This one I didn't give a whole lot of thought to before finalizing as a post (I'm not sure what set Brant off in the beginning, for instance), and after a few days, I realized I wrote myself into a corner. Brant still has more to explore with his family relationships before his big reveal with the Emperor, and the betrayal he pulls here puts him too far down the path of no return than I wanted. I'll still post this story up though, as I do like the timing and the interplay of the different scenes and moods. I can probably adapt a lot of it after spending more time with Brant's homecoming in other shorts. We'll see.
SPOILER information: this part of the story revolves around a pivotal moment in the Chapters plot of SWTOR, however, I gave it my own twist and very little is like how it is in the original.
The flash of the lightsaber came too quickly for Keel’ath to react. It sliced out at him, sliced through him, and he felt oddly lighter as something thudded to the ground.
He looked down and saw his severed arm at his feet. It spat sparks instead of blood, and the fingers were twitching slightly as the electrical equipment went haywire from too much energy coursing along its circuits. His stump wasn’t hurting at least, Keel’ath thought with odd detachment. He supposed the wires had been cut so swiftly they hadn’t been able to send any pain signals to his core.
He then looked up at Brant. Where the man's face had first been purple with rage, now it was near white, pale under his natural melanin. The lightsaber retracted with a zip, and then the Sith was fleeing, using a burst of Force speed to get around the angry generals clustering in his path, knocking one small woman to the floor.
Keel’ath said nothing as the Alliance compound alerted to the attack. He said nothing to the officers turning his way, asking if he was okay; he even ignored one leaning to get a better speculative eye on his mechanical arm. Somebody quickly got up on the screen a map of the compound, with a little lighted blip tracking Brant’s progress as he fled. Keel’ath noted he seemed to be avoiding any more fights, and only then did he break his silence and stillness to press the intercom button.
“Hostile Sith making his way through Wing A, towards Entrance 101-K. Do not engage. Repeat, do not engage under any circumstances. This is your Commander speaking. Out.”
There was a flurry of questions next to him, some enraged at the seeming mercy. Keel’ath just sought for Mako’s eyes in the crowd, found them looking back at him, wide and shining with anxious tears. He gave her a slight nod, his brow easing unconsciously in empathy, then he scooped up the arm and moved out of the conference room without answering any questions. Mako swiftly ducked around the excited bodies and was at his side, hand tight on his good shoulder, just like old times when they were pursuing a bounty through busy city streets. Together, they made their way for the hangar instead of the medical bay.
The first thing Brant noticed as he slowly came back to his physical senses was the rain. It had soaked through even the dense needles of the pine he sat in, right through his robe, and his body was trembling from both its cold and the exhaustion setting in as his adrenalin drained away.
His robe was open at the collar, letting more of the ice-cold water trickle down his chest, mingling with his scared, hot sweat, but he barely noticed. He numbly looked at the lightsaber still clutched in his hand. One side of the double-blade was still on, though he couldn’t remember if it had been that way since the attack, or if he had only ignited it to warn the guards near the compound door to let him through. His mind was shoving hard at the memories, desperately trying to push them from his thoughts, and just as viciously, Brant abruptly threw the lightsaber away.
It disappeared among the trees, flashing briefly like a bolt of lightning, and there was the faint sound of a few severed branches crashing to the ground a few seconds later.
The soft whooshing of rain and wind filled his ears after that. He listened carefully, breath caught in his throat, but he heard nothing but the natural noises of the forest. The Alliance had not sent any hunters after him. Or not yet.
He hung on to his high branch, his knuckles going cold as the blood left them and the rain continued to fall. He shivered, eyes lidding as he thought he might want to sleep, but the fear kept him painfully awake.
Very slowly did it trickle in, like the rainwater at his collar, and he couldn’t tell if the wetness on his face was more rain or produced from his own eyes.
He had sealed his fate. His family would disown him after this. And he would be truly alone.
“It’s not too bad,” Mako was saying, examining his shoulder as their Mantis ship flew low over the forest, headlamps trained on the trees and the ground between them. “This wire will have to go,” she said, poking at one blackened curl, “but the others should solder back in just fine. On the bright side, it’ll give you a chance to do that reflexes upgrade you always wanted, right?”
Keel’ath grunted. Mako had known him for far too long to take his lack of enthusiasm as an insult, and she leaned against him, tucking her head against his as he steered the ship around a few tall redwoods. Her nervous fingers touched his brow and then neck, stroking him more for her sake than his, he knew.
“I’m afraid I’m useless in a forest,” said Mako. “There’s no signals I can intercept at all.”
“And he didn’t take any comms equipment with him,” said Keel’ath.
“Not that I can sense, no...”
Keel’ath took one hand off the controls to squeeze hers, briefly, then took the ship lower to coast down into a valley.
“What are you thinking?” She had never been as good at guessing his emotions as Mirium had been. Or maybe he was just better at hiding them now.
“Not much of anything, if I’m honest. We have to find him first, and that’ll take enough doing.”
“But what are you going to do when you do find him?” She was clearly nervous, but whether for him or for Brant, he couldn’t tell.
“I won’t kill him,” Keel’ath told her. “That wouldn’t solve anything. It would have been far easier in the compound, besides.”
“I’m not sure if you’re trying to reassure me,” said Mako. “You’ve always been pretty bad at it.”
“Honestly, I’m trying to reassure me,” Keel’ath answered. He pulled the ship up and carefully circled a grove of birch trees, then leveled out when the lamps revealed nothing but wet leaves. “We can’t know what the boy was thinking, Mako. He went too far, and he knows it. Whether his hatred goes all the way down, I don’t know.”
“I guess we’ll find out,” Mako said dully.
“I’m just glad Kellaro isn’t here.”
“The last thing we need is those two young bucks going at each other over this. Someone would get hurt.”
They both lapsed into silence, as the darkness grew thicker, and the rain began to resemble long chains of light as it continued to pour from the black sky, sheeting over the glass of the cockpit. Mako clenched Keel’ath’s good shoulder tight as shadows of trees came up suddenly in the gloom, and once or twice, scraped screechingly off the bottom of the ship.
"It’s no good,”said Keel’ath finally. “I can’t see a thing, and the sensors can’t pierce this headwind. We’ll have to wait until morning.”
Mako made a noise, but she didn’t disagree.
The ship’s engines whined as the Mantis gained altitude. Both hunters were plunged into darkness as Keel’ath shut off the headlamps, and a few seconds later, the auto-pilot display lit up his face in blue. Keel’ath then turned to her, taking one hand in his when he normally would have taken both. The auto-pilot beeped serenely in the background, tracking their progress back to base. Keel’ath looked up at her, his expression apologetic.
Mako rubbed the skin just under each of her eyes, then put her arms around him. “Not your fault,” she told him.
“That we can’t find him, or that he ran off to begin with?”
Mako had to think about it, but not for long. “Both. I know you love him, Keel. You couldn’t help your absence.”
“But maybe I could have made up for it better. I could have talked to him more, delegated more of the war effort…”
“And then we’d probably all be dead by now, without your expertise. We’d definitely still be living on the streets of Tatooine...” Mako sniffed up a suddenly stuffy nose, rubbed at her eyes again. “He’ll be okay,” she said quietly, as her hand found him again in the dark. “He’s tough, like you.”
“If only that were the only way he were like me,” said Keel’ath darkly, glancing out the cockpit -- not that there was anything out there to see. Mako clung to him, and he clung to her, and neither spoke again until they were hailed by the landing officer on duty.
Dawn walked across the outside of his eyelids. He was so tired, so sore -- stiff as if he’d run several miles the day before. When he moved it hurt, his tendons remembering only reluctantly that they could still flex, his knees, back and elbows remembering grudgingly they could still straighten.
The forest dripped wetly around him. The rain had ended sometime during the night, but the temperature of the air hadn’t picked up to match. Brant had to clear his throat a few times until he could believe the damp in his throat was from just the fog, not from a catching cold. He wiped his nose, blinked water trickling from his hair out of his eyes, and looked around.
Still in the tree. Still alone.
Slowly, he edged his way to the trunk and began to shimmy down. He didn’t know how he had managed to get up here to begin with; all the memories were as fuzzy as a spice-dream. He saw burn marks and sliced-off twigs here and there, courtesy of his lightsaber. When he reached the ground, he held out a hand and tried to call it back to him. It didn’t come.
He started shivering again as he stood, silent and still, in the silent and still forest. Here and there, a needle fell, with little damp clicking sounds as they met the ground. Wind sighed high in the branches above and somewhere to his right; he sensed the edge of a cliff not too far in that direction. A cliffside meant a break in the trees, and he could maybe get his bearings there. He had been running flat out when he had left the Alliance compound, not caring what direction he went so long as it was away. He had been a little too successful at that, it turned out.
His blood began to circulate more readily as he walked, but he was still deathly cold and shivering. After a moment’s thought, he shrugged out of his robe and left it lying there on the ground, the cold wind drying his bare shoulders and chest more quickly than it could have if he had kept the damp robe on. It could do little for his legs, but he increased his pace to a brisk trot, and that helped a little.
He reached the cliff face and peered out. It was granite, variegated grays, greens, and pinks, almost invisible in the grays, greens, and blacks of the pine forest. A few of the trees around him seemed to glow, their red and black bark saturated with the rain. It was like each tree was trying to pump its sap like his blood, warming their twig-tips like he tried to warm his fingertips. He blew on one hand and then placed it on the tree next to him. It was quiet, like a heavy sleeper, but the Force was thrumming away deep inside it. Brant leaned on it. At least he was not totally alone.
As if brought into reality by that thought, a branch snapped nearby and Brant swung around. He called again for his lightsaber, but even if it was inclined to come this time, it was much too far away: he’d left it far behind. He peered through the tree trunks, each standing straight like solemn sentinels. Most of them were too narrow to hide a person or beast behind them, but still he saw nothing there.
“Hello?” he called, and his voice sounded weak and afraid. He swallowed hard and tried again, more harshly, “Show yourself!”
He turned around to see if he had an easy escape route down the cliff, and then he froze. The air was twisting and bending slightly a few feet out, hovering over the cliff. It hinted at shapes like a Jedi’s robe or a lightsaber or a face, but it never settled into anything he could pick out for certain.
Brant took a step backward, but his foot slipped on the rotten rock, and he was sliding down the cliff in a cascade of gravel and broken sticks. It was only the height of two banthas, but when he came to a stop, two thirds of the way down, his knees and palms were burning from the scrapes. He stayed very still as his momentum eased off, but there was no sound or movement again.
On the exposed cliffside, the wind bit harder at his face, and he squinted and looked up into it. There, again, he saw the strange shapes, but as they hadn’t attacked him yet, he grew braver. He got to his feet, balancing with one hand against the cliff, and called out to them again.
“Who are you? Or what?”
He felt the answer more as a voice booming deep inside his head, and he put his hands to his temples, trying to keep it from vibrating right off his neck.
“Who are you? Stop that!”
“You should recognize me.”
The air twisted, almost like a snake or long-bodied dragon, and he saw in his mind’s eyes a very familiar face: that of his Emperor. Brant quailed and would have thrown himself down if there was anything to throw himself down on but an empty cliff face. As if sensing this, the Emperor laughed, and the rattling in Brant's head began to hurt.
“I am sorry,” the Emperor said, after a sufficient amount of time spent torturing him, or so Brant believed, “but I meant to speak with you, not hurt your head. It was only this way that I could get your attention.”
Brant kept his eyes down and averted in respect from the twisting wind, even as his thoughts raced. He remembered back to the cantina on the Dauntless -- it seemed so long ago now -- and Vette and the others telling him the Emperor was not defeated, but still abroad. Like a ghost, he had been drifting bodiless… and now he had found him.
“That is correct, though only partially,” said the Emperor. “I have been searching for a vessel for some time. Your father would have suited well, but he rejected my offers of power, and now I have come to you.”
“He kicked you out, you mean,” said Brant rebelliously. “We both did. That day on the ice-world, when he was in the carbonite.”
“Oh, hardly. Do not think to aggrandize yourself or your willpower, little Sith. I only chose a different vessel, one easier to hide inside, for so he hides so much from himself...”
“Get out!” Brant cried, slashing at the air with his fingers like he might slash at an enemy with lightning, but there was nothing to direct it at in the empty air. Worse, he felt the Emperor take firmer hold of him, sliding fingers like claws into the reserves of his lightning and pin himself there, rooted in Brant's fear.
“Calm yourself, my Sith. You have been offered a great gift: a power beyond anyone’s imagination. With my help, you will conquer this world and every other. You will sit on a throne and all will bow to your whims, never once thinking of being disloyal to you… for that is your ultimate fear, is it not?”
“You know it,” whispered Brant. The Emperor was inside him, thinking what he thought; he could hide nothing.
“That is correct,” said the Emperor. “You can hide nothing, so you can plot nothing, nothing beyond my ken. Think on this well before you cross me.”
Brant did. He thought about it, and he started shivering again in such a way that had nothing to do with wet skin. “What do you want of me?” he finally asked weakly.
“First, there are my old servants to punish, and I will need your help in doing it. See there, that hill? There is a brightness upon it, if you turn your head just so. It is a beacon, deactivated, left here from many long centuries ago… I knew this would happen, you see. Knew that your Alliance would come here to hide, and so they will meet their end… I only need you to light that beacon, little Sith, and my Eternal Fleet will descend and wreak my vengeance upon the Alliance. In so doing, you will be my Wrath.”
“Upon my family…”
“Oh, yes... The very ones who disowned you? Promised to kill you…”
Brant had not heard them say that, but now he did recall seeing it, in Kellaro’s eyes. That murderous black look whenever he got too close to Vette…
“If it is not you who will obey my commands, then another,” the Emperor continued coldly. “To that other will go all the rewards, and to you, only death and suffering. You cannot escape me. I have foreseen it...”
The Emperor was right, Brant saw. If he didn’t do as the Emperor asked, then the Emperor would find another Sith in the Alliance compound, possess him or her, and trot them out to this beacon instead. Odessen would be bombed, one way or the other.
But perhaps, if he were the one to do it, he could do it in such a way it would harm the least amount of people. When the power was in his hands, he got to choose how to wield it, after all.
“Exactly,” said the Emperor approvingly, and Brant wondered just how many of those thoughts had truly been his own. He saw no other choice for himself however, and carefully, fearfully, he began picking his way down the cliff, and onwards to the beacon. Along the way, he kept his thoughts as still as the forest. The Emperor was listening, and he didn't much want to think about what he was about to do.
He climbed up onto the tiny mesa with its beacon pointing a silver finger at the sky, just where the Emperor had said it would be. As he came closer, the indicator lights lit up, bright red like little conniving eyes. Brant quailed back, but the Emperor only laughed and pressed him on.
Keel’ath was going over mission reports when the red alert siren began to wail. He stared at it, not comprehending, until Theron dashed inside the office and slapped his hands on the desk.
“Oh,” he gasped, looking at the alert light flashing. “Oh. You knew.” He leaned back, hands on his knees, waving vaguely at Keel’ath as he tried to catch his breath. “What... we do?”
For once, Keel’ath didn’t know. Why would the alarm be going off? It wasn’t possible the Eternal Fleet had found them here…
Then the entire office rocked as a blast went off, and several more alarms joined the voice of the red alert. It was impossible, but it was real.
Theron scrambled out of the way as Keel’ath vaulted over the desk, grabbing his blaster rifle from its place at the door and a handheld holo from the dash. His new arm still tingled as he moved it, but he barely paid attention as he keyed up each of his officers. Bey’wan, Lana, Koth -- Theron was behind him so he needn’t call him up -- Kellaro, Torian, and finally, Senya.
“Still no sign of him, Commander,” Lana was saying. “We’re getting some odd interference off of the mountain, though. I was about to send a squad to check it out--”
“Belay that,” Keel’ath snapped. “I need all hands back at base. Man your ships and--”
Another blast. This one threw Keel’ath hard into the wall, and he needed Theron’s help to get to his feet.
Keel’ath shook his head to clear it. “Start the evacuation,” he said. His heart was slowly sinking. The only defenses Odessen really had was how difficult the planet was to find. If the Eternal Empire were already here, then all they could do was flee.
“No can do,” Koth said boldly. “I just got the Gravestone all shined up and ready for action. We’ll meet them head on!”
“Fine,” replied Keel’ath. “But only until the main transports are away. We can’t lose the Gravestone and Odessen both. Torian, prepare your Mandalorians for a ground defense. Bey’wan, get the starfighters in the air. Draw the fire of their ships, but don’t pull any heroics. Your blasters won’t be able to pierce that armor.”
“On it, Commander.”
Even through the flickering holo, their thoughts were clear to each other. “...call off the search for Darth Merce. Put the Jedi to making sure the base is clear of civvies before we shut it down. Aim the Sith wherever you think they’ll do the most damage.”
“Is Brant missing?” Kellaro summoned up the courage to ask.
“Never mind that right now. Major, you’re the farthest from base. I want you to scout ahead and get some of the safe houses ready to receive our people. Most of the troops will have to live aboard the transports for a few weeks until we can sort it. The sooner you do that, the better morale will be.”
Kellaro didn’t immediately respond, and Keel’ath cursed softly. This was not the time for dealing with rebellious sons.
“I’m counting on you,” he added snappishly.
“Yes, sir,” Kellaro finally answered heavily. “I’ll see it done.”
“Theron, Senya, with me,” Keel’ath said. “Time to do the dirty with these Eternals.”
“Just don’t overdo it, old man,” said Theron, but Senya nodded in determination. Keel’ath wished he shared her sentiments.
The Eternal Fleet were falling out of hyperspace in the skies above Odessen, thousands of little streaks like a meteor shower that just went on and on… and on. Brant stood nervously near the beacon, watching. The Emperor had long since gone quiet in his head, though Brant wasn’t stupid enough to think he was entirely gone.
The streaks turned to dots as the ships slowed to normal speeds, then grew larger and larger, forming cross shapes like archaic vibroblade hilts that took up the sky. They flew right over Brant, lights on their masts winking as if in communication with the beacon, then they kept going. The first one was almost invisible in the fog again when blazes of fire started cutting through the clouds, and he heard distant blasts go off like popguns.
Brant lost feeling in his legs and sat down hard. His head was pounding. He almost dared the Emperor to start laughing again in that moment, because he vowed he would rip him apart, but perhaps wisely, the Emperor didn’t. The ships passed on overheard, and Brant was alone with his anger and fear.
Alone… “How is this ruling anybody?” he asked into the gloom.
The Emperor didn’t answer, but Brant could sense him there, grudgingly listening. So he had his limitations, Brant thought. It was true he needed a vessel and was powerless without one. That meant he was dependent on the vessel -- on him.
The Emperor grudgingly acknowledged that, as well. Brant stood up.
“You said I would conquer this world. I do not want to rule over a burnt out husk of a planet. Stop the bombardment.”
“The bombardment is needed to bring down their shields,” said the Emperor.
“No, you don’t need that.” He felt the Emperor grow excited as Brant put together his next thought. “All you need is one person on the inside to flip the off-switch.”
“They believe you a traitor. You would never get in.”
“Dad would believe anything if I told him.” Brant started walking. It was partly sheer defiance, but he was also testing the Emperor, seeing how far his control truly extended. “The place will be in chaos, anyway. No one will notice me slip into the control room. I excel at using the Force for stealth. You know this.”
Apparently the Emperor’s control did not extend very far after all, as Brant’s steps came as easily to him as ever, and he was just climbing down the mesa when the Emperor spoke. “I will stop the bombardment. You will go down to the base, but it is not the Commander you must speak to. Avoid him and all other Sith.”
“Why?” Brant challenged him.
“Because they will sense me, for you have not yet learned to cloak my presence. If they sense me inside of you, they will destroy you. Count on it.”
Brant thought of Lana, and the Emperor leaned on the thought.
“She is Sith. She would not hesitate to betray you, and you know it is I who she hates most of all.”
You don’t understand. It was Lana’s voice, out of a memory. An entire planet. Every living thing. Entire cities, forests, even the oceans... I am as loyal to the Empire as the next Sith, Brant, but even I cannot condone such destruction.
Yes, the Emperor was right.
“Not a word,” agreed Brant. “Not a sight or sound or hair.”
“Then you have your orders, my Sith. See them done, or else you will suffer…”
Vette screwed up her face, gamely trying to ignore the fountain of sparks next to her head. Her goggles protected her eyes and her gloves protected her fingers, but her headdress barely covered her head-tails, and it was truly starting to sting.
“Come on, come on!” snapped Koth from somewhere above her. “Can’t you get this thing moving any faster?”
“I’m sorry, buddy, but the locks are all stuck fast for some reason.”
“Oh, man… I can’t go blasting Eternal ships while stuck in a dock!”
“Just hold onto your hat, already!” snapped Vette. “I nearly got it.” Something snapped off in her hand. “...I think.”
Koth peered at her anxiously, and a Jawa in a little red hood and robe climbed up to her, gesturing and jabbering madly at her in his own language. Vette couldn’t make heads or tails of what he was saying, and she ended up just giving him the tools and moving over. This seemed to be just what the Jawa wanted, however; he gave a few twists and a whack with the wrench she had been holding, then the fountain of sparks stopped and the entire Gravestone gave a jolt like a kaadu tugging at its reins.
Koth gave a great whoop from somewhere above and the ship began rising steadily. “Let me get off of it first!” Vette shouted in alarm.
They were still only a few feet in the air, so tucking the Jawa under one arm, she jumped for it. The Jawa wriggled and squirmed until she let him go, then he was running off, robed arms flailing. Vette had a sudden image of Darth Merce facing down a rancor in similarly swirling robes, though he was of course much taller, when suddenly the Gravestone gave one last burst of engine before it flew off, and Vette had other problems to worry about.
Coughing and waving her hands to clear her nostrils of the engine stench, she ran off the landing pad and out onto the scaffolding. From here she could see the ground assault had begun in earnest. For some reason that no one understood, the Eternal Fleet had only bombarded the area for a few minutes, not even long enough to take their shields down. Most of the transports had departed in the confusion, but a few still lingered, waiting for the slow-loading infirmaries to empty their patients and equipment into their holds. The Commander had ordered a defense battalion to set up around them, and now droids and unmanned walkers were swarming the defensive lines. Torian’s Mandalorians almost seemed to be having fun, but there were so many droids, and only a few of the Mando warriors clad in their beskar armor…
At their fore was one warrior in a particularly battered suit of armor, alternatively firing his blaster rifle into the crowd, swinging it at a too-close droid as if the weapon was really a vibroblade, then calling something in over his helmet’s commlink, and the Mandalorians would break and reform ranks around him like a well-oiled machine. Vette spotted the dark head of Mako as she popped up nearby the Commander, fired a few shots into droids he didn’t see, then ducked down again to find another sniping position.
“Yeah, you get ‘em, girl!” said Vette.
She almost didn’t hear someone dropping down behind her, and she swung around with her blaster pistol out in a panic. Darth Merce was at the other end of it. He just raised an eyebrow at her pistol and pushed its muzzle aside; shamefacedly, Vette put it away.
“Shouldn’t you be down there?” she dared to ask him. “And where’s your clothes?”
He just looked at her, and her skin crawled. She was used to Merce glaring at her, even threatening her with a swift cuff or shock, but this was something different. Rather than filling the metaphorical room with his presence, the Sith seemed distracted and not-all-there.
“Where are the soldiers congregating?” he asked.
Vette gestured wordlessly at the Mandalorians below.
“And my father?”
“Down there with them.”
“Good.” And he was off running, but not in the direction of the ramps leading down to ground level.
“Wait!” she cried, dashing after him. He slowed, this time giving her one of his familiar glares. “Wait. Shouldn’t you be helping them?”
Merce blinked and shook his head, and he began looking all around, counting the doors as they went past. He paused at one junction, growled, and leaped down the other passageway. He then stopped short at the next, hesitating.
“Brant, please just tell me what is going on!” Vette panted as she caught up.
“Why should you care?” he snapped back, and that sounded much more like him. Vette relaxed, putting her hands on her hips and inching out up front of him while he continued to hesitate.
“Why shouldn’t I? We’re friends, aren’t we? Look, if you’ve got a special task from the Commander, I can help you do it twice as fast.”
That made him hesitate. “Are we friends?”
Vette gave him her best “duh” look. He seemed surprised, but Vette wasn’t able to elaborate, as the floor shook from another blast.
“Oooof. I think they’re starting the bombardment again,” Vette said as she picked herself back up off the floor. Merce was, of course, already on his feet, but he had gone very pale.
“No time,” he spit out, and off he went again.
Vette caught him again in the control room, fiddling with the levers on the panel that controlled the base’s shields. “I don’t--” Another blast stole her next words. She caught herself on the wall and finished, “I don’t think that’s the right lever, Brant!”
Darth Merce pulled it anyway.
Vette clung to the wall as they began shaking uncontrollably. “Tha-tha-a-a-at’s th-the o-one that sh-sh-shuts it d-do-own, m-my lord!”
Darth Merce turned to her, blue eyes gleaming oddly. “I know.”
Vette just stared at him.
She heard a faint whistling before it hit. Something exploded, perhaps the control panel, perhaps the door, or maybes something that had detonated just outside the door. She was aware of pain in her wrists as she was thrown violently to the ground, then something man-shaped was falling on top of her, pressing her head into the ground under his protective cover. “Oh, great,” she muttered. “Just how I always wanted to go--”
Then she heard another whistling, and her senses were overtaken by the blinding pain of burning all over her body. Over the agony, she faintly heard Brant screaming, but it seemed to be in anger, not in pain.
“The shields just went down, sir!”
Keel’ath almost didn’t hear it. One of the droid’s blaster rounds pinged off the side of his helmet, briefly clouding the comlink with static. He gave it a good rap with one hand, in the same motion pulling back on his rifle’s trigger and putting another droid down.
“What was that?”
“The shields! Over the base. They just went down.”
“That’s not possible…” Keel’ath flung his head skyward, and in a day full of impossibilities, he saw another had come to pass. The blue glaze-like bubble over HQ was gone, and to make things worse, the sharp tip of a Eternal ship’s lower mast was dragging its way through the clouds. Keel’ath knew another bombardment couldn’t be far behind, and they were all sitting mynox.
“Retreat!” he bellowed, and keyed in the same command to his helmet, where it would flash to every other Mandalorian in the unit. “Get on a transport! I don’t care which one. Go!” He fired off a round at the nearest droid and stooped to grab Mako by the arm.
"But Brant--" she said.
Keel'ath shook his head fiercely and hauled her up. "He's not here. There's nothing we can do for him right now."
"MOVE!" He didn't like yelling at his wife, but they couldn't wait, or they would die. Keel'ath continued to urge her towards one of the transports, hoping he wouldn't have to pick her up bodily in the end, but after one good look at the battlefield from the top of the gangplank, Mako seemed to concede the point and dashed up into the ship. Keel'ath followed after her.
The captain’s expression was agonized as they both tumbled into the bridge. “I’m giving the medical crew as much time as I can to get on board,” he said through clenched teeth.
“How many?” said Keel’ath.
“Th-that was the last one assigned to us, sir.”
“Yes…” He didn’t add the honorific in his horror, pointing out of the windshield. Keel’ath could see lines of floating gurneys and crouching medics still sprawled across the landing pad, smoking holes where some of their assigned transports once stood.
He cursed under his breath. “Bring the ship around, low, and drive it in that direction. Don’t bring the gangplanks up until we’re past the clouds. We’ll just have to hope a few can cling on as we pass....”
“Sir.” Lana was inexplicably at his shoulder. Damned Sith, always popping out of nowhere… “Captain Sunwalker is with me. We’ll try to lift what we can of the gurneys aboard.”
“Hop to it, Lana.”
The Sith saluted, and grabbing the arm of the one-eyed Jedi next to her, they clattered down into the hold. Keel’ath watched as the captain followed his orders, carefully maneuvering the transport down among the lines of refugees. Then they were steadily rising up into the clouds, their wispy tips shredding themselves on the nose of the ship.
The captain contacted the lower decks. “Is everyone in?”
“As in as they possibly can be,” Sunwalker replied over the comms.
The captain gave the command to close the hatches. He waited for the sound of the mechanical lifts to die down, then gave the ship a burst of speed. At least the fog would cover them until they were well out of the sector, and then they could leave the atmosphere and jump into hyperspace.
Keel’ath crossed over to Mako, who was licking at a split lip and gazing out the windshield, hands propped on the dash. She arched her neck when he came closer, looking at him from out of the corner of her eye.
"I'm okay," she said. "I'm not injured."
"You're angry with me."
"No." She didn't look at him. "I'm just... worried... for him." She squeezed the edge of the dash. When he didn't move, she gave him a light shove. "Go look after the others, Commander. I know we had to leave him. I'll be alright. Just go."
"We'll come back for him, Mako."
That got him a little smile, but then she was back to looking out the windshield, as if her eyes could pierce through the fog. Keel'ath thought that was probably as good as he was going to get, and he passed her by, going down into the hold.
What greeted him was chaos, but it was chaos beyond his understanding, for he was a killer, not a healer. He stood back and let the medical officers take charge. Even Lathril Sunwalker was down there among the wounded, holding a gaping hole in one man’s chest closed with his hands while bullying another next to him to bear through the pain and stay awake. Keel’ath nodded to himself. The boy was growing in confidence, at least.
He just wished that was true for all of his kin.
Lana did what she could for the injured next to her, passed on a few orders to an aide, then spotted him and came to his side. “This was all very unexpected,” she said.
Keel’ath sighed. “Tell me something I don’t know.”
“Commander. I wouldn’t normally make such a suggestion, but I do believe this was more than just some sudden malfunction of the shield generators.”
Keel’ath eyed her. “You expect treachery?”
“Got any leads?”
She ducked her head slightly, but her yellow eyes didn’t leave his. “The only one who was unaccounted for before the attack was your son.”
Keel’ath closed his eyes and turned his head away. He didn’t want to believe it, but after the confrontation in the conference room, what else was there to believe? “How long do you think he’s been working for the other side?” he asked reluctantly.
“Hard to say, sir. He couldn’t have known anything before coming out of the carbonite. So at some point between then and now…” Lana shrugged helplessly.
Keel’ath shook his head. “He was aboard the Dauntless all that time, and here on Odessen for the rest of it. There must have been another, at the very least someone to connect him to a spy network…”
“I’ll do a thorough search through the records, sir, but I’m afraid of what we’ll find.”
Keel’ath nodded; there was nothing else to say.
“Sir…” She hesitated. “If… I do manage to find him. Do I have orders to kill?”
Keel’ath listened to the dull throbbing of the pacemaker in his chest. He had not had a heart for a very long time, and the mechanical whirring replaced the sound of a heartbeat. It was still running at double-speed after the exertion of the battle.
“I can make it painless,” Lana added.
“You must do as you see right,” said Keel’ath. “I don’t have the heart to make that order.”
Lana nodded, bowing her head; she understood. Keel’ath said nothing as he turned and went back up to the bridge. He would say nothing at all about the exchange to Mako, instead just coming to stand beside her and looping his good arm around her shoulders.
“Kellaro’s ready with the first safe house,” said Mako. “Shall we meet him there?”
“Might as well,” said Keel’ath.
Mako put one hand on the faceplate of his helm, leaning his head against hers. They watched silently as the stars lengthened outside the cockpit, and the ship leaped into hyperspace.