Dean Winchester waited in dim silence, looking out the transparisteel viewport at the twinkling lights of Nar Shaddaa far below. The cockpit of the Iriaz Dream was still and comfortable around him, her familiar sleek lines and contours the only real home Dean had ever known. On the night side of the smuggler’s moon, with the bulk of the planet between the Dream and the system’s sun, the running lights and engines off, and the other systems running on standby, the shiny, black ship was near-invisible in the night sky. The blackness of space was interrupted only by the twinkling of distant star light and the cool, greenish glow of the control panel’s backup lights. It should have been soothing, peaceful. Normally, it would have been—Dean loved looking out on the vastness of space, feeling powerful and free among the stars. But… But there it was, the niggling doubt, the nagging pull of aloneness, the taunting voice in his head saying “Dad should have checked in by now,” keeping him from relaxing or being at peace.
He let out an explosive sigh, stretching his arms high over his head and cracking his back, the well-worn, buttery nerf hide of his jacket giving a groan of protest as it separated from his seat. Yes, Dad should have made the rendezvous, and failing that, he should have at least found a way to send word that he wouldn’t make it, but Dean had a schedule to keep—responsibilities to meet—and he couldn’t wait here any longer. He’d already postponed his scheduled trade meeting with Bobby, and he couldn’t put off the job on Tatooine any longer.
What had started as rumors of a frightening, but benign, ghostly apparition of a woman along the edge of the Eastern Dune Sea had turned violent. Now the apparition was attacking traders and travelers and was encroaching on the outskirts of Mos Eisley. Dean had done the research, and it sounded like the apparition might be the spirit of a hunter that had gone missing about a decade ago. Why she her spirit would become restless now, when all previous indications had suggested her spirit had crossed over—become one with the force or however you wanted to describe it—Dean did not know. But restless she was, and getting dangerous, yet the problem was far to small for the Jedi to respond to—they tended to ignore ordinary souls that didn’t understand dead—and Dean was the closest hunter to the Outer Rim by far, at least as far as he knew based on what he knew of other hunters’ territory and the recent comm chatter. Still… He wished he wouldn’t be going alone. He wished Dad would just get here already, because the longer he went without hearing from John Winchester, the more likely it was that something had gone wrong. Maybe it was just a run in with planetary authorities—after all, John’s travel plans had taken him into the Corellian Sector and the Corellians were notorious for their touchy security forces—but something was telling Dean that wasn’t the case. In his gut or the back of his mind there was that … itch … the little tickle that always told him when things weren’t as they seemed, and right now the little tickle was looming into an obnoxious irritation that was practically screaming that John was in serious trouble. Something bad had happened; Dean knew it. He just didn’t know what to do about it, but try to shove down the feeling and go about his business, even if it did mean heading to Tatooine alone.
Resettling himself in the pilot’s seat, he began flicking on the switches that would begin the preflight sequence, warm up the engines, and calculate the quickest vector for escaping the system’s gravity well so that he could make the jump to hyperspace. S8V1, or Chevy, as his little brother Sammy had affectionately named the astromech, made an inquisitive trill that drew Dean’s attention. Knowing the droid’s moods well enough to eschew checking the translation that scrolled out across the monitor, Dean croaked out an answer.
“No, Chevy, no word from Dad, and yeah, we’re heading to Tatooine. Gotta figure out what’s going on with that restless spirit.” Dean’s voice cracked with disuse, underscoring just how long it had been since he had last talked to anyone. With Dad missing… But Dean pushed down that thought along with the bittersweet memories of his younger brother that threatened to bubble over anytime Dean spent too much time alone with the droid his brother had named. Swallowing carefully, he continued, “You wanna double check the Dream’s navcomp, make sure she’s got the most efficient calculations to get us to Tatooine? We shoulda left days ago, and I don’t want to take any longer than necessary getting there.”
Chevy chirped in the affirmative, but Dean thought he detected a hint of melancholy in the little droid’s voice that matched Dean’s own grey mood. Dean’s thoughts started to drift again, this time to the smiling face of a lisping four year old in much happier, less lonely times, so that he almost missed Chevy’s swooping whistle. Giving the display a cursory glance, to see what the droid had said, Dean couldn’t help but chuckle. It had to say something about a guy when his astromech droid was telling him not to worry. What that said was a different question. “Yeah, yeah, I know,” he added, giving the droid an affectionate pat on the top of his pewter grey dome, “Dad can take care of himself, but that doesn’t mean I shouldn’t worry.” Dean finished with a wistful smile. Chevy rotated his dome towards Dean, orienting his sensors at Dean and tilting his body forward in a way that suggested he missed them both too… but Dean’s musings were interrupted when the navcomp chimed to inform him that the exit trajectory and hyperspace path had been plotted and the engines were ready to be engaged.
Giving Chevy another nod of understanding, Dean turned back to the console and punched in the sequence to bring the systems fully online. The ship whirred and shuddered in response as Dean quickly brought the slender craft into a sharp arcing turn, while powering the sublight engines up to their full capacity, shooting away from the glittering moon and heading towards the galactic plane.
Sure enough, the telltale blips of Hutt patrol craft—or possibly something more sinister and even less desirable—turned their attention towards the Iriaz Dream as she lit up against the shimmering blackness of space. No worry though, before the pursuing ships could close half the distance between their starting place in mid orbit around the smuggler’s moon and the Dream, the counter on the navcomp scrolled down to zero and Dean engaged the hyperdrive, smoothly sliding the lever forward and watching the stars blur into lines and then the dancing, soothing blue of hyperspace. The Dream was one of the fastest ships in the Galaxy—maybe the fastest, thanks to the mechanical genius of Dean’s father and the artificial intelligence expertise Dean’s mother had lent to the ship’s computer—a quality which came in handy more and more these days as everything and everyone from the Hutts to CorSec to the Trade Federation to Republic Intelligence seemed to be after her. Still, it was cold comfort against the pressing, cloying loneliness Dean felt every day he spent alone.
The coldness and blackness of the Dark Side had been all-encompassing. Being one with—and wrapped inside—a blanket of fear and hate and rage. But yet so isolated … the energy—he—had hated it, loathed the detachment from mortal civilization. Being one with the Dark Side of the Force wasn’t all it was cracked up to be. He missed the power, the control, the influence—the ability to warp and mold and manipulate weaker minds. But the blackness had consumed him. His energy had dissipated, spreading him and stretching him throughout the Force until he had almost lost his sense of self.
But … not quite. Because somewhere in the flow of energy, the eddies and currents of the Force, the knowledge existed. It came to him from time to time, like little voices on the wind, reminding him of the Prophecy, begging him to hold on, to bide his time, to wait. And so, the centuries passed, turning into millennia, slipping by like water between the fingers of time. Until…
All the creatures and agents of the Dark Side, everywhere in the universe—even the Force itself—became alive with the knowledge and cried out that the time was now—the events of the Prophecy had been set into motion, and he had awakened at last, congealing, coalescing back into himself. The time had come to act.
It didn’t take very long for him to find the perfect host. Strong body. Weak mind. Easily manipulated, twisted, overpowered. Almost no will of its own. And for the first time in five thousand years, he acted. The thrill of power rushed through him once again. Darth Azazel was back, and it was only a brief matter of time before his vision of the universe was realized. The mortals kept on inching inexorably towards their destiny—their doom, his victory.
Almost thirty-two standard years had passed since Darth Azazel had first awakened. It was barely a blink of an eye in the scheme of his existence. Since he had taken the first actions to set in motion the chain of events that would bring about a new era for the galaxy and a new direction for the Force, he had spent most of his time hiding, hibernating, flitting from one host to the next keeping watch and keeping out of sight. Aside from the moments right after he had been awakened, most of the first ten years had been spent biding his time and waiting for the next landmark—the birth of the Chosen One. He was repulsed at the thought of the weak-minded, overcurious fools whose existence he had shared during that time. He had more or less haunted the University of Coruscant catching up on history, technology, and galactic events, gleaning the information he would need to achieve his ultimate goal.
Then the Chosen One had been born, and he had set the first glorious fire. He couldn’t help but gloat at that memory. The Jedi hadn’t suspected a thing. His actions were spelling their undoing and the complete and permanent downfall of their precious Republic, but yet they had no clue. It was just as the Dark Side had whispered to him. Like the prophecy said, the wraith’s actions would go undetected until life itself was on the brink and the balance was shifted to the Dark Side. Only then would they figure out, and then it would be too late. After the chosen one, other fires had followed. Fun, yes, but not nearly as fulfilling. They were part of the ritual and served other purposes, but mostly they just passed the time. Then he had gone into hibernation for most of the last twenty-one years. He had gone so far as to spend much of that time existing without a host, haunting Sith relics and living in computer systems where no one would look for him. But now the time had come, the Force had nudged him, told him it was time, and so he would take the final steps towards fulfilling the prophecy. Soon he would rule the Galaxy with a legion of the most fearsome Sith to have ever lived fighting by his side.
Darth Azazel stretched and blinked his eyes. They were really the host’s eyes, but he was getting quite comfortable being alive and corporeal once more. The company of a computer core or the cold embrace of the Dark Side paled in comparison to the glory that was controlling a body. The host was still in the body with him. Darth Azazel could have expelled the weak-minded fool from the body at any time. A thought and the poor nerf herder would be flying from the mortal coil, off to whatever pathetic place those who couldn’t touch the Force went. But, there were good reasons for keeping the host’s spirit around. For one, it allowed Darth Azazel to hide beneath the surface. If he occupied the body alone, his eyes could give him away. Eyes were the windows to the soul after all, and like any soul consumed and corrupted by the Dark Side of the Force; his eyes were a glaring yellow, the color of putridity and decay. He doubted any modern Jedi would even know what yellow eyes meant, but he was not about to take any unnecessary chances. So, Darth Azazel stayed hidden, the clear, pure, blue eyes of his confused and terrified host all the world could see.
A songbird twittered somewhere overhead, its joyous, carefree song in stark contrast with Azazel’s brooding thoughts. His host’s consciousness perked up at the sound, but Azazel tugged back, feeling his host’s mind shudder with dread. Now Azazel was smiling; it was nice to be able to exercise his power over others so readily. He could exercise power over the songbird too, but he would not, because hate this tropical hothouse as he might, he didn’t want to give himself away. Still, he was enjoying this host. All too soon he would have to find another, if only to keep his prey off his trail.
His prey was near. The human didn’t yet realize the part he played in the Prophecy, in Darth Azazel’s plan. For now, the human thought that he was the hunter, not the hunted. Azazel would not disabuse the human of that notion, yet. The human’s feeble efforts would not be enough to derail or interfere with the important work Azazel was doing. To the contrary, the human seemed to have figured out just enough to ensure he did exactly what Azazel wanted.
Still, the closeness of the one that was the key to unlocking the Prophecy was tempting. Azazel could almost taste the human’s destruction, he could sense how powerful he would be if he took the human’s life, what that victory would bring to him. Azazel had to restrain himself, to resist jumping forward in the plan now. But the time was not yet right. He would wait, and weave his trap broader and wider until he could let it snap.
There it was again, the telltale disruption in hyperspace that usually signaled the presence of a Sith artifact. John Winchester knew he wasn’t imagining it, but the erratic pattern and mysterious tendency the “artifact” seemed to have to jump from ship to ship, always staying in-system for precisely six standard days before jumping to hyperspace again… He’d never seen or heard of anything like it. If he hadn’t run the sensor logs on the Hunter’s Folly backwards and forwards a dozen times, he wouldn’t have believed it.
Of course John doubted few would believe what he did for a living—if you could call it that. Even the Jedi didn’t seem to be aware of just how many Sith relics, artifacts, and other dark objects and creatures were lurking about. Even the Jedi Shadows didn’t really seem to have a clue. They investigated, but they seemed blinded by the present, not enough aware of the past that still lived around them.
John shifted in his chair and got up to pace back and forth around the bridge, absentmindedly running his fingers over the edges and contours of the ship’s bulkheads and computer terminals. Right now, he really missed his sons—both of them, he’d admit it. He even missed the son he’d kicked out four years ago. John had never wanted this—separation, distance—all he had ever wanted to do was watch out for his sons, keep them safe, protect them from all the evil in the universe. Raise them to become men their mother would have been proud of.
For the last four years he had had to watch over one son from afar, but at least Dean had been close. A friend. A hunting companion. The only family he had left—well that spoke to him anyway—but now he had left even Dean behind.
“It’s not safe,” John said aloud, trying to reassure himself. He shuddered, turning away from the viewport as if turning his back on the world below would help push the images from his mind.
John had started tracking the mysterious hyperspace distortions almost six standard months before. He hadn’t mentioned the case, or possible case as it was, to Dean because it was too vague and uncertain. Or at least that’s how John justified it to himself now. Looking back, it was honestly just a feeling—it felt unsafe, dangerous to mention the mysterious readings and their incomprehensible pattern to his son. Something about it seemed to scream out “not safe.” Plus, it wasn’t even clear that there was a case, the kind of case hunters would work on anyway—something that would fall outside the interests of the Jedi yet involve powers and entities beyond the ken of planetary authorities and be dangerous to the galaxy’s inhabitants.
John had started tracking the distortion and trying to see if it he could tie it to a ship or its cargo. There was no common inventory between the various ships that were entering or leaving hyperspace when the distortion showed up. It could be that a Sith relic was being smuggled and transferred from one ship to another, but the hyperspace distortion had shown up when passenger transports were leaving a system, when a Republic military ship was arriving, and in conjunction with Kuati luxury liners—vessels that rarely had smuggled cargo. It was as if the source of the distortion was itself a phantom or ghost or that its source wasn’t a relic at all—John shuddered to think—but a person. But that made no sense. There were no passengers in common between the various ships, and confirmed that by pulling strings and calling in favors to run copies of the ships’ passenger manifests through the Republic’s best datanets to check for possible aliases. If the best slicer John knew (that wasn’t either of his sons) couldn’t find any leads, then there probably weren’t any.
It was possible that the source of the distortion was something small, small enough to fit in a suitcase or pocket—something that could be passed from passenger to passenger, so that it could move around from person to person and ship to ship. Something that wasn’t tied to any of the usual smuggling rings or ships or personnel. He’d had the computer running models and simulations combining holovids of passengers leaving the ships, stated itineraries, and passenger manifests (the sliced versions), and so far had found nothing that explained how even a small artifact was moving from one ship to the next. If that was the source of the distortion, then whatever it was had to be changing hands between trips, possibly getting passed on more than once. And if that was the case, John certainly hadn’t been able to figure out any sense of pattern. It was as if the Sith relic was moving of its own accord.
Then, three weeks ago, he’d received an encrypted file from a fellow hunter, his old friend Bobby, suggesting that John personally investigate a mysterious fire on Commenor. John had nearly collapsed when he read the files and saw the holorecording of the fire’s improbable remains. He visited the scene—seeing a family’s home burnt and twisted and melted beyond recognition, the smell of charred flesh and melted plasteel burning his nostrils and turning his stomach. It was just like the fire that had taken Mary and destroyed their home on Dantooine almost twenty-two standard years ago. His heart went out to the family that had lost a mother. There was no way John could resist investigating something that might hold a clue to who or what was responsible for killing marry and destroying his family. If not for the sinister circumstances of Mary’s death, John would be a happily married father, retired from the Jedi support corps and running a successful mechanic’s shop on Dantooine. He owed it to Mary, to his sons whose childhoods he’d sacrificed to learn the truth and keep them safe. He had to take the job. Solving this mystery might bring him peace.
Then came the second fire—even more improbable than the last. A durasteel luxury apartment in a tower on Coruscant had burned so hot it melted part of the superstructure, yet the homes and apartments around it remained untouched. The details were almost too much for John to bear—another family destroyed. But then John found the eerie correlation between the timing and location of the fires and the movements of the mysterious Sith artifact.
Shaken, John had started digging. Sure enough, in each system in which the hyperspace distortion appeared, at some point during its sojourn some poor family’s home had caught fire and a child’s parent had died. The fires were all unexplained and many should have been impossible. At every fire there were trace readings of energy disturbances—similar to the hyperspace disturbance—that could only be caused by someone or something using the Dark Side of the Force. John was faced with the inevitable conclusion that the mysterious Sith artifact and the fires were linked.
Now, John stood pacing, looking down at the world below. Soon the Artifact would depart. Soon he would have a new destination, another chance to save a family, another chance to piece together what this meant for his own family—for his own son.
The computer chimed, breaking John from his dark thoughts. Sure enough, a ship, this time a passenger liner, that had just departed the system on a course for Corellia was giving off the telltale hyperspace distortion of a Sith relic.
He punched the coordinates into the Folly’s navcomp and prepared to follow the Sith artifact into hyperspace, hoping it would pull him one step closer to understanding, one step closer to the truth, one step closer to revenge. With a long sigh, John resumed his seat in the captain’s chair. The Folly’s computer trilled an alert that the hyperdrive was ready to engage. John pushed the lever forward and watched the stars blur into starlines and dissolve into the blue tunnel of hyperspace.
Sam Winchester stood staring at his reflection in the mirror in the ‘fresher in his apartment. His apartment! The thought made Sam smile. His reflection smiled back at him showing a clean, responsible adult, not the dirty, bedraggled “freighter captain’s” child he used to be. Sam Winchester had two degrees from the University of Coruscant, a prestigious internship with the junior Senator from Dantooine, and if everything went well at his scholarship interview next week, he would soon be accepted to the University of Coruscant’s law school. In a few years he would be well on his way to being the next great counselor, maybe eventually working his way up the Galactic Republic Senate’s legislative staff to be a chief legal advisor, or perhaps even advisor to the Chancellor! Sam dared not enter the political arena, no matter how much encouragement he received from professors. After all, normal, respectable citizen that he now was, Sam had no illusions of ever completely shedding his “colorful” past.
“Sam,” a light soprano voice called from somewhere in the apartment.
“Coming,” Sam replied. He and Jess—probably the best thing about his new, normal, life—were supposed to be going to a costume party with friends from the university where Jess was in the last year of her degree. Sam was supposed to be getting ready, but instead he was contemplating his life in the ‘fresher’s mirror. He did hate costume parties after all. They reminded him too much of his childhood and all the disguises and lies he was forced to assume, not to mention the things his father hunted. Sam really didn’t feel comfortable with people taking monsters and mythological figures and creatures (many of which weren’t so mythological) so lightheartedly. If they had any idea… but that was just it; they didn’t have any idea, and Sam wasn’t about to disabuse them of the notion.
“Sam!” Jess’s voice shouted. “Ven is here. We’re going to be late!”
Sam gave one last look, smoothing his longer-than-absolutely-proper hair down behind his ears as he did so, then stepped out into the hall, letting the ‘fresher door slide shut behind him.
“Is that your costume?” Ven asked, incredulous. The dark-skinned Twi’lek was dressed in black robes with a black cloak over his shoulders, its hood just visible under his tastefully arranged lekku.
“I’m not wearing a costume,” Sam sighed, exasperated. He was wearing a very nice formal suit that he had recently purchased with his hard-earned internship money. It was probably silly to wear it to a costume party, but then again, Sam hadn’t quite gotten over the feeling that wearing a suit was a costume, so he thought it was fitting.
“Don’t you know, Sam hates costumes,” Jess added teasingly.
“What are you supposed to be?” Sam asked Ven.
“A Darth,” Ven said, nonplussed as if it should be plainly obvious.
Sam shook his head in disbelief. Of all the things, of course Ven would pick one of the most ironic and woefully inappropriate… If Ven had any idea how dangerous Sith really were or how much trouble their blasted relics caused, he surely wouldn’t find it entertaining to dress up as one. But for normal people, Sith were just the villains of history and legend and were romanticized accordingly.
“What do you think of my costume?” Jess’s amused voice broke through Sam’s musings.
He turned to look at his girlfriend properly for the first time that evening. Jess was wearing what appeared to be an imitation of a Jedi Support Soldier’s uniform, only cut far more provocatively, so that it clung to all her curves. It also had the added benefit of a plunging v-neckline that temptingly drew the eye away from Jess’s face and to her rather generous assets. The material seemed to be some sort of very high quality wool that was so finely woven it was smooth, almost silky to the touch. Sam realized he was staring at Jess’s cleavage and absentmindedly stroking her sleeve. “It’s, um, really nice,” Sam flustered, blushing.
“Uh-huh,” Ven snorted noticing Jess’s equally rapt expression as she flirted with Sam. “Are you two sure you’re OK coming out tonight—you wanna stay home, get a room, or something?” he added teasingly.
Sam and Jess both turned to Ven with expressions of mock annoyance. Jess made a “tsk tsk”ing noise and Sam punched Ven in the arm.
“All right, all right. Let’s go,” Sam said, gesturing to the apartment’s front entrance.
Jess led the way out with Sam following, holding her hand, and Ven bringing up the rear. They left the dim, cozy confines of the apartment, walked along their level’s entry corridor, and stepped out into the bustling Coruscant night. Sam and Jess’s apartment wasn’t a luxury suite by any means, but thanks to Sam’s internship and Jess’s affluent parents, they were in a better-off neighborhood not too far from the University’s main administration complex in the Fobosi district. Their apartment was high enough up that they had a good view of the Galactic City’s starry sky, glittering spires, and opulent sky hooks without much obstruction by overhead walkways. They were close to several major skyways* and had a convenient speeder docking access, yet their neighborhood was constructed with pedestrian footpaths and gliding walkways every few levels, so they could also just step outside and walk about the city without having to spend lots of time in turbolifts.
The three walked along the sidewalk going up several levels to reach the wealthy classmate’s house where the party was taking place. The chatted about school, life, and work, and generally had a good time.
None of them noticed the somewhat sickly looking figure following them, lurking in the shadows about fifty meters back. And certainly none of them saw the figure’s eyes flash a glowing yellow.
If Sam had been honest with himself at the time, he would have admitted that he knew the tickling, itchy feeling on the back of his neck and in the corners of his mind was the sensation of being watched, but he was far too intent on being normal—and honestly had nearly convinced himself that prospect of a costume party had him freaked out for no real reason—to acknowledge it. So, Sam didn’t even sneak a glance over his shoulder. Instead he pulled farther inside himself, wrapped his arm tighter around Jess’s slender shoulders, and entered the party.
Darth Azazel followed the chosen one and his whore and their friend as they meandered and weaved through the causeways of Coruscant. They were intoxicated now. They’d partied and danced and acted like careless fools all evening long, and now they were going to the chosen one’s home. The chosen one sensed him; he knew it. Azazel could feel the chosen one’s mind so strongly. He vibrated with the power of the force even through the block Azazel had placed on him twenty-two years before. Darth Azazel didn’t know whether to be pleased that the boy was so powerful even though the block had not yet been lifted, or enraged because the boy was letting his talents go to waste—not just not using them, but actively ignoring them. Well, soon enough that problem would be solved. Azazel knew how to force the boy out of his shell, how to make him use those talents. Azazel pulled his host’s face into an approximation of a maniacal leer.
This host wasn’t as well suited as the last—the teenage ruffian spice-addict he had possessed was trying to fight back against his will and seemed more disgusted than horrified by Azazel’s presence. Still, he needed to shake his prey for a while. The prey was doing too good a job of playing the hunter. After the fire on Thyferra, John Winchester had nearly figured him out. The hunter had dismissed it as preposterous of course, but Azazel certainly couldn’t take the risk of tipping him off. Besides, he really needed John out of the way for this part of his plan. His prey wouldn’t be expecting him to return to Coruscant so soon after the last fire, and Azazel doubted the prey would think his precious estranged son would be a target now... Sam wouldn’t fit the pattern the prey thought he was following. Silly, simple-minded hunters and their fascination with patterns. They so seldom dealt with anything sentient that they made for very nice pawns on those rare occasions their prey could plan back.
The chosen one and his companions were slipping around a corner and out of sight, forcing Azazel to leave his hiding place inside the arched doorway of a closed tapcaf.
He was so intent on following the chosen one he nearly walked into a tall, blue Kaminoan woman who was gliding along in the opposite direction.
She skirted around Darth Azazel’s host with a look of disdain.
Annoyed, he flashed his real eyes at the woman in response, smiling at her reaction of mixed shock and fear. Yes… yes…the Jedi of this era might not take the Sith seriously, but the people, well, there were enough children’s stories warning of creatures with yellow eyes to ensure they feared a dark lord of the Sith when they saw one.
Mmm… Tonight would be a delicious victory—just a little longer and he would act, moving one step closer to ultimate victory. He could almost taste it now. Soon he and his comrades would be reunited and together, they would make the galaxy burn. The Galactic Republic would crumble at his feet, and the Jedi would tuck their tails and run before he slaughtered every last one of them. Soon the tide of the Dark Side would wash over the galaxy and change it forever.
Dean threw down his nerf steak sandwich in frustration. He felt like an idiot. Scratch that, he was an idiot. He let out a long sigh and took a long sip of lomin ale. Leaning back in his chair he surveyed the crowd around him. Dean was grateful he had found an outdoor tapcaf near Sam’s apartment complex that allowed droids.
The job on Tatooine had finished up quickly, but it was weird. There had been a Jedi’s Force-ghost roaming around, but as soon as he’d showed up she appeared to him, muttered something about wounds and healing and “your guide will come soon,” and then she’d left. Shimmered off into a bright warm glow and gone to be one with the force again. Being a Jedi who had crossed over, there was no body to salt and burn, no remains over which to perform rituals to set her soul at rest. So, he’d stuck around for an extra two days—made sure she was truly gone and not going to bother anyone again, and then he’d hightailed it to Coruscant. And of course, he’d been avoiding Bobby the entire time, not wanting to talk to his father’s friend until he knew where Dad was.
Chevy let out a swooping whistle and rolled closer to Dean’s chair. He patted the top of her domed head with affection. The little droid was trying to reassure him, and Dean really did appreciate it. Still, he wasn’t sure of himself, and he felt lost, adrift. John was missing. He had been out of contact for too long for this to be just another hunt gone wrong. Either John was in trouble or… Or what? Dean asked himself. Whatever the cause, it was pretty clear that everything was not OK. He could look for John himself or just continue on his own and wait for John to contact him whenever— Whenever what? Whenever Dad was safe? Whenever it was safe? Dean was an adult and didn’t need to go running to Daddy for reassurance, but he honestly hated being alone. And he was worried.
Technically, Dean had Chevy to keep him company, and he was thankful for that, but they couldn’t really talk, at least not without the help of a datapad, and the long, dark journeys through space got really lonely with no one to talk to. So, here he was, on blasted Coruscant of all places, trying to work up the nerve to talk to a brother he no longer knew.
Sithspit! Dean hated the super-urban planet with its globe-covering cityscape. He supposed it might be thanks to the first four years of his life spent as a farm boy on Dantooine, but big cities always made Dean uneasy. He wasn’t sure if it was the billions of sentient beings crammed into tight spaces with no room to spare, the lack of natural features and vegetation, or the depth of the planet—too many places to get lost.
It was funny though, Nar Shaddaa, the smuggler’s moon, was crammed full of people and nooks and crannies with very little open space, but Dean always felt OK there—perhaps it was because there the people who were lost and hidden, for the most part wanted to be. Plus, there were plenty of Pazaak games (or if you fancied a more high-tech scene like his father did, Sabacc games) to get caught up in; pretty, willing bodies eager for companionship; and scoundrels and smugglers a plenty, so that Dean fit in perfectly. But here on Coruscant, it was all perfect and normal on the surface, but that surface was stitched together and pulled over the lost and forgotten masses of the world below like skin sealed over an infected wound. And that made Dean twitchy, edgy, and he hated it.
Returning his attention to his meal, Dean picked up his sandwich and chewed a few more bites. He caught sight of a curly-haired blond on the arm of a very, very tall, dark-haired man. Dean’s stomach made a funny lurch that had nothing to do with his sandwich. Sam. Not just Sam, but Sam and his girlfriend. Dean felt awkward watching them as they walked by arm-in-arm, heads leaning together, smiling, laughing, enjoying themselves like normal people.
Dean wanted nothing more than to see Sam happy; he was even thrilled that Sam had finally gotten the normal life he’d always wanted. But Dean missed Sam, missed having his little brother at his side, knowing his best friend would always have his back. But Dean didn’t fit in Sam’s normal world, and Sam had made it perfectly clear that he wanted nothing more to do with Dean’s (John’s really, but the end was the same) world. Sam wanted museums and senate halls and libraries. Dean lived for card games, smuggling, slicing, and hunting. But like it or not, Sam needed to know Dad was missing. And, like it or not, Dean needed Sam, at least for a little while.
Chugging the last of his lomin ale, Dean rose, throwing a few credits on the plasteel tabletop as a tip, and motioning for Chevy to follow. He needed to see Sam, and now was as good a time as any.
As Dean followed Sam and his girlfriend, he tried to ignore the jostling press of people of all species and descriptions that pushed and shoved their way around him. Dean knew what building Sam lived in, but he was still hesitant to actually talk to Sam considering his younger brother hadn’t answered his holonet calls or messages in almost two years, and had actually suggested it would be better if Dean didn’t call. So, for now, Dean held back and followed.
Sam had changed a lot. Part of it was growing up—he’d been barely 18 when he’d left home. Sam had grown a few extra centimeters, making his height all the more dramatic. He was probably now at least ten centimeters taller than Dean. He had filled out and bulked up too. Sam wasn’t built like a guard or soldier might be, but he had developed a tasteful athleticism that suited him. It probably would have infuriated their father with its civilian-ness. Dean snorted at the thought and felt the concern and loneliness that had plagued him since John’s disappearance all the more acutely. The sharpness of the pain took him by surprise. Dean didn’t really know what to make of it. Maybe it meant John was in even greater danger?
Forcing the feeling to the back of his mind, Dean returned his focus to Sam. Sam seemed happy, he fit with his girlfriend and looked comfortable and confident and hopeful in a way Dean had never seen before. As much as Dean missed his brother and was still angry about the circumstances surrounding Sam’s departure from the family, he felt guilty intruding on Sam’s new life and disturbing his newfound happiness.
Dean followed Sam all the way back to his apartment complex, being extra careful to avoid detection. Sam had been excellent at detecting threats back when he was hunting, but if Sam had even an inkling that he was being followed he didn’t show it.
All evening, Dean watched from afar, using Chevy’s surveillance enhancements to keep watch over Sam and look for a good opportunity to approach him. Dean hoped that maybe Sam’s girlfriend would leave so that he could talk to Sam alone. He felt like he was really waiting for a good opportunity… to shatter his brother’s world. But, the opportunity never came. It soon became clear that Sam and his girlfriend were preparing to go out. When a tallish, dark-skinned Twi’lek showed up wearing Sith robes so convincing Dean nearly jumped out of his hiding place and charged in blasters blazing. But when Sam’s girlfriend came to the door wearing an interpretation of a Jedi Support Corps uniform that Dean was pretty sure he’d seen in a really low-quality pornographic holovid, it became pretty clear they were going to some sort of costume party. Sam, he was pleased to see, did not wear a costume—at least there were some things about his brother that hadn’t changed.
When Sam and his friends left, Dean was torn between following and staying at the apartment. Chevy gave him a sarcastic whistle that helped Dean decide he would be better off waiting at the apartment. Why torture himself with seeing more of Sam’s new life than he absolutely had to.
But, as Sam and his companions were nearly out of sight, Dean got the distinct feeling they were being watched. Dean wondered if he might have been tracked by one of the obsessed smugglers he had tangled with on his last job, or if possibly whatever bad thing had resulted in John’s disappearance had come after him too, but then he noticed a subtle shift in the way Sam carried himself that signaled that Sam sensed it too—he was doing his best to ignore it, but he sensed it. That’s when Dean felt the tickle of being watched go away. Whatever it was, it wasn’t watching him, but it might be watching Sam. Definitely not good. Dean had almost resolved to go after Sam anyway, when Chevy let out a low chirping whistle that got Dean’s attention.
The little droid was anxiously rocking back and forth on her treads that usually meant they had received a high-priority message. Sighing in frustration (and concern for his younger brother), Dean resolved to find a secure place to let Chevy play him the message in private. Sam would just have to take care of himself for a few hours.
Dean looked around. There were several recessed alcoves at the entrances to the nearby apartment buildings, but all were fairly well lit. It was a good neighborhood after all. There were other spaces off of the walkway, but they offered poor enclosure and little privacy from anyone walking by. The walkway was lined with trees, but they were ornamentals and would offer little in the way of concealment. Also, looking at the way colors were playing across the trees’ bark in ripples and waves, noticeable even in the dimmer evening light, Dean was pretty sure they were in fact Ch’hala trees from Cularin, which were sensitive to sound and vibrations and—with a little bit of cleverness—could be used as nearly undetectable recording or surveillance devices. Definitely not something he wanted to expose a sensitive message to.
Dean continued surveying their surroundings. He had half a mind to lower them both down into the courtyard garden he could see about a level down. It was clearly a communal garden for Sam’s building, the three cylindrical towers that made up his complex were arrayed around it in a U, with the forth side bordered by the walkway. Looking up, Dean could make out other similar structures about every seven levels above. He was willing to bet that the levels below had similar gardens as well. The garden was not lit at the moment and had several larger trees and shrubs—some of them were Alderaanian, Dean recognized—perfect for concealing a man and droid and probably even blocking most of the light from the holorecording. But, the garden was clearly intended to be a private space for the complex’s residents, designed to be accessed from the inside, only, and with a three-meter wall separating the garden from the walkway on the level below. The obvious privacy features also meant it would be impractical for Dean to slip in and out of with an astromech droid in tow.
“Chevy, wanna see how good Sammy’s security system is?” Dean asked his droid.
Chevy responded with a whistle-bleep that could only be described as snarky.
Dean snorted in reply, “Sounds like you’ve got even less faith in him than I do. Did you get a recording of the electronic keypad signature?”
Chevy’s response was a bleating whine that was the droid equivalent of a human eye roll.
“All right then,” Dean said with a smile, his fear for Sam’s safety temporarily forgotten, as he gestured for Chevy to roll on ahead of him. “Lead the way.”
In the dim evening light, it was relatively easy for Chevy to slip into the entry alcove of Sam's building without being seen by the building’s security holocam. Dean didn’t bother avoiding the camera, instead he stepped up to the door with confidence like he had every right to be there, keeping his head down so his face wouldn’t show up on the camera. Making sure his gloves were securely on his hands so as not to leave any DNA or fingerprint evidence behind, should he have any problems with Sam or his building. Dean listened over the miniaturized comlink earpiece as Chevy translated the door control sequence he had recorded as a series of numerical clicks Dean could easily translate into the proper code.
The doors slid open with a quiet swish, revealing a simple-but-elegant interior hallway with blue stone flooring and lighter blue-grey walls. The ceiling was arched and had inlaid lighting running along the curve between the arch and walls that cast a comfortable glow over the hallway. Dean assumed the décor was designed to be soothing to a wide range of sentient species. Dean strolled inside, careful to block the camera’s view as Chevy slipped in ahead of him.
Doors lined each wall of the hallway, their dark wood surfaces and wide spacing denoting the relative luxury and opulence of the quarters within.
Chevy let out a low, barely audible trill, which Dean interpreted with a glance at the small datapad he kept stored in his jacket pocket.
“I know, Chevy, hard to imagine our Sammy living here,” Dean murmured in reply. “The security on this place is pretty crap too, but maybe Sammy’s apartment is better.”
Chevy made another quiet chirp, and Dean saw his datapad update with a wireframe schematic of the building. On it, one corridor on a level midway up the building was flashing. The display zoomed in on the corridor and then showed a door and accompanying apartment unit nearly halfway down on the left side blinking.
“You sure that’s where Sammy and his friends were coming from?” Dean asked.
This time the little droid was silent, but words scrolled across the display below the schematic. “I tracked their voices going in and coming out. Building isn’t completely sound-proofed. Used hunter subroutines and sliced Galactic City housing records. Unit A-113-8 is registered to Samuel Winchester and Jessica L. Moore. Cross-referenced housing records with University of Coruscant student records and confirmed ident.” The words were followed by smiling 2-D images of Sam and his girlfriend, the kind used on ident cards and accompanied by some basic student information. Dean noticed that Sam’s record showed he had graduated with a dual degree in Mythology and Pre-law the previous school year and was now employed as a senatorial intern. “Huh, Sammy has a degree, and he didn’t think to tell us,” Dean added, trying not to feel the burn of betrayal and longing that cropped up whenever he thought too much about the rift between Sam and the rest of their tiny family. He noted absently that Jessica was in her last year of a degree in Galactic History and Pre-Reformation archeology. No wonder why Sammy liked her! The geeky relic stuff was always Sam’s favorite part of the family business, or rather the only part he didn’t hate. Maybe Sam wasn’t completely glad to be rid of his family after all.
Dean was drawn from his musings as Chevy stopped in front of an apartment. Dean looked up and noticed the unit number A-113-8 was listed on the door in clear, raised lettering.
The display on Dean’s datapad changed again. “I have been passively scanning for all security and sensor systems. The camera outside the main entrance and the camera outside the turbolifts are the only cameras on this level.” A section of the schematic a little farther down the hallway blinked on the display. “No other active monitoring devices detected; no alarms. Unit door has a modified Sienar Systems security system.”
“Modified?” Dean asked, looking from his datapad to the little Droid.
“It appears that someone has enhanced the sensitivity of its monitoring and triggering systems and interlaced it with a variety of Czerka Arms weapon systems.” The droid’s words scrolled across the screen, updating the display with a schematic for the system’s layout and specifications. “The system appears to be run by a droid brain. There are also runes.”
“Runes?” Dean asked, his right eyebrow quirking in surprise.
“Of the sort John taught you as children to ward off lost spirits and Sith relics.”
“I’ll be damned,” Dean whistled. “I guess Sammy hasn’t forgotten everything after all,” he added, feeling a swell of pride knowing his younger brother hadn’t been running around completely naked and exposed. “Can you slice it and get us in, Chevy?”
This time the droid let out an amused snort. “Sam used the standard CampbelTronics programming algorithms and the security codes you taught him. I am in communication with the droid brain that runs the system. It is waiting for you to answer the password query and the door will open.”
“Password query?” Dean asked.
“Iriaz. Press your hand to the chime,” Chevy replied through the datapad.
Dean did as instructed and was unsurprised when the chime panel lit up revealing a touch screen keypad. Dean typed in “Dream,” and the door slid open. “After you, Chevy,” Dean said.
The datapad scrolled out one more reply. “Have asked droid to raise lights 14% and darken windows so that I can display the holomessage.”
“Sounds good, Chevy,” Dean replied following the droid into Sam’s apartment. He was anxious to see the message, but almost more intrigued by this glimpse into his brother’s new life. Of course, his curiosity would soon be forgotten as the message would prove to be more cryptic and alarming than Dean could have imagined.
Master Post | Notes & Acknowledgments | Part 2