Valerie Soung, Varen Command Ship Winter Moon, Malachor V
I was shown to a large plush sitting room with a view of the planet below. Looking out the window, I could see Headstone Station and the Barmour fleet on the far side. From this perspective it was easy to see the massive gapping hole where the explosion had ripped through it. From what I could see, it looked like the blast had imparted enough energy to start the station rotating slowly with respect to the planet below. Shuttles and fighters were buzzing all around it, clearing up debris, and rescuing survivors.
If they were smart, the station operators would have insurance against this sort of thing. Of course, the point was moot for them if they were all dead.
I had to admit I was surprised the explosion didn’t get the Varen and Barmour fleets shooting at each other. Maybe this was an indication of how precarious the Baramour position was.
Before I could muse on that idea any longer though, I heard the door behind me open. I turned to see a woman older than Virstris and younger than my parents. The robes she wore marked her as a admiral of the Varen fleet, and the colors indicated she was of the Morrowain family, as if the subspecies wasn’t enough. Her skin was whiter than Kira’s. But her eyes, hair, and lips were blacker than charcoal, and her shoulders broader than most males. Morrowain males I am told are even more heavily built. If I had to guess, this was Mistress Admiral Vera Morrowain.
For her to have been sent here by the Council did not speak well for how the Council thought the Baramour would behave.
Being of lower social status than her, I bowed politely.
(Valerie) Mistress Admiral Morrowain, I am honored to be in your presence.
She hugged me in an enormous bear hug as I thought she would squeeze all the air from me.
(Morrowain) Would you look at how much you’ve grown! Spitting image of your mother! Last time I saw you, you barely came above my knees! Come, come, your mother and I are good friends, so call me Lady Vera.
(Valerie) I am most pleased to see that you are unhurt after the incident aboard the station, Lady Vera.
(Morrowain) Bah, it would take more than that to hurt me. How about you, did the medics look you over before they ran off to assist stupid traders that can’t learn to duck?
(Valerie) I am quite well, I heard Father is unharmed?
(Morrowain) Indeed, a little bump on the head, but nothing serious. I sent him planetside while I took control of the mess up here. I didn’t realize you were on the station as well.
(Valerie) I wasn’t part of the delegation with Father, I was just collecting some money I had earned based on Baramour failures.
(Morrowain) Explains why I didn’t see you then. My whole job was to stand around during the discussions and look imposing.
That she could do handily. Not much taller than me, she had to weigh nearly twice what I did, and it was all muscle. Nor was that her most potent feature, she was one of the few skilled at enhancing an allied fleet with the Force while crippling the enemy fleet at the same time. To have brought her here must have cost a lot of political capital.
(Valerie) Lady Vera, surely your contributions to the negotiations were more than just standing around.
(Morrowain) You needn’t worry, your father wasn’t sidelining me, although his diplomatic skills are certainly greater than my own. My talents lie elsewhere.
Lady Vera then proceeded to fill me in on what had been going on thus far. Not that she was under any obligation to do so, but she did it as a courtesy and a sign of respect to my Mother. I don’t think I was ever aware of the strength of the friendship between the two of them. Father may be the politician, but Mother has the connections.
It was confirmed that the Arbitor was killed in the blast. Apparently the Arbitor was even one from the prestigious Zanath Guaranteers. Oh hell, if one of their high end negotiator/arbiters was dead, then the rest of the Zanath would surely get involved. This was a major scandal to say the least. It was very likely someone would have to pay restitutions and those weren’t cheap.
The Baramour fleet had been quiet thus far. They were assisting in the search and rescue operation long enough to get their people back before pulling back from the station. About the only things they would say on the matter publicly was that it did appear the explosion originated from a freighter and that the Arbiter was killed.
Once Lady Vera was done briefing me, she spent some time asking about Mother and Virstris before a beep sounded at the door. She then excused herself, explaining that she had to attend a Council meeting via the holonet. She did promise that a shuttle would be arranged to take me back to the Varen residence at the Academy though. Almost as soon as she left the room, a pilot entered and asked if I was ready to return to the surface. Not really seeing much value staying here where I could be in the way, I nodded my assent and was escorted to the shuttle bay.
It looked like this bay was purposefully being kept clear of the search and rescue traffic as there was little traffic coming and going. The pilot led me to one of the surface shuttles and opened the door to let me in. Stepping inside, I strapped myself in as the pilot prepared for takeoff. After clearing the launch with fleet command, we departed and headed down to the surface.
We landed at the spaceport only minutes later. I disembarked and the shuttle took off again to return to the fleet in orbit. People at the port had been watching my arrival, apparently hoping the shuttle was bringing loved ones and friends that might have survived. Most were disappointed only I disembarked, but none dared voice that opinion. They will have to learn that sometimes their loved one doesn’t have transit priority and will have to wait.
I got on my bike, which was where I had left it earlier and drove back to the compound. Soldiers were at the compound gate and stopped me to verify ID. At this point it was getting late in the day and dinner would be starting soon. Mother would have a fit if I missed it or showed up late. Nevermind that I had a station explode while I was in it, can’t be seen being improper in her mind.
As it turns out, I was late by a whole five minutes. Virstris and Father didn’t seem to mind but Mother was annoyed. It looked like Kira and Faer were asked to keep themselves occuppied elsewhere as they were not participating. The meal itself was elaborate and overly large. There were many different meats, lots of sides and appetizers, and a weird looking dessert that I can only suppose Virstris requested. I sat down and started grabbing food while Mother tried her best to ignore my lateness while also making a fuss over it.
Let’s just say that didn’t work out well.
(Valerie) Oh yes, Lady Vera sends her greetings, Mother. She wanted to apologize, she was hoping to visit tomorrow but current circumstances may prevent her from following through.
(Mother) Oh yes, I will have to send her a message then telling her not to worry. Cleaning up the mess up there is going to take some effort.
(Father) We will have to see how the investigation goes.
(Mother) Investigation? Sol Olath is dead, and that is going to hurt our standing with the more neutral factions in the galaxy.
(Father) I agreed to bring him here on your prediction that it would be beneficial in the long term. Let’s just see how this plays out.
(Virstris) I take it you are not hurt Valerie?
Mother seemed thankful for the change in subject. Father was more reserved and seemed lost in thought about something.
(Valerie) The clothes are a bit damaged, but otherwise nothing hurt.
(Mother) I take it your winnings were enough to justify getting into that incident in the first place.
(Valerie) And how was I supposed to know that was going to happen?
(Mother) I foresaw it.
(Virstris) Of course.
(Valerie) Oh really?
(Mother) When money changes hands, so to will the inside become the outside. The screaming dead shall be silent.
Most of Mother’s inane predictions were like this. Making little sense even after the supposed event they described. How in the galaxy she pieces them together into conspiracy theories coherent enough to sell is beyond me. Case in point, she didn’t tell me or Father not to go to orbit today. Father was good enough to sort the wheat from the chaff, but I couldn’t make sense of any of it. Virstris I think just played along.
(Valerie) And I am supposed to know that a station was going to explode today while I was on it because of that?
(Virstris) Makes perfect sense.
Mother shot a look at Virstris with that remark, but Virstris suddenly became very hard to read save that smirk on her face. Any attempt I did to read deeper kept digging up annoying showtunes.
(Mother) Don’t think those arts will keep me from knowing what you’re thinking. I’ve been around the both of you more than long enough to have a good idea what’s going on inside those heads.
Wait, that was one of the arts? Annoyingly bad commercial jingles? Oh now I had real doubts about the Vailo arts. Mother must have caught a glimpse of my thoughts.
(Mother) You’ll learn soon enough Valerie. You start martial arts practice tomorrow morning with your sister.
Dinner finished awhile later after Mother and Father finished discussing the politics of the situation. Virstris went to collect the day’s reports and I went hunting for Kira. I found him in the parlor talking to one of the servants.
(Valerie) Turned to drinking your sorrows away?
(Kira) Hardly, although I was most pleased to find out that Faer didn’t know what a curdle hurdle is.
(Valerie) I thought those were myths.
(Kira) You never spent time at a proper university. Neither did Faer apparently.
(Valerie) You gave him one?
(Kira) Not so much gave as let the recipe slip as a good one for parties without informing him what it was. I would have loved to have gotten his reaction on recording for posterity.
He then mimicked how Faer apparently reacted and I couldn’t help but laugh. It must have been a sight worth seeing and I was sorry I missed it. I had to admit, he was keeping Faer on his toes despite the lack of talent and skill. Faer never was as cunning as he thought he was.
(Valerie) Come on, time for lightsaber practice.
(Kira) Great, I was just thinking going to bed without aches, pains, and burns was getting a little dull.
We went to the training room and went through the stances again. Things started getting interesting when we switched to free form practice as he went on the attack. He was obviously relying on his own personal ability as opposed to any Force enhancement of his speed or strength. He was trying to use precognition though and that was an improvement.
I kept from enhancing myself any save to keep tiredness away and matched him. The overall technique he was using was good and getting better. He was now seeing enough ahead to block better and make it look fluid. I kept myself from going after blatant openings save for the occasional half-hearted swipe to keep him on his toes.
Finally he missed a swipe and fell to the ground as my lightsaber burned the back of his knee. He held his leg while gulping breaths of air. He was clearly at the limit of his stamina.
(Valerie) You wouldn’t get so exhausted if you enhanced your endurance.
(Kira) Damn it, I’m barely keeping up with you already and you want me to try and do more?
(Valerie) You are not going to get any better if I make this easy on you.
(Kira) Sorry, but not everyone has the decades of practice you’ve got. I especially do not.
(Valerie) Decades? How old do you think I am?
(Kira) Off hand? I would say early twenties. But you’ve been practicing this crap probably since you learned to speak sentences.
(Valerie) Not true, I’ve only been practicing with the Force since I was five. The lightsaber practice only started when I was thirteen.
(Kira) And you expect me to match that in a matter of weeks?
(Valerie) We expect you to keep improving, not coast along.
He was right, but he was also progressing far more rapidly than most students that have come through this Academy.
Hmm, a run may be in order if we are to work on his stamina technique. I haven’t done one of those in a while. I wonder if the old trail is still there. I shall have to look tomorrow then after training with Virstris is done.
We did a few more rounds together with mixed results. While he seemed to be doing better at anticipating the attacks I throw at him, the building exhaustion was impairing his ability to act on that knowledge.
(Valerie) Alright, call it a day and go to bed. We’ll resume again tomorrow evening and see about doing an exercise the day after.
He left without a word. Yes, I think a run would help matters, if it doesn’t kill him first. It happens from time to time.
Somewhere he learned how to fight and fight well. He’s just learning how to use those skills with the Force now. I wonder if it’s those games and holos he is so fond of? Might be worth checking some of those out at some point just to see what they are like. Mother discouraged them for whatever reason.
I too retreated to my room to find the bath ready. My back and shoulders were tense from too much restraining myself and the hot water helped sooth them. I could hear Virstris singing to herself over in her bath. She’s always singing, smiling and laughing. Hard to believe that such a disgustingly cheery person could be a hardened soldier and my sister.
I dressed for bed and crawled under the covers, ready for sleep. Luckily Virstris’s singing didn’t keep me awake as I fell asleep quickly. This time I dreamed of an invisible huntress in the woods stalking his prey. At some point the prey became people and the huntress became the animal. Cruelly playful, the huntress closed in for the kill as I woke up.
It was raining outside with thunder clouds darkening the sky. A quick glance at the time showed it was time to get cleaned up and dressed for practice with Virstris. After the morning bath I found only a simple tank top and pants waiting for me with a note.
<Those pretty dresses you wear will interfere with practice. You can wear them later. Virstris>
Damn, she even dots her i’s with little hearts. I could already feel that practice was going to be a long and torturous affair. I dressed in the clothes provided and found the lack of flowing fabric when I turned disappointing. Yes, I am most definitely going to change after this.
I grabbed something to drink from the kitchen and only had a bit of fruit to provide energy. Not that I expected to exert myself, but I didn’t want to be bending over like Kira after handing my sister her ass.
The practice room was cleaned out of all furnishings and equipment save for a chair Mother was sitting in. Virstris was working on hooking up a power cable to a bag she had on the floor.
(Valerie) Any word on the investigation?
(Mother) There wasn’t enough left of the freighter to determine much of anything about the explosion itself save that it involved nearly ten tons of hafnium isomer.
(Valerie) That’s…. a lot of hafnium.
(Mother) Yes, but thankfully only a portion detonated. Vera’s people have determined that the freighter’s ID was fake and are busily trying to track down where it came from. The station’s chief engineer was brained with a serial number plate and the investigators are focusing on that.
So that said either a smuggler that had a serious accident, or a terrorist that couldn’t build a bomb correctly. I was inclined to believe the first, but the Zanath weren’t going to accept a probably as the cause of death of one of their prized arbiters. That meant tracking down the hafnium supplier and asking a lot of pointed questions.
(Mother) In the meantime, I will be watching you and Virstris as your father has lessons with Kira this morning. Your father will then return to orbit to serve as the local intermediary in this matter.
There was something about how Mother said she was going to watch that set off alarms in my head. I was about to ask her about that when Virstris stood up. She was now wearing what looked to be a droid chassis. I figured it had to be a slimmed down version of the powered armor she wore the day before. This one was even missing a power supply as it required a tether to the residence power system. The whole mess couldn’t have weighed more than twenty pounds.
She’d have done better with the heavy combat armor she wore before.
(Virstris) We ready? We’ll keep things simple and not get into weapons yet.
(Valerie) Simple? If you say so.
(Virstris) Alright then, I shall start things off.
Precognition was crystal clear as she readied herself. It looked like it was going to be a straightforward charge. I readied to counter when she rushed straight at me.
At about 4 meters left, my precognition of Virstris suddenly exploded into a myriad of possibilities unlike anything I’ve seen before. In trying to make sense of that mess, I felt her knock my legs out from under me with a kick. Adjusting my fall, I used my arms to brace me against the floor and sent one of my legs into a kick aimed at her shoulder.
The image of my leg impacting her shoulder disappeared suddenly as she ducked and grabbed my ankle. Spinning with power assisted strength, she threw me. I found myself heading for the wall fast and managed to land on it feet first. Standing again, I took a good hard look at Virstris.
Precognitively she was a mess. There was no plan, no series of moves leading up to a finisher, and no habitual techniques. All I could see was dozens or even hundreds of possible moves and how any one of them could easily flow into any of the others. To make it even worse, she was picking randomly at the last possible minute.
Oh hell, this was going to be a major pain.
(Mother) I can see you finally appreciate the scope of the problem Valerie.
(Valerie) You can’t even call that mess a proper set of techniques. Picking words randomly from a dictionary doesn’t make you a speaker.
(Mother) Hmm, it seems you still don’t quite understand. Go ahead Virstris.
Virstris charged me again. Suspecting another attack like last time, I sped to the side to catch her as she passed only to have her foot collide with my arm. Again enhancing my speed, I grabbed Virstris by the ankle and went to throw her own damn move back at her. As I spun around to throw her into the wall, my vision exploded into a mess of spots as her other foot collided with the back of my head.
Losing the strength technique for a moment, I lost my grip on Virstris as I tried to power through the disorientation. I could hear Virstris land on the floor and begin charging again. Forcing the disorientation from my head, I leapt into the air up and over her with the intent of catching her from behind.
Landing right behind her, I made to twirl around in a kick to her head when I felt her elbow crack into my spine. Doubling over from the unexpected pain, I found myself falling again as she locked one of her leg’s behind mine and pushed me over her leg and into the floor hard. I could see her smiling face as she bent over me.
(Virstris) Simply knowing a few techniques isn’t enough. You have to know how to move from any one to dozens of others and be able to pick a favorable one at a glance.
(Valerie) You think these tricks are enough to fight a full Varen?
(Virstris) This stuff, no. The shield generators in the frame should be able to handle the lightsaber and lightning. The speed enhancements are fairly easy to predict and the strength isn’t as much of an advantage as you seem to believe.
Attempting to read her thoughts wasn’t getting anywhere either. All I could get was more annoying songs and tunes. Course it didn’t help that I was sore in several locations now and my head was still spinning from the blow earlier. She was enjoying this a little too much in my opinion. Mother’s communicator started beeping.
(Mother) I’m afraid I have something I need to take care of for a few minutes. Virstris, continue the lesson but be careful.
Yes, Virstris was going to need to be very careful. Once Mother left and the door closed, I tapped into my full power and went on the offensive. My fist collided with her chest, only to be blocked by a shield generator. The force of the blow was still enough to send her flying, but she managed to tumble to her feet smoothly.
(Virstris) Now that’s more like it. You actually managed to hit me that time. Come on, do Mother and Father proud.
(Valerie) You mean since you can’t?
All traces of that smiling, cheery personality completely vanished with that remark. All that was left in it’s place was a dark scowl. Heh, seems like I’ve found a button to push. This should actually prove fun.
This time I started as I charged and then slid into her legs. She tried to turn the fall into a elbow drop on top of me, but I rolled to the side. That turned out to be a mistake as I lost sight of her for a moment. The next thing I knew she had grabbed my wrist and was elbowing my kidney again before backhanding me and finishing off with a round kick. My nose was bleeding and I was fairly certain my lip was busted too.
(Virstris) That’s right. You have to learn to fight since I apparently cannot. But don’t worry, I’m only an A-class rank in the Vailo arts. I’d hate to see how you’d fair against an S-class.
(Valerie) Ah yes, yet another thing you lacked the talent for then?
I caught a clear image precognitively of that punch as it came at me. Grabbing her wrist, I twisted it behind her and wrapped my other arm around her neck. That neatly completed the grapple.
I got a face full of red hair as she head butted me and kicked backwards between my legs. That hurt a lot.
(Virstris) See, it doesn’t just work on males. You just need better aim with women.
I grabbed her telekinetically and flung her against the opposing wall. The only other thing I could grab telekinetically was the chair Mother had been using. Picking that up, I flung it at Virstris. She dodged to the side as the chair impacted the wall and exploded into a hail of splinters and sawdust.
I grabbed her again telekinetically and pulled her towards me on a trajectory to collide with my fist. My fist collided nicely against the shield and overloaded it, sending a hail of sparks back at Virstris. All sense of accomplishment left me as I saw her twirl around in midair and stab at me with a piece of the chair I just destroyed.
I barely managed to move enough so that the stab went into my left arm and not my shoulder. Between all the blows to the head and the various aches and pains, I was beginning to realize I couldn’t keep this up.
(Virstris) Come on, is that all Father’s perfect little princess can do? Damn shame, you might as well use that pretty pink lightsaber of yours then, you might make the other Sith laugh themselves to death.
That does it, she’s going to die. I don’t care if I end up in medical for weeks, she’s going to regret that. I could feel the Dark Side rising within but I didn’t care. I starting preparing to fire off Force lightning through the overloaded shield generator when I felt a pinprick on the back of my neck.
Reaching up, I pulled an air dart out of my neck. Damn it, what with Virstris’s mess, and Mother being a precognitive, her shot had been impossible to detect precognitively. I could feel Force suppression drugs cycling through my system as my ability shutdown and I began to get a splitting headache. A shot in the neck left almost no time at all to counter the effects before it was too late.. I fell to my knees as I cradled my head.
(Virstris) Mo… Mother, I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to….
(Mother) Enough, summon a medic and then go to your room. I will speak with you later.
I heard the door open and close as Virstris left. This was so humiliating. I hadn’t had to use these drugs for nearly a year and that was the first time since I was sixteen. To have Mother use them on me was even worse. It was one thing to use the drugs yourself, but to have others force them upon you implied a complete lack of control.
(Mother) You mocked her lack of Force talent didn’t you? Damn it Valerie, I thought you knew better than this.
(Valerie) I.. I wasn’t going.. to lose.. to her.
(Mother) You look down on her because she doesn’t have talent is that it? At least I don’t have to drug your sister to bring her under control again. You on the other hand…
That was a bigger slap on the face than anything else in this whole fiasco. Not only had I been forcibly drugged, but I was being told I had less self-control than a normal person. The feeling of humiliation just made the blinding headache even worse.
(Mother) We’ve tried to treat the both of you the same with limited success. It didn’t help matters that you were talented and she wasn’t. That also meant that we inevitably had to spend more time with you than your sister to keep you under control.
(Mother) She only saw how much more time we spent with you than her. We saw that problems were forming and sought to head them off. Sending her off to one of the most prestigious schools we could was the best we could offer her.
(Mother) We even managed to get her into Vailo arts training so that she could find some means of contributing to the family and feel good about herself. She viewed it as being sent away.
(Mother) She comes back and tries to make the best of things and you go rubbing her face into her perceived inadequacies when she’s trying to teach you how to defend yourself against people like her.
(Valerie) Like the Sith… would ever teach… normal people… how to hunt other Sith. The Varen… are the exception… that prove the rule….
(Mother) The Republic has a very strong reason to, and has the resources to keep it secret.
(Valerie) But the Republic… has the Jedi…
(Mother) And where do you think most of the Force users at this Academy have come from? Remember, the Republic even has a recruiting pool deep enough to have Force Immune at their disposal.
Even through the headache, that image sent shivers up my spine. Something like that was an option of last resort, but should the Sith come close to winning or the Jedi Order completely collapse….
That can’t be allowed to happen.
(Mother) Now you seem to understand the importance of this training. Learn to fight a Vailo artist, and you’ll be better prepared if you run across a hunter. Now go to your room and rest.
Walking to my room was a dreadful affair. With Force suppression headaches, any lights felt like they were blazing suns, and the smallest noises seemed to echo through your skull. Luckily it was still quietly raining outside and someone had shut off the lights in the hallway. Mother and Thelos must have told the servants to vacate as I saw no one on my way.
In my room I saw a medic waiting for me. She quietly cleaned up my face and checked my head for any serious injury before injecting me and gesturing that I should sleep. I crawled under the covers and buried my head in the pillow as I tried to will the headache out of my head and into the pillow. I didn’t hear any singing as I fell asleep.
I dreamt I was five again and was being punished for throwing a tantrum. What stood out the most was the image of a nine year old Virstris with a look of intense jealosy on her face as I was carried to my room.