THOSE WHO TRESPASS AGAINST US
A/N: I've long since retired from fanfic, but I was between projects and decided to finish off this gizka that's been rattling around my harddrive for a few years.
Saul Karath should have been paying closer attention, given that Malak could kill him with a gesture, but all he could think about was the godsawful smell. The Telos refugees had been on the Leviathan for a week now, and that foul, acrid, burned smell they carried had permeated all the way up to the bridge. It clung to his new uniform like grease and hung around him in a cloud he could almost taste.
"Admiral?" There was impatience in Malak's mechanical voice. "Do you understand my orders?"
His orders. Another wasteful, showy gesture from a decidedly unsophisticated strategic mind. Saul wished again that he had been assigned to work directly under Revan. Still, Malak's predictable brutality provided opportunities for advancement.
"Of course, Lord Malak," Saul replied smoothly. "Lord Bandon has recently arrived to handle recruitment for you." Saul knew Malak didn't think much of Force insensitives, and would certainly not trust a delicate job like conversion to anyone but a Sith.
Malak's eyes were narrow and dangerous, even across the distance of a holo. Saul felt uncomfortably like he was being measured and wondered whether Force powers worked through a hologram. Finally, Malak nodded. "That is all, Admiral," he said, and broke the connection.
Hiding his relief at being dismissed, Saul brushed his hands together and signaled to his second that he was leaving the bridge. His assistant tailed him into the corridor. "Why the hell haven't the refugees been forced into the showers yet?" Saul barked.
"Er, showers, sir?" his assistant asked. The man kept his face properly expressionless, but Saul knew he was wondering whether this was some kind of loyalty test. These Sith lackeys always thought they were facing some kind of loyalty test.
"Never mind. Has Bandon been shown to the refugee hold?" Saul replied.
"Yes, Admiral. He said that he would send for you when he is finished recruiting. It could take a week, he said." His assistant paused, probably hoping Saul would let slip some criticism of Bandon. Saul hadn't become head of the Sith fleet by being stupid, however, and the assistant was forced to carry on as they walked to Saul's office.
"One last item, sir." His assistant handed him the datapad. "We have verified the identities of all refugees onboard as you directed."
Saul scanned the list of the two hundred people who had been removed when the Sith destroyed Telos. Anyone who had ever shown even the slightest Force sensitivity, even if it was too low for the Jedi to bother cultivating, was flagged, though many of them had been killed outright in the attack. Saul scrolled down to see if two particular names were listed as survivors; only one was there.
Saul frowned. He handed the datapad back to his assistant and let his office door close in the man's face. Saul looked out at the hyperspace lines speeding across the wide windows before him. "Ah, Carth," he said quietly to the empty room. "You should have come with me."
After his rations were stolen two days in a row by the other refugees, Dustil built himself a knife. It was a pretty poor blade, just a broken piece of plascrete rubbed into a sharp point, but it was enough to keep his food on the third day. He hid the blade up his sleeve and found himself touching it every few minutes, a sliver of security in a terrifying new world.
Dustil didn't think about the attack; wouldn't think about the attack. He could feel it there in the back of his head, almost taste the smoke and the burning sky, but it would swallow him up if he let it. Dustil wasn't sure he'd be able to stop screaming if he started, so he kept his hand on his knife and concentrated on keeping alive until someone found him and took him home.
"Hey, kid, come here," he heard. Dustil saw Herron, one of the older refugees, waving him over. Dustil approached warily, hand on his knife. Herron laughed outright. "I'm not going to steal your boots, boy. I thought you might like to warm up a little bit at the Sith's heater."
The Leviathan's cargo hold was the biggest enclosed space Dustil had ever seen, and the coldest. The best heater in the place was where that Sith had posted himself. Dustil shook his head. "I'm not falling for that banthrash he's selling."
Herron laughed again, the lines around his eyes deepening. "Of course not, neither one of us is stupid. But we're not going to get away from these frackers by freezing to death in the corners of this hold."
"Why are you trying to help me?" Dustil asked. Herron hadn't shown any interest in him before.
"I finally realized who your father is, boy," Herron replied. "We're all proud of him for showing the Fleet that Telos is more than a backwoods farmplanet. Maybe he'll be the one to get us out of here, right? So come on, let's get warm."
The Sith was already talking when they walked up. "You can be more powerful than you've ever imagined. No one will be able to stop you, hurt you." Dustil had assumed, from the Sith's hairless head and hooded cloak, that he was an old man, but it was apparent up close that the Sith wasn't more than ten years older than Dustil himself. He was wearing black armor and a lightsaber on his belt, and Dustil couldn't help but feel impressed by the man's obvious power. He was crackling with it.
There were perhaps thirty people standing loosely around the Sith when Dustil and Herron joined the group. The Sith glanced briefly at them and then stared so intently at Dustil that he was suddenly afraid he'd done something wrong. But the moment passed and the man went back to what he'd been saying. "There are quarters and board waiting on this ship for any of you who decide to join us."
A ripple went through the crowd at that. An actual bed, real food, heat. Dustil could almost taste a bowl of hifa.
Herron scoffed beside him. "You have to bribe us to join? I thought you Jedi could make people do whatever you wanted with that Force of yours."
The Sith slid his eyes over to Herron and Dustil caught his breath at the hate in them. "You may address me as Lord Bandon, Herron Evanke," the Sith said. Herron swallowed hard but didn't lower his gaze. Then, unaccountably, Bandon grinned. "What interest do you think I would have in a Force-user who hasn't joined me by choice? The Sith want you to use your power, not be a slave to it."
"You just bombed us out, and you think we're going to join you?" a girl Dustil's age on the other side of the crowd asked. "To hell with that."
Bandon didn't even look at her, only held his hand in the air and clenched it. The girl gasped and shut her eyes tight, then opened them and looked around, confused. Dustil was confused, too. Nothing had happened to the girl, but Bandon—
A young man across the hold fell to the ground. It was Fretan, one of the refugees who'd stolen Dustil's rations.
Dustil looked back at Bandon, who was watching him with an unsettling intensity. "Not someone you'll miss?" Bandon asked in a low voice. Before Dustil could react, Bandon strode to the door. On his way, he backhanded the girl who had defied him. "You do not have to join me, Selene Bahkai, but you will respect me," he said.
The whole room relaxed a few centimeters when the door hissed behind Bandon. The crowd around the now-deactivated heater melted away, and small ones were gathering around Fretan and Selene. She was slowly getting to her feet, but Fretan was dead, it appeared. Dustil couldn't bring himself to feel sorry for him.
Herron tugged on his arm. "Come on, there's no point hanging around now. You were right—that Sith was full of nonsense."
"Yeah," Dustil said distractedly, eyes still on the door where Bandon left.
Saul silently counted the bolts in the titansteel behind Bandon. He'd discovered while working with the Jedi that they couldn't get inside your head if you kept your mind busy with something menial. A useful trick for avoiding their invading little Force fingers. Judging by Bandon's slightly puzzled expression, the block worked just as well on Sith.
Bandon shook his head abruptly and brought his attention back to Saul. "I have nearly completed my recruitment, Admiral. Lord Malak will give you instructions for the remaining refugees."
Saul noted with some amusement that Bandon did not quite succeed in emulating Malak's imperious tone, then brought himself up sharply. Bandon might be young, but Saul knew better than to underestimate the capacity for random cruelty in a Sith. Bandon would be happy to crush Saul's throat, given any opportunity. Still counting bolts, he asked politely, "Can I assist you with anyone in particular, Lord Bandon?"
Bandon laughed. "You? A Force-blind? I'd like to see that."
Saul ground his teeth. Four hundred seventy-three bolts, four hundred seventy-four bolts, four hundred seventy-five bolts. "It's your decision, of course, my Lord," he replied. "My time is at your disposal."
"Indeed it is, Admiral." Bandon grinned, looking suddenly like the young man he was. He tossed a datapad on Saul's desk. "These are the ones I want. I'll make sure Lord Malak knows of your assistance if you can recruit any of them for me. And of your lack if you cannot." Still grinning, he swept out of Saul's office.
Saul caught his breath and made sure to keep counting until he heard the corridor hatch close. Then he commed the guard outside the hangar deck. "Find Dustil Onasi and bring him to me."
The first thing Dustil noticed about Admiral Karath's office was how warm it was after the frigid hangar deck, like jumping into the mineral springs outside of Marne on a winter morning. The next thing he noticed was the holovid in the corner of the room.
"Father," he gasped, before realizing that the image wasn't live. His father was in his red dress uniform, sitting tall at a table with his hands clenched in front of him. Dustil couldn't hear what his father was saying.
"It's the Senate hearings on the Telos attack," a voice said, and Dustil jumped guiltily and pulled his attention away from the vid. A Sith officer, presumably Admiral Karath, was standing at the window, his dun uniform blending into the titansteel walls. "Your father is testifying about the Fleet's defenses."
Dustil blinked. Testifying? The Senate was on Coruscant, Dustil knew, so if his father was testifying there, then how could he be looking for him? Surely he was looking for him—
Karath flipped off the vid and walked over, interrupting Dustil's thoughts. The man wasn't one of the Dark Jedi, Dustil didn't think, because he didn't have the black armor and cloaks that Bandon and his people did. But Dustil had been around enough military officers to know that all the insignia on the man's uniform meant he was important.
"Hello, Dustil," Karath said, smiling. "Do you remember me?"
"Um, no," Dustil fumbled, completely thrown by the man's nice attitude. No one had been nice to him in days except for Herron. "Do you know my father?" he asked.
"The famous Carth Onasi?" the man replied. "Of course I do. I was his commanding officer for years. In fact, I met you when your father became Captain three years ago. Do you remember the ceremony?"
Dustil remembered shaking hands with lots of people that night and being on his best behavior under threat of permanent grounding by his mother. "Um. . ."
The officer put out his hand. "Admiral Saul Karath. I'm in charge of the Sith Fleet. Do you know why you're on this ship?"
"You bombed my planet, you fracking Sith!" Dustil blurted out. Then, horrified, he balled his fists and glared at the floor. He was an idiot. What was he doing, yelling at someone who had blown up his world without a thought, who was obviously not his friend but his enemy?
Karath put his hands in his pockets. "I'm not going to explain myself to you, Dustil. But I won't pretend that you're too young to understand."
Dustil was surprised. Everyone was always telling him that he was too young for things. "I want to go home," Dustil said before he could stop himself.
"Well, I thought you and I could strike a bargain about that," Karath said.
Hope leapt in his throat and Dustil had to furiously blink to keep a sudden rush of tears at bay. "What? What do I have to do?" A thought occurred to him. "I'm not going to join the Dark Jedi."
Karath shrugged. "Well, that's your decision. No one can make you join if you don't want to do it. But no, the bargain I'm offering you has to do with this ship. You understand that you're being transported to a holding facility?"
"A holding—what? Where?" Dustil realized how much he had been hoping they would be returned to the Republic. But why would the Sith do that—of course they were being taken to a prison somewhere. Or, he thought suddenly, maybe a slaver post. And how would his father find him then? If he was—Dustil cut off that thought. Of course his father was looking for him.
"The exact location is classified, of course," Karath replied. "But it's not in my interest to have troublemakers in the crowd when I turn you over. Someone will cause a commotion, innocent prisoners will be shot, and everyone will be worse off, you see? But I need someone on the hangar deck to tell me who the troublemakers are. In exchange, I could find a way to get a message to that person's family." Karath glanced over at the dark holovid. "So, Dustil, do you know any troublemakers on the hangar deck? Anyone planning an escape attempt, perhaps?"
Herron, Dustil thought before he could stop himself. He glanced warily around, suddenly worried that Karath had a Dark Jedi in the room to read his thoughts. They could do that, couldn't they? But Karath didn't react to anything, and they seemed to be alone, so Dustil let out his breath.
Dustil shook his head. "No, can't think of anyone." He wasn't going to help this lying Sith murder his people.
Karath smiled. "I didn't think I'd turn you so easily. Your father would be proud, Dustil." He pressed a button for the comm. "Send in a guard to take this young man back to the hangar deck," he ordered.
A guard appeared at the door. Dustil tried to hold onto his conviction in the face of a screaming terror that he'd just given up his only chance to go home. "I—" he started.
"If you change your mind, Dustil," Karath said, "start a fight with anyone you want me to know about. The guards will know that's the signal to take those people to the brig." Karath gestured for the guard to take Dustil and turned the holovid back on to the Senate hearing.
Dustil could hear his father's voice all the way back to the hangar.
"What were you doing in there with him, Onasi?" The shouted question jolted Dustil awake. It was followed by a boot to Dustil's stomach. "Were you fracking him, you fracking traitor?"
Dustil wrapped his arms around his head and tried to get up. "Frack off!" he shouted. He couldn't even see who was kicking him. "I didn't tell him anything!"
One of the refugees grabbed Dustil by his collar and yanked him up. It was Kev, one of the ration-stealers. The man was probably fifteen years older than Dustil, and had worked on a fishing ship, based on the tattoos. He shoved Dustil up against another refugee, who shoved him back toward Kev.
Kev sneered. "Were you making a deal with those Sith bastards?" He shoved him again. Dustil couldn't seem to get his feet under him long enough to fight back. How did they know what Karath had offered him?
The refugee behind him grabbed Dustil around the neck. "We kill traitors, you know that?" he hissed. It was Telvas. "Easy as gutting a fish." He yanked Dustil's homemade knife out of his shirt and pressed it up against his throat. "Or maybe he gave you some rations that you want to hand over."
Dustil kicked behind him and met nothing but air. Kev and Telvas were laughing at him. "Tomorrow's rations, too, and maybe then we'll believe you're not a traitor," Kev said.
Dustil realized these two didn't know anything about what Karath had said. They were just using it as an excuse to rob him. Red anger choked him. "Get away from me!" he shouted, yanking his arms free. The two men flew away from him and hit the ground two meters away. They looked around, startled, but there was no one awake nearby.
Dustil looked at his hands, as stunned as his attackers. Had he done that?
Kev got to his feet and hauled Telvas to his. "We'll be back for your rations tomorrow, Onasi," he said. "Can't fight if you're knocked out, can you?" The two men stalked off.
Dustil watched them go, and his legs felt suddenly like water. He sat down hard on the cold metal floor. Had he just. . .used the Force? He didn't feel any different, didn't feel "all powerful" or whatever Bandon had promised. He looked at his hand-just his normal hand-and held it toward his blanket, thinking about it moving. The blanket lay there, like it would for any ordinary idiot waving his hand at it.
Herron strolled around the corner and stopped when he saw Dustil sitting up. "What are you doing awake? Miss me while I was at the head?" He chuckled.
Dustil shook his head to clear it. "Kev and Telvas must have been waiting for you to leave," he replied. He rubbed his stomach, which hurt but didn't seem permanently damaged.
Herron frowned. "Those thugs still bothering you? They must've decided you're an easy target, a kid without folks on the ship. If you fight back, they'll probably back off."
"Oh, right, I'll just put on fifty pounds of muscle and wrestle them," Dustil said glumly. They'd taken his knife, and he couldn't expect any freakish Force tricks to help him next time. A cold lump seemed to settle in his gut as he realized they were never going to leave him alone. They'd take his rations every day until they were all handed over to slavers or wherever Karath was taking them.
Herron didn't notice Dustil's morose turn of thought. He squatted down next to him and lowered his voice to a whisper. "And speaking of fighting back, I heard we're likely to be transferred in the next day or two. That's going to be our chance to break out of here."
Dustil looked up. Herron was serious, and Dustil remembered Saul's warning about shooting troublemakers. "I don't know, Herron, that's a lot of Sith soldiers with guns. Are you sure we should-"
Herron glared at him. "Toughen up, boy. It's been two weeks and no one has come for us. We're going to have to help ourselves. Do you think your father would sit around and wait to be rescued?"
Dustil looked across the darkened hold to where Kev and Telvas were sitting amongst the sleeping refugees. Kev saw him looking and made a slashing gesture across his neck. The cold lump in Dustil's gut grew hot. "You're right, Herron," he said, still staring at Kev. "We're going to have to fight back."
"Bandon has told me of your assistance in converting the Force sensitives, Admiral. Fifteen of the twenty he targeted is quite remarkable, given your own lack of Sensitivity." Malak's computer-generated voice held a note of humor in it.
"It is my pleasure to serve, Lord Malak," Saul replied, carefully counting titansteel bolts in his head. He was, frankly, surprised that Bandon had put in a good word for him. Saul wasn't used to Sith keeping their word, especially when it didn't directly benefit them. "I believe I will have another recruit for you shortly, my Lord."
Right on schedule, a young soldier appeared in the open doorway between Saul's office and the rest of the bridge. The woman blanched when she saw Malak's figure looming against the red backdrop of Korriban. "Lord Malak, it's a pleasure to have you aboard, sir," she managed to squeak without otherwise embarrassing herself. Saul made a mental note to give her a raise. "Admiral," she continued, "the. . .situation you identified is taking place on the hangar deck. You asked to be notified, sir."
Saul nodded a dismissal and turned his attention back to Malak. "I think you will enjoy this, Lord Malak. But perhaps you would prefer to watch from the holo in my office? Your presence on the hangar deck could be unnecessarily alarming."
Malak laughed, and only decades of military service kept Saul from wincing away from that hollow buzz.
Saul arrived at the hangar deck just as the guards were dragging two young men out of the room. They were shouting and fighting to escape, to no avail. The rest of the refugees were crowded against the back wall of the deck, watching silently. None had yet noticed Saul. Some of the onlookers were clearly afraid, others merely curious.
Dustil Onasi was smiling. The boy stood at the front of the crowd, knuckles scraped raw and dripping blood over his fingers. His left eye was starting to swell shut. Dustil didn't take his eyes off the guards hauling Kev Horali and Telvas Amendana away until the hangar deck door banged shut behind them.
As Saul watched, Dustil turned and said something to the man behind him, an older refugee named Herron Evanke. Herron looked a bit disheveled, as though he had gotten involved in the fight, but he was unbloodied. He clapped Dustil on the shoulder, nodding in satisfaction.
Saul noticed Bandon standing with his usual entourage on the opposite side of the hold. The Sith was watching the unfolding drama with crossed arms and no expression. He glanced toward Saul and nodded.
Saul motioned to the guards he'd brought. The soldiers walked across the hangar, grabbed Herron, and dragged him out of the room, almost before the crowd knew what was happening. Saul saw Dustil look around wildly, then fix on Saul. The boy charged toward him, anger all over his face. One of the soldiers raised his weapon, but Saul stopped him with a gesture.
Dustil skidded to a halt in front of Saul. "What the hell are you doing?" the boy shouted. "Herron didn't do anything!"
Saul smiled. This was going perfectly. "You mean, other than plot to escape when we transfer the refugees?" he asked.
Dustil paled. "I. . .he. . .there wasn't anything like that. . ."
"Dustil," Saul derided, "Did you really think I wasn't monitoring your conversations in the hold? Did you really think a boy and an old man were going to plan an escape on a ship full of soldiers and Sith? I thought you were brighter than that."
Dustil stared at the ground like he would burn a hole through it. "Fine," he said quietly, still looking down. "But what. . .what about the rest of our. . .agreement?"
"What agreement, Dustil?" Saul asked blandly.
Dustil's head jerked up. "You said. . .you said you would contact my father if I helped you!"
"Is that why you betrayed your people, Dustil?" Saul whispered. "Is that why you're not fighting for Herron? Did you think I would actually bring the Fleet down over my head to help a traitorous boy?"
Dustil looked like he might vomit. Then anger darkened his expression again. "You promised, you son of a schutta," he growled. "I-"
Saul drove his fist into Dustil's gut. The boy folded and went down, breath rushing out of him. Before he could recover, Saul bent down and jerked him up by his collar. "You have no power here, Dustil," he hissed. "You can't protect yourself, you can't protect your friends. There is nothing you can do to keep me from hurting you, understand?" Saul dropped the boy back down to the floor, where he lay gasping. Saul kicked him for good measure. "Now get out of my sight."
After a silence so charged that Saul braced himself for a Force attack, Dustil struggled to his feet. He looked just like his father when he was angry. Dustil turned away without another word and walked toward Bandon's corner of the hold.
Saul smiled. He left the hangar deck and walked back to his office, pausing only for a millisecond to gather himself before walking through the door. The burned smell that had filled the hangar deck wafted out of his office. Malak was leaning against the windows, his cloak tossed behind his body.
Malak pushed suddenly off the plasteel and strode toward him, and Saul had to consciously stop himself from taking a step back. Then that godsawful buzz filled the room and Saul realized Malak was laughing again. "Impressive, Admiral," Malak said. "Bandon has just taken Dustil Onasi back to the holding quarters with the other Sensitives we converted. I am most pleased-Bandon reported previously that the boy was powerful but unlikely to be converted. I think you even made him think it was his idea."
"Thank you, my Lord. It is always an honor to assist you," Saul replied.
Malak raised his eyebrows. "Is it?" There was a note of amused warning in his tone. "You are more clever than I realized. I will keep my eye on you, Admiral."
Saul had faced down too many blaster rifles to show fear on his face. Instead, he inclined his head. "I'm sure you know best, Lord."
"Indeed," Malak replied, then walked past Saul to the doors. "I will take the converts with me to Korriban on the next shuttle. They should begin their training immediately."
"And the remaining prisoners, Lord?" Saul asked. He already knew the answer to his question.
"Dispose of them," Malak said over his shoulder. "I have what I came for." The door closed on his words.
Saul's office was suddenly quiet, the silence itself almost a sound. Saul walked to the windows and looked down at the hazy atmosphere of Korriban. "All right, Carth," Saul whispered. "I've saved your boy. That's all I can do."
He pressed the comm. "Put the remaining prisoners out the airlock," he ordered, then turned back to his work.