Emanations of Darkness
Sequel to “The Final Exit”
by Patricia A. Jackson
An aggravated grinding noise accompanied the hiss of a
depressurizing seal as the ramp of the Prodigal detached itself from the
freighter's hull. A week's worth of sand and micro-debris contaminated the
external servomotors, causing the main access ramp to stop and restart in
manic fits. The unpleasant grinding grew to a crescendo of scraping
noises, not unlike the shaving of sharpened metal against metal. Deke
Holman grit his teeth, imagining the damage being done to the inner
workings of the ramp's lift system. Blast scoring from the torpedo hit
that caused the damage to the YT-1300 was evident along the inside
paneling and along the edges of the ramp itself. The Socorran shook his
head sadly, surveying the damage.
Beside him, Captain Fable Astin willed her racing heart to
be quiet, purging the rush of fear and rage that threatened to overwhelm
her senses. A thick mane of fiery auburn hair fell over the tapered
shoulders of her flight jacket, framing her pale, troubled face. Haunted
green eyes peered from beneath the shadows of auburn bangs, glaring into
the blinding white light of the expansive docking bay before them. Tall
and wiry, she started down the ramp, even before it completely lowered,
and jumped down to the deck. Her boot heels echoed against the docking
plate floor with uncommon authority. Barely containing her fury, she made
a quick survey of the docking bay. Despite several years as a Rebel
Intelligence officer, she had never been inside the bay of a functioning
Imperial Star Destroyer.
"Easy, Capt'n," Deke whispered in Socorran. "This is a nice
visit, remember? If we make nasty with the locals here, we may never get
those hostages back." He stepped down to the deck beside her, holding his
hands up to show his willingness to comply. Around them, armed with blast
rifles, no less than a hundred stormtroopers aimed their weapons at them,
fingers poised on the triggers. Nervously, Deke watched Fable's hands. It
was not the heavy blaster slung low at her thigh that worried him, but
rather the cylindrical object dangling from her holster belt. His commando
leader had a temper as fiery as her red tresses. And in the heat of the
moment, she was known for igniting the pulsating white shaft of the
lightsaber, and letting the archaic weapon do all the talking for her.
"Can you believe it?" Fable whispered, her breathing
strained. "The Empire is crumbling to dust in all corners of the galaxy,
and you'd never know it looking at this." She eyed the well-maintained
rack of TIE fighters, Interceptors, Avengers, even gunboats arrayed in the
hangar above them.
Deke chuckled at her disdain. "They might look Imperial,
Capt'n, but they're not."
Her astute pilot was correct. Fable felt a bit of her anger
subside, distracted as she was by the peculiar blue tinge to the
stormtroopers' armor. Though they appeared to be the same glistening
white-on-black suits, there were slight imperfections-imperfections that
only a trained commando such as her Harrier Infiltration team would
notice. Even the weapons were slightly modified, the sights filed down or
"Well-trained mercenaries," Deke replied. "And no doubt a
smuggler or two among them, Corellian, maybe even a few Socorrans. In any
case, they're definitely not Imperial and-" he paused midsentence as a
blaster rifle was raised to his face, "definitely not friendly."
An entourage of stormtroopers emerged from the inner bay,
flanking a man dressed in a black uniform, which bore no mark or insignia.
Closely cropped above the ears, his hair was sallow, platinum white. His
eyes were so blue and so pale as to appear translucent, shadowed beneath
the visor of his officer's cap. A dark, heavy robe billowed from his
shoulders as he walked, carrying an air of unquestioned authority, which
even Fable had to respect. "Leave them," he said in a voice that was no
more than an audible whisper. At his quiet command, the sea of armored
bodies parted before him without vacillation, leaving a circle of
clearance around Fable and her pilot. "You are Captain Fable Astin?"
Fable hesitated to reply, sensing the undeniable strength
of the Force about him. Her rage momentarily brushed against an
impenetrable wall of darkness and shadow that sent tremors along her
backbone and shoulders, causing an icy sensation of pain to ricochet
through every bone. "I am," she managed to say, recovering from the
experience. Exchanging a concerned glance with Deke, she saw the Socorran
nodding his understanding of their imminent danger.
"You will follow me." Surprisingly, the statement was a
request, and yet Fable sensed a strength in his words, leaving her to
wonder at his identity.
"I am Lieutenant Bane Werth," he answered her unspoken
question. Turning his shoulder to her coolly, he gazed across the bay at
his soldiers. "I am second in command to Lord Jaalib Brandl, the commander
of this ship, the Protectorate I, and the fighters who are currently
blasting your Rebel friends from space. If you wish to alleviate any more
bloodshed, I suggest you come with me."
Nostrils flared, hands knotted in fists, Fable stepped
toward him. "C'mon, Deke, let's get this over with."
A line of stormtroopers stepped between her and the
Socorran pilot, weapons poised at Deke's face and throat. "The Master
requested that you be alone," Bane whispered in that quiet voice. "Your
companion will not be harmed." He turned back to meet Fable with a
disarming smile. "So long as he behaves himself. This way." Bane extended
his arm, as if in welcome, indicating a certain path along a corridor of
"Go on, Capt'n," Deke whispered. "It's not time to make it
personal. Get those hostages back." He winked at her and smiled. "Don't
you worry. I'll be here when you get back." The Socorran watched as his
captain and friend followed the mercenary officer, adding, "I hope."
Werth was silent during their short walk into the inner bay
area. They were well into the Imperial Destroyer's operations arena before
Fable noticed that the escort of stormtroopers had not followed them out
of the bay. "Are you a Jedi?" she asked, already knowing the answer.
Werth stopped and turned to face her, something of a coy
smile parting his lips. "Why do you ask?"
Fable felt the opportunity for an insult and delivered it.
"Because Jaalib would not be so stupid as to leave me alone with just any
"Well said," Werth laughed, bowing his head to her. "Jaalib
mentioned that you had a sharp tongue and an even sharper wit. I know a
great deal about you, Captain Astin. A great deal. Enough to thoroughly
respect your talents as both a soldier:and a Jedi. But do not be deceived
by appearances. You're safety here is at the request of the master; and no
one:no one questions the orders or the motives of Lord Brandl." He keyed
in a code on a nearby access panel and stepped to the side as the blast
door slid open. "Please, he awaits you inside." Bane inclined his head,
only temporarily lowering his eyes in homage, as she brushed past him into
The area beyond the corridor was a decidedly cold and
ambiguous chamber, full of shadows and a darkness that moved with the
slow, tangible grace of twilight fog. The only light source in the room
came from a viewport, a transparisteel portal that ran the length of the
twenty-meter compartment. It provided her with an unhindered view of the
ugly, rubicund face of the planet Redcap, as well as the battle raging
above its dreary gray atmosphere. As she watched, heart pumping in her
throat, an elite TIE Avenger took an X-wing fighter to task. The faster,
more agile Imperial ship made short work of the Rebel fighter, causing the
X-wing's engines to overload, and shutdown. As the fighter's fuselage grew
dark and the ship began to drift helplessly, the Avenger spun on its axis
and suddenly dropped out of sight, back into the fray.
"I've order them to disable, not to kill," said a familiar
voice from the darkness. "I have some of the finest fighter pilots the
Empire had to offer. So long as they do not feel threatened, the
casualties to your Rebel forces should be minimal, except for ships and
equipment of course."
Fable spun on her heels to face the darkness, seeing
nothing and no one moving. She closed her eyes and concentrated, reaching
out with her Force-enhanced senses. Her immediate thoughts met resistance,
a powerful resistance that repelled her probing with an unsettling ease.
As she sought to strengthen the mental query, she was repelled physically,
raised nearly a meter off her feet, and knocked back into the viewscreen.
Gasping for breath, she shook the cloud of daze from her head and stood
up, supporting herself against the cold glass of the portal. "Why are you
doing this, Jaalib?"
"Because it seems your people are always standing in the
way of something that I want. Just as he stood in my way."
From the darkness, a man-sized form emerged, walking with
unsteady, faltering steps. As the light from the viewport cast a faint
shimmer over the anguished face, Fable recognized Rhob Hardnt, a Twi'lek
member of her infiltration team. Blood and spittle mingled at his chin,
dripping from his lips as he convulsed and fell to the floor at her feet.
"Your spies are excellent, Fable, well-trained and seasoned. But then, I
would expect nothing less from you. It took me nearly an hour. Imagine
that:an hour with your companion to uncover how the Rebels managed to
learn of my plans. I never imagined a Twi'lek could be so resilient."
Fable bit her lip and restrained herself, dropping to one
knee at the Twi'lek's side. Her chest tightened as her trembling fingers
failed to register any sign of life in the still body. She touched the
Twi'lek's face. His skin was death cold beneath her fingertips. It was
only through her connection with the Force moving through her that she
sensed the remnants of life within him.
"He's alive," Jaalib said, "but barely. A week or so in a
bacta tank will cure what ails him:at least physically." Gentle laughter
reverberated from the shadows, and then was seemingly absorbed by that
darkness. "I would have killed him had he not mentioned your name and then
the little ambush you were planning for me. I left a breath or two in
"For me!" Fable hissed. "Jaalib, this is madness! You have
no right to do this. These Garosian hostages were ransomed from the Empire
and paid for with Alliance fund monies. You have no right to interfere
with their transfer!"
"The Rebel Alliance has no reason to fear. I have no
intentions of harming your hostages, nor do I seek any Alliance fund
monies." His tone was mocking and cruel. "I only want to borrow them for a
short time. And when I am finished with them, you may have them back,
unscathed and no worse for wear."
"Stop playing games!" Fable demanded. "I'm in no mood for
theatrics. Show yourself!"
"Stop it!" Fable screamed. "You're acting like you father!
What's become of you, Jaalib? I never imagined that you, of all people,
could ever descend into this type of cruelty."
There was an unsettling silence, a stillness as tangible as
the man hidden among the shadows. "You speak of cruelty. Am I not my
Slowly, like a stalking predator at night, Jaalib Brandl
emerged from the darkness. The shadows dissipated before him like a heavy
shroud at his unspoken command. The bitter iciness of the dark side
permeated the very air about his person, a dark halo that cast veils of
shadow over his face. Fable recognized the youthful lines of his mouth and
the handsome blue eyes framed within a shoulder length mane of black hair.
Gone was the innocence she remembered. In his forehead, the setlines of
determination were deeper and more pronounced, etching an untold story
within the otherwise flawlessness of his face. "Your sentiments betray
you," he whispered, a hint of remorse in his voice. "Have I changed so
Fable bit her lip, fighting the painful lump rising in her
throat. Here before her was the man who seven year ago traded his soul for
her salvation, saving from her the cold, bitter touch of the Emperor's
hand. "What has your father done to you?"
Jaalib smiled, his lips bright red in the dimness. "What my
father did was not so terrible a sin as those perpetrated upon me by his
dark masters and his rivals."
"You're working for the Empire?"
"No." He said it with a harsh tone to his voice.
Assured by that tone, Fable knew that he was telling the
truth. "Then why are you trying to kidnap these people? They've been
Imperial prisoners for over six months. There is no need to traumatize
them any further."
"Six months. I was a prisoner of the Empire for six
years-six long, memorable years. They will suffer no worse than a few days
delay of their freedom." He turned to face her, arching at eyebrow. The
light emanating from the viewscreen cast a pale, languid reflection of
blue shadow over his face, accenting his eyes. "I need them:as a lure."
"A lure?" Fable felt her chest tighten.
"You remember my homeworld, Trulalis? Well, it seems Lord
Darius Onneir, an Imperial Moff once loyal to the Emperor, is attempting
to stake out his claim to this area of space. Unfortunately, those
officers who remain loyal to the Empire have found him out and even now
threaten his feeble existence. He's not strong enough to oppose them, but
with a little leverage he could."
"The hostages-you're going to offer them to this Moff!"
He smiled, a strange youth emerging in his face. "Only
temporarily. Onneir knows of my mutiny from the Empire; and he thinks that
I offer these hostages as an offering of loyalty to him. He has plans to
meet with me to exchange the hostages for his acceptance. The hostages are
only there as a lure to insure his undoing. When Onneir's troops and ships
arrive, our Protectorate forces will destroy him, rendering him no threat
to the Trulalis system," he paused, glancing over his shoulder at her, "or
anyone else. Even your Alliance masters would have to approve."
"Our Protectorate Forces?" Fable felt a chill down her
spine. "Who else is involved?"
"My father will be waiting on the far side of Trulalis with
one half of the Protectorate forces. I control the other half. When we
converge on Onneir it will be with no less than four Imperial Star
Destroyers, as compared to Grand Moff Onneir's two. We will crush him and
take back our home."
Fable leaned her back against the transparisteel viewport.
His intentions were just, or so her confused conscience told her. And if
those intentions meant the destruction of a renegade moff, who was she to
object? "The Alliance would back you on this, Jaalib. I would make certain
of it. Just give me time to talk-"
"There's no time to talk with your superiors," Jaalib
interjected. "The plan is laid. It's time to spring the trap before all is
lost. Besides," he laughed softly, "your Alliance might look upon it as a
gesture of subjugation to their way of thinking. The Protectorate has no
love for the Empire, quite the opposite in fact; but we have no wish to
make any allegiance with the Rebel Alliance either." He closed his eyes, a
serene visage of peace overtaking his haunted features. "Ah, and our
guests have arrived."
Fable spun on her heel, looking out the viewport as the
distant crackle of a hyperspace entry portal flashed against the black
backdrop of space. Battered and scarred with blast scoring, the escort
shuttle re-emerged in normal space, right in the midst of the dogfight.
Alarmed by the sudden show of force, the shuttle pilot miscalculated a
bankroll and collided with a Y- wing fighter, who at the time was
desperately avoiding an Interceptor. The TIE deftly dodged out of harm's
way while the Y-wing spun helpless out of control. Damaged as a result of
the collision, the shuttle bucked and faltered, its engines firing in
sporadic succession as it drifted into the gravitational embrace of the
Jaalib frowned, a deep thoughtful sigh echoed in the
stillness. "You are still the Fable I remember from long ago:with trouble
always following on your heels. Bane!"
"Here, Jaalib," the lieutenant replied from the darkness by
the blast door.
"It seems our retrieval mission has become a rescue
mission." Still looking out of the viewport, Jaalib pulled black gloves on
over his long fingers and straightened the robes at his shoulders. "Have
my fighter prepared. I will over see this myself to insure no other
uncertain variables." He glanced at Fable, his look dismissing her without
further comment. "And instruct those active fighters in the area to do
what they must to keep our path clear."
"Was that a threat?" Fable snapped.
Jaalib paused in the doorway, looking over his shoulder at
her. "My father was the one who loved riddles and enigmatic gestures,
Fable. I have no time for them. My words were a warning. Should you follow
me, great harm will befall you. That I promise you. And," he smiled
ominously, "there will be no hero to come on stage and rescue you this
"She's to live?" Bane whispered to the dark Jedi,
incredulous. "She's permitted to leave the ship?" He glared at Fable and
then back to Jaalib, where his hardened expression softened in obedience
"She is of no consequence to us, nor her Rebel friends,"
Jaalib said sternly.
"Long live the king," Fable hissed, clapping
contemptuously. "Long live the king. You have become your father."
"On the contrary," he retorted. "I have become what I have
always been meant to be. Good bye, Fable."
Amid a fury of activity, men, and equipment, Fable hurried
back to the docking bay area in the underbelly of the Star Destroyer. Half
carrying, half dragging the semi-conscious body of her crewmate over her
shoulders, she struggled to get back to the Prodigal. Her comlink was
jammed, a result of the current battle waging outside the warship; and
with no way to reach Deke, she was alone to her burden. No one offered to
help her. And none barred her way as she rushed through the frenzy of
mercenaries, who were preparing for what seemed a final massive offensive.
TIE ejector racks reverberated with the noise of eager fighters blasting
from the docks to reform in squadrons beyond the swarming bay. The meager
forces of the Alliance had not been prepared for such an onslaught and
were outnumbered five to one.
A hopeless and needless slaughter, Fable thought. And the
hostages were in equal danger. She was the only one who could handle this,
now that she was certain Jaalib Brandl was involved.
"Deke!" she shouted, pulling the Twi'lek's body up the
Prodigal's ramp. She cued the freighter's main door to close. The outer
seals were pressurizing as a large shadow moved toward her from the
"Capt'n," the Socorran hollered. "By the frozen wastes of
Neftal! Rhobbie." Maneuvering under the Twi'lek's shoulder, Deke helped
Fable carry the unconscious Rebel spy into the crews' quarters. "It was
him, wasn't it?" Deke whispered, recognizing the grief-stricken look in
her face. "Talking to him didn't work?"
"No." Fable shook her head sadly, shaken by the reunion.
"He's no better than his father."
"Then it's true. His father offered him up to the Emperor,
in lieu of you. He's a dark Jedi now."
"And as powerful as his father, if not more so."
"How'd you get a way? I thought we were done for this
"He let me go," Fable explained. She helped Deke secure the
Twi'lek safely in a bunk until they could reach proper medical facilities
at base. "Are you alone?' She briefly scanned the dark corridors leading
to the cockpit.
"They left a few minutes ago."
"Contact the Rebel command station. Don't worry about
encrypting the message; we haven't time. Tell them the escort shuttle has
been hit and is going down into atmosphere." She rushed into the forward
bridge and sank down into the lead pilot's chair. "What's the name of this
"Tell them to call off the fighters. We're hopelessly
"Tell me about it." Deke sat down at the communications
console, obeying her initial orders. "Anything else?"
Fable brought the main engines of the YT-1300 online,
feeling the power of the freighter beneath her hands as she toggled the
manual flight-control levers. "Tell all remaining fighter pilots to meet
us on Redcap at these coordinates. Anyone that can still stand, walk, or
hold a blaster ought to be there."
"Capt'n?" Deke hesitated. "We'll still be outnumbered no
"No doubt," Fabled replied, guiding the Prodigal through
the expansive launch tube and out into open space. "No doubt, but I'll be
there this time:to help even the odds."
Beneath the dismal, gray skies of Redcap's inundated
atmosphere, thick coils of smoke rose from the ruined tail section of a
disabled escort shuttle. The thinning smoke trail provided a ready beacon
to the downed ship, which was stuck fast, nose-first, in the porous clay
surface. Freezing rain fell in unrelenting sheets, drenching the vermilion
landscape of the planet and covering the shuttle in a pale, pink acid-wash
that fell from the polluted firmament. Excess water gathered in rivulets,
creating a diminutive river, which gathered into blood-red pools on the
lower surfaces, such as where the shuttle had crash-landed. Only an hour
down, the disabled ship was partially submerged in that stained, cloudy
The area where the shuttle crashed was a labyrinth of
crisscrossing canyon passes. There was no secure area for a ship, not even
a small fighter, to land safely. Rocky escarpment walls, some hundreds of
meters tall, sloped down into the ridged basin. A deceptive white mist
swirled about the low-lying ground, making vision and footing precarious.
One misstep could mean a bruising impact with the rocky ground or, to the
other side, a bone-splintering fall to the lower cliffs and ridges below.
The sound of blaster fire reechoed in the lower chasm, accompanied by the
persistent drone of a lightsaber. "Hurry, Deke!" Fable urged, running
along the tops of a muddy ridge toward the wreckage.
"I'm right behind you, capt'n," the Socorran said,
breathless from their half-kilometer sprint.
Below them, the orange and black flight suits of soldiers
were scattered among the crags of rocks and boulders-some fighting with
rifles, others with their fists.
Squatting in the mud, Protectorate mercenaries and Rebel
soldiers fought for control, each seeking the same prize. As they fought,
the escort shuttle sank deeper into the bloody waters of the planet's
surface. The terrified passengers rushed through the upper escape hatch on
the aft section of the ship to stay above the fast-rising water and the
suction of the clay. As the danger mounted for the sinking ship, neither
side gained any ground until the Rebel blaster fire was diverted toward a
secondary team of advancing mercenaries led by Jaalib Brandl.
The dark Jedi moved with graceful strides over the slick
clay and mud, his pacing urgent, but unhurried. The white shaft of his
lightsaber broke the eerie dimness, dispersing the fog about him. But the
darkness that clung to the Jedi and his black robes, like a tangible
guardian of shadow, remained. As he advanced with his team into the basin,
the Rebels took aim and fired on them, but to no avail. With a gentle
twist of his wrist or a feint that caused the Jedi to square his
shoulders, the blaster bolts were deflected harmlessly off the lightsaber.
A few of those deflected bolts were sent back toward the shooter, taking
out the weapon or the man who initially fired it. To Jaalib's right, Bane
Werth, blaster in hand, was issuing orders for their men to move in and
outflank the weakened line of Rebel pilots.
Panting at the top of the ridge, Deke shook his head. "They
don't stand a chance, not with Jaalib down there. And that lieutenant, if
what you say is true:he has to be packing a lightsaber too. What are we-"
Before he could voice his question, Fable was already
moving off the ridge pass, stepping off the rock ledge and into the
ankle-deep mass of clay. She slid down the slope, one knee braced beneath
her like the rail of a hover sled, her hand acting as a rudder to control
her descent. Her eyes were locked on the shadowy shape of Jaalib as she
approached the base of the ridge. Allowing her body to tumble forward on
her hands, Fable leaped, somersaulting through the air, and landed on her
feet between the dark Jedi and the shuttle. As Deke suspected, Bane Werth
was carrying a lightsaber, and at the sight of her, he reached for the
weapon igniting its pale yellow shaft.
Jaalib smiled, stretching out his arm to hold the
lieutenant back behind him. "Leave her to me. Get those hostages. And get
back to the ship." No longer caring about the flurry of blaster fire
around him, Brandl advanced toward Fable and stopped in the center of the
basin, glaring at her
Covered in thick layers vermilion mud and clay, Fable met
him. The frenzy of activity about her faded away until nothing else
existed, not the blaster fire, not the soldiers, friends nor foes, not the
hostages. "Well," Fable whispered, "is this the scene where I ask you to
reconsider and come back to the light side? Or is this the act where you
try to seduce me?"
"Persistent as ever."
"As if you're giving me a choice."
"Go back to your ship, Fable," Jaalib said, as if speaking
to a child. "I give you my word; your hostages will not be harmed. They
will be well cared for and defended. You have my word on that. In a few
days, I will return them to you, personally. Perhaps then, we can sit down
for dinner and discuss old times."
"And I'd have to listen to your rehearsed soliloquies, just
as I had to listen to your father's? No thank you, I'd rather not."
"Oh, you wound me," he mocked. "I thought you liked those
dramatic, little interludes with me whispering sweet words in your ear.
Remember that afternoon during the storm? You and I, in the dark theater,
the rain, your lips. It could be that way for us again, Fable."
Fable scowled at the insinuation. "I am not the same,
sniveling little girl your father could frighten and control with his
"That much is obvious," he replied with a wanton look in
his eyes. "And I admire the woman you have become, but you have only my
respect, not my compliance. I will have those hostages."
Fable swallowed hard, reaching for the lightsaber at her
belt. Strangely, it felt cold and unfamiliar in her hand. With effort she
restrained the swell of fear rising in her throat, burying it deep before
it could persuade her to leave as the Jedi asked. And with it, she buried
a sense of indebtedness. This was the man who had saved her life, saved
her from the dark side and the Emperor's shadow. And as reward, he took
her place. Was she so eager to kill him?
"Heroism is a virtue of the troubled heart, is it not?"
Jaalib asked. "And yours is a troubled heart, Fable. The guilt you feel
for what has happened to me:it is your guilt. You created; and even now,
you nurture it with your fear. Now, Fable:let it become the focus of your
strength:that is if you want to win this contest of wills."
Fable lunged at him, savagely bringing the lightsaber above
her head and down again as she ignited the blade. Dropping her shoulder,
she feinted to the left and then came back to the right, sweeping the
lightsaber in wide, aggressive arcs. Any other opponent might have taken a
few steps back to regroup and counter her hostile charge; but Jaalib
Brandl was no ordinary opponent. Undaunted, he stepped directly into the
arc of her assault, parrying her most artful blows with the precision of a
true master. His technique was flawless, as Fable knew it would be. She
would have to prove just as masterful if she hoped to defeat him.
The clinging ground mists swirled about their feet,
evaporating where the lightsabers sliced through the dense fog. Fable
struggled to focus her energies, feeling herself succumbing to set-in
patterns of aggression and reckless ire. It was a struggle. She felt
Jaalib simply toyed with her, dancing through her defenses with
exceptional ease, as though he might end the fray at any moment of his
choosing. At one point, he fought his way through her defenses, holding
her blade arm at bay as he pulled her tight against him and kissed her
passionately on the mouth. Then to a chorus of laughter, the Jedi
disengaged and stepped back from her, callously turning his back to her.
He bowed to the gathering of Protectorate mercenaries watching the fight.
They applauded their commander and whistled, maliciously jostling their
Rebel prisoners to do the same.
Bewildered, Fable noticed that the Rebel pilots had been
defeated and captured, even Deke. They were forced down on their knees at
blaster point and made to watch her humiliation. An aspect of Fable that
was familiar, and yet some years abandoned, resurfaced. It was the
reckless, impetuous side of youth that she had never entirely shaken. With
a vengeance, she lunged at Jaalib and caught him around the waist with a
shoulder block. Though her slight weight would have done little to topple
him, the momentum of her tackle brought the Jedi down to the muddy
surface, where she straddled him and began hitting him in the face with
the hilt of her disengaged lightsaber. The laughter abruptly stopped.
With blood trailing his nose, Jaalib grabbed Fable's arms
and shoved her back, delivering a kick to her midsection that sent Fable
flying back. Rising from the mists, the dark Jedi shed his black cloak,
which was heavy and soaked with vermilion clay and rain. Shaking the
semi-solid soil from his hands, he glared at her, wiping another trickle
of blood from the corner of his mouth. His eyes dark were dark with rage
as he extended his hand toward the ground, calling the lightsaber to his
fingers. "My, what a temper we have. But that was to be expected. How
stupid of me to forget that fiery spirit. It's the one quality that drew
my father to you; and me as well." He wiped his bloody chin a final time.
"The time for play is over, Fable. Leave now, with your men, and I shall
keep my promise to you. If you do not leave:I fear something unpleasant
"So be it!" Fable screamed. Re-igniting the lightsaber, she
brought the weapon shoulder high and attacked him with such ferocity that
the dark Jedi was forced to retreat.
Reeling under her blows, Jaalib took a misstep and stumbled
in the clay, permitting her into his defenses. Fable took full advantage,
bringing the lightsaber down across his shoulder. Jaalib recoiled quickly,
the smell of singed flesh fresh in his nostrils. Diving in low, he repaid
the insult by bringing his own lightsaber down across Fable's blade arm.
She screamed as the lightsaber sliced cleanly through her flight jacket
and down to the vulnerable skin. Cursing him, she retaliated. Blow for
blow, some hitting their mark, others missing, the Jedi battled, moving
out of the circle where their two opposing forces had fought. The
Protectorate soldiers followed the fray with earnest, as neither Jedi gave
"Fable!" Jaalib cried, as he dodged a blow to his chest. He
dropped to his knees as they climbed up the slope of a rocky ridge.
"I'm not listening to you!" she screamed. She brought the
lightsaber down to parry his blade. The weapons hissed and sizzled against
the other, causing a sinister echo to reverberate through the hollow
basin. "You're no better than him, your father. Who's no better than
Vialco! Or Tremayne! Or Vader! All dark-siders, killers, murderers!
Butchers!" She pressed the attack, ignoring the frightened expression that
came over his face. His eyes, normally so blue, were almost black, the
pupils fully expanded, exuding a fear so tangible that she could feel it.
It's a trick, she told herself. She had to kill him and kill him now
before her heart betrayed her.
Fable drove the Jedi before her, leaving him no chance or
room for talk, as she brought her lightsaber down and around, grazing him
several times. He was on the defensive for some reason, serving only to
defend himself and even then, he appeared nervous and fretful. She was
"Fable!" he pleaded.
"Save it! I'm not listen-"
The reason for his distress was clear now. As their
movements spun the ground fog at their feet, Fable could see that they had
fought their way up a narrow, rocky outcrop, which jutted from the base of
the canyon basin. Below her was nothing more than insubstantial fog, which
would hardly support her weight as she took a final step into the abyss.
The lightsaber fell from her hands as she tried to spin and fight her way
back to solid ground, but that is the instant in which she started to
"Fable!" Jaalib screamed, diving for the edge of the
escarpment. His hands and arms were fully extended, trying to catch her.
Their fingers touched, briefly but then she was torn away and falling,
falling through the fog to the hidden ground below. The last thing she saw
before the fog rose up to swallow her were his eyes, as wide and
frightened as a child afraid of the dark:and then blackness.
Rain falling in her face awakened Fable. Each stinging drop
felt like molten rock, causing tremendous pain throughout her body.
Panting for air, Fable gasped for breath, the act causing such agony that
she was nearly swept away, back into unconscious oblivion. She was lying
face up in a cradle of rocks. Her right leg was twisted and misshapen,
caught between the cliff embankment and a newly fallen cache of clay.
Despite the leg's grotesque angle, she could feel no pain in it. There was
no pain at all below her waist. She wandered what the other leg looked
like and tried to rise but found that her body would not respond. She
tried again, in earnest, and learned that every attempt to move was
instantly met with a surge of renewed pain. As the shock waves of anguish
swept through her, Fable collapsed, dizzy with nausea.
Now beneath the fog, she could see up, up to the jutting
cliff from where she had fallen. It was nearly twenty meters high. She was
lucky to be alive-so long as she remained alive. The coppery taste of
blood rose in her throat, assuring her that she had moments, perhaps
minutes to enjoy what was left of that life. No amount of bacta would help
her, not here, and she felt the tears of rage and sorrow slowly falling to
her cheeks, burning her skin in their passage.
The voice was distant, and yet close by:familiar and yet
strange. Fable followed the sound if it, her eyes coming to a shadow
standing against the cliff wall. Enveloped in fog, the shadow remained
unseen and unmoving, gray and colorless except for the vibrant red mane of
hair at the shoulders. It was so red that it made the vermilion clay pale
in comparison. "Mother?" Fabled grit her teeth in shame. "Mother!"
"Listen, Fable. You've fought your entire life to be
different, to be unique. And in this, you are no different from any other.
Stop fighting yourself. Belonging and acceptance lie where your heart is;
and your heart is where you belong."
"Fable!" As the image began to fade, it was replaced by a
more animated figure. Jaalib raced across the slick footing, falling and
catching himself in his haste to make it to her side. "Fable, no!" he
cried, his face awash with rain and emotion. "Fable, don't move." He
pulled a comlink from his belt. "Bane!"
Crackling over the transceiver, "Is she alive?"
Jaalib stood up and turned his back to her, as if she might
not hear. "Her back's broken, possibly her neck."
"Shall I send for a med-shuttle?"
"No time, she'll be:be:I must:" his voice trailed off for a
"Jaalib?" Bane asked.
"Get back to the ship," Jaalib said, head bowed. "Call an
end to all engagements. Order the fighters and all other personnel back to
"You heard me. Now obey me!"
"As you will, Jaalib." The comlink clicked, echoing with
the hiss of silence as Jaalib again came to Fable's side, kneeling over
her, protecting her face from the rain. He shook his head, disparately.
"Fable, I've been a fool."
"N-n-no more than I," she whispered. Though she was
becoming accustomed to the pain in her upper extremities, it was difficult
to breathe and becoming more so. There was a frightening wheeze that
accompanied her breathing, a disturbing rattling that foreshadowed her
future, or any hopes of her future. She closed her eyes, succumbing to the
darkness on the edge of her consciousness.
"Fable, no," Jaalib said in earnest, taking her hand. "Stay:stay!"
The rain had grown remarkably warmer. Fable opened her eyes
and saw Jaalib sitting over her, his eyes glazed with a peculiar sadness.
"Jaalib?" Her voice was a quiet whisper. "Why are you
The rain and the tears had ceased falling. Fable felt cool
air blowing gently over her cheeks, cool recycled air. She opened her eyes
and breathed deeply. Her chest hurt, lungs bruised, but she had no other
difficulty. Then remembering her fall from the rocky cliff, her mangled
leg, and a cessation of feeling below her hips, she sat bolt up right,
running her hands over her lower body. Other then a few scrapes and an odd
tingling sensation in her toes, she was whole. Glancing about her, she saw
only shadows. "Where:? Jaalib?"
A shadow moved from the far corner of the room, emerging
from the darkness. He knelt beside her and took her hand, holding it
against his cold cheek. Noticing the manacles that bound his wrists, Fable
swung her legs around and stared at him. "Where are we?"
"Solstice V, in the Al-ghenis system, I believe."
"That's my home base." She looked at the shackles binding
his wrists. "You let them:you let the Alliance capture you?"
"And only me." He laughed, looking up at her. "What a prize
for them: capturing a dark Jedi. You would think they had caught the
Emperor himself." His smile faded as he glanced at the crude metal
shackles. "These are only for show, a decoration to make your companions
feel at ease. Removing them would be much too great a show of force and
would cause undue stress:for your friends:and I imagine, for me." He
laughed as if he had given the punch line to a joke.
"Show of force?" she scoffed, taking him firmly by the chin
and staring into his eyes. "I think the true show of force has come and
passed, right there at the base of those cliffs on Redcap." Fable paused,
reliving those moments just after her fall. "I should be dead right now.
Dianoga food. But? How?"
Still kneeling beside her, Jaalib rested his chin on her
thigh and stroked her leg affectionately. "My Imperial mentors whispered
of legendary powers that the Force could generate. The Emperor sanctioned
numerous experiments to raise the dead or near dead, all with disastrous
results. I often disregarded the skill as a myth, until then:when I saw
"It's a dark side talent?"
Jaalib laughed. "True talent, Fable, is the ability to
harness the Force, to control the vibrant channels of energy about you.
Good and evil? Light and dark? These are merely measures for how heavily
you use that power." Her eyes were focused intently on him, boring into
him. "Your curiosity is refreshing, but it could also be a dangerous
"Then satisfy that curiosity, Jaalib. Tell me, what is it
like:the dark side."
He bowed his head, a tangible sadness coming over him,
weighing heavily on his shoulders. "It's a void:a vast, infinite void of
silence. An utter terrible silence where even the token sounds and echoes
are swallowed in the vastness of it. And once there:you are so alone." He
trembled visibly. "I once hated the dark Jedi, as did you. But since I
have become one of their number, I have learned to pity them:to pity
"Pity? Pity for murderers, butchers, animals-"
"Driven animals, Fable:driven animals drawn into madness
and chaos to escape. The dark side is the essence of despair, a place to
move beyond this world of suffering and vileness. Once there, it is so
easy to think, to be free of emotions, attachments. But this:" he sighed,
"this we soon learn is an awful illusion meant to draw us into the same
madness we sought to escape in the first place."
Jaalib took her hand, massaging the fingers and caressing
her palm. "Just when I feel myself surrendering myself totally to its
power:some familiar sight or sound brings me back-my mother's voice, her
gentle touch:a heart beating faintly, distantly in memory." He looked up
at her, his eyes glazed again with sadness. "Your heartbeat, Fable. Though
we've been apart these long years, I have never been totally separated
from you. You were the one thing Tremayne could not drive from my soul."
"Lord Tremayne, he was your mentor?"
Jaalib nodded. "My father's greatest and most hated rival."
He smiled sadly, brushing a hair from his smooth forehead. "And you
thought my father could be cruel and merciless. Every ounce of hatred that
Tremayne bore my father was taken out on me, physically, emotionally, and
mentally. I came to depend on those memories that I still had of you to
keep my sanity. When you fell from that cliff," his voice caught in his
throat, "and I saw you lying there:broken and bleeding. I drove you to it.
I did it! And the silence was there to be a witness. I thought I had lost
you. I could not bear it. And now the circle is complete."
Fable stared into his eyes, running her hands over his
feverish face. "What are you saying, Jaalib? No more riddles, no more
He laughed, his body trembling beside hers. "I am a dead
man walking, love:my soul is forever condemned:but it was a small price to
pay." He met her eyes. "What I am saying in short is: my pact with the
dark side is complete. Your life kept me from falling completely under its
power. And it was the loss of that life that has sent me into its
embrace." Jaalib pulled away from her, pacing the floor. "Oh, Fable, if I
had never come here:this would never have happened."
Numb with the sacrifice that he had made for her, a second
time, Fable whispered, "Why did you come?"
"Because I knew you would be here, defending the hostages.
I hoped against all hope that I would see you. Maybe convince you to join
me. The Empire is in ruins now that the Emperor is dead. From Garos IV to
Socorro, the foundation of Palpatine's regime is crumbling to dust whilst
greedy warlords and pirates feed at the dying carcass. My father and I
will also feed, carving out our own empire."
"For power?" she challenged.
"For peace:our own peace, Fable. Trulalis, our homeworld,
we will make it live again. We will revive its former glory and make it
the capital of the arts and theater once more, safe from the prying hands
of warmongers and politicians. Artists and actors will be free to perform
any play they like, sing any song, without fear of reprisal from the
"Then I will come with you, and I will share the price you
Jaalib froze in place, glaring at her. "Have you heard
nothing? The dark side is a demanding master. The Force derives its power
from life:the crux of all living things. The dark side is just the
opposite, Fable. There is no life, no breath:just emanations of darkness,
figments and shadows of what life should be-a mockery. You see familiar
faces, friends, experience sensations, but they are not real."
"But I am real, Jaalib. I know the paths to the dark side
better than most. Not as well as you:but I know them. And I am real!" She
took his hand and placed it over her heart, only now understanding what
her mother had spoken to her. "Belonging and acceptance lie where your
heart is; and your heart is where you belong. I am no emanation of
darkness, no shadow, Jaalib."
"What will the Alliance say?"
"Nothing. I'll exchange myself for the Garosian hostages.
That Imperial Moff you mentioned, I'm sure he'd rather have the captain of
an Alliance Special Ops team rather than a bunch of civilians anyway."
"The hostages are already with your Alliance leaders."
"You gave them up? Knowing the Alliance could hold you,
with no bargaining?"
"Nothing could have kept me from staying with you," he
Fable hopped down from the med-cot, lightly brushing by
Jaalib as she made her way to the med-lab computer. Within moments, she
had the console open, wires, and communications lines arrayed between her
fingers. She worked with deliberation and haste.
"What are you doing?" Jaalib asked, anxiously watching the
"Calling an old friend. I'm going to get you out of this
"Is that wise?"
"I'm the leader of the Harrier Infiltration Team, anything
is possible, especially under the noses of our own people."
Jaalib frowned. "I didn't say you couldn't do it. I've more
than seen the results of your tenacity; I asked if it was wise. These are
your people. Would you seriously cross them for me?"
"Didn't you cross your father for me?" she replied, without
looking up from her task. "It cost you your freedom, and then some. I
"If this is about evening debts, I would rather-"
"Look," Fable said, growling as a spark jumped from the
wire and burned her fingers. "You saved my life, Jaalib." She glanced over
her shoulder at him, adding, "Saved me for the second time. I owe you this
one. Besides, when you saved my life this time, you bought the package.
I'm going with you."
She held her hand out to him, silencing him with a simple
dismissive gesture as she hovered over the jury-rigged net of wires. "Deke,
come in, Deke."
"Capt'n," an excited voice cried over the static-charged
comlink. "You're awake at last. I'll be right down."
"No, Deke, I need you to stay right there and wait for me.
Get the Prodigal's main engines on line. We're leaving."
"Are you sure? You took a hard hit this time, capt'n. No
need to rush into another mission, especially since your Jedi friend is on
base. Let's wait until Admiral Pardis disposes of Brandl, then we can
blast off onto our next adventure."
Fable bowed her head, stifling a laugh as Jaalib chuckled
at the remark. "I can't let that happen, Deke. I-," she faltered. "I owe
"Oh," came the chided reply. "He's there, isn't it?" A slew
of Socorran curses followed, translating over the frequencies as the
Socorran realized his mistake. After a moment of grumbling, his hoarse
voice softened. "What do you need me to do?"
"Get the ship ready-"
Abruptly, an alarm sounded within the Rebel garrison,
temporarily drowning out Fable's voice. "Deke?"
"Hold on:" He swore another vehement curse. "I've been
reading Imperial encrypted codes so long it's hard to read the Rebel codes
anymore. Can't tell what's got the natives restless, Captain. Something's
going on. Whatever it is:it might be a great time for a distraction. I'll
have the ship primed and ready when you get here."
"We're on our way, Deke."
"Capt'n, they posted guards. Watch yourself. If you must
take them, take them out easy. Deke, out."
"Guards." She turned to Jaalib, her heart racing in time to
the alarm klaxon. "I don't want anybody killed."
"As you wish." He nodded to the door as the blast portal
slid open and two youthful-looking Rebel guards stepped into the room.
Weapons at the ready, the sentries raised their rifles, and then paused at
the sight of Jaalib. Brandl simply squeezed his fingers together, his hand
trembling slightly, and the two guards fell to the floor unmoving.
"Asleep?" Fable asked, checking the men first for a pulse.
"If you want to call it that." Jaalib stepped over them,
seeing his personal possessions on a wall unit across the corridor.
"They'll wake up with no more than a headache." He carefully glanced
outside into the hallway.
"What about those?" Fable asked, taking a blaster and
holster from one of the guards. She glanced at the shackles.
"Leave them for appearances," Jaalib suggested. "If we're
caught, there will be less explaining to do. The two of them stepped into
the dimly lit corridor, awash with red alarm screens.
Dodging security patrols at regular intervals, Fable led
Jaalib through the inner workings of the Rebel base. The majority of the
personnel was inside or headed toward the landing bays to assist with the
departure of pilots and ships. Pausing behind a repulsorlift truck of
foodstuffs and supplies, she overheard the driver mention the arrival of
four Imperial Destroyers within orbit of the planet. As she turned to
Jaalib, she found the Jedi lost in a deep trance-like state, his face at
peace. He opened his eyes at her touch, the look of serious concern
confirming all of her suspicions. "Your father?"
"He senses that I am here. He will offer terms for my
release, but only once. Then:"
He bowed his head with a sigh, and then looked about him.
"I saw what forces you have here, Fable. This base and its resources were
little match against just my command Destroyer and its sister ship. Now
there will be four. My father won't be so accommodating. It will be a
massacre-with us in the midst of it."
Fable felt her heart pounding inside her throat, her chest
tightening in an attempt to restrain it. A strange popping noise resounded
through the docking bay, a familiar sound of engines burning off debris.
It was the distinctive sound of sand, specifically Socorran sand, being
fed through repulsor engines. The unique chemical properties of the sand
caused a strange popping reverberation that was quite popular among
Socorran airspeeder pilots, swoopchase racers, as well as a certain member
of the Harrier Infiltration team, who kept handfuls of the sand in case of
Activating the comlink that she had taken from one of the
guards, Fable changed the frequency and opened the channel. "Deke?"
"You're busted, capt'n," Deke whispered into the mic. "Med
techs discovered those unconscious guards in your room, as well as you and
your missing companion. They think Brandl has you prisoner somewhere in
the base. Any unassigned personnel are now scouring the base looking for
you and they have orders to shoot first and question the body later."
"So much for infiltrating your own base," Jaalib said with
a hint of humor. He shook his shoulders and the shackles fell from his
wrists with a noncommittal rattle as they hit the floor.
"Welcome to my world:Harrier Infiltration Team-if the
mission can go bad, it will. This is how it usually goes." She rolled her
eyes, exasperated. "There's only one thing to do."
Jaalib smiled. "Now I start to worry."
Fable scanned the docking bay, searching among the numerous
faces until she saw him, Admiral Pardis. Dressed in a flight suit and
speaking from the cockpit of his A-wing fighter, he was addressing the
Rebel pilots arrayed about him. When Fable walked toward him, her presence
brought an instant hush over the docking bay. Only the sound of launching
fighters reverberated in the close confines. "Hold your fire!" she
screamed as every blaster in the bay turned on Jaalib, who stood where she
had left him, by a crowded repair bay.
"Admiral Pardis, I'm not prisoner, never was one." Fable
met Pardis' eye with coolness, almost defiant. A legendary fighter pilot,
Pardis was known for his gruff opinions and off-handed remarks. As a
legend, he commanded respect, but his own judgments were reserved and
distant, except for the more talented soldiers under his command
"Explain yourself, Captain Astin. Two of my men were found
unconscious in your med room. Are you responsible?"
"In part, Admiral. I was taking him back to his people.
Those four incoming destroyers are Protectorate ships led by Brandl's
father, Lord Adalric Brandl. They only want one thing-him. One man is not
worth the slaughter that will follow if we try to keep him as our
"Admiral," said a tech, "we have an incoming transmission."
Ignoring the tech, Pardis said, "We caught him. We keep
him. Besides, Ackbar's reinforcement ships will arrive in less than an
hour to support us."
"In less than an hour, Admiral Ackbar won't need to bother
with support ships. All he'll need to send is a recovery team - to recover
"Admiral, the transmission," the tech said urgently.
Fable stood her ground. "Let him go, Admiral, we stand to
gain much more-"
"Gain:gain what:another Emperor!" He jumped down from the
nose of the fighter, storming toward her with fire in his slate-gray eyes.
"Admiral, sir, with all due respect," whispered the tech,"
the Protectorate is trying to initiate contact. Sir-" He fell immediately
silent at the admiral's furious gestures.
"While the battle still wages in all corners of the galaxy,
Admiral Pardis, the war is over," Fable said. "The Empire is fallen and
the Emperor is dead. Militant groups such as the Protectorate are rising,
and we can either unite with them to bring peace to the galaxy or spend
the next decade fighting them, wiping out one after the other, while two
others rise in their place." She sighed, looking away from him. "Just as
the Empire hunted us down. And like the Empire, we can keep hunting these
renegade groups until one of them gathers enough momentum to wipe us out."
Fable sighed again and took a deep breath. "I know how this sounds, sir,
but you have to trust my judgment. Lord Brandl and his father have broken
ties with the Empire, long ago, and they have worked against the Empire at
every juncture. You've read my reports. Our intelligence teams have
"But the Protectorate has also attacked the Alliance as
well, weakening our forces."
"No more so than those pirates we encountered in the Yavin
sector last week. Here's our chance to make the first of what promises to
be a powerful allegiance."
"Admiral Pardis?" The tech's voice wavered on several notes
of fear. "They're powering up their weapons systems-"
"And who will make certain they remain allies, Captain
Astin?" Pardis questioned. "Can they be trusted? These abominations! They
are ke'dem, Fable, condemned men. Abominations of everything the Jedi once
held sacred. Surely you can see through-"
"Sir, their weapons' batteries will be within medium range
"I'll make certain their loyalty remains steadfast," Fable
said, with a shuddering breath. "I'm going with him. I-" she steeled
herself, "I love him."
The reaction to her statement was instant and spread
through the bay. Pardis' face was pale as he took a step back. Waiting for
the murmur to quiet, he turned to Jaalib. "And you," he grumbled. "What do
you have to say?"
Jaalib kept his eyes lowered, a thin smile veiling his
lips. He walked toward Admiral Pardis, taking Fable's hand in his. "The
voice of the Protectorate conscience has spoken. And because I am the
conscience of the Protectorate, I will insure that from this day forward,
Protectorate ships will no longer move against Alliance operations, and
will in time rally with Alliance forces to snuff out what remains of the
Empire, so long as there is a profit in it." He raised his head and smiled
to stifle a protest from Fable. "There is a price for loyalty, dear Fable,
most of my troops are mercenaries. It has been my ambition to encourage
them with bounty rather than fear. So long as they are well fed and happy,
they remain a formidable force that even the Empire has difficulty
An explosion rattled the underground hangar as a laser
barrage erupted on the perimeter of the base. Jaalib grinned, shaking his
head. "In all his years, with all his wisdom, my father still lacks the
one thing every father needs-patience."
Righting himself, Admiral Pardis looked at Fable, his gray
eyes intense. "Are you certain you're doing the right thing, Captain Astin?"
Fable backed away from him, finding comfort in Jaalib's
shadow and nodded. Confidently, she smiled up at Jaalib, then at Pardis.
"I know I am."
Pardis sighed deeply, and motioned to the communications
tech. "Open a channel." The tech officer, sweat rolling from his temples,
quickly opened the channel on the garrison's main frequency.
"-garrison, this is the Protectorate ship, Protectorate
One, accompanied by support destroyers. You have one of our command
"Bane," Jaalib whispered, his low voice easily carrying
over a frequency that no machine could mimic.
There was a pause in the transmission. "Jaalib:Lord Brandl,
are you well? "
"I am. I shall be returning to you shortly. Tell my father
there is no longer a need for force here, these people are now our
"Understood. Shall I send a shuttle?"
"No need, Captain Astin's ship, the Prodigal, will do."
"I shall send immediate word of your arrival to your
father. Werth, out."
Jaalib turned to Pardis, a coy smile parting his lips. "You
have made a wise choice, Admiral, and a powerful ally in the
Protectorate." He offered his hand in friendship.
"That remains to be seen," Pardis replied. Hesitant, he
took Jaalib's hand and shook it firmly. "Where and when shall we dispatch
our negotiations teams?"
"Captain Astin will contact you with the details. In the
meanwhile, you and yours will find us in the Issor system on the planet
Trulalis where Alliance forces are welcomed. Come for a visit, and while
there, perhaps we might treat you to a dramatic play and dinner."
"Perhaps," Pardis glanced at Fable, as if imploring her to
reconsider her decision. "Stand down from alert status. Dockmaster, clear
the fastest lane of traffic for the Prodigal's departure. I have faith in
you, girl," he whispered in Fable's ear. "I always have. If anyone can
make this work, you can. Clear skies."
Jaalib straightened his shoulders, walking beside Fable as
they headed toward the docked YT-1300. "How slowly their trust comes."
"You've done a lot of damage, Jaalib. Damage that will be a
long time in repairing relationships." She paused, staring at her ship and
the pilot waiting at the ramp for her. "By all the moons of Nar Shadaa."
"Deke. I wasn't even thinking about Deke." Heart again
pounding in her throat, Fable swallowed pensively. "The Prodigal, the
team-it's his life. This is going to be harder than I imagined." She
stiffened as Jaalib took her hand. Squeezing his reassuring fingers, she
walked up to the ramp of the ship. "Deke?"
The Socorran pursed his thick lips apprehensively, staring
at his boots. "I heard, Capt'n. No need to explain."
"About the Prodigal," she bowed her head, "you've always
"I was a mercenary once," Deke said, looking passed her to
Jaalib. "A member of the Black Bha'lir. I'm pretty good at sniffing out
Imperial ambushes. I can outwit a few of their pilots-even the special
ones. I can read Imperial code like Basic. I'm not much to look at first,
Jaalib offered his hand to the Socorran, who accepted it
without hesitation. "There is always a place for you. Now quickly, we have
a warlord to meet. And a new plan of action to initiate"
Deke saluted. "Sounds like old times. Welcome aboard,
Captain:and Commander." Deke cued the YT-1300's ramp to close as Jaalib
led Fable onto the freighter.
Aboard the Protectorate I, the greeting was different, but
no less intimidating. As she stood at the top of the Prodigal's ramp
looking around the massive docking bay, more than a thousand white armored
troops jumped to attention, weapons poised in formal salute. Not bad for a
bunch of mercenaries, she thought, as Jaalib gently took her arm and led
her, no less regally than a queen, down into the ranks of his men. The
officers lining the main corridor between the stormtroopers bowed curtly
at their approach, forcing Fable to send a bemused glance over her
shoulder to Deke, who walked behind them in a place of voluntary
Midway down the parade of uniforms, Bane awaited them,
kneeling down on one knee. "Welcome aboard, My Lord." He glanced briefly
at Fable, an emotionless expression in his face. "Welcome, My Lady."
"Welcome aboard, indeed," said a familiar voice.
Fable struggled to stifle the shudder that coursed along
her spine as Adalric Brandl approached them, dressed in his unassuming
black robes. A petite young woman, a girl really, dressed in a lavish
black gown accompanied him, staying close at his side, her raven black
hair pulled back in a severe braid that hung at her pale shoulders. "Jaalib."
Adalric smiled, his eyes turning from his son to Fable. The left side of
his face was still scarred, as Fable remembered it. A haunting reminder
from a close encounter with a thermal detonator, an encounter that only a
Jedi could have survived. Damaged in the blast, the left eye was yellowed
and alien, seeming to have an eerie perception all its own.
"Fable," Adalric greeted warmly, with open arms inviting
her for an embrace. "Welcome home, daughter."
Fable stepped forward, though reluctantly into the cool
embrace, taking Adalric's offered hand and accepting the kiss he bestowed
upon it. Glancing over her shoulder at Jaalib, she felt her lungs grow
tight for want of air. Her chest felt bruised, as it did after her fall
from the cliff on Redcap. As she felt Adalric's hand tighten on her own,
she wondered what unspoken vow she had accepted, a pact that left her
frightened and barely able to breathe.
Illustration by Christian Gossett Jr.