Ghosts of the Past

Kay’Daq stalked through the crowd, effortlessly slipping past several Bothans as he moved through the rain-swept street. He was being followed, he was aware of the tail very quickly. She was not very good. It didn’t help her that she was an outsider here and Kothlis was his home. Despite his use of a cane since his severe injuries during the Battle of New Alderaan, he barely felt the need for it here. He suspected it was the sea air himself. It had been many years since he had walked through Kla’taal – a small town nestled on a mountainous peninsula on the coast of the western sea – he didn’t want to admit it, but he had missed it.

Humans said that the air on Kothlis smelled of warm mouldy cheese. Despite his culinary skills, Kay’Daq had never really had an appreciation of cheese, perhaps that was why. Currently there was a cool breeze coming in to the town from the bay, it brought the slightly rancid smell from the smelting foundry up the coast.

Kay’Daq savoured the opportunity to be out of the clammy, enclosed and filtered base tunnel network. Given that Kothlis was a Bothan colony world, Kay’Daq was relatively free to leave the base. Unlike many of the Alliance personnel passing through, he would not stand out. It was just a shame that his time here was marred in tragedy. Although that always seemed to be the case, last time he was here was for Eramuth’s memorial service, now it was in the aftermath of heavy losses during the Battle of Nar Shaddar and yet another service. Kay’Daq had seen too many of them over the years.

Certainly, the Alliance had faired better in terms of raw numbers than either the Hutts or the Imperials during that battle, but in terms of percentage of forces engaged, this was a costly victory for the Alliance. Furthermore, it was a victory that few acknowledged or even knew about, the Hutts were very quick to take sole credit for the defence of their system. The Alliance reinforcements that allowed the Hutts to hold out longer was nowhere in official reports, Hutt or Imperial (not that the official Imperial reports were mentioning a battle at all). Nor was Predator Squadron’s contribution mentioned – infiltrating the enemy command ship and severing the head of the battle. Kay’Daq did not mind getting any credit personally for his part, but it irked him that so many had died for the Alliance and so few would know. Not only was the Alliance more vulnerable to such losses, it reminded him of Eramuth.

He turned down a side street off the sea front and proceeded into an alleyway. His eyes scanning continuously for sign of ambush. He doubted anyone would trouble him here, but it paid to be cautious. The alley was empty save for the blocky repulser-mounted droid that was emptying the large garbage skip.

Exiting the alleyway, he joined the crowd heading towards the bazaar. He was half way down the street when he caught sight of his tail leaping the small gap over the alley. He doubted that she saw him, she was passable, barely; she was certainly not as experienced as him. He saw that she was thin and wearing a dark cloak, but that was all the detail he could get before she vanished from his sight amongst the ventilation shafts atop the hotel opposite.

The bazaar treated him with the smell of roasting gumbar fish, it reminded him that he had not eaten all day. He would have to see to that, but could do so later; maybe he would pick up some gumbar fish and some spicy sek pears to cook them with for the squadron. Many merchants were attempting to yell over each other to attract customers to their deal. He even passed a pair who seemed to be squabbling over who had the right to a particular stall on that day. He doubted it would be long until a local security speeder was on it’s way.

In a sense the spectacle amused him. Here the galaxy was plunged in the midst of one of the most devastating wars it had seen, yet people still found time to argue over something as trivial as shop space. That was probably unfair to the merchants, they had to feed their families somehow, but some days he really wanted to yell at the average citizen to wake up to the galaxy around them.

Alderaan had been blown to pieces by a single weapon designed by the so-called legitimate government. It had certainly attracted a lot of support to the Rebellion in the aftermath of the destruction of the Death Star, but he couldn’t help but wonder why even more people had not flocked to the Rebellion’s cause in outrage – people like Neathe.

He could barely fathom how devastating the loss of her homeworld must be, to be one of a relative handful of survivors of a peaceful culture that dates back to the dawn of galactic civilisation so brutally wiped out. That she was able to bear this burden made Neathe one of the strongest people he knew in his book. He could never repay her for ensuring he made it off of New Alderaan whilst he was in his coma, nor for sticking with him afterwards during his long recovery.

His tail was still behind him having fallen back, she had dropped down to the streets and was several meters behind him through the crowd. Foolish of her, he thought, if he had been pursuing someone through this crowd he would have stuck to the edges of the bazaar, stuck to a high vantage point on it’s perimeter in order to gauge where he would go. It would be so easy to slip away from her now if he so desired, a simple matter of ducking through one of the stalls and doubling back on himself until she lost him. But he wanted to confront her, he wanted to find out the who and the why of the situation. It was too crowded in the bazaar; aside from the risk of injuring an innocent, it would not do the Alliance any good to have one of their operatives shooting up a local marketplace. He decided that he would simply go about his business as intended. When he reached his destination it would be quiet, then he could deal with the situation.

The rain slowed to barely a trickle by the time he left the bazaar and entered the worn, twisty and turning path that ran through the old section of town. These were some of the oldest structures still standing and of use on the planet. Although whoever constructed them was lost to history, these houses were built practically on top of each other, through a narrow valley that leads to town. The newer town had come during some later period, but the old district remained at it’s heart as the new buildings sprung up around it. Although Kay’Daq himself had no trouble moving quietly even in the worst situations, he did so without thinking most times, he was slightly worried that he may inadvertently lose his tail as she hung back due to the lack of people on these twisting labyrinthine streets. He settled for making sure that he tapped his cane extra loudly with each step.

His thoughts returned to the squadron. He had enjoyed his time with them, it was refreshingly quiet compared to his last career, even if he had ended up missing a lung and in a Bacta tank for a month. In many respects, Kay’Daq felt like a younger Bothan when around the crew, there was a sense that no matter the problem they’d find a way to a solution. It was something he had not felt since Eramuth died.

They were unusual for sure, what with a Mandalorian who seems most comfortable when he’s removing people’s heads from their spines, a Rodian who talks to himself when he thinks no one is around, a former Imperial Stormtrooper who decided to make a replica of a genocidal cyborg for fun, and Gand. Gand could make a psychologist’s career if one cared to be in a constant fear that ordinary utensils may blow up around them… And this is before you get to the spooky Selonian, the conniving Trandoshan, the Wookiee with breathtaking anger management issues (basically a Wookiee, Kay’Daq supposed), the droid in the midst of an identity crisis and the droid with enough ammunition to orbit holo-star Argald Schmarzenthiger. Certainly they were misfits and oddballs, but Kay’Daq felt as though they were his misfits and oddballs.

Kay’Daq cut through a narrow passage, not so much an alley, more a gap between buildings maybe three feet at it’s widest point. This led him to a winding road downwards which took him to his destination.

It was small and unimpressive for a temple by most species standards, but Kay’Daq felt it suited Bothan standards. Well it suited Bothans from colony worlds like Kothlis, he couldn’t speak for those who were Bothawui natives (or wannabe natives), who often came across as rather stuck up in his experience. It was small, neatly fitting between the stone houses to either side, squashed by the stone houses above. Outside it was merely an archway carved into the rock, with roughly hewn steps snaking down underground. The only sign that it was a temple were the ancient markings around the archway. Kay’Daq tapped his cane twice and proceeded inside.

The stairway led down, twisting around one way, and then back on itself again. Sometimes it was steep, sometimes it was nearly horizontal. All the time the steps were uneven and smooth, making it difficult for him to get a firm footing, even in his military regulation boots.

The staircase came out into a large open circular chamber. Stone benches that curved with the walls lined the exterior, lowering in 3 levels so those at the back could see over the heads of those at the front. There were four entrances to the chamber, each at equal points around the circle, but Kay’Daq’s entrance was the only one that led back to the street. At the moment the chamber was empty, there would not be a service here until tomorrow at the earliest.

Kay’Daq descended to the jade floor and knelt before the plinth at it’s centre. He took one of the igniters, an old fashioned sulphur-based type, and began lighting candles. First he worked his way through a silent prayer for the honourable dead, for those fallen in battle. For the hundreds of soldiers who had given everything so the biggest serpent pit in the galaxy would remain free from the Empire. Those who had given everything only for the Hutts to turn around and pretend these people did not die defending them. Yes, that was what really rankled with Kay’Daq. It was politics at it’s worst, and it reminded Kay’Daq of the sort of move his former boss would have made without a second thought. It was the reason he had resigned from the Bothan SpyNet and joined with the Alliance.

It was here that his thoughts turned to Irene. He did not know her well, but he knew that she did not deserve to die in such a brutal manner; hers was a gentle soul from a gentle planet and from all accounts she had met her end with honour. It was a tragedy, but perhaps more tragic is what Kay’Daq feared her death would do to Dex, another soul marred by the brutality in this galaxy.

Finally, as his thoughts often did, they turned to Eramuth. The spy lifestyle was not for everyone, but Eramuth took to it like a Mon Calamari to water. Proficient in all sorts of forms of electronic sabotage, Eramuth spent many missions deep behind Imperial lines for long periods of time with little or no communication back to base. It was on one such mission that he met his fate, abandoned to the Empire by the SpyNet in favour of a minor political advantage. Kay’Daq was the only survivor of that mission, he attempted to rescue Eramuth unsuccessfully. They were the worst months of Kay’Daq’s life, trapped in the wastelands of Jabiim.

Kay’Daq hung on within the SpyNet for as long as he could after that, but a lot had happened. Over the years he had been forced to do too many bad things to good people and eventually decided to quit. In many respects, he felt that his soul died with Eramuth. He vowed to live a better life in his brother’s name. Despite quitting the SpyNet, Kay’Daq knew that some evils must be fought and he had seen the savagery of the Empire first hand. After joining the Alliance, he ended up working with Setenna Hase.

Kay’Daq attempted to maintain an element of levity in his life, it kept him safe. He didn’t have to engage with the situations around him. Until he had joined Predator Squadron he had attempted to keep everyone he knew at a distance, but now he couldn’t help but get attached. Perhaps it was the only way he could get through the day. Kay’Daq’s heart was often heavy with the ghosts he carried with him. The ghosts of his friends and the ghosts of everything he had had to do in the name of his people.

The sound of his pursuer moving down the aisle broke him from his recollections. He needed to end this now. He eased himself to his feet on his cane and began to walk off to one of the side entrances without a look back. Stepping through the archway, he realised he was in a crypt. He waited behind a pillar and twisted the top of his cane, preparing to draw the vibrosword concealed within. It was not a long vibroswoed, it would not provide him reach, but its short thin blade was handy for a precise strike that could take down an unsuspecting enemy very quickly. So long as he struck well with the first blow he needn’t worry about using it to block.

She entered the room, the hooded grey shawl concealed her head, but her black body suit appeared standard combat issue for agents of the Bothan SpyNet. Kay’Daq sprung, he grabbed her with one hand, spinning her around to slam her against the wall whilst simultaneously drawing his vibrosword and holding it to her neck. He let out a low menacing growl but stopped short of drawing the blade across her throat when her hood dropped and he saw her face.

Her thin snout and pale white fur was a marked contrast to his own brown, she had an arrogant air about her, mixed with an unearned amount of smugness. Her fierce yellow eyes held the same fury as the last time he had seen her. At Eramuth’s memorial service he had last glimpsed them behind her veil, locked on him as she unleashed her hateful diatribe blaming him for her husband’s death.

“What are you doing here?” he growled with as much menace as he could muster, “speak quickly”.

“I came to find you,” she spoke with the same Bothawui accent, it was definitely Glynn. Kay’Daq had never got on with her, he could not fathom how Eramuth had fallen for her. She was everything that irked Kay’Daq about Bothawui-native Bothans, stuck up and arrogant, thinking they were better than Bothans born on the colonies, who tended to be poorer with fewer opportunities than their homeworld brethren.

“That much is obvious. How long were you following me?” He responded dryly.

“Since you entered Kla’taal. I spotted your speeder,” she lied. He had first spotted her behind him on the trail down from the mountains.

He gave her an amused snarl and released the blade from her throat. He waited for her to get to the point. After a few moments she caught her breath and responded.

“I’m here on behalf of Command. You’re being reactivated,” Glynn said. Kay’Daq imagined she was about as thrilled at that as he was.

“The last time I checked, I was retired”.

She laughed harshly, “Come now, Kay’Daq, you should know there’s only one way to leave the SpyNet”.

“Yes, I believe mine involved punching a superior officer on my way out,” he remarked dryly, “I believe I also made some remarks about a bridge too far”.

Her gaze was set with determination, as if she had expected a response like this, “Well if that’s your final decision, I can simply leave your body amongst the crypt here,” her voice was filled with scorn.

“You’ll try,” Kay’Daq didn’t think he’d quite enjoyed a conversation with his sister-in-law this much, it was nice to let a bit of the animosity between them in the open.

Mentally he prepared himself for a possible attack, but Glynn made no move to strike him, instead she shook her head and said “You realise even if you prevail in such a fight (and I think I’ve got a better than average shot myself, I read about your recent injuries), they’ll just send someone else. That person won’t ask as nicely”.

Kay’Daq turned this over in his head. He hated to admit it, but she had a point. Although he had been training since New Alderaan, he had now lost the element of surprise. More pressing though was the issue of whether he could bring himself to kill his brother’s wife. They may have had their disagreements, they may not particularly like each other, but for some reason Eramuth valued her. Deep down Kay’Daq wasn’t sure if he could bring himself to do it.

“What do you want?” he decided to hear her out at least, he owed Eramuth that much.

“For you to keep doing what you’re doing. Help the Rebellion. Ensure they dismantle the Empire – even the most hard line isolationist Bothan would understand that they are the best chance at that,” Glynn shifted her shawl around as she spoke, “But you are to help see to it that however this war plays out the Bothans end up on top. Fey’lya wants to be able to enact leverage in whatever comes next”.

Well, that certainly sounded like something Director Fey’lya would want doing. He was always a sly bastard. Always thinking of where his move would put him at the end of the game, rather than the cost of winning the game itself. It was exactly this sort if double dealing that had gotten Eramuth and him trapped on Jabiim. Kay’Daq had always held the view that this type of politics would be Fey’lya’s undoing eventually.

“You know, the last time I checked, the SpyNet and the Alliance were allies,” Kay’Daq pointed out.

“That’s not the way Fey’lya sees things. He just wants to be prepared for when the war ends and and the real battle begins”.

“I don’t care what way you slice this, you may not want me to directly act against the Alliance, but this is a betrayal of trust. Trust I’ve worked hard to attain. This is a betrayal of people that I care about,” now Kay’Daq was building up a head of anger, the type of anger only Fey’lya could bring out of him, “This is every reason I quit”.

“Like I said, no one-”

“Leaves! Yes!” Kay’Daq began pacing, “I suppose if I’m being reactivated this means the SpyNet will be paying me again,” he tried to make it sound casual, as if the thought had just crossed his mind.

“No”

“No?” he roared, “Fey’lya sends you to ask me to betray the trust of my friends and he doesn’t even have the decency to offer to pay me?” The bastard.

“He said that no matter how much we offered you, you would refuse on principle. You would, however, regain access to the SpyNet informant network”.

Damn that sly bastard knew him too well. He knew what buttons to push by sending Glynn here and offering something more useful to him than credits. Kay’Daq offered a pained grin in response.

“To be completely honest here, I’m not really seeing my incentive”.

“Yes you are, you’re simply choosing to ignore it, hoping Fey’lya won’t go as far as you remember,” she gave him a sly grin, “If you fail to comply you will be left an outcast, a traitor hunted by your own people and Eramuth’s children will be left orphans. You remember what the state orphanages were like, do you want them to endure what you did? As for your friends, several of them are persons of interest in the death of a SpyNet agent on Sullust. Something to do with a leaked Imperial recording, a recording they later used as part of their ticket into the Alliance. If you co-operate Fey’lya says to assure you that he won’t pursue that matter further. We just want to ensure a strong Bothawui in the aftermath”.

They did have him in something of a bind. If he refused Glynn would have been ordered be to kill him. She would fail, but she was loyal and fanatical enough to try it anyway. That would leave Eramuth’s boys orphaned and Kay’Daq a fugitive. Given the SpyNet’s reach he would not be safe anywhere, especially not in the Rebellion. Plus the complicating factor of possible reprisals against members of the Squadron for whatever happened on Sullust.

The SpyNet may play on semantics, but Kay’Daq knew how the Squadron would see this – this was a betrayal and they’d had too many of them already. He could be upfront with them about it, but he feared they would probably never trust him again, not fully. In truth they would probably offer to help, but there was nothing they would be able to do – handling themselves against the Empire was one thing, the Bothan SpyNet an entirely different matter. Generally speaking, the Empire was an enemy you could see (albeit an incredibly large one), but the SpyNet would sing you a lullaby and stab you in your sleep. Kay’Daq suddenly felt as though the chances of him surviving this war rapidly shift against him.

He must admit that access to his old contacts again would be handy. Especially if the SpyNet was picking up the bill on that front, if not his own expenses. It was possible that maybe he could use these to further Predator Squadron’s objectives, whilst protecting them from the SpyNet. He was fairly certain that the SpyNet would not ask him to do anything obtrusive, at least he hoped not, this would probably just be a matter of keeping Fey’lya informed. Damn that bastard.

Kay’Daq let out a heavy sigh, sheathing his vibrosword he said “Alright, you win. I’ll co-operate”.

Glynn shook her head, grinning smugly, “Kay’Daq, why so grim? This is about building a better future for our people”.

Ghosts of the Past

Star Wars: Predators YelshaNu