Vong War Annals – “Finding allies in strange places” 4.16.2009

            Tag Rendar’s office—her new office, as the old was still occupied by the absent Alek Cannelle, Chief of Intelligence for Sector 27—had begun to take on the personality, slowly but surely, of its occupant.  The cabinets slowly had begun to be filled again with pictures, mementos—an old flight helmet, holos of various stripes, a crystal bar set in one corner cabinet.  A few blank pages of…paper?…were still scattered across the floor, half under furniture.  Tag didn’t seem to notice their presence as she waved for Les to take a seat, sinking down into the chair behind the desk.
            “Hear you hit a rough patch the past couple weeks, huh?”
            Les wondered why he felt so suddenly shy. He shifted uncomfortably in the chair. “I guess so.” He coughed to clear his throat.
            Tag smiled faintly at the boy.  “I don’t bite, Les.  It’s all right.  You were angry.  Things…happen when you get angry.”  She leaned back in her chair, steepling her fingers.  “There’s a dirty little secret most Jedi won’t tell you, y’know.  We’ve all tasted the Dark Side at some point or another.  It’s a rite of passage, almost.  It’s where you go from here that’s what really matters.  What you do with the rest of your days in this existence.  The Force forgives more easily than people do, I’m afraid…that’s the harsh reality of the situation.  But even a Sith Lord who finds redemption is eventually called home to become one with the Force, at the end.”
            He looked away so she wouldn’t catch the hint of the tears that were trying to form behind his eyes. “I didn’t think there was anyone who understood.” He shook his head. “I’m not even sure I do. I’m so confused.” He opened his mouth, closed it again, in his debate over confessing that sometimes it felt to him that he’d done the right thing and still burned with lingering anger towards his former master; while at other times he felt he’d gone so far wrong that he felt no hope.
            “Being confused is part of learning, kiddo.”  Tag leaned forward, against her desk, watching him for a few long moments.  “You’re young.  You’re at a time in your life when you feel things more keenly than someone who’s been walking a Jedi’s path for a long while.  Every master who forgets what it was like to be a student…well.  Let’s just say that I’m glad I’ve never forgotten.”  She looked down at her hands for a moment.  “I was abandoned by my master, too, you know.”
            Les’ eyes snapped up to look at her in surprise. “You were?”
            She nodded slowly.  “I was about your age, still on Corellia.  He was my uncle, after a fashion.  Mikhail Bridger.  Some would say he was Fallen from the get-go, others…”  She shrugged slightly.  “They were dark times.  I don’t know that either Nylan or I were ready to be on our own…but sometimes, the galaxy chooses.  When Alderaan died…I lost my Master.”
            Les was rivited, his gaze never leaving her face as she told her story. “I’m sorry to hear it.” He paused for a moment before asking, “What did you do then?”
            She smiled slightly, making eye contact, if only briefly.  “We ran.  Got off Corellia with some of the folks who worked for my master—he ran a bar, of all things, on Treasure Ship Row—and hooked up with the Alliance at Yavin IV.  You know what happened there, right?”
            He nodded.
            She nodded in response.  “I thought so.  It’s hard, to continue to sort out what you’re supposed to do, how you’re supposed to be on your own.  Most of us who survived those days figured out a lot by ourselves and in turn helped those who were discovered with abilities later.”  She smiled wryly.  “Skywalker wasn’t the only one on the lookout in those days.”  She stood up slowly, stretching, turning toward the one-way window that had a view of the tarmac.  The sun was starting to peek through stormclouds.  “My first real brush with the Dark Side came after I started working for Alliance Intelligence.  It was eight, maybe ten months or so after Yavin.  They sent me to Coruscant.”
            “You’ve had a…lot of adventures,” he said, wondering if she, too, had ever, in all her wanderings through the galaxy, danced with the Dark Side as he had.
            She seemed to sense his question, though she didn’t turn to face him.  “A few.  That one…was probably the deepest cover I’ve ever experienced.”  She crossed her arms, squeezing them tightly across her chest.  “I killed one of the Emperor’s Hands.  And then I became her.”
            Les’ eyes grew wide. “You’re kidding!” he exclaimed without thinking.
            Her laugh was humorless.  “I wish I was.”  She glanced over her shoulder at him.  “Her name was Link Shaner…and the Empire never found out that I killed her.  I kept the identity for almost ten years, even after the Emperor was dead.”
            “Wow.” He grinned in open admiration. “You’re good!”
            “I learned from the best.”  She turned back toward the window.  “But that…cover…that came at a price.  One that was almost too dear to pay.”  Tag brushed her hair out of her face.  “When I killed her, she…somehow became a part of me.  She came to…symbolize and personify my own struggle with the Dark Side.”  She turned slowly, gripping the back of her chair.  “You can tread the line, sometimes…sometimes…safely tap your darker emotions, your more…intense emotions to do amazing things—I’ve seen it done—but there’s always a risk involved.  Always.  I walked the razor’s edge for too long and paid the price.”  She picked up a holo, slowly turning it around and handing it to him.  “You know who that is, right?”
            He studied the holo, then looked back up to her and answered, “Robert…and his sister, um….”
            “Rachel,” she supplied, unbuttoning her uniform jacket.  “During my escape from that operation, I forgot who I really was.  I got cocky.  I…thought that giving an Imperial Royal Guard an order would work, even though I didn’t look or sound like Link Shaner at the time.”  She wrestled the jacket open.  “It almost killed me.”  She pulled aside the strap of the tank top she wore beneath the jacket, displaying an old, faded scar that looked deep—deeper than one bacta would have left her with.  “The point of my story, Les, is that you have to remember who you are, regardless of anything else.  Whether you’re tapping one side or the other, or both at once…you have to maintain a hold of who you are at your core, or it’s going to get you killed.  Robert and I had both lost ourselves at that point, and if not for Jaq’s intervention…”  Her voice hitched a moment.  She took a deep breath and exhaled.  “If not for Colonel Pellman’s intervention, we wouldn’t be having this conversation and I daresay you might not even exist.”
            Les fell into the silence that followed, thinking about what he’d just heard. This was unlike anything he’d heard from a Jedi. “What…what do you mean…I might not even exist?” he asked at last.
            Tag smiled weakly.  “Because everything is connected, Les.  If I had died that day, I never would have gone back to Corellia a few years later on a recruiting drive.  Indiana Bridger probably would have stayed with CorSec, never left Corellia.  The Aurora Force never would have survived the end of the Minos debacle.  Your mother never would have joined up, met the people she met here that made it possible for her to even conceive of marrying your father.  Ergo…no way for you to have come into existence.”  She started buttoning her jacket up again.  “I like to think things happen for a reason.  I can’t know for certain—maybe one of our more clairvoyant Jedi could say—but I like to think that’s the case.  There’s too much that happens in the galaxy for there not to be reasons for it all.”
            The sight of that scar stayed with him even after Tag had covered it. “So, what you’re saying is…even the worst of situations can come out for good in the end.”  He wrinkled his brow. “Is this one of those ‘will of the Force’ things?”
            She smiled wryly.  “Could be.”  She slid slowly back into her chair.  “We’re the sum of our experiences, Les, all of us.  We all make mistakes, some more severe and…costly…than others.  What matters is that we learn from those mistakes and adjust our paths accordingly.”
            “I want to learn what I can from my mistakes,” Les confessed. He rubbed the knuckles of his new hand with the fingers of his real one. “Sometimes I wonder, though…how much was a mistake,” he looked down at his hands. “Some of it…all of it….” None of it? Would he be ever going back and forth not knowing; was he lacking in patience? He no longer felt sure of anything anymore.
            “It won’t be an easy path, Les.”
            His eyes held steady on his hands as he asked in a small voice, “Will you help me?”
            “Can you look me in the eye and ask for that?”
            Les raised his head, complying to meet her eyes. Struggling to keep the tears back, he said, more clearly this time, “Help me.”
            She came around the desk and opened her arms to hug him.  “Of course.  But if you call me ‘Master,’ I might have to shoot something.  It’s General, or Tag.”
            “Yes, General Tag,” he muttered as he fell into her embrace, the most comforting thing he’d experienced since reading Jinx’s note back at the castle a lifetime ago. “Thank you.”  Some might not consider it very manly to cry, but he couldn’t help it.
            Her arms tightened around him for a moment and she smiled weakly.  “You’re welcome, Les.”  She rubbed the boy’s back and sighed, remembering for a moment the frightened, lost girl she’d been two decades ago and how much she’d needed what she was giving to Les Wyler now.  Sometimes things come full-circle.  Mysterious is the Force indeed.

~ Erin and Skyy

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