Fall of the Old Republic, Part III
The thrum of power in the battle station sent a steady vibration through the soles of Vos' boots. He clenched his fists so tightly that his long nails, uncut from months of neglect, cut into his palms. A trickle of blood seeped from his hands onto the cold, grey durasteel table at which he sat. His breath came in increasingly shorter bursts despite his best efforts to calm himself. He glared at the dozens of pyramids scattered about on the table, frustrated at his inability to touch them.
"I will consider unshackling you, Master Vos." Xander's baritone voice reverberated in the cramped, durasteel room. "I just need your assurance that you won't attempt to escape. Do you think you can do that?"
Vos stared ahead, silent. Xander was trying to win him over, Vos knew. Standard interrogation technique. Treat the prisoner well, offer the prisoner something he desires as a show of good faith, and then get him to open up and give up the information he was holding back.
The problem was that Vos couldn't imagine what information Xander could possibly want from him. Weeks-months?-of torture without a single question asked. Now Xander had him sitting in front of the very thing he had set out to find nearly a year before, offering to let him examine the holocrons, all without asking a single question.
Vos glanced across the table again, confirming that all thirty-three holocrons were there. For a fleeting moment, he caught himself panicking that the missing holocron would be among them, but the moment passed with relief. Before he had come upon the Battle station that captured him, Mace had reported in that he somehow found a way to access the device despite his loss of connection with the Force, and was following its lead to some mid-rim water planet.
"Master Vos," Xander intoned again, "we both want the same thing. Why don't we work together instead of remaining enemies?"
Vos frowned. "And what is it that you think I want?" he asked flatly.
Xander smiled and slid around the table. It was a small concession on Vos' part to speak at all, and he could tell that Xander was encouraged.
Xander sat across from Vos, a toothless smile on his lips. He folded his hands together and placed his elbows on the table as he leaned forward. "Where is it, Vos? Where did Windu take the missing holocron?"
Vos struggled to hide his surprise. He was less than successful, his momentary widened eyes giving him away to the perceptive Xander.
"Oh, don't look so shocked." Xander smiled triumphantly as he leaned back into his chair. "You left your wife and son behind to chase us down for months. Surely you didn't think we would believe it was out of some grief-stricken rage over Skywalker's dead wife, did you?"
Vos took a deep breath and struggled to unclench his fists. "If you know so much," he answered through gritted teeth, "why do you need me?"
Xander raised a brow. "You were quite thorough in deleting all your files before we were able to bring you on board. You're clearly gifted in the art of subterfuge." His smile vanished and he straightened his back. "Let's stop the games, shall we? You know where he is, and I want the holocron. I'm willing to exchange the rest for that knowledge. I'll even give you your freedom. Just tell me where it is."
Vos didn't even try to control his reaction this time. Xander had completely destroyed the façade of interrogation. He'd given away his position. What became immediately obvious in that single moment was that there were no lengths to which Xander would not go in order to get a hold of the device. The fact that Xander would make so obvious a blunder was telling. The man was far more dangerous than Vos had imagined.
"You're a Jedi," Xander pressed. "People are dying around you. The galaxy is undergoing utter upheaval, the Republic as you know it is dead, and you and your kind are powerless. You have bigger issues to worry about than where some three-hundred year old meaningless device might be hidden. Tell me what I need to know, and I'll set you free."
Vos swallowed hard. "What? What are you talking about?"
"Do you think this station is here to house the likes of us?" Xander spat. "Only hours ago, the Republic shipyards of Kuat were wiped out of existence. Soon we'll be at Coruscant, where Tarkin will take charge of the entire Republic. I'm your only hope of getting off this ship and maybe saving a few Jedi before Tarkin and Ventress let loose their wrath on the galaxy." Xander let the dramatic news hang in the air, his eyes focused on Vos. "Where is the holocron?"
Vos collapsed back into his chair, a marionette with its strings cut. Xander leaned forward and lowered his voice.
"I hold you in the highest regard, Quinlan," he said softly. "I know you're absorbing a great deal, but time is of the essence. I must know where it is and you need to tell me before we drop out of hyperspace, or I may not be able to get you off this station."
Vos looked up at Xander, trying desperately to grasp what was happening. His mind raced. "I...I won't tell you," Vos finally replied.
Xander lowered his head in obvious disappointment.
"But..." Vos continued. "I'll take you to it."
"Do you know who he is, Master...?" The voice was tentative, soft. Like a young girl's.
Anakin struggled to open his eyes, but only managed a faint squint, letting a blurred kaleidoscope of muted browns and soft firelight to slip through his eyelids. Where was he?
"I told you not to call me that."
The man who answered had spoken softly, his voice deep and soothing. There was not a hint of irritation in his tone, though for some reason Anakin felt as if there should have been. A dark shadow moved above him and blocked the faint light that filtered into Anakin's eyes.
"Sorry...Caleb. It's just...you're so wise"
Anakin struggled to open his mouth, noticing for the first time how dry it was. No sooner had the thought occurred to him, than he felt a gourd of some kind against his lips and strong, powerful hands behind his head, lifting it.
"Do not worry, my friend," came the soothing voice, almost musical in its comforting tone, "drink up, and then you'll be able to speak." Anakin caught of flash of light as the man leaning over him turned his head. "Thank you, Alana. That will be all."
Anakin furrowed his brow, trying to remember how he came to be where he was, but nothing came. Questions wanted to race to the fore of his consciousness, but he felt as if he was swimming in the murky depths of Kamino's oceans, fighting an unassailable current. Who was this man with a soothing voice? How had Anakin gotten here? How long had the gourd been at his lips now?
Anakin forced his eyes open and glared at the man above him. Jet black hair hung from the man's head, flowing in thick, luxurious curls that framed the dark-skinned face that leaned over him. He looked like any typical Seasider, though Anakin had no doubt that he was anything but. The man's face was the picture of serenity, staring down at him with piercing brown eyes that seemed willing to wait an eternity for Anakin to choose to drink.
No smile appeared on the man's face when he spoke again, though Anakin could almost swear he heard it in his voice. "Not a very trusting man, are you, Master Skywalker?" he tilted the drink to Anakin's closed lips. "I understand your reservations, but I mean you no harm. I am a healer. Please. Drink. I will answer your questions when you have strength to ask them."
Anakin opened his mouth slightly and let the liquid hit his tongue and had to fight the urge to recoil at the bitter brew. Instead, he swallowed.
The drink flowed down his throat, leaving a warm trail as it went. Even as he felt the small sip that he took begin to take hold in his stomach, the warmth in his throat started to spread through the rest of his body, rapidly imbuing Anakin with prickling sensations everywhere at once. For a brief instant, he felt as if he had just been filled with the Force.
"Yes," the Seasider said as he pulled the gourd away and lowered Anakin's head onto the soft cot on which Anakin lay, "it's quite a brew. Took me a long time to perfect it, but I suspect you'll enjoy the effects."
Anakin struggled to understand what was happening. He reached up with his flesh hand to feel for his wounded ribs, but only felt soft, unbroken skin where shattered bone had protruded before. He frowned in confusion. His thirst was completely gone. He felt as rested and strong as he could remember being in over a year.
The Seasider leaned back and crossed his arms, eyeing Anakin with apparent interest.
Anakin sat up.
The man cupped his hair on either side of his face, and combed it back with his hands, tying it off behind his head, and leaving the excess to fall free. He stood and walked to a cauldron being kept warm by a fire a meter away and ladled something into another gourd.
Anakin took in his surroundings. They were in a small, wooden hut that appeared to have been constructed out of twigs and thatch. He was sitting on the only cot in the entire hut, a piece of some kind of animal skin that had been laid over wool atop a wooden bench. The floor was dark brown, hardened dirt, somehow still managing to appear immaculately clean despite this. The only other furnishings in the hovel were a rickety-looking wooden table on which an assortment of gourds and cooking tools and spices lay, and the cauldron at which the Seasider now stood.
Suddenly Anakin felt his stomach growl. Again, the Seasider displayed almost precognitive recognition of Anakin's needs as he handed him a gourd filled with a vegetable stew.
"The medicine I gave you helps heal the body, but doesn't quite fill a man's stomach," the Seasider said, the smile obvious in his voice, though absent from his face. "Eat up. We have much to discuss, Anakin."
That was the second time the man had used his name but Anakin had never met him before. For reasons that completely escaped him, though, Anakin instinctively trusted this man completely. He felt...at peace...in his presence.
"How..." Anakin stared hard at the man who turned to face him when Anakin spoke. "How do you know me?"
The Seasider seemed to consider this for a long time before raising both his eyebrows in what must have been this man's version of a shrug. "I am Caleb."
"Jump!" Leia yelled.
Bail stared over the precipice. It sank away into oblivion for all he knew. There was no end to the bottom of that ventilation shaft. He had no idea where it lead, or how far they would slide as it curved out of sight. He looked back at the ray shields, far on the other side of which were a growing number of clone troopers, brandishing weapons and actively seeking a way to shut them down.
He stared down at the precipice again.
"No," he said flatly.
"Bail!" Leia snapped. "Do you see what's coming? Synskin or not, I can't hold them all off. Now jump!"
Bail looked again. "Leia, I'm too old for this kind of thing. We'll be stuck at the bottom of some shaft, unable to get out. What then?"
"Oh, kraff it!" Leia growled. She grabbed the distinguished Senator from Alderaan by the lapel and hoisted him over into the shaft, dropping him like a rag doll. The ray shields dropped. She glanced backward for a moment, ignoring the outraged screams from Bail and halted in her tracks.
The clone troopers weren't advancing, their commanders holding their hands to the sides of their helmets in a clear sign that they were receiving incoming instructions. A moment later, hand signals went up and fifteen clone troopers turned around and headed back out of the bowels of the Senate Coliseum.
"What in the..." Leia narrowed her eyes. "Damn. They're almost here."
She leaped into the shaft, straightening her body to speed her descent. It didn't take long for her to see Bail ahead, flailing desperately to try and slow himself down. Leia shook her head and reached into her robe to pull out a communicator. "Aayla, are you there?"
"Leia! Thank the Force!" Aayla's voice came over instantly. "What's going on? There's a garrison blocking all the entrances. RNet's full of repots that this Tarkin character is heading here now! Are you-"
"Later," Leia cut her off. She scanned ahead and saw that she was gaining on Bail. She needed to get this done quickly. She checked the numbers on the insides of the shaft as they flashed by, and did a quick mental calculation. Hoping she was right, she snapped into the communicator, "Aayla, I need you at the southeast corner of section 41138 in about ninety seconds. I've got company. For the love of the Force, you better catch us."
The communicator went out and Leia stowed it. She spun onto her stomach and darted toward Bail. In seconds, she was right next to him and had to work to slow her descent to match his. She reached out to grab hold of him, but he thwarted her every move as he was continuing to swing his arms madly about.
"Damn it, Bail!" she hollered, "If you don't man up right this second, I swear I'm going to cut your arms off!"
Bail's eyes widened, but he did hold still for a brief moment. She grabbed him hard and pulled her lightsaber out.
"Wait!" Bail screamed. "What're you doing? You weren't serious, were you?"
Leia twisted the hilt in her hand, scanned the walls again before activating the weapon, and then shoved the energized blade hard to the hilt into the shaft on which they slid. Flash-molten metal erupted in the shaft and burned holes in their clothes as the lightsaber slowed their descent to a stop.
They came to a stop at a thirty-degree incline-a low enough grade to ensure that they wouldn't start sliding again when Leia released the blade. She glared at Bail and shook her head for a second time in as many minutes.
Bail looked around the shaft. "Where are we?" he panted, clearly trying to calm himself.
"If I'm right, we're just outside of the Coliseum," Leia answered as she stood and inspected the numbers on the side of the ducting. "Yep. Looks like it. Alright, Bail. One more little adventure and we're all done for today."
"One more...?" Bail's mouth fell open.
Leia wasted no time. She carefully moved about ten meters down the shaft and lit her lightsaber again. Once again she shoved the blade into the floor of the shaft and began to carve a hole into it. It took her less than five seconds to complete the haphazard circle, but it was more than serviceable.
Normally, a simple summoning of the Force would have been enough to overcome the adhesion her new exit held to the rest of the shaft due to the molten metal. That wasn't exactly an option.
"Bail," she called out to the sitting Senator, who seemed quite happy to remain where he was in perpetuity. "Let's go."
He sighed resignedly, stood, and walked to where Leia stood. "What now?"
"You and I are going to jump on this spot at the same time, alright?" she answered.
He looked down at the white hot molten mass of metal that surrounded the point at which Leia pointed. "Leia..."
"Bail," she interrupted. "I need you. Please."
Bail let out a long breath. "Alright..." he walked toward the center of the spot. "Alright. What happens after that?"
Leia joined him and held onto his shoulders. "Hopefully, we'll fall," she answered matter-of-factly. "Make sure you hold onto me, Bail." Leia pulled out her communicator. "Aayla, are you ready?"
"I'm running a bit behind," she answered and the sound of blaster fire came over the communicator. "Ran into some...interference. This is gonna be close, Leia, and I don't exactly have the Force to guide me here!"
Bail's eyes widened.
Leia smiled reassuringly. "She'll catch us."
A bead of sweat formed on Bail's head.
"Let's do this before the metal cools. On three...one...two..."
"You're sure she'll catch us?"
It is often said that on the first day of the New Galactic Empire, the Old Republic breathed its last breath. Whatever happened after that day, everyone knew, the Galaxy, as its people had known it, would never be the same. Decades and even centuries later, historians would argue about precisely how massive the battle station that arrived in orbit around the city-planet of Coruscant on that day was. What they all agreed on was that the moon-sized monstrosity sent the planet into an absolute panic, and nowhere was that panic more evident than in the halls of the Senate.
Perhaps one of the most succinct and powerful accounts of events is found in the fictional account in the popular holonovel, Sins of the Emperor. The historical drama focused on the complex character of Grand Moff Wilhuff Tarkin, who walked into the Senate with an unknown woman at his side, her head covered by a dark cowl and brought the galaxy to its knees.
Tarkin scanned the sea of Senators, a faint smile upon his thin lips. With a curt nod from the Grand Moff, a pod retrieved him and his mysterious companion, and brought them to the center of the Arena. Certain he had their absolute attention, Tarkin spoke with the crisp clip of the Coruscanti, keeping his perfect posture rigid in solemn recognition of the events that he was about to set in motion.
"Senators of the Old Republic," he began. It was a simple turn of phrase, but it was a death-knell as well. No Senator in the room missed its meaning. "I come to you to introduce you to your new leader."
At that moment, he turned and guided his guest to his side. She was thin, but moved like a powerful storm. When she slid the cowl from her head and faced the throng, collective gasps went through the crowd. Most were too young to remember the stories of the deadly warrior, Asajj Ventress. Even so, her pallid skin and bald skull were enough to make them recoil in fear of her. Those who knew what she had done were all the more terrified.
Ventress said little on that day. Tarkin slipped into the background, only a hint of the fear of her he shared with the rest of the Senate on his face. Perhaps he knew what she meant when she spoke, and that was why his lips tightened as they did.
The Empress of the New Galactic Empire had only scanned the crowd with a sneer, and spat five words before turning her back on the Old Republic and ordering the deaths of over half of the Senate. Before the blasts erupted from the troopers' weapons, ripping heads from bodies and burning holes into chests, none of the Senators understood what she meant.
But Tarkin must have known, for when she had said it, he closed his eyes and let out a slow, silent breath-the look of man defeated by something greater and more powerful than he had imagined. He must have known by that point that the lover he had thought was under his thumb was capable of a ruthlessness he had never imagined. Even if he didn't, watching her impassive face as the troopers viciously killed indiscriminately until she finally brought them to a halt with a silent raising of her hand certainly made her true nature clear.
Yes. Tarkin must have known. He was no longer relevant. He had no part to play in those five words she had spoken, and perhaps that was why he chose to follow her rather than be crushed by her boot. The irony of her words must have rung as hollow in his ears as the words themselves would ring in the ears of the rest of the galaxy under her rule.
He knew that she would never let the galaxy forget those words so long as she had the power to make it remember. And remind the galaxy's people she did. She had those five words emblazoned beneath her throne, where she would rest her feet atop them, a fitting indication of how she would rule.
The Museum of Galactic History would one day hold the throne of the First Galactic Empire as its most prized possession. Her only spoken words to the Senate on that day would remain preserved there for all time.
"Now, we shall have peace."