Star Wars, Episode I Redux: The Unseen Peril
With a final glint of reflected light, the last of the snubfighters crested the planetary horizon and disappeared. A moment later the reports started coming in, and they were disappointing.
Of the six fighters which they had engaged, not one had been damaged or destroyed. By contrast, their own numbers had suffered significantly. One xebec destroyed, the other two—including the flagship—damaged. Causalities were necessarily high aboard a xebec on account of the number of slaves necessary to man the ship’s many guns and batteries. This was in itself no major loss, for an Amiklot slave could be plucked at will from among its people to replace ones lost in battle. The number of their losses could be measured in the hundreds before meriting more than a comment or concern—but Mandalorian stock was another matter entirely. They could be replaced, yes, but not so easily nor so readily. Losses of any true magnitude would draw the ire of the clan chieftains, a feral, pugnacious lot given to explosions of uncontrolled rage. Such emotion could be readily utilized in the theater of battle, but unchecked and undirected, it often proved as devastating to themselves as to their enemy–history had demonstrated that more than once in their many internecine wars.
They will react with emotion.
The flagship’s captain shifted uncomfortably beside the colossal black statue which loomed over the bridge. Tendrils of what appeared to be black smoke stirred seemingly of their own volition at the fringes of the statue, masking legs and feet behind a curtain of darkness. The massive helm which sat atop the form bore protruding spikes on either side and a crest of stone on its peak.
When it chose to move, it did not so much move as morph. One moment the helm stared out to space beyond the viewscreen, and the next those glowing white eyes veiled beneath the helm loomed down upon him, shifting from one position to the next in the darkness between the blink of the eye.
From nowhere and everywhere at once, a deep, resonant thrumming filled the bridge—and somewhere in his mind he heard the familiar words, little more than a whisper or the final part of an echo somewhere deep within a cavern. Yet he understood those words as easily as if they had been spoken. Stiffening at the intrusion of his thoughts, the captain cleared his throat. “Our scans indicate that the ship went to surface in the northwestern hemisphere,” he said to the statue. “We were unable to ascertain its exact location, but we have a fair approximation.”
Another low thrumming, and in his ears the whisper again, more insistent. “Lord Margrave,” the captain said hesitantly, “but with all due respect—”
From the other side of the bridge came another sound, one which was as piercing as the first was soft, but no less disconcerting. Where the dark lord spoke in the space between sound and thought, this new sound was more nearly recognizable; it was, if anything, comforting: the angry, defiant growl of a Mandalorian warrior—one of his own kind.
Approaching from the rear of the bridge, the Mandalorian chieftain Nooril Korna addressed the statue before it ever turned to acknowledge her. “With the damage we have sustained,” Korna was shouting, “it would have been impossible!”
The figure next to him disappeared, and in the same instance was replaced by another one, now standing before Korna, in the literal blink of an eye covering half the bridge’s length. The Mandalorian chieftain came to a clumsy halt before the living shadow. In its transformation, the dark lord seemed to have grown in stature to tower over the chieftain and filling her entire field of vision. Those white slits bore down on her just as they had on the ship’s captain, glowing with new intensity.
Another low thrumming and then a whisper of a scream.
The chieftain, recovered from the surprise of nearly colliding with the dark lord, set her jaw and glared up at the black figure before her. “It was my decision, Lord Margrave,” she said, adding scorn with the title. “The ship could not be caught. Would you have preferred that it escape?”
The eyes flared and another thrumming followed, but this time the voice that came to them was not that ghoulish, nightmare sound in their minds. Directly beside the chieftain, one of the Amiklot slaves manning the bridge leapt to her feet. Each of the slaves had been implanted with a cyborg construct which covered the back half of their skulls. The indicator lights on this particular slave’s implant flashed in a pattern none of them could remember seeing before, the slave’s expression twitched spasmodically, as though receiving an electric shock. With an effort of will to which she was unaccustomed, the slave opened her mouth and spoke, “But they did escape, Korna.”
Korna glared at the slave, as did the Mandalorian overseers on the bridge. One of them moved to strike her with his stunwhip, but a raised hand from the chieftain stayed his hand.
“You Mandalorians do what is necessary to find them,” the slave’s vocal chords were made to say. The black eyes seized their rapid blinking and turned to look directly at the chieftain. “But the Jedi is mine. We must have a live specimen.”
Then the slave’s eyes grew wide with terror. Whatever came next, she did not want to utter it. Jaw muscles worked beneath her flesh as she struggled against the commands flooding her mind. In response, the lights on the implant took on a new pattern, this one dizzyingly fast by comparison. Twisting her neck sharply to one side, she shrieked out, “Your stratagems, Korna, do not work so well on their sophisticated ways. I deny you the pleasure of the Jedi’s weapon or scalp.”
The chieftain whipped around to face Atha Prime once more, a storm of emotions clouding her face. To have her spoils of victory taken from her… “Lord Margrave,” she began tautly, “that right is mine, and mine alone. The arrangements you have made—”
“Your requests are not my concern!” The rebuke came from the Amiklot slave again, a screeching sound hardly recognizable as words.
The Mandalorian snarled. “The Jedi are my concern,” Korna bit out.
“The Jedi are my concern,” the slave returned, coughing with the continued strain of speech. With every new word she spoke, more and more red appeared at the corners of her mouth and from her nostrils. “You have failed in your prime directive, Mandalorian,” she said. “Find me that Jedi. Bring him to me.”
Korna’s eyes flicked from Atha Prime to the other Mandalorians on the bridge. She eyed each one of them in turn—part assurance, part warning. Mandalorian hierarchy was based on the principle of brute strength, where the weak were quickly culled. To have her authority so flagrantly undermined aboard her own ship but this outsider–
No, by a slave!
Slowly she returned her gaze to those glowing white slits. “Yes, Lord Margrave—”
“Alive, Korna,” the slave snapped.
In one smooth motion, the chieftain drew the massive blaster on her hip and without looking, fired. Even if she had still possessed some semblance of free will, the Amiklot slave would never have had the chance to react. The bolt struck her between those solid black eyes. The shot sent her sprawling backwards over her seat and onto the deck, the cybernetic implant clanging heavily against the metal deck.
Satisfied with her work, the chieftain holstered her blaster as she squinted defiantly up at the figure before her. That black pool of a face regarded her impassively, the white slits seemingly indifferent to the chieftain’s actions. “Yes, Lord Margrave,” Korna said and bowed.
Turning to leave, she failed to notice the massive gauntlet that revealed itself from beneath the statue’s cape. Enormous obsidian fingers materialized from amid wisps of smoke and among them sparks of blue-white lightning flickered and danced. Seemingly in response, the displays across the bridge sputtered and screeched. And then, by some unspoken command, every Amiklot slave on the bridge rose at their stations simultaneously, the lights on their implants twinkling in unison.
Stunned Mandalorian overseers moved to their charges, striking them with stun batons and whips, sending up cascades of white lightning as their weapons struck flesh. Those slaves too weak or small to take the punishment simply fell to the ground, rigid as though in death, but the other stood motionless, their eyes wide and staring. At his station, the captain stabbed at controls meant to restrain the slaves by way of their implants, but this too came to no avail, generating stun sparks from beneath the implants. Two slaves had parts of their implants overload in small explosions, but even this did nothing to return them to their stations.
One by one the overseers stopped and looked to Korna for answers.
Rage—pure, white-hot rage—etched itself across on the chieftain’s face as she turned to glare back down the bridge. Back to Atha Prime.
The fist held before the dark lord was alive with a ball of blue-white lightning, over which the statue once more thrummed, a deep, otherworldly sound that rattled chairs and deck plating. The Amiklot slaves turned to face Korna in unison, those who had been struck to the ground rising awkwardly to join their brethren, and as one they opened their mouths and let forth a bloodcurdling sound, screaming out at the Mandalorian chieftain:
“ALIVE. OR I WILL KNOW THE REASON.”
Blood ran freely from many of their mouths, pooling on consoles before them, but not one of those pair of black eyes showed any sign of pain. The Amiklot were a servile people, little more than draught animals in the service of Mandalore. Their underdeveloped intellect meant they could be easily controlled, but as Korna now looked out across their blank faces, she suddenly saw more than mere slaves. If they could be used on behalf of Mandalore, they could likewise be used against them.
She looked up at the glowing white slits which bore down upon her. The Amiklots had been enslaved to serve the will of Mandalore; would Mandalorians likewise be subjugated to the whims of this darkness?
With parade ground precision, she bowed to the dark lord. “As you will, Lord Margrave.”