Monthly Archives: June 2024

Star Wars: Treasures of the Force – Ch 46

As close calls went, Ayli was having a hard time thinking of a time when she’d had less margin for error. In part that was because she was having a hard time thinking at all.

“Command craft, we have Cataclysm-class seismic activity reading from the surface directly below you,” Thirty-two called out. 

With the former Preservation League prisoners having been officially conscripted by the government of Calerpris, both sides of their current conversation had settled on calling the stolen cargo hauler that Ayli was piloting ‘Sali’s command craft’. It was a transparently thin ploy but that was all the commander of the New Republic’s fleet required to begin demobilizing his troops back to the far safer duty they’d originally been assigned to cover. 

“It’s not seismic activity,” Nix said.

“Looks pretty seismic from down here,” Sali said. She, Zindiana and Goldie were still trapped in the wrecked shell of the Goldrunner, which in turn was trapped in the tractor beam Ayli had caught them in. 

She’d managed to snug the Goldrunner up to the underbelly of the escape craft but that was doing nothing for its maneuverability.

“How long till your ready for docking?” Ayli asked. She had the Battle Cruiser in visual range but trying to land on a deck that wasn’t prepared for a tandem landing was an excellent method of destroying three ships for the price of one.

“We’re in position now,” Thirty-two said. “Stabilizers are fighting for control though. The techs say you won’t be able to land until things settle down.”

“We do not have the time,” Ravas said. “This will not settle down until the beast has arisen.”

And then they would be dead.

Ayli didn’t know what sort of creature lived inside a planet which had been swallowed by the Dark Side, but since it could apparently break continents she was reasonably sure it could break them as well.

“Tell the techs not to worry,” Ayli said . “And tell them to stand back.”

“Kelda, Ravas, I think we need to buy some time,” Nix said.

“That better not involve leaving this ship,” Ayli said.

“Nope. None of us are going to do that,” Nix said. “We are however going to draw its attention.”

“Isn’t that the last thing you should be doing?” Sali asked over the comm.

“Normally? Yes,” Nix said. “In this case though? That thing is so big it’s going to wipe us out without even thinking about it. So we can either be collateral damage right now or we can push back and buy ourselves some more time.”

“I vote for more time,” Zindiana said.

Ayli didn’t bother adding her voice to the vote. The escape craft had been designed to haul large amount of goods, not fly with any particular precision. Lining it up with the bobbling Battle Cruiser, which was only barely rated for atmospheric flight, was nerve wracking on a day when she was already well past the limits of her last nerve.

In the back of her throat she could feel a growl building. It was frustrating that she’d come this far and things still weren’t easy. With each dip and rise of the mad thermals around them, the urge to reach out and grab both ships hard enough to crush them into a stable flight grew stronger.

Crushing them would feel so damn good too.

She could hear the screams of the metal.

The screams of the people were even better. A salve to her frustration and a lesson to the world to avoid annoying her in the future.

“Somebody else needs to take the controls,” she said, pushing back before the rage that was still building in her could leak out.

“You can do this,” Nix said laying a hand on her should.

Because of course Nix thought she could do it. Why wouldn’t she? Everything was easy for the human. She played with the Force like it was an obedient little droid. For Nix the Force was a good little slave.

Ayli shook her head.

“I can’t,” she said. “I’m…”

“She’s still recovering,” Ravas said. “Now is not the time to push her.”

Which was both completely true and something Ayli instinctively reacted against.

“That’s my choice,” she said and grabbed the controls again.

“It is,” Ravas said. “Just as this is mine.”

Ayli caught the barest glimpse of the lightning in Ravas’ hand before the world flashed and went dark.

——-

Waking up wasn’t something she did swiftly. Consciousness came back to her in small, and gentle waves, each one lapping closer to wakefulness than the last.

Ayli was aware that she was laying down before anything else. The next wave brought with it the sensation of soft, clean clothes and sheets around her. The next a sense of dim lighting and the warm pillow beneath her head.

Except it wasn’t a warm pillow.

Because pillows didn’t run their hands gently along your lekku and massage the tension from the muscles of her head, and neck, and face.

“You can rest more if you want,” Nix said.

Ayli let herself sag into Nix’s lap even further. Did she drift off for a minute? An hour? A year? She had no way of knowing except that Nix was still there with her when the next wave brought her further back to consciousness.

“What happened?” Ayli asked, unwilling to open her eyes just yet. “Where are we?”

“Technically the First Officer’s cabin on Sali’s flagship,” Nix said, “but they’re calling it the Honeymoon Suite because they think they’re clever.”

“What? How did we get here?”

“With some help from our friends,” Nix said but at Ayli’s frown continued. “Ravas kind of knocked you out, and then took over the ship controls while Kelda and I tried to keep the Beast away from us.”

“I’m guessing that worked?”

“Right up until the point where Ravas suffered a rapid case of ‘I’m a corpse powered by the Dark Side and you just flew me off the Dark Side planet.”

“She’s dead?” Ayli asked, feeling surprisingly unhappy about that given that Ravas had just electrocuted her.

“She’s been dead since we met her,” Nix said. “Her weirdly preserved body is simply back to being an inert lump like dead bodies are supposed to be.”

“So how did you land the ship?” Ayli asked, knowing this couldn’t be the afterlife given how heavy and lethargic she felt.

“Turns out being away from the planet of Dark Side misery made things a like easier to move with the Force,” Nix said. “Kelda did most of the work there, though even with the two of us working on it I’m afraid neither ship is exactly in operational condition at the moment.”

“How non-operational are they?” Ayli asked and quickly added, “And what about Goldie? Did she make it out?”

“Oh, yeah, Goldie’s fine. She’s hooked up to the Battle Cruiser now, though we should get her out of their before all those armaments start giving her bad ideas.” Nix was still lightly massaging Ayli’s head and added “A question for you though; how are you feeling now?”

“Tired. Like I was hit by a lifter, the heavy grav kind,” Ayli admitted, not wanting the tender care she was receiving to end.

“Ravas wanted me to extend her apologies on that,” Nix said. “She said you’d understand when you woke up.”

“Think I haven’t woke up yet then,” Ayli said.

“She said your heart would be clearer now than before,” Nix said.

Ayli focused on her emotions and found them as tired as she was. She could have called up rage as easily as she’d learned to mask it, or she could have on any other day. However long she’d slept, it had been enough to let the all consuming anger with her die away to cold embers.

In her memories she could still taste the power anger had offered her, could feel the gravitic draw it exerted on her thoughts, but those sensations had the advantage of distance. 

And of being gently massaged away by a pair of caring hands.

“She was right,” Ayli said. “I think…I think I was losing myself again there.”

“I think Ravas is familiar with that,” Nix said. “I think Kelda is too.”

“But not you,” Ayli said. It wasn’t a question or an accusation, though it had subtle shades of each.

“I know we’re already married, but we probably need to get to know each other a lot better,” Nix said with a small laugh. “I don’t think I’m quite what any of you think I am.”

“You’re not the beautiful, kind woman who’s pulling me back from toxic Dark Side poisoning by refusing to give up on me even when I try to hit you with Force Lightning?” Ayli asked.

“Not giving up on you doesn’t make me kind. You’re who I want to be with. I’m nothing but greedy for you,” Nix said. “If I’m managing to be kind, it’s a learned response, not a natural one.”

“You seem pretty adept at it to me,” Ayli said.

“It’s easy with you,” Nix said.

“Why?” Ayli asked. “I’m not saying I have any objections, but why be so interested in me? We more or less stumbled together randomly. Does who I am really matter?”

“Do you really think our meeting was random?” Nix asked.

Ayli narrowed her eyes, unsure of what she was hearing.

“Wait, did you arrange that?” she asked.

“Me? No. I was drunk out of my gourd,” Nix said. “But you’ve seen how the Force works. You’ve felt how it guides us.”

“Okay, that sounds even crazier. The Force wanted us to hook up? Is it a dating service now too?”

Nix chuckled at that and bent over to press a kiss to Ayli’s forehead.

“No, come on, you’ve felt how it works. The Force isn’t some vast mastermind. It’s the energy of the connections between all of us. We are the Force and when we use to to do things, we’re using something that we’re a part of.”

“I don’t get how that isn’t either you or the Force playing matchmaker?” Ayli said.

“Because it wasn’t me or the Force, it was me and the Force and you,” Nix said. “I was alone when we met. More than just between crews, or between jobs. I’d broken up with Sali a while back and I didn’t have anyone else really. No one who I fit with, or who needed me. I think the same was true for you right?”

“Yeah, but I’d been like that for a while.”

“And we both reached out,” Nix said. “I think in our hearts we asked the world to bring us to the someone we would fit with.”

“It can’t be that easy,” Ayli said. “We’d have found each other much sooner if all we needed to do was yearn for it.”

“Has any of this been easy?” Nix asked. 

“Yes,” Ayli said. “Oh, this whole trip has been hell, but you? You’ve been impossible not to…” 

She cut herself off at ‘fall in love with’, unsure if Nix was ready to hear those words yet.

“I love you too,” Nix said. “At least as much of you as I’ve seen so far. There’s a lot more to both of us though.”

“More that we won’t love?” Ayli asked.

“Probably. I definitely don’t love all of my parts,” Nix said. “But those parts aren’t the whole story of who I am or who you are, and loving you is a choice I’ll make based on all of whole you are, not just the worst bits.”

“You don’t know how bad the worse bits are yet though,” Ayli said.

“Yeah, but I know who you’ve made yourself with and in spite of them,” Nix said. “And that counts more than anything else.”

“Is it? Ayli said. “Because I might have made myself into as much of a monster of the Dark Side as Ravas did.”

“If you need to be a monster, then I’m going to make sure you’re my monster,” Nix said. “But I won’t let you hurt yourself like that. Not for me, and not for anyone else. Like I said, I love you Ayli’wensha and if that means I need to Force Lightning you into unconscious again, you better believe I’ll do it.”

Star Wars: Treasures of the Force – Ch 45

As plans went, Nix was well aware that “arrest all of or allies” was not what one might call “blessed with conventional wisdom”. Even without the the intuitive clarity the Force usually provided her though Nix knew it would work.

“That does not seem like an improvement of our predicament,” Thirty-two said, which also did not surprise Nix.

“Huh, no, you know what I think she might be on to something,” Sali said, because one does not get to be a Pirate Queen, or survive for any period of time as one at least, if one is not able to grab opportunities when a glimpse of them is offered. “Thirty-two, you and the rest of the former Preservationist League’s contingent are, and this is important, have been under the custody of the Calerpris Protectorate, your incarceration negotiated and handled by the Calerprise Grand Regent.”

“I don’t recall…” Thirty-two began to say before understanding caught up to him. “OH! Why yes. Indeed, we are! In the heat of battle it quite slipped my mind. How silly. And the records we have here so clearly support that takeover with the proper dates and times already.”

Nix could almost hear the system hacking and forgery work being done through the vacuum of space, but it didn’t matter.

“Could you patch Sali through to the New Republic fleet’s commanders,” Nix said. “I’m sure she can sort this out with them, and explain how Calerpris had a standing judgment against the criminal Klex Cartel and its judicial mandate required the pursuit of said cartel, including the conscription of all legally available forces to combat the galaxy-wide threat the cartel represented.”

“Will they accept us as ‘legally available forces’?” Thirty-two asked.

“It’s the New Republic,” Nix said. “Slavery isn’t technically legal there. The prison system allows you to effectively be slaves, but all the Preservation League did was buy out the contract on providing you with food, shelter, and the rights to your work allowance.”

“There doesn’t seem to be an observable difference there,” Ravas said.

“You’re not wrong, except for the thin edge of ‘the letter of the law’ and the much wider gulf of this being a problem the New Republic doesn’t actually need to care about,” Nix said.

“Right,” Sali said. “They sent a fleet out here because they were afraid a new Warlord fleet with an army of convicts was going to come blasting for them. A bunch of prisoners changing to a new set of jailers is a bunch of people they don’t care about being managed by a different bunch of people they don’t care about. The key to dealing with a bureaucracy isn’t to be upset that they don’t give a krife about you and never will. What you need to do is exploit the fact that they don’t give a krife about you and never will. Take any other problems away and you can do whatever the krife you want.”

“Exactly,” Nix said. “Convince the New Republic that the prisoners some other governments problem before they start shooting and we’re fine.”

“The planet is about to smite us though,” Ayli said.

“Oh yeah. Convince them the prisoners are someone else’s problem and send a cruiser down here to pick us up in the next two minutes and we’re fine,” Nix said.

“One small problem with that,” Thirty-two said. “The remainder of Klex fleet fled from us and got blasted to pieces by the Praxis Defense grid. We’d love not to fight the New Republic fleet, but being blasted to pieces ourselves seems like a terrible alternative.”

“Don’t worry, you won’t be,” Nix said surveying the throne room before them.

“Yeah, we’re about to take the Defensive Grid off-line, permanently,” Ayli said, sparks of Force Lightning gathering in her hands.

Nix reached to hold her back but it was Ravas who stopped her first.

“Don’t,” Ravas said, laying a gentle hand on Ayli’s wrist. “I know that sounds wrong coming from me, but I even in life I knew the cost for that power was too high.”

“What? But you…” Ayli objected, the sparks growing more intense.

“Refused to let myself admit a lot of things,” Ravas said. “I knew, I always knew, what I was doing to myself. I thought embracing my own destruction for power was embracing the truth. The power was undeniable. It was real. What I was trading for it though? The effect it had on me? Those were real too, no matter how much I denied them. So don’t follow me. You do not need to destroy yourself, no matter the pain you carry.”

Nix wanted to add something to that, but she found herself gobsmacked.

Kelda, similarly, didn’t seem able to form words.

“What?” Ravas asked, seemingly annoyed at the attention, or perhaps embarrassed by it.

“You’re not wrong about destroying this place though,” Nix said, keenly aware of the lack of time left to them. “We just have less emotionally destructive means of going about it.”

The blue lightsaber felt like it had been molded to fit her hand precisely, and swinging it with joyous abandon through the control Throne in the room was fulfilling in a manner she had a hard time putting words to.

For their parts, Ravas and Ayli glanced at each other, lit their blades and joined the smiling mayhem with relish.

As it turned out, while the designers of the defense system had constructed it to survive thousands of years of automated service, they had not built sufficient redundancies to handle three people with lightsabers absolutely wrecking every panel, control surface, and power junction they could smack with a blade of disintegrating plasma.

“Don’t know what you did, but the entire planetary grid just went dead,” Thirty-two said.

“Told you the leader of the Children wanted all the controls at their fingertips,” Nix said, wishing there was a little more left to destroy.

“How fast can you get the Cruiser down to us?” Ayli asked.

“We’re on the wrong side of the planet, but we’re heading there now,” Thirty-two said. “Telemetry says, it’ll be three minutes until we want touch down.”

“No touching down,” Nix said. “We don’t have time and you do not want to be on the planet surface in three minutes.”

The sense of gathering dread was palpable and it’s scale beyond Nix’s ability to fathom. How many had died on Praxis Mar? Millions? Billions? How could she understand even a tiny fraction of that?

“We have a problem there,” Zindiana said. “I tried a reroute on the primary drive and we regained all the thrust we’re going to. It’s good for a whole four seconds now. There’s no chance we can make it to orbit for a pick up in that time.”

Nix turned to the Force. It was filled with despair, and lies, and self-deceiving illusions. Hate and misery had scrambled the harmonious flow of life on Praxis Mar to the point where even the grand balance of the cosmos was disrupted and led to destruction and ruin.

Except it didn’t want to.

The Force was twisted because the lives which had ended on Praxis Mar hadn’t been able to find a way past the pain and horror their lives had become.

Nix couldn’t say they’d been wrong. She couldn’t blame them for failing to fix a problem that was so much vaster than any one of them could face alone. Their story was a tragedy and there was no denying the horror which had engulfed them. 

She was distant from them though. She had the advantage of time which they had lacked. She was able to remind the Force that the end of Praxis Mar hadn’t been the end of everything, or even necessarily an inevitable end of anything.

There had been warning, chance to change course, opportunities to flee, or to change, or to save some parts of their world. 

Peering into the churning maelstrom of the Force within Praxis Mar, Nix knew that even in absolutely defeat, not everything had been lost.

Their history. Their culture. Their stories. They were all buried, shrouded in darkness and cloaked in long simmering rage, but beside Nix stood the answer to all of that.

“My wife can free you,” she told Praxis Mar. “She understands you. She’s an archeologist and she will tell your story.”

It was ridiculous.

It didn’t matter.

The story of Praxis Mar was over, and only the Dark Side remained.

The Dark Side in which lurked something far beyond the ability of any living being. Something which could only laugh at Nix’s pitiful attempt to bargain for her life before she was snuffed out like all the rest.

But Nix wasn’t bargaining.

She had no illusion that she could face the Beast of Praxis Mar. If she tried to stand against it, even with her friend, even with both of the fleets in orbit, they would all die. 

At least they would now.

Today they stood no chance.

Tomorrow though? 

A fierce and awful delight played across Nix’s lips as the Force spoke to her.

Tomorrow was unwritten.

And it wanted to be free of the torment it had been bound in for so long.

It could wait.

If she could promise it tomorrow, it could wait.

And that was easy.

The promise of tomorrow was already there.

The end of the rage that had swallowed Praxis Mar was nestled in a quiet little cave overlooked by everyone and home to a love which had endured past end of life and hope. 

Kelda said she hadn’t managed to redeem herself in the Force but Nix had to chuckle at that. Of course she had hung on Ravas, and of course she still hated Scytheus. Love and hate were both parts of life. In Kelda’s long hermitage, she’d found the quiet which answered the screams of the dead planet. She’d found the peace she needed, not to let go but to hold on and believe in the impossible without it destroying her.

Kelda hadn’t failed the Force and the Force hadn’t failed her. She was more complete than she knew, and in her was the proof that Praxis Mar’s future could be freed of the chains of its past.

The Force resonated with that like a gong and Nix saw a path to her tomorrow open like a river parting before her.

—-

“We’re go for atmospheric insertion,” Thirty-two said. “We are getting cataclysm level seismic readings from the continent you’re on though.”

“Yeah, we’re not happy with that either,” Zindiana said. “How long till you’re in pick up range?”

“Thirty seconds,” Thirty-two said.

“At what altitude?” Zindiana asked.

“24,000 kells,” Thirty-two said.

“In standard units?” Sali asked.

“Translated on the display,” Goldie said.

“That’s no good,” Zindiana said. “We’re not going to make a tenth of that.”

“Not how I planned to go out,” Sali said. “There was supposed to be more booze and lots more guns.”

“Save some of that booze for us,” Ayli said, the ship to ship comms springing back to life after they’d gone mysteriously silent for over a minute.

“And boost. Now. Hard as you can!” Nix said.

The Goldrunner’s failing engines lit up and wrenched the craft into the air.

For one second.

Two.

Three.

Four.

Catastrophic engine failure. Zero output. Complete replacement needed.

And they began to fall back to the planet having achieved just enough altitude that the lack of power to the inertial compensators meant they were going to die from being pancakes against the planet’s surface rather than buried in lava or crushed by an earthquake.

That is until the tractor beam caught them.

“We’re not falling,” Sali said, shocked but not at all disappointed.

“Of course not,” Nix said. “You already fell for me. I’m not letting that happen again. I’m happily married now.”

“That new craft is yours then I take it?” Thirty-two said.

“Well it is now,” Ayli said.

“What did you do?” Sali asked.

“Stolen a getaway ship,” Nix said. “What, you didn’t think a paranoid cult leader wouldn’t have a getaway craft right near their throne room did you?”

Star Wars: Treasures of the Force – Ch 44

Ayli opened her eyes and was sprinting out of the cave the moment Ravas struck. Linking her mind to Nix’s had been clumsy and weird but she couldn’t deny it had made them both feel stronger, the harmony between them calling forth the confidence they had in each other as a shield Scytheus hadn’t been able to pierce.

Scytheus’ lightning however was another matter. Force Lightning, from what Ayli could remember through the haze of the blood rage she’d been in at the time, was singularly destructive and immeasurably painful. Even wearing a dead body, Scytheus had fled rather than try to stand against the storm she and Ravas had summoned.

That was not something she was willing to let Nix be struck by.

Or Ravas.

When Ayli had joined with Ravas’ ghost, she’d done so with the thought that she would never be free of the Zabrak woman’s spirit. 

But Ravas had left, had separated them of her own accord. 

And didn’t seem to be angling to reclaim her hold over Ayli.

Maybe because there hadn’t been any sort of hold. To the extent that anyone had been in charge of their raging gestalt, Ayli couldn’t say who that person had been.

Some weird blend of the two of them perhaps?

There had certain been as much of Ayli’s rage as Ravas’ driving the destructive rampage they went on.

Ayli wasn’t sure she would ever feel warmly towards Ravas. The anger which united them was too raw and sharp to allow anything except wary recognition and respect, but Ravas had earned at least that much.

Also, no one was allowed to hurt Ayli’s crew and after their time together, Ravas had unfortunately earned that distinction.

Ayli wasn’t alone in her desire to protect Ravas though, and someone else was much closer when the lightning started flaring.

From the mouth of the cave, Ayli watched as Kelda’s blue Force ghost emerged from Nix and grappled the Force Lightning away from the writhing and screaming Scytheus Dread. It looked neither easy nor painless but the fierce concentration on Kelda’s spectral features didn’t waver. 

Nor did the ice cold rage in Ravas’ eyes as she crushed, and crushed, and crushed Scytheus’ essence to dust.

In the end, he wasn’t destroyed in a grand explosive finale but as a scream which faded to empty silence.

A silence which ended a moment later as the ghost army he’d brought with him surged forward with a roar.

Ayli lit her lightsaber, for all the good an arc of plasma was going to do against spirits only to be pushed back in tracks by a single word.

“BEGONE!” Kelda and Ravas had turned back to back with each other and spoken as one. Against the planetary mass of Dark Side energy, they cast the defiance of the living Force and the Dark Side was the one who blinked first, the ghosts fading away and back as the two master Force users commanded.

Or that was what Ayli thought at first.

“Okay, this is bad,” Nix said. “We need to leave. Right now.”

“The Goldrunner’s at the base of the mountain.”

“Let’s hope not,” Nix said, pulling a communicator from one of her pockets. “Goldie, give me some good news.”

“I’ve got lots of good news!” Goldie said over the little device. “Look up, see all those shooting stars?”

“The Klex didn’t win the fight,” Nix said. “That’s good. Especially since we need to get up there ASAP.”

“Well, there I might not have as much good news for you,” Goldie said. “The Ion drive took a hit, or thirty seven hits, and it’s not behaving well at all.”

“Can you get airborne?”

“I’ve managed about 2 seconds of power through the drive so far. So no,” Goldie said.

“That’s good. We can work with that,” Nix said.

“Two seconds of flight will not protect us from what’s coming,” Ravas said.

“It won’t,” Nix agreed. “Not on it’s own. But it’s something to work with, and we can do a lot with that.”

“How are we going to get there? We can’t run down the mountain that fast,” Ayli said, not entirely sure that was true, but caring enough about the state of her knees that she wasn’t overly interested in putting it to the test.

Of course being buried in lava would do pretty dreadful things to her knees too, so if push came to shove…

“I don’t know, but I know it’s this way,” Nix said, her eyes alight with some hidden certainty and distant as if she was already at their destination.

Their destination which seemed to lie within the Third Temple.

“She can’t be relying on the Force, can she?” Ravas asked. “Not here.”

“Don’t look at me,” Kelda said. “I failed as a Jedi, remember.”

“I don’t,” Ravas said, which seemed to have multiple meanings buried in it, none of which did they have the time to unpack.

Nix, clearly sensing that, was already moving when Ayli glanced back to her, forcing Ayli to run to keep up, something which Ravas and Kelda’s ghost seemed to be able to do without effort.

“The Temple has literal tonnes of Phrik in it. There must be a vault made of it in there. Can we hide there? Is that what you’re sensing?” Ayli asked as they sprinted through the Temple’s main doors.

“I don’t think so,” Nix said. “If the volcano blows, we’d survive the explosion but being buried in an indestructible vault under a lake of cooling lava doesn’t seem ideal. Also we need to get Goldie, Sali, and Zin.”

“That’s a tall order.” Ayli was all too aware of how often sacrifices had to be made. How the mission mattered more than the ones who were tasked with carrying it out. How not everyone always got to make it home safely.

But what if the mission was to bring everyone home safely? That was what Nix had demanded and what she’d promised. Would that mean none of them were going to make it out?

Being stuck as a ghost on Praxis Mar seemed like a pretty terrible fate, but with the evidence provided by Kelda’s tiny sanctuary, Ayli had to wonder if their ghosts wouldn’t be able to form a tiny little paradise too.

“You’re not wrong,” Nix said without sounding at all defeated. “Getting out of here with all of us is more than we can do on own.”

Ayli caught Nix’s meaning from the hope with glittered around her words.

“We’re not alone though,” Ayli said, her thoughts leaping skyward, into the starry black above them. “We’ve got a whole fleet with us.”

“A victorious fleet,” Nix said.

“I’m not sure they’re going to be able to get here in time Mom,” Goldie said over the still open comm. “The defensive array…ohhhh!”

“Exactly,” Nix said. “The defensive array around the planet has to have controls somewhere and if you were a paranoid Dark Side cult would you trust those controls to be anywhere but directly under your thumb?”

“Jedi aren’t supposed to be trained to think like that,” Ravas said, looking to her side at Ravas as Nix Force pushed a door open at the end of the Great Hall revealing a long spiraling stair case leading up towards the volcano’s summit.

“We’re probably lucky she’s not a Jedi then,” Kelda said.

“You…you really didn’t train her?” Ravas asked.

“To do this?” Kelda asked. “What part of I had no idea any of this was possible makes that seem likely.”

“You became one with the Force. That’s supposed to give you perfect insight isn’t it?” Ravas grumbled.

“Um, well, about that,” Kelda said. “I might have been skirting the truth there with Scytheus.”

“What? How?” Ravas asked taking up the rear position as the four raced up the stairs.

“Even at the end of my life, I hadn’t fully redeemed myself,” Kelda said. “No. That’s a lie too. Even at the end, I didn’t want to redeem myself. I was never really sorry for what I did to Scytheus. Till the day I drew my last breath, a part of me wanted him to come back so I could hurt him more for what he did to you.”

“Then, I don’t understand, how are you here? Immortality in the Force was something they said only the greatest of Jedi could attain.”

“They were wrong,” Kelda said. “About a lot of things. Or they just didn’t want us to think we could skip taking our lessons seriously, so they simplified things. I’m sure Jedi who have fully mastered their abilities and are in perfect harmony with the Force can transcend to a higher state of being. I didn’t do that so much as simply held on. When I died I could have let go but I could feel that you weren’t there, so I wasn’t willing to leave either. Over time, I was able to become more present, but only to those where a connection existed.

“I never knew,” Ravas whispered, so low that Ayli almost missed it. The sorrow embedded in the words was unmistakable though.

“I never told you,” Ravas said.

“Heh! Just like I thought!” Nix said and Ayli cast her gaze forward to see the room beyond the door at the top of the stairs was a technological throne room, complete with systems still blinking and functional long after they’d last been used.

In the center of the room, the titular Throne stood, an elaborate affair of wires, cables, actuators and variated displays.

As she stepped into the room, a feeling of revulsion past through, in part because the aura of the Dark Side was particularly noxious in the Throne Room but far more so due to her sense that something was deeply, horribly wrong with the volcano.

“Goldie can you patch us through the fleet?” Nix asked.

There was a crackle on the line rather than a response and Thirty-two answered the hail.

“Looks like you folks could use some help,” he said. “Unsurprisingly, we could too.”

“I thought you beat the Klex armada?” Nix asked.

“We did. You’ll see their ships deorbiting if you’ve got any view of the sky where you are,” Thirty-two said. “Some of them are still in one piece even. Not a piece which contains a working drive system or functional weapons, but there’ll be survivors. Probably.”

“That’s fine,” Nix said. “There’s a new problem though, isn’t there?”

“Yes. A fleet shaped problem,” Thirty-two said.

“What did you do to my fleet?” Sali asked, cutting in on the channel.

“Oh, our fleet is fine, mostly, the Klex got a few shots in, but nothing we can’t scavenge parts from them to fix. No, our fleet problem is shaped more like a dozen new Republic Battle Cruisers.”

“What is the New Republic doing out here? They’d don’t have jurisdiction over Praxis Mar. They didn’t even know this place existed before today,” Ayli said.

“One of the downsides to our fleet being populated almost exclusively by convicted criminals,”  Thirty-two said. “According to their “stand down” order, we’re supposed to surrender so that we can be returned to serve out our proper sentences.”

“And they’re going to shoot you down if you don’t comply?” Nix asked.

“That seems to be the general impression they’re trying to give,” Thirty-two said.

Nix was pacing and flailing her hands as Ayli watched her enter some kind of hyper-focused mode.

“We do not have time for that,” she said. “Like, seriously, no time.”

“Something is drawing near. Something I have never felt,” Ravas said.

“Not something good either,” Kelda said. “It’s like all the Dark Side energy on the planet is being drawn together.”

“We can’t fight that can we?” Ayli said.

“Not at the height of both of our powers,” Kelda said, indicating herself and Ravas.

“And we can’t fight a new Republic Fleet of that size,” Thirty-two said.

Nix paused, her eyes going bright and her fingers dancing.

“And we don’t have to!” she said. “Sali, you can get us out of this!”

“How?”

“Arrest Thirty-two and the rest of our fleet!”