Allegro [Overwatch]

Winston_portrait

Did… someone say ‘peanut butter’?

 

He loved many things.

The swell of the orchestra as the music built to a crescendo was one of them. He lay in his hammock, his eyes closed, appreciating the ebb and flow of the most beautiful Adagio from Spartacus. Yes, he loved music.

(It is worthy of note that he also had a soft spot for bananas and went crazy over peanut butter, but that was incidental to the joy of classical music).

Winston sighed softly and let his arm hang loose, swinging easily to the rhythm and cadence of the tune. This piece was one of his absolute favourites. Harold, his handler, had introduced him to the pleasure of classical music so many years ago that he’d lost count. While some of the other specimens had barely responded to music, Winston had adored it. And this particular work always took him back to the heady days of his youth. It didn’t have the drama of, say, the Rite of Spring, nor the airiness of the Nutcracker Suite, but the tune was nonetheless a most welcome…

…wait…

…he didn’t remember that infernal electronic drum beat in the middle of one of the most famous ballet scores in all of known history…

Dum-dum-dum-dum-d-d-d-d-d-dum-dum.

Neither did he recall the moment in the ballet that the girlish voice lifted in tuneful song, belting out one of the most popular K-pop tunes of the day occurred.

“Young people,” grumbled Winston in his deep baritone. “No respect.”

With easy grace, the gorilla rolled from his hammock and listened carefully to the endless drumbeat. He knew precisely where it was coming from and it was interfering with his rare moment of down time. He was feeling annoyed.

Annoyed, not angry. When Winston got angry, people knew about it.

“Do you want me to increase the volume, Winston?” He turned his head to the source of the voice and sighed.

“No, Athena,” he said, with reluctance. “It’s probably best not to ruin the optimal level for enjoyment.”

“I can turn down the other music remotely if that will help?”

It was tempting, certainly, to let the base’s AI interfere in this unlikely and sudden battle. Winston had still to get used to the newer members of the unit and this was no different. They’d exchanged very little in the way of words (‘LOL, you’re a gorilla’ and ‘GG, Winston’ being two of the more baffling phrases he’d encountered).

Hana spoke English beautifully but there were times when he wished she’d speak her native Korean more. He understood that more clearly than any of these bizarre Young People Acronyms. She seemed inordinately young to have taken up permanent residence on the team, but he couldn’t deny that her skills were more than welcome in these changing times.

He just found her so difficult to relate to. For the first time, he had grasped a reed-thin glimpse at what it must be like to be Commander Morrison when faced with the attitudes of a new generation.

“No, Athena, thank you. I will… speak to her personally.”

Moving at his easy lope, Winston made his way down the hallway to the young woman’s door. She had decorated it with a huge, golden star that contained more glitter than Winston had ever seen in his entire life. He was not keen on glitter. It got into the fur and made him look less than credible…

You’re an ape in a suit of armour, he thought, glumly. Don’t start talking about credibility.

He raised his knuckles and rapped on the door. Unconsciously, he was knocking in time to the drum beat.

Dum-dum-dum-dum-d-d-d-d-d-dum-dum.

D.Va_Portrait

I play to win!

There was no reply, so he tried again, twice more. Both times nothing happened and with a low growl of minor irritation, Winston raised his fist to bang more loudly. As he did so, the door swung open to reveal Hana Song standing in front of him. She was chewing loudly on her customary bubble gum, a pair of fluorescent pink headphones perched on her head and a game controller in her right hand.

“Hi, Winston!”

Everything the self-styled D-Va said was punctuated by exclamations. Two minutes of talking to her exhausted him so.

“Hana, I wondered if…”

“Is my music too loud?! I’m sorry! I was playing this great game and totally like, arguing with someone over my headphones! I’ll turn it down!”

“I…”

“I love this song! I forget there are other people here! Sorry!”

“I…”

“I gotta go, I’m queuing for competitive play and people get, like, SO down on you if you get kicked! GG, Winston!”

SLAM.

The drums softened to a barely audible whisper of sound, but Winston found his eyelid still twitched in rhythm. He had barely understood a word of the conversation. He swivelled a digit in his ear thoughtfully and stared at Hana’s now-closed door before straightening the glasses on his nose, uttering yet another sigh and loping back to his own room.

“Athena… unpause.”

“Of course, Winston. Would you like me to start from the beginning?”

“Why not?”

He got sixteen bars in before it happened again.

Dum-dum-dum-dum-d-d-d-d-d-dum-dum.

The gorilla pulled a pillow over his face and whimpered. This, he knew with deep regret, was his own fault.

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A Perfect Moment [Overwatch]

Widowmaker_portrait

“Step into my parlor,” said the spider to the fly.

She stretches out her shoulder muscles. It is the first movement she has made in some considerable time, but such is the lot of a sniper. Amélie Lacroix has spent longer than this in infinitely more uncomfortable positions as she waits for the perfect opportunity, the perfect shot.

The perfect moment.

The form-fitting clothing she wears is dark, enabling her to blend effectively into the shadows although – and it is a grudging admittance – she doesn’t blend as well as her Talon compatriot, the man everyone knows only as Reaper. His ability to dissolve into the ether and make himself invulnerable to anything is a skill she envies. But she does not display such envy in front of him.

It is unladylike.

A movement catches her attention and she snaps her gaze back down to the building below her. It is a seemingly impossible distance away, but her sniper rifle combined with her precision marksmanship mean that for her, this is little more than a vague challenge. Others would have balked at the height. Afraid, no doubt, of losing their balance and falling.

Amélie does not fear falling. Now, hitting the ground, that she does fear. Because like anybody else, she has no desire to leave her life, cursed though it may be.

Below, the people move like tiny insects, scurrying about their business, heedless of the danger that lurks far above them. She brings the rifle’s sight to her eyes to allow her a telescopic gaze into the hive below. For so long now, this rifle has acted as her primary eye. Were she inclined to visit an optometrist, her near-sight would be terrible. But for what she does, it hardly matters.

Her long hair swings momentarily into her face, caught by an errant breeze and she flips back the pony-tail with gentle irritation. It has been suggested that a shorter cut might serve her far better, but she ignores such comments. There is something deeper than the neural programming has been able to reach. Something precious to which she clings with tenacious stubbornness.

They will not take my dignity.

So it has ever been. Proud, haughty, quite literally blue-blooded, the Widowmaker is not going to change for anybody ever again.

“If you don’t like what you see,” she says in her soft, lilting, heavily accented voice, “then don’t look.”

Her mark is down there in that buzzing anthill of activity. For most people, picking out an individual in a swarm would be nigh on impossible, But as an apiarist marks the queen, so the Widowmaker has spent time studying her prey. She knows his movements intimately. Her highly modified scope has been tuned, over the past few hours, to identify his specific heat signature. And he has been keeping largely inside. If she didn’t know better, she’d suspect a tip-off is keeping him indoors. But she does know better.

She has infinite patience. It is for the best, because it is another two hours before he leaves the confines of his sanctuary. In all that time, Amélie has been nothing more than a slight anomaly in the shadows that occasionally makes the slightest of movements to stop muscles from seizing up.

As she lines up the shot, she allows her mind to wander one last time. This time, she idly muses on how people paint the life of a sniper. Nobody ever includes the facts. Like sitting so still for such extended periods invites birds to perch upon your shoulders and utilise your clothing as a makeshift lavatory.

Amélie hates birds.

But then, she hates most things. It’s easier that way. Form no attachments, break no hearts. The easiest way to live is to live free of all ties and all connections. To be alone. Blissfully and terminally alone.

Enough. The thinking is done. It is time to act.

Her heartbeat, already slow and sluggish, becomes even more so and her breathing stills so much that she would barely mist a mirror. Every fibre of her being tingles with the exhilaration, the anticipation of the sniper’s perfect moment: those precious milliseconds between the instant your finger squeezes the trigger and the projectile strikes with the precision of a predator.

There is no feeling on earth like it. It is what she lives for.

It is all she has, now.

She aims.

She fires.

There is a distant sound of a projectile fired from a distance meeting its target. It burrows through flesh and bone, lodging itself into the man’s brain and he topples backward, eliminated.

Perfect.

She stands, a languorous movement and with the faintest of ‘clicks’ releases the grappling hook that will take her higher still and to the rendezvous point. Another successful mission. Another perfect moment.

She has no regrets. Emotions are for other people, not for her. She is a broken creature, really, but she does not care. To care is to imply interest. And she is not interested. To be interest implies connection and she has severed those. She is aloof and indifferent.

She simply seeks that moment of perfection. The exquisite satisfaction. It is the closest to joy she will ever feel again and so she basks in its warmth.

A perfect moment.

 

 

 

Man Down [Overwatch]

Ana_portrait.png

I’ve seen worse. You’re going to live.

“You’re hurt.”

She slid swiftly to her knees beside him and, out of a habit borne from years of working together, began to assess his condition. He tried to pull away from her.

“Don’t worry about it,” he snarled, leaning up against the wall. His hand was pressed firmly to his side and dark red blood oozed between his fingers. “Get back and…” She halted his words with a finger pressed briefly against his lips.

“Worrying is the entire point to my existence, Gabriel. Now sit still and let me…”

overwatch reyes.png

The reckoning draws near.

“That’s Commander Reyes to you, Captain,” he retorted, then bit back his harsh words. His dark eyes closed briefly, whether in regret or pain, Ana Amari was not sure. Either way, she appreciated what came out of his mouth next.

“I’m sorry. Sorry.”

“We can talk about your attitude later,” she scolded, but there was no small amount of affection in the statement. She had come to like and respect Reyes over the years and, like Jack Morrison, she had noted the man’s obvious recent descent into shadowy, brooding introversion with increasing trepidation. It had something to with whatever was going on with Reyes and that scientist woman… whatever it was they were researching in that laboratory, she was sure of it.

She reached for her medic pack, taking out the field-fix adhesive that would hold Reyes’ wound together until such time as they could get him stitched and as a courtesy, took out the syringe filled with painkillers. She held it up and gave him a questioning glance. He had opened his eyes again and was watching her every move while every other sense was apparently tuned into the sounds of destruction around them. When she offered him the painkillers, he shook his head.

“Need my senses about me,” was all he said and she put the syringe away without further question. She thought about asking him then and there what the issue was, but reasoned that the middle of a pitched battle was hardly the place to gently probe at whatever it was that was eating at him.

“Incoming!” The voice came from the other side of the wall where Reyes and Amari were presently taking refuge. With a scream of rockets, the incoming Omnic missiles impacted just feet away from where they were. Dust flew and huge chunks of broken concrete pirouetted their way from the blast’s epicentre. A piece the size of his head narrowly avoided hitting Reyes and he turned to glare at the offending projectile.

“I appreciate what you’re doing here, Captain,” he said, shortly, “but can you hurry it up? In case you’d not noticed, there’s an entire Omnic unit out there waiting for us to decline their invitation to succumb to the might of their wobbly wind-up overlords.”

His choice of language brought a smile ghosting to her lips.

“Just sit still,” she replied and pulled up the fabric of his uniform to assess the injury in his side. His body had long been scarred by the many injuries he’d received over the years of active duty and this new wound would add to that grisly tally, a deep gouge in his flesh that had been caused by a graze from a stray Omnic bullet during the last push they’d made to encroach into Overwatch’s ground.

Somewhere, she could hear Reinhardt’s unmistakable bellow as he demanded those who were still standing at the front line got behind him.

“He’ll be next,” she muttered. “Man keeps insisting on pressing ahead when falling back is the correct choice. He’s not as young as he was, but he keeps rushing in like a fool.”

“Fool maybe, but at least he’s prepared to do what’s right. Nothing wrong in that.” Reyes looked down at the bloody, ragged wound in his side and grimaced a little. He muttered something under his breath. Amari could not quite make out what it was, but was sure that it included the word ‘failure’.

She applied the adhesive carefully, squeezing the clear fluid from the tube and then holding the edges of the wound together for a few seconds. The look of pain that contorted his face troubled her and she reached back for the painkiller again. He caught her hand and shook his head vigorously.

“No,” he said. “I need to deal with it. How long before I can get back up and fight?”

“Another few minutes.” She applied a dressing over the wound. “Until the glue dries.”

He made a noise of exasperation.

“And I’d moderate your own rushing in for an hour or two,” she added, putting her kit away. Around them, further explosions orchestrated their own grim soundtrack to this calm conversation. Reyes watched her, unblinkingly for a few moments, then he reached out and caught her hand again. She looked up, sharply, in case he was having some sort of medical emergency, but instead he just studied her.

“Do you believe we’re doing the right thing, Ana?”

“What, you and me? Me patching you up? Of course I…”

“No. Overwatch.”

It was a question that caught her unawares and she could not answer him. To her mind, Gabriel Reyes and Jack Morrison were Overwatch. Both of them had different leadership styles, that was true, but they were leaders and she respected them greatly.

“We are protecting the world from the…”

“…from the threat of the Omnics, yeah, yeah, I get it. But are we going about it in the right way? Have we become so full of our own self-importance that we’re missing a bigger picture?”

“Commander…”

He released her arm and pulled himself up a little straighter. “Forget it.”

“But…”

“I said, forget it. It’s not important. We have tin robots to deal with. You locked and loaded?” A cloud passed over the weak afternoon sun, throwing the whole street into shadow. In the brief moment of natural darkness, Amari couldn’t help but notice that Reyes seemed to blend into the shadows like an insubstantial mist. The sun forced its way back out and the illusion passed, but she felt deeply discomfited by the moment.

What’s happening to you, Gabriel?

A thousand questions formed in her mind, but none came to her lips. In years to come, she would always wonder what might have become of Gabriel Reyes if she had pushed him to open up more on that gloomy afternoon, but in that moment, she simply nodded and slung her rifle back over her shoulder.

“Ready.” She put out a hand to help him to his feet and scrutinised him as he steadied himself. He took his guns back into his hands and gave her a brief, fleeting smile. They made their way back to re-join the unit. Wilhelm, whose barrier burned with the same intensity as the man’s apparently endless enthusiasm, glanced over his shoulder.

“Good to see you back up on your feet, Commander Reyes. We are ready to push the attack if you are?”

“Let’s do it. It’ll take more than that to keep me down, right Captain?”

“Yes, Commander,” she said, softly and touched a hand to Reyes’ arm gently. “Old soldiers are hard to kill.”

He put his hand over hers in a gesture of gratitude and affection. Instead of reassuring her, something about that touch troubled her deeply. Gabriel Reyes was heading for a disaster and it was not in her power to stop it. For now, she had to put it out of her mind. There was a battle to be fought, after all.

Seeking Purpose [Overwatch]

Reinhardt_portrait

Don’t worry my friends. I will be your shield.

“You are not Balderich von Adler.”

“That is correct.”

“The name on this is Balderich von Adler. I cannot help you.”

“Commander von Adler will not be able to answer your summons. I am here to take his place.” The newcomer stood ram-rod straight, staring directly ahead, fixing his one-eyed gaze on the wall behind. Jack Morrison considered him thoughtfully. The stance suggested uncertainty and awkwardness but that could surely not be the case.

The man was enormous, not just in terms of height which had to be verging on seven feet, but also across the shoulders. Muscles that had become well-toned through years of training in the Crusader armour had possibly developed sentience. The physique was more than obvious through the relatively thin fabric of the uniform that he wore. Physically, he was very like Morrison’s friend, Balderich von Adler. But this younger man lacked von Adler’s bearing. Where the leader of the Crusaders had exuded an air of nobility, this man had that all-too-familiar air of rawness to him. Tested in battle, yes, no doubt. But tested in the ways of the world? Less likely.

“You fought with him.” It was a statement, not a question and for the first time, Reinhardt Wilhelm turned his head so that he was looking directly at Morrison. “At Eichenwalde.”

Ja,” said Wilhelm. “Yes. I fought with him. He was more than my commander. He was my friend. He was mein Lehrer. My teacher. My mentor?” Morrison picked up on the question and correctly understood what Wilhelm was asking for. He nodded that the man had the right word and allowed him to continue. “And now he is dead because of my arrogance. My hubris. It is my shame to bear and it was his dying wish that I come here in his place.”

He reached up and touched a finger to his eye. The injury was still healing and the iris had turned milky white. “I have been recovering and re-training, otherwise I would have been here much sooner. You required a representative of the Crusaders and here I am.”

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Young punks. Get off my lawn.

“I am truly sorry for your loss. Balderich was a good man.” Morrison meant every word. The loss of the Crusaders at the Battle of Eichenwalde had hit the world hard, despite having been a success. On paper, at least. For every battle against the Omnics that they won, the propaganda machine glossed casually over the human cost.

“He was a great man. I know I am not worthy to take his place, but take his place I must. There is no other, Commander Morrison. No more Crusaders. All gone.” He snapped his fingers. “Over the course of a single battle, my entire unit was wiped out. I am all that is left. I am here to represent Germany, to represent the Crusaders and more than anything else, to represent Balderich von Adler.”

“Talk a lot, don’t you?” Morrison was unused to such loquaciousness. The unit was still in its infancy and his new colleagues – barring Reyes, who he had known before – were largely suspicious and unsure of one another. Relationships were still very much in the forming stage and throwing this man, larger than life and twice as talkative, into the mix could be disruptive beyond measure.

To his surprise, Wilhelm threw his head back and laughed. “I am in love with the sound of my own voice, I am told. After a beer or three, that will be even more the case.” There was warmth in his tone and Morrison could not help but smile. “You are stuck with me, Commander Morrison. Tell me I am denied entry to your unit and I will follow you everywhere until you go quite mad.”

Morrison actually believed that the big German was quite capable of making good on such a threat.

He turned the medallion over in his hand and stared once again at the name engraved on its surface. He didn’t know this man. He had not been screened or assessed by the authorities for suitable entry into the Overwatch programme. And yet… here he was.

“What do you hope to bring to Overwatch?” Morrison held up a finger. “Don’t think that’s an invitation,” he warned. “I’m asking out of my own curiosity.”

“I can fight,” Wilhelm responded with a shrug of his huge shoulders. “I can fight well and I am a protector. I am strong and resilient. I do not claim to be the world’s cleverest man, but I have the ability to see the bright side in most situations.”

“And can you follow orders?”

Wilhelm was quiet for a few moments. Morrison recognised the expression. It was a moment of recall. Whatever had happened at Eichenwalde had left its indelible mark on the man before him. What he said next would be critical.

Then the former Crusader sighed heavily and sat down on the chair he’d refused to take on arrival. It creaked alarmingly beneath his weight, but did not collapse.

“Well?” Morrison pushed for a reply.

“Yes, I can follow orders. I have… been foolish in the past. But I have learned a hard lesson and if I do not put those learnings into practice, then von Adler’s death will have been for absolutely nothing. There is no Crusader unit any longer, Commander. I am a hero and an outcast in the same breath. I come from a line of protectors stretching back generations. If I cannot fulfil that role, then what am I for?”

There was such quiet acceptance in the man’s speech. Morrison, whose mind had been made up several minutes before Wilhelm had begun to set out his plea, simply nodded.

“I have to say that this is unprecedented,” he said, his tone stern. “I am unsure…” He got no further. Wilhelm interrupted him.

“Will you at least consider me as a lesser alternative to von Adler? I cannot sit by and watch when I can bring myself to the fight.” The determination was admirable. Damn it all, the man was admirable. It was hard not to be impressed by his sheer bulk and physical presence and the driving determination that had brought him from Germany to Morrison’s office. “Please, Commander Morrison. Let me do this.”

“You help us, we help you?”

“Precisely.” That wicked, infectious grin was back on Wilhelm’s face once again and Morrison shook his head to keep from smiling.

“Alright, Reinhardt. We’ll trial it. See how it goes. See if you’re a fit with the rest of the team. But you will have to prove that my trust in you is well-founded.”

Danke, Commander!” Wilhelm leaped to his feet and clasped Morrison’s hand across the desk. Morrison felt the crushing pain as though he’d caught his fingers in a vice and winced ever so slightly. “Thank you! I promise you that you will not be disappointed with this decision!”

“I hope not,” said Morrison, grimly. “I really do.”

Respect Your Elders [Overwatch]

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I’m not a young man anymore.

When they had been young men together, it was an absolute given that they would live forever. They were indestructible, invincible, incredible…

Idiotic.

What had seemed unlikely at the time was now a given. Time, that most deadly of enemies, could be staved off only so long without making serious and usually highly questionable concessions and Jack Morrison was not the kind of man to whom deals with demons came easily.

Or at all, for that matter.

The morning he’d found that first grey hair nestled contentedly within the blond had woken him to the fact that his own mortality was a challenge he now had to face every day. He’d reached the decision, when he’d developed a constant and inexplicable nagging ache in his lumbar spine, that single-handedly taking down the forces of Talon was infinitely preferable to blowing out the considerable candles on his metaphorical birthday cake.

It was good-natured grumbling for the most part. The recruits were seemingly getting younger and this newcomer, the young British woman, made him tired with her boundless energy and effortless optimism. Still, there was something – what was the word she’d taught him again? Ah, yes. Something chipper about Lena Oxton that made him smile beneath the scowl. Quite a long way beneath the scowl.

She’d certainly proven herself in the field. The King’s Row Uprising had given her every opportunity to fail but the reports from Lindholm, Wilhelm and Doctor Ziegler had been pleasing in the extreme. A little prone to setting off on her own perhaps, but that was where her unique ability allowed her to shine. Lena – or Tracer as the team had dubbed her – was able to zip in and out in the blink of an eye creating carnage and confusion in her wake. Even the Omnics found it hard to bring her down. She was absolutely an asset to the team and despite his forced professionalism, Morrison found his attitude naturally softening around her.

She’ll twist you round her little finger, that one. Watch out for those paternal instincts, Jack.

Gabriel’s words echoed in his mind and he switched his consideration to that of his long-time friend. Reyes was changing, too. Not just ageing as he was, but there had been a subtle shift in his mindset. The two had always complemented one another; Reyes was the shadow to Morrison’s often blinding light. He was the chaos to the calm. Reyes had always been sombre and moody but of late, that had been more pronounced. It was just one more worry to add to the considerable pile. Thinking of Reyes troubled him more deeply than he had the capacity to express. Had he been of a different mindset, he would have sat down with the man. Talked the matter through. But there was no time these days. He had to oversee the organisation’s logistics from headquarters while Reyes was frequently out in the field commanding Blackwatch.

Was that… envty he felt? That Reyes still had the rein to go out and fight the good fight while he was looking at a comfortable desk job for the remainder of his time to be served?

“Commander Morrison?” There was a rap at the door that tore him from his reverie. He pushed thoughts of Gabriel Reyes to the back burner where they could simmer gently until such time as he could address the matter.

“Cadet Oxton. Thank you for coming to see me. Please.” He waved vaguely at the desk opposite him. “Take a seat.”

Tracer_portrait

Cheers, love! The cavalry’s here!

She was a slight little thing, slim as a reed and leaving the impression that she could break in a stiff wind, but he was well aware of her strengths, not to mention her courage. Young she might be, but there was a fearlessness to the young woman that was greatly admirable. But she had not come to see him to receive his praise. His task today was infinitely more complex than that.

With caution evident in her eyes, she sat down. Her right leg jiggled slightly; it was nigh on impossible for her to remain stationary for any length of time. It could have been irritating in someone else, but Reyes was right. She had twisted him round her little finger. Yet another sign of his softening into middle age.

Morrison put on what he hoped was his most serious expression.

“You’ve performed in the field in a most exemplary fashion…” He began his well-practiced speech, brow furrowed in a stern manner. He leaned forward on the desk, his chin resting in his hands as he studied her with intensity. She squirmed and not just with restlessness. “But I’ve been asked by Engineer Lindholm to – ah – have a word about your practical jokes.”

“Oh?” Her innocence fooled nobody, but she seemed to be thinking about his words. Then her eyes widened. “Ohhhhh… that.”

“Blinking into Torbjorn’s workshop while he’s working and replacing his hammer with one that went ‘squeak’ when he used it…”

“Was hilarious,” she interjected with an infuriatingly infectious giggle.

“You…”

“Need to get people round here to lighten up,” she chirped, brightly. “I know, I know, there’s war and all that stuff, but sometimes you just have to say ‘bollocks’ to it all and have a bit of a giggle. I put all his tools back. Nothing blew up, exploded or generally went wrong, so it’s all fine, right, Commander?”

“I…”

He was losing control in a way he didn’t understand.

“Good talk.” She got to her feet, made finger guns in his direction and beamed her smile. “I like what you’ve done with your hair, by the way – are those silver highlights? That’s pretty cool. Cheerio!”

Blink.

“Er…”

She’d already gone.

“Um…”

Nothing where she’d been except a vague and passing imprint of her shape on his retina. Morrison sighed, wearily and wondered exactly when it was he had woken up and lost control of his own life. With a deep sense of letting go of who he had been, he not only embraced the encroaching stereotype, he welcomed it home after the second date to meet his parents.

“The youth of today,” he muttered to himself. “Don’t respect their elders.”

A Sense of Sibling Duty [Star Wars: The Old Republic]

Corellia.

The place was evocative of Balmorra, although in places, there were not-so-subtle hints of arrogant luxury. Arcarius found such ostentation bordering on distasteful. On landing, he had made his way through the star port without delay. Officials had considered demanding to see his papers, but there had been such a look of bloody murder in the young Sith apprentice’s eyes that they wisely thought better of it.

‘Welcome to Corellia, my lord Arcarius.’

The voice was female and Arcarius turned to view its owner. A diminutive form in a lieutenant’s uniform stood beside a console and he narrowed his amber eyes at her. She gave him a tight smile that gave away her obvious apprehension at being in his presence. Good, he thought. Fear me. That is right and proper.

‘I am Lieutenant Taniela Sanders,’ she continued. ‘It is a pleasure to finally meet you.’

Lieutenant Sanders. The contact he had unearthed to track the movements of the shuttle his oldest brother had taken from Hoth. Her reports had been regular and informative and it had been because of her that Arcarius had combined intelligence and his own powers of divination through the Force to pre-empt his brother’s arrival on Corellia.

‘Of course it is a pleasure,’ he replied in response to her greeting. ‘Let me begin by saying that your work has been exemplary thus far.’ He saw the slight flush of pink on her cheeks; pride at receiving a compliment from a Sith. She was hard to put an age on; she was dark haired with a hint of silver at the temples. The skin of her face was smooth and lightly tanned, without any obvious wrinkles. She was pleasingly attractive, certainly. Arcarius well-knew that rejuvenation treatments were cheap and easily available to those vain enough to pursue them. Her stance was formal and carefully studied, marking her every inch the professional officer.

And yet, as her hazel eyes raked over his tall, muscular form, he caught an echo of a thought – fleeting and idle and one which had less to do with intelligence reports and more to do with wondering what such a man would be like in bed – that was most unbecoming of an Imperial officer. He was used to such thoughts but he still enjoyed the sense of power that came with them. Often, he would use such flirtations to his own ends, but this was no idle moment.

Arcarius kept the smirk to himself, said nothing of it and returned all concentration to successful fulfilment of his mission. If there were to be a liaison with this woman, and from the trace of her thoughts it seemed that she would certainly welcome it, then it would come after he had completed his work, neot before.

‘To work then, Lieutenant,’ he said, reaching up and removing the mask that covered his nose and mouth. ‘What news of Kane Getharion’s shuttle?’

His brusque manner immediately gave Sanders the nudge she needed to snap her thoughts out of the gutter into whence they had wandered and she handed a datapad to him.

‘We anticipate the arrival of former Captain Getharion at the Republic-held port in approximately two Corellian hours,’ she said. ‘Local intelligence has led us to believe that he seeks sanctuary amongst the Green Jedi conclave. A Jedi by the name of Phin is scheduled to meet him directly from the shuttle and escort him to safety.’

‘A shame they will fall victim to an Imperial ambush then,’ said Arcarius in response. ‘Lieutenant, I need four of your best snipers to accompany me. Get them and sort them swiftly.’

‘Is that all, my lord? Phin is rumoured to be amongst the strongest of his Enclave…’ She regretted the words immediately as she saw the flair in Arcarius’s eyes. ‘Four snipers. Right away, my lord.Your orders to them?’

‘As far as the Jedi is concerned, shoot to kill – but let me take a go at him first. If at any time it seems necessary… a shot to the brain will kill a Jedi just as easily as any other. Kane Getharion, on the other hand…’ Arcarius smiled and there was nothing even remotely pleasant in the expression. He delighted briefly in the moment of fear that rippled through the Force, the sense of terror that his predatory glance instilled in this woman. It gave him strength and power and he relished both.

‘Kane Getharion must live. I would very much enjoy the chance to spend time in conversation with my dear brother.’ That same slow, lazy smile remained on his face and Sanders shrank back as the young Sith’s fingers danced on the hilts of the twin sabershung at his narrow waist. ‘It has been far too long.’

* * *

At twenty years old, Arcarius was eighteen years younger than his oldest brother. The firstborn and nominal heir to the Getharion’s considerable estate had already joined the military by the time Arcarius was born. Apart from occasional perfunctory and lacklustre returns home to visit his mother in the youngest’s early years, Arcarius had very few memories. When he had turned six, Arcarius had left for Korriban, his brothers and his family becoming mostly a shadowy memory as time wore on.

He had encountered his brothers only three times in the fourteen years since he had left his family and only once all together; the most recent one. The state funeral of his paternal grandfather. It had been a display of unity and strength of the Getharion family that had most certainly left its mark. Arcarius had felt the uncertainty his brothers demonstrated towards their youngest sibling and he enjoyed it.

Kane had taken him to one side after the ceremonies were over, wanting to talk to him. But General Getharion had been desperate for the time with his youngest and favourite son and whatever Kane had wanted to share with his brother was lost, seemingly forever.

Perhaps not forever.

* * * 

Jedi Master Phin Talloran was prepared for the attack when it came. What he was not prepared for was the sheer physical weight of the Sith who leaped onto him from a great distance. The youth’s mass was unprecedented and it threw Phin off balance. With the cat-like grace of his training, he regained his footing swiftly, drawing the double-bladed lightsaber that he favoured. He projected an invisible shield of Force energy towards his charge, the bearded, dark-haired man who was already drawing blasters from his waist.

Phin studied the man before him – no, not a man. A monster. He took in the thickly-muscled, over-developed torso swiftly, assessing his foe for potential weakness. The eyes that fixed on him were turning a deep amber, bordering on scarlet. They were filled with hatred and fervour and Phin recognised the signs of an Imperial zealot. He also gauged the Sith’s youth and felt a pang of regret.

‘Put aside your weapons, lad,’ said Phin, reaching up to stroke his neatly-trimmed beard. ‘You cannot hope to win against me. I would spare you the humiliation and pain of defeat if you step aside now and simply let me pass unhindered to my Enclave.’

‘Noble words, Master Jedi.’ The young man pushed back his hood to reveal his shorn, hairless head and scarred visage. The words he spoke were precise, clipped and with an accent that made the bearded human look across at their ambusher in startled recognition. The boy’s eyes locked onto his and the bearded man looked away. Sneering, the Sith turned his attention back to the Jedi.

‘I propose we negotiate,’ he said and Phin started. He had not expected this from the youth, whose aura was more negative than anything he had encountered in a long time. But as a Jedi, he was duty-bound to resort to violence only as a last measure. He grounded himself firmly and folded his arms across his chest.

‘Speak your terms, lad.’

‘First of all, cease with the diminutive. I am not your “lad”. I am no child to be toyed with. I am a warrior of the Sith; a servant of the glorious Emperor and you will speak to me with the respect due my station.’ Arcarius emphasised this by pointing one of his powered-down saber hilts at the Jedi’s face.

Phin couldn’t help the smile that flickered onto his face. He realised instantly that it was the wrong reaction.

‘I further warn you, Phin Talloran of the Green Jedi, that I am not a patient man. The traitor you are escorting is a citizen of the Empire. I have a personal, vested interest in ensuring his safe return to his people.’

‘A personal interest?’

‘Yes,’ said the Imperial officer at Phin’s side and there was a hint of reluctance in his voice. ‘This is my youngest brother.’ He looked at Arcarius and Phin noted for the first time the similarity across their eyes and nose; the same strong bone structure and even a certain match in their respective heights and breadth of shoulder.

Kane stood forward. ‘I could say that you should make your demand, Arcarius, for the sake of the thing. But you know we will refuse your terms and then you will fight. Why not just kill me now? It will save us no end of time. So kill me if you must. I give you fair warning. I will not go quietly.’

‘Brother. You wound me. I have no wish to kill you.’ Arcarius’sfeigned surprise fooled absolutely nobody. ‘I wish merely to bring you back into the loving embrace of your rightful family. Back into the shining glory of the Imperial Truth.’

‘The Imperial Truth is a lie.’ The sheer venom in Kane’s words took the Jedi aback. He had known that Kane Getharion’s desperate need to flee the Empire had driven him to many corners of the galaxy seeking sanctuary. He had been running for a long time. It seemed that his race was done.

‘I can do nothing but defend you now, Kane,’ the Jedi said with gentle regret. ‘I have no wish to fight this boy…’ He ignored the low growl that emanated from Arcarius and continued. ‘…but I can see no peaceful end to this situation.’

‘There is one if you would but listen to what I have to say.’

Arcarius’s tone was imperious and even Kane looked impressed for a moment at the power and timbre of the sonorous voice. Phinturned cautiously, adopting a fighting stance, but did not ignite the green crystal blades of his saber.

‘Then speak, Arcarius Getharion. Speak, and I will hear.’

‘You will hear, Phin Talloran, aye. But will you listen?’ Shifting his weight until he had assumed a fighting stance of his own, Arcarius let a slow smile play around the corners of his mouth.

And he spoke.

‘I am here to return that man…’ Arcarius indicated the soldier with his right-hand saber, ‘to the Empire where he belongs. He has taken a wrong step and it is my duty to ensure he is returned to the straight and narrow.’

‘I have chosen this path, brother,’ sneered Kane. ‘I have elected voluntarily to walk away from the Empire and bask in the light of the Republic.’

‘Then alas, I must call you traitor. On that basis, I must insist that you allow me to return you to the Empire for just trial and execution.’ Arcarius shrugged easily, his eyes never leaving the man who looked so like the father they both shared. He could hardly believe that they shared blood. That the weak heart beating in Kane’s chest was formed from the same genetic stock. The thought of his brother’s choice to defect to the Republic sickened and reviled him.

‘No.’

Just one word, that was all it was. But it was spoken with force enough to startle Arcarius out of his moment of smug self-congratulation.

‘This man is under the protection of the Green Jedi Enclave of Corellia,’ said Phin, stepping forward and swinging the saber  loosely in his hands. ‘I will fight to the death to defend him.’

‘Aye, him and his secrets. How much have you betrayed your own people, Kane? How many military secrets have you divulged to get as far as you have? What grubby little bites of intelligence have you handed out for these greedy bastards to feed upon so that they would gladly offer you sanctuary?’ Arcarius took his eyes from Kane and stared at the Jedi. ‘Are you fully aware of my brother’s military record, Master Jedi? Of the countless Republic lives he has taken? Of the planets where he has been at the head of massacres?’

Arcarius smirked and took a step closer to the Jedi. ‘Did you know that he has been working as a counter-intelligence officer for years? Do you even know for sure that he truly intends to switch his allegiance? Why, I don’t believe Kane himself knows.’

‘I am loyal to the Republic,’ snarled Kane, his hands clenching into fists. ‘I am…’

You have no voice in this conversation. I suggest that you wait until you are told to speak, Captain. You do not need me to remind you, I am sure, that your rank means precisely nothing in the eyes of the Sith. Nonetheless, consider this an aide memoire.

Without even looking at the man, Arcarius clenched his own hand, but directed the effect at his brother. Kane began to gasp as his windpipe constricted under the Force Choke. Arcarius held him rigid for a few moments, long enough to silence him, then released him. He continued speaking to Phin. ‘Did you know that my brother was even in charge of assaults specifically targeted at Jedi outposts?’

Phin blinked, once, then spoke easily. ‘I was aware.’

‘You lie.’ Arcarius almost laughed. The lie was clumsy and awkward and he realised that his words had been well chosen. He had planted a seed of doubt in the Jedi’s mind that would blossom and grow with rapid certainty. Their fight was still inevitable and Arcarius was not fool enough to assume that it would be an easy victory – but now Phin was uncertain as to whether he was defending a true defector or a spy. Arcarius had exposed the Jedi’s jugular. And he would take the blood it offered him.

‘No matter. Either allow us to continue on our way, Sith, or I will be forced to cut you down.’

‘You know my answer to that, Master Jedi.’

‘You are a boy. You are far too eager to die. You do not wish to fight me.’ Arcarius felt the fuzzing in his mind as Phin expended Force energy in an effort to convince him. But he had long been trained to deal with such tricks and he shook his head to clear the moment of confusion.

‘You are wrong on all three counts. Firstly, I may be young, but I am no longer a boy. Secondly, I have no intention of dying. If I were to die during this mission, why, my master would kill me.’ He laughed without humour at his own cleverness. ‘And…’ The two red sabers he wielded ignited with their customary noise. ‘Now that you have incurred my wrath, I am quite keen to fight you. Now that you have given me no other recourse.

Three blaster shots rang out and three blaster shots were deflected from Arcarius’s body by the shield he instinctively projected. He turned to his brother. ‘As for youyou would do well to stay out of this.’

‘He speaks wisely, Captain. Keep back and allow me to deal with this interruption.’ Phin shook his head at Arcarius. ‘This is your last chance, lad. Let us pass, or die.’

‘I will not allow you to pass.’

‘So be it.’ Phin ignited his own saber, the double-edged laser blades sliding out with a whisper that contrasted starkly with the harsh, chaotic buzzing of Arcarius’s own weapons.

For several silent seconds, the epitomes of grace and brute force stood face-to-face, weighing up one another’s weaknesses.

Then, in a clash of blades, they engaged.

The two warriors, Jedi and Sith fought ferociously. Arcarius was by far and away the physically superior of the pair; a solid slab of sinewy muscle whose blows rained down on his opponent with alarming accuracy. But Phin Talloran was a Jedi Master. He had not reached that position by being the kind of man who would fall to a Sith youth at the first encounter. He parried and deftly avoided the majority of the blows and trusted to his own Force shield to protect him from the rest.

‘You cannot win this fight, Sith,’ he said as he arched backwards away from a pair of swung blows from the two furiously burning red sabers. ‘And I do not wish to bring you to your death. This one man is not worth that much, surely?’

‘This one man will not die a snivelling, Republic coward,’ snarled Arcarius in reply. His scarred, pale-skinned face was contorted with the furious rage which he was channelling and directing into his attacks. ‘He is a Getharion. He will stand and face trial like a man, not hide weeping behind the skirts of the Jedi.’

Without expending any effort, Phin bent his legs slightly and leaped up to the lip of a window ledge on the closest building. With only a heartbeat’s hesitation, Arcarius followed suit. From his vantage point beneath them, Kane Getharion could do nothing but watch, awed at the demonstration of sheer power he was witnessing; both from the Jedi and from his own brother. The first true sliver of fear pricked at him like a dagger.

What have you become, Arcarius?

‘Cease your efforts to kill me, Arcarius,’ said Phin in his mild tone. His hood had fallen back to reveal a close-cropped head of dark red hair that matched his beard. Three scars ran down over his right eye. ‘All the time we fight, your brother has every chance to run.’

‘There are four snipers trained on him,’ replied Arcarius scornfully. ‘The second he moves, his kneecaps will be blown to mist.’ He immediately broke into another flurry of blows, hammering towards Phin and forcing the Jedi to step backwards away from the intensity of the attack.

‘No,’ said the Jedi. ‘No, I will niot have this come to pass. I will not take the life of a boy.’ He flung out his hand and Arcariusflew backwards from the ledge. Any other man would have fallen – not to his doom, they were not high enough for that – but certainly to a nasty injury. But Arcarius responded with the lightning reactions of his kind. His big body twisted in the air and he landed as softly and deftly as a cat, his armoured boots sending up a cloud of concrete dust where he landed just in front of his brother.

Phin launched himself after the boy and delivered his own series of attacks, the double-bladed saber a blur of light as he spun it around. Kane found himself on the edge of being hypnotised by it. Arcarius dodged most of the attacks and as a blow aimed for his neck flew in, he raised his left arm to absorb the strike with the cybernetic that had replaced his lost limb. Sparks flew and he leaned in towards Phin until the two warriors were nose-to-nose.

‘If you choose to not take the life of this boy,’ Arcarius registered his disgust at Phin’s perception with heavy emphasis on the word, ‘then this boy will gladly take yours. Then he will take his brother and he will leave this wretched, stinking world behind.’

Phin stared at Arcarius’s arm for a moment, wondering how it was that a man so young, a man in his prime had already begun to lose limbs. Arcarius snorted, reading the Jedi’s expression with startling perception.

‘I chose this,’ he said, brandishing his left arm. ‘The flesh, PhinTalloran, is weak. In the case of my brother, so is the mind. Weaknesses of the body can be replaced, repaired, improved upon. Weaknesses of the mind will not be tolerated. Will never be understood. He. Is. A. Getharion!

‘You chose.’ It was not a question, but a flat repetition and the disgust was more than evident. ‘You truly believe that? You do not think that you were in some way manipulated into it? What next, Arcarius? Artificial organs? When will it end? When will the desperate desire to overcome your own mortality stop? There is another way, you know.’

There was a brief hesitation and Arcarius lowered his sabersbriefly. He stared at Phin and the Jedi extended the moment of connection. ‘You are young… you have much to learn. The Green Jedi are not like the others. We have much we could offer you. There is another way, Arcarius Getharion.’

Arcarius shook his head and growled. The noise was menacing and frankly quite terrifying and the moment it left his throat, Phinknew that it was an exercise in futility. The young Sith spoke in a low, dangerous voice.

‘Do not think to appeal to my better nature, Master Jedi,’ he said. ‘I do not possess one.’

Having spoken, the boy resumed his attack with renewed vigour. His blades danced and the Corellian street echoed with the reverberation of lightsaber on lightsaber. Phin fought back for all he was worth, pouring everything he had into defence against this monster. The thought flickered through his mind that if Arcarius was this strong at his age – and Phin didn’t put him much past his early twenties – what would he become if he were allowed to live?

Could he allow that to be?

They fought on, neither tiring, neither finding the one chink in the other’s armour that would bring the fight to its conclusion. In the end, it was Kane who stopped it. He stepped forward from his hiding place.

‘Enough!’

His voice carried the authority of a military officer who was used to being obeyed and something in the tone had that effect on both Sith and Jedi. They broke apart from another toe-to-toe impasse and fell back, eyes warily trained on one another.

‘Enough,’ repeated Kane. ‘My life is not worth yours, Master Jedi.’ He turned to Arcarius. ‘I will go with you, brother. My flight from the Empire reaches its end here. In return, you abandon this fight and you let Master Talloran walk free.’

‘Tempting,’ said Arcarius, a fearsome grin on his lips. ‘Of course, taking you and slaying the Jedi would be the ideal outcome.’

‘Captain Getharion, you cannot do this.’ Phin shook his head and took a step towards Kane. ‘You have come so far. You cannot give up at the final hurdle…’

Yes, I have come far, Master Jedi,’ replied Kane. ‘I have come far and I have lost everything in the process. My wife, my children, my position, my… family…’ His eyes met Arcarius who sneered at him in contempt. ‘I am tired. I give myself into Imperial custody, Arcarius. Do what you will.’

‘No. I cannot…’

Phin’s protestations were cut short by the Force Choke. Arcariushad seized upon the moment of distraction and the moment of weakness and fully pressed the advantage. He kept the Jedi silent with the choke and then ran forward, slamming his heavy, muscular frame into Phin’s and pinning him up against the wall of the building behind.

‘Thank you for the training exercise, Master Jedi,’ said the young Sith. ‘May the Force be with you.’ His tone was snide, mocking and bordering on cruel.

Arcarius…’ Phin’s eyes locked on Arcarius’s. ‘Never forget…’

‘Practise what you preach.’

Arcarius smirked at the Jedi and in a swift movement, whipped a syringe from a pouch at his belt, jabbing it into the Jedi’s neck. The sedative worked quickly and Phin dropped his saber to the ground and then slid, unconscious, to the floor. Arcarius stared at him and then turned to his brother.

The two Getharion boys stared at each other. It was Kane who broke the silence.

‘Why didn’t you kill him?’

‘Don’t you remember Father’s advice? Always leave one alive to warn the others.’ Arcarius sneered at his brother. ‘And now, my brother, we are free to talk.’

* * *

Until Arcarius, Kane Getharion had always been his father’s favourite. The first born, the heir to the family name and the most dedicated to pleasing him. Two other brothers followed; then a sister who died before her first year was through. By then, Kane was sixteen years old. He had noted the tension between his parents at his sister’s funeral and he knew that General Getharion somehow placed the blame for the child’s death squarely on her shoulders. He had not raised the matter however and within eighteen months, his mother was expecting another child.

It was not an easy pregnancy for her. From the beginning she had suffered with terrible pain and had spent the first four months more or less incapacitated. During that period, Kane had been mostly away at the military academy, a place where he proved himself to be largely mediocre in every field. He excelled at nothing. He was a passable soldier, but he would later graduate with an officer’s rank. In the case of the Imperial army, familial ties meant everything.

Arcarius Kale Getharion was born two months early; a puny baby with a smattering of dark hair and eyes of the deepest green; his mother’s eyes. The baby had almost killed his mother with his early arrival; the haemorrhage had bled her practically dry and it was only the timely intervention of Kale’s personal medic who had spotted the signs of the impending premature birth that had saved them both. The infant had been delivered beneath the knife of the surgical droids and had emerged into the world covered in his mother’s blood and with a furious stare that had sent a cold shiver down the medic’s spine. The baby had not cried at first. He had merely stared at the medic as though remembering her.

He had fought to survive for the first two hours of his life. His lungs were not fully developed and whilst his mother struggled to keep conscious, the infant had battled against the cold hand of death that threatened to snatch away the thread of his short existence. And then, when the medic had begun to prepare her words to General Getharion to explain why it was both his wife and newborn son had died under her care, the boy began to improve. In another three hours he had screamed and in his infantile flailing torn off the cables and machines that had kept him breathing. His independent streak meant that he chose life from the start.

General Getharion had arrived after five days. He ignored his pale, weakened wife lying in the bed and turned his attentions straight to the child. Arcarius, named for his maternal grandfather, lay in the crib looking back up at his father. Kale had never taken much interest in the birth of his children. Childbirth was a woman’s place, after all. But something about this child caught his attention and he found himself immediately wanting to break the world apart if it would only encourage a smile onto those pale little lips.

Kane had returned home during a recess to see his family and had met his newest brother. He had realised, with a sinking heart, that his position as his father’s favourite had been stolen. He sat by and watched with a dull ache of regret as the weeks-old baby boy wrapped everyone around his tiny little finger with a carefully placed smile or a cry at just the most inopportune moment. Kane had proudly presented his report to his father who had merely commented that he needed to work harder and his mother…

His mother was never the same following Arcarius’s birth. At first, it seemed as though she would reject the boy, but her maternal instincts finally took over. There was never any love between them and Kane had watched her go into a slow decline until she had become the insular, borderline insane woman that she was now.

Kane had not liked his baby brother but put it down to simple jealousy. He went back to the academy and hoped that time would smooth things out; that he would scale his father’s impossible mountain path of approval once again. When Arcarius had been tested for Force Sensitivity and had proved positive, Kane knew that he was forever forgotten.

He thought on this now as he met the eyes of the man before him. ‘You grew,’ he observed, not quite knowing why. Arcariusswitched off his lightsabers and hooked them to the belt at his waist. His glittering eyes – no longer sea-green, but now a hue of corrupted umber – fixed on his older brother taking in the ragged uniform, the straggly beard, the look of desperation. The young Sith began to pace, an aura of fury emanating from him that made Kane want to turn and flee.

But he did not.

‘You are a traitor, Kane. By rights I have already forsaken my duty by allowing you to continue to breathe. Do not test my patience further or I will gladly revoke that most basic of privileges.’

‘I don’t understand why you haven’t…’

‘Why I haven’t killed you?’ Arcarius stopped his pacing and sneered nastily. ‘Call it a failing on my part, brother. Call it sentimentality. Call it a last chance. Whatever it is, I would rather kill you on my own terms.’

‘I don’t understand.’

‘Of course you don’t. What would you know about honour?’

‘I submit myself to the Imperial military for their judgment. I know that this will lead to my trial and execution. I do this willingly. Is that not honourable?’

‘No!’

The word was snapped out and Kane shrank back from the sheer force and power of the Sith’s voice. ‘You will drag the Getharion name through the dirt if I allow that to happen. You will die as a traitor and I will not let that happen. So I give you a final chance to redeem yourself, Kane Getharion.’

‘I will not resume blindly following Imperial rule. I cannot. For the future of the galaxy…’

‘You idiot,’ said Arcarius and he laughed. There was no humour in it. Kane wished he hadn’t done it. ‘The Empire is the future of the galaxy. It will all belong to us, brother. The Jedi will be exterminated and their hubris, their endless meddling and twisting of the glorious truth will be put to an end. There was once a time when you could have been a part of that. But not any more. You have signed your own death warrant. It’s now up to you how you meet that death. As a traitor… or as a hero.’

The two brothers stood in silence for a while and then Kane nodded.

‘Tell me what I must do,’ he said, resigned now to his ultimate fate. Arcarius smiled coolly.

‘It’s very simple,’ he said. ‘Here’s the plan.’

Kane shrank back physically from the horrors that Arcarius then proceeded to lay out before him. They would attack one of the Corellian resistance outposts together. As brothers. They would decimate the numbers and Kane would ‘die tragically’ in an act of boundless Imperial heroism. Arcarius would ensure word of his brother’s last-minute about-face reached the ears of General Getharion.

‘You would forever stand foremost in his favour,’ said Arcariusand he knew, even as the words left his lips, that he had gauged his brother’s biggest weakness perfectly. He felt inner disgust at the bright tears that started in the corners of Kane’s eyes. Did the approval of their father mean so much to him? No matter. It served a purpose. Arcarius had twisted his brother’s rebellious thoughts around to his way of thinking.

It was, after all, what he did.

* * *

My name is Kane Getharion. And had I been allowed to continue down the path I chose in a moment of weakness, I would be a traitor.


This is my redemption. In this act, I clear my name and my family’s name of shame. In this act, I become an Imperial hero. In this act…


In this act, I die.


But I die a hero.


My name is Kane Getharion

I can hear these words. They are running around the inside of Kane’s head. With my connection to the Force and my bond of blood to my oldest brother, I can hear them as clearly as if he were speaking to me. He is thinking them with pride, not with fear, regret or shame. He believes in what he is doing. He repeats the words to himself over and over again and it is a worthwhile exercise. In time, he will believe it.

Although time is not really an issue for him now.

Look at him. Really look at him. He is almost forty years old, although the comparatively easy life he has led means he looks younger. His eyes are the same grey hue of our father’s but there is no evidence of the same strength of will. His eyes are devoid of steel and fire. There is no power in my brother. He is a broken cog in the Imperial machine and he needs to be removed.

Allowed to run unhindered, the broken cog will ultimately cause a sticking point in the smooth flow of the Empire’s plans. A man whose thoughts turn to treachery cannot be allowed to continue. There is only one form of redemption for him and he has accepted that.

I will allow him the sliver of pride he feels at this fact, even though I know the depth of the truth.

He is ready. His task is prepared and he fully understands his orders. Timing is of the essence in this strike however and we are forced into one another’s company for just a little longer.

‘I have three children,’ he tells me. I am not interested, but I let him speak. For the sake of ensuring his full complicity, I will allow his turgid tales of home to be told. I mostly let it go in one ear and straight out the other, filing away the important bits – of which there are few. He has two daughters and a son, apparently. None have shown any hint of Force Sensitivity and he is regretful about this.

‘You have something the rest of us always wanted, Arcarius,’ he tells me. There is a familiarity in his tone that I do not appreciate. I stare at him and take pleasure in watching him cringe beneath my scrutiny. But he ploughs on. After all, what does he have left to lose? ‘You have our father’s respect. Me, Pelion, Demerius – all of us have craved that all our lives. You gained it just by being…’

‘By being what, brother?’

He flounders. It is amusing to see him struggle. Eventually, he settles for the simplest response. He also chooses his words carefully. He aims to please me.

He succeeds.

‘By being better than the rest of us.’

There are a thousand questions I could ask him, but I have kept his interrogation deliberately light. His silence has told me more than his words ever could and by careful use of methods I have learned from the greatest and best, I have deduced that Kane’s actions were simply those of a fool; of a desperate man who saw no future for himself within the strict hierarchy of the Empire. He had gone as far as he could go.

‘That’s a reasonable hypothesis,’ I say to him and he turns his head away, clenching his hands into fists.

‘I regret…’

‘Enough, Kane. I have pursued you across half the galaxy. I have no interest in listening to your whining regrets and feeble apologies. I do not wish to hear your last words, your final requests or your puling excuses. I am not here to absolve you of your sins. I am here to ensure you atone for them. The time for weakness is long past. You must now prepare.’

He cringes beneath my cold stare again and very slowly, very deliberately, I drag my gaze down from his face to the bomb that has been strategically strapped to his chest. The moment he begins his run towards the rebel encampment is the moment the countdown begins. It will be timed to absolute perfection.

My brother will deliver the Empire’s message in a shower of gore and destruction that brokers no argument.

‘My family,’ he tries, desperate to get the message to me one last time.

‘Your family will receive word of your boundless heroism, Kane. I will deliver it personally. There will be financial compensation enough to ensure that they will not struggle. At least until your children are of an age suitable for enlisting in the military or some other suitable placement can be found for them.’

It is enough. Relief bursts through the creased worry on his face – a face remarkably like my own – like the sun coming out from behind the clouds.

‘Thank you, Arcarius. My brother.’

There is a final moment that passes between us; a moment of silence and a sense of the blood pumping through our veins that binds us in a way those without siblings would never understand. And as I whisper the last words he will ever hear from one of his own, the knife of necessity slices through the last tendrils of those bonds, severing my brother’s attachment forever.

‘Time to go now, Kane.’

He desperately searches my face, seeking comfort or absolution that will not come. Not from me. Setting his shoulders, he turns his back on me, his youngest brother and begins to run. He does not run away from his doom. He runs towards it.

At the last, in the microseconds before the explosives detonate, he throws his arms open and screams his undying devotion to the Emperor.

The explosion rocks the rebel base. There is screaming and there is terror and I siphon it all from the air around me. I watch the curling smoke and the fire that catches swiftly for a few moments and then I curl my hand around my dead brother’s dog tags and walk away. I must report his death to my father. I will keep my side of the bargain, just as he stuck to his.

In the air, I catch the faintest of faint echoes.

My name is Kane Getharion. And had I been allowed to continue down the path I chose in a moment of weakness, I would be a traitor.


This is my redemption. In this act, I clear my name and my family’s name of shame. In this act, I become an Imperial hero. In this act…


In this act, I die.


But I die a hero.


My name is Kane Getharion

Was, I think. Get your tenses right, brother.

My task is done.

Perspective

Genji_portrait

Ryūjin no ken wo kurae!

After the humidity of Hanamura, the mountain temperature hit him with the full force of an ice blast. He welcomed it. This climate had become the one to which he had adapted most readily. The crisp cleanliness of the air was a cleansing balm on his troubled soul and the ancient temple that he now called home as solid and permanent as the mountains that surrounded it. The permanence of the building brought a comfort he found in precious few places. He meditated, wrapped in a cocoon of peace and comparative well-being.

Not comparatively enough, it transpired.

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No, I will not juggle.

“You return troubled, my student.” The voice, when it came, contained as much feeling and empathy as the modulated voice of an Omnic could. For Zenyatta, that was a considerable amount. Perhaps it was the amount of time he had spent around humans. Perhaps there was far more to the Omnic mind than mere mortals could ever hope to understand.

“Yes, Master.” Genji looked up from the shrine, his eyes glittering beneath the mask he wore.

“Then you still have not found your courage.” It was a statement, not a question. The monk moved further into his student’s room, a gentle hum accompanying the motion. “You still do not know how to address this problem.”

“You are, as always, quite correct.” Genji sighed softly and closed his eyes. He had made the journey to Japan several times over the past months, each visit harder than the last. He had been watching the exiled scion with intense interest but still he had not been able to make that all-important move.

For so long the only emotion Genji had harboured against his errant older brother had been anger. A need to hit back for the wrong that had been done to him. But between them, Angela – sweet Angela, whose wisdom was matched only by her scientific acumen – and Zenyatta had brought him round to a new and different way of thinking. She had nurtured his body, Zenyatta had nurtured his mind. He was a different man now. He could see things in a new light.

Such changes had brought a single statement to ponder upon.

He did what he did because he had to.

Did that statement excuse Hanzo’s attempted fratricide? No. It did not; not even remotely. But it went some considerable way towards explaining it. It had always been harder for Hanzo, as the older brother. On his shoulders rested the future of the Shimada clan. He had become serious ahead of his years and by contrast, Genji had become lazy. Laconic, arrogant, smart-mouthed and with a tendency to a playboy lifestyle he felt better suited his status as a son of the family. His diminishing interest in the family’s activities had ultimately brought down the wrath of their father and Hanzo had been his instrument of retribution.

Slowly, with the guidance of his mentor, Genji had taken those feelings one at a time and burned them to nothing. Anger. Hate. The need for petty revenge. His near-death had wrought terrible changes in his physiology, certainly. But his mind had transcended to a new level of self-awareness and understanding. All the negativity had been metaphorically burned to ash that had been borne away by the cool atmosphere.

“Tell me what you saw when you looked upon your brother.” Zenyatta’s voice cut through his thoughts again and Genjiconsidered the question before answering.

“He looks tired. His hair has begun to grey at the temples. He has grown older.”

“Ah. Ageing. This is a failing of humans, I have observed this across the years.”

It was hard, sometimes, to determine whether Zenyatta was attempting humour. Genji allowed a faint smile to lift the corner of his mouth in a half-smile and continued.

“He no longer walks tall and proud. He walks as though he bears a heavy weight.”

“He carries guilt poorly. You have been luckier than he in that you have received support and guidance. He has been forced to bear his burdens alone.”

This statement bothered Genji far more than he could have imagined, forcing a perspective he had been avoiding for a long time. As a very small boy, he had looked up to his older brother in something akin to awe. Hanzo’s first show of control over the Shimada dragons was a memory etched in his thoughts every bit as much when he too had touched that coveted skill. The brothers had been close, once. Then duty had come between them, separating them without care for their feelings in the matter.

Genji tried to recall the last time he had seen Hanzo smile and to his sorrow, he could not.

“Every year…” Genji felt a catch in his throat. His extensive bionic and biomechanical implants may have rendered him physically more of a machine than a man, but his emotions still occasionally caught him unawares. “Every year, he marks what he believes to be my passing. He visits the shrine, despite my father’s orders that he should be killed on sight. He brings tribute and every year, he remembers me.”

“Then that is when you must confront him.”

“I am not ready, master.” Genji’s protest sounded hollow, even to his own ears and he felt a wash of shame. It was less about whether he was ready or not and far more about fear. Fear of what, exactly? Fear of his brother’s fury? Fear that Hanzomay try to kill him again? He doubted that could be a thing: Hanzo was a peerless archer, to be sure, but his own fighting skills had become something beyond human.

Fear, perhaps, of rejection? A deep-seated terror that Hanzowould not be able to look beyond the implants, beyond the mask, beyond the metal that encased his broken body?

His eyes closed and a memory surfaced.

You bring shame on the Shimada family, Genji. You must bring yourself in line with expectation or there will be… consequences.”

“You do not frighten me, brother.”

“Perhaps not. But you frighten me.”

Even in reflection, Genji had never understood what Hanzo had  meant by those words. Now he understood it with perfect clarity. His brother’s deep regret at his own actions had shaped the direction his life had taken. For so long he had blamed Hanzo for the state of his life. It had never occurred to him to accept that he was equally responsible for his brother’s miserable existence.

Until now.

“Genji, my student.” The Omnic monk reached out a silvered hand and rested it gently on the young man’s shoulder. “You have been ready for this for many months. It is time you and your brother found one another again. You have found peace with yourself. Now it is your duty to help him do the same.” Zenyatta released Genji’s shoulder and floated serenely toward the shrine’s exit before he turned his featureless face once more upon his student.

“It is time,” he said, gravely, “for the dragons, so long parted, to once more become whole.”