Buffy IV - Welcome to the Jungle
“What are you thinking about, Summers?”
Buffy shook her head clear of its hazy cloud of semi-thought and turned to face Dalen. “Huh?
“You’ve been very quiet ever since we left Vaiken Spacedock,” the newly-minted Lord said. “Normally, you never shut your mouth.”
“I’m that bad, am I?”
“You are,” Dalen said with a wry grin. “You’re also overly familiar with your superiors.”
“And yet, you don’t order me to correct the error of my ways,” Buffy pointed out.
“I have no use for a simpering sycophant whose only aim is to please me,” Dalen explained. “Too many Sith mistake dominance for power. Sith are creatures of strength; being forced into servitude breeds contempt, and I have no desire for you to turn on me, Summers.”
Buffy looked at Dalen strangely. “You don’t seem like most Sith, Da… My Lord,” Buffy quickly corrected herself. She hated the formalities, but the Sith made the old Council of Watchers look like fluffy puppies by comparison. “I don’t think Darth Arctis would approve of your views.”
“Ah, but he doesn’t need to know, does he? And you haven’t answered my question. What were you thinking about, Summers?”
“Well,” Buffy said, “what does the Force tell you? What are my feelings screaming out?”
“I shan’t say right now,” Dalen said with a smirk. “Consider this a test of honesty.”
“I don’t know what that word means,” Dalen said, “but I’m certain you meant it with all the respect due your Master.”
“Oh, of course,” Buffy said with a smirk of her own. “To be honest, I was thinking about my friend from Denova.”
“You told Darth Arctis that you had a cousin on Denova,” Dalen noted. “A man or a woman?”
“Woman,” Buffy said. “Definitely a woman.”
“I see. What is your real relationship with her? And don’t lie to me.”
Buffy knew that Dalen offered her a lot of leeway with many things, but she didn’t want to test his patience. “We’ve been so many different things: friends, enemies, rivals, allies, and not in that order and none of them only once.”
“She isn’t your family, then?” Dalen asked, not unkindly.
“She is family,” Buffy said with a firmness she hadn’t expected from herself. “We’ve been through too much together, and my family is more than blood.”
Hugging her chest, Buffy realized how stale the air in the shuttle was. “My family is so far away now. Even Faith… I don’t know what happened to her on Denova; just that she survived.”
“Ah, I see.” Dalen had a look somewhere between smugness and compassion on his face, and it annoyed Buffy greatly. “You two are bonded in the Force. I can feel it.”
“What?” Buffy was lost.
“For two or more beings who have a certain level of closeness or intimacy,” Dalen explained, now in full-fledged teacher-mode, “the Force recognizes that closeness and forms a bond that is stronger than any physical or social thing. The very stuff of the universe binds you to each other, not matter how far apart you are in the physical world. It is in some ways the truest form of marriage: two souls bound to each other in the Force, forming a greater whole.”
“Whoa, whoa, whoa! I am not married to Faith!” Buffy protested.
“I did not mean that word in its literal, societal sense,” Dalen said a touch impatiently. “What matters is that you two are joined on a metaphysical level, and that is something that cannot be taken for granted, ever. If you can sense this person in the Force, no matter the distance, then you are truly privileged to have someone so close to your spirit.”
Something in Dalen’s voice hinted at… Buffy didn’t know what it hinted at, but there was something he wasn’t sharing. It was probably something private.
The intercom beeped on. “Attention, passengers: we have entered the Dromund system. Touchdown at Kaas City Spaceport in approximately forty-five minutes. Fasten your safety harnesses and prepare for extreme turbulence.” The intercom clicked off.
“Extreme turbulence?” Buffy queried of Dalen.
“Dromund Kaas,” he explained, "has no normal cycle of day and night as you know it. The entire planet is in a state of perpetual twilight because of the lightning storms that ravage the atmosphere without end.”
“That’s not all, is it?”
“No,” Dalen acknowledged. “You are truly insightful. The storms are said to be the work of the Emperor himself, conjured in a dark ritual centuries ago.”
Dalen’s hushed voice sent shivers down Buffy’s spine as she pondered the meaning of his words. “You’re afraid of the Emperor, aren’t you?” she intuited.
“Any sane being would be,” Dalen countered. “But it is highly unlikely that either of us shall ever meet him. He is nothing like the Republic’s Supreme Chancellor, or even the Grand Master of the Jedi Order. Those are public figures who age and die like any other being in this galaxy.
“They say that the Republic is the combined strength and productivity of all its citizenry. The Empire, on the other hand, is a thing of the Sith. And the Sith, however strong they might be, are a thing of the Emperor. He is quite literally not a mere mortal, Summers,” Dalen said quietly. “To some in the Empire, he is a god. To others, he is a distant figurehead who is never seen. To Sith, like us, he is our supreme master; seldom seen but ever-present. Do you understand?”
Buffy hadn’t expected the sheer awe from the former Overseer. “Yeah, I think so,” she said reluctantly. “I, uh, didn’t realize he was that powerful. You almost sounded like you were worshiping him.”
“Did I, really?” Dalen said, sounding lighter suddenly. “How interesting. I suppose I’m a good Sith and Imperial citizen, after all.”
Buffy couldn’t help but laugh. “That you are.”
The shuttle began to rock heavily, and loud claps of thunder could be heard through the hull.
“You’re sure this thing is gonna hold together?” Buffy asked nervously.
“Oh, quite sure,” Dalen answered. “Only select craft are able to safely weather these storms on a regular basis. It’s part of the Empire’s defense. You aren’t nervous are you?”
“Nervous? About passing through a Force-conjured storm to land in the capital of the Sith Empire, where a sadistic bastard is waiting to give us orders? No, why would I be nervous?”
Dalen laughed, and Buffy smiled along with her Master. Despite their differences in station, Buffy was hoping she could call Shar Dalen a friend some day.
The vendor at the spaceport, Buffy decided, was a supremely cunning and resourceful man. He insisted that Buffy buy a waterproof robe, boots, and gloves before heading into Kaas City proper, and she was so glad that she had taken Dalen’s advice and bought a matching set.
Upon stepping outside to wait for a speeder to come and pick them up, Buffy’s first thought had been, ‘So this is what being a part of Riley’s team must’ve been like.’ The howls and roars of predatory beasts sounded throughout the alien jungle, and the rain and humidity seeped into her bones despite the heavy canopy of tree cover and her new clothes.
A bald, white-skinned, tattooed Rattataki slave came scurrying up to Dalen from the taxi pad. She bowed before him. “My Lord Dalen: my Master, Darth Arctis, commands your presence at the Citadel immediately. To that end, he has supplied a private speeder. Please follow me.”
Dalen nodded. “Very well. Lead the way, slave.”
The Rattataki bowed her head again and led Dalen and Buffy to a closed-cover speeder with black-tinted windows.
“Uh, Dalen?” Buffy said. “You see the dark van-like vehicle we’re about to get into?”
“You must start calling me ‘Master,’ Summers, and I do not know what a ‘van’ is. What of it?”
“I dunno. I just have a bad feeling about this, I guess.”
“You must trust your feelings,” Dalen said as he entered the vehicle. “But you must also learn to obey, and right now, I am commanding you to silence yourself and get in the vehicle.”
He didn’t raise his voice, but Buffy felt a warm anger begin to simmer in her chest. “Of course, Master,” she said bitingly, following him into the black van that wasn’t a van.
Buffy sat down on a hard metal slab of a seat and looked across from her to see the Rattataki slave holding a wicked-looking pair of long knives on her lap.
“Did I or did I not command you to be silent, Summers?”
Buffy glowered at Dalen quietly before returning her eyes to Rattataki woman sitting across from her. She wanted those knives to stay where they were. ‘No sudden moves,’ she told herself.
Buffy felt the speeder wind and turn at several points, but not knowing the layout of Dromund Kaas, she had no idea where they were going.
The sound of the engine winding down prompted Buffy to stretch her legs. She was ready to get out of the cramped vehicle.
A hand clamped itself over her forearm, and Buffy’s eyes found Dalen’s cold gaze. “This is not for you, Summers. Not yet. Stay here. I will return shortly.”
Dalen turned to the Rattataki woman. “Watch her, humor her verbosity. Do not harm her unless she tries to flee.”
“I understand,” the white-skinned woman said tonelessly. “Summers, look away from the door.”
Buffy scowled, but those twin knives, long and curved and sure to be made of lightsaber-proof cortosis… They kept her from doing anything rash. In this cramped space, the Rattataki would have the advantage.
Buffy turned her head away from the door, keeping her eyes on the knives on the woman’s lap. When the door opened behind her, Buffy heard a few parts of sentences, Dalen’s name, and the name of another Sith Lord that Buffy didn’t recognize.
Buffy turned back to face the chalk-white woman in front of her once the door closed again. “So, I take it you’re not really a slave? I’m guessing the Empire doesn’t let slaves carry weapons like that. Gotta admire the craftsmanship there.”
The woman snorted. “You are not like most Sith.”
“Really?” Buffy asked. “How so?”
“You speak to me as an equal. You may believe one thing about my station, or you may believe another, but back at the spaceport, you did not look down at me as an abhorrent alien.”
Buffy chuckled. “Look, um… I don’t have a name, and I have trouble pronouncing your species, and I don’t want to call you something that sounds too much like ‘rat,’ so what should I call you?”
“I don’t care what you call me.” The bald woman’s voice was raspy and deep.
“Gotcha. Let’s go with a classic: call you Ishmael. Now, as for not looking down on you, I come from a place where there isn’t any slavery. At least, there hasn’t been in my country in a few generations. I’ve also met quite a few non-humans who wanted to kill me, and others who were perfectly content with not trying to kill me. I didn’t grow up in the Empire, so don’t expect me to act like a typical Sith at all.”
‘Ishmael’ nodded quietly, seeming to accept this explanation for the time being. “You would take aliens as allies, then?”
“So long as they didn’t try to kill me, and they added to the team, then yeah, no problem.”
“Say that again,” Ishmael said a touch urgently.
Buffy sighed. “I said that if they didn’t try to kill me, and if they helped the team, then-“
“There! That word!” the Rattataki woman hissed. “I have never heard a Sith outside this…”
“Outside this what?” Buffy asked. “Where are we?”
“That is not your concern!” the woman hissed, her fingers tightening around the handles of her knives. “Most Sith,” she continued in a tense voice, “do not think of their allies as ‘teams’ or partners. Why would you think in such a way? What benefit is there to working alongside equals?”
Buffy was confused as all hell, but she decided to humor the woman. “Well, Ishmael, as good a fighter as I am, I can’t do it all. I have my weaknesses and my blind spots. I have friends who…”
“Friends?!” Ishmael gasped.
“Yeah, you have a problem with that?” Buffy challenged. “Like I was saying, I have friends who don’t share my skills. My strengths are their weaknesses, and their strengths are my weaknesses. Any Sith, or any person, who tells you that they have no weaknesses is lying through their teeth. If they, uh, have teeth. I don’t know what species have teeth and which don’t. Anyway, we trust each other, work together, share in the success, and we all grow stronger as a result. We don’t stand atop each other; we rise or fall together. Everyone wins, except for the bad guys.”
Ishmael narrowed her eyes and glared at Buffy, as if trying to see through some façade that wasn’t there. “You are very strange for a Sith,” she said at last.
“Yup. Sure am,” Buffy agreed.
About five minutes later, a knock on the door prompted Buffy to turn away and admit Dalen back into the speeder. A few more seconds of chatter and the same unknown Sith Lord’s name could be heard, and the door closed again.
“Was my apprentice cooperative?” Dalen asked the Rattataki woman.
“She calls me Ishmael and babbles at length about things antithetical to the Sith,” she said with what might have been a smirk. The facial tattoos made it hard to tell.
“Is that so?” Dalen said, amusement creeping into his voice. “Well, we’ll have to do something about that, won’t we? But not now, I think. Let us be off.”
A few minutes later, the speeder stopped again. “Out,” Ishmael ordered.
“As you say, boss-lady,” Buffy teased, opening the speeder door and hopping out. She was surprised to find herself back at the spaceport.
Dalen was at her side in a moment, and the speeder took off again a second later.
“That wasn’t a meeting with Darth Arctis, was it?” Buffy asked.
“How astute of you to notice,” Dalen said wryly. “Let us head inside before we head into the city itself. I haven’t eaten since we left Vaiken Spacedock.”
“Your treat?” Buffy asked.
“Yes,” Dalen said suspiciously. “You are my responsibility. Why? I sense mischief from you, Summers.”
“No, no mischief here. Just that you’ve never shared a meal with me after I haven’t eaten for a while. I have a very fast metabolism. For a human, that is. I eat a lot.”
“Ah. I suppose it is fortunate that I am also quite hungry. We will have plenty of time before we need to head back out into the muck of the jungle.”
“I’ll drink to that,” Buffy said.
Dalen led Buffy to a small cantina near the gate to the arrivals area. They sat down at a table and began to peruse the menu.
“I imagine, Summers,” Dalen said, “that you have many questions about the little side trip we just took.”
“A few, yeah,” Buffy acknowledged.
Dalen sighed and put down his menu. “Very well. I will allow one question for now, and only one. Make it count, Summers.”
“All right,” Buffy said. She thought about Ishmael, about her weapons, her attitudes, even her facial markings. And then she thought about the snippets of conversation she’d heard coming from outside, and that one Sith Lord’s name that she didn’t recognize.
“Who is Darth Revan?”
Still looking for a beta-reader, if anyone is interested.
Reviews = love, ain't it the truth.
I own nothing. To clarify a bit further...
Dromund Kaas - not mine
Vaiken Spacedock - not mine
Shar Dalen: original
Sith Emperor - not mine
Rattataki - not mine
'Ishmael' - original
Darth Revan - so very not mine
Thank you for reading! I hope you enjoy the story!