Tuesday, August 16, 2005

The Specter of Remorse

For some, the shadows of the past stay in the past. They only come out at night, in dreams or memories to cause torment and grief. These shadows can be terrible, but shadows they remain and in the light, they fade away. Even the strongest of souls may harbor these regrets, clinging like drowning men to a burning raft as if scourging oneself could ever erase the guilt that gave them their dark life.

Yes, for some the shadows of the past are naught but ephemeral spirits and haunting visions. For others, the specters of their remorse take on a different form. One all too familiar. All too real...


He stared at the ceiling for the thousandth time that night. Three days had passed since Almas; three days since he'd called for the mass-exodus of its students and teachers to join him aboard the Maelstrom and depart to fight in the Wars. He'd hoped the company of other Jedi would help calm his troubled mind. It hadn't.

Of course, company implied contact and that was something the others had assiduously avoided where he was concerned. Darrus really couldn't blame them. Right now, he probably seemed like the icon of all that was wrong with the Clone Wars. He'd appeared over the Academy in a battle cruiser, issued an executive order, and taken these men and women away from the system they'd been defending for more than three years.

Hells, some of these Jedi were barely old enough to be called such; at any other time in history, many of the Knights below would barely be Padawans, much less be allowed to take up arms against the enemies of the Republic. Now, events were unfolding so quickly and so savagely that when this voyage back to the front lines of the war was over, each would have hundreds of clone troopers under his or her command.

Command? Some of the Jedi he took from Almas could barely order their own minds, much less a battalio....

The door to his outer quarters slid open quietly. Marr-ek, his ARC Trooper second in command had an annoying habit of coming in unannounced, but something told Jeht this wasn't his irreverent clone counterpart. No, Marr-ek's mind always echoed a certain aggressiveness even when he was at rest. This... this felt like nothing at all. A quiet void. It felt like something masked by the Force. That, or a...

...droid! Jeht silently rolled out of his bunk and onto his feet in a single maneuver. This wouldn't be the first assassin droid he'd dealt with. His mind whirled for a moment, wondering how many might already be dead about the Maelstrom. With an almost vicious will, he suppressed such worries. They would only serve to distract him right now; the dead were beyond help right now and if he didn't gather his wits, he would be joining them shortly.

He spared a moment's glance at his armor, sitting in a neat pile on his bedchamber's table. Clad only in a pair of black silk pants, he was hardly dressed for combat. There was no time to gird up, however. With a thought and a gesture, he summoned his lightsaber across the room to his hand. Igniting it now would give away the fact he was conscious. Best to let the droid come into his chambers unaware of that fact. Stepping as silent as a stalking razorcat, he moved to one side of the sliding door and waited.

He did not have to wait long. The portal whispered open, but what came through was considerably smaller than he'd expected. Instead of a combat droid, only a small metal ovoid rolled into the chamber. With the speed borne of Jedi reflexes and a moment's alarm, Jeht leapt up out of the room, taking a high arc through the door way to avoid the grenade's detonation.

Behind him, there were two flashes of light. One was the mushrooming radiance of a stunner grenade's eruption. The other was an arc of green light that transected where his chest would have been if he'd simply run out of the room. That one was accompanied by a snap and hiss, the telltale sounds of a lightsaber's ignition.

Jeht flew over the strike and rolled to his feet several yards away, whirling instantly. His opponent was no droid. It was a wild-eyed human, his hands clutching a green-bladed saber tightly and a look of Force-driven rage on his face. "How long can you avoid justice, betrayer?!" the Jedi shouted and lunged forward to attack.

Again, Darrus went high, leaping over the strike and landing on a nearby table. "Justice? What are you talking about?" He recognized this Jedi; the man was one of the padawans he'd taken from Almas. "Why are you doing this?"

"Why?!?" Two more wild swings tore the table asunder but Darrus was back out of striking range, his saber still quiet and held at his side. "You may have the Almas Masters fooled but you can't deceive us all! I know the truth!" The half-crazed Jedi drove forward, his deadly weapon scoring a deep fissure along the wall. Jeht's quarter were near the heart of the vessel, so there was no risk of breaching the ship this way. No, the only thing at risk of getting 'breached' was Darrus himself.

This had to stop.

He tried to keep the Jedi talking. "What truth?" As he did, he moved towards the wall in a veiled attempt to get close to the in-ship alarm panel. He actually wanted to deal with this himself, but an armed contingent might be necessary if things got any more violent. A dozen troopers with their rifles on stun could end this quickly.

"The truth about you! The dead padawans, the destruction of the Nder's estate! The others may believe your lies, but I feel the Dark Side in you!" A flurry of blows took out the paneling all around Jeht, though he managed to avoid getting hit. Unfortunately, the attacks did claim one victim; his communications console. Okay; no alarm. Damn.

"We all have to wrestle with the Dark Side, Padawan." He spoke as calmly as he could, but things were getting dangerous in here. Try as he might, he could not keep dodging forever. His Jedi assailant was a lot closer to the Dark Side than he would likely admit right now; riding on that wave of rage would keep him going for some time before it exacted its toll. By that time, Darrus would be quite, quite dead if he didn't start defending himself.

Resigned to the likely outcome of all this, he raised his saber to intercept the next swing and thumbed the power switch. Nothing happened. The split-second's shock was enough for the Jedi to score a vicious blow across Darrus' arm, his green blade slicing straight through the emitter of Jeht's quiescent weapon to do so. Only combat reflexes and the Force kept Jeht from losing the limb entirely. "Ahhhh!"

"That's just a taste of the agony you've caused, traitor! The rumors are true, aren't they? There is a Sith involved in this war, and that Sith is you!"

Desperately needing a moment to dim the pain of his wound, Jeht reached out with the Force and hurled the larger half of the ruined table nearby at his assailant. It slammed the Jedi back against the far wall, buying Darrus a few precious seconds.

As he focused on the injury, he could hear the Jedi picking himself up off the ground? "Surprised? You shouldn't be. I've had days to plan this! While you've been playing General, I snuck in here and took the power cell out of your lightsaber." The Jedi wiped blood from the corner of his mouth. "Face it! Your reckoning is at hand, Dark Master!"

Jeht looked at his ruined weapon. The hilt was steaming, its core exposed and its focusing crystal shorn in two. With a mournful sigh, he dropped the saber and stared at his adversary. "I am not Sith. I am not fallen to the Dark Side." His voice echoed with such power, such raw, palpable malice that it made the Jedi stop dead in his tracks.

Tiny flickers of lightning, blue-white and baleful, played around Jeht's night-black eyes. "And I am not going to let you threaten me any longer." He reached out and for a moment, it felt to the Jedi like his throat was tightening.

Then, with a scowl, Jeht turned his gaze to a nearby panel. The hidden compartment flew open and a satchel came tumbling out. "You've taken my weapon, Padawan, but that's all right. I have plenty more where it came from." The bag's closures popped open, one by one, and as Jeht's storm-rimmed eyes focused on the Jedi, a dozen metal cylinders flew out of it and began to over in the air between them.

Another lightsaber, a dark handled weapon with a set of spires surrounding its emitter, leapt from the bag and settled comfortably into Darrus' outstretched hand. Though he masked the surprise well, Jeht's eyes widened slightly. He hadn't meant for this to happen, but he wasn't going to argue with being armed.

With a gesture half born of mercy, half spawned from disdain, Darrus spread the fingers of his other hand and pointed them at the Jedi against the wall. The lightsabers between them ignited simultaneously and lowered to aim their points at the man's chest. Over the static hum of the hovering weapons, he said quietly. "I have never killed a Jedi before, despite what you may think... boy. Please don't be my first."


Ten minutes later, Darrus stood at the side of his Aethersprite, bidding the Jedi Starfighter a final goodbye. In its cockpit, the confused eyes of the Jedi searched Jeht's face for some kind of answer. "W-w-why? I don't understand."

Darrus stepped back and spoke calmly into his wrist comm. "I don't want to kill you but I can't have you on my ship. This craft is the only one I have that you would know how to pilot." He knew that wasn't the question the Jedi wanted him to answer, but he didn't have any reply to the real one.

Even so, the Jedi asked it anyway. "Why didn't you kill me? Why are you letting me go?"

Darrus knew the Jedi needed some kind of answer. He wouldn't leave without one and while he'd felt himself starting to slip in his quarters, Jeht wasn't prepared to do what he would have to do if the Jedi didn't depart.

"I didn't kill you because I am not what you think I am. I didn't kill those padawans on Cularin. I didn't blow up Lx and Tend's house. I haven't gone over to the Dark Side; I swear." He closed his eyes, hoping against hope that the Jedi believed him. In truth, he wanted the padawan to believe because if he did, it might make the last part true.

The Jedi nodded slowly, his face a mask of utter confusion. "And..." He hesitated, not sure he should push Darrus any more than he already had. Deciding against it, he just took off in silence and flew the dagger-shaped starfighter out of the bay and into the stars beyond.

Darrus watched out the bay doors for a long time, long after the fighter had entered hyperspace and disappeared. He was aware of Marr-ek moving up beside him, gazing out the same airlock with that warrior's emotionless countenance of his.

"So why did you let him go, sir? I wouldn't have."

Darrus looked down, his hands turning the lightsaber that had come to his grasp unbidden over and over again. "Because, Mar... I am not those things." He turned and walked away, heading back to his quarters with a heavy sigh.

"But I could be."

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