two of the seven were left, cowering behind bulkheads.
"You want to live?" she shouted to them. "Then run! Flee me, or I will burn you down where you stand!"
The thugs fled.
Boss Qui growled as his own men ran past him. "Girl, do you hear me?" he bellowed. "Come out or I will kill the rest of your crew."
The Music whispered its response. Kara grinned. Closing down her blades, she concealed one hilt up her sleeve, holding it casually. She sang one opening note in her mind, then declared aloud, "All right, I'm coming out, hold your fire."
Stepping into the open, she took the exposed lightsaber hilt and rolled it across the floor. It skittered well past the two thugs and their hostages.
"I'm sorry," she said to Renn and Liana. "I can't risk your lives."
"That's right, girly," Boss Qui sneered. "You Jedi are all alike."
"Shows what you know," said Aeron from behind everyone. A snap-hiss of Kara's discarded blade later and the twi'lek holding Renn was missing a head.
Kara's remaining blade flashed and singed Boss Qui's balding pate. "Let her go," Kara demanded.
"You let him out?" Renn grumbled, brushing at his clothes. Liana bared her teeth in his direction, her tail lashing, but she said nothing.
"You're welcome," Aeron replied.
Defeated, Boss Qui lowered his rifle, glaring at the girl. "Two Jedi," he muttered. "I should have known. Are you going to kill me now?"
"Depends on you," Kara responded. "Who put the bounty on us?"
"Lord Venaar himself," Boss Qui said in a rush.
"Venaar?" Aeron asked. "Who is that?"
"You're kidding?! You're Jedi and you don't know who the Lord of the Sith is?" Qui asked.
"We were unaware that a singular Lord had emerged," Aeron admitted stonily.
"I'll ask the questions, tubby," Kara commanded, singing another gray hair from Qui's head. "The bounty specified everyone aboard this ship? Did it mention anyone specific?"
"A Jedi, Renn and Liana... That's all, I swear!" Qui's eyes filled with fearful tears.
"And how widespread is this bounty offered?" she demanded.
"By now? It's all over the outer and mid-rim. It may even be floating around the core."
"All right, I'm done with you." She raised her lightsaber to strike. "You may want to close your eyes."
Qui cowered and clamped his eyes shut.
Kara put every last bit of strength she could muster into the punch. It took Qui hard in the jaw; several of the man's teeth flew out as he spun around and fell to the deck.
Renn looked at her and raised an eyebrow.
"Alive, he can cower in fear of us and spread the word not to try and collect that bounty," Kara explained. "Dead, well... dead is dead."
"And we still have this damned cargo," Renn added, "not to mention a distinct lack of payment for it. Couldn't you have done some Jedi mind trick to get him to pay us before you knocked his teeth out?"
"So you like the Jedi mind trick when it suits you?" Aeron asked dryly.
"Aren't you assuming he doesn't have some data on his person that would give you access to his accounts?" Kara pointed out.
"That's a possibility, though he's real stupid if he does," the smuggler said, ignoring Aeron. He considered the bulk of the crime boss on the floor before bending down to rifle through the man's pockets. "Can't hurt to try tinkering with this," he said, withdrawing a datapad. "You know, they were real quick putting this bounty on us. I know for a fact they didn't get near enough to ID us. Someone sold us out."
Liana's tail flicked again. "Take him back to his ship."
Aeron and Kara quickly scooped up the unconscious figure and with the aid of the droids, dragged Boss Qui and his assorted dead thugs back to the Gray Specter's side of the docking connection. There, they left them in a heap in the air lock and retreated.
As soon as they were all back aboard the Wanderer, Liana rocketed her ship away from the Specter, weapon mounts blazing, crippling the larger ship.
Leaving the betrayer's vessel to founder, the Wanderer escaped to the safety of Hyperspace.
-End, Chapter Three