Disclaimer: The GFFA and many of the characters in this story belong to Lucas Arts, BioWare, and/or Obsidian.
A/N: No promises. Many thanks to Lossefalme for the encouragement to continue.
Carth wavered in and out of consciousness for a few moments. Faint voices could be heard humming through his mind. He slowly opened his eyes. His head felt like a lead weight and he wasn't sure he could move it. His eyes roamed the shelter he was in. He was uncertain of his environment and oddly not bothered by it. He recalled he'd been bitten by one of those beasts, but his concern faded with the dancing light from a candle off to his left. The light flickered faintly upon the flimsy walls of his dwelling.
The voices had become stronger, but still unintelligible. His eyes moved slowly to the apparent entrance. The opening lit up as the makeshift door was pushed aside. A woman's figure appeared in the doorway, illuminated by the dim lights from outside that gave her an ethereal glow.
Mesmerized, he watched her as she stepped into the light of the candle, the heavenly glow shifting from her form to illuminate her face. A sight that often times made him secretly smile, he sighed. Beautiful.
Something dropped from her hand and she moved closer to his prone form. He watched her kneel down by his side. She smiled wearily.
"You came back," he said.
She said something, but it didn't register. He studied the features of her face…the arch of her brow, the line of her jaw, the color of her lips. She leaned over him to examine his wound. She pulled back the patch and apologized if she hurt him. He didn't feel it.
He didn't care about the smudges on her face, the dampness of her clothes, or the odor that emerged from them. All he saw was how the light of the candle danced in her emerald eyes that were just inches from his.
She replaced the patch with a fresh one and when she went to pull back, he grabbed her arm to stop her. She looked at him with a questioning look. He moved his hand to the back of her neck and gently pulled her forward to brush his lips against hers in a soft kiss.
"I was dreaming about you," he said as he laid his head back down. He smiled lazily and closed his eyes. Beautiful.
Carth's eyes snapped open with a gasp, "I said that?" Lying on the bed in his sleeping chamber, he thought through the dream, "I really did, I didn't just kiss her then, I told her…" He paused to run through the once-lost memory again and then started into a fit of laughter. He laughed until his gut started to object. He wasn't sure what the best part was but he was especially relieved to actually remember the events of the night he contracted the rakghoul disease. Sage had told him about the kiss, but Carth couldn't help but be curious about it. He finally knew. And to admit that he'd had a dream about her… well, he'd had a few. He quickly recalled the time he woke with his hand in his pants and Sage standing next to him… watching. She must have thought – he erupted into another fit of laughter.
When his laughter finally subsided, he wiped the tears of mirth from his eyes. "Man, Onasi, if you're going to make a total fool out of yourself, make sure it's in front of someone you'll never see again." Again, memories of the feisty woman with the captivating eyes flit across his mind… and his smile slowly faded. He let out a regretful sigh that took all the humor with it. Maybe in another life.
Another day had passed and Carth found himself in a cantina at the far west end of the Senate district. He wasn't in the best of moods. The downtime was never good for him. He didn't care to go exploring through the establishment that most surely would have games and dancers. As soon as he walked in, he found the perfect seat at the bar. It was darkest at that end closest to the door and his back would be to the wall.
He slid into the high-back stool and motioned for the bartender. He decided to get his night off to a head start and ordered a Corellian whiskey. When the bartender delivered the drink, Carth placed a credit chip on the bar and said, "Keep them coming." The bartender took the necessary credits and then left Carth alone.
Carth had grown increasingly agitated with the lack of progress by the Fleet to find another spot for him. However, given the current lull in battle, he would have thought it to be the perfect time to reposition troops.
He knew nobody on Coruscant. Of course there was Boleeq. He and the Admiral had been on better terms in days long gone. During the Mandalorian wars, the bonds formed with comrades were priceless. There were things those men knew about him that nobody else in the galaxy knew. But it was a brotherhood that Carth no longer sought – not since Saul.
Carth had been a Lieutenant and Saul his Admiral. Saul was one to spend spare time with the unit. It was one thing Carth had learned from him and had gone on to do with his own crew. Playing sabacc, drinking ale, and smoking cigarras had been some of his best memories from that war. And Saul had always been right there with them.
Familiar anger began to boil within Carth as the memories of betrayal swept through his thoughts. Saul had been more than a mentor; he'd been a friend and confidante. Saul used that in the vilest way imaginable. The man didn't deserve to live.
With his mood in a downward spiral, Carth emptied his glass quickly and set it down at the edge of the bar with a thud. The barkeep was good and the soldier didn't wait long for his next drink.
With any luck, he'd hit oblivion soon. Then he could go back to his quarters and pass out, the night nothing but a blur.
There weren't many people in the front part of the bar. He sat on the end and there were at least five seats down the length of the bar before the next patron, a Rhodian. The alien was sifting through his sidedeck in apparent preparation for his next match. In the periphery of Carth's vision, he watched as the Rhodian slid a card under a holster on his wrist.
Most of the action was further into the bar. Carth was sure he'd have to venture back there sooner or later to find the 'fresher, but for now, he'd wait as long as he could before breaking the seal.
Carth looked further down the bar to get a better judge of his immediate surroundings. His eyes swept the length and stopped cold on a patron at the far end… a Jedi. Not just any Jedi, but the one in his debriefing several days earlier. The other man seemed to be nursing a similar amber substance from a glass in his protective grip.
The Jedi looked up and made eye contact with Carth. His expression didn't change and he simply nodded a silent greeting. Carth did the same and turned his attention back to his own drink.
Seeing the Jedi reminded him of something the two men had in common; the association with Marin Sage. She'd said that she crashed and if he recalled correctly, the Jedi at the end of the bar may have been the one that rescued her. Despite himself, Carth couldn't help but be curious.
He detected movement from the far end. Without looking up, he knew it was the Jedi. Although he was curious about Sage, he really wasn't up for company. Therefore, he was relieved when the other man walked towards the back of the bar and disappeared among the other patrons.
Carth had slowed down his drinking. It had been unintentional, but he somehow felt a need to slow down until he knew the Jedi wouldn't be coming back. He wondered if the Jedi would play sabacc. But the idea was quickly rejected given their current location on the planet. A Jedi may find someone on the other side of the planet foolish enough to gamble with him, but not in the political atmosphere of the area between the Senate and the Temple.
It wasn't much longer before the Jedi returned. This time, he didn't return to his seat, but rather continued toward the exit… or more like towards Carth. The soldier stiffened when the Jedi took the seat next to him. Suddenly unsure of the man's intentions, Carth was instantly on his guard.
The Jedi held up his hands and said, "Fear not, Captain. The least you deserve for all that you've been through is for someone to buy you a drink. Please, I won't keep you."
Carth eased up a little and relaxed the rigidness that had developed in his spine. "Thank you, but it's really not necessary."
The other man pointed to the almost empty glass in front of Carth. "Corellian?"
Carth was about to confirm when he wisely decided to pace himself in the presence of the Jedi. "Actually I was just about to switch to ale."
The Jedi nodded and ordered two ales from the bartender when the man appeared.
Carth said, "I'm sorry, I didn't completely catch your name."
The Jedi held out his hand in greeting. "Zez-Kai Ell."
Carth shook it. The men were quiet until their drinks arrived. Carth lifted his mug and tipped it in thanks towards the Jedi.
After taking a long sip, he decided to ask the question he'd wondered about since meeting the man in the first place. "You said you were the one to request that Sage be placed on the Endar Spire?"
The other man nodded. "I was."
Carth waited for more, but the Jedi offered nothing. He asked, "Were you with her on Nar Shaddaa?"
Carth continued to prod, "So you're the one that pulled her from the wreckage?"
The Jedi's expression was un-readable as he seemed to think back. "She'd been badly hurt. She was admitted to a medical facility. After her recovery, I arranged for her assignment."
Carth thought for a moment over the opportunity to finally get the answers he'd been trying to dig out of Sage since he'd met her. "Do you know what happened? What caused the crash in the first place?"
The other man answered, "I can only assume she faced circumstances she had not been expecting."
Carth persisted, "There was no record of what caused the malfunction?"
The Jedi said, "Under separate conditions, we may have been able to find out more." Before Carth could ask more, the Jedi continued on a different path. "From what you've said, it seems she had skills that became quite helpful on your quest."
Carth chuckled, "She was a good fighter… no question. She even won the dueling ring championship while we were there."
The Jedi raised an eyebrow. "Is that so?" The other man furrowed his brow a moment before he asked, "Do they still allow death matches there?"
Carth stiffened at the question and shifted uncomfortably in his seat. "They say they don't. But they did."
The Jedi studied Carth for a moment and then said, "I take it you didn't approve?"
Carth scoffed, "You would?"
The Jedi tilted his head to the side in concession. Carth knew it was the Jedi way to value life and therefore couldn't possibly condone a death match. Maybe Carth had finally found someone to agree with him on the matter. He went on to explain, "The man wouldn't accept any other way to fight. He'd only do a death match. Sage would've fought him like any other, but he refused." Carth paused and shook his head morosely. "I mean, the woman just didn't seem concerned that he could have killed her."
Carth was quiet for a moment as he replayed the duel in his mind. He recalled seeing Sage lying motionless on the dueling floor. Staring into his drink, he said quietly to himself, "He almost did." From the duel, his thoughts quickly turned to the events afterwards; how she fought through the Sith base with a hole in her side. In all the death they'd dealt to others, that had been the only time he truly feared for her life. The entire experience held so much turmoil within him that he still refused to bear the prize blaster.
Remembering his company, Carth looked up at the other man. He furrowed his brow at the sight of the Jedi staring at him with an odd look of surprise. The Jedi blinked and in an instant, his face turned back to its serene façade. The motion gave Carth pause and he was reminded of the many skills of Jedi. With that, he decided he'd said enough.
The two men sat quietly in their own thoughts. Carth decided the Jedi still hadn't told him anything he didn't already know. He asked, "Did Sage know what happened before her crash?"
The Jedi didn't answer right away as he considered his response. He simply said, "No."
Carth scoffed internally at the Jedi's lack of helpfulness. It was the Jedi art of giving an answer without an answer. He'd found Sage particularly adept at it as well and it drove him nuts. "I find that hard to believe."
The other man sat in continued silence and stared at his drink for answers. He took a deep breath and then said, "Captain, her injuries were quite severe. Because of them, she simply has no recollection of the events leading up to her awakening on Nar Shaddaa."
As Carth thought about it, he decided that might explain what he thought to be her unwillingness to tell him. Perhaps it had been an inability to tell him. It wasn't unusual though. Many people have short-term memory loss after major accidents. He recalled waking up in a medbay once and not being able to remember anything from two days before the battle.
The Jedi pushed aside his half-empty mug and rose from his seat. "Captain, it has been a pleasure."
Carth supposed it was getting late and a trip to the 'fresher was definitely a necessity. "Thanks for the drink, Master…"
The man smiled. "You can call me Zez-Kai. Maybe we'll meet again. May the Force be with you."
Carth watched as Zez-Kai walked out of the cantina and into the Coruscant night. The Jedi was different from others he'd met. Despite the typical lack of information offered by the other man, Carth liked him. The Jedi hadn't left him exposed.
Feeling the weight in his bladder, Carth decided to find his way through the cantina to the nearest 'fresher. He passed the sabacc and pazaak tables with only the slightest temptation. He glanced in at the dancers, but had little desire to stay and watch them. On his way back to his seat, he decided maybe it wasn't his night for forgetting after all.
Zez-Kai Ell began his journey back to the Temple. He'd had the most intriguing conversation with Captain Onasi. It wasn't what the soldier said as much as the fluctuating emotions rolling off of him.
When the Captain spoke of Revan and her participation in the death match, it had been with deep concern. It wasn't for the moral dilemma of the match, but for a sincere fear she wouldn't make it. It was only a flash and Zez-Kai would never take advantage of the man by delving deeper into his thoughts. But it was enough to show the Master that the Captain cared for her on some level.
He didn't know why he'd found it so surprising. In fact, thinking back to the soldier's words during the debriefing, he wasn't sure how he'd missed it. The Captain had a knack for clouding his emotions with negative thoughts and feelings. Though he spoke fondly of Revan through his words, his emotions portrayed nothing but mistrust and apprehension.
Zez-Kai would meditate on it further, but he felt with great confidence the Captain's role in the situation may not be at an end.
Carth had just returned from a morning workout when he noticed a message waiting for him on the comm. unit. It was an invitation to a group promotion party. Carth groaned as he read the details. Only on Coruscant.
Carth had been a Captain for quite some time. He was due for a promotion, but certainly didn't expect one. He'd been told his lack of trust in his commanding officers hindered his progression through the ranks. What did they expect? And he definitely wasn't going to kiss anyone's ass in order to get one either.
The time for the party was stated at 1900 hours. That gave Carth barely enough time to find all the missing pieces to his dress uniform. His original was lost with the Endar Spire and he hadn't been in a hurry to replace it.
Several hours later and a few credits poorer, Carth started to dress for the engagement. He searched through his things to find a comfortable shirt to wear under his stiff dress shirt. He pulled out the first white one he found. However, when he shook out the wrinkles, he realized it wasn't his. He smiled when he held up the little white shirt he'd seen Sage wear so many times. He loved that shirt on her. Unsure of what to do with it and oddly unable to throw it away, he folded it neatly and placed it back among his things.
A quarter of an hour later, he headed to the edge of the Uscru District. He found the ballroom for the reception and found it already full. A sea of faces greeted him; many of whom he recognized, but couldn't place their names. Most anyone Carth would know were on assignment… where he should be. He slipped a finger under his constricting collar to try to loosen it and made his way to the bar.
After ordering his drink, he turned to observe the room. Some people had already found seats at the tables set aside for dinner. He took a sip of his drink and found the display listing everyone's assigned table.
When he finally found his table, he breathed a sigh of relief when he noticed the familiar faces sitting at it. He slapped a blond man on the shoulder and said, "Bardak, how the hell are you?"
The man jumped up and took Carth's hand, shaking it fiercely, "Fleet! It's been too long. Where have you been?"
Carth smiled. "Anywhere I can find some action."
"Here, here," agreed Bardak, letting go of Carth's hand.
Bardak extended his arm towards the table. "I believe you know everyone here."
Carth took turns shaking the hands of men and women he'd served with over the past ten years. The last was the new captain, Aerena Tarrk, who offered him the empty seat next to her. He might not have known anyone else amongst the two hundred in attendance, but at least he knew the small group of ten at his table.
For the next hour, conversation flowed around the table to discuss the evening's events and who all was in attendance. Carth noticed Admirals Pasch and Boleeq. In times past, he probably would have greeted Boleeq straight away, but things change.
Soon, servers of every species appeared to bring the evening fare to everyone. The broiled nerfsteak was usually one of Carth's favorites. However, it wasn't cooked nearly as well as he preferred it. Nonetheless, he cut around the reddest areas and ate the rest.
Throughout dinner, Carth was informed of what everyone else had been up to. When his turn came, Baraga Synn asked, "So Onasi, where have you been?"
Carth couldn't really discuss the events of the past two months with anyone. The Republic had stated the Endar Spire went down with no survivors. He supposed it was in a continued effort to stall Malak on his search for Bastila. But a crew manifest had not been published. All crewmembers families were notified privately, but since Carth had no family within contact, his fate had been left undisclosed. Instead, he repeated the same words Milo Tosh had said just moments before, "I'm afraid I can't tell you that." Tosh, who now worked in intelligence, winked at him from across the table. Come to think of it, Tosh probably knew the truth.
Lieutenant Synn then said, "Okay, Tarrk, time to give us your news."
Aerena Tarrk blushed when all eyes fell upon her. "Well, it's really not all that exciting. I just got my first orders as Captain."
Carth said, "Really, that's fantastic." He was truly happy for the woman, if not slightly jealous of everyone getting orders besides him.
If she could blush more, she did. "Thanks," she said quietly, eyes shifting to Carth.
"Where to?" Bardak asked.
"Manaan," she answered.
The rest of the table murmured their congratulations and moved on to the next person. Some dismissed themselves for drinks and mingling. Carth swiped a drink from a passing server before turning back to Tarrk. From what Carth understood, Manaan was a stressful post. It was a lot of glaring across lines, from what he'd heard. Tensions ran high with no action.
"When do you leave?" he asked.
"Two days from now," she replied. Then she hastily added, "I'm really looking forward to it."
"You should be," Carth reassured her. Anything had to be better than sitting around Coruscant. "Who will you be working under?"
"Commander Roland Wann. Do you know him?" she said.
Carth thought on it and shook his head. "I'm not sure I do." Actually, he had known a Wann before, but never liked the man. He wasn't a commander then, so hopefully it was a different person.
Scooting her chair closer to Carth, she continued on in hushed tones, "Apparently the last captain went AWOL just a few days ago. They need all the help they can get."
Carth nodded. He wondered briefly if 'AWOL' was an accurate prognosis for a Republic soldier sharing a floating city with Sith troopers. "Well, make sure to watch your back out there," he said.
She smiled a rather pleasant smile. She asked, "How have you been, Carth?"
He was a little caught off guard by the use of his first name. It's not that he minded; he'd just never heard Tarrk use it before. He shifted in his seat, gaining a little distance from her sudden closeness. "Good," was all he offered. After all, what was he going to say? The truth was way too much for casual conversation.
He heard her sigh as he looked around the ballroom. Then he felt a light touch at his elbow and almost jumped.
Tarrk asked, "Would it be too forward to ask you to dance?"
Carth stared. Dance? As he faltered, her confident expression seemed to fall and her smile faded. In a panic, Carth blurted out, "Sure… I mean… I haven't danced in a long time."
He stood up and looked down at her expectantly. Her smile reappeared and she grabbed his hand that had been resting at his side. She led them to the dance floor.
As Carth held one of her hands and rested the other on her hip, he wondered what he was doing. Dancing with Tarrk didn't seem right. Her shy glances and blushes at the table hinted that she may be attracted to him. And although he found her to be an attractive woman, his interest ended there. Before, he would have blamed his reluctance on the loss of his wife. But he had to admit that reason hadn't stopped him from lusting after Marin Sage.
It took him a moment to realize Tarrk was speaking to him. He leaned a little closer, implying he hadn't heard her rather than not paying attention. "I'm sorry, what did you say?"
She spoke a little louder, "I said if you ever make it out to the Pyrshak system, I hope you'll stop by." She looked down and said a little quieter, "Maybe we could have dinner or something."
"Um… that would be nice."
She looked up and beamed at him. He was quite thankful when the song ended.
When they returned to the table, Carth decided to exchange Tarrk for some more comfortable company and went to find Bardak.
The commodore was exactly where Carth had hoped to find him – at the bar. Bardak was talking to Camasau when Carth approached. "…and that's why you need to get your big ass back on a ship," he was saying.
Camasau snorted, "And miss all the action on the ground? Never."
Camasau was a big man and barely fit into his uniform. He'd been a pilot in his younger days, but something about his species, though humanoid, made him grow larger every time Carth saw him. When he outgrew the confines of the cockpit, he took up ground forces to stay in the action. Carth couldn't help thinking of a bigger version of Canderous Ordo when looking at Camasau.
Bardak turned his focus on Carth. "So Onasi, when are you going to finally give in and take Tarrk up on her offer?"
Carth blinked. "What?"
Bardak smirked. "Come on, you can't tell me you didn't know she's been after you for a couple of years now."
Well, that confirmed it. And this new company didn't seem as comfortable as Carth had thought it would have been. Maybe the solitude of his quarters wasn't so bad after all. Carth took a long sip of his drink to think of how to answer.
In an apparent attempt to save Carth from responding, Camasau said, "Too bad about Taris, eh?"
Carth choked on his drink. In a raspy voice, he said, "Yeah, yeah it is."
Camasau continued, "The Endar Spire was bad enough, but a whole planet…"
Carth shook his head. "I'm afraid it's nothing new," he added bitterly.
The mood between the three grew solemn. Finally Bardak spoke up, "Why don't we get out of here and find a real place to drink."
That sounded good to Carth. A good game of sabacc with little talk about the war was just what he needed.
Upon meditating over his conversations with the captain, Zez-Kai felt more strongly than ever about the man's continued involvement. Perhaps the captain would be an influence without a motive. He displayed the moral sense and objectivity that would be crucial for their success. Jek-Tal had the moral sense, but his objectivity was blatantly absent.
From this point on, there was little Zez-Kai would be able to do for her. She was most certainly in the hands of the four council members on Dantooine. And only one of them could be relied upon to show any compassion towards her. However, Zez-Kai knew that compassion only extended as far as her value.
Absorbing the information he had just received from the images of the Council displayed in front of him, he asked, "She is ready to venture forth?"
"Indeed. She has a few matters to attend to, but overall has displayed some semblance of usefulness," Vrook said stiffly.
"Might I suggest recalling Captain Onasi to pilot the Ebon Hawk?" Zez-Kai asked.
"Jek-Tal Roon is a respectable pilot," Vandar stated, though Zez-Kai knew that wasn't an option any of the Council favored.
"Captain Onasi was able to navigate the Ebon Hawk undetected while shooting their way through a Sith Armada. His experience is exactly what's needed for this mission," Zez-Kai said pointedly.
"Not to mention he already has the clearance," Zhar reminded them.
Vandar nodded his head in agreement. "If there are no objections, I will speak to Admiral Dodonna to make the necessary arrangements."
The transmission ended and Zez-Kai leaned back in his seat. There was nothing more he would do. The other members of the Council would not be persuaded against their current plan of action… not after what she'd found. The puppet show has begun.