Wellingtonboots - he didn't Force-choke him...he just did the regular ol' Homer Simpson throttling with two hands. :)
16. Adrift (AKA This Really, Really Sucks)
As it turned out, being trapped aboard a smallish starship with four other people and a captive Rodian did nothing for anyone's mood.
For his part, Joclad sat in the main room and stared at anyone who walked by. Elan skulked away whenever he caught sight of him, and eventually took to running through the room when he had to go through at all. Devona tried to ignore him as she brought a platter of food down into the cargo hold, where they'd left the Rodian to rot after Dack's attempted negotiations failed.
But mostly, Joclad's interest remained fixed on Elan. Ah, little Elan. The Balosar all but trembled whenever he laid eyes upon the Jedi Knight, but the sensation of his fear through the Force didn't feel as good as it had before.
He supposed that was a good thing, considering the state of his mind. Jedi were supposed to be keeping the peace, not terrorizing underlings.
Then again… I will be needing a new job… provided I survive all this. What would I be good at?
"Devi!" Elan shouted from the 'fresher. "The hot water's gone!"
"You were using the water?" Devona wailed from the bridge. "This ship doesn't hold that much!"
"I couldn't figure out how to turn on the sonic setting!" Elan poked a head out, spotted Joclad, and quickly withdrew. "I'll just, uh…I like cold showers."
Hmm… maybe law enforcement on Nar Shaddaa? There must be plenty of opportunity there...
Joclad found himself contemplating the issue of a new occupation as his erstwhile companions scurried back and forth through the ship. Every now and then, mechanical-looking items were shoved into his hands and he did his best to fix them; having a distraction, something to do seemed to take his mind off the rage, off the beast that gnawed at him.
But invariably the thing was repaired, and the beast came back.
Joclad won't fall to the Dark Side, Cin had said years ago. Master Windu had expressed some concern over Joclad's aggressive fighting, and had sent newly knighted Depa down to test him. The Korun Master looked much relieved when Drallig told him otherwise. At least, until the swordsman followed up with he'll plummet.
Depa had knocked Joclad out an instant later, necessitating th at he stay at the healer's ward for the rest of the day.
He'd thought it was a joke. They all did. The teräs käsi helped him control himself, disciplined his mind and body to quell the raging beast within. He'd gone so long without hearing it whisper...without wanting to lash out. The temple fight….
He realized it now: It had unlocked some long-hidden door, and now the thing stirred -- a venomous snake uncoiling in his soul.
Maybe you knew me too well, Master Drallig.
He felt the tug. Knew what it was. Resisted it. I'm not a monster. I will not turn like Skywalker.
You could have saved them. All of them. You could have saved her
He stood on the edge of a slippery slope, and wondered if he were powerless to stop his slide.
One by one, fires in the Force went out.
He wasn't sure when the dreams started. All he knew was that he hated them.
This one began in darkness, and he tasted his fear all around – in his bloodied mouth, in the narrow confines of what was meant to be a sleeping bunk. Hiding in the back of the cell did no good. The monster just kept coming.
His legs didn't work rightHis back felt as though he'd slept on vibroblades. Everything ached. Something huge and dark and blurry stalked back and forth at the edge of his vision, delivering sharp barbs to his mind through the Force.
He tried to scramble back against the wall. Get away from me!
/Get up and fight.\
Oh, how he wanted to. His hands scrabbled for a weapon that was no longer there -- his hands, refusing to function as well. Leave me be… please, stop it...
/Find your power.\
The Force! Where was it? He called for it, begged for it to help him --
/Where is the great strength? Where is the war-winner?\
The Force swirled just outside his typical range of use, dark and whirling and devastating. Fragile glass separated him from it, a mere arm's reach away. He could shatter the glass so easily and claim it as his own….
No! Not again! I won't do it again!
Something rough grabbed for his foot, and no amount of kicking earned his freedom.
Reach for it, a raspy voice whispered. Save yourself through darkness.
A fist came from the darkness, and the strength of the impact hurled him against another wall. The pain -- so different, yet the same as the other pain – the real pain – this can't be real, can it? – but another fist, another jarring of bones and muscle and mind. Why are you doing this?
/They will kill you if you don't.\
Power. It was there. He could end it all right now if he wanted.
/You should not die yet…\ With the mental caress came the promise of revenge and the blood of his enemies – yes – tasting so sweet as it ran down his fingers—
NO! He looked around wildly. I can't use the Force that way! Not again!
But was he arguing with himself, or the monster?
Well, his semi-conscious self observed, at least it's not Geonosis again.
Huge, scarred hands closed around his neck, and the galaxy went dark.
Joclad was on his feet before the dream fully ended, and Dack leaped out of the bunk opposite him with a blaster in his hand. "Easy there, Danva."
He pressed the heel of his hand against his forehead and tried to stop shaking. "Bad… bad dream…."
Dack nodded, and put the gun down, prompting Joclad to wonder if he'd parted with it at all since getting aboard the ship. "I figured. What happened?"
"I was getting beat up." Even admitting it felt odd. He looked down at the fingers of his left hand, which still responded slower than they usually did. They hadn't worked at all in the dream. Nothing had worked. Maybe I'm just trying to scare myself.
"You?" Dack's eyebrows went up.
"I know!" He sat on the edge of the bed and rubbed his upper arms, trying to chase away the chill that had settled into his bones. "A huge man. I tried to fight him, but…he just kept on pounding me and pounding me and I couldn't… I couldn't really fight back..." He didn't have the heart to tell his friend about the rest of the dream, of the dark power that he recognized as his own. Dack would never understand such a thing.
The Corellian looked mildly concerned. "I wonder what that means. We need a dream analysis." He sat cross-legged on his bunk, much like Master Leryna did when she gave counsel to war-weary commanders. Unlike Master Leryna, Dack's much-practiced Jedi Look of Wisdom was not what Joclad would call sincere. "We'll start with the obvious. Have you angered any big men recently?"
Willing to play along for the sake of getting his heart rate down, Joclad gave it some thought. "Metaphorically or literally?"
"Good question." Dack made an exaggerated show of stroking his chin. "What did he look like?"
"Big, dark, shaved head..."
"Mmm. Maybe this is an anxiety dream. You're afraid all that black hair you're so proud of is going to turn gray and fall out after what you experienced."
That is strikingly unfunny, Meridian. Still, Joclad picked up a strand of hair and inspected it. "No, I really don't think that's it…but come to think of it, he looked a bit like Master Windu."
"Ohhh." Dack nodded knowingly. "This may just be repressed childhood fears, then."
Joclad snorted. "Speak for yourself. I was never afraid of Master Windu."
"You were, too." Dack folded his arms and smirked at him. "You used to hide with the rest of us when he came to visit our clan."
"I did not!"
"Yes, you did! Behind the fountain in the floating forest." The smirk turned into a smug grin as Dack stretched back out on his bunk. "We were eight or so. Bear Clan forever! Or were we the Nexu Clan? Wait, maybe we were something else entirely…."
Joclad dimly recalled running around with the other children in the floating forest, and yes, there it was -- the imposing presence of Master Windu strolling toward them, his head glistening intimidatingly in the artificial sunlight. The younger Joclad hid up a tree. The older version stuck his nose in the air. "I was just making sure you guys didn't…run away."
"Oh, please. We'd have stayed hidden, too, if you hadn't set Depa's hair on fire. Way to give away our position."
Joclad gaped at him, nightmare briefly forgotten. "I never set her hair on fire!"
Dack sighed deeply. That, Joclad decided, is the sigh of a man who thinks I'm an idiot. "You two were at each other's throats the entire week prior," the Corellian explained. "Both of you climbed up into one of the big trees, and I guess you decided you didn't much like her right then, and you set her hair on fire."
Joclad just found himself staring. "Which begs the question: what did my eight-year-old self set her lovely tresses ablaze with?"
His friend shrugged. "Your lightsaber?"
He remembered arguing with Depa in the tree -- something about whether or not it was always green, or if it shed its leaves like the other species -- but try as he might, setting her hair on fire did not come to mind. Though admittedly it was an idea his younger self probably would have entertained now and then. "I'm not remembering the fire part. And I don't think I'd stick my lightsaber so close to her head, even if we were just kids."
Dack shook his head but looked gently amused by it all. "I think you've got a case of selective memory going on, Danva, but I can't blame you."
The pause deepened into a silence, and Joclad abruptly realized that Dack had purposely left him an opening. I knew this was coming… sooner or later we have to say something about…it. He supposed the time might as well be now. "Dack."
"Hmm?" Dack picked at some lint on his pillowcase.
"How're you...you know..." Joclad hunted around for the right words, and settled for the excruciatingly boring. "…holding up?"
Dack was quiet for a few seconds. "I -- I guess I'm all right." He turned his head to better look at Joclad. "I don't think it's fully sunk in yet."
Joclad refrained from making the snappy remark that came to mind: The temple sank it pretty far for me. Instead, he nodded. "Better that than panic, I guess."
"Panic's supposed to be trained out of us by the time we're twelve," Dack said. He propped himself up on an elbow. "What about you?"
Joclad didn't answer.
Dack's mouth quirked up into a sad smile. "Joclad, the temple -- "
"It was awful," he said abruptly. "It was just -- it was awful. There was fire and blood and death everywhere." He longed for sleep, but inwardly dreaded what nightmares might return now that he'd acknowledged the event. "Skywalker, he just...it was a rampage, Dack. A rampage. So many died…and I felt them dying…like Geonosis, but…so much more." There. He'd said it.
"You got away," Dack said quietly.
Joclad chuckled bitterly. "To what point? I'll be hunted wherever I go, I'll -- "
"We'll," Dack said. "We'll be hunted. Us, and other survivors."
"We don't know that there are others," Joclad said, mostly to see if he could get a rise out of the other man. "What if we're it?"
"But -- "
"We are not the last Jedi," Dack snapped. "All right?"
Joclad conceded the point, as it seemed quite important to the other man. "We're considered traitors. Outlaws. Maybe even lower than Sleazebaggano. What do we have to live for? Gods, I almost wish I'd died in the temple -- "
" -- if only so I wouldn't have to see what happens next." Joclad lay back down and hoped the blurred monstrosity would not return. "Because I know I'm not going to like it."
The days passed, and his dreams grew more troubling. Visions of Cin and Depa and even Jocasta Nu's disapproving glare filled his mind, along with a dozen other faces he'd known as well as his own. Roth-Del Masona and Kit Fisto discussed matters of great importance in a temple corridor. Depa argued with her cousin Sar over the origins of the Billaba surname. Joclad knew what it all was, even as he observed these dreams from a safe distance. Just going through the back files is all...
But there was one dream…one dream that repeated now and then. It invariably hitched itself to his memory of Cin observing a training session, though he sensed by the time this situation took place, several hours had passed. Several hours, and a large amount of sweat, taunting, and general sparring – he knew that, and remembered it. But what happened after….
Lightsabers fell to the floor with solid-sounding clanks. Yes, it was a good thing Cin had departed; he'd throw a fit over the treatment of the weapons.
His companion looked startled as he grasped her upper arms. What are you -- Her voice was cut off as he pulled her close, and she did not seem to know what to make of his smile. Every time the scene replayed, the startled look on her face was the same -- exactly the same, right down to the spark of delight in her eyes that she tried to hide.
Though Joclad would be the first to admit he was enjoying himself, he had no idea what he was doing in the sparring room again -- or why his mind chose to continue replaying this scene. All that mattered was that he felt happy, and the woman opposite him – startled though she may have been – was happy too. She warmed to his advance after the initial shock, and he relished the sudden closeness of her -- the feel of her pressed against him. Gods, I should do this more often….
His dream-self recalled feelings that Joclad Danva, Jedi Knight, had no real experience with. But the other emotions – he knew some of those. Elation and longing mixed together as small, delicate fingers wound their way into his larger ones, and even if he did not know what he was doing or where he was -- maybe even who he was -- he was right where he was meant to be.
And so were his lips, as he tilted her chin up so he could kiss her.
She tasted of their afternoon meal: cheeka fruits and some sort of soup that they'd both managed to choke down against their better judgment. Beyond that, she tasted of all the things he had ever desired….
And the one thing forbidden to them both.
This might qualify as attachment, he either thought or whispered. The concept was as tantalizing as it was dangerous.Code-breaker, this might be too far, even for you...
His conscience speaking? Or something else?
We can't do this, she said. His temper prickled; if they really couldn't, then this wouldn't be happening.
But we already are. And now he was touching a face -- her face -- and wondering why he'd never done this before. He silenced the rest of her conversation swiftly; if he kept his mouth on hers, it meant she couldn't make other valid points.
Somewhere in his deeply buried conscious, he knew there was little validity to this dream. Just a fantasy, after all. The way he learned how she tasted, what she liked -- none of it real. But it was so very vivid….
It's almost like a memory, he said to her. Like a memory from long ago...
He leaned back a little to get a better gauge of the situation. More of the scenery came into focus: He had her between himself and the wall, and her hands now clutched the front of his tunic. The woman in front of him looked almost sad as his fingers slid down her throat, brushing against the rapid pulse he felt there.
Rapid because of him.
Joclad…you shouldn't be remembering this.
She fizzled into nothingness, and bitter frustration stabbed at him when the dream ended entirely, throwing him back into the waking world.
He ran a hand across his eyes. The dream had ended the same way for better than three days now, repeating over and over again whenever he tried to sleep. You'd think if I were good at fantasizing, I'd at least give myself a happier ending…or a more satisfying one. But instead she stood in front of him and went away again, vanishing like she had in the temple -- until he woke up with a lightsaber hilt clenched in his hand and a readiness to start destroying things.
He set the 'saber aside, and rolled onto his back. Force, drown out my dreams.
He closed his eyes again but had barely sunk into the opening stages of sleep when he saw the familiar confines of the room. Fine! Don't!
He sat up with a scowl. So now even rest was denied to him. Is there anything left? Anything at all?
Memories of his bouts on Bunduki filtered through his damaged psyche, and he realized there was one thing he could still do.
The little Wanderer drifted, dependant upon a savior that still did not come.
Joclad slipped down to the cargo hold, flicking off the lights as he went. He approached the shadowed, gaunt-looking form of the Rodian and stood there in front of it until the officer awoke.
The alien started upon seeing his boots, and then squirmed into a sitting position. The remains of foliage sat on a plate beside him. "What -- what do you want?"
Joclad showed the Rodian a 'saber hilt. "Do you know what I am?"
The Rodian nodded.
"So you know this can take off your head without any problems."
The Rodian nodded again.
"And I could also rip your head off with just my hands, if I wanted to. Which I might do anyway. Because let's face it, you wouldn't mind doing the same to me, would you?"
The Rodian just stared at him, and its eyes widened until he suspected they might well roll right out of their sockets. That would be funny.
Delighted by the fear emanating from the would-be stowaway, Joclad ignited the blue blade and sliced it sideways a few times. "Stay over here, and maybe I won't kill you."
So he went through every kata he knew -- teräs käsi and otherwise -- some with one blade, some with both, some with none. He gave into his anger as he battled the demons only he could see, and his rage lasted long through the night -- through the morning -- until the Rodian was a quivering pile of terrified green flesh, and the beast at last said, Fight it, fight harder...
Joclad stopped once for water, and stared at the Rodian as the recycled liquid ran down his throat. You'll regret the day you turned on the Jedi, you greenish pile of nerves…. yes, you'll regret it. You all will.
Then he began again.
No one dared stand in the way of Lord Vader. No one dared accompany him. He took his missions alone, eschewing the help of clones or people. Offers of kindness were rejected. Few saw the face beneath the black hood - but all saw the bright yellow eyes and the cruelty within them.
Odd, then, that someone dared pursue him…
Devona Swyfte had lost track of how long they'd been out there when some sort of Nubian-looking ship pulled up alongside.
"Arden!" she called over her shoulder. "We got one!" Now come tell me what to do so I don't get us all killed.
"Come in, Wanderer," the Nubian called over the audio line. The pilot sounded female, and somewhat hoarse. "You've got an engine problem?"
"Yeah, among other things," Devona said. Instinct told her to beg off, but they were out of food and nearly out of water. Joclad was off terrorizing their guest, and Dack…well, Dack had said before that getting in Joclad's way wasn't very smart. "Got any spare converters that won't fry our system?"
"Maybe. I have a handy astromech unit, too. Where are you headed?"
She glanced at Arden as the other woman arrived, and immediately decided she didn't like the odd little smile on her face.
Arden leaned forward, effectively taking command of the com. "We're headed to Palawa, Sabé."
Devona half-twisted around in her chair to gape. If she'd been mildly concerned about an inter-Order war before, she was downright terrified that such a thing might happen now. Arden Lyn, Master of Teräs Käsi, planned to risk the entire Order – maybe even the entire galaxy by bringing Jedi to Palawa?
And she, Devona Swyfte, was piloting the ship they flew on? Gods, she might as well sail the Wanderer into a black hole.
"You can't do that," she said. "You can't be seriously thinking of Palawa..."
"I don't recall consulting you on the matter," Arden said.
"Palawa?" Sabé Ralter echoed from the comm. station. "Is that a good idea?"
"No, thank you," Devona said. "I'm not taking you and a bunch of Jedi to Palawa!"
"Then you can go sit in the cargo hold with our resident representative of the Empire. I don't particularly care." Arden sat down in the co-pilot's chair and started flicking switches and buttons. "Sabé, get that astro-droid of yours ready. We've no time to waste."
"He's all set," Ralter said. "But – Palawa?" There was a beat as she absorbed the information. "Wait – you've got Jedi with you?"
"Jedi on Palawa...I need to get my will in order." Devona half-turned her chair, but then realized she'd be leaving Arden alone on the bridge if she departed. Damn it! How did I get myself into this? "Arden, this is a bad idea."
"They kill outsiders, don't they?" Ralter continued.
"Among other things," Devona said, burying her face in her hands. "Don't take us to Palawa. Anywhere but there. I hate Palawa."
From behind her came the tentative clearing of a Balosarian throat as Elan made his appearance. "Uh – I heard something about killing outsiders?"
"Dig into your drugs," Devona said glumly. "We're all going to die."
Arden huffed. "You have such little faith in my protective abilities."
"They haven't gotten us too far lately, have they?"
"You're alive. Don't complain."
"So!" Elan clapped his hands together, apparently deciding to ignore the whole killing outsiders slant the conversation had taken. "What's Palawa?"
"The home base of the Teräs Käsi Order, such as it remains," Devona said. She flicked a few switches as Ralter's shipboard computer attempted to make contact with the Wanderer. While she was at it, she opened up a plain document and wondered who she should will all of her belongings to. Arden had just gotten herself written out of the running, but maybe Dack would have use for a fast spaceship to run away from Imperials with...when it worked.
Arden shook her head. "I do wish you wouldn't call it a base. It sounds so... militaristic. Or juvenile, depending on which inflection you use."
Hmm. Dack will probably get killed along with the rest of us. Who do I know that's not on this ship that is worthy of my stuff? It was a pertinent question, and quite frankly, she couldn't think of a lot of people who deserved a nice vessel like the Wanderer. "Hey, Ralter, if we all get killed, do you want my ship?"
Ralter was spared the need to speak further as Arden let out an exasperated sigh. "We're not all going to get killed. I can handle whatever they toss at us."
"I'm just remembering the situation on Nar Shaddaa," Devona said. "You handled that real well."
"Come to think of it, there was a situation on Corellia, too," Ralter said. "Similarly-handled, I'm sure."
"Yeah?" Devona turned away from her will and looked at the audio output with new interest. "You had a situation?"
"How did that end up happening?"
"Elan, go find the Jedi," Arden said, pointedly ignoring the side conversation. Devona imagined that this Ralter – whoever she was – probably had a lopsided grin on at this very moment. "Sabé, we've been drifting for awhile. What news do you have?"
"I have plenty of news," Ralter said. "And none of it's good."
Devona sighed and flopped back in her chair. "That just figures."