The elegant splendor of the office made little impression on Revan as he paced back and forth among his loyal Miraluka guards. Refreshed after several straight days of sitting in Sith infirmaries, sleep, meditation, and most recently, a wonderful night with Bastila, Revan was impatient to tend to the important matters that would not take care of themselves. Kuryama had long since left, but he supposed she had earned her peace.
His was the responsibility to pick up the pieces. There was much to be decided.
Revan's ears perked despite not having heard a thing, his Force perceptions alerted him to a visitor's approach. Wryly, he reminded himself that, technically, he was the visitor.
When he entered the office - his own office - the Supreme Chancellor of the Republic was taken aback at seeing Revan, arrayed in his finest Sith attire, escorted by a dozen muscular men in maroon robes whose expansive hoods concealed their eyes, standing in the middle of the room as if he owned it. The Chancellor regarded him with deep suspicion, surprised panic plain enough in his eyes for Revan to tell he was seconds away from summoning guards.
Revan quickly moved to allay his fears. "Greetings, Chancellor," he said warmly, smiling, extending his hand in friendship. "It is good to see you again."
Politic despite being off-balance, the Chancellor took the proffered hand. He had a firm grip. "It has been some time."
Revan invited him to sit. It was, after all, the man's office. "I apologize if I have alarmed you. I'm afraid this is what I am now, and anything else would be a misrepresentation of the truth. Sith or not, however, it is not my intention to bring you to harm. That was yesterday's war, not today's."
"Very well," the Chancellor stipulated, sitting behind his grand desk. "You must realize, Revan, that for almost as long as the Republic has been in existence, the Sith have sought to destroy it. It is only natural, then, for us to fear your presence."
Revan nodded. "I wish it were not so, Chancellor, I truly do. But wishing for the past to be different is pointless. I've come here to consider the future."
The Chancellor folded his hands before him on his desk. "What is it, then? You see the sorry state of our armed forces and wish to take the opportunity to demand our surrender?"
It was said in a perfectly diplomatic voice, without even a trace of resentment or anger, but Revan still winced at the naked accusation. Winced because that was exactly what he was here to do. That it was not for the reasons the Chancellor believed did not at all soften the blow.
Revan sat before the Chancellor's desk, the twelve Miraluka falling into rank behind him. "Chancellor, your Republic is splintering as we speak. I know the condition you were in after the end of Malak's war and you were already on the brink of collapse. The grim truth is you've passed that point. Systems are breaking away by the day. This government was ravaged by the latest conflict. No star system wants to become another Telos, or another Dantooine. After all, what faith can you have in a government that lacks even the resources to defend its own?
"If you are to preserve the ordered society the Republic represents, you have only one choice; you must declare martial law." The Chancellor sat speechless for a moment before Revan elaborated. "Unfortunately, for you, even this is impossible. You have almost no military left. What rebuilding was done after Malak's war was completely undone by the Nihil's crusade to end the Force. Simply put, you are powerless to stop the disintegration of the Republic.
"But while you are stuck in this dilemma, I have one of my own. With the sudden breakup of the Nihil as a race, I find myself at the head of a vastly replenished Sith Empire. No longer is it the mere remnants left behind after Malak's war. Not only has a vast portion of the Nihil Grand Fleet, thousands of ships and millions of men, come under my control, but also billions who have fled the from the raging civil war in the Nihil Empire now look up to me as their leader. By the time their fledgling Outer Rim colonies will have a chance to flourish, your Republic will be nothing but Coruscant and a few toothless star systems still clinging to the carcass, the rest of the galaxy a fractured pot of anarchy. Without the Republic as a trading partner, there could be no establishment of a new, prosperous Miraluka society, and I would rule quite an empty empire indeed."
"To what point is this, Revan?" the Chancellor asked impatiently.
Revan waved his hand as if to dispel the trivialities of his rationale. "There is a solution that would be mutually beneficial to both our interests."
"Speak then. As you said, I have few options for recourse."
This was the hardest part of the bargain, the part Revan knew he had to press. "Join with the Sith Empire."
The Chancellor sat back, smiling indulgently. "Many things are negotiable, Lord Revan, but the Republic and the Sith Empire are completely incompatible with one another. One quarrels and strives against the other, seeking its destruction, as it has always been."
"In the past, I would agree that this was certainly true. But look around, the Sith are all but gone from the galaxy. Their empire is made up of men like any others who now look to me for direction and leadership. I want the killing to stop, the last decade has seen far too much of it. And understand, Chancellor, that it need not be a formal annexation. The truth is, if I wished to, I could have my Miraluka armies conquer all the important Republic worlds, and I would then, in essence, control it. What I suggest need only be a formal economic and military alliance, if you wish.
"The simple fact is, you will need my forces to hold this Republic together. Some star systems may howl in protest, they may attempt to revolt, but you will need an iron fist to keep them in line. This does not sound pretty and I assure you it is not, but the civilization the Republic represents cannot be allowed to dissolve."
"What you are suggesting then," the Chancellor said, leaning forward, "is that I turn the Republic into a virtual dictatorship to be enforced by your armies?"
Revan sighed. "If you do not, the Republic will continue to split and divide until there is nothing left of it, and everything it once stood for will be gone forever. Understand, Chancellor, that I will not allow this to happen. I will conquer the Republic to preserve it if I must."
"Then it seems you make your offer unrefusable."
"I'm afraid so."
There was a long silence as both men sat pondering.
"What happened to you, Revan?" the Chancellor asked. "You are not the same man who made these very demands of me almost eight years ago."
"A rare quirk in the Force has given me the ability to become whatever the galaxy needs me to be. Chancellor, you need me now. I can be the evil tyrant who conquered the galaxy and made it whole if that is what must be done to resurrect the Republic. Understand, however, that I wish nothing more than for the killing to stop and to be able to return to my home on Dantooine with my wife Bastila. I can't do that until I've restored order to the galaxy.
"Whether it is by conquest or alliance, it must be done and I am the only one who can do it.
"I can be your savior or conqueror. The choice is up to you."
Some things never changed, especially on Nar Shaddaa. True to form, the Refugee Sector still stank every bit as much as it had the last time Rigel had been on the Smuggler's Moon. But he was thankful they hadn't had to spend much time there after setting the Whitecap down for some repairs. After a little poking around, he found some of his dad's old investments - garages and warehouses and such - in a less-rancid part of the city and quickly brought his beloved ship back to familiar ground.
So much had changed so little over the years, and even less had since he'd last been home. Between his most recent job and the huge diversion with the Sith and the Nihil war, it had been close to three months since Rigel's deliciously dirty boots had graced the equally filthy bare concrete floor of his apartment. It wasn't the fanciest of the pads he had scattered around the moon and the galaxy, but it was by far the most snug and cozy.
Atton and Mira had been far more impressed by the neighborhood than his flat. Specifically, the cantinas. There was one on every street corner, and as Rigel demonstrated during their four-night grand tour, he knew all the people of nearly every one of them. Tiny and cluttered as it was, his apartment had soon become home base for a series of epic hangovers for several nights in a row.
At the start of the second week, though, the trips to the cantinas became less recreational and more business-minded. As soon as he'd set down on the Smuggler's Moon, Rigel had put his feelers out for some of his regular employers, and the news of his return gradually filtered through the double-blind drops and bifurcated relays to the men he worked for. Contact by any number of them was always at a cantina, so the trips were mainly to relay messages back and forth.
In addition to getting back in touch with his employers, Rigel had resurrected the Talions. Atton and Mira had decided to come on board with him. So here they all were, sitting at the bar at his favorite cantina, The Broken Span, joking, laughing, and sharing stories over juma and Corellian rum while Rigel waited for his contact.
The large holofeed monitor above the bar brazenly displayed the barely-concealed plastic chest of the local Twi'lek news anchor babe. Rigel could tell she was new to the channel because he could still recognize the southern Ryloth accent in her Huttese. Even above the racket of the cantina, it wasn't hard to tell what she was talking about--after all, it was all the holos were ever squawking about on the new.
"...On the galactic scene, more breaking news from Coruscant," the busty Twi'lek announced. "With the approval and support of the Supreme Chancellor, Lord Revan of the Sith Empire seized power yesterday in a bloodless coup. Despite fears to the contrary, Revan and the Chancellor both claim the move is one of mutual economic and strategic benefit, citing it more as an alliance than a take-over. Lord Revan has pledged his vast new army in the defense and preservation of the current Republic and both he and the Chancellor have agreed that the Senate will remain as well as other aspects of the Republic's long-standing democratic system that will not be altered. Certain issues of authority, autonomy of allied star systems, and trade laws are yet to be worked out among the parties involved..."
Rigel had heard the story so many times already he'd learned to tune it out. It didn't really matter to him who was running the galaxy, anyway. There was always going to be bounties.
Mira had swapped drinks with Atton and was laughing uproariously while he told a story about being robbed to the skin by a beautiful Twi'lek in a bar when Rigel felt someone bump into his shoulder. He turned around and saw a Trandoshan standing sheepishly behind him.
"I fell to the floor. Sorry," the lizard-like alien apologized.
Rigel smiled. "It's no problem," he responded in the alien's tongue.
The man was a messenger, telling him he had a meeting in a back room with one of his employers, finally. It was always the same back room, just a thin wall away from the dancers' showers so the sound of running water splashing off naked Twi'lek and Zeltron employees was a constant background noise to cover the voices of whoever was meeting. For some of the clientèle of this cantina, no precaution was enough.
It was Bajer who was waiting to see him. Rigel liked Bajer. For a man high up in the crime society, he had the oddest sense of moral decency. He was almost religious about only conducting his illegal activities against rival criminal organizations and companies he considered corrupt. The man also didn't do spice, didn't do whores, and wasn't taken to excessive drinking. All in all, he was the most resoundingly incongruous crime lord Rigel had ever known.
"It's great to see you again, Rigel." Bajer shook his hand. "Where've you been? Where's Lara?"
Rigel sat down at one end of a tiny table under the dim light of the back room, Bajer at the other end. "Lara's dead, Bajer."
"I'm sorry to hear that. She'll be missed by the Runners." That was the street name of his crime business, the Long Runners. Their business was in taking down other criminal establishments.
"Yeah, I'll miss her too," Rigel replied, not really feeling like reminiscing at the moment. "But don't worry, the Talions aren't going anywhere. In fact, I brought two more into the fold."
He leaned closer to Bajer. "You know Mira?" Bajer nodded. Everyone in the bounty business on Nar Shaddaa did. "She's one of the new Talions."
A wide grin split Bajer's stubbly face. "We're going to be doing a lot of business again, Salo." They shook hands. "Could you excuse me a moment? I gotta take a leak. Be right back."
Rigel nodded and sat back in the uncomfortable little chair as Bajer left the room. The noise of the showers kept on, hypnotizing him.
"Hello again, Rigel Salo."
He jumped in his seat at the unexpected voice behind him. Turning, he saw a new figure step into the dim light and introduce himself. "I'm Commander Jalek representing the Sith Empire."
Sighing, Rigel laid his head back onto thin air; an uncomfortable position, he soon found. "Frack it! How does that guy keep finding me?"
Without waiting for an invitation, Jalek sat down across from Rigel. He slid something across the table beneath a hand. "Lord Revan extends his thanks for your services in the war. Consider this a retainer on what you are owed for said services."
Jalek lifted his hand and Rigel was suddenly staring at a pile of the highest-denominator credit chips he'd ever seen. It had to be at least fifty thousand. While he stared mutely, Jalek stood up.
"The Sith Empire looks forward to doing business with you, Rigel Salo. We'll be in touch."
As the Sith up and left, Rigel sighed again. He supposed paying him was the least Revan could do for dragging him and Lara into a war that had cost Lara her life.
After he concluded his short meeting with Bajer, picking up a few possible jobs to look into, Rigel returned to the bar. He found Atton and Mira well on their way towards another alcoholic meltdown. Those arms that were not occupied with intoxicating drinks were draped over each other's shoulders. Mira was telling a story about three Gand and a runaway Tauntaun, to Atton's helpless amusement.
Rigel smiled at the two as he sat back down next to them and ordered another rum.
He toasted to their freedom.
Unlike Coruscant, Taris, Kuat, or most other urban/industrial worlds around the galaxy, Devrita still had a stunning natural beauty to it. Sweeping mountain ranges, rolling vistas, fair plains, and majestic forests covered most of its three continents, much like Alderaan or Naboo. Much of Devrita's trade was for its vast, still largely untouched, natural resources. The giant cities dotted throughout its enormous wilderness, connected by networks of superhighways and sea lanes, served primarily as ports for the planet's economy, selling massive amounts of raw materials to space-faring merchants and importing ever-increasing amounts of pre-fabricated building materials and other finished products for the expansion of Devritan civilization.
Devrita's cities were nowhere near the size and scale of other galactic commerce centers like Coruscant, where the buildings stretched for miles into the sky. The cities were relatively low-rise; the tallest of the buildings reaching less than a mile high, so transportation was still primarily pedestrian foot traffic and land-borne transports. But even without the interlocking grids of hover-traffic winding between the tops of the buildings, some of Devrita's skylines were among the most spectacular in the galaxy, outside of Coruscant.
Coruscant might be the shining jewel of the Republic, but Devrita was Kuryama's favorite. It was her home.
It had been too long since she'd set foot on home soil, smelled the balmy sea air, and walked the streets of the capital city, Les Santeilles. A bright coastal city, the Les Santeilles seaport had the largest fishing industry on the planet. Kuryama's father had once worked for one its giant fleets.
Her mother Nara's house was located in a small neighborhood a few miles inland, in a relatively peaceful part of the city. Not far off in the distance, the mighty buildings of Les Santeilles's center stood like guardian spirits as Kuryama strode the sidewalks leading from house to house, trying to remember who had lived where when she'd last been home.
Children were playing calcio in the streets, Human, Twi'lek, Rodian, and Zabrak youngsters alike all laughing gleefully as they went about their game.
Though she couldn't bring herself to part with her lightsabre, Kuryama had left her gray Jedi robes at a charity service after visiting a fashion outlet to attire herself in local wear. The change of clothes was a way of saying to herself that for once she was here to stay.
At last she arrived at house she sought.
Ten years hadn't brought much change to its appearance, but that was only the outside. Kuryama knew on the inside, things would be different. But the change, she knew, was not one to be feared. In fact, she looked forward to seeing just how much had changed.
She approached the door, trying to think of what she would say. Before she could even knock, it slid open to reveal a woman in her mid- to late fifties. Her black hair, though it had begun to gray at the edges, still remained lusciously smooth and vibrant. The soft wrinkles on her face only served to more maturely define her natural attractiveness. Her eyes, however, straight gray irises beneath ever-so-slightly slanted eyelids, were the same as they had always been.
Nara looked her up and down, her eyes settling on the lightsabre that hung from her belt for only the briefest of moments. She took in the soft white leather jacket she wore over a snug red shirt, the crisply-cut, warm brown pants, and shiny black leather boots.
Her face radiated a welcoming smile and she embraced her daughter.
"I'm finally back, mother," Kuryama said as she hugged Nara tightly, her eyes wet with joyful tears.
"I knew you would someday, Kury," Nara responded.
After a few moments, Nara gestured her inside. "Come in, come in, please."
Giddy with happiness at being home at last, Kuryama put down her small travel case just inside the doorway and looked about fondly. "Is Kurt home?" she asked.
Nara nodded. "Upstairs." Raising her voice, she called up the stairs. "Kurt! Kurt dear, your mother is home!"
A few moments later they heard a door open, footsteps, and a boy appeared a the end of the stairs. Gray eyes gazed down on Kuryama. She had to remind herself to breathe.
"Are you staying this time?" Kurt asked hopefully.
Kuryama smiled. "Yes, Kurt. I'm staying."
At her reply, he dashed down the stairs and hurled himself into her arms. "I'm so glad you're back, Mom!" he cried happily.
When Kurt finally let go of Kuryama, Nara gestured to him. "Show her what you've been learning."
A delighted smile came to his face and he took something from one of his pockets; just an old depleted power cell. He held it out in an open palm and closed his eyes. For a moment, nothing happened, then the cell began to rise as if of its own accord. It hovered in mid-air for a few seconds before falling back into his hand.
Opening his eyes, Kurt smiled proudly up at Kuryama.
"I'm so glad you're home."