"I do not recognize you from the Order," the human female began. "Who is your Master? Why are you here?"
Dryden winced at the familiarity of the questions. Similar words had resulted in – no, he needed to focus on the present. The three were in a modest hotel room, located in one of Ogdenim's upscale neighborhoods. There were two separate beds, a single armchair, and a view that showed the spaceport in the distance. A communications console that doubled as an entertainment center was the room's only other feature. Chiss and human Jedi stood with arms folded in their robe sleeves, studying Dryden as he sat in the armchair. The situation felt all-the-Galaxy like an interrogation.
"You surprise me, Perhi," the chiss chided her fellow-Jedi. "You used to idolize this very man."
Perhi studied Dryden's face intently before recognition set in. The moment it did, she looked away with a slight blush. "Rel Dryden. You were sixteen the last time I saw you."
Only then did Dryden place her name as well. Perhi was three or four years younger than he, so their paths had rarely crossed. She had been a child back then, not the woman she was now. It occurred to him that now that they knew who he was, there would be even more questions.
"Why did you leave the Jedi Order?" Perhi demanded. There were hints of betrayal in her voice, which surprised the other two sentients in the room. Perhi's companion noticed Dryden's flash of emotion and did her best to calm them both before a fight erupted.
"There will be plenty of time for those questions," the chiss said. "Dryden, I am Jedi Tier'lor'nuruodo, core name Lorna. Perhi is my apprentice."
None of Lorna's words inspired Dryden with hope. He was being entrapped in his past, and there was nothing he could do to prevent it. The question of why he left the Order would come before he was ready to answer, mostly because he refused to admit the reasons to himself. He let Lorna ask why Dryden was on Ogden before he spoke.
"I fly a transport for Clance Hathes. The ship landed on Ogden for repairs and to line up our next job."
Lorna was quick to believe that him being there was a matter of coincidence, though her apprentice was clearly skeptical. "We can use a new ship," the Jedi Knight told him. "Our last one was left on Das'f'k, and public transportation can only take us so far."
Invisible assassins were more than the average transport crew wanted to tackle. Hathes had asked for a job, and he would likely take this one for enough money. Lorna's statement provided a much larger dilemma than finding work or the right price: if Dryden extended an offer, then he was also making a commitment to confront his past. He felt far from ready.
"Tell my why you are on Ogden and who those assassins were. Then I might introduce you to my captain."
A wave of bitterness washed off of Perhi at his request. She took her master aside and they conversed in hushed tones. Whatever objections she had were quickly overcome, though not to Perhi's satisfaction. Her bitterness remained.
"We believe there is a conspiracy to overthrow the Alliance."
Dryden looked at the pair as if they were insane. Not too long ago, the Alliance had saved the Galaxy from the Yuuzhan Vong and reunited it under a common banner. The thought that anyone would want to destroy that newfound unity so quickly was preposterous. Then the Jedi presented him with their findings on Das'f'k and what the twi'lek had told them earlier, and Dryden knew that it was his responsibility to help them. Both Lorna and Perhi were right; their meeting was far from coincidence.
"Lucky Streak isn't the fastest or best-armed freighter in the Galaxy, but I guarantee no one will notice her. Only the Captain can sign a contract, but consider the ship yours."
Lorna thanked him for his pledge. Everyone in the room was aware that they had been brought together by the Will of the Force. Perhi seemed to be least comfortable with the idea, despite Dryden's many reservations. "Lucky Streak sounds like exactly the kind of ship we need. Perhi and I are ready to leave at your convenience."
"Ghtroc 720 stock freighter." Dryden introduced the ship with a measure of pride, almost as if she belonged to Dryden and not Captain Hathes. "At one time, the 720 was the most popular ship in the Outer Rim. Now, they haven't been built in over twenty years." He ran a hand along the bottom of the hull with all the adoration of a doting father. "Hathes found her in a scrap yard and hired an engineer to piece her together from spare parts. The engineer was shot while trying to mutiny, but the Streak still flies." The word "barely" hung in the air unsaid.
"Ugly, but serviceable," Lorna decided with her chiss sensibilities.
Perhi gave the ship a small smile and placed her hand against the hull. "I think she has a lot of potential, if only she had a more attentive captain."
As the Universe went, that was when Hathes entered the hangar. "What are you doing to my ship?" All three turned to see the human with short-cropped blond hair and dark-brown mustache. A touch of silver at either temple proved his natural hair to be pigment-free. Hathes pointed his chin toward Dryden. "Meet R6-S1, Arson." The hangar's occupants started at the inappropriateness of the droid's name. "Take it aboard and show it the hyperdrive access. The parts were already delivered."
Dryden nodded. "Captain, this is Tier'lor'nuruodo, core name Lorna, and Perhi Cartel." His pronunciation of the chiss name revealed fluency that was exceedingly rare in non-chiss. Only Lorna was unsurprised. "They want to hire the Streak for a series of light cargo runs in and out of Alliance space." Dryden called out to the repair droid without concern for the business deal. Jedi knew better than to be cheated and were too fair to cheat a freighter captain – particularly an honest one like Hathes.
"Bleep-deet-du-du-dreev," the droid beeped as it made to follow Dryden aboard, an astromech's equivalent to a string of curses. Its personality was as ugly as its red-and-gold paint job.
"Alright, Arson, just do what you're told." Dryden smirked at the droid's constant chattering all the way to the hyperdrive access. Arson would be a constant source of amusement, if nothing else. Hathes had gone along with Dryden's suggestion to purchase an astromech, but of course Hathes had done it in his own way. Lucky Streak's captain would never admit when Dryden was right or had a good idea.
His task complete, Dryden climbed the second ramp towards the cockpit in order to monitor Arson's progress. Watching the display did not keep him as busy as he had hoped, and Dryden found his mind wandering towards the final incident that had caused him to walk away from the Jedi Order...
"That code is invalid," said the guard outside the Praxeum gates.
Rel Dryden crossed his arms and set his face. More unacceptable news, just what he needed. This was not Dryden's day, week, or month, and the Jedi Apprentice was fully prepared to take it out on the guard. To his credit, the human opposite Dryden stood his ground. "I must have forgotten my access code. Call for Master Serali; he will vouch for me."
The guard practically snarled. "You and half the city. If you have business with the Jedi Council, you can petition for a hearing like everyone else. In case you haven't noticed, the Galaxy is at war. They don't have time to listen to ever Luke, Anakin, and Leia who wants to play tourist."
"I already told you," Dryden tried. His patience was wearing thin, despite several years of training as a Jedi. "I'm not a tourist. I am apprentice to Master Serali."
"Then where is your lightsaber?" the guard countered. Trust him to ask for the one object Dryden had left with Serali. "There is no Jedi Master by the name of Serali inside the Praxeum. Now stop wasting my time." Serali was a Jedi Knight, not a Jedi Master – but the guard would never see that distinction. Dryden started to object again, but the guard did not listen. The man in uniform went so far as to call backup to "deal with a problem." Minutes later, Dryden was forcibly removed from the premises...
"We have a launch window," Hathes announced. He took the fore-left cockpit seat and turned towards his pilot, bringing Dryden's full attention to the present. "Arson tells me the hyperdrive will be working by takeoff, which is scheduled in about three hours."
Dryden resorted the information on his console to verify the claim. If Arson maintained its current pace, the ship would be ready with plenty of time to spare. "Did our passengers tell you their first stop?"
"Ivri, near the Unknown Regions. They have a copper shortage that the chiss wants to cash in on." So the Jedi had not confided in Hathes. The Captain was probably trustworthy, but it was Lorna's choice to make. The fact that Dryden could not vouch for Hathes' ethics probably made the Jedi uneasy. Even so, Dryden had to admit that transporting copper made for a fair cover.
"That's ... strange," Dryden realized. Why would a chiss rent a ship to make a few cargo runs? The profits would be minimal, at best.
Hathes shrugged. "The Boss is entitled to whatever quirks she wants to have. She offered to buy the ship for a generous price at the end of our contract. I hope to use the money to get a ship that didn't come from the local trash heap."
"Buy the Streak?! Who in their right mind would want to do that?" Lucky Streak was beyond a piece of junk, no matter how much pride Dryden had in the ship. Those blasted, meddling Jedi with their ideals and incessant need to "help" people...
"You got me. The only condition was that you stay on as pilot, so you know you have another job lined up." Hathes looked at the ceiling, as if trying to remember something. He scratched his nose and it came to him. "Oh, right. I wasn't supposed to tell you that. Pretend you don't know, will you?"
A growl was forthcoming. Dryden could feel it ready to build in the back of his throat, but he held back. No use in getting angry at his captain; opportunist was as opportunist did. Dryden would speak to them once they were underway. In the meantime, he had more systems to check.
Darth Primus, Dark Lord of the Sith, stood on balcony before thousands of troops clad in golden armor. He was larger than life in his robes. The black-and-grey armor underneath was equally impressive, and made him impervious to anything short of artillery or another Sith Lord.
In the shadows of the balcony stood Darth Gannon in her own armor, her entire figure covered by black robes. She was the more powerful of the pair, yet the soldiers were loyal only to Primus, the apprentice.
"Together," Darth Primus announced to his troops in a voice that resonated beyond natural acoustics, "we will rule this Galaxy." There was a cheer from the troops that grew in volume, even as the scene faded from existence...
Seona awoke in a panic, unable to breathe. Fear overwhelmed her. She managed to get control of her body once again with forced calm, the Jedi Code reiterating through her mind:
There is no emotion; there is peace.
There is no ignorance; there is knowledge.
There is no passion; there is serenity.
There is no death; there is the Force.
There is no emotion; there is peace. The nightmare was a vision of the past. She desperately wanted to prevent that past from ever happening again, and Seona knew it was within her power. She longed for the days at the Academy, with Tann and Cotan. Tann was now a married man, and Cotan a murdered Sith Lord once named Primus. Even death was better than the path she had led him down.
She wanted to find a sink and wash her face. The problem was that a sink meant a mirror, and Seona was still unable to look at her scars. She resolved the situation with a push of the Force that threw the mirror from the wall. Peace was such a distant ideal, but the water helped.
Rather than focus on her thoughts, Seona dressed for the day and left her excuse for an apartment. Very few people knew what Darth Gannon looked like. Most were dead, yet yesterday's assassination attempt proved that there were still those who remembered. Seona cloaked herself in the Force and made for the streets to begin yet another day.
A single squad of assassins had been a proclamation to Seona. They knew she was still alive, even if Darth Gannon was effectively dead. "Effectively" must not have been enough. Rather than wait for more assassins to come, Seona opted to leave the planet.
Assassins, unfortunately, were not the only ones after her. Armored sentients stood on-guard at the spaceport entrance. The rifles and repeaters in their hands looked deadly.
"Are you looking for someone?" she asked with the illusion of politeness. She tugged all the harder with the Force, but for naught. Her opponents had experience with Force-wielders.
One of them raised his rifle. "It's her," he said. "Darth Gannon, the Sith Lord. Don't bother taking her alive, she's too dangerous."
She only had a moment before they opened fire. "You've mistaken me for someone else," she tried, with emphasis from the Force. This attempt did not work either. Blaster bolts lanced towards the former Sith Lord.
Some of the attacks were deflected by twin lightsabers that seemingly materialized out of nowhere. She moved in a blur of motion that destroyed weapons and removed arms. In under a minute, all the attackers were dead or on the ground. The lightsaber hilts disappeared into Seona's robe sleeves.
One of the still-living sentients glared at Seona between labored breaths. "Sith spit."
She considered a response, but wit would be wasted on someone who tried to kill her. Not that her opponent had long to live. "Why did you try to kill me?"
The sentient snorted. "Die, Sith."
Seona ignored the empty words and searched her attackers. Credits would be helpful in the difficult times to come, and a blaster at her side might make a decent cover. One of the recently deceased had a datapad with particularly noteworthy information: a bounty for her head. It was definitely time to leave the planet.