Tower of Time: Long Ago and Far Away
   

Under the Shadow of the Builders
Part 19- The Leviathan

Even before they broke through Manaan's atmosphere and out into open space, the Ebon Hawk's hostile ship proximity alarms began to whine.

“What's the situation?” Carth demanded. His attention was still focused on keeping the ship together as it burned through the atmosphere.

“It looks like a squad, no, two squads of Sith fighters,” Canderous assessed, “They're on to us already.”

The Ebon Hawk broke into space and the fight started almost immediately. It was everything Carth could do to keep the ship's nose up and away from Manaan as he avoided the squads of incoming fighters.

As soon as he had a moment's breath, Carth ordered over the intercom, “I need gunners, now!”

“Already on it,” Ev's voice called over back over the intercom. Laser fire laced away from the ship and towards the fighters.

A moment later, Zaalbar's warbling joined Ev's voice.

“Transfer power from the thrusters to the forward and side shields,” Carth ordered.

“Done,” Canderous replied, moving quickly, “So you're planning to out-gun them and not out-run them? That's not good odds, soldier.”

“I know, I know,” Carth said absently, “But there's too many on our escape vector now.” The ship rocked as one of the enemy shots hit a vulnerable spot. “Blast!” Carth cursed. “How did they know we were here?”

Ev and Zaalbar were good, but nine of the twelve fighters still remained.

Most of the fighters continued to harass the Ebon Hawk's defenses, but one wing stayed out of range, boxing the Ebon Hawk in, close to the planet's atmosphere.

As Carth directed the ship in orbit around Manaan, Ahto City quickly disappeared from view. The gunners took down three more of the fighters, but the Ebon Hawk still remained trapped well within the gravity well of Manaan.

“Do those fighters seem strange to you?” Carth asked with what little attention he could spare.

“They're keeping us here,” Canderous observed, confirming Carth's suspicions.

“I wonder why?” he started, but was answered before the question was fully out of his mouth.

Rising up over the horizon of Manaan's blue globe came a Sith capital ship. It raced towards them like the gaping silver jaws of a sea monster from Manaan's depths.

The fire of the Sith fighters ceased and they fell back. Meanwhile, Carth felt the sickening sensation of controls that no longer responded to his touch. Helplessly, he fell back into his seat. “Tractor beam,” he murmured.

“A light flickered on Canderous' display. “We're being hailed,” Canderous announced.

“What's going on?” Bastila demanded, hurrying into the cockpit. Jolee, Mission, and Juhani were not far behind her.

“We're caught in a tractor beam,” Carth replied, then addressed Canderous, “Pipe it through.”

Ebon Hawk, this is Admiral Saul Karath of the Leviathan,” the all-too-familiar voice sent a wrenching feeling through Carth's gut. At that moment, Ev and Zaalbar rushed into the already crowded cockpit. “Prepare to be boarded. Any resistance will be met with hostility.” The transmission ended.

“Mission, go voice lock the nava-computer. The rest of you, work on a plan to get out us out of this,” Carth ordered as he rose from his chair.

While Mission scurried towards the communication deck, Bastila ushered the rest of the crew out into a more spacious chamber to discuss.

“Being boarded is unavoidable at this point,” Bastila started, “As is being captured. Our best bet is to assign someone to the task of breaking us out once we are taken. It is likely that the Sith do not know exactly how many of us there are.”

“I could—” Ev started to volunteer.

“No,” Bastila said quickly, “They will be watching the two of us too closely. And Carth, due to his precious association with the Admiral, I'm sure.”

“Let me,” Mission volunteered as she reappeared, “I could bully some guards into putting me into a different cell and slice my way out of it.”

Zaalbar rumbled incredulously.

“I agree,” Ev said, concerned, “What if they decide to beat you up instead? Then where would we be?”

“I,” Juhani started hesitantly, “Have mastered the art of Force Camouflage. I could hide and remain on the ship while you are taken then come after you once things have calmed down.”

Ev leveled her gaze on the Cathar woman, “Juhani, I think you are our best bet. Find yourself a good place to hide, and may the Force be with you.”

Juhani bowed her head. “Thank you. I won't fail you,” she promised, then skirted out of the chamber. It would be best if none of the others knew where she hid.

They heard a loud clanking and felt a lurch as the Ebon Hawk was swallowed up by the underbelly of the Leviathan.

“Prepare to be boarded,” Bastila ordered, “We will await them at the loading ramp.

“I don't like this idea of surrendering without a fight,” Canderous grumbled.

“It's always a fight with you, isn't it, Mandalorian?” Bastila said irritably.

“Do you want to raise suspicion bu surrendering too easily?” Canderous asked, “I'm sure we have a reputation to uphold with those Sith.”

“He has a point,” Ev agreed.

“If everyone gets off a few shots before dropping their weapons, I don't think they'll go hunting for Juhani,” he explained.

“Fine, have it your way,” Bastila submitted.

“Statement: I like his way,” HK-47 put in just as the loading ram was forced open. Silver armored Sith poured up it, guns blazing.

The skirmish lasted less than half a minute before the officer barked, “Drop your weapons! We've got you outnumbered.” With varying degrees of reluctance, they obeyed.

The were ushered off their own ship and into the vast hangar bay, hands behind their heads. A squad of soldiers stood ready to escort them away. Carth's heart pounded. He had been in tough spots before, but none so bad as this. He strained his eyes, scanning the soldiers around him. Saul is on this ship.

Protectively, and almost instinctively, Carth fell into step beside Ev. For a startled moment, their eyes met. While Carth expected to see fear, Ev's dark eyes conveyed another emotion.

“Binders for everyone,” the deck officer barked, “And stun the Jedi.”

Carth didn't see the cloaked Dark Jedi until Bastila froze and collapsed onto the floor in front of them. Then Jolee. Ev tore her gaze away from the Dark Jedi and fixed it on Carth. As if she might have another chance, Ev confessed, “I love you Carth.” Then, she too froze and collapsed at the powers of the Dark Jedi.

“Ev, I—” he stammered, reaching out for her as she fell.

A Sith soldier laughed and seized Carth's arms, “Not so fast.” Carth felt his arms wrenched around and cold metal binders clasped onto his wrists.

“What are you going to do to her?” Carth demanded frantically, nodding at Ev.

“Same as you,” the soldier answered. Bending down and clasping binders to Ev's limp wrists. “But a Jedi can't be trusted to behave with just their wrists tied up.”

As soon as everyone was bound, the officer barked, “Move out. Take the two young Jedi and the soldier in orange to the interrogation chamber. Put the rest of them into cell block L.”

Carth and the others moved into a brisk forced march, since file between two rows of guards. At the end of the column, pairs of guards carried the Jedi on stretchers.

Watching Ev's unconscious, chiseled face for signs of life, Carth felt suddenly more alive himself. We will get out of here alive. If nothing else, I'll make sure Ev can. Saul took Morgan away from me. I won't let him destroy Ev's life as well.


Stripped down to only his boxers, Carth stood stiffly in a narrow, cylindrical Force cage. Several Sith officers and technicians moved about the room but paid him little attention. From the controls, Carth knew that his Force cage was more than a prison. It was a torture chamber.

Carth had never felt so awkwardly vulnerable in his life.

And he hated it.

To his left were two more Force cages containing Bastila and Ev. Both were dressed in as minimally decent clothes as he was. The two women watched the proceedings of the room with steely cold eyes.

Finally, the door to the corridor slip open relieving Saul Karath and a towering Dark Jedi. Saul's blond hair had faded to gray since Carth had seen him last, and his face had begun to wrinkle. However, he looked as sharp and wiry as ever, with the same calculating, hawkish expression on his face.

The Dark Jedi, on the other hand, was tall and burly with a shaved head and pale skin. He was swathed in black robes with shining shoulder armor and a high metal collar. The two men commanded the immediate respect of the others in the room.

“Saul Karath,” Bastila spat, “Whatever your purpose is in keeping us here, you cannot succeed.”

“Oh?” Saul raised and eyebrow and clasped his hands behind his back. He walked casually over to Bastila's cake. “I think we already have.”

“Lord Malak is already on his way, and we have you, his prizes, captive,” the imposing Dark Jedi mused, “Or are you thinking of breaking out of those cages?”

Saul chuckled, “Lord Malak has been anxious to meet with you since he learned from Calo Nord that you escaped destruction on Taris.” He strolled over to Ev's cage and drawled, “And you, it was a most amusing discovery to find you in Bastila's company.”

“You must be confusing me with someone else,” Ev said firmly.

“Oh no, I know exactly what an interesting individual you are,” Saul said with a sickening smile.

Ev met his gaze evenly, “I am an ex-bouncer, ex-shuttle pilot, ex-soldier. The only thing remotely interesting about me is that I might be the galaxy's oldest padawan.”

“I understand why you want me here, Saul, and you've been after Bastila for months, but please leave Ev out of this,” Carth begged quickly.

Both the admiral and the Dark Jedi burst out laughing. “So that's what they told you?” Saul chuckled, “You don't know then. I'll leave that pleasure to Darth Malak himself. Perhaps, padawan, you are confusing yourself with someone else.”

“What are you talking about?” Ev asked, her eyes narrowed. All the while, Bastila remained pensively silent.

Saul Karath ignored her. “We have dawdled here long enough,” he said and walked away from the cages. “Darth Bandon, you may commence the interrogation.”

The Sith stepped forward and stood firmly with his legs spread apart and his arms crossed over his chest. “What is the purpose of your travels?” Darth Bandon asked slowly. His voice was silky and deep.

“You sound like a planetary customs officer,” Ev chided.

Darth Bandon frowned. Saul snapped, “Answer the question.”

“Don't tell them anything,” Bastila advised in a quiet hiss. “We can withstand torture.”

“What is your purpose?” Darth Bandon repeated, drawing slowly towards Ev.

“We're on a pleasure cruise,” Ev replied flippantly, “The warm seas of Ahto City make for a great holiday get-away.”

“I see that you are going to need a little bit of encouragement,” Saul mused.

“Torture me all you want,” Ev declared defiantly, “That's the only answer you're going to get.”

Saul nodded to the technicians.

Carth held his breath and averted his eyes. I don't think I can watch her— Suddenly, lightning laced through his Force cage and leaped all over his body. He screamed involuntarily and writhed in pain.

Dimly, over all of that, he heard Ev shriek, “Carth!”

After what seemed like hours, but was probably only seconds, the electricity subsided. He slumped back against the cage, earning another shock from the Force field. Wearily, he straightened up. His ears still rang painfully.

“What was that for?” Ev demanded.

“I heard that one of my men overheard something very interesting while he was taking you captive,” Saul answered. “This way, I feel, we will be more persuasive. Every time you refuse to answer, Carth gets a taste of our lightning.”

Between them, Bastila scowled.

“Ev,” Carth panted, “I can take it. Don't tell him anything.”

“I will repeat my question,” Darth Bandon addressed Ev again, “What were you doing on Manaan?”

Carth braced himself.

“Pleasure cruise,” Ev answered through clenched teeth.

The white hot electricity came again, and he screamed again despite himself.

“What was your purpose?” Bandon asked threateningly.

“Pleasure cruise!”

Again, it came.

“Answer seriously!”

“Pleasure cruise!”

And again.

“Lies!”

“Pleasure cruise!”

This time, it didn't stop.

“For Force's sake, it was a pleasure cruise!” Ev's shrieks had escalated into sobs.

“Very well, I see you are resolved,” Saul said. Finally, the white lightning subsided. Carth wavered, but did his best to remain upright. His anger at Saul and the whole situation gave him strength. How dare Saul do this to him, or to her?

“Perhaps you would tell us where all you stopped on your 'pleasure cruise' since Taris?” Darth Bandon asked calculatingly.

“You should know, since you were apparently able to track us here,” Ev replied thinly.

It struck Carth as odd that all of the questions were aimed at Ev. Maybe they thought her to be the weakest. They'd soon find out that they were sorely mistaken. Already, Carth marveled at her strength and resolve, even if it was at his expense. She's sharing it with me.

“Actually,” Saul replied, “Finding you here was a happy accident. We recently moved into orbit to intercept a freighter attempting to smuggle away our kolto. We just happened to be in the area, and your ship is unmistakable.”

Carth wanted to taunt Saul with the reality that the smuggled kolto might be their last, but he held his tongue. Ahto City was fragile, and the Leviathan could destroy it when they realized the city was past its usefulness.

“Where have you been since Taris?” Darth Bandon's eyes glinted dangerously.

“Frankly,” Ev replied, “It's none of your business.”

Saul Karath nodded gravely at the technicians and the lightning returned. He screamed and contorted until, finally, it subsided. He struggled to stay standing and every muscle in his body tingled.

“Perhaps I should rephrase the question,” Darth Bandon said silkily, “Where is the enclave where you were trained?”

Ev was pensively silent for a long time. Her gaze fluttered towards Carth, who did his best to seem strong.

Finally, she straightened up and took a deep breath. “You know what my answer is going to be.”

“And you know how we will respond,” Saul said with a thin smile.

Before the admiral could signal his technicians, Darth Bandon cut in. “I tire of this. Double the voltage,” he ordered without moving even a centimeter from where he stood.

“My lord, that could—” one of the technicians protested meekly.

After measuring up Carth, Saul ordered, “Do as he says.”

“Do you take some kind of sick pleasure in watching him suffer?” Ev demanded, her voice rising higher than usual, “Is it enough that you destroyed his home and his family?”

“If he hadn't been so foolish and chosen to follow me, I'm sure we could have gotten them off the planet in time,” Saul said.

“You knew then,” Ev said venomously.

“You'll pay for what you've done, Saul!” Carth panted through clenched teeth.

“Empty threats,” Saul chuckled and strutted over to Carth, “You are no position to making threats, Lieutenant Carth Onasi,” he observed crisply, “I would offer you the same chance I once did, but—”

“Never,” Carth shot back firmly.

“—but you were always too stubborn,” Saul finished smoothly, “Well, you made your choice and I made mine. I will show you no mercy, and, it seems, neither will your friend.” He let silence fall over the room. “So,” he addressed Ev, “Will you be merciful to Carth?”

“You're sick,” Ev retorted darkly, “You'll get nothing out of me.”

“Very well then,” Saul said patiently and waved to the technicians.

Carth's pain before had been nothing compared to what he experienced then. He utterly lost control of himself. The electricity coursing through his body caused his muscles to spasm, sending contorted and flailing limbs to collide against the Force field. He screamed hoarsely, uttering unintelligible pleas. Although his ears rang unbearably and the pain blinded him, he could dimly hear the voices around him.

“Stop!” Ev shrieked.

“You're going to kill him,” Bastila exclaimed in disbelief, breaking her self-imposed silence.

“For Force's sake, stop!” Ev begged.

“Tell us what we want to know,” Saul said firmly.

“It's on—” Ev started.

“Ev, no!” Bastila scolded.

“It's on Alderaan,” Ev lied painfully.

The torturous electricity did not stop.

“I said it's on Alderaan!” Ev cried.

Finally, the electric pulses subsided. Carth crumpled to the floor of the cage. He no longer had any control over his body. His legs lay limply against the Force field, earning a low but constant shock. There was nothing he could do to move them. Somehow, he maintained a wisp of consciousness.

Darth Bandon was laughing.

“What's so funny?” Bastila demanded.

“You fools,” he rumbled, “To think that Lord Malak would forget about the Jedi enclave where he himself was trained or the locations of the others?”

“You can't mean...” Bastila gasped.

Aching with a splitting headache, it was too painful to watch. Carth shut his eyes and listened.

“The Jedi Enclave on Dantooine has already been destroyed,” Darth Bandon said proudly, “I saw to it myself.”

“What the hell did you do that for?” Ev demanded.

“No, it can't be true,” Bastila whispered.

“Two reasons,” Saul answered precisely, pacing, “First, to eliminate many Jedi all at once. Secondly, we suspect that they may have hidden the two of you there. In that, it appears that we were wrong, but at least we accomplished the former.”

“Master Zhar, the younglings, the padawans, Master Vrook and Vandar, they're all gone, along with their priceless knowledge,” Bastila mourned, “Do you have any idea what you have done?”

“Yes, precisely,” Darth Bandon answered, self-satisfied.

“Then why the interrogation and torture if you already knew and destroyed it?” Ev demanded.

“I would call it a test of character,” Saul responded.

“Then we're even,” Ev growled, “You know that no matter how many questions you ask, we will remain silent. I know that you will continue to ask pointless questions just to have an excuse to torture Carth, but you won't harm us until Malak has had a chance at us as well.”

“And that's where you are wrong,” Saul responded crisply, “I believe this conversation is finished.”

Carth didn't see his old mentor nod to the technicians, but the result spoke for his actions. Electricity surged through the Force cage again. His voice was too hoarse to scream, but he heard Ev and Bastila's screams as clearly as if they had been his own.

His last thought before numbing darkness consumed him was, Ev.


~~~


Before Carth had fully regained consciousness, he was vomiting. He felt two gentle hands roll him over onto his side while he emptied his stomach. Coughing and sputtering, he was helped to sit up by that same pair of hands. As the blood rushed from his head, Carth became aware of a splitting headache.

“How are you feeling?” Bastila asked softly, crouching next to him.

“I'm alive,” he answered hoarsely. His throat still felt raw, “My head hurts like hell, and I just puked, so...”

“That I can help you with,” Bastila said and placed a hand on his forehead and closed her eyes. Slowly, the pain receded and he regained his focus. Even his throat felt better.

Bastila sat beside him in a dim, bare room. “Where are we? Where is Ev?” he asked quickly.

Bastila gestured at dark corner opposite them. Ev lay curled on the floor with deathlike stillness. Only the slight rise and fall of her sternum indicated that she was still alive. “We are in some sort of holding cell,” she explained, “I sense we are not far from the others.”

“And Juhani?” Carth asked.

“I do not sense her presence with them,” Bastila answered.

Without thinking about it, Carth stiffly rose and walked over to Ev. He settled onto the cold ground at her side. He felt her neck for a pulse, her forehead for a fever, and fondly ran his fingers through her coarse black hair.

“What happened to her?” Carth asked softly, keeping on hand on her shoulder.

“The same as they did to us, only, she was still resisting it when I passed out,” Bastila explained reluctantly as she stood over them, “Somehow she must have been able to block out my pain as well as her own, but one's body can only handle so much.” Bastila fell silent for a few moments. “She is far stronger and far more powerful than even she knows,” she added distantly.

Bastila found a new spot for herself away from Carth's vomit and seemed to settle into meditation. As they sat in silence, Carth's mind began to wander. Ill-formed thoughts of Dustil, Saul, Ev, the war front, and revenge floated through his consciousness.

Suddenly, Bastila straightened up. “Juhani is near,” she reported distantly.

Looking down at Ev's still form, concern grew inside Carth. What if she doesn't wake up before Juhani arrives. We'll need her getting out of here.

“Ev,” he whispered and shook her shoulders gently. She slumbered on.

“Carth,” Bastila started softly from where she sat, “You know you need to leave Ev alone to pursue her own destiny.”

“Leave her alone? What is that supposed to mean?” Carth was still too exhausted to be angry with her for breaching the subject again, “As long as she needs my help—this mission needs my help, I'm not going anywhere.”

“You willfully misunderstand me, Carth,” Bastila said firmly.

“No, I get your meaning, and I like it even less than last time,” Carth replied evenly, “If she agreed with you, Bastila, I could move on and get over it, but she doesn't. You know that better than I do, thanks to that Force bond or whatever it is. If she wants me close, I'll stay.”

Bastila sighed, “You'll never understand.”

“And neither will you, Bastila,” Came Ev's harsh whisper.

“You're awake!” Bastila exclaimed.

“Are you alright?” Carth asked softly.

“I can hardly talk and hardly move, but I'm alive,” Ev answered with dry humor, “Carth, I'm sorry that I—”

Carth interrupted her as he helped her to sit up next to him, “You did what you had to. I don't think I could have stood by and watched you suffer like I did.”

“I thought you were dying,” Ev admitted hoarsely.

“I thought I was too,” Carth recalled painfully, “For a while there, I wanted you to tell them anything just to get it to stop, but that was selfish. The pain was just too much.”

The look in her dark eyes was too much for Carth. Without another word, he leaned over and kissed her. Ev stiffly put a hand on the small of his back and didn't let him pull away for a few moments more.

Finally, she released him and slumped back against the durasteel wall. “I'm sorry all the same,” she panted softly.

“I'm fine now,” Carth assured her, “I'm more worried about what they did to you. You don't look well.”

“The man has a point,” she called weakly over to Bastila, “I never really mastered self-healing. A little help here?”

Carth had hardly moved out of the way for Bastila to begin the healing process when there came a familiar hissing sound at the cell door. A molten red point appeared in the metal, and soon a brilliant cyan blue tip pierced through in its place. Slowly, working a jagged circle of melted durasteel large enough for a person to crouch through, the lightsaber hissed along. Finally, with a loud crash, the central piece of the door clattered to the ground and Juhani stepped through.

“Juhani, you made it!” Bastila seemed pleasantly surprised.

“And you are all alright?” Juhani inquired, gazing meaningfully at Ev.

“Getting there,” Ev reported from where she still sat.

“What's going on out there?” Carth asked. He knew they didn't have time to chat.

“The ship is preparing for Darth Malak's arrival,” Juhani answered, “Force willing, there are none left who can alert the crew to my presence. Our droids are held in a maintenance cell not far from here, and the rest of the crew is locked in this very cell block. We have only to release them.”

“And the Ebon Hawk?” Carth asked.

“That, I do not know,” Juhani answered.

“Juhani, you've done the impossible,” Ev praised.

“Nothing is impossible for a Jedi who has the Force as her ally,” Juhani asserted.

“We must act quickly and carefully,” Bastila said slowly, “That dark lord, Darth Bandon is still out there.”

“No,” Juhani said, without a hint of pride, “I faced him and he has fallen.”

- Next Part -

 

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