Anything you recognise is either JK's, George's or Disney's. Anything else probably belongs to them too.
I grunted as another tremor of pain shot through my leg. "Just talk to me, would you? Distract me with some legal stuff, or an insomnia cure, if they're not the same thing."
Feylis nodded, and tapped his datapad. "I'm afraid that one of the associates at the firm who assumed the role of financial power of attorney for you has been deemed unfit for duty."
That was quick. "So soon? What's the matter with him?" I asked with an amused grin.
"A minor matter, though the message is unclear, I'm afraid," Feylis said, but he blinked as he looked up at me. "Your expression suggests you are more aware of the circumstances than I am."
I snickered. "Are you friends with the fellow in question?"
Feylis almost sat at attention. "Celeron Manos is a… competent associate in Count Poincaire's division. Our specialities are very different. We have not worked together often," he said, his voice carefully neutral.
"That sounded very diplomatic. You don't like him, do you?"
Feylis cleared his throat. "Celeron and I are not… friends, no."
That made this easier. "Well, if this Celeron chap acted against my best financial interest, the contract he signed will take steps."
"Contract? What contract?"
"Remember the parchment I had the five associates sign their names on? Well, it is magical. A magical contract, in fact."
The Bothan's dark eyes widened alarmingly. "You can do that? Make a magical contract without them knowing what the terms are? Or even agreeing to them?"
I shrugged. "Can? Yes, but they're tricky things. It is even technically possible to be bound by them against your will, but that takes a lot of power, way beyond most people. It is much less effort to create a binding contract when everyone willingly agrees to the terms."
He leaned forward. "What about the penalties? Do they need to agree to those too?"
I chuckled at the memories that question evoked. "Oddly enough, you don't need to know of the penalties. I was unwillingly entered into a magical contract when I was a child, and I only found out how life-threatening it would be to break it afterwards." I looked at his face. "What? You look surprised."
"Surprised, no. Terrified, completely."
He looked at me as though I was having difficulty with the difference between up and down. "Why? You apparently have the ability to enslave someone on a whim!"
I briefly wondered what he'd say if I ever informed him as to the existence of the Imperius Curse. I didn't get a chance, however. He continued without waiting for my response.
"By Republic law, for a contract to be valid and enforceable it must clearly articulate the terms, consideration and penalties."
I opened my mouth to acknowledge that, but failed to get a word in. This was clearly a topic of great importance to him.
"You can't enforce something that isn't legal or wasn't explicitly agreed to." He shook his head in frustration. "A large portion of my job is to write or evaluate contracts for my clients. My efforts are in high demand; it is not a false conceit to say that I am exceptional at hiding or finding clauses to my clients' benefit."
I gave a satisfied grunt. "Good to know," I murmured.
"But you cannot enforce unstated or unlawful penalties. And you certainly can't be an unwilling participant to a contract; signing under duress is a valid reason to legally break it."
"Are there many of those?"
He blinked at my interruption and shrugged. "Yes, but it varies by jurisdiction. In most sectors, you cannot enter into a contract as a minor, for example."
I nodded. "That all sounds quite civilised."
He wasn't finished. "If you can magically bind someone, anyone, even a child, to a contract without their full understanding of the terms," he trailed off and shook his head. "That is horrifying! It is barbaric!"
"Yeah, that's a fair description of how stupidly backward my world is," I mused.
He gaped at my calm acceptance of something that absolutely horrified him. "For someone so vehemently against slavey in all it's evil forms, you seem overly blasé about contractual slavey."
I winced at another painful rush up my leg. "I didn't say I agreed with it. Just that my world was decidedly behind the times in certain respects."
"Well, what about the contract that Celeron is bound to? What causes the penalties to activate?"
I shrugged. "He agreed to act in my best financial interest. If anyone who signed my parchment willingly acts counter to that vow…" I trailed off.
"But that's insane!" Feylis blurted. "How could something so subjective possibly be automatically enforced? You could just decide to enforce unknown penalties for no reason!"
"It's not subjective at all. It is all on him. If he knows that he is violating the terms, the penalty activates."
I sighed. "If he was, say, evaluating financial options for me, and selected the one he believed to be the best for my interests, there would be no problem. Even if he was evaluating a hundred options and couldn't decide which of the top ten were best, and picked one at random, nothing would happen. He would have to knowingly and willingly act against my interests."
That brought him up short. "Oh. That's different. That's… fascinating. Self-enforcing contracts…" he trailed off, and his expression slowly morphed from one of horror to one of abject greed. "Oh my! The ability to write contracts that would automatically enforce the terms… based on the intent to break them. Do you have any idea how valuable that is?"
"I have some idea, yes. Right now, for instance, it's keeping one of your workmates whose greed outstrips his professionalism from robbing me blind."
He blinked. "Oh, of course. Of course."
I looked at him slyly. "So you have no objection to them?"
"What? I certainly do. Enforcing a contract with unknown terms and penalties is the stuff of nightmares. A self-enforcing contract whose terms and penalties are fully known and agreed to however, that is a thing of beauty. It would render irrelevant all sorts of expensive actions; contractual disputes in court, investigations to determine violations, even vexatious litigation could be avoided. The value of such a thing is inconceivable."
I bit the inside of my cheek as once more I realised just how much the Wizarding World was missing out on by not integrating into the Muggle world.
"May I ask, what are the specific penalties Celeron, er, activated?"
Despite the pain in my cheek, I smirked. "He can't tell the truth."
Feylis blinked. "I beg your pardon?"
"Everything he says from now on will be a lie."
His eyes shot down to the datapad he held, and he scanned the text for a few seconds. He slowly looked up at me, and I could tell that however confusion the message had been, it had confirmed what I'd just said. He was silent for a while. "The Force can do that?"
"Not a clue. Magic can," I grunted, riding another brief wave of pain washing up my leg.
His expression was one for the ages. "You can… take away someone's free will… just like that?" he asked, completely aghast. "You can compel speech?"
I took a deep breath. His sudden swings from horrified to greedy and back were becoming tiring. "Actually, forcing someone to do your bidding is way easier than setting up a magical contract. Mind you, where I come from, that particular spell is illegal."
He did not look reassured. "Illegal? What is the punishment?"
"A one-way ticket to a lifetime in a windowless room. It's called an Unforgivable for a reason."
"Well, that's… mildly relieving. Why is preventing someone from telling the truth harder than just forcing them to do you bidding?"
"The curse in question just dominates your will. You can't do anything unless told to; you don't want to do anything but sit there. Magical contracts have no influence on you or your decisions," I explained.
Feylis looked unconvinced. "Couldn't you just magic him so he can only tell the truth?" he asked, waggling his fingers at me in an amusingly incompetent attempt to mimic magical usage.
"Not with a contract, no. Forcing someone to tell the truth is hard. I mean it's possible, but the magic involved is complex and temperamental; easy to mess up. However, it's not anywhere near as difficult to prevent someone from telling the truth." I paused for a second, trying to think up an analogy that worked in this time. "It's kind of like the difference between deliberately shooting the centre dot of a target, as opposed to deliberately hitting anywhere except the precise centre."
"I'll take your word for it."
It was novel to have someone accept what I was saying without the need to question every aspect of it. With a nod, I continued. "Well, if Celeron willingly acted against my best financial interests, the magic of the contract will force him to lie. To every question put to him."
"You've ruined him! He can not function in his job if he cannot speak the truth!"
I shrugged. "He chose to ruin himself. Look, when I chose your firm, I did so because you have a reputation for being the most ruthless, cunning, and merciless bastards imaginable. Your firm pushes the boundaries in every way to get what your clients want. Do you think I would hire a group like that and not take precautions?"
Feylis was professional enough to keep his opinions unvoiced, but I could sense that he was rather put out that I'd put unseen safeguards in place against being fleeced by his firm. Or perhaps it was more accurate to say that it was because the precautions could not be avoided by some sneaky legal wriggling.
In any event, he left to contact the office to update Rigel on the new circumstances. To distract myself from the pain, I sank into some Occulmency exercises. The meditation helped. A bit.
After a long while, I emerged from my self-induced trance. I blinked a couple of times as I groped for my glasses. The world swam into focus as they settled on my nose.
"Ah, Captain, you're awake."
The familiar voice startled me. "Jedi Sinube," I said with a dry voice and suddenly pounding heart. "When did you get here?"
The Cosian sat serenely in a chair at the foot of my bed. "Here, in your medbay? Just a few moments ago. However, I arrived on this station around half an hour ago."
I took a sip from a water glass on the table beside me as I settled down. I glanced across the bay at Anakin's bed. He was still fast asleep. I was surprised to see Riyo asleep in a chair next to him, her head on a cushion next to Anakin's shoulder, and his free hand clasped in hers.
Sinube turned in his chair to follow my gaze. "Skywalker's wound is healing nicely, according to the medical droid. I note that it was caused by a lightsaber. May I ask how he received it?"
I wondered if Anakin would want me tattling on him. I thought back on how the Jedi had accosted me, and chose to present his actions in the most Griffindorish light possible. "He tried to prevent a Sith from killing me. He managed to dodge enough to avoid losing his arm." I was suddenly very glad he had. It would have been a right bugger to reattach it. The cauterization would have helped keep the blood loss to a minimum, but I don't know I could have repaired the limb at the wound's edge enough to reattach it.
He hummed a bit. "Hmmm. So Skywalker has adopted a 'leap into danger before you think' philosophy. I do hope he can be convinced to discard it."
I snorted. "He got the wound after he aborted his direct attack," I explained. "But he quickly figured out a way to stop the Sith." I glanced over at the far end of the bay where I'd stored the corpse. How to get over there with my leg in a pot?
"I'm sorry, Skywalker stopped the Sith? Not you?"
I let my wand drop into my hand, but paused before casting. "Yep. Um, if I use my… powers to get over there, will that make you faint again?"
"Not with adequate warning, Captain," he replied easily. He closed his eyes, took a deep breath, and let it out slowly. "I am ready."
I silently cast Riddle's flying charm, lifting my body from the bed. I drifted over to Tyranus, my encased leg dangling uncomfortably. I cast a feather-light charm on it to make it easier to float around.
"By the Force," Sinube breathed.
He hobbled over. "Direct levitation like that takes supreme concentration and power for a Jedi. You managed it with a wave of your stick."
"Wand," I corrected absently.
He gave a nod. "My apologies. Your wand. Who is this?"
"The Sith," I explained. "You didn't think he escaped me, did you?" I asked as I whipped off the covering.
Sinube kept his surprise in check, merely stilling briefly. He stared at the body in silence for several moments. He even rotated his head a few times, looking at the corpse from different angles. "Exactly what happened in your battle?" he asked eventually. "That is a lightsaber wound, but I've never seen one like it."
"What do you mean? Aren't they all the same?"
He looked up at me. "No, the – ah, I see what you mean. The medical aspects of a lightsaber wound are substantially identical, yes. But the angle of this wound is wrong. Someone with his skill would not suffer a wound like this. Not while…" he trailed off.
"You know who this is," I stated.
Sinube stared at the corpse for a long time without answering. Eventually, he sighed and looked up at me. "Forgive me, Captain, but I should not answer any questions about him without leave from the Jedi Council."
"You do know him, don't you?"
He looked up at me, his eyes clear and honest. "Please, I do not wish to lie to you, Captain. Nor do I wish to leave you with assumptions that may cause you to act incautiously. Please accept that I cannot answer your questions about this man. Not yet, at any rate. I will however, answer other questions you have."
"I see," I said flatly, certain that the Sith had once been a Jedi. "Will the fact that I killed him cause problems?"
He turned back to the body, staring at it as though he could change it with his gaze alone. "Oh yes," he said softly. "How did he die? Skywalker does not possess a lightsaber," he said, looking over at the comatose lad, his eyes speculative.
I shrugged. "He did actually, though briefly. HK's double lightsaber got cut in half. Anakin picked up one side of it."
"Ah. Using an unfamiliar and unbalanced weapon would have put him at even more of a disadvantage."
I snorted, rather enjoying the squat Jedi's sense of humour. "He almost lost his arm just entering the fight. But after he was wounded, he realized how outmatched he was and ran off. He cut the power to the containment field across the hangar bay we were in."
"Ah. Quite clever. Unconventional, too."
"Yep. The Sith was sucked out, but the blast door shut quickly enough to keep him from going out into space. He hit the blast door, and his own lightsaber made a mess of him. Anakin was distraught – to the point of obsession and ignored his own wound to try and save the Sith. He was going to die of his wounds anyway, so I killed him."
He looked up at me. "You killed him? Why, if his death was inevitable?"
I grimaced, trying to come up with a believable excuse that deflected interest from my actual reason. "I didn't want any remaining Sith to target Anakin," I offered after a couple of seconds.
Sinube looked at me oddly. "Understandable, but I suspect that was not your real reason. I will not condemn you, if that's your concern. Decisions made in the heat of combat are often less than ideal."
I took a deep breath. The little bugger was deceptively perceptive. He had however, proven that he was thoughtful. I chose to answer. "Fine. It's because a ten-year-old kid has no business knowing what it's like to take a life," I said with heat, leaving no room for argument.
Sinube was silent for a time, and he looked at me intently. "Were you ten?" he eventually asked.
"Were you ten?" he repeated. "When you killed for the first time?"
I snorted. "No. I was way younger." At his questioning expression, I gave a quick shake of my head and finished with, "It's… complicated."
"Were you eight?" At my silence, he frowned. "Six?"
He shook his head with disbelief. "No human at that age is capable of killing someone, intentionally or otherwise."
"Yeah, well, I lost my entire family and childhood because an evil bastard believed that," I grunted. To forestall any further questions, I held up a hand and said, "It's the truth, and I really don't want to talk about it."
Sinube nodded serenely. "I shall not press you on the event. However, the reason I doubted you is because a human of that age is incapable of forming reliable long-term memories. So why would you be so insistent that a ten-year-old child has no business experiencing taking a life? Unless you were also ten when you killed – intentionally – for the first time."
I bit back my first retort, took a deep breath, and let it out slowly. "The first one I remember… I was eleven," I admitted.
The Jedi hummed an acknowledgement. "I see. Was it an accident?"
I snorted. "An accident? Hell no. I was trying to get away from him, but the moment I discovered I the power to hurt him, I grabbed the bastard and burned him alive with my hands."
"So, it was in self-defense?" he pressed, his voice still holding no trace of any judgement.
The lack of accusatory tone was unexpected. I considered the question for a while. "You're determined to paint me as a victim. Why? Nothing I've said would suggest it wasn't murder."
He shrugged. "I did not know you when you were eleven. I do however have experience dealing with powerful eleven-year-old children. Some of them have taken a life. Some by accident, some by necessity. It marks them, but not one of them has been deliberate murder."
I narrowed my eyes. "Well then, you know exactly why I killed this bastard," I said, jabbing a finger at Tyranus.
He nodded. "I do, yes." He gestured towards the pair at the other end of the medical bay. "However, young Skywalker over there may not. Have you told him?"
"It would rather defeat the purpose, wouldn't it?" I hissed, not wanting to wake the children. "I don't want him to feel the guilt of killing someone only to be dumped…" I broke off, and took a deep breath to settle my rising frustration.
Sinube seemed to deflate, his shoulders and ears drooped. "Oh. I see. You were abandoned. Your people abandoned you to your guilt after you killed."
I ground my teeth and reminded myself that I was trying to play nice. "Just stop. I'm not a victim. I'm not. I may have been victimised, but I won't accept the label of victim."
He sounded amused at that. "Oh, that is quite clear. I just wish to allay your concerns that the Jedi would abandon Skywalker."
"Telos?" I said pointedly.
He bowed his head. "That was a decision made in the face of conflicting necessities, and all now agree that we erred gravely. But all Jedi, from youngling to Master, including those who serve in the Agricorps, are given support and healing when needed."
I stared at him for a while before grunting dismissively. "If you say so."
"Your scepticism is understandable, Captain."
"It comes from experience in dealing with Jedi."
He took that in his stride, still with a little humour to his voice. "As I said, it is understandable." He glanced back at Anakin. "I take it Skywalker attempted to surprise this Sith? No matter how talented, a Padawan untrained with a lightsaber would not fare well against a competent swordsman. Emerging from the battle with only a single, albeit deep wound, is highly unlikely."
I raised an eyebrow. "No. He called out to draw attention to himself, then charged. Fortunately, he heeded my warning and broke off, but not soon enough to prevent himself from being hurt."
"Ah. Perhaps I should suggest to Qui-Gon that he allow Skywalker to build his own lightsaber soon."
"Yeah, having his own lightsaber probably would increase his life expectancy if he plans to attack other people with lightsabers," I said with a smile playing on my face.
"Quite so. Although I must admit to a certain blindness among many Jedi. Possession of a lightsaber tends to lead to them being used in situations where they are not necessary. A few Jedi choose not to carry them for that exact reason."
I couldn't really add to that, as I'd seen the exact same thing in wizards and wands. It did make me think about my own weapon for a second. "If Jedi make their own lightsabers, I don't suppose you know who made one with a black blade?"
Sinube looked surprised for a moment. "I know of only one lightsaber with a black blade. The crystal used in its construction was," he paused, weighing his words, "unique. Why do you ask?"
I considered how to answer. "I ran into a fellow who had one. He was the leader of a bunch of mercenaries who viewed the weapon as a symbol of leadership. It surprised me that he wasn't a Jedi. Or a Sith."
Sinube began snorting and shaking, in his unique method of laughing. "Oh my. You are the leader of the Death Watch!" he managed to say through his amusement, jabbing a digit in my direction.
"What? Don't be daft," I snapped.
He did not stop laughing. "But you are! You possess the lightsaber in question, do you not?"
I swallowed. "Why do you think that?"
The laughter slowed, but he was still clearly amused. "Captain, recall that I am an expert on organised criminal groups. The Death Watch are a rigidly militaristic band of mercenaries from Mandalore, organised along clan lines. My research indicates that Clan Vizsla is preeminent among them."
I frowned. "So?"
He shook his head, causing his white hair to wave about. "Leadership of Clan Vizsla, like many militaristic organisations, is determined by trial at arms. The Darksaber, as they call it, is held by the warrior who wrested it from the previous wielder. Pre Vizsla, whom you encountered in Gardulla's lair, was identified as the previous clan leader. The Darksaber was not found on his corpse."
"I'm not a member of their idiotic cult though," I objected, though the recent memory of the mercenaries who took Riyo hostage genuflecting to me made me wince. "I'm not even from their planet."
"Mandalorian warriors are not necessarily native to Mandalore," he replied, waving his hand dismissively. "Anyone with the skills to impress them may become a clansman, simply by accepting their code of ethics."
Trying to put on my most persuasive tone, I said, "Fine. But what sort of group allows themselves to be led by an unknown outsider just because he killed the previous leader? That's absolutely bonkers!"
Sinube nodded happily and gave his stick an animated wave. "Yes, that aptly describes a great many traditions in institutions with long histories."
"You mean like the Jedi?" I snarked.
That set off another burst of laughter. "Oh my, yes. Captain, you have no idea the number of antiquated traditions the Jedi hold dear."
I sighed deeply and lamented on the most recent steaming pile Fate had dumped onto my life once more. I summoned my discarded my coat and rummaged around in the pockets until I found the Darksaber. I examined it closely, wondering exactly how many leaders had owned it. "If it takes a Jedi to make one of these, how did it end up in the hands of a bunch of a mercenary thug?" I asked, recognising the irony of my question the moment it left my mouth.
Sinube smirked as well, though was diplomatic enough not to point it out. "Though the Jedi have existed for millennia, our order has come close to extinction several times. Our recorded history is fractured, often pieced together from secondary or tertiary accounts from different cultures. "The incomplete records we possess suggest that the weapon you hold was created by the only Mandalorian known to have been a Jedi. After his death it was stored at the Jedi Temple, but it vanished during the Temple's most recent sacking."
I raised an eyebrow. "The Temple gets 'sacked'? What, like, regularly?"
"Not regularly, no, but it has happened on occasion. The most recent event was well outside of living memory. It was, however, a campaign the Mandalorians participated in. Presumably, your lightsaber was discovered and claimed during the unpleasantness by a member of whatever clan evolved into the modern Clan Vizsla."
I ignited the blade, half expecting the rush of power I'd felt when I'd killed the Mandalorian.
There was no rush, but I did feel… something.
Sinube appeared to notice. His eyes widened momentarily. "By the Force," he whispered.
He swallowed. "I suspect the Council would not wish me to discuss it with you." My expression clearly darkened enough for him to hold up a hand placatingly. "But it is something you need to be mindful of."
"Are you aware that you are, for want of a better word, surrounded by death?"
That drew me up short. "You're not talking about all the people who I've killed, are you? What do you mean?" I asked, deactivating the blade.
The old Jedi shook his head and adopted a lecturing tone. "The Force is a field of energy, created by life. In places where life naturally thrives, the Force is strong. However, where life is abundant, so too is death. Living creatures die and decay to nourish the next generation of life. There is always a balance between life and death, a cycle that enables life to flourish." He raised a hand and pointed a finger at me. "I can feel death surrounding you. But it appears to strengthen you – fortify you. The sight is unnerving to the Jedi."
I tried to keep my expression neutral. While I would always be the Master of Death, it had been liberating to believe that no one here knew that fact. But the Jedi had apparently known all along. "Is that why you Jedi are so pissed at me? You think I'm evil because of your feelings?"
He tilted his head to one side. "No, though it is an aggravating factor. You may soon be declared anathema because your abilities harm the Force." He considered me for a moment. "You seem more surprised at how we feel about you than at the fact we perceive death surrounding you. That is not news, I take it?"
"It is not."
"Is this a common circumstance on your world? Do many of your Force users draw power from death?"
I floated closer. "I'll answer if you tell me what is so unique about this Darksaber's crystal."
He nodded immediately. "Lightsaber crystals are attuned to an aspect of the Force. They become extensions of the Jedi who wield it. Without accurate records, it is impossible to be sure, but I theorise that the black crystal in your lightsaber is an aspect of death."
I stilled. "Death?"
He held up a hand. "It is not intrinsically evil or dark; as I said earlier, death is merely a natural state of being, albeit one that the living strive to avoid. The way your aura resonated with the weapon lends credence to that theory."
I couldn't help but give a dark chuckle. "A death-sword. It's a sodding death sword. Of course it is," I ground out with as much irony as I could muster.
Sinube tilted his head to one side. "You have proven more than adept at killing," he said, gesturing towards Tyrannus. "However, often it is useful to keep enemies alive. For intelligence purposes if nothing else. A pity. It would have been useful to discover how far the Sith's influence has spread. Not to mention how valuable knowing the identity of the other Sith would be."
I raised an eyebrow. "You can't talk to the dead?"
That question clearly surprised him. It took several moments before he answered. "N-no. Not at will, at least. The spirits of some powerful dark Force users have resisted death, but seeking information from them is dangerous, as they retain their malicious nature."
I snorted with amusement at that. "I had a ghost teach me history for six years." I waited until that registered on him before adding, "and I don't think any schoolkid in a generation thought he was the worst teacher we had at school."
"Your schooling included instruction from a Force spirit?" he asked, horror at the notion breaking through his usual serenity.
I shrugged. "Professor Binns was a creature of habit. He taught the same material for so long that when he died peacefully during his customary, post-lunch, armchair nap, his ghost simply stood up and continued to teach the same class." I gave that some thought. "Though I imagine the very first class he taught post-mortem would have been a bit more exciting than usual."
Sinube looked horrified at that, but he held up a hand, forestalling me from elaborating further. "As disturbing anecdotes go, I'm not sure I've heard worse. However, it does lead back to my previous question. It would seem that many of your world's Force users draw power from death."
I chose to put on my best Dumbledore impersonation, and answer the question literally. "Necromancy is a field of study on my world, yes. It does not have a particularly wholesome reputation, but it's not illegal to study."
He looked at me intently, and I suspected he noticed my deception. "Do you claim to be able to talk to those who have passed into the Force?"
I took a deep breath, and evaluated how to answer. I could certainly claim that I had been teasing him. The desire to keep secret my abilities that were common knowledge at home was strong. But this Jedi had the better traits of Albus, including his good-natured humour, without his obsessive need to hide uncomfortable truths; he was even open about not answering questions, rather than supplying falsehoods. As another plus, he also did not hold any particularly high-level governance role even among the Jedi. Inexplicably, I felt a little shame at my previous deceptive answer. "I can," I chose to respond.
"Astounding," he murmured. "I assume it is a uniquely personal ability?"
"Why would you assume that?"
He shrugged. "Any civilisation capable of drawing on the experiences and knowledge of those who had passed into the Force would advance at an unprecedented rate."
That impressed me. Even after being hit with what had previously been an impossibility, he extrapolated and evaluated. "No, you're right, it's just me. You said that death surrounded me. I know what causes that." I held up a hand, forestalling any questions. "It is not something I will ever discuss. But a consequence of it is that I can assist or force spirits to move on, as well as call on the shades of those who have died."
"Astounding. Can this ability be taught?"
I shook my head. "No. And I only gained it accidentally; due to some unique and, quite frankly, spectacularly idiotic circumstances."
He accepted that. "I see. There is commonly a cost associated with using dark Force abilities. Is that the case when you communicate with the dead?"
I shook my head slowly. "It can be uncomfortable for the spirits, especially if I hold them for a long period. But until my arrival back in this time, the only cost to me was annoyance at the unceasing requests for my aid."
Sinube stiffened noticeably and turned to the corpse to cover his discomfort. "Would you question this man? Knowing the identity of any other Sith would be of immeasurable help to the Jedi."
I shook my head. "I can't help without his name. I'm told that 'Darth Tyrannus' is a Sith title. It won't be enough to summon his spirit. But there isn't a time limit. Go and talk to your Jedi Council, and get permission to tell me who this is, and I'll question him for you."
I called the medical droid over and had it check my leg. In soothing, neutral tones, it expressed surprise at how quickly my leg had repaired itself, and allowed me to take the tank off. From below the knee, my leg felt sluggish and heavy, as though embedded in molasses, a sensation that slowly faded over time.
Sinube asked for permission to take the Sith to the Jedi Temple. I absently waved my assent as I dressed. It wasn't as though I had any use for the body without a name.
I left him in the medbay to watch over the sleeping children. I had some things to discover and having a Jedi hovering over my shoulder would have been inconvenient. On my way to the ship's exit, I pulled out my communicator and contacted the bridge.
"Captain, anything to report?" I asked.
Antilles' tiny blue face looked up at me. "Ah, Captain Harry. According to our scanners, your droid has practically eliminated the entire compliment of battle droids on this station. There are only a few remaining units attempting to flee from him. As far as we can tell, there are fewer than twenty remaining."
"Sounds like HK is having fun," I said glibly. "I've spoken with Jedi Sinube. I'm going to see if there are any more Pantoran hostages on the station. If not, I'll collect HK and we can leave."
He visibly slumped with relief. "What about the human Jedi?"
I hesitated. "Who?"
"The Jedi who arrived with Master Sinube. He went to the control room of the station to try and help the Nemoidian there."
Why would they help the people in charge? "Right. Can you give me directions? We'll be on our way soon."
"Gladly." Openly parking his ship in a nominally hostile faction's space station was apparently somewhat nerve-wracking.
As I followed his instructions, I gave HK a call. My droid agreed to meet me at the station control room, just as soon as he'd finished dismembering a pair of droidekas, whatever they were.
Travelling down long hallways, I was obliged to step over or around sparking chunks of what had previously been pristine battle droids. Rounding a corner, I noticed that the door to the main control room was closed tight. To my surprise, the human Jedi was Kenobi. He stood staring at the door, rubbing his chin in thought.
"Fancy meeting you here," I called out.
He turned to me and gave a wave. "Captain Harry! Hello. Tobril asked me to thank you for your help in proving his innocence."
I gave a nod. "Cheers. Did he say anything about my job offer?"
"Nothing to indicate he was planning on accepting," he replied dryly.
I chuckled a bit. "Fair enough." I frowned and looked at him more closely, then gestured to the side of his head. "New hair cut?"
His fingers reached up, questing for the braid that was no longer there. "Yes, I passed my Trial. Removing my braid represents my rank of Knight."
I hadn't encountered a non-tribal culture where hairstyles denoted rank; apart from Essex girls, obviously. "Congratulations. Are you waiting here outside for a reason?"
He shrugged. "The acting commander is apparently unable to get the droids operating the bridge to open the door. He says he is not in any danger, however, cutting my way in may activate the droids' combat protocols. And that may well put him in danger."
I let my wand drop to my hand. "Would you like me to try? I was able to use my magic around your friend Sinube after I gave him a warning."
He paled slightly. "Ah, yes. Just give me a moment." He stilled, closed his eyes and breathed deeply for several moments. "I am ready."
I waved my wand at the door and silently cast an unlocking charm. Something within the mechanism shifted audibly, and with a grinding screech, the door split and separated. Each half withdrew into the wall on either side.
"That's disturbing," Kenobi muttered.
"What's that?" I asked, looking at the comical scene beyond.
The Jedi stepped up next to me, evaluating the room. "That you can open a secure blast door with the Force. I don't know of any Jedi with that level of control."
No one within appeared to notice the door open. The only non-droid occupant was a noseless fellow who looked to be almost in tears. He was being held aloft by a pair of battle droids while a third scrubbed the floor beneath him. It appeared sparklingly clean, far more so than the rest of the room, so I assumed the droid had been going over the same spot repeatedly for quite a while now.
Another pair of droids were pushing each other out of the way in a vain effort to sit on the same chair. One stood in front of a gap between the consoles, pressing non-existent buttons. The final droid was off to one side, doing its level best to walk into a wall while wailing that there was something wrong with its optical sensors.
"You are not! You are not transmitting anything!" the Nemoidian wailed at the droid pretending to work.
The bent-pipe-headed droid turned to face him. "But sir! I am sending the distress signal now!" it exclaimed, while its hands rapidly moved over empty air, presumably miming the movements needed to send a distress signal. "The console is not responding."
With hand gestures limited by his captors, the Nemoidian begged the droid, "Please! Just go to your console. I need to send a distress signal to the Viceroy!"
"I am at my console, sir!" the droid claimed, standing in front of a space conspicuously absent of anything resembling a console.
"No! Your console is over there!"
The droid glanced at the seat in front of the bank of computer terminals, then turned back. "Er, are you feeling all right, sir? Perhaps you should seek medical help."
"What in blazes is going on here?" Kenobi murmured to me.
I snorted. "Anakin, I imagine." I replied in the same low tone. "He said that he'd been having fun with the droids. This looks like the sort of fun both he and I like."
Kenobi rubbed his forehead wearily. "Yes indeed. I suspect this will not sit well with some of the Masters on the Council."
I pointed at the droid trying to push its way through the wall into the next room. "These are the same guys who invaded Naboo, right?"
"If they keep causing you trouble, you should just put Anakin in the same room as their control hub, then knock off early and go for a pint, job done."
He sighed. "That would be efficient, I grant, but highly unlikely to happen."
I rolled my eyes. "Honestly, it's like you Jedi enjoy fixing the same problem over and over."
Kenobi didn't reply but he did look thoughtful.
I strode into the room, wand at the ready. "Right, if any of you droids would like to be turned into scrap metal, please point your weapons at me."
"No!" screamed the Nemoidian. "Stand down! Please!"
His order was ignored, and they all drew their blasters in unison, including the ones that had been holding him aloft. As the Nemoidian hit the ground, I duplicated the move I'd performed in the Coruscant hotel about a million years ago, summoning the droids in one go. Only this time, absent a deep rift to dispose of them, I banished the group into a wall. Hard.
"Ugh," Kenobi grunted, giving a shiver of revulsion. "Please stop doing that. I can deal with this."
"I thought you were all right with it?" I queried, as he strode past me.
He ignited his lightsaber and began efficiently chopping the droids up into large chunks. "I have to actively cut myself off from the Force," he said sourly, over the lightsaber's modulated humming and the squeals of severed metal. "That does not mean that I'm all right with it," he declared, finishing the last droid with an elegant pirouette and flourish.
"Oh, is that what you're doing. Sorry, I didn't know."
He grunted, replacing his deactivated weapon on his belt. "Yes, I suppose you would not have been informed. My apologies for my tone."
"Master Jedi, I am so sorry these droids attacked you," the Nemoidian gushed as he got to his feet, looking rather unsteady. He seemed a lot calmer now that the chance of violence directed at him had vanished. "Every droid on the station is malfunctioning badly."
Kenobi turned a sympathetic smile on him. "That is quite all right. However, we do need to discuss the removal of the blockade around Pantora."
"But before we get to that," I said, stepping forward. With a flick of my wrist, I ignited the Darksaber and brought it up to the Nemoidian's neck. "To whom did you sell the Pantorans you abducted?" I asked sweetly.
My gentlemanly tone was clearly at odds with the obsidian blade sizzling at his throat. "We didn't!" he claimed.
"Oh, we both know that's not true," I said easily, looking him up and down.
"Captain, please," Kenobi said soothingly, sliding into the role of good cop as though born to it. "This being may have had no role in any hypothetical abduction of the Pantoran populace."
"He's in charge, he gets to answer the questions," I responded flatly. "Unless of course he would prefer to be tortured. That works for me too."
"I cannot allow you to do that, Captain."
I shrugged, silently wondering if using Legilimency would cause the Jedi any distress. "Fair enough. If you want to go for a walk to stretch your legs, it would be all over by the time you returned," I offered pleasantly.
"Master Jedi, please! Don't leave me!" he begged.
Kenobi sighed. "You must see this from our perspective," he told the Nemoidian. "The last time the Trade Federation blockaded a planet, someone in their hierarchy chose to profit by selling several dozen Nabooans into slavery. Captain Harry – sorry, he's the gentleman with the lightsaber at your neck – has, well, it can only be described as abhorrence for that sort of behaviour. If you know anything, tell us, and I will ensure that he does not hurt you," he said soothingly.
"Please, I can't tell you! I signed a non-disclosure agreement!"
"Observation: I have not heard that excuse before," said a familiar voice from the door. HK strode in, the Sith's lightsaber glowing red in his hand. "Statement: I thought I had heard all possible permutations of meatbags asking me to activate my enhanced interrogation protocols."
Kenobi ignited his own blade and held it defensively against HK's approach. My droid ignored him, simply stomping over to the trembling Nemoidian and glaring at him.
"Evaluation: Master, Nemoidians have substandard physiologies, even compared to human meatbags. However, with care, they can be successfully interrogated by cutting off certain sections of their anatomy."
Hoping that Kenobi would incorporate HK into our game of 'Good Cop, Bad Cop, Psychotic Cop', I rubbed my chin as though pondering his words. "That sounds extreme. Not to mention messy. I was only planning on beating the answers out of him. I want to steal this ship and I don't feel like cleaning up any bloodstains."
"Dismissive: Beatings heal, Master. Dismemberment is forever."
"I must protest," Kenobi offered weakly.
"Statement: Your protest has been logged, noted, and dismissed. Master, might I suggest that instead of removing his limbs intact, you order me to cut them off in thin segments? I believe I have the tools to guarantee segments of no more than one centimetre thick. Lightsaber wounds cauterise quite conveniently, opening up all sorts of opportunities for extended experimentation."
The Nemidian wailed piteously. "Jabba! The Viceroy sold them to Jabba the Hutt!"
Kenobi nodded, looking relieved. "Thank you, my friend. You have done the right thing. There you are, Captain. There is no need to further threaten this individual."
"Disagreement: Inflicting pain is its own reward, Jedi."
I leaned down and whispered conspiratorially, "Just tell me where Jabba is, and I'll leave."
The Nemoidian shook his head. "I can't! Please, the Hutts will kill me!"
HK's new crimson saber swung close. "Statement: What a coincidence."
Kenobi held up a hand. "Captain, please. I can," he started.
I interrupted him with a sharp gesture. "No. This snivelling bastard is going to tell me where Jabba is, right now, or I'm going to order HK to indulge his most depraved protocols, and we'll see if he can make Nemoidian vocal cords bleed just from screaming."
"Tatooine!" the Nemoidian screamed. "Jabba is on Tatooine!"
Kenobi nodded. "Indeed. I was going to say that Jabba's Palace is on Tattooine."
I did a double take at that. I stared at the terrified Nemoidian in bafflement. "I'm sorry, are you saying that the secret you were willing to die for is that… Jabba the Hutt can be found… at Jabba's Palace?" I asked, enunciating as clearly as I could.
Through tears of fear, he nodded vigorously.
Bonkers doesn't even begin to describe the beings of this galaxy.
Rather than leave the Nemoidian sitting in the remains of his battle droids and soiled underwear, we dragged him back to the ABPY yacht and put him in a makeshift brig. It had a sonic shower and a lockable door, so his immediate desires were taken care of.
Kenobi tracked down the other Nemoidians on the station and brought them aboard as well. They were easy enough to move around, sedated into catatonia as they were. Once every living being on the station was on the ABPY yacht, I summoned everyone of note to discuss our next moves.
With the threat of imminent destruction of his ship neutralized, Captain Antilles quite happily agreed to ferry the children down to the surface. It was with great professionalism that the dour officer kept his delight hidden at my declaration that I would be heading off without him or his ship.
Kenobi offered to escort them. That was unsurprising. He probably wanted to meet up with his old master and chat about his Trials.
I offered a bonus to any members of Antilles' bridge crew who volunteered to commandeer and fly the droid controller station to Overt. I figured it would be cool to have another station orbiting the planet, for no other reason than as a lure to draw bounty hunters into landing on it and trapping them in a magical maze inside.
Finally, I asked that Antilles get his maintenance engineers to prepare the Sith's transport for my use. Tyrannus' ship was large enough accommodate a crew of four, so long as those of us who needed sleep didn't mind using the single bunk in shifts.
There were some disagreements however. My assassin droid wanted to go down to Pantora's surface and indulge his destructive tendencies on the remaining droid population, promising that he would limit any collateral damage to 'comparatively minor' levels.
"No HK. I need you to find plans for Jabba's Palace, and work out how to infiltrate it," I insisted, not bothering to even debate the definition of 'comparatively'.
"Evaluation: Tatooine is not over-endowed with competent security specialists, Master. Infiltration is unlikely to be necessary. I suggest entering through the front door and joyously blasting everyone inside."
I rolled my eyes, but before I could respond a familiar voice piped up from the doorway. "I thought you were supposed to be some fantastic combat droid," Anakin said derisibly as he walked into the command room, hand in hand with a shy-looking Riyo. "Jar-Jar could come up with a better plan than that," he finished.
I grinned at the lad, noting that the arm without a high-tech swimming floatie filled with bacta was firmly grasped by a pretty girl. He did not seem opposed to that, nor bashful at the physical contact. He was growing up in all sorts of ways.
"Statement: It is a preliminary analysis only, meatbag," HK snapped.
I shrugged, and said, "If we end up doing that, I'll just call it suppressive fire in my memoirs. How is your arm?"
He had a little trouble meeting my gaze. "It's fine," he mumbled.
I took it as a good sign that his hostility at me had seemingly dissipated. I could not question him about it though; not in front of all these people. "Good. Listen, it's critical that Riyo gets to her parents safely. Can you do that? It could well prevent a war."
He frowned at me. "Of course."
"Thank you. I'd offer to take her myself, but some Pantorans were sold into slavery by the Trade Federation, so I'm going to go and get them back."
That brightened his mood noticeably. "Good! Do you know who bought them?"
Kenobi sighed. "Jabba the Hutt."
Anakin's face fell. "Oh."
"Is that a problem?" I asked.
The boy shrugged. "Jabba runs Mos Espa. Gardulla was considered nicer."
I grinned at him. "Well, if it makes you feel better, I plan on going in with a lot of support."
"Support?' several voices queried in unison.
I nodded happily. "Apparently, I'm the leader of Death Watch. I thought I'd invite my very own mercenary army to come along."
On hearing that I was head to Mandalore to do some recruiting, Kenobi immediately changed his plans. He convinced Sinube to escort the children to the surface and invited himself along with me. I was not unopposed to the idea – I was cultivating allies among the Jedi after all, and we were about the same age, but the speed at which he changed his mind was notable. Something to follow up on later.
With everyone in agreement, we all went our separate ways. I returned the repaired and recharged protean-charmed chain to Anakin and let him know that when he was ready to talk about what happened, I'd take his call immediately. He accepted that silently, but whether that was due to the semi-permanent attachment Riyo had on his hand or not, I couldn't tell.
In the end, Kenobi, Feylis, HK and I boarded Tyrannus' transport and plotted a course for Mandalore. The trip would take several days, time that I spent engraving runes on the transport, making it lighter, cooling the power-couplings, and setting up wards to keep Kenobi from getting ill from magic use. The young Jedi and I chatted for quite some time on the trip, to the point where we were calling each other by our first names.
HK had a remarkable amount of insight into the Mandalorian mindset, having travelled with a fellow called Ordo, who apparently later became Mand'alor – the title given to the preeminent Mandalorian warrior thousands of years ago. While the stories were entertaining, it was the beliefs and values held by the ancient people I found most interesting. Not to mention rather familiar.
Unexpectedly, some of the action in the Mandalorian wars occurred on Onderon, which was one of the inner planets of the same planetary system as Overt and Godric's Hollow.
Obi-wan provided some insight as well, having spent quite a lot of time on Mandalore during the civil war a few years back. He had been separated from his Master after being given the task of protecting the Duchess Satine. The pair spent a long time together alone, though the details of that time were sparse and often accompanied by the Jedi blushing.
I guess that explained why he was so keen to join me.
We reached our destination without incident. Mandalore looked different to the great city-planets from orbit, with vast, empty wastelands and deserts dotted with domed cities barely visible as more than tiny specks from such a high altitude.
Obi-wan managed to talk his way through the immeasurable red tape, all while keeping my name out of the arrival log books. I'd have to identify myself at some point, but the longer I could delay that meant more time before we had to deal with innumerable bounty hunters turning up.
I landed the small ship and we disembarked, leaving HK behind, reasoning that an assassin droid had no business at a peace conference. The droid began a detailed sweep of the spaceport, on the off chance he would receive orders from me to level the place.
The charms on my cloak kept the bureaucrats from paying me too much attention as my lawyer and my Jedi friend efficiently bypassed all the protocol obstacles to meeting with the Duchess. Obi-wan seemed to be as well-known here as Anakin was on Naboo. Feylis was in his element, ably assisting the Jedi by baffling the local officials with the sort of long-winded pettifoggery that gave his profession a bad name.
Unfortunately, for all their efforts, we were still denied immediate access to the Duchess. The leader of Mandalore was currently in deep negotiations with representatives of the Mandalore clans, trying to avoid another civil war.
It only took me one curse to get by the fellow Obi-wan couldn't sweet-talk his way around.
The confounded man led us past the guards around the airy palace's inner ring, and into a large conference room with an absurdly high ceiling.
The Duchess Satine sat at the head of a sculpted table, with her advisors arrayed to either side. At the opposite side sat several clan leaders of Mandalorian warriors. A pair of Jedi sat between the groups, though they leapt to their feet the instant we walked in the door.
The charms on my clothes did not affect Jedi after all.
To Obi-wan's shock and the Duchess' indignation, one of the Jedi shouted, "You!", then lit his lightsaber and stepped forward, approaching me aggressively. Pleased that I now had an excuse to display the Darksaber for the clansmen, I whipped it out and activated it with that odd crystalline burst.
"What is the meaning of this?" the Duchess demanded, her expression radiating indignation like Dumbledore's firewhip. "Put up your weapons immediately! This is a peace delegation!"
I had to give her credit, she had facial features tailor-made for disapproving expressions. From the aristocratic cheekbones, eyes the colour and warmth of an iceberg, narrow nose and pointed chin, she was the very image of birth-right nobility. What surprised me was the way her expression softened when she spotted my Jedi companion. "Obi-wan?" she breathed in surprise.
"Your Grace, forgive our intrusion," he said with a deep bow. "We mean no one any harm."
The aggressive Jedi did not shift until his female companion placed a hand on his arm, gently pushing the weapon down.
I deactivated my own. "Right!" I said brightly. "Not only do we mean no harm, if you give me fifteen minutes, and I'll have you all agreeing to not indiscriminately slaughter each other."
"I think not," the Duchess snapped, gesturing for her guards. "Escort these people out."
"Satine, please," Obi-wan entreated. "This man has the capability to prevent the war you yourself wish to avoid."
She drew herself up, clearly offended at the informal use of her name. "This ruffian? What capability could he possibly have?"
One of the older clansmen at the far end of the retinue rapped the table with his fist. "He holds the Darksaber. Clan Dulat would hear what he has to say."
Another clansman, the one in the centre of the delegation scoffed at that. "He could have pilfered it from Pre Vizsla's corpse."
I ignored him. "As I said, let me speak and there will be no civil war between you. What do you have to lose?"
Obi-wan gave the Duchess a pointed stare and a nod. She looked over the arrayed clan warriors and saw that my presence was divisive to them. She nodded in agreement, less out of interest in what I had to say and more to divide her opponents.
"Good," I said nonchalantly, and sauntered closer to the table. "Let's sort this out."
The negative clansman sneered. "How could you possibly do that. You may hold the Darksaber, but until you prove yourself in combat, Clan Vizsla will not follow you. You cannot demand that we simply stand down."
I smirked at him. "I have no intention of doing so. Quite the opposite. Exactly who are you?"
Satine drew a sharp breath, but the man just narrowed his eyes. "I am Axl Vizsla, of the Clan Vizsla. Do you even know why we are here?" he sneered.
I looked the man up and down. "I can guess. You think that your customs and traditions are being diluted, or even discarded. You believe that adhering to these customs and traditions make your society strong. How am I doing so far?"
He nodded slowly, his eyes still narrow. "An adequate summary."
She glared at me but gave a short nod as well. "I find nothing in your summary to object to."
I nodded and pointed at Axl. "Good. Now, your clan leader Pre Vizsla was the governor of the moon, and when he died on Coruscant his affiliation with the Death Watch became public knowledge. This weakened support for a government already at breaking-point since Mandalore is still recovering from a recent civil war."
"This is becoming tedious," Axl sighed. "We are all aware of our own recent history."
"I am inclined to agree," Satine added loftily.
"Fine. What is Death Watch's position on increasing tariffs on widgets imported from off world, to protect local manufacturing?"
Axl blinked. "What?"
"Too hard? Okay, what are you going to do about the excessive tax rates on businesses with more than twenty employees, and what exemptions are you going to include?"
He stared blankly at me, but I noticed Satine's icy glare thawing slightly. "I see you have experience in governance," she remarked.
"You could say that," I replied easily, not wanting to admit that my 'governance' experience was limited to ignoring as much of Hermione's rants about the pettiness of petitioners to the Wizengamot as possible. I turned back to Axl. "Does the Death Watch's manifesto include increased public services, or will you be simply plundering the wealth of the citizenry? And if so, when will you schedule time to actually take care of the business of governance?"
"What are you talking about?" he snapped. "You're not making any sense!"
Satine drew herself up haughtily. "Captain Harry is suggesting that you have not thought of any issues beyond taking control. There is more to governance than being a ruler."
He snorted. "The people will do as instructed."
I started sniggering, mostly at his complete ignorance, but the expression on Satine's face added some extra mirth. "You think I'm talking about the Mandalorian people? I'm talking about issues your own supporters will bring you before your arse gets a chance to warm that seat," I said, pointing to Satine's high-backed chair. "All those people who support you will form a queue the day you take over and present you with a list of petty grievances. And they will all expect you to give their trivialities the same depth of concern as they do."
"They will-," Axl started, but I interrupted him.
"-do as they're told. Yes. The thing is, you claim that you're acting in the best interests of Mandalore. Well, surprise, surprise, so do they. People are people, and the majority are only interested in what affects them the most."
"That will change," Axl ground out menacingly.
I shook my head. "No, it won't. Bloody hell, if it was that easy to change people, it would have been done already. Look, it takes a very different temperament to rule in war than in peace. I seriously doubt you'd want to be in charge unless there was a war on." I held up a finger in a lecturing pose, and thought about what the Death Eaters claimed to want. "I believe that what you want most is recognition. I believe you crave respect. You want the people of Mandalore to honour your skills and abilities." Channelling my memories of Snape, I continued, "You think those kept safe and secure by your actions and sacrifices should not only recognize your efforts, they should be thanking you on bended knee!"
Axl waved a hand dismissively. "Whether that is accurate or not, the current circumstances are intolerable. I would rather put up with endless prattle from the weak than watch our once great civilisation fall further into ignominy!"
I grinned and spread my hands wide. "Well then, I have an offer for you. If you accept, you will be personally responsible for restoring the Mandalorian reputation for being peerless warriors."
Both leaders stared at me suspiciously, though for wildly different reasons. "Explain," Axl demanded.
I leaned forward, fists on the table. "I am going to free every slave in the galaxy," I stated flatly. "I have the power and the resources to do so. However, I can't be everywhere at once. I will be using mercenaries for escort and guard duty, but I need real warriors – exceptional warriors – to plan and execute assaults on some of the most heavily protected compounds in the galaxy."
His expression indicated that his interest had been piqued. "Why would you do this?"
I snarled. "I loathe slavery. I did my bit to wipe it out on my world, and I will eradicate it from the galaxy. I will supply you with an overabundance of credits, arms and materiel, but your true payment will be your reputation. I reckon that within two years, every sentient being in the galaxy will speak in awe of the skill, ferocity, honour and determination of Mandalorian warriors."
"They already do," Axl declared.
I shook my head. "Ha! Your people just kidnapped a little girl from Pantora at the Trade Federation's behest – for credits. Believe me, no one talks about your honour," I retorted. "Right now, you are a bunch of greedy and amoral, albeit skilled, mercenaries, bought and sold by anyone with enough credits."
"And that will change if we follow you?" he snapped, clearly cynical. "We would just be taking credits from a different source."
I nodded, and began laying it on thick, using HK's memories of travelling alongside Mand'alor. "Yes, it will change. I won't ever ask you to kidnap children for credits. I won't ever ask you to bomb unarmed populations. I won't ever ask you to slaughter civilians. Those actions do nothing to prove your strength! If you accept my offer, you will be pitting your skill and tenacity against the most ruthless bastards around. These are my terms – you will only fight who you choose, on your own terms, with the victors determined by honest combat. There will be no more skulking in the shadows. You will never have to sell your honour for weapons. Though some have forgotten, the Mandalorian people were born for combat. Come with me, and you'll get it."
Shortly after my theatrical monologue, Feylis, Axl and the clans delegation left the room with an in-principle agreement to join me. My Bothan lawyer would document their demands and requirements, and then get them to put their names on a specially charmed piece of parchment. He was quite keen to see my contracts in action.
I popped open my pocket watch as the door closed behind them. "Thirteen and a half minutes, damn I'm good," I said smugly, more for the benefit of the two unnamed Jedi in the room than for anyone else.
As the echo of the double doors closing faded, the Duchess glared at me, her ice-coloured eyes blazing with barely contained fury. "Have you any idea what you've done?" she demanded.
I grinned at her. "Not a clue. Your world was on the verge of a devastating civil war, so I'll guess that by stopping that, I've somehow made matters way worse. Feel free to try and blame me for anything. Everyone else does."
My flippant response did not do anything for her. "You agreed to give a group of aggressive expansionists an abundance of military resources! Do you honestly believe they will do as you wish the moment they have their armaments? There will be no peace now! They will return to conquer Mandalore, and any chance we had to avoid war is now gone!"
She blinked. "I beg your pardon?"
I sighed. "Why is your chance gone? You're the head of state of the planetary government, right? There are plenty of weapons dealers in the galaxy. Go and buy some defences."
"We are a peaceful people!"
I rolled my eyes. "Peaceful does not mean pacifist."
She stormed up to me. "I do not care to be lectured by you or anyone else on our own morality!"
I pinched the bridge of my nose. "Can I tell you about my people? When I was born my world was being terrorised by a gang of violent thugs who believed they had the right to rule. They had a bunch of sympathisers in the highest levels of government, actively hampering any efforts to combat them."
She sniffed disdainfully. "Are you trying to draw parallels between our two peoples?" she sneered.
I didn't answer her directly. "By a stroke of blindingly good fortune – and completely independent of any government action – their leader was… neutralised, almost by accident. Surprised, his followers scattered."
"I fail to see how that is in any way relevant," she snapped.
I held up a hand. "My people's leaders immediately leapt to the conclusion that as the war was over, they were clearly victorious. And as they were victorious, then they were obviously right. They then spent the next fifteen years actively avoiding any semblance of sanity, weakening their defences and slandering anyone who dared to suggest that we needed to prepare for war. As a result, when the inevitable happened and the evil bastard showed back up, it came as a complete shock – except to anyone who wasn't a complete moron – that the society that had been victorious in the war was still woefully unable to fight the next one.
"Violence is never the answer," she declared.
Merlin's balls, this woman was a walking cliché. "It's like you have no concept of nuance. The old Mandalorian idea that you need to constantly wage war is idiotic; you make nothing but enemies and eventually you run into someone stronger. The current Mandalorian idea that the best way for a society to remain peaceful is to disavow violence of any sort is even more idiotic! Death Eaters won't hesitate to take advantage of that!"
She frowned. "Death Eaters?"
I winced. "Sorry. That was what the murderous thugs from my world were called. I lost everything because the people in charge would not listen and just rolled over. My point is that it's completely possible to remain peaceful while still defending yourself."
Obi-wan spoke up. "Satine, please, listen to him. This is an astounding opportunity for peace. A potentially enduring peace."
Her frosty demeanour thawed temporarily whenever she looked at the young Jedi. Clearly, they were good friends – and perhaps more.
One of the other Jedi, a tiny woman with pointed ears, bowed at me. "Indeed. Captain Harry's offer has presented an opportunity for Mandalore. I urge both sides to accept.
"Thank you, Master Fay. I must admit, I am pleasantly surprised," Satine said. At my raised eyebrow, she continued, "with your stated goal of eliminating slavery. You are the infamous Captain Harry, are you not? The man who has the Core planets abuzz with your escapades and refusal to defer to authority, Huttspace howling at your terroristic destruction, and every bounty hunter in the galaxy on your trail?"
I theatrically examined my fingernails. "One does one's best."
He expression could have triggered an ice age on Tatooine.
"Satine," Obi-wan placed a hand on her arm. "The presence of Death Watch sympathisers in your government has left you in a precarious position. Giving them a productive and constructive outlet for their militaristic traditions can be to your benefit, so long as you give them no reason to return to overthrow your government."
"What reason do you believe I have given them?" she demanded.
He sighed. "Your constant public insistence that the Mandalorian people are pacifistic. The warrior clans of Mandalore have always lived by their reputation; every time you announce your strict anti-violence stance, it's a direct attack on their image. If they do follow Captain Harry out into the galaxy in the fight to end slavery, their reputation will grow and they will be respected as honourable warriors. If you cease calling their actions as the antithesis to Mandalorian values, they will have all they want."
She didn't immediately object, so I bit the inside of my cheek to prevent myself from adding my own thoughts and inevitably ruining everything I'd gained. Instead, I decided to leave to give her space to think. "Right, I'm off. I'll take the clans with me. Are you going to be all right staying, Obi-wan?"
He sighed. "I'll be coming with you."
I blinked. "Er, why?" I asked, noting with amusement that I had voiced the very same question in Satine's expression. His statement also appeared to baffle both the other Jedi.
He gave me a wry shrug. "I contacted the Jedi Council while on our way to Mandalore. After I updated them on the situation on Pantora, they ordered me to assist you in your goal to eliminate slavery."
I sighed. Given the level of secrecy in Jedi communications, that meant that every bounty hunter in the galaxy was converging on Mandalore as we spoke. "You mean they want you to follow me around like a puppy and report on my activities," I said sourly.
He looked a bit nervous. "I dare say you're right. But what's a puppy?"
I sighed again. I'd have to work out some sort of mobile warding schema to prevent my magic use from crippling him during fights. Not to mention the effect the Fidelius had on him. "Never mind. Come along for now. We can work out the details later. But we'd better get moving quickly."
Satine interjected. "Oh? Is Mandalore's hospitality not to your liking?"
Getting me away from her was apparently secondary to keeping Obi-wan around. Interesting. Still, I laughed at the idea. "You've been a far more gracious host than I'm used to. I'm just saying we need to go before someone decides to blow up the building or something to get to me. I have an inconveniently large boun-"
I was cut off by an enormous explosion that shook the building. Alarms blared as all three Jedi raised their hands at the ceiling as one. All around the room, chandeliers fell to the polished floor, shattering on contact. The only ones spared that fate were the ones held aloft above our group. The Jedi carefully lowered the priceless crystal pieces to the floor.
I just pinched the bridge of my nose and groaned. I really should know better than to voice shit like that.
AN: Apologies for the delay. Life, bad luck, family issues, and a burned hand prevented me from getting this out earlier. Next chapter is back on Tatooine, and has a lot more action.