Die, Jacen Solo, Die!: What's In a Name?
Rating: PG
Iella

This is just me being silly really — I was originally going to call the series 13 Ways to Kill Jacen Solo, but decided I wasn't creative enough to come up with 13. So I stuck with the death theme but renamed it as above. It's basically a series of somewhat twisted stories that focus on perverse ways of killing Jacen. To all Jacen fans, I apologise sincerely ;)

This first story can be read as a kind of AU ending to Inferno — The title of the book does become somewhat "meaningful". ;)

It was hard to believe that black possessed tones and hues, but there was no doubt in Darth Caedus's mind that it did. The evidence hung suspended before him like an example of Givin geometric impressionism, a matte black wedge superimposed against the amorphous shapelessness of the void — structure and solidity contrasted with intransigence; substance versus lack.

He studied the black-on-blackness analytically through the forward port of his shuttle, frowning slightly as he isolated the distinctive outline of his ship, the Imperial-class Star Destroyer Anakin Solo from its backdrop of space. There was certainly no way you could call the ship beautiful, and that had nothing to do with the battering it had received only days before at the hands of the combined fleets of the Confederation. No, despite the pockmarks and scouring that had brutalized its metallic skin, there was something about it that rendered such terms of description offbeat. It was neither beautiful nor stylish, instead there was something distinctly muscular about the mathematical precision of its firm lines and angular curves, something oddly phallic about the cloaking cone rising provocatively proud midway down its spine ... something definitively masculine. He hadn't noticed it before, and the thought unsettled him a little, although he couldn't figure out why. But it occurred to him that to refer to his ship as "she" as one normally did with space-faring vessels would have been completely wrong. The Anakin was without argument "he".

And "he" was certainly looking a little better. Caedus made a mental note to pass on a message of appreciation to the mechanics and tech crew who were pulling out all stops to get the ship back to optimum performance level again. The little people were no less worthy than the warriors, especially as it was often their expertise and allegiance that made the warriors great in the first place. One had to be tactical in these matters.

He guided his shuttle toward the entrance to the glowing magcon field that maintained the atmosphere inside the Anakin's command level hangar, and allowed himself a smile of satisfaction at the smooth penetration that his carefully adjusted velocity achieved. Details mattered, as did finesse. He was still grinning smugly as he repulsor-drifted to a smooth landing. With the ship under repair there were minimal services available and only a skeleton crew remained on board. Caedus was actually quite grateful for the lack of personnel. He was still reflecting on the events of the last few days, most notably on his battle with Luke and Ben — Ben who now hated him with a hatred that was simultaneously awe-inspiring and terrifying. There were times when having people fussing and fawning around him was more than he could bear without feeling the need to inflict some damage. And now was most definitely such a time.

Even so the silence inside the hangar was almost surreal. Feeling oddly unsettled, he walked more quickly than usual to the turbo-lift node and pressed the activation button firmly twice, justifying the extra push as necessary to stimulate the system that had, no doubt, been one of those that the techs had powered down. He took a few deep breaths, but even so didn't really feel relaxed until he sensed the welcome vibration of the approaching car. Once inside, however, he chastised himself for such silliness. It was obvious that recent events had taken a greater toll on his nerves than he'd realized. He had originally intended to visit the command salon to touch base with the members of his crew who had been selected to remain on the Anakin, but feeling in need of some meditation, he bypassed that node and redirected the turbo-car to his private quarters.

His cabin, although as silent and dark as the rest of the ship, felt like a welcome refuge. Caedus wasn't a great one for possessions, but still the presence of his belongings created an aura of homeliness and marked the room with his unique stamp. He settled cross-legged in his habitual meditation pose a little above the floor and let himself sink deeply into the Force.

The first thing that struck him when he emerged from his meditation was the cold. He could see his breath in spouts of steam and each in-breath grazed the back of his throat as if it was raw. Concerned that one of the repair crew had accidentally cut through the atmospheric modulators, he flipped the switch on his desk-com, but there was no response. The indicator light remained annoyingly dark. Looking grim, Caedus flipped his datapad open and stroked the com-link function. This did light up, but emitted an unpleasantly high-pitched squeal. He swapped channels and the squeal alternated between static hiss and mournful wail — none of the sounds resembling anything remotely like a helpful crew member explaining what had gone wrong with the ship's communications system.

Caedus frowned, and then shivered. It was obvious that staying in a freezing room, even accepting the fact that he could use the Force to warm himself up, was a really silly idea, so gathering his cloak around him, he set off for the command salon to find out what was going on.

He fell back with a surprised groan and rubbed his forehead. His cabin door, for some reason, possibly the intense cold, had failed to open. Caedus struggled to his feet and tried again, tentatively at first and then by thumping the control roughly with his fist. Confused and feeling the beginnings of a bad headache, he took a step back to assess the situation ... and shivered again. This time it was not due to the cold.

He swung round, lightsaber drawn and ignited to face ... no one? Caedus stood stock-still studying every shadow, every niche wherein an intruder might have concealed himself, or herself. But nothing moved. Nothing was out of place. It all looked convincingly normal.

He breathed in deeply and exhaled, and deactivated his lightsaber, although didn't feel quite ready to re-hitch it to his utility belt. He was certain he could sense a presence, but it annoyed him that he couldn't seem to locate it. And yet it was there — like a murmur at the edge of a conversation, a faint whiff of a familiar fragrance tickling his nostrils and then fading before he could identify it.

He shook his head as if the action would eradicate the nagging sense of wrongness, and returned to the irritating dilemma posed by his recalcitrant door. Deciding to give the datapad com one more go, he flicked on the all channels sweep. He was a nano-second away from closing it again when it fell silent, but not because the connection had died. Far from it — he could hear the crackle of an active line, but without any of the white noise he'd encountered on all the others. Encouraged, and somewhat relieved, he brought it up close so he could see whose channel he'd found, but the readout said "unknown".

"Colonel Solo here," he announced brusquely. The time to publicly proclaim himself as Darth Caedus had not yet arrived, but even so he felt strangely uncomfortable using his old name. "Whom am I addressing? My com system appears to have developed a flutter."

There was an odd flicker in the background hum, almost like a snort. Caedus waited patiently ... and waited. "Is anyone there?" he demanded massaging his temple with thumb and forefinger, aware that the headache that had been threatening a few minutes ago had now decided to begin with a vengeance.

Again there was the flickering effect, like a displacement of sound through a tunnel. And then a voice — quiet but distinct. "Oh yeah, I'm here all right ... bro'."

Caedus thought his head was going to explode, but not because of the headache. It was his mind trying to whirlwind its way out of his skull. And to add insult to injury someone had glued his legs to the spot, or at least that was what it felt like. Bro'? He pondered the word for a moment, and shook his head — and then wished he hadn't as his sight turned slightly red at the edges. No, he murmured. This is some kind of elaborate trick.

"Look," he hissed into the datapad transceiver. "I don't have time for this. Something has—"

"You're wrong, bro'. You do have time. Not a lot mind you, but enough."

"What do you—? This is ridiculous," Caedus exploded. "Whose channel is this?"

"This channel belongs to the Anakin Solo."

Caedus waited for the voice to elaborate, but it remained frustratingly silent. "Okay, you got me, whoever you are. Very funny, although somewhat tasteless to pretend to be my brother, which I presume is what you're doing?" In fact the voice sounded more like his memory of his dead brother's than he wanted to admit, and he was surprised at the emotions that the distinctive timbre and the idiosyncratic blend of Coruscanti and Corellian accents were invoking.

"Any more tasteless than naming an Imperial star destroyer after me ... bro'?"

Caedus tried to take a step towards the door, but his feet stubbornly and mysteriously refused to move, not because they were stuck but because they felt too heavy. "Okay. This has definitely gone too far. And I'm warning you — I am not your bro', so stop calling me that."

"I agree. It has gone too far — much too far. And I really wish you were right about us not being brothers. Believe me, if I could go back and change anything, then that would be it." The mournful note in the disembodied voice shrouded the frozen cabin in regret. Caedus shivered, and not simply due to the cold.

"If — no, when I discover who you are, you will not get away with this," Caedus growled between teeth gritted partly due to rage and partly to stop them chattering. "So I suggest you stop these silly games with the atmospherics and the gravity control and return my cabin to normal."

"You can't torture a ship, bro'. Not even you. Nor can you do much to a ghost."

"I don't believe in ghosts, Force-related or otherwise," snapped Caedus. Recovered from his initial shock, he was working on stabilizing his body core temperature. Once he'd achieved that he'd attack the problem of the increasing gravity. This Anakin impersonator had obviously forgotten he was dealing with a master of the Force.

"Oh they're real enough. The Force is full of surprises, bro'. It's a lot bigger than you realize." Something in the tone suggested the speaker was grinning, and it annoyed Caedus no end to visualize the smile as lop-sided. This was really becoming strange.

"Any luck with the gravity problem?" asked the voice airily.

"No comment." Caedus was busy expanding his Force awareness in order to locate the gravity motivators. This can't be Anakin. It's impossible; it's implausible.

"You realise we're the only ones here, bro'. I sent the repair crew back to base — your orders by the way, in case you were wondering. You gave them a night off — a reward for hard work. Pretty generous of you, if I say so myself."

"You're not funny," said Caedus sullenly. "You never were." He'd located the controls he was seeking but there appeared to be nothing wrong with them, nor was there any obvious fault in the atmospheric controls either. How the temperature and the gravity were being altered was a mystery, but it wasn't by normal means. He wished the voice would shut up and let him think so he could figure things out.

"You weren't funny either really, even when you thought you were. Are you enjoying the trip?"

With great difficulty Caedus turned towards his viewport, and then cursed his stupidity because it was still opaque, and he couldn't quite raise his arm enough to stretch out to the controls. It was with considerable surprise then that he saw the port become transparent, and after a few seconds of observation he realized it was true — they were in motion. And they appeared to be swinging into an intense brightness.

"Don't worry bro'," the voice sounded comforting, and a little wistful. "You'll soon be warm again. Hot in fact."

Caedus experienced a very nasty jolt of realization. And if he'd doubted what he thought the voice meant, the star that now filled his viewport dispelled that doubt.

"You're not serious," he stammered, wide-eyed. And then, when the intense gravity stymied his effort to shake his head in repudiation. "Why?"

"I can't let you do this to everyone, to the galaxy, bro'. But most of all, I can't let you carry on doing what you're doing to my Tahiri. It's not something I can stand by and let happen."

Caedus tried to gather his strength into a life-saving push against the forces keeping him riveted to the spot, but the fiery orange mass pulsating in front of his port was proving to be too much of a distraction. Molten geysers of star matter reached out towards him as if trying to grab at him, and he was horrifyingly aware that his room was no longer cold.

"I'm sorry, bro'." said Anakin. "But it has to be this way. Kind of ironic though, don't you think?"

Caedus had sunk to the floor with sweat evaporating off him so furiously he was haloed in a cloud of steam. "Ironic?" he rasped.

"Dying together again."

Caedus's headache had consumed his entire body, the blood pulsing so loudly he could hear it as it slowly began to boil. "I didn't die at Myrkr," he wheezed defiantly.

"You did, bro'. Jacen Solo definitely died there, just like me. It just wasn't so obvious."

Caedus didn't reply. He couldn't. His lips had been fused together with the intense heat. And just before his brain tissue was cooked beyond cognitive capability he heard his brother murmur in a voice that seemed to resonate with the wisdom of ages — timeless and yet still distinctively Anakin.

"Names are more important than you realize, Jacen. And living up to them? That's the hardest thing of all. Maybe soon you'll understand."


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