Tuesday, January 17, 2017

Ghosts (Part 4)

He allowed himself to nod with approval the moment the mug touched his hands. His assistant gave a small bow, before turning to return to their prior position. It was going to be satisfying, and he knew it.  Warm to the touch, but not so hot as to have just been poured from the pot. Bringing the mug up to his nose, he took in a deep breath, savoring the smell. Caf, made from Mantellian beans, after they had been perfectly processed. Poured after being cooled for a short amount of time, and with a quick splash of Corellian whiskey. Truly, one of the few things that allowed him to stay sane while being forced to skim the Rim.

A comfy seat helped, and he had managed to swing that as well. Though on nights such as tonight, the plush nature of his care was almost a detriment. It threatened to swallow him into sleep if he leaned back and closed his eyes for too long. Something he could never afford. A mistake so terrible that it would be a high cost to pay. 

His superiors were certain of one thing, and that was that laziness was not something to be taken lightly. Another officer he was aware of had fallen asleep for a single minute. One long minute of not being conscious. That one minute had cost him his rank, his home, and earned him thirteen years in prison, with the chance of parole being about as good as the Emperor marrying a Twi'lek. 

Tonight especially, just as the week before, was not a night to fall asleep on the job. The entire outpost was on a rather covert version of high alert. For days now, the night shift had meant keeping a tight watch, without appearing to be actively seeking their quarry. 

The order for such had come down from a link on the chain of command at least three or four people above him. The type of person who had to make sure that the activities in this sector of the Rim were orderly, but never once had to dirty their own boots by checking in. Because they had people to do that for them. Specifically, the order had come down that they were on the look out for a particular individual. A terrorist, who had been going on a string of serial killings.

Finally bringing the mug to his lips, he allowed himself a sip of the golden nectar in his hands. It sat in his mouth for a long time, until he had savored the taste. A sigh escaped him as he leaned back somewhat, staring at the surrounding monitors. They were to keep a keen eye out for any sudden disappearances, or a woman in white. Neither seemed too hard to notice, if he was being frank. It helped that they had upped security for just such an occasion. 

New soldiers had been sent out, enough to swell their ranks to exactly twenty-seven. He had asked for no more, and wanted no less. It was the perfect number to keep an eye on every room of the small outpost over the course of two shifts. Enough for every room to have two individuals, six individuals, not counting himself, to watch the perimeter from their glass communications center. One for each cardinal direction. Those assigned to rooms were to rotate, so that when one went missing, the rest would know. 

"Current reports staying consistent with normal parameters," came one of his lookouts. 

He gave an accepting nod, bringing the mug to his lips, savoring the sip just as before. Such had been the case since their switch to this system. So numerous were these normal reports, that he was becoming more and more certain that this ghostly woman was nothing more than a story some locals had made up to cover for their rebellious friends. Had it not been for a few security tapes that had made the rounds, the entire notion would be silly.

"Sir," the person in charge of the northwest said, swiveling in her chair, "Movement."

Turning his chair, he sat up, leaning forward, elbow going to his knee. At first it was a small blur, but yes, in the distance he could make out a shape. It was not, in fact, a woman in a white cloak, but rather a woman in a black leather get up. She was standing, head concealed partially by a hood, along one of the long, tower-like corners of the outpost. Her head was tilted forward, and he could only assume that she was trying to stare at them in some menacing fashion.

"Move patrols, tell them to fire at will," he said calmly, flicking his hand in a gesture of dismissal. 

Before the Northwest Watcher could respond, another voice rose up, from directly behind him. He turned his chair, frowning down at the man in charge of the southwest, "Movement here as well, sir."

The officer's jaw fell slightly agape as he stared off into the southwest. Standing on that corner of their little garrison was the same woman. Shape, stance, attire. It was all the same. Twisting to look over his shoulder, he noticed that the first figure had yet to move. More noise rose in the room, but before anyone could give their report he had already turned to note, that there were in fact two more identical figures, posted in between the other two. The northwest, southwest, southeast, and northeast were all now occupied.

Having not apparently confused them enough, the four figures began a slow synchronized pacing, making their way around the upper walls of the garrison. Then, just as suddenly as they appeared, one by one they evaporated, fading out just as a fine mist would.

His breathing slowed. Resting back in his chair, he set aside the mug, steepling his fingers. "Recall the guards. Prepare ambush, make sure to keep in contact with each set of guards."

A short murmur of understanding filled the room as each watcher turned their attention from the windows, to their terminal. Each one had been assigned a set of guards, and now they were to recall them to the communication tower. They were to set up in anticipation of their guest, lest they all be caught unawares alone. 

It didn't take long for the closest sets of guards to filter in, setting up in their positions, surrounding the stairs, rifles at the ready. Yet others gave no response, as confirmed by their assigned watcher. Accordingly, they were immediately presumed dead. Once all of the guards that considered alive, having made their way up the stairs to their central location, he gave the order to go on high alert. 

"Now," he said slowly, with the most authoritative voice he could manage, "We wait."

Any sense of comfort in the room was gone. Their days of peace were over. Now the enemy was at their gates, and they were prepared. He took in a breath, held it, then released it. There was nothing they could do, was wait. And wait they did.

Such waiting paid off, just as he hoped it would. A noise eventually started filling the room. Quiet as it was, the silence of the room made it more obvious than it would be otherwise. Steps, slowly making their way up the metal stairs. The guards went on alert. Their shoulders stiffened in anticipation. By the time the steps were close enough to have been at the top, there were a few mutters. Talks of the obvious issue. No one stood at the top of the steps.

One of his fingers shot up, and with a short nod, a guard stationed just to the right of the stairs fired a bolt off at the top step itself. He slowly stood, adjusting his collar before bringing his hand down to draw the stun blaster from his belt. Overhead he heard the noise of their would-be attacker leaping from the spot she had been standing at. With completely calm composure, his hand followed the sound of her soaring through the air, and let off a quick squeeze of the trigger once it was obvious that she had hit the floor.

Before she could leap or dodge the shot, the blast made contact with her. As she faded back into existence, twitching from what appeared to be a hit to her shoulder, he motioned for the guard to pick her up from the ground. Two guards scooped her up from the ground, one having a tight hold on her right arm and shoulder, the second grabbing her left arm and pulling her hood back, taking a hold of what little white hair was present on her head. 

Once she had regained control of herself, the woman struggled, before practically falling limp. Save for her head, which remained in a firm upright position, she allowed the rest of herself to be held without opposition. A tuft of her white bangs that had managed to escape the guard's hand had fallen over her right eye, but the left one made her current thoughts rather clear. The yellow, bloodshot thing stared into him with the utmost amount of hatred a creature was capable of. Similarly, her lips, surrounded as they were by scarred white and purple skin, were twisted into an expression of complete disgust. 

"Let me guess," he said coolly, striding up to her, "You, my dear, are the 'Ghost of Nemara'?" She just stared at him. He half expected her to spit on him, but she did no such thing. With an amused grin, he allowed himself to laugh, "Well you certainly look like you're among the living to me. Flesh, bone, and all." Once again, she didn't respond, simply trying to bore holes into his skull with her mind. She wasn't successful. Turning his back to her, he took a moment to compose himself. The woman would need to be read the accusations against her, as well as be detained. The former likely didn't matter, since she might not even speak Basic. The latter, would be the true challenge.

Turning again, he opened his mouth to speak, but she beat him to it. At first, she spoke slowly, in a low voice he couldn't hear. Yet at the same time, he heard it perfectly. He blinked, stumbling in his steps as her voice rose. The words were foreign, some guttural tongue of tribal natives to some backwater world. But they didn't just hit his ears. He heard them in his mind, yet they didn't just translate like some electric signal from his brain, they were stuck there, rebounding eternally. 

A dizziness took him, and his hand reached out for a nearby console so that he could steady himself. Turning, he saw the others in the room doing similar. At one point the nausea that filled him was so terrible that he was forced to lean against the rock that he was already using for support.

No. He blinked, attempting to steady his mind. To regain his grasp on his surroundings. It was a terminal, a console he had leaned against. Hadn't it been? Blinking he stared down at the rock he was now touching. Heart raising, he looked up, hoping to be met by the familiar window, which would allow him to see a familiar desert landscape. But there was only jungle. Such as it should be. He was stationed on a world filled with jungle, wasn't he? 

The thought was wrong. He knew it was wrong. Everything about it was wrong. But it was the truth. He knew it to be the truth. He believed it to be the truth. Turning, he blinked. There was no woman. Should there have been a woman? Had there ever been a woman among all of this thick foliage? Rubbing his eyes again, he stumbled backwards against the jungle floor. There was no woman. But there was a horde of hairy white beasts, all looking at each other like they were preparing to strike.

All of the things, toothy maws opened as though prepared to begin devouring each other, looked between each other. Before one of them had the opportunity to strike, a blaster bolt shot out from somewhere over his shoulder. In a mere moment the entire section of trees erupted into chaos as the creatures began assaulting each other, screams of pain echoing through the open air. Crawling behind another rock, he panted heavily, not daring to look out, lest one of the things attack him. His hands found his eyes, covering them in the hopes that whatever horrors were going on, he could not be party to.

Then the noise stopped. Soon enough, there was the hum of terminals. The beeping of various devices going off. With great hesitance, he pulled his hands from his face, finding himself back in that familiar communication center. He felt ill. As though his skull was going to split open. He had been elsewhere just a moment ago. except he hadn't. Because he had never left this room. It was the truth. He knew it to be the truth. 

The woman was standing over him, having readjusted her hood to its rightful place over her head. The staff that had been slung across her back was now in her hands, the tip pointed directly at him. His lips moved to make some sort of noise. To beg. He wanted to beg for his life, to do something, but all he could do was sputter and gasp. 

"Please," he finally managed to spit out, "Please don't kill me."

Her head tilted to the side, as though to consider the request. She didn't consider it for long. Moments after he had begged for his life, she reared the staff back to take it. He brought his hands up to try to protect his head. It was for not. There was a distinct cracking noise as the metal struck him square in his forehead. He slumped off to his right, face meeting the ground. 

A gurgling noise escaped his lips as he tried begging one last time. Trying to form words in the hopes that he could sway this woman. This hateful woman. Through the vague blackness that was his vision, he saw her boots move. She was standing over him. With great effort, he managed to roll over onto his back, just in time to see that staff's tip being brought down towards his head. 

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