Nathan Jackson was afraid.
It was an emotion he seldom felt even though as a soldier, he was familiar with it. It was a companion that sat on his shoulder during every battle and gave enough of itself to permit his survival. A little healthy fear gave one the edge they needed to pull through any situation and at this moment, Nathan was feeling more than a healthy dose. He was saturated by it. It was not that he feared dying, on the contrary if he could die now, that would make this whole situation somewhat tolerable. It was the fact that he was still alive that gave him such anxiety.
His captors had not allowed him the chance to take the graceful exit from this world he desired when the net around him had finally dropped. The first thing they had done was to remove the weapon he carried and then proceeded on towards a more humiliating body search to ensure that he had nothing on his person that would allow him to shirk the mortal coil. Once they were assured that he could not harm himself, they had secreted him into a maximum security cell, pleased with their catch as they resumed the search for his companion.
Nathan paced the floor of his cage; unable to believe he had fallen into such misfortune. He was terrified of what they would learn from him and knew that this limbo inside the cell would not last. Eventually, they would come with their drugs and fire knives in order to make him talk. Torture did not frighten Nathan but succumbing to it did. He was a patriot of the Republic and the choices of his life had been made because he would not sit by idly while the New Order destroyed life on a planetary scale. He knew what was asked of him when he became a member of the Rebel Alliance and he would have gladly died than forced to betray them. If there was any consolation to this, it was the fact that he did not know the location to the new rebel base. At least that much of the Alliance's secrets would be safe.
His pondering were interrupted by the sound of footsteps against the plate metal floor of the cell block. The moment he had been captured, Imperial agent had him transported off Cordoba so Nathan had no idea where he had been taken. However, while he did not know the location of his new prison, he did recognise it as a fully equipped and garrisoned Imperial base. As he was being brought to his cell through the hanger, he saw evidence of ships and personnel that indicated that the base was armed well enough to repel any attack from its enemies. Storm troopers patrolled the corridors; Imperial officers strutted about in their black and green uniforms. With a sinking feeling, Nathan realised that even if the Alliance were to attempt a rescue, they would never penetrate such strong defenses.
Nathan's cell was a room with a bunk bed and a utility. It was no more than seven feet across in what was almost a solid block of steel. There were air vents that allowed him to breathe but these were so narrow that there was no escape route there had he been foolish enough to try it. The doors were thick and there was no internal locking mechanism. It could be opened only one way and that was from the outside. The sensors present in the room would closely monitor an interrogator entering the room and the device was embedded into the wall and protected by a small energy field should any enterprising escapee attempt to disrupt its function.
Nathan paused when the doors slid open and two Imperial officers appeared at the entrance. Behind them, were a number of storm troopers and Nathan supposed he ought to feel somewhat flattered by the estimation of his notoriety. However, his attention was soon swept away when he recognized one of the officers about to take part in his interrogation. The Colonel was no one that Nathan was familiar with but judging by the black uniform, he was probably attached to internal security. He stared at Nathan dispassionately, like the predator preparing for a particular feast. Nathan had seen rancors with kinder eyes. His companion was a captain who was trying hard to hide the emotion in his eyes and would have succeeded if Nathan had not known him before and was aware of how to read his moods. The Captain looked at Nathan and then straight past him, his sea colored eyes fighting to hide his abhorrence at being in this position. Nathan decided that there was no reason to burden the man with their association if he did not wish to use it and turned away a second later, breaking the brief seconds of eye contact.
"Captain Jackson," the Colonel finally spoke when the two men had entered the room and the doors had slid close behind them.
Nathan did not answer, choosing to remain unmoved as they began their attempts at interrogation. He knew that this was only the preliminary stages. They would try and reason with him first, hoping that fear might help loosen his tongue. When that did not work, they would withdraw and come back with equipment that would not be as subtle or as comfortable.
"I am Colonel Taris Nabb of Internal Security," he introduced himself. "I assume you know what I do?"
"You're one of Palpatine's watchdogs men aren't you?" Nathan retorted, hardly giving the man a glance.
Nabb's face pulled back into a little smile, showing that he was not offended. "A watchdog is such a vulgar term, I prefer to think I safeguard the interests of the Empire."
"The Empire is Palpatine." Nathan gave him a look of dislike at his inability to admit that much.
"He is our Emperor," Nabb reminded.
"He is your Emperor." Nathan glared at him. "An illegal one at that. He was elected as Chancellor of the Republic Council, not as God Emperor as he would have everyone believe. He destroyed the Republic and created the Empire for his own personal ambitions." Nathan turned to the Captain who had yet to speak and offered a silent question as to how he could still be wearing your uniform.
Nabb noticed the look and turned his gaze back to Nathan second later, after a quick examination of his companion's emotional state. "I wouldn't look to Captain Standish to extricate you from this situation, Captain Jackson. It was he who identified you for us."
A flicker appeared in the Captain's eyes and Nathan knew that it was the truth. His once best friend had betrayed him.
"In fact," Nabb continued. "Captain Standish has been absolutely essential in revealing your importance in the Rebel Alliance's network."
Nathan gave Captain Ezra Standish a look that bordered on anger and pity as he saw the truth of Nabb's words reflected in Ezra's eyes. Both men had come through the Academy together. For most their years in service, they had often served side by side and when they could not, they were never far from each other's thoughts. Their friendship had endured through much but it had never survived Palpatine's declaration making himself Emperor. Ezra was more content to let things happen as they did. Sometimes, you just had to live with what the dice rolls; he often quoted to Nathan. Nathan had never been able to sacrifice principal for career and had been unable to take advice. Although Ezra did not share his beliefs, he did not betray them. Fate had placed them on opposite sides and Nathan had to forget that Ezra had ever been his friend because it looked like Ezra already did.
"He did what he had to," Nathan finally responded and saw Ezra's surprise and deeper sorrow at his understanding. "He's one of you."
"You were one of us," Nabb pointed out. "You could be one again. You are not the first officer to have a crisis of faith but the duty of a soldier is to obey the chain of command. You cannot simply dismiss it at your convenience. Now, if you were to tell us what you know about the Alliance, I'm sure after a period of 'rehabilitation', you can be returned to society, with your rank and commission intact."
"I don't know anything that could help you," Nathan replied automatically, not about to be swayed by bribes.
"You have been a member of the Rebel Alliance almost since its beginnings," Nabb countered not about to believe that story, especially when he knew better. "You know who its leaders are, where its bases may be located. You will give us that information, make no mistake on that. The choice on how you give it to us is entirely up to you. This can be a painless process or an agonizing one."
Staring him directly in the eyes, Nathan repeated himself. "I don't know anything."
"I suspected as much," Nabb sighed not at all surprised by the stubbornness of the man. It would be eroded soon enough and Nabb was confident that Nathan Jackson would be more than willing to tell all in due course. They always started out this way but Nabb knew the application required in order to shatter that stiff will of resistance. "We'll meet again Captain Jackson," Nabb responded as he turned on his heels towards the door. He took a few steps forward when he realised that Captain Standish had not moved.
"Captain...," he called out looking over his shoulder.
"I will be along shortly," Ezra Standish answered, meeting his commanding officer's gaze. "I thought I might have a little more luck convincing my old friend that it is prudent to give us the information then to suffer the consequences."
"Very well," Nabb responded, sounding dubious as to Ezra's ability to accomplish that. However, he saw no reason to keep the captain from trying especially when everything that would be said by the two would be closely monitored anyway.
Ezra returned his attention to Nathan and neither man spoke until the doors were closed behind them and they were offered some measure of privacy, though not much. For a time, neither knew what to say as they found themselves staring at each other from either side of a great chasm, with an abyss of ideology and personal belief trapped in the middle.
"They were aware of us having served together," Ezra stated, aware that everything he was saying was being heard. "They had their suspicions regarding your identity, they merely required me to confirm it."
"And so you did," Nathan answered with a hint of bitterness.
"I did not have a choice in the matter," Ezra replied. "I am still an Imperial officer under orders and you are a member of the Rebel Alliance, how did you think I would behave?"
"Like someone who was my friend," Nathan returned.
"I am still your friend," Ezra whispered softly, unwilling to show that Nathan's words had hurt him. "As your friend, I am telling you to give them what they want. The Emperor's orders on the Rebel Alliance is extremely rigid. He wants the movement destroyed. Nabb is one of the most ruthless interrogators in the Empire; he knows how to extract information. He will get what he wants from you, dead or alive."
"Then it will have to be dead," Nathan declared. "I will not give up anything to anyone."
"Then you are going to die," Ezra retorted. "I have no authority to prevent it. If you tell them what they need to know then you can walk out of this alive."
"Oh come on Ezra!" Nathan burst out in exasperation. "Weren't you the one who told me that you could always spot a con from a mile off? Don't tell me you actually believe that once I tell them what I know, that I'm going to live through this? The Emperor is about to begin the slavery of every non-human species in what was the galactic republic. You've seen what's coming. There is not one non-human officer in the fleet and that's how it's going to be throughout the Empire and you expect me to hand over the only people who can stop this? It's a shell game Ezra; the Emperor is softening us up for more atrocities than you can possibly believe. The segregation policy is only the beginning."
Ezra swallowed because deep inside he knew that Nathan was right. "You do not know that for sure. You have been fed with Rebel propaganda."
"If I did not know for sure Ezra," Nathan said softly. "I wouldn't be willing to die to keep it from happening." Nathan paused a moment and then spoke further. "You were always a cynic Ezra, I knew that. Maybe that's why we were such good friends because you saw the way the galaxy was and I saw what I thought it could be. Now I'm telling you what it's going to be and it's a nightmare Ezra, its going to be a long nightmare for billions of people unless it's stopped now."
"I am sorry Nathan," Ezra responded, clearly shaken inside and not knowing what else to say. He was not blind to what was happening. The segregation Nathan spoke of was no longer mere rumor, it was policy. More and more, he was seeing gifted officers and personnel being discarded because they were not human. If Nathan believed that things were due to get worse, Ezra believed him. However, he was dubious if anything could fight the Imperial war machine and he did not know if he could the idealist that Nathan was to make the effort. " I cannot help you."
Nathan expected as much and nodded. "I didn't expect you to help me Ezra, I just hoped that there was something inside you that sees what I'm saying is the truth."
"Truth is written by those who stay alive," Ezra said sourly, turning away from Nathan because facing him like this was becoming too much for him. He did not want to let Nathan die and yet he did not know of any way to prevent it except taking the ultimate step that could change his life forever. There was still too much doubt inside of him, not to mention hope that Nathan was wrong and that the Empire he served was not as unredeemable as he thought. "I think I would prefer to survive this than attempt to fight it. If you were smart, you would consider doing the same."
"I'm sorry for you," Nathan shook his head in distaste. "When I die, at least I know I did so believing in something. That's the difference between living and existing but you," he declared. "You believe in nothing and I can't call that living."
Ezra did not answer but continued walking. The door slid open for him before he reached it and in seconds, he was leaving Nathan behind in the cell. Ezra continued down the cell block, the storm trooper activating the door controls for him following closely behind.
"You knew him Sir?" The man asked.
"Once," Ezra found himself answering.
"I heard he won a medal in the Clone Wars," the storm trooper remarked.
"He did." Ezra did not deny that and remembered when he and Nathan were young and felt like they could take on anything and did. Trying to chart the progress of how they had come to be in this place at this time, on opposite sides was a journey that soon left a bitter taste in Ezra's mouth.
"Wonder how the rebels got to him?" The trooper asked, not really expecting an answer.
"Oh that was relatively easy," Ezra sighed as images of Ana flashed before him. Ana with her dark hair and her radiant smile. "His wife was the daughter of a Jedi."
It had started to rain when Vin Tanner returned to the tavern later that night. He did not know why he was going back. There was no way he could sneak up on the Jedi when the man had been able to sense him the minute he had stepped off his ship at the spaceport. However, Vin could not keep from returning because he had to face Chris Larabee again. The encounter with the man had left the normally detached bounty hunter so unsettled that it was unprecedented. Vin did not like feeling this way and yet everything that the Jedi had said to him was true.
He could feel it.
All his life, Vin had relied upon his intuition to get him through the difficulties of his existence. That second sight which he had called his gut instinct had saved his life on more than one occasion and had provided him with an edge that allowed him to detect enemies and give him some kind of sense when he was travelling in places previously unknown to him. He trusted in that ability with more faith than he had trusted any one person in his entire life. However, he always wondered what it was that made him so different from other humans, that allowed him to see when others could not. Vin saw the world in shades of emotions; he could feel what another being was about to do, even if he could not read their thoughts as such. When he heard about the Jedi, he thought they were a fairy story told to children, just fiction.
Of course when he left Tatooine and went out into the galaxy, he learned that the Jedi were real even if the Empire was systematically wiping them out. Vin had never given them a second thought beyond that until the Empire contracted him to find Chris Larabee. From the onset of this mission, he knew that something about it drew him to Chris Larabee, something beyond the exorbitant fees the Empire was willing to pay, not to mentioned his continued existence as a fee man. Even though he did not admit it to himself, the research material about the Jedi opened uncomfortable possibilities that Vin did not want to deal with. It frightened him so badly that he had to force it into the back of his mind and not give it any more power over him than it already had.
The rain seeped into his skin, pulled his hair around his neck and dangled in wet droplets around his shoulders. It ran into his eyes and restricted his ability to see as clearly as he ought but Vin sensed no one around him that had such intent and he could not stop walking towards the tavern where he knew Larabee stayed. Even as he approached the building, he could sense the richness of that thought in his mind. He could sense the familiarity of the man emanating from the building. He was certain that the Jedi sensed his approach too and Vin felt no need for the element of surprise because he had not come here to kill Chris Larabee, he had come here because he had to know the truth.
When he walked into the tavern soaking wet, and immediately noticed by Inez who was as usual behind her counter serving drinks to her customers. The patronage had thinned out even more and Vin suspected it was very near closing time for the Four Corners Tavern. Her eyes immediately flooded with concern as she cast her gaze upon him and reached beneath a bar to produce a small towel, which she handed to him when she emerged from behind the bar.
"You should not be out in this weather," she said sternly as the thunder crackled outside in agreement with her statement.
Vin wondered if she had forgotten that only some hours ago, he had pulled a gun on Chris Larabee and threaten an innocent boy with his life in a booth not more than a few feet from where she stood now. He could not understand why she was treating him so well when he was the enemy. "Why?"
"Why?" She looked at him puzzled. "Because the storms on Cordoba is as bad as the heat waves."
"Why are you so good to me?" He asked softly.
Inez smiled and looked at him. "I don't have the Force," she answered. "Not the way Chris does but I can sense things about people and I think you are a little lost and for the first time, you're starting to see the light even if it frightens you a little. I see the pain in your eyes and I see no reason to add to it."
Vin wanted to question her further about what she knew but decided that it would be a waste of time. The answers he needed had to come from Larabee. "I need to see him," he muttered.
Inez nodded and showed him the way. Chris occupied a room above the tavern and as Inez led Vin there, he had the impression that she did not allow for many lodgers for as they stepped into the corridor, he noted that many of the rooms though prepared for patrons were empty. Vin sensed that there was some hidden purpose to this action and wondered whether Inez was more than she appeared to be. Was she simply a bartender or what there more to her? It was a question for another time because at the moment, Vin's primary interest was in seeing Chris Larabee.
"I don't know how coherent he will be," Inez offered as she opened the door to Chris' room.
"Coherent?" Vin asked.
"He's been drinking," she said sadly and stepped away, leaving Vin to deal with the Jedi.
Vin nodded slowly and entered the room, preparing to deal with anything. He had no more closed the door behind him when he heard Chris' voice.
"What do you want?"
Vin saw the Jedi sitting up on his bed, nursing a bottle that was nearly empty. Clad only in his dark pants, the rest of his clothes were an unruly heap on the floor, including more empty bottles of liquor. Vin suddenly realised that if he wanted to take the Jedi to his Imperial masters, now would be the time to do it. Chris was almost certainly drunk and his ability to put up much resistance would be minimal. However, as the thought crossed Vin's mind, the bounty hunter knew that he could not do it. The Jedi had awakened the need for answers and until that desire was satisfied, everything else could wait.
"I don't know," Vin whispered and it was the truth. He wanted answers but he would have been quite content if Chris told him that it was all a trick of deception that the Jedi had been playing with him.
Chris sat up further in the bed and took a final swig of whatever was left in the bottle before tossing it aside. He turned that powerful gaze onto the tracker and said nothing for a few seconds as he observed him. "You want to know if I was lying."
"I am not Jedi," Vin declared with almost childish defiance.
"Not you're not," Chris did not disagree and thought it was incredibly funny that this bounty hunter would find out the truth about himself when there was no longer any need for his kind. "But you do have the Force," he added, knowing that was the question at the heart of Vin's appearance here.
"I don't believe in the force," Vin retaliated. "It's a fairy tale."
Chris snorted in derision and narrowed his eyes as he stared at Vin hard, appearing as if he were in the grips of mild concentration. "You were born on Tatooine. The only family you ever had was your mother and she died when you were five or six. You have images of her inside your mind but nothing more concrete than that. The clearest memory you do have of her is the fact that before she died, she told you that you were a Tanner and no one could take that away from you."
Vin's jaw dropped open when Chris finished his recital, his mind reeling in shock at the revelation of the memory he had never told anyone. "How did you know?" He stammered.
"You're wide open and easy to read," Chris responded. "You project as much as you sense from other beings."
"I don't want this," Vin managed to say, feeling exposed and unable to hide under the Jedi's stare. For the first time in his life he felt vulnerable and out of control. It was not a feeling he liked. "I don't want the Force."
"It's not a choice," Chris answered without sympathy. After the losses he had incurred in his life, his ability to be touched by another was slight. "We become Jedi because we answer to something higher than ourselves and the belief we can add to the substance of the universe. Not all the Jedi were warriors, some were teachers, healers and explorers. For a thousand years, we ensured the peace and it was a good feeling to know that when we served the Force, others were benefited. It takes a great deal of commitment to be a Jedi even if one is strong in the Force. There are sacrifices to be made by those who take the training. You are strong in the Force and you could have done anything with your life, even if you did not wish to be a Jedi but what are you? You're a human scavenger. You take the Force that you have and all you've done with it is hunt men down like animals. You come here expecting what from me? Understanding?"
"I did what I had to survive," Vin stammered. "I don't make any excuses for it."
"I'm not here for your absolution," Chris retorted. "You want to shoot me and take me in, that's your prerogative. I don't care any more. The Jedi are gone with the exception of a small few that has managed to hide from Vader and his Emperor. I'm here on borrowed time anyway, eventually they'll get me too."
"But you said they would know me," Vin pointed out. "You said that they could sense me."
Chris looked at him and laughed. "You don't have to worry. There's a vast difference between having the Force and being able to use it as Jedi. Vader knows that you're hardly a threat to him. They'll kill if you come into their sights, make no mistake on that but they won't exactly be hunting you down."
Vin did not like the idea of that at all even if Chris' words came with something of a reassurance. "And you're just going to sit here and wait for them?" He looked at the Jedi and wondered why he suddenly cared.
"If that's my destiny," Chris nodded. "Why do you care anyway?"
Vin opened his mouth to speak but stop himself from saying what he wanted to and altering his answer significantly. "I don't care," he retorted as he turned away, deciding that he had enough revelation for today. However as he left Chris Larabee to his drunken state, Vin knew that he was lying because for the first time, he suddenly felt like he was not entirely alone in the galaxy.
For the first time, Vin had met someone who made him feel like he was apart of something even if that something was the Jedi.
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