Chapter Five: Conception
A day’s worth of covalence was allowed to pass before Verra was able to leave the room. With the Force she would have been able to recover in a matter of hours; however, the lack thereof revealed to her just how fragile her mortality was. Conditioned as her body may have been, she was an ideal receptor to the medical supplies she was given, but even the best medicines that man could purchase could not compare to the restorative powers of the Force. At one point she had considered asking Q’leeta if her people were familiar with healing arts, but as the woman was for so long around the Sith she doubted it would be worth the effort.
Walking proved to be a chore, for although her bones had healed remarkably well, there was still a stiffness to her muscles and an unfamiliar weightiness to her stride that could only come from the lack of buoyancy the Force naturally provided her. Q’leeta offered her an ornate and decorative cane to assist her in her struggles, but far too proud to appear weak before her enemies, Verra refused it politely and instead asked to see Ban Garus. That request was met with the woman’s naturally deferential praise, and Verra now found herself hobbling through the estate with the buxom servant at her side. Though she tried her best not to reveal the trouble with which she moved, she was certain it was a vain endeavor. Nevertheless, Q’leeta was kind enough not to make note of it.
The room in which Verra was kept had been quaint, but the entirety of Ban Garus’ estate was gorgeous. It would appear that each day of the three-hundred years the man had been given to accumulate wealth was spent in purchasing fine relics or decorative tapestries. The very floor that they walked upon was made of a smooth and soft stone that did well to cushion the step while at the same time offering a flat and even surface. Verra attempted to seem oblivious to the man’s worldly goods, but for a woman raised in drab surroundings she could not help but be impressed. Though it may not have been called a palace, it was the closest that she had ever come to one. Inwardly, Verra despised the Sith for his cultured living.
True to Ban Garus’ words, there were quite a few servants that moved to and fro. Most of them were Haur’nii women, and while she had been correct to assume that Q’leeta was exceptionally beautiful for her species, the others held a similar quality of refinement that she could easily find reason to envy; eager to smile and all too ready to curtsey as she and Q’leeta passed, the servants left upon Verra the impression of people born to please. When forced to choose between the inorganic symbols of Ban Garus’ wealth – his illustrious estate, and the organic qualities – his servants, she was hard pressed to state which was more impressive.
Their journey approached a collection of stairs that Verra eyed warily. Without needing to be bade to assist her, Q’leeta gracefully took Verra’s hand and offered her support as she moved down the stairs. It was the first time that Verra had felt one of the Haur’nii women for herself, and try as she might to conceal the shocking sensation that rushed through her, for a moment she was left all but speechless. While the touching of flesh was a simple thing to understand, there existed within her hold a connection between their spirits that encouraged Verra forth. She gasped and recoiled slightly, an action that was not at all lost upon her associate.
“My apologies,” Q’leeta stated as she looked to the bewildered Jedi. “I forgot that you have never come in contact with one of the Haur’nii. Our touch is something of an… intoxicant, if one is not prepared.”
Verra nodded meekly. “There is no need for apology,” she said with her voice crawling out of the surprising sensation she had felt moments before. “I should be more understanding of the Haur’nii ways.”
Once more Q’leeta offered her hand and this time Verra readily accepted it. She made sure not to allow herself to be lost too readily in the woman’s touch, which drew upon her in a manner that she knew to be nearly erotic. Awash in the feeling, she followed behind the woman until finally they had come to the bottom of the landing. Afraid that if she did not break their touch soon she would be eternally lost within it, Verra retracted her hand and looked with flushed cheeks toward the door before them. “We should continue on.”
“Yes,” Q’leeta said in her ever bemused tone, “we should.”
While many of the doors in the household were mechanized, the one that stood before them was large and made of an expensive polished wood. A golden handle was placed within its center, indicating that in order to pass by one need only press forth and be ushered within. Q’leeta, ever mindful of her duties, stepped ahead of Verra and pressed her body sensually to the door. It yielded against her and fell open, to which she bowed and gestured for the Jedi to enter before her. “The Master awaits, Paurneux.”
“I am sure that he does,” Verra said tersely. While she may have liked Q’leeta well enough, she would not allow herself to meet the Sith with any of the latent eroticism still wafting from her being. Already she felt thrice the fool for wearing the garments that had been left out for her, but the silken robes did feel nicer than her normal ones and made her standout less against those present. Something told her that the usual “drab vagabond” look of an itinerant knight would not suffice in infiltrating Sith society. She inhaled through her nostrils and walked with a straight back through the door.
It was a room that any scholar would have envied. Although she had not had the occasion to see many of them in her day, the thick, hard and bound objects before her bespoke a culture the likes of which not even Ban Garus’ ostentatious nature could have prepared her for. Books, all but archaic within the modern day, were nevertheless highly valued if they were of original print. While datapads were much more convenient and held data more easily, they were also susceptible to corruption or fraudulent information being placed in by dishonest editors. In the event of a book, which was as genuine as the day it was printed, no such worries of deception needed to be minded. Verra’s eyes played over the rows that lined each well, before they befell the desk in the center. Several screens were affixed to it, enabling Ban Garus to either view datachips on a larger screen, or take feeds from outside sources. In all, it was an expensive and chic look.
She had to wonder how much of it had been arranged specifically to impress her.
“It is good to see you up and moving,” Ban Garus said as he rose from his seat and bowed courteously to Verra. She minded him with guarded awareness and returned her attention to the book stacks. A nod was given to Q’leeta, who returned it understandingly and closed the door. “If you see anything that interests you, please do not hesitate to look for yourself.”
Verra glanced in the direction of the sealed door and then looked back to the Sith. She could understand why it was that non-Force sensitives did things as foolish as charging Jedi head-on. It was not that they were stupid, they simply could not comprehend the power that was hidden within the Force. At that moment she had considered sizing the man up, but her previous connection to the Force was not so long ago that she forgot just how powerful a Sith was.
“You brought me here for a reason,” she said as her fingers ran along the spine of the book before her; its language one that she had no concept of. “Move to that point so that I may deny your request and be on my way.”
Ban Garus offered her a smile that she noted from the corner of her eye. “Please, be seated.”
“Only if you promise to get to your point.”
“You have my word.”
A lot of good that does me she wanted to say, but to her surprise nothing came out. Perhaps she was learning that it was better not to walk blindly into the logical traps the Sith laid for her? She sat in the indicated chair and watched as Ban Garus flicked his robes backward before descending as well.
“If I might speak frankly,” he said with surprising smoothness. “You do the robes you wear a good service.”
Verra felt herself heating slightly under the compliment, but did not allow it to show. “Your point,” she said in an unwavering tone.
“Would be that you look very appealing.”
Irritation welled within her; an emotion that she had been warned away from all of her life. She narrowed her eyes slightly and clenched her jaw. “You gave me your word.”
The statement caused Ban Garus to lift his hands in a sign of surrender. “So I did,” he conceded. “I apologize. There are few moments in which we Sith are allowed gaiety.” When he noted that Verra’s expression did not lighten, he continued. “I require your expertise.”
“This I know,” Verra said.
Ban Garus nodded. “So you do. I must ask you then, how much do you know?”
The sincerity of the question surprised Verra noticeably. While she had assumed that Q’leeta was being otherwise courteous to her, she had not imagined that the woman would keep secrets from her husband and master. “Does not your wife act as my attendant? Whatever I know, she told me.”
“And I am asking you what that is,” Ban Garus stated. “Do not worry; she is in no trouble. I simply do not know what it is she informed you of.”
“Ask her yourself,” Verra replied without need to consider. “If you cannot trust your own wife, then perhaps you should invest in droids.”
The reply brought to Ban Garus’ lips a smile. He regarded Verra for several moments and then shook her head. “As you may have noticed, I do not employ droids. I believe service should be something chosen, not forced. For all of their utilities, droids lack the capability of operating outside of their designated behavior parameters.”
“From all that I have heard of the Haur’nii women, the same can be said for them. Does lording over women bred to please you build within you a sense of ability?” Verra asked with a note of her irritation bleeding into her voice. “Do they make the deposed lord feel that he still has vassals to his name?”
Ban Garus leaned back within his chair and placed his fingers together once more. “Then she told you of my history.”
“Some of it,” Verra said. “More than I cared to hear.”
“And why is that? Do you find it difficult to hate someone once you learn that the preconceived notions you have been fed are nothing more than fanciful ideas, orchestrated to present you with a soulless and irredeemable foe?” The Sith’s curiosity was tinged with something far more genuine than he previously exposed; contempt. It was an emotion that to that point he had not revealed to Verra and she was oddly unsettled by it.
That was not to say, however, that she was mollified.
“I have seen what your people do; the wars of conquest that they wage,” she dryly noted. “Even if your goals appear benevolent for the few, I am certain that to the majority they are depreciative. Yours is a code built upon hatred and lies.”
Ban Garus tapped his fingers together and clucked his tongue. “Hardly,” he mused. “Though you, like many of my peers, would believe it to be the case there is nothing within the Sith Code that mandates abhorrence. Our Code is not: [i]Happiness is a lie, through deception I gain leverage. With leverage I cleave through my enemies. With my enemies slain I betray my friends. Through murder, I am freed.[i].”
Verra offered a grin, although it was hardly an expression meant to show mirth. “It sounds relatively close to what I have seen.”
“Then your code is… what? There is no feeling; there is stagnation. There is no ignorance; there is stupidity. There is no passion; there is emptiness. There is no reality; there is idealism? Please, I know that to be false and despite your impudent rejoinder I am certain that you know the previous to be untrue as well.”
Hearing the Jedi Code mutilated in such a way was tantamount to blasphemy, yet Verra did not rise from her seat as she thought she should. A bold showing of patriotism would end in nothing other than her continued stay in the manor, if not worse. More importantly, his point was a sound one and she detested him for raising it. “You were supposed to be informing me of what it is you want.”
“In due time,” Ban Garus stated. “It is important that you understand where we are coming from so that you can appreciate where it is that we must go. So I ask you, once more, what is it that Q’leeta told you?”
“That you were the viceroy of this planet following its conquest,” Verra snapped. It irritated her all the more that despite how unsettling he was to her; she had little effect on him. “And that your peers find you nearly as loathsome as I do. Were I given the chance, I would not need three chances to see you dead.”
“Is that hatred I hear upon the tongue of the noble Jedi?” Ban Garus asked with earnest amusement. He gave her a smile then, an expression that she was certain a snake might give a mouse before devouring it hole. “Why, I do believe it is. However, you raise a very valid point that we will address later. For now, let us focus upon what is most important – that my peers wish me dead.”
“They still do?”
“Of course,” Ban Garus chuckled. “Information is the most precious resource that the galaxy holds and a man as old as I has acquired more than his fair share of secrets… and enemies that would like them never spoken of again.”
Verra contemplated that as she clasped her hands in her laps. “Then why have they not moved against you? You are a private citizen now, yes?”
“Private or otherwise, I am renowned upon Thorne IV,” he answered. “Whoever it was that killed me would be dragged through the streets by the local citizenry. Several times I have been offered positions on different planets, but I am not so foolish as to leave the comfort of my nest. As I said, there are those amongst the Sith that do not understand our code, either.”
“Odd it is,” Verra said with condescension masked as feigned interest, “that only you understand the true meaning of the code. It is impossible that you are incorrect and the society at large is correct, yes?”
Ban Garus weathered her childish display of dissidence with masterful patience. His was a resolve that could not easily be broken, and as he offered her the reptilian smile once more he seemed to draw strength from denying her a response of equal candor. “I know well the meaning of what it is to be Sith. It is neither the craving of power for the sake or power, nor deceit for the purpose of deceit. As you can imagine a man of my age has had many apprentices, and each has failed to learn that lesson. As a result, they have met untimely demises.”
“Neverminding those that you killed because it was opportune,” Verra interjected pointedly.
A clever chuckle left the Sith as he lifted a hand and stroked his chin. “That truly does concern you, does it not? Does it matter that no one will miss him – that he was a failed protégé whose only purpose was to serve a greater one?”
“All life has meaning,” Verra said flatly. “No one deserves to be slain because it is convenient.”
“And would you kill me?”
“Of course I would.”
“Because that would be justice.”
There was no denying that Verra’s disdain for the Sith was a deep-rooted one. Yet where the comment should have caused Ban Garus to disparage he instead smiled. “Justice,” he repeated. “That is exactly what we are here to discuss.” The hand that had been upon his chin was lowered and he opened one of the drawers upon his desk. From within, a lightsaber’s hilt was removed and set upon the desktop. “Justice is that which we must address at this moment.”
“My lightsaber,” Verra said mindlessly. She reached out for it, calling to mind not only its feeling but also the labor that had gone into constructing it. But try as she might to call it to her, it did not budge. Ban Garus flicked his hand forth and sent it sliding against the table. She grabbed it all too readily but was shocked at what she felt.
It was certainly her lightsaber; the straight backed implement had been specifically customized for her grip. But try as she might to reconnect with it, the weapon felt odd and imbalanced. Without the Force, it was nothing but a spanner and she a fool too stupid to use it. It was a horrifying feeling.
Verra narrowed her eyes and clenched the weapon in her hand, her fingers too nervous to compress the activation plate. “What have you done to it?”
“Do not despair,” Ban Garus stated. “When all is discussed, your neural implants will be removed and your lightsaber will feel as though yours once again.” There was understanding to his words, as though he knew well the distress that teemed within her. “While I know that you nominally hate me for who I am, I am much more aware of the fact that you genuinely hate the Sith that perpetuate the lifestyle you expect. The soulless, amoral cretins that wage war for the sake of war and kill for the sake of killing.”
For the time being, Verra seemed more concerned with the fact that she could not identify her lightsaber than what Ban Garus was saying. He knew she was too astute a girl to ignore pertinent information though and plowed onward despite her seeming trepidation.
“There are a select few Sith that currently prevent me from returning to public life. If they were to be removed, then I might resume my previous role as viceroy. As I am certain Q’leeta told you, I was a very generous ruler.”
“The words of your slave-wife do not seem necessarily impartial,” Verra murmured. She drew herself from her stupor and looked back to the Sith. “What are you asking me to do? Assassinate your enemies?”
“I prefer the term aggressive neutralization, but yes… their termination would be for the better of myself and the people of Thorne IV.”
“Absolutely not,” Verra avowed with unyielding conviction. “I am a Jedi, not a hired killer.”
“Did your Council not send you here with a specific mission to seek out your lost comrade?” Ban Garus asked, his question rhetorical. “From what I was able to decipher from your holocron, they have imbued you with special privileges to see your task completed. What harm is there in using that if it furthers your goal as well as my own?”
He was correct in his assessment, after all. The Council had told her to ingratiate herself with the Sith and find any lead that she could. Given Ban Garus’ position and his power, if there was anyone that could help her he would be it. Nevertheless, she simply did not like the man. If she had any other option, she would have told him to shove his head into his hindparts – but, unfortunately, she had not another option.
“And I am to trust you?”
“I would never ask you to do such a thing,” Ban Garus defended. “However, until a few of these fellows are removed I fear that I will be incapable of proving that your Zi’los is where I know him to be. Take my word as a necessity. After all, I did not not know you would survive your injuries.”
As uncomfortable as it made her to admit it, she knew he was correct. “I will not blindly kill men simply because you say that they are corrupted.”
“Of course,” Ban Garus agreed. “However, after the first one is killed I will not be able to give you the luxury of intimating yourself with the remainders. Once plans are set into motion, they will quickly respond in kind. For the safety of my estate, I will need you to promise to fulfill this task should you choose to embark upon it.”
Verra could feel the same concern upon Ban Garus’ voice when he mentioned his estate as she had heard the first time he did. Whatever the emotion was that he attributed to them, it was a genuine one. If Q’leeta’s word was to be valued at all, then they also appreciated their master. While she had been told that a Jedi could always opt to not act, that had been something she never agreed with. Action was necessary in times of war and that was exactly what this was.
“Then who is the first person?”
Ban Garus flipped a switch upon his desk and the monitors that had been facing him turned toward Verra. Behind him, the wall slid apart and a larger projection screen emerged upon which a holo-projection of a portly humanoid appeared. His features were drawn together as though he had tasted something sour and his eyebrows, large and bushy, did well to conceal his eyes. Almost birdlike in appearance, he hardly presented a flattering image. The holo-projection spun around in place as Ban Garus leaned forth.
“Kaeridan Nag,” he said with no attempt to mask his scorn. “Titled Darth Vitro by his peers.”
Much to Verra’s surprise, Ban Garus said the word “Darth” with the same derision as she did “Sith”. “What is your ‘Darth’ name?”
“Why do you ask?” Ban Garus questioned as he turned his from the screen toward Verra. “Because you believe I dislike the title?”
“Precisely that,” she chided.
Ban Garus hesitated for several seconds and shook his head. “It is irrelevant information.”
“I would deem it extremely relevant. Without that information, I refuse to cooperate further.”
“Even if it meant that innocent people came to harm?”
“Even if it meant that Sith people came to harm,” she corrected.
It was obvious that Ban Garus was not used to being handled in such a manner, but to some degree his lips formed a smirk. Perhaps her willfulness had surprised and intrigued him? Whatever the reason for the simper he shrugged his shoulders. “Conseptus.”
“A decidedly unflattering name,” Verra remarked. Ban Garus shrugged his shoulders.
“It’s catching,” he offered. Verra was quick to quiet her smirk and so he went on with his statements. “As I was saying, Darth Vitro is a man whose every action is meant for his personal profit. He has neither a sense of community nor decency, and flagrantly proves each with his debauchery and depravity. If you look to the holo-screen to your left, you will see proof to my words.”
Verra glanced as she was instructed and found that the portly man was indeed a favorite of debauchery. She saw women of Haur’nii make paraded in degrading manners that not even Twi’lek would bring themselves to suffer. Quickly she averted her eyes. “That does not mean he is any more deserving of death than you.”
“While I know it is a lost cause to remind you of the fact that I am nothing at all like him, I will assure you that his is a case of depravity that proves itself. He mistreats his subjects, abuses his servants, and greatly violates the very ideals of the Sith. If not for the generous support and funding he offers the Emperor, he would have been removed from office long ago.”
The tail end of the comment was what truly caught Verra’s attention. This slug of a creature was one of the monsters responsible for the invasion upon the Republic? She narrowed her eyes and returned her attention to the screen, where more video feed revealed the depths of the man’s degeneracy. His acts were malicious and chaotic; serving no purpose other than to encourage pain and suffering; humiliation and degradation.
“As I said, I can give you as long as you need to observe him. Minutes, hours, days, weeks – the choice is yours. All I can say is that the longer it takes you to decide, the more likely Master Zi’los will be no more.”
Verra did not doubt that Nag or Vitro or whatever his name was deserved to die. He was obviously a grotesque and disgusting creature that not only harmed the people of Thorne IV, but also the Republic at large. As she watched his acts of dissoluteness become more brazen, her stomach clenched. She could not turn away from the screen: her conscience needed to know just what kind of brute he was.
Ban Garus rose from his seat. “I will leave you to watch this, then. I fear mine is not a constitution that can suffer it. Should you choose to accept my offer, Q’leeta will see that your neural implants are removed and that you are properly outfitted for the task at hand. The datapads also contain detailed layouts of his mansion.”
Against her better intentions Verra looked away from the screen and to Ban Garus. “Why do you need me to do this? Your apprentice could have been easily sent on a suicide mission.”
“He would have been linked directly to me,” Ban Garus said off-handedly. “You, however, are more than capable with the Force and from what the reports on your holocron said, quite the skilled scout. It would be much more difficult for them to pin your attempt on me, should you fail.”
“Would I not be killed if I were to fail?”
Ban Garus shook his head. “Continue to watch those feeds. There is information enough on what happens to would-be assassins. I want you well informed on what you are entering into. It will not be something you emerge from with ease.”
Her skin crawled at the very implication, but she knew more than enough. If Master Zi’los could be saved by her attempting to remove these problematic men from politics, then so be it. Ban Garus was correct; she had several times rushed into enemy lines and returned unscathed. At that moment her very existence spoke of the fact the Force favored her. Silently she continued to watch the video feed, learning all that she could of the man before her. When the time came, she wanted there not to be an ounce of doubt that he needed to die. She heard Ban Garus leave the room but did not look away from the screen.
Each depraved action; each decadent display was minded and learned. While she knew that acting upon emotion was not the way of the Jedi, to ignore that the emotions were there would be impossible. When she thought that the man could become no worse he impressed her with a new display of disgusting behavior. It was when she came to the part that Ban Garus had mentioned – what happened to failed assassins, that her reservoir was destroyed.
She wouldn’t need three chances to see this bastard dead. That much she was certain of.