When Agent Alexsandr Kallus returned to the Empire after Bahryn, he didn't realize at first how much things had changed. How much he had changed. He didn't realize that the seeds of doubt had been planted in his mind by the Lasat Rebel. No, by Zeb. His name was Zeb.
It felt strange and unfamiliar to call him by his name, instead of 'Lasat’ or 'Rebel’, even in the privacy of his own mind (somehow Kallus is convinced that his mind isn't private, not at all, and everyone on the Star Destroyer can see right through him, from Admiral Konstantine and Governor Pryce down to the lowest Stormtrooper). And not even the Lasat's real name, Garazeb, but a diminutive of it. It feels far too intimate, too personal. It’s a right he hasn't earned, could never earn (but why would he even want to? He had chided himself). But Zeb had insisted, so Zeb it was.
“I'm just thinking about how easy it would be to crush your head.”
Kallus still had no idea why Zeb had not immediately killed him when that life pod had stranded the two of them on Geonosis’ frozen moon. As far as Kallus knew, Zeb could be the last Lasat in the galaxy. Certainly one of the last. The Rebel would almost certainly be of the last generation of his species, and if he was 'lucky’ enough to outlive the few survivors of Lasan, then he would die alone. There would be no more little Lasats. And it had been Kallus who had wiped his kind from the galaxy. Zeb could have avenged them.
“I never asked questions.”
“Well, maybe you should start.”
Questions haunted Kallus now. Once he had been certain, unyielding in his devotion to the Empire and the justness of its cause. The questions ran around his brain now, manic and frenzied, like a malfunctioning droid stuck in a feedback loop. He wished they would just go away. He wanted everything to go back to normal. The most prominent question in Kallus’ mind didn't even have anything to do with the Empire, but with Zeb. Why hadn't Zeb killed him?
“What the Empire did on Lasan, I’ll never forget.”
“We all have things we can’t forget.”
Kallus remembers the panic when Zeb pulled him from the life pod and dropped him on the icy ground. His leg had been broken in the crash, and now there was a Lasat advancing on him. He was helpless, completely and utterly vulnerable. Terror had clawed at his throat, cutting off his attempts to breathe, as he tried vainly to scramble away, and suddenly Kallus was back there, the place he most didn’t want to remember, but would never forget. On Onderon, with his first unit. Where it had all started.
Screams echo in his ears, the smell of burning fuel scorching his nostrils. Kallus tries to move, but can't. He's forced to watch as the creature walks through the smoke and fire and one by one, and rips his friends apart with its bare hands. He hears the sickening crunch of skulls being destroyed, smells the copper tang of blood. Afterwards he can’t even identify which corpse belonged to who. ‘No, not her!’ he thinks desperately as it happens. ‘Alyson is getting married next week!’ He tries desperately to run to her side, but his body won't obey. He hears Sidd beg for his life, telling the Lasat that he has three children. It just laughed harder, green eyes glinting evilly in the low light. Kallus waited his turn. But it never came. He never understood why the monster had let him live. Perhaps it was so he could hear his friends scream every night in his dreams. Because he did. Kallus spent the rest of his career, the rest of his life, trying to silence the screams at the back of his mind, becoming ever more brutal and cold as he did.
He had fully expected to die in that cave. He had been helpless. Leg broken, weapon gone, completely alone on a barren, frozen moon. With another Lasat advancing menacingly towards him. And Lasats were all killers. Weren’t they?
“I'd rather wait for you to heal, so we can finish our fight fairly.”
The first question that Kallus had asked was not about the Empire, but about himself. He had to ask that if their positions on Bahryn had been reversed, if he had been the one whole and the Lasat had been lying in the snow crippled and helpless before him, would Kallus have shown the same mercy that Zeb had? He didn't like the answer he was forced give himself. Kallus liked to think that he was honorable, that he had only been doing his duty. Zeb had opened his eyes. And kriff, did Kallus wish that he hadn’t. The questions were running through his mind at all times, at all hours of the night, keeping him from sleeping when he was in his bunk and distracting him from his duty when he was awake.
Kallus had a skill for shifting through large amounts of seemingly unrelated data and finding the invisible patterns. So when he failed to put two unrelated data points together, well, he could hardly be blamed if it led to the Ghost crew making yet another unlikely escape. If Zeb escaped. After all, he hadn't actually done anything. He was still a loyal servant of the Empire.
Kallus still heard the screams from Onderon that night. But for once, they seemed very far away. The smoke hadn't burnt his lungs, the fire hadn't seared his skin. He awoke from the memory more confused than afraid.
“Afraid you won't like the answers? Afraid you'll find out that the Geonosians were wiped out by your precious Empire?”
“And why would we do that? What could possibly be the point?”
It had gone on like that for some time. He didn't take direct action to aid the Rebels. He did his duty. But he no longer had the thirst for vengeance for his friends driving him (and despite what he had insisted to Zeb, despite how much it stabbed him to his core to realize how dishonorable he’d been, what had happened on Lasan was entirely personal). He had started to question. And now, he couldn't stop.
“You can't judge all Lasat the same.”
“Does that sentiment apply to Imperials?”
The screams in his dreams had gotten closer again, more intense. But this time, it wasn't the screams of his unit, begging for mercy from a monster. This time the screams were from Lasan. Zeb’s people. It had been Kallus who had ordered the use of the T-7 disruptors, a death so painful, so inhumane that the Senate had banned their use afterwards. (Thanks to the Empire’s handlers, Kallus himself had escaped punishment. The injustice of that burned him now, just as it had when he had gone unpunished for failing to protect his unit.)
Tonight, when he awoke from that dream, the new/old one, the harsh reality crashed down on him with all the weight of a Star Destroyer. Tears stung Kallus’ eyes as for the first time, he admitted to himself the awful, horrible truth: that he had allowed the Empire, and his own thirst for vengeance, to turn him into a monster.
Kallus looked into the corner, where his bo-rifle was propped up against the wall. It seemed like it was taunting him somehow.
”I see you modified it for close-quarters fighting. Impressive. But you shouldn't have it. It’s not a trophy.”
“I didn't take it as a trophy.”
Admitting that the guardsman had fought with honor had been … painful. The words had nearly caught in his throat. But for some reason he still didn’t entirely understand, stranded with an enemy, a Lasat enemy at that, he had been compelled to confess. The Lasat at the palace had known that it was an uneven fight, that humans were physically so much weaker than them. He had given him every chance to leave, to back out. But Kallus couldn’t allow himself to do that, not after Onderon. The screams had echoed in his ears, and he had pulled a knife from his boot, even though the Lasat had been unarmed. It still barely evened the match. The Lasat guardsman had fought with honor, but Kallus had fought dirty. He had fought like an animal. And he had won.
In his last moments, clinging to life, the guardsman that pushed his bo-rifle towards Kallus' feet. Very deliberately, it had lifted its paw off the weapon (the weapon it hadn't even fought with, the weapon he had put aside at the beginning of the brawl). Kallus had thought he was surrendering (a surrender that he had refused to accept). When Zeb told him that when a Lasat warrior was defeated by a superior foe, they gifted their weapon to their enemy, what was left of Kallus’ heart had shriveled up in his chest. The guardsman had been respecting him. He had destroyed his WORLD, and the guardsman had spent his last moments respecting HIM as a superior warrior. That revelation had destroyed him, ripped apart his very soul, taken the most important thing from him, the last illusion that Kallus had that he could still be called a good man.
Kallus looked at his hands now, stretching out his long fingers, aching from a cold that he knew, logically, wasn't really here. He could practically see the guardsman's blood soaking them, feel the hot red stickiness of it. It revolted him now, remembering Lasan, remembering what he’d done. That he had enjoyed it. It had felt like justice, at the time. He realized now that he had judged all Lasat the same. He had taken his rage at Gerrera’s merc out on an entire planet. Bile rose in his throat at the thought. How could that be just?
He looked back to the bo-rifle. He was still confounded that Zeb hadn’t killed him. More than that, the Rebel had fought insanely hard to keep Kallus alive, risking his own life to protect him from those gigantic creatures who had tried to eat them both. He could have had vengeance for his planet, and all Zeb had to do was nothing. He could have. He should have. The seeds of doubt had fully sprouted now. There was just no point in denying it anymore. Kallus knew what the Empire was now. He knew what he was. A monster. And monsters deserved to die.
He padded over to the corner and lifted his most prized possession - formerly most prized, he thought bitterly. It was a large weapon, heavy and long, unwieldy for most humans. But Kallus had trained for years after Onderon. He had conditioned himself in various fighting styles, and with various weapons. He was an expert with it, and it was one of the few things that made him stand out from other Imperial officers. It went with him to every posting, every mission. He went into battle alongside his men, bo-rifle slung on his back, turning down promotion after promotion to stay in the field. It was the only thing Kallus had that was irreplaceable. His only personal item. And it symbolized a massacre, the extermination of an entire people.
It would do.
Kallus carried it back to his bunk, placing the weapon between his knees, the end of the barrel under his jaw. It was awkward, and he'd have to reach the button to electrify it with his foot, but he could do it. A thrill went through him as he realized what he was doing. What if this was it? What if he never had to hear the screams again, from Onderon OR Lasan? There's a kind of justice to it, he mused, him dying by a Lasat weapon. Even if it's by his own hand (well, foot) and not one of his Lasat victims (because nearly twenty years after Onderon, he can finally admit, most of the Lasat were victims, not monsters). If there was one thing that Kallus believed in more than the Empire, it was justice. He deserved this.
“It's warm and it throws light.”
Something caught Kallus’ eye, just out of his range of vision, glowing a faint yellow-orange. The meteorite. He turned towards it with a quick jerk. The bo-rifle slipped from suddenly limp fingers, hitting the floor with a clatter. He ignored it completely, to reach for the softly glowing rock. The only other personal item in his quarters.
Warmth pulsed through his hand when his fingers closed around it. Its light and heat had been getting weaker since Bahryn (a thought that terrified Kallus, in a way that made no logical sense). Kallus realized that even if his leg had not been broken, he would have died on that moon if he had been alone. Despite trying not to show weakness in front of an enemy, Kallus had shivered and shook in a way that Zeb hadn’t. Lasat were less sensitive to cold than humans, apparently. The fur, probably. (Although he didn't remember Lasan being a particularly snowy planet).
Kallus cradled the meteorite in his hands. He owed Zeb his life. How could he throw his life away when Zeb had fought so hard, so honorably, for it? For him?
Death was too quick for him, Kallus realized. He had to live, to suffer. The screams in his head were his punishment. But it wasn’t enough. Simply ignoring the patterns he saw in the web of data wasn't enough, either. The Empire was vast, and sooner or later, someone else would see them, too.
Kallus deserved to die, but no good could come of a corpse. Splattering his brains across the wall would silence the screams, but it was not going to bring back all the people that the Empire had murdered. That *he* had murdered. It would be selfishness, not justice. As a high-ranking Imperial Intelligence officer, he was in a unique position to help the Rebels. To help Zeb.
He would never be able to truly make up for his past, but he could at least be helpful to the Rebellion. He would find some way to get in contact with one of their cells, to convince them of his sincerity, to start feeding intel to the Rebels. Maybe one day, Zeb would find out about how much of an effect he had had on Kallus. Maybe, just maybe, he would forgive him.
“Here … warm yourself up.”
Kallus swore he could almost hear Zeb’s voice in the silence of his cabin. For the first time since he came back from Bahryn, Kallus no longer felt confused. He clutched the meteorite to his chest, feeling warmth spread through this body (had Imperial ships always been this cold? After the moon, it was like the chill had sank into his bones, and he noticed the coldness the Empire was run with, in a way he never had before). He actually laughed. A snide voice at the back of his mind wondered if it's radiation was really harmless, as his scanners had claimed, or if keeping it by his bed for so long had melted his brain in some microscopic way that the Med Bay couldn’t detect.
He didn’t care. The seeds of doubt that Zeb had planted had grown too strong. To Kallus’ complete and utter shock, they had bloomed into something new: faith in the Rebellion. Kallus couldn’t stop laughing, and some part of him was aware was that it sounded slightly crazed. There was still an ocean’s worth of blood on his hands, but somehow, Kallus felt cleaner than he had in years.