Once A Warrior, Part XI Rating: PG

From across the hearth, she's looking at me.

I look back at her.

I haven't spoken for a minute or so. Nor has she.

How can you describe what's happened to me?

How can you admit the fact that you enjoyed it?

I look at her, seeing a rare softness in her green eyes, like an invitation to an embrace — complicit and intimate. I'm tempted to slide round and take up the offer right away, but I resist the urge, and answer with a wry grin instead.

We'll have time for that later. Things always taste better on a whetted appetite.

"Too much detail?" I ask, playing out the game. "It's okay, really."

"No." She shakes her head. "I needed to know. You needed to share it, too."

I let silence serve for assent. I realise that she liked it more than she cares to admit out loud, as well.

For a moment, I feel unsettled. Then I realise that I like the fact she liked it, too.

"What were they after?" she asks, sensing the danger in the silence. "I mean, why ...?"

I think about that for a moment.

"Darth Vader," I say. "I think they wanted me to be Darth Vader."

She looks at me, and smiles tentatively, seeing only Anakin Solo.

"And did they get what they wanted?" she asks, with her friendliest smile.

"I don't think so," I say.

I'm not going to mention the fact that my warrior instincts are hardwired in, driven by parts of my mind I have very little control over. They threw me into the fighting-pit every day I remained on Baanu Rass, and I killed without thinking, or even breaking sweat — humans, aliens, Yuuzhan Vong, even a voxyn. It was good training for my later guises as a subaltern in the Warmaster's bodyguard, and a revolutionary fomenting heresy among the Shamed Ones.

It wasn't a lack of brutal killing ability that undid me as a Yuuzhan Vong. I'm every bit as dangerous as my grandfather.

But I'm definitely not going to mention the way my lust for a certain green-eyed Jeedai ended up woven into Kunra's psyche, either. Some parts of my mindscape are positively unhealthy. Some things are best left unsaid.

Do other teenage Yuuzhan Vong lie on their hammocks idly musing on good baby-names for their first son?

I don't know.

Then I grin.

"I guess I'm just me," I suggest. It makes an odd sort of sense. "I tried to solve the problem by running away again."

"You never tried to come back to us, though?" She sounds disappointed — and I wince inside when I realise why.

We need to sort out our relationship.

"I did," I tell her, looking down at the fire. "You didn't recognize me."


How long does it take for a Yuuzhan Vong warrior to climb a Coruscant skyscraper? Especially one who's moving on not much more than adrenaline and knuth bugs.

I'm pretty sure that Baljos Arnjak will be pounding up the stairs after me by now. I didn't hit him that hard. I don't have that much of a head start.

Then again, I'm not your typical Yuuzhan Vong warrior.

I just took the turbolift.

The speaker pings, and the doors shunt open. I push myself off from the wall, and step through — staggering slightly — into the wreckage of a Coruscant penthouse.

An airtaxi is parked in the lounge, neatly set down over the remains of an expensive-looking coffee table. The little sign behind the viewscreen is lit, saying hire.

I see a hole in the wall. I see a ship hovering outside.

I see a human female, standing up beside the taxi — long, dark hair, wearing a skinrobe and not much else. Beneath the robe, her body is lean and strong after the months she's spent with the Yuuzhan Vong.

My grey eyes explore the muscles of her back. Perhaps there's something slightly proprietorial in that gaze.

"Viqi," I say. "I knew you were lying. I knew you would return here."

I feel a sudden rush of exhaustion. I look at the deck, lean against the doorframe for support.

I cough up blood. I'm probably in a worse state than I realise.

I'm going to kill her for this.

"I will now kill you, Viqi," I say.

Or maybe I'll just knock her out and drag her back somewhere I can hurt her for a while. Until she learns to enjoy it. Until she learns to admit she enjoys it.

You know.

Maybe she sees this in my eyes, as she turns towards me.

"No, you can't," she says, with a tilt of her chin, "Yuuzhan Vong can't kill me. Noghri can't. Jedi can't. You're all beneath me. There's only one thing in the universe that can kill Viqi Shesh."

Then she turns away, and walks out the open window, into mid-air.

Now, that was just stupid.

Impressive, maybe — magnificent, even, in a barking mad sort of way.

But stupid.

I look at the ship hovering on the far side of the hole in the wall, on the far side of the gap where Viqi Sheesh has just stepped to her death.

Infidel ship ...

Automatically, my hand fumbles in the satchel of razor-bugs slung over my shoulder.

And then I see her.

She is standing in the open hatchway, looking at me like something from another galaxy. My Jeedai.

Yuuzhan Vong armour, which makes her even more beautiful than I remember. Pain and warfare have sharpened her cheekbones and drawn her curves taut.

Green eyes. Looking straight at me. Narrowed, piercing.

The razor bugs drop from my grasp, and I fall backwards in a flat faint.

My body hits the floor, jarring me back to semi-consciousness.v I hear the hatch sliding shut.

My name is Anakin Solo. I'm a fanatical Yuuzhan Vong warrior. I've just had my first two field commands massacred out from under me by a ten-foot-tall Dark Jedi.

I remember Uncle Luke, Aunt Mara. Tahiri. A large herd of feral Coruscanti.

Perhaps it was all a dream.

I'm lying flat on my back in a wrecked apartment at the top of a Coruscant skyscraper. Viqi Shesh, New Republic Senator for Kuat, slave of the Warmaster Tsavong Lah, my lover for the past few months, just walked out an open window.

How high up? A mile?

And I didn't even drag myself all the way up here to kill her in the first place.

It was because of the Jeedai in the shuttle ...

I let out a deep, theatrical, lovelorn sigh, and start to smile stupidly. A few moments later, I hear the ship punching up for the edge of space.

After a while, after I've been looking at the patterns on the ceiling long enough for them to seem as though they have some sort of hidden meaning, the human arrives, huffing after his long climb up the emergency stairs. There's a look of outrage and bemusement on his face.

I smile my best Solo grin back at him.

He blinks, disoriented by that incongruous smile, but he hasn't figured it out yet. He has other things to worry about.

"How the heck did you get here so fast?" he gasps.

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