As promised, here's the preview to the third story in the Eye of the Storm trilogy. It's still a bit rough, so please excuse the draft-y quality. Enjoy!
So engrossed had she been in her project, Zara had no clue where the Chu'unthor was besides being somewhere in the Outer Rim. Seated alone in one of the meditation chambers, she was wholly taken with trying to put the pieces of her new life together.
Every ounce of her concentration was centered on the equipment before her: the power insulator and conductor that harnessed the wild energy that she hoped to work with; the chamber and activator that would bring said energy to life; the coil of wires that would direct the current to its final destination, her goal: a blue-white beam of energy, a symbol of focus and strength, a tool as much as a way of life.
Sweat had begun to bead at Zara's forehead but she ignored it as she used the Force to direct the three small crystals to their new home within the cylinder that would one day be her new saber-hilt. All of the components were hovering in the air in front of her while she built the Jedi weapon without laying a finger upon it. Her own hands, a pale blue, trembled as well with the effort it was costing, but she was determined. This time, I'll do it.
The grip was the easy part; even the controls for the blade itself were not so much trouble. It was the delicate placement of the crystals within the heart of the weapon that was giving her trouble. Her hands were shaking with effort as she focused on setting the primary crystal within its mount; the Padawan had spent a week meditating on the various crystals that Master Djinn Altis had aboard his praxeum ship, the Chu'unthor, in order to select the best one for her new lightsaber. There had not been many to choose from, but she knew that beggars couldn't be choosers.
And anyone who wanted to construct a Jedi weapon during these times was most certainly – if not a beggar – than a wanted criminal. This thought made Zara's focus waver, just for a split-second, but it was enough. The primary crystal fell to her bare feet with a gentle thud against the blanket she'd laid out in anticipation of her failure; it was closely followed by the rest of the saber's components.
The Padawan's shoulders sank as she sighed. Her eyes, larger than a Twi'leks but not quite as black as a Nautolan, fell upon the tiny blue crystal that had rolled to a stop in front of her big toe. "You didn't look like this much trouble when I chose you," she muttered to the glistening stone as she picked it up between her index finger and thumb. "Shows how much I know, I guess." She considered trying again, but she was too tired, as this was the third day in a row she'd attempted to construct a new saber.
I don't remember it being this hard at the Temple on Coruscant, she thought as she collected the components to the saber and placed them in a padded, pocketed bag made expressly for this purpose. But then again, it feels like such a long time ago that I made it. Her old saber was lost, a prisoner of the new Empire and she had no idea what had become of it after that night on Ambria. The night that the war, the Republic, and the Jedi Order all came to a screeching halt.
With a sigh, Zara rose and exited the meditation chamber to make her way to the one place where she knew she could clear her mind and collect herself, no matter how somber her thoughts were. One of the advantages to living on such a massive ship is the amazing gymnasium and swimming pool. Indeed, the Chu'unthor was magnificent, equipped with nearly every amenity that one could find at the Jedi Temple on Coruscant...well, before the dark times, anyway.
Before the Emperor.
A few steps took her into a nearby turbolift and she lifted her comm. "Master Tallis?"
"Zara...how did it go today?" Her master's voice sounded dubious and Zara figured that she knew what was coming as she activated the button that would take her to the appropriate level. The lift began to slide downward.
"Maybe I should try again tomorrow." She winced and waited for the reprimand that she felt was coming, but there was only silence for a moment.
Finally, her master sighed. "Perhaps. You don't have to make a new one, you know. Master Altis has extras..."
It was a kind offer that Zara had turned down repeatedly, despite the fact that her master and Kalinda had taken him up on it. I just feel like I need to do this myself. "Thank you, Honi, but..." It still felt strange to call the red-haired Jedi by her first name, but the titles of "master" and "Padawan," though they still applied, sometimes felt strange in this new era. "I'm going to go for a swim, if that's okay. Unless you need some help in the infirmary?"
Perhaps several months ago, her teacher would have not been willing to allow her student to expend her energy in such pursuits, but Honi's sharp edges had been sanded down, just a bit, with all the trauma; Zara could hear the nod in her master's voice. "No, thank you. You should rest. I'm still caught up here." By here, Zara knew that she meant the infirmary, where there were many wounded to tend to. The war had taken a toll on so many, and Master Altis was determined to help where he could, and those who traveled with him were of the same mind. The Chu'unthor's infirmary was full-to bursting with new victims of the war, rogue Jedi, clone, and any others who found their way to the Altisians.
"Are you sure?" I've gotten better at healing...or so I thought. Ever since they'd been on the Chu'unthor, Zara had been assisting Honi in the infirmary, and she was learning more and more each day. "I wanted to check on that Bothan female that I was helping..."
There was a pause before Honi replied; her tone had returned to its customary brusqueness. "That won't be necessary, Zara. I've got everything under control. Go for a little swim now, and we'll spar later."
A little swim. She still thinks of me as a kid, even though I'm fourteen, now. I know I can help her more than I am, but she doesn't trust me. Zara tried to hide her disappointment at her master's words. "Okay. See you then." The transmission ended just as the lift reached its destination, and the tips of Zara's multiple lekku twitched in anticipation of her swim as the clean scent of water reached her. However, she had one last call to make before she would allow herself to be immersed in one of her greatest joys. Her comm lifted and her fingertips entered another code.
She grinned when the clone boy's familiar voice answered, though it was hushed. "Did you do it?"
"No," she replied with a sigh, trying not to think of Honi. "But I'll try again, tomorrow. I'm going for a swim now...are you guys free...?"
Drake's reply was immediate. "You know that Weave'll let us go if we want. I'll see you there in five, Zar."
"I'll be here." When this transmission ended, Zara was still smiling.
Honi ended the transmission and turned her gaze to the two identical men who floated in the bacta tanks before her, trying to tamp down her agitation as she studied them. "This is not a good idea. If they found us, others might be able to."
"I know." Master Djinn Altis stood beside her, along with the lead healer, an Arunai woman named Upala. His hand was in his beard. "But I couldn't turn them away."
The red-haired Jedi tried not to roll her eyes. Of course not. You take in every castoff, every miscreant who floats by. In the back of her mind she was aware that she was being too harsh, that if it weren't for this man's actions, Zara, Kalinda and herself would probably not be alive, but at the moment it was difficult to think well of the man who allowed these two particular clones onto his ship. So she kept her mouth shut as she stared at them and wondered how in the stars the commandos had found their way to this sector of the galaxy.
I thought all of the commandos had joined the Empire, like the rest of the clone army. Why did these two defect? The last time I encountered them...her jaw tightened at the memory of that night on Ambria. The night that changed everything.
Order 66. The end of the war and the death of so much, including her old life.
"Their wounds are severe, but they should make a full recovery," Upala said in her soft voice.
Fantastic. So happy to know that the men who tried to kill Kalinda – who would have killed myself and Zara if Milo hadn't intervened – are going to survive. She tried to unclench her jaw, but the memory of the young clone Milo perishing as he tried to defend Kalinda was overwhelming.
Remorse and bitterness clung to her memories of Milo, whose bravery she'd come to appreciate too late but whose sacrifice she thought of every day. A good, decent man is dead because of their actions, and I don't know if I can forgive them for that, though I know I should.
There can be no other reason for them to have found their way here but to seek either revenge or the fulfillment of their orders. That was why she wanted Weave to come and speak with them; she didn't want to show her face until she knew exactly why they had arrived. Just in case.
She felt his presence before the door to the infirmary slid open; turning, she noted that Levy was with him, as he often was. Honi nodded to the elder clone, who returned the motion as he approached the bacta tanks with a wary step. Their glow bathed his form in a pale blue and Honi moved to stand beside him while Upala checked the consoles affixed to the tanks' sides. Normally, the red-haired Jedi would have been fussing over the settings, but she was hard-pressed to find her normal levels of compassion for these men.
After studying the readouts on the consoles, Weave looked at her. "You know them, I take it?"
"Ferro and Archer." She noted that his body stilled and his fists clenched. He knew the story. He knew the names.
Honi watched as he looked back at the tank with new eyes. "Ah."
"I don't want to be here when they wake up," she said, trying to keep the nervousness from her tone. "Nor do I want them to know that they're on the Chu'unthor. Their ship was picked up several parsecs from here. They were in this state, unconscious and injured, and their distress beacon was activated." She frowned. "Kalinda won't be pleased. There is nothing good about their presence here."
At this, Weave nodded again, his hand skimming over the top of his skull, the hair still shaved into twin strips. She'd noticed that all of the elder clones kept their hair short, as if they were still in the army, while the younger ones seemed content to let theirs grow out. When he spoke again, his voice was speculative. "Do we have their ship? Perhaps there'll be a clue there. Lev can tap into the onboard computers, if nothing else." He placed a hand on the clone boy's shoulder, who was staring up at the floating commandos with curiosity.
It was a good suggestion and Honi felt a flicker of irritation that she hadn't thought of it, but Altis answered for her. "We do...it was towed in."
Weave nodded and glanced at the commandos' charts once more. "They should be in the bacta for at least a few hours, it seems. More than enough time for us to do a little investigation, eh Levy?" As he said the words he placed a hand on Levy's shoulder, the young clone turning to grin up at him.
He still can't speak. I wish I could do something. The boy's arm was a mystery that Weave had not been able to solve despite copious hours of research and she wondered at it as well. I made a promise to him that I would somehow repay them for Milo's sacrifice, and I keep my promises. I will find a way to help that boy. But now wasn't the time to say any of this, so she merely nodded to the adult clone, who looked at her with all of the compassion of a Jedi that made her feel a little ashamed at her earlier irritation. "Thank you," she said again, hoping that the words didn't sound flippant.
His broad shoulders lifted in a shrug as he began to escort Levy out of the room. "Sure thing, Tallis. Let me know what Kalinda says, please."
And they were gone.
Honi turned to the commandos, watching as the bubbles lifted from the breathers and rippled to the surface of the tanks. I know now that all of the clones are not mindless machines...but that doesn't mean I'm happy to see these two. Kalinda might never be able to fully use her knee again, thanks to Ferro's actions. She felt her eyes prick at the memory of that night, but pushed her grief aside and studied the charts. After a moment, she narrowed her eyes and let out a sigh of exasperation that was directed towards Upala as the Arunai woman entered something on Archer's chart. "When was the last time that these tanks were calibrated? The metrics are completely wrong on this one."
In her fashion, the Arunai woman gave Honi a patient smile, for all that the Jedi could sense her resignation. However, the red-haired Jedi suddenly felt very tired, so she shook her head and nodded to the door. "It should be adequate, for now. Will you let me know when they awaken?"
Upala nodded, but said nothing. Altis caught her eye. "Would you like to contact Kali?"
I'm not sure if she's done with the rescue mission, but she should be made aware of this as soon as possible. I do hate being the bearer of bad news, though. Perhaps I'm in the wrong line of work. Despite the wry thought, Honi only gave a cool nod. "Thank you, Master." Flicking her wrist opened the door and she strode out of the infirmary without looking back at the pleasant blue glow of the bacta tanks. Many people found the color soothing, and indeed, there were times where she shared the sentiment. But not now.
Honi made her way to the bridge, the best place to route a long-range communication; outwardly, she was the picture of the perfect Jedi, calm, cool, impassive. Even with a pair of beige scrubs in place of her traditional robes, she exuded the proper, solemn image of an ideal Jedi. Outwardly, she was as still as the glassy surface of a pond, untouched by any ripples.
But within, fear and uncertainty were burning a hole in her heart.
Once they'd reached their cabin, Kalinda had fallen asleep almost the moment she hit the bed, but Stonewall found that he wasn't quite as tired as she, so he rose and made his way to the 'fresher. For a moment he stood at the small sink and splashed his face with cool water; looking up, his gaze fell on his own reflection, and he scowled at what he saw. Lines were already starting to appear around his eyes, faint, but present, and they indicated the true nature of his shortened existence. He'd seen some brothers who were only a little older than he was who already had gray in their hair, though thankfully he hadn't reached that point. Yet.
Before the end of the war, he had stopped thinking too hard about what shape his life would take in regards to his and Kali's relationship. At the most, he knew that he had perhaps ten to fifteen more years left – assuming he survived that long – and that many of those years would be spent as a crippled, elderly man. It was the product of the clones' rapid aging: the Kaminoans, in their quest to bio-engineer the perfect Human soldiers, had tweaked Jango Fett's DNA so that the clones would experience most of their energy and vigor at a younger age, as it was assumed that – as soldiers – none of them would live long enough to worry about growing old. Those that did...his mind cast back to Trig, a "bad batcher" that he'd met over a year ago on Kamino; he was called such because his aging process was even more accelerated than normal clones, but the experience had still been a chilling look into his and his brothers' future.
Simple genetics. He knew that Kalinda was older than him, that she would definitely outlive him – the Jedi were more long-lived than non-Jedi for a number of reasons – and the thought pierced him with sorrow.
In a way, it isn't fair that we should have found each other. We may be married, but we'll never have a normal life; I can't give her what she wants but won't admit to. What she deserves. It was a bitter thought that he tried to set aside as he flipped off the light, stepped out of the 'fresher, and made his way back to their bed to slide in beside her. In her sleep, she stirred, a soft murmur escaping her as he held her close, savoring the press of their skin. If he closed his eyes and inhaled, he could smell her soap, and felt himself relaxing just a little bit as he laid next to his wife.
My wife. It was still an unusual notion that filled him with happiness despite his melancholy thoughts. Everything is different now, more so than I ever imagined. Or is it? Stonewall took a deep breath and tried to forget his own agitation as he rested his head against the skin of her back. I can't change it. I can't do anything about it, especially now, so I should just be thankful of what I have while I have it. He kissed her neck absently.
"Stone?" Her voice was soft in the darkness. "Are you okay?"
"I didn't mean to wake you," he replied as she turned to face him.
But her eyes missed nothing even when she gave him a sleepy smile and embraced his torso. "Thank you for today. You and the others were amazing." Her body was warm against his, and he found it a little easier to set his doubts aside as he held her.
"Glad to help." They were quiet for a few minutes before he smoothed her hair away from her face. "Do you think that Sita will be okay?" He could still see Crest's stricken expression in his mind's eye.
Kalinda seemed to consider the words for a moment before nodding slowly. "It will take time. She's been through so much – not just recently, but her entire life – I think she needs to find a place where she can rest, you know? Learn to just be Sita." She paused and then shook her head, a small smile on her face. "She was a bit put out that she wasn't invited to the wedding."
He thought of his brothers' shocked faces when they'd learned and gave a grin. "Tell her to join the club." They were silent for a little while before he felt her leg shift up to rest along his own, and he reached down to smooth his hand across her skin. "How's your knee?"
This made her frown, though the expression passed after a moment. "Stone, I may never be able to use it properly." The words were quiet as she met his eyes. "It's not healing as it should."
It was his turn to frown and he moved his hand to reach for her left knee but she shifted it away from him. "Kali..."
"It's okay," she replied, shaking her head. "I'm broken, but alive. That's what matters." She smiled at him. "And I have you."
"For now." He couldn't help the bitter tinge to the words. She tilted her head but did not question him, trusting that he would elaborate. After a moment, he exhaled and drew her closer. "For as long as I'm around, which may not be very long. And when I'm old and bent, what good will I be?"
Kali pulled back and studied him, her expression unreadable even to him. When she spoke, her words were very deliberate. "I will love you no matter how you look, Stone. I will always love you."
"But how long will that be?"
"I don't know. But I do know that we need to enjoy the time that we do have...and it will be quite a few more years."
He took another breath and met her concerned gaze, trying to quell his agitation. It's late, and maybe I'm more tired than I realized. There's nothing that either of us can do about it, anyway. So he gave her a smile and a kiss, nodding. "That's true." She looked at him a moment more before settling back down against his chest; after a few minutes he felt her breathing steady and slow as sleep came to her once more.
And then she spoke, one last time in the darkness, the words soft but firm. "I don't regret anything, Stonewall. There's not one minute of time spent with you that I would trade for anything else. And I'm thankful for every moment that we do have." There was a gentle kiss against his chest. "My husband...sometimes it sounds so strange, and other times it sounds normal. But it always feels right."
He couldn't help but smile. "My thoughts, exactly."
I know, nothing really "revealing" happening here, but some of the themes are in place...
Stay tuned for the third and final installment of the Eye of the Storm series...coming soon to a screen near you!