Star Wars Riptide

THE PRESENT

JADEN FOUND HIMSELF ON HIS KNEES, THE ROOM SPINNING. Blood leaked from his right temple, spattered the floor in little crimson circles. More blood oozed from the stumps of his fingers. Pain blurred his vision, clouded his thinking. The short, rapid shrieks of an alarm blared in his ears, rising and falling in time with the dim flashes of overhead backup lights. Strange lights. Like little starbursts buried deep in the green resin of the ceiling. A haze of black smoke congealed near the ceiling and darkened air that stank of melted plastoid, rubber, and ozone. He thought he caught the faint stink of decaying flesh but could not be sure.

Gingerly he placed his unwounded hand to his right temple, felt the warm, sticky blood, the small hole there. The blood was fresh; the wound recent.

The rapid flashes of the lights made his movements seem herky-jerky, not his own, the stop-starts of a marionette in unpracticed hands. His body ached. He felt as if he’d been beaten. The stumps of the fingers he’d lost on the frozen moon throbbed, the wounds somehow reopened and seeping pus. His skull felt as if someone had driven a nail through it.

And he had no idea where he was.

He thought he felt eyes on him. He looked around the dark corridor, his eyes unable to focus. He saw no one. The floor vibrated under him, as if coursing with power, the rale of enormous lungs. He found the feeling disquieting. Filaments dangled like entrails from irregular gashes torn in the walls. Black scorch marks bordered the gashes. A control panel, a dark rectangle, hung loose from an aperture in the wall, as if blown out by a power surge.

He found it difficult to focus for long on anything before his field of vision started to spin. His bleary eyes watered from the smoke. The flashing lights and the wail of the siren disoriented him, would not let him gather his thoughts.

The pain in his head simply would not relent. He wanted to scream, to dig his fingers into his brain and root out the agony. He’d never felt anything like it.

What had happened to him?

He could not remember. Worse, he could not think clearly.

And then he felt it: the faint tang of dark-side energy. Its taint suffused the air, greasy on his skin, angry, evil. He swallowed down a dry throat.

Had he been attacked by a Sith?

With an effort of will, he pushed the touch of the dark side away from his core, held it at arm’s length. Having an enemy gave him focus. He steeled himself against the pain in his head and stood on weak legs. Each beat of his heart felt like a hammer blow to his skull. Pound. Pound.

He tried to hold his ground but the room began to spin more rapidly, the alarm loud in his ears, the floor growling under him, the ringing, spinning, whirling. He wobbled, swayed. Nausea pushed bile into the back of his throat.

Without warning, the pain in his temple spiked, a white-hot flash of agony that summoned a prolonged scream. His wail rebounded off the walls, carried off into the darkness, and with the scream as a sound track, a flood of memories and images streamed across his consciousness, rapid flashes of colors, faces, a series of half-remembered or half-imagined things. He was unable to focus for long on any of the images, unable to slow them down; they blazed in and out of his awareness like sparks, flashing for a moment, then gone, leaving only a shadowy afterimage.

He squeezed his eyes shut and