Era of Rebellion - Navigation

Kit Gwynne and Sarah Riggs-Shute.
One year after the Battle of Yavin (36:5:26) in the Corulus system: Corulag (Mark Veller's beachhouse).
Lieutenant Bernard Dunford, Yun-Jai Kerr, and Colonel Mark Veller.

Mark woke up slowly, feeling more rested than he had in days. The sun coming through the window told him it was midmorning. Laying there peacefully in bed, he figured he had been asleep for about twelve hours. The memories of the prior day came back slowly and Mark's senses told him there was another person besides Dunford up and about in the resort house.

Master Roste. Jedi Master Roste. Since he did not remember waking up in the middle of the night, Dunford must have slept as well, or if there had been any crisis, Master Roste had not felt the need to awaken him.

His stomach rumbled, reminding him of Jorad's ill manners at not feeding him. He threw off the covers and got dressed, staring at his Imperial uniform hanging in the closet for a few moments before deciding to don civilian clothes. He was still officially on shore leave and he felt throwing his Imperial connections into Master Roste's face would damage his chances of finding out what this was all about.

Another object was grabbed from his meager supplies. Caf. He felt a great need for a cup of caf, but one that he knew was not drugged. Thus armed, he left his room and went to the small kitchen, prepping the caf machine and then starting a pot brewing. Soon, the smell of brewing caf began to fill the beach house.

He grabbed three mugs and washed them out. He was not sure if Dunford was awake, but he was pretty sure the smell of caf would lure Master Roste into the kitchen where they could continue the conversation of the night before. He wondered at his willingness to talk to Master Roste about the whipping he had endured at the High Inquisitor's hand. This was something he was not willing to even talk to Dunford about.

He smiled wryly as he watched the caf brew, perhaps it was because he trusted the man, even if all his oaths and duties demanded otherwise. In his youth, Master Roste had been a refuge and sanctuary from the rest of the world he had been forced into. The upcoming conversation was certain be to interesting.

Kerr was in the middle of administering another round of healing to Dunford when he smelled the telltale sign of caf brewing, which was a good sign that Mark was in good spirits, or just desperate for some caf. Dunford was responding well to his unorthodox treatment, his body healing at a much faster pace, and in many areas the scabbing was already fully formed. It shouldn't be too much longer before the man would wake, but hopefully not before he could get some private discussion with Veller. There was so much he needed to say and explain.

As he pulled away from Dunford, a glint of light caught his eye and his attention was directed towards the hilt of Jorad's lightsaber resting on the nightstand. Apparently Mark had left it there after they both carried Dunford into bed. It was perhaps best if the Jedi took this for safe keeping. The weapon was slipped under his attire and clipped to his belt to hang beside his own lightsaber hilt. The door was quietly opened and closed as not to disturb Dunford before Kerr joined Mark in the kitchen. "Are you a caf connoisseur?" He said with a warm smile as he took a seat upon a stool at the kitchen island.

"Your friend is mending nicely and is still asleep. His body needed a bit more time it seems. I will need to periodically continue his treatments, as long as you approve of course." Kerr was still going to need to dance carefully over thin ice here, but he hoped Veller would slowly but surely see the merit in what he does, and eventually have a more favorable view of Jedi.

Mark smiled at the question about caf, noting the perfect timing of arrival upon completion of the brewing cycle, "Actually, yes, and I have you to blame for it, Master Roste," he poured a cup of caf for himself and Kerr, selecting one of the mugs and taking a sip from it. He closed his eyes in a moment of pleasure, his systems recharging. "I seem to remember you introducing a boy of nine to it and laughing at my reaction, then stating it would grow on me." He raised his mug in salute to Kerr, then took another sip before gesturing to the mug he had poured for Kerr, "My own blend, and guaranteed to be drug free. You tell me if I am worthy of the lofty title caf connoisseur."

Mark took another sip of his caf, "The Head Chef has been trying out caf combinations on me. Yesterday he used one from Onderon. If it had not been for that reminder, I probably would not have recognized you. That and the way you took down Inquisitor Jorad. It was the last thing you taught me," Mark said, biting back the reminder of Master Roste's leaving.

Setting his mug down, "As for Lieutenant Dunford, yes, please. I am sure the Lieutenant appreciates not having to go into a bacta tank." Mark was about to make some comment about not having to explain it to the High Inquisitor, but thought it best to not mention that bantha in the room quite yet.

"Talk to me while I fix something to eat. For some reason I am leery of ordering room service," he smiled slightly as he buried himself with fixing some breakfast from the supplies in the kitchen.

Once Mark brought up their fond shared past, Kerr's eyes wavered with warm recollection of the good times. But along with the pleasant memories and nostalgia followed the grief and ache of what had happened. Yun's eyes fell to the mug before him, his sorrowful gaze drifted into the deep brown liquid that reflected a soft bittersweet smile in its murky fluid. After a moment of silent remembrance, he lifted the mug to his lips and sampled the exquisitely brewed caf. A soft sigh of fulfillment followed and the man took a second eager sip quickly after the first with another content exhale afterwards. "It's marvelous, Mark. Thank you." The pleasant brew was doing much to sooth his concerns and he was also strengthened by the apparent regard Mark had for him. Kerr appeared to have been a good influence on the other for which the Jedi was immensely relieved. Yun-Jai sat the mug down but would absently continue to savor the beverage while he spoke. "Well, I believe I should start by honoring your request from last night. Just be warned though, it might be a bit confusing ... and strange. Don't be ashamed to ask further questions."

Kerr paused to take another greedy sip of the caf to shore up his courage before he sighed and nodded sincerely. "Everything in the galaxy is connected by an unseen energy that is shared with and between all creatures and all matter. This living energy is comprised of the past, the present and the future of all things. The vast majority of beings living in the galaxy cannot see, or hear or touch this energy, but it tethers them to existence all the same. Rarely, there will be those born with the ability to sense and use this energy. There have been many names for it throughout the eons, but it is commonly known as the Force for those that follow ... the Jedi path." There was a notable pause as Kerr mentioned the Jedi Order in passing, a bit of sorrow could not be helped for its destruction. Another sip of caf was taken before he continued. "The Force has a will, it is not a passive entity and it has a dichotomy to its nature. For those that desire a righteous purpose, it will grant compassion and peace. This is referred to as the light side of the Force. For those that desire selfish control and command, it will grant vicious power and malice. This is known as the dark side of the Force."

Eyes finally drifted up from the mug to glance to Mark. "You ask me why Inquisitor Jorad and I risked such calamity to reach you. You are one of the rare individuals that has the capability of grasping the Force. As for Jorad, I assume he wished to control you for his own dire purposes. But as for me ... I wish to free you from a life of despair. Those that allow the dark side to control them will suffer unfortunate fates. It is a cruel and unforgiving master and once one receives its gifts, it does not easily give up those it enslaves."

Mark moved around the kitchen, coming up with a hearty but simple, nutritious breakfast. He listened intently to Kerr's words. The Force. An energy field that connected people. And he was able to tap and use that energy. Mark actually felt his universe settle a little bit. Tiny questions of why he had survived and others had not answered themselves.

His eyes had narrowed slightly at the mention of the dark side but he did not interrupt. He had questions, but they could wait until another question was answered.

He was silent for a bit after Kerr finished, putting the final touches on breakfast, thinking on what Kerr had said. Putting a plate in front of Kerr and topping off his caf, Mark asked, "Did you know I could do this when you were teaching me?"

Kerr welcomed the plate of food and the caf refill earnestly, admiring the speed in which it had been prepared. It smelled delicious, but he waited for the other to take a seat out of polite etiquette before he started to sample the breakfast offering. Eyes that were bright with delight and optimism dulled into a solemn gleam after Mark asked his next question. "Yes ... yes I did." The utensil he was using was placed carefully upon the rim of the plate before he interlaced his hands in an uneasy way. "Which is also why I had to leave you when I did. You see..." He took a shallow breath before his gaze fell to his plate with remorse. " that time, I was being hunted by the Inquisitorius..." Kerr paused as his wrung his hands once, this was a painful memory to acknowledge and discuss, but he realized its importance.

"...if you were caught with me, your fate would have been appalling. If they did not recognize your potential, you would have likely died a slow death and I would have been forced to watch. That is ... a common technique to ... break Jedi." He said softly, his voice nearly trembled with harrowing discomfort. "I ... I couldn't risk it, I had to leave abruptly to protect you." His eyes closed with an emotional weariness, this conversation was demoralizing the Jedi, and his agony was unmistaken. "If they discovered your potential, being as young as you were, you would have been sent to the Citadel for training. Not many live through that, but those are the lucky ones, they died before they were twisted and corrupted." His words were a near whisper now, and sorrowful eyes opened to gander at the meal prepared with a diminished appetite.

Mark smiled a slight sad smile, "That technique to break people is not reserved for just Jedi," he said softly. He sighed and pushed away his plate of food, "You have been truthful with me, And while I have some more questions, I feel I have something I must tell you first."

Mark looked up at his old mentor, his eyes shadowed. It was an interesting thing, he reflected, at how different it was to be addressed by his name and not his rank. High Inquisitor Thanor had never addressed him as "Mark," always keeping to rank. The man, sitting across from him at the kitchen island, he realized, had another claim on him. One that demanded he tell Master Roste what the High Inquisitor had done to him, and perhaps, more importantly, what he had done to himself because of it. "I am not sure where to begin, but I am sure you remember I came to you with a temper to master. And, the only place I found to master that temper was the discipline of the martial arts you were teaching.

"I thought my temper was under control until a few weeks ago." Mark let out another sigh, "The High Inquisitor and I started sparring soon after I arrived on the Interrogator. She made for a fascinating opponent and one who could fight better than I did." He gave a wry smile, "You know better than anyone how I pushed for a challenge to test myself against. A few weeks ago, we were sparring and I," Mark paused, uncertain how to proceed, "I, I snapped, went berserk, I guess. I do not understand what happened exactly. The High Inquisitor got a good strike on me and something snapped. I attacked her in full fury, intending to cause pain and kill. The desire was overwhelming."

Mark was silent for a moment, remembering the seductive feel of that power to devastate one's enemies, then took up the tale again, "The High Inquisitor did something and I was flung across the room, hard enough to dent the wall, yet somehow, I survived. Before I could recover, something was holding me still and I was punched unconscious." His hand absently traced the scar under his left eye, his eyes darkened recalling the incident. This was the first time he had really thought it over fully. "I awoke in the Interrogator's special interrogation cell, bound with some kind of energy bands. Eventually, the High Inquisitor came in, I was chained, kneeling on the floor. She declared I was guilty of treason."

Mark looked up at Kerr, the agony of his dishonor in his eyes, his eyes slightly unfocused, "It really did not matter what she accused me of, I had lost my honor in attacking her, broken oaths I had sworn to uphold. I felt ... broken inside, willing to die rather than continue living with those broken oaths. I..." Mark looked away, then drained his cup of caf, needing something to bolster him. He was unsure why he was confessing the whole ordeal to Master Roste, why he felt the need to tell him of the next part. Pouring himself another cup of caf, he steeled himself and continued, his voice going a bit flat as he forced the next words out. "I gave the High Inquisitor my life, submitted to her will." Memories flashed back of that moment when she had given him her ultimatum and then released the stun cuffs. "She released me from the stun cuffs, leaving me only the chain I had been hanging onto to avoid being shocked. That was when she gave me those scars you saw, informing me if I released the chain, my suffering would be never ending. Somehow I clung to the chain, obviously, and yes, she nearly killed me in the process. I just barely made it to the medical bay."

There was another pause, more caf drained from the mug, "My honor restored, I continued with my duties, but find another problem plaguing me. My temper is fraying too easily. It is taking more effort to control and that worries me I can feel my temper lurking, waiting for a chance to lash out. When I took my officer oaths, I swore to never be the type of officer who lashes out irrationally. I swore to respect those under me, to value them and if I needed to sacrifice them, to make damn sure their sacrifice was worth it."

"But now, all that feels like it is slowly slipping away because of my temper fraying faster and easier." Mark's voice dropped softer, "The encounter with Inquisitor Jorad should have gone differently. I should have agreed to his terms, gotten Dunford out of there and then dealt with the problem. But instead, I angered him, causing Dunford to attempt suicide and getting myself killed if it had not been for your presence." Mark took a big breath, "The High Inquisitor has offered me training to control my temper. I am expected to give her my answer when this shore leave is done." He looked across the table at his old mentor, "Tell me honestly, is my temper connected to this dark side you spoke of?" asked Mark, feeling more disturbed about asking that question than he wanted to admit.

Kerr was quite taken back by the sheer unrestrained displayed by Mark and his lengthy explanations. The Imperial officer was freely disclosing a wealth of information that was highly intriguing but also incredibly disturbing. He fell silent through the entirely of the descriptions and recollections, lacing his fingers together in a contemplative and engaged fashion. Brown eyes dulled sadly from much of the content but there was a constant small glimmer of hope still gleaming in his eyes as he watched Veller's expressions. At the conclusion of Mark's story, the Jedi calmly reclaimed the small food utensil and quietly ate his meal. For a good long while, Kerr partook in his food and caf without continuing the conversation while deep in thought. Yun-Rei felt that this was going to be the pinnacle of his efforts to save Mark, and thus it could not be rushed. His long lost student just opened up to him and told him everything, now it was his chance ... no ... his responsibility to make things right at last. Everything would be riding on the next words Kerr spoke. The monumental importance of how he chose his battles here would make or break his entire argument.

Deep emotions stirred inside of the Jedi, emotions that he was so well at hiding ... but he couldn't deny that he was *afraid* of losing Mark again. Kerr could tell that the man was so close to redemption and so close to tragedy, he was right on the cusp, Kerr just needed to reach out a steady hand and beckon him towards the light. The finished and cleaned plate was pushed away from him before his breathing became stilled. He couldn't let the fear of making a mistake cripple him, he needed to collectively sooth these feelings. With a deep steady inhale and exhale of breath, he pushed these distractions away and cleared his mind towards serenity. Slowly his compassionate gaze fell upon Mark as he readied what the other could sense were extremely important and weighted words.

"When you lost yourself during the duel, that was not you. That was not the man you are, nor the man you want to become. That was the dark side attempting to seduce you. It knows exactly when to grant immense power to consume and enslave those it desires. Your feelings of shame and dishonor are misplaced and are being used against you. Everyone with the power to touch the Force can and will be tested sometime in their lives. It is their choice on what path they travel afterwards." He took a steady breath of determination before he continued.

"The abilities granted by the dark side are easy to obtain and are quick to empower those that summon it, but it commands a terrible price in return. Wickedness will slowly eat away at your mind and body like a disease, dissolving your humanity and reducing you into a ravenous creature that takes pleasure in the suffering of others. I taught you some tools in controlling these powerful emotions so that they don't control you, but your lessons were cut terribly short, your training incomplete. But even so, it took this long ... all of these years before you or anyone else noticed, including a High Inquisitor. That is not insignificant. There is great merit to what I can show you. The lightside is merciful and bountiful, and although more difficult a practice to follow, it grants peace and spirited rest. Its rejuvenating powers can cure any ailment, sooth any malady, and never asks more than you can give. It is a forgiving and gracious master." He spoke earnestly to the other.

Perhaps an obvious and real example would cement the metaphysical argument. Kerr redirected his approach. "Ask yourself this ... when was the last time you saw the High Inquisitor smile? A sincere joyous smile?" The Jedi couldn't be sure, each Inquisitor was unique and was consumed by evil differently, he was taking a risk using a practical example, but if it paid off, it could be a significant assertion. "Those that are servants to the dark are never satisfied, never happy ... they know no rest, no comfort ... no solace. They are miserable captives to a cruel taskmaster. What do you think motivates them? What do they crave? Dominance, fear, pain ... they only want that over others, just as Jorad did, just as *you* will if you take her offering. And she may be giving you only an illusion of choice."

A gentle sigh eased from him as he pulled back and rested into the chair as he watched with hope that something resonated with Mark, anything ... "I don't want to lose you again ... I ..." His sentence was interrupted by a beeping that obnoxiously rang and vibrated in his pocket. It startled him for a moment, he stirred briefly in his seat with surprise before a hand reached into his pocket and pulled out the comm unit that belonged to Mark. Eyes went wide for a moment before they softened again. He nodded and placed the device in the center of the table and watched it with silent concern. There wasn't anything he could do about this, it was in the Force's hands now.

Mark watched his old mentor pick up the utensil and start eating the meal. He did the same, though it took a few moments before he started eating again. While someone else might have been angry at the lack of answer, Mark knew from his childhood that Master Roste was thinking on the best way to answer his question.

When the meal was done, Mark was ready to listen as well. The familiar habit of so long ago soothed him. He took in all of Kerr's words, but it was the last that struck a cord. The illusion of choice. The High Inquisitor was taking great pains to make it seem like he had a choice, but he had known from the moment the training was offered that he did not.

He barely heard the next words before the comm link in Kerr's pocket started buzzing. Kerr placed it on the table and Mark stared at it for what seemed an eternity, but was only a few seconds. Should he answer it? The High Inquisitor knew it was not going to be on his person at all times. He could get away with not answering. But if it was important and he did not, then she would send down Stormtroopers or even come herself. He did not think the High Inquisitor would stop for explanations on why he was entertaining a Jedi on his shore leave.

He reached over with a steady hand and opened the comm link, "High Colonel Veller," he answered, his voice betraying none of the uncertainty he currently felt. His gaze remained locked on Kerr. The Imperial inside him chided him on not going to another room before answering it, but the other side of him, the honorable side, knew Kerr had a right to listen to his side of the conversation and also knew he would make no sound to give himself away.

If things went south, his old master would have a chance at escape, it was the best he could do. He listened to the High Inquisitor's words and then said, "I understand, Milord, we will begin to get our affairs in order." Closing the comm link, Mark tossed it harshly on the table, "By the Four Moons!" he swore.

"High Inquisitor Thanor believes the Interrogator has been compromised, with information leaked to Inquisitor Tremayne," Mark explained after taking a deep breath, "She says we are not safe and is sending her own personal pilot with an escort immediately. Lieutenant Dunford and I are instructed to get everything in line and report back to the Interrogator." He let out a long sigh, rubbing his brows, addressing Kerr, he continued, "You had best not be here when they arrive. It does not appear the High Inquisitor is coming down here in person, but it is hardly worth the risk."

Dunford had awoke in a fit of spasming pain and despair, the last thing he remembered was attempting to end his life gruesomely against a series of razor wire. He gasped as eyes went wide and he shot up to a sitting position in the bed. The sudden jerk caused him to wince and choke on air before he fell back into bed due to the irritation and aches that raked across his body. After a moment to recover, he slowly propped himself up on an elbow and surveyed the room. He was back ... at the resort it seemed ... but how? What happened? Where was Inquisitor Jorad ... where was High Colonel Veller?! Confusion and panic set in but his nerves were instantly calmed although bewildered when he heard his superior's voice along with another man's that he did not recognize. Eyes drifted down to his exposed chest in wonder, noticing what should have been life threatening injuries were scabbed over and in the process of healing. How long had he been out? Terribly curious, he began eavesdropping on the conversation happening outside of his door, not wishing to interrupt, but also anxious to learn more of the circumstances of their fate.

What he heard overcame him with sorrow and distress. There was so much information being passed back and forth that his mind reeled to keep up with the revelations. Mark was capable of doing those impossible things like the Inquisitors? This other man was a Jedi?? Veller knew him from the past?! Bernard was certainly no fan of the Inquisitorius, but it was his duty to serve them in order to bring the real threats in the galaxy under control, and here, their greatest enemy, a traitorous Jedi was attempting to sway Mark to also betray those that he served. Surely his superior would be able to see through these carefully woven lies and expose him, especially once he received a call from the Interrogator, and not just anyone, High Inquisitor Thanor herself. Serves that Jedi right, Bernard thought, soon the Colonel would reveal him, but to Bernard's horror, that did not happen. Instead, Veller warned the Jedi to leave. The Lieutenant couldn't believe what he was hearing.

It would take a few moments after the call, but soon both Mark and Kerr would notice Dunford standing in the doorway aghast and dumbfounded. His words caught in his throat, he didn't even know what to do, what to say. He was so ashamed of Veller ... the man he idolized, the man he would have done *anything* for, the man he had trusted above all others. How could the High Colonel do this? "You ... you ... traitor." Dunford couldn't even believe those words came out of his mouth regarding Veller, nor could he stop the tears beginning to weld up in his vision, he was so distraught and crushed by this turnabout.

Kerr had to fight back the tension building, a few of his muscles tightening from the stress of the situation as he quietly listened to Veller take the call, realizing that he was indeed speaking to the High Inquisitor. He didn't know how much he had said, if anything, resonated with his former pupil and found himself having to actively sooth the anxiety that threatened. How easy it would have been for Mark to parade his presence, or even to give a subtle hint or covert code to the Inquisitor to alert her. But as far as he could tell, Mark did none of those things, much to the Jedi's relief.

He nodded in appreciation to the other, and couldn't help a weak smile that followed an exhale of breath. Kerr somehow managed to dodge a turbolaser but he was apparently not out of the thicket yet. Soon afterwards, he noticed the Lieutenant standing in the doorway, and the man did not look terribly pleased for this turn of events. Apparently Bernard had awoken and overheard their conversation, which now proved problematic but not insurmountable. Quietly, he leaned forward in his seat and interlaced his fingers together in thought and patience. It was clear they did not have much time to remedy this new confrontation, but that did not seem to distress the Jedi. This scene needed to unfold a bit more before he could appropriately act. It was the safest bet not to intervene just yet, this was after all Veller's subordinate.

Mentally, Mark cursed himself. He should have been more observant, noticing Dunford was up, or at least more cautious. Talking about such topics was playing with fire. But his guard had dropped, probably due to the revival of old habits he had with Master Roste. Now he had three problems on his hands, Master Roste, Dunford and the High Inquisitor which all needed to be handled quickly.

Master Roste he dismissed as a problem. The man could take care of himself. Dunford was the most immediate problem and there was not much time to handle it. In a cold voice, he addressed Dunford, "Hardly, Lieutenant," his ice blue eyes dropping the temperature of the room a few degrees, "Giving the man who saved both our lives the opportunity to express himself. And yes, Lieutenant, you owe this man the debt of your life. As do I. Gather your things, the High Inquisitor's pilot will be here soon enough to take us back to the Interrogator."

Staring intently into the Lieutenant's eyes, Mark continued, "You will remain silent on this, Lieutenant. Breathe a word of it to the High Inquisitor and I will be forced to reveal why Inquisitor Jorad was so willing to torture you. If the High Inquisitor learns the whole truth of what happened here, we will both end up in the Interrogator's cells experiencing the High Inquisitor's ill will. I do not think either of us will have very good odds of leaving those cells intact."

His voice softened a bit, "Lieutenant, I do not want you facing the High Inquisitor's wrath. There is no way to tell the tale that includes a Jedi without also revealing your forbidden knowledge. Do you really think the High Inquisitor will allow you to keep that knowledge? In order to protect you from that, he must not be here when the High Inquisitor's shuttle arrives."

To Kerr he said, "Leave, leave now and return to whatever obscurity you were in." Returning his gaze to Dunford, "Lieutenant, as far as anyone is concerned, there were no unusual incidents. If someone asked about your injuries, we got involved in a bar fight. The others suffered worse injuries." Mark spun on his heel and went to his room to change his attire, fully expecting his orders to be obeyed. It would be best to remind Dunford of his rank and his duty. Changing out of his civilian clothes and into his uniform, he also remarked to himself, it was a reminder to him. He hoped Master Roste would understand his abruptness. There was little choice in returning to the Interrogator. If he fled, he knew the High Inquisitor would have him hunted down as a traitor. Deep in his core, he also knew that eventually, the High Inquisitor would find him, even if he fled to the Outer Rim and beyond.

It didn't take long to pack, being in the habit of traveling light. Leaving his room, he noted that Master Roste was gone. It troubled him slightly to also realize the comn link he had thrown onto the table was also gone. He was about to mention something when Dunford exited his room, dressed in his uniform as well. Master Roste must have taken it. Mark decided to report it lost in the rush when he returned to the Interrogator.

He sighed slightly, then came the question of how to handle the High Inquisitor and what to tell her, if anything. Hopefully he would have this figured out enough by the time they boarded the Interrogator.

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