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Private The Valkyrie's Diary (Solo thread)

((Written from the point of view of Kyriaki, Elpsis' clone. Posts 1 -6 are copy pasted from the blog, new content comes after that)).

As a Disciples of the Vader, I have a variety of privileges. Some of them useful, others plain pointless beyond being a way to stroke the Disciple's ego. Every Non-Force-User must without fail address me as 'my lord'. I am entitled to a slave I can strike, resell or kill at a whim. Moreover, no Non-Force-User may overtake my vehicle in public traffic. The last of the three is superfluous because the highway is all but deserted. The Ministry of Propaganda never fails to heap praise upon the Supreme Leader for connecting the Imperium through a network of highways.

But few civilians have ever used them. They are encouraged to buy vouchers for their People's Groundcar or their People's Speeder, but it almost never arrives. Sometimes it can be picked up ten years later and then construction errors – pardon, sabotage – mean that you rarely get to enjoy it for long. I am told the money goes to building new tanks, palaces or yachts for the elite. Regardless, the only traffic I see is military in nature. Trucks filled with soldiers are going to and fro. Doubtless some bear wounded who are going to receive a brief respite, while the other ferries fresh soldiers into the meat grinder. “I wonder what their destination is. To fight the Dominion? The Traitor Dark Lords?”

The Grand Marshal and Supreme Leader is, after all, not uncontested. Other Disciples dispute his claim to the throne. I am stuck with him by circumstance and common sense. He is the least insane. He can even be pleasant and congenial. Then he will casually give an order that condemns thousands to death, before going back to drool over his art.
“The newsreel s say the war goes well, Master,” my chauffeur comments. Her name is Shakka. She is a Twi’lek and my slave. It is what it is. The collar is a permanent reminder. Many Disciples would beat her for even speaking without being ordered to. Or cut out her tongue.
I do not strike her. I am not a beast. She knows that if she disobeys me, plays me false or brings me into disrepute, she will be sold to someone cruel. In the Imperium, a xenos’ place is to serve or die. The history books say that it was they who caused the Great Plague. I once visited one of the ghettos they are held in. They were filthy, thin and scared. The guide said that this was their natural state and they were atoning for their sins.

It is right and proper that they should be deferential to their betters. That is the way of the world...and yet when staring into the eyes of these wretched beings, I could not help but wonder: what did they do to deserve this? Even if a few xenos banded together and plotted to annihilate mankind, why must their descendants still pay for it? The answer for this is simple: people need a scapegoat. The human rabble is, in the end, meaningless. Every Sith is above a Force-Blind. But give them someone to fear, revile, exploit and feel superior to and they will goose-step happily.
“So they said months ago,” I respond a bit distractedly. “And now we have shortages – labour, soldiers, machines.”
“The comms are poor,” she remarks frankly.
“That Destiny Engineering factory I worked in – it produced faulty comms. They cut many corners.” I do not punish this heretical statement. I file it away. The head of Destiny Engineering is now in charge of armaments production. He is not a man you want to offend. We leave the highway. Our path takes us past a vast forest. All of it is the Supreme Leader’s personal game preserve.

While she continues, my chest flares up in pain. My breath is short. I wheez, trying to force air into my lungs. Wordlessly, I take the inhaler out of its hiding place, gripping it with my right hand – the one of metal and servos. I shake the inhaler, then bring it to my mouth, activate it and breathe in deeply. To her credit, Shakka has the sense to keep her eyes on the roads and not to say anything. The Force flows through me, keeping the pain at bay. My body is frail, but my will must be strong. Just like my twin's was.

I was told at the Academy that I am a ‘useless eater’ for my defective genes. I should do mankind a favour by submitting to euthanasia. I managed to survive. Some of those who scorned me – with their perfect genes and elaborate bloodlines – are dead now.
Elpsis is not flawed like I am. The Jedi tried to control her, but she cast them down. Her fire and fury destroyed her oppressors. I am not like my template. I must use other weapons to survive. Sometimes, when I watch the stars at night, I wonder whether she might be on one of them. My breathing stabilises .
“We’re nearing Sophiahall, Master,” she says helpfully. “Would you like me to accompany you or remain in the groundcar?”
I put the inhaler away. “Stay. You’ll be safe there.”

“Yes, Master.” She doesn’t sound too convinced. Some Disciples make a sport out of stealing the slaves of those they hold a grudge against. Especially if they know the Disciple has a soft spot for their serf.
“You’re my property.” My tone is firm. “That places you under my protection.” I don’t know why the Supreme Leader summoned me. He can be mercurial. But when you receive a summons from him, you drop whatever you are doing and hasten to him. I don’t think my life is in danger. Not directly anyway. I’m not important enough and, in any event, the Supreme Leader prefers to leave punishing subordinates to others.
Perhaps Shakka reads my thoughts. If they are so plain, I must get better at hiding them. “Do you believe you’ll be sent to the frontlines, Master?” It is a valid point. Is she afraid of being left behind, at risk of being seized by someone else? Or does she hope it might present an opportunity to flee – with all the risk that entails?
“You will come with me if I do.”
She is quiet for a moment. “When you tell the truth you look different, Master. Your eyes change.”
“Thanks for the warning.” I must remember not to do that again.

The estate of the Supreme Leader draws close. Sophiahall is massive, to say the least. Here, Darth Eisen, Dark Lord, Supreme Leader and Grand Marshal of the Greater Sith Imperium, holds court right in the heart of the Great Heath. It is miles away from Adlerberg, but ministers and field marshals flock here to eat up any scraps of power he may toss them. High walls surround the palatial estate. Armour-clad soldiers – the Life Guard – and Sithspawn are on patrol. Shakka steers my transport towards the imposing gates. The guards check our IDs and scan the vehicle. There is a brief lull while the sergeant on duty communicates with his superiors. Then we are let in.
The courtyard awaits us. A great avenue of trees leads to the enormous villa. There are flower beds, lily ponds, a fountain and statues. One shows an enormous Darth Vader, towering over us all. Soldiers from the Life Guard and Harrowers stand sentinel.
Shakka halts the door and opens the door for me, stepping aside as I get out. A Disciple – a Knight by my reckoning – in a blue uniform approaches us. The slave bows obediently, averting her eyes. He does not bother to spare her a look. Instead he looks at me, and stretches out his right arm. “Praise Vader!”
I return the Humanist Greeting. “Praise Vader!” Shakka says nothing. Only humans may give the Humanist Greeting. A xenos who performed it would be punished for ‘offending the feelings of the human species’.

He shoots her a disdainful look. “You let a worm head drive you around, Lady Kyriaki? They are a devious and inscrutable. You never know what they’re plotting. Houk are more reliable.”
“And stupid. I’d have to micromanage one to make sure the dumb oaf does not ram something,” I say in my haughtiest tone. “And is it not a greater show of skill to bend a wilful creature to your will than one that cannot think beyond eating, punching and mating? She is perfectly house-broken.”
“I live to serve Master,” Shakka says quietly. Her tone and indeed her whole stance has changed. She always has to be obedient, but now she is meek.
“Just as long as that thing doesn’t cause any trouble. A whipping every once in a while never goes amiss. Keeps them from getting uppity.”
“I have my methods to ensure discipline,” I say just a bit tersely. “Now if there is nothing else, I have to answer a summons from our Leader.”
“Of course, you should not keep the Leader waiting.” I would not if you were not holding me up, fool.
Regardless, I snap my fingers. “Slave, fetch me the gift. You will remain with the vehicle.”
“Yes, Master.”
“A gift?” the officer raises a questioning eyebrow while Shakka opens the door and removes the package, handing it to me. She averts eye contact.
“A token of appreciation from a humble Disciple. The Supreme Leader has many cares. So many burdens on his shoulders, you see. The fatherland depends on him. I wish to make him smile.” Oh, this sounds ridiculous. “You can scan it, of course.” And so he does.

“Come with me,” he orders imperiously. I do not fall in line, but make sure to be a bit ahead of him. Status must be conveyed. An enormous, black marble statue of Darth Vader looms over us on the way to the equally grandiose mansion. Before passing I make obeisance before it, as is the law. The Old One stares down upon us. He is clad from head to toe in his dark armour. I wonder what he really looked like before being put into a suit. The man has vanished beneath the myth. Harrowers let us pass through the imposing doors. The entrance hall is huge. Massive golden chandeliers hung from the ceiling. The floor is made of marble. Sunlight gleams in from the panoramic glasteel window, bathing the hall in bright light. The walls are covered in expensive tapestries and artworks. I recognise a few from the Scarlet Citadel, my former prison.

Like Achilles, my old and now very dead captor, Supreme Leader Eisen likes to show off his trophies. But unlike Achilles, he is not a creep who puts heads on spikes on display or personally torture people. He compartmentalises that part of his reign and leaves it to underlings, while his bejewelled fingers remain clean. We pass through corridor after corridor, each grander than the last. The Supreme Leader awaits. Even from afar, I sense the sheer power radiating from him.
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Many corridors follow. I smooth my raven dress a bit before I step into a hall even grander than the last one. It is a massive baroque gallery built to impress and show off. A gigantic, panoramic window shows off the grounds of the estate. There stands the Supreme Leader. He is dressed in flamboyant gold and scarlet robes that make him look like a wizard of old. The robe does nothing to obfuscate the fact that he is very corpulent. His cheeks are fleshy and rouged. Jewels grace his fat fingers with the painted fingernails. It all looks very campy. He is feeding a huge beast. The Akk Dog greedily swallows the scraps, then suddenly howls, having heard of me.

Without missing a beat, I immediately raise my right arm. So do the guards. “Praise Vader! Praise Eisen!” The Supreme Leader returns the salute lazily, bending his right arm. I curtsey. “My Leader, your humble servant greets you. I am honoured that you receive me in your home.” My twin can rain down fire and brimstone upon her foes. She is a warrior forged in the crucible of battle. But my body is frail and my flame does not burn as brightly. However, I have other weapons. Courtesy is my armour. Let them believe that I will sing whatever pretty song they want.

“Oh, my dear girl, come closer, Kyriaki,” he bellows. He has a strong, powerful voice that can carry across a large hall. “It has been so long. Look at you. You remember Cesar, don’t you?” he asks with a chuckle. As if to refresh my memory, the huge reptomammal rushes towards me.
“How could I forget that moment when he devoured that foolish Jedi assassin?” I ask playfully. He laughs. It is actual laughter, not a mad cackle. Eisen is...very human. It is what makes him popular among the masses. More relatable. So they follow him when he sends the fools into the meat grinder to die by the thousands for his self-aggrandisement. “Indeed! And when you immolated that foolish Jedi’s comrade. I do hope you won’t be incinerating my carpet again though.”
I’ll admit...sometimes I almost like him. “I assure you, my Leader.” I manage to maintain composure while the Akk Dog is all over me – licking and sniffing. I pet his head. “My, my, he’s grown.”
“They grow up so fast and become as strong as durasteel. I’m afraid he hasn’t that much excitement as of late, though he did get to devour some poachers. Can you imagine? The scum trespassed on my forest and tortured innocent animals for sport.”
“Scandalous. Anyone who torments a being weaker than himself is the lowest piece of scum.” Hopefully the double meaning is not too obvious. “I hope they suffered.”
“They were well and truly punished for hurting the feelings of the Tephriki people.” Then his expression shifts. “I have been following your progress, my dear. It seems that fire in you served you well at the academy.”
I incline my head slightly. “I owe it all to your training, my Leader. By the grace of your wisdom, I was given the opportunity to rise beyond my origins.”
“A wise craftsman recognises good material and moulds it the way it is meant to be.” His tone is smug. Then he points a fleshy ringer, with a golden ring and a heavy-set diamond, at the package. “Now what have we here?”

“A small token, my Leader. My efforts are humble and my skills meagre, but I wanted to convey my gratitude for giving me the chance to prove myself worthy,” I say modestly and sycophantically. I remove my hand from his pet, take the package and present it to him. His mouth curls into a thin smile as she opens it. The Supreme Leader already has everything. Perhaps he simply enjoys watching others supplicate themselves before and shower him with gifts in the hope that he will toss them a few scraps. “Oh, my dear, this is beautiful,” he declares when he sees the cloak. “And I must say that is a nice sigil. I sense the Force flow through it. It has been alchemised, hasn’t it?”

“I am glad it pleases you, my Leader. I enjoy making things. It is soothing.” I am not even making this up. “And yes, it has. I am not as well-versed in the craft as you, my Leader, but it should offer some protection against lightning and withstand the elements well. I believe it would go well with your robes.” He slips the cloak on. I help fasten it and make sure it fits well.

“I think so indeed. I see you have put your studies to good use,” he declares with an air of self-satisfaction. “They are modelled on the robes of an ancient Sith king who ruled millennia before the Great One. We Humanists are boldly building a new future, but we must not forget the roots of our order.” He chuckled. “Can you imagine that just a few days ago, the police arrested a soubrette because she made jokes about my medals and outfits?” He shakes his head. “Fools. If they make jokes about, it only proves how popular I am! Ha. Did you know that Furcht had people sent to the camps because they made fun of his high-pitched voice? ‘Lord of Fear’? Pa!”
“He was a weak, cruel man and he produced an even more degenerate son.” His death was too kind. Too gentle. As was his mother’s. But they are dead regardless. Other monsters have taken their place. And my chains have become less visible.

He jabs a finger at me. “I’ll give the old bastard credit where it is due. He was cunning. He had strength. But his purism would have been our undoing.” His expression shifts from playful to serious. “The masses are sheep, my dear. Promise them everything and give them an enemy to fear and hate, and they will follow you to the ends of the world. You must make them feel you are delivering on your promises, but always make sure they don’t get too complacent, too sure of themselves. They must always hunger for more – and see you as the only one who can give it to them.”

“I will remember, my Leader. Should I ever rule, I will make them love me – and fear me.”
He laughs. “Do an old man a favour and wait a couple years before you stage your coup.” Is there a dark undertone to his words? Have I said something wrong?”
“My Leader, I...”
He cuts me off and slaps me on the shoulder. Hard enough that I almost keel over. “I spoke in jest, my dear.”
“Of course, my Leader. I could not imagine the Disciples without your guidance.” I breathe more evenly. Trying to make light of things, I add: “Truth be told, I was more thinking about Harmony. After all the destruction the xenos Jedi and the anarchist Guard have wrought, what good humans remain must be crying out for Humanist guidance.”

His eyes gleam. “One day it will be human living space – just like all of Tephrike. It will all belong to mankind, for it is our birthright. Even the xenos will realise that they are far better off with us assuming the mantle of responsibility. Their primitive faculties aren’t made for ruling anymore than those of the beasts of the jungle. But the Vong savages and the Jedi are not our only threat. Many enemies lurk within the Imperium. False Disciples, rebels, backstabbers - the lot of them. That’s why I summoned you. Are you ready to do your duty to the Imperium?”
“Leader command, and I shall follow.”
“Then come with me. There are some people you must meet. Prominent figures in Party and State. The old guard. Watch them carefully. None of us get this far without getting blood on our hands. And they all want power.”
“My Leader does not trust them,“ I observe.
“Then the most obvious question is: why don’t I eliminate them?” When I hesitate, he prods. “Come on, girl, answer. I am not trying to trick you.”
“Because without powerful minions, my Leader would be a master of nothing.”
The gleam in his eyes is fierce and predatory. For a moment I believe I see the ace pilot who stalked the skies in search of game to hunt, before he began his maniacal drive to power. He has never stopped hungering for more. “Exactly. Anyone can master weaklings. But it takes strength to bend the powerful to your will.” Cesar trots after us.
Our destination is a fancy terrace. Two Disciples, both with the auras of Masters, and one Force-blind officer are busy gossiping. But they cease their chat immediately the moment Eisen comes into view. He waves their salutes off. “With no disrespect to the Vader and my own person, if we do this all the time, no one will ever get a word in. I’m sure he’ll understand. I certainly do,” he says jovially. He gestures to me. “Meet our newest Disciple. The clone of the young lady the space people made such a big deal of they cut a bloody swathe through the Dominion for her. Fortunately, we saved this one before the Dominion could mess her up,” he declares grandly, as if he was the one who, as he puts it, ‘rescued’ me.

My thoughts must be hidden. I must not just say the words, it must be like I believe them. Courtesy must be my armour. I approach the male Sith Lord first. He wears a Party uniform. His face reminds me of a turtle. “I greet you, Lord Thrul,” I incline my head slightly.
“What a fetching young thing you are. Truly a great example of human womanhood.” I stiffen. His mouth curves into a lecherous smile. Creep. “Thrul, do control yourself. Remember, this isn’t a Jedi academy where Masters lust after their clone Padawans,” Eisen chides him then laughs.

“No impropriety intended, my Leader. I’m merely pleased to see that this clone is far better put together than what usually leaves the Dominion’s assembly lines. I’ve seen some horrible things in their laboratories...if you can even call them that.”
“I was fortunate to be spirited away from their laboratory before they could ruin me. I believe we’ve met before, my Lord.”
“Oh, really? Pray tell, child.”
“It was a couple months ago at the Academy. You were giving a speech at a rally. I believe it was about the role of the Humanist Party. I was one of students in the crowd.”
He smiles smugly. “Yes, now I remember. I do like to take an active role in guiding our Humanist youth on its path to greatness. As the first great Supreme Leader said ‘he alone who owns the youth gains the future.’”

How ironic that it is a movement largely run by old fossils drunk on power. I swallow what is really on my tongue. “And the future belongs to our proud Humanist state.” I approach the Sith Lady next. “Lord Lachesis,” I bow my head slightly. Her hair is a crown of silver and her eyes are like amethyst. She looks haughty and superior. My dislike is instantaneous. If I recall correctly, she is distantly related to the Supreme Leader who was killed during the rapture. Doubtless the fact that she does not rule gnaws at her.
“I see the clone knows her courtesies,” she remarks haughtily. “But are you really with the Disciples or have you just learned to sing a pretty song? Many of the Dominion’s clones suffer from...defects - mentally and physically. Tell me, girl, what happened to the rest of your line?”

Does she know? I feel a thrust of anxiety. Pain flares inside my stomach. My vision is swimming just a bit. No now. I cannot use the Force while her eyes are on me. I must endure. I manage to steady on my feet. “To my knowledge, they perished during the fighting, my Lord. I survived. You could call it natural selection. The strong claw out of the pit, the weak perish.” My creation was a rush job. Some of my siblings died in the tank. They never even received names.
“And you have not suffered from any...defects yourself?”

I overcome. I always do. “No moment of weakness that cannot be overcome by Sith sorcery and a Humanist will to rise above my origins, my Lord. It is true that I was grown in a tank, and that I have no paternal or maternal, only a debased template, but I was raised in the embrace of the fatherland. Our way is struggle, and what greater struggle is there to break the shackles your origins placed on you and embrace the truth? Through the Force, my chains are broken.”

“I’m sure you’re not implying that I’d welcome a mongrel to my table, dear Lachesis?” Eisen asks ever so jovially. Deceptively so.
“Certainly not. I was merely concerned because of reports that this young one was woken up prematurely before the Dominion’s quacks were done with her. I would not want her to suffer due to Jedi failings. If the clone has broken its chains and dedicated herself to becoming a true warrior of humankind, all the better. I will be following your progress with...great interest.”

Finally, only the Marshal is left. Marshal Nikator is an honourable man. They are all honourable, these honourable men. So honourable he exhorted KEC death squads to murder captured xenos and 'dissidents' - children included - en masse, but to do it somewhere he and his men could not see so that his honour would not be stained and his hands remained clean. I am already disgusted. Alone among the group, he is Force-blind, so I sit down and do not bow my head. The mundane cannot rule...but someone as high-ranking as he can help determine who does. “Marshal Nikator, at the academy I read all about your victory over the Vong Guard. At Ulm if I recall correctly. I strive to match the bravery of our loyal soldiers.” It took a lot of bravery to bombard a city with chemical weapons. Cesar flops down on the floor beneath Eisen.

“Our struggle is fierce, and will grow fierce the stronger we become. But we are fighting a crusade of liberation to free Tephrike from the xenos-Jedi and their slaves. Have you gotten the chance to fight for the fatherland yet?”
“I have not had the honour of seeing battle yet. But when the Scarlet Keep was under siege, and Furcht’s unworthy son got himself killed fighting the Supreme Leader, Despina Nikita and I brought down the shield generator. We killed some traitors on the way.”
“And then young Kyriaki and I killed some Jedi assassins together,” Eisen chimes in. “Ah, to be young again and experience the thrill of battle. I loved to fly my TIE and test myself against the Dominion’s best. It was glorious. I miss it sometimes.”

“But Providence had greater plans for you. When the fatherland calls, the strong answer,” Thrul chimes in. Do I sound like that when I am trying to ingratiate myself?
“I remember. Nikita. Fierce warrior...but mean-tempered, like a rabid Kath Hound. Unfortunately, she has not become the hero her brother was,” the Marshal remarks. “At least she had the sense not to go down with the false Leader.”
So Nikator knows of her. Curiosity gets the better of me. “I understand she was rehabilitated and returned to service. Do you know what became of her?”
“Last I heard, she was with a penal unit, fighting insurgents. Maybe when she returns, she will have regained her honour."

“Anyway, we are not here to reminisce,” Eisen declares. As if on cue, a well-dressed feline smile approaches. Eisen has not called for her, so he must have commanded her here with the Force. “What is your command, Master?” the feline asks. She is deferential, but not afraid, and her head is not bowed as low as that of the other slaves. Her throat is free of a collar and she bears no scars or bruises.
“Do be a good girl and arrange some refreshments for us, Miraj,” Eisen instructs her, giving the xenos a smile.
“As you command, Wise Master.” The feline bows her head briefly to acknowledge the Supreme Leader’s guests.
“Thank you, dear.” Eisen seems to sense my reaction. “Is something on your mind, young Kyriaki?”
“Oh, no, I was only momentarily surprised by the lack of a collar.”

“Just as we train our animals, we train our indentured xenos. The xenos will never achieve anything worthwhile without the firm hand of the human species at their leash. But violence cannot always be our first recourse. We don’t teach an animal by beating it, after all. As we train a Kath Hound, a Bantha and an Orbask, so must the xenos be trained to accept their place in our world. Most are only good to be beasts of burden, but some have the mental faculties to serve a higher purpose and oversee the less gifted specimen. Miraj here is one of them. Why would she need a collar? She’s practically a family. A few small gestures go a long way.”

I understand all too well. “If we condition the xenos to exploit each other for us, the privileged ones will do everything to maintain their station. So long as they are fed and the pens are locked, a farmer doesn’t have to fear being outnumbered by his animals” I think of Shakka. A knot forms in my stomach. I am not so different from this rotten cabal of monsters. We are all liars here. And the truth of the matter is that I must be the best of them all.

The Supreme Leader smiles thinly. “Good girl.”
“Of course, we must always make sure they never forget their place. And weed out those breeds too dangerous to keep around. Think of the Mon Calamari, the Yodalings, the Vong demons and the Twi’lek whores. They have been the instigators of every anti-Humanist conspiracy.” Lachesis’ voice is filled with disdain. I wonder whether she truly believes what she says or just finds it convenient to advance herself.
“Surely you are not implying that our Leader – the rightful Leader of the Imperium - is neglecting the racial question?” Thrul asks tartly. Now he looks less like a turtle and more like a snake. Eisen leans back in his chair. I can tell he is enjoying this.

“I say no such thing, do not make insinuations, Thrul. But you and I remember the day when those beasts rose up in revolt. Adlerberg was a graveyard, filled with the bodies of thousands of good human citizens. They murdered, looted and burnt. It took weeks to clear them out. All because these heretical Light Sith opened the gates to their pens. Right now, the Guard and the Dominion are at each others’ throats, but...”

“We shall crush them,” Eisen finishes. “At the right time. The present constellation is to our liking. Let them exhaust each other. And we will reckon with the gang of traitors, the xenos bandits still hiding in the forests and even that pathetic cult of Light Sith if they even still exist and weren’t just one of Furcht’s phantoms he liked to scare the Council with. Your ferocity does you credit, Lachesis, but be sure to not burn our labour supply with your zeal. It was the folly of past governments to herd the xenos in ghettos close to our cities. A mistake I will rectify. Which brings me to a matter of importance. Tell me, young Kyriaki, have you ever heard of Hope Falls?”

I furrow my brow in consideration. “I believe there was a film. ‘The Grand Marshal Gives a Home to the Xenos.’”
“Right! My great gift to the xenos! After we crushed that barbaric rebellion Lord Lachsesis referred to and brought the usurper to justice, we had a large xenos problem on our hands. Our enemies spread lies about how we had committed ‘atrocities’. We needed to clear the ghettos. They had become a breeding ground for diseases and unrest. Our people needed the space. But where to put all these xenos? Some fools wanted to execute them en masse.” He continues as the head serf and two other xenos step in. “But I had a better idea: a large agricultural reservation run by the xenos for us...under our guidance.”

Under the watchful eyes of the head slave, a Duros and a Gungan carry trays bearing drinks, cake and other refreshments. Eisen is still speechifying when the Duros suddenly spills the wine. Most of it lands on the carpet, some it splashes on my dress. The xenos looks shocked and terrified. “This one is so sorry...Lady...Master. This is one is unworthy...”
“You fool!” the feline yells. She presses a button. The Duros’ body spasms and he cries out in pain as an electrical shock courses through him. I suppress a wince. “Clean it up now.” She looks apologetically at the Supreme Leader. “He is new. He will be chastised, Master.”
“I thought the Gungan would be the clumsy one,” Lachesis comments. Meanwhile, the Gungan remains silent and continues doing his duty.
Eisen raises his hand. “Now, now, it is fine, nothing is broken.” He looks the Duros right in the eye, and speaks with the air of a kind uncle. “I am sure you will never make such a mistake again, boy.”
“No...no, Master. This one will be good!”
“Apologise to my guest.”

He drops to the floor and lowers his head to my boot. “This unworthy one begs your pardon a thousand times, Your Perfection. This one is clumsy and weak, but meant no harm.”
It is all so petty and silly. I let him hang in suspense for a moment or two, then finally I respond: “You are forgiven. You serve in the household of the Leader, so clearly you have some worth. You will clean my dress with your own hands. And fetch me a new one.”
“Th-thank you, thank you, Lady. You are most k-kind,” he stammers and quickly gets up to wipe the stains away. “This one is grateful to serve.”
Eisen grins. “You and my daughter are about the same height. She’s not here a lot, but her closet is full. It should have something appropriate.”
“I will see to it personally,” the feline head slave declares. “And make sure this one does not forget his duty,” she says with a meaningful look to the Duros.
“Now, my lords,” I smile angelically, “where were we again? Ah, yes, Hope Falls.”
“It seems that some of the xenos – just a small, but dangerous minority – have taken my unending generosity for granted. Shameful,” Eisen declares with no small amount of camp. “They are lagging behind their quotas. This cannot stand.”
“We need that food,” Marshal Nikator affirms. “Especially for our brave troops, who risk their lives on the front every day while the xenos are safe. They need all Hope Falls can deliver.”
“As does Adlerberg,” Thrul chimes in. “The xenos are to work for us, not laze around. Insofar as they are not productive, they may die.”
“Subversion,” Lachesis hisses. “Word of the...unfortunate incident at Castle Maysaf has spread. It makes the lesser beings uppity. I’ve also received reports about black market dealings. The administrators are not up for the task of maintaining order. It’s time to bring down the iron gauntlet. I would undertake this task, my Leader.”

“You will inspect Hope Falls and see to it that the necessary measures are carried out,” Eisen speaks.
“It will be my pleasure, my Leader Leave it all to...”
“And young Kyriaki will accompany you,” he interrupts her before she can continue ingratiating herself.
I know what inspection means. Purges, mass graves, death. I do not want to go there. I do not want to...be the one to sully my hands more than they are already sullied? It does not matter. “I am honoured by the trust placed in me, my Leader.” The lies come quickly.

“Yes, of course, I will take the child along.” Lachesis looks less than pleased. “She can be my scribe and assist with my inspection.”
“Young Kyriaki will obey your orders and see to it that any measures you deem necessary are carried out. And she will report to me separately.”
“My Leader, with all respect, I...”
“My dear Lachesis, I do not have the slightest doubt in your skill or commitment to our noble cause. But how will our youth learn if we do not give them a small measure of responsibility? I have the fullest confidence in both of you.” Eisen is enjoying this too much for my liking.
Is he trying to get me killed? “I am aware that I have few deeds to my name and have little experience outside of the academy. I look forward to working under and learning from you, my Lord.”
If looks could kill, there would probably be little left of me. “I’m confident you’ll...prove useful.” She sounds like she would have her teeth pulled without anaesthetic. “Do not expect me to coddle you, girl. Among the Disciples, there is no room for weakness. Our way is one of blood and iron.”
“I would not have it any other way, Lord.”

Meanwhile, Thrul casually digs into his cake before washing it down with some wine. He wipes his mouth with a handkerchief. “Most of the xenos are objectively inferiors. But amidst the filth, you’ll find a few with some good human blood in their veins. Do keep an eye open for them. Some may be salvageable if we remove them from the muck and teach them how to behave,” Thrul speaks, as if he was totally indifferent to the tension in the room. Perhaps he just enjoys riling Lachesis up. “This wine is excellent.”

“I make no promises.” Her tone has grown even colder. “Scientific studies show that their xenos nature will win out over the part of their blood that is human.”
“Why thank you, Thrul. It’s from my personal wine gardens,” Eisen grins broadly. He turns his gaze to Lachesis and me. “I look forward to your report.”
“I have a small request. I have a Twi’lek in my service. She serves me as a xenos should. I would take her with me.”
“What use could one of the whores be?”
The smile does reach my eyes. “Where we are going, there will be many of those, won’t there? As my Lord has expressed so clearly and concisely, these xenos are devious and inscrutable. And the Twi’leks are the worst. I may need to the mind of one to understand the mind of another.” I Because I need someone I can speak – relatively – openly with.
“If you think your powers are not advanced enough to compel them to give you whatever information you need...then take the xenos. But you’ll be responsible for its behaviour.”
“Well, then everything is decided,” Eisen claps his large paws. “I look forward to your report. For now, do dig in. You are authorised to make examples, but remember one thing: do not waste economic assets. We can raise the dead, but they make for poor workers.”

My stomach churns. Suddenly, I do have much of an appetite. The others are happily digging in. I take my glass in hand and gulp a good portion it down in one go. Thrul is right about one thing: the wine is very good. But I cannot appreciate the taste. Matters drag on for a while. We turn from serious issues to discussing complete and utter banalities. Apparently Lord Skaer has presented new building plans to the Supreme Leader. Sophiahall needs expansion because of course it does. I smile, nod and say the right platitudes – I hope. Finally, I am given a reason to excuse myself when the slaves return and inform me they have found a replacement for my soiled outfit.

I am led to one of the many rooms of the mansion. The Duros has laid out three outfits on a couch. “Are they to your liking, my lady?” the feline Miraj – what is her species anyway? She looks like a cat that walks upright and can talk. I examine them one by one. “Too extravagant. I am not attending a ball, and even if, I would not wear that,” I remark, then look at the next. “Too revealing.” Some Acolytes, being too weak in mind and spirit to amount to anything on the basis of merit, tried to advance themselves by flaunting their bodies and whoring themselves out to their instructors. Perhaps the willingness to debase oneself for advancement is a merit in itself. I would not know. “This will do.” Simple, elegant, and it does not get in my way.

“I believe lady will look marvellous in it,” the feline nods.
“Do you know anything about Hope Falls?” I ask out of nowhere.
“It is...” the Duros is about to begin, then Miraj shoots him a dark look and he shuts up.
“The Supreme Leader is a generous man to give a city to us after the sins we committed against mankind. The people are content. They have work; they have land; they have guidance...”
I wave my hand. My eyes home in on the Duros. “You’re from Hope Falls.” He nods mutely. Fear engulfs him. Then I focus on the feline. “You’re both from there. And you don’t want to go back.”
“I serve at the Master’s pleasure. He has taken me into his household, treated me kindly, given me a purpose and gainful employment. Now I teach his indentured assets, as he taught me.”
“Evasion is also an answer. You were plucked from it, and now you really do not want to go back,” I shrug. “You’re dismissed. When I leave, pick up my outfit and clean it.” I look straight at the Duros. “Do it by hand. I don’t want it to inadvertently shrink. I’m quite fond of it, you see. Do it well, and I will put in a good word for you.”
“T-thank you. L-lady is m-most kind...”

“There is nothing kind about me.” Finally, I am alone. Quickly, I discard my soiled dress and slip into the black outfit the slaves provided me. Once that is done, I examine myself in the large mirror. I remove the black glove from my cybernetic hand and flex it. The servos hum. I never liked this ugly, metal thing. As part of our training, an Acolyte must shed their right hand, just as The Vader lost his when he battled Tyranus. We close the circle by passing through the same crucible of blood and fire as the Sith’ari and becoming stronger for it. That is the party line. Some Acolytes take it a step further by shedding more body parts to become closer to Him.

Like with everything the Disciples preach, it is about control. They torment us, we torment those beneath us. Once, a group of prisoners was told they would be free if they could escape through the forest. The acolytes were ordered to shoot them. We were graded on the basis of how many kills we’d scored and ordered to bring back a body part as proof. I fired. I am not a martyr. I am not a hero. There are no heroes here. But I am a survivor. What do I want? To survive, and not to lose myself. The first goal is easier to accomplish than the second. The tattoo on my left forearm itches.

When I return, the little session is coming to an end. Eisen is in the middle of regaling everyone with an old war story, when he breaks it off and smiles at me. “Ah, an apt choice, my dear! As much as I hate to part with your company, I trust you two can travel to Hope Falls with all due haste?” For his part, Thrul looks momentarily disappointed. I wager it is because of the lack of skin.
“That will not be a problem, my Leader,” Lachesis assures him and looks at me. A slave slips a cloak onto Lachesis' shoulders. It bears the sigil of a dragon. “Your vehicle will be able to keep up? We have a long trip ahead of us and I cannot room in mine, especially not for a xenos.”

“I’ll keep up.” Looking at Eisen, I bow my head slightly and add: “I thank you for the invitation and this assignment, my Leader. May the Force serve you well.”
“And you, my dear. Now go, my loyal servants and make the fatherland proud. Do be on your guard though.” Against rebels, or other Disciples, I wonder? Regardless, we salute him and he returns the gesture lazily. Then we are off. Outside, a veritable fleet of vehicles awaits us. I can see the merit of having some escort vehicles, but this looks like an awful lot. A very tempting target.

“This is our convoy? Do we need that many, Lord?” I ask.
“Of course we do, girl,” Lachesis declares, like she is lecturing a child. “We cannot let the servants think we are paupers, can we? Bandits abound in the wilds and though the Dominion is preoccupied with those anarchists, they are not shy about launching air raids.”
“I thought our skies were clear and our troops marching from victory to victory over the usurpers.” I probably should not have said that – certainly not in this tone. I could not help myself.

The air feels lot colder between us. I have made a mistake. Her voice is icy and menacing. My breathing feels oppressively heavy and laboured. It is like an iron chain has been wrapped around my heart. I feel dizzy and out of breath. “Girl, if you think me foolish enough to indulge your innocent doe act, you are truly delusional. So let me explain to you in a few words how the world works. Your place is to obey, that is all. Know that you are far from the first neophyte the Leader took a passing fancy to. And you will not be the last. You have no name, no lineage – just cursed genes. If I were you, I’d think of your future for when his interest in you wanes. Maybe Thrul will adopt you as a pet, though I would pity anyone who suffers such a fate. Or the Department of Racial Health will call you in for an interview.”

I sway and my legs threaten to buckle. It is futile to lash out. Her power dwarfs mine by far. All I can do is will my body not to collapse on me. “I...understand...my Lord.”
“Never forget.” She takes off, and I am left panting. My heart thumps inside my chest. At least blood is reaching my brain again. Breathe in, breathe out. There will come a time when her smug superiority turns to ash in her mouth – but not today.
Shakka is waiting inside the groundcar. Wordlessly, she opens the door and I climb in. I take a deep breath. “Follow the convoy. We need to talk.”
“Do you want your inhaler, Master?” Shakka asks. The estate is slowly disappearing behind us. Ahead of us lie the forests and further away the massive highways the great Leader supposedly built and which almost no Humanist Party Comrades will ever get to drive on. Most of the convoy is ahead of us, but two groundcars filled with guards drive behind me.
“You do not look good, Master.” Is that concern? Or is the Twi'lek just testing to see whether I’m vulnerable?
“Focus on the road, slave.” End of discussion. “Keep up with the convoy.”
“Very well, Master.” Yes, she is annoyed. It cannot be helped. The hierarchy is clear. “Where are we going?”
“Hope Falls.”
There is that tell-tale pause. “Understood, Master.”
“What do you know about it? Tell me the truth.”
“Which truth would you like to hear, Master?”
“The one the Propaganda Ministry will not tell me.”
“I’ve never been there...but I know people who were. Who got out. Not that I know where they are now. It’s old history.” Briefly, she glances to me, giving me a meaningful look before her eyes return to what’s in front of her.
“I won’t make you divulge their names.” It is not a lie. It feels strange. Being honest, that is. “Continue.”

“A few years ago, after the rapture, a man called Lysenko came to Hope Falls. He was one of your Vaderite bigshots. Head of science, whatever. Anyway, being a ‘superman’ he knew better than everyone and decided he could use his mystical mumbo jumbo to create super-crops. What happened? The food was tainted. Humans were poisoned, and we were blamed for it. The locals lost entire harvests, so there was famine.”

“I never heard of that.” I frown slightly. The story goes that Lysenko died when a slave sabotaged his aircraft. Now it looks awfully like the government quietly got rid of an embarrassment. “Lysenko’s treatise on alchemy was required reading at the academy.”
“Yeah, well, maybe he’s good at making monsters, but he doesn’t know anything about crops, Master. But I guess it’s not politic to admit that a Vaderite did wrong.”
“Never use the term Vaderite in the presence of a Vaderite,” I chide her. The Disciples really do not like the word. They consider it disrespectful to the Chosen of the Great Sith’ari. They are good at finding things they deem disrespectful. “Hope Falls is behind on its quotas. Lachesis has been sent to...motivate its inhabitants.”
“With whips and graves. And you are supposed to help her, Master.” It is a statement of fact, not a question.
“It is what it is. What do you expect? She is a member of the Dark Council – who hates me simply for not having the right bloodline. The order comes straight from Leader Eisen.”
“I expect nothing, Master. You are my owner and I am your property. That’s why you saved me. My place is to obey.”

Your place is to obey, that is all. Lachesis’ words echo inside my head. I shudder involuntarily. This is silly. I am doing what I must to stay alive. It is also in Shakka’s interest. If it were not for me, she would be dead or in a camp. I do not even know these people. And they are xenos. None of this matters to me. None of this should matter to me. One day caring is going to get me killed, and yet it is the one thing that separates me from them.

“I, um, saw what happened with the Darth woman. I understand it must be difficult being inside this machine given your...situation, Master,” she says gently. What’s her angle? What secrets does this blue-skinned creature hide? Her face is a mask and her eyes are on the road. It is truly a sorry state of affairs that the being I am the most honest with – which is not saying much - is my Twi’lek slave.

“And it is within your interests that may situation remains as good as possible. Otherwise you would suffer.” Shakka gets the message and falls silent. There is that look in her eyes. What does it say? I already suffer. Those scars on her neck were not inflicted by me, but I wear the same uniform as those who did, and I have kept the collar on. She will have to accept it. Her kind is fated to be someone’s property regardless. She is best off as mine.

The trip is long. Though I fight to remain awake, I feel myself dozing off. Sleep is neither pleasant nor peaceful. Achilles, all golden mane and cruel green eyes, visits me in my dreams. He was the pathetic boy-king who thought himself a dragon, trying desperately to be the butcher his father the Supreme Leader was. The one Firemane killed when Maysaf was turned to dust. He stands before me in his ridiculously gaudy alchemised, golden armour. “Leave her face, I do not wish to look upon ugliness in my palace,” he snarls just before my gown is ripped and his armoured goon rains down blows. I scream, and he laughs.
Then we are standing before a dozen heads on empty spikes. They belong to so-called traitors, civilians who protested against his cruelty, and a servant who showed me kindness. “How long do I have to look?” the apparition of me ask, struggling to remain calm.
“As long as it pleases me,” he declares. “After I have crushed that degenerate fop Eisen and the mongrels of the Dominion, I will reckon with the outsiders. The cowards will pay for father’s murder. It is said that some Force clones have a bond that allows them to feel each others’ pain light years away.” He grabs my arm roughly enough to bruise.

“Maybe I will test this theory. Then when your template returns, I will kill her. And give you her head as a present.”
Maybe I have gone mad. Or my template’s fire has risen in me. I look him in the eye, and say: “Or maybe she’ll give me yours.”
For just a moment, he is frozen. Then his fist rams into my face. I spit blood. “Never mock your Supreme Leader, mongrel. Ramon, educate her.” I am forced down, and the whip strikes. In the end, Elpsis did not present me his head. His own foolishness undid him when Eisen’s men stormed the gates.

“Of course you’ll be fighting in the vanguard. How foolish of me to think otherwise. They say my template destroyed the Grand Inquisitor herself, and she is only a mongrel clone. You are the Sith’ari incarnate.” A howitzer blew him to bits, as Eisen tells me. Maybe she can give me Lachesis’ head. Or I will present it to her. A foolish thought. I have only myself.

My eyes shoot open. We are still on the road, but the convoy has slowed down. Vehicles are coming to a halt Then I hear shouts from afar. “Stop,” I order.
“We’re too exposed out here,” Shakka cautions me quietly. I find myself agreeing. But she obeys as she should.

Upon disembarking, I see that Lachesis has left her luxury limousine and is standing at the side of the road. “What is the meaning of this?” she thunders at a Weequay troop transport driver.
“The engines have broken down, I think, my Lord,” he speaks hastily.
“You think or you know, xenos?” a black-clad goon sneers at him, baton in hand. Electricity crackles around it. “This groundcar was constructed by human engineers. Maybe you’re a saboteur...”
“No...I can fix it, sir. I just need...”
“I would think a saboteur would be less inept. We’ll continue onward,” Lachesis cuts him off with a wave of her hand. She looks at the guard. “You, make sure he does his duty. If not, punish him.”
“It’s made by Destiny Engineering, isn’t it?” I speak softly. “I’ve heard rumours about their methods being...faulty. Criminal leeches.”

Lachesis scowls at me. “I will ask you for your insights when I deem them useful,” she says through gritted teeth.” But then we both feel the palpable shift in the Force. Premonition screams inside my mind. Quickly, I hasten back to the groundcar even as Lachesis gets back to hers and barks commands.
Opening the door myself, I get back in the passenger’s seat. “Drive. Fast. Run them over if you have to,” I order, slamming the door shut. She kicks the engines into gear. Then we hear the roar of aircraft. Someone yells, “It’s the Dominion!” Even as vehicles try to clear the road, flak tanks level their heavy guns at the sky. The whirlwind of rounds comes too late.

Our groundcar has not gotten even remotely far enough when the enemy aircraft shoot past the convoy, unleashing cannon fire and missiles. Shakka races as fast as she can, but the convoy is too large and the road too crammed for her to manoeuvre much. Then there is a noise like a thunderclap. No, it is closer to a quake. The ground trembles. My skull hits something hard. Pain spreads through my body.

Wake up, Kyriaki. There is blood and my head is spinning. I push through my haze, and realise the transport has been overturned. A window is broken, and I can feel a shard digging into my flesh. I taste copper on my tongue. Another vehicle has apparently crashed into our transport. Thick smoke makes me cough so violently that it hurts in my chest. “Slave...Shakka.” The Twi’lek does not respond. Her head had been slammed against the steering wheel. Quickly, I cut myself loose and do the same for her. Fires are spreading around the groundcar. I hear the aircraft diving down from the sky for another strafing run.

Shakka is coming with me. The door will not open. Smoke invades my lungs as I gather the Force inside me and force it open. Shakka is not heavy or even that tall, but I am not strong. Carrying her out is a struggle. Rounds hammer the road. Fire licks at my robes, seeking purchase on my body. Fabric burns, but fire cannot hurt me.
The Force roars in my mind and I bolt, willing the ethereal energies to give my weak body the strength. My groundcar goes up in flames, being ripped apart by the explosion. The force of the shockwave slams me into the ground, with Shakka in tow. But I’m alive – bruised and battered. I look up to the sky and see the aircraft are turning away. Many vehicles have been ripped apart or ignited. I look to Shakka, still unconscious on the ground. There is blood – too much.

She is badly hurt. I check her pulse. It is weak. No, she is not dying. I will not allow it. I hear a pained groan coming from nearby and turn. It comes from a guard. He bleeding badly and has lost a leg. He is already at death’s door. He is not one of mine. I reach out with the Force, and shadowy tendrils sprout from my hands. He groans even louder as agony grips him. He struggles to form words, but fails.
His eyes are pleading, but I do not care. He does not need his life force, but my slave does. Ruthlessly, I seize whatever life energy he still possesses and draw it out of him – and into her. “Awaken,” I growl. The guard spits blood and takes his last breath of air then slumps. A moment later, her eyes flutter open.
“Master?” she groans.
“It’s alright. You’ll be fine.” The attack craft seem to have turned away. There are corpses and broken vehicles everywhere. I believe I recognise the Weequay driver among the dead. I do not care. Sadly, Lachesis being among the casualties is too much to hope for. The monsters are never the ones on the chopping block. Her limousine, however, is a wreck. It gives me a measure of satisfaction.

“Clear the road. Send word to high command. The Jedi think their petty raids frighten us, but they will rue the day they struck against the Imperium. We will retaliate,” she thunders. “Where’s a functioning transport? Our mission does not allow for delays!”
This kind of incident is not uncommon. The Dominion and the Disciples periodically launch air strikes or shoot tactical missiles at each other. In any event, the Dragon Lady’s gaze falls on me. “I see you survived, Kyriaki. Stop coddling your slave. If she is defective, she can be replaced.”
I get to my feet. My legs feel wobbly and my head hurts. Blood is dripping down my forehead. Something hot and sharp has dug into my flesh. But I stand. “She is my property – and under my protection.”
Lachesis’ gaze is icy. “Lieutenant,” she thunders, “have you found me a groundcar that is still presentable?”
“Yes, ma’am. The captain’s. He got mowed down but...”
“His sacrifice will be honoured by the fatherland. It will suffice. Your pet,” she addresses me, “will ride in the truck. If it gives cause for offence, it will suffer the consequences. You will come with me.”

I nod, and without further ado she has stormed off. Next to me, Shakka has managed to get to her feet. “What did you do to me, Master?” she asks quietly. There is a measure of concern in her tone. “I felt...something. It was like...”
“I kept you alive.” There is no time for explanations. I take a breath. “I’ll see you when we disembark. We must be very careful now.” She opens her mouth, then closes it and nods obediently. We part ways. She climbs into the truck, while I head for the groundcar. It is quite a comedown from Lachesis’ limousine. Speaking of which, she is already sitting on the backseat with an impatient scowl on her face. In the Force, she feels like a barely contained wildfire. I open the door and sit down next to the driver – a human soldier. We take off, passing the wreckage and the corpses.

Our significantly diminished convoy left the wreckage, the blood and the bodies behind it. The groundcar races across the road. Seated at the front in the passenger’s seat, I can hear Lachesis speaking into her comm. She is speaking to Eisen. “...my Leader, with all respect, we cannot respond with half-measures. If the Dominion has the temerity to strike deep into our territory, we should rain fire down upon one of their towns and show them what fear truly means. Or perhaps launch a border incursion. Tenopolis is within range. They’ve set up a lot of industry there – and filled it with refugees from Nexus.” I wonder what story they will feed the people. Truth be told, I wonder how many stories I see on the newsreels are true. I have been fed lies ever since my first flash memories entered my mind.

“Lachesis, my dear, as angered as I am by this cowardly attack on you, it is well within expected boundaries. We shoot some missiles at them and drop some bombs, they respond in kind to dispel any notion that the infantile Republican Guard has given them such a good clobbering that they cannot harm us,” Eisen replies. His tone is terribly casual. I wonder whether he is deliberately trying to rile her up.
“And if they strike at us with impunity, we appear weak.” Her anger is palpable. ”Coming so soon after Maysaf’s destruction, it will only feed Erlösung’s propaganda machine. It will look like capitulation before the Jedi infidels. If the lower...”
“Are you questioning my authority, Lachesis? Perhaps you imagine yourself sitting upon my throne, as the standard bearer of ‘true Humanism’? Or perhaps you wish to distract from the fact that the commander of the forces at our border was your appointee.” I did not know that. “Maybe your lack of vigilance is to blame.”
“It is to assure our dominance that I would strike. I think only of the wellbeing of the Imperium, my Leader.”

“And I am its embodiment. We’ll strike at a suitable target on their border. Our response will be unambiguous...and measured. In the meantime, you’ll proceed with your investigation with alacrity. In fact, I want you to widen it to encompass the whole province and determine whether there might not be Dominion agents at large. First, they fall behind on their quotas, and then a convoy bearing one of my most trusted lieutenants is struck by a Dominion air strike with pinpoint accuracy.”

“I will..,” she pauses. I imagine she wants to say something else, but then she drinks into the sour apple and climbs down, “see to it, my Leader. As our founding father said, where is the xenos, there is the saboteur. I will also mobilise the Kylo Ren Sky Base and pay its commander a visit.” Hope Falls will receive a new quota. This time it will be one of bodies.

“Good. I expect to hear of the first results by the time the Legions of Dusk strike back. I have full confidence in you, Lachesis. You are authorised to make examples. I will confer with Marshal Nikator on a target for our retaliatory strike. Praise Vader!”

“Praise Vader.” She slams the comm down hard. “I should not have called. That coward Thrul has been whispering in his ear, I know it. You want to say something clever, girl? Go ahead, say something clever.”
My throat feels tight. I can think of a few clever things. None of them would be smart to voice. What do I say? Is this a trap? I cannot afford to get on her bad side anymore than I already am, but flattery will not work on her. And if I say anything disparaging of Eisen, she will undoubtedly report me. “The Supreme Leader sees further than all of us. We must follow him, even if we don’t always understand his commands. I believe our first objective must be to stamp out the cells of disloyalty in this province. I will do all in my power to support you in this endeavour, my Lord.”
“You’re so perfect, aren’t you? You always have the right song to sing and commit to anything. That may suffice in the academy, but will you keep your nerve on the battlefield? We shall see.”

The convoy leaves the highway. There are trees and fields can be seen in the distance. There is a river. It must connect to the waterfall Hope Falls derives its name from. It flows very fast. We pass what I believe is a masonry ditch. It is facing inward – towards the settlement. The road we traverse passes over the ditch. As we pass over it, I catch a glimpse of what I am certain is part of a skeleton. “That is the part of Hope Falls we don’t show in the movies,” Lachesis says conversationally. “Of course, every citizen knows how things are done. We just don’t talk about it.”

A large gate looms ahead of us. There is a sign that reads ‘Welcome to Xenos Reservation Zone Hope Falls.” Soldiers and tame Nexu are on patrol. The men-at-arms are a mixture of humans and xenos. The latter are predominantly Houk and Gamorreans. I see the logic in that. Both species are simple-minded brutes. Throw them a few scraps and raise them as you would a guard dog, and they will obey. There are other guards who look like...chicken? The xenos’ equipment is very basic – helmet, a flak vest and an old slugthrower. The human element fares better. Weapons’ emplacements have been set up in watchtowers. These soldiers belong to the Public Force.

No one would have dared to stop Lachesis’ limousine or demand identification. But this humble groundcar looks a lot less prestigious. So a human officer stops us. “Praise Vader! Welcome to Hope Falls. I need to see some ID.”
“Do you know who’s in this transport?” the soldier driving the groundcar snaps. “Darth Lachesis, Lord of the Disciples of the Vader.”
The officer pales. “My apologies...I didn’t know. Just a miscommunication, my Lord. If there’s anything I can...”
“Oh, for heaven’s sake, get out of the way,” Lachesis snaps from the backseat. “And send out patrols. Make your xenos dogs do something useful for a change. And call the Sky Base. I want our birds in the air because apparently someone missed a Dominion air strike.”
“Right away, my Lord. Apologies again. Praise Vader!”

The gate opens and our small convoy passes through. There are more soldiers on patrol. I also see trons. I hear small drones fly through the air, keeping watch. But overall the landscape is dominated by vast grain fields. Men, women and children of various alien species are toiling in the fields. Our pace is fast, but they seem to be mostly working with their hands. They look scrawny and their clothes are threadbare. Most of the guard posts we see roaming the perimeter are xenos. Grain fields and farms stretch as far as the naked eye can see.

“Look at these beasts,” Lachesis remarks. “No doubt many laze around the moment we are not watching. Without a firm hand, they succumb to idleness. Do you know anything about agriculture, girl?”
Why does she ask this? “Can’t say I do, my Lord.”
“If you serve the fatherland as well as you say empty courtesies, maybe one day you’ll have an estate of your own, with little beasts like these to command. Give it a few decades, and this place will look very different. Clean. Pure. The whole Imperium will.”
“You mean we’ll have taught the xenos how to act civilised?” There is a Mon Calamari hanging from a tree. He bears a sign proclaiming him to be a wrecker and sloth who stole grain.
“I mean that it will be free of xenos.”
“We need them as workers. Our industry runs on them. They are everywhere – in the factories, the farms, the construction yards,” I point out.
“For now. The productive ones will live the longest. In the long run, being dependent on them would be our undoing. It leads to decadence. A few will remain, no doubt. To perform menial tasks. Or live in a state of total barbarity in lands we don’t want. As for the rest,” she trails off. “You’ve read Glorious Conflict. Our people need living space.” Inwardly I shudder and feel sickened. These are the people I serve and whose goals I further. I think of Shakka. And how long will it be until I am told: ‘we don’t need defective Disciples anymore?’ If only the Dominion attack had killed Lachesis. If I had not been so concerned with myself, I could have taken a shot at her. It would have been so easy to miss in the chaos. No, that is an absurd thought. She would have crushed me like a bug without the slightest effort. And where one Lord dies, another takes their place.

We pass through a gate upon which the words ‘to each what he deserves’ have been inscribed. Now we can see the settlement proper. Some of the drab, concrete buildings are covered in propaganda posters. In the distance, there is an enormous bronze statue of Darth Eisen. A welcoming committee of sorts awaits us. I see troopers from the Public Force and xenos civilians. I imagine the latter are the presentable ones. They wear proper clothes rather than rags. None of the xenos wear a collar, but not all chains are visible.

A man dressed in a grey Party uniform and, of all people, a Gungan stand at the head of the welcoming committee. A Gungan! Can they even speak proper Basic? This one seems to know how to dress. Two officers in a Public Force uniform, a Gamorrean and a human male, stand close to them. I have no idea what gender the Gamorrean is. They all just look like walking pigs to me.

As we step out of the groundcar, a herald of sorts announces Lachesis. “Darth Lachesis, the Dragon, Lord of the Disciples of the Vader, Minister of Reclamation and Settlement, Imperial Commissioner for the Strengthening of Humanism, member of the Grand Council of Humanism...” She has many titles, though Eisen still beats her. It is almost as if every grandee is in a competition to see who can hoard more grandiose titles. Needless to say, I have one. I am just another Disciple. It has its advantages. Someone who stands on a pedestal becomes the target for everyone else's barbs.

A child’s choir breaks into a song. The uniforms of the little xenos are clean. Indeed, they look new. Quite a few of them look like a poor fit, as if they have been distributed on the quick without anyone bothering to take their wearer’s measurements. But the children are thin. Their faces look happy, but when I reach out, I feel fear.

“Resounding, like birds one after the other,
A song flies over the fatherland.
A song of hope and joy.
‘Living has become better, living has become happier.’
We beg the Great One to protect, forevermore,
Our Iron Benefactor.”

So they sing. The local officials approach us. Gungan speaks first, after bowing her head deeply. “Great Lord Lachesis, welcome to Hope Falls. We are honoured by your visit.” Her voice is feminine, and she is speaking in near-flawless Basic. I am floored. “When we heard of the cowardly attack, we were greatly concerned. It is heartening to see that you are unharmed.”
“I am sure it is, Mayor’ Nass,” Lachesis hisses. She looks like she would rather have her tongue cut than speak to a xenos, let alone acknowledge even a nominal title. There is no craftsmanship in her. I would not trust her to make a cloak for me. Her stitches would be unevenly spaced and sized, like a jagged lines across the sleeve. If conversation was a garment, hers would be crude. Thugs – that is what all Vaderites amount to. Some just have better table manners.

“The Public Force has increased its patrols to do its part to make such an incident does happen again,” the Gungan, who is apparently called Nass, continues. It as if Lachesis’ words have sheeted off her like rain does off her wall. Or maybe it is just a survival mechanism. It is one I know well: courtesy is my armour. Her tone is polite and her expression conveys submission. Her eyes tell a different story. Appeasement is her only weapon. Somehow, she seems more of a lady than this preening despot.

“My Lord,” the Party official says respectfully – but warily? “It has been a long time since Hope Falls received such an illustrious emissary. If we had had a bit more time to prepare, I would have been able to welcome you in style.”
“Or to clean up your record, no doubt,” Lachesis says coldly. “We have much to discuss. You have a great many things to answer for.”
“I assure you, Hope Falls wants nothing but to be a productive member of the Imperium,” Nass says diplomatically. The Party bigwig is holding back. It is no surprise that the Gungan has not been briefed, but it seems he has not either. She glances over to me. “May I enquire about the identity of your companion?”

Lachesis has opened her mouth, but before a word that would pigeon-hole me into a nonentity can leap from her tongue, I speak. My tone is clipped. “Lady Kyriaki. I’ve been sent by order of the Supreme Leader to inspect this settlement.“ It is all technically correct.
“Young Kyriaki has been assigned to assist me,” Lachesis interjects authoritatively. Score one for me, nonetheless.
My eyes turn to the Party bigwig. “I don’t think we’re acquainted, Prefect...”
“Nikolaos Kollias,” he finishes.
“Related to Governor Kollias?”
“He’s my uncle.” It explains a few things. Self-importance oozes from him. But I also feel uncertainty.

“We will gladly give you a tour of the settlement,” Nass speaks. Out of the corner of my eye, I see the truck has come to a halt and soldiers are disembarking. Shakka is among them. She looks alright – physically at least. I contain a sigh of relief. Wordlessly she falls in line, keeping her head down. As we walk onward, various xenos in strange outfits perform a...dance for us? It looks like a cultural thing. It is accompanied by more singing. I must admit, they dance well. I wonder how long they trained for this occasion.
“Oh, for heaven’s sake, stop prancing around,” Lachesis hisses. “And that singing – it sounds like a chorus of animals in various sharp-toothed traps.”
The Gungan passes out instructions and a minion seems to order the dancers and singers to disperse. “My apologies, we wished to give you a friendly welcome. The Supreme Leader liked the show when he visited years ago.”

“Send those brats to the fields. If they want to eat, they will work.” I can Nass’ open her mouth, but then it shuts and see nods. Lachesis preens herself. “You should have things well more in hand, Prefect. Fortunately, I’m here to make sure none of you forget your obligations. Today, we will see the true Hope Falls.”
“Major Bakios. I swear, my Lord, the Public Force has not let down its guard for even a moment. Just a week ago we taught some wreckers and sloths a lesson, didn’t we, Gorn?” the human officer brags. The Gamorren grunts something. I suppose it is in affirmative.
“We shall see how well your vigilance holds up when it is put to the test. Now, let us not dally. You will show me your fields and silos, then your books.” With these words from the lord of many titles in mind, we take our first steps into Hope Falls.
It is night time and a thick fog has descended upon the forest. Kath hounds bark. Our group of acolytes advances quietly. We sneak through the woods, trying to make as little noise as possible. I hear a cracking noise and raise my rifle, but I see no one. Then there is another. In the distance, we can make out shadows. We hold our rifles at the ready. “Freeze! Stop, or I will shoot!” I call out. I can make out shapes in the fog. They are escaped prisoners. Xenos.

“Shoot the bastards,” one of the acolytes declares. It is Nikolai. The shapes are hard to perceive in the fog, but we are not Force-blind mundanes. We stand above the herd. We have the Force as our ally and it allows us to pierce the curtain that would otherwise conceal these creatures. The barking grows louder. The shapes continue to run. We know what our orders are. I fire, so do the others. The air is filled with the staccato of slugthrower fire. The rifle feels heavy in my grasp, but everything seems to happen automatically. The Force steadies my aim and guides my eye. We shoot, and shapes stop moving. After several shots, we cease fire.

“There was something there. One of them was holding something, I think.” Cautiously, we advance forward, with our rifles at the ready. Several bodies lie on the ground. Nikolai and I approach one of the bodies and turn it around. It is still breathing. Blood seeps out of a stomach wound onto the grass, coating the green with red. He is young.
A little Rodian. “Shit! He’s unarmed. It’s just a kid!” Nikolai cries out, sounding shocked.
“So is this one,” another acolyte says.
Realisation dawns upon me as I look around. “They all are.” Just like us.
Nikolai throws his rifle to the ground and approaches the wounded xenos. He takes off his gloves and kneels. “Get a medkit, fast!” He presses a gauze bandage against the wound while the xenos says something unintelligible.

“What is it saying?” another acolyte asks.
“I don’t know. Stop standing there and help me!” Nikolai retorts.
“Leave it, it’s a bloody xenos. Look how ugly it is.” Markos declares.
“Frak you. Kyri, come help me!” Nikolai yells frantically while he tries to cover the wound. “It will be alright, everything will be alright,” he whispers.
I hear him, but he might as well have been miles away. Wherever I look, I see only blood and motionless bodies. Images of them falling flash before my eyes. I hear screams. I stumble and kneel down before one of the bodies. It is a little Mon Calamari. Her eyes stare at the sky. Then her head moves and she looks at me. Our eyes meet, and in this instance the moment of the shot replays in my mind. I shot her. Then the light leaves her eyes forever. I turn around. “She’s dead.”

“So what? Let’s go!” Markos demands.
Nikolai is still pressing against the Rodian’s wound. The barking grows louder. The Kath hounds come into view. So do the headmaster and his entourage. “What is going on here? Report!” he orders authoritatively.
My gaze is empty and my words are mechanical. It sounds like someone else is speaking and I am only an observer. If only it were so. “Headmaster, I report ten prisoners have been shot while trying to escape.”
The headmaster’s gaze falls upon the Rodian Nikolai is still trying to save. “Is that the last of them?” he asks. My lips will not move. “Student, is that the last of them?” he repeats.

I find my words. “Yes, sir.”
“Son, finish him off.”
“Father, no...it’s just a...”
“Do your duty, boy. Or get out of the way.”
“It’s just a boy! You said they were armed prisoners.”
While they argue, the Rodian is still bleeding and in pain. He is suffering. I raise my gun and fire. It is mercy. So I tell myself. The lies come easily. He stops breathing.

The headmaster looks at me. “See, even the sickly girl understands Humanism. Good work, Kyriaki. That’s the kind of commitment I want. You must be as hard as durasteel.” He grabs Nikolai by the shoulder and pulls him away.
“You shame your family. Never ever contradict me in public again. Do you understand?” Nikolai is silent. “Do you understand?”
“Yes, father.” His voice is hollow. It matches the way I feel.

The headmaster turns around to face us. He is smiling. “Good work, acolytes. Keep it up. It is not easy to get past your revulsion, your fear, and do your duty. But this is a burden we must bear for our people. If we allowed this vermin to live, they would grow up, spread and become a danger to our people. They are pitiless. Remember, they who created the Plague to wipe us out. Our sole duty is to our people and our blood,” he declares.

“Now get moving. There are more of them in the woods. You can take the day off tomorrow. The acolyte who kills the most savages will get a medal. Your rifles will be inspected, so don’t even think of cheating.” Looking at Nikolai, he says in a sharper tone: “Move, get your arse in gear.”

I take the still frozen Nikolai by the arm and go. “What the hell did you do?” he shouts at me.
“Get ahold of yourself,” I snap coldly.
“I’m supposed to get ahold of myself?! You killed that boy. We murdered those kids! We shouldn’t have shot them. My father said they were armed fugitives.”
“So what? Ten xenos brats less who can throw bombs for the Guard,” Markos opines. “Not surprised that you’re the one who chickened out, Nikolai.”
“Go to hell.”
“They’re dead, Nikolai. Nothing we can do. They were as good as dead before we pulled the trigger.” I say. I feel empty inside.
“And that makes it right? ‘We were just following orders’, huh? I guess that means if you find more, you’ll murder them too.”
I cannot say it. “Not all of us have your privileges, Nikolai. We don’t all have a family name hide behind. You think I could afford defying a Sith Master to his face? You’re the son of a bigwig, I’m the defective girl.”

“Frak you.I thought you were different...but I guess not. Leave me alone. Just leave me alone.” He runs away in tears. One of the acolytes is about to go after him.
“Don’t,” I caution. “It’s not worth it.” He disappears into the fog. The acolytes begin to form up and walk deeper into the forest. I follow, but find myself trailing behind them. I cannot help turn around and look at the corpses. My stomach churns, I feel dizzy and I vomit. Then I hear an acolyte call my name. I wipe the vomit off my face.
Tracers light up the dark sky. I hear gunfire. My legs feel like lead. Then I hear another group of acolytes approach. “Hey, did y’all kill all those terrorists?” one of them asks me. I say nothing. “I asked you a question.”

“Look at her. She’s got vomit all over her,” a female acolyte says contemptuously. Then I feel her touch my mind. I push back – but too late. The dam breaks and I lose control, slamming the full power of my mind into her. She cries in pain as I breach her mind. She wants to see the horror I helped author, so she shall – and feel it herself. I just want to lash out and hurt someone who wears the same uniform as I.

Then lightning cascades over my body and I burn. Searing agony surges through me. My heart thunders inside my chest. I dig deeper, trying to tear through her mind. I want to hear her scream. Then suddenly I am lifted off my feet and thrown through the air. So is the other acolyte. I land hard and painfully. An armed instructor looms above us. “What the hell has gotten into you? You’re in the field. Take your weapons and get back to the academy. Both of you’re spending the night in the brig.”

The images of the past fade from my mind. I found Nikolai a couple days later, with a rope around his neck. He’d left a note behind. Our ‘tour guides’ have taken us to the vast grain fields. Xenos of both genders and from varying age groups – adults and children – are toiling in the fields. Many look terribly thin. The Public Force’s guards are never far. And it is very hot outside. Almost all of their work seems to be done by hand.

On the way, she has been regaling us with statistics. “We have an eighteen-hour work day. The education our young ones receive is geared towards making good workers out of them. We place a strong focus on practical learning. Our community is able to achieve an output that surpasses that of most human settlements, while only having a fraction of the labour costs,” the Gungan chairwoman explains. On the surface, it sounds like a proud executive boasting about her successes to her supervisor.

But if I dig deeper, I feel something else: fear. She is afraid for herself and her people. She knows she has no power. She must know that someone like Lachesis does not show up for a polite visit.
“Hmm,” Lachesis mutters. Then suddenly a Mon Calamari worker collapses. It must be from the heat and overwork. “What’s that fish doing? It doesn’t get fed and clothed to sleep,” she hisses angrily.
“It is being rectified, my Lord,” Nass says quickly. As a guard approaches menacingly, other workers are already busy forcing their comrade up and pouring some water over him to awaken him. He looks like he can barely stand. A Twi’lek male offers him water.
“Truly a labourer I would trust to work when my back is turned,” Lachesis remarks sarcastically.
“It won’t happen again, I’m sure. Understand, my Lord, the work is very intense. We are eager to repay our debt to the Disciples, and will do so no matter what, but our limited resources impose certain...restrictions.”

Lachesis will not like what I say. This should probably concern me more, but it does not. “You mean you could increase productivity and thus deliver more grain to us if you had a few more resources to work with?” I ask rhetorically.
“Yes, yes,” she agrees. “The first concern of the Humanist state must be the humans. But we don’t ask for much. My people are thrifty. A few tractors would help a lot. As would a slight increase in calories per worker, and some work on our sanitation system. Then less workers would get sick, and we would have a larger output. Our costs would remain low."
“Bleeding heart nonsense,” Kollias proclaims. He puffs himself up. “This settlement is productive, but in spite of the xenos, not because of them. They keep making demands of me, but expect to work less in return. Sometimes one gets the impression that they think they’re the ones running the show, not me.”
“True mastery is unambiguous, Prefect. If the dog does not recognise its master as such, then it has not been trained properly,” Lachesis says coldly. Her eyes narrow. “’Chairwoman’, the reason Hope Falls exists is to serve us, not to beg us for resources to make your life easier. If you cannot function within the parameters set by us, you cease to serve your purpose. Fact is that you’re already behind schedule.” The illogicality of this system knows no bounds.

“Our workers are toiling day and night make up for the shortfall. The Ministry of Construction requisitioned some of our fittest workers for road-building for several months. There have been some...unfortunate cases of theft by...” Nass begins, but an icy glare from Lachesis silences her.
“What is your monthly grain quota?” Lachesis demands coldly. “Well, what are they?” She knows them, of course.
“60 tons per month, my Lord. We will reach this target.”
“Double it.”
“My Lord, I beg you...the Supreme Leader promised us...”
“We can do even better than that, my Lord. I give you my word of honour. All these xenos need is some discipline,” Kollias puffs himself up.

“They do indeed,” Lachesis agrees. He looks smug. He does seem to notice how cold her eyes are whenever she looks at him. “I decree that the laziest and must unproductive workers must be revealed. The labourers will come together and name those who have shirked their duties. The unproductive will confess their errors, and be punished accordingly.”

“My Lord, with all respect,” I say quietly, “if every worker is looking over their shoulders that may be detrimental to productivity. This applies even more so if they are spending time castigating themselves and others. The lazy are more likely to band together against the productive to avoid being found out.”

“Your Dominion makers pioneered self-criticism, Kyriaki. I’m only following their good example. From tomorrow, the calories each labourer receives will be halved. They can earn more by being productive.” Nass has paled. The Gamorrean is silent. Kollias looks satisfied. “There is no reason to feel triumphant, Kollias. You will confess your errors as well – before the entire community.”

“But, my Lord, I did nothing wrong. I obeyed all of the Supreme Leader’s orders! It’s the xenos.” he sputters. “The Gungan is a liar.”
“And you are supposed to keep them obedient. A task you seem to have failed in,” Lachesis snaps. “The council will not be exempt from these sessions. I suggest you come up with a strategy to turn things around,” she informs Nass. “The unproductive, the lazy and the subversive will be eliminated.”

The Gungan bows her head slightly. She looks resigned. The fact of the matter is that she cannot disobey. Nor can she legally accuse the Prefect of any wrongdoing. “If that is your command, my Lord. But I beseech you to grant us a grace period for us to...adjust. At least, allow the children to have an extra share of calories. They’re the ones who suffer the most, and they’re already helping in the fields from early on. They’re your future workers.”
“Every calorie we spare can feed a human. The fittest will survive and earn their fair share.” Lachesis points in the direction of the Mon Calamari who had collapsed earlier. “An example must be made. Cane him. Make sure they see it.”
“It will be done.” Nass is about to give commands to the militia, when suddenly Lachesis shakes her head. “I don’t mean the fish. Beat the wormhead who gave him water. If someone lazes around, they have no value.”

With a heavy heart Nass nods, but the Gamorrean – Gorn – has already given the command. Two burly Public Force guards grab the Twi’lek and drag him away. The Mon Calamari protests, but is hit in the face with a baton. Blood streams down his bulbous head. A human guard kicks him, then yells at him to get up and work.

As the Twi’lek is dragged forward, a change overcomes Shakka. “No.” I sense agitation, fear and anger...and recognition. She knows this man. Her anger burns white-hot. “Firith!” she shrieks when they begin to whip him. I can envisage it through the Force. I see Shakka storming forward – and dying.

She does not get the chance. My mind seizes her. I move her legs like I would move a puppet on strings and force her back. She struggles, but her body will not obey her. It is for her own good. She screams in her mind. I hate you! I press my will further upon her.
“Kyriaki, control your pet,” Lachesis hisses.

I put on my haughtiest tone. “She won’t cause any trouble. She knows the consequences of disobedience.” At least my hold over her mind means that Shakka is only dimly aware of what is going on, and thus does not see how bloody this Firth is. The cane rises and falls. Relentlessly, it strikes his back. He tries to keep quiet, but then he screams in pain. Through the Force, I can feel his agony. Blood is dripping down his body. The blows are inflicted with the full force of the Houk guard’s arm.

After a while, I speak. “My Lord, you don’t want to waste your time with this creature. You wanted to inspect the silos. We have to ascertain whether the xenos are robbing the Supreme Leader. That wormhead must have learned his lesson. He won’t make the same mistake again. He’s not worth your time.”
“No, he isn’t,” Lachesis makes a gesture. “Tell them to desist.” The guards do so and the Twi’lek collapses to the ground. None of the workers rush to help him. They have understood.
I release my hold on Shakka. The look on her face shows naught but anger. I can take her hate. We cannot speak, so I reach out to her mind. He lives, and will die if you try something. So will you. Control yourself. Be quiet.
We start walking away from the fields. “The overseer will keep an eye on that work crew,” Major Bakios chimes in. “I’ve got those two in my sights. If they don’t learn...,” he trails off and makes a cutting motion with his hand. “Once these new measures are announced, I expect some xenos to try and sneak out. The Public Force will increase its patrols. We’ve already filled the ditch with hidden caltrops and set up underwater spikes in the river. But just in case they get past that, I can organise some land mines.”

“You will report directly to me.” Lachesis does not deign to acknowledge his Gamorrean minion. Presumably she would be happy to completely dismiss it from existence. “And while you’re at it, give the commander of the Kylo Ren Sky Base a call. I want some of his gunships to fly over the town. Don’t worry, Chairwoman,” at that her eyes travel to Nass, “they won’t drop bombs. After our airspace was violated by the Jedi dogs, we just want our labourers to know that the Disciples are there to protect them.” There is nothing reassuring about that smile.

The silos are about two kilometres away from the actual settlement. We use our vehicles instead of walking. Lachesis has apparently had enough of me speaking out of tune and so I do not get to share a transport with her. My feelings on this are mixed. It means I am spared her monologues, but I am also being excluded. Regardless, we requisition a speeder. Shakka is silent while driving. Her expression is empty, void of emotion. I do not attempt to make conversation with her. As we drive, we pass the actual settlement and I get the chance to take in what passes for habitation in Hope Falls.

The first habitation areas we pass are not so bad. They are dull, concrete buildings, but not terrible. They remind me of the ones shown in that propaganda movie, though they seem to be in worse condition. The windows are clean. The streets look clean and free of garbage, but there is also the distinct scent of fresh paint. But then things take a turn for the worse. The first thing that calls to me is the smell. My nose wrinkles at the appalling stench. The smell of urine is so strong that I hold my nose. I can see it in the street. It is like being in the sewers.

A feeling of revulsion washes over me. It is the same smell as in that ghetto. My teachers would have told me that it is a natural reflection of the inherent barbarity of the xenos. Without a strong human hand to civilise them, they will live in filth and revel in their degeneracy. Maybe there is something to it. Rodians, Gungans and Gamorreans have such strange smells. But perhaps the smell of urine is due to the lack of proper drains. The people look miserable. At the sight of us, a Houk mother grabs her child and quickly shuts the door. The garbage is overflowing in front of the door. Huge insects congregate around it.

Then I see tents. They have been set up in a clearing on the outskirts of the settlement. Alongside them, I see shacks, treehouses and simple dugouts. Garbage has been tossed into a pit. The locals are dressed in rags. Only a few of them have shoes. Many of them are very old or very young. Seeing our small convoy, a couple children from various xenos species run towards us. “Please, Master. Please help,” one of them begs in broken Basic. She is a little Duros. She is dirty and wearing rags. Her body is painfully thin. “Sara! Get back here!” an elderly Duros male calls out. He sounds panicked. His right arm is but a stump. The hand must have been chopped off. A nasty scar runs down his face.

“Please, Master,” the girl steps closer towards Lachesis’ speeder. “’So hungry.” No, go away, child. Go away. Those big eyes look so afraid and desperate.
“Tell these creatures to clear the road,” I hear Lachesis spit contemptuously.
“Children, you know the rules. Now go back to your family!” Nass says quickly in an authoritative tone. The children scatter out of the way just before the driver kicks the engines into overdrive and shoots across the road. I take a breath and look around.

No doubt Shakka believes I do not notice the coins she surreptitiously tosses towards the children as we rush past. Just as she probably thinks I do not know she got them from my purse. I say nothing. As I turn my head, I see the children grab the coins and quickly run away. Maybe they will be able to trade them for some loafs of bread on the black market. Assuming someone bigger and stronger does not beat them and take the coins.

I should not feel for them. I should not. It is their lot in life to toil and die, after all. But I do. I think of the dead bodies in the forest. I can hide and blindly obey. Or I can be brave, as my template was. To try and help everyone is absurd. But I can...save a few. I can get some out. Somehow. As the silo looms ahead of us, an idea starts to form in my mind. The silos are heavily guarded. There is a gate, barbed wire and guards. Xenos outnumber humans among the latter.
As the speeder comes to a halt and we disembark, I hear Lachesis remark: “You let xenos guard our grain?” There is a note of accusation.
“Short on manpower, my Lord,” Bakios says apologetically.
“And it’s a directive from the Supreme Leader’s office. To teach them responsibility, reliable xenos are supposed to be given guard duties.” Kollias lowers his voice, and adds, “I’ve had reservations about it, but, you know, orders are orders.”

“Surely you aren’t criticising our Leader’s decisions, are you?” I cannot help but ask. My tone is pleasant, but there is a threat behind it.
“Of course not, lady. His thoughts are my deeds. I just think his advisors may not have taken the risk into account,” he responds in that oily tone that is starting to annoy me.
It may be the one thing Lachesis and I agree on, for she looks irritated. “The xenos is the dog, you are the trainer, Prefect. If you cannot train the dog, what does that say about you?” she lets the question hang and gestured impatiently to Nass. “Show me the produce. Everything will be checked.”
“The facility is large and it is one of many, my Lord. It will take a while to inspect everything,” Nass responds softly.
“Is that fear I sense? You have nothing to be afraid of if you have nothing to hide. I have minions to handle the details.” And so we enter.

Needless to say Darth Lachesis does not inspect the containers herself when get to it. She has minions for that. At first everything looks fine. Container after container is checked and found to be full. But this does not last. “The weight doesn’t add up. This one is only half full,” one of her minions says.
“Same here.”
I check one of the containers. It looks fine. But I take a deeper view, and reach inside. The first layer is flour. But as for the second...”Report, Kyriaki!” Lachesis demands.
Shakka says nothing. Her expression is empty. Her eyes tell a different story. “It’s cement,” I say quietly, then in a louder tone: “It’s filled with cement.” Scans reveal that the grain in another container is of poor quality.
“Well, how do you explain this?” Lachesis demands.
“We check all deliveries, my Lord. My people know what’s at stake. My administration has no input the moment the deliveries reach the gate. This must be the work of a criminal gang,” Nass states. It looks to me like she is trying to control the tremble in her hands.

“The devious xenos stole from me, just as I warned in my reports,” Kollias points an accusing finger at Nass and the Gamorrean. “Those two are probably behind it.”
“Human watch mouth,” the Gamorrean growls. Then the pig suddenly clutches his throat, choking. Lachesis does not bother look at the creature. Her cold eyes remain fixated on the Prefect.
“Do you know the story of the scorpion and the frog, Prefect? It is in the scorpion’s nature to sting the frog, even though it means both will drown, just as it is in the xenos’ nature to swindle and steal. Are you the frog in this constellation?” Then lightning shrieks from her fingertips. He flails, and his body shakes. Then he drops down to one knee.
“Please, mercy, I will get this in order,” he begs. Nass, by contrast, does not eg when she is struck. Lachesis does not maintain the assault for so long. It is meant to teach a lesson and demonstrate her power, not kill.

“Lock her up. I want a guard – a human guard – outside of her cell twenty-four hours a day,” she orders imperiously. Two of her minions grab the Gungan and cuff her. I hesitate to use the word poise in connection with a Gungan, but she maintains it as close as her kind can. “As for you, I hope for your sake you have an explanation, Prefect. Otherwise your head will be among the many that will roll before I’m done with this sorry excuse of a town.”

She turns to Bakios. The Gamorrean has, meanwhile, stopped choking. “Major, you have regaled me with tales about the Public Force’s efficiency and loyalty, and yet flour grain was stolen from right under your nose.” He opens his mouth to speak but she waves her hand. “What is the standard punishment for thieves?”

“If it’s xenos, we chop their hands off, my Lord.”
“What a waste. They’re useless as labourers, but we still have to feed them. When the Tenth Division lost its nerve and fled like cowards at the Battle of Palmyra, what did our father Darth Malitia do to pour steel into their veins?”
“He, um, divided them in groups of ten and had them draw lots. They then used their weapons to execute the soldier who drew the short lot. Anyone who refused to participate was shot as well. Those who were left were given crappy rations till their performance improved.”

“Then you know what to do. This applies to every guard involved in guarding or checking our supplies. Until the investigation is concluded, my people will guard the silos. I will bring in additional manpower.”
He clicks his heels. “As you command, my Lord. This incident is a stain on my honour. I will wash it away.” Does he sound overly eager?
“My Lord,” I speak up, “the hour is late and this is only the first silo. With your permission, I would like to review the agricultural bureau’s books. I can compare the stocks with what has actually been registered. I may be able to determine the source of the shortages.”
“By all means play accountant, Kyriaki. It seems fitting for a Disciple of your level.” Lachesis’ tone makes it very clear that she thinks such a task is beneath a true Sith. Good for me. “Prefect, see to it that she gets the paperwork and an office.”

I need a scapegoat – someone palatable. For this I need information – and dirt on important figures. And I need ammunition to get some people out and bring them somewhere less horrid. People who will perish if they languish under the new regime. Even the most wretched xenos do not deserve to be treated like this. It must be framed in such a way the Supreme Leader will accept. And I need a place to put them and have some use for them. I do not know how many, though I know it will only be a few. I do not know or how. But I know that I will. What was it that ‘our father’ Darth Malitia said? “And to all doubts and questions the apprentice of the coming Sith Imperium knows only one answer: But I have the will!” I do indeed.
Lachesis does not join me for, as she puts it, beancounting. I suppose she has undesirables to murder. Apparently the Supreme Leader has a mansion near Hope Falls. I reckon he barely ever visits, but doubtless it is luxurious. I can imagine the town administration being compelled to invest sums and manpower into making it as beautiful as possible on the off-chance that he deigns to visit.

Regardless, it is Lachesis’ for the duration of her say. The Prefect has hastened after her like a dog who’s earned his master’s ire. This leaves me to follow a goon to bookkeeping after we have finished taking stock in the silo we just visited. The agricultural department has an office next to the central silo, so the bookkeeper is housed here. Shakka follows silently.

The bookkeeper is not human, but a near-xenos. The Star of Luke is sewn into his uniform. I narrow my eyes slightly when I recognise he is a Zeltron. I am surprised to see one of his species in a position other than that of a whore. He has violet eyes and a pink hue to his skin. The pigmentation is rather subdued, hinting at human blood in the family lineage. The status of such racial bastards varies depending on how well the Imperium is doing and on the mood of the Supreme Leader.

Sometimes they are lumped in with the riff-raff or wiped out; at other times they can become second-class citizens. They are closer to us in mind and appearance than a pure xenos, but this also makes them more risky. “Lady Kyriaki, the Supreme Leader’s inspector,” I introduce myself to this strangely coloured creature, pouring authority into my words. “I’m here to check the ledgers. I have need of your office.”
“Oh, of course. It’s all yours. I was informed of the inspection.” He gets up from his chair immediately. “Aca Iloski, I’m ready to assist in any way I can.”
“How far back do your ledgers go?” I ask as I step towards the shelf. It is filled with various folders.
“These here cover our most recent stocks, withdrawals, and additions,” he explains. Without needing an order, he immediately removes a couple big books and puts them on the desk. “Our old files are stored in the archives. It’s beneath this floor. I can take you there.”
“If you know about the inspection, then you’re aware that we’ve noted...irregularities.” I let the last word hang and look him right in the eye.
He shifts a bit awkwardly, but nods. “I’ve only taken over this position fairly recently. My predecessor was found to be dirty and punished.” It is awfully convenient to blame everything on someone who is no longer there. “We’re still working through the trouble he caused. But every delivery has been filed. Sometimes transports get lost, be it due to rebels, greedy guards or workers.They just make things worse for everyone.”

“You are a xenos, and yet you speak as if you’re not one of them. And you’re responsible for bookkeeping. Tell me, how does someone of your kind attain such a position of trust?”
“A quarter-xenos, my lord,” he corrects me gently. So he has more human blood in his veins than I thought. “My grandfather was human.”
“So you’re a man with two souls living inside his breast. Human enough to be raised above the rabble, but not enough to be one of us.”
“I serve the fatherland in whatever humble capacity I can, my lord. I have a mind for sums, so here I am.” It sounds rehearsed, like a line he has repeated time and again to armour himself with.

“What a loyal worker. I’m sure the fatherland appreciates such diligence.” My lips curve into a thin smile. “Who knows, maybe a racial examiner will discover that you have even more human blood than you thought, especially if you were to help shed light on these irregularities.” It happens rarely, but enough to give a few xenos hope. All it takes is the stroke of a pen, and a near-xenos suddenly only has 5% non-human blood. Of course, if they run afoul of a bigwig, they will be branded xenos infiltrators scheming to pollute the human gene pool. Sometimes the same examiners discover that a human is not really human at all.

There is a flicker of something on his face. It is fleeting and he hides it well, but he seems to give my word more than a moment’s consideration. Doubtless he is weighing his options. “I’ll do anything to be of assistance,” he says carefully.
“I take it you know your way around the archives?”
“Quite so. Would you like me to pick out my predecessor’s folders for you?”
“Just give me their signatures.” He needs no further encouragement and produces a piece of paper. Pen in hand, he writes down the numbers I need to identify the right folders. Then he passes it over the desk to me. “Here, my lord.”
I pocket the piece of paper. “Lock the door behind you. Then give me the keycard.” I gesture to the corridor after he does so. “Lead the way, if you would.” Just in case he gets ideas about a file conveniently slipping out of the folder. We take a walk down the grey corridor until we reach the turbolift.

“I wouldn’t use that, my lord,” the Zeltron says just before I call the lift. “The lift, uh, malfunctions a lot.”
“Noted. The stairs it is then.” As we walk down, I ask: “You studied your predecessor’s files thoroughly?”
“Quite a bit,” he says ambiguously. Enough to say he has checked, but not enough that he cannot cover himself in case I come across he missed. “If you compare them to the stocks, many numbers don’t add up. Some withdrawals are hard to trace because the signature is ineligible, so we don’t know who removed something.”
I raise an eyebrow. “Or where it went?”
He nods. “You always hear rumours about black marketeering. Not something I can investigate.”

“What was the species of your predecessor?”
“A Rodian.”
Two human guards stand sentinel in front of the archives. One wears the grey uniform of Lachesis’ men, the other is clad in the Public Force’s khaki. I wonder whether the latter will be dead tomorrow. I show my badge, wave them aside and am let through. The room is dominated by a massive cogitator that takes up most of the space. Aside from that, there are a few desks, chairs and several shelves with folders. Many have gathered dust.

“Leave,” I command the Zeltron. “I will summon you when I have need of you.” He will have to find a different office. Not that this is my problem. He bows his head slightly and turns away, closing the door behind him. That leaves Shakka and I. I feel her resentment. It surrounds her like a tattered cloak.
I wonder whether the guards are listening in. I must assume that they are. Always assume that someone is listening. A camera hovers above us. “You almost forgot yourself out in the fields. That was very dangerous. Very foolish of you.”
“It is Master’s right to punish me. My whole life has been punishment. What’s one more to add to the pile? After all, I’m just a xenos.”
I raise my voice. “Yes, you are, and you will show me proper respect. Perhaps you mistake my kindness for meekness. Maybe you would be happier joining your kind in the fields? You can toil day in and day out, slowly wasting away until you’re nothing but bones with a thin layer of skin.”
She flinches away, as if struck by me – or expecting a strike. Then there is defiance. “I won’t beg, Master,” she says quietly. “You can do what you want, not that I can stop it.”

While I speak, I pull upon the Force to weave my web. The guards outside hear me yell at Shakka, even after I’ve stopped doing so. The image of the master chastising her slave is drummed into their skulls until that is all they hear coming from the room. They hear a sharp crack, and then the shriek of Force Lightning. Meanwhile, in the room I say: “We have a few minutes at most.”

“Till what?”
“Till the glamour collapses. So listen carefully. I want to help some people get out.”
“You honestly expect me to believe that, Master? You...?”
I wave my hand. “I’m a Disciple? I let them beat that Twi’lek till he was bloody? You know him. What’s your connection to him?”
“Why should I trust you? Why should I trust anything you say?”
“You should not. I’m a liar, I’m a cheat, I’m a Sith. And if you betray me, well, the word of a xenos is not admissible in court. I’m also the only person who can help you. Your friend has been blacklisted. If he stays here, he will die.”
“He’s my cousin,” she admits quietly. “You won’t set him free.”

“It’s the natural for the xenos to be subservient to the human. But even beasts are treated better than this. If I dig enough up dirt to earn some clout, I can requisition him and a few others.” There are a lot of ifs in this, but it is what I have. “The young and vulnerable in particular. Give them better treatment and less strenuous work.” I’m not a monster.

“Strenuous isn’t what I’d call this.”
“No beatings, no starvation. They do honest work, they obey me, I take care of them.” I’m starting to feel a painful throbbing in the back of my head. The glamour is taxing.
“What sort of work?”
I have not thought about that yet. I feel annoyed at myself and at the question. “I’m working on it,” I huff.
“Well, I guess they can make more cloaks to bribe Eisen with, Master.”
“Mind your tone, girl,” I snap. She should not be speaking like that. But realisation dawns upon me. “That’s it. Uniforms, coats, socks – it’s all war-critical work.” A textile manufacturer. I can sell this, with the right ammunition.
Old master, new master. She hides it well, but I pick up on the thought in her mind. It does not matter. “Fine. What do you want me to do?”

“I need to find out about the real conditions. See if anyone in the settlement has seen anything I can use. Anything that incriminates the bigwigs. If grain and flour has vanished, it’s going somewhere. No one in the hierarchy is going to give me an honest answer, and no xenos will speak candidly to a Disciple. But they may open up to you.” Even the humblest piece can have a role to play in the game.
“And I’m marked as a Disciple’s personal slave. You lump all xenos together, but do you think my kind is trusted?” she counters, then sighs.
“You’ll make it work. Listen, Eisen is a crime lord running a continental racket. He’s rational. But Lachesis is a purist. She doesn’t just want to exploit your kind. She wants them gone. Do you understand?”
She nods mutely. “I’ll need that badge so the guards know not to beat me and lock me up, which they might do anyway.”
“If they hurt you, I’ll flay them alive.” I feel the ripples in the Force. My head hurts. “The glamour’s dissipating.”
Shakka gets the hint and makes choking noises. “I understand...Master,” she coughs. “It won’t happen again. Y-you have been very good to me.”

“I forgive you. Execute all your tasks faithfully, and we shall not speak of this transgression again.” While I say these words, I fish the badge out of pocket and pass it over to her. She has gone on missions like this before, so I had it made for her. It marks her as an accepted lapdog xenos. Xenos ‘councillors’ and guards in reservations and ghettos have similar ones.

Without further ado, we retrieve a bunch of ledgers with the files. It seems not everything is there in paper form. How convenient, if someone wants to get rid of a paper trail. “Let’s check the cogitator,” I decide and switch it on. The machine boots up and I see a loading screen. It loads and loads and loads.
I frown. “What’s wrong with the machine? Why is it frozen? Is this sabotage?”
“Let me handle this, Master.” I do not like the look on Shakka’s face. It seems disrespectful. She presses a button and the cogitator is turned off. Then she unplugs it.
“Why did you do that?”
“It’s Vision 10, Master.”
“Old. Very buggy. Nine times out of ten, you can solve a problem by restarting. Also, disconnect it when it’s not in use.”
I huff and start looking through some ledgers. After a couple moments, she restarts it. This time it actually finishes loading. “There you go. Now to find the right folder.” She clicks through various menus.
“I can do that myself,” I insist. ”Why is it responding so slowly?” Indeed, it is taking ages to get anywhere. There are long pauses before it responds to a click, let alone open a folder. I try to print a document, but the cogitator will not respond. “Is this device really this flawed?“

“Master, I think it may be something else. Let me take over.” She accesses something called systems menu. “I’m checking to see which programmes are running.” I am not sure whether to be pleased she is being useful or annoyed at her impertinence. “Hmm. Well, this is strange. Think I know this programme. Prisma.”
“What about it?”
Her voice drops a notch. “It’s a surveillance programme. Keeps track of anything a user does.”
“I imagine the cogitator is mostly used by the bookkeeper. Maybe the Prefect or whoever the Zeltron answers to had it installed to keep an eye on him,” I say thoughtfully. “But would a simple surveillance programme slow it down that much?”
“It’s Vision, Master. But let me try something. See if I can get into the source code.”
“Source code? How do you know all this?” I have always known that she is more educated than is typical – or legal – for a xenos slave, but this goes beyond what I expected.
Her response is predictably, frustratingly enigmatic. I can understand that though. Whoever taught her would risk death if their identity was revealed. “I read and I know things. Increases my market value. Helps keep me alive. Oh...now, this is interesting. It’s not just spying; it’s deleting data,” she frowns. “I can try and shut it down.”

“But whoever activated it will notice?” she nods in affirmation. “Let it be and save as much data as you can. Can you trace the source and find out from where the order came from?”
“Sec. You got my datapad, Master?”
“It is not your datapad,” I correct her firmly. Technically, she is the one who uses it, but it is not her property.
“Yes, Master.” So she connects her device to the cogitator. Her fingers dance over the keyboard as she inputs commands. It is all more than a little esoteric for me, and that makes it annoying. “Alright, no guarantee I’ll get a lock on the source, and the pad’s memory capacity is nothing to be impressed about, but it’s something.”
Not ideal, but it will do. “Good work. I’ll take it from here. Proceed with the...task I gave you.” Let’s see what my bean-counting manages to turn up.
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This will be my last day in Prosperity Quarter. As part of the wholesome education we are supposed to receive at the Academy, my whole class of Acolytes was taken on a field trip so that we could see the ghetto the xenos of Adlerberg have been deported to. We saw the filth and squalor these creatures live in. We inspected workshops where xenos labour, and we saw inspected the wall that makes sure none of them can leave the Quarter. Except, it turns out, a few managed to slip out.

We helped the police crackdown on these smugglers. Now our little field trip is almost over. I pass run-down, overcrowded buildings built along streets where garbage has not been collected in ages. Xenos of various species and age groups perform menial tasks. All give my speeder a wide berth. There is one matter that drives me to the Judiciary. Having shown my papers to the guard and called ahead, my speeder pulls up and comes to a halt.

Nine prisoners have been chained to a chain-link fence at the far end of the yard. There used to be a building here behind the police headquarters, but I understand it was levelled during the uprising a few years back. Without exception, all prisoners are xenos. Among others, I see a Devaronian, a Gungan, a Trandoshan and a Twi’lek. All of them show signs of beatings. I feel...pity. I clamp down on it. The lizard looks the worst. My eyes linger on the last for a moment. Her face is bruised, but there is defiance in her eyes. She and the lizard stand close together. “Be strong,” I hear the Twi’lek say, speaking to a crying Devaronian. The latter is young. “It’ll be over soon. We’ll be at peace. You’ll see your father again.”

Order Policemen are lining up. Without exception, all of them are human. Most of them will be reservists and run-of-the-mill policemen who were drafted into the police company. Few of them will have attended a Humanist Leadership Academy or even be Party members. They will obey the order to shoot all the same. Some prisoners sob, others stand defiant or say their last prayers when the officer steps forward. She wears the colours of the Order Police. “Residents, you have been found guilty of the crimes of smuggling, profiteering, theft and leaving Prosperity Quarter without authorisation. You have betrayed the community and the Humanist State that nurtured you. For wreckers and sloths, there is only one punishment: death.”

“There are millionssss of ‘xenos’. You can’t kill all of usss,” the Trandoshan female cries out. “One day, you’ll be ssstanding here.”
“We die free!” the Twi’lek calls.
Then the officer spots me. “Acolyte, thought you’d be back at your temple by now,” she greets me good-naturedly. What a contrast to the grisly work she and her police soldiers are about to carry out.
“Still have a night. And since I helped the Orpo bring this sorry lot in, I thought I might as well be there for the end.”
“You want to watch or participate? Feel free,” she glances towards the prisoners. “You know, I get why they steal. Just look at this place. Shooting them isn’t easy on the men. Far easier to shoot a terrorist in combat, then lining up some civilians...even if they’re xenos. But duty’s duty.”
“We do what we must – for the good of humanity,” I pause. “There is one xenos I would like you to spare.”
“Mercy? You don’t seem like the type, not after you ripped that dealer’s mind apart.”

I suppress a shudder. “Perish the thought. That Twi’lek girl. She’s the one who ran that machine workshop, isn’t it? I want her as my slave. Consider it a reward for me helping you out.”
“That sneaky bitch? You sure you want one of those? Give them an inch and they’ll put a knife between your ribs.”
“Then I welcome the challenge of cowing her. It’s hardly a mark of strength if I subjugate a weak specimen, is it? If I’m unsatisfied with the Twi’lek, I’ll just kill her myself. I have a requisition permit right here.”
The officer checks the documentation, and shrugs. “Your slave.” She gestures to a police soldier, then points at the Twi’lek. “Not her. Make her watch. You have the good Sith to thank.”
“No, I’m not going to be your slave anymore. Let me die with my people,” the Twi’lek shrieks. There is something visceral to her reaction. “Not again.”
“Shakka, go. Live!” the Trandoshan urges her. “Ssssomeone must live. And tell the sssstory of our hell. Live! Never forget.”
One of the guards unchains the Twi’lek – Shakka. When she struggles, the guard beats her savagely with the butt of his rifle. In this moment I interject. “Stop,” my voice is soft, but cold. “She is my property. Only I am allowed to chastise her. Guard her, but do not lay a hand on her.”

The Twi’lek spits at me. In response, I just reach up with my black gloved hand and wipe away the spittle as though it does not bother me. “I see you still have spirit. Good.” And so she is dragged away to the edge of the execution site and put under guard.
Meanwhile, I walk back to where the firing squad has formed. On average, the shooters are young. Did they imagine this when they joined the police force? Not that it matters. As I stand close to them, I catch a whiff of alcohol.
“You want to stay for the bloodletting, huh?” the Orpo captain asks jovially.
I shrug. “Good for morale, I wager. Let it not be said that a Disciple could not stand the sight of blood.”
Then it begins. There are no last words. “Present! Aim!” None of the troopers have received blanks. They raise their rifles, and take aim. Shakka watches helplessly from the sidelines. The xenos call something to her in their strange languages. “Fire!” The guns bark – once, twice.

A volley of slug rounds shoots towards the prisoners. Some miss, but most hit home. It is, after all, routine. Besides, the distance is not great. Some bodies are riddled with multiple slugs. After the shooting has ceased, the troopers approach the bodies to make sure anyone left breathing stops doing that. I hear the Twi’lek – Shakka, I remind myself – sob. The Captain joins them, double-tapping a Gungan with her service pistol.
“The lizard’s still breathing,” a trooper declares. Hearing the voice, I think it is the one who beat the Twi’lek earlier. He rams hit boot into the Trandoshan, and then puts another round in her stomach. “Stay down, monster,” he snarls.

I step forward without hesitation. “The lizards are tough. But kill it cleanly,” I admonish him icily. “Like this.” I draw my blade. It gleams with the power of the Force. I do not have the strength to use an alchemised Sith Sword, so a standard imbued will do. It has the cutting power to make this a clean kill. Blood splatters on my robes when I cut the Trandoshan’s head off. Then I walk away.
“Is that all or do you have more awaiting execution?”
“Couple wreckers,” the Captain answers. “Bring them out,” she orders, “and you lot, get those bodies to the oven before they start to stink. The crematorium,” she explains for my benefit.
“If possible, I’d like the ashes of the Trandoshan in an urn.” She gives me a strange look. “They’d be useful for a...ritual.”
The captain shakes her head. “You’re an odd Disciple, but you helped us out and I don’t poke my nose in Sithy business.”
“Far healthier that way. I need a room to talk to my slave.”
The Twi’lek’s eyes are filled with hatred when I approach her. “Go to hell. You’ve taken my friends and my freedom. You won’t take more, monster.”
I cannot blame her for calling me that. Nor can I dispute it. But only the monsters survive. “Your friend’s last words were that you should live. You can fight and perish. Or you come with me if you want to live.”

The policemen do not remove the corpses themselves. That is left to xenos helpers. They let the bodies down and put them on a cart. Their efficiency is a clear sign of routine work. Before being burnt, the bodies will be stripped of anything useable – right down to gold teeth being pulled out. The fresh batch of prisoners is already being brought out. The captain addresses them, rattling off their names. I barely pay the stump speech any mind. “...the possession or proliferation of subversive literature is punished by execution and you have been sentenced to
death by firing squad.” The rifles are shouldered, aimed and fire again.

I dismiss the guards once we have been brought to an interrogation room in the building. Shakka is cuffed to a chair. I sit down. “My name is Kyriaki. I’m your owner. You hate me. You probably wish to murder me. That is natural.” She says nothing. “Your friend – the lizard. What was her name?
“Trandoshan. She’s a Trandoshan, you hear me! A person, not a beast...unlike you and you Vaderites. And her name is Vrerkh.“
“Vrerkh,“ I repeat. The name does not roll easily off the tongue.
“Don’t say her name. You have no right to. She and all the others you lot murdered were better than you’d ever be.” She halts her tirade. Perhaps she expects to be struck. Maybe she hopes it.
“Your friend was brave. You can have her ashes after she has been cremated. Keep them in an urn if it gives you comfort.”
“After you lot murdered her. You think that will make me your loyal slave? Go ahead, whip me. Choke me. Better watch your back, or I may cut your throat.”

“Let us assume you succeed – then what? You’ll either be killed, or get sent to the camps and death is preferable to that. Someone like you – someone who snuck through the wall, facing great peril, in order to smuggle in foodstuffs to keep herself and her people from dying and how somehow acquired the skills to become a technician even though it is banned for her kind – is a survivor. Your death would be a waste and I hate waste. I want a name. A co-conspirator.”
“I have none. You already murdered all my friends, and I’m not going to give you an excuse to slaughter more of my people. You want more blood, just get it on.”
I lean forward in my chair. “I’m not talking about another xenos. You couldn’t have pulled off such an operation without help from the inside – our side. A guard who received a share of the profits to look the other way maybe?” I reach out to her mind through the Force. <<The guard who beat you and your friend?>>

She winces at the mental intrusion. I do not quite have the gentle touch. “Private Zaarin,” she hisses. I smile thinly. Will his death change anything? No, of course not. He is a trivial cog in a machine that regularly produces more like him – and me. It feels good to frame him nonetheless. I dig deeper into her mind. The word of a xenos – especially a slave – is not admissible unless it has been forced from them. The illusion will not hurt her. But it has to look seem real. <<Scream, then repeat. Louder >>.

I meet her an hour later at my speeder. As per my instructions, she has been allowed to wash and given a fresh pair of clothes. She visibly chafes under the collar around her neck. She is accompanied by a guard and what looks like a more senior officer.
“Your slave, Acolyte,” the latter says. He projects an air of haughty officiousness and speaks in a refined way. “Please sign here. To sum it up, with your signature this Twi’lek becomes your legal property. It makes you directly responsible for its behaviour. You are empowered to chastise your property as you deem necessary.”
I flip through the papers, then sign. “I’m confident she’ll be house-broken soon.”
“And before we forget, this remote control triggers the collar’s shock function. To activate, press this button. You can use these here to modulate the voltage. Would you like me to demonstrate?” There is no malice in his eyes. He prattles on about the function with an air of complete banality.
I preen myself. “I am Sith. I do not need something so mundane shown to me. If she dares to step out of line, I know how to make her regret it.”

“Of course, Acolyte. I’d advise maintenance at regular intervals though. Regardless, it’s all yours.” With that we are left alone. I take the remote, and suddenly revulsion washes over me. For a moment, I am brought back to my time in Scarlet Citadel. To beatings and indignities. To being treated as less than human. It is right and proper that xenos should be subservient to humans, as the squib should serve the Forceful. But this is...I clamp down on the thought. It will not do to show weakness.

“Master.” The revulsion is plain in her tone and her cold eyes.
“Don’t use that tone in public. You’ll be seen as uppity.”
“Maybe I want to. Or is Master concerned that the other Vaderites will think she can’t keep her pet in line?”

“Oh, all I’ll lose is social standing. You on the other hand, well, when the Disciples find that a slave cannot keep herself in check, they do not give them the mercy of a quick death. They make them suffer. Some people I know get creative and toy with their minds until they are a blank slate. A canvass upon which they can paint whatever they want.” She flinches at that. The flicker of fear on her face is brief, but there. “I won’t do that you. Speak up in private – it makes you more useful to me. Keep your mouth shut in public. Never forget that you are mine alone now.”

With that I turn and point to my speeder’s backseat. “Oh, and before I forget, here.” With that I hand her two items: A basket with Zaarin’s head, and an urn containing Vrerkh ashes. She spits on the head and picks up the urn, holding it. She whispers something in her native tongue when her fingers touch it. Maybe it is a benediction. I would not know, but I let her have her moment.

“You killed her. This doesn’t change anything, Master. So if you want to strike me for not falling on my knees, do it.”
I am so tempted to lash out. Perhaps that is what she is hoping for. I may come to regret saving her. “She was dead either way. I made it quick.”
“After you helped capture us, knowing we’d be slaughtered...Master.”
“Yes, all except you. You’re standing here because of me.”
There is a moment of silence. “I want to send the ashes to her brother.” She raises a hand. “He was not involved in smuggling – or anything. He’s just a normal guy.”
I shrug. “If don’t know about him doing anything illegal, then he did not do anything. Now, you gave us quite a chase during the crackdown, so I trust you can drive this.”

Perhaps it was madness that compelled me to keep her around. Maybe I saved her so that I could tell myself that I am better than the rest of the Disciples. Ultimately, it does not matter. We are not friends; we are not comrades. That would be inconceivable. She is bound to me, but I also depend on her more than I should. In a way, I’ve grown fond of her. That is dangerous.

Regardless, now it is just me in the room with the ledgers. The cogitator is making a loud humming noise. I assume this is normal. I was never what the Disciples consider a model student at the academy. My heart cannot endure forced matches for long. A Sith Sword is too heavy for me to use and grand displays of power tire me out. Weak, weak, weak, they said. Sometimes I was beaten, locked up and starved. Or given menial work any true Disciple would turn up her nose at – such as filing and accounting. Kyriaki the sickly girl. Kyriaki the pen-pusher. Too frail to be a true warrior of Vader the Sith’ari. I do derive some satisfaction from the knowledge that some of the ‘star’ students have been thrown into the meat grinder and now lie in anonymous mass graves in some long-forgotten hellhole.

Looking over the paperwork, I find that the Zeltron who is supposedly an accountant and not a whore is correct about one thing: several signatures are ineligible, especially concerning withdrawals from the stock. I jot down notes as I read, trying to find a pattern. I pause when I come across a page detailing how a few tons of grain had to be destroyed due to contamination. By itself, it is not large. Nonetheless, I jot down the amount. Then it comes up again two months later – and then again: ‘Contamination’, ‘damage from insects’, a ‘wild fire’. How curious. I continue jotting down numbers, compiling a table. I’m still at an early stage, but it is starting to slowly add up. Things do not add up when I compare the ledgers to what we actually assessed in the silo.

I press a button on the communicator, hailing the Zeltron on the number he gave me before departing. “My lord?” he sounds expectant. “What is your bidding?”
“I need a list of the specimen signatures of all competent officials,” I answer imperiously. “Now.”
“Um, yes, my lord. Right away,” he says diligently. “Anything else?”
“Mineral water. Still, not sparkling,” I respond and cut the connection. It does not take long for him to arrive. The pink xenos is assiduous, I’ll give him that. He passes me the list in a thin folder and puts a bottle of water with a glass on the table.
He pours a glass for me. “Here, my lord. Is there any other way I can assist you? Have the ledgers shed any light on the disappearances?”
“I’m still studying them,” I respond vaguely, taking a sip from my glass. I gaze at him intently. “The cogitator is rather slow. Is this normal?” I do not expect him to know anything. It is all about his reaction.

“Oh, it’s an old one. We don’t get the newest machines here.”
“Never mind. Maybe it’s just updating something. On another note, it’s been mentioned a few times that crops were destroyed due to contamination. What do you mean by that?”
“Oh, I’m told it’s because of chemicals. Dominion saboteurs stop at nothing to ruin the harvest.”
“There must be many saboteurs up and about then.”
“I’m sorry; it’s not my department, my lord. I don’t have access to the security reports. The Public Force is responsible for guarding us.”
“Yes, and I’m sure it’s most diligent. Just like the Sky Base a couple miles away. You’re dismissed.” He says the usual pleasantries and departs. When I return to my ledgers, I go over the specimen signature. The specimen of the Gungan chairwoman does not match her signature in one of the reports.
((From Shakka's point of view))

I guess you were expecting Master. But now it’s me. Shakka Tiatkin. It’s my story, too, no matter how much the Vaderites would love to bury it. They don’t want us to have stories. We’re supposed to work for them until we drop dead, and then vanish without a trace. Then we’re replaced by new slaves with no memory of the past. Some of us don’t even have names – only numbers.

They bind books in Twi’lek skin and use Bothan and Zeltron hair as stuffing for furniture. Some of our skeletons are put on display like they belong to animals. I’ve seen all this. Somehow, I’m still alive – and sane, though I guess the latter’s debatable. Many good people are not. Many good people are still dying this very minute. Vrerkh was one of them. She taught everything I know. When those bastards murdered me, her last words were to tell me to live and to never forget. That one of us had to survive to tell the story the Vaderites want the world to forget.

I lived. And I watched her die. Now I serve her killer. Sometimes I hate her. It’s no longer white-hot, burning hatred, but it still there. It’s just become colder. At other times...she’s better than the rest. But she’s still one of them. But I must survive. For her; for all of us. I cannot be one of those whose bodies go up in smoke in a crematorium after being stripped of everything the greyshirted bastards can recycle. Every morning I wake up, I tell myself that I am a person, not an animal. Sometimes I think about escaping. Or imagine the space people bombing every single Vaderite to hell. It’s a nice dream.

So I have my mission handed down to me by Master. But I have other goals, too. By the time I have left the building and climbed into the speeder, it is getting dark. My first stop must be Firith’s place. I must help him. Somehow. It takes a bit for the speeder to get kicked into gear. Wonderful Humanist construction, I tell you. The best Destiny Engineering has to offer. I steer the speeder away from the silos. The first security checkpoint accepts my papers.

It doesn’t take long for me to run into another. I swear it wasn’t there when we travelled to the silos. Public Force troopers have set up a roadblock with a machine gun. There’s also a kath hound. The gunner levels the machine gun at me menacingly, while two thugs step out and approach me, commanding me to stop.

“You! Halt!” a Houk guard barks. I slow down the vehicle and come to a halt. “Papers!” he orders when he comes up to me. Quickly, I reach into my pocket and fish out the badge. But he sees the metal around my neck. “Slave not allowed to drive without Master.”
“My name’s Shakka, personal slave of Lady Kyriaki. I’m here on an assignment from my Master,” I say quickly. Breathe in, breathe out. Be docile, but don’t panic. Never panic. The Houk practically rips the badge from my hands. He’s no slave, yet he serves them. I only feel disgust. Enabler! Collaborator!
“Get out.” he commands. Quickly, I slip out of the speeder. “Turn around. Hands behind back. Don’t move.” Meanwhile, a human trooper’s closed in on us. Naturally he’s the one in charge. The Houk hands him the badge. The human does not bother to give it more than a cursory glance, then leers at me.
“Special assignment, huh? Is that code for running away? Or maybe you’re a saboteur. What are you hiding?”
“Nothing, sir,” I say quickly. “It’s part of the inspection.”

“Then let me inspect you.” Then suddenly that human bastard’s hands are roaming all over me as he proceeds to ‘frisk’ me. I hate it – this feeling of powerlessness. Meanwhile, the Houk checks the speeder with his pet kath hound. I cannot stop a pained yelp when the human grabs my lekku and yanks it hard. It bloody hurts. It takes every inch of self-control not to hit him. “I know of no secret assignment for xenos. Go back to your Master, slave.”

“My Master gave me an assignment. I have to complete it. Would you like me to ask her to verify? Then you’ll have to answer to the Supreme Leader’s emissary. And tell her why you touched her property.” I hate calling myself that, or even using her name. But I enjoy watching him squirm, as short-lived as it is.
“You threatening me, slave?” He raises his baton. Electricity crackles around it. Close enough for me to feel a zap. Don’t flinch, don’t flinch. Stand your ground. Be firm. Look that thug in the eye.
“Couple hours ago, the Supreme Leader himself received her at his mansion. He sent her here. Do you want me to call her, sir?”
“Boss, we got company,” the Houk interjects.

The human guard glares at me, then hands the badge back to me and waves me through. “Your lucky day. Get outta my sight, slave.” Quickly, I pocket the badge, get back in and turn on the engines. Only now do I let out the breath I’ve been holding. And then I see what happens to the poor bastards who come after me.

There are three of them. A Mon Calamari male and female with a little girl. They are carrying suitcases. My heart lurches when I realise that they are family and must be new arrivals. They carry everything they own.
“Whaddaya have here? Fresh fish?” the human guard sneers. “You’re new?”
“Yes, sir,” the male says. Even from a distance, he looks haggard. “Just arrived. We were told to report to administration to get assigned to a barracks. Here are our papers. This is my wife...”
The guard snatches the paper out of his hands. “I don’t want to hear your life story, fish.” He gives the papers a brief glance, then passes them over to his Houk lackey and points his baton at the suitcases. “What’s in there? Contraband?”
“Just our belongings, sir! All approved by the Commissariat.”

“Open up.” He makes a sweeping gesture and the Houk begins rummaging through the suitcases, without a care when things fall onto the ground. Finally, he holds up what looks like a violin. “Oh, look, what we got here. Who’s the musician?”
“I am,” the little girl exclaims. “I was...in the c-choir, s-sir. I love to play.”
“She is very talented,” the mother says, looking nervous.
“Play something for us.”
“Sir,” the father speaks up. “It’s been a long trip. My wife and daughter are tired. We still need to be processed. If there’s nothing else, could we please...”
“I said I want her to play,” the guard cuts him off. “After all, your wife said she’s talented.” He hands the violin to her. His other hand holds the baton.

The girl takes it with trembling hands. Her mother holds her and she starts playing. I do not know what she is playing, but it is beautiful. She has a true gift. Poor girl. I know what will come next, even before the guard rips the violin out of her hand. Then he smashes it so hard onto the ground so hard that it breaks. “This is a nice violin. You don’t need this. You xenos have no culture. You only steal from us.” Bastard.
“No, it’s mine! Please give it back.”
“It’ll make a human girl very happy.”
The little girl bursts into tears. “You monster...”
“What did you say, xenos?”
The father takes a step forward to shield the girl, but the Houk aims a pistol at him. He holds up his hands as if to pacify these thugs. “She’s just a child. It was one of the few joys she had. Leave her alone,” the mother declares angrily. The guards’ pet kath hound growls and bares its teeth.

“Aisha, calm her down,” the husband declares. “Sir, we don’t want trouble. We just want to go to our home. We’re just normal people. If there’s any we can help to move things along...”
“You think I take bribes?”
“No, sir! But you must stand watch here all day. Think of it as a...bonus. Just please, let my family pass. I’ve got some money...”
“Give it to me. And your shoes.”
“Now! Before Gaakt here discovers that you’ve been smuggling contraband.”
Quickly, the male takes off his shoes. Meanwhile, the woman has pulled her daughter away and hugged her against her chest, before the guards find an excuse to terrorise the poor thing some more. “Here, sir.”
“Now that’s better. Get moving. Remember, you’re here to work, not laze around. Darth Lachesis is here to make sure you get put through your paces.”
“The Butcher is here..,” Aisha exclaims. She’s right to be as scared as she sounds. Did the Vaderite scum feed the family lies about autonomy and freedom or do they not even bother to keep up the ruse anymore?

“Don’t worry, sir. We’ll work,” her husband interjects. Quickly, he starts packing the suitcases again. Pulled out of her shock, his wife joins him. Just before she can take what looks like a loaf of bread, the Houk snatches it away from her. She backs off and he starts munching. Then he turns to face me. “Move!” There is a loud crack when he raises his pistol and shoots into the air.

Quickly, I hit the engines and speed away. This probably won’t be their last checkpoint. I see labourers – let’s be honest, slaves without the collar – head back to town. Just in time to sink their teeth into ersatz food and grab a couple hours sleep before another day of toil in the hot sun. As I drive the speeder over the road, past tents and towards the residential barracks, I soundly hear the roar of engines on the horizon. I stop the speeder and look to the sky. Two heavy gunships are circling the settlement. They dive down, flying low. I freeze, feeling a wave of panic.

Have the Vaderites written this place off? Are they going to ‘make an example’? Then I calm down, and remember what the butcher-in-chief said earlier. They haven’t finished squeezing everything they can out of Hope Falls yet. They won’t kill us all at once. They’ll squeeze us for milk until we have nothing left, then slaughter us. Looking around, I see that non-humans all around me have stopped dead in their tracks and are looking at the sky. Some run and try to take shelter. Many look afraid. It’s what the Vaderites want. Then I hear a booming voice. It’s from a loudspeaker. My ears hurt.

“Residents of Hope Falls, do not be alarmed. A few hours ago, our forces, under the command of Darth Lachesis, repulsed a cowardly Dominion incursion en route to Hope Falls. The Jedi bombers were shot out of the sky before they could lay waste to your homes. Our brave pilots are here to protect you.” Because, you know, bomber-gunships are real helpful at shooting down other bombers.

“But you must be vigilant. The Dominion has saboteurs among you. They have told you lies about Father Eisen; they have stolen your grain; they have infiltrated your government. Keep your eyes open! Report any suspicious behaviour! Remember, Father Eisen is with you. Always!”

Finally, the noise stops. The gunships circle the street once more time, then leave. The fear lingers. Quickly, I start driving again. I know the address Firith lives at – or at least lived at. It’s my best shot to start at. A cheery sign reads ‘Welcome to the Xenos Accommodations Sector’. Sounds like a holiday resort. Guess what, it’s prefab barracks.

When I stop the speeder, I catch myself holding my nose. Frak, I’ve been spending too much time in the clean, sanitised world of the Masters – where there’s sanitation, the garbage gets collected on time by slaves and the houses are cleaned by slaves. People are watching me. Some look curious, many suspicious. A Twi’lek – my own people – looks at me with open scorn. A Gungan looks away and vanishes into an alleyway.

They see the collar, but some will have also seen me in the company of Disciples. A Vaderites’ personal slave is not trusted. I wouldn’t trust one either. Suddenly, there’s a loud bang. I turn around and see Public Force goons kicking a door down and storming in. Screams and shouts can be heard from the inside. Then I hear a young boy’s voice. “Miss, you new?” he asks in bad Basic. Turning, I see it’s a Houk with a Duros offsider.

“Um, yes, visiting a friend.”
He looks at me curiously. “Saw you in field. You came with Vaderites?” Before I can say anything, he points at my speeder. “Don’t want that unguarded. Many thieves.”
“You’re offering to watch it for me?”
“I strong. No one mess with me. Miss got cigarras?” Master was nice enough to give me some money for bribes. Not that Imperial Marks are worth much.
I get out a packet and remove two cigarras, holding them out for them to snatch. “One’s for your buddy. Take good care of my bike, and you’ll get two more.” I’m probably paying than my money’s worth, but whatever. Just look at them.
“Miss nice. We take good care,” the boy swears. His friend nods silently. Anyway, I leave them to it and head towards the concrete prefab. It’s started raining. The sound of small arms fire echoes from down the street. The house looks old and run-down. The roof looks like it might collapse. I look around, and see Public Force thugs are further down the street. Taking a deep breath, I knock on the door. Two quick knocks, then one hard one.

“I want to talk to Firith Tiatkin.”
A deep, male voice responds. “We know no Firith Tiatkin. Who are you?”
“I’m his cousin. Shakka. He’s registered here. Look, it’s urgent.”
The door opens. Before I step inside, a strong hand grabs me and pulls me in. The door slams shut. Then there’s a knife at my throat and a rough hand frisking me. A big, tough Gungan with a scar across his face is holding it. “I saw you with the Vaderites,” he hisses.
“I’m a slave. See the collar!” I exclaim. I’m getting annoyed. Droplets of water drip on my lekku. The ceiling is leaking.
“A spy, you mean.”
“I’m here to help.”
“Us or your Masters?” a third voice interjects. I look up and see a Twi’lek female stepping down the stairs. For just a moment, I see a little Twi’lek boy peek out before she shoos him away. “Taroq, put the knife away,” she tells the Gungan.
“She’s not wired. No weapons either,” he grunts. Least there’s not a knife an inch away from my throat.

“I’m Lena. Firith’s wife. You can tell your owners that he’s not here anymore. He got sent to tent town. We’re good workers; we’re not involved with anything he’s doing. We know nothing.” She hides it, but I don’t miss the brief flicker on her face. It’s fear.
More gunshots outside. Right on cue. “My owner is here to...look into why Hope Falls isn’t meeting its quotas.” Frak, I shouldn’t have started that way. Kyriaki is better at this talking shit.
“Quotas dreamt up by greyshirt bureaucrats who just want us to starve,” Taroq scoffs. “We know what the verdict’s going to be. The jack-boots are already kicking doors down.”
“And if you want to survive, you’ll hear me out, ok? Look, the Party bigshot the Vaderites forced on you is trying to shift blame to you – us. They’ve already locked up the chairman. But he’s on thin ice. My master wants me to...find evidence of corruption among the bigshots.”
“Your owner is Darth Lachesis? She needs no excuse to slaughter our kind. They call her the Butcher, you know,” Lena interjects, like she’s lecturing a child.
“It’s not her. It’s another Vaderite in her entourage. Lady Kyriaki.”
“Someone unimportant then.”
“She has old Eisen’s ear,” I insist. “He invited her to his villa and sent her here personally. And,” I take a breath, “ she may be able to get some people out. Take them somewhere less crap.”
“A kindly Sith. I don’t buy it. And you’re stupid if you.” I don’t blame you, Taroq.
“Why would she do this?”

This is not the moment to give a speech about how Kyriaki is a kind slaver who happens to be better than the rest. If a slave told me that, I’d call it bollocks and think they’ve been brainwashed. Because that’s what it is. She isn’t good. At the end of the day, she’s one of them. “Status. Influence. She gets to make her mark, the Vaderites get to pretend everything is dandy in Hope Falls. It doesn’t matter why. What matters is that I’ve got family here and I don’t want them to die because Lachesis just decided to murder people at random and leave even less food for you.”

Taroq does not take his eyes off me. “I don’t trust her.”
“Neither do I, but it’s not up for us to decide alone. You’ll meet the house committee. Make your case. If they think you’re a provocateur, you won’t live to see dawn.” The stairs creak with every climb. More water drips down. Then I almost trip over a Rodian sleeping in the corridor. Wherever I look, the rooms are packed.
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(Kyriaki POV)

“Raise the banner! The ranks tightly closed!
The Disciples march with calm, steady step!
Leading the struggle for mankind's salvation!"

We – that is a class of acolytes and I – sing as we run across the wasteland under the burning hot sun. My heart is pounding; my limbs ache. I am thirsty and covered in sweat. I can feel the heat of the sand all over me.
We are all in full combat gear. The weight of it feels heavy on my shoulders, weighing me down. Breathe in, breathe out. I cannot stop. Chanting as one, we sing the Adras Kasidiaris Song.

“Comrades, shot by the Jedi and the Vong.
March in spirit within our ranks!
We're of their blood, and spirit of their spirit."

Breathe in, breathe out. I stagger and force myself to carry on.
“Need a moment to catch your breath, Kyri?” Markos asks mockingly. “I guess your template was just that flawed.”
Do not back down. “Funny how the Jedi cloned her after she burnt her way through their ranks,” I counter. I call upon the Force, trying to pour energy into my tired limbs.
“Yes, and you’re not her. Just a clone. An unnatural copy of the the real thing. Maybe you should stick to bean-counting.”
“Frak off, Markos. You’re just jealous because she beat you in sorcery.” That is Nikolai, coming to my defence. It is sweet – and foolish.
“Oh, look, it’s the knight in shining armour. The headmaster’s boy.”
“Come on, Markos, a clone’s not worth our time. There’s no shame in admitting you’re defective, Kyriaki. The fatherland will reward you,” Lydia interjects.

“Why are you lot dawdling?! Get moving!” an instructor thunders. Then my body suddenly spasms when bolts of lightning strike me. I shriek in pain. I am rewarded with more lightning. “Are you sheep or a Disciple? The Force will give you everything if you’re strong enough!”
Markos and Lydia take off. They are soon close to the head of the pack. The Force is strong in them. They burn as hot as a furnace. With me, it is but a sliver of the real thing. But I must persevere. I will. I see Nikolai look at me with concern. Nay, it must be pity. I detest the sight. “Don’t punish yourself like this. Let me in. I can boost you,” he offers.
“No,” I shut him down firmly. “I will not falter.” I grit my teeth and run. My frail body must not fail me. My body begs me to stop. My lungs choke for air and I cough. The instructors yell at us to sing louder.

“Clear the streets for the grey battalions,

Clear the streets for the Disciples!
Millions are looking upon the Imperial banner full of hope,

The day of freedom and of bread dawns.”

It is as we run up the hill that dizziness overcomes me. My vision is getting blurry. I struggle to maintain focus. My chest tightens, flaring up in pain, and I wheeze. It hurts. Pain overwhelms my mind. Oxygen no longer seems to reach my lungs. It is impossible for me to continue running. It all works its way up to a crescendo, and I fall.

I do not know how much time passes till I awake. When I do, the landscape has shifted. I find myself in a damp, cold cell. I feel something heavy and metallic around my neck. Do not panic. Maintain control. Do not show you are afraid. I try to move, and feel heavy shackles. My wrists and ankles hurt. I realise I have been tied to a board.

“Master, she’s awake,” a guard says. Everyone seems to be wearing a mask. Suddenly a bright light is switched on. I recoil, but a guard grabs me. I try to draw upon my power, but an electrical shock surges across my neck.
“The Force is with the strong. The elect,” Headmaster Andronikos Thalakes declares. The voice sounds metallic, but I recognise it well enough. “Tell me, young one, how many Imperial Marks does a citizen suffering from hereditary defects cost the community?”
Breathe in, breathe out. “Sixty thousand, Master. I’m not defective. I am a Disciple. I...”
I get a baton rammed into my face. While I reel, someone places a cloth on my face. It completely covers my mouth and nose. By the time I feel it, water is being poured all over my face. I cannot breathe. I cannot breathe. Then the cloth is removed. I cough violently, and try to breathe.

“You are not one of us. You are a race traitor, just like your template. Where are the space people striking from? How did they murder our beloved Supreme Leader? How do their ships traverse the stars?”
Despite the cold, I am bathed in sweat. I cannot think straight. “I don’t know...I’m not with them. I’m...” I struggle, and bite the hand that tries to force the cloth onto my face. I taste blood, and then I am bombarded by a cascade of water. I try to hold my breath, but then I have to exhale – and inhale. The wet cloth is tight against my nostrils, like like it had been clamped all over my face.
I am flooded with panic. My pulse is racing. I try to fight the wave of nausea and fear. It is futile. I feel like being smothered. “Your thoughts betray you. Every night, you gaze at the stars? Why? Do you yearn for the return of the race traitors? Does your template whisper orders to you in your dreams? Our your makers?”
I lose track of time. Eventually everything turns black. When I awake with a start, the Headmaster is sitting on my stomach. His weight bears down upon me. I vomit all the water from my stomach. It pours out of mouth and all opening on my face.

I feel a sharp pressure inside my skull. Another Disciple in the room is trying to force entry. I do not have the strength to push them out. I can only take the pain and try to endure as the white-hot needles force their way into my mind. Withdraw to a place where they cannot hurt me. “She knows nothing, Master,” a voice says. It sounds female.
“Then she is of no use to us. The weak must be weeded out.”
They undo the bonds tying me to the bench and force me up. “No, no, I can be of use to the Disciples.” I vomit more water. “The Supreme Leader...” Somehow I manage not to pass out when lightning crawls over my body. Everything seems to hurt.
“Do you really think he cares about a racial mongrel?”
“My template came from the stars. I have her knowledge...”

“Humanist science does not need xenos lies.” My head hits something hard. I taste blood on my lips. They force a hood over my head and I am dragged out. Fear washes over me. No, I cannot panic. This cannot be the end. Nonetheless, it seizes me like a vice. I can barely focus on my surroundings. All I know is that I have been dragged through a corridor and then we are outside. Cool air brushes against my bruised skin.

I am hauled into what I believe is a gunship, then the roar of engines and rotors hammers my ears. We are taking off. I hear the howl of the wind. “When your limb has gangrene, you cut it off. Know that I take no joy in this, young one. Your tainted blood is not your fault. But only by cleansing itself of the soiled that can mankind can achieve its destiny,” the headmaster says over the roar of the wind.

Then I hear someone cock a gun.
No, no.
Despina was right. How foolish of me. To think I could triumph in the beasts’ den.
Don’t beg. Go out of this world with some shred of dignity.
I brace myself.
I think of a twin I’ve never met.
There is a crack of a gunshot, and I am in freefall.
And land onto the hard ground.
Blood streams down my skull. My head hurts.
It hurts...I am alive.
The hood is pulled from my head. My heart thunders inside my chest as I look around. I am lying next to the gunship. We have not taken off. I have not been shot.

The Headmaster looms over me. “I have been merciful today. Prove to me that you can rise above your debased origins. You won’t get another chance.” Then he throws a key for my collar to the ground. It is a couple metres away from me. He walks away, and I have to crawl towards the key. With my hands still restrained, I catch the key with my teeth.
I am exhausted, and in pain. But I am alive. The Headmaster will regret choosing humiliation rather than death. So will those students who scorn me. The debt will be paid. It is a struggle, but I manage to unlock my collar. The Force flows back to me – and sets me free.
On the next day I head to class. My face has burns and purple bruises. My body hurts. The doctor would not give me painkillers. Students are already up and about in the corridor. Among them I find Nikolai as well as Markos, who seems to be engaged in some sort of conversation with his posse. When he looks at me, he smirks. “Look who’s here – the clone. Did you beg your father to spare her, Nikolai?”
“Honestly, I don’t know how you can live with yourself,” Lydia says, “I mean, with the knowledge that you’re screwed up inside. Someone strong would’ve put an end to her wretched existence for the good of all.”

“Both of you, back off,” Nikolai begins but I cut him off.
“Talking, talking – it’s all you’re good for. One would think you’ve mistaken this for the academy of senators, not that of Disciples of Vader.” Some of Markos’ posse laugh. They immediately cease when he glowers at them. Simple-minded creatures.
“You mock me, clone? You’re a mongrel – your blood is probably contaminated by xenos filth. That’s why the Force is so faint in you, tankie. You come from a tank, and I come from pure human stock. My father tore down a Jedi Temple by himself, my grandfather fought in Furcht’s vanguard. I was already fighting rebel scum while Achilles had you whipped in front of his court.” He points his blade at me. Close enough that I can almost kiss the steel. Nikolai draws his own blade.

I don’t flinch. “Thank you for so assiduously illustrating my point, Random. You’ve never had to struggle. It was all simply handed to you. All these things you’re so proud of, they’re like millstones around your neck – weighing you down.” I cannot match most of them in raw power. Their auras are bright, whereas mine is faint. But I just need to apply the right bit of pressure at the right spot in the ceiling. After all, the building is oh-so-old. Markos narrowly doges the lamp post that comes crashing down. My head hurts. It is worth it.

“Imbecile, do you really think your parlour tricks frighten me?”
“Dear Markos, I don’t know what you’re talking about. These walls are old. You need to pay more attention. Randoms bleed as red as clones.”
Professor Konstantina Kalchev arrives and the students go to their seats. “You’ll rue the day the Master spared you.” Markos makes a cutting motion with his hand and turns away.
“I wouldn’t shut my eyes at night. You never know what might happen,” Lydia leaves me that as a parting shot.

“To think that those two are supposed to teach the xenos how to act civilised. You’ve been holding out on me, Kyri,” Nikolai says in quietly. “I didn’t know you had a humorous bone in your body.” His chuckle is without mirth. “Look, about what...”
“It wasn’t you. You’re not to blame for your sire’s deeds.”
“No, I’m not, but I just stood by and let it happen. Is that what a true Disciple of the Sith’ari does? Cower?”
“We do what we must to survive. I should thank your father. He taught me a valuable lesson, though not the intended.”
He looks at me like I’ve gone insane. If only it were so. “Sometimes you creep me out.”

The professor – an elderly lady – calls the class to order. We all arise to perform the Humanist Salute. “Darth Malitia said that the human youth must be ‘swift as a kath hound, as tough as leather, and as hard as durasteel.’ But the Great One did not want you to be mere brutes. Just as you hone your bodies, you must hone your mind. Only then can we prove victorious in the struggle that has been waged in history since time immemorial. Many centuries ago, our great forebear saw the truth when the xenos Plague ravaged the galaxy. We owe our existence to the fact that he had the strength to say ‘no more’. Without him, mankind would be no more. Monsters would have dominion over our world. But the most gifted of you will not just regurgitate, you will strive to surpass and finish their labours.”

She makes a pause. “The topic of today’s essay in Humanist Studies is: ‘The Force is the key determinant of a being value’s to the Fatherland. Discuss.’ Get started. Don’t try to cheat. If you use telepathy, I will know and you won’t like the consequences. You may only use the paper that has been provided. Ineligible answers will not be given consideration.” The professor’s assistants go around handing out papers. Some students immediately start writing. Lydia is one of them. I take a few moments to think, brooding over the question. The obvious answer is that the statement is correct. The Force is a gift to the elect. Without it, you are fodder.

But no, there is more to it. It’s a trick. Xenos are inferiors, no matter what. Forceful half-xenos cannot be part of the ethnos, no matter their power. The most mundane human, while subservient to a Disciple, is above a xenos. Because the Force belongs to mankind alone. The xenos bred with humans to steal their divine fire. Glorious Conflict says that mankind is the only civilisation-builder. The key determinant is race. And so I start writing. I throw in as many pertinent quotes from scripture that I can remember.

A day later I am called into the professor’s office. “Ah, Acolyte. Enter, sit,” she beckons me.
“Praise Vader!”
She returns the salute. I sit down, folding my hands in my lap. “I’m quite pleased with your essay. Your understanding of Gobineos’ theories has some flaws, but you grasped the seed of the question.”
“Thank you, Master.”
“Don’t thank me. I’m stating facts, not giving you a compliment.”
“Yes, Master. I’m aware my entrance into the Order has been...unconventional, so I study hard.”

“Unconventional is one way of putting it. A clone – of a race traitor from the stars at that – created by Jedi, then handed down from one master to the next like a bad penny. A frail girl with no lineage, only her will. Some would say she’s just waiting to find a more congenial master.”
“I am a Disciple. I see all you say as reason to struggle harder. Is it not the Sith way to dedicate everything to achieve a goal, regardless of the obstacle. My body may not be the strongest, but I have the will.”
She smiles thinly. “I am curious to see how far it gets you.” With that she passes the essay over. I can various marks and some comments on the first page.
“I’ve one request.” She nods, and I continue. “If I understand correctly, you’re offering a specialised class in alchemy. I’m interested. I wish to learn the deeper mysteries.”

“Is it just a coincidence that it happens to overlap with many of the forced marches?” she asks wryly. “You’ve impressed me, so by all means get out of the sweaty hustle of the herd. In the end, you’ll have to fight in the Kaggath regardless and then it makes no difference whether you get your strength from sorcery or running in circles, only that you win.”

The memories come rushing back in solitude. I liked of Professor Kalchev, as far as that was possible. Nikolai was fond of me. Too much. Under different circumstances, I might have grown fond of him. Or maybe he was just enamoured by the idea of being the noble Humanist knight who slays the Jedi dragon. Standing up for the sickly girl made him feel good about himself. Kind, foolish Nikolai bought into all the propaganda about chivalry and honour. When he took a look in the mirror, it broke him. His final act of rebellion against a cruel patriarch. He took the easy way out.

Ironic, that the Headmaster dedicated everything to moulding us in his image, and yet he lost his son and it was a racial mongrel that graduated with honours. It is a thing to live for –outwitting, out-talking and out-thinking the lot of them. Sometimes also killing them. It is the slow knife that cuts the deepest.

The ledgers continue to be opaque. The closer I get to painting a picture, the more it is obscured. Shakka’s tracer programme has continued running. Or at least I assume it is. While the cogitator hums loudly, I get up from my chair and walk towards one of the shelves. Climbing up the ladder, I reach out to grab a new folder. Per the signature, the transports of contaminated grain to the crematorium should be recorded in it. The folder feels unusually light in my hand. Some papers slip out.

There is barely any paper in it. Curious, curiouser. Then suddenly my vision grows blurry. No, not now! My head feels like it is spinning, as if my surroundings are moving. I sway, lose my balance and fall from the ladder. I land upon the floor. Fortunately, my fall is cushioned by a carpet, muffling the sound.

I silently curse my weak, frail body. I take a breath as I regain my focus. At least I did not faint in public. I cannot allow my body to fail me like this. It can be fatal. Looking up, I see the camera. A flash of light of coalesces around my calm, and for a moment, the device experiences some static.
“Do you need help, lord?” one of the guards calls from outside.
Great. I put on my haughtiest tone. “No, and I did not give you permission to address me. Focus on your duties.”

But as my hands touch the floor, I notice something is...off about it. Now I am very curious. Stepping away, I pull it back. The dust looks disturbed at the edge. And I find a hatch. It will not yield to my grip when I pull it with my hands, but it opens up for the pull of the Force. A ladder leads down into the darkness. Looking down, I take a picture with my ‘pad, then quickly close the hatch and pull the carpet back over it.

I will look into this. For now, I get up and take the folder. It is empty. The few pages are all but ineligible. Walking back to my desk, I call the Zeltron. He answers promptly. Maybe he is sitting right in front of his communicator on the off-chance that I will call him. Good xenos. “My lord, how can I help?”
“The folder for the transport logs of the contaminated grain is empty. I trust you have an explanation.”
“That is...strange. Not that I doubt you, lord,” he says quickly. “Everything was in order during our last check. We keep a log of everyone who had access to sensitive files.”
“Well, where can I find that log?”
“It’s digitalised. Wait, I’ll get you the info.” He rattles off the information. I tell him to stay on the line, then click on the folder, while catching a glimpse on the status of the tracer programme. What a surprise, I am stonewalled. “There’s no file.” In truth, it is there, but I get an error report. I suppose it has been corrupted. Shakka’s datapad is still plugged in, so I transfer it.

“Inconceivable, th-there should be a backup, lord. I’ll have to call our IT specialist. I’ll get it done.”
“See to it,” I cut of his grovelling. “How far is the crematorium?”
“A few miles, lord. Would you like to visit it now? Should I make arrangements?”
“No. As you were,” I state flatly and cut the connection. He is either very good at pretending to be an obsequious pen-pusher, or his behaviour is genuine. I do not believe the xenos are being honest in their dealings. It would be an absurd assumption. They are undoubtedly stealing from the State. But they cannot make such a large amount disappear. The convenient answer is seldom the correct one.

I do not make much headway studying these documents before I get a call. “Yes?” I do not bother hide the terseness.
“Lady Kyriaki, I hope I’m not interrupting.”
“Just looking for your lost grain.”
“Ah, have you had any success? Anything the Public Force can help you with?”
“If I need you to chop someone’s hands off, I’ll be sure to contact you. By the way, has Nass talked yet?”
“The interrogation is ongoing as we speak. She’ll be singing soon.”
“Of course. But you didn’t call me just to ask a question you know I won’t be answering.”

“Straight to the point, just the way I like it. I understand you’ll be staying with us for a while, so it’s only proper that I provide what hospitality I can offer. A few of my boys are going to have a get-together at my house later tonight. It’s not a banquet at Sophiahall, but I believe it’ll be worth your while. We’ll have good food, drinks, some music.”

I am already missing the peace and quiet. Is it too much to ask? But I sense opportunity. I will have to make sure no one tampers with my files. Then I see a new window pop up on the cogitator’s screen. The tracer programme has found an ‘IP address’. Shakka will look into this when she returns. I write it down, then close window. “Thank you for the invitation, Major. I’ll attend.”
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Welcome to Awkward City. Present population: Two, since Taroqg has left us to keep watch. This building isn’t a place to live – or even to exist. It’s a place too slowly rot away in until there’s nothing left but some skin on a skeleton. Some of the people I pass are well on their way there. The rooms are tiny and packed. On average I see six to seven people in one room. The lucky have cots and would have to share them. The real unlucky have the floor in the corridor. Lena pulls me away when I linger for too long. What can I really do? Feed them promises from my owner? What does she care? But I have to do...something.

“So, Lena, you’re Firit’s wife? Congrats, sis-in-law, I guess. The kid’s yours?”
She nods. “Alask. I’d hold your congratulations. Being sent to tent town’s the first step to being blacklisted. I’ll be under pressure to...distance myself,” she sounds weary. “He’d tell me to leave him.”
“Sounds like Firith. When, um, everything went to hell, we looked out for each other as kids. The hope that somewhere, a part of my family’s still alive and we’d be together again one day is what’s kept me sane. These aren’t the circumstances I’d want though.”
“You mean our Human masters march into our prison to make our life even more of a hell than it already is, and you’re with them?” she asks pointedly.

“I’m not with them,” I respond sharply. “See the collar? Know what it does when you press the button? Fry me.”
“No, you’re not,” she says after a moment. “But you’re the personal slave of a Disciple who, as you say, dines at the table of the Supreme Leader. You’re protected.” Her words sting more than they should because it’s true. “We’re expendable labourers. Maybe this is a ploy, or maybe you honestly believe what you say. But this isn’t the first time a Vaderite has used one of us to lull us into thinking they’re less terrible than the rest.”
“You think I’m a sellout? I’m one of you.”
“I’m ready to listen. That’s all. Choose your words carefully.”

A retort’s on my lips. I swallow it. A Zabrak mother is feeding her crying baby and trying to soothe it. I wince when I see how thin the little one is. A little boy is huddled close to them. I stop, take out my last ration bar and pass it over. It stings to see them like this. Once, I was like that. We got eight hundred calories a day in Prosperity Quarter – sometimes less, whenever the Vaderites felt like we weren’t working hard and dying fast enough. I know what it’s like to go hungry for days, to steal in order to survive. Now I don’t starve anymore because I’m the pet slave of a Vaderite.

More rain slips through the roof and pelts a dirty window. As I pass the latter, I catch a glimpse of what’s going outside in the shanty-town. Rain soaks the streets – empty save for the armoured, green groundcars of the Public Force, the Vaderite thugs who use them and the poor souls they’re dragging out of their homes.

I see a Gungan make a break for it and run for an alleyway. Then there is the crack of a gunshot and he crumples to the ground. With brutal blows from their batons and whips, the Vaderites drag the rest into the transport. Lena’s noticed I’ve stopped. “You see, they say we have autonomy here, but it is no different from the ghetto, she says. “Come on.” The door to what I guess is the committee looms ahead of us. I hear muffled voices from outside.

“Word is the Chairwoman got arrested.”
“The appeaser. No loss.”
“Not like she had many options.”
“Other than smiling and selling out?”
“You think whoever comes next will be any better?”
“No, but then I’m not sure there’ll be a tomorrow for us. I’ll level with you - even the PF thugs are spooked.”
“It’ll blow over. They want to squeeze us more. We got to keep our head down. Last thing we want is people panicking.”
“They got good reason to. This is how it starts when the humans decide to slaughter the bantha.”
The voices fall silent when Lena knocks the door, and opens up. A Rodian female and Mon Calamari male are sitting at a table. The Rodian looks at me with her large, pupil-less eyes. “Who are you?”
The Mon Calamari glances right at Lena. “Is she cleared?”
“She’s Firith’s cousin. The personal slave of a Disciple in Lachesis’ escort. A Lady Kyriaki,” Lena explains.
“Don’t know how much time we have, so I’ll cut to the chase. The Vaderites didn’t just arrest Nass, they’re halving your rations and doubling your quotas.”
“That’s insane. We’d starve,” the Rodian exclaims. “We barely manage on the food we have. Do they really want to lose all their labourers?” she looks to the Mon Calamari and Lena.
“I imagine they’ll be announcing this soon, so you weren’t just sent by your Master to tell us. We don’t lead the whole community. So you are you here?” the Mon Calamari asks me bluntly. He looks older than the others. There is a scar across his face.

I sit down on the chair. “You know how this goes. The Vaderites set impossible quotas, you don’t meet them, they look for a scapegoat. I know their quotas are too absurd to meet, but I figure people have been stealing stuff.”
“’We don’t steal. No one in our house does,” the Mon Calamari says sharply. “I can’t speak for other ones.”
“Look, I’m from Prosperity. Life’s not so different there. The Vaderites barely leave you any food, so got to do what you got to do not to starve. But you couldn’t get your hands on such large amounts. My Master thinks it’s someone...among the humans who’s pulling the strings. She wants assistance...and in return she can...help you.”

“Or this is just provocation?” the Rodian counters. “I’m sorry, but we don’t have any information to offer.”
“Curious that Firith’s cousin should come to question us,” the Mon Calamari remarks.
“What do you mean?” I demand. What’s he done? Is he involved in something? Something that’s bound to get him hurt?
“Go ask him.”
“Firith’s a good man and a hard worker,” Lena says firmly.
“We shouldn’t be discussing the merits of residents. And we should be going through the official channels. Would a Disciple really use a slave to ask us to denounce a member of the human administration?” the Rodian asks rhetorically. “We should talk to Gorn. There’s no point to this.”

“You don’t trust me, I get that. I wouldn’t either. But do you think Eisen sends...”
Then things go to hell. “Public Force!” an alarmed voice yells from outside. Then I hear shouts and the distant sound of jackboots thumping against the ground.
“Shit.” I curse.
“No one run,” Lena orders. “It won’t help.” I guess the obvious question on your mind is why we don’t run? Why don’t we fight back? Where could we run to? With what could we fight back? Making a last stand sounds heroic, but guess what, you end up dead. And the poor bastards who still live are the ones who pay the price. What looks heroic is often just a nice word for being selfish. By the time we are out of the meeting room, the corridor is already filled with people.

“Everyone, stay calm! Keep order.” the Rodian calls out. Public Force thugs are man-handling frightened residents – children included – and forcing them up against the wall.
“Corporal, take your team and search the building. All of you, assemble outside!” one of the thugs barks, raising her pistol. “Where’s the grain you stole?” she demands, pointing the weapon at the Rodian.
“We don’t have any, ma’am. We don’t steal.”
“What’s your name, xenos?”
“Bola Daveedo, ma’am. Member of the neighbourhood committee.”
The thug pistol-whips her. “Then no more lies, committee member. Have you had any contact with the Army of Ashla?” The what?
“Don’t know what that is.”
“Out with y’all.”

People are being dragged out of their rooms into the rain. Some are so old or weak that they need help walking. And there are so many children among them. When residents are not fast enough, the thugs help with batons and the butts of their rifles. Lena’s little boy walks alongside her. “Momma, I’m scared.”
“Ssh, little one. It’ll be alright,” she soothes. She knows it’s not true.
“Where’s daddy?”
“He’ll come. Don’t worry. Just stay calm. Don’t...don’t provoke them.”
“Right, who else is in the ‘committee’. Step forward!” the head thug – a Sergeant or something – barks.
“Aramgir,” the Mon Calamari says.
“Mum,” the little boys pleads, trying to hold on to Lena’s hand.
“I need you to be strong, little one.” She gives him a kiss on the cheek, then she lets go of his hand and steps forward. “Lena Fiatkin,” she says. “How can we help you, ma’am?”

“I know this one,” one of the Public Force thugs hisses. It looks like a sentient avian, with a long quill on the back of its head and a jagged beak. No idea what the species is. “The mate of the troublemaker.”
Frak, I step forward. “Ma’am, I’m here by the order of Lady Kyriaki. These people are assisting in her investigation into the black market thefts.” She glares at me. Quickly I continue before she can shut me up. “Here’s my badge. I can call her for you.”
“You’re so red. It’s said Twi’leks start white, then get redder the more human meat they eat. You must’ve gourged yourself, right? Or your parents did.”
“Ma’am, the Master will be dis...”

“I don’t give a rat’s arse about what a slave says. Anyone who’s working for the Dominion, anyone who’s stolen grain, or who knows someone who has, step forward now.” Uniformed thugs exit the building, with a few stragglers who tried to hide in tow.
“We found some contraband, Sarge,” one of them reports. What’s the contraband, you may ask? A few potatoes, an apple and some wheat.
For a moment there is silence. Then someone in the crowd yells. “It’s her! Lena TiatkinI She and her husband are criminals. I’ve seen them hide grain!” All eyes turn to the denouncer. It is a Zabrak.
“You’re a liar,” the Rodian committee member – Dodian – hisses.

“Take her,” the sergeant orders. “And her, too,” she adds, indicating Dodian. Immediately PF thugs fan out. They escort the informant out before anyone can attack her, and move to grab Dodian and Lena.
“Leave my mum alone!” Lena’s son cries out.
“Give her a moment at least,” I yell, though the thugs do not care. They have guns and batons drawn, but I step towards her. “I’ll tell Firith. I’ll tell my Master. We’ll get you out. I...”
“Don’t,” Lena cuts me off. I recognise the look in her eyes. Don’t make promises you can’t keep. She is clearly fighting back tears. Bending down, she hugs her kid. “Jela, you have to strong. I have to go, but...I’ll see you again. I love you.”
“I love you too, momma...” Then she is dragged away. He looks like he is about to rush after her, but Aramgir holds him back. “Don’t! You think your mother wants you to get yourself killed? You have to survive.” he says quietly.
“Everyone, stay calm. Don’t do anything rash, and whatever happens, stick together.” Lena calls out as she is dragged into the groundcar.
Dodian follows her. “One day the true story of Hope Falls will be written,” she growls, then mutters something in Rodian that I don’t get, but assume is an expletive. A few more inhabitants are grabbed by the Public Force. Like Dodian and Lena, they are cuffed and forced into the groundcar.
“PF interrogators will be getting to the bottom of this. We’ll be back. And you, slave, don’t try to interfere in PF business again. Sith Master or not, we don’t play nice with uppity slaves. And you," the Sergeant points at Aramgir, "don't think you're off the hook, fish. We're watching you, too."

"I know all too well what I can expect," Aramgir grits his teeth. "Now please depart."
"If anyone of you runs, the whole lot of you'll be punished." With that the Sergeant enters the groundcar. Soon they have sped away. My shoulders slump.
“You heard Dodian and Lena,” Aramgir says stoically. “Go back to your hoes. It’s curfew time. No one leaves the building. Stay inside...say your prayers.” Jela is sobbing.
“They’re going to kill us – one by one!” someone shouts. The crowd is too densely packed for me to make out who.
“If one of us runs, everyone suffers,” Aramgir states. His voice brokers no contradiction. Slowly, the crowd disperses. Many faces are downcast.
“We’re not done yet,” I insist, stepping towards Aramgir.
“I think we are. You’ve just seen how things are done. You can’t do anything.”

Probably not. “You’re not the only one who’s seen what a Vaderite purge looks like, so cut the crap. You said I should ask Firith about the disappearances. What do you mean?”
His bulbous eyes narrow. “Ask him about Barah. He’ll know what you mean.”
“What’s going to happen to momma? Will I see her again? Where’s father?” Jela looks at both of us pleadingly. My heart goes out to him. What can I say? Your mother will be back soon? We’ll stop the bad men? This world is ruled by monsters. Doesn’t matter. He’s a kid. He’s Firith’s son.
I bend down so we’re on the same level. “My name’s Shakka. I’m your dad’s cousin. I won’t lie...things aren’t looking good. But...I’ll do what I can get to your mother out.”
“They’re going to kill her, aren’t they?” Those young eyes have seen far too much.
“I’ll do what I can to make sure you get her back, but in the meantime I need you to listen to Mr Aramgir over here and stay out of trouble. She’s being strong for you, you got to be strong for her, okay?”
He wipes some tears away and nods. “Won’t they hurt you too if you do something? You’re a slave,” he blurts. “Sorry,” he adds.

“Don’t worry about me. I’m tougher than I look.” He’s smart enough to look sceptical, but nods.
“Come on, Jela, go back inside,” Aramgir orders a bit gruffly. Looking at me, he says: “He’ll be among his people. I’ll watch over him.” The implications are obvious. “I’ll talk to the council, for what good it’ll do. Good luck,” he adds after Jela has headed for the door.
When I get back to where I left the speeder, the boys are gone. The speeder’s still there, but it turns out someone ripped out the engines. I really, really hope that the boys did it and got away. But...I don’t believe it.

Then I hear screams. Human thugs are dragging a chained Twi’lek across the street. She tries to fight back, but they just beat and stab her until they reach a lamp post. The howling mob takes pictures as she is hung from the post by the chain. They howl as they watch her struggle. My hands clench into fists. They should die; they should all die. I should do something. I should make them pay. And yet, I can’t. I feel so pathetic when I turn away.
Sorry, sister. As I slip into an alley, I hear someone yell: "There's another one of the wormheads!" I run. The screams and jeers stay with me till I’ve left the block. There’s an old groundcar on the side of the road. I really hope it belongs to the monsters. There’s no one around. Without further ado, I hotwire the groundcar and take off as fast as I can.
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“They’re all liars here...and everyone better than you.” That’s what Despina told me. When I think of the cage that was Achilles’ palace, I remember gauntlets, daggers, nails, whips and scissors. I remember screaming until blood flooded my mouth. I remember desperately calling out at night for someone – anyone – to come and save me. But there are no heroes. There is no justice in the world, not unless we make it. So I saved myself.

Lies and courtesies are my weapons now. How long can someone hide their true face behind a mask until the mask becomes the woman? The change is barely perceptible. But one day when you pull the mask from your face, you stare into the mirror and find that the two have become one. And you no longer mind that it is not your face or your voice anymore.

My work here is done for today. The ledgers are locked away in a safe. It took a while to get them all here. Finally, it slams shut. “The code is too simple. It is possible to change it?”
“Easily done. I’ll show you,” the Zeltron says. He is good as his word, and has enough sense to look away when I put in the new code.
“I will retrieve them tomorrow,” I inform him. “I expect every single page to be there.”
“Understood, lord. No one gets access to it. And our IT man will have the backup file by then.”
“Good. Because if anything is missing, I will kill you.”
“Yes, lord.”
“Tell me, Iloski. Do you have family here?”
“A daughter – she’s still young. My wife passed away a few years ago.”
“Of natural causes?”
He looks a bit uneasy. “There was an...epidemic. Not the Plague,” he clarifies quickly, “but the administration had to impose a quarantine. It was the right decision. She followed all the rules but, well, others didn’t and she got sick.”
“I take it she was not on the priority list for treatment?”
“There were just... normal shortages, my lord,” he insists. It sounds rehearsed. “The Imperium is at war. The doctors did what they could.”
“You’re an obedient worker, and you do not want to say anything that could jeopardise your position – or your life of your child, for that matter. Do you love your daughter?”

Now his voice is firm and he meets my gaze. “Yes, very. Very much.”
“Then you want a future for her. Something better than toiling in the fields until she collapses from exhaustion. You don’t want her to waste away in the muck and filth. Someone who’s worked so hard to rise above the riff-raff wants better. So listen carefully. There are going to some grave changes. There has been a call for extreme solutions. Past merits no longer matter.” I pause for a moment to let that sink in.
“The question is, how many will be caught in the net before the culprit is found? For her sake, you’ll think very hard about every unusual incident in your office. Every truckload of wheat that was declared contaminated after the most superficial of inspections. All the grain that inexplicably vanished in transit. Do you understand?”
“Y-yes...my lord.”
“Good. Then I can protect you. Keep your eye on the goal. And when you find something...”
“You’ll be the first and only to know,” he finishes.

I pass him a piece of paper with my contact data. “Call me on this number.” Then I turn and leave. It is time to attend the party of a camp manager. At this hour the building seems deserted. As I stride through the corridor, my comm beeps. “Yes?”
“They took her – Lena. We were talking – like you told me to – and they stormed in. They’re lynching people in the streets. Just for fun.” Shakka speaks as fast as a machine gun fires.
“Focus. Who is this Lena?”
“Firith’s wife. One of the local reps. I went out to make enquiries, like you told me to! Visited the barracks he lives in. Except he got thrown into tent city. I told them you could help...and now she’s in a PF torture chamber. She’s got a kid. He’s just a lil boy. And they might nab him, too. The kids there are so thin. Just skin on bones.”
“I see.”
“You see, Master?! A woman was lynched right before my eyes. Her killers took pictures. They laughed about it. I could do nothing. You know it’s wrong, Master.”
“Remember who you’re speaking to, slave,” I emphasise sharply cutting through her indignation with a sharp knife. She should know better than this. I clamp down on the urge to reprimand her properly, noticing that I have passed a minion, who’s looking at me strangely. Great. “You heard nothing. You will forget you saw me and leave.”
“I heard nothing. I will forget I saw you and leave,” he says robotically, then walks away with the gait of someone pulled on strings.
Fortunately, a restroom is close by for me to find some privacy inside it. I look the toilet door behind me. At least it is clean. Is it bugged? I flush the toilet before speaking into the comm. “Your anger is unproductive. People will die – it is inevitable. You want to keep casualties down? You want to save the people who matter to you? Then get a hold of yourself. What are you doing now?”

She mutters something in her native tongue. It sounds guttural and vile, like their language tends to. “Is it safe to go into details?”
The walls have ears. “No.”
“Following up on a lead. May have to maintain radio silence for a while.” There is a pause. “The PF stole my speeder. I took a car. May have belonged to one of them.”
“Don’t embarrass me by getting pulled over for exceeding speed limit regulations.” There is no mirth in my tone. “I’ll sort this out. Make sure they know to back off. You still have your badge?”
“Yes, but they don’t respect it much. May come for me anyway.”
“Don’t let anyone take it. Have they hurt you?”
“I can handle it.” Her tone is grim. Focused. Good.
“If they do, they will suffer. Avoid them where possible. Give me the number of the barracks where this happened. And the child.” She does so “I won’t be available for the next few hours. By the way, your efforts here were helpful. We shall speak later.”

“Yes, Master.” I cut the connection and head out. The air is cool on my skin when I step outside the building. Night has fallen upon Hope Falls. It is raining. I see few Public Force guards at the silos, but many troopers wearing the uniform of Lachesis’ men. A blue groundcar is parked right in front of the building.
It has a Public Force license plates. The groundcar flashes its headlights at me. When I approach, a minion in a Public Force uniform gets out of the driver’s seat and opens a passenger door for me. When I climb in, I see the good Major Bakios. “Lord, welcome. So glad you could join us,” he flashes me a smile he probably thinks is charming.
“It’s a welcome break from burying myself in paperwork. Alas, I haven’t gotten the chance to change.”
He waves his hand. “You’re a Disciple straight from the battlefield. The boys will be honoured to be in the same room as you.” Laying it on a little thick, aren’t you. His cologne is strong. The groundcar takes off.
“Will Darth Lachesis be attending?”
“Nah, she’s at the Leader’s villa. Your boss damn energetic. Brought in a fresh wind we really needed. But tonight’s about unwinding a bit.”
“And what about your boss?”
He chuckles. “That stuffed peacock? No offence to him, but without my cheat sheets he wouldn’t be able to tell the difference between a Togruta and a Twi’lek. He’s an expert at pulling his arse out of the line of fire, if you get my drift.”
“Do you help him with that too, Major?”

He laughs. “I keep our Leader’s experiment running. It’s dirty work sometimes. Takes a toll on you, but someone’s gotta do it. Speaking of which, it seems your slave got caught up in an incident. Interfered in an arrest, stole a PF vehicle.”
“As your men can confirm, she’s on an assignment given to her by me. And it seems like she was harassed.” We pass the better class of xenos habitations. Some windows have been smashed. The groundcar is moving further and further away from the settlement. I see forests outside of the window.
“According to her? It’s a xenos’ word against a human’s.”
“No, it’s the word of a Disciple against some lowly guard’s.”
“You know, I think my men got a wee bit overzealous. You can’t blame them though. Policing a town like this is hard work. It takes a special type of soldier.”
“Certainly, you have every reason to be vigilant. I trust you understand that I’d be very displeased if something happens to her?”
“She’ll get no trouble from my boys. I’ll make sure word gets around. I’d advise that she stick to where my lads patrol so that I can guarantee her safety. My lads are good boys, but there’s criminal and cutthroats up and about in those xenos slums.”
“She’s a tool I invested a great deal in. So if I find that she had an accident and I need to acquire a new one, I will be very...cross.”
“You value your tools – so do I. We get far better value for our money if we throw these xenos a bone once in a while. I heard about your story. The clone of a sky woman. We’re not so different really. No big names, no noble bloodline. Just our own grit. It landed you in the Disciples and me here.”

We pass through a gate and I see a very different settlement. The road is clean, there is no garbage on the streets and all guards are human. Customers – all human, of course – walk out of a baker’s. The groundcar drives towards a villa. It is a lot smaller than the Leader’s. So close to the squalor of the xenos habitations, it looks pompous and brazen.
“Tell me, have any of the saboteurs that are crawling all over the province attacked this place yet?” I ask with feigned casualness.
“They tried once. Fired shots at my car shortly after I’d transferred. Then we gave them a good clobbering. Not to worry, even Dominion terrorists won’t be dumb enough to try anything now, as much as my kids would enjoy seeing a Disciple throw down.”
The groundcar comes to a halt. He opens the door for me. I suppose he believes it is charming. I see a bunch of groundcars parked at the roadside. “How many children do you have, Major?”
“Four. My dear wife won her battle and has the medal to show for it. They’re little rascals, but I love them. Family’s everything. Keeps you grounded” Music can be heard coming from inside the house. The driver follows us, carrying a crate of beer. Bakios rings the doorbell. As if on cue, a man dressed like a butler opens up. He looks almost human, save for the green tint to his skin. He bows his head obediently and takes our coats. “Master Bakios, welcome home. Your guests and your lady wife are already assembled.”

“So I’m the late one then? Better join them before the lads complain about having no booze.” He steps aside to let me in. “Haron, this is Lady Kyriaki of the Disciples. Treat her with every respect. My dear, this is my butler.”
“It’s an honour.”
Then Bakios points towards a xenos female in a maiden outfit. She too bows her head. She has tentacles like a Twi’lek, but they run parallel to her head rather than growing out of it. Horns protrude from the top her skull. A Togruta, now I remember. “Tara, my maid.”
“Master, Mistress.” Her tone is demure. Her curtsey is practiced.
Bakios glances at his butler. “Anything to report?”
“Food’s ready, Master. But the Mistress was dissatisfied with the quality of her bath.” He gives the Togruta an accusatory look. “And there was dust on one of the shelves.”
“It is my fault, Master,” she speaks hastily. So contrite. And afraid? “I...did not watch the temperature like I should have. I was...distracted. It won’t happen again.”
“Not to worry, you know better now. I know how dutiful you are.” He pets her the way I would a dog. Her flinch is barely perceptible. If not for the Force, I would have missed the brief moment where her muscles tense.
“Master is good and kind,” is what her mouth says.

And suddenly a little ball of energy bulrushes him. “Daddy!” a little, blonde girl with her hair in pigtails calls out. He picks her up, and spins her around. “Mum, Daddy’s back!” She looks happy to see him. Like this is a normal family. In our world, the monsters are rewarded.
“Someone’s happy to see me. Look at you.”
“Do you have a present for me, Daddy?”
“Now, now, kid, don’t forget your manners. What’s the magic word?”
“Well, let me see.” He puts her down, makes a show out of rummaging inside a bag and pulls out a violin. I wonder whether he bought it or ‘confiscated’ it. “Oh, what we have here!”
She takes into her hands, smiling broadly. “Thanks, daddy!” she gives him a kiss on the cheek, then takes notice of my presence. “Uh, hello, ma’am,” she says shyly.
“Paula this is Lady Kyriaki, a Disciple of the Vader. The Supreme Leader himself sent her to our little town. My lord, this is my beloved daughter.”
“Oh, my lord, it’s an honour! Praise Vader!” she stretches out her arm, then curtseys clumsily. She looks to her father. “Did I do that right, Dad?”
I squat down to be on the same level as the child. “Very well, dear. Pleased to meet you. There’s no need for titles.”

“I’m meeting a Disciple. This so cool. Can you lift something with the Force? Have you killed any xenos today? Silly me, of course you have! How many?” I am taken aback by how much she is gushing. Her eyes are so innocent. The two xenos standing near us seem to have faded into the background. I gently reach out with the Force, brushing against the butler’s mind. Surface thoughts echo inside my mind. Smile and nod.
“Sweetie, let’s not bulrush our guest. She had a long trip and has been hard at work. Now let’s go join the rest of the gang, shall we?”
“Really, it’s no bother.” I lean forward to Paula, as if imparting some secret knowledge. “I didn’t kill any xenos today. But I once killed a very foolish xenos Jedi. He and his master thought they could hurt our Great Leader. If you’re a good girl, I can tell you the story. Deal?”
I see a picture hanging on the wall. It shows Bakios, Paula, three boys and his wife. He is in dress uniform, she is wearing a dress. My eyes linger on her for just a moment. Her smile looks like it was plastered on her face. She wears a bronze Mother’s Cross with a ribbon around her neck. That’s the decoration a woman gets for being a good broodmare.
“Thanks, you’re the best...my lord...Kyri,” she looks towards her father.

“Is there anything the lady requires?” the butler asks me.
“Some refreshments would be appreciated. It’s been a long day.”
“See to it,” he orders the maid, who quickly scurried away.
Without fear, Paula takes my hand, urging me on. “Come on. Uncle Simon’s been telling stories in the living room. Mum told Alec to stop playing his frakking game and set the table.”
Bakios tut-tuts disapprovingly. “Language, sweetie!”
“But Mum said it first.”
“Sweetie, sometimes grownups say naughty things they really shouldn’t. That doesn’t mean you should.”
The girl rolls her eyes, sighing. “Yes, Daddy.” She leans towards me and whispers into my ear. “Does the Supreme Leader say bad words sometimes?”
I give her a conspiratorial wink. “On occasion, but you see he has look after everyone in the Imperium. And when one of us isn’t doing our job properly, he gets angry with them because they’ve let the people down.”

I hear a booming voice coming from the living room. “So then the Twi’lek says: ‘This isn’t mine, this isn’t mine. Someone planted it on me. I don’t know no Republican Guard.’ I say: ‘Don’t lie to me, boy. You’re standing on a crate of explosives and you expect me to believe it’s not yours? Now you can come quietly, or I can make you.’ And then he starts screaming and draws a knife.”
So this is ‘Uncle Simon’. He is wearing a Public Force officer’s uniform. So are a bunch of others. Two young boys clap while he regales them with his story. Then he takes notice of us. “Look who’s there, boss man himself. And he brought booze, I hope? Took his time, didn’t he?” There’s laughter. Having seen their father, the two boys immediately get up. “I just decided to give you a couple moments of sobriety with my family before they get to see you’re really a bunch of cavemen,” Bakios jokes, giving this Simon a firm handshake. “Besides, I picked up an honoured guest.

“This is Lady Kyriaki, a Disciple.” I let him take me by the arm and lead me to a woman with pinned up hair and a skirt that reaches to her ankles. She wears the Mother’s Cross like in the picture. “My dear, may I introduce you to my dear wife Helena. She’s been the love of my life since college.”
“Pleasure meeting you,” I say softly. We shake hands.
“Welcome to our home, my lady..lord. Which address would you prefer? We meet few Disciples here.”
“How about we table the formalities and just settle on Kyriaki?”
“Then you must call me Helena. It’s nice to have another woman here – and a Disciple at that! We’re so far away from civilisation. I teach xenos women how to behave, but it’s not the same as having some proper female company.”
“You have your lovely daughter,” Bakios interjects. “Maybe we need to make another one to keep you company.”
“Yes...some time. Or we could adopt. There are so many orphans who need a father.” Is there a crack I see there? “Will you be staying in Hope Falls for long, Kyriaki?”
“Hard to tell at the moment, I’m working with your husband on a case.”

“Some xenos with long fingers have been putting them where they don’t belong. We’re teaching them a lesson in honesty.” Is it just me or is he always barging in?
“I see. Well, I know how dedicated my husband is to his work, so you’ll surely catch them soon. In the meantime, make yourself at home.”
“Thank you, Helena.”
“Mum, look what Daddy got me!” Paula exclaims, having apparently spent enough time in the background. She presents her violin proudly.
“You spoil her, dear.”
“I try to give my kids what I couldn’t have growing up.” As the two continue on, Bakios leads me away. The guests have comfortable sofas. A chandelier hangs from the ceiling. Naturally a portrait of the Supreme Leader takes pride of place on the wall. He is in a light blue uniform. To Eisen’s credit, while the picture is idealised, it does not hide his corpulence.

“Captain Simon Onasis. He guards our grain stocks.” The commander of the very guard force Lachesis ordered to be decimated. Does he know every tenth man of his command have been marked for death? Or has he been sentenced to join them?
The smile has vanished from his face. “A Disciple from the capital in our little town - welcome. So you’re with Darth Lachesis. I’ve been trying to arrange an appointment with her Lordship regarding the...”
“Simon, old buddy, the lady’s my guest. She’s had a busy day. There’ll be more than enough time for this tomorrow.”
“I know, I know. I just want to assist the investigation. Make sure all the facts are on the table,” he backpedals. Is that anxiety I hear? I am looking into the eyes of a walking corpse.
“I appreciate your diligence, Captain. Rest assured we are not here to run roughshod over you, but to cooperate. And we’ll leave no stone unturned to find the culprits.” The maid returns with refreshments.

I take a glass of water and Bakios presents me to the two young boys. “My eldest is with a Krypteia storm in Adlerberg, but these little rascals haven’t abandoned the nest yet. This is Roel, that’s Alec.”
“Uh, hello lord,” the elder of the two – Roel – says nervously, blushing. He looks about fourteen. “You’re very beautiful. Your robes look good on you. I mean, they fit you well.” "Papa says the Disciples are great defenders of humanity, and even the female ones are almost as good as the males!" Alec declares.
“Alec!” the patriarch exclaims.
“Did I say something wrong, Papa?”
I smile thinly. “I am sure Darth Lachesis will be most interested in your father’s observations.”
Bakios looks very red in the face “My lady, my son’s a good boy, but he doesn’t understand everything grownups say. You know how kids are."
“You mean you said that female Disciples are twice as good as males?” I am enjoying this too much. Looking at young Roel, I smile encouragingly at him. “That’s kind of you to say. You look like a nice boy. I’m sure one day you’ll make a girl very happy.”
“Hey, guys, the news is starting. Looks like a special broadcast,” one of Bakios’ colleagues declares. Eyes turn to the screen as bombastic music plays. Then a newscaster appears on the screen, framed by Imperial flags. “Good evening, people of the Imperium. Once again, the xenos Jedi have schemed to rain destruction on mankind. And once again, the Imperium has struck back.”
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