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 first–born 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.
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 you… you 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.
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?’
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.
‘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.
‘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.