"Once I was shown the Force - I heard it, I felt it. And it was used to weaken me."

-Atton in KotOR 2.


Jaq leaned over and emptied what was left of his stomach into his refresher bowl. It wasn't much, just the bitter taste of bile and a bubbly mix of water and stomach acid. Spasms shook his body, and he felt a cold sweat break out across his forehead and within the palms that he'd braced against the 'fresher seat. He wondered how many times you could puke before you tore something inside.

He must have picked up some kind of bug. He'd been unable to keep anything down for a few days now, ever since that episode with that crazy Jedi who'd come here to "save" him. Apparently, screwing with his mind hadn't been enough. She must have used her powers to hex him with some kind of "Force Virus" while she was at it. Jaq had never heard of such a thing, and the idea of him being worried about something like that would have brought a smile to his face if he hadn't felt so miserable.

Leaning back from the balls of his feet until he was crouched flat footed, he took some deep breaths, wondering if this spell was done. Deciding that it was, he stood and went to his sink. Cupping his hands, he brought water to his lips, and sucking it in through his teeth, he swished it around, then spat it back into the cold porcelain. Heh, "Force Viruses". If the Jedi really had the power to do something like that, perhaps they'd stand some kind of chance in the current conflict.

He washed his face and hands with lye soap then looked up into the dirty mirror on the wall. He looked terrible. He'd lost weight, his eyes were bloodshot and sunken, and his skin was nearly as waxen as that of the Dark Lord herself.

He couldn't let on that anything was amiss. Here, weakness of any kind was quickly exploited by all who picked up on it. He had new orders, his transport left tomorrow, and he needed to go out and be seen before he left. A few of the other hunters had heard about his recent failure. He had a reputation for turning more than he killed, and he had appearences to keep up, if only just to put his apathy on display.

Taking another bracing breath, he scrubbed back his unruly dark hair with hands that were still damp. He couldn't hide out here anymore. He grabbed his gloves off the lip of the sink and pulled them on. He checked his hair one more time then left his quarters.

The Sith base's mess hall was more of a bar than just a simple place to grab some grub. Tables were set up for pazaak, Juma Juice and Tarisian ale flowed freely, and there was even some sensor droids set up for target practice in the back. Many of the base's men and women, from all ranks, congregated here at the end of the day to shoot the shit or discuss upcoming assignments. Commanders rubbed elbows with green recruits. Grunts tried to pick up on Lieutenants. Even the occasional Dark Jedi popped in to mingle from time to time. There wasn't a live band here, but canned music droned through the PA system, another one of those Mid-Rim Bith bands whose music wasn't as catchy as it was repetitive.

Jaq made his way to his favorite table. It was on the room's far right, and afforded him a seat that allowed him to see the entire room while putting a wall at his back. It was occupied, but a quick head tilt was all that was required to get the two young cadets to vacate the table.

The air was thick and heavy with smoke and the aroma of twice cooked rations. A serving droid approached, and Jaq, questioning his ability to keep anything solid down, kept it simple, adhering to a simple diet of cigarras and Juma. Viewscreens lined the opposite wall, broadcasting swoop races and the HoloNet. Sipping his drink, Jaq idly watched a Twi'lek reporter discuss details of some of today's events; where most of the fighting was happening, and which ships were the most recent to defect to the Sith Empire.

He began to feel sick to his stomach again. He toyed with the idea of returning to his room.

"Hey there, handsome," a sexy, and all too familiar voice purred at him from across the table, bringing his attention away from the lit end of his cigar. She sat down in the seat opposite his, turning the chair and straddling it like a man would.

She looked as tempting as she always did, the standard issue breeches of a Sith soldier hugging the toned curves of her thighs. She had black boots that ended at the knee, and a form-fitting top that stretched over her sexy tits like a second skin. She had thick black hair streaked here and there with pieces of violet that she kept in a coronet of braids, and her blue eyes were so dark that they looked almost purple. Smiling over at him seductively, she licked her full pink lips.

But Aya wasn't just some Sith soldier. The two tonfa-shaped lightsaber hilts clipped casually to her belt marked her for the dark Jedi that she was. Usually a padawan like her felt that members of the Assassin Squads were beneath their notice. After all, people like Jaq had been trained to coast under the radar of people like her. But Aya had always deferred to him with a delicious amount of humility, almost as if he outranked her rather than vice versa. But then, Jaq supposed theirs was a unique situation. After all, he'd been her handler.

She'd been spirited and strong, and it had taken him a month as well as every trick in his arsenal to get the job done.

He'd only ever felt pride and not a small amount of lust whenever he'd bumped into her in the past. Looking at her from across the chipped and dirty plasteel table now, he just felt... guilty. He felt shame, welling up inside himself for everything he'd done to her. She'd been through a lot during her relatively short life. According to her file, she had no last name. She'd been in captivity since before she had any memories, then freed by the Jedi when they'd found her enslaved in a Mandalorian camp. They'd felt the force in her, wild and untrained, and had taken her to Dantooine to live at the Academy. But her freedom had been short lived. When Jaq had come after her, she'd only been 19 years old.

When he'd stripped her down, Jaq had found evidence of many cruel masters. She bore scars on many of the softest parts of her body, and a brand adorned her right shoulderblade. She'd fought him, and he'd loved it at the time. Now he couldn't help but feel for her. She'd been so full of pain, even before he went to work on her. Full of suffering, fear, and anger. And she'd had so little time with the Jedi to heal that it had only been a matter of time before he'd broken her.

Jaq jumped as he felt the soft skin of her fingers brush the back of his hand. "Jaqie... is something wrong?" She could feel his emotions, of course. Cursing, he jerked his arm away from her. Crushing what was left of his cigarra into the cracked remains of the ashtray in the table's center, he shoved his chair back, gaining his feet. Looking down into her confused eyes, he wanted nothing more than to rush back to his quarters and spend some more quality time hugging the cold 'fresher bowl.

"I, uh... I have to go," was all he could manage before he left abruptly, rushing out of the cafeteria without even settling his tab.

He was drowning. The water was dark and deep, and no matter how forcefully he kicked toward the surface, he couldn't reach it. The blackness surrounded him, making him cold. There was nothing there to grab on to, no way out.

It was only far above his head that he could see a hint of brightness, a source of light beckoning to him with a promise of warmth and escape. He struggled, flailing his arms and legs forcefully. His muscles cramped in pain, and his lungs felt like they were about to burst.

He grew tired. Just as he was ready to give up and let the abyss take him, his body bobbed up like a buoy. Dragging in large gulps of air, he coughed and hacked, spitting liquid out of his mouth and throat. Looking up, he watched as the light source receded again, eluding his grasp. Left alone, he looked around the vast expanse of nothingness, and all he could see in the dying light was that he wasn't trapped in water at all. Instead, he was adrift in an endless sea of blood.

Something was definitely wrong with him. The spells of sickness and nausea, that scene last night with Aya in the mess, the unexplained nightmares, and now this. He couldn't stop it. The same feelings and emotions that he was so used to forcing and simulating, broadcasting to everyone around him, were all too real now, tumbling out. And it was crippling him.

He couldn't eat, couldn't sleep, couldn't think, and now it looked like he couldn't work, either.

It was her. That Jedi. Whatever she'd done, it had screwed him up royal. She'd pushed her way into his head, and even after he'd held her cold, lifeless body against him, his fingers still clenched around her throat, she'd stayed there, in his mind, making him ache.

Shaking his head again in an attempt to clear it, he held the scope of his sniper up to his right eye and tightly closed his left. The timing was perfect. He had a bead on the target, but his trigger finger wasn't working. He couldn't do it. He rolled a little, grinding his belly into the soft grassy turf of the hill he'd chosen for his sniper's nest. Taking steady breaths, he rechecked the target. He was still there. A young padawan, probably 13 to 14 years old if he was a day.

Assassination missions rarely came with a dossier. Most times, all you needed to know was your target's name and description, not why they were being targeted for termination. They were the enemy, and that was enough.

But now Jaq couldn't stop having doubts. Who was this kid? What could he have possibly done that's worth killing him over?

The kid was blond haired, his single braid standing out starkly against the fabric of his dark brown robes. He had pale skin and bright greens eyes. It was ironic, really, but his coloring was the same as his special Jedi's had been. The one who was making him question who he was and everything he was doing.

The truth of the matter was that, even disregarding the kid's appearance, Jaq was still having trouble. This kid made him think about his past. Things from even before the Mandalorian Wars. Things that were best left buried.

Setting his teeth firmly, Jaq set the scope to his eye for the third time. Looking again, he scanned the area for the young Jedi. He tensed as he found him, much closer to his current position than he'd been a moment ago. Narrowing his eye, and caressing the trigger, he prepared to take the shot.

He startled as he felt the sniper rifle jerk from his grip and through the air. The padawan had Force pulled it from him. He was so messed up that he'd given away his position with all the fear and doubt he'd been feeling. Then he'd screwed up again by failing to react fast enough when he'd seen that the target had moved too close.

Jaq scrambled to his feet, then moved, slipping down the hill's back slope. His head ducked down out of sight just in time to miss the bright blue lightsaber that had been tossed toward him. He slid down the grassy terrain, struggling to move quickly and regain sure footing at the same time. He reached the base of the hill and ran full out, heading for the docks.

The answer to all this was simple. He couldn't do it anymore. Any of it. When the Mandalorian Wars had ended, it had seemed like the most natural thing in the world to just keep fighting into the Jedi Civil War. How do you just decide one day that you'd had enough?

It was the Force. Or what she'd made him see of it, anyway. He didn't know if he was Force sensitive, as she'd said, but he did know that she'd used it on him before she'd died. Used it to change him. He'd killed her, yes, but ultimately, in a twisted case of role reversal, she'd broken him.

Tree branches cut into his arms and belly as he went. He dodged sticks and bramble that reached out to slap against his face and rip at his clothes. He couldn't let himself get captured. With all that was going on inside his head, he'd probably crack like a Brith egg if they interrogated him.

He arrived at the docks and quickly made his way to the Venture, the docked cargo ship he had lined up as his getaway vessel. He hopped up the loading ramp and jumped aboard, hearing the doors seal behind him. His timing was perfect, thank krayt, and as he settled against some storage containers, he felt the ship begin to slip her birth. The young Jedi was probably still in pursuit of him, but as the ship began to ascend into the sky, Jaq knew he'd gotten away.

He had to escape. Everything. When this ship arrived on Tatooine, he'd hop another vessel and head somewhere he'd never been before. Lose himself. Nobody would come looking for him. When word got back to base, they'd just assume that he'd been killed or captured. There'd be no "search and rescue". Those who failed in their assignments deserved their fate, and were left to it.

Everything he owned was back at HQ. He'd leave it all behind. He carried with him only a few credits, and nothing from his past. And that was just how he wanted it.