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Hunters of the Dark Side (Part 5)

 

 

Chapter Fourteen

 

John got a terrible sinking feeling when the Folly popped out of hyperspace in the Coruscant system. Somehow, he just knew he was too late. Too late for what? It didn’t take long for John to figure it out as he negotiated his way through Coruscant’s planetary security and docking control system (at least the Chameleon program had worked because he was able to get clearance through one of the Folly’s reserved alternate IDs and had absolutely no problems). That was the end of the good news though. There had been another fire at what he knew to be Sam’s address. Authorities—including Jedi he noted—were onsite now and it was believed that there were two fatalities. John’s heart rose in his throat and his stomach twisted terribly as he thought about what that might mean. He’s not dead; he can’t be, John thought. No matter what they were saying, he felt he’d know if Sam was dead.

 

About an hour after leaving Coruscant he had docked and landed the ship and was making his way along Galactic City’s* crowded walkways towards Sam’s building, Republic Intelligence ID carefully tucked in a pocket, appropriate attire donned. Posing as a Republic Intelligence agent was definitely riskier than some of John’s other fake identities, but with a Jedi on sight—a Jedi Shadow no less—and Coruscant’s state-of-the-art security and investigative techniques, it was a risk he’d have to take, otherwise he’d never get anywhere near the place. 

 

When he was still a few blocks, and levels, away, he could smell the horrible, choking acrid stench of smoke, charred flesh, and melted chemicals. Already the walkways were thinning out. It was midmorning, normally a busy time in this part of the City, but John got the feeling people were avoiding the area as much as possible. Then he saw the barrier, a full block out from the building. Or, it could be that, too. Apparently, the Jedi or the regular authorities, didn’t want anyone getting too close.

 

Pulling out his badge and dropping into his official, standoffish persona, John approached the barrier.

 

“I’m sorry, you can’t pass here, there’s been a fire, very destructive,” a young Rodian in a Fobosi District Security uniform said nervously.

 

John just flashed the badge, barely looking at the youth.

 

“Oh, I’m sorry sir, please enter. Master Shran is in charge here and he’s just over that way,” the Rodian said, lifting the gate so John could enter and pointing off at a point in the distance where a stern, tall, dark-skinned human Jedi was standing, arms crossed in front of him.

 

“Thanks,” John grunted in the Rodian’s direction. As he took off in the Jedi’s direction. John was still picking his way through techs and reporters, over charred bits and remnants of things that had once been his son’s life (but not Sam) that had been pulled out of the melted twisted hulk of the apartment. The fire had left a gaping hole in the side of the apartment, the durasteel structure bubbled and bloated and twisted from the incredible heat. It was just like the others, just like the other fire on Coruscant, just like Mary. John struggled to keep the bile from rising in his throat. He was still a dozen or so meters from the Jedi, picking his way around some techs running a holoimager over the charred and melted hulk of what might have once been a couch or table, when he heard the Jedi speak.

 

“Civilians aren’t allowed in this area, you should leave,” the commanding tone projected. John was sure the Jedi was using the force to enhance his voice, adding with it an extra layer of persuasion and making himself sound more pompous in the process. 

 

Luckily, John’s training, both in the Support Corps and as a hunter had rendered him essentially immune from those trying to use the force to control others. “I’m not a civilian,” he said, turning towards the Jedi and flashing his Republic Intelligence badge. He could almost feel that the Jedi didn’t believe him, so he held the badge out longer, giving the Jedi ample time to examine it. 

 

“This investigation is under the auspices of the Jedi Council, there is no need for Republic Intelligence to get involved,” the Jedi said with a huff, glaring at John with stern, determined, brown eyes.

 

Well, if this was going to turn into a pissing contest, at least John was taller. He pulled himself up to his full height, and stepped closer to the Jedi, close enough that a Jedi, with their enhanced senses and need to control everything would be decidedly uncomfortable. “Listen Jedi—” John began and paused, intentionally picking the lower ranking title to irk the guy. If the intel he’d been able to gather upon arriving was any indication, there was no way in hell the Council had sent an ordinary Knight to oversee the investigation, plus the Rodian had just indicated he was a Master.

 

“It’s Master Shran, Gariq Shran,” the Jedi said automatically.

 

“Master Shran,” John echoed. “I’m agent John Rand, Republic Intelligence,” he continued just barely tripping over the last name grateful he had thought twice about putting a more typical alias with his Republic Intelligence ID… Usually John picked aliases that alluded to major figures, often Jedi, Generals, and famous entertainers—all of which would be blatantly obvious to a Jedi. The last name he’d chosen was at least common enough that he wasn’t likely to arouse suspicion. “This is the second spacescraper fire like this we’ve had on Coruscant in the last few months and there have been others like it all over the republic. It’s the subject of an ongoing RI investigation, so if it isn’t too much trouble it would be most appreciated if you could share with us what you’ve found so far,” John finished smoothly. He had checked, RI was looking into the fires, they seemed to have gotten peripherally interested during the last Coruscant fire as the family that had been … affected … was the family of a fairly high-ranking bureaucrat. However, if Republic Intelligence followed their standard their response time complete with excessive paperwork and a fair amount of foot dragging, John should have approximately three hours to spare on his investigation before a real RI agent showed up. The Jedi might be surprised to see an RI agent here so early, but it wasn’t completely unheard of for RI to move at a faster-than-glacial speed from time to time (he just hoped they didn’t actually move fast this time, or he’d be bantha fodder). He’d just have to make sure he had what he needed and was clear of the planet before they showed or the Jedi would definitely be suspicious.

 

“This is a Jedi, matter, Agent Rand,” Master Shran replied acerbically. “We do not require RI assistance.” The Jedi turned away and resumed consulting a datapad.

 

Huh, so that was their attitude towards RI, John doubted RI would be eager to hear that, after all, they tended to think of themselves as above the Jedi. Dang egomaniacal spooks, John thought. Aloud, he said, “So, what makes this fire different than the last one, from the data we’ve seen so far this seems almost identical to the other fires and equally unexplained.”

 

The Jedi raised an eyebrow in surprise.

 

“FDS, they’re always eager to share their information,” John said in explanation, referencing Fobosi District Security, which incidentally did have a reputation for being overly cooperative with all Republic agencies higher up the food chain. It probably had to do with housing the University’s administration and main campus—too many rich, powerful people worked or sent their children there, if the local security force didn’t cooperate, things could get politically ugly very, very quickly.

 

The Jedi gave a rueful chuckle. “Well, FDS may love to chat, but what they don’t know is that there is evidence that the Force was used here—either in starting the fire or at some point in time close to the conflagration.” He looked down condescendingly at John, stylus poised above the pad, “Don’t worry, we’ll include it in the report we send to your superiors.”

 

“Are you sure that the force wasn’t used at the other fires? ‘Cause funny, but I don’t remember seeing any Jedi there investigating.” John had swapped stories and posed as various security forces at enough of the fires and gone back through the records of the others to know that the Jedi were definitively not investigating them, which sickened him when he thought about the obvious Dark Side signatures he had detected at each and every site. That was part of why John resented the Jedi so much, all their talk about keeping the galaxy safe, and they didn’t even seem to know about half the dark objects and Dark Side users wreaking havoc under their noses.

 

John’s words seem to have struck a chord, because Master Shran looked humbled for a moment before regaining his composure and stating more gently, “Someone caused a great disturbance in the force. It was felt at the Jedi Temple and by many Jedi in other systems. It is very alarming and we are investigating, but please, we would like to keep that information confidential until we know more.” The Jedi’s expression was serious and concerned, his posture had softened. John might finally have an “in” with him.

 

“Don’t worry, RI isn’t in the business of sharing information; we collect it,” he added.

 

The Jedi responded with a curt nod.

 

“So, about that, do you mind sharing what you’ve found so far? We only know what FDS has told us, and at all the other fires there have been fatalities. RI has been trying to establish some sort of pattern, looking for connections among the victims, that sort of thing.” The words came easily since they were essentially the truth. So, John wasn’t working for RI, but RI was poking around and he sure as hell wanted to figure out what was going on, especially since this Sith had set a trap for him and now his son… John pushed down the fear, schooling his emotions so as not to trip the Jedi’s suspicions.

 

“Well, if you can follow proper protocol and don’t mind following me while I do some examinations, I will share what I am able,” Master Shran responded, holding his hand to the side and gesturing to the path that had now been cleared into the apartment proper. 

 

“Fair enough,” John replied.

 

John spent the next hour following Master Shran around while Master Shran filled him in. Two fatalities. One Jessica Moore, twenty-one years old, a student at the University of Coruscant, resident of the apartment, and Sam’s girlfriend, John thought sickly. The other was suspected to be Samuel Winchester, twenty-two, legislative intern to a Senator from Dantooine, graduate of the University of Coruscant, the apartment’s other resident. At least they haven’t confirmed that it’s Sam! John let the information bolster the feeling of knowing Sammy wasn’t dead, and calmed himself. The doubt still lingered though.

 

As for the apartment, almost everything was a melted, twisted, charred, bubbling mess. The fire appeared to have started near the entry way, with the ceiling looking like it was the flashpoint for the conflagration. John’s heart sunk. Just like Mary… John was surprised to hear that there were two fatalities, everywhere else there had been one… He assumed Jessica had burned on the ceiling, maybe Sam had tried to get her down and he had gotten caught, burned… Not Sam. John thought, trying to press the tears from his eyes. Or it could have been Sam that burned and Jessica that wouldn’t leave. He pondered, trying to reassure himself that they hadn’t identified the second victim—not that there was much to identify, just stray bits of DNA and the occasional charred bone fragment. John had seen incidents like it, and worse a hundred times, but it never failed to turn his stomach. The Dark Side was evil, pure and simple, and it seemed hell bent on tearing families apart and ruining lives. Squeezing his eyes shut tight, John just hoped Sam’s hadn’t been one of them to lose his life.

 

Most of the wreckage in the apartment didn’t yield much information. Sure, there was Dark Side energy everywhere—John was trying to surreptitiously scan with his self-designed DED (dark energy detector—he hadn’t come up with the name, that’s what all hunters called them), but he thought Master Shran might be able to sense it, so he kept the scanning to a minimum. It was OK though, it didn’t take much to confirm the presence of Force energy. The place was positively screaming with Dark Side energy—light side energy too, which was a surprise, definitely not something John had expected or seen at the other fires. It didn’t do anything to ease his concern, just made him all the more sure that somehow this Sith thing had tricked him, tried to trap him, and seemed to be specifically interested in killing John’s family.

 

As he carefully picked through the wreckage, trying to piece together what had happened. Apparently there was a witness of sorts, a friend of Sam’s who had been with him at a party the night before and then returned home, only to receive a strange holocall from Sam a few hours later telling him someone was there, something was wrong. The kid had come out to meet Sam only to find the apartment had just gone up in flames. The Jedi had interviewed and debriefed the kid who was apparently very shaken up, but something didn’t quite sit right about the story to John. He didn’t get the sense that the kid was responsible in any way, but it seemed almost too rehearsed. They’d checked the kid’s message and the time stamp conveniently was timed right before when the fire was supposed to have started. There was nothing wrong with that, and the Jedi definitely didn’t seem to suspect anything. To John, it seemed like the kind of cover story he would come up with if he was trying to conceal something else. He filed that information away and saved it for later—later, when he knew that Sammy was OK; later, when he better understood what was going on and could properly digest and analyze what it might mean.

 

Just over an hour into their investigation, two things happened that changed the course of the investigation, for John anyway. Unfortunately, he got the feeling they changed the situation for the Jedi too, and not in a way that was going to help the Winchesters. 

 

John had made his way over to the wall of the apartment that had been completely destroyed. Looking out at the other apartments in the building showed that it had once been a bank of floor-to-ceiling transparisteel windows. Down towards one end of the room, the windows still partially existed in what looked like a melted blob partially exploded outwards. But down towards the other end, the transparisteel was gone, but the durasteel window frame looked almost untouched, like it had been spared much of the heat. Then John saw the panel of transparisteel that was lying on the charred floor, lying underneath the rubble of furniture and ceiling supports. It was in one big rectangular piece, almost like the entire window had been removed, mechanically. 

 

John looked over. The Jedi was taking a comlink call and was looking more irritable than ever. John would have to be sure to find out what the call was about, but in the mean time, he was happy to use the Jedi’s distraction to get a better look at the window. He crouched down in the charred debris, moving the unrecognizable pieces around, until he could get a better look at the transparisteel, shuddering when he noticed how warm the wreckage still was. There! Sure enough, along the edge was a super-sharp line, so sharp John almost cut his finger on it. Checking over his shoulder to make sure the Jedi was still distracted, John reached into one of his pockets and pulled out a hand magnifier. He turned it on, quietly and dialed in the magnification. Hah! Sure enough the edge bore the telltale striations of a rotary saw, the sort some droids—like Chevy were equipped with. John checked as many of the edges of the windowpanel as he could without making too much noise. They all bore the same striations. The window had clearly been cut out and removed by someone, probably a droid. Could his older son have been here? Maybe he came to tell Sammy that John was missing? Could he have gotten out, rescuing Sammy? Even if Dean and Chevy were there, where did they go? And what was that other body? 

 

John hastily rose, brushing soot from his hands and knees, and walked over to the open space where the window had been. Someone had taken the time to put up some reflective plast-based tape in the opening, warning of danger, but aside from that, the space was just open. He stepped to the edge. There was a communal garden about a level down. It would be a long drop for anyone save a Jedi, possibly fatal. At the very least most sentient species would be badly inured. A droid equipped with repulsors, like Chevy, could probably make the drop without injury, but unless the repulsors were modified (and Chevy’s were not) the added weight of an adult human would cause a crash landing. For a split second John had the horrifying fleeting thought that maybe Chevy and Dean had been here and it was Dean that was dead, soot across the floor, and Sam had been taken by the Sith and only Chevy had escaped, but John realized that Chevy would never abandon her boy—and if both were in danger, she’d do everything within her power to save Sam too. The kid had named her after all.

 

The Jedi had another loud, heated exchange with whomever was on the other end of the comlink, and John sensed the call would soon be coming to an end. He didn’t want to draw the Jedi’s attention to what he found, if the Jedi figured out that another person or droid had been there they’d get suspicious and soon one or both of his sons could be in trouble. So, he hurried to finish his investigation. He looked down in the garden scanning for any sign that someone or ones had landed there or otherwise disturbed the garden. He had almost given up when sure enough, there were some crushed looking bushes, a few flattened flowers, and a strip of scuffed grass, and not all together, but somewhat spread out over a smallish patch of ground in the middle of the garden. Huh? Calculating various possible scenarios for escape he again used the magnifier and scanned the surrounding area. He found what he was looking for when the magnifiers picked up a slight magnetic distortion on the durasteel on the side of the walkway one level up and directly across from the window. Dean’s grapple gun… he thought, but his musings were cut off when he heard the Jedi approaching. Rather than try to hide the magnifiers, he covered asking, “Were there any other witnesses, from the surrounding apartments,” he gestured to the walkway, “maybe pedestrians?” John turned to face Master Shran.

 

The Jedi looked at John quizzically, but answered, “No, none we’ve found yet. It looks like the fire started at about two hundred hours.”

 

“Eh, well it was worth a try,” John said feigning disappointment. “Any signs of a break in, any strange visitors?” John knew it was fishing, but those were the kinds of questions an RI agent would ask, and he knew that FDS hadn’t included any details in their reports so far.

 

“Well, the data on this unit is unsalvageable, but there was an energy surge that overloaded this level’s security system about two minutes before the fire began. Nothing else unusual though…” the Jedi Master said hesitantly.

 

The overload was probably the Sith. If Dean had been here and arrived before the Sith, he would have wiped any record of his presence from the building’s security system. If he arrived after, well… if the system was completely overloaded he wouldn’t need to conceal his presence because there would be no system to detect it. Still, there was more the Jedi wanted to say, and John needed to know. “But…”

 

“I just received a call from one of our chief librarians,” Master Shran began, stepping closer to John and turning out to face the garden below, he kept his voice low so they would not be overheard. “There was a disturbance at one of the University libraries early this morning. Records of an artifact in their servers were accessed and copied.” He paused as if uncertain of how much to trust John.

 

John was finding the conversation a little bit tangential, but judging by the Jedi Master’s apparent frustration on the comlink, John was certain this information was important, maybe even vital to unraveling what had happened, so he remained patient, put on his best “serious agent” face, and waited for Master Shran to continue.

 

“This artifact is under Jedi care and is very… sensitive. We had placed several seals and tracers on the record that alerted us when it was accessed. Someone entered the library using Miss Moore’s codes and then viewed and copied the files. A Knight of the Order responded, but whomever accessed the records must have been tipped off to our presence because they eluded the security droids, fled the building, and left in a ship as our Knight was arriving.” 

 

John wracked his memory looking for something he was missing. “Miss Moore was an archaeology student, wasn’t she?” he asked.

 

“Yes, she was, and she was part of the team that discovered this artifact. However, the records were accessed at approximately three hundred thirty hours this morning,” Master Shran said significantly.

 

“After she was dead,” John supplied.

 

The Master nodded.

 

“Do you think the theft of these records had something to do with her death?” John ventured.

 

“It is possible,” Master Shran answered. “Especially since our Sentinel caught a glimpse of the thief leaving the library. The description matches that of the other resident of this apartment, Mister Winchester. The individual was accompanied by a droid. Our Sentinel did not get a good look at the make of the ship, but we will be carefully testing the bio residue to determine the identity of the second victim. We believe Mr. Winchester might be responsible for this… tragedy.”

 

John was caught between joy that his son was probably still alive, and quite likely with his brother and Chevy, and fear that now the Jedi suspected him. Plus, he could tell that there was something more—a lot more—that Master Shran knew, but wasn’t going to share. John was just going to have to figure it out on his own, starting with finding out what the artifact was and how it was connected to this Sith presence, which he knew it must be. Of course, it was just possible that Sam had tried to access some of his girlfriend’s research to have something to remember her by, but… John seriously doubted that. His son might be estranged, but he doubted Sam would do something as risky or irrational as using his dead girlfriend’s access codes to enter a library archive an hour after she died with out a good reason, a really, really good reason.

 

“That’s a Shame,” John murmured. “But at least that sounds like progress in the investigation.” He checked his chrono. An hour and a half had passed, which meant he had about an hour and a half, two hours tops, remaining before he had to be out of the system. He needed to go now. John held out his hand to shake Master Shran’s. “Pardon me, Master, but I need to report this information to my superiors and cross reference it with the information we have already gathered. Someone else from RI will probably be in touch with you shortly.”

 

“We’ll keep you informed,” Master Shran said cagily, but at least shaking John’s hand.

 

With a slight nod, John turned and began picking his way out of the remnants of his son’s apartment.

 

 

Chapter Fifteen

 

John was halfway back to the Folly’s birth when the comlink-equipped datapad he kept in his tunic pocket began vibrating. He pulled it out and found it flashing a priority holomessage that had been routed to the Folly’s comm. Not wanting to take a priority message in public, and desperately hoping for word from his sons, John doubled his speed, jogging down moving walkways and darting around strolling families, going as quickly as he could without arousing suspicion. He breezed through port security, grateful to have avoided any unwanted surprises, and had the Folly’s boarding ramp lowered and raised again in record time.

 

By the time John had decrypted and displayed the holomessage, the Folly was already running through her preflight sequences and her computer was negotiating with docking control.

 

The holo sprung to life and John found Dean’s face filling the image, behind him the familiar setting of the Dream’s galley. The holorecorder clearly poised in front of him on the table. He noticed that Dean’s face looked pink, burned he thought, but not badly, and his forehead was furrowed with the telltale lines of pain.

 

“Dad,” Dean’s voice began, shaky, his eyes clearly tearing up. 

 

For a moment John feared the worst, Dean almost never cried, but his fears were soon allayed as Dean continued.

 

“I’m OK, Sammy’s OK, but you need to know what happened. I don’t know where you are, or what you’re doing, but I hope that you’re OK. Please let us know,” Dean’s tearful face continued.

 

John’s heart ached. His son sounded like a frightened child, his voice lost and overwhelmed in a way John hadn’t heard in at least fifteen years. He hated to think that he had helped put that fear there. John had only wanted to keep his son safe away from whatever it was that was burning families. Of course, in doing so, he had left both his children woefully unprepared and unknowing and alone while this thing hunted them. They have each other, he tried to reassure himself, but it did little to ease the ache in his chest.

 

“Dad, I think you might be hunting this Sith,” Dean continued, doing his best to clear his eyes without touching them much. 

 

John noticed bandages and the glossy look of Bactane—more burns. He cringed with sympathy. 

 

“Bobby sent me the message he forwarded to you, and Chevy and I showed it to Sam.” A wave of emotion washed over Dean’s face surging from hurt to angry to grieving to shocked to lost and back to determined before he continued. “You may have heard this by now, Dad, but the Sith, it came after Sammy.” Dean lowered his voice and leaned closer to the holocam so that only his face was visible. “It got into his apartment—through runes Dad. Nothing should have been able to get through that, but they just shorted out I guess, and then it came and it… it was in someone… possessing them, using them, and it killed…” His voice cracked, and tears returned to his eyes. “It killed Jessica, Sammy’s girlfriend. Pinned her to the ceiling and made her bleed, then burned the entire apartment before burning her. It was just like—” His voice broke off and Dean leaned back wiping more frantically at his eyes.

 

“It was just like Mom…” He sniffed. “I’m sorry I’m crying Dad, it was just— And Sammy, it couldn’t touch him, or it didn’t want to. He, he stopped it somehow. Stopped it from burning me and Chevy and his friend Ven.”

 

Ahh, that must be why the friend’s story sounded so… scripted, John realized.

 

In the holo, Dean continued speaking. “Dad, Sammy… I think he used the Force. I don’t know how, but he did. He swirled the fire up and directed it at the Sith. The body the Sith was in… Died… but the Sith got away. I know it. And then he collapsed.” Dean paused looking shaken. He shifted in front of the holocam, pain crossing his face as he moved. “Please Dad. You’ve got to talk to us. Let us know you’re all right. Sammy’s feeling the Force, and I don’t know what the hell and this Sith thing is after us.” Dean looked pleadingly at the holocam for another moment before he schooled his features, like he was trying to “get down to business” or “power through” what ever he had to say. “There’s more.”

 

More? John wondered, already feeling shaken by Dean’s revelations. Sam touching the Force… that was a new twist and added another layer of fear to the situation. That must have been the light side energy back at the apartment, he realized.

 

“Dad, Jessica, Sam’s girlfriend,” Dean said nodding, “she was an archaeology student, and she found something. Sam remembered it after the fire—that it was some kind of artifact about a prophecy… some… record. He got the feeling it was important, so we had to go into the archives at the library to get to a terminal to access it,” Dean added hurriedly, his face growing brighter still as if he was blushing with embarrassment at having pulled so risky a stunt after essentially fleeing a crime scene.

 

John blushed back, that was just so like Dean. He was proud of Dean though, proud of both of them. From the anxiety in Master Shran’s demeanor, they had stumbled on something big and important, that the Jedi didn’t want them to know.

 

“We got the records, and copied them, but not without tripping some Jedi security protocol. Sam dodged the droids, but we think a Jedi might have gotten a glimpse of him when he was escaping. Don’t think they saw the ship though. So, he’s probably going to be a suspect,” Dean sighed, running a bandaged hand through his short hair. “I was really trying to avoid that. Anyway, the records deal with some kind of Sith prophecy. It sounds like it’s related to this Sith thing that’s been starting the fires and came after Sam. It’s incomplete though. Sam told me that they weren’t done with the excavation, and that the dig site is somewhere near the Maranai mountains. I’m sending you an encrypted copy of everything we got. It’s embedded in this message; I trust the Folly can help you extract it.”

 

“Good boy,” John said with genuine appreciation at his son’s ingenuity and foresight. 

 

“Anyway, I hope this helps.” Dean paused, his resolve cracking, and the hurt little boy from earlier coming out again. “Sammy’s shaken up, but he’s OK. I’ve got him sleeping now, but he’s having nightmares. I had to sedate him.”

 

John paled at the image of his younger son shaking with fear and ached for him to be OK, to not have to suffer this loss and grief.

 

“We’re heading to Bobby’s. So far, we’re not being followed, but I don’t think it’s going to hold out. I’ve got a feeling either the Sith or the Jedi are going to be coming after us. We’re hoping Bobby can help us with the records, see if we can uncover anything about this prophecy that might help us. I’ll send you another encoded message when we’re there, just please Dad, I’m begging you. Even if you won’t talk to me, just let us know you’re OK.” 

 

The pleading look in Dean’s eyes said “was it something I did?” and John felt like bantha fodder for whatever he had done that would lead Dean to think that John was staying away because he was disappointed in his son. Far from it. Right now he couldn’t be prouder.

 

“I’ve gotta go. Get some rest,” Dean said, the exhaustion in his voice pouring through for the first time. “Talk to you soon, Dad. Take care. Bye.” In the holo, Dean’s image leaned forward and then cut out as he switched off the holocam.

 

John just sat, absorbing what he’d learned, trying to take it all in. He felt alternatingly encouraged and enraged, grieving and proud, but most of all he was just relieved that his sons were both alive, and more or less OK.

 

Finally, the Folly’s computer chimed drawing John out of his contemplation. The Folly had managed to get them cleared for departure and it needed John to tell it where to go. He looked at the chrono. One hour. He had one hour before he needed to hightail it from the system or risk getting caught for impersonating an RI agent—not something he wanted to chance. “OK then,” he said aloud as he punched in the flight sequence and opened a comm channel with the Coruscant transit authority. “Let’s see what we can dig up on this mystery prophecy in the next hour.”

 

 

Chapter Sixteen

 

He looked out at his prey through the eyes of his host. Their ship looked so small and fragile in the dark expanse of space. He didn’t want to kill them, at least not the Chosen One, he just wanted to scare them, delay them. They were getting far too meddlesome and he had very, very important work to do—work that couldn’t be rushed. There was a time for every thing, and right now was not the Chosen One’s time to come to him.

 

So, it was with some regret that he had forced himself into the terrified fighter pilot and forced him to follow the Iriaz Dream to the Tatoo system. He knew the Chosen One would e injured—but if he had his way, not badly. And he didn’t much care what happened to the other one; killing him would be very nice indeed. It would have to happen eventually; now would be a bonus, but if he couldn’t pull it off, later would work fine too. Just as long as he disabled their ship. He had anticipated this to be a simple battle—quickly disable the Dream and move on, but the Chosen One was proving to be very surprising; very surprising and most impressive.

 

He tapped into his host’s knowledge and used the fighter’s weapons to shoot again at the glistening, black ship.

 

“Ah hah!” There went her sensor array! They would have to set down for repairs now. The Chosen One’s ship had armed her weapons and the blaster turrets had all swiveled to track his ship. He reached out with the force to bend the bolts away, sending two astray, and bouncing two more harmlessly off the ship’s shields, directed away from sensitive spots where they could do damage. He fired back at the ship hitting her shield generator and causing it to light up with a small explosion that snuffed as soon as the oxygen around it was consumed. He could see icy ribbons of coolant flooding out into space. He was almost, almost at his victory. Just one more hit and he could force them down. 

 

The host flinched and strained against him, trying to assert himself. Azazel pushed his Will through, clamping down on the host, not caring if he caused permanent damage or not. He certainly didn’t need the host’s soul alive in its body to control it, and he had no intention of sticking with this host any longer than necessary—it was not a good match; chosen solely for it’s knowledge of and access to this fighter.

 

Darth Azazel could sense the host’s terror and pain—it was already anguished over abandoning its unit and firing on an “innocent” vessel. Azazel let it know his full intentions, let the quivering, pathetic excuse for a sentient being see a glimpse of the destruction he would bring. Let it feel his hatred, his glee at tearing innocent souls from their bodies while inflicting the maximum amount of pain. Let it see the true purpose of the Chosen One.

 

The host’s mind cried out in anguish and he collapsed, releasing control of his body. Lord Azazel felt a surge of sheer, unadulterated glee as he took control and lashed out with the full weapons capabilities of the ship and struck the Dream

 

The joined turboblaster bolts punched through the unshielded hull vaporizing the durasteel into a cloud of metallic vapor that quickly cooled and congealed into a metallic blob free-floating in space. Gasses and debris exited the hole explosively until the glow of an emergency forcefield flashed into place. Wonderful, wonderful!! He delighted at the result. 

 

Growing bored with the capabilities of the weapons, he needed to make absolutely sure that the ship would not follow him (though unshielded and damaged, he realized he did not know where its hyperdrive motivator was, nor how to take it out). Azazel used the Force to push the ship, flipping her end over end and tossing her into a spin. When he let go, the ship was disoriented and quickly approaching the desert planet’s atmosphere.

 

Lord Azazel was not afraid, though, as he sensed the flicker of awareness onboard the Dream. She was wounded and would take time to repair, but the Chosen One was still alert, aware, and would make sure to land safely.

 

Satisfied with his work, Lord Azazel released his control on the host, amused when the fool actually tried to make a decision. The host’s mind was broken, disconnected, and afraid. Vital pathways damaged or destroyed, his thoughts a jumble. With a leering laugh, the Sith lord pushed and nudged the host to go back to the hyperdrive ring and take them to Onderon. Onderon, and then Naboo. He had one last, little detail to tie up and then he could begin the next step of his plan. Once he reached his next destination, he could abandon this broken host for a better one.
 

Master Post | Part 4 | Part 6