En route to Malachor V….
I couldn't put it off anymore. I'd waited for two weeks for the rest of my memories to come rushing back, but no matter how many nights I spent with Bao-Dur, they did not return. Finally, one morning, as Atton steered us to Malachor V and events that had occurred on the Ravager were still hanging over me, making me surly, I asked bluntly, "What happened to your arm?"
He glanced at me sharply, but he must have felt or read the apprehension in my eyes for his expression softened. It was in his eyes too, and I knew it was because we screamed through space toward that hated planet where all things bad and painful seemed to reside. He glanced down at his arm. The electrical energy was off so as not to burn my bare skin in the cramped confines of his bunk. The disembodied hand piece looked like nothing more than a heavy, specialized glove lying on the sheet.
"I got tired of it—kept dropping my hydrospanner. Figured I'd get a new one."
I narrowed my eyes at him. "I was there, wasn't I?"
"Yes, General," he sighed. "But if you were me, you'd probably want to joke about it, too. And you look like you could use a laugh." He brushed a lock of my hair out of my eyes.
"So do you," I returned. "Something on your mind?"
If they gave out awards for most moronic question of all time, I would have won it with that one, hands down. Of course, Malachor V was on his mind. How could it not be? We could both practically feel it draw nearer, could feel the weight of its legacy of pain and death. It was like the Hawk was a submersible that kept diving deeper and deeper into the depths, and the weight of an ocean was pressing in against us.
"Returning here," he said. "It's harder than I thought. The anger in me, I can still feel it." He looked at me and I saw the fear in his eyes, plain as day. "Maybe you're lucky you can't remember. The last years of my life have been defined by anger… The Mandalorians, Czerka and Revan. And above all else, for myself, for Malachor."
My throat threatened to close on me but I persevered. "What about me, for giving the order?"
He shook his head vehemently and the fear was burnt out by a smoldering intensity I had only seen him wear on Dxun. "Never, General. It had to be done. My hands destroyed the Mandalorians. I cannot be forgiven for that."
There was a giant contradiction there—a flaw in his logic but it was much too early in the morning for me to grasp it.
Bao-Dur got up then, and pulled on his black pants and shirt and then went to turn on his arm. Attached to the stump, midway between where his elbow would be if he had one, and his shoulder, was the cybernetic generator. He leveled it at the hand piece that was lying beside me on the bunk like a disembodied glove. I watched him power up his arm and the blue-white currents found the hand. He flexed it a few times, experimentally. Through this whole process, I sat in silence, not sure what it was I could say. I didn't remember giving him the order to activate the mass shadow generator. I didn't remember those last moments before I made the biggest mistake of my life, so I didn't know how to tell him it wasn't his fault. Why would he believe me? At that moment, because of my memory loss, I hadn't even been there. But I had to say something.
"Guilt is not your best color," I said with a smile. He didn't return it.
"My guilt reminds me that I have not fallen," he replied, sitting on the edge of the bunk and pulling on his boots.
I sighed and hugged my knees to my chest.
"I know you haven't fallen," I said, nudging him in the side with my bare foot. "Guilt is just something you use to hide from your true responsibility." Tact, as was well demonstrated with that little number, was not my strong suit.
He looked sharply at me and I could feel, through the Force, the anger he spoke of. It coursed through him like hot oil through his veins, burning white and red. "Is that why we're returning to Malachor? To change the future?" he asked, sarcasm thick in his soft voice. It sounded out of place. He let it go and said, "What you say might be the truth, but I don't see it that way. I can't just ignore the blood on my hands."
He stood up and headed for the door. I jumped out of the bunk, heedless of my utter lack of clothing.
"Where are you going?" I demanded.
"To the garage," he snapped. "I've got work to do."
I let him go…mostly because if I had paraded out of the dorm in my altogether, the rest of the crews' suspicions would be proven irrefutably and credits would change hands. I think Atton had odds and he'd taken enough of my own credits in pazaak; I wasn't about to give him the satisfaction of taking Mira's too.
But Bao-Dur's anger bothered me. It bothered me because I didn't know enough about it. I didn't know enough about him. For whatever reason—maybe it was all the sex and the intimacy that went with it— I assumed I knew everything about him now, as if that knowledge just came with the package. I was wrong. Very wrong, and as Atton guided us bumpily to the surface of Malachor V, a feeling of terrible apprehension came over me. Not just for being there and what it meant to me, but for Bao-Dur too.
I slipped into my gray robes and jammed my blue-bladed lightsaber into one side of my belt, and Freedon Nadd'sshort one into the other. There was a small mirror on one wall. I examined myself in it, and smoothed down my black hair. My eyes were bright blue but I didn't kid myself that their brilliance was anything but fear lighting them up. I had always thought I looked like somewhat young for my age, but on that day, on Malachor V for the second time, I looked old and tired. He's right about one thing, I thought, this has to end. I took a deep breath and left the dorm.
Landing on the planet's surface did something to all of us. The crews' energy felt dispersed and weak, like we were all suddenly on our own, each feeling a disparate, urgent call that none of the others could hear or share. Our team was broken and I hated it. But I had to go first, to the Trayus Academy and put an end to Kreia's game. I sought out Bao-Dur before I left.
I felt his anger before I saw him, busily at work in the garage. I didn't know what he was working on, but I didn't like it and I began to feel afraid.
"I can't let go of this anger, General," he said before I could speak, his back to me still. "I feel like I need to do something, to make up for it. To make an end." He turned around and looked at me. "Maybe if this place were gone, I could feel like it was over. I could build a future, like you said."
The Ebon Hawk rumbled beneath our feet—the planet was protesting our intrusion and I knew I had to hurry.
"I have to go," I began.
"I wish you wouldn't, General. There is another way."
I shook my head. "Bao-Dur, wait for me. Whatever it is you think you have to do, wait until I return." Or you'll kill us all, I added silently. I wasn't asking him, I was ordering him. If he was still going to call me 'General' after all we had shared, then I figured maybe acting like one—like how I now remembered I had been—was the only way to stop him.
He nodded. "Of course, General," he said softly. "I would never do anything to hurt you."
I love you, too, I thought, and quickly turned ran down the corridor to the ramp that was already lowered and stepped onto the surface of Malachor V…
I run as fast as I have ever run in my life and still it feels as though I am losing this race.
Chaos rains down around me. Smoke and ash, and the roiling greenish fog of this place that never relents cloud my vision. Soldiers, my soldiers, are running with me, screaming and shouting and firing their weapons, and dying. The Mandalorians are behind us, walking at clipped paces but not running, oh no. They have no need. They are all around us. We aren't running towards safety or base or a transport that will take us away…all of those are blown out of the sky. No, we are running from the Mandalorians directly into another implacable wall of even more of them. We are running to our deaths.
I twist my ankle on a rock but Bao-Dur hauls me to my feet so fast, we don't even lose a step. The pain dances up my leg but my will to live conquers it and I banish it to some far-removed place—the same place I had banished the pain of the blaster bolt in my side and the fiery ache in my shoulder.
Bao-Dur's face is bleeding from a thousand tiny cuts and my frantic, exhausted, panicked mind deduces that he was sprayed with some shrapnel but I can't remember when. The last few hours have been a blur of madness that is war and I don't know where I am anymore.
I do know we are not winning, that we are likely going to die, and I look at Bao-Dur running grim-faced and determined beside me. I decide if I have to die, I want it to be in his arms. Sounds silly, I know, but I don't want the last thing I see in this world to be anything other than his face.
Years or hours or minutes later, I can't tell how long, I see a miracle, a mirage. A transport is hovering a meter or two off the ground about a klick and a half in front of us and ragged, bleeding Republic soldiers are scrambling into it. I don't have to say anything to Bao-Dur, he sees it too. We both continue firing our weapons at any Mandalorian who steps into our murky line of view but we find the strength to run faster too.
I think we are going to make it—I wave my good arm at a soldier in the transport and he signals back that he sees us. We are nearly there when a pair of Mandalorians step out of the greenish gloom and open fire. By some fluke I feel the sizzling heat of the barrage of blaster bolts that scream towards us, but none of them find my flesh. But Bao-Dur is struck once—twice--three times. He spins around as though someone had grabbed his left arm from behind, and I watch as his elbow all but explodes in a spray of blood and bone. A split second later, a hole the size of his fist opens below the shoulder, and I hear the sickening, puncturing sound of another bolt tearing through his side and then he collapses heavily to the ground.
With a scream of rage I fire at the two Mandalorians, heedless of the Republic transport and its soldiers right behind them. Some of my blasts ricochet off that transport, but most of them find their mark, and the Mandalorians fall down dead.
Two soldiers have raced out of the transport and, apparently seeing my rank, try to hurry me inside. I order them to take Bao-Dur too.
"There's no time, General," one says. "He's as good as dead."
"He's just a tech," says the other.
I slam the butt of my blaster into that man's face, and a several of his teeth make a quick exit from his mouth on a spray of blood.
"Pick him up," I say. "That's a fucking order."
The first soldier nods and the second nurses his mouth until he sees me looking at him. The two of them lift Bao-Dur who is choking back screams, and carry him to the transport. I cover them, felling three more Mandalorians who dare to try to stop us.
Inside the transport, I hold Bao-Dur's head in my lap as a battered and ion-scored med droid flickers its beady yellow eyes over him. His arm is a horror show and I try to keep him from looking at it but he twists his head and what he sees coaxes a scream from his ravaged throat. It is destroyed. There is no better way to describe it. Below the shoulder there is an impossibly huge hole completely devoid of muscle or flesh. Below that, where his elbow should have been, there is only torn skin and jagged shards of bone blown out, like a branch that has been snapped…but not all the way. The transport tilts crazily as it lifts into the air and Bao-Dur's arm moves. I see then that the nest of broken bones concealed the truth, that the lower half of his arm is attached only by a thin piece of skin and tendon.
"General," Bao-Dur moans. His forehead is broken out in a sweat and his eyes are frantic and wide. His whole face is panicked and drawn tight as a drum with pain. It doesn't look like his face and I itch to slap the med droid that is slowly—too slowly—administering a sedative into Bao-Dur's whole, right arm. Bao-Dur's face relaxes a bit but his eyes are still feverish and alight. "General," he pleads again and I can only hold him and run my hand over his head. One of his horns is digging painfully into my thigh, but I hardly feel it.
I channel the Force into him and it is a tiny trickle since I'm out of practice. But his pain eases somewhat until the med droid announces, "His arm will have to be removed."
Bao-Dur makes a low, despairing noise and shakes his head in protest. I try to soothe him as best as I can, but I know it's true—his arm is as good as gone. I try to keep him still but Bao-Dur thrusts his good arm under his back and pulls out a hand-held remote device. It is black and has only a few dials and buttons on the face of it. He holds it out to me. I know instantly what it is and I recoil.
"Now," Bao-Dur wheezed. "Do it now. Kill them, General. Kill them all."
I feel his anger and hate, hot and thick, like his blood on my hands. I remember Revan's words to me, when he first commissioned the generator's construction from Bao-Dur. "If it seems unwinnable, use it. They have to be stopped."
They have to be stopped. My own anger flares in me and flares again when I look at Bao-Dur in my lap, in pain, terrified, his arm destroyed. The transport jounces and tilts, the confines are dark, there are other soldiers shouting to one another and I can hear blaster fire rip past us. This has to end, I think.
"General," Bao-Dur pleads and when I look at him, at his liquid brown eyes, I know what I have to do.
But I don't take the remote out of his hands. I don't crush it with the Force, or throw it down the airlock, nor do I even use it to activate mass shadow generator.
Instead, I order Bao-Dur to do it.
This man, this Zabrak Iridonian in my lap, my soldier, my friend, my lover. He's sick with shock and pain and terror, and the part of me that is small and afraid takes advantage. His anger is a torture to him and I know he would do anything to put it out. He thinks the mass shadow generator will do that for him, and so when I order him to activate it, he does.
My world gets blown apart, and even though nothing in the transport has changed, I may as well be somewhere else. I sink back against the wall as the Force tears at me, as the dead howl and haunt me, and the last thing I see before blackness comes is Bao-Dur's face and his guilty tears streaming over a mask of hate and pain. I think, right before oblivion comes, that I would give anything to forget that I made his face look like that. Anything.Trayus Academy, present time…
Kreia's last breath flutters out of her narrow chest and I take a moment's rest. The walls around me are shuddering and I know I have to get out. I use the Force and feel Atton's energy near—all dark smoke with the occasional brilliant spark of gold. I call him and in moments, the Ebon Hawk is surging upwards from some cavern below and the ramp is down.
I jump in, slam my palm against the ramp console to shut it, and race into the hold. The ship is in chaos.
Visas is collapsed in a corner, blood leaking from under her hood and across her pale face. Mandalore lies motionless on the other side and I think he is dead until the Force tells me otherwise. Mira is missing, dead, I realize, and still down there on that planet, and Mical is pleading with Bao-Dur who stands at the communication console in the center of the hold. The hologram flickering there shows Bao-Dur's remote being threatened by G0-T0. The ship itself is bucking and tilting as Atton tries to maneuver us out of the clutches of Malachor V's never-ending storms.
"Lysia," Mical sighs with relief, as I enter. "Please tell him to stop. He wants to…"
"I know," I snap, and I'm already standing in front of Bao-Dur, between him and the console.
His cheek is cut and there is a bruise forming at his temple, but otherwise, he looks unhurt…until I see his arm has been damaged. The generator around his upper arm is sparking and expelling little tendrils of smoke. The hand mechanism is gone.
He sees me look at the stump of his arm and his smile is tight and forced. "Look familiar, General? Just like before. Only this time, we can end it for good. Malachor V can't take another blast."
"Neither can I," I say. "Neither can you." And now I understand how all his late nights in the garage had been spent. The hologram wavers as though it were an emissary of G0-T0's impatience.
"General Tors," the droid drawls from under the storms of the planet. "You are fortunate that I am ever vigilant, else you may have joined your precious Force a tad sooner than you had intended."
"That's not true," Bao-Dur tells me, his eyes bright and wide. "I won't do it until you give me the order again, General."
"What order?" Mical demands, eyeing the two of us. The Ebon Hawk cants under our feet but the Disciple hardly notices. "I sense something terrible is trying to happen. Lysia, you can't let him do whatever it is he intends to do."
"Shut up!" Bao-Dur cries suddenly, turning on Mical. I've never heard his mild voice so loud or so full of rage. He grips the Disciple by the front of his robes. "What I intend to do is light-years beyond you!"
"The C-Code," Mical gasps, flinching away from Bao-Dur's face which is inches from his own. I don't blame him—with his horns and burning eyes, Bao-Dur must seem a kind of devil. I try to pry his hand loose but he is extremely strong.
"Bao-Dur, let him go," I demand, and then turn that demand into an order. He roughly releases Mical who stands back, gasping and rubbing his throat.
Bao-Dur turns to me and the hate bleeds from his voice until he is almost pleading. "I cannot let go of it, this anger."
"The war is over," I tell him. "There are none left to hate."
He shakes his head. "There is me."
His words are like knives in my heart. G0-T0 is droning a warning and Atton is calling from the cockpit, wondering what in the hell is going on, but all I can see is the last shred of my missing memory falling into place.
"Bao-Dur," I say, "I'm so sorry. I failed you. I failed you so badly that I had to forget you in order to live with myself. But not today. I won't fail you again."
He shakes his head. "I don't understand, General. You didn't fail me. You and I, we saved each other. We saved…"
"Not at the end," I tell him. "At the end I ruined us."
The Ebon Hawk rattles and I hear Atton, frustrated and afraid, warn me through the Force that we can't stay hovering over the surface much longer. Mical, eyeing us warily, goes to help Visas, who is stirring, and Mandalore is moaning softly.
Bao-Dur shakes his head the intensity in his smooth voice makes it low and husky. "No, General, it was I who built the generator and it was I who activated it."
"But it was me who gave you the order."
"Yes, do it again, General, and we can end this. Put it all behind us and start over. I want that future you spoke of. I want my hands to be clean."
I shake my head. "There is no blood on your hands, just the blood your guilt forces you to imagine. Whatever crime was committed that day was done by me. I should have never let you activate that generator, Bao-Dur," I say, trying my damnedest not to cry. "Never."
"I'm sorry for what it did to you, General…the wound. But it didn't matter if it was you or me who pushed the button—it had to be done."
"It did," I agree, "but it should have been me. I shouldn't have let you take on that burden—"
"I wanted it," he cuts me off, his voice low and intense. "I hated them so much…"
"Yes, exactly," I whisper.
He steps away from me then and I see him comprehend the depth of his own hatred and how close he is to giving in to it. But not yet. His eyes are pleading, his tone desperate. He doesn't want to hate and is willing to destroy himself if he thinks it would make it go away. "I thought this would make it stop, General," he says gruffly. "Dammit, I still feel like I need to do something, to make up for it."
"You can. We both can," I say. "Bao-Dur, you have dwelled in the past too long and I blocked it from my mind. I don't know which is worse, but now we have a second chance to do it right. We cannot undo history, but we can change the future."
"How?" he asks, his voice a whisper.
I turn to the hologram but my eyes never leave his. "G0-T0. Destroy the remote."
"I thought you'd never ask," the droid drones.
"No!" Bao-Dur cries, but it is without energy and it is too late anyway. I hear a small click, see a burst of light, and then his remote is gone.
There is a silence on the Hawk and then I can feel Mical's sigh of relief more than hear it. He may as well have done it for all of us.
"I'll just put that on your tab, shall I, General?" G0-T0 gloats, ruining the quiet.
I ignore him and turn to Bao-Dur. "That is how we make up for it—by not doing it again," I tell him. "That's how the future begins."
He looks down at me. "But this time, there would have been no death. No Mandalorian army…just an end. I don't understand, General. I don't know why you want Malachor to survive."
"Insurance," I say with a small smile he doesn't return. I take his face in my hands. "So long as it's there, I will remember," I say quietly.
I feel him understand before I see it on his face. He nods almost imperceptibly and pulls me to him with his good arm. He rests his chin on my head and I hear him murmur, "Lysia…"
I smile at the sound, close my eyes and hold him tight as the Ebon Hawk careens out of Malachor V's atmosphere and into clean, open space that stretches on and on into any future Bao-Dur and I decide to make.Epilogue…
I like that Malachor still floats in its blackened little corner of space. I can almost feel it sitting there, pulsing with dark energy and calling to me and any other Force-adept who listens carefully enough. Maybe it would be better if we had destroyed it that day so that none are corrupted by it. But for now, I want it there as a reminder of what once was. I want to feel its presence in my universe so that the past can never slip away, nor can I block it out.
Malachor V will be there so that I never again forget.