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Lord of Emptiness

Written by Fiorenzo Delle Rupi
Illustrated by Davide Cattaneo
Cover art by Stefano Vimercati and Filippo Rossi
English translation by Doris Mascherin


 

"O God, I could be bounded in a nut shell and count
myself a king of infinite space, were it not that I
have bad dreams."

- Hamlet, Act II, Scene II

 

A glitter of light lit up in the darkness. Little more than a quivering glow that a distant star could cast in a cloud filled and stormy night sky, but enough to attract the attention of the lord of the place.

The figure, tall, stately, wrapped in a cloak woven in vertical stripes like a mummy in its bandages, responded to the light that had lit up in the room with the reddish and demoniacal gleam of his pupil-less eyes. Something in the Galaxy was calling for his attention. Something important enough to interrupt his meditation.

In the room vision screens were turning on one after the other, showing scenes of worlds and people distant thousands of light years... but obviously so important for the lord of the Dark Side to be kept under constant surveillance by his mystical Sith screens. Not that with meditation he could not all the same obtain precious and revealing information on the thousands of schemes that he had scattered among the galaxy but the Sith vision screens were much more useful and immediate. They gave actual and true images of what was happening in the furthermost corners of the universe. No one was safe: if the place or person to be kept under surveillance had any connection whatsoever with the user, the screen would have shown it.

And during his one thousand and five hundred years long life Vangrovius gathered more than enough contacts.

He gazed at the room around him: the ship's walls were organic, sentient, an impious and unexcelled miracle of biotechnology that embodied a perfect operations base for him, immensely powerful and equally faithful to his will. And the ship was nothing compared to what it held within. Jedi and Sith artifacts rescued from the many wars in which the two sects tried to annihilate each other; parchments, books, manuscripts, charts and holocrons that were thought lost or that never existed that held discoveries, powers and knowledge of civilizations and creatures long gone. Lightsabers, amulets, talismans and war machines... And more, much more. The rest of the galaxy and its pitiful inhabitants could tear each other to pieces, destroy and be destroyed, but he would still save and preserve, consecrating them to eternity, those powers and those findings upon which they'd stumble over by mistake and that they weren't intelligent enough to deserve or keep.

And then, of course, there were the genetic codes.

It was fascinating to find and catalogue objects and concepts, but they were nothing compared to the ecstasy and the implied superiority in collecting genetic codes.

In the heart of the Time Master there was the most complete and extensive data bank of genetic codes that the galaxy would have ever known. In his one thousand and five hundred years long life, Vangrovius had gathered and carefully catalogued tissue samples of every being, creature or entity that had shown even a minor opening to the Force. He had traced out genetic maps, observed the mysterious movements of nature and blood in those creatures that had been blessed by the gift of the Force through generations and generations, spying from afar the way in which the capacity of the beings grew, dropped or exploded in an unforeseen way; at times, when he deemed it appropriate, he would personally attend to in the conduction and in the cross-breeding of the genetic lines, pushing and stimulating the creation of beings always more open and powerful, experimenting, trying and probing into the mysteries of manipulation and of the structure of life more than the limits allowed to anybody sound of mind.

With his Sith screens, his unexcelled and millennial knowledge and his collection of genetic codes Vangrovious felt omnipotent and all-powerful, sole and legitimate holder of the title as master of the Force and as conceptual father if not effective of all those beings that used it.

It had been sad and disappointing to see the Empire hunt down and exterminate the Jedi Knights and all the other users of the Force, but then, even that had proved useless. Of all the warriors that had disappeared or had been terminated, Vangrovius had a portion of genetic code. Closed in cylinders and protected in the depths of the Time Master, they were safe from the Emperor's pillages and were ready to be cloned and live once more as soon as he wanted to.

Those who would have seen Vangrovius' eyes while he contemplated his dominion might have thought to see in those red slits without pupils, devoid of any human feature, a hint of melancholy or sorrow: the price for omnipotence and control was an eternity spent living in the shadows, observing from afar. Leading the fate of the world and the galaxy, but from the outside, and never to be able to become part of it. But they would be mistaken.

Even the ability to feel anything had been sacrificed long ago by Vangrovius when, in the impious deal that had given him immortality and omniscience, he had renounced forever to sensations, passions, human weaknesses that would only have clouded and marred the scientist's clear mind and the planner's naked intellect.

It was therefore with his usual stone-like expression, sculptured on a cadaverous skin like marble, that he started examining the Sith screens that were turning on, one after the other. They all showed the progresses of his projects: creatures that he generated in laboratory that, unknowingly, were living in the Galaxy and unconsciously carrying out his will. Cheap or enslaved agents that carried out seemingly useless or incomprehensible assignments. New born or recently discovered users of the Force were kept under careful and constant surveillance. Some projects worked out well. Others less. Others took a different path from the one he had chosen for them. Vangrovious would watch them all, impassive, in the same way. It was not important that everything worked as planned, well and immediately. Even those projects that took a different path - after all the galaxy was infinitely rich in uncertainties and possibilities and impossible to foresee them all - in time, and with due changes, would have returned to the original project that he had programmed for them. He who is immortal has time working on his side thought Vangrovius, pleased.

Nevertheless, all the screens were showing projects that he already knew about. He was sure of this. He could mentally remember, and very precisely, all the plans and all the details of every mission that he had going on around the Galaxy, and he could see nothing new. What was, then, the reason for that glitter of light that had drawn him from his meditation? He looked carefully. Ah, there it was. He observed the gray walls and crumbling streets of Kalandar, an abandoned and decadent region of Coruscant. Here, together with other subjects, he was keeping a watch on a common man, Douglas Bluestorm. Even if he didn't know yet, Douglas belonged to an old and powerful dynasty of warriors of the Light side, allies of the Jedi Knights the warriors of Seltykar. Stories said that this race still lived, somewhere in the hidden folds of the Galaxy, on a planet where the Force ran pure and perfect. Douglas had started researching his origins, and he was hoping to find out the truth on who he was and where he came from. Surely he couldn't know that the day in which he would have found out he would have brought Vangrovius directly to one of the most legendary and hidden treasures that a scholar of the Force could ever dream of.

In any case Douglas was not the cause of the disturbance that he felt. Next to him and partially covered by his figure, the Sith screen was vibrating in intensity and in color in showing a tall figure with which Bluestorm was talking. It was vibrating so strongly that it left no doubt on the intensity of the power that was flowing in that man, with quality and peaks rarely seen in an unaware human.

He examined better the figure: human, 20-22 years old, ruffled blonde-brown hair of medium length, a hint of beard. The geneticist's expert eye told him that he wasn't native of Coruscant, but that probably he came from some planet of the intermediate ring, and that there was a trace of corellian blood in his family tree. He listened to what they were saying: an insignificant conversation on where to find cheap computer modules and little more. He was lucky enough to catch the boy's name: Dassan Krann... supposedly a cadet at the Imperial Academy of Coruscant. To be absolutely sure of the value of the vision, Vangrovious ordered a scansion of the boy's potentials.

Remarkable. Remarkable indeed.

They did not equal those of Wogan Krugar, the supreme project that Vangrovius himself had dedicated most of his existence, but uneasingly alike: in time they could develop in a similar way...

Douglas said goodbye and went his way. The screen, faithful, continued to follow him (that was its duty) and Krann's figure soon disappeared from sight. Vangrovius followed him with eager eyes until the last possible photogram. For a few moments he considered what he had just seen, then, with a wave of his hand, he ordered the vision screens to turn off.

Where did a specimen such as Dassan Krann come from? Did he perhaps neglect some marginal or secondary genetic line? Or did he underestimate unexpected side effects of some kind of transplantation between a genealogical branch of normal people? Vangrovious did not care to keep under control the lineage of non-Jedi or users of the Force. For him normal people didn't even exist: bleak, miserable larvae frozen half way through their growth that would never have known how far they were from their true comprehension of life.

His curiosity aroused by this novelty, and pleased by the new challenge before him Vangrovius moved to the room where he kept the genetic findings of his archives; one thousand and five hundred years of history that held the existences and developments of anybody who had ever felt the Force. Certainly there he would have found an answer to this newcomer on the scene.

Hours had gone by. Most of the last hour, to be true, had been spent remaining motionless, in silence, pondering. He had thought of going through his genetic files a second time, looking for something that he had missed, but he had dispelled the idea as an admission of imperfection: his genetic files were perfect and they were complete. If there had been something, it would have come up.

Much more logical to concentrate on the new great dilemma before him: Dassan Krann was, to all effects, a potential user of the Force that shouldn't have existed. It was impossible to trace him to any of his genetic maps or to one of the existing genealogical lines. He had just come out of nowhere. Vangrovious intimately knew all the past, present and, yes, even the future users of the Force: nothing showed that a person such as Krann was supposed to be born in the next two hundred years, let alone having him now, grown and going around the Galaxy.

He returned to the screen room and looked at the piece that the screens had memorized at least a hundred times. He examined the figure from all angles, he extracted the physical, anatomical and genetic information that he could deduct from the outer appearance and even engaged in a virtual reconstruction of his DNA and of his genetic trace... in an attempt to conjecture what kind of a creature he could ever be. Needless to say every theory was inapplicable.

When he'd finished, he laid a hand on the wall of his ship and whispered, as to an old friend, "take me to the border of the Coruscant system."

He would have resolved this anomaly personally.

* * *

"We will arrive to Coruscant in about fifteen minutes, mister Mylbar" announced the steward-droid from inside the big passenger barge that was speeding through the darkness of space approaching the great jeweled globe of lights that was the galactic globe. Vangrovius barely nodded: the presence, indeed the sole existence of the droids, was one of the few things that still annoyed him. A purely logical and intellectual annoyance, naturally: machines, gears, cables...things that mimicked human beings and life. For he who had created from nothingness beings that were equal or superior to those found in nature, the sole concept of the droid was an insult: a sterile and arrogant parody of the real creation that never should have existed.

Unaware to be at the center of the anger of one of the most powerful beings of the Galaxy, the droid continued to be helpful. "Oh, I've done a thorough check on that route that you asked... In fact there is a region called Kalandar, even if my tourist assistance program warmly advises against neglecting to see the many attractions that the planet has to give in favor of that forgotten area. Anyhow it can be reached at least up until the outskirts, by the speedway 45. There is an option that allows you to rent a means of transportation even now and find it ready outside the spaceport when we land..."

Vangrovius nodded absent-mindedly and took the metal plate to book the speeder from the droid's hand. While the unit continued to assist the other passengers, Vangrovius stopped a moment to look at his image reflected in the metallic card: thin and narrow brown eyes, grey hair and a well cared and smooth moustache, shoulder and body wrapped in a common but elegant grey and blue cloak. He had altered and modified his body with so many genetic implants that it was very easy now for him to mould his own form to reach the desired effect, and where genetics failed he made up with the Force: carefully affecting the other passengers minds and those of the surrounding crowd he would have appeared as the anonymous and quiet Mr. Mylbar, a distinguished sixty year old on a private trip, and droids and sensors would always register an indistinct and undefined mass, just enough to unable revealing his true features.

But being discovered by the crowd did not worry Vangrovius too much. No, he was taking other risks by coming personally to the Imperial capital. Coruscant was one of the few places where he couldn't move freely and where his powers met a suitable challenge: Emperor Palpatine lived on Coruscant. Alone and at his conditions in an equal match Vangrovius might be able to hold his own with Palpatine, but on Coruscant things were different: with an array of followers of the Dark Side and servants at his orders, the energy of a planet that he could literally consider his property and the unaware nourishment that billions and billions of enslaved minds gave him, made Palpatine an opponent to fear and avoid.

And this was the reason for which he had to move quickly. Very soon, if it hadn't already happened, Palpatine or one of his men would feel the new presence in the fabric of the Force, and they would fling themselves on young Dassan to kill him or, even worse, to transform him into a beastly hunter and assassin of Jedi as Palpatine had already done with others.

The thought of his present subject of study in the hands of the Empire made him frown for a moment. No, that was not the fate that awaited Dassan Krann. The course towards which he would have directed him would have been quite different: more grand, glorious and complete. The rough clay that he now was would have been moulded in his skilful hands into something unthought of, unseen, an unprecedented life form. He adored outclassing nature. Nature moved along slow, casual, aimless parameters. Instead he combined precision to nature's infallibility in organizing a global picture and enslavement for a supreme purpose. It would have been a godly task, thought Vangrovious, but if it was, this god didn't care much for the destiny of the universe he had created, therefore he might as well take upon himself such task.

His fingertips caressed the antique bracelet that he wore on his wrist. Thousands and thousands of years old and most surely a piece for which, somewhere in the galaxy, hundreds of warriors slaughtered each other: a Sith find of fine manufacture that concealed and protected the bearer from possible users of the Force, making it impossible to be detected. Shielded by the Sith amulet Vangrovious could land on Coruscant without arousing any suspect by Palpatine, find Dassan, discover who he was and how he became what he was and then deliver him from the Empire's clutches before it was too late.

Find out who was Dassan... going back with his thoughts to the casual discovery Vangrovius found himself wondering about his present reaction to the unforeseen. On second thought he should have been much more upset than what he was at present. The fact that a subject of such significance had escaped his anticipations didn't mean anything good. Either his genetic maps were incomplete or his monitoring of the present specimens that were open to the Force was faulty or even worse someone was taking the trouble to purposely plot against him, growing and keeping hidden new users of the Force, perhaps even with new methods that he ignored. Whichever the case it wasn't in any way encouraging.

Even then, in some way, investigating on the happening gave him a sort of a pleasure. Not a true and real pleasure naturally: he was above similar sensations and to the delight for itself. But a conscious pleasure, pondered and intellectual, this yes. The pleasure of the researcher who finally finds a new challenge that meets his abilities and his capacities. After centuries spent in tracing far and wide the mechanisms and causes of the phenomenon of the Force and of life, Vangrovious had come to consider the whole universe as a gigantic clock of which he had by now thoroughly examined every mechanism and every gear. Of course sometimes it would clog, or it would go the other way, but in the whole he had nothing to do but stay and watch the whole mechanism proceed automatically towards the course that he had traced and ensure that every thing proceeded with the less possible obstacles. The idea that all of a sudden there was a new gear or even a whole part of the mechanism of which he ignored the existence fascinated him and attracted him. He could once again explore, discover, seize another secret and make it his own: after all that was why he was born and for which he lived.

Outside the porthole the ship had started landing and was gliding towards the surface of Coruscant. Somewhere in the endless expanse of buildings below there was a handkerchief of abandoned and degraded land. There he would have found his new specimen to examine and dissect. He did not feel particular disturbances or agitation in the Force around him. Good. Probably the Empire hadn't yet moved. What a pity. They wouldn't have the possibility to make up for their delay.

* * *

The three blaster shots echoed in the air and darted in the evening's red sky to explode against the human silhouette that was stealthily moving along the wall. The first caught it in the chest but the second barely got the leg and the third only left a black scorch on the metal wall behind. The silhouette managed to vanish beyond the wall.

"Damn", cursed Dassan while putting the gun in its holster and taking off the ear-mufflers. With a depressed look he pushed a button on a nearby console and a video screen reproduced the trajectory of the shots and the course of the target combining them in a disappointingly low percentage. From behind the wall the target drone re-emerged getting in place for another casual route. Dassan gloomily stared the percentage of accurate hits and shot a glance at the drone in the training field below. "With me around you'll easily become old and end up in the scrap heap," he mumbled. He searched his pockets looking for some credits to start up the device of the shooting range just to find that he was left with only three credits. Sighing, he was about to put them in the command device. "Perhaps I should buy myself a Kirana beer instead..." he complained again. "It would surely be a more rewarding investment." When the coins fell the drone reactivated itself, got into position once again and started running along the wall at the bottom of the enclosed field, bending and taking shelter behind the barriers that were causally scattered around the field. Dassan closed one eye, followed the droid's route with the tip of his pistol and in a point that seemed far away enough from any kind of shelter he gave off three shots in quick succession. At the last moment the droid stopped and started to go backwards for just the time needed so that the shots would miss him and then started to run to the next shelter. Dassan took off the ear mufflers again and threw the pistol on the ground with a gesture of disgust. He flung himself on a nearby metal bench and with a hand on his forehead he closed his eyes and let off a deep snort of desperation. "Bastard piece of tin." He lay down with his back on the bench and sighed again, while still keeping his eyes closed. "I won't even pass the qualification exams. Great idea, the Imperial Academy. When I'll return to the command in Valin they'll disintegrate me."

A calm, distant, slightly hoarse voice interrupted his complaining. "You are only shooting in the wrong way, boy."

Dassan opened his eyes and sat up on the bench. He thought that he was alone in the firing range. "What?"

"You have a steady hand, an excellent capacity to concentrate and good reflexes. You only have to... Learn not to trust your eyes too much." explained the figure that had appeared at the entrance stairs. An elderly man, but not too old, grey hair and narrow and thin brown eyes, a well kept drooping moustache and a blue and grey cloak thrown on his shoulders. \par "It's easy for you to say so," grinned Dassan while standing up. "But in a weeks' time I'll have to be back at the command of my planetary army with the news that I was accepted at the training courses of the Imperial Academy or else I'm a dead man." And he thumbed the target drone that, unscathed, was peeping from behind a shelter.

"And my shooting percentage is so low that the computer display has to use decimal numbers." Then taking a better look at the newcomer - it was strange that, in spite of the evening lights it was hard to look him in the eyes - he asked "Are you new here? I've never seen you at the firing range... And I didn't see you coming."

The stranger smiled. "Yes, I arrived today. I was practicing in the firing range next to yours..." he stepped forward and extended his hand. Dassan had the silly feeling that the stranger was growing in height and proportion when he got closer.

"My name is Mylbar... Mylbar of Cinnagar. And I think that I can be of some help, young man." When the stranger shook the boy's hand he did it with more strength than necessary and with an imperceptible red gleam in his thin eyes.

* * *

A shot hit the target drone in its head. Another sank in its belly. It staggered a few steps backwards but the third shot exploded with precision on its knee joint. The lights of its eyes went off and the automata fell on the ground with a thump. The commands display, as programmed, gave back the three coins.

"Another three bull's eyes!" rejoiced Dassan whirling the pistol with his finger through the trigger. He was about to pick up the three credits. "Fantastic. Let's go on forever, I still have to get even for those seventy odd times in which..."

Mylbar quietly interrupted him pointing his finger towards the exit. "I think that we already have a long queue waiting for us at the entrance... I suggest we leave as triumphant victors before the people awaiting revolt. You have been shooting for more than an hour without paying."

Dassan made a grimace giving to understand that he was asking for nothing better than to see people upset because of his cleverness but then decided to listen to his new mentor and leave the field to others. He tore off the percentage that the display had printed out with a sharp gesture. "'Target accuracy, 91%' If I hadn't seen it with my own eyes I wouldn't believe it." He stopped a moment to think while Mylbar was taking him out of the shooting range towards the streets of Ghastal, the biggest citadel in the region of Kalandar. "Even though if you think about it, it isn't logical. The computer programs the moves causally. We shouldn't be able to anticipate where the drone will move."

Mylbar nodded thoughtfully. "Anticipate according to logic no. But you foresaw it by confiding in your instinct. And that seldom fails."

"Seems so," mumbled Dassan. He wasn't too sure he understood what Mylbar meant, but since the old man taught him the trick, the accuracy percentages sang that's for sure.

"This'll really save my neck," added the boy clutching in his hand the results of the target practice.

"I can't wait until I can send a message home telling them that I'll pass the selections!" Then, remembering the unexpected help from Mylbar's lessons, he added: "I would like to repay you somehow... Is there something that I can do for you?"

Inside himself Vangrovius allowed himself a lethal smile. "Definitely", was his thought, but Mylbar's quiet and elegant features absentmindedly answered "Oh?... Oh it was nothing important... Don't bother about it. All I ask if you can is to give me a tour of the city. As I said I have just arrived and I don't know where to lodge. And I understand instead that you've been here for quite a while. Perhaps you could help me get familiar with the place. Where to eat, to sleep, places to see..."

"At your service!" answered Dassan with a wave of the hand that Vangrovius didn't understand immediately - teenager slang perhaps? Or a manner of his planet? Anyhow it seemed to indicate approval - "This way."

Mylbar politely thanked and followed the boy. It was so easy...

The rest of the afternoon was spent walking through Ghastal exploring and visiting the streets paved in stone, the old falling buildings and the big palaces adapted into homes that made up the city. Vangrovious pretended at least partially to be interested in the city and the places to see and those to avoid (he knew Kalandar better than anyone else, he had there quite a few subjects he was keeping an eye on) but by talking with the boy he learnt a few things about him. Dassan Krann, 22 years old, born and raised in Valin from a normal family and seemed to be a cadet as the millions of others that presently were on Coruscant. Thanks to some seemingly innocent questions - his food preferences, his rhythms, his health - he was even able to extrapolate a satisfactory medical situation: good health and formation, apparently he had never been seriously ill or hurt, instead he was of a build, strength and agility that were superior to other human males his age. But this, Vangrovious considered, did not amaze. If Dassan was even faintly an emulation of Wogan Krugar, his ultimate specimen, a higher than average constitution was the least to be expected.

But the boy held something more. Much more. Taking advantage of a moment's distraction Vangrovious tried to scan his mind and perceive his emotions, sensations, and his recollections. The result was quite strange. Apart from the boy's latent luminous energy in disconcerting qualities he could not find anything else, nor read anything if not thoughts and sensations that he presumed were common in a boy his age. Worse still, in scanning him he felt an unexplainable feeling, a tingling never before felt that had invaded his mind and fogged and numbed his abilities in the Force.

The feeling was so uncomfortable and so uncontrolled that Vangrovious had to immediately leave Dassan's mind.

Who are you boy and who created you? Who dares to grow a creature that not only rivals with my own but that seems conceived to challenge even me? His scientific curiosity almost urged him to seize the boy, escape to the Time Master and then turn him inside out and dissect him up to his last cell to find out the truth, but Vangrovius was able to control himself. If he would do so he could ruin the boy... Or even worse trigger him off, if he really was a weapon that somebody had created against him. No, he would have properly examined him without arousing the suspicions of the specimen nor of his possible creators.

If Vangrovius was eager to ask questions Dassan wasn't certainly less. He wanted to know many things about Mylbar: who he was, where he came from, what he did. He was intelligent and smart, Dassan Krann. More than what Vangrovius thought. But, once again, he wouldn't have expected less. Actually he would have been disappointed if he wouldn't have been so. Luckily Vangrovius was used to working under disguises and assumed names, and the alter ego of Mr. Mylbar was an old and well tested guise behind which he liked to hide. He answered Dassan that he was an anthropologist, now retired from service and research, that was enjoying the tranquillity and the credits that a life of study and exploration had given him.

They sat on a big fallen stone column that had been lying on the ground for who knows how many years. Around them the sun was setting behind the tops of the Manarai mountains tingeing the streets of Kalandar with an unreal reddish hue.

"An anthropologist!" Dassan repeated incredulously. "You must have traveled to many planets!"

"Yes, I have visited many planets," answered Vangrovious. "The galaxy is big. And I have seen many things that I thought weren't possible..." he could see in the boy a thirst for knowledge and to listen to stories. Nothing more easier to gain his admiration.

"This instead is the first time I'm away from my home planet!" laughed Dassan. "And look where I've ended up!"

"Don't you like Coruscant?"

"The capital is wonderful," admitted Dassan, "but my regiment did not allocate enough money to allow me to get a room inside the Academy's structure... And so with the little that they gave me the only place that I could afford was in this absurd city! I didn't even know that there was such a thing on Coruscant..."

Vangrovius lifted his eyebrows, thinking- "Once these were the gardens of Coruscant. Before the Empire decreed it's closing... The stones we're walking on are very old archaeological artifacts."

Dassan gave an inspecting look at the column they were sitting on. "Wow... Well, I mean, it's not that I don't like it, it's got glamour of its own... It's only that you wouldn't think of finding this stuff on Coruscant."

Mylbar nodded: "Yes... you can be deceived by appearances."

The sun had almost disappeared behind the massive and imposing outline of Mount Dhann. "I better get a move on," said Dassan standing up. "I want to call home and tell them how I've become a marksman!" He was about to leave almost running, and then he turned before going down the steps. "If tomorrow you'll be at the shooting range I'll tell you how it went!"

Vangrovious waved. "I will."

Dassan disappeared down the steps taking them two at a time. At the bottom he must have met somebody from the Academy or friends because he saw him catch up with a group of other boys his age and he heard him tell of his ability at the shooting range. Then he disappeared behind a stone arch.

Vangrovius found himself wondering. The boy was truly what he seemed, and even more. His potential was enormous. Whoever was responsible for his creation had really done a good job. After spending a whole afternoon examining him, he hadn't been able to find even the slightest clue on the nature of his power: no mental programming, imprinting, anomaly... nothing at all. And most of all, that dizziness that he felt when he tried to enter his mind: it was a trademark. A signature, an invitation, an alarm system of his creator that bore writing in capital letters: try and find out the truth! Try if you can! This trick is here just for you!

A challenge so obvious he couldn't not accept. He smiled. He was the one who excelled with cunning and intelligence the lord of the star dragons, the unified forces of the Jedi knights and the embodiment itself of the Dark Side. What hopes could Dassan Krann and his self-styled master hold?

* * *

He met Dassan the following day at the shooting range as promised and the day after again. He thought he'd have problems in meeting the boy again since it seemed he was quite popular among the Academy cadets, and he had a full schedule: apart the hours of study and preparation for the Academy he was busy in many sports activities and would even go to Symm's 'puter center and he was obviously an attraction of many girls that swarmed around the cadets sleeping quarters in Ghastal.

But it seemed that Vangrovius had touched the right chord with the boy: his stories of faraway planets, forgotten races, ancient and bloody wars, mysterious and enigmatic phenomena fascinated and intrigued him. It was another sign that Dassan's creator had done things well: unconsciously he had been implanted with that thirst for knowledge and that ambition for without which the boy would never have become a true user of the Force. Vangrovius didn't need persuading: every day he would pour out long and fascinating stories of aliens with incredible powers and customs, of natural phenomena and civilizations that a human mind alone could never think of, of heroic battles between armies and tragic falls of heroes and civilizations. And he needn't make up any of this: they were all things that, most of the times, he had personally witnessed during the centuries, if not when he had even manipulated and caused them himself. But often he would diminish and tone them down so as to make the mysterious Sith horrors and planet-wide devastations more understandable and captivating.

Then, for just a moment, he felt a pang of regret in not being able to really tell the boy the exploits that he had lived through and had plotted. Unexplainably he felt the desire to truly tell some of his most grand feats: his cunning struggle with the Lords of the dragons, his simulated death before the knighthood of the Jedi masters, the betrayal and enslavement of his colleague and friend Karr Faa'ss... All deeds conceived, performed and brought to an end with such a superior intellect and precision that it would only have been fair to reveal it to the world to show his superiority... And that instead for over a thousand years he relished it alone, in the shadow of his refuge, sharing the knowledge only with his victims.

He smiled, looking at the boy. No, not yet. Now he would only consider me as crazy, I would destroy all that I've worked for. But one day... One day, near or far that it would be, when the unknown that you are will be lead back to my own parameters, and I'll have decided what to do with you and how to change you, I'll tell you who I am, then you will tremble and you will kneel before me.

The afternoon meetings with the boy were the only "official" moments in which Vangrovius could closely scan his subject, but they were certainly not the only ones.

Actually in Vangrovius' intention every moment of the day was a good occasion to continue his investigations and discover a new piece of the puzzle. Using his powers of the Force and his changeling abilities he was able to follow Dassan anywhere. Appearing as a cadet he could observe him while he proceeded in the selections to enter the Academy; as an alien attendant he could spy him from afar during his speedglobe contests. And in his absence he had entered his modest room that he was renting in a grey building where all the rooms had been broken down and renewed as housing for cadets, aliens and other indigent. He examined all his possessions, read his letters, his works done for study. The cover-up as anthropologist of Mr. Mylbar wasn't a total lie: over a thousand years spent in observing his precious subjects had given Vangrovius very refined deductive and psychological interpretation capacities. In just a few days and being able to continuously observe Dassan he had managed to draw an exact picture of his subject: physical, mental and... mystical?

No. Unfortunately not. By now he could positively say that he knew Dassan Krann in every detail while considering him as a normal academy cadet, but if it were about the origins of his potential in the Force or the possible developments that he might have, then Dassan remained a mystery.

Not a single trace, not one element out of place that could reveal whose hand was behind Dassan and that had made him what he was. Fascinating. Frustrating and fascinating. Whoever was responsible for the birth or the creation of Dassan had known how to do things, at least up to now, better than Vangrovius.

Up to the point that the boy was becoming dangerous for another reason. An obsession. \par Vangrovius had long learned to keep himself before anyone else under control and first unconsciously, then always more clearly, he realized that Dassan Krann was quickly becoming the only prevailing thought of his studies. Surely during those days his thousand and more projects scattered through the galaxy had made progress and were developing without awaiting his return. Aboard the Time Master the Sith screens were probably accumulating vision upon vision that were necessitating his immediate attention. And yet he was there, in an out-of-the-way corner of the Imperial capital, concentrating all his remarkable qualities and his unexcelled knowledge to study that one specimen that avoided his understanding.

Not so strange, Vangrovius rationalized. The other projects were open books and were proceeding on set tracks. Any apprentice of the Dark Side would have been able to carry on the dull and usual work of supervisor handling creatures and situations that he had arranged, anticipated and preprogrammed.

The challenge of Dassan Krann was something quite different: to engage in something that was unknown, alien and incomprehensible to him.

What was it that made Vangrovius' thousands of creatures special? Easy: Vangrovius himself. What was it that made Dassan Krann special? Ah, mystery...

If in fact the cadet had been dazzled by Vangrovius' stories, the same thing could be said of the ancient lord of the Dark Side compared to the stories that they boy told him. The ridiculous, improbable unfairness of military life at the academy, always told with the touch of he who anyhow will joke upon them, the adventures of reckless piloting at night with friends on the hills of Kalandar, the risks and dangers of constantly eluding tutors, supervisors and superiors, the triumphs in sport, even the trivial and clumsy sentimental relationships so typical of youth were enthusiastically pictured in living colors by Dassan. Vangrovious listened to everything carefully, rigorously, memorizing every note, every detail, every insignificant peculiarity. Everything would be examined thoroughly, looked in and verified with methods and definitive knowledge in due time.

* * *

It was the end of the fifth day. He was tired and upset that he couldn't breech more of the secret of Dassan's creation, and he was starting to feel annoyed with himself. A part of his mind was already formulating the idea of following the boy in his return to his home planet and conduct an even more deeper research on site, the other half instead was suggesting to abandon all and return to the global picture of his schemes and manipulations. From time immemorial he wasn't in a conflicting situation - that was for inferior beings - and feeling close to the inferior beings and their ignorance and lack of control deeply irritated him.

He sat at the tavern's table before Dassan and decided that it was time to bring an end to this long game of mirrors.

"Tell me, boy, has anything strange ever happened in your life?"

Dassan laughed. "Sure... Do you have a few hours to listen to the whole list? First of all there was that time when my brand new speeder burnt the compensator - "

Vangrovius interrupted him. "I mean something really strange. Paranormal phenomena. Supernatural. Mysterious powers. Something absolutely unexplainable."

Dassan laughed, thinking it was a joke, but seeing Mylbar's awfully serious expression he understood that somehow it was an important question. Even though he didn't understand the reason he started seriously to think. Almost.

"Well... Let me think... There's that matter of the future."

Behind the mask of Mylbar, Vangrovius's eyes were two burning embers. "The... future?"

"Yes, many times I dream or imagine things that later come true. Unfailingly. Inevitably."

It seemed Vangrovius was about to devour the boy. "Are you serious?"

Dassan nodded. "Look, even now, all I have to do is concentrate... Wait, I'll show you."

He closed his eyes, took a deep breath, and remained in silence for a moment. "I feel... yes, in just a few moments a patron will walk in. A human patron, approximately aged twenty, black hair. He'll come to this table and ask if we've got one credit coins for the ice-machine down there."

Vangrovius nodded with a smiled and lightly licked his lips. Such power used for so trivial matters...! But channeled in the right direction and properly trained what it could signify! Foresee the future! Not even the greatest Jedi could succeed with certainty. He would have the ultimate key for the dominion of the galaxy... He diverted from his considerations: Dassan pointed to the patron that had just come through the door. Vangrovious looked at him in fascination. He was human, about twenty years old, with black hair. He looked around, then started toward their table. Vangrovius held his breath.

"Excuse me... do you have one credit coins for the ice-machine?"

Dassan smiled triumphantly. So did Vangrovius. Then the boy answered: Buy as much ice as you want..."

The other finished the sentence: "... but we're still the hottest!"

They slapped their hands in some sort of greeting and then Dassan started to laugh. Even for Vangrovius' superior mind he needed a few moments before realizing what had just happened. While laughing Dassan was saying "Sorry... it's not true!" Laughs. "He's Zell; he's my squadron comrade... We had an appointment here and I saw him park his swoop outside... That's our squadron greeting... I know, it's a stupid joke but... God you should've seen your face!!"

An icy rage ran like an electric shock through Vangrovious' nerves. The fury of the Dark Side rose from the depths of his ego that he had long forgotten the existence of. His fingers were nervously and relentlessly gripping the edge of the wooden table. At the same time Zell, who was laughing with his friend, was becoming cyanotic and his neck started to tighten. The boy, who was snickering with Dassan, first started to suffocate, and then stricken with panic, fell to the floor gasping. Dassan, who initially thought it was another prank, rolled his eyes and dashed to his friend's body. "What's wrong? What's happened?" he lifted his eyes towards those present. "Help! Someone help us!!" he turned toward Mylbar, who was observing the scene icy, motionless. ""Help me, he's feeling sick!"

And in answer Vangrovius thrust forward a hand with reptilian speed, and planted it on Dassan's forehead and tightened. He felt anger build up in him like a hurricane.

Enough with games. Enough childish tricks. He would wrench from this miserable creature its pathetic secret turning his mind inside out like a glove. Heedless of the life that was dying out from the other, of his fingers that were sinking in Dassan's face and of the patrons at the other tables that had turned to them, he plunged his mind into Dassan's' like a red-hot dagger.

A second later he realized his folly: as before or even worse when he tried to enter with his mind in Dassan's he found himself immersed in an ocean of luminous energy that was so dazing and suffocating to numb his. A thousand needles of luminous energy pierced his essence without respite, each and every one of them painful and ruthless like a red-hot iron. He realized that he was probably yelling, but his body was something faraway, isolated, and barely perceptible. Vangrovius found himself once again unable to control himself or his powers, energy fluxes exploded in all directions, dragged and thrown as in an eddy. He felt his grasp on Zell's neck break off and the mind hold on Dassan loosen and vanish. Amid sounds, lights and words that were roaring and thundering in his head he thought he heard Dassan yell something, his touch found the boy's fingers on his hand that were trying to tear it from his face, further away still voices of someone that was yelling, obscure shadows, people getting closer.

His head was burning; his stomach was twisting for the nausea but all this was nothing compared to his wounded pride and the burning failure. Frustration, anger, impotence. He had failed, he hadn't been able to control himself, and he had fallen for a child's prank...

He pushed Dassan away. He overturned the table getting up and running away. Turning away from Dassan he felt his elation go by and control of his mind return. With wide strides he started for the exit, pushing someone whom was trying to stop him against the wall. Once out he allowed himself a few moments to clear his head and then he quickly changed appearance more and more times. At twenty meters from the tavern, when the first patrons had started to go looking for him, he was already a peaceful Ithorian that was walking wrapped in his robe.

He wasn't anymore under the influence of the energy of Dassan's mind, but the anger for what had happened was devouring him. He had to make an effort to not evoke a Force storm that would destroy the tavern, the boy, the city and its inhabitants. He just stared at the tavern, theatre of his failure and clenched his fist, almost as though he could see the destruction with his mind's eye. Then, once in an alley, he abandoned his assumed features and wrapped up in his robe and with an acrid puff of acid fumes he disappeared in the shadows.

* * *

That night a gloomy and imposing figure was searching Kalandar from the top of an abandoned and crumbling tower that dominated the village of Ghastal. The wind was a river of darkness, the ghastly trees moved wailing under it's impetus and the sky, an ocean of black clouds swollen with rain, was a never ending expanse of blackness lit up now and then only by the first lightning. Not even the fiercest thunder could match the surge of obscure meditations that were whirling through the mind of the figure standing under the rain at the top of the tower.

The disaster of the afternoon was tormenting him. It had been a failure, a defeat that had destroyed all that he had built in the previous days. Very well. Now the game would've been played to his rules. He abhorred using raw and direct power, but he would've razed half of the planet to the ground if necessary. He had the capacity and means to do it. Before and beneath him lightning bolts were raging on the sleeping valley of Ghastal, which seemed to crouch between the dark folds of the hill to escape the storm's fury. He granted himself a smile.

He raised a hand, and a lightning that was flashing not far away swerved on his command and stroke directly the tip of his fingers. With a shiver of pleasure he allowed the violent and unequalled energy of the bolt to pervade him.

Then he stepped forward over the edge of the tower and fluctuated in the void sustained only by his will, while the rain was slipping down on his ashen face and the stripes of his mantle stirred, knocked by the wind. He glided above the roofs of the city towards the cadet's quarters.

He was Vangrovius, Demon of Theti, supreme master of Force and genetics, ruler of dragons, winner of the Darkness. May the gods have pity on all the Dassans in the galaxy.

He arrived, still gliding in the air, in front of the window of Dassan's room. His dark shape hiding to the modest room even that little irregular light that the lightning outside could give. Only the red eyes, now vibrating with a wild light, remained to illuminate the scene; Vangrovius immediately found Dassan's shape, asleep on the bunk inside the room. But this time no delay, no hesitation could get between the boy and himself. With a gesture of his fingers he concentrated and opened the inside lock of the window. The glass shutter, which was already vibrating because of the wind's pressure, once unlocked opened with a crash, letting wind and rain in the room.

Immediately Vangrovius glided inside. His cloak's stripes, blown by the wind, were swarming toward the boy like a thousand blind tentacles. Touching the floor with the point of his boots Vangrovius let go of the telekinetic hold with which he kept himself suspended in the air. Dassan, who already was sleeping a restless and uneasy sleep gave a start and woke up when the window slammed.

He barely had time to open his eyes and sit on the bed.

"... What's happening?"

Before him a bolt illuminated a gigantic figure who's head was almost touching the ceiling and who had lost any human feature: skin as white as marble, burning eyes like two embers from hell, the face carved in an emotionless mask, the body surrounded by a thousand little green fog clouds that his own skin seemed to exhale while a strong acid smell was filling the air.

"The end to all," was the only answer from the nightmarish figure, said in a deep and hoarse voice that seemed to come from another world. With a swift motion something pointed and metal flashed in the gloved hand of the monster who sank it in the boy's chest.

Dassan Krann didn't even have time to yell and fell motionless to the floor.

* * *

An hour later the storm had worn out and only a steady and heavy rain continued to fall on the roofs of Ghastal. Inside Dassan's modest room Vangrovius observed pensively the small silver cylinder that he had in his hands. The tissue sample taken from the boy that lay inside would have ended once and for all the enigma of Dassan Krann. With that sample he could recreate an identical copy by cloning it, extrapolate the genetic code, the growing phases, the structuralization. And likewise he could have done with his capacities in the Force, once his genetic duplicate had grown. And Dassan Krann too would become part of the global vision that Vangrovious had of the galaxy. Enough with anomalies.

There was only one last thing to do.

From the body lying on the bunk came a groan, the arms started moving throwing away the blankets that didn't allow him to breathe. The powerful Sith hallucinogen drug that he had injected in him was starting to effect.

He shook and shook the boy's shoulders and repeatedly called his name. No reaction. Very good. Now Dassan was in a permanent condition of comatose hallucination, totally incapable to think or move. Most probably with the boy's mind in stasis under the effect of the Sith poison the psychic defense mechanism that had already struck him twice wouldn't go off this time. He would have finally entered his thoughts, he would have dug deeply in every hidden meander of his brain and, once torn away the information he was looking for, he would have confronted his creator. With him he would have no pity.

Once again he put his hand on the boy's forehead, repeating the wretched gesture that he had performed the previous day at the tavern and once again he thrust his mind into Dassan's. No reaction. Good. He allowed his consciousness to slowly flow down into the other's, gradually diminishing untouched and unharmed into the sea of light that had attacked and rejected him the other times.

* * *

It was after an hour spent examining the past and recollection of young Dassan that he started to feel the truth. At the beginning it timidly emerged, microscopic, unreal, the head of a pin submersed by the dark castle of hypothesis and lucubration that Vangrovious was constructing. But from there on every new exploration, every new examination seemed to be empty and sterile, a further confirm that with every new scan showed to be unnecessary and redundant.

Vangrovius was without pity with himself before with anybody else. He wanted to check all his recollections and all the boy's past life: his childhood on Valin, the games on the street, his friends, sweethearts, growing up, the problems, the conflicts, becoming part of the planetary army, moving to Coruscant. He felt, as he hadn't felt in a long, long time, that sharp sensation when the mind demands a vent, but the body and heart that have lost the ability to do it cannot satisfy.

Now that he had read every single moment of the existence of the boy's life there were no more doubts. He mentally repeated it to himself; so as to make the discovery official, like a real scientist.

"There is no creator."

Dassan Krann wasn't the fruit of a laboratory, a weapon, a construction, a special agent or an artificial anomaly. He was only whom he said and knew to be: a young Academy cadet faraway from his planet. And the Force which ran so powerful and strong in him? No alteration and no genetic crossbreeding had given it to him. It was his naturally, from birth. A gift with which, in his own time and way, he would have had to confront it by himself.

And the violent and uncontrolled reactions that were triggered off by his mental scans? The notorious "psychic antitheft alarm"? Vangrovius drew a deep sigh. He dreaded the answer more than anything else but even on that he hadn't anymore doubts. He wanted to ascertain it one last time: he searched Dassan's mind for an especially pleasant memory, the good bye party for the cadets of his planet that were leaving for Coruscant and he tried to make it his and identify himself with it. The reaction was, in it's own small way, violent and painful as the previous time. He had to break off contact. He left Dassan's mind and found himself in the little stone room. Outside the storm was over and the clouds were pushed by a swift wind. Far away, at the horizon, the first lights of dawn were coming to.

The defense wasn't Dassan's.

It was a reaction of his mind. Of Vangrovious' mind.

With another sigh he revealed to himself even the last, unavoidable detection of his research. He was so estranged, so isolated from life that absorbing and identifying himself with others experiences made him go crazy. The whole of experiences and emotions filled with the light, life, hope and energy of a boy as Dassan Krann were enough to drive his mind mad: an infinitely extensive and twisted net work of circuits all identical, never lit by the spark of a feeling, an emotion, a hope. With the hint of a smile that in vain delineated on his face, the Demon of Theta pondered on the chilly horror of that revelation. He could have spent another one thousand five hundred years studying and dissecting the rest of the galaxy and its population probing till who knows where in the unfolding of the mechanisms of biology and the Force. But if ever he would have tried to analyze and study himself what ever would he find?

He fled that question as if it were death itself. He allowed himself a last, careful, partial scan of Dassan's mind. He desperately searched his own recollections for something that could reveal a similarity to what he saw in the boy's mind. Did he ever have a childhood and youth? Had he ever loved, laughed, played, hoped, feared, lived? He knew there was no answer. Even if it really had happened, those memories now were dead leaves hidden away in one of the farthest meanders of his mind, devitalized and exsiccated since the day in which he chose the Dark way.

He stood up and arranged the blankets around Dassan and tidied up the room. He was almost certain that the boy wouldn't have known and wouldn't remember what had happened that night.

He only wished he could say the same.

* * *

At the edge of the entrance platform of Coruscant's spaceport sector the cadets were numerous. Almost all of them were loaded with luggage and they were finally returning to their home planets. Many, on cloud nine, were holding the much yearned admittance certificate to the Imperial academy. Others, frustrated by the results, were reluctant to embark to refer to their superiors and family their failure.

Leaning on a metal column Vangrovius was waiting. He looked at his image reflected in the steel flooring to check that his features as those of Mr. Mylbar were in order. They were. His powers never failed.

He saw another airbus dock at the end of the strip and another group of cadets proceed to the embarking bridge that would take them to the runway. Dassan was in that group. Even before he saw his ruffled hair - he should have said good-bye at the Academy, thought Vangrovius - he felt his presence. His gaze followed him while the boy was talking and discussing with others. He didn't move. If he didn't otherwise decide he wouldn't stop him. He would have let him go in silence.

Halfway between the airbus and the embarking bridge their eyes met. For a few seconds he pretended he hadn't noticed and went on talking with the others but then excusing himself and reminding them to keep him a seat he left the group and went towards Vangrovious. He was smiling as usual but it was manifest in his eyes that there was doubt and uneasiness.

He greeted him with a nod and pulled out from the back pocket of his trousers a rolled up certificate. "Hello." Silence. "Look... it's my admission certificate. Moderately sufficient results in all tests, but what made the board of examiners be inclined to say yes was the astonishing result in my ability in blaster shooting. Not bad, eh?"

Vangrovius took the certificate in his hands, already crumpled and creased after a few hours. "My compliments." He ironed out one of the creases with his thumb. "You've already crumpled it... you should treat it with care."

Dassan blushed slightly. "Well, yes... I forgot that it was in my pocket and on the airbus I sat on it."

Vangrovius gave it back to him in a hurry. Was it just an impression or even that simple certificate gave off a little of the boys' energy that was enough to stun him? "Again, my compliments. You'll do great things."

Dassan nodded, even with a half-skeptical grin. "I owe you thanks..." he mumbled. Then, unable to further restrain himself he sighed and looked at him straight in the face. "Listen... What happened yesterday at the tavern?"

Unexplainably, Vangrovius found it hard to answer. The tongue that had convinced and deceived the star dragons and the Jedi knighthood was thousands and thousands of light years away.

"I... didn't want to tell you. I was hoping that nothing would have happened. I was wrong, I'm sorry." Dassan held up his hand as to say that he didn't need excuses, but Vangrovius continued. "You see Dassan, I am old. Very old. And as I told you I've traveled hundreds of planets and I've seen the most incredible things."

Again inexplicably he felt a pang of regret at the thought that he wouldn't be able to tell his stories to the boy. But he dispelled this feeling in the farthest recesses of his mind. And it was obvious that he wasn't up to his best. "With age, the explorations, contacts with alien races of every kind, in one of these trips I must have caught a disease."

To these words Dassan had a reaction in his eyes. Surely the boy was worried for himself... or was it so wrong to think that perhaps instead he was sorry for the old man? Vangrovius continued. "I don't have steady nerves anymore. I'm curing myself with medicines that seem to work but in a difficult situation it can happen that I snap. When I saw that boy suffocating and falling down my mind went back to many years ago when to an expedition colleague to the Bogden swamp the same thing happened caused by big flying parasites that would enter through the nose and nidificate inside the body. I thought it was going to happen to you too and I grabbed you by the throat, nose and forehead to prevent it from happening to you. That was the move that we had been taught to keep the windpipe open."

He paused. "I feel uncomfortable. Because of my weakness and lack of control I scared you and perhaps I hurt you. Maybe I shouldn't move around freely and remain locked up where I can't be a threat to myself or to others." For a moment he was surprised of the immediateness of his lie. And of the many hidden truths with which it was filled.

Conceivably centuries and centuries spent lying and deceiving had given Vangrovius a knack in doing it that made the story plausible and accepted. Or maybe Dassan without caring about the real truth behind the story saw in the person before him only a lonely old man not used in dealing with people, but eager to be forgiven. With the simplicity and naturalness of the young and too enthusiastic about life to linger on the whys, Dassan shook his head and landed a blow on Mylbar's shoulder. "Don't even joke about it! If you wouldn't have come by the shooting range now at my return to Valin I would be facing fatigue at the slimy sands!" he became serious. "Nothing happened, don't worry. You should see what Zell and I do after the fourth Kirana beer!"

Zell. It came natural to Vangrovious to ask: "How... how is the boy?"

"I thought he'd had it, but it seems he'll make it. Nobody understands how the devil he managed to self-strangle himself... A few seconds more and he would've been gone. But he'll recover."

Vangrovius nodded distractedly. This time it was Dassan who spoke seriously. "But this... illness you have, is it... serious? I mean, you're not going to...?" the care in the boy's eyes was the last stab of light in Vangrovius' mind. He couldn't bear to stand that agony; he must put an end to that conversation soonest possible. He had the boys' forgiving, even though rationally it was insignificant whether he did or not. He answered with a smile. "No, no, you needn't worry... I'm sure I'll live another few hundred years!" he went silent for a moment, "only it's hard to live every moment with this curse."

Dassan said good bye once again with a slap on the shoulder. "You're a tough one, Mylbar... you'll manage."

The boy walked away with his bag over his shoulder - and the admittance certificate once again in his back pocket - turning only once to wave. "Thanks again... and good luck."

Vangrovius saw him return to the strip, towards the shuttle. Toward the Imperial Academy. From his mind, tried by the intrigues of the last days and by the devastating revelations of the last hours derived without explanation or reason a final idea. "Wait!" he said, lifting his voice. Dassan who was already walking up the boarding ramp turned back.

With a slow and unnatural movement, asking himself if all that had happened in the last hours and that was happening now was real, Vangrovious brought his right hand to his wrist and from under the glove and with a sharp movement he unhooked the metal clasp. "Something to remind you of your old blaster shooting teacher." He murmured pulling out from under his robe the Sith screen amulet. With a crooked smile Dassan started to say, "No, I can't..." With a smile once again Vangrovious displayed his anthropologist's repertoire.

"It's a battle bracelet of the sorrel armies from Ravannas IV." It is a Sith bracelet that screens and protects, he thought.

"It's over four hundred years old."

It is at least 4,500 years old. One of my most precious pieces.

"Those warriors thought that, if you always carried it on you, it would protect you in every battle."

If you will always wear it, it will avoid you being found by the Dark Jedi, inquisitors and Imperial Lords.

Dassan nodded convinced. "Well, wow... Thanks a lot!" he gave a look at the ship's boarding ramp. "You're a smart guy, Mylbar... Now I really must go!"

"So do I", answered Vangrovius glancing at his wrist denuded of the screen bracelet.

And yet in spite of everything, he remained at the edge of the landing strip until the ship was a dot in the crowded sky of Coruscant. He even allowed himself a glance towards Kalandar before abandoning the features of Mylbar with an acid puff and once again disappear in the darkness.

"Level fifty-one. Flights for Corporate Sector, Tion Cluster and the Anoat corridor." The turboplatform that took the passengers to the terrace of the large spaceport where Vangrovious could embark to leave the planet came to a stop with a jolt. For some reason now he found it disturbing to use the features of Mylbar and therefore he was walking through the crowds without bothering to change his features, with his real appearance, and limiting in altering the perceptions of the people around him. The prolonged immersion among people was annoying him. He longed to return to the peace and sepulchral quiet of the Time Master, where once again he could resume moving the strings of his puppets far away from the rest of the world.

Or not?

Did he really long to return in his universe of mystic screens, of genetic codes, of acrid fumes, of mental programming and artificial constructions? The events of Kalandar hadn't perhaps shown that there was an emptiness in him, a vulnerability, an abyss centuries of privations and isolation deep capable of driving him mad?

It wasn't that simple, he thought shaking his head. Unfortunately if there was one thing that he had felt in Kalandar was that he could only observe, maneuver and study from afar. As painful and final as it was to admit it, it was to believe the opposite that would have procured him a slow and continuous agony.

Willing or not his world wasn't that of others. He would have returned to the Time Master and there, in the tranquillity and lucidity of his reign he would have meditated and he would have found the calmness and control without which he could not exist. There was so much to think about.

There was still one more thing to do.

He went to the balustrade of the level and looked at the emptiness below: the cross section of Coruscant's spaceport extended for kilometers and kilometers into the planet's depths. From below came only the persisting rumble of the ship's engines and a warm and unnatural wind.

He remained in silence for a few long minutes. He would have wanted to think that he was reflecting but in fact it was a decision that he had already made, and this too unconsciously. He had, as usual, only to acknowledge it.

From the pocket of the belt he pulled out the small silver cylinder that contained Dassan Krann's genetic code. Even if the boy was merely a wonder of nature, inside it was the means to bring him too into Vangrovious' net of schemes and projects. If he couldn't be part of the real world perhaps he could bring the boy into his: he could grow a clone, train him to the Force, use him to spy the original with his screens...

Once again - the last for a long, long time he promised himself - he came to a decision that didn't agree with the rational needs of the scientist and geneticist. But somehow he realized that he felt more at ease in keeping Dassan Krann out from his world and his manipulations. He hefted the cylinder one last time and whispered a good-bye before letting it fall over the balustrade.

With a sure and measured walk he went towards his shuttle without even turning to look at it fall. The small cylinder whirled down into the depths driven by the wind until it disappeared forever in the abyss. A microscopic light in an ocean of darkness.

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