Soaring above the dark metropolis, Syrosk and Nami sat in the back seats of a taxi, chauffeured by the airspeeder's droid pilot. The skylane upon which they traveled was low, lower than the usual urban travel the Jedi had known. The reason soon became obvious.
As the dark and crackling sky loomed above them, bolts of lightning would come down with reckless abandon, only to be intercepted by the spires that dotted the city's skyline. Conduits. Safeguards. Lightning rods. More evidence of the Imperials' willingness and ability to conquer the chaotic environment they called their home. But danger awaited any who would dare to stray too far.
Nami peered over the open speeder's edge, gazing toward the gray streets below. Rigid. Methodical. Controlled. The numerous walkways were populated by citizens and security in equal measure. Guards patrolled the streets, outfitted like full soldiers rather than simple police. Large battle droids watched over key intersections, constantly scanning their surroundings for emergent threats.
Beyond the city's denizens, there was an evident pride etched into every surface. Banners hung from the sides of skyscrapers, brightly flying the flags of the Empire. Monuments and memorials rose like obelisks, giving form to histories passed. Every face on every corner spoke of a discipline and patriotism.
"I expected to see more Sith," said Nami.
"Most Sith confine themselves to the Citadel or operate abroad," Syrosk explained. "Some have personal manors and estates further into the jungle."
"The stories we heard about Dromund Kaas, we all thought it was a military world."
"It is," Syrosk plainly stated.
"But… not everyone looks like a soldier," Nami muttered. "And I see markets… museums… eateries…"
"The Empire does not distinguish between soldier and civilian the way your Republic does," Syrosk rasped. "Military instruction is mandatory for every Imperial citizen. Every adult you see down there, from merchant to chef, knows how to properly clean and cycle a blaster."
"The Empire values its discipline," Syrosk replied, no intonation in his voice.
"Really? That's not exactly the impression I get from the Sith," Nami declared.
"The Sith… are a different beast altogether."
"You make a distinction?" asked Nami. "Between Imperial and Sith?"
"You'd be a fool not to," Syrosk rasped. "Besides, it's not as if Jedi are held to the same standards as those outside their Order."
"But we had more rules, not less," Nami explained.
"You say that like it's something to be proud of."
"Oh right, I forgot. Sith hate rules," said Nami with an almost playful roll of her eyes.
"On the contrary. The Sith love rules. If they didn't have them, how would they prove their superiority by constantly disregarding them?" Syrosk replied, completely deadpan.
The young girl in the adjacent seat released a soft chuckle. "Funny."
"I was being serious," Syrosk rasped.
"Yeah, I gathered that," Nami replied, almost teasingly. "Still, rather curious."
"Not really. It becomes quite simple if you think about it."
"No, the fact that you used 'they' instead of 'we'."
"I did?" Syrosk paused. "A minor slip."
"Was it? I mean, many of your peers think you're not one of them. Maybe a little part of you does as well."
"Speaking from experience are you?" Syrosk growled. "And the people who have problems with me aren't my peers. Sith are individuals. Each unique. Each with their own thoughts. Their own desires. Their own methods. It's not about belonging. It's not about fitting in. It's about the ability to get what you desire."
"And what if 'what you desire' is belonging and fitting in?" Nami asked.
The alien Lord released a low chortle, momentarily breaking his stoic facade. Just as he was about to shoot back a witty, sardonic response, Syrosk realized he had none. Stroking his chin, the Executor dug deep for some barb, some quip to denounce the young girl's childish desire. But the well that had served him for more than sixty years was dry.
"You possess a wellspring of untapped power… a source that if drawn upon could grant you the ability to shape worlds and nations… and all you desire is friendship?" Syrosk asked, suitably befuddled.
"Well, it's not all I desire," Nami mumbled, slumping somewhat in her seat. "I mean, I want to be able to defend myself and others. I want to be strong and independent. But I don't want to be alone. Otherwise, what's the point?"
"I was under the impression you were never alone," Syrosk rasped, tapping a finger against his brow.
The girl quickly turned her head in a huff. "I also want to be in control of my own body."
"Oddly enough, not an atypical desire for some Sith."
Nami pouted, firmly crossing her arms. "I know, but the fact that I don't want to cut myself off and hate everything makes me weird in your eyes, doesn't it?"
There was a beat as Syrosk let the conversation lull.
"Do not presume to know my thoughts," he rasped.
"Look, I know what you people hold core to your 'brand'," Nami declared, uncrossing her arms to make finger quotes. "I know I'm not really Sith material. I know I'm expected to befriend and betray and kill, in that order. I know the chances of me walking away from any of this are slim to none, but it's my only shot, alright? I've been kicked out of home after home after home… but then I found someone I thought genuinely cared about me. Someone who'd take me in despite the fact that I don't belong here just as much as any of the other places I've tried. I know the things the Sith and the Empire have done. Let's face it, on my list of people I want to be associated with, you're pretty freakin' low. I'm no Sith. Then again, I'm no Jedi. In fact, I'm nothing. I'm just a stupid girl who can't figure out that nobody wants her."
Syrosk turned to see tears falling down the young girl's cheeks.
"But who cares? Right?" Nami whispered. "Who cares about belonging and fitting in. Who cares if you're alone? Who needs friends? Who needs family? Jedi say attachments lead to the dark side. Sith say attachments make you weak. For all their differences, you people are exactly the same where it freakin' matters. They didn't want me. I know for a fact that you don't want me. You're just going along with this because you don't want to upset Fay. I'm just a burden. Like always. But it all makes sense, right? I mean, what kind of idiot would rush headfirst into mortal danger, just because she thinks she might make a friend. Months, training under the kind of people who only want to see you killed, to gain one friend. Yeah, that's totally sane, says the girl sharing her head with some other person she can barely control."
The girl leaned forward, burying her face in her hands, releasing muffled whimpers shortly thereafter.
"These are the things I care about," Nami mumbled, face still buried. "But Jedi aren't supposed to care. Sith aren't supposed to care. We're supposed to think, to consider… but never care."
Syrosk watched as the girl remained hunched over, sniffling and whimpering into the palms of her hands. He stared, with his usual cold, deadened stare. He breathed, with his usual calm, raspy breaths. He thought, with his usual deep, dwelling thoughts.
"Do you know what I was… prior to becoming an Executor?" asked Syrosk.
Nami pulled away from her hands, wiping her face with her sleeve. "I don't know… a Sith Lord?"
Syrosk looked upon the girl, staring into her watery eyes. "I would like to share a story with you."
"I mean, it's going to take a while for Syrosk to get back," Asher said to his comrades. "There really isn't any point in staying here."
"So, what? Go home for the evening?" Graves suggested.
"What you do is up to you," Asher replied with a flippant shrug. "Go home. Go drinking and get another bottle smashed over your head. The choice is yours really."
As the burned man took a step toward the Executor base's entrance, an electronic chirp rang out from the central holoterminal.
"We've got an incoming transmission!" a male attendant called out. "It's from LTF-5993!"
There was a rumbling of murmurs and footsteps as the other officers scurried toward the holoterminal. The three Sith watched with piqued interest.
"That's the same vessel from before," said Fay.
"Huh. Maybe the pirates just left them for dead rather than blowing them to pieces," Asher muttered, taking a step away from the chamber entrance.
The images being emitted above the holoterminal shifted and parted, making way for the image of the Imperial freighter's pilot. The flightsuited Human was in the same seated position as before, only this time, his movements seemed far less panicked.
"This is LTF-5993," the pilot relayed, calm but audibly exhausted. "Our ship is still immobile, but the aggressors have been dispatched."
There was a quick passing of excited gasps and cheers from the gathered Imperials. Graves and Fay appeared suitably impressed, even if their body language remained particularly rigid.
Asher, however, could only furrow his wrapped brow at the declaration. "No freakin' way. I guess the pirates tried to come aboard after all."
From off-screen behind the pilot, an enthusiastic voice sounded off over the transmission. "Hey, is 'Three' there?"
The burned Sith tensed as he found dozens of eyes fall upon him for the second time. "Yeah, I'm still here."
"I believe you said something along the lines of me not being much use? Was that it?"
The projected image expanded as another figure stepped into frame beside the pilot. Human male, mid-thirties, thin-but-protective armor beset by a heavy coat, the red vibrancy of which was lost over the blue hologram.
Asher let out a quick scoff. "Well, we assumed the pirates weren't stupid enough to try and come aboard, but obviously-"
"They didn't," the Sith on the holoterminal stated, calm, polite, and without an ounce of spite.
"Oh, they were cutting into our hull from the outside," the Sith explained. "So I had to go out there and meet them."
"Impressive," Fay spoke up.
"Now that's an unfamiliar voice," said Executor One. "Who might you be?"
The tall woman looked to her fellows. "What did we decide I was? Executor Four?"
"Well, you certainly don't sound like Jeren," the Sith on the comm offered with a playful chuckle.
"The name's Fay. The catty one is Asher," the tall woman revealed. The burned Sith's eyes sharpened as he cast a harsh glare up toward his comrade.
"And I'm Graves," the scarred man spoke up, awkwardly out of sync with the conversation.
"And he's Graves," Fay repeated.
"I take you're all the newest Sith to join our organization?" said Executor One.
"You got it," Fay plainly replied.
The polite Sith released another chuckle. "Ah, well, the name's Vai Thorel. I'm sure we'll get the chance to meet in person soon. But for now, we still have some systems we need to get back-"
"Whoa, hey," Asher interrupted. "Is it me, or are we glossing over the fact that you somehow dispatched a group of pirates outside your ship?"
"Well, lightsabers work in a vacuum," Thorel calmly explained.
"Yeah, but people don't."
"It's not that outrageous," said Fay. "Exposure is only dangerous in certain areas after a certain period of time. Breathing isn't a concern for a sufficiently trained Sith. One can overcome zero-gravity. The biggest hazard would be pressure."
"Nothing a full-body Force-barrier couldn't handle," Thorel playfully stated. "Though there might have been some light boiling around my eyes… or maybe it was freezing. I don't know, it all happened rather quickly."
"Is that being humble or bragging? I can't tell," Asher muttered.
"It's impressive either way," Fay stated.
"I'll take your word for it," Graves added. "You don't seem the type easily impressed."
"Experiment with the Force like I have, and you'll see the skill required in certain applications," said Fay.
"Um.. excuse me, my lords," a woman interrupted. The datapad-wielding officer had taken her position directly in front of the holoterminal, the other officers crowding around her. "But if we could get an official status report, I would appreciate it."
Thorel's image offered a respectful dip of its head. "Sorry. We're still recovering from the initial hit we took. We're getting the systems back online one by one, but it'll take a while before we're ready to move out."
"Are you in danger of any more attacks?" the female officer asked.
"No. Well, not here at least," Thorel declared. "You never know where pirates might pop up down the road, but I should be able to handle them too."
"Showoff," Asher grumbled.
"Thank you, X1," the woman offered with a deep bow. "Did your cargo sustain any damage?"
"Everything looks intact," Thorel stated.
"What were you hauling?" Graves asked.
The holographic figure shrugged. "Don't know. Crates? It's just my job to protect it."
Asher arched his brow to the fullest. "You jumped out of an airlock, and you don't even know what for?"
"Oh, I know exactly what for," Thorel replied. "It's my job."
"Yes, yes, I'm sure all the Imperials are swooning for you right now."
"You were the one fretting over whether you looked stupid or menacing to them," Fay muttered under her breath.
"I wasn't fretting," Asher growled, also under his breath.
"Well, look, these engines aren't going to fix themselves, so we'd better get to it," Thorel declared.
"If you'd like, we could dispatch a repair vessel to your location," the Imperial woman suggested.
"We've got it handled," said Thorel. "You can go back to worrying about X2 and the newbies."
"Who are you calling a-" Asher managed to get out before the image faded and the communications ceased. Cut off from his intended target, the burned Sith could only stew in his frustration, releasing the occasional wordless grunt.
"Please don't tell me you're going to be picking fights with the other employees," Fay muttered, arms as crossed as they could be.
"He started it," Asher grumbled.
"Tell me. Tell me how he started it," Fay pressed.
Asher's eyes sharpened as the burned Sith once more cast his harsh gaze up toward his comrade.
"I would advise caution when dealing with the other Executor, Asher," Graves calmly offered.
"And why is that?"
"Think about it," Graves suggested. "We're three Sith. We were grouped together to achieve maximum effectiveness."
"So… what kind of powerhouse do you suppose you have to be to be sent out alone?" Graves asked.
"We're different. We're special," said Asher.
"Still. He was the first. The first person Syrosk picked. The first person to be considered and approved by Darth Vowrawn. That's got to account for something."
"Also, he's an ally," Fay explained, as if stating the obvious. "I don't know, maybe that should be reason enough not to antagonize someone."
The burned man offered a quick shrug of his shoulder, to which the tall woman released a low sigh.
"How do you think they know each other?" Graves asked.
"What do you mean?" Fay replied.
"Well, if we assume we were Vowrawn's picks for the Executors, and Vai was one of Syrosk's… what do you suppose their relationship was before all this was set up. An alien Sith Lord and a… well, I guess we don't know his rank, but he seems like a rather powerful Sith. And oddly polite."
"He wasn't polite to me," Asher muttered.
"Who could be?" Fay asked.
Asher offered a quick shrug as he crossed his arms. "Whatever, I'm sure it's a boring story anyways..."