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First log entry this year. One thousand sixty years after the Great Hyperspace War. At your ready, Master Ulsan.

“Thank you, computer. Commence recording…”

I’ve missed you.

It’s been a long time. I’m sorry. I simply haven’t felt compelled to compose any log entries. I haven’t had the heart to assemble messages for you. Not since… I haven’t been well. I know that’s no excuse; you have a right to know what’s going on. How else would you, if I didn’t tell you?

I’m not a very good chronicler. It seems to me that I was meant to study history, not create it. Even so, it’s not fair to you. You were always so eager to share the minutia of your life, so willing to open up entirely, and I… I have trouble admitting anything to you these days.

It’s been far too long.

“Computer.”

Master Ulsan?

“How many records do you have stored locally, in total?”

Since activation thirty-six standard years ago, this unit has archived four thousand, eight hundred and eighteen messages.

“How many of those in the past ten years?”

Zero, Master Ulsan.

“I see. Continue recording.”

Ten years. I cannot even imagine what it feels like to be forgotten for ten years. You would never let that happen to me, I know. Don’t think any less of me—or maybe you ought to, I don’t know. Let me make it up to you now. Let me tell you everything. Let me confide in you alone.

I could spend days telling you everything that’s happened. From our flight from Coruscant to meeting the survivors in the farthest reaches of the galaxy, but I wouldn’t know how to start. It all seems so interwoven, so convoluted, that I would become absorbed in tale. Besides, after… that day, I have done very little. I’ve been inactive in both body and mind for the longest time. Ever since Coruscant… that was the last message I left for you, I think.

You remember Coruscant, don’t you? It’s funny; you haven’t set foot there in forty years, and yet you probably remember it better than I. I wake up in the middle of the night still expecting to hear the roar of hovercar engines and see the myriad of city lights from my window. There’s nothing like that beyond the Core. Even the largest cityscapes are lacking. Everything’s so quiet out here.

Wandering from one planet to another, I’ve been reflecting on… well, everything. So much, in fact, I wonder if I ever knew myself at all. I wanted to spend my days absorbed in stories, not engage evil and fight it headlong. And yes, you’d tell me to stop acting—and thinking—like such a child. Knowledge of self is the first step on the road to knowledge, you’d say. You’d insist that I’ve known myself all along. This is important; this is my destiny. Distraught and dark thoughts lead to doubt, you’d argue. You’re right, but I can’t bring myself to bear that understanding in my mind.

What are accomplishments worth? Are my studies, my passions, or my skills worth anything at all? What are my titles good for? Without students to teach and followers to lead, what sort of power does my rank grant? What does life mean when death is a natural consequence, no matter what happens?

Death. Death is as natural to life as the Force itself. In a great mystery, the beginning and the end of life seem to be interconnected. Can one exist without the other? The Jedi Order has espoused a philosophy that these two apparently polar opposites are naught but two sides of a credit chit. Even now, in the fifty-eighth year of life, I have yet to understand what purpose death plays in the design of the living Force.

The Force is life. Master Thon insisted that a Jedi was not bound by the limits of what he called ‘powerless flesh’; rather, the Force brings us to a higher plane. The Force is powerful; indeed, it has been said the most powerful of Jedi Masters have learned to conquer death in the Force. If that were true, what does this mean? Are all Jedi capable of this? What influences this power? What does it mean to transcend finality?

But then, you were always better at discerning my thoughts than I. That is why I should confide in you more than I do. Even though you’ve moved on, I am confident these messages will help you help me. I will continue, then, in hopes your wisdoms will reach me on this plane.

I know you love my ramblings. You always have. However, I fear that the computer will grow bored of listening to ontological nonsense. Therefore, I shall entertain the both of you with stories the Force gave me. As with all visions I have received from the Force, their meanings are not quite clear. In fact, I dare not interpret them at all; I fear I will invite more sorrow on myself. These visions are deadly not only to me, but to those around me. I’m not ready for such things.

I hope that—with your guidance—I may discern their true meanings.

*** ***

Coruscant, four years ago.

Ranval Messor smiled. There was a knot just below his right shoulder, and his ankle was throbbing from an unfortunate collision with the bedside table. Sweat lingered at the back of his neck, along his ribs, and just above his cybernetic hands, where his wrists would have been. For all intents and purposes, he was as uncomfortable as he had ever been. The Miraluka’s body was sore, he was tired, and the bitter stank of sweat across his body agitated his particularly keen sense of smell. And yet, in spite of it all, he was happy.

He was happy because he was with her.

Eliorae Latona was fumbling with the subspace radio on top of the table on her side of the bed. A single dark blanket covered their nakedness, but the cool air of Coruscant nights crept about them and caused them to shiver anyway. They said nothing to each other. Eliorae was just as prone to falling asleep without a word as she was to talk with him until morning came. For now, Ranval had to bide his time and wait for Eliorae to finish tinkering with her radio to figure out which it would be tonight.

They had been seeing each other for seven years now. Avoiding the public spotlight proved difficult at first, but their clandestine relationship had become easier as time went on. A Force-sensitive alien—even a Near-Human like Ranval—in a relationship with a prominent Human senator from the Core Worlds was strange, to say the least. If word of their affair ever spread beyond the walls of Eliorae’s apartment, it would have meant disaster for both her political career and his own reputation as a political adviser.

After some time, Ranval had stopped worrying about the nuances behind the dangers of their relationship. All that mattered was that he and Eliorae were together. Beyond that, the objections of nobility and the disgust of the politicians meant little to him.

Ranval turned to face Eliorae again. It was surprising just how loud the radio had to be to hear it over the often-deafening roar of hovercar traffic. Adjusting a few knobs, Eliorae was delighted that the volume controls still worked. Ranval waited patiently while she made sure his encounter with the radio had not permanently damaged it. After a few short minutes, she was satisfied by the sound quality in spite of the soft static beneath the radio announcer’s sluggish voice.

“Sorry about the radio,” Ranval said.

“That old thing? I was thinking of buying a new one anyway,” Eliorae replied, positioning herself closer to Ranval.

“I’m sure. How are you feeling, then? Tired?”

Eliroae shook her head. “Not yet. Don’t worry.”

“I’m not sure ‘worry’ would be the right word,” Ranval chuckled.

“Then what is?”

“Well, I was just-”

The radio crackled loudly, and a news bulletin began that caused Ranval to pause.

“Earlier tonight, we held an exclusive interview with Ebel Ubens, the son of late prominent senator and philanthropist from Foerost, Gesih Ubens,” the gravelly voice from the radio announced. “This was the first time Ebel has spoken with the press since the death of his father, several months into the military tribunal investigating ex-Senator Oro Malthesinores…”

“Ebel…” Ranval muttered.

“I hope he’s doing okay,” Eliorae said. “Between the military tribunal and his father’s suicide, Ebel has been bearing all of his father’s sins in the public eye.”

Ranval nodded. Senator Oro Malthesinores had conspired against the Galactic Republic alongside several respected and long-serving Core World senators, including Gesih Ubens. They seemed to have wanted to provoke a military coup and allow the Sith to take over Coruscant itself. Ranval and Republic Army soldiers moved to expose the their treachery before it could be finalized, but Oro had already fled. When he escaped, he managed to take much of the Republic’s Home Fleet with him, along with many disgruntled soldiers stationed in the frontier. He weakened the Republic’s ability to defend itself, but he also left his coconspirators to face judgment.

Allegations started small at first, with secretaries accusing security workers and aides of working with Oro. Eventually, word got out that Mer Sonin, senator of Abhean, had been one of Oro’s confidants. As a Mid Rim senator whose territory had been conquered during the Jedi Civil War, Senator Sonin had enjoyed popularity and support in his home system. Attempting to salvage his career, Mer, in turn, accused Senators Gesih Ubens of Foerost and Nina Nyvenek of Kuat, both of whom were also very popular amongst their people and on Coruscant. The backlash proved greater than Republic prosecutors expected. Their popularity in the Core Worlds caused some public opinion to turn against the supreme chancellor, and others—especially journalists and politicians—spoke publicly against the allegations, decrying them as feeble attempts to overturn Core supremacy in the Galactic Senate.

Senator Nyvenek was able to successfully flee the galactic capital and received asylum on her homeworld of Kuat. Despite threats of economic sanctions and military intervention, the Kuat system refused any and all attempts to extradite her and continued to hold her in high standing. Senator Ubens was not as lucky. Instead of facing dishonor and potential imprisonment for life on the grounds of treason, Gesih Ubens killed himself before he was called into account for his actions. His popularity reached an apex after that event, and both constituents and a majority of Repubic citizens saw him as a martyr against slander. The outcry against his death was so great that the tribunal ground to halt. His suicide left his son, Ebel, the sole remaining member of his family.

“He’s been strong in the face of opposition,” Ranval agreed at last. “Some say he may run for the position of senator himself someday.”

“I hope so,” Eliorae muttered.

“Let’s catch the interview tomorrow before I leave,” Ranval offered.

Eliorae tensed. Any unease was instantly shrouded by a warm smile and a comfortable nod, but Ranval had caught it. She couldn’t hide behind her politician’s bag of tricks here. Not with him. As a Force-sensitive, he was naturally attuned to picking up on emotional cues, but it was more than that; Ranval had been with her long enough to pick up on these things even without the Force. She could hardly hide anything from him—and it worked both ways.

“Of course, Ranval,” Eliorae added diplomatically, no doubt sensing his suspicion.

“Are you all right?” he asked.

“I’m just fine. I’m tired; that’s all. Work’s been wearing me down lately.”

“What have you been up to?”

“Well, we’ve been receiving emissaries from the Mandalorians. They’re trying to negotiate control of the Mandalorian sector, and the planet Mandalore in particular, with the Republic. It’s sensitive business-”

“I can imagine.”

“-And it’s just a huge PR mess. No one wants the Mandalorians to return to their home system, but why should we deny them? Is that our right? What if we had lost Coruscant during the war? Wouldn’t we want it to be returned to us in due time?”

“We would,” Ranval intoned. “I don’t think they would be so inclined to give it up, though.”

Eliorae brushed off the remark. “What’s more, the Hutts have us on edge; our spies recently informed us that their fleets are amassing on the edge of Republic space.”

“That’s not good,” Ranval quipped. ”We’re not set to handle another war.”

“I know. Everybody knows. Even the staunchest of our militants realize just how incapable we are right now. It’s just a matter of appeasing the Hutts and delaying any open hostilities for as long as possible. There’s nothing else we can do.”

Ranval nodded. “Given a few years, we should be back to full capacity. We survived the Jedi’s civil war, a Mandalorian invasion, and the Sith. It’s just a matter of time.”

Eliorae’s eyes drifted to her hands. Now Ranval was sure she was dwelling on something. Sitting up, he wrapped one arm around her and placed a mechanical hand over hers. For a second, she seemed prepared to reciprocate, but she hesitated and drew back as much as she could from his embrace.

“Eliorae? What’s wrong?”

“It’s… it’s just that…” Eliorae bit her lip. ”The Jedi Order is convening on Telos in two months, Ranval. They’ve informed the Senate. Grandmaster Shan intends to reform the Order.”

“So I’ve heard,” Ranval said, obviously uninterested in the news. ”What of it?”

“What of it? Ranval! Aren’t you going with them?”

Ranval glanced at her pityingly. So that’s what this is about. She was worried. Ranval had not left Eliorae’s side since he been assigned to aid and protect her. During that time, the Jedi Order had collapsed and the Jedi had been hunted down. He had not heard from any of his old friends in the Jedi Order, and he suspected the worst. However, that was not to say the Jedi had been destroyed; a few valiant Jedi Knights engaged the Sith and defeated them, making the galaxy safe again. Assured that the Sith were no more, the Jedi were preparing to convene and increase in strength and numbers.

Eliorae expected Ranval to join these Jedi. She didn’t want him to leave. Ranval shook his head and smiled.

“You don’t understand, Eliorae. I’m not leaving you.”

“No, Ranval, you must!”

“The Jedi Order was a part of my life for a time. It was the force that moved me from living in the slums at the edge of the Republic to the galactic center itself. Nothing more.” Ranval embraced her again. ”I’m here with you now, Eliorae. The Jedi shall not separate us.”

Tears crept from Eliorae’s hauntingly blue eyes, streaming down her face and dripping onto Ranval’s bare chest. She tried to stop herself at first, but Ranval’s presence and his attempts to soothe her only made her cry more. The radio was at a whisper now; it seemed that Ranval had actually broken it earlier.

“Don’t worry, Eliorae. I’m here.”

“No… I… I can’t be with you.”

Ranval flinched. “W-what?”

“I can’t…” she sniffed. ”The Jedi Order needs you, Ranval. They need you more than I do. You’re a Jedi Knight; you can’t forsake that part of you, and I cannot deny them of it. And…”

“And?”

“The… the media is starting to talk,” Eliorae said, mustering all her strength to continue. ”It’s an election year, you know. All the candidates try to dig up secrets to use in their campaigns. I’ve heard the rumors. People are starting to talk… about us…”

Ranval must have gaped at her, because Eliorae was pleading with him to wait and not take what she was saying the wrong way. It wasn’t worry at all. She had not been sad at the idea of losing him to the Jedi. She had wanted him to go to the Jedi! She was afraid that their private dalliance would be exposed and she would lose her election. That was all she cared about.

Eliorae placed a hand on his chest. “Ranval, please-”

“No, I get it. You’re a senator. I should have expected this from you,” Ranval snapped.

“What does that mean?” she asked in an equally defensive tone.

“It means you never intended to carry this relationship through! You were only here until it threatened your work. Now it’s too dangerous! Now that it’s inconvenient to you, it’s over.”

“No…” Eliorae whispered. ”Ranval, it’s not like that.”

Ranval’s clawed metal hand trembled. He tried his best to focus on what Eliorae was saying. It was a logical thing to be concerned about. She had not suggested that she was happy about this turn of events—far from it, in fact. Eliorae was concerned about his reputation as much as hers. But he couldn’t see it as anything more than an attack. He saw it as an abrupt and brusque end to a relationship that was only now taking shape.

“Really? Then what is it? Do you not love me?”

Eliorae started crying again. “Ranval…”

The longer he looked at her, the more he sensed her, and the more his mind intermingled with hers thanks to their intimate connection in the Force. As her regrets flooded into his mind, the more disgusted he became. He did not know whether he was angry with himself or furious at her. In the end, it didn’t matter. There was nothing more to be said. Ranval stood up, escaping Eliorae’s attempts to keep him near her, and moved to put his clothes back on.

“Ranval, please don’t go!”

He didn’t say anything. Tucking his white undershirt into his dark trousers, the Miraluka did the best he could to drown her out. With an ever active Force sense, that was almost impossible, but he tried. He was halfway through pulling his arms into his jacket sleeves when Eliorae leapt behind him, embracing him from behind. She still wasn’t wearing any clothes, and she was entirely cold to the touch. Her hair was draped over his shoulders, and she was shaking as she stood there, crying into his back. Holding his arms in hers, she kept him from donning his jacket.

“Eliorae…” Ranval sighed. ”Let go. Please.”

“I can’t. I can’t. I can’t.”

“Yes you can. Let go.”

“Ranval, I don’t want to let you go. You don’t know how much I love you. You have no idea how much I want you to stay here—you make me happy, Ranval. Happier than I’ve ever been. But I know that if we stay here, neither of us will do what is best for us—and for the galaxy! My job as a senator must come first. Your duty as a Jedi must come first.”

“I’m not a Jedi,” Ranval spat. ”I’ve never been. I don’t know why-”

“You are!” Eliorae raced around him so that she was standing face-to-face with him. ”Ranval. I don’t know if I have to tell you ten times or ten million. Your hands did not make you a Jedi. Your lightsaber did not make you a Jedi. Your rank did not make you a Jedi. You are a Jedi for what’s in here.”

Eliorae laid a hand against his chest. Ranval grimaced. The thought of her being right—and his own self-abjection—was difficult to accept. He hardly knew what he was doing now. Sighing aloud, he pulled off his jacket and placed it on Eliorae. Once she was covered, he drew her into an embrace.

Neither of them said anything for a long time. They couldn’t. Both of them knew that, no matter what they said now, Ranval would be preparing to travel to Telos in the morning and Eliorae would be working in the Senate offices alone for the first time. It was not something they could avoid. Ranval called it the dour will of the Force; Eliorae called it the greater good. Whatever it was, Ranval hated it. This was their last night together.

“It’s cold here, Senator. Why don’t you come back to bed with me?” Ranval said at last, beckoning behind him dramatically.

Eliorae smiled meekly. “Master Ranval… thank you.”

*** ***

They haven’t seen each other since. Eliorae Latona retained her status as queen and senator of Alderaan, and she returned to her homeworld to see to it that it was restored to its former beauty. Alderaan has recovered from its Sith occupation in its entirety; the scars of the Qel-Droma and Benax families are no more. Cities have been rebuilt, companies have been reorganized, the people are happy, and the government is united under her rule. Crucial in revitalizing the galactic economy, Alderaan has become a bastion of strength in the new Republic infrastructure. With steadfast allies in Corellia and Foerost, Alderaan is leading the Core Worlds in the slow and tedious task of galactic revitalization.

Ranval, my old Padawan, was gladly accepted back into the throngs of the Jedi Order. Did I not teach him the importance of sacrifice, or did I overemphasize it? Did I not instruct him on his purpose, his duty, his strengths? I failed him in my training; he has held so much bitterness against the Jedi Masters, but—even worse—he was always resentful of himself. His fear cost him friends on Taris, his weakness cost him his hands on Alderaan, and his duty cost him his love on Coruscant. I know that better Jedi than I can heal the wounds he still has. He will become a greater Jedi than I.

I thought all the Jedi were dead. I thought my companions and I had been the last remnants of the Order. Yet, if I had known so many men and women had been preserved, would I have done what I did? Would I have risked others and myself for the sake of defeating the Sith? Would I have bent to the will of my companions? I regret everything. I should have abandoned the few stubborn ones to save the remainder of my students; if I had possessed such strength, I would have saved a few, perhaps.

Ranval and Eliorae abandoned each other for the sake of others. I know that I could never leave you; it took all the powers of the Force to keep you from me. Even now, these words connect the two of us as if you were with me personally. All I do know is that, if not for a few final duties, I would join you immediately.

I have been called the Seer of the Jedi. Prior to the Mandalorian War, I predicted treachery from within our own Jedi Order. My precognition earned me the respect of my peers and the attention of my betters. My occasional glimpses of the future allowed me to be elevated far beyond my abilities. Without a means to identify those traitors, my vision was essentially useless, but no one seemed to care. It was not until the Jedi Civil War I recognized its significance. If I am a seer, I must be blind! To see the future and be unable to act upon it because of ignorance gnaws at my being.

Can’t you help me? Can’t you impart some of your wisdom upon me? If only I knew more than I do now, I could have averted tragedies and saved those I cared about. What am I supposed to do with indecipherable prophecies? Who can I share them with but you? What can I do but dwell on them until madness overtakes me? I have tried and failed to interpret them. Only destruction follows.

A seer who has seen the very will of the Force, but cannot act on it. I am a man who has been given all the power he could want but cannot wield it. I am a leader who has been given followers and pupils but is unable to rally them successfully. I am something to be ashamed of. The Jedi Masters who appointed me to the Council, who granted me knighthood, would scorn me now.

Let me share another story with you. I just want to understand what all these things mean. Please teach me.

*** ***

Dxun, five years ago.

Jhosua Weros rolled to the right. It was a preemptive maneuver, but just barely. His opponent’s quarterstaff swatted at the air where his head had been only seconds before. Completing the dodging roll, Jhosua returned to his feet and faced his enemy in a single motion.

The crowd around the battle circle whooped and hollered for the match to continue. Although Mandalorians did not necessarily crave violence and could be peaceable at times, their devotion to honor sometimes manifested in barbaric ways. For example, duels in the battle circle often meant one combatant would gain respect, honor, and occasionally rank through glorious victory. To the Mandalorians, duels were entertaining pastimes and a means of establishing societal dominance.

Jhosua Weros held his combat staff at his side with both hands, angling it upward so he could block incoming blows with ease. Since he was not a member of the Mandalorian clans, Jhosua was prohibited from wearing their armor. Instead, he donned a suit of dark purple armor with gold trim and gray sleeves, protecting his entire body. Without a helmet, his amber hair reached outward like a fiery mane.

His opponent, like the vast majority of his brothers, wore the armor of a Mandalorian Neo-Crusader. The armor was still familiar to so many around the galaxy so many years after the war that popularized it, and yet very few were still alive who had fought in those campaigns. The heavy gold armor he wore was just as effective as Jhosua’s own, if not more so. Unlike Jhosua, the enemy combatant had a helmet that covered his head, leaving only a small triangular visor for his eyes. Holding his weapon steady, the Mandalorian took several steps toward Jhosua to close the distance between them, but refrained from attacking.

“Come on, Xarga! Take him out already!” a Mandalorian from the crowd called.

Jhosua shook his head. “It looks like our audience wants this match over. Let’s go, Xarga. Maybe if I close my eyes, you can hit-”

The Mandalorian drillmaster’s staff struck Jhosua in the face. He didn’t even have a chance to defend himself. In an instant, Jhosua was on his back, and his weapon had slipped out of his hand. The crowd cheered manically when he went down, but their shouts were drowned out by a terrible ringing noise in Jhosua’s head. The pain caused him to black out for a few seconds; when he came to, he could taste the bitter tang of blood on his lips and realized that his nose was broken.

Clambering to his feet, Jhosua stood up and realized that Xarga was no longer paying attention to him. His opponent had turned his back to him and figured the match over. Talking with a few of the younger warriors in the crowd, Xarga was no doubt advising them against arrogance and encouraging them to always pay attention during battle. It took a few seconds for Jhosua to realize that they were both still in the battle circle, meaning the duel was not yet officially over. How convenient.

Most of the crowd had already dispersed, giving Jhosua the advantage of surprise. It was unsportsmanlike, but if the drillmaster insisted on underestimating him, Jhosua had no choice but to show him the error of his ways. Grappling onto Xarga’s neck as he was still talking to a few of the younger Mandalorians, it took a few seconds for the Mandalorian instructor to realize Jhosua was attacking him; by then, they had both fallen to the ground. The crowds, assuming the match over, suddenly rushed back to the battle circle when they realized Jhosua was still fighting.

“Pull that coward out of the battle circle! That was a cheap shot!” one of the younger warriors shouted.

A few other spectators expressed agreement, and that was encouragement enough. Entering the battle circle, three armored Mandalorian warriors bodily lifted Jhosua from his position on the ground—even as he punched and kicked back at his toppled opponent—and dragged him into the crowd. Unlike the younger warriors, some of the more veteran combatants frowned upon ending the match prematurely, even if Jhosua’s actions were quite deceitful. The arguments between the older and younger warriors escalated quickly, and soon the host of Mandalorians around the battle circle erupted into a violent frenzy.

While chaos broke out around the battle circle, Verita Weros kept a sharp eye on her husband from the window of their home. Although she considered it an apartment, it was really just a refitted barracks that had been used by Mandalorian families since Mandalore the Preserver resettled the abandoned military outpost on Dxun. The balcony where she stood had likely once been used as a rifleman’s perch or a base guard’s lookout point. Verita was situated at such a height that she could see Jhosua even in the midst of the rioting around him.

Since moving to Dxun, Verita had allowed her red hair to grow long again, wearing it in a ponytail. She neglected combat gear for dresses, and weapons for cutlery. Initially, she was surprised that she was not jealous of her husband’s foolhardy and violent activities. All the difficult technological, engineering, and quartermaster work had been done in years past, and there was little to do except engage in mock battles and honor duels. Even the females in the camp participated in training, scouting, and hunting. Verita, a former Jedi warrior and Republic strike leader, had enough Force power and lightsaber competency that such feats of strength were pointless; she could best any Mandalorian in the camp—except perhaps Mandalore himself.

Her time as a warrior seemed to be behind her. Vestiges of her past self, the woman she had been before being captured by the Sith, corrupted, and turned into a Dark Jedi, were creeping into her personality. Long ago, she had been primarily a Jedi healer, serving in non-combat roles and shunning violence. As time moved on, she began to embrace her previous philosophy and largely ignored the rush that battle brought. Now, she felt more inclined to let her husband play his silly games and earn honor for their family while she remained at home, ever watchful but never joining him in his work.

Verita had been so caught up in thought that she didn’t even realize that someone was tugging on her flowing green dress. Glancing down, she saw one of her daughters staring up at her with a worried look on her face. She had fair locks on her head and her eyes were colored like bronze with an inquisitiveness not unlike her father’s.

“Mommy?”

“Yes, Glacis?” Verita asked.

“Where is daddy today?”

A smile had crept on Verita’s face. “Here, let me help you see.”

Taking Glacis in her arms, Verita placed the young girl so that she was sitting on the balcony railing just in front of her. Glacis initially protested, whimpering at the thought of sitting so close to the edge. After reassuring her of her safety, Verita made sure that Glacis would not try to squirm about and endanger herself. She pointed toward the battle circle in the distance.

“Do you see that crowd?”

“Mmhm,” Glacis said.

“Daddy’s in the crowd. He was in the battle circle again.”

“Will he be okay, Mommy?”

Verita smiled again. Even at such a young age, Glacis was constantly concerned for her father’s safety. She had been born shortly before they had arrived on Dxun, and she had never known of her parents spacefaring adventures. Mandalorian culture as it was, Jhosua came home beaten up and bruised more than once. At first, Glacis was mortified seeing her father so hurt. In time, her terror gave way to curiosity, which in turn became childish delight. While Verita healed him through the Force, Glacis would sit next to them and ask her father questions about the fight he had been in, how many people he had defeated before finally being overwhelmed, and if he had mommy with him, could he have won.

It was the stories of her father’s daring exploits that excited her the most. His injuries, compounded with the daredevil antics he was so prone to, sparked a passion for roughhousing that Verita had only seen in young Mandalorian boys Glacis’s age. Verita had expressed concern about the negative influence Jhosua’s actions were having on Glacis’s growth, but he merely shrugged them off. ‘Not all girls have to play dress up and enjoy dolls, my love’, he had once said in his usual, deadpan tone.

“Yes, dear. You know your father is capable of holding his own,” Verita replied.

“He’d be safer if I were with him!” Glacis announced assuredly, placing her hands on her hips. ”I’d help him fight off ten more than he could by himself!”

Verita laughed. Lifting Glacis from her seat, she returned her daughter to the balcony’s floor. “You’re a little soldier, aren’t you?”

“Yes!”

“Where is your sister, Glacis? If there is anyone you should be looking out for, shouldn’t it be her?”

“Aww, Fier is okay, mommy! She was reading. I knew she couldn’t get into trouble, so I left her alone.”

“Let’s go see her anyway,” Verita said. ”She probably misses her sister.”

Glacis ran back into the house with childlike vigor. Verita followed her, slower, closing the transparisteel door to the balcony behind her. Walking over a few plastic toys, torn up pieces of flimsy, and scattered clothes, Verita picked up as much of her daughters’ mess as she could as she passed through their main room. By the time she had reached Glacis and Fier’s room, her arms were filled with assorted playthings.

Fier was two years Glacis’s junior. A quiet girl, Fier enjoyed activities like drawing and playing with musical toys far more than her sister. Her hair was a brownish-red, and her eyes a bright green that were almost as green as Verita’s dress. She was sitting on her bed, reading a book about a particularly adroit mynock and his bantha friends when Glacis and her mother came in, but she didn’t even look up or acknowledge their arrival. Jhosua and Verita had only recently taught her how to read, but she was already absorbing all she could with her newfound skill.

“Good morning, Fier,” Verita said.

“Hi, mommy.”

“How are you?”

“Okay.”

“What are you reading?”

Fier lifted the cover of her holobook so that her mother could clearly read the title, as if she couldn’t already. Once she was sure her mother had gotten a chance to inspect the cover, Fier returned it to her lap so she could continue reading. Glacis jumped onto her sister’s bed, resting her head on her younger sister’s shoulder.

“Do you want to play, Fier?”

“Not now. I’m reading.”

Glacis frowned. “You can read later! Play with me!”

“But I’m reading…”

“Verita? Girls? I’m back,” Jhosua’s voice called from the door.

“Daddy!” Glacis forgot about her plans of playing with Fier immediately. Jumping from her seat on the bed, she raced out of the room to greet her father.

“Aren’t you coming, Fier?” Verita asked.

“Soon. Still reading.”

“Come on now, dear,” she said.

Verita placed her daughter into her arms, ignoring the fact she was still reading, and carried her into the living room.

“Mommy?”

“Yes, dear?”

“Is Thertos going to visit us again soon?”

Verita thought for a moment. “Thertos is probably busy with school right now. We can ask daddy if we can go to Telos and see him, if you would like.”

Fier nodded. “I’d like it.”

Glacis was already talking with Jhosua by the time Verita and Fier arrived. Taking a moment to separate himself from his questioning daughter, Jhosua kissed his wife and then his youngest daughter. To Verita’s delight, Jhosua wasn’t too beat up; his nose appeared to have been bleeding earlier, and his right forearm seemed to have been bruised, but that was all the obvious damage.

“I see you decided to keep yourself from getting sent to the medical ward,” Verita noted.

“Anything for you, love,” Jhosua said wryly, stealing another kiss.

“What happened, daddy? Why were you fighting?” Glacis asked.

“Well, you see, I was sparring with Drillmaster Xarga,” Jhosua began, ”but the fighting was going kind of slow. I tried to get him to take me seriously, but it… didn’t go as planned.”

Verita glared at him. “You goaded him on, didn’t you?”

“No!” Jhosua looked at Glacis instead of his wife. ”I just encouraged him to speed up the match a bit.”

“Did the others start fighting because you lost?” Fier asked.

“No, I… attacked Xarga from behind after I had fallen over. They forcibly ended the duel.”

“Jhosua…” Verita said with a sigh.

“Good job, daddy! Did he know you were coming?” Glacis asked, beaming.

Jhosua smiled. “Nope. Didn’t even hear me.”

Verita was about to chide Jhosua for his foolishness when there was a knock at the door.

“Come in!” Verita and Jhosua said at once.

The metal door slid open, revealing a Mandalorian clad in blue armor. He was a bit jittery, and it seemed as though he was not quite sure where he was.

“Ahem… Jhosua Weros?”

“Yes?”

“Mandalore wishes to speak with you,” the warrior said. ”It’s urgent.”

“Very well. Should I bring anything?”

“Nothing, sir.”

Jhosua turned to face his family. “I’ll be back before dinner. Promise.”

“You might as well not even promise,” Verita said quietly, watching Jhosua head out the door.

Jhosua turned back and watched the door to his home close behind him. Following a few steps behind the Mandalorian messenger, he couldn’t help but get the feeling that this meeting was not going to be a good one. Very few Mandalorians actually met with Mandalore on a regular basis; in fact, his aides were some of the few who actually knew what he looked like. Otherwise, from normal days to festivals, Mandalore the Preserver attended to his own affairs, monitoring activity inside the base and around it on Dxun.

Jhosua had often wondered how orders were passed around so efficiently without a proper leader. To be sure, associates would send Mandalore’s orders throughout the camp to commanders, drillmasters, and technicians, but Jhosua thought it was terribly ineffective. The Mandalorians, in particular, were an honor-bound people who lauded their leader, so wouldn’t it be difficult for them to follow orders from a figure who was never present?

He expressed none of these concerns or thoughts to the messenger who brought him to Mandalore’s compound, nor to the guards stationed just outside their leader’s operation room. Even standing before Mandalore himself, Jhosua found that his questions were irrelevant in the presence of the armored figure before him.

This was the first time Jhosua had seen Mandalore in person. Standing at least two meters, the leader of the Mandalorians towered over him. There were only a few droids and a handful of technicians in his compound, and he was larger than all of them as well. He was the only one among them who carried a weapon, but his blaster rifle was holstered across his back for the time being. Like the people he led, Mandalore the Preserver wore armor that concealed his entire body from head to toe. Heavy durasteel plates shielded his vital organs and the area around his joints, while the remainder of his body was protected by a thick black bodysuit. His helmet was the same metallic color as his armor, coupled with rebreather tubes connected to a combat pack on his back. Mandalore’s mask was striking because it had a T-shaped visor instead of the triangular slits his soldiers’ adopted.

“So you’re the one who everyone’s been talking about,” Mandalore boomed.

Jhosua frowned. “I’m sorry?”

“When Kerre brought a Republic soldier and his Jedi wife here, everyone told me you’d be trouble. They were right. Do you realize the mess you’ve been causing around my camp?”

“No, sir,” Jhosua responded in his best dry, military-like voice.

“You’re quite a nuisance. You’ve bartered your way into staying here for free—you don’t pay for food, equipment, or amenities. You’ve fought your way through the battle circle employing cheap tactics and dirty tricks-”

“Yes, sir.”

“-And I cannot find any reports on your behavior or findings during our scouting missions,” Mandalore added, ”which tells me you haven’t actually undertaken any.”

“No, sir.”

Mandalore crossed his arms. “Do you have any explanation for this? If not, I’ll just send you and your family on the first shuttle to Onderon.”

“Don’t get me wrong, sir. I don’t mean to go about like I’m living the good life here. I was… discharged from the Republic military, and my wife is a former Jedi. Neither of us are very popular in Republic space. Before Kerre found us, we were wandering the stars,” Jhosua explained.

“That doesn’t answer my question,” Mandalore noted. ”Why should I let you and your family leech off my camp?”

“I wouldn’t call it leeching-”

“I would. We’re warriors here. We Mandalorians are interdependent on each other. If you insist on living otherwise, there’s no place for you here.”

“Mandalore, I only fight in the battle circle so I can gain the respect of you and your men-”

“Ire would be more accurate,” Mandalore interjected.

“I suppose. But I actually do want to integrate into your camp. So does my family. As outsiders, it’s rather difficult to prove ourselves. Your scout commanders wouldn’t trust me on missions. The other mothers in the camp look warily on my wife because she’s a Jedi. My children are often teased because they have no clan. We’re trying our best, Mandalore.”

“Your best should involve giving back to this community somehow.”

“I’ll do what I have to do to earn my keep, sir,” Jhosua said.

“I was hoping you’d say that.” Mandalore walked away from the holographic projector, standing in front of another terminal. ”I would like you to be my diplomatic representative to the Republic.”

Jhosua’s eyes widened. “Excuse me?”

“You have the most experience with dealing with the Republic. I thought you would be able to help us negotiate with them,” Mandalore explained.

“Mandalore, I’m not a diplomat! I’m a soldier—like the rest of your men. I have about as much experience dealing with Republic bureaucracy as a smuggler in Republic space. You can’t be serious.”

“If you’re so concerned, you can consider yourself a cultural representative. In fact, you won’t even have to do anything important. My men and I will do most of the talking,” Mandalore explained.

“So… why would I be there?”

“You’ll explain any bizarre customs or phrases to us. Plus, it would be a good way for my men to learn how to trust you.”

“I didn’t know I’d be dealing with politicians…” Jhosua muttered.

Mandalore turned back toward his work. “Well, you can join the negotiations or you can enlist in the scouting patrols. We always need more scouts. Consider your options and inform me of your decision in a few days.”

Jhosua did not get a chance to respond to Mandalore. In fact, he realized he was at a loss for words as he was escorted away from Mandalore’s compound. The next few minutes, he wracked his mind for an answer to his question despite the fact the they were now nowhere near each other. He found his way across the Mandalorian complex while utterly perplexed, much to his surprise.

Was Mandalore actually asking him to work against the Republic? Could he do that? Was he capable of challenging the very system he had once loyally obeyed? He knew that venturing in the jungles of Dxun was terrible work, but the more he thought about the offer Mandalore made to him, the better scouting sounded.

For now, at least, supper was waiting for him at home, and he had to consult Verita on these matters. She would know what to do.

*** ***

Jhosua proved himself an able diplomat, much more than he or anyone else initially expected. He had no prior experience to speak of, but Mandalore believed that his trickery and capacity for deceit would be just as useful amongst negotiators as it was on the battlefield. In a sense, he was right. Jhosua spent days and nights laboring over holobooks detailing system laws, treaties, rights, and ordinances that could prove useful. Verita, who had been trained in diplomacy while studying as a Jedi, instructed him in its finer arts. In one of those rare instances where theoretical knowledge translates perfectly to practical skill, his acumen startled Republic diplomats, Mandalore, and even himself.

Jhosua’s actions earned him a place on Mandalore’s advisory council, the highest position a military official could achieve beyond the rank of Mandalore itself. Verita spent even less time around the Mandalorians, despite the fact that her husband’s status afforded her a great deal of respect and lessened suspicion about her Jedi past. She preferred to remain at home, watching over her daughters and training them in the ways of the Jedi. It was to her disappointment that neither of them were Force-sensitive.

The two children Jhosua and Verita were given have reshaped their lives. No longer can they wander, as vagabonds in search of credits, from spaceport to spaceport. No longer are they haunted by their pasts. They have found a home, strange though it may be, and their lives are now their own. Their children bind them to a single place, where they can be nurtured and cared for. Their lives have given their parents new purpose, new hope, and reworked their fate in the strangest of ways.

Perhaps the mystery of death can be solved, as the ancient riddlers suggested, by looking at its counterpart: life. Would our living be insignificant without a dying? For a long time, I scoffed at this notion. After all, what does death do but steal away all that our living has obtained? Surely, our existence has a merit that our nonexistence does not. But, as it has been said, if the Force has power over death, then can it be said that death begets a state of nonexistence? There must be something beyond our place here, in the galaxy, that the Force can lead us into. A place where the wisest and most powerful of Jedi have gone.

If that is the case, then why do we remain here? If the Force is infinitely our greater, why stumble while we are separated from it? Why not join it entirely? You’d call it depressive nonsense; I call it logical necessity. But I would not dare get into a discussion on semantics with you. You would best me on my best of days.

Let us examine a moment where the Force gives life. Perhaps it will help me better understand why it takes it away from us.

*** ***

Telos, ten years ago.

Fetcher hated medical facilities. Everything about them seemed to hint at broken spirits and futility. Most of them, including this one, were bathed in white paint and subject to painfully bright lighting, as if to expose any hidden uncleanliness. The color white alluded to life in most cultures, but the longer Fetcher spent in hospitals, the less life he saw. Their staff, ranging from somber doctors to cheerless nurses, kept a look on their face as one in battle who held out while outnumbered, hoping for reinforcements until the bitter end. Even the droids seemed to know that their patients were a bad reaction or traumatic spasm away from death.

The last time he had been in a respectable hospital, Fetcher had been with his mate, Irinna. She was to give birth, but there were complications with the procedure. Despite the best efforts on the part of some of the finest doctors in the frontier, Fetcher and Irinna’s child had died. It was a boy. He had not survived a minute outside his mother’s womb. Since that day, Irinna had cried herself to sleep, praying to the gods of their people for the life of her son that had not even had a chance to begin.

Fetcher had lost such hope. He hated the medical professionals and their incompetence, but he also rejected the gods of his people when they proved incapable of saving the life of his only child. Since that day, Fetcher and Irinna did not try to have another child, nor did they want one. The grief was too much, too fresh, too powerful for them to even consider it.

Warped by a power that only raged offered, Fetcher ceased to be merciful toward his victims and cordial to his allies. Obsessed with the despair that came from the death of a loved one, Fetcher became known as the Hound of Baskarn, a being spoke of in whispers and rumors from Ryloth to Coruscant. With a fleet of nearly two hundred ships, Fetcher commanded a criminal empire that was second only to the galactic-spanning Exchange and the Hutt trading networks.

In utter contempt for the Shistavanen who had rejected them, the gods set out to demonstrate their power to the Hound of Baskarn yet again. During a trade route dispute, Irinna was captured by Exchange thugs. Initially, they tried to use her as leverage against Fetcher during those talks, but Irinna proved too difficult to handle. Through some torture that Fetcher had never dared dwell on, even in his darkest nightmares, Irinna’s spirit had been crushed by the Exchange and she had been sold to nobles on Coruscant as a slave.

Despite increasing external pressure from the Exchange to submit to their authority and dissidents within his own ranks, Fetcher orchestrated an intricate and daring plan to rescue his mate from Coruscant. It was foolhardy in retrospect; his plan involved an invasion of the capital itself and fighting the Republic Army and Navy directly. His smuggling fleet did not even reach the capital; a joint Republic-Exchange force destroyed his forces over Anaxes.

He never saw Irinna again. She had been killed by her owners as a warning against those who dared to oppose the Exchange. They sent him her remains so that he could be sure she was dead. Fetcher’s empire crumbled with his will; his crew mutinied against him and marooned him on a distant world with a dingy starfighter and a blaster pistol to his name. He had been eking out a pitiful existence in some frontier cantina—and he became more eager to take his life as the days passed—when Ralina Venli approached him and won a risky bet. She had saved Fetcher’s life. It was only then, due to her audacity and fearlessness, that he considered flying the spacelanes again.

Now Ralina was in a medical ward, expecting a child of her own. Fetcher stared at his furred hands, reflecting on his concern for the safety of her and her child and his hope for a successful birth. Lucius Velle, Ralina’s husband was nearby, and he shared the Shistavanen’s concerns. Until now, neither of them said anything while they waited in the lobby. Both Fetcher and Lucius were content watching doctors rush around them, patients zoom by in stretchers, and medical droids scurry about.

“Fetcher,” Lucius said, resting his hands on his knuckles.

“Yes?”

“I’m… I’m going to be a father.”

Fetcher smiled grimly. “I’m happy for you. It won’t be long now.”

“Yes, but… I’m going to be a father. My wife is in there giving birth right now. What… what am I supposed to do?”

“I don’t understand your question, Lucius.”

“I don’t think I’m ready to raise a child, Fetcher. I don’t know the first thing about kids! I can hardly keep a crew working and under control, much less a young child.”

“Don’t worry,” Fetcher began matter-of-factly, ”no one knows how to deal with their first child. There’s no manual out there to help new parents, no institution to teach them. It’s something you have to learn.”

“But what if I mess up?” Lucius asked. ”What if I don’t raise him right? What if he grows up and-?”

“You’ll do fine, Lucius. You’re concerned about this; that’s a good sign in itself. It means you genuinely have a desire to raise that child right. Just trust in yourself and Ralina.”

Lucius smiled. “You’re right. You’re right. I’m just…”

Fetcher waited for Lucius to finish his thought, but he never did. The Human’s eyes wandered toward the door that separated Ralina from him, and his mouth ended up agape, the words he meant to speak halfway formed on his lips. Rising, Lucius started walking around the lobby, pacing incessantly.

Fetcher chuckled wearily to himself. He had no words to calm Lucius’s nerves. Reaching for a holobook on a shelf near his bench, Fetcher didn’t even have a chance to start reading when a doctor walked into the waiting room. As the door separating the lobby from the medical wards slid open, Fetcher’s astute ears enabled him to hear the doctors behind the door and their medical jargon over the cries of several newborns from the delivery rooms in the back.

“The operation’s over, sir,” the doctor said, pointing to Lucius. ”Your wife would like to see you.”

Lucius froze in place. “It’s over? How is she? How’s the baby?”

“Both are doing very well. It’s a boy. Come with me, sir.”

Lucius stammered something incoherent to himself. Fetcher was smiling toothily as he stood up and encouraged Lucius to go meet Ralina and his newborn son. Lucius must have tripped over his own feet at least twice as he followed the doctor—clumsily, at first, and then with resolve—into the postnatal ward. Once he was gone, Fetcher heaved a sigh of relief. The baby was born, and Ralina was okay. He could ask for nothing else.

“Fetcher! What’s happened? Where’s Ralina?”

Fetcher turned around, slowly. Of course he knew that voice, but he wished he didn’t. With a bit of a sigh, Fetcher watched the rest of his crew amble into the hospital lobby. Posh was humming some traditional Gran tune to himself, Manda was practically sprinting through the halls to reach Fetcher, and Jon was loudly discussing with himself the curious practices that revolved around sentient birth.

As usual, his crew could not go anywhere without inviting wary glances. A security guard watched them as they walked in, and a few of the nurses moved in to intercept them. No doubt they figured his crew was a cadre of hooligans or drunkards wandering too far from the spaceport. Fetcher had to be fair; they did carry themselves and dressed like petty thugs.

Ralina and Lucius had agreed that neither of them wanted to continue venturing the spacelanes after their child was born, so their ship, the Hound’s Sapphire, and its crew were now Fetcher’s. Therefore, he was now directly responsible for this mangy lot. They were incompetent on their own and annoying at the best of times, but Fetcher knew each of them personally. They were loyal to him, and he was devoted to them. He could not have asked for a better crew.

Acting on instinct, Fetcher moved between his crew and the hospital staff. “Don’t worry. They’re fine; they’re just… boisterous,” he told the guards on duty.

“Fetcher! Where’s Ralina?” Manda asked again. ”Is she okay? Where’s Lucius?”

“Didn’t I tell you to stay with the ship?” Fetcher asked, ignoring her entirely.

“Yes, sir. But we couldn’t restrain Manda any longer. She was… very insistent,” Posh admitted.

“Threatened is the ideal complement there,” Jon quipped.

“So where’s Ralina, Captain? Where is she?” Manda asked.

Fetcher motioned toward the back of the hospital. “As far as I know, she just finished giving birth. And as far as I know, she’s fine.”

“Well, what are we waiting for?” Manda nearly knocked over a young child as she moved toward the wards. ”Let’s go see her!”

“I do not think that would be a good idea, Captain,” Jon spoke up. ”Ralina is very likely exhausted. I would advise against disturbing her unnecessarily.”

“But Lucius is with her, isn’t he?” Posh countered. ”That’s disturbance enough!”

“They’re married,” Fetcher said, stressing the fact. ”And the boy’s his child too. It’s not the same thing as all of you charging in-”

“It’s a boy?” Manda squealed delightedly. ”I have to see him! What’s his name? I have to see them!”

Manda moved to enter the hospital rooms, but the security guard tried to impede her. She worked her way by him, jinking around him and avoiding his grip entirely; she burst through the door behind him and ran down the hospital corridor yelling Ralina’s name. Fetcher and Posh sighed in unison and followed her inside. This time, the security guard didn’t even bother trying to stop them.

Although they didn’t know where they were going, Fetcher followed the increasingly common sound of Manda’s giddy cries until they found the room where Ralina was staying. The medical droids and doctors had cleaned up the child and his mother, and they had already taken most of the critical tests by the time Fetcher and the others arrived. The staff had left a single medical droid to monitor the baby and Ralina until they returned.

“Hello everyone,” Ralina said, her voice hushed and weak. ”I’m glad you could make it.”

“Oh, Ralina! I can’t believe it! How is he? Is he okay? What’s his name?” Manda asked, cooing at the baby resting on Ralina’s chest.

“He is doing just fine. One hundred and ten percent,” Lucius replied for his wife. ”Despite my… initial objections, we’ve decided that his name will be Thertos.”

“Thertos is a fine name,” Ralina countered, with more strength than before. ”It means ‘protected one’ in some old spacer’s language.”

Lucius frowned. “Yes, but it just sounds so…”

“What kind of name is Lucius, huh?” Ralina snapped back. ”Nonsensical! Strange! Meaningless! The baby’s name is Thertos, and it is a lovely name!”

“You don’t even know what language the name is from,” Lucius said with a sigh.

“Spacer parlance based off of ancient Arkanian, most likely,” Jon noted as he walked in.

Thertos coughed as he repositioned himself on Ralina’s chest. Manda and Posh found themselves enamored by the child’s actions, and they proceeded to make ridiculous baby sounds back at him that made Fetcher groan. Turning his head, Thertos eyed Fetcher’s hulking form standing near his mother’s bed and his eyes widened. Extending a stumpy little arm, he tried to reach out to the Shistavanen, much to Fetcher’s surprise.

“I think he likes you, Fetcher,” Lucius joked.

“No fair! I want to be the liked one,” Manda grumbled.

“I’m surprised he’s not terrified of you,“ Posh said. ”You must look huge and scary to the little guy.”

Fetcher groaned again. “Oh please. He’s probably just wondering what the giant stuffed toy is doing in his room with the rest of you.”

“The doctor said he’s supposed to stay warm,” Ralina said, running her finger through her child’s sparse amount of hair. ”Lucius has already had a chance to hold him. I think your fur would keep him warm, Fetcher. Would you like to hold him while I get ready to feed him?”

The thought of holding a child was not appealing in the slightest. Fetcher had never held one before, and he didn’t particularly want to start now. The chance of the young child panicking in his arms once he realized how huge and terrifying Fetcher looked up close was very high. Despite his protests, Ralina brushed them off. Lucius shooed the others out of the room—even Manda, with some difficulty. Once they were gone, Ralina gave Thertos to Lucius, who passed the child on to Fetcher.

Fetcher’s initial attempts at holding the young sentient were awkward. However, with a quick adjustment of his arms, Fetcher relaxed himself and allowed the baby to sit comfortably in the nook of his furred arm. Thertos gurgled and spat as though he could not be more delighted to gurgle and spit at anyone else. Fetcher was genuinely surprised that the young boy did not start crying immediately.

At first, Fetcher was hesitant to even look at the child he held, in fear of bringing forth some ancient fears or memories he had tucked away. However, he eventually found himself staring into the child’s dark eyes. They were so innocent, so curious, and so amusing, Fetcher realized that he was smiling. He wondered only for a second how his own child would have looked after a healthy birth, but quickly banished the thought. This child would not—and could not—replace his own, but its presence was comforting to him.

Fetcher found himself delighted just letting the baby spit all over his arm. Something about the young child, whatever it was, soothed an ache in Fetcher’s heart that he knew was there, but did not want to deal with. This new life gave Fetcher a hope not only for Lucius and Ralina, but for himself as well. There was no anger within him, and there was no regret. Shockingly, Thertos had given him a peace he needed.

“Thanks, Fetcher,” Lucius said. ”Can you go calm your crew down? It sounds like they’re causing a ruckus outside.”

Fetcher sighed deeply as he handed the child back to his father. He realized that he had to leave this place and go attend to his roguish crew. It was a saddening realization, because Fetcher would have been fine watching the baby’s odd behavior for as long as he was able. He knew that was not possible, but he also knew that seeing Ralina and Lucius’s child had given him strength he had lost so long ago.

“I should get them out of here before they get us all in trouble,” Fetcher grumbled.

“That’s fine. Thank you for everything, Fetcher,” Lucius replied.

“Stop by once and a while, Fetcher!” Ralina agreed.

Fetcher nodded and turned to exit. As expected, the crew he had inherited from Ralina was causing a commotion outside her room. Manda was in a shouting match with one of the doctors, Jon was trying to arbitrate the heated discussion, and Posh was standing with his back against the wall, watching it play out.

The Shistavanen laughed deeply. He had a lot of work to do if wanted to turn them into a respectable crew. Ralina was a good captain, to be sure, but she wasn’t at all strict outside of a combat setting. If they were going to survive in the frontier, they’d have to be prepared to yield to Fetcher and his orders. They’d have to give up their stubbornness and independence to ensure the safety of the rest of the crew. Fetcher was now directly responsible for their lives.

This time, he would lead his crew into prosperity.

This time, he would be a captain to be respected, not feared.

This time, he would protect the ones he cared about.

*** ***

Fetarollias Niridiacher took up his old nickname, the Hound of Baskarn, shortly after becoming captain of the Hound’s Sapphire. With his old nickname, Fetarollias met with some old contacts and began reforming his criminal empire. However, the Hound of Baskarn seems to operate with different ideals now. The Shistavanen once known as a scourge of the frontier began stealing not for the sake of simply earning credits, but for the sake of the war-torn systems around him. Stealing from Republic merchants, Hutt convoys, and Exchange fleets, the Hound of Baskarn has no true allies in the galaxy except the poor. His empire has turned its attention to the unjust local governors and criminal overlords that live in wealth while their people suffer from shattered infrastructures and post-war poverty. Posh and Jon have remained by the side of their captain, his ever-present advisors in the face of a multitude of enemies.

Ralina, Lucius, and Thertos have moved from planet to planet since the young boy’s birth. They lived on Telos for some time, but bounty hunters forced them to move further away from the galactic core. As an ex-Sith officer and smuggling captain, Thertos’s parents are wanted criminals in Republic space. Manda joined them after several years of serving under Fetarollias, helping the two raise their child while they worked. As far as I know, Thertos and his family have settled in the frontier, beyond the reach of the Galactic Republic.

And so my visions end. But there is one more, isn’t there? One more wanderer who has been cast out by those who knew her, without a home to call her own. She was deeply scarred by the Benax family and their occupation of Alderaan, more so than Ranval. She has fought the dark side more than Verita. She fought to reunite with her love, as Lucius had, but her lover shared a different fate. Like Fetarollias, her lover has died.

Slain under my care.

What else can I say? Raen Benax suffered and died while he was traveling with me. I have no excuses. I have no words to absolve my guilt. What of Gaiel? What of Khondine? Syme? They are all dead! Dead because of me, dead because of my failure. And now the chance cube has fallen, pitting all the forces of darkness against her. I sent all my students to their deaths, now she must face the remaining evils… alone.

This is my last vision. Forgive my weakness.

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