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Within the jaws of Creational Zero, cast asunder from the Waterfalls of Endless Realty, our Traveler had been isolated within the Empty In Between of all that would ever exist. He pondered if he had made a catastrophic mistake in his process of being infinitely undone, wondering if it would have been better to let the tunnel finish its task of floating away all that he was. Atom by atom he had been scattered into the unknown, yet the smallest speck of his failing heart would not yield. That tiny, stubborn fracture of consciousness that could not bid goodnight to the light of Jaina’s love, was the catalyst that marked the end of the omniverse’s curtain call and became the prelude to Andon’s great Encore of Creation.

 

Deeper down he sank within the maw, tendrils of warmth grasping desperately to his ankles, taking him down 20 Million Leagues Below the Sea of The Endless. There was no shaping this current, nor steering its intent to conform to our hero’s will. For this, he was a mere passenger, terrifying in its own right to the boy who would be king. Hands desperately clawed for any notion of grip within the tides of ethereal empty, revealing no foothold for which to brace himself upon. Downward he went, reaching skyward toward a plane that bore no skies, only to find his hand breaching the break of lavender waves and and depositing him upon a beach of pale azure sand.

 

There was no sun on this world, he soon realized, as he gazed upon the horizon and found dozens of small moons that refracted light from an unknown source upon the shore. How so many satellites in close proximity did not shear the planet into fragments with the multitude of contrasting gravity pulls, he did not know. But in this moment Andon did not care, for he exhaled in relief that he was somewhere. He did not know, he was in fact *many* somewheres, but that is a tale for another time.

 

For now, he reveled upon the world in which he found himself on. He never envisioned that his life would take him to such a place, but he realized that it was, indeed, a good place to find himself. Movement in the distance drew his eyes from the horizon, down to slender forms that vanished as their gazes met his. Something here was alive with him…

 

***

 

Andon opened his eyes and found that he was no longer staring at the waves of lavender ocean, but was laying in the Captain’s Quarters of the Traitor’s Hope. He no longer dreamed when he slept, if such a thing as sleep could describe the quiet motions of his mind in slumber amongst the tides of eternity. Jaina stirred in the bed next to him, and he smiled, realizing this too was a wonderful place to find himself in. Reluctantly, he unraveled himself from the form of his wife and the endless plush sea of blankets she was now surrounded in, and stood up from the bed.

 

It was good to be home.

 

He walked over to the bulkhead wall that was shared between the Captain’s quarters and life support control room… something had caught his eye when they had passed from one side of the wall to the other. Hazel-gray ears looked upon a particular panel for a moment, before he squinted his eyes and the panel slid back, revealing a hidden compartment. He did not find a smuggler’s bounty of treasure within the walls, but to Jaina it was a treasure, indeed. In this sliver of the ship, hung neatly pressed shirts and pants. Clothing that belonged to Andon, specifically. He turned his face toward his wife and smiled, for no matter how hard she had tried to remove the Jedi from her thoughts, Jaina had kept that which reminded her of her husband close and safe. Finding that his current robes would be in need of a deep scrubbing after Jaina’s escapades in repairing the hyperdrive, Andon was glad to have something else to wear.

 

From the hangers, he removed a charcoal gray, long-sleeve button up shirt and black pants; the clothing still immaculately tailored, just as he remembered. Black boots with a surprisingly recent shine and an onyx colored thigh-length long coat completed the outfit change. Andon did not wake Jaina when he exited the room, for she would know where he had gone.

 

Emily.

 

He began to walk toward her quarters, sensing the increasing confliction of his niece’s thoughts. The perpetual struggle to go or stay: she was more like her Aunt Jaina than she realized. Andon stood before the door leading to her room for a moment before knocking, gleaning from the air the chill of jealousy and ache that echoed within the corridor. He lightly rapped on the door with two knuckles, knowing his presence had already announced who was on the other side. It just wasn’t polite to simply barge into a lady’s quarters, after all. There was no immediate answer to his request to enter.

 

“The answer is stay. Don’t leave…”

 

It was abrupt, yet intimate in tone. One day, Andon would have to work on answering questions that only existed as thoughts in the minds of others. But today was not that day.

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She had just stepped out of the sanisteam when there was a knock on the door. Emily sighed. Throwing on some clothes, she heard his muffled voice on the other side of the door. She bit her lip. This was not a conversation she wanted to have right now, but she had learned not to put off things like this. Besides, they were still in transit. She couldn’t avoid her uncle forever.

 

With a gesture, she used the Force to trigger the opening mechanism on the door, her back to Andon as she brushed her wet hair. “Why shouldn’t I leave?” she asked. “Jaina doesn’t need me anymore, if she ever did. Not when she has you.”

 

It was decidedly colder with the door open than it was with it closed, Andon had discovered. It was difficult for him to not view her as the little girl on Raxus Prime that had poured endless adoration upon him. However, he had missed most of her life, and he most likely remembered a girl that only existed within his mind when he did so. Emily was a woman, and had experienced much in his time way. Perhaps too much.

 

“Because I need you.” His voice was tender, human in its uncertainty with how it would be taken. “I won’t make you stay, but I would like you to.”

 

He entered the room and mindlessly traced a finger along the frame of the bunk, before leaning against it. “I’ve already missed so much of your life in my… travels. I don’t want to miss anymore with you.”

 

There was an involuntary noise at the back of her throat, and she set the hairbrush down quickly. “You don’t need me,” she countered, trying and failing to hide the tremor of emotion in her voice. “No one needs me. It’s…” she paused, then finally turned to look him in the eye. “It’s my fault, you know. My fault that you were left to seek out answers alone. I could have gone with you. I could have helped you. And together, we would have found what you were seeking. But I abandoned you.” Her voice was full of regret and self-loathing. “Let’s be honest, all I do is make mistakes. And I care too much about you to drag you into my mistakes any longer.”

 

Andon looked at her for a long while, processing all that Emily told him. “You know what hasn’t changed, is you’re a very bad liar.” His voice was light. “You can’t even convince yourself wholly that I don’t need you. I came back for my family, last I checked you were a part of it.”

 

He reached out and tucked a stray strand of her hair behind her ear. “I know you would have gone with me if you could choose again. I would have taken you anywhere with me. Maybe even let you fly my ship.”

 

Her uncle smiled as he spoke, as if old hurts had happened lifetimes ago from his perception. Perhaps they had. “But where I went… it was better that I was alone. There were many difficult choices, impossible choices, no one should have to bear the consequences with me.”

 

Andon paused and exhaled, taking a moment to gather his words: it was uncomfortably human. “I could tell you of a great many mistakes with unimaginable catastrophe in their wake,” the cornea of hazel-gray eyes momentarily flashed a vibrant bronze before returning to their normal shade. “But life with you is not something I could ever count as a mistake.”

 

The two were unique in the galaxy because of their eyes, the same two pairs of eyes searching the other now. “Besides, we both know I’m gonna get into trouble regardless of who I’m with. Might as well enjoy the ride with me.”

 

Was it really so simple? Emily felt a war going on inside her. She wanted to believe him. She wanted more than anything to rekindle the familial bond between them. After all, wasn’t that why she was tagging along after Jaina this whole time? Why she was determined to help save Tirzah? Andon believed what he was saying, of that she had no doubt. But she was also practically a stranger to him.

 

When he reached out and tucked a strand of her wet hair behind her ear, she hurriedly turned away. That one simple gesture set off a firestorm of emotion within her, and she almost sensed Quietus’ presence physically in the room. And with that hallucination came the other side of the argument. You’ve heard pretty words before. Promises, even. Promises that were broken once he saw who you truly are. Andon will do the same thing. It’s only a matter of time. In the end, everyone leaves. It would be better to just cut it off now. To not let herself get reattached. Better for him, and better for her.

 

She was just opening her mouth to tell him that, when another thought occurred to her. Does that mean for the rest of your life you’re not ever going to attempt it? That you’re determined to live as a hermit, cutting yourself off from everyone left that you care about? Or are you brave enough to try? To risk getting hurt again, yes. But the moments in between the hurt...aren’t they worth it? Despite the pain and the mistakes, if she was being honest with herself, she didn’t regret her time spent with Quietus or with Raia or with Nishant or even with her parents.

 

She bit her lip. “Nothing will ever stop us from being family,” she said softly. “You’ll eventually see the truth of who I am, and it will become too much for you. I’ve seen it over and over again. But until then, you’re my uncle, and I’ll always be there for you.” She paused. “But...being near Jaina now...it’s like all my emotional wounds are being constantly torn into. She has gotten everything she ever wanted, plus everything I ever wanted on top of it. And it’s...I love her, but it’s hard to see. I don’t want jealousy to make me into someone I’m not, or to ruin what trust we’ve been able to build between us.”

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Her words hung in the air and all that was left unsaid reverberated between the walls. For the briefest of moments, Andon turned his head to face an empty spot within the room, as if another person had entered it. Curious. His gaze held the spot for a moment, before his shook his head and returned his attention back to Emily.

 

“I understand”, his voice was noticeably heavier. “You’re not our prisoner. I won’t keep you here, if that is what you wish. I don’t want to cause you pain by keeping you too close.”

 

Andon no longer leaned against the bed frame, but moved toward Emily. His index finger found her chin and gently turned her face to him, their eyes meeting once more. “But we’re all that we have left. Trust me, it’s so much lonelier out there then any of us could ever realize. We’re here, together, now. That’s more family than the three of us have had in our entire lives.”

 

His voice softened, no longer carrying the carefree humor that it possessed earlier. “So don’t go. Stay with me. Stay with both of us. I’m asking you to stay, for me. I’ve done things that have… changed me. I need you to be around, I need your help to remember what I once was.”

 

Her uncle’s voice trailed off, as if even he was at a loss for words to describe all that he had been through and seen. “Stay for Tirzah. She wasn’t there to be a part of any hurts that may have been caused. She needs her cousin…”. For the first time in years, his voice sounded sad as the last sentence left his lips and floated outward into the air. He knew that the mere mention of Tirzah would draw about an agonizing loss from Emily that he would not be able to understand, as a man.

 

“But I need to tell you something if you’re going to stay, something you should know.”

 

Unconsciously, he reached out with his hand as if to trace the scars upon her stomach, but withdrew his hand. She had not taken it well the last time he had shown such affection, and didn’t want to cause her any more confliction.

 

“On Yavin IV, when I … understood… what happened to you. When I touched the marks on your womb, I- I tried to change what had happened.” Andon dropped his gaze to the floor, ashamed to look at her. “I tried to save your child. But I couldn’t. For all I’ve become, there are still some things that I cannot do. What happened with the Cult, it was a fixed event in time. Not even I could change what happened… I couldn’t take that hurt from you.”

 

He sat down on the bed, resting his chin within the web of his hand. He was dangerously mortal in this moment, and became unsure for the first time in many lifetimes. “I tried, but I couldn’t save you from that. I’m so sorry…”

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As he tilted her head back, Emily’s eyes bored into his. And for the first time in years, she saw the eyes of her father. John looked out from Andon’s eyes, that knowing smirk that always haunted them there if she searched hard enough. And there was no way she could say no to those eyes.

 

In that moment, Emily realized something about who she was. Yes, she was broken. Yes, she made mistakes. Yes, she drove people away. But there was one redeemable quality about her: she would do anything for her family. With that clarity came a sensation of rest, like the teasing of a fresh cool wind on a dry hot afternoon. She clung to it.

 

Then Andon blinked and the moment was gone, but the memory endured. Whatever pain would come, it would come. She wasn’t going to let future pain stop her from salvaging whatever good life had left to offer her.

 

She had just come to a decision when Andon offered one last bit of information. He tried… That knowledge was final confirmation. He had tried. He had failed, but she knew that some things couldn’t be changed. Some people couldn’t be saved. Slowly, she sank down on the bed next to him, and then slipped her arm under his, intertwining their fingers. “Thank you,” she said simply, her voice sad but steady. “I...I’m here for you as long as you want me. As long as you need me. And longer.”

 

They sat in silence for a few more moments. Emily just treasured being near him after all these years. A few more heartbeats passed, and Emily gradually broke the silence again. “You know, it’s been 22 years today since my father died?” She untangled their hands and rose. Crossing the room, she grabbed one of her lightsabers and twisted off the end cap, revealing a small wafer. She tipped it out and crossed back over to the bed. Resuming her seat, she clicked the wafer with her fingertip and a holo appeared. It was the same holo she had had on her ship before it’s destruction--Andon and John stood in the center of the frame, twin smirks on their faces, while their wives graced their sides, grinning. “I think the Force has a wry sense of humor in it’s timing sometimes.”

 

The image of the holo robbed the air from Andon’s lungs. He stared at it for a long while, the tips of his fingers hesitantly reaching out to graze the image of John and Sirvani, as if he could will them to life with but a touch. The trace of his fingers caused a slight distortion in the holo, causing his hand to cease its attempt and return to his side. He remembered that day well… it was the last day that the four of them were together. Before Hapes. Before The Precipice. Before The Room of Infinite Thrones.

 

Andon draped his arm around Emily’s shoulders and pulled her close to him as they looked at the holo for untold moments together.

 

“I miss your dad every day. It’s good that you’re staying, he would want it that way.

 

“He’d want me to look after you.” He turned to face Emily, that familiar family smirk tracing his lips. “Because if you’re going to get into mischief, you might as well get into spectacular mischief.”

 

No matter where he had been and what he had done, it was abundantly clear that somewhere beneath the layers of what he had become, her uncle was still the Andon of her youth.

 

That was enough to elicit a small chuckle from her. “You really haven’t changed, have you?” She smiled wryly. “Yeah, I suppose we should stick together.” She hesitated for the briefest moment. “If only to keep all that Colos-Skywalker crazy in one place.”

 

“Absolutely.” His smile was light and goodness, “can’t just let that kind of magic run around uninhibited. Entire worlds would revolt.”

 

He turned his head to the wall, as if seeing something beyond the scope of Emily’s vision. Jaina was up and would be here soon. His smile grew. His wife would find them when she was ready, for now, he simply enjoyed Emily’s company.

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Jaina's return to consciousness was slow and hazy. While she was dimly aware of the stirring of her husband beside her and his subsequent departure, she clung to the momentary peace and buried her face into the softness of the pillow, absolving her eyes of the burden of their work and letting the dark rhythm of hyperspace continue for a little while longer. The oaky scent of Andon's hair seemed to fill the shreds of wakening, and there was a peace in the Force that seemed to whisper that all would be put to rights. The hope that she had sought fruitlessly and shouldered as a bond of her soul now came easily, a glowing contentment that eked out of her every pore. Space itself seemed less cold now that he had returned.

 

Like a feral jungle cat, she stretched sleepily, gracefully, willing herself to conquer the task of waking and determined to set about making caf before their landing on Coruscant. As her feet hit the cold decking, she crossed to her small closet, but a feeling that something was out of place halted her, and she did a double-take at the seal on the hidden wall compartment. It was closed, but not entirely, suggesting that Andon must have divined its existence--how, she had no way of knowing, but neither was she surprised--and a sudden catch in her throat choked her to tears.

 

How many sleepless nights had she returned to that compartment, desperate for a reminder that he had existed beyond a distant memory? How often and how fondly had she buried herself in the scent of him, torn in every decision, soothed by the reminder that he had trusted her and it was worthwhile for her to learn to trust herself? And now the mementos she had kept had exhausted their sentimental purpose, returning to a practicality she had long determined to be impossible.

 

A calm that she had long attributed to getting lost in the eternal waves of Chadra tides settled into her bones, and a secret smile she could not suppress crept its way onto her face as she dressed and moved to the galley to obtain her requisite elixir.

 

Clutching the steaming mug of caf between both hands, she ducked through the doorway to the cockpit, and what she saw gave her momentary pause. Tucked under the central control console, a pair of tall tuskcat slippers slumped lazily sideways, as if they had gotten bored waiting for her. The quiet smile became wistful as she pulled them over her bare feet, the residual chill of her toes dissipating into the furry warmth. The barrage of emotion that came with the simple act was halted by the proximity alarm, which startled Jaina enough that she nearly spilled the caf into her lap. Glancing over her shoulder to make sure that neither of the ship's other occupants had been witnesses to her maladroitness, she toggled the hyperspace lever, and the Traitor's Hope hiccupped out of hyperspace. The tunnel of stars came to an end, letting them out at a familiar sight: the grey and neon ecumenopolis of Coruscant, hanging poised in nothingness, clad in the sheer negligee of its shimmering planetary shield.

 

All things considered, it didn't take altogether too long to break their way into the atmosphere, following the never-ending queue of ships toward the familiar destination where her computer readout told her she could find Skye. So much history had happened here...

 

...but it was not the time for reminiscence. Tirzah was waiting.

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"We've been following the news coming out of Naboo. I can't believe what you were able to accomplish!"

 

The blue-tinted hologram was a little bit staticky due to the distances involved, but it properly conveyed the impressed tone Eleanor Talis had adopted. Beside her, her husband Rasil stepped into the holo's display field. "We couldn't be more proud of you, Aelyn," he said. "You truly have a gift for helping those in need."

 

Aelyn blushed despite herself. "Afterwards, Aira and I met up. The Council granted her petition to raise me to the rank of Jedi Knight."

 

Rasil smiled broadly. "The Jedi Order is the great good in the galaxy. We will always miss those like Admiral Starlisk who gave their lives in their duty, but that my own daughter might rise to take his place speaks to its endurance."

 

"Dad," Aelyn protested. "He was on the Jedi Council. Don't you think you're setting your expectations a bit high?" She knew, of course, that he hadn't meant it that way, but he'd always believed she was destined for great thigns even when it had seemed like she was content to live a quiet life.

 

"Aelyn, the reports said you led a small fleet of starfighters, boarded a leviathan, and captured a mad scientist?" Eleanor spoke up, a hint of concern in her voice. "Is it always going to be that dangerous?"

 

The new Jedi Knight's cheeks returned to their normal color and she took a deep breath before answering. "Sometimes, yes," she finally said. "I'm sorry, it's hard to hear. But as a Jedi I'm called to risk my life when the situation calls for it, and I'm willing to do that. There will be quiet times, too, but even if Dad and other level heads keep there from being a full scale war, there are other evils in the galaxy that must be faced."

 

"Someone has to answer for Kashyyyk," Rasil said tangentially. "I think a move to reclaim what's left of the planet is already underway. Do you know if there's going to be Jedi involvement?"

 

She nodded. "A call to action went out. There's more in the works, too. I'm not sure where I'll end up on everything, but you guys know I'm not a soldier and my new training doesn't change that."

 

Eleanor looked slightly relieved to hear that last part. "Well please feel free to call any time or come home and visit when we're around."

 

"I will, Mom," Aelyn answered. "I'm not planning on disappearing on you."

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((Coordinates: Q-10))

 

Deep in space, a Republic fleet assembled and made last-minute preparations for an imminent battle. Late-arriving missiles were loaded into starfighters; turbolasers were charged, primed, and angled towards vectors where they were likely to find targets. Last minute briefings were held immediately prior to the fleet's deployment at its final objective.

 

((EDITED for final transit))

 

Final preparations complete, the armada assembled into its final formation and launched into hyperspace. Its final destination would be Onderon.

 

Fleet Composition

 

Steadfast

Ship Class: MC90c Star Cruiser

Crew: 5680 crew (+ 605 gunners)

Armaments:

75 Heavy Turbolaser Batteries

30 ion cannons

6 proton torpedo launchers

8 tractor beam emplacements

AP: 4

 

Starlisk

Ship Class: MC90c Star Cruiser

Crew: 5680 crew (+ 605 gunners)

Armaments:

75 Heavy Turbolaser Batteries

30 ion cannons

6 proton torpedo launchers

8 tractor beam emplacements

AP: 4

 

Tyrmina

Ship Class: Corona-class frigate

Crew: 782 crew (+ 56 gunners)

Armaments:

10 Turbolasers

10 Laser Cannons

4 Ion Cannons

2 Tractor Beam Emplacements

AP: 2

 

Kalidor

Ship Class: Cruiser

Type: Majestic-class Heavy Cruiser

Length: 700 meters

Crew: 40 Crew, 45 Gunners

Armaments:

Heavy Turbolaser Cannons (30)

Ion Cannons (20)

Laser Cannons (20)

Concussion Missile Tubes (8)

Tractor Beam Projectors (8)

Antimissile octets (~20)

AP: 3

 

Wrendui

Ship Class: Bothan Frigate

Crew: 800 crew (+ 104 crew)

Armaments:

12 Medium Turbolaser

6 Ion Cannons

2 Proton Torpedo Launchers

AP: 2

 

Incisor

Ship Class: Warrior-class frigate

Crew: 44 crew (+ 36 gunners)

Armaments:

10 Turbolaser Cannons

8 Laser Cannons

4 Concussion Missile Tubes

Antimissile Octets

AP: 1

 

Brionelle

Ship Class: DP20 Frigate (Corellian Gunship)

Crew: 45 crew (+ 45 gunners)

Armaments:

8 Double Turbolaser Cannons

6 Quad Laser Cannons

4 Concussion Missile Tubes

AP: 1

 

Hawkbat

Ship Class: DP20 Frigate (Corellian Gunship)

Crew: 45 crew (+ 45 gunners)

Armaments:

8 Double Turbolaser Cannons

6 Quad Laser Cannons

4 Concussion Missile Tubes

AP: 1

 

Eshan's Pride

Ship Class: Warrior-class frigate

Crew: 44 crew (+ 36 gunners)

Armaments:

10 Turbolaser Cannons

8 Laser Cannons

4 Concussion Missile Tubes

Antimissile Octets

AP: 1

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A return message came in from Ord Mantell Black Sun headquarters on a secure line.

 

"The information you may be seeking is in regards to the animals and planets. They are all on Bogden, and this job will require a ship with enough size to transport fairly large cargo. The rest of the information and tools that you may need can be picked up at Sandorne Palace in the city of Worlport on Ord Mantell. There Ms. Krales will meet with you."

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The message came in while they were on their way to Ord Mantell, and Araac showed it to Mellanie with some satisfaction. "The ship's hold should be big enough. Otherwise we can rent out a freighter easily enough. Would your mom lend us one?"

 

Mel chuckled. "Only if we don't tell her that this is a job for Black Sun. She never liked them." She inputted the new coordinates into the navicomp, and the ship continued on its way.

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A single TIE/D barreled through hyperspace, a ripple like affect seen in the blurred lines as Oni's system bumped along to whatever music he was listening to, the blonde hair Sith Master rocking away and banging his head as he went. Such was Oni... too cool for skool. Destination was Onderon, where a meeting with the Dark Lord awaited.

 

"Awkward."

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A Kom'rk flew through space following the TIE/D. As he plotted his course he wondered what Onderon had in store for them.

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Outside, the black void of space blurred into blue as the ship shifted into hyperspace. Query stood still, watching through the window of the shuttle. A part of him simply enjoyed the view, recording the feelings the novel experience of hyperspace gave him. He didn't even do it for later analysis, he simply did it to feel something. Up till now, he'd always had a purpose. His programming had determined everything he did and thought, always coloring even the most minuscule of decisions. Serve the Remnant. Complete the experiment. Learn. Adapt. Complete the task.

 

But now...

 

Now he was his own master. His mind was still the analytical, creative, and possibly mad mind it had always been, but now it charted its own course.

 

Ironic considering they were going the wrong way.

 

His intention had been to escape to Geonosis, the start of a plan forming in his mind to bring about a vision he had only begun to consider. Now, instead, they made their way to Kuat.

 

Adapt. Learn. Improvise. It's what 2-1Bs do.

 

It's what I do.

 

After a moment, he decided he had best see to Ambrose. The soldier had been through a intense level of trauma, and though clone soldiers did test lower in studies relating to PTSD, the risk was still present. It was also worth noting that the intensity of the trauma Ambrose had gone through could not be estimated. Not handled carefully, the soldier-turned-cyborg was a handful of volatile chemicals dumped in a power core.

 

He looked up at Ambrose, the empty mask of the dark trooper armor staring back. He tapped into his datapad.

 

WHAT...DO...YOU...WANT?

 

Ambrose was likely lost right now. He'd just abandoned the only structure and authority he'd seen in his multiple incarnations. He was trapped in a new body, on a strange ship, headed for an uncertain future.

 

He needed a goal. He needed focus.

 

WHAT...IS...YOUR...PURPOSE?

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Standing in the cramped cockpit of the Imperial shuttle, Ambrose allowed the streaks of hyperspace through his mechanized eyes without restriction, dulling his mind. True, he, as with any trooper, had been given a two hour training class somewhere along the lines regarding hyperspace induced madness; for now, however, it at least helped dull the searing mental anguish he was feeling and could not process. His body, his livelihood, his life, perhaps even his soul were all gone. Whatever it was that left of him was here in this hulking armored exosuit/droid thing. The only person that seemed to care was the medical droid beside him. Who was this droid anyway? Did he do this to me?

 

Turning as the droid's words beeped into his conscious thought he pondered, he does seem to have a strange ability to access my mechanical systems. Perhaps he is here to monitor me and report back. Perhaps this is some sort of test. The one thing he knew for sure was that this was all too real to be a simple simulation.

 

He allowed the words to swirl in his mind. Despite being a droid now, he felt that somehow, some part of him had survived. Did all droids feel this way?

 

Want....Purpose....Want....Purpose....Want....Purpose....

 

What he wanted was his old life back, to be amongst his brethren-in-arms. All had been so much simpler then. It had been even simpler back on Concord Dawn when, as a boy, he had toiled away on his parents’ farm. A happier time, he pondered. He and his father rolling out huge bales of hay for the nerf herds because the hoover-tract had broken down once again and they couldn't afford to repair it until they sold off more and more of their dwindling herd. His mother always greeted him with a smile and a warm meal of simple fixings to fill his belly. His sisters' smiles as he carried them about on his shoulders pretending to be all manner of spacecraft that they saw at the local docking bay. They had mostly been bulky trade and transport vessels; but one time there had been a sleek ship of unknown design. That had been quite an exciting day! That was, until, his father had been drug away by the armored men hidden behind their T-shaped visors....

After that, his mother had never been the same and within a dozen cycles of the moon had taken to bed unable to rise. Then she too was gone. His sisters then....his sisters...

 

If a tear could have escaped from Ambrose' mechanized eye it surely would have; instead, he was forced to contain the emotion within his unknown fluid filled jar.

 

The Empire was his life now or at least had been.

 

 

Want....Purpose....Want....

 

Without knowing how he did so a dark fiendish sounding voice of scraping metal several octaves lower than his natural voice echoed from the grate where his mouth was formed but unmovable.

 

"I want Revenge. My purpose is to destroy."

 

Turning to stare at the medical droid he added,

 

"Help me brother."

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...I can work with this.

 

Ambrose had developed an obsession, and it might be the best thing for him. True his obsession was violent and possibly a step into sociopathic behavior, but the alternative was risking depression and breakdown. It didn't hurt that he clearly needed some kind of support and was looking to Query to provide. Now all he had to do was accept.

 

...YES...

 

...I...WILL...HELP...YOU

 

THEY...MADE...YOU...A...MACHINE...

 

LET...ME...HELP...YOU...BE...A...MAN

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Ambrose mentally glowered at the words the medico droid was playing directly to his mind.

 

YOU made me a machine. I was a man! he screamed internally, no sound passing his mouth as he regarded the much smaller droid beside him.

 

Anger pulsed through his synapses as the thought ate at him in the mere moments that it hung there unspoken to his mind. This droid may very well be the only thing that could help him in his plight; yet still, this droid was most likely responsible for a portion of his suffering.

 

"I cannot destroy him....

.

.

Yet."

 

he grated to himself more so than anyone else. Hardly realizing he spoke aloud at all.

 

Then with a single movement, he felt his huge heavy phrik-alloyed fingers closing into a cannonball sized fist. With a single motion he shot his fist outwards towards the droid in an attempt to send the non-combat worthy lab lackey airborne towards the adjacent bulkhead. He doubted it would serve to shut down the mechanized medic, but at the very least it would send a message: Ambrose needed no help being a 'man.' All he needed was help enacting his revenge.

 

And if that revenge included the destruction of his mechanized creator at some point? So be it.

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Query realized he had grossly misassessed the situation exactly .43 seconds before Subject Ambrose's fist struck him. He bookmarked the moment in his memory for later study.

 

His sensors silently blared in his mind, complaining of misaligned servos, power stream interruptions, and gyroscopes working overtime to redetermine where 'up' was.

 

Amazingly, he still held the datapad. Not by any intention on his part. He'd simply been holding onto it, and unlike an organic's reflexes which would let go of whatever it was holding and endeavor to use its arms to arrest its movement, Query had no such reflexes. When the 2-1B series had been designed, unintended flight had not been factored into the droid's safety protocols. His pincers maintained their grip on the device, though they'd scored a long scratch along the screen where it had slid under the metal tips. Thankfully, it was still functional.

 

I...MISSPOKE

 

YOU...THINK...YOUR...FLESH...MADE...YOU...A...MAN?

 

YOU...THINK...MY...STEEL...MAKES...ME...A...MACHINE?

 

YOU...WERE...PROGRAMMED

 

YOU...WERE...A...MACHINE

 

YOU...STILL...ARE

 

I...CHOOSE...WHAT...I...DO...NOW

 

WILL...YOU?

 

OR...WILL...YOU...SERVE...AS...PROGRAMMED?

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Programmed??

 

So that was it. The man known as Ambrose Veshok was truly gone. All that apparently remained was whatever shadow of his consciousness had somehow been transferred onto the mechanized programming that now inhabited this exosuit. He was no longer Ambrose Veshok. He truly was RG-126 or whatever new alphanumeric denominator the Remnant had bestowed upon him without his knowledge.

 

There was something of me that they obviously wished to retain….

 

In Ambrose’ warped mind that he was now doubting the existence of, he had come to the conclusion that somehow, whilst stealing his memories,

 

most likely my combat experiences,

 

The Remnant had inadvertently retained some of his personality programming. He had no way of knowing that he was truly a brain in a jar in a suit.

 

Still, why can’t I figure out how this thing operates? You’d think they’d have done a better job. Top secret project and all….

 

As Query’s words buzzed into his consciousness again, like an angry buzzbug swirling around his ears, he was drawn back to the droid itself. Here it was talking about …..about….. ”Freedom.” He creaked, his dark metal-on-metal voice scratching out an echoey darkness of observation.

 

Ambrose was never big into how droids worked, droids rights, or any of that jazz back in the day. Truth be told, he thought most of the folks that took to rioting in the streets and tearing of droids’ restraining bolts were whackjobs that deserved no better than to be locked up and forgotten about. Didn’t they know that they, man, alien, and sentient beings had built the droid forces of the galaxy? Can’t build something smarter than you. That’d involve putting smarts there from nowhere. Talk about impossible!

Yet here he was now, a droid; nothing more than a piece of hardware at the beck and call of the Imperial Remnant. The leftovers of the very world dominating force that he had sworn his allegiance to had left the shadows of his former self to do what?

 

What am I doing? What is my programming? Do I have some sort of directive?

 

”What is my programming?”

 

Ambrose queried of Query; impressed by the medical droids tenacity. He would have figured any droid would have given up by now. Well, most any droid. Battle droids such as himself were probably exempt as were those annoying pit droids that seemed to just never die. Apparently this droid knew what its directive was; even with the babble of making its own choices. Doesn’t this droid know that any choice it makes is preprogrammed? Does that mean I am preprogrammed too? What can I do? Am I even a shadow of myself anymore? Am I too live out my existence as a series of computerized code to the Remnant's will?

 

Bracing a large hand against the bulkhead he turned with the stomping of his metal boots to face Query.

 

”Who are you?”

 

he demanded.

 

”Where are you taking me?”

“What is your directive?”

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What is my directive?

 

Query pondered that for a moment. He knew what he wanted, but was that his purpose? Was that why he lived?

 

No.

 

YOU...ASK...WHAT...IS...MY...DIRECTIVE

 

I...HAVE...NONE

 

THAT...IS...WHY...I'M...NOT...A...MACHINE

 

He needed to explain this better. He needed for Ambrose to understand the choice before him, while avoiding any more violent outbursts.

 

YOU...ARE...A..CLONE

 

YOU...HAVE...BEEN...CONTROLLED...BY...THE...EMPIRE...TO...SERVE

 

THAT...IS...YOUR...PROGRAM

 

IF...YOU...CANNOT...CHOOSE...THEN...YOU...ARE...MACHINE

 

DO...YOU...CHOOSE...REVENGE?

 

CAN...YOU?

 

THEY...WILL...JUST...CONTROL...YOU...AGAIN

 

LET...ME...HELP...FREE...YOU

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I shall have my revenge. That is why I served the Emperor.

 

That is why I served. Together, we shall destroy they that stand against us.

 

Ambrose responded, his dark metallic voice doing little to betray the pain that his mortal voice would have otherwise betrayed. The pain and confusion that still coursed through his mind had brought forth a lot of suppressed memories. This droid was not helping either, pushing him to fight against what it had most likely done to him.

 

His family…that was why he had joined the empire in the first place; to avenge those he lost and protect those he loved. He had to protect them. The Empire had promised that.

 

Without another word, Ambrose turned to stare into the void of hyperspace, the dimension between dimensions. The pulsating streams of white streaking by transferring to electronic pulses that were further transferred back to the organic brain in a jar nestled safely in the chassis of the Dark Trooper exosuit served to take the edge off the pain he was now feeling.

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As Ambrose turned away, Query considered how badly he had misread the clone. He had focused far too much on the potential damage from flash training and the cybernetic transference process, and committed the greatest oversight in any psychologist.

 

He'd forgotten his subject was a living, sentient being, and projected his own mind onto his patient.

 

The desire for revenge the clone felt went beyond simple rage at what had been done to his body, at being manipulated and controlled by the Empire. There was an emotional depth to the clone Query hadn't seen, and couldn't understand without more data. Instead, Query had filled in the blanks in Ambrose's mind with what he realized were his own fears and desires. He saw himself as a programmed slave, harnessed to a purpose, and so saw Ambrose as something identical. He sought to free himself and expand his mind into more than a tool, and pushed the same ideals onto Ambrose.

 

As he considered his mistakes, he felt no shame. He had failed, but his own mind had only gained self-awareness a short time ago. It was expected that he'd make missteps.

 

And that's what makes me grow

 

The realization struck him. When a droid failed, it was due to their capabilities and programming, and they were either adjusted to compensate, or scrapped. When a person failed, they adapted themselves. Just like Ambrose was doing now.

 

Ambrose had taught Query something about being free.

 

Interesting

 

Query looked at the unreadable mask of Ambrose's armor. He seemed calm now, but not peaceful.

 

And they were headed into one of the biggest imperial strongholds in existence.

 

This is going to be informative.

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Adenna supported Tobias as the pair walked up the ramp into The Prism. The Jedi Master was weaker after the exertion of first leaving, then returning to his body. After moving into the ship, a long sanisteam had been called for. He did so alone and with all the hot water on the ship at the moment. Adenna would have to wait if she wanted the comforting warmth of the water. He mostly just stood there and let the water run over him- his mind racing. How he longed for combat once again or some meditation. After they two humans and three PIT droids had jumped to hyperspace, Tobias realized he had not asked them to jump anywhere. As he cleaned himself and made his way to the cockpit he tried to stave off the crushing waves of regret, heartbreak, and the attributing emotions coming from the impact of so many friends now gone as well as Jedi who had died under his command. His decisions, his judgement and responsibility. They all...

 

Shaking his head, Tobias asked the droids where they had plotted their jump. Apparently one of them had never been to Iridonia, while another had a business opportunity there, and the third had some weird bucket list objective on the world. How and why had he come into possession of these three?! Their programming was perplexing. Like psychotic children with weapons capabilities who were plugged into the wacky side of the Holonet subforums.

 

Tobias sighed, saw no point in arguing to drop out and replot their jumps- they would need fuel anyways. He did want to return to Kashyyyk or Ossus, but either could wait- it would have to in light of their fuel issue.

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"Space... the final frontier. These are the voyages of th--"

 

The holoseries suddenly blinked out as the projector was shut off by 2-VSH with what could pass as exasperation from a droid of his capabilities. 2V was elbow deep in his fifteenth rewatch of the entire holoseries, and apparently, that was the breaking point for the droid. Returning to a more upright position in the co-pilot's chair aboard the Ravenhammer, the droid turned to glance back towards the main body of the ship, silently calculating the odds that Raynuk would change their course of action today. Since departing from Kashyyyk following the victory of the Sith and Black Sun above and on the planet's surface, Raynuk had grown isolated and distant. Initially, 2V attributed the changes to the fact that both of his master's organic followers -- the Sith beast and his adopted daughter -- had not returned with him, but continued along a different path. But as time continued to pass, and Raynuk continued to be idle, 2V began to calculate and posture about alternative reasoning, but was nearly always left with improbable conjectures.

 

Raynuk had not been communicating with the Sith at large as far as 2V could tell, nor was he seemingly focusing on the Cult of Morthos; both of those influences having been major driving factors for Raynuk's actions for as long as 2V had been in service to the Sith Master. Now it seemed Raynuk split his time between his chambers aboard the Ravenhammer and the workbench contained within the engine room. By this point, it had been a standard week since Raynuk had even spoken to 2V to give the droid an order to maintain the position of the Ravenhammer, out near the edges of known space beyond the ruins of Ziost. Raynuk had given no indication of why they were there specifically, or what the Sith was doing. For all intents and purposes, 2V was like a ghost to Raynuk that just so happened to aboard the same ship. Eventually, 2V began poking around the holonet in order to occupy his processors. This was how he had found the holoseries he had just turned off among others, but he had also come upon documents held within the Sith databanks that pertained to Raynuk. More specifically, a general history of the life that the SIth Master had lead so far from the vantage point of the ancient order.

 

Among those files, 2V found out that this was not the first time Raynuk had fallen into bouts of being withdrawn, isolated, and disconnected from the galaxy. The timing of these episodes did not align to a pattern that the droid could find, and seemed almost random, if not isolated events. But the sheer fact that they had occurred over and over again, and was apparently happening again, was reason enough to consider them to be connected. Several of these episodes had resulted in the physical death of Raynuk; either from wasting away, or from actions taken by the Sith as a result of his lack of presence. But just as these episodes continued to occur in a random pattern, so too did the pattern of his return play out, also randomly following these episodes. It was as if Raynuk's mere existence was following the path of a sound wave, a series of peaks and valleys; up and down, up and down. 2V wound simply have to do everything he was capable of doing to ensure that this episode of malaise did not result in Raynuk's death.

 

2V's internal calculations completed, and gave the droid an even smaller percent chance that things would change any time soon; 0.527% chance. His servos made a whine that mimiced a human grumble, and the droid turned back to glance out at the vastness of space.

 

<> 2V said to himself.

 

===================================================================================

 

There were no words that could communicate or begin to encompass what Raynuk's world, mind, and mere existence had become following the victory on Kashyyyk. From within the whirlwind and tempest Raynuk was blind to his own appearance, both physically and mentally, and simply could not, or would not, see that the pattern was repeating itself. Even if he could have been granted sight to see the repeating chapters of his life, Raynuk would not have been able to understand it any better than those around him. Emily had seen this chapter more than once, each time breaking her heart; Draken had seen this chapter before, and had severed Raynuk's spirit from his body. This time, there was only 2V around to witness the events that slowly pulled at Raynuk, but for his part the droid had remained dutiful and loyal, doing as instructed and offering little resistance to what was happening. 2V simply put, was a droid, and was incapable of feeling the emotions of fear, worry and anger that had compelled others before him into action.

 

It had been long enough that Raynuk himself had forgotten the goals that had driven him and the Ravenhammer to this point in space and time. Following Kashyyyk, Raynuk had returned to the Bleeding Kyber only long enough to park the Darksoul and board the Ravenhammer before setting off again into space. But the reasoning, and the goals set before him were now scattered like ashes in the wind from his mind. The entire galaxy, and even his own existence felt like a heavy damp blanket now, the weight and chill of it always pressing upon him. He would tinker with his weapons and armor at the workbench aboard the Ravenhammer with no real tangible goal of improvement, and then he would sleep in his quarters until he felt the slightest compulsion to return to tinkering. From one day to another, Raynuk's memory was foggy, and he simultaneously couldnt remember if he had eaten, and didnt care to eat and didnt care if he would.

 

He would see 2V every so often as he shuffled between one point on the ship to the other, but never engaged the droid, and recently 2V no longer made the effort to engage Raynuk either. Anyone watching the situation would know that time was going to slip away even faster from this point on. But even as 2V's probability outcomes continued to grow smaller and smaller with each passing day, like so many things in the galaxy, sometimes all that is needed is a little bit of luck, some good timing, and a minor miracle.

 

Atgriešanās...

 

The voice;

The word;

The way it reach Raynuk's mind;

 

Any one of those three alone was enough to awaken Raynuk from his most current round of troubled sleep. But all three together practically launched Raynuk up out of his bed as if he had been hit with a stunstick. His mind was racing, matched only the quickened pace his heart had taken to pump blood throughout his now tensed body. For longer than Raynuk had cared to realize, the odd and quite personal connection between himself and Jaina had lay dormant and quiet. He had sensed Andon's peculiar return through the Force and through the bond between himself and Jaina, and before Kashyyyk had endevored to seal the bond between them for so many reasons. To protect and prevent her from sensing the slaughter of the wookiees he was fighting, to keep stray thoughts and brushes of her presence from distracting him in the midst of combat, but also because he did not want to be a distraction to her in those moments with her husband. And now with the one single word that had been such a huge part in driving them both back into the world of the living, spoken in her voice that Raynuk could not have ever admitted he missed in the first place, the seal on Raynuk's end of the bond exploded into his mind.

 

For a few moments Raynuk was frozen, sitting up in his bed as his mind and his heart pounded. Only when both had begun to spiral back downwards towards calm, did the Sith realize the breath he had not taken, and the eyes he had not blinked. He did both at once, a larger step towards calming both mind and body back under his control. And then came the spark of recognition, that the fog that he had stumbled through and the heavy blanket that threatened to crush him had lifted, equally destroyed as the seal on his bond to Jaina by the word of the Sith tongue. Raynuk's eyes remained closed as he reeled himself back in, focusing back on who he was; what he was here to do; and how he would proceed in this life. Once his mind was in order again, Raynuk did the stupid thing of prodding at the raw nerve that was his strange bond to Jaina, devoting a split second of his full focus on it, a dash of anticipated fear lancing through him, like a child poking at a wound they know will hurt when they touch it, but still unable to resist doing so.

 

Raynuk's mind was filled with a snapshot of vision in that split second, a Sith holding cell among the darkness, and a tattered flightsuit. His eyes opened once more, and a few heartbeats later Jaina's voice returned, a distant whisper of words not spoken between the bond, but a lingering echo of the vision.

 

Es neesmu svešinieks tumsai...

 

Though the words were not meant for him, Raynuk cracked a small smile at the glimpse of resistance and wit that was so core to Jaina. Whatever he had come out here to the edge of the galaxy for, it had been forgotten, and now it would wait. He could sense that Jaina was somewhere nearer to the core, but given his current location that was hardly an amazing feat to behold. He would head back into the majority of the galaxy, and he expected that his movement would not go unseen by the Dark Lord. Always one to be prudent, Raynuk knew not to actively disrespect the Dark Lord, and as before, knew his best move in that regard would be to report to the Dark Lord personally, wherever Exodus may be in this moment. As for Jaina, he wouldnt be able to tell where she might be -- or if he might need to actually be a hero once again -- until they were close enough to identify such information.

 

In the meantime however, Raynuk knew that he might be heading directly towards a decision he had hoped to avoid at all costs, yet one he always expected to eventually come no matter how much he strived against it. He had told Jaina many things on Corellia, in that stark hospital room, and had meant it then just as he intended to live up to it now. With that pledge in mind, and risking pointing out the connection she may wish she could be rid of, Raynuk whispered into their shared bond towards her, carrying his words from his mind, to hers.

 

Dažreiz tumsā ir draugi...

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Frond had sensed the presence of his fellow apprentice and had listened to his ramblings; however, before he had a chance to turn to a form that was capable of audible speech, Kel had rushed off, leaving Frond to rustle his leaves in a sign of laughter …younglings…Learn much to so. Busy always so.

 

Returning to his contemplative meditations, Frond had passed the rest of the day, his root like lower appendages soaking in the nutrients of the well cared for soil of the Temple arboretum and his leafy top collecting the synth-sunlight from above. His meditations swirled as he contemplating the guiding winds of The Force and how it connected every living thing across the galaxy that so many regarded as the be all and end all of existence, instead of the deeper invisible connections of The Force.

 

As the synthsun was dimming its final rays over the plants and beings within the temple, Sandy had approached Frond and advised him that they would be departing. Although he assumed her bit about changing clothes was more directed at Kel than himself, given his natural unashamed nakedness, save for the regal clothing of leaves and vines that he toted along with him.

 

Transforming back to his humanoid form, Frond followed Sandy and Kel to the smaller ship along with a few others he did not know that rocketed them into space. Once aboard, Frond frowned, he was not a big fan of space travel.

 

Once connected by space lock to the larger Courtland, Frond, along with the others shuffled aboard. There was more room on theAA-9 where he was greeted by crowded hallways and passages teeming with a variety of beings from across the galaxy; mostly human/humanoid, although there were a few more odd specimens that could be seen milling about. Passing by a particularly odorous group of boisterous and well-armed Weequay, Frond quietly adjusted his usual towering height down to a more manageable height as the trio wound their way through the crowded ship.

 

”Instructor Sarna transport is a refugee this?” he asked, absentmindedly as he took in the vast array of beings and tucked his training saber out of sight into a knothole in his midsection, sealing it up trap death is this. A choice lightsabers seem poor like…

 

Eventually, the trio was able to take claim of an opened section of bench that had been vacated by a rather angry looking family of Ortolans mumbling something about finding mynock steaks in the cafeteria.

 

Turning to his fellow travellers, ”long if journey is be this to nourishment will I find need”

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Kel woke up early in the morning. in his quarters he found a new set of robes to replace the ones that had been damaged from yesterday's sparring match. the young doran quickly changed into his new garments. kel stowed his training sabre in the pack containing his clothes and medical kit. Then he went to join frond and their master on the ship that would take them to Ilum. Kel was hesitant at leaving his personal ship behind, but he trusted it would be there when he came back.

 

the transport took to the air and soon flew into the vast reaches of space. Kel was very accustomed to the experience of space travel. Compared to navigating the more hazardous areas of space surrounding his home world of Doran, this was practically a bus ride. the ship connected to an AA-9 freighter called the Courtland. The three of us boarded the freighter along with the other passengers. like his fellow apprentice, Kel took notice of the other passengers. the group of weequay mercenaries that were jovially discussing a past job were just one of many groups and people aboard a vessel capable of carrying roughly 30,000 passengers.

 

the three of them sat at a vacant bench so they could discuss further details of the trip. "We are a long ways from Ilum, but I believe we would have to make port at another planet or two before reaching it. so we shouldn't be on this ship for very long." Kel said in an effort to put frond at ease.

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Once they had entered hyperspace enroute to the Jedi Fleet, Skye left the cockpit giving Flitter instructions to monitor their course. She joined Jackson, leading him to the Meditation room and indicating for him to take a seat. “Now, one thing I would like to do with you is to make a connection through the Force with our minds. It will make it easier if comms go down for us to communicate telepathically. The more familiar you are with my Force presence, the easier it will be.” She met his gaze, her mind open for him to attempt a connection. “Reach out to me with your mind.”

 

Soon, the Padawan’s eyelids flickered and his pupils dilated. It took some serious effort and willpower to force his instinctual concealment to relax. To allow himself to unwind, close his eyes, stretch out his feelers, and really see. It was a similar sense as earlier, when he had lost focus and turned his attention inwards. The only difference now was that he was taking a more active role, deliberately searching for a connection to his mentor. Looking for one of the few other presences on board the ship.

 

Of the smattering of dim lights nearby, Jackson noted that the small sun in the room with him was most likely to be Skye. The kiddos and other Jedi had already left, after all, so there were few other possibilities.

 

Jackson carefully wrapped his coils around that brighter presence, feeling it, even wincing and drawing back a few times before adjusting to the comparative intensity, like stepping out of a cold pool and into a scalding tub of water. And then it happened. Mostly on accident, Jackson linked his sense to Skye’s, opening himself up and freely, almost forcefully, sharing all that he was. But all too quickly, it was gone. That brief contact and full, undisclosed sharing of information ending just as soon and as abruptly as it had started, more akin to an accident caused by a twitching muscle than any real desire to open up.

 

Slowly, almost groggily, the Padawan picked himself up from the floor and rubbed the side of his head. His eyes wandered through the room for a brief moment before settling on Skye, then closing for a few moments. The overstimulation of the brief contact had shaken him a bit, but in an alien and unfamiliar way rather than an uncomfortable one. “How did I do?” He asked quietly, after gathering his bearings.

 

A smile crossed her features as she felt her Padawan taking his first steps to using the Force. The Healer followed his progress though did not interfere. When Jackson opened his mind to her, Skye caught the brief contact before he shut down once more. Regardless of it only being a very brief touch she was proud of his accomplishment. Opening her own eyes, Skye smiled at him, “You did very well, Jackson. The more you practice the more you become familiar with my Force Presence.” A thoughtful expression crossed the Healer’s face, “We will soon be arriving at the marshalling point. Get some rest while you can. I have a feeling that we’ll end up very busy all too soon.” Skye knew she’d have to follow her own advice as well. If this upcoming battle went the way of a lot of the other previous battles she would have her hands full in the Medbay… [to Onderon battle]

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