Monday, March 25, 2013

Tales of a Former Dark Lord, Chapter 1: The Trouble with Gorgeous, Paranoid Pilots



Big Fat Disclaimer: I do not own Knights of the Old Republic or Star Wars.  That honor belongs to BioWare and George Lucas.  The only part of this story that’s mine is the character of Brinna Warrim.  All other characters are the creations of the genius developers of BioWare, as is some of the dialogue in this story, which I lifted word from word from the game.  I lay the blame for my obsession squarely at their feet.  :) 

*****

            There was a look of determination on the young woman’s face.  She held a yellow lightsaber in her hand and every muscle in her body was tensed, prepared to fight.  Her eyes flashed as she swung the lightsaber in a mighty arc, connecting with the Dark Jedi.  Her aim was true and her blow devastating.  The Dark Jedi crumpled at her feet…

Brinna groaned as she slowly regained consciousness, the threads of her dream slipping away from her.  She was disoriented, unable to remember what had happened to her.  As she tried to move, her body protested, causing her to groan once more.  It felt like she’d been hit by a cargo ship.  A very large cargo ship.  A very large cargo ship that was very full of cargo.
“Take it easy,” a male voice told her.  “You hit your head pretty hard.  Don’t try to rush anything.”
Take it easy?  Who the hell is that? Brinna wondered, her eyes popping open as she sat bolt upright, searching for the source of that voice.  Her vision was somewhat blurry and she saw only the faintest outline of someone in an orange jacket.
“Or don’t.  It’s your choice,” the voice said dryly.
            She didn’t reply to the comment because her mind was suddenly focused on a single, panicked thought: my necklace!  Raising a frantic hand to her neck, she groped around until her fingers brushed against the worn leather lace and only then could she relax and focus on what was currently happening to her.  She exhaled slowly, calming herself before speaking.
“Who are you?” she asked, closing her eyes again and wincing as she gingerly rubbed the back of her neck.
“I’m Carth, Carth Onasi,” he told her.
She scanned her memory but came up blank.  Carefully, she opened her eyes and looked once more in the direction of the voice.  She managed to keep herself from gaping, but just barely.  Standing not too far from her bed was the source of that sexy voice and his appearance was a great match for his voice.  Deciding that maybe there was some advantage to sustaining a head injury after all, she allowed herself a moment to take in his handsome, rugged face, his gorgeous brown eyes, and the dark hair that was brushed back save for a couple of unruly strands that fell over his forehead.
“Right, Carth,” she said, the memory finally coming back to her.  He was the guy on the Endar Spire, the one who’d been in the final escape pod with her.  “I heard you on my communicator, right after Trask burst in on me in my underwear.”
The look on Carth’s face would have been priceless had she not been tempted to inflict another head injury upon herself.  What could possibly have possessed her to say that?  Maybe Carth would chalk that comment up to damage incurred thanks to the head injury.  At least she could hope so, anyway.
A sudden thought occurred to her and her gaze snapped back up to Carth’s.  “Oh no!  Trask…he didn’t make it, did he?”
Carth’s expression turned from bewilderment to one of regret mingled with anger.  “No, he didn’t.  All I know for sure is that you and I made it out alive.”
            “Trask threw himself at the mercy of a Dark Jedi so that I could get off the ship,” Brinna said, trying her best to speak around the painful lump in her throat.  She had only known him for those brief few minutes on the ship and yet he had sacrificed himself so that she could escape.  She made a vow to herself that she would never forget what he had done.
            Carth nodded soberly.  “I’m not surprised,” he said, softly.  “There were a lot of good people on that ship.  The Sith will pay for what they did but right now we have to focus on finding Bastila before the Sith do.  I’m working on the assumption that she made it, although the only thing I’ve been able to learn so far is that a Republic escape pod crashed in the Undercity.  I have no idea if it was hers or if she made it or not.”
Bastila…Bastila…she thought, her head throbbing as she once again probed her memory.  Try as she might, she couldn’t for the life of her remember who Bastila was and so she told Carth as much.
            He seemed very concerned about the extent of her injuries as she made this confession to him.  After a few more minutes of conversing with him, however, everything started to come back to her.  She had been sent on a mission with Bastila, the Jedi who was the key to the Republic war effort against the Sith.  When the Sith had bombed the Endar Spire into oblivion, she and Carth had managed to escape in the last pod but she had been injured when they crash landed on Taris, which explained both her physical and mental state.  Carth told her he’d managed to drag her from the wreckage of the pod and she couldn’t help but marvel at the thought of her life having been saved twice in one day and by two different people at that.
            After Carth brought her back up to date, she ventured a question about him and was instantly made to understand that the man was basically all business.  He was polite enough as he declined to tell her anything about himself but she could sense the tension in him and the fact that he had refused to answer more because he was being evasive rather than because he was concerned about taking a moment out to talk to her.  Evidently he was one of those guys who was close-mouthed about himself and who wanted nothing more than to focus on the task at hand.  Fine, she could do that.  So sue her for trying to be a little friendly!
            She turned her attention from Carth to the footlocker and workbench in the abandoned apartment he’d found to serve as their base.  There was a strange and unpleasant odor in the place that she tried her best to ignore.  She supposed squatters couldn’t be choosers and, at any rate, she’d encountered much worse deprivation while scouting the galaxy.  A textbook example of this was the really bad chop job she’d given her raven-colored hair courtesy of her trusty vibroblade.  When working for the Republic during wartime, one did not often have the opportunity to receive a professional haircut, after all.  A girl had to do what a girl had to do.  Of course, as she tied her hair back before beginning work on her vibroblade, several large chunks of it broke free of her hair tie.  Ah well, vanity be damned; her hair was the least of her worries at the moment.
            It was obvious that Carth was anxious to be off so she didn’t delay long at the workbench.  She didn’t need to anyway.  Her fingers were deft as she worked.  Years of experience had made it so that she could probably close her eyes and work on her blade without inflicting a single cut on herself.  Now did not seem to be the time to test this theory though.
            Naturally, as luck would have it, she and Carth ran into trouble as soon as they stepped out of the apartment door.  A Sith patrol was harassing a couple of Duros and Brinna watched incredulously as one of them was murdered before her eyes.  Her thoughts turned to poor Trask throwing himself at the mercy of that Dark Jedi and she felt a flash of serious anger.  The accompanying adrenaline rush served her well in the next few minutes as the patrol turned their attention to her and Carth, forcing them into a brief battle.  However, she was not so preoccupied that she failed to notice Carth’s prowess with his own vibroblades.  He could probably give her a run for her money.
            The surviving Duros was so grateful for their assistance that he said he’d hide the Sith bodies.  Brinna expressed her gratitude to him and her condolences on the death of his friend before she and Carth left.
            “Your service record wasn’t kidding about your abilities with alien languages,” Carth remarked as they made their way around the circular corridor of apartments.
            Brinna shrugged.  “Just comes naturally, I guess.”
            “Where did you find the time to learn them all?”
            “I don’t really know.  I never really had to study them or anything.  I just sort of picked them up as I went.”
            Carth frowned at her.  “I’ve been to a lot of different worlds and I haven’t managed to pick up a quarter of the languages that you know,” he said, something like doubt or suspicion creeping into his voice.
            “Yeah, well, don’t hate me because I’m smarter than you,” she shot back at him, her rather short temper getting the best of her.  What was with the guy?  He had to be the jumpiest, most uptight man she’d ever met.
            To her surprise, he smiled.  “I won’t.  After all, you are sadly lacking in battle skills when compared to me.”
            Brinna gave him a subtle once-over out of the corner of her eye.  Maybe he’s not as uptight as I thought.  This could be fun…
“I highly doubt that,” she replied, cocking an eyebrow and smirking at him.
            He looked like he wanted to respond but there wasn’t much opportunity for further conversation as she broke into an apartment immediately after her last comment.    She always did like having the last word.
            The apartment they stumbled into was inhabited by a nervous young woman named Dia.  It was obvious to Brinna that Dia was seriously frightened about something and Brinna felt a rush of compassion for her.  She managed to persuade Dia into telling her that she was worried because a creep named Holdan had placed a bounty on her head after she’d defended herself against his advances.  Brinna immediately promised to do her best to get the bounty removed.
            “This planet is unbelievable,” she told Carth as they continued with scouting the other apartments.  “As if the Sith occupation is not bad enough, there’s all sorts of prejudice against aliens, to the point that they’re all considered illegal, and there’s a vicious crime lord who allows his goons to place bounties on the heads of women who need to use force to fend off those goons’ advances.”
            “I can’t say I’m too impressed with what I’ve seen so far either,” Carth agreed.  “I’m glad we stumbled on that poor woman.  The thought of what she’s been put through just makes my blood boil.”
            “I’d like to introduce that Holdan to my own vibroblade,” Brinna muttered.
            “Yeah, well, I’d be glad to help you with that.”
Their conversation was temporarily halted as they continued with their scouting.  The more she saw and learned of Taris, the more Brinna’s sense of distaste increased.  She felt sincerely sorry for the aliens who were trapped here.  She wished she could take them all with her when she managed to break her way free of this sorry excuse for a planet.
            Once they were finished with the apartments near theirs, they made their way out into the city.  As they headed toward Kebla Yurt’s shop, where Kadir the janitor had told them they would be able to purchase supplies, Brinna felt her curiosity overtake her once again and, almost before she knew what she was doing, she was asking Carth more questions about himself.  Though she practically had to pry it out of him, she did manage to learn that he had been a star pilot for the Republic for some time and that he was from Telos, which had been destroyed by the Sith.  Brinna listened in grim silence.  She remembered hearing about the Sith devastation of Telos.  In her opinion, only cowards and unspeakably evil people attacked civilian targets and killed innocents.
            She really wanted to ask Carth something more but he made it clear to her that he wasn’t used to talking about his past and that he’d prefer she ask more about it later.  Had he known her better, he would not have said this to her.  He probably figured that she’d lose interest and not bother to ask him anything more but he knew nothing of her tenacity.  Carth had said something very strange about how he had failed “them” during the fall of Telos and Brinna had latched onto that one word.  There was an enormous amount of pain in Carth, so much that it was almost palpable and Brinna was determined to discover its source.
            Brinna had always had good senses when it came to others.  Her mother had often marveled at it because she had always been unable to hide anything from her daughter, even when Brinna was a very young child. 
            “I don’t know whether I should be glad or resentful of your ability to read my emotions,” her mother had once said, exasperated.
            “I’d go with glad,” Brinna had told her.  “Why should anyone have to suffer alone?  Maybe it’s none of my business…”
            “When has that ever stopped you?” her mother had asked, with a rueful shake of her head and a fond smile.  “Ah, Brinna, your heart is good.  You just can’t stand to see anyone unhappy.”
            “I can’t stand to see you unhappy,” Brinna had corrected her.
            But her mother had been right, she couldn’t stand to see anyone unhappy.  She had always been impetuous because of this.  The moment she sensed there was something wrong with someone, she would basically badger them until she learned exactly what it was and then she would do her best to help console them.  Whenever she’d witnessed some sort of injustice being committed against another, she’d rushed in with fists—and, later, vibroblades—blazing.
            Naturally, Taris disgusted her to her very core.  It was such a seething hotbed of corruption and vice that it was as if the very essence of the place coated her skin.  Of all the planets in the galaxy to crash land, why did it have to be this cesspool?
            Kebla Yurt was most helpful not only with the supplies they needed for their mission but also with information.  They learned more about the swoop gangs and Davik Kang from her, as well as some other general information about the planet.  She was a nice woman and Brinna felt that it was a crying shame that her business was so compromised by the Sith presence on the planet and by the necessity of paying a “protection fee” to Davik.
The most interesting part of the day occurred when they ran into a young Sith officer named Yun Genda in the cantina.  Brinna wouldn’t exactly describe herself as a seductress but she wasn’t above using feminine wiles when it suited her and it definitely suited her on this occasion.  She had sensed immediately that she piqued his interest and Yun was quite responsive to her sweet-talk and phony sympathy.  Out of the corner of her eye, she noticed Carth making a face and it was all she could do to stop herself from smiling in response.
Like a little of that yourself, Mr. Onasi? she thought.  Don’t count on it any time soon.  You have to prove yourself worthy first.
After promising Yun she’d show up at his party that evening, Brinna glanced at Carth and saw that he appeared to be in deep thought.  He noticed her glance and started, as if he’d been in his own world and only just noticed her existence.
“Something wrong?” Brinna asked.
Carth frowned.  “We could use some credits.  I was just trying to figure out what we could do to earn some.”
“That’s a good question,” Brinna said, frowning in turn.
            They entered the next room of the cantina and found it filled with viewscreens.  Curious, Brinna wandered over to one of them and saw that they were tuned in to an arena where two male competitors were engaged in a duel.  It was over in a matter of seconds, as the older duelist was clearly no match for the younger one.
            “That’s interesting…” Brinna murmured.
            “What do you mean?”
            “I mean I think we should go talk to that Hutt over there,” she said, moving to the back of the room, Carth following in her wake.
            The Hutt introduced himself as Ajuur and explained that he was responsible for running the duels.  He promised that no one ever died during the duels and though Carth expressed some disbelief over this, Brinna’s mind began working overtime.  By the time Ajuur suggested she step into the ring, Brinna had already begun to calculate how much she could earn.  She accepted his offer and though Carth agreed that it was for the best, she could see that he was a little bit worried about the whole idea.
            “Are you sure you want to do this?” he asked her as she adjusted her combat suit and gave her vibroblades a few practice swings.
            “I’m positive.  You said it yourself, we can use these credits.”
            “I know but I don’t place much confidence in that Hutt,” he said, casting a dubious glance at Ajuur.
            “Neither do I but this is the best chance we’ve found so far for collecting a few credits.  Seems the only people other than the duelists making money on this planet are the Sith and Davik’s henchmen.  I’m quite sure you’d rather not try earning your keep courtesy of those last two choices.”
            Carth grimaced.  “Just be careful,” he told her.
            “I didn’t know you cared,” she said, in a voice of mock-breathlessness.  With a dramatic flourish, she put a hand over her heart and fluttered her eyelashes at him.
            “I just wouldn’t want to see that combat suit get scratched,” he told her, smiling seemingly in spite of himself.
            “Thanks a lot,” she said, dryly.
            She spent the next couple of hours working her way through the first three ranks of Taris’s dueling circuit.  By the time she had finished with Ice, she was banged and bruised but feeling pretty smug about the six hundred credits she’d managed to earn for them.  She was seriously tempted to try her hand at another duel and Carth had to practically drag her away.
            “Come on, you’ve earned enough for now,” he told her.  “We need to get moving on our search.”
            “Fine, but only if you’ll answer a few more of my questions,” she told him.
            “Fine, fine, but not until we get out of this cantina,” he replied.
            The second they stepped outside, she pounced.  She stared at him incredulously as he called her “beautiful.”  Was he flirting with her or was he being flip?  She studied him through narrowed eyes as she tried to determine which it was and, before she could stop herself, her temper flared and she threatened to relieve him of one or both of his ears if he called her “beautiful” again.
            The more abuse I dish, the more this guy loves it, she thought in amazement as he laughed and then provoked her again by calling her “gorgeous.”  Now she was positive that he was trying to divert her but, in spite of herself, she found that she was taking his bait and repaying his compliments with insults.  She found, to her surprise, that she was really enjoying herself, although that quickly evaporated once his paranoia started to assert itself once again and he began questioning her about what had occurred on the Endar Spire and about her last-minute assignment to the ship.
            His assertion that Bastila’s party had specifically requested her presence jolted her, though she tried her best to hide it.  As soon as they were moving again and Carth’s attention was otherwise occupied, she frowned and tried to remember what she’d been told when she had been assigned the Endar Spire mission.  Try as she might, however, she could not remember what reason she had been given for her presence and, in truth, could not even remember being assigned to the mission in the first place.
            I must have amnesia, she thought, unconsciously rubbing her forehead.  Yet she could not help but feel unsettled.  It was very, very strange that there was a hole in her memory, that she could not remember the days leading up to her boarding of the Endar Spire.
            She didn’t have much time to worry about it, though, because she soon found herself doing the best she could to single-handedly rescue every person on Taris who had managed to get themselves in trouble with Davik.  Carth was not thrilled with the credits that she freely disbursed and though she, too, was worried about having enough credits to get by, she knew that she simply would not be able to live with herself if she stood back and let the poor unfortunates be hunted down and killed by Davik.
            “Just think, we get to end this great day by going to that Sith party!” Brinna told Carth as they wearily walked to the apartment Yun Genda had marked on her map.
            “Partying with the Sith.  That will be a first for me,” Carth said, with an expression of distaste.
            “It’s not exactly how I’d like to spend my night either but maybe we’ll learn something from them,” Brinna said, with a shrug.  “It just seemed like too good of an opportunity to pass up.”
            “Yeah, well, the sooner we get there the sooner it’ll all be over.”
            Loud music pounded through the corridor as they reached the apartment.  Yun greeted Brinna by raking her up and down with his gaze and Brinna forced what she hoped was a flirtatious smile on her face.  She tried her best not to yawn as he extolled the virtues of Tarisian ale, ending his ode with a declaration that the Sith should have conquered the planet sooner.  Brinna could practically hear the air crackling with the tension Carth was giving off as she let out a phony peal of laughter for Yun’s benefit.
            “Here you are,” Yun said, handing her a glass of the aforementioned Tarisian ale.
            “Thank you,” Brinna said, graciously.  She pretended to take a sip as Yun cast another inappropriate glance at her.  She felt like shoving the glass down his throat but managed to restrain herself.
            To her dismay, she wasn’t able to get any useful information out of Yun or any of the other Sith.  It didn’t look as though Carth was having much luck either.  With every glass of ale the Sith drank, they became louder, sloppier, and more obnoxious.  Just when Brinna was reaching the limits of her patience, the Sith began to pass out, almost simultaneously.
            “Finally.  I thought it would never end,” she muttered to Carth as they surveyed the room full of prone, drunken bodies.
            “Tell me about it.  The Sith ought to torture their prisoners by sending them to junior officers’ parties.  These people were, without a doubt, the most boring, annoying people I have ever met.”
            “I can’t quite agree with you there,” Brinna said, unable to resist getting a jab in at him.  This is far too much fun for you, she scolded herself.
            “Really?” Carth asked, studying her with raised eyebrows.
            “Well, I am traveling with you, after all,” she said to him.
            “Watch it.  If you’re not careful I may just leave you here with them,” Carth said, grinning and gesturing toward the Sith.
            Brinna made a face.  “In that case, I guess I’ll try being nice to you for a while,” she said, sweetly.  “Ah, what have we here?” she asked, as she dug through one of the officers’ packs.  She pulled a Sith uniform out and looked over at Carth with a triumphant smile.
            “See, this night wasn’t a total loss.  I have no doubt we could get some good use out of this,” she told him.
            “Fine, fine, you win,” he said.  “Can we get out of here now?”
            “Immediately,” she said, moving out of the apartment as quickly as she was able.
            She and Carth found themselves some food at the cantina but elected to take it back to their apartment.  They had a lot to talk about and neither of them really felt like being surrounded by the noise in the cantina. 
            As they were both famished, neither of them spoke a word for the first several minutes after they began eating.  For the first few bites, Brinna was simply too hungry to notice how horrible the food was but it didn’t take long before she was unable to bear it any longer.
            “This is, without a doubt, the worst thing I have ever eaten,” she said, pushing the food away from her.
            “I think it’s delicious,” Carth replied.
            “You do?” she asked incredulously.
            “Maybe if I were completely lacking taste buds.”
            Brinna just couldn’t help herself.  It had been a long, stressful day and she found that she wasn’t able to contain herself any longer.  She threw her head back and laughed long and hard at Carth’s words.
            “I didn’t think it was that funny,” he said, laughing along with her.
            “It wasn’t.  This was just such an…um…interesting day,” she said, trying to catch her breath. 
            “That it was,” Carth agreed.
            “Ah well, it’s over now.  And the good news is that we get to get up and do it all again tomorrow,” Brinna chirped brightly.
            “Don’t remind me,” Carth groaned.
            “It’s not so bad.  You are with me, after all,” she told him, winking broadly at him.
            “Lucky me,” he replied, rolling his eyes.
            “Hey, you could be stuck with someone like Ajuur.”
            “Yeah, well, he’d probably hassle me less than you.”
            “Yes, but I’m cuter than him.”
            “Just barely,” he said.
            “Thank you very much,” Brinna said in mock-outrage.  She tossed a bit of paper at Carth, who ducked and laughed.
            “You’re very welcome.”
            “No wonder you’re such a hit with all the ladies,” Brinna told him, laughing as well.  “You’re clearly the dependable and encouraging sort.”
            The effect her words had on Carth shocked her.  His eyes, which had been appealingly crinkled up at the corners in laughter, suddenly darkened with pain and he winced as if she’d hit him. 
            “Carth,” she said, stunned.  “I’m sorry, I…”
            “Why don’t you go ahead and get some sleep?” he asked, in a strained voice as he turned away from her.  “I’ll keep watch first.”
            She opened her mouth to try once again to apologize but something about the defeated slouch of his shoulders stopped her.  After all the playful insults they’d been launching at one another all day, she couldn’t imagine what it was about her latest that had hurt him as deeply as it had.  She wished she could take the words back so that she could see his eyes lit up with laughter once again.  It was unbearable to see someone look as though he was suffering as much as Carth seemed to be suffering at the moment.
            I’ll figure you out, Carth Onasi, she vowed silently.  I’ll figure you out if it kills me.