Tower of Time: Long Ago and Far Away
   

Under the Shadow of the Builders
Prologue

At another explosion, the Endar Spire lurched suddenly, throwing Ev down into the escape pod. She yelped in surprise as her feet lost contact with the metal deck and again when she landed face-first on the floor of the tiny pod; a sharp pain coursing up her right leg. She landed on the vibroblade that had been in her hand only moments before. Remembering the presence of a superior officer just behind her, she bit back a string of curses and struggled to pull herself up onto the sparsely-padded seat.

Carth fared slightly better, catching himself on the handles beside the door, though still striking his shoulder squarely on them as he entered. “Are you alright—,” he yelled over the noise of the onslaught on the ship, searching for a name, “soldier?”

“Fine,” she lied, gritting her teeth at the deepening crimson stain on her pants. Stupid! A soldier pays better attention to her weapon!

A deafening explosion accompanied by something akin to the sound of shattering metal shook the ship again. Carth lost his footing as he descended into the pod and narrowly shuffled around the vibroblade on the floor. He, however, managed to remain upright until he found his own seat. Again, the ship shook even more violently. “We might not get out of here,” he said darkly, glancing over at Ev. Seeing her grimace and both hands pressed hard against her thigh, he exclaimed, “How’d you get that? Are you sure you’re fine?”

“Fine enough, but we won’t be if we sit around here and talk about it, Onasi. Strap in and get us out of here!” she barked then winced at her own forcefulness. Thankfully, Carth didn’t seem to notice. Spotting the hatch controls near her, she pulled the lever down, leaving a bloody smear across it, and the hatch hissed close behind them.

Already, Ev was beginning to feel weak from blood loss. She reached for the safety restraints, thinking desperately to herself, There had better be a med pack in here somewhere, or at least a big role of gauze. I need to keep this blood inside of me.

Machinery clanked, and with a hiss of air, the Endar Spire released its hold on the last escape pod. “We’re off!” Carth announced triumphantly.

Before they could get clear of the ship, however, it twisted and bucked around them, battering the tiny pod against the wall of the chute. Carth cursed and Ev, still grasping the unfastened restraints, struck her head hard against the panel in front of her. She hadn’t a breath to cry out before she lost her hold on consciousness.

“It’ll be a rough one, soldier,” Carth yelled, his eyes darting between the view port and limited controls of the pod. Fortunately enough, he’d never had the occasion like this before to get familiar with an escape pod. This did mean, unfortunately, that he had to learn all there was to know about one as quickly as he could. “Not that there is much to know anyway,” he murmured to himself and fiddled with the few benign-looking dials. The pod burst into open space, giving him a broad view of the planet they were fortunate enough to be above: Taris. Only a few heartbeats later, the Endar Spire finally split at its seams behind them, destroyed.

Sighing deeply, both in relief and regret, he asked, “How’s that leg now, soldier?” When no response came, he tore his attention from the shattered remains of his ship out the back view port and to his sole companion in escape. She leaned face-down on the controls, blood running freely down her right leg, and arms hanging limply off her shoulders. Her thick, short black hair obscured her face, but the rhythmic rise and fall of her back did reassure him that she was still alive. “Sith spawn!” he muttered. “I would feel a lot better about landing on a Sith-quarantined planet if I had someone along that wasn’t incapacitated. Or, for that matter, if I knew who she was. This is definitely going to be interesting.” Carth began to rummage around for a med pack; he certainly couldn’t leave her to bleed like that.

Down and down they plummeted.

~~~

Ev watched on as four Jedi marched grimly onto the bridge, light sabers ignited. A lone masked figure robed in black stood waiting, red lightsaber grasped with both hands. The ship shuddered from the onslaught of the battle around it yet none of them stumbled. She could almost feel the currents of the force rush around her as the Sith threw lightning at the advancing party of jedi. They easily pushed it away. The distance closed between them and light sabers hummed and whirled across her vision in indistinct arcs of yellow, red, green, and blue.


Abruptly, Ev found herself in darkness, dimly aware of the shadow of another person near by. She wanted to crouch down, become less vulnerable, but no, she already lay flat on her back with something draped over her. Her limbs felt like lead. There was no defending herself or sneaking away. She wished for a vibroblade.


Again, the light returned and she stood on the deck of a ship, a red light saber clenched between her black gloved hands. Yellow, green, and blue whirled around her, but she swung hard and quickly, blocking their blows.


Ev was running down the corridors of a ship that pitched even more violently than before with another soldier at her heels. They crossed through the bridge just in time to see two republic soldiers fall at the hands of Sith gunmen. She yelled and rushed in with her vibroblade flying. Soon, she and her companion had cut down the Sith soldiers and continued sprinting down the shaking corridors. They found themselves face to face with a dark jedi. This was not the masked Sith robed in black she had seen before, but he brandished a similarly threatening red lightsaber. “Run for the escape pods, I’ll hold him off! Carth said he’d wait,” the other soldier said and pushed her towards the door. Then he turned and charged at the dark jedi who waited calmly for him. “Wait!” she shrieked, but it was too late. He had sealed himself behind a blast door with the Sith.


Now she wielded a brilliantly yellow light saber, facing the cloaked Sith herself. Other jedi surrounded her and fought beside her. She felt tired, but she sensed the Sith’s fear and exhaustion as well. One well-contacted blow combined with the shaking of the ship threw the Sith to the floor, where it lay, groaning. She extinguished her light saber and slowly approached.


Ev lay flat on her back under what felt like a thin blanket. Her whole body ached, and her head and right leg throbbed almost unbearably. The room she lay in was light, but she didn’t dare open her eyes yet. The the pulsing pain in her forehead warned her against doing so. She extended her senses and heard the unsubtle movements of another person not far off. Where was she? Her ship had been boarded by Sith and she had fought them off—or was it jedi? Or did she actually lose? Her pain might suggest that. She had no memory of lying down, or of a place that smelled as musty and ill-kept as this. No ship she had ever been on had this smell, at least that she could remember. She must have been captured.

Since that was the case, she had to rise quietly and find some sort of weapon before her captor would have a chance to react. She heard him muttering something. Ignoring the painful complaints of her head, Ev eased her eyes open a crack and surveyed the situation. Or at least tried to. It took considerable squinting before she could make out anything besides a blurry mess of grays and browns. And a spot of bright orange. So, her captor liked orange. How subtle.

Unfortunately, there was nothing close by that could suffice as a weapon. A vibroblade, presumably hers, lay on a table near where her captor stood. The man in orange had two basters holstered to his belt, and it was safest to assume that he knew how to use them. It seemed that her best option was to slip as quietly as she could from the low cot and out the door.

Fortunately, her cot was right next to the door. Of course, the door was probably locked, but she wouldn’t find out if she didn’t try. There didn’t seem to be any better option. Unless—she could use the cot as a weapon. Maybe she could throw it across the room and knock him out with it. That could potentially be a more successful plan.

Ev slowly shifted her feet to the edge of the cot, wincing as it creaked, but the man didn’t seem to notice. She swiftly swung her legs down over the edge and pushed off with sore arms. As the thin blanket slid off of her, she came to the shocking realization that she was wearing almost nothing. Aside from her underthings, all she had was the thin thermal shirt that she wore beneath her flight suit and armor for cold voyages in space. Lashed around her right thigh appeared to be the bloody remains of her thermal pants. I wonder how that happened…? As the cold air struck her skin and blood rushed from her head, the world swam around her. A moment later, her knees buckled and she fell backwards onto the cot. As if to add insult to injury, the back of her head struck the wall behind her, and she let out an involuntary yelp of pain. So much for fighting my way out of here. I guess this is my fate.

To her confusion, the man whirled around with a look of worry that soon turned to relief. “Evrue, you’re awake!” he said, hurrying over to her, “What just happened?”

“Stop right there!” Ev yelled over the pounding in her ears, “Who the hell are you and where the hell am I? And, for that matter, where the hell are my clothes?”

He stopped and stepped back a pace with a look of confusion on his face to match what she felt. “That bump on the head must have been harder than I thought,” he said.

“Yes, I’ve just hit my head and it hurts like mad, but I can still see straight,” she growled, “You’re not answering my questions.” When he failed to come up with an immediate response, she continued, “I don’t remember coming here, only that my ship was boarded, so up until a moment ago, I thought I was a hostage. Prove me wrong.”

“Just give me a chance to answer, would you?” he snapped then apologized, “Sorry, this has been hard on me too.” She remained silent and waited for him to continue. “I’m Carth Onasi, a soldier of the Endar Spire, like you.”

“Run for the escape pods, I’ll hold him off! Carth said he’d wait.”

Right, Carth. The advising officer.


“They were after Bastila. She got away in an escape pod before we did. And, whether you remember it or not, you fought your way to the pods, and we got off just before the whole ship blew to pieces. I’m not sure how you did it, but you sliced up your leg pretty badly in the process and got knocked out when we ejected from the Spire.”

“That would explain why I hurt so damn much,” she murmured, glaring up at him, “But that still doesn’t explain where my clothes went.”

“Look,” Carth said, waving his hands defensively, “You were bleeding really badly, and I couldn’t get to that cut with your battle suit and armor on. The escape pod didn’t have much in the way of a med kit, so your thermals had to take the place of gauze. You’ve been in and out of consciousness for the last three days, tossing and turning. I figured you’d be more comfortable in just that than all your armor.”

“Okay, fine, I’ll give you that,” she responded. Her dark eyes narrowed, “but how do I know you weren’t taking advantage of me in any way while I was out?”

Carth nearly spat in indignation and his ears grew red, backing even farther away and waving his hands, “No! Never. I’d never. No. Just no.” He broke off shaking his head and muttering.

Ev broke into peels of rich laughter.

“What?” Carth demanded. Ev only laughed hard, doubled over on the cot and clutching her waist. “What?” he asked again.

Sniffing and chuckling, she finally managed to answer, “I’m sorry sir. I wasn’t actually serious. I was just trying to figure out what kind of man you are, since my memories of meeting you before are patchy at best.”

“I hope I cleared that up for you now,” Carth said, still indignant.

“Yes, yes,” she laughed.

Still red around the ears, Carth continued uncomfortably, “I pulled you out of that escape pod, patched you up, and found this places without detection from the Sith, and all I know about you is what was on your hire record. Sitting here, wondering if you were actually going to recover, then having to sneak around like some criminal when I had to go out hasn’t been easy.”

Ev stifled her laughter. “I’m sorry,” she said, “I really owe you more respect, you being the advisor on board and all, and me just a soldier among many.”

“It doesn’t really matter now,” Carth said, gazing at the opaque window, “The Spire is gone. And, at the moment, you really aren’t one of many. It doesn’t look like anyone else survived, at least that I’ve found.”

“Ev! Get up! We’re under attack! We’ve got to get to the bridge and protect Bastila!”

“Shoot! This must be the advanced boarding party. Stick close and I’m sure we can get through this.”

“A dark jedi? Run for the escape pods, I’ll hold him off!”


In her mind, soldier after soldier fell to the Sith invasion force.

“No!” Ev found herself vocalizing, startling herself.

Carth shuffled closer and apologized, “I’m sorry Evrue, it upset me too. I hate this feeling that we’re alone on a Sith-controlled world.”

“No, it’s not that,” Ev murmured slowly, so softly Carth could hardly make out her words, “I guess none of the others could have made it off alive, could they?” She hung her head and stared down at the remains of her thermals that wrapped tightly around her leg.

Carth gazed down at where Ev sat on the cot. She looked weak, battered, and dejected, but he knew better than to let that fool him. Ev had made it past squads of soldiers and perhaps a dark jedi or two to get to him at the escape pods and the only injuries she sustained were inside the pod itself. All that in an ensign fresh out of military academy. While Carth was sure he wouldn’t have picked her out of the entire crew of the Endar Spire to be his partner in this mess, he was still glad to have someone else along.

Her wallowing silence became more than Carth could bare. “I noticed on your track record that you know a remarkable number of alien languages. That’s pretty rare in a raw recruit,” Carth observed, “And graduated at the top of your class from the military academy on top of that.”

“I would hope so, given the experience I had going in, unlike all those fresh young kids,” Ev nodded, then seeing Carth’s skeptically raised brow, she added, “Though I may be a ‘raw recruit’ and have not see as much battle as you have, I’m willing to bet that I’m not that much younger than you are, sir.” She slowly and defiantly pushed off the bed to stand again.

Color immediately drained from her rich, dark complexion, and Carth caught her hand and held her firmly upright before she could teeter over again. Ev didn’t thank him, but at least she didn’t resist. “It will be good to have your skills,” Carth added, “If we’re going to find Bastila.”

“Bastila, Bastila,” she repeated, putting her free hand to her forehead thoughtfully, as if it helped her remember. “You’re going to have to remind me, Onasi. The name seems familiar, but I can’t figure why.”

“That smack to the head must have scrambled you up pretty badly,” Carth said. Ev pulled her hand away, now steadied, and stared expectantly at him. “Bastila is the jedi in charge of the mission we were on. She was with the party of jedi that killed Darth Revan and it was her special Battle Meditation that allowed them to board Revan’s ship in the first place. Darth Malak must have found out she was aboard the Spire and ambushed us. I’m sure she was in one of the other escape pods that crashed onto this planet. For the sake of the Republic war effort, we have to find her.”

“How do you know she’s still alive?” Ev pressed.

“I don’t,” Carth sighed, but quickly added, “But when I consider the alternative, that there’s no one left who can defeat Malak and the Sith, I’d like to go on believing she is.”

Ev nodded, her dark eyes unreadable, “I can understand the want for optimism. So, assuming our jedi friend is still alive—you said this was a Sith-controlled planet, right?” Carth nodded and she continued, “Assuming she’s alive, those Sith are probably hunting for her, if not, have already caught her.”

Carth tensed at that last statement. He had hated having to stay in or close to the abandoned apartment he had found, wondering if he was losing valuable time to save Bastila, but he hated the idea of leaving an injured comrade alone and vulnerable. In the end, it was the second sentiment that won out, but choosing hadn’t made him any happier. “And that’s why she’s going to need the help of two soldiers like us,” Carth said. “No one will be looking for us. With any luck, we can escape Sith notice, rescue her, and get off this planet. We’d better be good at this though. I’ve heard of Sith interrogation techniques, what they can do to the mind, that they can take away your very identity.”

Ev shuddered. “I guess you’re right on that one. We’ve got to save her from that, especially if she is the Republic’s only hope,” she admitted.

“Anyway, now that you’re up, I think I’m going to scout out some food for us,” Carth said, looking over Ev. She seemed to be strong enough to handle herself for a while. Then, nearly smacking himself for not thinking of it before, he added, “And something for you to wear.”

“That would be appreciated,” Ev said, a fiery glint returning to her eyes, “That way my appearance won’t scream ‘I just rolled out of a crashed escape pod, maybe you should come say hi.’”

Carth chuckled wryly as he headed for the door, “You’re probably pretty thirsty, so take all the water you want from the supplies in the corner. And try to get some more rest. Take care of yourself while I’m out.”

“Yes,” she resisted the urge to add ‘mother”, saying instead, “sir.” Just as Carth stretched his hand out for the door, she called, “Wait.”

Carth whirled around, “What?”

“You’ve clearly done your research on me, but all my mind can piece together is that you are a seasoned veteran and were an advisor of sorts on the Endar Spire. You seem a decent man, but how can I be sure that you’re not just going to leave me here or something? Maybe it’s my memory, but I hardly know anything about you.”

“Look, Evrue,” Carth started, more sharply than he had intended, “I’d never leave a companion behind, like I couldn’t leave you behind in the escape pod. I’m a soldier just like you. I’ve been a pilot since before the Mandalorian Wars. In this Jedi Civil War, my home world Telos was one of the first to be hit. We just couldn’t stop them.” The frustration built in his voice as he spoke.

“And of course it was all your fault,” she teased, but he didn’t seem to take as lightly.

“It wasn’t my fault, at least it shouldn’t have been my fault,” he stammered, then sighed, “I shouldn’t have failed them.”

Ev tentatively limped a few steps closer to him. “How could one pilot have caused the fall of an entire planet?” she asked, much more seriously.

“It’s not that, it’s just,” he stuttered, “Well, I’m not making any sense, am I? Now’s not the time for long conversations,” Carth added hurriedly. “I’ll be back soon.” With that he turned and left the room, leaving Ev by herself in the musty old apartment.

She made her way over to the neatly-stacked supplies on the other side of the room. Maybe there was a datapad somewhere in there that could enlighten her more on her companion's past.

- Next Part -

 
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