Blue and Red

Commander Auretal was surprisingly young.

When Lathril first met him, the Sith had been wearing a mask. Lathril had imagined an old man — or perhaps an alien species — barely holding together under the ravages of the Dark Side under that mask, but when Auretal took the bit of metal off to smooth his moustache, he was revealed to be a brown-skinned human barely into adulthood, with the only sign of his Sith status the yellowing of his eyes.

The yellowing of his eyes… and his chronic impatience. Lathril disliked him immediately.

“Lord Sarak’s loaning you to me for a mission?” Auretal asked, his lip curled. “Does he think I can’t manage my own patrols?”

“He said nothing of the sort, sir. Only that we were to investigate unidentified ships that raided the ISS-Zephyr.”

“Yes. I already know where they fled to. What I don’t see is what that has to do with you, specifically.” Auretal couldn’t have made his feelings clearer without saying, “I don’t like you or want you here, scum.”

Lathril took a small breath, willing himself for patience. He did not have to fall to the man’s — the teenager’s? — level. Did the Sith Empire go through their people so rapidly this was the best they had to put in charge of a ship? Lathril idly wondered, and he yearned for the decorum of the ISS-Phoenix. Dutifully he smoothed his face and his tone to say, “Sir, if you already know where they went, why haven’t you dealt with them yet?”

“Was that backtalk I heard?” Auretal growled.

“No, sir.”

“Because that’s what it sounded like….”

Why did all Sith have such egos? Well, almost all, Lathril amended as he thought of Sarak. “Sir, I only meant that my being here, specifically, likely had something to do with that, specifically. Sir.”

“Hmm.” Auretal’s eyes flashed a little brighter yellow as he regarded the apprentice, but when he spoke, he didn’t address the question, instead going on to say, “We’ll make the hyper-jump to the location soon. Your squad will launch and make first contact. First violent contact, if need be. Understood?”

“Yes, sir.” Lathril even managed to avoid a sigh.

“Then get out of my sight.”

The launch sequence was becoming routine. 15 minutes before the frigate was due to drop out of lightspeed, Lathril and his squad had reported to the main hangar to run pre-flight checks. 5 minutes, and they were being strapped in and given their order in the launch. Then the blue whorls outside the particle shields died to pinpricks of stars, like dust strewn across blackness, and then Lathril was all business as the starfighters left the hangar two at a time, Lathril at their head.

He flipped the Mk VII to autopilot briefly, as he made a visual scan of his surroundings and located the landmarks on his targeting map. They were flying near a couple of large asteroids the size of Imperial dreadnoughts as well as a few other chunks of rock, each hardly bigger than his own starfighter. His scopes didn’t penetrate to the other side of the asteroids, and Lathril immediately marked them as potential ambush sites. A few clicks on his monitor transmitted this information to the other starfighters in his squad, and then Lathril pressed forward.

ISS-Basilisk, this is Squadron Phoenix. We are clear from the hangar bay. No sign of the enemy yet.”

Auretal even sounded impatient on the comms. “Look around. There’s plenty of hiding sites in and around those rocks.”

“Yes, sir. Already on it, sir.” Trying not to rankle by the Sith stating the obvious — hadn’t he just done the same with his own squad? — Lathril pushed his craft a little faster. Staying in their wedge formation, the squad had just gotten done circling the first asteroid when the yellow of an unidentified ship edged its way onto his scope.

ISS-Basilisk, we have made first contact. Stand-by for my report.”

Zam, zam! Lathril could almost feel the heat of the laser cannons streaking past his cockpit. He twisted off to the side, and the squad followed him perfectly, veering behind the asteroid for cover.

“Confirmed hostile, sir.”

“So what are you waiting for! Destroy them!”

Lathril grimaced. Whatever Auretal wanted to do, he wasn’t about to send his squad into battle against an unknown. It may have been one lone pirate, or twenty other ships with the rest of their fleet within striking distance. Following a circular trajectory, his squad popped out on the other side of the asteroid, and Lathril leaned against his side window to get a good view of the enemy ships. White paint. A fuselage flanked by two narrow wings. Blue sigil…


“Sir, your orders?” came Teft’s voice over the intercom. They were in the open again, and would need to commit to either evasive action or combat soon, but…



Lathril knew sudden panic. It couldn’t be. What were they doing here? He couldn’t fight these.

“Pull up,” Crusty’s voice cut in. Lathril became vaguely aware of the old man’s starfighter falling into place on his port side. He wasn’t supposed to be there, nor was he supposed to be the one to lead the manuever and pull up first. That snapped Lathril out of it. Whatever his internal conflicts, he had a squad to lead. His duty to them had to come first. He jammed his accelerator forward, nosing in front of Crusty, then yanking the thrusters back with such speed his starfighter nearly flipped over as it climbed straight up. Crusty fell back in place behind him, and Lathril silently thanked the man for his help.

He turned on his comms. “Crusty, Teft, fall back and give me a tactical reading. Bett, Guy, cover me. We’ll keep them busy in the meanwhile.” So saying, he twisted his ship sideways and then down into a corkscrew. Predictably, a couple of the Pub starfighters followed him, though his erratic movements kept any of their laser cannons from hitting him. He heard Guy scream through the comms, but he couldn’t pay attention to that now.

Twist, swoop, fire, double back, rake, firing all the way. He could nearly see the whites of the other pilot’s eyes as he skimmed past, upside down — or was it them who was upside down? Did they recognize him? No, focus. Fall in line. He was behind another Mk VII now. It was burning. Was it Guy’s…? Not now. The smoke coming from its engines was cover. That made it a good thing.

They were approaching another Pub at attack speed. At the last minute, Lathril dipped out of line, breaking from the smoke’s visual cover, and both Imperials unloaded on the surprised Pub. Good, so she was still alive in there…

“Crusty? Give me your readings already!”

“There’s more of them incoming. Must be a nearby base.”

“A cloaked capital ship?” asked Teft.

“Pubs don’t put cloaking devices on anything that big,” countered Crusty.

“Not yet, they don’t,” Lathril muttered. “Teft, Crusty, taunt them in close to the Basilisk’s turrets. Guy, join them. Bett, with me still. We’re going to find their source.”

He watched just long enough to ensure Guy limped back to the Imperial frigate, before putting on more speed. He aimed himself right at a knot of Pub starfighters, trusting them to panic and break apart ahead of his reckless charge. Yes, there they went, trying to come about, but he sped on ahead, out of range long before they were re-aligned.

Except that one… It had turned impossibly fast, almost as if it had had prior warning. “Must be a Jedi,” Lathril muttered. “Bett, scout on ahead. I’ll cover for you.”

So saying, Lathril dropped out of their two-man formation, trading a few cursory shots with the Jedi pilot. The Jedi was persistent though, ducking out of Lathril’s way and focusing fire on Bett’s craft instead. They were much too close for Lathril to get his cannons in line again.

“Kriff!” Lathril searched for the Force for an answer, nearly by reflex. Its voice was faint out in the middle of space with so few living creatures around to carry it, and there was now a new pulse in it, a dark one, strong, and it was suggesting…

Lathril swallowed. It would be brutal and dangerous, but he had time for nothing else. He rolled over and crashed right into the other starfighter.

His sense of the Force kept him just clear of their fuel tanks colliding or his cockpit from puncturing, but Lathril heard a clunk and felt a wobble somewhere in the undercarriage. He made to turn his tail on the Jedi craft and rocket away; there was a nasty sounding wrench, and when they finally detached from each other, Lathril was sent into a headlong spiral. One engine was firing fitfully, and Lathril brought the other down to low power to stop the spinning, but it meant he was only limping along at a quarter of normal speed.

The Jedi’s starfighter was nowhere to be seen.

“Bett! Do you have eyes on the base yet?” he yelled into comms.

“Yeah… using starlight… cover…” said Bett in the staticky comms. Great, Lathril had probably dislodged the radio receiver too.

“Transmit the coordinates to the Basilisk. They will mop up with a turbolaser strike. All starfighters! Return to the mothership.”

“What… that?”

“MAKE AURETAL LIGHT THEM UP!” Lathril cried louder, as if that would make it through the static any better.

Bett didn’t respond, so either he understood or he had come up with his own plan. Lathril turned the good engine on full for just an instant, spinning himself about to put the ISS-Basilisk in view. And there, at last, he spotted the Jedi.

Literally the Jedi. They were just a wash of robes in the vacuum of space, surrounded by wreckage. The collision had done more damage to the Jedi ship then Lathril thought at first. His blood ran cold, watching them spiral. Doubtless it had been a quick death, but even so, he felt horrible.

Or… were they dead? A twitch of a leg as the Jedi floated closer, the subtle movement of a robe or arm…

The ignition of a lightsaber!

They wanted to cut him from his cockpit!

On instinct, Lathril fired on the humanoid figure, and the robes went up in flames in an instant. Stupid. He had never been in any true danger: the Jedi much too far away, the lightsaber lit in a dying spasm of the hand, but that didn’t make Lathril feel any better.

The ISS-Basilisk was drifting nearer now, flashes of laser cannons playing along its length. His mind felt as fuzzy as the comms now were, and Lathril ducked into the frigate’s underbelly hangar. His landing was haphazard with only the one engine, but he made it. He made it off the starfighter, too, doing the bare minimum of check-ins, as he fled for somewhere he could find solitude, somewhere he could think.

Ship doors didn’t slam. The motors in the tracks kept them moving on one speed. Lathril sure wished they could slam, now. He fell onto a bunk, barely recognizing it as not being his own: it was merely in the same location as his bunk was on the ISS-Phoenix. Fuzz turned to thoughts, accusations, like the hum of bee wings turned into a sharp stinger.

What did you expect?

Did you think you could escape it forever?

He felt himself to be on the edge of a deep pit of blackness, or a rowboat bumping along the edges of a whirlpool. How easy it’d be to just take a step sideways and let himself be swept away into that current. What would it matter if he did? If the encounter with Karse was any indicator, he could not expect any welcome back to the Republic, even if he could return. He was tainted with the Dark Side now. It had made him murder an old ally.

Who was he? What had he become?

Only the darkness answered.

The darkness and…

His personal commlink was still buzzing fitfully on his belt. He pulled it out, flipped it open.

“WHERE THE HELL ARE YOU!” Auretal screamed at him.

Lathril sat up, swallowing to bring some saliva back to his mouth. It wasn’t like when Sarak yelled at him. It was still humiliating, yes, but it also woke up a rebellious furor in him. Auretal couldn’t possibly understand. All he cared about was “destroying the enemy”, not what Lathril had just experienced.

“My craft suffered terminal damage,” he said in a barely-controlled monotone. “I made it back to the hangar and ordered the squad to re-dock, so I didn’t see the point in relaunching a second starfighter.”

“And you didn’t see the point in informing me about any of this?!” Auretal bellowed.

“Why exactly do you care?” Lathril suddenly snapped back, forgetting to even use an honorific in his anger. “The enemy base was marked for you; you had plenty of firepower to take it out. You didn’t need me!”

Auretal, abruptly, went silent.

Lathril waited several long minutes, as the anger began to cool and he started to worry he had made a fatal error. Yelling back at a Sith? He had never done that before. Not even when facing them across crossed lightsabers, blue and red…

Before he could begin to feel really sick, the comms unit clicked back on. “You’re that Jedi, aren’t you, Ja’eel?”

“Yes?” Lathril said tiredly.

“First time?” Auretal asked. His tone was still clipped, but no longer so impatient. Almost… No, that couldn’t possibly be. Lathril shook his head.

“First time firing on my old allies, sir, yes,” he said bitterly. “Can I ask why you want to know?”

Another silence, though it was shorter than the first. “See to your men, Ja’eel.”

And that was all. The comms unit clicked off again.

Lathril stared at it, cupped in his hand. “Is that it?!” he snapped, then threw it across the room. It made a loud clank, and a second later, Lathril regretted his action, springing up from the bunk to check that it was okay. It was.

Lathril clenched his fingers safe about it. Look at me. Behaving like a Sith: yelling, throwing things, letting his anger get the better at him. He couldn’t allow this. Maybe… maybe Auretal was only trying to help. Or maybe he’s just a moron. Yet he was right. A leader’s duty was to his people. Guy, at least, could be severely injured, and instead of attend to that, tend to her, Lathril had run off like a spoiled child.

He shoved the commlink deep into his pocket and jogged back out to the hangar. Bett and Teft were there, pulling off their helmets and joking with each other on how many Pubs they had just killed. It was painful to listen to, and Lathril peeled away from them. There was Guy on a stretcher, but she was sitting up on it and looking cheerful and, more importantly, awake. She gave him a thumbs-up as the stretcher lifted up and was marched to the medical bay. As Lathril was standing there looking at it, his final squad member, Crusty, came by and squeezed his shoulder.

Lathril looked over at him. The man’s eyes were so hidden by his bushy eyebrows he was a hard person to read, but Lathril thought he saw sympathy there.

See to your men.

Lathril shook his head.

No, Auretal didn’t understand. Yet he was right. He slapped Crusty’s shoulder in return and went to debrief his commander.

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