She had always been right behind him.
From the time she could walk upright, Basit’s little sister Zahirah had been at his heels begging for his attention. Like any sister she had alternated between charming him into giving her what she wanted, and annoying him to the point of rage. For nine years she had been his shadow, and he adored her as much as she had worshipped him. He had fought with her, protected her, argued with her, and loved her as fiercely as a big brother could.
He would give anything in the world to see her again.
He hadn’t thought about her in years, but as he boarded the transport and readied for the journey to Alderaan, thoughts of her were strong in his mind. She was the reason he was in a Republic uniform and readying himself for the last assignment of his military career. The hyperspace trip would be long, so he had time to mull over the memory of his sister. The memories were good to stir his blood, make him remember why he joined up in the first place, and why he was leaving when his career looked so certain.
When he reached his quarters, he lay back on his bunk, put his hands behind his head, closed his eyes and dragged his past into the present.
The black-cloaked Sith had taken her away, and never returned. The man had torn her out of his arms and taken her in the dark of night, and she was simply gone. There were no messages, no holocalls and they heard nothing but the repeated admonitions that Academy students were not permitted communication with their families. Even the Imperial officials that his father tried to bribe were stone-faced and silent. She was inside the Sith Academy on Korriban and had been gone for almost two years with no word. Her absence was like a hole in his life that nothing could fill.
He and his father, Rumok, watched the holonet every evening after the family ate. It was always the same thing: official feeds and planetary reports that assured his father that all was well in the world. The Empire was strong, its people were happy, and its politics ascendant. Rumok had been a trooper when he was young and strong, and was proud of his service. Most all of the Feara’kai males–and a sizable number of females–were trained warriors and nearly all had served the Empire. The few who hadn’t had left the clan for other worlds.
At fifteen, Basit was as tall as his father, broad-shouldered and heavily muscled. He and his friends at school were listening to Republic broadcasts that told the truth about the destruction that the Imperial troops left behind. The Emperor was missing. The Dark Council fought among their ranks for power. The young men talked about joining the Republic and getting into the action on the outer rim. When it came to his father, however, Basit kept his opinions to himself–the old man was set in his ways and didn’t understand that the Empire was falling into ruin.
Certainly many of his friends would join the Republic. There were recruiters everywhere, eager to snap up young soldiers who were ready to taste glory of their own. Basit knew his father would never forgive him if he joined the other side. Jhere Feara’kai had been Imperial supporters for many generations. If he joined the Republic, Basit would have to leave his homeworld and become Ru–kin to no one.
On this night, Rumok was talking politics at him when the Dromund Kaas report began. Basit watched it idly while his father droned on. He noticed a report of a construction accident. The report caught his attention with images of smashed droids and bodies of workmen. He watched it with interest, tuning out his father’s words.
A live holovid froze his heart. A dark, hooded Sith carried the body of his baby sister out of a smoking hole in the side of a jungle mountain.
Basit yelled, “NO!” and grabbed his father’s arm, vise-like. He punched the remote with his other hand and reversed the feed. He played it again. It was her. It had to be. It was her bright, round face that he knew as well as his own. Her eyes, open but sightless, were the same eyes that had cried on his shoulder on the night they came for her. She was bloody and limp in the arms of the same man who had taken her away. He reversed it and played it again.
The family’s holoset helpfully beeped and recorded the section.
His father sat, dumbfounded. Basit raged at the screen. “It can’t be her! It isn’t her! She’s on Korriban! FATHER!”
It wasn’t until he had seen the clip for the sixth or seventh time that he realized a slave collar was fastened around her neck. He ran for his room, swinging his fists into anything that got between him and the door.
They had betrayed her. They had betrayed his father and the clan. She hadn’t been taken to the academy after all. She’d been made a slave – just like the Empire had done to their grandsires and great grandsires generations ago. Basit sat on his bed and sobbed, unashamed of his tears. Grief poured out of him.
His parents huddled together in the kitchen, his father muttering that perhaps the news was wrong. Maybe it wasn’t her. Maybe she was just hurt. Maybe she would be coming home.
The message arrived several months later.
When he came in from school, he found his mother sobbing at the table, a package half-opened before her. Zahirah ’s datapad, scratched and filthy, lay on the table. He touched it reverently. The cheerful, childish decorations had been chipped and worn. Dirt caked the grooves and corners of the plastic cover. Wherever this datapad had been, it had not been inside the age-worn halls of the Academy.
He looked again, and saw the note on the table. The scrawl of black ink was clear. “Zahira Alnari is dead.”
He put his hands on his mother’s shoulders, which made her wail louder. His mind was calm and empty. His heart screamed louder than his mother’s cries. He would never see her again. She would never follow in his shadow or call him brother or run to him for protection.
The calm slowly became rage. Basit knew he would be a warrior. He was born and trained for it. He expected that he would serve the Empire as his father had. But now—how could he serve the people who stole his sister, killed her, and shamed his clan? They didn’t even have the decency to return her remains. She could never be buried. She would never be united with her ancestors in the proper manner. It was an insufferable insult.
He kissed his mother tenderly on the cheek, picked up his sister’s datapad, and went to his room to pack a few things.
He was leaving Iridonia, forever. He would find that Sith, and kill him. He would kill anyone who got in his way. If he had the chance, he would wipe them all from the galaxy, one Sith at a time.
Basit tried to concentrate on checking his rifle. The others aboard the transport followed the same ritual as they examined their gear for any defect. It calmed the nerves, slowed the mind, and theoretically helped him focus. This time, it wasn’t working. As he stared at the durasteel walls and listened to the roar of the engines, all he could concentrate on was the stupidity of the whole exercise.
This would be his last assignment. He had resigned his commission with a heavy heart. The civil war on Alderaan had been tedious and frustrating so far. As soon as one Imperial squad had been routed, some Baron or Duke from yet another Imp-backed family would call in more troops to help them enrich themselves and gain a crown. Lt. Alnari cared little for politics these days, and seeing more of his men engaged in another futile battle for someone else’s gain solidified his resolve to leave the military.
His youthful enthusiasm for the Republic had been waning for years. He’d seen the effect of the cold war on the people he was sworn to save. The high and mighty Jedi made decisions that made no sense and many times seemed to make things worse.
This assignment was no better. Go down, stand around some palace or another, send out patrols, and if they were lucky, pick off a few stray Imps. It was stupid, boring, and absolutely worthless in the grand scheme of things. He’d be there until he was processed out and could grab a ship to Corellia.
Basit pulled out his datapad and thumbed through the screens until he found the notice. He’d read it a dozen times, but once more wouldn’t hurt.
SECURITY PERSONNEL WANTED
Interstellar shipping and receiving company seeks qualified security personnel for high-profile commercial transport protection. Military background preferred. Combat experience preferred.
Inquire com #846-1298-vSI-822
Corellia Business Sector V2-45 Suite 7.
Everything the notice didn’t say was exactly what Basit was looking for. Imperial cruisers loved to harass Republic ships. Battles raged on the shipping lines where the treaties and agreements meant less than nothing. Hurting the Empire would certainly be easier through unconventional methods. The pay was sure to be better. He might even get a chance to kill a Sith. It wouldn’t bring his sister back but it would be more blood to shed in her memory and honor.
He sighed, turned his attention back to his rifle, and readied himself for the future.