Starhounds

Interlude IV, Part III of III

Interface

Nobody likes talking to a con man.
At least, nobody likes talking to a con man whom they are certain is a con man. The fact is, if they didn’t know, they would probably love talking to someone like Quinn because he would have been telling them everything they wanted to hear, and made it taste good. But here, they knew what Quinn was; furthermore they knew what he had become, and the tight lipped, official looking beings draped in standard leadership garb were trading glances across the room like a bad trip, and Quinn was losing what little calm he had left.
“You are mistaken, I think.”
Quinn sighed and placed his head dramatically on the table.
There was a knack to talking to his kind, and these guys did not posess it. The committee was comprised mostly of strangers; planetary electees and scientific consultants with thick, holo plated degrees from universities and research cooperatives that had been studying the complex nature of celestial nightfall events for generations, and were unused to knowing less than someone else in the room.
“Well, there’s an informed opinion.” Quinn said dryly into the hard stone surface of the table. “I was there, you weren’t, haven’t even been to the sector or know anything about covert military insertion.”
He pushed himself up quickly and let a breath out.
“Yeah, yeah perfect, or what about you, I forgot your name Mr – doesn’t matter what happened on Chandra? Do you remember?”
“Quinn…” Madine said it gently.
“No no, let this guy decide; thats what were all doing here, isn’t it?”
Madine, Sammy and Staci were the only three people Quinn really knew. He had half expected Mothma or Biel to show up, but with the galactic civil war in its twilight, they had more important things to do, it would seem. Madine had been careful to shield Quinn from the inquisitive minds of the committee for some time, but after a couple days of rational thought, but before the craving for more alcohol set it, it was decided that a debriefing was in order.
Big surprise, they hadn’t liked the story.
The hooded figure at the end of the room rose slowly, and Quinn watched the spell he cast settle over them all like mist.
The revered, the respected, the chosen; the Jedi from the new school set down by Skywalker and Jade.
Quinn snorted.
“Do not be so quick to judge; I sense no lie in Quinn’s mind.” He said calmly, his eyes ever hidden under the dark, rough spun flak.
“But.” The scoundrel interrupted, looking at his fingernails.
That got him a smile.
“But,” the Jedi continued, “For a single Jedi to have that much power, it would require more training than has been heard of since the ancient times. There are none, living or dead, who could accomplish a planetary genocide on this scale.” He paced the room slowly, his fingertips together and splayed before him, guiding him. “So perhaps, it occurs, a cooperative? Possible-”
“But.” Quinn echoed sardonically.
“But… even if such a group of practitioners existed, an event like Chandra, and event so massive and so devastating would ripple through the ether of the Force like a turbo laser. The whole of my orders consciousness would have been shredded by such a massive use of the Force.”
“Uh hu, so you would have seen it coming?” Quinn was still examining his nails.
“Correct.” Said the Jedi, now standing before him.
“Sure, like you saw Vader coming?” Quinn locked his eyes with the two wet points of light under the Jedi’s hood.
A hush shimmered through the room like cold water.
“Mr. Corvin-”
“No, listen,” Quinn bent over in the chair and raised his hands. “You don’t get a say in this, okay? We aren’t here to theorize or pontificate or whatever it is you people like to do in your free time; you came here to get a first hand account and you have it. Now you don’t like it, so you’re what, you’re going to tell me I’m wrong?” There was a tension rising like a strained cable in his voice. “You don’t tell me that I’m wrong! You get to listen because you weren’t FUCKING. THERE.”
Quinn felt Staci’s gentle grip on his shoulder, and became away that he was standing now; his hand resting dangerously close to the blaster slung low at his side.
The Jedi smiled softly. “Maybe this was a bad idea.”
“No no,” Quinn relaxed his features and poured every ounce of Corellian High Society casual that he had in stock into his stance and his voice, but the ragged edges of his speech were frayed with whatever Chandra had done to him. “It’s fine, it’s all fine, really. There’s you’re story, I wish you all the best on whatever future endeavor you find yourselves molding to fit your own idiotic theories-”
“Quinn, please.” Staci said it calmly.
“- But I’m out, okay? I am officially retired.” He swung on Madine like an auto turret on overload. “And this time I mean for good, okay? No more missions, no more buddy buddy; I want out and I want back pay and I want – whatever.”
A flicker of attention washed up over the calm and hit Staci when Quinn said want, but she locked down the response.
“May I ask you something?” Said the Jedi, pleasantly.
Quinn licked his lips and met the shorter man’s gaze. “Sure.”
“Why did a thought of Staci pull you out of the trance you claim to have been under?”
The room seemed to darken as Quinn’s casual features froze and his eyes flickered like a candle. “I – ex. Excuse me?”
Exaggerated calm, slow enunciation.
“When you told the story I-”
“Quinn…” Staci touched his hand lightly, filling it with hers and not Quinn’s weapon. Madine stood slowly.
The Jedi got it.
“I’m sorry, I wasn’t prying int your mind, you were simply exuding an enormous amount of emotion and I picked up-”
“It’s fine.” Quinn said hoarsely. “It’s fine.”
“It’s just, if a Jedi or Sith had done this, they would have used that emotion against you, turned it around and made it hurt.”
Staci gripped tighter and felt every muscle in the pirates body tense like pulled memory sheeting. “It’s okay.” She whispered.
“That is how I know, Mr. Corvin.” The Jedi concluded, never breaking his gaze with Quinn. “That is how I know the force did not do this thing; the other evidences aside; that is how I know. If I had been there, If I had done that, you wouldn’t have been able to find a memory of Ms. Garrott in your mind that was not poison.”
He smiled warmly.
Quinn was quaking, a rage at the invasion of his mind, at the reference to Staci; at the whole situation climaxing like an orgasm of blood. He felt anger wash over him and stick to the people in the room that needed to drown in it; to Madine and the politicos; to the scientist who had decided before they got there, to the soldiers who died on the beach at Chandra. He wanted to drown everything in his rage; the council the Empire the whole; everything owed him, everything needed to pay a price. Life had wronged Quinn Corvin and someone, everyone would bleed for it.
Then he felt Staci at his side, and as hazarded a glance into her eyes, it fell away like rainwater over duracrete. Quinn let go the breath he’d been holding hot in his chest and slumped slightly; maybe more ragged from the ordeal and less healed than he thought.
“Okay.” He nodded. “Okay.” He gripped Staci’s hand and smiled fractionally as he moved to gather his coat from the chair.
“Hey Sammy, you want to help me out with The Gun and Grave some more tomorrow?”
The little rodent perked up his ears if not his eyes. “I – um, yes of course. Sure, Quinn; I can find some free time from my other duties I’m sure.”
“Great.” The smuggler opened a wide, tired grin. “Madine, we’ll talk on the way”
“Umm.”
“Great.” He stopped in front of the Jedi who radiated calm like a tuning fork. “Ready?”
The Jedi almost spoke, then smiled instead. “Are you sure you want this?”
Quinn laughed. “Pal, it is the last thing in this galaxy that I want; but we all have to face our demons; and I guess I have to show you yours.” A cold light flickered in the con mans eyes.
“Quinn, what are you saying?” Staci breathed out, knowing.
He turned a cock-eyed glance at the room. “What do you think? I can’t draw a map because I don’t remember the detail without the halucinations, and no one else was there; so I’ll just go show you, right now, right here; climb aboard the fun rail to genocide town.”
Madine slumped lower but said “it isn’t a terrible idea.”
“No, its a great idea; get ready for fun and or to have your mind flayed.” Quinn laughed. “You coming, sweetheart?”
Staci shook her head but couldn’t help but smile. “Why not,” she said.
“Super. Well, get your affairs in order, because my guess is junior here isn’t up the the challenge but drowning in my own blood actually might be worth seeing that smug fervor wiped right off your face.” Quinn hesitated, “along with, of course, your entire face…”
He steped through the wide double doors and into the ships bridge, Nar Shaddaa strut and back ally cool dripping from his stride. “Ensign! Get a ship ready; we’re going to the beach.”

-

The nightmare that had consumed Chandra left only faint traces of the atrocity, a hangover from the chaotic dirge of genocide.
Up and down the beach, bodies were cached into sealed military retreavak bags in the places where they died. In the cities, the towns and the hamlets where the civilian populace had all ended their lives, they rotted in the sun while a decision was made.
There was no one left to grieve, or to remember. No one left to burry the dead.
Friend, family members, business associates and loved ones; people who had lived on Chandra but were away, or those who had moved off world were simply denied access, and told that a celestial nightfall event had destroyed everything on the surface. That usually meant a meteorite had slipped past defense screening, or a virus had evolved; those were unlikely events in the modern galaxy, but still theoretically popular. During the reign of the Emperor, Chandra had been home to an Imperial Weapons Dump that had since been decommissioned and gutted when soldiers fled the system.
Quinn knelt by the body of Kriv, the teams ComOp. The retreavak bag was sealed, and only the bar coded flap formed the rough features of the face bellow it. It hadn’t been particularly gruesome for Kriv, just a few moments of weeping and then a blaster to the brainstem. Others had been less lucky.
Marr had cut out his own heart with a vibroblade, and Stepha had dug bother her eyes out before drowning in the sea. It didn’t matter to Quinn how they died, it mattered only that they had.
All of them.
He sighed.
“Are you sure it was here?” Said one of the scientists.
Most of the council had elected not to come with Quinn, or had bee expressly forbade by Madine. While Chandra had been deemed safe months ago, the mysterious nature of it’s demise still radiated an illogical caution throughout the usually dispassionate military protocol. In the end, only three of the scientists, two of the politicos, Madine, Staci and the Jedi, Gren, had followed Quinn. The shuttle had been sealed in the passengers section, and Quinn’s first view of the dead world had been stepping onto the red, sandy beach; the markers of war rusting in the salty air, and the retreavak bags lining the sand like tombstones.
It sent a shiver up his spine, but he locked down the ache in his belly, and a cold reason that once made him feel invincible clutched around his ribcage, and stifled the sobs that seemed to well up with proximity.
“Farther down; trust me, it’s there.” He said before giving Staci a tight lipped smile.
As they strode down the strip of powdered land, Quinn wished Sammy had come. The mechanic had wanted to, but Madine had been very clear; Sammy was invaluable to the war effort, and to whatever came after that.
The former crew of the Gun and Grave had all parted ways more than a year ago. Canter went first, joining up with the rebellion and heading up a military hospital on Coruscant. Sammy went next, and at Madine’s request; his ability to speak to machines and to design them the way a child scribbles on a touch plate made it too dangerous for him not to join the rebellion. Honestly, if Sammy had elected to stay on the Grave, Madine might had had him kidnapped so that the increasingly desperate Imperial rebels wouldn’t have the chance to. Quinn took it as a sigh; Sammy had kept the ship running and was kind of the unofficial father of the Grave. Quinn had let him go with his typical nonchalance, and had initially quit the Alliance and returned to his usual business of making trouble and stealing. But his need for complications in life and his omnipresent yearning for Staci brought him back to head a new covert ops team charged with deep cover and infiltration.
Whatever had happened to Sarn and Dorn, no one knew, not even Madine. Skywalker had asked them to join the new academy on Degobah, and they had both agreed. Quinn threw a big party on the ship a few days after returning from Hellhaven, as the death star fell about in atomized bits of radiation onto the forest moon of Endor. Everyone got blasted and he and Dorn ended up staying up late into the artificial night and talking about the old days. When the ships lighting system woke everyone up earlier than anyone was prepared for, the two quasi-Jedi were gone, their things missing and Dorn’s fighter checked out from the hangar.
They had vanished, like darkness in light.
Quinn shivered in the coastal wind.
The party moved down the beach past bodies and abandon equipment dropped from sub orbit. Chandra had bee abandon by the Empire more than two years prior. In that vacuum of power, a civil war of its own had erupted. When the galaxy at large had calmed down, the Alliance had sent Quinn’s team to assess the situation. After a few weeks on the ground, it became clear that the chiss rebel leader, Tryn was not going to be an easy target, and that his followers were to fanatical to be deterred by his removal. It was Quinn’s recommendation along with several other commanders that a full scale invasion be launched to depose the madman. On Chandra, he was well supplied and dangerous. To a battle hardened Alliance navy with warship support, he was a bug to be smashed. It was going to be easy, a simple sweeping up. One droid brain had estimated victory in 26 hours.
Then, when they stepped off the transport, people started dying by their own hand.
“I found something.” Staci said, pulling Quinn back to the present.
They all huddled around her and the rope of metal coil that lay limply on the sand.
“That’s it.” Quinn said darkly. “That’s the hatch to the. To the tomb.”
Madine scowled. “You’re sure?”
Quinn threw his vision up and down the coast, nodding. “Yeah, I mean that’s the only one that makes sense. It’s some kind of ancient – I don’t know; thing.”
Worried glances floated between the party. Gren said “I sense no taint of the dark side here; but should we find it, we must have proof to present the order.”
“Proof?” Quinn dripped the words like sewage. ”Proof? I saw him, I saw a claoked figure with a lightsaber. What does that tell you? Stage actor? No, Gren it was a fucking Jedi.”
The warrior monk raised his hand gently. “Lets find out, shall we?”
“Gren, you’ve been doing this for what, two years?”
The Jedi’s mouth hardened to a thin line.
“Nine months.” Madine said softly, the words hardly piercing the cry of the gulls and the crashing waves.
Quinn threw his hands up and turned away. “What the hell, are you all crazy? Everyone sentient here died. Dead. Thats it. Luke Skywalker probably couldn’t take this guy, man and you want to walk in their with a float? A fucking newbie? No way, Staci don’t touch it.”
She shot glances between Quinn and Madine like a strobe. For a while, no one spoke.
“We have to know.” Said Gren.
“No.”
“Quinn, he’s right.” Madine looked tired.
“I’m telling you, if we open this…”
“Quinn, we have to look and see; we have a Jedi with us.” Staci inched her hands closer to the cable.
“We have this moron! He. Can’t. Do it.”
“Open it, commander Garrot.” Gren pressed his hands together and touched them to his lips.
“NO.”
Madine nodded at Stai’s inquiring eyes.
“Sctai, please, I’m telling you-”
She hooked her vision to his, and sorrow bled from the edges of her crystal eyes.
Quinn drew his blaster, the speed blinding and Madine leveled his own seconds to late.
“Staci, please please don’t-”
The air shimmered, the force blast slamming Quinn to the ground and the pistol flew from his grasp.
“Open it, Commander.” Said Gren, his hand extended for the push.
“NO!” Quinn was rising as swiftly as he could, knowing it was over.
Staci pulled up on the cable, and with a machine assisted grinding, the flat wedge plowed through the soft sand and a curtain of red rain spilled over the obsidian pillar as it rode from the ground.
“NO!!” Quinn screamed, but it was done. The Jedi stepped out of the pillar, the sky blossomed motes of shimmering light, and it all started again.

-

Quinn was on his feet, the sudden realization of what was happening shot through him like frag, shredding his fear and he scooped up the blaster.
Staci was wide eyed as he leveled the weapon and pulled the trigger three times, the rounding exploding into her before she hit the ground and went limp.
Turning on Madine, the general was on his knees and weeping, fumbling for the ceremonial pistol at his side. Quinn took two steps, and placed the blaster between his eyes.
“I fucking told you.” He said, and pulled the trigger.
The rest of the group was unarmed, and making their way slowly to a suicide at sea. That was okay, they wouldn’t make it.
Quinn was wheeling on Gren when we missed his shot.
The Jedi was flailing, screaming like a man on fire, rivulets of sand exploding in uneven patterns around him, masking him from Quinn’s vision. The scoundrel hammered several shots through the sheets of stone, but the bright flash of a lightsaber exploded the scene, and the sand fell down as the blade spun in the lack of life, cleaving the Jedi’s own head in half like a bloody mellon that smoked red mist.
Behind him, the Jedi remained, grinning like insanity, his cloak falling over his thin frame like liquid darkness. Quinn thumbed the switch and sent wild shots into him, but they had no effect; splashing into harmless motes of ozone.
Above him, the sky grew brighter, more folds of energy splaying, like dying bellow stormy seas.
The light was blinding, and Quinn felt the tears coming again, but the experience locked it down. Had to lock. It. Down.
He squeezed the trigger until the clip sang empty, and still the maniac grinned at him behind cold eyes, his blade held low in his –
The blade.
Quinn fell on hands and knees as the terrible song rang in his ears and shook consciousness to pieces
Lock. It. DOWN.
The lightsaber had deactivated when Gren had died, and fell into the wet socket he made in his own head. Quinn put his grip around it, grasping it like Staci’s hand, and swung on the wicked apparition.
Chandra.
Not now. NOT NOW.
He crawled through to sanity, through sand wet not with blood but with the sea, and forced thoughts of the beach all those months back down, deep into his soul, crushing them.
Chandra.
Not. Not going to.
Chandra.
He made it to the tomb, the dark Jedi smiled and raised his blood red saber.
Chandra.
Quinn fumbled with his own borrowed blade, cognizant thought shredding inside him as he tried vainly to scoop ip the liquified pieces.
Chandra.
Too late.
He thumbed the lightsaber active, and darkness swallowed him.

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