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Before - Legends Ghosts of Korriban (Revan/Bastila/Chak/OCs post-KotOR action psychodrama) Updated Ch. 14 5/30/2016!

Discussion in 'Fan Fiction- Before, Saga, and Beyond' started by Goodwood, Jul 27, 2014.

  1. Goodwood

    Goodwood Jedi Master star 5

    May 11, 2011
    Title: Ghosts of Korriban
    Author: Goodwood
    Timeframe: Before the Saga, KotOR-era
    Characters: Revan, Bastila, multiple canon (Yuthura Ban, et. al.) and original (Chak Ravartin, Seela Dar, et. al.) characters
    Genre: Psychodrama, introspection, action

    Criticism welcome and encouraged!

    Summary: The last weeks of the Jedi Civil War were perhaps the most brutal in living memory, from one end of the galaxy to the other, but even more so on the ancient world that first gave birth to the Sith species. Overwhelmed by a terror from within sparked by a lust for power fueled by the dark side, the barren planet is nearly scourged of sentient life, echoes of its inhabitants left to haunt the graves and tombs of those lords of old.

    Two years after the end of that conflict, the Republic returns to Korriban in force, to determine whether or not the Sith still hold it as a base and, if so, to eliminate what threats they find. But not every threat can be met with blasters or blades, and one Jedi in particular must face an aspect of his past that will mark the future for billions of lives to come.




    Pure, unbridled, visceral, it drew up every sentient mind within reach and sent the body it inhabited into paroxysms of frenzy in a mad rush for dominance that expanded like a cyclone. Like a horde of rampaging beasts penned by an electrified containment field, the servants, students, and teachers of the academy went at each other, hacking at anything within reach, taking great swipes at and out of opponents with weapons ranging from the urbane to the utterly wicked. The only rule, unwritten save in the blood and dismembered corpses of the combatants, was this: no blasters.

    No one questioned it, no one seemed even to mind the arbitrary way the fight had broken out. One moment, all was well, or as normal as anyone could expect. The headmaster and his deputy had taken their chosen student into the valley for the final test, and were not expected to return for several hours at the absolute minimum. The next second, the illusiary peace seemed to snap like an overstretched spring harness, plummeting the elaborately decorated halls into the very depths of hell as varicolored blood ran in torrents across their dusty floors. The keening scream of power unleashed added a counterpoint to the steady tattoo of impacts of weapon upon weapon, wall, and body.

    Teachers, students, armored soldiers and even support personnel were too caught up in the dance of death to even notice the presence of a few relatively recent arrivals as they burst through the fight at the valley-side entrance, much less have the will to stop and ask what they were doing. As a result they proceeded virtually unchallenged through the place and right out the front entrance, cutting down the lone door guard and causing those few hopefuls who remained outside to flee in terror. As it inevitably must, what amounted to a lethal match of no-holds-barred King of the Hill erupted beyond the boundary of the academy soon thereafter. Power flanked by screaming, frenzied clamboring of escaping bodies pulsed hungrily through the corridors of the spaceport settlement, snatching up those too shocked, too slow, or too stupid to flee and hashing them like so much lunchmeat, gleefully heaping devastation throughout the town all the while.

    Within hours the tempest blew itself out, but not before claiming the lives of nearly every being that had once attended or worked at the valley facility and many of their toadies in the corporate-run spaceport, to say nothing of the civilians caught within the event horizon of purest violence. The final act of the brutal tragedy was consumated with the destruction of nearly every docked starship in the place as people of every species attempted either to commandeer passage offworld or simply flee the scourging of their, if not necessarily happy, homes.

    The sun that set on the smoke-choked town was a cold omen of harder times to come. It had never been easy living in the shadow of the academy and dealing with its residents, who had always had the run of the city and did as they pleased. Many of those who had survived this day doubted that, when the word inevitably reached him, its founder would be in a good mood.

    His capriciousness was no secret, after all, nor was the extent of his vengeance.

    — — —​

    Barely discernable against the drab sandstone from which it had been carved, a hooded woman crawled amongst the rubble that choked off the tomb entrance, desperate to remain hidden as she sought a safe exit from the valley. No sane being ventured up the walls to the plateaus directly; that was a sure path to a slow death by thirst or starvation in their howling emptiness. But this particular valley had only one access point connecting it to what passed for civilization, and it was currently convulsing in twisted agonies too numerous to discern let alone count. The scent of death was everywhere, and it was beginning to attract the notice of the native scavengers, adding a second layer of danger to the mix.

    But she was not without some skills. Tucking a tattooed lekku back beneath the ragged, improvised cloak that concealed her steel-gray uniform, she cast her gaze about in search of an opening. When a pair of students abandoned their archeological pursuits to see what was going on further on up the gully that led back to the academy, she dashed out from under her cover. Calling upon her speed to swiftly cross the open ground toward the deeper shadows of another tomb, she leaped over the rusted carcass of an ancient guard droid and hid within its picked-over shell. There she would stay the night, hoping against the darkness that no one would even think to look for her, much less in that particular spot.

    It was a restless sleep that eventually claimed her, curled up inside the cold metal box that had once housed the power core and logic circuits of the heavy-duty automaton, which had originally been designed to protect the treasures hidden behind the imposing edifice from those who were unworthy. Naturally, it had long been rendered defunct and itself looted for parts, one of those little ironies that made life amusing and, if you're fortunate, worth living. The dull humor of it helped to provide the refugee within some small measure of clarity as she meditated upon the day's events and attempted, somewhat in vain but not entirely, to block out the boiling rage fueling the whirlwind consuming her erstwhile home.

    Rememberences of her old lives flitted before her mind's eye as she slumbered, reminding her of what had brought her to this place and why, ultimately, she had pleaded for a chance to escape and find redemption. Her first life had been harsh to say the least, lived by the whip as she was forced to entertain bloated gastropods, foremost among a wide variety of vile creatures. Then one day she had used strength she hadn't known she'd possessed to fulfill a dream of escaping that life, in the process ridding the world of a being utterly bereft of merit on her way to her second life. This one couldn't have been more different from the first, and in living it she had truly tasted freedom for the first time.

    Ultimately, however, she had squandered the opportunity it had presented, to become a force for justice and goodness, to render aid to those who had been trapped like her in a life of bondage and forced servitude. In her bubbling dissatisfaction with the pace of her training, she had become restive and frustrated with her instructors, who she had thought only wished to hold her back from her true mission in life. Without regard for the consequences, she had then embarked upon her third life, forsaking the order she had sworn to uphold to instead master its opposite—only to find out that among them, she was to be a servant once more until she could wrest her advancement by Force.

    Living among those practitioners of the dark arts, she had eventually forgotten what she had originally set out to do. It could wait, she had told herself over and over again, it can wait unitl I have dispatched this one last obstacle... But that had been the lure for the trap, hadn't it? And she had not seen its walls until he had come along. His face swam before hers in the predawn gloom as she batted her eyes drowsily.

    She laughed softly to herself as she contemplated the conversations they had shared. He had fooled her utterly, that Human, so thoroughly that she hadn't recognized the signs even as they danced proudly before her eyes. Perhaps she had been blinded by her passions, a failing her old mentor had once pleadingly asked her to recognize, taking him into her confidences as she had done. Some part of her must have wanted to be seduced—if not by his rakish good looks, which were considerable, but by his power—and she had easily been caught up in the game they both played. He had known exactly which triggers to pull, which angles to work, like a wildly successful businessman who dealt in emotion and memory, even as he pulled what amounted to a triple cross that had, in the end, effectively cleansed this planet of its dark masters...for the foreseeable future, at any rate.

    This was why the woman was desperate to escape this place as quickly as possible. It was only a matter of time before other lords would be sent to investigate the academy's fall, to inquire after the headmaster and his apprentice, and indeed the entire student body and the cream of the order that its instructors represented. Perhaps it would even attract the personal attention of that jawless misanthrope in the crimson bodysuit and armor, the man who had ordered the destruction of an entire world in order to kill one person. But more than that, she needed to get away from the black miasma of hate and fear that was Korriban, lest it snuff out the candle so recently reignited.

    She had little time, and scant few resources, but she would accomplish her task. And the galaxy would know that Yuthura Ban had sloughed off the heavy cloak of darkness that had enveloped her like a second skin, and was once more the Jedi she had always been.

    — — —​

    The dirty, rusty old bucket she had managed to cobble together after it had been partially-wrecked and abandoned shuddered drunkenly as it decanted from hyperspace. Yuthura had found it as the dust from the slaughter that had shattered her old haunt settled, putting every ounce of technical skill she had acquired over the years to use bringing it back to life as quickly as possible. She had then rounded up as many innocent survivors of the massacre that had devastated Dreshdae as she thought could make the journey, promising to take them to a place where she knew they could find some measure of peace.

    Unfortunately, as she brought the sensors online and scanned their destination, it became immediately obvious that Dantooine was no longer the refuge it had once been. Luck, or the Force, had dropped them in a far enough orbit that Yuthura was able to spot the pair of Sith cruisers that loitered above the grassy world without being spotted in turn. "Looks like we're in for a rough time of it," she said to the Human who had settled in as impromptu navigator. "I'm sensing a lot of pain and suffering on the surface."

    "Do you think the Sith are setting up a garrison?" he asked timidly. He had recognized the Twi'lek for who she was, and though he was grateful for her help at this time, it was difficult to reconcile the notion that the deputy headmistress of the Korriban Sith Academy—who had been known to take a perverse sort of pleasure in the destruction of potential initiates—was actually doing her best to be a decent individual.

    Yuthura nodded soberly. "Yes. The Jedi enclave here has been bombarded and its inhabitants either killed outright or driven away. The locals will be easy to subjugate, but we may yet be able to be of some aid."

    "How do we manage that?"

    "Very, very carefully..."

    Working together, the two of them found a spot where the old heap of a low-stock freighter could land and remain unnoticed, at least for a time. The Human, whose name was Trunma, kept his eyes glued to the sensor readouts as Yuthura handled the controls. After a long, slow descent that took them to a position that was nearly a polar opposite to where the warships lurked, the relic of a vessel eased into a small clearing on the south end of a large, hilly ridge that was blanketed in a light forest that partially concealed a small river. Quickly securing the engines, Yuthura unstrapped herself and entered the main hold, addressing the group of refugees that, including the navigator, amounted to an even twenty. "Where are we?" a Human female in her early middle years asked nervously as she clutched at her young son "Where have you taken us?"

    "We are here on Dantooine, as I promised," Yuthura answered, modulating her voice into what she hoped was a reassuring tone. Waving her hand, she pulled the boarding ramp actuator from across the hold. "Come, see for yourselves."

    Leading the way by a considerable margin, which was understandable given her reputation, Yuthura ventured down the ramp and into the trees. If she remembered right, it was midmorning in this part of the planet, which meant there was plenty of daylight left for her charges to get a feel for the place and, the Force willing, a small portion of the freedom she so desperately wanted to give them. Though the freighter could have carried more passengers, albeit uncomfortably, she had wanted to ensure that the ship could also haul enough supplies to last a while. If the worst happened and she and those who would accompany her bid for escape found themselves on a hostile world, they would be able to survive for long enough to either be rescued or set up a pioneer camp and begin subsisting on native flora and fauna. In the wake of the near-purge of the Dreshdae spaceport, it had been laughably easy to acquire everything they would have needed, including blasters for everyone.

    And yet, despite the odds and the complications of a Sith occupation in the making, they had made it to their destination. Now it remained to be seen if Yuthura and her band of reluctant companions—she detested the very idea of them being "followers" in any sense—could avoid detection while at the same time adapting to their new lives. In the days that followed the little band of mostly Humans, but also including a couple of Rodians and a Bothan, carved out a habitat within a hollow alongside the freshwater stream where it ran close to the foot of the ridge. It was a fantastic defensive setup if all one had to worry about were kath hounds and stalker lizards, but it wouldn't stand up to even a cursory search by an organized force outfitted with modern equipment. However, for better or worse, it had soon become a home of sorts.

    Two weeks or so after their arrival, Yuthura felt confident enough in her people to leave them be, while she journeyed to one of a system of caves on this world that would provide a suitable replacement for the synthetic crystal that was the heart of her blade. It would not be an easy trek, but perhaps the solitude and exposure to her old home would do her spirit some good...
    Glor, Tohl_Andares and metophlus like this.
  2. TrakNar

    TrakNar Jedi Grand Master star 5

    Apr 4, 2011
    Good start. The prose is very pastiche, bordering on what I would generally see in Lovecraft or Belknap Long.
    Findswoman and Goodwood like this.
  3. Goodwood

    Goodwood Jedi Master star 5

    May 11, 2011
    Given what I'm going for, that's actually very helpful. :)
  4. earlybird-obi-wan

    earlybird-obi-wan Force Ghost star 6

    Aug 21, 2006
  5. Goodwood

    Goodwood Jedi Master star 5

    May 11, 2011
    Chapter One

    Two years later

    At the rear of the cavernous bridge of the Centurion-class battlecruiser Stalwart Defender, a turbolift door whispered a soft herald for a pair of brown-cloaked and pale-robed Jedi Knights. Quietly they lowered their hoods and, ignoring the furtive stares of the crewers and officers on watch, crossed the hundred meters or so to the opposite end. There an aging admiral in Republic Navy duty grays, his bald pate picking up highlights from the overhead illumination, stood next to the navigator's console, observing as the lieutenant fed coordinates to the helm and comm stations in preparation for entering the planetary system that was their current destination. The taller of the two, a fair-skinned male of about forty years whose dark wavy hair flowed freely to his shoulders, nodded to the officer once he had noticed their arrival. "Good, you're here," the admiral stated matter-of-factly. "We're just about to arrive in-system."

    Both Jedi nodded in acknowledgement.

    "I don't like the idea of you two going down there alone," Vice Admiral Kedlis Hetton continued, his expression turning from neutral to deeply concerned as he held his arms behind his back. "We have no idea what the situation on the surface is like, nor do we even have a point of contact. You are, in effect, going into a potential hot zone blind, deaf and dumb."

    The shorter of the two Knights tapped at her temple, emphasizing the fact that the pair of them were in fact doing nothing of the sort. While she had given up the somewhat flashy, form-fitting bodysuit and smocking of her brash youth, she still held her auburn hair in an elaborate yet practical bun atop her head, a dignified nod to her femininity. "We understand, Admiral," she said congenially. "But our awareness and knowledge of Dantooine will give us all the aid we need. If, however, things do get complicated, we shall of course call for help."

    "Well, it's not like I've never seen a Jedi in action before," Hetton allowed with a shrug, remembering the last time his flagship had played host to a member of the Order. "Damn, the last one I worked with all but single-handedly liberated a planet. me a favor and don't go looking for trouble."

    "Haven't you heard, sir?" asked the man, his genteel voice laced with good-natured irony. "If there is any trouble to be had, it will definitely be chasing after us."

    The admiral pulled a face. "Keep it up, Jedi." he grumbled, stepping back toward thee forward viewports and crossing his arms over his chest.. "It's going to be a couple of days before the rest of the task force arrives anyway; I like the idea of us moving on Korriban without support even less than the stunt you two aim to pull."

    The male caught the eyes of the older Human, the look on his face one of sympathetic understanding. He knew full well that sending only one vessel, no matter how powerful it may be, was too great a risk for the kind of long-range scouting mission that was the ultimate purpose of their being here. Even with the formal cessation of hostilities having been in effect for so long, it was still entirely possible that whole fleets of enemy warships roamed the former war zone. "We'll take a squad of Marines along with us, just to be sure," he suggested. "If the population has been as depleted as the rumors suggest, we'll need the extra guns to keep the predators at bay."

    "Fine," the admiral agreed with an exaggerated sigh. "I'll let you handle that little detail yourselves."

    — — —​

    Staff Sergeant Seela Dar cinched her breastplate tighter to her chest and grabbed her helmet, plopping it onto her noggin just as the door to the barracks room where her squad was finishing the task of gearing up hissed open. Through it strode a gray-skinned Twi'lek officer, the bars of lieutenant commander gleaming on the crimson shoulder boards of his service greens. Seela and the rest of her people snapped off precision salutes in greeting, which their company commander returned with equal measure. Everyone knew he was too brass-heavy to remain in this position; he rated battalion XO at the very least given his experience. But he was a stickler for "paying one's dues" as he called it, and would accept no better assignment unless and until he had accumulated the proper amount of time and experience at his current level. Because of this and other things, the respect they had for him was immense.

    "As you were," he said softly, the sheer presence of his deep, clipped baritone comforting to his subordinates as he watched them. Standing at parade rest before the squad as they secured their armor, he waited until they were finished to resume speaking. "I was asked by Battalion to select a squad to accompany our two Jedi as they make a quick recon of Dantooine while we wait for the rest of our flotilla. Out of the whole company I chose you, because Staff Sergeant Dar here has more experience liaising with members of the Order than most staff NCOs this side of the Core." He turned, glacing at Seela, who was thankful that her helmet prevented the others from seeing her face as it blushed furiously. "We don't know what to expect," Commander Ibratu'na continued, his pinkish eyes scrutinizing the armored troopers before him. "Scuttlebutt says the Sith briefly occupied the place two years ago, after nearly flattening the Jedi enclave located a few hundred klicks outside Garang, and were not gentle with the locals. We think they have since abandoned the planet, though their motivations and disposition remain unknown. Any questions?"

    Seela nodded, and though she worked hard to rub it out, the accent of her desert homeworld of Tatooine managed to worm its way through her query. "What is the status of Garang itself, sir?"

    "We'll know for sure once we arrive in orbit, but knowing the Sith I don't expect there will be much left worth sifting through. The place had a fairly active central spaceport, however it was most likely hit and obliterated at the same time as the enclave. The Jedi will be able to tell us for certain. Anyone else?"

    Nobody moved or spoke, prompting the veteran officer to wrap things up. "Remember, you are security first and foremost," he said for the benefit of the rest of her squad, knowing Seela already understood what their presence meant. "You will follow every order the Jedi give you, even if it seems weird or illogical. Get your armor painted for grassland, draw weapons and supplies for three days' combat ops, then meet the Jedi shuttle in twenty minutes. Will that be long enough, Staff Sergeant?"

    "If it isn't I'll have to assign laps, Lieutenant Commander," Seela replied with a mock growl. "Either of our ship or the whole damn planet."

    The Twi'lek rumbled a low chuckle. "Good. Kindly see to it."

    When the officer left, Seela turned to her people. "Though I doubt it will come to it, watch out for flashing lightsaber blades," she told them as she motioned for them to move out. "Trust me, even in this armor they can cut you in half like a hot knife through butter."

    "Yes, Staff Sergeant!" the squad echoed as their boots beat a steady rhythm on the deck. Seela turned in their wake, walking drag on the twelve Marines under her command as they headed for the armory and its enclosed droid-operated armor painting station.

    As they marched, she briefly reflected on the course of events that led to her current lot in life. She liked being a Marine, and considered the opportunity she had been given during the war a blessing. Due to the training necessary to make the transition however, she and the others of her old platoon that had accepted the offer had missed the war's conclusion, but considered it a reasonable trade-off. It had taken a full five months to blow through the nine week long Inter-Service Training School, then master all the courses necessary to become qualified as a scout/sniper, only to find that apparently she had rated a trip through the Enlisted Leadership Program and yet another promotion. She had commanded this squad of "home-grown" Marines, soldiers trained from day one as potential members of the Corps, ever since; though tempted to tell them about her adventures during the war, and the capture of a certain Sith Lord, she was prohibited both by protocol and the stamp of "top secret" the brass had placed on the entire thing. Perhaps someday they could know, but she didn't need them to, because she had already earned their respect in other ways.

    When her turn in the paint booth came up, she stepped in and marveled at the ingenious bit of mechanical and programming wizardry that had gone into making a simple painter droid, which was used in internal and external hull maintenance, into an expert in the swift application of camouflage to armor. Before she had joined up, Marines going into combat or frontier garrison posts had to paint their own armor manually, using small self-powered airbrushes. According to her instructors, this activity had often involved all of the enlisted men of a particular unit in a celebratory atmopshere where everyone would don their suits and just fling the appropirate colors of paint at one another. Seela decided that she liked this method better, as it was more controlled and, well, neater, both in method and result. If her squad had splattered paint all over the deck and bulkheads in one of those old armor parties, she would've had them scraping it up with unpowered chisels—the same went for her platoon daddy, she was sure.

    "All set here?" she asked once the process was done and she had drawn her weapon, a long-range model BR-12m she had recently refitted with a variable-zoom scope that could accomodate medium- and short-range work as well.

    A chorus of "Yes, Staff Sergeant" answered back, and she waved her Marines onward as they left the chamber and trotted down a corridor toward a large turboshaft, rifles and carbines slung over their shoulders with muzzles pointed at the deck. The ride down toward the hangar bay of the massive battlecruiser passed in silence, as did the march toward their assigned transport, and there was no need to ask the hangar bay duty officer which one they were to take. In the near corner close to the magcon shield sat a Ministry-class orbital shuttle, its boarding ramp down and a pair of brown-cloaked Humans flanking the rear. This is going to be a tight fit, Seela thought ruefully. Everybody knew these vehicles were not created for the purpose of landing soldiers, especially when outfitted for combat, and she could well imagine the grousing of her fellow troopers as they boarded.

    — — —​

    "They're all aboard," Bastila Shan advised as a small light on the command console of the shuttle shifted from red to green, indicating the ramp had been raised and the hull was sealed. "I am initiationg engine prestart."

    Revan, secured to his seat as though about to pilot a starfighter into combat, fluttered his hands on the flight controls as he took a deep breath and blew it out noisily. "Ready over here," he quipped, his face splitting into a grin as he glanced at the woman he loved. "Been a while since I strapped on a ship of any kind. Feels good."

    Bastila pulled a face as she gazed through the forward viewport, which looked out on the hangar bay's magcon-shielded exit. Stalwart Defender had pulled out of hyperspace close over Dantooine nearly half an hour prior, its combat aerospace patrol reporting a complete absence of any discernable military presence within five thousand klicks of what had once been the capital. According to a brief flyover, Garang more closely resembled a rock-blasted moonscape than a city of over thirty thousand people, which seemed consistent with the scant few reports available on the sacking of the planet two years prior. And some of those reports, due to their nature, were suspect at best. Bastila didn't like to think about it, though. She had known when Admiral Saul Karath had spoken the words that they were true, that the enclave was gone and so were many of its inhabitants, Jedi of all ages and abilities as well as countless support personnel. Yet even then some hope had been salvaged in the form of Master Vandar Tokare, who had accompanied Admiral Forn Dodonna's strike fleet at the Battle of Rakata Prime, and in the successful evacuation of several other Knights and Masters—not to mention some critically important holocrons and relics—prior to the bombardment. She didn't really know why, with the Sith that remained scattered beyond the Rim in the wake of Malak's death, the Order had not yet returned to reclaim their destroyed home...

    "We're still just beginning to recover," Revan said somberly into her thoughts, and Bastila nearly jumped in her harness, having momentarily forgotten the bond the two of them shared. He smiled, placing a calming hand on her shoulder. "Others will come, eventually," he continued, his voice mellowing out, "it's only a matter of time. We may as well take this chance to relax a bit, while we explore and take stock."

    "Yes, it's easy to relax while surrounded by a squad of armed Marines," Bastila retorted, blowing an aggrieved sigh.

    "Would you rather be cooped up in our quarters while we wait for our other ships?" Revan teased. "I mean, we can if you really want to, but I've got a feeling our escort won't enjoy having to go back to their regular routine after having psyched themselves up for action planetside."

    Bastila glared at him, and Revan delighted in the fire that had ignited behind her gray eyes. "Fine," she blathered, only slightly angrily. "Let's just go and get this done. I hope an iriaz decides to sharpen its horns on your hide while you sleep."

    Laughing, Revan reached up and flipped a switch, activating the comm. "Shuttle Besh Trill One One Niner to Control, requesting departure clearance and approach vector toward Dantooine."

    The control officer's voice came back strong through the speaker. "Control to BT-119, you are cleared for departure on course three three seven mark one eight." There was a moment of hesitation. "Would you like an escort down to the surface?"

    Revan smiled at the question, doubtless the deck officer had been ordered to relay the inquiry by Admiral Hetton. "Sure, we'll indulge the admiral," he replied smugly. "Peel off a flight from whichever unit you want and have them plow the road, we'll coordinate on this frequency. BT-119 out." He switched off the comm unit and smiled at Bastila. "Let's see if they can keep up."

    She rolled her eyes. "Revan, don't."

    He chuckled immoderately, goosing the repulsorlifts and punching the shuttle from the hangar bay as a quartet of Aurek fighters crossed their path a comfortable distance ahead. While Revan did the piloting, Bastila looked over the readouts from the navigational computer, comparing known landmarks to the current map as drawn by the sensors of the fighters that had done the initial sweep. They were currently pointed toward Dantooine, but since the old enclave was on the other side of the planet, she wondered why her partner was not angling away for an orbital approach. "You're doing..."

    "...a Mandalorian power-dive, yep," Revan answered cheerfully, his reply flowing seemlessly into Bastila's startled realization. "I've decided we're not going home, not this time anyway. If anyone is still living down there, I get the feeling they might not be too welcoming of a pair of Force-users and a squad of armed soldiers, even assuming they could identify our escort as Republic Marines." He flicked the comm again. "Aurek flight, you may as well go back to the shed. We know where we're going and I don't want to make a big deal out of our arrival."

    "Regroup order acknowledged, BT-119," the fighter pilot leading their nominal escort replied. "Good luck down there."

    "What?" Revan drawled into the terse silence that descended upon the cockpit once the comm was back off, his visage cocked in a roguish half-grin that set his brown eyes sparkling with delight. He knew what the answer was, he just liked teasing her. It was glaringly obvious that if she was ever going to live up to her true potential as a Jedi and a leader, Bastila needed to learn to relax and not be so uptight about the small stuff. He, Revan, her friend and more, would teach her how to loosen up if it was the last thing he ever did.

    — — —​

    As was his custom at this time of day in this season, Trunma Melark was tilling the soil in the modest field he and Velle, his wife of two years, had staked for themselves. Not long after their escape from Dreshdae and subsequent arrival on this idyllic world with its vast, open grasslands and bright, wooded glens, just about everyone in their small band had settled into a peaceful, if uncomplicated existence centered around hunting and agriculture. If anyone was to ask him about the transition or what his plans would be given the choice, he would happily tell them that he had no intention of going anywhere else for the rest of his days. His wife's boy, whom he had unofficially adpoted (not that there was an official anything out here in the middle of nowhere), had begun to express an interest in mechanical pursuits a year previous, and Trunma had negotiated an apprenticeship for the lad aboard the old, repurposed supply freighter that had brought them here, which had subsequently been dubbed the Deliverance.

    Though the vessel had not flown since their arrival, the refugees that had evolved themselves to fill various positions continued to work on restoring her to optimal flying condition, if for no other reason than the need to keep busy. This was on top of the fact that they might still need the ship to escape to some other world should things here go sour. With limited parts and tools available, however, there was only so much the crew could do to make her any more spaceworthy than it had been at the time of their departure; that said, they had made remarkable progress in the years since their arrival. Under their care, Deliverance had been nursed back to health so that she could probably be put to use as a cargo transport on regular runs if the need for it ever arose. This was a far cry from the state she had been in when they had blasted off from their previous home, when it was wondered by more than a few of the refugees if she could even survive atmospheric reentry.

    The life they led here was certainly different than what they had left behind on that barren cesspit of darkness that had been Korriban. Most of the group had been ordinary civilians that had had the misfortune to grow up in the only settlement, governed and policed by folks calling themselves Sith, and who didn't much care for the rule of law as most civilized beings understood it. Trunma was one of only three who had emigrated to Dreshdae, brought in by Czerka Corporation as part of its sector-wide management apparatus when the new wave of Sith had taken over the planet some seven years previous. The work had been dull and repetitive and the pay wasn't that great, but at least it had kept him out of sight and mind, where he rarely if ever had to worry about becoming a plaything of some snot-nosed apprentice seeking to stroke his or her happy spot by torturing random civilians. The nightlife in the city was, thus, an at-your-own-risk affair that had held little appeal to him, and he had spent most of his off-duty hours trying to find some means of getting out from under Czerka's thumb, but the rates for smuggling oneself offworld were astronomical. In retrospect that was probably why the pay had been so low, because the company didn't want to lose trained employees just because they were afraid to set foot out of doors.

    While Dantooine was not exactly a paradise like Alderaan, Chandrila or other civilized worlds in and around the Core, it did have its charms. Like Korriban there was no pollution to mar the landscape, but that meant little when the only noteworthy features were mountain crags, deep valleys, and windswept plateaus utterly bereft of vegetation. There was much more to ruin here, and Trunma hated the idea of any kind of mass industry taking root on this world and soiling the environment. The flying beasts, which forcefully reminded him of thrantas he had seen described in biology texts, were of particular interest, at least to him. Kath hounds were pests but they were at least managable now; after a single season the local pack had quickly realized it wasn't welcome in this land, and that the new homesteaders had the means to keep it that way. Iriaz were easily-domesticated, and filled all the roles of livestock one might imagine on any other agriworld. Overall, the only thing that seemed lacking was leisure time, but the work he was doing here was helping to keep others fed and clothed. Thanks to Yuthura's efforts, for almost a year now the small community had engaged in informal trading with other nearby settlers, bringing in items of practical use that they themselves couldn't make in exchange for foodstuffs and other, more basic goods.

    Chuckling to himself at the memory of their first encounter, he straightened up from his tilling and massaged his mildly sore back. Trunma had known of the former Sith deputy headmistress from his first orientation briefing, conducted on the transport itself before it had even left hyperspace en route to Korriban. While her boss, Uthar Wynn was content to remain in the Academy and the Valley of the Dark Lords that lay beyond, Yuthura Ban had often been found in the commerce district of Dreshdae; the spaceport cantina there had been one of her favorite haunts. She had been described as the person who made the final decision on whether or not a Sith hopeful who had become an initiate would ultimately be permitted to join as a full student, and it was hinted that those whom she deemed unworthy were swiftly and simply...dealt with. She had been a very different woman when they had actually come face to face in the morning after the chaotic infighting that had decimated the school, and if he hadn't remembered her by sight he would have had a very difficult time believing her pleas for assistance. In the years since their arrival, the two of them had formed a close partnership even if she continued to be evasive when he occasionally asked about her past associations. Here, Trunma used his experience as a corporate manager to coordinate the activities of the group, while Yuthura assumed the role of community protector and ambassador to the established homesteads they had since met. Both had become quite skilled in their respective duties, and the little community respected them for it.

    Though everyone had at least heard of her and her reputation, the very fact that she had risked everything to save them from a dismal existence in the ruins of the Sith colony had gone a long way toward earning their trust. She remained simply Yuthura, exchanging the slate gray uniform she had arrived in for plain coveralls and, eventually, a simple homespun tunic and robe. When not absolutely necessary for the defense of the community, she kept her powers hidden and almost never used her lightsaber; Trunma had only ever seen the weapon once, when a graul had wandered too close to their tiny hamlet to be persuaded to leave it unmolested. He had been among the party that had identified it, and had watched in astonished bewilderment as the Twi'lek had surged forward in a blur to close the distance and offer battle. He had half-expected the blade to be red, but instead the hilt had produced a shaft of effervescent yellow that showed itself for only a moment before it disappeared through the tough hide atop the creature's cranium. The felled beast had provided hearty meals for the twenty-one residents for a full fortnight afterward, and Trunma's wife and a couple others had stripped and polished its skull for a trophy, one they were able to eventually trade for a beat-up old landspeeder and some relatively new starship components.

    Now, however, Yuthura wasn't among them. As was her custom for the past two years, she had gone on some sort of annual pilgrimage, never telling anyone where she was going or why, but the delivered ones had come to understand that no matter what happened, she would always return. As fantsatical and even laughably silly as that trust might seem to an outsider, since their arrival there had never been any reason for those she had protected to doubt it. Still, Trunma couldn't help but wonder what drew her away, and whether or not she would ever confide in him her motivations. He didn't really need to know, he reflected, but surely it would be good for the former Sith Master to have an outlet for her troubles, someone to hear her story and understand why she had been the person she had become, and what had caused her to change so rapidly. He was curious, but he certainly wouldn't press the issue; she would tell him if and when she was ready, and not before.

    As this thought flitted through his mind while he put away his tools in preparation for the lunch his wife was now preparing, the familiar whine of repulsorlifts—an unforgettable sound he had not heard in years—began to envelop the fields he so meticulously tended.

    — — —​

    This was to have been the third trip back to the Enclave, to see if she could find anything—or anyone—in or around the place that was worth saving. The first had been a little over a month after the Deliverance had arrived on this world, once Yuthura had felt certain that her people would be able to manage on their own for a while. The new arrivals hadn't yet encountered any locals at that time, but they had also avoided running afoul of the Sith that still lingered planetside, thus she had had reason to believe that nothing would change in her temporary absence. Unfortunately for her and any possible survivors, the ruins had been far too heavily patrolled for her to even get within range of a sniper's shot, and she had considered herself fortunate that none of the Dark Jedi whose auras she had sensed had picked up on her presence. She had known that if they had, things could have ended very badly for her indeed.

    Her second trek had been less perilous, but also fruitless insofar as her original goal. She had been able to determine, however, through very careful scouting and the use of Force-assisted physical senses, that the Sith occupation had come to an end late the previous year; apparently this coincided with Darth Malak's supposed death. The population within some five hundred kilometers of the place, along with a few survivors from Garang that had managed to eke out a meager existence in the countryside, was at that time beginning to form a small community around a repurposed estate that had come to be known as the Khoonda Outpost. There were even rumors circulating among the populace of recent visits by a Jedi Master, though there was no evidence to back it up, and the very idea of it being true seemed to fill those who talked of it with anger. On top of that, she had also learned that the Enclave was being opened up to salvaging operations in order to boost the tenuous local economy, a notion that first made her angry, then slightly sick, before she realized that it was an obvious and necessary choice for any civic leader in that situation to make.

    But this time she was not even halfway to her destination when, as she had set out for that day's leg of her annual return to the only place she could remember as truly home, Yuthura had felt that she was more urgently needed back at "the ranch," as she had taken to calling the farms surrounding the refugees' glen. Long experience in the use of the Force, and interpreting the hunches it sometimes provided, told her that this was no mere whim; she was being called back by something well beyond mere beastly incursions or run-ins with bandits. Reluctantly but with certainty in her instincts, she had begun the walk back to the cluster of homesteads she had pledged to protect. As the sun neared its zenith on this, the last few kilometers of her pilgrimage, she began to notice a familiar whine as she approached the largest of the two farms that had been set up on the grassy land beyond the light forested ridge.

    Dropping the hood of her cloak and letting her lekku unfurl as she trotted across a gap in the low boundary wall, she looked up into the sky in time to watch dumbfounded as a white-painted shuttle pulled out of its near-suicidal descent trajectory with a roar like that of some ancient behemoth. The craft circled back around the glen faster than she would have thought possible, folding its wings as it came back around for a landing a scant few meters short of crushing half of Velle Melark's immaculately-cultivated vegetable patch. As it settled on its landing legs, Yuthura caught Trunma's gaze as he too stared blankly at the new arrival, and with a look she silently asked whether or not he would be up to greeting the strangers that had landed practically on their doorstep. He hesitantly returned the nod, and together the partners made their way toward the exit ramp of the small craft decked out in Republic markings.

    — — —​

    "Who the kriff gave that karking Jedi a pilots' license, anyway?" Corporal Edarn grumbled angrily as he disentangled himself from the hapless pair of PFCs he'd collided with when their shuttle had pulled out of its dive. Having had to endure combat drops in such unsuitable vehicles before when she had been in the Army, Seela was the only one who had kept her feet throughout the descent. Trying not to laugh, she extended a hand to her second fire team leader and helped him back up while the rest of her squad attempted to rise without knocking anyone else back down to the deck.

    Finally the vehicle came to a rest, and as the ramp began to descend Seela signaled for her people to fan out by fire teams and cover the rear and sides of the shuttle. Leading the way, she double-timed it out of the cramped rear compartment and into the...grass...and nearly lost her own footing as she skidded to avoid stomping right through an admirably-tended vegetable garden. Her rifle at the ready position, stock to her shoulder and muzzle pointed at the ground, she took in the panorama before her. What was obviously a small farmhold, complete with homestead made of what looked like very local wood, had become an impromptu landing zone. "Stand easy, everyone," she said into her armor's comm over the squad tactical frequency. "Nothing more dangerous here than some potentially angry farmers."

    Slinging her weapon over her shoulder, Seela turned her head about to take in the landscape as she trudged toward the forward exit, where she was unsurprised to see the two Jedi they were supposed to be keeping an eye on. The familiar-looking woman, not much older than she, was scowling at the man, who looked like he had thoroughly enjoyed rattling her Marines around like pickled gornt giblets. "With all due respect, sir," she gound out, her tone dripping with sarcasm, "what the stang was that all about?"

    "Indeed, I would like to know as well," said a melodious voice from just beyond the shuttle's nose.
    Glor and Tohl_Andares like this.
  6. earlybird-obi-wan

    earlybird-obi-wan Force Ghost star 6

    Aug 21, 2006
    exploring Dantooine, interesting mix of people
  7. WarmNyota_SweetAyesha

    WarmNyota_SweetAyesha Game Host star 7 VIP - Game Host

    Aug 31, 2004
    Oh how riveting this is looking =D= Love your attention to detail and the air of military precision mixed with something's about to happen =D= Enjoying the R/B dynamic. :)
    Goodwood likes this.
  8. Goodwood

    Goodwood Jedi Master star 5

    May 11, 2011
    Chapter Two

    She had never seen a Marine before, but even with her admittedly somewhat limited knowledge of the Republic's military forces' inner workings, it was obvious to Yuthura that the thirteen armor-clad and helmeted beings accompanying the two Jedi Knights were no mere Army regulars. The coloration of their armor was proof enough, on top of the readily apparent superiority to the suits worn by the average soldier on both sides of the lines. The weapons they held were also different, each one scoped and decidedly lethal-looking, and even at what an outsider would mistake for a relaxed posture, they carried themselves with a deadly purpose that she didn't need the Force to comprehend. Even a gentle caress revealed intensely-disciplined minds, each one focused and alert...including what had to be their squad leader. Her mind was...different somehow, much more in control in all the ways that truly mattered; she was no Force-sensitive, but this Marine was perhaps the next best thing. Yuthura doubted that the Human even realized how rare were the gifts she possessed, or that they were even present. While her charges broadcast hints of cautious curiosity, appreciation for the beauty of this place and even some measure of awe—in addition to their ironclad sense of duty and mission—this woman betrayed nothing. Her thoughts and emotions were walled off by meters of mental durasteel.

    As she locked gazes with the two Jedi, however, a three-way flare of recognition shot between them. Instantly she knew who he was, and could therefore make an educated guess as to the identity of his partner. No, make that lover, she thought to herself. Even after two years the man who had sparked her desire for redemption, sparing her life in order to let her accomplish the feat, was instantly recognizable by his looks alone. However, it was his sheer presence within the Force that truly intrigued her, both then and now. She had suspected, in their last encounter in the anteroom of the Tomb of Naga Sadow, that it had in fact been Revan himself who had bested her and that bastard Wynn—who had in fact bested the entire Sith Academy. Ironic, considering how she had scoffed at his assertion of having been the former Dark Lord, but he had declared it with such gleeful nonchalance that she had put it down to his natural personality, frivolously charming as it had seemed. When she had come to experience his sheer power, on the other hand...

    His companion appeared to be, if anything, his polar opposite in terms of disposition and general attitude. Yuthura knew who Bastila Shan was, of course; every high-level Sith knew the name and the associated face. Darth Malak had wasted countless warriors and resources in hunting her down before eventually capturing her, though most of the events surrounding the eventual end of the pursuit were still cloaked in a miasma of rampant speculation. It was rumored that the young Human had even been lured to the dark side herself, though if her presence and mental state here and now was any indication, that effort hadn't taken hold, at least not for very long. Why the man had sought her so vigorously, even going to such lengths as to have Taris bombarded to cinders to prevent her possible escape, had remained a question of considerable debate among the Academy staff right up until Revan had walked through the front door.

    All of this mental processing took Yuthura but a moment, and she fixed her gaze on the former Dark Lord even as Shan's calculating stare raked across her visage. Her lekku flicking in a gesture of welcoming, she held out her right hand. "It is good to see you again," she said with sober gratitude, deliberately leaving out the man's name in case their escort hadn't been informed. "It's been, what, two years now?"

    Revan's expression turned from mild concern to one of bright curiosity as he accepted the greeting and pumped the Twi'lek's arm. "Yuthura Ban?!" he asked, grinning. "Glad to see you got away from that pit after all! I was worried for a while whether or not you would..."

    Bastila looked from one to the other, her appraisal of the purple-hued but pale-faced woman shifting a bit as she let surprise creep into her countenance. Revan had told her about the former Sith, of course, but his description had been sketchy such to the point that she hadn't even recognized her. She had felt the Twi'lek's presence in the Force when she first showed herself, and though there was a hint of the old darkness still buried within, her sense was definitely of the light and she carried herself like a Jedi. "Bastila Shan," she introduced herself mildly, also extending a hand. "Though I expect you knew that already. Good to finally meet you."

    "Respectfully, sir, but who the hell is she?" Seela interrupted brusquely, having taken note of what, to her, was a telltale bulge about belt-level beneath the Twi'lek's plain robe. "Keep that blade hilt where I can see it," she continued when nobody spoke, her voice hard as she raised her weapon for emphasis. "Right kriffing now."

    "Stand down, Staff Sergeant," the man said gently, momentarily throwing Seela for a loop as he looked patiently in her direction. "She won't hurt any of us. Right, Yuthura?"

    Obediently, Yuthura drew her robe back to reveal the lightsaber that hung at her thigh, nodding her thanks to Revan. "No. Though you may want to consider coming clean with your people. They deserve that much, I think."

    Trunma chose that moment to show himself, looking somewhat confused and slightly crestfallen. "She's protected us ever since we got here, soldier," he said tremulously, addressing the noncom, who lowered her rifle with great reluctance. "Got us off Korriban when everything else was going straight up the wrong end of a bantha."

    Yuthura glanced at Revan, a somewhat accusatory gleam in her eyes. "This is Trunma Melark, my partner in leading this community—and he's right, you know," she chided. "About what happened after we killed Uthar Wynn and you spared my life, even after I tried to take yours," she continued for Trunma's benefit. "If I had to guess, someone up at the academy realized you were coming back unescorted," she continued, folding her arms above her breasts, "and decided to try and take from you what you had appeared to have taken from Wynn. It would have been quite the coup for whichever fool decided to face you, had they defeated you. Did you at least try to ease their passing?"

    The man shrugged uncomfortably, sparing an awkward glance at Bastila and the farmer as he sensed the approach of more people from the other side of the shuttle. "Believe me, if I could have gotten back to the Ebon Hawk and offplanet without raising a ruckus, I would have. Even if it meant..." He looked at the Marine, then back at Yuthura. "Well, what's done is done. I'm sorry for the result, but it couldn't be helped. At least you got some innocents out of harm's way when you left."

    "Sir, we've got inbound," Seela acknowledged. "PFC Chuns says about twenty in all, and a possible starship hidden in the forest beyond."

    "Yes, we call it Deliverance," Yuthura nodded, gesturing in its general direction. "It's been our insurance policy in case things here didn't work out. I take it you already know what has happened on Dantooine?"

    "Not much," Bastila admitted, walking around to the other side of the shuttle to face the rest of Yuthura's protectees, Revan and the others falling in behind. One of them was barely more than a child, thirteen Standard years at most, and none were older than Mr. Melark, the man who had spoken up in support of the former Sith who, judging by his surface thoughts, was quite comfortable with the idea of helping her run this little enclave of refugees. The rest were also all Human, save for a pair of Rodians peeking out from the old freighter's boarding ramp and a wily-faced Bothan, who had been working on a battered old landspeeder. "Beyond the obvious, of course. We believe the Sith evacuated this world shortly after the death of Malak, but the Republic hasn't yet recovered enough to spare any major assets in helping to support a world as young as this." She paused, glancing at the other transplantees. "I'm sorry, but there's little help for it."

    She turned to Yuthura. "If you or your people need anything to improve their lot here, please let us know. We have a ship in orbit with plenty of supplies to spare."

    Trunma and Yuthura exchanged glances, and it was the older man who spoke for them. "We have been able to achieve much here, both on our own and with help from local homesteaders, but our ship still requires replacement parts and the tools to install them. Beyond that, some more blaster power packs and gas cartridges would be very welcome; we're down to only five operational weapons, and they won't last much longer. If not for Yuthura's aid, we would have been wiped out long ago."

    Seela drew a datapad from her utility belt and handed it to Trunma. "Give me a full list of everything you need," she all but ordered the man, "and I'll make sure you get it. We can also have a full repair crew down here within twenty minutes, they'll get your ship back up to speed."

    "Th-thank you," Trunma gasped thankfully, accepting the cheap but hard-wearing device. "You have no idea, we have gone so long without..."

    "I'm just sorry we couldn't come sooner," Revan put in. "We'll be in-system for another two days, we're still waiting on the rest of our task force."

    "A task force, you say?" Yuthura asked wryly, arching her brow and posting her hands on her hips. The pose she took up at that moment was striking, as was her follow-up query. "Just where is it you are planning to go from here...Revan?"

    Her words got a reaction, if not quite the one she was hoping for. Nearly everyone within earshot let out some sort of noise of recognition, ranging from a hiss of vindication from the staff sergeant to near-panic from some of the older Humans among the group. The Bothan nearly reached for the blaster he wore in a holster tied to his lower thigh, his fur rippling wildly. Seela Dar had felt for sure she had met the female Jedi Knight some time before, and sure enough it had been the same young woman she had fought alongside during the mission to capture her erstwhile compatriot. The briefing file that had been worked up by Lieutenant Dan'kre had been very thorough, including a full-face holo, pulled from some unknown archive, of their target to go with the image of the bodysuit, facemask and cowled cape he customarily wore during his time as the Dark Lord. Though the man had aged significantly since the date of that old holograph, the basic identifying features were still intact, right down to the intensity of his eyes. Seela wondered briefly how many people still living could have identified the man by sight; she suspected the number wasn't very high. She hadn't made the connection before now because she hadn't given much thought to it, and hadn't exactly spent a lot of time scrutinizing his visage.

    So far as she could reckon, no one beyond the most trusted surviving Jedi Masters and the Repubilc Military High Command would have had the whole picture of how the war against the Sith had come to an end. Seela had never expected to be told the end result of missions she had participated in; as an Army noncom it simply wasn't her concern. She had gone into ISTS almost immediately after Admiral Dodonna's fleet had arrived over Coruscant after withdrawing from the battle over Ord Mantell, barely having time to collect her meager possessions before she and the others of Captain Reyolé's platoon who had taken up the offer were shipped off. While in training she had heard about the destruction of Taris and other events, including the discovery of the Star Forge and the subsequent battle to destroy it, but had had no idea of the eventual fate of the man she had helped to capture. She had, in fact, thought Revan had been killed by his traitorous apprentice at the height of that last mission.

    What had her a little on edge was the presence of the Twi'lek, Yuthura Ban. She carried herself and her lightsaber like any other Jedi Seela had met in the past, but something about the familiar way she got along with Revan didn't sit right with her. The designs on her richly-tattooed scalp and lekku reminded the Tatooine native of the sort of ceremony a religious fanatic might have voluntarily endured to prove their committment to cause, highlighted by the fact that as sensory organs, the braintails that gave the woman's species its name were particularly sensitive to pain. Seela, like most in the military, had done her research when the war had started, and knew that the Sith culture as a whole was one of those that seemed to fit the pattern—it was practically written into their code, near as she could tell.

    At that moment, Seela decided that at some point in the past Yuthura Ban had indeed been a Sith, possibly one of significant rank.

    For his part, Revan seemed to be taking the reaction in stride. He held up his hands in a placating gesture as he walked toward the refugees, and Seela had a hunch that he was deliberately refraining from using the Force to pour calming thoughts into the environment—she had read about Jedi in her spare time, had worked with them, and knew what they were capable of. Whether or not the man would come clean before the entire community of expatriates from Korriban was not her concern, however; she was here to make sure as many of her people as possible got out of this alive. Seela doubted that the situation would devolve so drastically, but there was always the possibility, and she wanted to try and head off any potential threat. "Might want to get this over with sooner rather than later, sir," she advised Revan in a low tone, her hands steady on her weapon and eyes peeled. "Secrets at this point can only get people killed."

    He looked back at Seela, apparently seeing right through the eyeplate of her helmet to the woman beneath, and nodded soberly. Taking a deep breath, he told the gathered people about the last time he had been to Korriban. When at last he finished, Yuthura took up the thread of the conversation and in turn told the Marines and Jedi of what she and her group of friends had accomplished.

    — — —​

    "They want us to send what?!" Vice Admiral Kedlis Hetton demanded of his longtime flag captain and former executive officer, Nor Melao, as he took the datapad the squad of Marines had brought back. About an hour and a half after their arrival, the two Jedi now on Dantooine had sent their escort and shuttle back to Stalwart Defender even as they remained behind, after having discovered a pocket of refugees that had fled from Korriban some weeks prior to the war's official end.

    "Well, it's not like we're using the things ourselves," the captain allowed, a smirk snaking across his face. "And I'd like to meet the poor dumb sap who would actually volunteer to garrison that hellhole we're going to."

    "Better to drop an asteroid on it," the admiral muttered as he perused the inventory of requested supplies. "I'd do it in a heartbeat if I thought the Jedi would let me but no, there might be noncombatants down there..." He continued to grumble imprecations under his breath, occasionally tut-tutting at a particular item on the list. Captain Melao had reviewed it, of course, and it only made sense to try and provide as much help as was reasonable to the expatriates trying to eke out a living on what had, thanks to the war, essentially become an open planet ripe for the plundering. According to the squad leader's oral report, the group had been brought to their present location aboard an old freighter of indeterminate make and class by a former Sith Master by the name of Yuthura Ban, who had apparently been redeemed by the Jedi who was the nominal leader of this expedition to the former homeworld of the Sith species. This ultimate destination had yet to be disseminated to the officers, crew and soldiery of the task force, and wouldn't be until after they had departed on the last leg of their journey; until now it was known only to the captains of the participating vessels and the Jedi Knights accompanying them. Nor hoped that the two Jedi had had the good sense not to mention it to their Marine escort, much less the refugees.

    It was reasonable enough to send down some comm gear, plus tools and spare parts for the ship they had spent two years trying to repair and a small Navy crew to help in fixing it. New blasters also made sense; with only five left in working order, they needed more weapons for the defense of people and property as well as power packs and gas canisters to keep the weapons fed. A spare landspeeder and parts for the one they had acquired already would help too, as well as stocks of medical supplies to last for a while. Such generosity was relatively easy to justify in the current political climate, but the Jedi had requested that an entire prefabricated garrison base be sent down and set up atop the ridge in the shadow of which the community had been built. That particular addendum had propelled the admiral into his current flustered state; the prefab base was state-of-the-art technology only recently developed, and giving it out willy-nilly would cause all sorts of problems down the line. Stalwart Defender carried three of the first-generation models which, when properly constructed and provisioned, provided for the housing and defense of a full company of troopers and officers, about a hundred and ninety people in all.

    Though still somewhat iffy as to whether or not to grant the request, Nor was willing to humor the Jedi and hear his reasons. "Well sir, look at it this way," he began reasonably, the earlier smirk gone as he held his hands clasped behind his back. "The Khoonda outpost a few klicks from the old Jedi enclave looks to be a promising operation, but it's still just getting its bearings. I'd send them a base and troops in a heartbeat if they were actually willing to talk to us, but the guy I was able to get hold of said the administrator's 'hands were tied.' I don't think he really appreciates the magnitude of the situation, but he wouldn't budge. I tried to get hold of someone else, but all my calls were rerouted to his office, and if he didn't hang up on me right away, he at least spared enough time to extend the hand of hostility." Nor had to admit the man's repertoire of rude hand gestures was impressive. "Maybe they have a law against accepting offworld help."

    "What was his name?" the admiral replied gruffly, setting the datapad on his desk.

    "Zherron, I think," Nor shrugged. "Older Human, gruff sort of fellow, he's apparently in charge of the militia force they've been assembling. Probably ex-military, too."

    The admiral harrumphed indignantly. They had learned a lot about the outpost from the squad leader's report, and even more from communications intercepts and a flyover of the place by a wingpair from one of the Aurek squadrons. From all appearances it was a fully-functioning seat of government, complete with a small spaceport capable of handling multiple ships, situated in a defensible location and equipped with plenty of firepower. Both officers doubted it could stand up to the kind of concerted spaceborne assault that had swept the planet two years prior, though it would certainly give pause to even the best-organized pirate bands. "Well, if you can, have someone keep trying to contact this Khoonda administrator," Hetton hedged. "If they won't play ball, we'll give the refugees their base, that way we have someone down on that planet who at least wants to talk to us."

    "Aye sir," Nor nodded in agreement. "They ought to know the score, and have been through enough trouble as it is. Besides, if Khoonda goes belly-up, the Republic will still have a point of contact on Dantooine."

    "That assumes that at least one or the other will be able to sustain itself out here," the admiral countered glumly. "There's only twenty people down there, hardly enough to maintain a stable population in the short term, much less establish a viable colony. Do we have any idea what kind of neighbors they have, and on what terms they coexist?"

    Nor glanced at his notes. "Staff Sergeant Dar seems to think there are a number of homesteads within a fifty kilometer radius that the, um, 'colonists' have been trading with for almost a year. They have been doing well enough on a barter system, but that's not going to hold out forever, especially once we fill their want list." He paused for a moment as an idea struck. "We may be able to negotiate a mutual-defense pact with those living in the surrounding areas, using the prefab as a base of operations should things get rough, as well as the nexus for a small village or town. We could even set up planetary comms so they can talk to the Khoonda people once they get their heads on straight. It might also be advisable to set up a hypercomm station, since the general-access HoloNet doesn't go out this far anymore. That will cut into the operating budget for our mission, but in all seriousness I don't think we'll be hanging around Korriban for very long as it is."

    "Better to help our friends than waste our strength on nonexistent foes, eh Captain?" Admiral Hetton ribbed mildly. "Can't say I disagree, and it has been two years. If the Sith did manage to bring together any kind of force there, they would've either resumed hostilities or torn each other apart as we know they're prone to do." He paused, a calculating look on his face as he carefully crunched some numbers. "Okay then, that's what we'll do. Coordinate things with your exec and whoever it is down there that can act as a negotiator for their group, then see if you can get this Yuthura Ban to come up here. I want to talk to her."

    Nor smiled and nodded, feeling that he had a good idea as to why the admiral was so interested in the Twi'lek. "Very good sir, I'll see to it."

    — — —​

    Nor Melao decided that he could well appreciate the predicament Trunma Melark had had to suffer through over the years. After he and Admiral Hetton had decided on their next course of action, the captain had assigned his executive officer to coordinate the supply drop while he took a shuttle down to the surface to see the small refuge for himself, accompanied by Staff Sergeant Dar and her company commander, another Twi'lek named Ibratu'na, as well as a few Navy technicians. Upon their arrival, they were met by Yuthura and Trunma, who set the techs to work looking over the wryly named Deliverance, to determine just what it was the ship needed and how to get it fully up to spec if possible. "I'm actually from Druckenwell," Trunma continued as the small party toured the countryside around the homesteads, looking for a good spot for the prefab base. "But that was before I got suckered into taking a job with Czerka. This was before the war, of course, and things weren't so bad at first...until the company climbed into bed with the Sith."

    Yuthura's lekku twitched in the equivalent of a rueful shrug. "Yes, that doesn't surprise me," she agreed solemnly. "They were essentially handed a monopoly license within Sith Space; corporate greed and the dark side go hand in hand whether the Force is involved or not."

    "And apparently the defeat of their biggest patron hasn't put much of a dent in their operations," Nor added bitterly. "The first bits of Citadel Station were barely in orbit before Czerka started worming their way in. I can only imagine how they're rigging the project for maximum profit."

    The five of them continued walking as the Navy captain explained the events surrounding the need for the restoration of Telos IV and how the Republic was going about it. Dantooine had been among the worlds considered for use in providing examples of flora and fauna by the Ithorian herd overseeing the redevelopment of Telos, but was dropped due to its remoteness and lack of the infrastructure needed to hold up their end of an exportation agreement. Instead, the vastly more plentiful and aggressive wildlife of Onderon was being transplanted. "That is unfortunate," Yuthura shook her head with some small measure of regret. "The life that exists here is so much more pastoral, peaceful in its nature, though I suppose the Ithorians have their reasons and will be able to compensate appropriately. Onderonian life is...somewhat assertive."

    "A couple of my Marines served on Onderon," Seela put in. "Iziz itself is a beautiful place I'm told, but it has its share of battle scars. Isn't that right, Lieutenant Commander?"

    Both Marines were helmetless, the staff sergeant's armor still in its grassland camouflage while the gray-skinned Twi'lek officer's remained in its usual state of white with red and black trim. Each was armed, both with primary weapons and sidearms, though they remained slung over shoulders and holstered, respectively. Ibratu'na shrugged, a lek tip vibrating. "Our old strike platoon leader served there too, or so I've heard."

    Seela chuckled at that. "I heard that too, but didn't think much about it. Good times, eh sir?"

    "No, these are the good times, Staff Sergeant," Ibratu'na reminded her with a smile, showing off pointed teeth. "While serving the Republic in times of peace requires less from us than serving in war, it is just as important. Cherish the peace we now have, for it is fleeting." He continued to smile as, out of the corner of his eye, he saw the former Sith nodding in a gesture that was a little more than simple appreciation of the sentiment. There was something about her that intrigued the Marine officer; perhaps it had something to do with the twists and turns her life had taken. His own hadn't exactly been straightforward, but Ibratu'na considered himself fortunate to have been able to lead an honorable life of service since leaving Ryloth as a teenager some fifteen years previously. He considered the path of the soldier to be one of the few truly honest professions left in the galaxy, at least within the Republic. You went where they sent you and did what they asked of you until you proved yourself capable, then you were increasingly granted responsibility according to your talents, initiative, and discipline as far as these aspects would take you. "Tell me, Yuthura," he wondered absently, "what kind of retirement plan did the Sith army offer?"

    The woman actually guffawed at that, possibly the first time she had truly let herself cut loose in reaction to a joke in many years. "I think you know the answer to that, my friend," she managed to reply once her laughter, augmented by the rest of the group, died back down. "To the Sith, there is no such thing," she said dolefully. "When one grows too feeble in mind or body, they are killed so that one who is more capable can take their place. It is a brutal cycle that I am well relieved to have broken free from."

    Seela laughed inwardly as the two Twi'leks exchanged twitchings of understanding. She had of course relayed her report on the people here to her company commander, and she knew him well enough to understand some of what she figured had to be going through his head. The two had been assigned to the 13th Marine Battalion's Cresh Company at the same time, and after having endured the highs and lows of war together, each was grateful to be near a familiar face as they transitioned into serving in a galaxy at peace. If this was how two adults of sound mind sought to heal some of the wounds left by the recent conflict, so be it, and she would do what she could to help things along.

    "If it's all the same with the rest of you," Trunma said into the silence that had fallen among them, "I'd rather avoid talking about Sithly poodoo. It's bad enough we've all had to live with'em for so long..."

    "Yeah, he's right," Nor observed wryly. "Besides, I think I've figured out where to put your base."

    Seela, Ibratu'na, and Yuthura followed the point of the captain's gesture toward a small, flat area near the peak of the ridge that overlooked the refugees' grove that had gone so long without an "official" name, situated right where it doglegged sharply to the west. Both Marines nodded in appreciation of the good ground they had found, which offered excellent line of sight over the plains that seemed to stretch outward for thousands of kilometers, yet had only two realistic angles of approach thanks to a small butte that jutted from the grassland on the ridge's other side like an elevated surface tile. The northern lane was hampered by a small stream chocked with scrub brush and rocky terrain, ideal for providing cover and concealment for a forward line of defense. The western vector ran through a bowl-like depression that narrowed to only a dozen or so meters as it climbed the ridge, a fantastic choke-point fed by the perfect kill zone.

    "A most excellent choice, sir," Ibratu'na agreed heartily. "Would you prefer to call it in, or shall I?"

    "I'll let you have the honor, Commander" Nor replied with a grin. "You and Staff Sergeant Dar can oversee the construction and final placement as you please. In the meantime, I'd like a word with Mistress Ban, the admiral has asked to see her."

    "Me?" Yuthura asked, blushing slightly. Seela wondered for a moment if the modesty was genuine, but disregarded the thought as irrelevant.

    "That's right," the captain confirmed, extending a hand back toward the shuttle. "I suspect you may have some inkling as to why."

    There was a momentary pause as Ibratu'na brought out his comlink and began talking with the appropriate parties aboard Stalwart Defender, silently pacing away from the group as he did so. Yuthura turned to Trunma, her eyes betraying some small measure of anxiety. "You can oversee the delivery and disbursement of our requested supplies?" she inquired in a low tone so that only he could hear.

    "It will be taken care of," he replied, suddenly overcome with the same bout of nerves that seemed to be afflicting his counterpart. "Are you sure this is wise? Meeting with their admiral, I mean..."

    "Wise or not, there is nothing to be gained by my refusal." Yuthura shook her head, then cast a furtive glance at the Marine officer, silhouetted by the sinking sun. "And I feel that something is owed for the generosity they have shown us this day. We cannot simply accept our good fortune with bad grace," she reminded Trunma. "To do so invites darkness, and we have been down that path before. It offers little but pain and suffering."
    Tohl_Andares likes this.
  9. Goodwood

    Goodwood Jedi Master star 5

    May 11, 2011
    Been a while...moving right along...

    Chapter Three

    "I'm surprised, but pleased that the admiral agreed to your request," Bastila said as the pair of them toured the perimeter of the site Captain Melao had picked out for the prefabricated garrison base. "I understand that Trunma Melark has accepted the temporary position of administrator, which should bode well for the colonists' future given his training and experience."

    "It's a good place to set up a defensive redoubt," Revan agreed as they watched the proceedings together. The Navy crew responsible for setting it up had been asked to improvise a bit in the planning and construction, to make allowances for the fact that this was not to be the hub of a military operation but rather the seat of a civilian colony. The two Jedi were alone as they walked, unnoticed by the enlisted workers and the ensign supervising their efforts or those former refugees who were curious enough to overcome the initial fear reaction they had expressed upon learning the truth of their exile and who had precipitated it. As the pair watched, a small construction droid began to dig into the grassy surface, breaking ground on the as yet unnamed outpost.

    Bastila was still unsure how things would work out in the end, but there wasn't much the two of them could do to make things better. "But how long can it last?" she asked, giving voice to hers and Revan's thoughts. "That is the question, isn't it. If the neighboring farmholds agree to this township proposal, then we will have helped to establish a community here on Dantooine—"

    "—but it won't make up for the loss of the Enclave and Garang, not to mention the Matales and Sandrals," Revan finished for her. It had been yet another blow to learn that Rahasia and Shen's future together had been so capriciously cut short. "Unity on this world is rather thin on the ground, it seems. Did you hear that the captain's offer to Khoonda was rebuffed?"

    Bastila pulled a face; it was amazing how stupidly stubborn some people could get. "That Zherron sounds like a thoroughly disagreeable person, but he'll have had his reasons. Whether or not his choice comes back to bite him in his posterior remains to be seen."

    "Part of me hopes it does," Revan agreed, then shook the thought from his head. "If so, his people will suffer, and they don't deserve that."

    "Perhaps, perhaps not." Bastila tried to shrug off the feeling of frustration the course of the conversation was taking, but it didn't work. "Did you realize they're allowing salvagers to ransack the remains of the Enclave?"

    "Yes Bas, I was paying attention too," Revan mock chided, squeezing her shoulders affectionately. Admiral Hetton's summation of the Khoonda situation had been forwarded to the two Jedi with the arrival of the battlecruiser's commanding officer, confirming Yuthura's own scouting expedition to the small outpost community a year prior. Both he and Bastila had been a bit miffed upon hearing of such activities, but had also swiftly dismissed the emotion; both had long since learned that nearly all the truly critical artifacts had been secreted away mere hours before the attack. If anything of any import had remained behind, it had doubtless passed into the hands of the Sith soon thereafter. Though significant gaps remained, Revan had recovered enough of his previous life to remember most of the strategic plan he had devised, in his capacity as the Dark Lord, for subduing the Republic and shifting its assets in preparation for the war to come. Should he tell Bastila, or was she better off not knowing? He quickly realized that question was moot; she had always deserved the truth.

    "I had never wanted this for Dantooine," he admitted calmly as the two walked further up the ridge, making an all-encompassing gesture. "Back when I was the Dark Lord, I mean. The culmination of my plan was to put my forces in position to lay siege to Coruscant, forcing the Order to evacuate the capital and letting them take refuge here, on this world. With this accomplished, I could keep them safely bottled up, and once the Masters and most of the Order were successfully isolated here, it would have been relatively easy to influence and subdue the Senate and legitimize my rule as Supreme Chancellor. After that, I..." Revan paused, holding his head in his hand as a blank spot in his mind smothered the words he had been about to speak.

    Bastila leaned in to look at him, sympathetic surprise wide in her eyes and expression. For two years the pair had mutually explored the once-lost memories of Revan's past, memories that steady therapy and retraining in advanced use of the Force had brought forth in increasing amounts, but recently the pace had begun to slow. Both suspected this was caused, in part, by the fact that the holo was coming closer to completion, but in spite of all their efforts it seemed that some elements would never resurface. "You just remembered that, didn't you?" she asked gently, squeezing his other hand. Revan nodded. "What Malak did here was monstrous, but it wasn't your fault," she continued doggedly. "I wish you would stop blaming yourself!"

    "But it was my fault!" Revan blurted out, anger momentarily flaring up behind his eyes, an anger that was quickly smothered in sorrow. "This whole damn mess is my fault!"

    Bastila sighed resignedly. There was no convincing him when he got like this, and in truth she couldn't really fault him for it. The core of the matter was that Revan had played a hand in crafting the creature his old friend Alek had become, that he had been the one to put events into motion that would eventually lead to the sacking of Dantooine's enclave and the slaughter of the planet's leaders and many of its residents. But it was also true that he, and he alone, had accepted the responsibility for those actions and sought with all his being to put the galaxy right. In so doing he had saved her from her own fall to the dark side, before she could fully compromise herself and cause irreparable damage to the Republic. The consequences of those choices was something the both of them would face together, of this she was determined. "It is your fault," she whispered in his ear, but her tone was that of supreme forgiveness. "But so is the peace we now have."

    Revan allowed Bastila to maneuver him into an embrace, and the two shared a furtive kiss. "Thank you for that," he murmured into her shoulder. "I love you."

    "I know," Bastila said sternly as they broke apart. "And don't you forget it."

    Revan cocked a half-grin, his previous good humor returning. "Not a chance of that," he replied earnestly as they resumed walking. "So, shall we dance?"

    Smiling, Bastila unhooked the saberstaff hilt that hung at her side. "Yes, let's. Any particular style?"

    "Surprise me," Revan replied merrily, taking up his own weapon.

    As the sun began to set on this part of Dantooine, the small cul-de-sac the pair had wandered into lit up with the sparks and swashes of lightsabers as they barked and slashed the air. One blade was blue and the other yellow, and they crashed together over and over in mock fury as their wielders honed their skills in the Jedi martial arts. It was a sort of moving meditation the pair engaged in, a modification of the Echani style of channeling one's emotions as they manifested themselves in combat. This allowed the pair to express and work past the thoughts and feelings that they might otherwise be unable to properly articulate in the presence of others, or might distract them at a crucial moment. It had been an essential component of the therapy they had developed over the course of their adventures, inspired by an encounter with a computer intelligence that had guarded a map on the forest floor of Kashyyyk...

    — — —​

    The aft compartment of the Ministry-class orbital shuttle was much more comfortable than Yuthura was expecting or had ever been used to; obviously this was the vehicle reserved for use by a ship's captain. The Human who held that rank sat opposite her, casting an appreciative smile her way as he strapped himself in, then pressed an intercom switch located in the arm of his nerf-leather seat. "Seal it up," he said briskly to whoever it was ensconced in the cockpit. "Then inform the admiral that we're on our way and will meet him in the flag hangar, if he wishes to greet our guest personally."

    "Aye, sir," a somewhat tinny voice replied, and Yuthura thought that perhaps a Sullustan was at the helm. The hatch was raised with the faintest of hissing and the customary vibration of engines was almost completely extinguished by the cabin's appointments, so that she didn't realize they were airborne until the slight pushing effect caused by running up the main ion drive pressed gently against her left side. Despite the luxury in which she now traveled, the earlier sense of anxiety that had accompanied the captain's request refused to abate in the slightest. If anything it was getting worse, and Yuthura found herself having to call upon the Force in a half-remembered meditative exercise she hadn't done in many years, just to keep the bubbling nausea at bay. The officer's attempts to lighten the mood weren't helping much, either.

    "Take it easy," he cautioned at some point. "I highly doubt the admiral is going to have you arrested or anything. He just wants to meet you."

    "It's not that," Yuthura denied unconvincingly, trying to keep her lekku from writhing in agitation. "I've...I've never been aboard a Republic warship before. My experience with military beings"

    "I'll buy that for a credit," Captain Melao chuckled sympathetically. "From what I've been able to pick up, Sith who were dedicated Force-users pretty much stood apart from the armed forces and could do as they pleased." He pulled a face and looked toward the cockpit. "I've even heard that you could pretty much get away with murder if you were confident enough in your power and position."

    Yuthura blinked unwholesome and unwelcome memories from her mind at the Human's words. His assertions certainly held true when it came to the Academy and the city beyond, where the Sith were the law. She mentally reviewed how Revan had obtained his apprentice medallion, the first step in gaining admittance to the school and all of its resources. Unconcerned at how she would react, he had rather flippantly told her that he had taken it from the body of another student. Though she hadn't pressed him for details at the time he had sought her audience, later on she had been able to obtain holocam footage of the incident. The dead student had in fact brought it on himself when he had attacked a pair of his erstwhile friends, killing one before being accosted by the newcomer. The boy had then rather foolishly picked a fight with Revan, and was dispatched with absurd ease. What had disturbed her most when watching the recording was not the fact that Revan had stepped in to save another, but the way he had ended the fight: by calmly pulling his blaster and placing a bolt between his opponent's eyes, then returning the weapon to its holster. The entire process had taken place almost too fast for the holocam to register movement.

    Reviewing that footage was, in fact, the impetus for selecting him as a partner in the scheme to take over the academy she had been working on for some time previously. Given all that had happened since, it seemed that she had made the right choice after all, even if the road to redemption had been—or rather, it still was—quite rocky. In the end, Captain Melao was correct; it was an old axiom among the Sith that the surest way to gain advancement was to do away with the person above you. Depending on who ultimately held power within whatever community the seeker served, additional respect could be had depending on how the deed was carried out, either by cunning, guile, or an open challenge. Uthar had tended toward the latter, while Yuthura usually had greater appreciation for the first two options. She realized at this point in her reflections that, once he had set foot in the door, Revan had effectively sown the seeds of the Academy's destruction.

    "We don't work that way in the Republic," Captain Melao said into Yuthura's thoughts as though he too was a Jedi, and his voice was quite stern. "I'd like to think we're a strict meritocracy, but it doesn't always work out that way," he added, his tone easing up. "At least in the Navy, where I've had work with officers who had all but paid for their commissions. The Marines, on the other hand, those guys can be pretty hardcore, and you have to work hard to earn their trust and their respect."

    "Why are you telling me all of this?" Yuthura asked before she could stop herself.

    "I just want to make sure there are no surprises, that's all," the captain replied with a curt nod. "We shipped out on this mission with a full Marine battalion in addition to our normal allotment of Army troopers, and it's the Marines who are going to go groundside once we reach our destination. I know you've already met a few, including one of the company commanders and one of our more promising NCOs, so you should have a pretty good idea of what caliber of soldier we have with us. But I'm sure the admiral will have more to say on that when you meet him."

    The cabin fell silent as Yuthura pondered the captain's words. She was going to have to get used to a lot of new things now that her little group had been discovered by the Jedi and the Republic, and she was now beginning to appreciate just how little of the galaxy she actually knew. The time spent in relative isolation on Dantooine was going to have to serve as her recovery period, because if her gut feelings were anything to go by, soon she would be asked to leave her sanctuary behind, bound for parts unknown. Perhaps Revan or Bastila would accept her as one of their own, and help her to achieve full Jedi Knighthood—

    "We're here," Captain Melao said mildly as the hiss of outgassing filtered through the descending exit ramp, causing Yuthura to jump slightly. What is wrong with you?! she mentally admonished herself, undoing the seat harness and sheepishly rising from her perch in the wake of the Human officer, who was already at the ramp's edge. When it finally touched lightly against the deck, a quartet of grim-faced Marines in service greens and sidearms in sleek black holsters slid into view. None of them were Human, and for some reason Yuthura couldn't quite fathom, this made her feel slightly better, if a little less queasy. The décor of the hangar bay was utilitarian, but the color of the deck, bulkheads and overhead was different from what she was used to and the lighting seemed odd, somehow. The interiors of Sith warships were purposefully kept in semidarkness, with slate gray and cobalt blue the predominant colors on most surfaces. Illumination was of the sort that reminded one of ice water, as though to be aboard such a vessel was to travel ever deeper into the depths of iron's cold passion.

    Aboard this particular vessel, however, everything was bright and, oddly, almost cheerful. White was the color of choice for the bulkheads, with red trim accenting brightly-scoured metal support structures and bridging the connection between them and the deck and overhead. Light was plentiful, and reminded her of the sun on some distant world she had once visited, warm and welcoming. As the master of the vessel Yuthura found herself on led the way for the small procession, she couldn't help but cast her gaze upon every surface it could reach, taking in the presences of all they met. Save the Marines that accompanied her, it seemed that none aboard realized that she was anything but just another Jedi, if one they had not yet met, and went about their duties as if everything were as it had been before. The sensation of polite acceptance that greeted her throughout the short trek to the admiral's briefing room was refreshing, and Yuthura found herself relishing the sense of duty, purpose, and camaraderie that permeated the Force throughout the ship. Its crew had seen a lot of action during the war, and all of them seemed glad to have seen the conflict through to its conclusion, but that didn't stop them from working diligently to keep the ship battle-ready.

    For his part, Nor Melao maintained an airy nonchalance, saying nothing to the Twi'lek as she appeared to drink in the new sights, sounds and, occasionally, smells that wafted about. If he understood the pertinent facts correctly, and if they lined up with his prior experiences with Jedi and the Force, then Yuthura Ban was still recovering from the aftereffects of falling to the dark side and the effort required to achieve some measure of redemption. He didn't really know what exactly had happened to the woman walking behind him, the Jedi and Staff Sergeant Dar were keeping things quiet in that respect, but he trusted their judgement. Commander Ibratu'na, whom Nor understood had participated in some particularly dicey missions during the war, had seemed comfortable enough in her presence, and he even thought he might have caught the mud marine as he admired her in a way that went just a hint beyond a strictly professional appraisal.

    When the six of them arrived at Admiral Hetton's private wardroom, Nor signaled the guards to remain outside as he pressed an actuator. After a beat, it bleeped a response and the door swished aside on a well-tended track. "Admiral Kedlis Hetton, may I present Mistress Yuthura Ban," he said formally, entering the compartment and stepping aside to allow her to pass him as he assumed the proper pose. "Late of the Sith Order, though I hear she has made excellent progress in the past couple of years."

    The admiral, a white-haired man with a bald pate whose apparent jovial nature Yuthura suspected could turn unpleasant quite quickly, rose in greeting from behind a bland, if functional, gray plasteel desk. "Ah, it is always good to receive those whose dedication is manifest," he said politely, his sense in the Force broadcasting a cautious sort of curiosity. "I hope our arrival finds you well."

    Yuthura, hesitantly at first, strode forward and posted herself formally before the admiral, offering an equally formal bow that left her lekku dangling nearly to the toes of her custom-fitted boots. Made of quality nerf-hide bound to a sturdy but semi-flexible polymer lining with soles made of a ferrous plastoid that would hold a patterned tread for a century, they were the only artifact of her time among the Sith she still possessed. Not counting the hilt of her lightsaber, of course, a fact which she hoped to remedy soon enough, though the crystal she had found on Dantooine she would keep. "I am humbled by your summons, Admiral," she said, a tiny sliver of nerves fluttering her words. "And my friends are very grateful for the supplies you have delivered, to say nothing of the outpost your crew builds for us."

    "Given all that has happened, my lady, it is the least we can do," Admiral Hetton agreed soberly. "But what of you? I understand that the road to redemption, as the Jedi call it, can be a very difficult path to tread. I confess to having little understanding of the Force, but from what I have been able to figure out, I myself would rather face a hundred enemy cruisers than be the subject of the life you have been forced to lead."

    Whether the pun was intentional or not, it made Yuthura laugh, and she wasn't entirely successful in concealing the sudden, burbling mirth. " is difficult," she confessed. "I...did many things of which I am not proud, of which no sentient being should be proud. Taking care of my people, getting them off Korriban in the first place, nothing I have done since leaving that life behind has made a dent in the debt to the galaxy I owe."

    Admiral Hetton eased himself back into his seat, whuffing a sigh as he motioned for Captain Melao to bring a chair for himself and their visitor. Once all three were seated comfortably, he steepled his fingers beneath his chin, his attitude now one of pure business. "Now that we've gotten introductions out of the way, I'll get to why you're here," he said briskly. "In a way we are lucky to have found you, because we're going back to Korriban within the next two days, depending on when our escorts arrive." He paused, gauging Yuthura's reaction; it was as he had suspected it would be: she didn't really fancy the idea. Not one bit, if the writing of her braintails was any indication. "You might guess as to why, and you would probably be correct."

    The Twi'lek nodded hesitation before venturing on. "You wish to see if any of my erstwhile comrades yet live," she said softly.

    "Precisely," the admiral snapped off, then grasped a datapad and began to read aloud. "Mechanical and technical survey of freighter designated Deliverance, Master Chief Petty Officer Terreg Jhorn reporting. Subject is a Quartermaster-class supply carrier (modified), retrofits include extended open-containment cargo area, boosted hyperdrive (class 1 or better), enhanced ray and particle shielding, one forward-firing laser cannon, one dorsal-mounted paired blaster cannon turret. Current status: hull largely intact but worn with age with a large dent in the nose; repulsorlifts largely intact but sluggish with two blown coils; sublight drives intact but running at well below acceptable efficiency; hyperdrive and navigational computer intact but registering several programming errors caused by neglect; life support nominal but suggest replacing filters and cyclic tanks; weapons systems require replacement lenses, flashback suppressors and targeting packages. Notes: Evidence exists of heavy damage inflicted to mid and forward hull and components at some unknown date, as well as patchwork repairs applied shortly thereafter. Uncertain how freighter managed to raise from origin point, make lightspeed, and land without further damage upon current location. Evidence also exists, including but not limited to interviews of crew, of extensive improvisational repair work conducted since then. If tasked to complete repairs to fullest extent, estimate seventy-two to eighty hours. If tasked to make basic repairs to conform to lowest safety standards, estimate eighteen to thirty hours."

    Silence fell as the admiral returned the datapad to the desk top. Given the clinical nature of the report, even Yuthura would have doubted that anyone could have coaxed the old ship to Dantooine from Korriban, and she had done the patch work and the flying! But why had the task force commander presented her with all that data in the first place? The answer was so obvious it may as well have been tattooed upon his forehead, in cruel mockery of the swirls and sigils that decorated her own scalp. "You want to repair our ship, and send it in prior to your arrival to provide preliminary data, don't you?"

    "It stands to reason, doesn't it?" Kedlis replied, favoring the woman with the kind of sympathetic look that was rare for him. "I've already ordered Master Chief Jhorn and his crew to begin basic repairs. Now, it's apparent that you don't want to leave your people, and I understand why, but if we simply put one of our pilots behind the helm of that ship, it might not be enough to fool whoever might be down there if there is in fact a Sith presence on Korriban, possibly compromising an insertion team. Even then, it would certainly be better than if our force was to simply drop out of hyperspace on top of Dreshdae, because not only would we have to face an enemy alerted to our intent, but we would have to engage them with ground troops." He paused, fixing Yuthura with an appraising stare. Out of the corner of his eye he saw Captain Melao nod in agreement, and knew that the man had been thinking along the same lines when he had asked to see the Twi'lek in the first place. "We don't bombard worlds indiscriminately, even if by doing so we could kill off the Sith leadership without incurring casualties."

    Yuthura all but flinched at the implicit reprimand. This commander of fleets, his gray uniform not quite obscuring the fact he was going to seed but testimony to his integrity and years of service, was laying down the law, and she would do well to remember that. She understood that he knew he was asking a lot of her, but she also knew he had given much and would continue to do so for as long as he was able and circumstances allowed. In the end, it mattered little what any of them wanted; Yuthura was the natural choice to take Deliverance back to the world whence it had come, to deliver a Republic scouting party that would pave the way for a full-scale invasion and possible occupation. She briefly mulled over the possibilities of what might be found on Korriban. There would be at least some habitation, of that she was certain, even if it amounted to little more than a few hundred civilian survivors, those too poor to leave the planet and forced to subsist on what supplies remained and the meager foodstuffs that had been locally-produced in the years prior to the Academy's fall. It would most assuredly not be a happy return no matter how one looked at it.

    But if the Sith, and by this she knew the admiral meant proper Sith skilled in the Force and able to command legions, were present on Korriban....the very thought chilled her to the marrow. But Yuthura was a Jedi now, and she would face her fears as one. This time, however, she wouldn't be alone. "I accept," she said solemnly. "What more do you wish of me?"

    Kedlis let a low grunt of laughter pass his lips as he nodded gratefully to Yuthura. "For you to get some sleep!" he mock chided. "The Force knows you've had a rough day as it is, without stringing you along for half the night, filling your exhausted brain with operational details. Our Jedi and Marines are still planetside, and they'll keep an eye on your people. Tomorrow, after you've got some chow in you, we'll meet again. Then we can discuss the details and figure out what kind of team I want to send along with you. Until then," he said, rising to his feet and bidding Yuthura and Nor to do the same, "you're dismissed. One of the Marines outside will show you to the quarters we've set aside for you."

    When she had departed, the admiral looked askance at Nor, a smirk on his face. "Any suggestions?"

    He nodded, knowing what the task force commander meant. "We could always send Dar and her squad," he proposed without missing a beat. "They've had ample opportunity to get to know our friends new and old, and the staff sergeant is a sharp vibroblade. If anyone can keep an eye on Mistress Ban, it's her."

    "Captain, you do her a disservice when you refer to her like that," Admiral Hetton admonished mildly. "If Yuthura truly means to do us harm, she won't wait until after we send her along. Clearly she has skills, but there's a difference between hurriedly patching up an old freighter and sabotaging a capital warship as you well know."

    Nor rumbled his own mirth. "Indeed, Admiral. Shall I get the intelligence section to work on the insertion team's briefing package?"

    "Naturally. Oh, and do make sure Staff Sergeant Dar has some extra authority in time for her and her squad's departure, won't you?"

    "I know just what you mean, sir."

    The admiral smiled indulgently. "Good. But before you go, there's one more thing you should know..."

    — — —​

    Seela Dar kept watch with her first fire team leader, who was also one of the squad's designated marksmen, while the rest set up a temporary bivouac just inside the perimeter of the light forest that covered the heart of the small colony. While Yuthura and Stalwart Defender's captain had returned to the ship, her company commander had stayed behind and the two Jedi they had escorted planetside were off someplace on their own doing whatever. It had been quite a busy day, she reflected, one improbable event after another coming down the conduit in some cosmic game of shavit. Named for the Mandalorian term for excrement, it was a variant of sabacc that could be played without a randomizer or interference field, which made it perfect for soldiers in the field. The rules were simple: players were dealt five cards and would pretend to have good hands, betting against what they had and what they felt their opponents had or didn't have, essentially daring others to believe their claims.

    Yep, this situation was indeed developing into a veritable tournament of shavit.

    Naturally, Seela hadn't even considered telling Revan that she had participated in the mission to capture him nearly three years prior; thankfully Bastila hadn't pointed that out either, both for her and Commander Ibratu'na's sakes. Of all the Marines in the galaxy, we're the ones they send out here, she thought ruefully as she watched a pair of Navy techs walking away from where the Deliverance sat, doubtlessly heading off to take a break. What's next? A layover on Ziost on our way to Korriban or something?

    She laughed openly, drawing the attention of Sergeant Kalash Nikov. "Everything all right, Staff Sergeant?" he asked, a slight accent of Duro peeking through his otherwise carefully polished Basic.

    "Yeah, about as well as could be," she replied with a shrug that caused her armor to squeal slightly. Nobody was wearing helmets at the moment, and soon she and those of her people not on first watch would work their way out of the various plates and their boots to catch some much-needed shut-eye. "Hell of a day, eh?"

    "Ooh-rah," the Duros replied sarcastically. "That Revan guy sure is a mystery."

    "Wrapped in an enigma," Seela agreed vehemently, "and tucked under some officer's rack. Can't quite believe what happened with that Ban woman, either."

    Nikov shook his head and shrugged. "Did you see them tattoos she's got? All over her scalp, and all down those lekku too! If I were her I wouldn't go through that, not for all the aurodium in the galaxy."

    Seela winced in sympathy; even a light squeeze of the tip of one of those appendages could send a Twi'lek into paroxysms of agony. But she also knew that the Force was capable of many things. "You don't know the Force like I do," she muttered, a twinge of revulsion in her words. "Pain suppression is actually pretty basic, and she used to be Sith. Pain to them is like a rite of passage; if you can't hack it, you don't survive, and they consider themselves better off without you."

    "Kill-shots only, then?" the sergeant sighed resignedly. "Can't trust a bolt that wings one to put'em out of action for long, I guess."

    "If you catch them before they've got their lightsaber out, maybe," Seela cautioned, "but don't count on it. Flashbangs, grenades and the like, they can push'em right back at you unless you time the throw right, which ain't easy. Only sure way I've ever seen to catch a Force-user is a trip mine, and they can't see you planting it."

    "You've faced Sith before, Staff Sergeant?" Nikov asked, his red eyes going wide in the darkness, and Seela figured she'd just earned about ten more levels of respect by that comment alone.

    "Squared off against a Jedi on some practice runs and seen what they can do in action," she replied with a grim nod. "And a few Dark Jedi here and there during combat ops. Seen a few guys get chopped up, too."

    The buck sergeant considered that for a few moments. "So what's the difference between a Sith and a Dark Jedi, then?"

    "You know, I'm not entirely sure," Seela conceded, concern permeating her words. "Maybe I can get Revan or Yuthura to draw up the holograph and find out. Or maybe both, if either of'em will blow. Seems like something they should tell us before sending us against them, don't you think?"

    Nikov nodded his agreement, and the two fell silent. No more words were necessary, as both knew their jobs and were professionals. For now, all they had to worry about was keeping the natives happy and protected, which on the surface didn't seem all that big a deal, but all the Marines in the battalion knew just how eye-blurringly quickly a simple situation could get sucked into a black hole of complication amid a mortal miasma of misery. Not long after their exchange, the two noncoms began to bed themselves down as a lance corporal and a PFC from the second fire team took up the watch for the next four hours. Each acknowledged the changeover before grabbing their rifles and starting off on the simple patrol circuit Seela had described earlier, when it had been confirmed that her squad would be spending the night dirtdown. As Marines, it was comparatively easy for them to adapt to the shift from a billet aboard a warship to hoofing it across all sorts of worlds, for however long or short they were told to.

    As she yawned silently and curled up atop the small, self-inflating mattress pad that was the only concession to comfort Marines acknowledged when out in the middle of nowhere, Seela hoped against the mountain of experience at her disposal that the next forty or so hours would pass in relative ease.
    Tohl_Andares likes this.
  10. WarmNyota_SweetAyesha

    WarmNyota_SweetAyesha Game Host star 7 VIP - Game Host

    Aug 31, 2004
    Excellent Revan/Bastila scene. You can feel the tug of old memories but I love how they relate to one another in a context of caring and forgiveness.


    Enjoyed Yuthura with Admiral Hetton. :) She held her own quite superbly despite any innter turmoil you know she was feeling at the mission destination and specifics. She probably is thinking her recovery is too new-begun. [face_thinking]
    Goodwood likes this.
  11. Goodwood

    Goodwood Jedi Master star 5

    May 11, 2011
    Chapter Four

    The large viewports that fronted and flanked the forward bridge of Delta Dagger allowed for quite the panoramic view of hyperspace, one that Jedi Knight Georg Oakes found quite conducive to the sort of stoic standing meditation he had begun to favor in the latter months of the war. It had been a difficult conflict to endure at the best of times, and some of the worst moments had been true tests of his resolve and dedication to the light. He had fought in many of the larger battles on the Rim, helping to protect Rodia and Mon Gazza before finding himself slugging it out with the Sith on the independent but vitally-important world of Lannik. That fight had been long and drawn-out, and had taken its toll both mentally and physically, the most visible feature being a livid scar that poked out from the neck of his robes and tickled at his right cheekbone just in front of his earlobe, but spiderwebbed its way across his chest and down to the small of his back. The result of a grenade he hadn't quite been able to push away in time, the wound had necessitated his temporary (and unwilling) evacuation to the Republic fleet stationed in orbit. Though it had healed quickly enough that he was able to return to duty in time to join the final push of that campaign of liberation, he had refused the relatively simple cosmetic procedure that would have eliminated the scar. To him it would forever be a reminder of the necessity of constant vigilance, and of the need to be proactive in defending the Republic, of ensuring the continuity of civilization against all hazards.

    Later campaigns had been marked less by wounds and more by the strain and sorrow of comrades lost. Aside from Bastila Shan, Georg had been the only Jedi out of six to survive the boarding action over Ord Mantell that had resulted in the capture of Darth Revan, most of those lost having died when the Dark Lord's traitorous apprentice had directed turbolaser fire at the flagship's bridge. A week after that battle, the pair of them had returned to the site in an ultimately futile search for two of their comrades who had seemingly vanished just as the rest of the fleet was about to retreat into hyperspace, one an Intelligence officer and the other a Marine whom Georg understood had undergone Jedi training between this last conflict and the one prior. She had been a born leader strong in the Force, and her apparent loss still affected him despite the fact the two had barely known each other. That was the least of it, however, as battles fought since then had seen the deaths or fall of more Jedi than he cared to mention. He had borne the increasing burden stoically, becoming more and more isolated from his peers as the war reached its climax.

    At the Battle of Rakata Prime he had been among those Jedi sent to support the redeemed Revan's assault on the mind-bendingly immense battle station and factory complex that had fueled the Sith war machine. Taking the controls of an armed shuttle carrying yet more of his compatriots, he had charged through the firestorm of defensive turbolaser fire to arrive at the targeted docking platforms, breaking trail for the former Sith Lord's own ship and crew. It was there that he had had the chance to see firsthand why so many had feared the man. His power was relentless and all but irresistible, and his combat techniques were almost hypnotic in the simple grace with which they batted aside defenses and picked off attacks directed at him or those Jedi who had followed him. The time they had fought side-by-side was measured in minutes, but it had been enough for Georg to realize that the Council's choice had been, if not strictly correct by the standards of the Jedi Code, the right and pragmatic thing to do. He and Bastila, because of their presence on that mission and knowledge of Revan's survival, had been the only two Jedi not on the High Council or the body that ran the Dantooine enclave to know the full truth of the man's redemption. With Malak's defeat and Bastila's return to the light had come the final confirmation of Revan's true character, and Georg had been proud to have had the chance to meet him at the conclusion of Admiral Dodonna's victory celebration, held on the Rakatan homeworld of Lehon.

    In the time since the cessation of hostilities he had begun to take stock of his place in the Order, and decided it was high time he took a Padawan of his own. Georg's own Master had been a Padawan during Exar Kun's Great Sith War, refusing to take part in what some referred to as the Padawan Uprising when student had attacked master in a bout of infighting that had nearly torn the Order asunder. During his training, the Kel Dor woman who was his mentor had emphasized that the Republic would only be as prepared for war as the Jedi Knights who guarded it would be to fight, and had taught him accordingly; as such, he was highly proficient in the art of the saber and the more direct applications of the Force. Despite having this sentiment, his Master had not been among those who had joined Revan's counter-crusade, though she had always been an advocate for the involvement of the Order as a whole in driving the Mandalorians back. Georg had been knighted as that war had crawled toward its conclusion, and even though he probably could have made it to the front in time to participate in the grim business of securing Dxun, he had remained with the Order on Dantooine.

    As his master had done for him, he was determined to ensure that his own student, Nebelish, would be ready to face the challenges and accept the burdens that went with protecting the peace he had fought so hard for. The boy was barely seventeen, and though he had shown talent and initiative during the two years of his apprenticeship, Georg knew he had a lot yet to learn and, truth be told, he held some doubt as to whether or not Nebelish was ready for the mission at hand. Though neither had been to Korriban or any world nearly so steeped in the dark side of the Force, they were intimately familiar with the history of that planet and the impact of its natives on the galaxy. Nearly every Jedi who had gone to that place had failed to return, as if the planet itself was some vast creature that sucked Force-users into its greedy maw. Two of the Order's most promising Knights, Duron Qel-Droma and Shaela Nuur, who had been acquaintances of his Master, had been among the lost and Revan, having trodden in their wake and found evidence of their passing, had filled the Order in on the details. As part of the Great Hunt, they along with Guun Han Saresh had gone to the Sith tombworld in search of terentatek, vicious beasts that fed on the blood of Force-sensitives. At some point Saresh had abandoned the pair, who had given into the passion they had held for one another, to meet his own fate on Kashyyyk at the claws of yet another of the monsters. Korriban's dark influence had inflamed the emotions of the two that remained, and they both eventually perished, consumed by the very terentatek they had intended to eliminate.

    If that terentatek still lived, and Nebelish was among those who met it...what would happen? And was any Jedi, no matter how experienced or skilled, ever truly ready to meet the horrors of that barren place?

    Georg let these thoughts float free from his mind as he took in the pale violet whorls of hyperspace. The three ships of their little flotilla were due to arrive in the Dantooine system within another thirty or so hours, having departed Coruscant while the flagship of the task force they were to be part of had staged out of Ord Biniir. The other two vessels, Kickboxer and Halberd, did not have Jedi assigned to them, and Georg was the only one among the crews of all three vessels, save their captains, who knew the identity of the two Jedi they were to meet with aboard Stalwart Defender prior to setting off for their ultimate destination—which was also kept quiet in the same manner. Given everything that was going on in the galaxy, from the Telosian restoration project and other, similar efforts to put the galaxy onto the road to recovery, to the expanding influence of the criminal organization known as the Exchange, Georg understood the need to ensure that the Sith did not continue to pose a threat to a Republic that was still very weak both militarily and economically. Still, he did not exactly relish the idea of deliberately setting down on the surface of that dark, desolate world and plumbing its metaphorical depths.

    He took some solace in the unperturbed presences of the officers and crew around him, however. Delta Dagger's crew had seen its share of action, including the abortive mission to Taris that had resulted in the loss of the Endar Spire and precipitated an occupation and eventual bombardment by the Sith at Darth Malak's orders. That particular incident, the near-total obliteration of a planetwide city, had caused a ripple effect throughout the galaxy—and the Force. Georg had been on Coruscant at the time, and the result had been such that he and every Jedi there had felt the excruciating disturbance in the Force as billions of innocent people were killed within a span of several hours. It seemed that only those in the Order who knew of that mission understood the whole story, and for obvious reasons the Council had elected not to inform the public of it. Even he didn't know precisely why Bastila's small flotilla had gone there in the first place, and Georg looked forward to asking her what twist of fate had led her on that path. The captain, when asked about the action, admitted that it seemed to her like a classic ambush. They had originally been on course for Vanqor in a patrol of the Sith frontier aimed at countering the threat from enemy interdictor cruisers that placed themselves astride Republic shipping lanes to intercept and destroy troop and supply convoys. Such missions had been one of Bastila's specialties, bagging at least a dozen of the deadly commerce raiders and driving off perhaps three times that number with varying degrees of damage having been inflicted upon them.

    Though he suspected that there was more to it than that, Georg hadn't questioned the officer any further. She was an able captain and ran her ship taut but fairly, and seemed the sort that would become the backbone of a stronger navy that would safeguard the Republic into the future. He knew of Bastila's abilities in Battle Meditation and had experienced its use; as such he also knew it was the only thing that had prevented the loss of all three ships that day. In all likelihood her abilities in that regard would be essential to the coming mission. Of course, that also depended on what the Republic task force would find when they arrived over Korriban...

    — — —​

    Seela Dar didn't know whether to laugh or scream. She had been awakened—much later than she and her squad were supposed to have been—by one of the Navy pukes that had come down with the relief crew to take over the repair work on Deliverance. Then she had been told by that same chief petty officer that she was to report to the shuttle, alone, and ride it back up to Stalwart Defender and report to the warship's captain. She'd met the man, an utterly average-looking dark-skinned Human from Anaxes whose voice reminded her of a holodramatist's impression of a veteran Navy officer, back when the 13th Marines had first boarded the vessel at Ord Biniir, but that had been in the company of the entire battalion. What he could possibly want from a lowly staff sergeant eluded her, but she didn't much care about that at the moment; rather, she spent the shuttle ride fuming over the lack of discipline that had left her people snoozing until well after dawn had broken over the colony.

    She was still in a state of high dudgeon as she stamped brusquely down the ramp and into the battlecruiser's secondary hangar bay. The usual din of activity greeted her, as this was where the battalion's T-32z Jarhead-class landers were being kept and maintained. Seela knew the way to the captain's ready room, of course—it was required of all shipboard Marines to know the layout of their host vessels by heart—and tromped unescorted through the corridors and up the turboshafts to the deck just below where the main bridge was located. Muttering to herself about Navy void-brains and their utter lack of martial merit, she managed to compose herself into a creditable imitation of formality by the time she reached the hatch that led to Captain Melao's office. It slid aside smartly as she touched a finger to the actuator, and she strode in and snapped off a salute, reporting her arrival before realizing that the two of them weren't alone.

    Commander Bodt Hrakness, CO of the 13th, was stading next to the desk behind which the captain was sitting. A bronze-hued man a few years older than her company commander, he had the sort of rough-cut appearance that made one think he had paid his dues as an enlistee before becoming an officer, despite the fact that he made no bones about being an Academy graduate. His scars had been earned on the battlefield, however, during the last war and the one previous, and most knew he had faced down Mandalorians on Dxun, earning the Marine Corps Star while he was at it. Though it had come as a shock, the commander's presence here didn't completely stamp out the tirade she longed to hurl at the Navy officer about lack of inter-service courtesy.

    "At ease, Staff Sergeant," the Marine officer's incongruously gentle voice politely invited.

    Reluctantly, she dropped her salute and adopted the appropriate posture. "What's this about, sir?" she asked, unable to keep a measure of huffiness out of her voice.

    Captain Melao stood in response, picking a datapad up from the top of his desk and fingering it. "We have an opportunity here to gain a bit of extra intelligence regarding our mission's ultimate destination," he said, nodding at the commander next to him. "However, what I have to say does not leave this room. Is that understood?"

    Seela nodded briskly, recognizing that her current state of indignity was about to be made miniscule when compared to what was about to be foisted upon her. "Yes sir," she said simply.

    The captain accepted that with a nod of his own, but it was Commander Hrakness who spoke. "The former Sith you met on Dantooine, Yuthura Ban, has agreed to take her ship the Deliverance to Korriban, to insert a recon squad onto the surface. We want you to lead that squad."

    I kriffing knew they were going to pull more poodoo! Seela roared to herself, wishing she could punch somebody but determinedly keeping her face tightly under control. Korriban, of all places! "Aye sir," she said instead, her voice carefully scrubbed clean of any emotion. "Who will be on my team, and when do we leave?"

    The Navy man handed the datapad across the desk at Seela, smiling slightly as she took it. "All of the details are on the 'pad there," he indicated unnecessarily. "What isn't on it, however, I'll let Mr. Hrakness explain."

    The commander fixed Seela with a knowing smile. "Sorry about this morning," he said amiably, which put her instantly on her guard. "I've had words with the crew we sent down, they were supposed to wake your people on arrival, but apparently forgot. Anyway, the captain and I were discussing the mission, and we've both come to an accord. We feel that if you're going to be running shotgun on the team we've assembled, you will need some extra, ah, authority as Captain Melao put it to me." He shrugged. "So we're bumping you up to first sergeant, at least temporarily. If you and your people do well during the course of the operation, the rank will become permanent. Either way, assuming you survive, such an operation will look very good on your record if properly executed."

    Blank shock registered briefly on Seela's face, and she knew that she was well and truly karked. Aside from the fact that she still had at least a year to serve before she was eligible for promotion to gunny, they were jumping her a full three rungs up the ladder just for this one mission. Everything about this whole situation began to reek like a family of diseased womp rats left dead in the sun, and she wanted to know just how deep this sarlacc pit went. "Permission to speak freely, sirs?"

    Both men nodded, and she continued. "This is crazy," she blurted out, her voice becoming hollow. "I'm not qualified to lead a recon team, much less one that's going to Korriban.'s just not going to work! I realize we don't have any Force Recon troopers with us, but isn't there anyone else who could do it, someone who's at least had operational experience in this area? Not even among the Army...people?"

    The grunt of mirth that Commander Hrakness let slip gave testimony to what Seela had been about to call her esteemed colleagues among the Republic Army (pukes! Army pukes!), which bothered her still more. It felt to her like she was swiftly becoming the only sane being amidst an entire warship full of the mentally deranged. Stalwart Defender, to her, was quickly but steadily turning into her own personal Sail Barge of the Damned, and it didn't suit her at all. "You're a sharp saber, Dar," the man replied in an undertone of sympathy. "Your record shows that you are a soldier of fine character and talented in many areas of warfare; the fact you are standing here right now is proof of that. You've gone up against more than most people—soldiers, Marines, and even some Jedi—see in a lifetime, and have come out on your feet every time. I won't lie, Korriban is not the friendliest planet in the galaxy, but it isn't Dxun. It's possible your team won't find anything at all, but it is equally possible that there may be legions of Sith on that world, and if so, we need to know that before our force enters the system."

    "We're not asking you to face them without backup," Captain Melao added soberly.

    "As I recall," the commander continued, "you qualified near the top of your class both in IRST and scout/sniper school, so you have all of the training you will need to make this run. I'm asking you to trust me on this, because if I had had any doubts as to your ability, I would not have agreed to send you in the first place. If, however, you honestly feel that you don't have what it takes, I will not force you to accept the mission and nothing more will be said."

    Seela Dar could've slapped the man—and would have gladly faced a court-martial for having done so. Her dedication, her integrity, her very essence as a soldier was being directly challenged by her commanding officer, and all three of them knew it. Whether or not she was the most qualified was now immaterial, because Commander Hrakness had thrown the gauntlet down and no Marine, even if they had once been "rescued" from the Army, would ever refuse to pick it up. The very idea of refusing, of taking up the very reasonable offer that was on the table to get out of this assignment and continue on the "regular" track of an NCO serving in peacetime, was repugnant. Not leastwise because everyone knew that, to do so in the prevailing environment, virtually guaranteed that one would be lucky to make gunnery sergeant before being amongst the first to be discharged in the first wave of reductions-in-force that followed the conclusions of all major conflicts. So there it was, the choice that was no choice at all: perform well and be rewarded beyond measure, or abandon responsibility and any hope of a career. No one would say anything against her, sure, but it would be a matter of record that she had refused a promotion. All such things were recorded, they simply had to be, even if they ended up making no difference in the end.

    "Before you make up your mind," the commander said after several beats, "take a look at the last item in that file."

    Seela, unable to reply, did as she was bidden and brought the datapad up to read. As her eyes raked over the report's title and author, she tried and failed to suppress a small gasp of recognition; this was Captain Reyolé's letter of recommendation that had paved the way for her to join the Corps in the first place. This was the kind of information that was supposed to be kept as far away from those to whom it referred as possible, and for some damn good reasons in her estimation. The fact that they were even letting her look at it spoke volumes.

    Dar, Seela​
    Human female​

    An excellent soldier whose skill in drill I have rarely encountered the equal of, she is quick to pick up on new tactical scenarios, even those well​
    beyond what might be expected of soldiers of the Republic Army, as well as new theoretical models of combat. Her capacity for quick thinking,​
    her ability to take the initiative under pressure even when confronted with unfamiliar situations or circumstances, is to be cherished and honed​
    whenever possible. As a Jedi Knight I can personally vouch for her capacity to confront those trained in the Force, a capacity which is enhanced​
    by the unique qualities of her mind: whether she knows it or not, Sgt. Dar possesses the ability to wall herself off against any outside influence​
    or detection, no matter how strong, at will. To my knowledge, such beings are exceptionally rare indeed. It is for these stated reasons that I strongly​
    urge the Republic Marines to extend the offer of recruitment and appointment to the Inter-Service Training School as soon as possible.​

    Captain Laera Reyolé​
    3rd Battalion (commanding)​
    Republic Marines​

    "She was supposed to have resumed command of Third Bat at the conclusion of the operation," Commander Hrakness said as Seela looked up from the datapad's screen, his shoulders sagging with apparent sorrow. "But something happened to her and Lieutenant Silas Dan'kre as they attempted to escape the battle over Ord Mantell. We're still not sure what took place, in fact; a Jedi team did return to try and conduct a search, but they found virtually nothing. We can't even be sure whether or not their ship was destroyed, because there is simply no evidence to back it up either way."

    "If nothing else, this should convince you that you are indeed the right person to lead this operation," Captain Melao said, his expression difficult to read. "Which brings me to the other unrecorded aspect of your mission. If Yuthura Ban proves uncooperative, or if according to your sole judgement it seems that she is or is about to intentionally compromise the mission, you are hereby ordered to eliminate her."

    Great, even more crap to deal with, as if all this wasn't enough, Seela ground out mentally. But she at least understood the necessity for this last order. The Republic was always willing to work with Jedi, even those who had once been their enemies, but only as long as those Jedi did not actively work against the Republic's interests. In most cases when this happened, the two entities involved in a given incident would simply walk away from one another, neither side willing to come to blows and risk further escalation. But in such circumstances as those that surrounded this particular operation, there simply wasn't the room. If Yuthura was going to be a problem, she would be dealt with like any other problem individual; if being a problem was going to get people killed, well then, there could be no other recourse. This realization saddened her somewhat, because in spite of everything, she kind of liked the Twi'lek. Her struggle had to some extent become Seela's, even more so now that the two of them were to embark upon a potentially high-risk operation together. She couldn't have wanted this any more than I do, she mused. If that's the case, I guess I kind of owe it to her to make sure that she doesn't relapse. Even if that means I have to prevent it with a blaster bolt.

    Seela blew a weary, resigned sigh, feeling as though she had aged five years in as many minutes, and nodded. "Very well sir, I accept."

    Both men nodded, almost in unison. "Alright then," Commander Hrakness replied, his manner indicating that the briefing was concluded. "Take that 'pad and get acquainted with your new people, they're waiting for you in the battalion muster room. I had to draw the right folks from all over the 13th, so you're going to be a couple short of a full squad, but from what I understand of the ship you'll be flying in, it's going to be a tight fit as it is. Good luck, and may the Force be with you."

    The newly-promoted first sergeant exchanged salutes with the two officers, and quietly but stiffly left the room. Nor turned to the Marine officer, pulling a face. "I think you might've been a bit hard on her, Bodt."

    "Maybe, maybe not," the commander shrugged, a grimace betraying his own sense of unease. "Call me paranoid, but I don't really like the idea of letting that Ban woman run loose with a squad of my people in tow, not without someone capable to run chaperone."

    "I'm with you there," Nor admitted. "But the admiral insisted. I'm sure Ibratu'na was thrilled you had to pull his best squad leader."

    Bodt shook his head dolefully, cradling his brow in his hand. "If we had the time to spare, he'd be thrashing me in the shockboxing ring not long from now, and I'd be taking it. That's how mad he is."

    "From what I hear, he has every right to be."

    "You can say that again. In any case, she's too good at what she does to remain a staff sergeant. I'd offer her a commission in a heartbeat if I thought for a moment she'd take it, and if we were still at war." The commander stood, and tossed Nor a casual salute, which he returned. "Good luck with your other briefing, sir."

    Nor sighed, bleeding off the tension that had been building in the back of his mind. "Luck will have nothing to do with it, Bodt, of that you can be sure."

    — — —​

    "Excuse me, Mistress Ban?"

    Yuthura looked up from the table where she sat in the officers' mess, reading a datapad that contained, among other things, information on starship operations, Republic military protocols, and the ranks and responsibilities of the different occupations of the Marine Corps, to regard the inquiry. A mess attendant in Navy utilities identical to the ones she had been given the previous night and now wore, his young face broadcasting anxiety such that a blind shyrack could spot him as an easy meal, was addressing him from about a meter away. Mentally admonishing herself to avoid labeling her new friends in such a disingenuous manner, she turned in her seat to regard the man with what she hoped came off as unreserved kindness. "Yes, what can I do for you?"

    Fortunately, her effort had the desired effect, and the crewman seemed to regain himself "Captain Melao has requested to meet with you in his ready room, ma'am," he said, his voice regaining its confidence. "One of the Marines outside will escort you."

    Yuthura resisted asking the attendant what the meeting was to be about; he wouldn't have been told and the answer was obvious. Nodding acceptance, she rose and followed first the mess attendant, and then the Marine as he led her through the ship in silence, leaving her with time to reflect on what was going on. After taking a meal before turning in for the night, something which had been suggested by her escort oddly enough, she had been given a quick but efficient tour of her temporary quarters. Someone had been in earlier to stock the small cabinets above and below the bed not only with clothes, but a datapad and a number of datacards as well as a Republic-issue comlink, a standard grooming kit, cleaning supplies, and a Republic-issue sidearm. It had seemed odd to her that the captain and crew would have entrusted her with a weapon, but then she remembered that no one since Sergeant Dar had so much as flinched at the presence of her lightsaber, and it went without saying that even weaponless, a Force-user was never truly unarmed. Her meditations that night had been the most refreshing in many years, buoyed by the positive emotions that flowed through every corridor and conduit like fresh waters through bright sunshine, and she had slept like an infant.

    She had spent the morning up to that point in the aft officers' mess, reading through the datacards that had been left in her quarters, occasionally snacking on tasty appetizers that reminded her of the excellent food that the Enclave had once served. As she read, Yuthura felt more relaxed and at peace than she had in more years than she cared to count, even including the time spent on Dantooine with her people. Down there, seemingly isolated from the rest of the universe, there had always been some ongoing concern or other to keep her mind occupied, thus preventing her from achieving the sort of deep, peaceful meditation she had been trying to relearn after having spent so long as a slave to the dark side. Now, for the first time, she felt as though she was truly rounding the corner in her recovery...despite the fact that she would soon be returning to the home of her deepest regrets. Well, if that was how it had to be, then Yuthura would do her best; either she would succeed in overcoming the ghosts of her past, or she would die. It was with this air of determination that she entered the captain's ready room, exchanging salutes with the man in a creditable imitation of the gesture she had seen others employ.

    "Looks like you had a good rest last night," Captain Melao said in greeting as the two took seats, his mocha visage lit up in a genuine smile. "I have to say, it suits you."

    "Thank you, Captain," Yuthura replied with a contented nod. "It has been most illuminating, being aboard your vessel, living albeit temporarily among the men and women under your command. You are to be commended for running such a fine ship."

    The Human officer seemed to blush slightly as he acknowledged the compliment. "She's not a new ship, but she's got plenty of life in her. Stalwart Defender is the last of her kind, and we try our best to make sure she remains in top condition for as long as she's needed. But that's not why I sent for you, of course."

    Yuthura nodded, her lekku twitching understanding. "I have been reading through the information your people provided. It is...interesting, particularly the information about your Marines. I do not think the Sith could have fielded such a force trained with their concepts and values for long, before control over them was lost. To the Sith, blind obedience is much more prized than initiative, particularly when it comes to subordinates and maintaining one's position."

    "That would explain a lot," Melao replied with a snort. "The commander of our Marine battalion doesn't think much of them as individual soldiers; a Jedi I had occasion to work with once referred to them as 'meat droids.' To us," he continued, his voice and expression turning grim, "it is the individual that forms the backbone of the collective. The units we command, the ships we fight, are only as good as those who lead them, but to the individual soldier or crewer, nothing is more important than doing their part to ensure the success of the whole—and the survival of their comrades. I am well aware there are people out there who don't understand this mindset, and that's fine, because at the end of the day, everyone aboard this ship knows that he or she can depend on each other to support them whenever they need it."

    Yuthura had to admit, the man's assessment of the average Sith soldier was not far off. Certainly there had been those who were skilled in one area or another, and some were specially trained to resist outside influence, but few among those she had met and worked with had any native character beyond what they were told to have by those who commanded them. Most in the Sith military arm that she knew were encouraged to be as aggressive toward each other as they were when engaged in combat with the enemy, and she had seen her share of soldiers vying for physical as well as mental dominance. It was at this point that Yuthura realized that if it hadn't been for the Star Forge—and she had known of its existence long before the Republic had discovered it—the Sith would have had a much, much more difficult time prosecuting the war. Perhaps the triumph of the Republic would have been inevitable, as it had been in the past, but as events would have it such speculation was moot. How exactly the Republic had found the station and destroyed it, Yuthura did not yet know, but she would have been greatly surprised if Revan hadn't played a hand in that outcome. In the end it didn't matter, and even if she had the opportunity to ask him, she had more pressing questions for the man.

    The captain drew a datacard from his ready room desk and handed it to Yuthura. "These are your final disposition orders, as well as passcodes that should let you land at any Republic outpost along your route if things should go wrong with your ship. You're being granted a temporary commission as a junior lieutenant in the Republic Navy, but you won't be in command of the mission itself, that role belongs to First Sergeant Seela Dar, whom I believe you are familiar with."

    "Thank you," Yuthura replied, and meant every syllable. "Not just for helping my people, but for the trust and respect you have shown me. It is...most refreshing."

    The Human nodded, his expression outwardly inscrutable but his sense in the Force clouded...there was something he didn't want her to know and was working damn hard to keep his head clear of it. The missing detail wasn't about the mission per se, but it had everything to do with the blonde Marine with the startlingly green eyes she had met the previous day. It had been a long time since Yuthura had practiced the art of Force-based mind reading, and the only technique she was really familiar with was decidedly dark in nature; on top of that, she was so out of practice that she doubted she could bring it off unnoticed. But it was for the former reason and not the latter that she chose not to press the issue in such a way. To even entertain the idea of drawing upon the dark side now, after all she had accomplished...

    "Is there something bothering you, Lieutenant?"

    It wasn't so much the query itself that jolted Yuthura clear out of her shadowed reverie and a good ten centimeters into the air, but the way he had addressed a fellow officer...and the set in his visage and mind that told her quite clearly that he at least had an inkling of what she had just been pondering. Unable to suppress a violent shiver that sent her lekku convulsing, she nodded. "Old habits, sir," she replied as respectfully as she could manage. "I was contemplating...things..."

    "That much was clear." the captain agreed as he stood, his gaze sharp and scrupulously scrutinizing. "I'm just glad you decided not to go back down that path. Your ship won't be up to snuff for another few hours yet, so I'm sending you back to the surface until things finish taking shape. In the meantime, I strongly suggest you meet with our Jedi and sort out any lingering doubts."

    "Yes sir," Yuthura managed in response, standing as well and saluting her captain. Where this man came from and how he had earned his surprisingly acute insights, she had no idea, but one thing was certain: though he would go out on a long and tenuous limb for his people, he was not one to be trifled with.

    — — —​

    While Revan had been up to his eyeballs in the setting up of the prefabricated garrison base since the crack of dawn, his martial and technical curiosity piqued by this new development in military fortifications, Bastila and Trunma had taken the "used" landspeeder out on a brief visit to those homesteads the refugees had made contact and trade agreements with. It had been a refreshing jaunt, not only in the enjoyment of the benign weather and placidity of the environment, but in seeing that these people were managing to keep themselves going and even, if only just by a hair's breadth, making some headway. While high technology wasn't exactly in abundant supply, a cottage industry had sprung up around the maintenance of those landspeeders, household and agricultural droids, and other mechanized implements that the people here still had as well as the duplication of simpler tools and equipment necessary for those tasks. Most of these farmholders were grateful to see that the Jedi had returned to Dantooine, even if it was for a brief stopover, especially when that Jedi came bearing gifts. At each household they stopped, Trunma and Bastila had given the head of the family living there an invitation to a gathering to be held the following night, as well as a large allotment of kolto and an injector for everyone in that family, courtesy of the Republic Navy.

    "Are you certain the Zewals will turn up?" Bastila asked the man as they were on their way back to the refugees' glen, wondering at the possible meaning of Vartan Zewal letting his daughter do the speaking for the family of five that lived in the last estate they had visited. "I didn't sense anything wrong..."

    "No, that's just his way," Trunma answered with a shrug. "I only met the man once, and that was only because he had been lying on a bench just outside the entryway when Yuthura and I first visited. He's getting on in years, and his wife was never much for visitors before she died. Yumi is his eldest, and has taken a steady hand over their homestead, which is fortunate for us considering what they are able to provide."

    That was certainly true, because among their other interests, the Zewals owned a small minifacturing droid that could spit out a variety of useful items, including standard computer components, small droid parts, and most kinds of hand tools both mundane and precision. Perhaps its most useful asset was the ability to churn out landspeeder-grade repulsorlift coils at a rate of three per day as long as the necessary supplies held out. Since the things it built were made of such basic materials, and because the droid was a relatively new model with a number of upgraded programs, that was comparatively easy. Silicon and base metals, along with various plant-based polymers that other farmholds were able to provide, was all it really needed. "Well I hope you're right, because everyone will be much better off if they are brought into the fold."

    "Once they see what we're accomplishing with your help, I'm sure we'll be able to manage," Trunma assured her. "I've gotten to know Yumi rather well, actually; her sister Jinne and my son are close in age and are rather fond of each other."

    Bastila nodded, allowing herself a small smile. She had been introduced to Vella and Liam, who was actually Trunma's son by informal adoption rather than birth. While his wife was a quiet, reserved woman, the boy was as precocious as any, and had gleefully pointed out all the work he and the rest of the crew of Deliverance had done to try and restore the ship to full working order. At the moment, of course, she could well imagine that he was instead watching intently as the Navy technical crew went about its work, longing for a chance to ask them what they were doing and how. Fortunately for them, however, Trunma had made it clear to Liam that he wasn't to interrupt or otherwise be a nuisance if he wanted their ship to be finished quickly. For their part, the rest of the self-appointed crew had reluctantly agreed to help the team setting up the prefab base in their efforts to adapt the thing for use by civilians. Ordinarily it would have been boring work, but Bastila knew that with Revan cavorting around and cheerfully suggesting his own improvements to the overall design, things wouldn't stay boring for very long. The man was a technical genius and his martial prowess knew few bounds, so she half expected to find that a veritable fortress had been erected in the few hours they had been gone.

    As the speeder wound its way back toward the glen, its driver and passenger both anticipating a nice meal once they arrived, Bastila wondered how Yuthura Ban was doing. She knew that Admiral Hetton had asked to meet her, but nothing of the result of that audience had been reported to her or Revan. This didn't necessarily worry the Jedi Knight, but she couldn't shake the feeling that the former Sith was either on the edge of a breakthrough or, as unlikely as it may seem, a breakdown that could result in a recidivism from which she might not be able to pull herself free from. Either way, she felt now more than ever that it was her and her partner's imperative to lend what strength they could to Yuthura's efforts to stay within the light. All three of them held this as a common thread, but beyond this, Bastila knew that if the Jedi Order was to continue to recover from the after-effects of these last two wars, it would need as many experienced Knights as could be had without compromising the integrity of the Code and all that the Order stood for.

    "Hmm, looks like another shuttle's making a landing," Trunma observed as the speeder crested a small rise on approach to the glade he had called home. "I thought they wouldn't be sending another until the crew working on Deliverance had wrapped things up, and I know for certain they've still got to replace those blown repulsorlift coils."

    Bastila looked up at the ridge just now coming into view; sure enough, another shuttle was angling in for touchdown. This one, however, was just a pod, designed for taking no more than a pilot and a pair of passengers from ship to ship, station or planetary surface. "No, they're here for something else," she concluded, inhaling the light scent of gardening as their vehicle came to a stop and peering at the aft end of the small spacecraft. "Is that...?"

    As she dismounted and moved closer toward the lowering hatchway, Bastila watched as first Yuthura Ban, then Seela Dar emerged, both decked out in civilian attire. The Twi'lek's outfit at least fit her properly, but that was about all that could be said in its favor because it clashed horribly with her skin tone and gave off a distinct air of having been hastily cobbled together at the last moment; the Human flanking her was clad in a well-worn vested shirt and pant combination that could've been carried off by just about any spacer working the Rim. Yuthura must've badgered every female officer aboard Stalwart Defender in an almost maniacal quest for clothes to get what she now wore: a tawny-colored synthsilk pleated button-down blouse, a lurid bright green velvoid vest, a web belt that looked like it had once belonged to a Navy petty officer, and dark blue trousers with what might have been an alternate variation of Corellian Bloodstripes in some parallel universe running down the outer seams, topped off with a crimson headscarf that hid most of her tattoos. Though no longer as clothes-conscious as she had once been, Bastila had to work hard to prevent herself from collapsing in unrestrained laughter at the walking fashion disaster as she and Trunma drew ever closer to the disembarking pair.

    Both were armed, Seela carrying her sidearm in an old but well-maintained gunbelt and holster tied to her thigh, while Yuthura carried...was that her lightsaber? Attached to the web belt she wore along with a few other tools, it didn't so much resemble a weapon hilt as the heavy end of a hydrospanner. "That is certainly an interesting way to disguise your blade," Bastila said, trying her best not to lose it completely. "Is there a reason you're...dressed this way?"

    Yuthura, clearly too embarrassed to speak, walked off toward where Deliverance was being worked over and Seela Dar stepped forth and nodded a rueful acknowledgement. "Yeah, poor woman," she muttered. "I would've given her something from my footlocker, but she's just too...small. I don't suppose you Jedi could whip up something more suitable."

    "Sorry," Bastila admitted, and for the first time in her life she found herself honestly wishing she could sew. "I never was good for anything like that, and actually bought my clothes for quite a while—scandalous for a Jedi, I know. Anyway, what exactly is going on?"

    Seela pulled a face, and though Bastila couldn't pick up any mental impressions—this woman was surprisingly disciplined in that regard—her expression was one of deep concern and a certain measure of revulsion that had nothing to do with the Twi'lek's outfit. "Where is Revan?"

    "I don't know," Bastila began, then closed her eyes for a moment. "Ah, yes, he's up at the base, ah, 'helping' things along. Is there something you need to tell us?"

    The blonde woman fixed Bastila with a hard stare, leaving her to wonder just what was going through the Marine's mind; for all she was able to sense in the Force, a Human-shaped slab of durasteel stood before her. Something truly profound had to have happened in the few hours Seela Dar had been gone, something that had caused her to develop an ability that any Sith would kill to possess.

    This woman had become a Force void.
  12. Kess Banta

    Kess Banta Jedi Knight star 4

    Mar 23, 2014
    Goodwood, Sir! check out Merriam Press!

    Popping in from Tapatalk
  13. Goodwood

    Goodwood Jedi Master star 5

    May 11, 2011
    Chapter Five

    There was no doubt about it, Revan was thoroughly enjoying himself. He was, however, honest enough with himself to know that if he had thought of the prefabricated garrison base during his time as the Dark Lord, he would have personally worked up a design and fed it to the Star Forge in order to crank them out at a prodigious rate. Whether or not they would have made a difference in the war was an unknown, and could remain so as far as he was concerned. As it was, he had been intrigued by the examples the Republic had shipped aboard Stalwart Defender and had hoped for the occasion to see one being raised. Now that he was "helping" to oversee the establishment of this one on Dantooine, he was already working up designs for improved models in his head, going so far as to input notes into his datapad every few minutes when an idea struck him. There's no reason this kind of thing can't be made bigger, he thought to himself as he watched one of the crew, assisted by a load-lifter droid, raise a durasteel wall and seat it into the ground. Large warships like Stalwart Defender should be able to carry one that could support an entire army battalion...if not more.

    The whine of spacecraft-grade repulsorlifts drew the man from his curious reverie, and Revan looked up in time to see a small shuttlepod striking for space. Returning his gaze to the garrison base and its construction crew, he felt the warm, gentle caress of Bastila's mind upon his and smiled to himself. The pair had spent the night in a small wooded glen about ten or so kilometers east of the glade where the refugees' community had been established, watching the stars and reflecting on the day's events before turning in. Ever since the destruction of the battlestation and factory complex and the resulting victory celebration, the pair of them had been making their way from one potential trouble spot to another, using their paired skills and influence to help soothe the wounds of war that Revan still felt responsible for. Though Jedi did not know regret and remorse as most people did, he continued to let the notion of the latter emotion guide his and Bastila's efforts; she too had had her demons to conquer, after all. It was understood that acknowledging the love they held for one another in the presence of others—save for those they had come to trust utterly such as Carth, Mission, Zaalbar, Juhani and Jolee—they were at least able to take some measure of solace in the old man's advice on the subject.

    Duron and Shaela had had passion for each other and, unable to control it, it had instead taken control of them and sown the seeds of their destruction. But Revan had learned to control his passion, acknowledging the feelings he had possessed for the woman who had saved his life and making them a part of him rather than fighting the urges they represented. This had allowed him to understand the truth of Jolee's assertion that passion and love were not the same, and later to see that despite having fallen to the dark side, Bastila still loved him. That had ultimately been the key to her redemption, and later her understanding of the difference as well, and the pair of them had used that to fully return to the light...together.

    While they felt perfectly safe in each other's arms, so to speak, both Revan and Bastila knew that the Order itself did not—and could not—understand what this ultimately meant. For a long time the Jedi had preferred to induct new potentials at as early an age as was possible, even though as recently as fifty years ago Masters would still take Force-sensitives under their wings that were as old as thirty Standard years or more. Nomi Sunrider, whom Revan had always respected despite everything else, had been one such Jedi, and an extraordinary individual she had become. Revan understood why, of course. It was difficult enough for a teenager to unlearn sufficiently to be open to the basic awareness of and knowledge in the Force that was necessary for actual training to begin, and even more so for full adults who had lived otherwise perfectly happy lives until their discovery. But in his time as both a Jedi and a Sith, he had come to realize an important truth: In order for a sentient being to be able to attain true mastery of his or her emotions, he or she must first have the chance to experience them, undiluted by vicarious exploration. Simply telling someone that hate was bad and needed to be avoided was inadequate—laughably so, in fact. And all Jedi, no matter their stripe, irrespective of their abilities and experiences, will every so often just plain feel angry, sad, or disappointed. It was nothing to be ashamed of, it was part of being self-aware and was usually necessary for one's survival. Wisdom came not from avoiding emotion, but from having experienced it and, in so doing, understanding the consequences both of control and lack of control.

    In order to be a good Jedi, Revan had come to feel, it was first necessary to understand how to be a good person. Perhaps, given time, he could take a Padawan of his own and teach them by the methods that had begun to manifest in his mind's eye, of emotional experience and mastery. He would do this before exposing them to the greater realms of the Force that would be his responsibility to teach, in an effort to ensure that his hypothetical student was the right kind of individual to be entrusted with greater mastery. "No, that isn't quite right..." Revan muttered to himself as he mentally shelved the idea. "The Council isn't likely to trust me with an apprentice just yet, and there are still things I need to do."

    Just what it was he still had to accomplish, Revan did not yet know, but he was confident that he would find out eventually. And besides, he had already begun work on another way by which he could preserve his hard-won wisdom, and was in fact near to completing the thing. As far as the immediate future was concerned, Korriban would perhaps be the biggest test of his theories to date.

    "Dantooine to Revan, come in Revan!"

    Bastila's whispered remark may as well have been a shout, and Revan had to draw his focus through a deep breath to prevent himself from laughing. She could still surprise him on occasion, and he her, and it was nice to know that at the very least, the life they led together would never grow boring. Grinning broadly, he finally did a slow about-face to greet the woman he loved...and felt his brow climbing. Standing at her flanks was the Marine, Seela Dar if he remembered correctly, and Yuthura, looking as though she had raided half the laundry hampers in the Outer Rim. His smile vanished in a puff of emotional smoke as he felt her agitation in the Force. The Twi'lek was tottering on a knife-edge of anxiety, and was in danger of falling off the wrong side. Sparing an acknowledging glance at the blonde woman, wordlessing indicating that she should give them some privacy, he turned to regard the former Sith as Seela stalked off.

    "What's up?" he asked Yuthura seriously, fixing her violet eyes in his.

    "The Republic has asked me to return to Korriban and I agreed," Yuthura replied in an undertone, her voice wavering slightly. "I had thought that I was dealing with this...development well, until I met with Captain Melao and..."

    Her eyes closed and her mind opened up just enough, and Revan was able to sense the truth of what had transpired. "The captain has sent Sergeant Dar to accompany you," he concluded. "A scouting mission, if I had to guess, which is entirely logical and quite necessary." He paused, nodding toward a semi-secluded area near the small brook to the north of the construction site, and the three made their way toward it. "Tell me how you feel 'right now,' Yuthura," he patiently asked as they walked. "I need you to be completely honest with me."

    The trio fell silent as they reached the spot where a dead tree had fallen against the side of a short bluff, kneeling in the small patch of shade at the base. After a few more moments without speaking, Yuthura took a deep breath and began ticking items off on her fingers. "Fear of my past," she said somberly. "Fear of who or what we may find on Korriban, anxiety about Sergeant Dar's role in this expedition, shame over what I almost did to Captain Melao..."

    "And?" Revan prompted gently, knowing there was more to it.

    "Anger," the Twi'lek admitted after a beat, her voice thick with emotional baggage. "Anger that you left me with an emptry promise, knowing that the Dantooine enclave had been destroyed. And regret that my old Master may never know that his student came to her senses after all."

    Both Humans remained passive, nodding in understanding as Yuthura finished. "You once told me something important," Revan replied after giving himself and Bastila time to digest what Yuthura had just told them. "You said that 'sometimes anger and hatred are deserved and right, sometimes things change because of it.' I have since come to understand that you were right, though due to your choices, you may not have had the whole picture. You have every right to feel as you do, as you have. Being a Jedi means owning your feelings and emotions, recognizing them for what they are—be they anger, hatred, happiness, or love—and realizing that they will always be with you. With such understanding comes awareness of the choice we make every moment of every day, of whether or not to be the master of our emotions or to be subject to them."

    Bastila gazed sidelong at Revan, her sense curious; he had never confided these new ideas to her before. She must have sensed at least part of what he had been pondering for months now, because her expression was one of dawning comprehension. As if that wasn't enough to convince him that he was onto something, she was...pleased. A feeling of buoyancy lifted his spirits even more and, hoping to help in her struggles, he began pouring reassurances into the Force and to Yuthura. "Meditate with us, Yuthura," he invited. "Open your mind to us, and we will help you to center yourself in the light and bring back what you have forgotten."

    Her lekku still, she took and released a deep breath before nodding acceptance of the offer.

    — — —​

    Still not quite used to being a first sergeant, let alone walking about in civilian attire even though she was still very much on duty, Seela kept her peace as the Jedi dismissed her and wandered off with their charge. She understood what was going on, after all; Yuthura had spent the entire flight down to the surface in a state of barely-suppressed anxiety that made Seela feel as though her own heart was aching in sympathy. She doubted that anyone else that the Twi'lek had passed by on her way down to the hangar from the captain's ready room had noticed her discomfiture, and it was probably only apparent to Seela because she had been among the first to meet her, and had heard the story of her escape from Korriban. If anyone can help her get back on her feet, its Revan and Bastila, she mused. Maybe this little meet and greet, or whatever they call a meditative jam session these days, will save me a trigger-pull further down the line.

    She had met with her insertion team as instructed, the crew of nine Marines and one Navy comm specialist had all armored up for mountain work prior to assembling at the battalion muster room, for which Seela had been grateful. None of them had been drawn from her old platoon, unfortunately (or fortunately, depending on how one chose to interpret such things), but there was one corporal from one of the other three in her company present among the group. All of them were proficient in infiltration and other scouting duties, but only one other had gone through scout/sniper training, and in this case the lance corporal from Besh Company would be her spotter if it came down to attempting to snipe at Sith. Given what she now knew about herself, it was obvious that she would make a better shooter anyway, since her intent to kill would be less likely to be noticed in time to save a potential target from the blaster bolt that was their due. All in all, she had a good feeling about the people she was about to take into harm's way, and that was certainly a start.

    Their gear, on the other hand, was not a simple matter, hence the presence of the Navy E-TAC. Seela knew that the Marines had once employed enlisted tactical aerospace controllers themselves, though they had been referred to simply as "fire coordinators." However, it had been decided in the post-Great Sith War period to streamline the Corps, handing off such support duties to Navy personnel in a manner similar to how corpsmen were assigned to Marine units. According to the manifest she had been given, the biggest and most complex item they had been issued was supposed to be some sort of satellite relay system that would accept line-of-sight tightbeam burst transmissions, sent from the backpack-mounted hardened uplink apparatus that the petty officer used to fulfill his role. This would allow the team to cut through pretty much all known forms of comm jamming to provide all sorts of information to the incoming task force, as well as helping to mask their location onplanet. She didn't know much about how the thing worked, and she had made a note to question the Human overseeing the devices on that topic once they were underway. While Seela and Yuthura would only be armed with comlinks and personal weapons, the better to blend in upon landing if the opportunity for undercover observation presented itself, the Marines were fully combat-equipped and capable of making their presence felt for however long it took for their backup to arrive. Even the E-TAC carried a light carbine in addition to his other gadgets, and Seela had set her trusty sniping BR-12m aside for loading in the insertion vehicle prior to escorting Yuthura down to the surface.

    While their objective was clear, Seela had been given a free hand in the execution of their little excursion, including deciding whether or not a withdrawal was warranted. For example if, upon entering the Horuset system the Deliverance detected a large enough Sith presence that groundside scouting was not an option, they could simply retreat back to where the task force would decant from hyperspace to reorient themselves for the final jump to Korriban. Short of that, it was her call as to where and when the former refugee ship would set down, and how to proceed from there. Though unused to such loose mission parameters, she had had plenty of good teachers, and she would seek whatever advice she deemed appropriate from Yuthura who, apart from serving as pilot for this mission, was their only guide and the sole reason for the whole enterprise.

    "Well, we're not going anywhere until those Navy pukes finish fixing that bucket," Seela muttered to herself. The shuttle had long since returned to its mothership, and the three Jedi—well, okay, all three of them were at least Jedi enough to be grouped that way—had secluded themselves rather effectively. Deciding that it was high time someone got an estimate of their timetable, she decided to check on the repair crew. Time to see how my new rank holds up, she thought to herself as she practiced her "civilian cadence" while en route to the insertion vehicle.

    It wasn't much of a hike, and most of the community was off doing whatever they did in the early afternoon, meaning that the small gap in the glen where the old Quartermaster-class supply ship had been berthed was empty of people save for the petty officer and his five mechanics and techs. The surly-looking Nikto was glaring at a Bothan that was furiously working a hydrospanner in a concerted effort—now that his sluggishness had drawn the ire of his boss—to remove one of the defective repulsorlift coils. Seela recognized this all too easily due to the haste of the cranking noises; the man had had no rhythm going and it showed as he wrenched one bolt free and bobbled it in the process. As she watched, the Nikto petty officer bellowed a blue streak at the tech, leaving Seela to look on in amusement at the antics of Navy void-brains. Finally, the stream of invective died down and the petty officer started to tromp off to find another problem area, at which point she interceded.

    "What's the story?" she asked brusquely, pinioning him to the outer hull with a frosty glare. He looked her up and down and, apparently mistaking her for one of the locals, started to turn away. Seela's arm shot out and held him firmly by the shoulder almost before he could move. "Do you speak Basic, or what?!" she demanded. "I said, 'what's the story' with this thing!"

    "And just who the hell do you think you are?" he shot back, puffing up instantly.

    "First Sergeant Seela Dar, you fat ugly fierfek!" she rumbled just loud enough for him to hear. "And I'm supposed to see this bucket of bolts back to its homeworld ASAP, so start showing some professionalism before I have you put on report."

    "Aye aye, ma'am!" the man stammered, puttering out like a punctured mattress bladder. To his credit, his recovery was rather swift for someone who had been used to some limited authority that had just been snatched away by someone other than a Navy being. While there was rarely any actual malice between them, members of the Navy and Marine Corps had always enjoyed a healthy measure of inter-service rivalry that dated right back to the foundation of the Corps over a thousand years previous; the same had been true with the Army for countless millennia before that. Drawing his datapad out of a spacious pocket just above the hip of his coveralls, the Nikto petty officer examined it briefly. "As you just saw, we're working on replacing those burnt coils; once one is off we'll start installing the new one while nerf-brains over there starts removing the other damaged coil. Right, Wol'fradz?!"

    "Sure thing, Patkkala!" the Bothan drawled sarcastically from around the corner. There was a metallic bang! and someone shouted "Ow," prompting Patkkala to grunt in long-suffering disdain.

    "Anyway, as I was saying," he continued, rolling his eyes at his crew though they couldn't see him. "That's the last major system we've gotta replace parts for, but then the whole repulsor array has to be recalibrated. Figure about fifteen or twenty minutes on that depending on how Fuzzball over there decides to perform. I've got another guy working on the weapons for this crate, the good news there is that it's just a drop-fit and we don't have to go messing about with calibrations. Might want to test it before you encounter any hostiles, though. The hull's patched and spacetight, should work well. And of course, the hyperdrive and navigational computer still have to make nice with each other and run the test program before I'll sign off on it. Got my Bith working on that problem, but if the cursing coming from the aft end is any indication, he's getting nowhere fast..."

    Seela listened patiently, or at least tried to, as the petty officer continued to drone on and on about his brave crew's efforts to set the old ship to rights. Eventually, however, the Tatooinian got fed up with all the technobabble and held up a threatening finger. "Skip it, Patkkala," she interrupted waspishly. "Just give me an overall estimate."

    The Nikto looked up at the sky, apparently deep in thought, for a few moments before answering. "Sundown at the absolute latest I'd say," he replied, his voice becoming steadily louder. "But if it comes to that, there are going to be some very sore and very exhausted mechanics come sunup!"

    "You have got to be kidding me," Seela spat. "Do better."

    "We're trying, First Sergeant, but..." the man began, but his retort shriveled into dust in the heat of Seela's gaze.

    "No," she hissed venomously, "they are trying. You are just sitting here on your ass and occasionally hurling orders with all the grace of an obese Hutt squirming toward a buffet. Either get that sorry excuse for a mynock splitling you call a posterior on that shuttle, turning spanners or whatever it is you're rated to do and kriffing help, or I will personally guarantee that you are the only one left behind when the task force moves out. Do I make myself clear?"

    Patkkala went white as a sheet, or as pale as any Nikto was capable of getting. "Leth Cresh," he spluttered weakly, drawing a tool from his belt and beating a hasty retreat.

    Pulling a face, Seela blew a disgusted sigh of her own and stamped her way back toward where the garrison base was still being set up. It seemed like it would be a race to see which team got done first, and from what she was able to tell from watching both of them at work, it seemed that the base-builders would win rather easily. It sounded ludicrous that things could come down to that, because as much as she disliked the idea, she wanted to get going sooner rather than later. Once they were off, her combat instincts would start kicking in, and she would be able to stop worrying about the implications of the mission and start focusing on how to carry it out—and ensuring that everyone involved got back in one piece. Hopefully the idiot leading the relief crew had taken the hint and was now dilligently applying himself to the task at hand, so that it would be finished before reaching the limit he had so generously apportioned himself. Tempted as she was to hang around and make sure he obeyed, Seela resisted the urge; it wouldn't do either of them any good and might even hamper things further. She was neither a technician nor a mechanic, after all.

    After several more minutes silently dithering about looking for something to do, Seela's comlink bleeped for attention. Making sure no one was around who could eavesdrop, she backed up next to the ridge she had been pacing, then drew and activated it. "Dar here."

    "Pathfinder Six, this is Mother Duck," came the soft but terse voice of Commander Hrakness, using the code phrases that had been given for the operation's participants. "Switch to coded frequency Saber Blue and give me a sitrep."

    Seela had to suppress a chuckle. She had no idea what a duck was, but apparently someone in Naval Intelligence did, and saw it as a fitting representation for someone acting as an ops controller, which was the only possible reason why it had been assigned as an identifier. "Pathfinder Six here, situation is as follows," she began briskly after having performed the appropriate adjustment. "The barn-raising is well underway and should be completed on or slightly ahead of schedule. Guidepost Five has met with Glowrods One and Two for a parlay of sorts. Expect One and Two will provide necessary stability for Five to ensure mission success, though contingency plans remain on standby. Dorn Two-seven remains laid up; surgery is still underway with no firm Esk Trill Cresh." She blew a sigh. "Suggest you admonish appropriately. How copy?"

    "Mother Duck copies all," the commander replied, his own voice betraying some exasperation. "See if Glowrod One can help expedite work on D-27. Out."

    The signal went dead, and Seela allowed herself a few low laughs at the absurdity of her situation and the circumstances that had led to her being caught up in this whole mess. Growing up on Tatooine had never exactly been easy; it was a desert world with few of the creature comforts that most civilized beings took for granted. Her parents, and later her older brother, had been involved in setting up and then running the Anchorhead settlement that had represented Czerka Corporation's efforts to exploit Tatooine as a mining world, and had reaped the initial rewards of the endeavor. Naturally it couldn't last, and once customers had realized the odd nature of the metal that came from that backrocket world, business had dried up like a spilled drink on a midday street. Because everybody still needed vehicles serviced, her family was sufficiently insulated in their positions such that the lean times hadn't been too terribly tough to bear, and Seela had been able to spend a lot of her free time out in the wastes. Because she almost completely lacked the mechanical skills of the rest of her family, whenever she wasn't doing schoolwork she was to be found practicing her air- and landspeeder flying as well as culling the local wildlife. That was how she had gotten so proficient with blasters, and long rifles in particular. Few things were as satisfying as watching womp rats exploding from a kilometer away, and she had been known (and punished by her parents) for plinking the occasional Sand Person that wandered too close to "her" territory. Seela had never actually hated the natives, but she still respected them for their tenacity and willingness to endure the bright hell that was the outland regions of her homeworld. It had been their willingness to kill settlers without cause or provocation—save for the very fact that they had committed the base sin of setting foot on Tatooine's surface—that had been the primary reason she had never hesitated to fire on any that she found. And she had almost never missed.

    While the outbreak of Revan's war had been the final impetus for Seela's desire to get offowrld and do her part by joining the Army, the winds of change had begun to blow through Anchorhead a year prior, heralded by the presence of a Jedi who had refused to identify himself. The Sand People had started making more of a nuisence of themselves in the weeks prior, an ugly business that had culminated in the deaths of several moisture farmers. Everybody had assumed that the robed and cloaked man, who hadn't bothered to hide his weapon or pretend to be a simple traveller, was here to try and sort things out and find a peaceful solution to the brewing conflict. Seela's own parents had been among those attempting to contribute supplies and an armed escort to help ensure the success of such an endeavor, but the Jedi had refused all but the most basic necessities and had paid in nicely-untraceable hard currency. When he had entered the wastes and not returned for several days, most had decided that he hadn't been a real Jedi after all and must have succumbed to the elements, or else had been ambushed and killed. That view had been turned upside down when, after nearly two weeks in the wilds, the Jedi returned; his robes tattered and stained with what could only be blood, he had departed Tatooine without so much as a word in explanation. This news alone had been enough to elicit a bad feeling in Seela, which had only festered throughout the months that had followed, during which no Sand People were seen within three hundred kilometers of Anchorhead's outer farms.

    News of the war had found Seela not long after her eighteenth lifeday, when she had been contemplating the idea of taking up a security job with Czerka. The corporation had offered to pay handsomely for her services as an observer and sniper, given how she had spent her adolescence, but the idea of riding shotgun for the giant sandcrawlers had been less than appealing. With Sith on the loose however, she had chosen instead to enlist in the Republic's armed forces so that she might fight something other than near-mindless desert nomads, while her parents and brother had packed up shop and moved to Fresia. Blasting through basic training with one of the first classes of recruits to be taken on after the declaration of war, Seela had been shipped Rimward to Mon Gazza and, within a week, a promotion to corporal for taking charge and helping to repel an enemy counterattack. She had done this by providing covering fire and personally killing twenty-six enemy troopers and at least three officers, cheering her comrades on all the while. Things were similar when she and Ibratu'na, who had been her platoon leader throughout the war up until the mission to board the Sith flagship, were caught up in the hard fighting on Lannik. It was during that campaign that she had met her first Jedi, a handsome but solemn-looking Human named Georg Oakes, who had stunned her with his combat and Force abilities when he had helped to carry an attack that was faltering in the face of heavy Sith resistance. It was an experience that Seela would likely never forget, leastwise for the fact that she had come close to getting killed in that battle, which had been a relatively minor skirmish compared to the overall effort to liberate the planet.

    Though there had been other battles on other worlds, none had ever quite equaled that two month-long struggle. Not long after Republic forces had secured the capital against token resistance, the culmination of nearly four weeks' hard fighting, her unit had been sent out to establish further defensive positions on the other side of the city. For three full days the Sith hadn't so much as sent a probe droid their way as Republic forces continued to fortify their position and bring in reinforcements both groundside and in terms of warships. After that, however, all hell broke loose as the Sith commander decided to bring in the reserve fleet and hammer yet again at the Republic's naval forces even as his ground troops laid siege to the capital. The campaign's earlier see-saw fighting ground to a halt, and static warfare had commenced in earnest. It had certainly been one of the most intense periods of continuous combat operations of the entire war, and Seela had spent most of it sniping Sith the same way she had done to the Sand People back home, but on Lannik there had been many more targets to eliminate. Eventually however, thanks to Bastila Shan's use of Battle Meditation, the Republic was able to roll back the Sith lines and sweep the system in a coordinated series of attacks led by a number of Jedi Knights, including Captain Reyolé and Georg Oakes.

    Thankfully, all of that was in the past, and if she was honest with herself, Seela had to admit that she did not regret that the cessation of hostilities had taken place before she could rejoin the fight as a Marine. She'd had her chance to engage in every aspect of Marine-style combat that mattered when fighting aboard the former Darth Revan's flagship. Despite what she had said to Sergeant Nikov, she had in fact succeeded in flashing and then shooting a Dark Jedi during that battle, and though she did have some half-assed reckoning of the differences, she was still curious on what was the actual difference between one of those creatures and a true Sith. Well, if she was going to ask him to help repair the Deliverance, she may as well pose this particular question to his friend; perhaps Yuthura would be able to weigh in on that subject as well. Taking a deep breath as she rounded the hive of activity that surrounded the half-completed prefab base, Seela paced her way through the tall grass toward the secluded area the Jedi had staked out for themselves. "Excuse me," she prodded, trying not to surprise any of them. "Revan? Bastila?"

    It took them almost a full minute to realize that she was there, and Seela mentally admonished herself for having disturbed them, even if she was doing so under orders. "What's up?" Revan replied, gazing up at her with a searching look. "Is something wrong?"

    Shrugging in apology, Seela dove in. "We need your help getting the Deliverance working again. The crew on it now are a bunch of skiving murglaks and I want us to get going as soon as possible."

    Revan exchanged a look with Bastila, who nodded and cocked her head at Yuthura, whose eyes were still closed as she continued to meditate...or whatever. The former Dark Lord stood up slowly, looked from Seela to the base site, the glen, and back at the Marine in her civvies before nodding himself. "Sure thing, Sergeant," he said lightly, and briskly trotted off toward the old freighter, looking for all the world as though he wanted nothing more than to dive elbow-deep into the inner workings of some old, beat-up starship.

    Bastila also regained her feet, looking askance at Seela and realizing that something more was on the Marine's mind, as she had hoped. "You have a question?"

    "It's about our friend," she replied in low, concerned tones. "Well, not really. How is she doing?"

    Bastila looked as though she wasn't quite comfortable with the idea of going into details, but seemed to accept it as an imperative given everything that was going on. "Though she is making progress, I still have concerns about her returning to Korriban for this mission. I would have preferred to leave her here, to care for her people as she continues to retrain herself as a Jedi, while Revan and I went in ahead of the fleet on this run. When we put this mission together, however, the Order agreed that the military commander in the field would have the final say, which means it is Admiral Hetton's orders we will follow."

    "I take it you didn't agree to that particular item," Seela replied, trying to lighten the mood.

    "Possibly," Bastila allowed, "but we weren't in a position to argue the point. The Order's resources are stretched very thin, as are the Republic's, and we must work together as much as possible to maintain the peace. You made your reputation during the war, and you know how bitterly the Sith fight, which makes you the perfect choice to lead this initial probe and help our friend to keep herself in the light."

    Seela crossed her arms across her vested chest, fixing Bastila with a glare that lacked any vehemence. "Have you been talking to Captain Melao?" she said, her tone somewhat bitter.

    "No, but I remember you from the battles the both of us participated in," the Jedi replied, keeping her cool. "Particularly that bit of unpleasantness near the end of the war. Your captain and I both recognized what you have only just come to understand, but you have no idea how truly rare it is to find someone of your talent. I implore you to realize and understand this, because it is my feeling that events on Korriban will require you to be able to master yourself completely." She paused in the midst of what any other person might have mistaken for a tirade, sparing a glance for the cross-legged Twi'lek. "She respects you, you know. You knew what she was straightaway, and remained in control of the situation in the face of it. And you convinced Revan to come forward, which in itself is remarkable," she added wryly. "I believe that Yuthura also recognizes what you are, a person who can manipulate her connection to the Force at will."

    Seela mulled this over for a few moments, letting her arms fall to her hips as she cast her gaze about. "You know, I'm still not certain what that means."

    "I think you already do, on some level," Bastila said, not unkindly. "But to be more specific, it means that by imagining your mind as the throttle on a speeder bike, just to give an example, you can expand or contract your connection, what those trained in its use recognize as a 'presence' in the Force, including a complete shutdown. In doing so you can appear to a Jedi's or a Sith's senses as inert matter, a rock or a crate of droid parts, leaving them completely unaware of you, as long as they don't actually see you of course. This has the added effect of leaving you all but immune to direct Force-based attacks. When in this state we cannot sense your intent or otherwise influence your mind, nor can we affect you with directed telekinetic abilities; not even the greatest Sith Master could touch you with Force lightning."

    "Stang," Seela hissed, thinking hard. "That explains a lot. Is there anything else I should know?"

    Bastila's expression became concerned and, unless Seela's eyes were mistaken, uncertain. "Well, I would advise you not to keep your presence, your...connection...minimized overlong. That is to say, the longer you go with it all but severed, the more likely there could be...complications. You might experience a certain emotional instability, feelings of drifting alone through the voids of space, for example."

    A shiver broke over the woman, and she paused to try and shake it off.

    "The Force is life, you see." she continued after recovering herself. "It binds all living things throughout the universe, and though you can exist without it, I have heard that it is like a part-life, a cursed being shut in a crowded room and screaming your lungs out, but no one so much as twitches in response..."

    "So you're telling me that, that I should let myself remain fully-connected as much as possible?" Seela asked hesitantly after a few moments' silent contemplating. She had been slightly rattled by the way the Jedi Knight had described the side effects; Bastila, however, seemed to accept her understanding and nodded. "I'll buy that, even if I don't quite understand all the fuss," she continued. "However, I do have one more somewhat unrelated question."

    "Ask away," Bastila replied, looking quite relieved for a change of subject.

    Seela pulled a face, suddenly feeling uncomfortable, like a schoolgirl asking a particularly obtuse question, when set against what she had just learned. "What exactly is the difference between a Dark Jedi and a Sith?" she asked somewhat sheepishly.

    "I might be able to share a bit of perspective on that," Yuthura said from out of nowhere, causing Bastila to smile in genuine amusement; she hadn't noticed the Twi'lek's increased awareness as she had risen out of her own meditations to join the conversation.

    "The Sith were a species of Force-sensitive beings," Bastila explained. "Originally from Korriban, we believe that their own understanding and command of the Force remained somewhat primitive for countless millennia. It wasn't until they were subjugated some two thousand years ago, by a group of exiled Dark Jedi as a matter of fact, in the wake of what we know as the Hundred Year Darkness, that they developed any further. It was these exiles that advanced the Sith species to the level of a spacefaring race and taught them advanced forms of dark side powers, introducing the Sith to their brand of 'Force alchemy' along the way. This allowed them to, among other things, create perversions of nature that we call Sithspawn. Eventually, over the course of centuries, the two groups merged and gradually became indistinguishable."

    "The Sith species itself is all but extinct," Yuthura added. "Nearly all were killed during the Great Hyperspace War, and the rest as a result of what you call the Great Sith War. Those that you and I have known of or encountered thus far were mere adherents to an ideal, a code that is a perversion of that sworn to by the Jedi." As if to prove her point, Yuthura took a deep breath and proceeded to recite the Code, an act which seemed to set her even more at ease. "A so-called 'Dark Jedi,'" she continued, "though he or she may work with or even for the Sith, is simply a fallen Force-sensitive that has been trained—and usually rather crudely so, I might point out—in aggressive perversions of the Jedi arts. Sith are more disciplined, more in control of the negative emotions the dark side feasts upon, and are thus far more powerful and dangerous. I was one such person; not a Dark Jedi, but a Sith in abilities and mindset if not by DNA."

    The three of them fell silent for several long moments, then Yuthura let out a long breath. "So grateful am I to have escaped that mold."

    Her throttle having been at zero, so to speak, throughout this last part of the conversation, Seela had no trouble believing her.
    metophlus likes this.
  14. WarmNyota_SweetAyesha

    WarmNyota_SweetAyesha Game Host star 7 VIP - Game Host

    Aug 31, 2004
    Superb! I like Yuthura's openness with Revan and Bastila about what is troubling her and her concerns. Revan's eloquent and encouraging reply helped her a lot I am sure, and is very insightful. [face_thinking] Bastila also seems receptive to his concepts. Seela - now that is interesting indeed! :cool:
    Goodwood likes this.
  15. Goodwood

    Goodwood Jedi Master star 5

    May 11, 2011
    Nyota's Heart: Thanks for the comments! What do you think of all the military-type stuff, as well?
  16. WarmNyota_SweetAyesha

    WarmNyota_SweetAyesha Game Host star 7 VIP - Game Host

    Aug 31, 2004
    Goodwood - it adds depth and detail without bogging down in technical details. :cool: Sharing enough for the reader to understand without getting mired. LOL =D=
    Goodwood likes this.
  17. Goodwood

    Goodwood Jedi Master star 5

    May 11, 2011
    Then I'm on the right track. Thanks! [:D]
  18. Goodwood

    Goodwood Jedi Master star 5

    May 11, 2011
    Chapter Six

    The hssiss was a remarkable creature, he reflected. Originally just another kind of predatory lizard from Ambria, the species had evolved to become enhanced by the dark side of the Force when a number of them began living on the shores of Lake Natth; these would in turn be some of the only beasts native to that world to survive its later devastation. Eventually a loathsome creature called Bogga would find them, realize their worth as enforcer beasts, and begin breeding and shipping them in bulk to anyone with the credits to buy them. They thrived in the dark places of the galaxy, manipulating the surrounding environment to enhance their hunting prowess, becoming near-apex in their predations within their preferred habitats. So remarkable were these creatures that they could seemingly bend light, though those powerful in the Force had soon realized that this was a form of active camouflage borne of the dark side. And yet, if one was able to exert enough will to bind them, hssiss made excellent and highly faithful pets.

    It had been a hssiss, itself injured and seeking a place to hide, that had helped to save his own life. Those fools had very nearly done him in; the blow they had thought mortal had, ironically, missed its mark by mere microns because the poison with which they had weakened him had finally caused his legs to turn traitor and buckle. Had the creature that had found him been healthy or sufficiently hungry, he would not be here today, but by happening upon him in that state the beast had found a kindred spirit; they were at least somewhat self-aware, after all. It had taken weeks of enduring miserable conditions, subsisting on the foul remains of scavenged kills and the occasional raw shyrack or tuk'ata and drinking filthy cave water, but eventually he and the hssiss had overcome their hardship together. Of course, that had been but the first hurdle.

    When he had attempted to return to his former post, however, he had found it all but deserted. In his abesence, somebody had developed a sort of automated teaching system that used computer-based question-and-answer sessions to try and separate the fools from those who might actually have some semblence of knowledge that could be expanded. But no mere machine could measure aggression, desire, or even the most basic of emotions—never mind an actual connection to the Force that even permitted training in its manyfold arts. The final indignity had been the fact that no one who still dwelt there had recognized him. His tattered uniform had long since been discarded and he had arrived wrapped in shyrack wings that had been fashioned into a crude sort of cloak, and his first act had been to plunder a dead student's dormitory for a proper set of clothes to change into.

    He had possessed neither the strength nor desire to try and exact revenge for what he had been put through. The place itself was barely habitable and those few that shared the same roof over his head were in effect barely more than children at play, tinkering with the database and hoping to bash their way through to some sort of epiphany. If he was to resume his proper place, his first and foremost task had been to focus on his continued recovery. While he had regained himself enough to venture forth among others, his stealthy bodyguard alert for the predations of a sentient sort, the wounds he had suffered still pained him, and the poison was still present; he had concocted it, and knew that only concerted meditations would excise it fully from his system. Knowing what had to be done was simple enough, but it was another thing entirely to actually accomplish the steps necessary. Food itself was scarce enough, and not a week passed when someone or another was killed over some meager portion—either within these halls or the ruins of the settlement beyond, seldom visited these days. Beyond that, such basics as interstellar transport and communications were at a premium at the best of times, and the remnants of the population had begun a slow and almost inevitable descent into barbarism.

    Eventually, however, he had recovered what strength he could, though he suspected that his abilities had been permanently impaired to some extent, and began to evaluate the overall situation and what had caused it to come into being. Clearly some failsafe had gone unchecked for one of their ilk to actually gain admittance, let alone access, to all of the facilities and secrets beyond. And the man in question...the two had looked into each other's eyes on multiple occasions, had entrusted one another with secrets and could he have been so blind to such treachery? That blasted woman must have been in on it from the start, it was the only explanation that made sense to him, and there had been ample time to come to this conclusion. However, in spite of their every effort, the Sith still endured, he still endured, and there had yet been secrets to discover that even he had previously been oblivious to. Already the call, pathetic it might be in this first effort, had been sent out, and potentials from all over Sith Space would descend upon this world in droves to make it strong again.

    A few had already begun to trickle in, bringing with them the essential knowledge and materials to begin the process of rebuilding...

    — — —​

    "It's about kriffing time," Vice Admiral Kedlis Hetton muttered darkly, and though his voice remained neutral, Captain Nor Melao knew that he was and had been furious at the continued delay of the launch of Deliverance—the man almost never swore aloud. "I want that idiot Patkkala's stripes on a platter, such incompetence I haven't seen in how many years..."

    Nor suppressed a grimace. Revan's report had been very clear indeed, and he had already spoken to the master chief in charge of the first motor pool division, who had been the one to make the initial estimate along with the damage report in the first place. Come the morning shift, the unfortunate Nikto would find that he had been reduced in grade to senior crewer and transferred to garbage compactor maintenance; both he and the admiral would have loved to demote him further, but regs didn't allow it—not without levying formal charges and a court-martial. In the end it didn't matter much, because in the current climate the man would be fortunate to be able to serve out his current term of enlistment without being unceremoniously booted from the service. Nor doubted seriously if the Navy would even bother with a dishonorable discharge, because despite how badly he had botched his chance to shine as a crew supervisor, Patkkala hadn't actually violated any regulations. What a waste of a sentient mind, he thought ruefully to himself. "It's already been taken care of, sir."

    The admiral harrumphed, visibly sagging in his chair. "I don't like having to speak ill of your people, Nor," he continued gravelly. "But sometimes, I wonder..."

    The captain waved the apology away and shrugged. "Revan seems to think it's another case of bad leaders, not bad crews. And now that we've taken care of the problem, I don't see any more trouble coming out of that section. At least not in the short term, and even then it shouldn't affect the mission any further." It was the truth, near as Nor could see it; one bad breadfruit among thirty-one thousand four hundred fifty-one good men and women was nothing to worry about in his experience. Still, it had been well after nightfall on that part of the planet before the old modified supply ship had been able to make the short hop up to Stalwart Defender, undergo a final systems check, and then board the rest of the scouting expedition and load its gear. First Sergeant Dar had by then been in a towering temper of her own, but being a Marine staff NCO she was allowed to be a lot more liberal with her emotions. He had stopped by to see them off, and while the blonde Tatooinian had been visibly angry, the Twi'lek Yuthura had seemed calm enough on the outside, and had even offered up a tentative smile after he had returned her salute. "I'm still worried about 'Lieutenant' Ban, however."

    "Didn't Revan clear her to go on this mission?" Admiral Hetton asked, his brow raised.

    "He did, but we both know the score," Nor acknowledged, looking askance at the task force commander. "You are the final authority on this mission, sir, and he respects that. Even so, I saw no need to inform him of our little contingency plan in either case."

    There was a pregnant pause as the admiral considered this, rubbing at his bald pate. "That's probably for the best," he admitted. "If he had had any lingering doubts, I should hope he would have shared them with me. Doesn't matter now, though."

    Nor nodded solemnly; there was no turning back from this course, especially now that Deliverance had made the jump to lightspeed. Both men knew that it was only their long friendship that enabled Kedlis to be so forthright with his flag captain. Nor had once been the man's executive officer when then-Captain Hetton and their ship had patrolled the borders of the Unknown Regions prior to and during the Mandalorian invasion, eyes and sensors on the alert for anything that might pose a further threat to the stability of the Republic.

    In the Navy, a warship captain relied on his executive officer as a partner and confidant, one that could take care of more mundane duties and serve as a conduit for the concerns of officers and enlisted personnel alike, as well as serve as a sounding board for any off-the-record gut feelings and ideas. The XO in turn acted as a balance for his or her captain, reminding them of their responsibilities and insulating them from potential problems that could become crippling distractions in the heat of battle and, if it came to it, stepping in and reminding the vessel's master of what by law he or she could and could not do. This unwritten code, codified in millennia of tradition that went far beyond formal regulations, meant a whole lot more than simply replacing the captain should he or she be killed or incapacitated in some way. By the same token, a captain could not simply replace the exec if there was disagreement or conflict between the two, no matter how major it might be; such concerns could only be taken up with the chain of command, to be addressed by a more senior and impartial authority. This relationship, this dynamic back-and-forth, held true aboard every ship in the Navy, from small in-system patrol craft to the mightiest battleships in the fleet, and both men had long since come to understand the ups and downs of command.

    "So, now that we've chased the bantha out of the room," Kedlis shrugged, his good humor starting to return, "let's get down to more immediate concerns. Will we have the prefab up and running before our support ships arrive and we have to get this thing underway?"

    Nor brought the datapad he had been holding back up and resumed reading, then nodded. "If we keep up construction overnight, we should have everything set up by the time Bastila's little conference is scheduled to start, and I've already seen to it. She's managed to get a lot of neighboring farmholds to send representatives, and she seems to think that if everyone signs on to be a part of this community, they should have all the necessary elements needed to become self-sustaining. According to her report, the Sith left this area virtually untouched, which makes sense given what we know and have learned about them and the occupation itself; no one here had had anything to do with the running of the old Jedi enclave. I would still prefer to leave a small security contingent on-planet, but..."

    "...but High Command would eat us alive if we did," the admiral continued glumly, his expression deflating. "Believe me Nor, I would love to accommodate that desire as well, but there's just no help for it. We've already stretched things to the breaking point, insofar as our mission parameters are concerned. I suspect that Admiral Dodonna might not be too pleased with my actions, even if everything else proceeds flawlessly."

    That was certainly true, Nor acknowledged silently, noting that it was just like his old captain to take the lead in accepting any heat that might come down on him from on high. The only reason Stalwart Defender had stopped here in the first place was that it made for a semi-convenient rendezvous point for the trio of Hammerhead-class cruisers that were to serve as their escort into Korriban. All three ships, as well as most of their officers and crew, were veterans of the previous conflict and had seen a lot of action on multiple fronts, and Nor considered himself fortunate to have such experience on their side. When they found out about this little detail, however, the Jedi had lobbied for permission to visit the surface, to ascertain the full fate of their old home as well as to ensure that no Sith presence remained. With both Ord Trasi and Ord Biniir within easy striking distance, it made tactical and strategic sense to ensure that this world either remained within and loyal to the Republic, or at least wasn't occupied by a force intent on using it as a staging base for anything from pirate attacks to a full-scale cross-border incursion, so the request had been granted and additional time allotted. What did not make sense, from the political point of view at least, was to leave behind a uniformed military presence no matter the size. Such a force could only attract outside attention and, worse, wouldn't be able to last long without support should a hostile force come calling; such a defeat would only further prove just how weak the Republic truly was. Prior to this late meeting Nor had thought about the possibility of looking to the crew and soldiers aboard his ship, to find anyone willing to accept an impromptu furlough and pose as nonaligned citizens, while taking their weapons with them to serve as an unofficial security detachment should things go awry in the warship's absence. He had quashed the idea just as quickly as it had formed; the potential for unmitigated disaster was simply too great a burden to ask his people to bear.

    The admiral was right. They had done all they could to give Dantooine a shot at building a future as an inhabited world. It was now in the hands of its citizens to make the most of the tools that had been put at their disposal, and that included those stubborn gornts running the Khoonda operation. "Is there anything else, sir?"

    "No, nothing that comes to mind anyway," the admiral replied, breathing a tired sigh. "At some point tomorrow I hope that one of us will be able to emphasize to the Jedi, and by extension the citizens they will address, that we need to keep this thing low-key. Maybe if anyone visiting Khoonda still thinks that this region is nothing but farms and isolated estates, nobody will bother the outpost..."

    "...and we can continue to have our point of contact here for as long as necessary, until the Republic can send enough support to fully re-integrate the planet."

    "Exactly, Nor," Kedlis agreed, smiling wearily. "You know me too well."

    Recognizing that he was free to leave for the night, Nor shot the admiral a sharp salute, which he returned, then left for his own quarters and a well-deserved night's rest.

    — — —​

    "You're sure you've got that thing packed in and ready to deploy?" Seela asked for perhaps the tenth time thus far, and they had only been in hyperspace for an hour or so. She knew she was being just a bit unreasonable toward the E-TAC; doubtless this wasn't his idea of a cheery assignment either. Once they had cleared the system, the petty officer had explained—quite patiently, even for a Navy man—what went into the satellite uplink system and how it would be employed for their mission. But she couldn't help it; new technology always made her just a little bit nervous, even more so when it was used for martial purposes. The lives of her team depended on the fiddly contraption, and any number of things could cause a total systems failure and leave them deaf and dumb, isolated from any hope of support unless it landed right on top of them. Maybe it's just me, she thought to herself when the E-TAC gave her yet another nod, his face carefully neutral. The leadup had me on edge, and now that we're actually on our way, things aren't settling like I'd hoped.

    Mindful of Bastila's advice, Seela had been keeping herself at "half-throttle" when in Yuthura's presence. It wasn't that she didn't trust the Twi'lek former Sith, because if her superiors could see fit to bestow an officer's commission, even a temporary one, she would grant them the benefit of the doubt. Rather, she didn't want to make it too easy for the erstwhile Jedi to lift stray thoughts from the ether like they were the webbing spun by some mental arachnid. The two of them were ensconced in the cockpit, clad in their civilian attire in case some visual scanner or a really sharp set of eyeballs spotted them through the transparisteel of the forward or side viewports. Her own armor and helmet had been hastily repainted in rough-terrain camouflage while she had been dirtdown on Dantooine, and was now packed in the aft compartment underneath one of the Marines' seats. With everyone settled in as comfortably as they could make themselves for the seventy-five hour trip (with the vessel's Class 1 hyperdrive, they were effectively twice as fast as the rest of the task force), time seemed to crawl by even slower than it had when she had roamed the grassy surface earlier that day. There really was nothing to talk about at this point, as everyone aboard was dead tired save for Yuthura, with Seela especially so. The Twi'lek was an okay pilot, and Seela had had the pleasure of being ferried into combat by less able beings before, but a ship traveling through hyperspace didn't require a pilot's constant monitoring. That had left Yuthura free to go right into some sort of Force-induced sleep state, or whatever it was Jedi did at night, effectively leaving the blonde from Tatooine with nobody to talk to.

    It wasn't like she could just idly swap scuttlebutt with her team, after all. While all of them knew of her, none of them had known Seela, and given her relatively lofty position, she couldn't afford to compromise her authority by getting chummy with the people under her command. That was one of the things they had hammered into her skull throughout the course of the ELP, and it had become second nature. Oh sure, given time she could certainly develop an understanding between herself and the members of her team, and even grow to like them in various ways as she had done with the Marines in her old squad, that was just basic camaraderie. The key difference here was time. The rapport she and her squad had shared had taken months to build, as everyone learned each others' strengths and weaknesses and worked as a unit to use the former to compensate for the latter. She had been good at building bridges and nipping potential problems, but even the infamous gunnery sergeants of Corulag and Carida couldn't work this fast. Once the supply vessel's occupants got in a good sleep cycle and a breakfast of combat rations, she would call on Yuthura to start putting down the lay of the land, and everyone would have ample opportunity to at least learn each others' names over the course of the briefing—even if they would use number designations when communicating via the pre-scrambled comlinks they had been issued.

    That was the thing that bothered Seela Dar at this moment in time. Because of the delays, she simply couldn't throw herself into the familiarization of the mission and its details that had been her anticipated mental release from the mind-numbing waiting. If she tried to get her people to go over such details with herself and Yuthura now, they wouldn't even absorb half of what the Twi'lek said, and Seela would be fortunate to take in a tenth. Everyone needed sleep badly, but the mission leader was utterly failing to convince her body to lie still and her mind to quiet. Blowing a sigh, Seela glanced at the holocam that showed the aft passenger/freight compartment. While the ability to fall asleep in odd circumstances—such as while standing in formation—is one of the hallmarks of a professional soldier, Marines are notorious for their ability to put themselves under anywhere and at any time. It was a vital part of being in the military, because when there was a lull in a given battle you never knew when the next one would come around, so you took advantage of it and caught whatever rest you could. As she had expected, everyone in the back was already looking as though they were happily swimming through dreamland.

    "Well, if I can't go to sleep the old fashioned way," she muttered under her breath, "there's a pill for that." Making no effort to hide her movements or intent, Seela opened a small pouch on her belt and withdrew a small tablet, popping it under her tongue. Within thirty seconds her head was lolling over the canted backrest of her co-pilot/navigator's chair, her body finally relaxing into a guaranteed eight hour power-down sequence.

    — — —​

    If it wasn't for Velle's quiet support, offered up from her seat behind and to the right of the presenter's podium at the head of the main meeting hall, Trunma wasn't sure he would've been up to the task of addressing so many people from so far afield, despite the fact that he already knew almost everyone present. Every family that he and Bastila had visited had come through on the proposal, each sending at least one person to speak for their interests and quickly forming a sort of impromptu frontier Senate. The entire Belar and Humi clans, each owning and working one of the farmholds that was closest to the refugees' glen—farmholds that were among the largest and best-equipped in the region, in fact—had shown up, bringing with them enough collective supplies to turn what he was sure would've been a somewhat dull affair into a veritable block party. This was turning out to be quite possibly the most festive occasion to grace the surface of Dantooine in many years; the twenty ex-Korriban residents were certainly having a good time, mingling with the visting residents and offering what hospitality they could. Liam and Jinne certainly hadn't wasted any time getting reacquainted, and Trunma caught himself wondering blithely whether he should have set them a chaparone.

    The Navy work crews were still putting the finishing touches on the centerpiece of the day's events, the prefabricated garrison base that by now bore only an outward appearance to its original design, when guests had begun to show up on the morning after the Deliverance had departed on its mission. Only Trunma, Velle and Buen Drai'anla—the freighter's longtime if unofficial first mate—had been told why their sole means of escape was being put to such a use, but they hadn't been told where the ship was actually going. They only knew that Yuthura was involved and, should anything happen to the old bucket, that the Republic would provide a suitable replacement as recompense. The Bothan hadn't exactly liked the idea, but he had nevertheless accepted that such a sacrifice was probably the only means with which the refugees had had to repay their benefactors. When Trunma relayed to him the Twi'lek's words on the subject, Buen had visibly relaxed, meekly apologizing to Revan for his ire, but the Jedi Knight had simply shrugged. "It's only natural," he had admitted. "That ship means a lot to you, it got you here and you've put in a lot of time fixing it, to say nothing of the possibilities it represents."

    With the construction and outfitting of the base having been completed late in the morning, Revan and Bastila had taken the refugees and most of those representatives that had thus far arrived on a tour of sorts, pointing out what was what and the most relevant deviations from the original design. What was supposed to have been a central barracks was now the main conference room, which served as a sort of shrunken-down version of a city hall, outfitted not with a hundred and fifty stacked racks and personal lockers, but instead a large number of moderately comfortable chairs situated in neat columns and rows. These were placed opposite a dais that spanned the width of the room that contained two wide desks, the rear desk elevated by about half a meter and each with eleven seats behind them, with a podium set at stage left and a meter in front; behind all of this were a trio of doors that led to two much smaller meeting rooms and a suite of tiny offices. The layout and décor was evocative of small-town government, which seemed to put everyone who saw it at their ease save for Trunma, who was finding himself becoming more and more anxious at the possibility of actually leading this rural coalition.

    Other modifications included rearranging the command center, which had been sunk into the surface and situated underneath the main hall, for the relatively easy use of those who had limited or no martial training or knowledge, as well as witholding some of the more sensitive equipment that no one in this region of Dantooine would have known how to use in the first place, but which could have provided an unwanted boon to any pirate or mercenary organization should the worst come to pass. The promised blasters and the supplies to feed them had been placed in the armory, which otherwise went unaltered, and the medical bay had similarly been left alone, however since there were no trained physicians among the colonists, a pair of medical droids had been sent down to try and fill in for that defficiency. What would have been a small landing pad for airspeeders and light freighters and transports had been relocated; instead of being attached to the outer walls at the second level, it had been placed on the other side of the glen along with an outer wall sufficient to keep most of the native fauna out of potential trouble. Hardlines for security holocams and descreetly-hidden blaster turrets, meant to protect the miniscule spaceport, had been routed through the glen itself, though the construction crew had been very careful not to disturb the vegetation. The base's main defenses, which included a pair of anti-air laser turrets, six heavy laser cannons, and a deflector shield about equal in power to that which might be found aboard a small frigate, had been installed in strategic locations apart from the actual facility for maximum coverage and usefulness.

    Even as the party had gone on, select members of the refugee community and a few of the residents from the closest farms, were undergoing orientation and training courses designed to cover the basics of the various systems and their operation. This, along with the tutorials and other datafiles placed in the prefab's main computer, meant that within a short time the locals would be able to see to their own defense as well as any other frontier militia might be expected to. It was well known that two of their number had had prior experience in various paramilitary organizations, and Trunma felt confident that they would prove to be invaluable as trainers for any volunteers their new community might bring in.

    Perhaps most importantly, the second level of the base had been redesigned for civilian habitation, such that in an emergency up to two hundred people could take temporary refuge from all sorts of hazards. What had been officers' quarters and a smattering of tech and machine shops had been converted into apartments of varying degrees of roominess and appointments, despite the fact that none of the Korriban expatriates were even remotely interested in giving up their present homes to move into such quarters, even if they were more comfortable. The shops themselves had been set up in a separate building that had been partially carved out of the bluff below the base, and connected to the main complex by a narrow hall and stairwell. Despite the lack of general interest in such accommodations, Trunma and Vella did, however, reserve one of the smaller suites for their son, who would no doubt want to strike out on his own one day and have a place of his own. In any case, most seemed to agree that such arrangements would no doubt prove useful eventually, and knowing that such accommodations were available if the unforseeable should happen was certainly a comfort.

    They've given us more than we have every right to ask for, Trunma reflected as he cast his gaze about the packed meeting hall. The last of their guests had taken his seat only moments before, and the buzz of conversation had begun to grow into a dull roar before he had risen and made his way to the podium. Bastila had laid out a number of possible talking points for him to go over; they were really just suggestions on her part, but long experience in the corporate world gave him the ability to appreciate her intent and utilize them for decent, if not stunning, effect.

    "All of us here formerly of Korriban are glad that you could make it here," he said into the din as he gestured toward where his fellow refugees sat, occupying the rows of desks, and the babble gradually faded away at his amplified words. "With generous and gracious assistance from the Republic Navy and the Jedi Order"—he nodded to where Revan and Bastila were standing in the back corner opposite the rear entrance to the hall—"we are gathered in this newly-constructed center of what we hope will become the nexus for a new community, the foundation of which we have been building this last year."

    There were murmurs of agreement from the crowd, and Trunma was grateful to see the Belar and Humi adults all nodding in near-perfect unison.

    "This started out as a humble request for supplies," he continued, blushing slightly, "but it has turned into something much more in the space of only a couple of days. When we first arrived two years ago, we were alone, castaways on a world barely settled and reeling from a brutal conquest and occupation, but we were determined not only to survive, but to thrive. We tried, and were mostly successful, but it is only with your help that we have come this far. Some of you we have known only for a few weeks, others have known us for over a year, but all of us share one desire: to make our homes and lives here on Dantooine."

    The hall exploded in thunderous applause, shouts, cheers, and cries of approval, which caught Trunma completely off-guard; he hadn't expected his words, which to his mind weren't all that clever or persuasive, to elicit such a response. For a brief flicker of a moment he wondered whether or not the two Jedi were using their abilities to influence the gathered representatives, but then he remembered that he had made them swear not to interfere. Sure, he might ask one of them to speak if circumstances warranted it, but that was all.

    "Thank you, thank you," he said once the tumalt had died down sufficiently, his voice hitching slightly with emotion. "We who have settled in this glen are grateful for your support. Your willing presence here brings to light how dark our former home was, as nothing ever has before. The Force willing, by tomorrow morning we will no longer be humble refugees, but equal partners in a community for the people, by the people, and of the people."

    As Bastila had guessed, this sentiment gained hearty enthusiasm, even louder and more vociferous than before. This time, however, Trunma felt not surprise and suspicion, but a bubbling sense of confidence that was eclipsed only by the gratitude he felt toward not only those in attendance, but for his own people, the Jedi, and the gathered might of the Republic Military that had made this evening possible. He hazarded a glance back at his fellow deliverees, noticing as he did so that Velle was smiling warmly at him, as were the rest, though more than a few bore unmistakable signs of embarassment at being so lauded.

    Gradually, the hall fell back into an expectant silence and, reaching for the gavel that he had carefully made from a bit of discarded metal conduit and a polished fist of stone, Trunma knew that this was the time to outline the proposals that he, Yuthura, and Bastila had developed. The groundwork had been laid, and everyone here was on board and eager to get things started; it was at last time to get down to business.

    — — —​

    "Well, they did it," Revan said under his breath as Trunma's gavel banged three times, signalling the end of the "official" part of the meeting. "And to think he was afraid they wouldn't want him for the job."

    "I think he was more afraid of the possibility of them actually electing him," Bastila muttered, the ghost of a smile crossing her visage. "But he will make an excellent mayor, especially with such a strong backing."

    "It feels like we've managed to accomplish something after all, doesn't it?" Revan asked as he and Bastila preceded the throng in leaving the hall, deftly ducking out through the rear exit and making their way to the cul-de-sac where they had spent the last two nights together. "And we didn't even have to use the Force."

    "Even if Trunma hadn't asked us to refrain, I don't think there is much we could have done to make things go more smoothly," she said ruefully as the pair of them stepped out into the twilight. "Truth be told, I can't help but feel that maybe this all came together a little too well. I've never heard of sentient beings forming a government, even a small one, so effortlessly—to say nothing of how quickly everyone agreed to it."

    "Hmm, you may have a point," Revan muttered. While neither of them had felt anything odd or untoward going on during the meeting, it did strike him as strange that such acceptance came without at least some bickering, petty or otherwise. The closest thing to a real disagreement that had popped up was who would be mayor; a number of representatives had nominated—and voted for—Yuthura Ban, despite the fact that the charter, that had passed unanimously barely half an hour before, strictly forbade Force-sensitives and -users from holding executive power. That was also the only time that he or Bastila had had to step in, and even then it was only to make it absolutely plain that Yuthura didn't even want the job in the first place. He shrugged, unable to deduce or intuit any concerns, immediate or not, that might complicate things further on; it was at this point that an important piece of the puzzle seemed to click into place.

    "We're forgetting one key detail," he said with a chuckle of relief. "These people have had lots of time to get to know each other without outside interference, to say nothing of the trade network they've developed to keep things running and everyone's bellies full. Even the most distant farmholds represented here have got to be feeling a lot better knowing there's going to be a centralized authority for them to look to, one they will have a say in running."

    "You're right, it's their community now," Bastila sighed contentedly at the grass as the two continued to walk. "But with our escorts due to arrive in orbit tomorrow morning, we won't be around long enough to settle any disputes or help to clear up any misunderstandings."

    "If anyone is sensible enough to get into an argument," Revan said with a snort of mirth as the unmistakable sounds of revelry resumed filtered through the deepening darkness. "These folks sure do know how to throw a party."

    Bastila tried and failed to suppress a peal of laughter. "This time they've really got something to celebrate, haven't they?"

    "They do indeed."

    "Speaking of celebrations," Bastila said with a grin as she unhooked her saberstaff, "I think we've earned a bit of fun ourselves."

    "I thought you'd never ask..."

    — — —​

    Liam had never really considered himself to be lucky, but ever since he had arrived on this marvelous world, a sense of warmth and welcome such as he had never known before had permeated and grown within him. Even his mother had started to become much more cheerful, especially once she had started going out with his adoptive father. This was in stark contrast to their lives back on Korriban; to say that it had been a dismal existence was to compare the light from a dying glowrod to that thrown out by a main-sequence star. Though Mom had never talked much about it, Liam did know that he had had a father once, but the vagaries of life in Dreshdae had snuffed his candle over a decade previous. Sometimes at night, before falling asleep, he had felt as though his true father was looking down at him from somewhere beyond all the suffering, watching out for his well-being. These feelings had become a bit more common since settling here, which Liam interpreted as a good sign.

    And then, of course, he had met Jinne.

    Their mutual attraction had been instant, but low-key at first, and centered more around a shared desire to learn as much as they could about the universe around them. Jinne had always had a thing for the natural world, while Liam loved machines, droids and computers; she enjoyed riding a tame kath hound that her family had raised from a pup, while he had become a crack landspeeder driver and craved the chance to learn to fly. While they didn't get to see each other that often, perhaps for a day or two every couple of weeks or so when the Zewals came to trade with the refugees, the pair of teenagers communicated often by datapad transmission in a sort of type-and-send conversation that Liam had worked up in a trice. Neither of them were allowed comlinks, as those devices had increasingly become prized possessions, entrusted to those who wouldn't put them to frivolous use. That didn't matter to them, as this system prevented unwanted tracking or eavesdropping.

    As they had shared correspondence and visited whenever possible, both Liam and Jinne had begun to discover these things and others about themselves, though some were based on little more than speculation. Both suspected that at least one of them might be aware, at least to some degree, of the Force in a sense that went beyond ordinary knowledge. Jinne would sometimes say that she was certain it was Liam, and he would say that it was most assuredly her who was sensitive, though they both agreed that it wouldn't do to go wondering aloud as to such possibilities. Both had realized too that they were at least a little bit afraid of what such abilities might mean in the course of their lives, to say nothing of those they cared about. Every time Yuthura had come over to confer with his parents for whatever reason, Liam had been tempted to some degree or other to ask her if she could "take a look" and run whatever tests might be appropriate. But his nerves would invariably get the better of him, and he would retreat to his room and whatever gadget he had been working on at the time.

    But when the Marines and their Jedi friends had arrived the day before yesterday, it seemed to Liam at least, that the time had come to make a formal inquiry and put the matter to rest.

    Jinne and her eldest sister had arrived early that day, and neither she nor Liam had been asked to attend the big gathering at the new outpost set for late afternoon, while the party thrown by the Belars and Humis was pretty much considered an "adults only" thing. This bothered neither teen in the slightest, as they were most keen to try and work out their latest theories, discussed over their datalink for the previous fortnight. They had spent most of the day by themselves, sequestered in the shadow of the newly-erected spaceport's outer wall, discussing all the changes going on; Jinne had, of course, met Bastila Shan the day before, and admitted that she had very nearly tried to gain the Jedi Knight's attention; Liam confessed that he had watched both of them as they had sparred by twilight on the first day. When the adults had all retreated to the big building on the bluff, both of them had decided that they would try to stake out the back entrance, in hopes of catching the two Jedi and finally getting answers to the questions that had been burning in their hearts for a solid year.

    "Here they come, here they come!" Jinne urgently whispered to Liam as the pair squatted in the shadow of a wildflower shrub.

    He chanced a glance at where she was pointing excitedly, and was quickly rewarded. "Looks like they're alone again," he breathed. "Oh, they're about to spar!"

    Sure enough, blue and yellow blades began crashing together energetically, lighting up the night and casting a dizzying array of shadows across the grass as the combatants moved about the impromptu battlefield. The noise was oddly satisfying to Liam's ears, while Jinne seemed concerned about something. "What're you..." he began.

    "They might hurt themselves!" Jinne replied tremulously, suddenly embarrassed. "I mean, look at them!"

    "Yeah, it's incredible," Liam hissed in appreciation. "The's almost droid-like, but no droid could ever move like that!"

    Rising from behind the bush, he began to creep closer. Moaning in apprehension, Jinne started to try to drag him back, but Liam instead took her hand and, though no words were said, he convinced her to follow his lead. The pair quietly closed the distance, and soon they were just beyond the pool of light cast by the clashing blades, waiting for the two Knights to break off their activities. After avidly witnessing several minutes more of mock combat, their patience was rewarded as the two Jedi exchanged formal salutes with their weapons, deactivated them, and replaced them upon their belts.

    "What a performance!" Liam burst out, clapping excitedly as his words shattered the stillborn silence.
  19. Goodwood

    Goodwood Jedi Master star 5

    May 11, 2011
    Chapter Seven

    Whenever she had had to resort to chemically-induced sleep, Seela Dar usually had a difficult time coming fully awake; fortunately, such instances had been very rare indeed. This time however, probably because she could sense what was going on, Yuthura simply placed a gentle hand on her shoulder and let the Force flow. At least, that's what Seela thought must have happened, because her drowsiness vanished as quickly as a puff of smoke in a sandstorm.

    "Thanks," she muttered, not unkindly. "I just couldn't make myself shut down."

    "Were I not possessed of the Force, it would have been just as difficult for me," the Twi'lek said ruefully as she continued a routine systems check.

    The troops in the back were still asleep, and neither Seela nor Yuthura were in a hurry to wake them, so the two women had some time to talk. "This can't be easy for you," Seela began tentatively, nodding toward the front viewport and the violet whorls of hyperspace beyond. "Going back into that pit you only barely managed to crawl out of, I mean."

    "The same could be said of you, no doubt," Yuthura replied, shooting a small, sidelong smile at the Human. "I can't imagine a lot of people in the Republic are eager to visit such a place as Korriban, even at the best of times."

    Seela thought that over for a moment before replying. Given what she knew of that old, dead world, which wasn't all that much, really, the "best of times" probably amounted to what the worst-off on her own homeworld had to endure at the height of the hot season. The galaxy was funny like that, and if any place could make Tatooine look positively delightful by comparison, it most certainly earned a spot at the bottom of the list of planets that she wanted to set foot on. It would be too much to hope for that what they found at the end of their trip would make any attempt at a landing inadvisable; though she would happily take any excuse she could to avoid that eventuality, the bar had been set pretty damn high. Nothing short of finding an entire fleet in orbit, or being spotted and challenged by an enemy warship, would warrant a retreat and scrubbing of the mission, at least in the eyes of her superiors, so she might as well not even get her hopes up.

    "That's an easy bet," she acknowledged glumly. "Don't get me wrong, I prefer roughing it to living in the lap of luxury, but it's about more than just the lay of the land, isn't it?"

    Yuthura's face lit up in genuine mirth. "That, my friend, is an understatement of galactic proportions."

    "Stang, I just knew you'd say something like that," Seela shot back, blowing a disgusted sigh. "What was Dreshdae like, anyway? I mean before that fracas Revan started."

    For the next hour, the Twi'lek and the Tatooinian traded tales of their worlds, Seela describing her upbringing on the world that water abandoned, and Yuthura lamenting the woeful state of her prior residence. "And that's before everything fell apart," she said, wrapping up a long soliloquy that left nothing to the imagination. "Afterward, there was little to distinguish the place from a hundred other pockmarked and burning battlefields. The survivors I was able to find were, all of them, walking about as though in a concussion-induced daze."

    Seela noted that Yuthura was no longer in such a state herself, as had been the case before. Though subdued and remorseful when describing her former home and life, she was calm and composed, her lekku twitching no more than was usual for her kind, and considerably less. "Well," she said simply, wanting to put a halt to the downer mood that was coalescing in the cockpit, "let's wake up our team and get down to business. We wouldn't want them sleeping through the whole damn trip, now would we?"

    The Twi'lek's expression lifted a bit, and she rumbled out a chuckle. "Of course not. They know even less than you do about what it is we may face."

    Flipping the intercom switch to ACTIVE, Seela put on her war face and barked out a morning greeting that quickly had all ten of her charges up and about, checking themselves and their gear and making sure they were still squared away. As the hubbub died down, both she and Yuthura rose from their seats and made their way into the aft compartment to start the briefing in earnest, Seela opening the session with a brief summation of their mission parameters.

    "So there it is," she concluded briskly. "We've been made temporary Force Recon, which means we've got to at least act like we know what we're doing."

    There was a chorus of "ooh-rah!" from the Marines, with the E-TAC shrugging resignedly. "With all due respect, First Sergeant," he said dubiously, "I'm not trained for this kind of operation."

    "I know," Seela allowed, returning the gesture. "We're all being asked to do a little more than what we were trained for, though I'd say it's more like being dropped blind into a nest of gundarks. Fortunately, we're not going in blind," she finished grimly, nodding to Yuthura. "In fact, we'll be enjoying the benefits of having a native guide..."

    — — —​

    Bastila was a bit faster than Revan in recovering from the state of shock the two youngsters' sudden presence had sparked. She looked askance at her partner, then examined Liam and Jinne's expressions in turn; the boy was staring open-mouthed at the pair of Jedi Knights as though he had witnessed the most wonderful thing in the universe, while the girl was casting furtive, sheepish looks at the pair of adults, her hand over her mouth. Their names and faces were known to her and Revan, naturally; though they had only met Jinne that morning, Liam had been around since their arrival onplanet.

    "What are you doing out here this late?" Bastila said reproachfully, posting her hands on her hips in a motherly sort of way. "Do your parents know you've skived off?"

    Revan gave a soft chuckle of amusement. "Of course they don't, Bas," he muttered softly, just loud enough for her to hear. He turned back to the two kids and raised his voice back to normal. "You know, not everyone can sneak up on a Jedi Knight like you two did. Obviously you want something."

    "Yes sir!" Liam piped up enthusiastically. "We wanted to know"

    His confidence flagging with all the grace of a blown repulsorlift coil, Jinne lowered her hand and, haltingly but bravely, took up the slack. "We wanted to know if we're...if we've got...the Force."

    The pair of Knights exchanged a glance, the brief moment of eye contact conveying gigabytes worth of thoughts and feelings on this latest development. Making up their minds, both Revan and Bastila extended their right hands, placing them upon Liam and Jinne's left shoulders. "Relax," Revan advised calmly. "Close your eyes and open your minds, this will take but a moment."

    And though a moment was all it took, both he and Bastila suddenly wished they had hours or even days to ponder what the results meant. Both were indeed sensitive, very strongly so in fact, easily beyond the threshold required of a Jedi. The first thing to pass between the two Knights was Revan's prior musings about taking on a Padawan, one who would have known what it was to live a normal life before undergoing the necessary training. Bastila was concerned for other reasons, namely what these children's families would think of their offspring being taken away so suddenly for a purpose they could barely comprehend. While Jinne was the youngest of a brood of siblings, Liam was an only child, the adoptive son of the as-yet unnamed town's mayor (that issue was scheduled for tomorrow's meeting), and had grown up on a world steeped in the dark side.

    And yet, this boy bore none of the hallmarks of exposure to that wretched place.

    After almost a full minute had passed in silence backstopped by the sounds of nature, both Jedi came to the conclusion that there was no point to keeping the youngsters from the truth they had so doggedly pursued. It certainly would've been easier to lie to them, to tell them that their suspicions were unwarranted or else the result of a pair of overactive adolescent imaginations. Even as this thought had formed between the two of them, both Revan and Bastila had tossed it aside in revulsion. The problem wasn't so much in the answer, after all, but what it meant for Liam and Jinne, their families, and the community they were now a part of, as well as the only two qualified Jedi on the planet.

    "How long have you suspected?" Bastila said, gently breaking the uneasy quiet as she knelt before Jinne. Revan remained standing, having moved to Liam's side so that the pair could share sidelong glances.

    "Ages," the girl replied tentatively. "Ever since Liam and I first met, in fact."

    "That true, kiddo?" Revan asked the boy, who grinned and nodded.

    "It is remarkable," Bastila acknowledged, with a smile of her own. "Both of you are correct, of course. You are indeed Force-sensitive."

    "What does that mean for us, then?" Liam asked, looking up at Revan with what other people might mistake for eagerness, but which he recognized as a mixture of vindication and trepidation punctuated by...courage, of all things. "Will we have to leave, to be trained in some way?"

    Once again, the two Jedi briefly felt utterly wrong-footed. Clearly, these kids had done their homework, though for the life of them neither Revan nor Bastila could reckon where they could have possibly learned such information. "What makes you think we would have to take you away?" Bastila inquired, fixing the boy with an appraising look. "How do you know of training?"

    "I sliced into the Khoonda database," Liam explained, muttering into the grass as he gazed at his feet. "They had already launched a couple of comm satellites when we arrived, and over the years they've been able to send up more. I piggybacked onto the outgoing signal from a transmitter near Jinne's place, where I was able to tap into their systems. Their computer security protocols really are awful."

    "They really don't like Jedi, the Khoonda people," Jinne put in, her confidence rising now that it was clear that they weren't being told off. "Liam and I have been able to share what he has been able to discover between ourselves, working out our hypotheses and theories, poking around for more information. Six months ago, someone at Khoonda made the mistake of plugging a computer terminal salvaged from the bombed-out Enclave into their own network, and Liam was able to pull a data dump."

    There was a beat while the two Knights exchanged another glance. Pulling up a comfortable patch of grass, Revan sat upon the ground and bade the others to join him. "You need not do anything that you would not choose for yourselves," he said once the four of them had formed a sort of circle. His voice was low, almost hypnotic as he continued. "The paths before us, before all sentient beings, are manyfold and not always clear. We see choices before us, but can only see beyond those which we understand. Tell me, how do the both of you feel, right now?"

    Though Bastila's expression was almost serene, behind her eyes her mind was smiling as she realized what her love was up to. He wanted to train them, that much was obvious, but he didn't want to simply use them as test-beds for whatever scheme he was cooking up. She recognized too the similarities between what he was doing now and what he had done to help Yuthura the day before. The savior of the galaxy was turning out to be quite the capable teacher, it seemed. Of course, no matter how this nighttime meeting turned out, the fact remained that the rest of the task force would arrive in the morning and, by the time the sun set once more on this place, the Republic would most likely be gone from this world once more.

    Still, perhaps there was a way.

    "I feel...scared," Jinne said, her voice throaty, "but also hopeful. It feels as though the galaxy is in pain, like a living thing that's been injured, and I want to try and help heal it."

    Liam nodded and spoke, his voice also thick with emotion. "Yes, scared, but it's not a terror or anything, more like...a trepidation? Is that the right word?" He paused, looking at Jinne, then back at the two Jedi. "It's almost as though someone is out there, watching, waiting, but not idle as they do...something." The boy shrugged, sighed, and coughed into his hand. "Korriban is warm, but I always felt cold there. Here I feel warm, always warm, though the winters can get rather cold."

    Though Revan wouldn't admit it in front of anyone else, Bastila could feel that the boy's words had struck a chord deep within his psyche. More to the point, the man she loved was genuinely spooked at the implications of this unknown person or persons watching, waiting, but not idle somewhere out there in the nether regions of the galaxy. It was an axiom of Jedi training that there was always something out there, beyond the realms of most peoples' interests, that would always seek to insinuate itself into a position to flourish amid the darkness it spread. Such was the nature of the dark side itself, though it could manifest anywhere and within any sentient mind. This axiom was never intended to induce paranoia, but rather to emphasize to those of all levels and abilities that a sense of healthy caution was warranted, particularly when dealing with unknown and sometimes vague threats. The very notion that an untrained boy could cotton onto such an idea, never mind the fact that he had lived within the heart of darkness itself and remained uncorrupted, was as much an unexpected twist as Yuthura's presence or Seela's ability had been.

    "A succinct and forthright appraisal," Revan said after a few beats of silence passed between the four of them. "Bastila, what do you make of our young friends?"

    Knowing that this was for the benefit of Liam and Jinne, she nodded and smiled. "I sense before me two young people, confident in themselves and possessed of love, compassion, and a strong sense of duty. Your father would be proud of you, Liam, and your sisters and father of you, Jinne."

    "But you won't tell them, will you?" they said in near-perfect unison. Liam grimaced, offering up a gesture of helplessness, which Jinne mirrored in her own fashion.

    "That is up to you," Bastila replied warmly, holding up her hands placatingly. "What is it that you want?"

    "We want to be Jedi," Jinne answered firmly while Liam nodded in solemn agreement. "If you'll have us, anyway."

    Neither Revan nor Bastila wanted to be the one to break the bad news, but it was better done sooner rather than later. Though in that moment both of them desired nothing more than to figure out some way of making this happen, neither wished to burden these young minds with such worries. Finally, Revan laid it all down for them.

    "I've said it before: the Force has a sense of humor," he said, though there was nothing humorous about his expression. "The thing is, we're due to leave tomorrow, and we're going to a place that you really don't want to be at. Trust in us when we say this, for we would not wish you to think that we do not value your efforts and potential."

    "Is that where Yuthura went?" Liam asked, his expression inscrutable, his sense in the Force blazing with indignation tempered by a sense of pragmatism better suited to a being three times his age. "Back to Korriban with that Dar woman?"

    "First Sergeant Dar to you," Bastila admonished mildly. "But yes, that is where she is going, and as you have no doubt surmised, this is our ultimate destination as well."

    "I understand your ire," Revan put in when this failed to placate the boy. "You have every right to be upset, but be aware that there is a purpose behind our actions and those of your friend Yuthura. She could have easily refused to participate, but she did not. She accepted the request asked of her, despite the emotional turmoil it has caused her, because she knows that it is the right thing to do. A Jedi accepts, first and foremost, that the right path is seldom the easy path. If my feelings are correct, you already know this to be true."

    Jinne leaned to her left and placed a hand on Liam's own as she whispered something in his ear. As she straightened back up, he nodded in understanding. "We see your point," he said with a heavy sigh. "I don't much like the idea of going back there, even if we stay aboard your ship."

    "Liam told me what it was like there," Jinne said, her eyes fixed on Revan. "And he told me of the Sith. I don't like them. I don't want to be anywhere near them. They're...foul."

    The two Knights shared yet another furtive glance, deciding in an instant what must be done. These teenagers, wise beyond their years, wanted to be Jedi and were possessed of great potential, therefore Revan and Bastila would do everything in their power to make that choice a reality. Even if Yuthura had turned down the mission and stayed behind, both Knights knew that she was not yet ready to be a proper teacher; the Twi'lek still had demons of her own to struggle with, and needed yet more time before she was fully healed. In any case, there was absolutely no reason why the pair of them couldn't return to Dantooine once their primary mission was over, in order to take Liam and Jinne under their wings; the pair had waited this long, what was a couple of weeks more? This didn't mean that there was nothing Revan and Bastila could do for them in the meantime, however.

    "Relax your minds," they said in unison, each locking gazes with the youngster sitting opposite them. "Look into yourselves with your feelings, taking in every bit of information you can..."

    — — —​

    "We'll have to tell their families in the morning," Revan said as he and Bastila arrived at their cul-de-sac and prepared to bed down for the night. "Trunma deserves to know, and so does Yumi."

    Bastila made a noise of agreement as she slid into the double-wide bedroll the two were sharing. "Their reaction will be interesting," she said once she had settled herself in. "I wonder why Yuthura didn't pick up on it, in Liam at least."

    "I wondered that too," Revan admitted once he had joined her. "But I have a feeling that any answers we get will be from the boy's mother."

    "Are you sure we should meddle?" said Bastila, a look of genuine concern on her visage that was barely visible in the starlight. "I mean, obviously we've already done so, but still..."

    Revan sighed moodily. "Ordinarily I might agree with you, but I can't help feeling that this is important. You sensed it, just as I did, the subtle blocks and bolt-holes in his mind that doubtless let him escape notice by the Sith while he lived on Korriban. Something like that doesn't just develop of its own accord, there's something more at play here. You remember what we found out about Shaela and Duron, yes?"

    "It's difficult to forget," Bastila retorted ruefully. "But what do they have to do with our current situation?"

    "Think about it for a moment," Revan advised, grasping Bastila's hand in his. "The bits of their journals we recovered weren't specific, but they obviously didn't arrive on an abandoned world. When I first read their words, I felt echoes of their experiences; they definitely encountered other beings living on the surface. Even the parts of Dreshdae that we saw two years ago, which wasn't that much I'll admit, had been around for some time."

    "I wouldn't know," Bastila murmured, regret and revulsion evident in her voice and sense. "I was...indisposed while you were busy collecting that last Star Map."

    Revan leaned in and kissed Bastila's forehead tenderly, reaching out to her in the Force and enwrapping her aura in his. She relaxed into his warm embrace, drawing solace and strength from his presence. They never talked much about her torture and brief fall to the dark side at Malak's hands, but they had scarcely needed to; the bond that had been forged between them on the deck of that ruined bridge when she had saved his life had seen to that. Ever since the battle over Lehon, the two Jedi had always felt safest when in each other's presence, and that had included their minds and respective memories. Indeed, such trust and openness had been the only real option when it came to rebuilding Revan's true self in the war's wandering wake.

    "The point of it all," he began, letting the connection fade as he pondered what he was trying to say, "is echoes. Moment by moment, I grow more certain that we are now set on the path toward real answers, answers to questions that have been nipping at my heels for two years now. Just about all the relevant bits of memory that were lost, I've recovered, but there's a crucial piece of the puzzle that's yet to manifest."

    "You think it's on Korriban, don't you?" Bastila said. It wasn't a question.

    "Maybe, maybe not," Revan allowed. "But we won't know that until we get there and take a look around."

    "I understand, but again, why is Liam's role in this so important?"

    "I think you have some idea, at least," Revan replied soberly. "Remember when he told us how he felt at that moment?"

    "I...remember a flare of realization, of recognition within your mind, yes," she admitted. "It was...startling to think that he could suspect it..."

    "Yes, and that's what has me worried," Revan agreed. "This wasn't paranoia, it was the Force talking to and through him. Someone is out there, watching, biding their time and yet setting things in motion. This isn't a local phenomenon, not even to this quadrant of the galaxy, but something beyond, lurking in the Unknown Regions like a malevolent cancer. At least, that's what my gut is telling me."

    He blew a sorrowful sigh. "Besides, Liam is an uncorrupted native of Korriban, which in and of itself should be an impossibility."

    "So it would seem," said Bastila as she shuffled closer and laid a hand on Revan's shoulder. "But we've seen more than our fair share of impossible things, haven't we?"

    "I would say that is a distinct possibility."

    "Then let us forget about such speculations for now," she admonished playfully. "Now is the time for other pursuits."

    — — —​

    With all the gathered attendees lined up in ceremonial greeting at an isolated landing pad, it was easy to forget that it had been over two years since such a scene had graced the great academy. Though reconstruction was still underway and wouldn't be complete for some time to come, provided there were no complications, those who had come to train had nevertheless managed to conjure up the appropriate attire for such an auspicious occasion. Seconds crept by like minutes as anticipation buzzed through the air like so many scrub hornets, and it was all one could do to avoid shouting out in glee as the expected arrival of a very important visitor was heralded by the roaring of ion engines and a faint streak of light that marked a starship coming in on an atmospheric reentry trajectory. A few heads even turned to follow, hoping to be the first to catch a better glimpse of what manner of vessel carried such a distinguished guest.

    The headmaster in particular was, quite frankly, itching with nerves, though outwardly he appeared to be rock steady and utterly indefatigable.

    After circling the entire campus twice, the craft finally settled in on an approach vector, gently touching down amidst the throng of students and instructors. Though they did their level best to maintain an air of aloof stoicism, nearly everyone present was mystified by the source of this strange ship. It resembled nothing so much as a stack of flatcakes with its cockpit placed amidst a rectangular indent sliced out of the forward hull, and a pair of large ion engines tucked into the aft; laser turrets were situated almost dead center on the dorsal and ventral surfaces, with larger guns placed on the port and starboard flanks. With its black color and silver trim, this combination of features gave off a distinct impression of strength and security for whoever happened to own this vessel, and more than one student was curious as to where such a design had come from.

    They will find out soon enough. he mused. They will all soon learn the truth.

    As if in answer to this unspoken assertion, the hissing and release of vapors associated with the normal process of outgassing that preceded a disembarkation started up, and a ramp lowered from a point on the ventral hull about equidistant between the cockpit and main sublight drives. As it touched the surface of the landing pad with a faint thump, two pairs of gray-robed and -helmeted figures carrying vicious-looking pikes descended and took up station athwart the path from the ship to where the headmaster stood in waiting, signaling their arrival by unanimous turns and the crack! of booted feet on stone. At this signal, an incongruously small figure in a black hooded cloak strode purposefully from within the craft, the air of confidence and strength so palpable it caused at least one member of the greeting party to visibly shiver—no doubt prompting a number of folks to make mental notes to eliminate this unfortunate at the first available opportunity—as it strode forward. As the figure neared him, the headmaster recognized some hitherto unseen detail and sank into a deep bow, his right knee meeting the duracrete.

    "Rise, Uthar," she said soothingly from beneath the concealing hood, her voice silky smooth and quite alluring as she spoke in perfect Basic. "Your path has been brutal, yet you survive and persevere. You have earned my favor."

    Inside, Uthar Wynn was squirming as a veritable maelstrom of emotions flooded into him: wonder, consternation, pride, longing, and more than a little bit of fear. Renewed contact with Korriban was no doubt seen as a huge boon to those who mattered, and the ambassador dispatched to oversee the situation and make the appropriate adjustments would necessarily have to have been an important figure. But surely not a member of the Dark Council itself? The very being who had in fact helped to oversee the construction of this very facility nearly sixty years ago? Something was afoot, and there could be no mistaking the intentions of the Lords of Old. Beyond that, however, it was good to see the woman who now stood before him; even if he couldn't see her face, there was no mistaking that voice or sense in the Force. "You honor me, my Master," he rumbled by way of reply, standing as he had been instructed. "I must confess, I was not expecting your presence for this auspicious occasion."

    The cloaked figure laughed, a genuine expression of mirth that Uthar hadn't heard in ten years. "Indeed my presence would not have graced this place if not for recent developments," she confirmed. "But for now let us savor the adoration of those you have gathered here, for this façade of power is fleeting."

    Though his mind burbled with questions, he stilled the tempest in his heart and joined his former mentor in drinking in the view before them. Indeed it was a sight to see, the ranks of acolytes, students and instructors, dressed in their best and only uniforms for supply was still very limited. Not since the height of the war, in preparation for Darth Malak's only visit as the reigning Dark Lord of the Sith, had such a ceremony been gathered. The sight was doubly impressive for the struggles that had made it possible, this academy—his academy—rising from the ashes as a legendary creature immolates itself when it is time to die and is reborn amidst the flames. Finally, after several minutes of terse, glorious silence, Uthar nodded at the drillmaster standing nearby, who roared a dismissal to the crowd. As the hustle and bustle overtook the small dais that he had briefly occupied, he and his Master turned away and, following his lead, made their furtive way to Uthar's personal study.

    Once inside, he locked the door and activated the room's privacy seal, then bade the woman accompanying him to sit. "You must know that we receive scant information out here," he began without preamble, as his Master preferred. "I have no idea what the Republic is up to, but if you are here then it cannot be anything small."

    Before sitting, the woman removed her black cloak, revealing a visage of deep crimson, one of the hallmarks of her kind, beneath an immaculately-braided jet-black plait. Beneath the overgarment, she was flatteringly dressed in a tautly-drawn black tunic with red trim and a neckline that plunged almost to her navel, over slate-gray skintight leggings and black hard-buckled boots, her lightsaber hanging from an ornately-inscribed leather belt. The whole ensemble left no doubt that here was a specimen of exquisite physical beauty. She permitted her former protégé a moment to drink in her appearance before settling into the seat he normally occupied as headmaster, as in the grand scheme of things she was by far the more powerful of the two, and stretched languidly before settling into a cross-legged position. "You always did have a knack for stating the obvious," she mock-chided, then her voice became a purr. "We have received certain intelligence, yes, but the picture is not yet fully realized. Therefore I have taken it upon myself to help things along here. In three Standard hours a large supply convoy will begin arriving in-system, and the entire faculty and student body will be required to ensure the swift unloading of what it bears. I promise you, no one will be disappointed at the gifts we have delivered."

    "That is all well and good, my Master," Uthar said, his own countenance darkening with the brooding cloud that hovered over his thoughts and feelings. "But to what purpose is this intended? From what little I have gleamed from those who have joined us here, the Republic is still very weak from nearly ten years of constant strife. What could they possibly do that would prompt the Empire to risk rediscovery in such a fashion?"

    The Sith Master blinked satisfaction at this, and reached into her cloak with the Force, drawing out a small holoprojector. When it alighted in her hand, she pressed a small button, and the image of a young Human male blossomed forth. "Do you recognize this man, Uthar?"

    An electric shock seemed to jar every last nerve in his body as Uthar took in the holo-image before him. The man it described, his actions and associations while at the Academy, were forever burned into his brain. This was the man who had casually claimed to be no less a person than Darth Revan himself, had taken up with his own erstwhile apprentice, and had then proceeded to single-handedly destroy one of the great pillars of the Empire, all for reasons that still eluded Uthar Wynn. Was it true, after all? he asked himself. Was it really Darth Revan who had caused so much havoc?

    The Darth sitting across from him confirmed this with a hard look, her eyes sparking with a boiling hatred. "He played you, Uthar," she stated baldly. "He would have played me as well, had we crossed paths. Only he could have resisted, as you well know."

    Enigmatic to all but himself, Uthar needed no reminding of the being to whom his Master referred.

    "Revan is their champion once more, you see," she continued, venom in her voice and visage. "We know not what the Jedi did to him, but he has forsaken the dark side and walks among them as a paladin. They think that they have defeated the Sith, a delusion we shall nurture for as long as possible, but nevertheless, he has seen into our empire's true heart and knows what lies there. It is only a matter of time before he comes to us, to do to our home what he so effortlessly did to yours."

    "And you think he will come here, first?"

    She smiled once more, a look of sincere admiration marred only by a trace of pity. "As ever, you state the obvious with aplomb," she said softly. "We believe that he does indeed intend to check up on his former conquests. What is more, he will hardly be alone."

    Uthar sat there in silent contemplation, mulling over what this could mean. It was understood that no sane Jedi would come to Korriban alone, or even in small groups, unless they had renounced their Order, and even then this world tended to have a striking effect on them. If Revan was truly a Jedi once more, and on the prowl for remnants of his old cadre, he would no doubt bring as much Republic reinforcement as he could muster to his banner—he always had been quite the persuasive one. "I understand," he said, his voice hard. "We cannot hope to take him here, not without revealing more than we would desire. I doubt we could even incapacitate him, let alone kill him; the most we can do is to make him think that we are all that is left of a once mighty empire."

    "Our thoughts are in parallel," Darth Igdrasil replied in her smoothest manner. "Fortunately, the supplies I bring are indistinguishable from that which fueled his and Malak's war machine. It is in fact a convoy that left the Lehon system mere days before the Star Forge's destruction, and came to us when it had nowhere else to go. Though the crews were brought into our own ranks, the supplies they carried have been kept for use should such an occasion warrant." She paused, appearing to consider her next words very carefully. "You must remain here, Uthar, to face the Republic when they come. I cannot risk being discovered, nor can any of my agents."

    Uthar brought a hand to his chin in thought. "If the Republic knew that Sith, true Sith, still lived, still prospered elsewhere..."

    "...there would be war, and weak as they are, we are not yet prepared to crush them."

    Darth Igdrasil stood, and so did Uthar. "You have had a hard life to live these past two years," she purred. "And I can sense that you still carry scars and ailments. If you are to meet the threat we foresee, then you must be at your best. Come to me, and enjoy my favor so that you may be healed..."

    Smiling as his heart began to thump loudly with passionate thoughts and feelings, Uthar Wynn looked into his Master's fiery eyes and reached for his tunic.
  20. WarmNyota_SweetAyesha

    WarmNyota_SweetAyesha Game Host star 7 VIP - Game Host

    Aug 31, 2004
    Fascinating stuff about Liam and Jinn. Love the camarderie between Seela and Yuthura. :) And Revan/Bastila are always a delight! The scene with the Sith -- [face_nail_biting] - nice setup for intense confrontations.
    Goodwood likes this.
  21. Goodwood

    Goodwood Jedi Master star 5

    May 11, 2011
    Glad you're liking the progression thus far, Nyota's Heart. I think it's going to get even better...if I don't somehow write myself into a corner at some point down the line.
  22. Goodwood

    Goodwood Jedi Master star 5

    May 11, 2011
    Chapter Eight

    Vice Admiral Kedlis Hetton, his flag captain at his side and flanked by the senior officers of Stalwart Defender, plus a full squad of Marines, waited in the forward hangar bay as a trio of shuttles raised themselves through the magcon shield and took their allotted places on the deck. Only after the last of them had settled onto their landing struts did all three vehicles lower their boarding ramps, simultaneously releasing the captains and executive officers of the warships to which they belonged. The right-hand shuttle, bearing the registry of the Hammerhead-class cruiser Delta Dagger, also produced a pair of robed and solemn-looking Jedi, who by mutual consent of the small collection of guests took the lead in introducing themselves to the admiral and his staff. The process didn't take long, and it was barely ten minutes since his arrival in the hangar that he was leading the way back toward the admiral's ready room.

    Captain Nor Melao did not participate in the babble of small talk that accompanied the trek; most of the officers in this group knew each other by reputation at least, and there wasn't much to catch up on, at least personally. He only listened with half an ear, his mind already back on the mission and how he would bring his fellow captains up to speed, his reverie broken only when the older of the two Jedi tapped him on the shoulder.

    "You are concerned," the Jedi, who had identified himself as Georg Oakes, stated frankly.

    "Is it that obvious?" the captain asked from the side of his mouth while he continued walking. "Don't answer that."

    The Jedi offered up a wan smile. "Captain Ryno was telling me that you had taught her at the Academy when she was a senior there. She was telling me that your tactical logistics reconfiguration final was the stuff of legends, and not the happy kind."

    It was a more difficult task than he was used to, keeping a rumble of mirth from escaping and cracking the dour mood he wore like a cloak. To Nor's mind, what he was going to have to tell the sextet of officers and two Jedi was deadly serious, and whatever the blonde commander might have thought of a test he had given some fifteen years previous was less than irrelevant. It was true that he had served for two years as an instructor at the Republic Naval Academy on Corulag, teaching fourth-year cadets in subjects that he hadn't exactly been that fond of himself. But he'd only been a senior lieutenant then, waiting out a pending promotion to lieutenant commander and the next available XO slot aboard whatever warship was in the area.

    To his consternation, Oakes leaned in, murmuring in the faintest of whispers, "Don't be so dour, your bad mood is affecting my Padawan."

    Whether this was true or not, Nor let out an involuntary grunt of amusement that he didn't quite manage to turn into a cough. "I'll try to rain in the dark cloud," he muttered halfheartedly.

    Feeling a little less downtrodden despite himself, Nor led the procession through the open hatchway to the wardroom, where Admiral Hetton took a seat at the head of the large table while an Elomin yeoman set up and activated the room's holoprojector. As the visiting officers took seats (the Jedi chose to remain standing), Nor pulled out his datapad and walked over to the projector; after entering a series of commands, the diffuse blue light resolved itself into an exaggerated image of the Horuset system. As the assembled beings fell into a respectful silence, he began the briefing.

    "Before I go into the details regarding our destination and mission parameters, an update is in order," he said in a level, authoritative voice. "As you know, Dantooine suffered heavily as a result of the war, with the Sith bombarding the capital and Jedi Enclave and occupying the planet. At least one attempt at a major settlement, called Khoonda by its tenants, has been established not far from what remains of the Enclave. Not long after scouting them out, our own Jedi discovered a second, much smaller settlement, ensconced within a small glen in the shade of a ridge and populated by refugees from Korriban."

    Nor let that sink in for a moment, noticing as he did so that Oakes was fixing him with a knowing look. Admiral Hetton was staring at the holo, while the three captains and their execs shared glances, with the baby-faced Padawan fixing his own Master with a look of concern. "It was our intention," he continued, "to attempt to provide assistance to the Khoonda outpost, but our efforts were continually rebuffed. The refugees, however, have proved to be much more amiable, and we have helped them and a significant number of nearby farmholds to establish a community of their own. We only got the news an hour ago, and they have chosen to name their village Garang, after the former capital.

    "You may be wondering why I'm bothering to fill you in on this detail," Nor said after a beat. "It's simple: the refugees we found were led by a former Sith Master called Yuthura Ban."

    While this had a palpable effect on his audience, it did not escape Nor's notice that Georg Oakes's expression was shrewd rather than shocked. "A Twi'lek female, right?" the Knight asked, though he looked as though he already knew the answer.

    Nor nodded solemnly. "Turns out she used to be the deputy headmistress of the Sith Academy on Korriban. Her life was spared and, as the Academy fell, she managed to escape the planet aboard an old, modified Quartermaster-class supply ship."

    Admiral Hetton rumbled to life, glancing at Oakes before returning his gaze to the holo and taking up the narrative. "It was my intention to use this vessel to land a small scouting force on Korriban itself, and she agreed to accompany them as a guide." He shrugged. "Revan and Bastila assure me that her redemption is genuine, and I am confident that when we arrive in the Horuset system, we will have a much better idea of what we may find there."

    Nor had to give them credit, the officers before him; they hid their reaction well. Nebelish, the younger Jedi, was not so well-versed and was staring at the admiral with ill-disguised curiosity. "Now that we've got that out of the way," he continued, wrapping up the tangent, "we can focus on our primary objective and plans for achieving it. At this time, Korriban itself is in such a position that we can approach to within a parsec of the system, which should allow us to conduct some passive scans without raising the alarm. That said, we will also be in a position to receive reports directly from our team on the ground, but also to learn if they were unable to make planetfall...

    — — —​

    "Who is it?" Velle Melark asked, glancing up from her washing as a polite series of raps on the front door announced the presence of visitors. "Just a moment," she continued, drying her hands on her apron before hanging it up by a small metal hook on the wall next to the cooking unit. For a brief moment she wondered where Liam was, then remembered that he'd stayed the night with Jinne and Yumi in their temporary quarters at the newly-completed central facility. Finally, she shrugged to herself and strode to the entryway, unbolting and carefully opening it.

    "My goodness," she said, somewhat nonplussed but pleased nevertheless at the sight of who had come to call. "To what do I owe the pleasure, Masters Jedi?"

    Revan and Bastila returned Velle's look of bemusement with identical warm smiles. "May we come in, if it isn't too much trouble?" the taller of the two Knights asked.

    "Oh no, no trouble at all," the mayor's wife answered, her voice returning to normal as she beckoned them into the sitting room, which was populated with a small clutch of locally-crafted hardwood furniture. "Can I get you anything?" she asked while Revan and Bastila shared a high-backed bench. "We've got sunfruit juice, and the processor unit makes a fairly decent version of caf, though it isn't the same as the real thing."

    "Thank you, but we'll be fine," Bastila replied kindly, holding up a hand. "We shan't be here long."

    "Are you sure?" Velle replied as she took a seat opposite in a comfortable-looking rocker. "Trunma said that today's meeting would be another long one, I don't expect he'll be back before sundown. Are they all getting along?"

    Revan allowed a slight smirk to cross his visage at that remark; he and Bastila had checked in on the goings on at Garang City Hall twice already, once to learn the town's new name, and later to learn that despite the amiable nature of the prior day's meeting, some disagreements had wormed their way into today's debates. This was comforting in a way, especially given their observations and discussion from the previous night—here was proof that the inhabitants were still quite normal people, prone to differing points of view like everyone else. "No more and no less than any similar group anywhere else in the galaxy," Revan answered mildly. "Your husband seems to have things well in hand."

    "That's a relief," Velle sighed, visibly relaxing into her seat. "Trunma always was good at taking the lead, it's one of the reasons we were able to survive out here for so long before meeting any of the neighbors." She looked at Revan, then at Bastila, then around in the general direction of the prefab building that was swiftly becoming the center of everyone's attention, particularly with the departure of Deliverance. "But then," she asked hesitantly, "what brings you to our humble home? I don't suppose Liam has pulled some sort of prank..."

    Even without the Force and their bond, Bastila could tell that Revan was on the edge of bursting out with laughter, but he managed to limit the display of mirth to a wry grin. "No, he hasn't done anything wrong at all," she said, a hint of apology on her voice. "He is a remarkable young man."

    Velle felt her face grow warm at the compliment. "I don't know what I would have done with myself if it weren't for him," she confided. "He was the one ray of hope on that bleak world."

    Revan nodded solemnly, speaking in a low, gentle tone. "Who was his father?"

    It was obvious to both Knights that the woman before them had not discussed this particular matter for a very long time indeed; it was even possible—no, more like probable—that Trunma, her current husband and the boy's adoptive father, didn't know. Perhaps it was for the best, after all, they decided. For her part, Velle flushed a deep crimson as she plumbed the depths of her memory for the answer these two guests sought; the man she had come to Korriban with, whom she had loved with every fiber of her being, would not have wanted her to hide behind old wounds, no matter how deep they had cut. And there could be only one reason why a Jedi would be interested in the subject to begin with.

    "I...don't quite know how to describe him," she began haltingly, fumbling for the right words. "He was special, somehow, almost like a Jedi but not. He would neither confirm nor deny it, but he didn't have to. I knew there must have been something more to him, more than I could possibly understand, but that didn't stop us from loving each other and trying to build a life together."

    "How did you end up on Korriban?" Bastila prompted soothingly.

    Velle hesitated, then began speaking at breakneck speed. "The Mandalorians were threatening our homeworld, and we took ship in the face of their impending invasion. We wound up on Lianna, but there wasn't much available in the way of work for the mass of incoming refugees, so we took offworld jobs with Czerka Corporation. The ink was barely dry on our employment contracts when they had us on a transport to the Horuset system and that awful planet..."

    The two Knights exchanged a meaningful glance, the woman's tale confirming a number of datapoints. "It's alright, take your time," Bastila said, pouring compassion and understanding into the Force. "Was Liam conceived before or after your migration there?"

    Velle's eyes snapped wide in shock, as if the question was a slap to the face. "But...but why? Why would that matter?" she asked, scandalized, then she deflated. "Oh, Liam..."

    "Velle, it is very important that you tell us," Bastila interjected, her tone insistent but moderated by the warmth of the hand she enfolded over their host's. "Your son's future may depend on it."

    Velle's eyes darted from Knight to Knight, her countenance threatening tears, but she sniffed and seemed to stiffen in resolve. "He was concieved after our arrival, by almost a year. We knew what the Sith were like, and Sroal made every effort to shield us from their capriciousness, though some of them must have suspected what he was...whatever he was. After Liam was born, he became even more protective of us, insisting that our son be kept out of the corporate-run school system and well away from those few children living in Dreshdae.

    "But then, one night, he didn't come home," Velle continued, her determination flagging somewhat. "Liam was three at the time, and already he showed...signs, and it seemed that my worst fears had come true. When no one came looking for either of them, however, I began to realize what must have happened...and what I had to do. I can't explain what happened after, but it seemed as though some...presence...would occasionally visit, usually in times when despair threatened to overwhelm me. At those times, it almost felt as though Sroal was right there with me, his arm around me and whispering in my ear...telling me to keep going forward, for our son's sake."

    A single tear slipped Velle's lashes and streaked down her cheek. "Is it true, then?" she asked glumly. "Does Liam have the Force as his father did?"

    Revan nodded. "Your son, along with Jinne Zewal, came to us last night and together they asked if they were Force-sensitive," he said matter-of-factly, knowing that Velle needed them to be straight with her. "It was a simple matter to determine that, yes, the pair of them are indeed quite attuned to it. This is why we came here today."

    "Then that's another debt we owe Yuthura," the mayor's wife sighed deeply.

    "I doubt she would see it that way," Bastila assured her.

    "Nevertheless..." Velle began, shrugging, indecisive. "I suppose he asked to be trained as a Jedi, didn't he?"

    "Yes," Revan confirmed solemnly. "He and Jinne both."

    Velle offered up a weak chuckle. "Those two. Thick as ticks and well nigh inseparable, ever since they first met. So, will you take them away, to train them?"

    "Not yet," Revan said, his voice betraying nothing. "In fact, our task force is scheduled to leave the system within the next couple of hours. In either case, we have not yet had the chance to speak with Jinne's family, and it is only right that they have some notification." He leaned forward then, locking eyes with their host. "But you have my word: when our mission is over, we will come back for them, and we will train them."

    "Thank you," Velle replied softly, her body and sense broadcasting a bittersweet mixture of hope and trepidation. "Trunma will understand, I think."

    — — —​

    "Your hunch was a good one," Bastila admitted as she and Revan left the Melark house, looking for Yumi and her sister in order to relay the girl's wishes. "It certainly confirms that there were Sith on Korriban prior to the Mandalorian Wars, at the very least."

    "Velle needed to confide in someone after all these years," Revan agreed, "it may as well have been us. Whether or not she tells Trunma or Liam is up to her, however."

    "She will," Bastila said confidently, "and both of them will understand. This Sroal sounds as though he may have once been a member of the Service Corps, who left the Order for whatever reason. Perhaps he and Velle met while he was on a deployment of some sort?"

    "It's entirely possible," Revan nodded. "You would know more about that than I, however."

    Bastila snorted in amusement. "And what makes you say that, Revan?"

    "Oh, you know," he replied airily. "You've had more recent experience with the internal structure of the Order." He tousled her hair, and she rewarded his antics with a look of mock irritation. "In all seriousness, the fact that such a thing can happen is a good sign," he continued. "It shows that not everyone who goes to Korriban comes back as some twisted mockery of themselves, so long as they maintain their focus and sense of self. Sroal was sufficiently attuned to the Force to leave an imprint of himself behind after his death, but not so powerful that he would have been targeted by the Sith, at least not deliberately. Velle and Liam both sensed the echoes of his life, and what he did for them."

    "Were you able to sense all this, or is this just another gut feeling?" Bastila teased.

    "What do you think, Bas?"

    "Do I really want to know?"

    Revan grinned widely. "Whether you want to or not, you already do. Who insisted on reminding me of the 'bond we share' again?"

    Bastila pulled a face and playfully punched him on the arm. "Yes, yes, we're all very amused," she tut-tutted pompously. "May we resume our discussion, or would you prefer to reminisce about some practical joke you and Mission once cooked up?"

    "A pity she went back to Ryloth," Revan mused, then turned back to his beloved. "You're right, though, it's more of a feeling than any particular sensation or memory that Velle might have let slip. In either case, I was deliberately avoiding the temptation to pry into her mind."

    "Your hypothesis does make sense," Bastila agreed with a hearty sigh, after pausing to mull over these thoughts. "I happen to know that the AgriCorps, EduCorps and ExplorCorps lost a number of their more gifted members, to voluntary severance over the years. One of my fellow apprentices was among them; he was never chosen by a Master but never held that against the Order, and as far as I knew, he was quite happy to serve as a researcher and archeologist. About a month before you came back from the Unknown Regions, he sent me a message informing me of his departure from the Order and why he had left. It's pretty much the same story as Velle and Sroal's," she shrugged. "As far as I know, he's still alive and well somewhere on the Mid Rim."

    As they talked, Revan and Bastila were making their way up to and through the second level of the modified prefab base, occasionally reaching out with the Force to find their target. "Just more evidence for my theory," Revan mumbled absently as they strode down the central corridor.

    "About living normally?" Bastila inquired, somewhat startled at the sharp shift in tack.

    "Yep," Revan replied shortly. "But that can keep for now." Turning on his left heel, he came face to face with a blank door with a standard combination lock and alert chime set into the wall next to it. "I did it last time, it's your turn now," he said. "Yumi seems like she would prefer to hear this kind of news from a woman rather than the Almighty Revan."

    Shooting him a look that was half smug, half chastising, Bastila reached out for the appropriate button and pressed it.

    — — —​

    Commander Chak Ravartin strode back and forth across the nearly-empty VIP landing bay at the forward ventral end of Stalwart Defender, waiting for the shuttle that would bring Revan and Bastila back aboard ship so that the task force could finally proceed on its primary mission. Though he'd rather be at his assigned station for their departure, he didn't mind; Captain Melao was a good officer and a good teacher, and if he needed the former Marine fighter pilot way down here greeting stragglers, then that's where he would be. And it wasn't as though he had any compunctions regarding these particular VIPs, having met them both during the last months of the war. This would actually be only the second time he would encounter the pair of Jedi Knights while serving aboard the battlecruiser as its executive officer, a post he was still getting used to even after nearly six months of active duty. The first time had been when they had initially come aboard at the mission's kickoff. In the meantime he'd been quite busy with his normal duties, to say nothing of coordinating the effort to supply the small enclave and the construction of its new central facility, to spare any time for them.

    Though he had wanted to serve alongside his fiancé after graduating from the Anaxes War College, by the time that happy date came, Mara Juliso had been promoted to captain and a desk job at Fleet Headquarters on Coruscant, which was perfectly fine as far as Chak was concerned. Instead, he had been presented with the XO slots for a number of prestigious warships, which included the Inexpugnable-class tactical command ship Tremendous, which had served as the flagship for Task Group Coruscant and charged with protecting the galactic capital in the face of Sith aggression, as well as the Interdictor-class cruisers Battleaxe, Wrangler and Thunderchild. But when he'd seen that Stalwart Defender was also looking for a replacement for her recently-promoted exec, he'd passed up such cushy assignments in favor of returning to the ship that had, in a sense, started him on the path to becoming the man he was. Sure, he'd also served on Battleaxe, and had even saved her captain's life at one point, but that and other experiences had soured him on the idea of serving aboard such vessels. Too often he associated their crustacean-claw shape with the Sith he had risked his life so many times to fight, and the idea of conning such a warship felt findamentally wrong somehow, this despite the class having originally been a Republic design.

    It was just as well, because he wouldn't have traded the experience of serving with Captain Nor Melao for anything it was in any being's capacity to give. When he had first returned to Stalwart Defender as a naval officer, Chak was still reeling from the mental and physical exertion of eighteen months' worth of hard academic coursework and military exercises, both simulated and hands-on, topped off with a monumentally difficult series of final exams that had made him feel as though he were back over Taris, battling for his life against swarms of interceptors. His new commanding officer had recognized this, and Chak would be forever grateful for the chance to ease into his new position—as opposed to being thrown to the void and expected to breathe vacuum. Two weeks into a three-month tour of the Mid Rim, he had become confident and proficient enough in his duties to lead a full bridge watch without supervision, something which Captain Melao had assured him was quite an accomplishment for someone not yet twenty-five Standard years old.

    It was just as well that Chak had been able to get into the rhythm of warship operations so soon, for the rest of that tour had become rather more eventful than either officer had expected, when their ship stumbled upon and proceeded to wage total war on a band of rather nasty pirates and slavers that had set up shop along the Perlemian. His skill at planning and coordinating starfighter operations, proven over and over again in battles with the Sith, had allowed Chak to assist his captain in devising and executing a largely impromptu campaign that resulted in a near-total erasure of the pirates' slaving operation, with minimal losses in equipment and personnel, as well as the freeing and repatriation of a battalion's worth of captured civilians. After such an auspicious inaugural cruise, for which he and Captain Melao had both been presented with the Silver Shield, he'd been given sufficient furlough to finally marry Mara and move with her into a home of their own. Though he still occasionally thought about his first love, he was happy in his new life as a husband and, as of two weeks ago, expectant father.

    Between the wedding and the start of this mission to darkest Korriban, Stalwart Defender and her crew had spent most of their time conducting training and operational readiness exercises with and alongside a number of Republic fleet units, including a squadron of new-construction cruisers out of Ciutric IV. Most of those mock engagements had seen the battlecruiser acting as flagship for the Ciutrans, who served as OpFor for the various elements of the Republic Navy that were being rotated Coreward for the purpose. It had been the most fun he'd had thus far in his military career, due in no small part to the fact that the galaxy was largely at peace. Thus, Chak had felt somewhat put out when their new orders had come aboard in the form of Vice Admiral Kedlis Hetton and his retinue of Jedi. That had certainly been an interesting briefing.

    "Everything alright, sir?" an accented voice inquired, stirring the former snubby jock from his reverie. Chak looked about to find the source of the inquiry, his eyes landing on the Duros deck officer who was currently the hangar's only other occupant. This bay saw little enough use during normal watch rotations that there were seldom more than five people present at any one time, though others would stand ready to ensure that the needs of any visiting dignitaries or other persons of note would be taken care of. Upon his arrival, however, Chak had dismissed all but the deck officer himself, as he had wanted to make sure that one of these particular stragglers got the telling off he deserved—and that Chak been working on for over a week now—in private.

    "Just fine, Lieutenant," he replied curtly, answering the man's nod. Chak detested the idea of saluting at every interaction, as did his captain, and though discipline was strictly enforced aboard Stalwart Defender, the ethos of the crew had always been that of everyday professionalism and quiet competence. "Go get yourself a cup of caf, I've got this under control."

    "Aye aye, sir," the "jenth grek" replied happily, trotting off toward the nearby ready room that supported the special docking division. Once the spacetight door sealed itself behind the retreating officer, Chak looked out at the yawning expanse of the hangar entrance.

    "The sooner we jump, the happier I'll be," he said to himself, the words a lie vented in irritation at the very idea of visiting that desolate hellhole. Nobody save the two Jedi had known much at all about their destination prior to this mission, save for a few snippets from the history holos, but he'd been given the important bits. Captain Melao had also confided in him that the admiral would've been quite glad to drop a big rock on the place and have done with it, and Chak would've been all too willing to go along with such a plan. But no, this was to be a reconnaissance mission first and foremost. I hope the captain trusts me as much as the admiral trusts him, he thought ruefully, and that I can earn that trust.

    After several minutes' silent contemplation, the approach/proximity alert began its soft hoot, indicating that an incoming shuttle had appeared on ships' sensors and acquired the automated guidance beacon, and was preparing to come aboard. Striding briskly to the hangar control panel, Chak began pressing buttons with practiced ease, finally activating the comm switch to confirm with whoever was flying the vehicle that they knew what they were doing. "Shuttle Trill Krill Four Two One, this is Stalwart Defender. I've got you on approach to Bay One Aurek, please confirm."

    "Since when did they have full commanders conducting shuttle landings?" the smart-mouthed male replied through a burst of light static.

    "Please confirm approach vector," Chak replied mildly, managing to hide his consternation. "Or if you'd like, I can seal the bay and signal the admiral that you're aboard, and you can ride that shuttle back home."

    "Approach vector confirmed," the female replied smartly. "Please relay our compliments and apologies to the admiral, we'll be aboard shortly."

    "Thank you, TK-421. You'll be able to speak to the admiral in person soon enough. Out."

    Chak mentally kicked himself for losing his temper with the two Jedi, especially over comm channels—regardless of the fact that the VIP hangar used tightbeam transmissions complete with fully-encrypted security protocols. Even though Jedi were not part of the established chain of command, they weren't exactly civilians either, and he'd served with enough to know better than to go around jaw-jacking with them like that. Still, he was determined to deliver that harangue, and it was better for him to deliver it as the hardened veteran that he was than the star-struck youth he'd been upon first meeting a Force-user...and when he'd first met Revan after the destruction of the Star Forge. If the man wanted to get cheeky with him, he'd be cheeky right back, and damn what the admiral or his captain might think.

    — — —​

    "Well, he seems like a charming fellow," Revan quipped as he started the landing cycle in preparation for docking.

    Bastila sighed, her mood still a bit subdued in the face of Yumi Zewal's insistence that there was "nothing at all wrong with Jinne" and that "she'll grow out of it soon enough." While the farmer's daughter had been content to let her sister and the mayor's son carry on with their teenage friendship, her reaction to her sibling's Force sensitivity and desire to train as a Jedi had been forceful and entirely out of the depths of space. It had taken over an hour of roundabout reasoning and circular logic, a melee of ignorance, before the woman would even countenance the possibility that, like it or not, Jinne had made her choice and there wasn't much she could do about it. Even then, it had taken a chance visit by Jinne herself—which was followed by yet more shouting—before Yumi would finally accept what the Jedi Knights were saying and acquiesce in her protests. And that was why they were late in returning to Stalwart Defender.

    "His name is Chak Ravartin, and he's got every reason not to like you," she said resignedly, folding her arms beneath her breasts and fixing Revan with a sidelong glare. "Your well-executed attack on Sluis Van killed his previous companion, a Twi'lek fighter pilot named Teish'ala."

    Revan's hand slipped slightly on the thruster controls as he looked Bastila full in the face. "That was a low blow."

    "Good," she shot back waspishly. "Sometimes you act as though nothing's happened, that you weren't once the terror of the galaxy, and I felt it prudent to remind you."

    There was a pregnant pause, during which the battlecruiser they were rendezvousing with grew larger in the forward viewport. "He didn't seem angry the last time we met," Revan sighed, acknowledging the rebuke with a shake of his head. "Of course, he was surrounded by other officers at the time."

    "That wasn't the first time you met him, Revan," Bastila advised soberly. "And I've known him from back during the war as well. He was at the Battle of Rakata Prime, and I believe the two of you met during the victory celebration afterward. If he wasn't so relieved that the war was over, I should think he would have had quite a few things to say to you." Her eyes fluttering, she cast a faraway look at the warship's steadily swelling belly. "And unless I'm much mistaken, he's decided that now is the time to vent his spleen at you. I strongly suggest you let him."

    "Noted," Revan acknowledged glumly, deciding that he would hear the man out and accept whatever abuse that was hurled at him.

    The rest of the landing sequence passed in silence as the shuttle entered the forward bay and touched down upon the well-kept durasteel deck. The two Knights unstrapped themselves and descended the lowering ramp, their eyes fixed forward as they strode toward the Coruscanti officer who had come to greet them, noticing as they did so that the bay was empty save for him. As the pair approached, he pushed a button on the console he stood behind. "Bridge, this is the exec," he said briskly. "Everyone is aboard."

    "Understood, sir," a muffled, slightly warbling voice replied from the embedded speaker. "The captain has the deck and the admiral has the conn, we'll be breaking orbit momentarily."

    "Thank you, Chief," the commander finished. "I'm sure they can do without me for the rest of the watch."

    "Aye aye, sir," the unknown chief petty officer said, a note of understanding apparent even through the comm distortion. "Bridge out."

    The bay descended into an unnatural and uncomfortable quiet as the three Humans seemed to square off, the tension in the air spiraling horribly as the seconds ticked by. Finally, Chak broke the silence. "This way," he all but ordered, nodding in the direction of a hatch that led to the forward companionway. "The auxiliary conn will be far less busy."

    The trek wasn't all that long, and if any of those few ratings, POs, Marines or troopers they encountered noticed that the exec and the Jedi following him weren't heading for the bridge or anywhere else in "the tower"—where all the important people lived and kept to their business—they made no indication. That was the way Chak preferred it, and how things had always been done aboard Stalwart Defender and most of the ships he had served aboard; the job was more important than any brass that might be walking by. When they arrived at their destination, it was to see that, indeed, only a minimal watch had been set.

    "The exec has the conn," Chak announced mildly. "Anything to report?"

    "No sir," reported a Bothan ensign, who had been standing next to the backup helm and the Human quartermaster first class who was manning the station. "We'll be making the jump to hyperspace in about five."

    "Good. Have all the department heads and division chiefs reported their status?"

    "Yes sir, the captain has the results."

    Chak smiled grimly at the Bothan, who had joined the ship's company at the same time he had, fresh from the Academy at Corulag. Almost all of those officers and senior enlisted personnel who had survived the war had been promoted at least one grade once peace had been declared, which had left plenty of room for new blood to fill in the lower ranks and ratings. Therefore, it wasn't surprising to see an ensign put in charge of the auxiliary conn during normal watch rotations, and Char'dain was a good man. "Wish me luck at the staff meeting," he said wryly. "The captain's gonna have my hide for not taking those reports myself."

    Char'dain cast a furtive glance about the relatively small compartment, which was barely a tenth the size of the bridge itself, to see if anyone was listening in; the two Knights had lingered by the entryway, and the crew were focused on their jobs. "I'm guessing they're the reason why we're late," he whispered.

    "Pure sabacc," Chak replied, just as quietly. "Why don't you have the mess attendant bring in a round of mid-rats, I'm sure they won't be needing us for this jump." What he didn't have to mention was the fact that if some emergency came up and they were needed, this group was just as capable as any bridge crew on any Hammerhead cruiser that ever put to space.

    "Aye aye, sir. Do you want anything?"

    "That's alright. I've got 'the duty' for the next couple of hours at least."

    Char'dain smiled toothily, his neck fur relaxing as he returned the knowing nod, and stepped over to his own console to call for the platter of mid-watch rations. With such pleasantries out of the way, Chak nodded in turn to the rest of the crew in the compartment before moving aft to rejoin the two Knights.

    "We need to talk," he said to Revan, a pugnacious look on his face as he crossed his arms over his chest.
  23. WarmNyota_SweetAyesha

    WarmNyota_SweetAyesha Game Host star 7 VIP - Game Host

    Aug 31, 2004
    Enjoyed the briefing and the talk with Velle and the banter afterwards.

    [face_dancing] on encountering Chak again and getting "caught up" on what he's been doing. ;)

    Bastila's rebuke to Revan - interesting. =D= [face_thinking] That he's been acting like nothing happened :p :oops: ... Wow, Chak and Revan do have a history :rolleyes: Tei-shala for one thing.


    Looking forward to what will happen with Liam and Jinne later on.
  24. Goodwood

    Goodwood Jedi Master star 5

    May 11, 2011
    Glad you enjoyed Chak's entry into the story, Nyota's Heart, as well as the rest of the chapter.
  25. Goodwood

    Goodwood Jedi Master star 5

    May 11, 2011
    Chapter Nine

    "That's poodoo," the corporal from her company's Third Platoon asserted baldly, surprising Seela Dar yet again. "The Sith only showed up there when His Holiness went darkers and declared himself Lord Darth or whatever."

    "I assure you, it's not," Yuthura Ban insisted, utterly unfazed by the remark. "Think on it: I was there, I came to the Academy almost ten years ago, and it was well-established even then. The city of Dreshdae was never very large, but it was built to last."

    "Throttle back, Corporal," Seela admonished mildly, though the look on her face made it clear that she would indulge no further jaw-jacking on the part of her Marines. "We're all in the same shuttle here, let's not start doubting our guide so soon. She's running the same risks the rest of us are."

    "Aye aye, First Sergeant," the junior noncom replied sourly.

    "I'll admit, it is a little difficult to accept," Seela continued, nodding at Yuthura. "Just how long have the Sith been there, at least their most recent incarnation?"

    Yuthura returned the gesture, wordlessly lauding the Tatooinian's grasp of how the Sith and the dark side worked. Most either wouldn't or couldn't comprehend that evil wore many guises, and could be made manifest in any number of ways, particularly when the Force was involved. Such had led to her own fall, and it was only after her second chance that the Twi'lek had grown to truly appreciate the notion and all that it entailed. "It is difficult to say," she admitted. "I would estimate that the Academy that I attended and helped run was there for at least two generations, possibly before Exar Kun claimed the mantle of Dark Lord. The infrastructure and curriculum were well-polished, the result of much development and adaptation to ongoing events."

    "So we can expect our destination to at least resemble an urban environment, at least by Outer Rim standards," a buck sergeant from Aurek Company surmised.

    Yuthura nodded again. "Yes, but considerably less tidy; even when times were good, there were many transients and downtrodden trying to eke out a meager existence. Most were playthings for the Sith..."

    While the rest of the squad chewed on these nuggets of information, Seela raked Yuthura with an expression that was a mixture of pity and consternation; now was not the time for self-flagellation and naval-gazing. The Twi'lek nodded back, squaring her shoulders and continuing on. Unfurling a large roll of flimsiplast, she took a stylus and began drawing a surprisingly fine map of Dreshdae, starting with the spaceport and radiating outward to encompass the city before illustrating the entrance to the Academy and the Valley of the Dark Lords which lay beyond, all the while describing landmarks and other points of interest with a sense of professional aplomb that would've been the envy of any Force Recon scout. It does take discipline to master the Force, Seela reminded herself, even its darker aspects.

    After about an hour of work, she had mapped out the entire settlement, at least as it had been when she had lived there. Another ten minutes passed as she described as best she could what havoc had been wrought upon the place when everything had gone to hell, in the wake of "His Holiness" Revan's visit. "There may have been more damage done that I didn't see," Yuthura said once she had finished. "It was all we could do to avoid attracting attention while I worked on our escape vehicle."

    The irony of her statement was not lost on the assembled team. "That won't be a factor, given the lay of the land," the E-TAC said, pointing to a low rise that enfolded the other side of the city from the Academy entrance. "I can set up the uplink here, at the crest of this small bluff, and hide there for weeks."

    "Hopefully that won't be necessary," Seela acknowledged with a wry grin. "Yuthura, any thoughts?"

    "He's right," she replied, then turned her attention to the Navy man. "There's a small overhang on the other side that might hide you better, however; hardly anyone ever went out that far, there was no reason to. There are other spots as well, should you need to relocate."

    "Sounds good, ma'am," the E-TAC said.

    "The way I see it, we've got two possibilities waiting for us," Seela began, addressing everyone in the aft compartment. "Either we manage to get a berth at the spaceport, or we have to set down somewhere else. Both assume we're able to make planetfall with our cover intact; if it's blown or we cannot approach, the mission will be scrubbed, but I'm not counting on that and it's a call we'll be able to make once we get there. If the place is deserted, we'll still go for the spaceport since it's got open-pit landing bays, but we may have to cut our way through various sealed hatchways and other obstacles. We might need your lightsaber for that, Yuthura."

    The Twi'lek nodded, acknowledging the directive.

    "Even if there are people down there when we come in, I'd like to still try for a berth," Seela continued, "so we'll have to work up some sort of cover story. If we can't bluff our way past the spaceport control or if, the Force forbid, the place is full, we'll either land wherever they tell us to or set down at the outskirts, as far away from your planned bolt-hole as possible." The E-TAC blinked acknowledgment. "I'd like to avoid setting down in the Valley if at all possible, however," the first sergeant hedged. "That place practically reeks of ambush."

    There was a murmur of agreement from a couple of the more experienced Marines.

    "However we make landfall, Yuthura and I will debark and take in what sights we can without arousing suspicion, whether or not the place is inhabited—just because we can't see them when we land doesn't mean they aren't there. The rest of you will wait until nightfall when, if possible, you will exit in twos and threes to find places to set up concealed positions. No one is to go anywhere alone, nor are you to let yourselves be seen; the Sith, if there are any, must not know that Republic military forces have made planetfall, much less entered the system.

    "Which brings me to our number and team assignments," Seela continued, pulling the disposable datapad containing the squad roster from where she had stowed it two days previously...

    — — —​

    "What do you mean, you don't remember why you did it?" Chak Ravartin said, his voice a venomous hiss of accusation. "You disappear after killing Mandalore, taking your fleet who knows where, and then start attacking the Republic, and you don't know why?!"

    "I'm sorry, but it's the truth," Revan admitted stoically. The commander's inquiry had been blunt and to the point, as he had expected it to be given what he knew of the man. As soon as Chak had pinned the two Jedi to the aft bulkhead with his glare as cold as the void, he'd asked Revan why he had turned on those he had sworn to serve, expecting answers. Up to that point, no one in the Republic Military had dared to confront him so; even Admiral Dodonna had been circumspect in that regard, accepting that he had indeed earned redemption and not pressing him for the details of his fall. But this relatively short, ginger haired and green-eyed former Marine pilot had guts to spare, and the gumption to use what authority he had to get the job done. These was certainly laudable qualities in an officer and a gentlebeing, particularly given the man's record, which was why Revan suddenly felt so utterly inadequate for being unable to provide an answer.

    Bastila came to his rescue at that moment, perhaps sensing that it was time to come clean. "There are reasons for this," she said, her voice thick with emotion. "Do you remember a certain freelance scout, who came aboard the Endar Spire a few weeks before the Battle of Taris?"

    Chak nodded severely, locking his arms across his chest and looking daggers at Revan. "That was you, alright, though I didn't know it at the time. I thought we'd picked up some sort of savant, you were so absent-minded."

    "Did it never occur to you that there might be a reason he was in such a state?" Bastila asked, her tone almost pleading.

    Chak cast a furtive glance forward, checking the small viewport mounted at the very front of the compartment that contained the auxiliary conn, to make sure that the jump to hyperspace had been completed successfully. "No," he admitted after a beat, returning his gaze to the two Knights. "You seemed perfectly normal when we ran into each other on Lehon, so I didn't even think about it. But still, that's no excuse."

    "Unfortunately, it is," Bastila replied in a small voice.

    And she proceeded to spill the beans to the young commander, telling him everything. The explanation took well over an hour, outside of the breaks from story time Chak had to take in order to check on various goings-on. Though it was apparent that he didn't believe half of what he was hearing, and felt rather sorry to think that the other half might actually be true, he accepted Bastila's explanations without protest or comment. Clearly he was used to hearing long, convoluted stories, and he proceeded to prove this by cutting right to the heart of the matter.

    "So you got conked on the head and forgot half your life," he spat, "and had the other half suppressed by the Jedi."

    "It's not that simple—" Bastila began, but Revan waved down her angry retort.

    "Correct," he said instead, his own voice calm and measured. "Ever since we wound up on Taris, I've been trying to get my memory back. Believe me, Commander, I very much want to know why I did what I did, just as much as you do if not more. There are lessons to be learned in such knowledge, but the truth itself is just as vital. We need to go to Korriban, to ensure whatever remnants of the Sith that may linger cannot use it as a base, but my feelings also tell me that part of that truth—or a key to unlocking it—may be found there."

    Chak seemed to consider this, a look of intense concentration replacing the heated indignation that had fueled his initial query. Finally he spoke, his voice blank. "If I didn't know you Jedi as well as I did, I'd think you were trying to pull a nova flare on me. A dazzle job. But I've heard the scuttlebutt, I know you've been to Korriban before, back during the war, and that you pretty much dropped a bomb on its inhabitants. It seems to me like you got yanked around by both sides of the Force, whether you know it or not, or even choose to acknowledge that fact."

    Revan and Bastila exchanged looks, both astonished by the Coruscanti's burst of insight. At that moment, the compartment vanished before his eyes and Revan was aboard the bridge of another vessel, quite unlike this one, looking down at another redhead who was twice his the time...standing next to the man who had been Alek. He was telling her about his plan for the final campaign to end the Mandalorian threat...but he couldn't remember what it was...and for some reason he was wearing a mask...

    A gentle hand upon the crook of his arm pulled him from his reverie. "Are you alright, Revan?"

    "Another fragment," he acknowledged, nodding to Bastila and Chak in turn. "From the Mandalorian Wars this time."

    "It's how they come back to him, his memories," Bastila explained for Chak's benefit. "What did you see?"

    "I had just arrived back at the Republic fleet from a solitary mission," he said quietly, piecing the shards of memory together into a form he could relate. "Malak was bringing Master Sunrider with him to meet me, I'd asked her to check on someone, to see if they were sensitive, but I wanted to tell her about some...modifications to a plan. That's all I can piece together."

    "Master Vima Sunrider?" Bastila asked, startled at the name. "It...she does resemble Commander Ravartin, in some ways. Odd."

    Chak looked from one Jedi to the other, his face reddening with a hint of embarassment. "I know that name. What happened to her?"

    "I...I don't know," Bastila replied, utterly nonplussed. "Revan?"

    "She was exiled for following me to war," Revan muttered regretfully. "Master Vandar told me about a year ago, when I asked why she was no longer on the High Council. I think he knew he wouldn't be able to keep the truth from coming out eventually, even if he'd wanted to. She was the only Jedi to come back from the war, to return to the Republic, but something had happened to her. That was as much as he would divulge..."

    Silence descended, save for the usual sounds of a warship's crew hard at work, as the trio fell into contemplative stances. For all his bluster and posturing, Chak felt as though the situation was starting to spiral out of his control; Jedi had a funny way of making that happen, it seemed. He hadn't expected them even to indulge his anger-fueled investigation, let alone lay out the whole sad, sorry tale for him. It was patently obvious that just about every fact they had relayed was classified well above his pay grade, and if they had been a part of the chain of command, he would've turned them—and himself—in for violating just about every regulation regarding secrecy that he was aware of. But he also knew that proper Jedi, the sort the Order let loose to do as they saw fit with minimal or nonexistent oversight, were particularly choosy when it came to those outside the Order in whom they confided. Suddenly, he realized that both Knights had practically handed him the keys to the city, in that if word of what the Council had done to "Darth" Revan ever got out, it could mean the shattering of an accord that had lasted for twenty thousand years. Perhaps, despite his emotional tempest, they felt that he was a being in whom they could entrust such vital information. Why that was so, he didn't know, and right now he wasn't very interested in finding out. What he did want was some answers, and if he had to bust his ass and risk a demotion or worse to help Revan and Bastila find them, then so be it.

    He needed to know why Teish'ala had had to die. Her, and so many others.

    The silence continued even as the watch changed, with an Elomin ensign taking over for Char'dain. Realizing that his and the Knights' continued presence was only serving as a distraction, particularly since the ship was in hyperspace, he nodded at the pair and mutely led them back to his own somewhat more modest ready room near the base of "the tower." When they arrived, Chak made rather a meal out of fixing a pitcher of caf, offering to pour cups for his guests which they gratefully accepted.

    "I don't pretend to know how the Force works," he said after settling himself into the comfortable nerf-hide chair behind his desk, "but if it operates anything like normal Human mental responses and coping mechanisms, then I'd say some sort of visual cue triggered a flashback of some kind." Meeting Bastila's incongruously churlish look, he took a sip and set the cup down. "Believe me, I've had plenty of experience with such things; you can't run a fighter squadron and not learn a few commonalities of the average sentient mind."

    "That may be," she allowed, her voice stiff. "But we're dealing with forces that even the Council Masters don't fully understand."

    Revan's expression twisted at Bastila's inadvertent, but still gruesome pun. "Oh for the love of..."

    "It's not funny, Revan," she shot back. "Though I'm loath to admit it, Commander Ravartin may be right."

    "Not that, Bas," he protested. "It's just...never mind."

    "When the two of you have finished," Chak interrupted, standing and nearly upsetting his caf, the authority in his voice catching both Knights off guard, "I'd like to go over what you intend to do once we arrive at Korriban. I know that you've already planned things out with the admiral and Captain Melao, but I'm the one who's going to be coordinating things for Stalwart Defender. Hopefully we can do this without you having to relive lost episodes of the holodrama that is your life, because unlike you, I have a ship to run."

    Feeling rather vindicated, he sat back down as Bastila began to recite the overall mission parameters, including First Sergeant Dar's scouting expedition. Honestly, the way those two go at each other, he mused, you'd think they were an old married couple.

    — — —​

    "He knows we're together," Revan said once they were finally back in their quarters deep in officer country, his tone one of curiosity and mild concern. "He's also surprisingly knowledgeable about the Force and the Order both."

    "The commander is observant," Bastila agreed. "I saw this for myself during the war; of all the forces we led into battle, he and his fellow pilots always benefited most whenever I used Battle Meditation. He's also not to be trifled with," she concluded.

    "I got that impression when you decided to explain what had happened to us," Revan quipped. "The man is either Force-sensitive or the luckiest person in the galaxy—but if he's the former, he hides it extremely well."

    Bastila grinned. "As you yourself once said, 'I think you underestimate us non-Jedi.'"

    "It's a good thing we are together, then. You keep us grounded in reality, and I keep us plowing forward."

    "Still, it's troubling that he possesses such insights," Bastila said, plowing on with the discussion at hand despite her agreement with Revan's assessment of their relationship. "I'm almost reluctant to let him accompany the landing force when we reach Korriban."

    "His mind's set on it, there'll be no talking him out of it if Captain Melao agrees to the request," Revan advised. "And he will if he hasn't already, because he'll need someone he can trust implicitly to take command down there."

    "I thought Commander Hrakness would be in charge," Bastila inquired, her brow arched.

    "Yes, he'll be in charge of the Marines and their prosecution of groundside operations," Revan explained, "but Commander Ravartin will be needed to represent the Navy in order to liaise with the task force and coordinate any side missions like orbital fire support or tasking shuttles for evac, not to mention the starfighters flying cover for the whole thing. The chiefs in charge of the landing zones will also report to him, letting him know of any snags or special needs that he'll relay up to the warships in orbit."

    "It sounds complicated, but then I never was one for military tactics, even on this relatively small scale."

    "You mean you didn't pick up on any of that while you were out there, roaming the battle planes aboard the Endar Spire?"

    "Oh, do shut up you babbling fool," Bastila retorted, drawing Revan into an embrace and planting a kiss on his lips.

    — — —​

    "Enter," Captain Nor Melao said when the hatch chirped.

    Chak strode deliberately into his captain's ready room, grateful that no one else was present, especially the admiral. "You were right, sir," he said briskly but with fatigue evident in his voice as he took a seat opposite the dark skinned Human. "There is a lot more going on with Revan than he ever admitted to."

    "Anything the admiral or myself should know?"

    Chak hesitated for a moment, unsure how much of what he had heard should be repeated to his captain. He hadn't exactly been thrilled with the assignment, wringing the pair of Knights for any information that they might not have shared of their own volition. That lack of enthusiasm had gone by the board soon after, however, when he had realized that he wanted to interrogate them anyway, particularly given all the trouble Revan had caused in his personal life as well as his military career. Still, though he had understood the need for such an unofficial inquest, now he felt uncomfortable at the idea of betraying the trust that had suddenly been heaped upon him. The Republic needed the Jedi Order as much as the Order needed the Republic, and though he trusted his commanding officer without reservation, once he passed on this pack of secrets, there was no telling how far afield they might travel. What the Council had done to Revan was very Sith-like, even to him in his war-induced sense of pragmatism. What would the average being, who knew little of the difference between Sith and Jedi, make of such news? Torn between his duty and his sense of responsibility, Chak began to understand just how much of a burden the loneliness of command could be, in a way he had never fully appreciated before.

    "Not at this time," Chak hedged instead. "But if anything they told me becomes relevant to the mission, you'll be the first to know."

    The captain seemed to consider this. Perhaps because he was working from experience, or maybe he was just that good at reading people, or both, he fixed Chak with a knowing look. "If that does happen, let me know if anything you do feel forced to share shouldn't be passed on, and it'll go no further. The Jedi have their secrets, as does the Republic, and it does neither organization any good to abuse the trust of the other."

    "Thank you, Captain," Chak acknowledged, whuffing out a sigh of relief.

    "What was it like?"

    "Talking with them? Well sir, as you know, I've served with plenty of Jedi before, including Bastila and Captain Reyolé. The latter we both knew well, and though the former was a bit full of herself back then, she's matured significantly in the time since. Revan, on the other hand...he's a puzzle wrapped in an enigma, though he hides it well under a façade of cheerfulness and enthusiasm." Chak paused, choosing his next words carefully. "Though we barely know each other, he seems to trust me, and both of them respect my authority."

    Nor Melao nodded grimly, knowing that his XO had been through quite a lot in the past five years. Ever since the young Coruscanti had returned to his ship as a naval officer, he had made it a point to recognize and nurture his innate leadership abilities and talent for command, and the former snubby jock had yet to disappoint. Even while still learning the ropes, he had pursued his duties with the same air of quiet professionalism that Nor had come to expect from a seasoned Academy graduate; though the former swooper had to be missing the days when he could fly regularly, he made no noise of complaint. If Nor was honest with himself, he would have to admit that he had been a bit wary of accepting a Cross of Glory holder as his exec, whether or not the medal and all the ceremony that went with it had changed the person as a whole. But when Tulon had been promoted to command one of the new construction cruisers the Ciutrans were supplying for the Republic, until the various shipyards destroyed or crippled by the Sith could be rebuilt or repaired, he had had a difficult time finding anyone for the job. Though he loved his vessel like he loved his wife and children, among the rest of the fleet Stalwart Defender was thought of as a fairly old ship, past her prime and drifting inexorably toward obsolescence. However, Commander Ravartin had approached him from such a position of humility and sense of duty, that he had felt it crass not to give the young man a chance, especially after they had first met to discuss the appointment.

    "Never doubt that the authority they respect, you have earned," Nor said after a reflective pause. "Were you able to coax an answer to our biggest question?"

    Chak's face flushed slightly at the compliment, but he shook his head ruefully. "He says he doesn't remember, and despite feeling like a prat for it, I believe him. Like you said before, there's something odd about him, something I'm now unsure he's fully come to grips with, but when I told him so, he seemed surprised, shaken."

    Nor's eyes flashed, unsure what his XO meant. "What was that something?"

    "He's little more than a blaster rifle, sir," Chak stated baldly, "a blaster that's been wielded by both sides. It was just a hunch I had, but the way he reacted to it..."

    Nor felt himself shiver despite the climate-controlled ready room in which he sat. Utterly at a loss for what to say in response, but needing to reassure his exec that he had done well, he bought himself time to think by adjusting the sleeves of his uniform. The commander had long ago proven to be highly resourceful, and far more observant than his age would imply, and both qualities had and would serve him well, now and in the future. "It's a mouthful, certainly," he finally said in a low murmur, "but not something we should dwell on. Riding herd on a bunch of Jedi isn't in our job description, but despite that you've handled things better than any reasonable person can expect. If they decide to share anything more, I'll trust you to use your best judgment insofar as what, if anything, to relay and when."

    Chak stood, recognizing that he was being dismissed. "Thank you, sir," he said with evident relief. "I'll get those readiness reports and go through them for the staff meeting tomorrow."

    Nor stood as well, a wry grin curling the corner of his mouth as he shook his head. "I've already handled it," he said. "You've had enough on your plate for one day, so get some rest. Peacetime officers have that luxury, you know; now that we're underway, I've decided to push back the meeting a couple of days."

    "Understood, sir," Chak said, before turning and exiting the compartment.

    "You're going to need that rest," Nor muttered to himself once the hatch had closed. "Especially once we get where we're going."

    — — —​

    For the past three days, the squad of Marines, their guide, and the Navy comm specialist had spent nearly every waking hour poring over the map that Yuthura Ban had drawn—and augmented with more and more remembered details as the hours passed—discussing their assigned duties and how to pursue them given the possible circumstances, or else brainstorming scenarios for dealing with whatever reception they might expect. Once Seela had set the squad identifiers and pairings, the bickering had stopped and the various Marines of the 13th Battalion had begun to meld into an effective team. Though she kept up the façade of the gruff, no-nonsense first sergeant, she had begun to relax considerably as her energies were shunted into doing something useful, as she had known would happen. The rocky start to the mission had been smoothed over quite well by now, as the old ship finally approached the last jump point prior to making the run into Korriban, and she was confident that her people would do well no matter what they ended up facing.

    Of course, none of them were in a hurry to trust or befriend their nominal commander; they seemed to recognize that her commission was temporary and bore little weight. Seela made no effort to push the squad in this regard, however, as it would have caused needless friction and a loss of respect for the person who was really running the show. They didn't have to like the Twi'lek in order to do their jobs, and that was fine with her, so long as they obeyed orders. It was evident that Yuthura could sense the halfhearted hostility they bore toward her, and it certainly didn't help the redeemed former Sith Master's mood, but there was little help for it.

    "You alright?" Seela asked the woman, as she poked her head into the cockpit. Yuthura was sitting in the pilot's seat and staring off into the mottled violet whorls of hyperspace, her hands loose in her lap and her left lek dancing a sort of jig. When she didn't reply, Seela eased herself into the copilot/navigator's station and sealed the hatch. "We're getting close," she said bracingly.

    Slowly, the Twi'lek seemed to rouse herself from her torpor, taking stock of the current situation. "About seven minutes until reversion," she replied, her voice blank. "I have a bad fee—"

    "Don't ever say that," Seela interrupted gently, placing a hand on Yuthura's shoulder and attempting to crack a smile. "Every time someone does, it turns out to be true."

    The tension in the cockpit broke, and Yuthura's vacant expression lit up in a genuine chortle. "I seem to have forgotten just who it is I'm dealing with," she said wryly. "You never cease to amaze me, Seela Dar. You are a credit to your people."

    Blushing slightly, Seela strapped herself in for the reversion and subsequent course correction. "They're your people too, you know," she reminded the Twi'lek sagely. "Even if it's only for the duration of the mission."

    "And if we survive?"

    "Well, that's up to you, isn't it?" the Tatooinian challenged. "For the first time in decades, you hold your destiny in your own hands."

    "True enough, I suppose," Yuthura sighed, "but now is not the time for pondering such things, wouldn't you agree?"

    "Absolutely," Seela replied, flipping the appropriate switches to bring the main sensor array online prior to the reversion. Deliverance would be decanting back into realspace at the edge of the Horuset system, close enough to Korriban to detect any warships or other space traffic on passive sensors, and even concentrations of living beings or technology if there was a chance to use the active scanners without running the risk of detection. She wasn't exactly an expert on such systems, but she'd done her homework prior to leaving Dantooine and Yuthura, as their pilot, would know what to look for better than anyone else.

    The last few minutes of the long hyperjump ticked down in amiable silence, and it was Seela who pulled back on the controls that would bring the ship out of lightspeed. The cloudy visage before them shattered into a million lines that swiftly shrank back into stars, including the dull orange one that hung fat and happy in space before them. "Korriban," Yuthura breathed, "bearing three-three-one mark seven."

    "Not much to look at from here," Seela commented dryly, examining the dirty crescent. "Sensors are online, pulling a data feed now." She paused, examining the results. "No ships in orbit, but there's an ion trail leading Rimward. I'd say someone's been by recently; no telling who, though."

    There was a muted beeping sound, drawing Yuthura and Seela's eyes toward the comm console. A green button pulsated, indicating the receipt of a broadband transmission. "Now that is odd," the blonde Human continued, checking a few other things before playing the message. "Assuming I'm reading this thing right, it's a looping transmission on a low-frequency carrier wave not used by standard Republic systems. I think the only reason we're picking it up at all is our proximity to the source and the nonstandard comm unit installed in this bucket."

    Yuthura's lekku went slack in horror as she looked at the frequency ID. "There's a good reason for that," she murmured. "It's a comm band used by the Sith."

    Without further ado, Seela pushed the ACCEPT button.

    "Welcome to Korriban, prospective student," an official-sounding voice boomed into the cockpit. "Set your direction-finding equipment to follow this transmission and land as directed, and you will be brought into the ranks assembling here. Welcome to Korriban, prospective student..."

    "Well, that's one box ticked," Seela said with a disgusted snort of irony as she flipped the intercom switch. "Twelve, you'd better dump your package. Set it to send out the following message on activation: 'Have reached Korriban. Sith presence confirmed. Initiating protocol Tatooine Three Eight.'"

    "Understood, First Sergeant," the man replied, his voice as sour as Seela's innards had turned. "Package is away."