I found the passage easily enough and stretched out with my senses as much as I could. I could not feel any danger but there was a presence, a familiarity lurking beyond the wall ahead of me. For the first time in my life I wished I had thought about getting a blaster. The only weapon I had on me was the lightsaber and that was tucked away in my satchel. I hadn’t even thought to bring a knife of some sort, then again I had not really thought at all.
From the passageway I was in, there was only one way into this room and that meant if Jyrki was beyond the door I would be more or less defenceless when I entered. I looked around to see if there were any other options and noticed an air vent opening covered by a grate. A room without windows had to have some method of ventilation and I was annoyed with myself for not thinking about this earlier. I back-tracked until I came to a place I figured no one would hear or see me. Took out my lightsaber and carved hand and foot holds in the wall. The metal grill was heavy and didn’t want to come off with any ease. When I finally did manage to yank it out of its socket the sudden momentum sent me backwards off the wall to land on the floor on my back. The grate went flying and clattered loudly enough that had there been anyone around to watch for intruders they would have heard it. I lay on the filthy floor, winded as well as a little stunned, and swore with a savageness that would have made Jabba blush.
I waited until I was sure no one was coming before I got up, trying to brush off the dirt that had clung to me. Between the cobwebs and the dust I was starting to resemble an oversized jawa and I felt as though I would never get clean again. Once more I climbed up the wall and then with a great deal of effort managed to squeeze into the ventilation shaft. It was dusty and small. I had enough room to crawl forward using my arms to drag me along but I couldn’t turn around so if there was no way out I would have to wriggle backwards again. I didn’t relish this thought and for a moment panic overwhelmed me. I fought to get my pounding heart under control, thinking of my father, thinking of Navaari and thinking of Thrawn. How pissed would he be if I died getting stuck in a ventilation shaft I thought, not to mention embarrassing, especially after all I had gone through in my life? I took a gulp of air, fought my fear down to a manageable roar and began to crawl forward as quietly as I could.
It seemed to take forever, though in reality was less than ten minutes, until I found the place I was looking for. I inched forward as silently as I could and peered through the slats of the ventilation grill. Sure enough, in the center of the large, decrepit looking room sat my father tied to a chair, his head slumped forward. For a moment my heart stopped, I thought he was dead but then I noticed the soft rise and fall of his shoulders as he breathed in and out, still alive, just not conscious.
As much as I could I scanned the room but neither saw nor felt the presence of anyone else. They had left my father alone here to die and it made me furious. My guess was that Jyrki was off doing other things and figured there wasn’t much chance of my father getting out of this by himself. I considered getting out by opening the vent but when I tried to push on it the thing wouldn’t budge so that meant worming my way backwards to get out the way I came. It was even more difficult that I had bargained for and by the time I slithered out of the shaft and back into the hall I was utterly covered in grime, cobwebs and goodness knew what else. Quickly I made my way back to the door and tried it. It opened quietly, easily but touching the handle left me shaking with the memories it spat into my head. I squeezed my eyes shut and blocked them, a mixture of past and present, terrified slaves and Jyrki’s insanity.
I slipped into the room, grateful it was not that well lit and after making sure there were no unseen enemies hiding in a corner someplace, I made my way to the center of the room and crouched down by my father’s unconscious form. When I touched him he moaned and I could see he was in a lot of pain. His face was swollen and bruised, blood had dried and crusted around his nose and mouth. His lips were cracked and very dry looking.
“Papa…papa.” I whispered as I began to untie the complicated knots which held my father to the heavy metal chair. My fingers trembled and the knots were tight.
My father stirred and tried to open his eyes. “Who…”
“Papa, it’s Merlyn. Papa, you have to wake up. I need your help to get out of here, I can’t carry you.” I whispered hoping he would surface enough to be able to get out of here without me having to half carry him along.
“Merly?” My father whispered hoarsely.
I realised as he tried to speak that his mouth was bone dry, and when I looked at him more carefully I understood that he had not been give food or drink for some time. I had been on the receiving end of Jyrki’s hospitality once; I knew what my father had gone through. I fumbled in my satchel for the small water bottle and gently put it to his lips. He drank some but spilled more, still it helped him. I hated Jyrki for this. I hated him with a fury that was almost blinding.
“Papa, it’s going to be okay, I’m going to get you out of here.” I told him resuming my work with the knots.
“No, pet no…you need to leave…Jyrki…” He struggled against the ropes and when I got the last knot undone he slid gracelessly to the floor.
I pulled him to a seated position and then squatted in front of him to hold his face in my hands. He groaned in pain. “Papa, you have to try and stand.” I told him and then I used my shoulder to brace him as I helped him get up off the floor. He was heavier than he looked and I struggled with supporting him.
“Merly…it’s Jyrki he’s the one…” My father despite his condition became agitated. “You need to leave me…trap… he plans….”
“I know papa.” I said gently, trying to calm him down. What about Bedi and Bel?” I asked.
“Safe.” He breathed. “Got word from Vahl, sent them to Corellia before Jyrki and his friends came…” His voice trailed off as he sagged in my arms again. I had no idea how I was going to do this; he was too heavy for me to lift. I wrapped my arms about his waist and tried to hoist him up so that he stood but Jyrki’s treatment had left him weak. For a moment, I just stood there holding my father tightly, my head against his chest, listening to the sound of his heart. He lifted his head and our eyes caught. I saw tears glisten in his.
“So sorry Merly, so sorry.” He said and I felt my own heart break. “Couldn’t stop them….”
I put the water bottle to his lips again and this time he drank most of it down when he was done I drew a deep breath and found strength I never knew I had pulled his arm over my shoulder and took as much of his weight as I could. “We have to go now papa.” I whispered and twisted so that we face the direction of the door. It was slow going, my father’s legs were weak from sitting and being tied for so long, from lack of food and water. It was more like trying to drag a bantha carcass through the desert sands than helping a living man walk to freedom. I prayed to whatever gods were out there to get us through this but they had decided to take the night off.
As soon as we got through the door, before I had gone four steps a powerful arm grabbed me. I stumbled, squeaking in surprise, hampered by the weight of my father who was leaning heavily on me. Dek hit my father on the jaw and he dropped to the floor in a semi conscious state just as I spun around. I came face to face with Dek and felt the bite of a vibro blade snick my throat as I blindly fought to be free of his hand which held me fast. My struggles lasted only a few seconds before I was slammed violently against the wall face first. All the air in my lungs left with a single woosh and I saw stars. I felt the power in the arm that braced itself across the base of my skull and knew if I even tried to move the owner of the arm would break my neck without even trying. I had not even seen this coming.
“You’re a bloody pain in the arse, just like he said you would be.” Lorano Dek hissed in my ear as he used a set of stun cuffs to bind my arms behind my back. “Too bad you didn’t figure out that there is an observation cam in that room.” He taunted. “Clever enough to find this place but not clever enough to figure out the trap. He said you were smart but blinded by your attachments. He said to wait, that you’d come to us. He’s madder than a spice addict but he knows you right well enough.” He eased the weight off my neck slightly.
I reached out through the force to see if I could sense Jyrki near by but there was nothing, all I sensed was the dull thud of a headache starting in my shoulders. I wondered for a moment if I had suddenly gone head-blind but when I moved a small piece of rubble that lay at my feet I knew that was not the case. The noise caught Dek’s attention and he smashed my face back against the wall with his hand.
“Do that again and I’ll hurt you. He doesn’t want you dead but he didn’t say anything about not being in pain.” He hissed in my ear as he wound his hand through my hair pulling on it so hard it brought tears to my eyes. “If you struggle I’ll scalp you the hard way and then I’ll kill your old man. So be a lady and play nice. Put the trickery away.” He spun me around by my hair so that I face forward and I had to grit my teeth against the pain. My father was flat on the ground too weak to move but still alive. With his other hand Dek grabbed my father’s inert body from the floor and dragged us both back to the room we had just come from.
A meter beyond the doorway Dek stopped, shoving my father forward as hard as he could. I winced as I watched him sprawl across the floor with a dreadful thud. He didn’t move afterwards. “Should I kill him?” Dek asked the man who was seated in the metal chair in the center of the room.
Jyrki shook his head and sat back against the chair, one leg over the over, his ankle resting on his knee. He was dressed in black and it made his pale skin luminous. His hair which had grown long and shaggy was loose instead of tied back and shadowed his angular face. His hands draped on the chair’s armrests like dead animals and for a split second I saw the image of the Emperor seated upon a throne of bones.
Nausea suddenly swept through me like a heat wave, my stomach heaved and I retched. Dek spun me away still holding my hair while I threw up the contents of my stomach on to the floor. When I was done he hauled me back around to face Jyrki. I tried to wipe my mouth with my shoulder but that was ineffectual. The smell of fresh vomit did nothing to improve the room or the situation any.
Jyrki watched this for a moment and then got up and came towards me. “Yer never learn, do yer Mouse?” He said, cupping my face in the palm of his hand, cleaning the remnants of spit and vomit from my lips with his thumb. I stared into his eyes and saw nothing of the person I had once known, all I saw was a deep, dark madness. In that moment I was terrified. I shivered even though it wasn’t that cold and Dek tightened his grip in my hair. Jyrki patted my face in a tender, loving fashion and walked over to where my father lay. He crouched down by my father’s side and put two fingers to the artery on his neck.
“Stronger than he looks, yer father,” Jyrki commented, “Fought harder than he should have, all for yer Mouse, all to save yer. He wouldn’t tell me where yer were so I had to make him. Still he wouldn’t break but the drugs we gave him did the job, I got enough out of Kit to know how to get the message to yer. Then the Tze’yusha’Jin interfered, had to be dealt with which wasted time. But yer got the message and yer came.”
I just stared at him. “Why?” I whispered.
“I told yer,” Jyrki said, “I need yer to help me eliminate the son of Anakin Skywalker.”
I just looked at him. His truth was mixed in with lies. He wanted something else, something that had been too hidden for me to pick up on before. “Let papa go.” I spat. “He’s never been anything but kind to you. He took you in, he gave you work….”
Jyrki just smiled and got up slowly. “Attachments, Mouse, they will destroy yer every time.” He sighed as though speaking to me were a huge effort. He got up slowly, trying to hide the wince of pain. His knee still hurt, I knew that from how he moved, it made me smile which didn’t go unnoticed.
“Lack of love and forbidding attachments is what cause the downfall of the Jedi Order!”
“Yer trouble Mouse is that yer never learned to let go.” He told me as he paced.
“I never learned to let go?” I spat, “You’re the one who won’t let go of me!”
“Yer need a teacher, Mouse, someone who can show yer the ways of the force, someone who can show yer the path.”
“Path? What path?”
He smiled, “The true Jedi path.”
I struggled against Dek’s grip on my hair and it hurt. “The true Jedi path? The Jedi are dead Jyrki, they don’t exist anymore. They died when the Emperor activated Order sixty-six. He wiped you all out, decimated the Order so that he could have power. It’s gone and it’s never coming back.”
“Yer and I will change that.” Jyrki said turning his back to me. “Yer the daughter of a powerful Jedi, her blood runs through your veins, yer told me so yerself. I am also strong in the force so together yer and I will have force sensitive children. We will make the jedi strong again; we will take our rightful place in the galaxy once more.”
I was too shocked to speak but when Dek chuckled behind me I found my voice. “You…you want to mate with me?”
Jyrki turned his head to look over his shoulder at me. He eyes burned into mine and I felt my heart skip a beat but not from desire from fear. “There was a time when yer would have come willingly to my bed Mouse. There was a time when yer would have given yer soul to have me strip yer naked and make love to yer.”
I opened my mouth then closed it again, repulsion shuddered through me bringing a cold sweat and fresh bout of nausea, when I got that under control I whispered, “I thought the Jedi were not allowed to have children, were not allowed to have attachments.”
He shrugged and turned back away from me. “Things have changed, the rules have changed. We need to start a new Jedi Order, one that will not fall to darkness. Luke Skywalker must not be allowed to live; he must not be allowed to breed. Yer and I will stop this. This has nothing to do with attachments, Mouse; this has to do with practicality.”
I shook my head despite the pain it caused. I could not believe what he was telling me, I could not believe what he wanted to do. “You honestly think I will sleep with you so that you can propagate force sensitive children? Do you really think I would let you near me? After all you have done? You really are mad, completely and utterly out of your mind.” I spat, “There is no way in all the nine Corellian Hells I will let you touch me in that manner.”
Jykri shrugged. “Of course yer will Mouse,” he said softly, his voice almost a caress, “yer have no say in the matter and if yer don’t do it willingly then yer will be forced. It isn’t as if yer are innocent in the ways of mating any more, is it?” He watched my face closely and smiled in satisfaction when he saw the expression in my eyes. “I know a lot about yer and yer lover. The blue skinned alien who fancies himself the Empire’s new saviour. I know more about him than yer think. Antygra told me all about him, the Emperor’s favoured alien tactician, Chiss brilliance, isn’t that right? I know he was sent into exile but that was just a ruse. The lies about his death may have fooled most but not me, I know that he lives still, I just don’t know where but I am betting yer do, don’t yer. Yer share his bed now just as yer did when yer were a palace doxy whoring yerself for the Emperor. Don’t think I don’t know about yer, because I do. Yer will breed with me and that’s the end of it. Yer not an innocent any more and if I have to force yer then so be it.”
The sudden despair which washed over me was almost overwhelming but I bit it back and concentrated on breathing, concentrated on the force. In my head I felt the subtle brush of a familiar, gentle touch. I wasn’t sure which of my ghosts had come back to aide me but it was soothing. I drew a deep, calming breath and relaxed into it. The force flowed around me, it flowed around the room and I could now sense Jyrki in it even though he cloaked himself very well. I opened myself up to this ethereal power completely, letting it shine through me. It felt like the Tatooine sunlight and I welcomed its warmth. I could have sworn I heard my mother’s voice whispering in my ear to be patient, whispering in my ear to let go of the anger and the fear. I projected these things into the force directly at Jyrki. He felt my touch and turned around in surprise.
“How did yer…?” He began but trailed off as he stared at me, at least I thought he was staring at me but then I realised he wasn’t, he was actually looking past my shoulders. I frowned and tried to twist from Dek’s grip watching Jyrki in horror as he began to move, to draw a weapon, a blaster.
All of a sudden, at the very same time, I sensed another presence in the room but before either of us could say another word I felt Dek’s body twist. The sickening crack that followed the motion told me Dek’s neck had just been broken. I felt the fingers that had held on to my hair release and jerked away to see Navaari out of the corner of my eye but at the same time I could see Jyrki move to stand over my father, a blaster in his hand. It was pointed directly at my father’s head.
“Stop or he dies.” Jyrki said quietly.
Ignoring Jyrki’s threat, Navaari reached down and picked up the control for the binders from Dek’s inert body and I felt the locks release. The binders fell to the ground with a clatter that sounded too loud. I rubbed my wrists and glanced at Navaari. He had a small, single handed Dantassi bowcaster style weapon trained on Jyrki. The deadly looking quarrel glistened so I knew it was laced with poison.
“Are you whole?” Navaari asked me in Dantassi Cheunh never taking his eyes off Jyrki.
I nodded. “Tja.”
“Put the weapon down or I will kill her father.” Jyrki said again.
Navaari cocked his head to one side. “Are you that fast?” He asked, his Basic heavily accented.
Jyrki sneered. “Are yer willing to risk it Bone-Trader?”
“Are you?” Navaari played the bluff back into Jyrki’s hands. They never took their eyes off each other.
I watched as Jyrki considered his options. Navaari was large, masked and fierce looking. The Bone Traders had a terrible reputation which Jyrki well knew and he was weighing this now against his odds of survival. I watched, holding my breath, as Jyrki stepped back from my father’s body but he never lowered the blaster and I could see the hatred blazing in is eyes. How weird it was, I thought, that sometimes we become the very thing we feared the most.
“A’myhsk’a, bring your father here.” Navaari told me switching back to his native tongue.
I hesitated a moment then warily did as he asked, grasping my father under his arms and began to pull him towards Navaari. I had only gone two steps when all the hair on the back of my neck stood on end. I twisted around to see a flash in the doorway.
“Navaari! Behind you!” I yelled but he was already turning. I saw it all in slow motion, the short, ugly man who had been following me fired his blaster just as Navaari shot at him. Navaari’s aim was true and the quarrel thudded deeply into the man’s chest. He was dead before he hit the ground but he had gotten a shot off and I watched in horror as a bright blue blaster bolt hit Navaari squarely in the chest sending him flying backwards. I screamed and dropped my father to run to where Navaari lay. He was not moving, I wasn’t sure he was breathing.
I didn’t see that Jyrki had also sprung into action and as fast as I was so he was faster. He took the butt of the blaster he held and slammed it against the base of my skull. A blinding white light shot through my head accompanied by a moment of perfect stillness. Then, as my brain caught up with the body, pain exploded all around me making me suck in my breath as I slid into unconsciousness.