Star Wars, Episode I Redux: Into the Void
With a glint of reflected light, the last of the snubfighters crested the planetary horizon and disappeared. A moment later the reports started coming in.
They were disappointing.
One xebec destroyed, the other two—including the flagship—damaged. Causalities were high aboard xebecs on account of the number of slaves used to man the ship’s many guns and turbolaser batteries. A slave could be plucked at will from among its people to replace others. The number of their loss was measured in the hundreds—anything less merited little comment or concern—but Mandalorian stock was another matter entirely. They could be replaced, yes, but not so easily nor so readily. Losses of that sort earned the ire of their clan chieftains, a feral, pugnacious lot given to explosions of uncontrolled rage. Such emotion could be utilized to their benefit—yes, it was valuable indeed—but unchecked and undirected, it often proved as devastating to their own cause as to the enemy.
That freighter, the thought passed through the dark lord’s mind unbidden, will pay. By the Void, the freighter will pay dearly.
The flagship’s captain shifted uncomfortably next to the colossal black statue looming over the bridge command station. Wisps of black smoke emanated and stirred of their volition at the fringes of the statue’s madder cape and with each infrequent movement of its armored form. The massive helm, protruding spikes on either side and a crest of stone, turned to face him. Where there should have been a face, two white slits bore down on him—two slits in a well of blue-black darkness.
From nowhere and everywhere at once, a deep, resonant thrumming filled the bridge—and somewhere in his mind he heard the words. They were little more than a whisper—an echo somewhere deep within a cave, but he understood them all the same. Stiffening to a rigged attention, the captain cleared his throat. “Our scans indicate that the ship went to surface in the northwestern hemisphere,” he said to the statue. “We were unable to ascertain its exact location, but we have a fair approximation.”
Another bellow of thrumming, and in his ears the whisper again—angrier, more insistent. “Yes, Lord Margrave,” the captain said hesitantly, “but with all due respect—”
From the other side of the bridge came another sound. Where the Lord Margrave of Atha Prime spoke in the space between sound and thought, this new sound was more nearly recognizable. It was, if anything, comforting: the angry, defiant growl of a Mandalorian warrior—one of his own kind.
Approaching them from the rear of the bridge, the Mandalorian chieftain Nooril Korna addressed the statue before it had even turned to acknowledge his presence. “With the damage we have sustained,” Korna picked up, “it would be impossible to—”
Atha Prime did not so much move as he did morph. The statuesque figure of alabaster stone and silver armor one moment loomed over the xebec’s captain and in the next—in the literal blink of an eye—now stood before the chieftain Korna, forcing the green-armored Mandalorian to a clumsy halt. Tendrils of black smoke trailed behind the statute, the only sign that it had moved.
In its transformation, the dark lord seemed to grow in stature, towering over the chieftain and filling his entire field of vision. Those white slits bore down on him, glowing with a fiery intensity. Another low thrumming and then a scream of a whisper.
The chieftain, recovered from the surprise, set his jaw and glared up at the black visage before him. “It was my decision, Lord Margrave,” he said, adding scorn to the title. “The ship could not be caught. Would you have preferred that it escape?”
The eyes flared and another thrumming followed, but this time the voice that came to them was not that ghoulish, nightmarish sound in their minds. Directly beside the chieftain, one of the Amiklot slaves manning the bridge leapt to her feet, the lights on her external cybernetic implant flashing in an unusual pattern across the back of her skull. Solid black eyes blinked spasmodically, as though she were receiving an electric shock—and indeed she might have been. Then, with an effort of will to which she was clearly unaccustomed, she opened her mouth and spoke, “But they did escape, Korna.” Her Basic was perfect—or at least her vocal chords and lips could be made to imitate the sounds without much trouble.
Korna glared at the slave, as did the Mandalorian overseers on the bridge. One of them moved to strike her with his stunwhip, but a raised hand from the chieftain stayed him.
“You Mandalorian officers do what is necessary to find them,” the slave went on. The black eyes seized their rapid blinking and turned to look directly at the chieftain. “But the Jedi is mine. We must have a live specimen.”
Then her eyes grew wide with terror. Whatever came next, she hesitated to say it. Jaw muscles worked beneath her flesh as she struggled against the commands flooding her mind. In response, the lights on the implant took on a new pattern, this one dizzyingly fast. Twisting her neck sharply to one side, she shrieked out, “Your foolish tactics, Korna, do not work so well on their sophisticated ways. I deny you the pleasure of the Jedi’s scalp or weapon.”
The chieftain turned on Atha Prime, a storm of emotions clouding his face. To have his prize stolen out from under him… “Lord Margrave,” he began tautly, “that right is mine, and mine alone. The arrangements you have made—”
“Your requests are not my concern!” The rebuke came from the Amiklot slave, a screeching sound hardly recognizable as words.
The Mandalorian snarled.
“The Jedi are my concern,” the slave bit out, coughing with the strain. With every new word, red blood speckled at the corners of her lips. “You have failed in your prime directive, Mandalorian,” she said with evident disdain. “Find me that Jedi. Bring him to me.”
Korna’s eyes flicked from Atha Prime to the other Mandalorians on the bridge. He eyed them each in turn—assurance or a warning, it was impossible to say. Mandalorians had their own warrior’s hierarchy, one built on domination where the weak were quickly and decisively weeded out. To have his authority so flagrantly undermined aboard his own flagship, by this unexpected and unwanted guest.
No, by a slave…
Slowly he returned his gaze to those glowing white slits. “Yes, Lord Margrave—”
“Alive, Korna,” the slave snapped.
In one smooth motion, the chieftain drew the massive blaster on his hip and without looking to aim, he fired. The bolt struck the Amiklot slave between those two solid black eyes. Even if she had still possessed some semblance of free will, she would never have had the chance to react. The shot sent her sprawling backwards over her seat and onto the deck, the cybernetic implant clanging loudly against the metal decking.
Satisfied, the Mandalorian chieftain holstered his blaster and squinted defiantly up at the figure before him. That black pool of a face regarded him impassively, the white slits seemingly indifferent to the chieftain’s small rebellion. “Yes, Lord Margrave,” Korna said and bowed.
Turning to leave, he failed to notice the massive gauntlet that revealed itself from beneath the statue’s cape. Enormous obsidian fingers materialized in a wisp of smoke and among them sparks of blue-white lightning flickered and danced.
Across the bridge, the displays sputtered and went blank. Then, by some unspoken command, the dozen Amiklot slaves at their stations simultaneously leapt to their feet, the lights on their implants twinkling in unison.
Stunned Mandalorian overseers moved to their charges, striking them with stun batons and whips, sending up cascades of white lightning as their weapons struck flesh. Those slaves too weak or small to take the punishment simply fell to the ground, rigged as in death—but their eyes remained wide and staring. At his station, the captain stabbed at controls meant to restrain the slaves by way of their implants, but this too came to no avail, only generating stun sparks from beneath the implants. Two slaves had parts of their implants overload in small explosions, but even this did nothing to return them to their stations.
One by one the overseers looked to Korna for answers.
Rage—pure, white-hot rage—etched itself across the chieftain’s face as he turned to glare back down the bridge. Back to Atha Prime.
His fist held before him alive with a ball of blue-white lightning, the statue thrummed once more, a deep, otherworldly sound that rattled chairs and deck plating. The Amiklot slaves turned to face Korna, those who had been struck to the ground rising awkwardly to join their brethren. Then as one they opened their mouths and let forth a bloodcurdling sound, screaming out at the Mandalorian chieftain.
“ALIVE. OR I WILL KNOW THE REASON.”
In the stunned silence, the overseers once again looked to their chieftain, while those black eyes—dozens of solid, black eyes—stared at him from every part of the bridge. Alone, they were meaningless. The Amiklot were a servile people, little more than draught animals for their Mandalorian overlords. But in those eyes Korna saw what they truly represented. They were not just slaves—those eyes were an extension, an extension of the glowing white slits that watched him from the other side of the bridge. Mandalorians could control man and beast, but none, so far as he knew, could control the mind.
Korna did nothing to hide his apparent disdain, but now he and his warriors had seen the power this dark lord possessed.
With parade ground precision, Korna bowed and said, “As you will, Lord Margrave.”