Jedi Destiny I: Hate of the Jedi

Chapter 21

JEDI PRAXEUM; YAVIN 4

Jacen was contemplative the next morning, and it made his head hurt.

Five months. Five agonising months had passed in which his sister and their new friend Zak had been prisoners of Brakiss. Five months they had been his prizes, dead or otherwise—trophy captures; captures to taunt Luke Skywalker into action against him.

And acted he had tried. Their attempt to rescue them those five months ago had failed, miserably. The only victory was that of the Second Imperium, whose Star Destroyers had been responsible for the deaths of many crew members aboard the Falcon Flight, and its pilots responsible for the deaths of many Republic fighter pilots.

Worst of all, Brakiss had then gotten away. The entire station had been flooded with anti-Force that Luke had deduced was due to an increased presence of captive Ysalamir. It was not news to Jacen. He had felt their effects on him before. They had been forced to retreat from the station, leaving Zak and Jaina behind to suffer whatever Brakiss had been putting them through since.

After returning Luke, Tash and Jacen to Yavin 4, his parents had then rushed straight back to Coruscant in order to see what the Republic was going to do about the situation. After all, the Jedi Order and the New Republic were tied together, and therefore, he thought, they would surely assist in whatever manner they could.

The Senate voted on the issue—a quick vote. They were reluctant to assign more Republic forces to the task when the first attempt would surely have alerted the Imperium. It was assumed that more Star Destroyers would flock to the sector to protect Brakiss and his prize.

They had, however, agreed to send a cloaked scout ship to the sector to ascertain the defences there.

There were none.

In fact, the station and its guardian destroyers had completely disappeared. A thorough scan revealed that they had not cloaked themselves, but had moved to a new location.

It wasn’t the first time Brakiss had retrofitted a space station for hyperspace jumps to avoid destruction or capture. His original Shadow Academy had possessed the same capability, once even appearing over the skies of Coruscant in a threatening move of terror against the Republic before making a final push on Yavin 4.

Tenel Ka was his primary source of comfort in this trying time. Though, it only served to distract him with feelings of guilt of the incident a few years previous where he had accidently been responsible for the loss of her left arm. It was something that he would always be reminded of—due to her refusal for prosthetic replacement—and would never ever forgive himself for despite how many times she assured him she had forgiven him.

But it wasn’t that, or Jaina and Zak’s captivity that troubled him now. It was the HoloNet. It was proving useless to him at the present time for the information he desired.

A dream the previous night reminded him of words his uncle had spoken when he and his siblings had first been introduced to Zak and Tash six months ago, when they had first arrived on the moon.

“You know them?” Jaina asked politely.

“Yes,” Luke replied thoughtfully. “To an extent, so do you. I’m sure I’ve mentioned the story of our trip to the living planet at least once?”

The exchange played over and over in his mind until he made the only logical conclusion that he could.

Zak and Tash were not who they appeared to be.

He had then decided to see Tash, to demand some sort of an explanation. He could think of no way that they could be who Luke said that they were. But now that he found himself outside of her doorway, facing the closed wooden blockage, he couldn’t bring himself to knock, nor could he bring himself to just turn the handle and walk right on in.

She might not even be in the room, a miniature voice whispered in his mind. She might be curled up in a corner of the Praxeum somewhere, anywhere, trying to seclude herself from everyone else with only one thing on her mind: her brother.

But he had tried everything else.

There was no record of either Zak or Tash in the New Republic census records, nor were there records of them in what records they had left over from the Rebel and Imperial databases; though, admittedly, what they had of either was limited and mostly corrupted.

He had a burning curiosity to know what it was that he wasn’t being told; what it was that they had deliberately kept from him and the others. And while he reflected that it could just well be an invasion on their privacy, as a friend he thought he deserved to know.

Connecting with the Force, he could not even predict how she would react to someone, even a friend, questioning her about her past. He got a sense that there was a perfectly good reason that they had kept it from him and his sister, and that out of respect to them, his parents, Chewbacca, Luke and even Threepio and Artoo were keeping it from him as well.

Finally working up the courage, he reached out to knock on the door. It opened before he could.

Tash stood there before him, her blonde hair tied back and her blue eyes shining with fresh tears. She had indeed been crying over the thought of Zak, just not secluded as Jacen had thought. He closed off his mind and refrained from probing hers, respecting her right to privacy at this time.

“Jacen?” she said, surprised to see him there.

“Hi, Tash,” Jacen replied uncomfortably. “Perhaps I could come back another time. Now doesn’t seem to be the best time for it.”

“Don’t be silly,” Tash said, wiping the tears from her eyes and sniffling. “Come in, come in.”

Jacen nodded as she stepped aside and crossed the threshold, entering her private room for the first time since he and his sister had shown her to it. Almost immediately, his eyes found their way to the other person in the room, sitting on the edge of the bed and looking up at him.

“Oh.” Jacen stopped. “You already have company. I really can come back another time.”

“Don’t be silly, Jacen Solo,” Rebekah Jordan said as she got to her feet and smiled weakly. “I was just on my way out. Tag; you’re it.”

Jacen couldn’t stifle the laugh as Rebekah slipped past him and out through the door, closing it behind her. She hadn’t been with the populace very long; about as long as the Arrandas had, actually. And before that she had been on her own, living in the remains of an old Rebel Alliance cruiser alone since the deaths of her parents when she had been barely old enough to walk unassisted.

And yet, despite that lack of social opportunities over those long years, she had picked up on quite a lot of modern speech patterns, slang terminology, and even jokes. And she seemed more than adept at the latter.

“You needed to see me about something?” Tash said. Jacen nodded. “Sit.”

Jacen did as he was commanded and sat down upon the edge of her bed.

Tash closed the door to the room and made her way to her desk. She turned the chair before it around to face him, and perched herself upon it, her hands clasped together in her lap; wringing each other in fact.

“You have questions,” she said simply. Not a question, not a guess; a statement of fact. He did have a few. “Starting with the most obvious, I can tell you right here and now that Zak and I are who we say we are, and that we are the same people your uncle and parents knew from their days in the Rebellion.”

“How is that even possible?” Jacen asked calmly. “Not to be rude or anything, but for that to be the truth, you would be more than twenty years older than you appear. Zak too.”

“And we are.” Tash looked up at him briefly, and then back down into her lap. “Both Zak and I were born on Alderaan twelve and thirteen years before its destruction, respectively that is.”

“What?” Jacen exclaimed. Had he heard that correctly?

“We were on a field trip when it was destroyed. Our aunt married a Shi’ido, and his brother was an anthropologist. Our parents yanked us out of school for a couple of months to travel with him to other worlds and learn a few things from him and his droid, Dee Vee Nine. When we returned, there was nothing left of home other than dust and rock, and no sign of what had happened to it.

“Then we heard the rumours. People were talking about it in all the surrounding systems; the Empire’s new super weapon. A space station that could destroy entire planets, they said. We didn’t want to believe it at first because, well, who would want to do such a thing? What could the Empire have gained by the destruction of a world so peaceful all forms of weaponry were outlawed on that planet’s surface?

“We were on our way through a seemingly empty sector of space on our ship, the Lightrunner, when something pulled us out of hyperspace. We saw that it was a planet, but there was not supposed to be a planet there according to all the most recent star charts. We crashed on the planet, unable to break free from D’vouran’s gravitational pull on the ship. The inhabitants—they called themselves the Enzeen—were ever so helpful and happy to help fix the ship for us. And one of them watched over us for a time.

“That’s when we met your parents and uncle. They were on the planet as well investigating some rumours they had heard but wouldn’t go into detail about. Eventually, the planet was revealed to be alive, and it sustained itself by feeding on those that had been lured to it. And the Enzeen provided that food in exchange for nourishment from the planet. Some form of symbiosis. We managed to escape … barely. And we lost the Lightrunner in the process. But your father was able to give us a lift.

“That only started our string of misadventures, though.” She paused, wiping a tear from her eye as the unpleasant memories of her passed surfaced.

“I can leave,” Jacen offered sincerely. “Come back another time, when you’re ready.”

“I’m okay,” Tash assured him with a bob of her head. She continued.

“Our next stop was a planet known as Necropolis. Your father seemed as though he had more important matters to attend to, so we asked to be dropped off at the nearest planet where we could procure a new ship, since our last one had been eaten by a planet.” She chuckled nervously at the thought, and even Jacen had to admit the image of a planet eating a ship wasn’t entirely easy to picture. “We met some people there and while our uncle was busy negotiating credits for a ship, Zak was off making trouble. He got caught up with a man named Evazan and a bounty hunter named Fett. Apparently Fett was after Evazan because he had the death sentence in a few systems for some … unsanctioned science-medical experiments he was performing on people. As it turned out, he was messing with undeath, trying to bring people back from the dead to serve him. And it was his own creations that stopped him in the end. In a hurry to flee the scene, we took his ship, the Shroud, and left.

“Soon, it became apparent that Zak was not at all well. We later found out that he had in fact been killed by Evazan and infected with the serum he had created to bring the dead back to life. It had a few side effects and we made a hyperspace jump to Gobindi to seek the opinion of the medical experts there. And Uncle Hoole wanted to investigate the ruins on the planet, too. The medical people there took Zak in and started to treat him, and meanwhile I was exploring the city. I came across a man named Antilles … although at this moment I can’t remember why exactly he was there. I’m sure there was a good reason for it.”

“Wedge Antilles?” Jacen asked for confirmation. It was a long shot, though. Antilles was a common name.

“Yes, that’s him,” Tash replied. “Do you know him?”

“Only about everyone in the galaxy knows him,” Jacen scoffed. “He was a pilot in Rogue Squadron during the days of the Rebellion. After Uncle Luke decided to devote his time to training Jedi, Wedge took over as commander of the squadron. It’s Jaina’s dream to one day get on that squad. They’re legendary.”

“He was in Rogue Squadron back then too,” Tash said with a small smile.

“Go on,” Jacen urged.

“While we were on Gobindi, I discovered what I believed to be an Imperial plot to unleash some sort of virus upon the various worlds in the galaxy. I tried to tell people, but no one believed me. Not even my uncle. I thought then that if he said there was nothing going on, that nothing was going on, and I left it. But then a brown lump appeared on my arm, and I panicked. I thought maybe he had lied to me; that he was working with the Empire and was lying to me so that I wouldn’t get angry with him. I was determined to discover what was going on. And while I was investigating, the lump was getting bigger and bigger. It almost entirely consumed me. I would have ended up as nothing but a parasitical … thing. I’d seen some in the lower parts of the ruins earlier in the visit, but I’d dismissed them as natural life forms or some such thing. I had no idea at the time that they could have been people subjected to this virus. I got past it, with some help from Zak and Mister Antilles.

“Finally, we thought we had some time to ourselves. We could relax. Our uncle dropped us at Hologram Fun World with Deevee, the android he had tasked to continue tutoring us during our stay with him. He wanted to continue his work while we had a break from it all. That’s where we first met Lando. He was inspecting the facility as a possible future investment, and offered to take the facility tour with us in order to gain a child’s perspective on the place, since children were the main intended clientele.

“We got caught up with a new attraction there called the Nightmare Machine. It got into one’s mind and scanned it, so that it was able to project to you your most hideous of nightmares. Zak and I were trapped inside the machine and Lando went to see the park’s administrator to demand an explanation. Apparently he was told it was a simple glitch and that we would be fine momentarily. He chose not to wait, however, and stormed into the machine with a weapon drawn to get us out. When he roused us from our nightmares, we saw that there was a creature … I … I couldn’t describe it if I wanted to. It was controlling the machine, feeding off of our nightmares. Hell, it was what was getting into our minds and showing us our nightmares. But when we were free, we found that the place was swarming with Imperial stormtroopers. We were brought to face a man who we had come to realise had ill will towards us for some time. His name was Gog—Borborygmus Gog. He was another Shi’ido scientist, one working for the Empire on Project Starscream. We escaped with the help of our uncle, and left on the Shroud as quickly as we could.

“We ended up on the Nespis 8 station after someone I had considered a friend on the HoloNet offered us sanctuary. His ’Net name was ForceFlow, and he had been discussing with me for some time the myths of the old Jedi Order. When we got there, we ran into a group of treasure hunters who were there plundering the station for all its valuables. I, meanwhile, was more interested in the lost Jedi Archives on the station. But I was advised against exploring that area as it was said to be cursed by the spirit of a dead Jedi Knight. Aidan Bok, I later found out. He saved me when Gog again ambushed me, planning to use me. He was ForceFlow. He admitted it all. He had been using that name on the HoloNet, surreptitiously planting rumours and hearsay about the lost Jedi Archives in order to lure all Force sensitives to Nespis 8. He planned to try and extract the living Force from people in order to harness it for his Project Starscream. But Aidan saved me from him. We thought we had killed him.

“But we saw him again on Kiva. On Kiva, we saw the culmination of all the other horrors we had encountered to date. The living planet that needed to feed, the army of the undead Evazan had created, the virus from Gobindi that changed a person’s form, and the Nightmare Machine from Hologram Fun world; all thrown together into one genetic experiment. When we first encountered it, we were foolish to believe that it was just a human infant. But we soon found out that the child was not normal at all. He began to grow faster than any human baby I’ve seen. And soon, he began to change. We’d met up with a group of Rebels on the planet that had decided to investigate Project Starscream themselves. But they started going missing one by one. According to Gog, his last experiments, on Nespis 8, were supposed to be incorporated into the final product, making it completely immune to the effects of the Force. Thankfully, he had been stopped before he’d finished his work.

“Gog destroyed his experiment to save himself when it turned on him. Even Vader could not stop it. It was my first real use of the Force. Until then, I hadn’t suspected I had it in me. Until then I thought that all I could do was sense, but not use.

“From there, we were a wanted trio. We had been responsible for the destruction of the Emperor’s army of terror and all had huge bounties on our heads. We travelled the galaxy still, figuring that being in plain sight would be discouraging. And it worked for a while. We stopped by Jabba’s palace on Tatooine, where I had the unfortunate experience of being housed in the glass head of one of those brain spider things.”

Jacen shuddered. He couldn’t himself imagine having his brain removed from his body and put into the body of a machine. It was a distasteful thought, and he felt pity that Tash had undergone such a procedure.

“Then we had a run-in with an Imperial captain by the name of Thrawn. I remember him well because it surprised us that a non-human would have been permitted into the military when the Emperor was such a determined racist.”

“Thrawn?” Jacen blurted out, interrupting her again. He sensed that she wasn’t irritated, but curious as to Jacen’s reaction. “Blue skinned man with glowing red eyes—that Thrawn?”

“Yes?”

“You haven’t read up on all of your historical information, have you?” Jacen asked. Tash shook her head and shrugged. “Five years after the battle of Endor and the deaths of Vader and the Emperor, Grand Admiral Thrawn successfully rallied the Imperial Remnant against the Republic, resulting in many successful planetary campaigns, and an almost successful sacking of Coruscant. Jaina and I were born during the siege.”

“Really?” Tash said. “Aside from his strict adherence to Imperial propaganda, I wouldn’t really have expected something like that of him. He was absolutely polite and the perfect gentleman.”

“That’s how he’s always been described. Even Republic historical information on him doesn’t condemn him. He’s recognised as a tactical super genius throughout the entire galaxy. And though he couldn’t foresee that my mother would manage to turn the Noghri against the Remnant, his campaign against the Republic could very well have seen the second rise of the Empire.”

“How was the turning of the Noghri able to affect his campaign?”

“Thrawn’s personal servant was Noghri. When they turned their support over to the Republic, he put a knife through Thrawn’s back in full view of the bridge crew.”

“Wow,” Tash mouthed.

“What else did you encounter?”

“Um … we went to Ithor after that to gather supplies and try to get a hold of some kind of mineral the Shroud needed for the engines. We encountered a Miraluka Dark Jedi during that encounter. I don’t remember his name. And an ancient alien entity called Spore.

“After that we ended up on the Star of Empire: a luxury liner. That, too, ended up being a mistake. The AI core of the ship decided to sound a false meltdown alarm to force the guests and crew to evacuate. Zak and I were trapped on board during the evacuation and had to fend for ourselves. Clearly the AI didn’t want anyone on board. We managed to shut it down though, with the help of a handsome pilot called Dash.

“Then we went to Dantooine. There was a cloning facility there that started taking samples from all of us and cloning us, with a minor exception: the clones lacked any connection to the Force. I could feel them. They had a dark aura about them. But they couldn’t feel the Force themselves. Vader was on our trail personally by this point and even his clone failed to be able to touch the Force.

“And then we ended up on Dagobah. Not our intended destination. We were headed somewhere else but Fett had been on our trail due to the bounty on our heads, and he shot us down. We lost the Shroud. Two ships in one year. Aren’t we good?” Jacen chuckled at the attempt at humour and allowed her to continue. “We headed out with a team to investigate Dagobah and came across a group of mutated humans in the swamps—descendants of an Old Republic survey team that had been sent to the planet years ago. That’s where we met Master Yoda, and found out that it wasn’t just me, but Zak too that had a connection to the Force. He said that we both had great potential, but that it was not his destiny to train us. He was awaiting the arrival of his true student.”

“Uncle Luke,” Jacen pointed out.

“I know. He told me when we first arrived. I was a little jealous, actually.” Tash sighed. “And the story concludes shortly after.

“Three years after that, I was seventeen, and Zak was sixteen. We were on Sullust trying to barter for our third ship. Uncle Hoole had his eyes on a nice looking Corellian freighter called the Starchild. When he was bartering for it, he was killed. And I know what you’re thinking. Shi’ido aren’t that easy to kill. Hell, they’re that skilled at skinshifting that they can hide objects inside their own bodies. But a rocket propelled explosive canister is still deadly to a Shi’ido.

“Zak was the only witness, the only one to see who had killed him. And he’s never said a word about it. Not one. After it happened, the man who would have sold us the ship said he wanted nothing to do with us. We were minors, and ineligible to purchase property legally. He disappeared, and with nowhere left to go, we sought out the Sullustan that had befriended us upon our arrival.

“Our biggest mistake was to trust him. After a week under his care, we were betrayed. He lured Zak into a sub-basement on the pretence of helping repair a few damaged systems down there. When I went down to see what was taking him so long, I saw that he had been shoved into a stasis tube. I tried to free him, but the controls weren’t accepting any input from me. And I tried to leave but the Sullustan grabbed me and threw me into a second tube, locking me in and activating both of them.

“The next memory I had was of waking up some time later to see the aged faces of Chewbacca and Han Solo. Apparently in the years we had been in stasis, the entire building had been covered by a molten cave in. The building’s shield had protected it from the initial cave in for years before it failed, but our captor had no way of getting back to us. He died, we figured, at some point, or he would have eventually come for us. We assumed he had put us in stasis in order to collect on our bounties.

“Solo and Chewbacca were on a treasure hunting mission, it seemed. They and a few opportunistic friends had scanned a secret chamber under the layers of hardened rock and dug their way down hoping to find some kind of treasure. Instead, they found three stasis pods; two of which had occupants and one of which had been smashed.

“They figured out how to trip the release circuits without killing us, and after some recovery, told us exactly how long we’d been out of circulation.”

“That’s …” Jacen paused. “Quite the story. I’m so sorry for you both.” And it was true.

He did feel sorry for them both. Compared to the trouble-laced lives that he and his brother and sister had had, Zak and Tash’s lives had been full of so much more pain and strife. They’d been on the run from his grandfather, one of the most hated Sith in history. How could Jacen’s life compare to such stress?

“It’s perfectly alright,” Tash said. “It’s not as if any of it was your fault. You should have seen the look on your father’s face when we saw him again, though. ‘Surprised’ doesn’t quite describe it, unfortunately.”

“I would gather as much,” Jacen said with a smirk.

Tash sighed, looked up into Jacen’s eyes. “So now,” she started, “you understand the position I’m in. With all the running, all the fighting … I just want it to stop. I want us to be left alone. I want us to be able to have lives. I thought this place guaranteed that.”

“Don’t think that it’s not, Tash,” Jacen replied sympathetically, feeling her pain almost as strongly as his own. “I’m positive that we’ll see your brother and my sister again. Uncle Luke won’t let Brakiss get away with this. I just know he won’t.”

He put a comforting hand on her shoulder, and she looked up at him and tried to muster a gratified smile. It didn’t quite reach her lips, however.

“You have friends here now, Tash. When can you say you’ve had that luxury since your world was destroyed? Don’t be afraid to call on any of us should you ever need it. Even Uncle Luke.”

Tash did smile this time, and then returned her gaze to the floor.

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