Tower of Time: Long Ago and Far Away
   

Under the Shadow of the Builders
Part 28- The Star Forge

“So that's how it is,” Canderous crossed his arms and leaned back against the wall. Slowly, deliberately, he eyed Jolee, Carth, and Juhani. The young freighter pilot looked on from the doorway with an opened-mouth look of horrified surprise on her face. “Bastila changed sides and Ev decided to hop ship with her, after trying to kill you,” the Mandalorian summarized. With a chuckle, he added, “Though I'm surprised that you survived, if she had really wanted to kill you. This is Revan we're talking about. Now I get why you were in such a hurry to wipe that droid's memory when you came back.”

“We're asking you to stay on our side, Canderous,” Juhani said seriously, “I know how you respect Ev, but if we don't stop the Sith now—that includes Ev—there will be nothing left to fight for, soon enough. Especially with Ev, Mission, and Zaalbar gone, we need you.”

“You really have three choices at this point, and the choice is yours to make. You know we can't force you,” Jolee added, “One, you go with us to the Star Forge so that we can find some way to destroy it. Second: you fight us right here and now for control of the only space-worthy ship on the planet and take it to the Star Forge so that you can help Ev. Or you could say 'to hell with it all!' and stay here with the Rakata while we go have our fight.”

“Hm,” Canderous hummed in a half-chuckle, “You make my decision easy for me, Jolee. I'm not staying here. This planet is too much like a war zone whispering for revenge of ages past. I don't like it and I want to get off this surface as soon as I can. I also know better than to fight the three of you. The Lieutenant here is a fast-draw sharp-shooter, and I've seen enough lightsaber fights to know that one big gun isn't going to win any battles for me. Besides, my rifle is over there.” He shrugged, pointing towards the passage that led towards the ship's garage. “I'll come with you to the Star Forge. I've been with this crew since Taris, and I want to see this through to the end as much as any of you. But don't look at me when it comes time to kill her. Even if Revan wasn't the greatest military leader the galaxy has ever seen, I know suicide when it stares me in the face.”

“I don't think any of us could kill her if we had the mind to,” Jolee admitted, then got a determined look in his eyes, “And, by the never-ending woshyr, we're going to try to bring her back again.”

Juhani looked relieved, “I owe her that at the very least.”

Carth nodded, “I promised her once that I would try to save her from herself if Revan took hold of her again, and I mean to hold to that promise.”

“It's good to see that we're all in agreement, even though waltzing onto the Star Forge where Malak, Bastila, and Revan wait for us might be suicide anyway,” Jolee said approvingly with a dry chuckle.

“We'll try our best,” Kionee offered quietly from the doorway.

Carth turned to her in surprise, “No one said you had to come along, Kionee. You're no fighter. You could stay here and wait out the battle with Mission and Zaalbar.”

“You're short a co-pilot, a gunner, and a slicer,” she replied softly, shaking her head. She seemed nervous and yet sure of her decision. “I can't help you with the other two, but I can fly. If you're going to be cutting through a battle front, you'll need help in the cockpit, sir.”

“Now—” Carth started to argue.

“I want to help,” Kionee almost begged. She stepped into the room. “This is really important. Maybe I haven't been with you guys very long, but even I can see that the fate of the whole galaxy rests on this. I have risked my life for less. Everyone knows that one person tipped the balance in the Mandalorian Wars. Now, I'm not calling myself a Revanchist or anything, but maybe having one extra person along on this crazy mission will count for something, even if I don't really know how to handle myself in a firefight. And plus, well, I don't believe in life debts or anything like that for myself, but you guys saved me twice now, and you didn't have to. I do feel like I owe you something.”

“Forget about your debt to us,” Jolee said sternly, “Ev was the sort of person who would save every lost puppy if she could.”

“And so would I,” Kionee said firmly, “And that's exactly why I don't want to see her become Revan again. Aside from the fact that the return of Darth Revan would mean lots more death and the end of freedom in the galaxy as we know it,” she added in a quick mumble.

“Well, if that's all settled, let's get some rest,” Carth suggested, “We all know where we stand, and we know as best as we can what lies ahead of us. We now have about twenty-five hours left until the Republic fleet arrives. We will regroup in the morning to look over the Star Forge schematics that Juhani brought back with her and see if we can come up with some kind of plan of attack. Three hours before the fleet's scheduled arrival, we will launch into orbit and hide in the shadow of the metallic moon so that we are ready the instant Admiral Dodonna arrives.” As the other four members of the crew stared at him, Carth realized that he had just overstepped a Jedi Knight, who technically outranked him, and two old men with years more battle experience against Jedi than he had. Carth hurriedly amended, “I'm sorry, I didn't mean to assume command. We'll follow those plans if it seems reasonable to the rest of you.”

“Don't you go blathering on like that to us,” Jolee scolded, “Your navy-style rankings don't mean a mynocks tail on a mission like this, except that when your Admiral arrives, she's going to want someone to talk to, and that had better be you, Lieutenant.”

“Perhaps you hadn't noticed,” Juhani said with a small smile, “But I have outranked Bastila and Ev on this entire trip. That does not mean that they were any less qualified to lead.”

Canderous grinned at Carth, “Don't worry, Carth, I'll tell you if I think you're about to do something stupid. You're not the only one with combat strategy training here, but I think your Republic Navy would much rather have you at the head of this than a retired Mandalorian.”

“Fine,” Carth found himself cracking a smile, “If anyone asks, you're the adviser. Well then, let's get some sleep. I have a feeling it's going to be the last we get for a while.”


~~~


Carth couldn't sleep, no matter how hard he tried. Canderous was already snoring loudly, and Jolee's breathing and dropped off into slow, regular intervals not long before. He could still hear Juhani and Kionee's voices conversing distantly in the woman's bunk on the other side of the ship.

He turned restlessly over in his bed again and tried to untangle his covers.

Ev. How could you?

He bitterly thought over all that she had done since he first met her. She entered and won a swoop race just to free Bastila. She stole a ship from the head of the Exchange on Taris, getting them off the planet just in time. She re-learned how to be a Jedi in only about a month. Her visions had steered them accurately to four star maps and now to the Star Forge. She helped the Wookiees throw slavers out of their village. She selflessly rescued Jawas and Mission's brother while making friends with the usually hostile Sand People in the process. She sorted out a case of crazy Selkath and an ancient firaxen shark in the depths of Manaan's seas. She had helped him finally get his revenge on Saul Karath after taking on an entire ship full of Sith. She successfully pretended to be a Sith student while turning other Sith back to the light, including his own son. If not for her, he would never have had a chance to see Dustil again.

Ev had taught him how to trust again—how to forgive and how to love again. She had taken a bitter and broken soldier bent only on revenge and the destruction of the Sith and given him life again. She showed him that he still had a life to live. She had loved him.

Or had she?

Revan had been charismatic and clever. Maybe he had just been another pawn in her plans. All that the Republic historians now knew pointed to the fact that Revan and Malak had begun their fall to the Dark Side long before anyone suspected it, long before the war with the Mandalorians was over. If she had been able to hide it then, she would have been able to hide it again.

Just when did she realize her true power? When did she decided to leave them all behind? When she met Malak aboard the Leviathan or sooner? Maybe it was the sight of the Star Forge surrounded by its immense fleet that stirred her ambitions again. Once a monster, always a monster.

What did the Jedi know of redemption? They always talked of it as the best possible end. They could have stopped this from happening by just leaving Revan on her ship to die. Stupid Bastila had to insist on keeping her alive. Stupid Bastila had to be the one to give her a free ride back to the Star Forge so she could begin her reign of terror all over again.

What were the Jedi thinking, sending out two dangerous padawans like Ev and Bastila with no more supervision than Juhani, a recently-knighted Jedi herself who had just fallen to the Dark Side and had a nasty temper to boot? Why hadn't they sent a master too? If this mission was so important, why not? A Jedi Master would have seen this coming and would have sensed Ev's intentions long before it happened. It could have been stopped.

Damn the Jedi and their overconfidence in trust!

Damn Bastila!

Damn Ev!

Damn those kriffing Sith who never stop tearing my life apart!

I loved her.

Carth swallowed back tears and rolled over again. He stared hopelessly up at the ceiling. Sleep was no closer than it had been an hour ago.

Heaving a sigh, he rolled out of bed and wandered out into the ship. He found the 'fresher and splashed some warm water on his face before ambling into the central hold of the ship and sitting down at what they used for a pazaak table. An image of the Star Forge that Juhani had been studying earlier still rotated lazily on the large holoprojector in the center of the chamber.

Carth stared at it, thinking nothing other than that they would have to go in there tomorrow.

Even Juhani and Kionee's voices had fallen into silence as they too slept.

I wish I could believe that it's all some ploy to fool the Sith like Mission does. I wish I could believe that Ev isn't lost to us, but I've heard too much talk of the Dark Side. I saw what two earlier heroes of the Republic did when it got a hold of them.

Carth didn't even hear Jolee approach. He looked up, and suddenly the old man was there, standing with his hands on the back of the chair opposite Carth. “Mind if I join you?” he asked.

Carth shrugged, “I hope you aren't looking for a late-night game of pazaak. I'm not in the mood for it.”

“Neither am I,” Jolee replied, taking a seat. Squinting, he studied Carth, then said, “I know you soldier types. You'll buck up and march to your duty with stony determination on your face even after you've seen your best friend die in battle. You all pretend that your commission and duty to the Republic is what you live for when you're breaking apart inside. We all really live for our loved ones, not for some silly, probably corrupt political structure that somehow manages to keep us out of anarchy and chaos.”

Carth didn't respond. He gazed over at the holoprojection of the Star Forge again.

“You're wishing you had never let Ev into your life the way you did, aren't you?” Jolee guessed shrewdly, “You're wishing that you hadn't allowed yourself to trust her or to love her in the first place.”

“Jolee, really, it's none of your—” Carth started wearily, shifting his gaze back to the old man.

“That you loved her is nothing to be ashamed of,” Jolee said, “Treasure the memories of those moments you had. I saw no deceit in either of you when you were together. What that relationship is now remains to be seen, but what I saw in both of you was love. Maybe she was evil all this time, but even the most evil of people can love. They need love too. It's love that sustains us, whether it's love now, memories of love in the past, or hope for love in the future.”

“Jolee, I don't need this right now,” Carth tried to argue.

“No, I think you do,” he retorted stubbornly, “You need to hear this tonight. I told you once that I had a wife?”

Carth nodded, remembering Jolee mention it somewhere in the jumble of his own memories of the past few months.

“Nayama was her name,” Jolee said fondly, “Beautiful, fiery, and passionate, not to mention strong in the Force. I met her when I crashed in a skirmish in the Ukatis System and was imprisoned there. I loved her immediately, but she took some convincing. Once I got free, I took her to the Jedi Council and asked that she be trained as Jedi. They refused, saying she was too prone to anger, too rash.

“I wasn't about to be snubbed. I took her and trained her in secret. Those were some of the happiest days of my life. Then the Great Sith War began. Like frighteningly many other Jedi of that time, Nayama was inspired by Exar Kun, and when I told her not to join up with him and his dark Jedi, she attacked me. We fought and eventually I won. But, Carth, I couldn't kill her. I left her, and she eventually did find Exar Kun and fight for him. She went on to kill lots of people, including some friends of mine, before she eventually fell in the war herself. I could never forgive myself,” Jolee admitted mournfully.

“After the war was over, I went before the Jedi Council and admitted my crimes,” he continued, folding his hands before him on the table, “I was tried and found innocent. They forgave me and offered me knighthood. An order that believed in pretending that grave errors which led to the deaths of many never happened was not something I could believe in. I refused to stand for my knighting ceremony and left the Jedi Order that very day.

“I guess what I'm trying to say in all of this rambling is that while I deeply regret that my actions led to Nayama killing so many people,” Jolee tried to summarize, “I don't regret having loved her. She really was an amazing woman. Not so different from Ev, in many ways. And then there's, well, I don't want to kill Ev any more than you do, but if there is no other way, we can't hesitate. Our failure to stop her will mean the deaths of trillions more people to come. I don't know about you, but in all the years of my hermitage, I've come to think that it's better to have the death of one person on your hands, even if it's the one you love, than the deaths of countless other innocents.”

Carth stared at Jolee. Faced with the same choice he had, I would probably do the same thing. And yet, I can't afford to...

“And now you're going to ask if you can be excused from the aimless ramblings of this old man,” Jolee's voice was far from irritated, “So I'll save you that trouble and go back to bed.” He pushed the chair out and stood up. “But remember Carth,” he reminded before he went, “You yourself said that we all need to be well rested before tomorrow. Get some sleep, will you?”

Carth watched him go and sighed, leaning back in his chair. He was left alone to think over what Jolee had said.

If I had the chance, could I shoot Ev?


~~~


Carth took the Ebon Hawk out low over the water, skimming the surf until they were over the horizon from the Temple of the Ancients. He then turned the ship on an exit vector that would take them out right under the cover of Lehon's metal-rich moon. Scrambled sensors were well worth not giving away their departure. Ev knew exactly when the fleet was coming. The Sith would be watching for the Ebon Hawk at around that time to shoot them down. Getting out early and undetected was essential for their own survival.

The ploy seemed to have worked. They landed on the barren surface of the moon out of sight of the Sith fleet but at a perfect angle to see their own Republic fleet when it arrived.

For three hours, they waited, reviewing their plans.

Carth paced around the central hold of the ship where all of the other crew members were assembled. “So, in about five minutes we will need to head to our posts and prepare for the fleet's arrival,” Carth said, “As we agreed before, Kionee will be the co-pilot while I pilot. I want Canderous on the upper guns. We'll have to leave the port guns unmanned, since we are short-handed.”

“Query: May I point out that my protocols include advanced proficiency in heavy ranged weapons?” HK-47 put in suddenly, “Statement: That includes guns on a ship such as this.”

“Fine,” Carth nodded, “You take the starboard gun. Juhani, I want you keeping an eye on friendlies and giving backup for Jolee who will be watching unfriendlies. While Dodonna's forces engage the Sith fleet, our objective is to bypass their lines and dock on the Star Forge. Once aboard, I will go with Canderous, Jolee, Juhani, and HK-47 while Kionee, MT-412, and T3-M4 stay with the ship. The primary goal of the boarding crew is to assist in the destruction of the Star Forge. If Bastila is using her battle meditation against our fleet, that will mean finding and stopping her. Otherwise, it means discovering any other weakness we can exploit. Our secondary objective is to find and recapture Ev and Bastila, bringing them back to the Ebon Hawk so that they can either stand trial or change their ways. Meanwhile, Kionee, you did say that your droid is a capable co-pilot?”

“Yes,” Kionee answered, “Emtee has been flying with me for several years now.”

“Good,” Carth said, “Then as soon as we're off this ship, I want you in the captain's chair and your droid in the co-pilot's. You are to keep the ship in constant readiness to take off. There is no telling how long it will take us. T3 will stay plugged in to the ship's computers and operate the guns as needed. We tested that this morning and it works well enough to defend the ship from small assault groups. If a force too large for you to handle attacks the ship from inside the Star Forge, I want you to take off and regroup with Republic forces, waiting for our hail. The same thing is true if it the Star Forge starts to fall apart and we're not back yet. There is vital information in the ship's logs that the the proper authorities should see. There is no point in you going down with the Star Forge if it can be helped.”

“I'll wait as long as I can,” Kionee promised.

“We will keep strict comm silence unless something drastic happens, like one of those things I just mentioned,” Carth continued, “There won't be any secure channels for us to use once we're inside the Star Forge, and we don't want the Sith to know where we are or what we're up to more than we can help it. Everyone got it?”

“You have been over this several times already in preparation, Lieutenant Onasi,” MT-412 pointed out politely. “And as you still have not assigned me an in-flight job, I shall join the Jedi on the communications deck watching the flight traffic.”

Kionee snickered and Canderous rumbled a low chuckle.

“Well then,” Carth said. The tension of waiting was starting to get to him. Who knows what sort of damage Ev could have done in the last twenty-seven hours? “Let's get to our posts.”

The crew dispersed and settled in, each running whatever checks they could to make themselves feel more confident.

At last, the Republic fleet arrived, right on schedule. It was the largest cohesive fleet that Carth had seen the Republic put forward into any battle in the last year. Capital ships soared in in a broad formation while snub fighters poured out of their bays to engage the enemy ships.

“Launching!” Carth announced as he engaged the thrusters and pushed off the moon. As soon as they were far enough away for their sensors to straighten out, Carth hailed Admiral Dodonna. All the while, he piloted the ship closer to the heart of the Republic fleet. “Libra, this is the Ebon Hawk, do you read me?”

“We read you loud and clear Ebon Hawk,” a male voice responded, “Establishing holo-connection with Admiral Dodonna.”

A small blueish projection of the admiral flickered to life on the Ebon Hawk's dashboard. Carth immediately transmitted the Star Forge schematics across the connection.

“This is Admiral Forn Dodonna. Good to see you're still alive and well, Carth,” Dodonna said in greeting. “Thanks for those schematics. The will be a great help. We have brought you the best the Republic can muster for this fight, but I am already fearing that it is not enough. We are already taking heavy losses in fighters and we can't yet get our capital ships into position to start bombarding the Star Forge itself. This is going to be a tough fight.”

“But we can't give up,” Carth said firmly, “We have to find a way. That space station actually is the factory that has been building the Sith fleet all this time. If we don't destroy it now, we will be fighting an unending war of reinforcements until we have nothing left ourselves to stand against them.”

“We are at an understanding then, Lieutenant Onasi,” she nodded while subtly reminding him of his own rank. For a moment, she seemed distracted by the events on her own ship. “We just can't gain any foothold here. The Sith are just too well coordinated. It is almost eerie.”

“It's because Bastila is on the Star Forge right now, and probably using her battle meditation against you. She has turned to the Dark Side and become Malak's apprentice,” Carth told her gravely.

“Then it is as we feared,” said a throaty male voice as two more tiny figures stepped into the projection alongside Dodonna on the dashboard: a tiny alien with disproportionately large pointed ears and a stately older woman with long, white hair. The woman leaned heavily on a cane. Both figures wore the tell-tale robes of Jedi Masters.

“This is Master Vandar Tokare and Master Nomi Sunrider,” the admiral said, gesturing to them, “They have come with a small strike team of Jedi to assist in this battle.”

“I will do what I can to counter Bastila's battle meditation with my own,” Master Nomi offered calmly, “However, even for one so young, she is remarkably strong, and the dark power of the Star Forge is making her stronger.”

“Before you get any farther, you need to know that it's not just Bastila and Malak we're up against,” Carth warned, a lump growing in his throat, “Ev has turned to the Dark Side as well and gone with Bastila. They intend to overthrow Malak together.”

“Ev?” the admiral asked.

“Revan,” Nomi replied in return.

“I see,” Dodonna nodded grimly.

“Then our mission is more urgent than ever,” Vandar said, “I will immediately send my Jedi strike teams to the Star Forge. They must get aboard, find Bastila, and stop her from using her battle meditation against us.”

“We will go with you,” Carth replied, “The crew of the Ebon Hawk has decided to infiltrate the space station and do anything we can do assure the Republic's victory.” He paused, then added, “We also hope to recover Ev and Bastila.”

“I understand,” Vandar nodded, “Then I will tell my fighters to launch and rally to your ship.”

Addressing both Admiral Dodonna and Carth, Master Nomi said, “I must excuse myself and begin my meditation. May the Force be with you.”

“May the Force be with you,” Master Vandar added.

“Best of luck, Carth,” Dodonna said, “Libra out.”

“They've brought Nomi!” Jolee hollered, “I'd say we stand a fighting chance now!”

Carth watched as four small fighters zipped out of the hangar bay of the Libra up ahead of them. On immediately hailed them, “Ebon Hawk, this is Jedi Star One, are you ready to make for the Star Forge?”

“We're ready, Star One,” Carth replied, “There should be docking bays all around the equatorial band of the station. Let's aim for those.”

“Alright Ebon Hawk,” the female voice responded, “We will follow your lead.”

Carth set his jaw and gripped the steering yoke firmly in both hands. A vast Sith fleet stretching in all directions on all plains fought between them and the Star Forge. It would take more than a little luck to avoid the Sith's collective notice, and to get through if that failed. Fortunately, the Republic fleet under Dodonna's command would offer them a distraction.

The Ebon Hawk swerved through friendly lines even as a few of the Sith snub fighters managed to make it past the front line defenses. Canderous took one out in a passing shot as Carth directed their ship towards its goal.

Although it had been a long time since Carth had last flown in a small fighter during a major space battle, except for their flight from Taris, his instincts were still sharp. As they raced towards the front line of Sith capital ships, he calculatingly formed his trajectory in his mind. The best defense when breaking enemy lines in a ship this size was to use the Sith's own ships as buffers.

“A wing of Sith fighters coming up at eleven o'clock,” Jolee reported.

Carth let his gunners and the other allied ships that swarmed around them worry about the fighters. His focus was elsewhere.

The Ebon Hawk took a hit.

“Only lasers,” Kionee reported as the ship rocked, “Shields are still at ninety-six percent.”

Stars, this is the Ebon Hawk, I'm going to take us between those two capital ships flying in close parallel at two o'clock,” he announced to the Jedi squadron, “They are too close together to use heavy weaponry from their flank batteries, but be prepared for enemy fighters.”

All four of the ships acknowledged and fell into formation around him.

There would be the risk, of course, that the two massive ships would notice them coming and target them before they were in the relative safety between the two hulls.

However, the gambit worked. The five fighters broke away from their fleet, the battle raging about them, and streaked between the two capital ships.

“Two squadrons coming in from the port side and one from below,” Jolee warned.

“Then we'll outrun them,” Carth growled and pushed the Ebon Hawk to its max speed. Canderous kept praising it as the fastest ship in the galaxy. Now it was time to live up to that name. “I hope the Jedi can keep up.” The ship accelerated and whizzed between the capital ships and out of range of their pursuers. He swerved, narrowly dodging a wing of fighters that had intended to meet them head-on. They scrambled around, but by the time they had turned, the Ebon Hawk would be long gone

“Yeah!” Canderous hollered, “Look at her fly!”

Jedi Star Two is hit but still flying,” Juhani reported.

The Ebon Hawk itself took a few indirect hits, but that did not slow it down.

“Shields at eighty-eight percent,” Kionee reported, “Engines running on full.”

Finally they soared clear of the aft side of one ship than the other. Carth felt a surge of triumph, but only for a moment. They had only broken the front line, and the Star Forge was still distance with most of the fleet between it and them. He pressed forward, not letting up even a millimeter on the throttle. His eyes darted around the battle space ahead of him. All of the huge capital ships and smaller destroyers were relatively evenly spaced, all moving in coordinate formation. There would be no easy vector this time. The only hope was to take an indirect path at their goal in hopes of not attracting too much attention.

“Two squadrons coming in fast, stern side,” Jolee reported.

Sure enough, two full squads of silver Sith fighters converged on them, one from slightly port and the other from slightly starboard. They were still well out of range, but that would soon change. Carth corrected his course, and so did the squadrons.

Jedi Stars One and Two are falling behind,” Juhani reported.

Carth kept determinedly to his course, hoping that speed alone would win the encounter for them. An eighteen against five dog-fight was not one he could hope to win or wanted to waste time on. If they didn't slow in their approach, the Ebon Hawk would only be in the enemies' range for a short time. The shields just had to hold until they were past.

But as the enemy fighters drew nearer and nearer, Carth's heart began to pound.

“Carth! What do you think you're doing?” Canderous yelled fearfully over the comm.

Carth's hands shook on the steering yoke and his head began to swim. We'll never survive this... We'll never make it to the Star Forge. “There's just too many of them,” he moaned audibly. His concentration slipping, he inadvertently steered towards the incoming fighters, letting up on the speed.

Next to him, Kionee put a hand to her head and yelled out a short, frustrated scream.

“It's Bastila's battle meditation!” Jolee exclaimed, “Resist it! Resist it!”

Carth couldn't see straight any more. In his mind's eye, the Star Forge loomed up head of him as death itself.

“Nnng!” Kionee wrestled herself straight up in her chair again and grasped the steering yoke in front of her. “Switch full controls to the copilot's station, T3-M4,” she ordered desperately, “Do it, T3. Now!” Her voice cracked.

Unaffected by the Force moving around them, the droid obeyed.

Carth let his hands fall limp. It was all too much.

Biting her lip, Kionee pushed the speed again then swerved and weaved. All the while, the enemy fighters drew closer.

“We've lost Jedi Star Two,” Juhani called.

Just as the Ebon Hawk came in range of the first fighter squad, Kionee took the ship into a steep dive. The fighters scattered around them. Carth couldn't watch any more. He buried his face in his hands and moaned.

The Ebon Hawk rocked as it took several hits. The maneuver hadn't fooled their enemies.

“Shields at eighty-two percent,” a tinny voice said. Carth was dimly aware of MT-412 standing over him, “Eighty-one.”

The bombardment continued.

“Seventy-six percent,” Emtee reported.

“We've lost Jedi Star Four!” Juhani yelled.

“Sixty-one percent,” Emtee continued.

“I can do this. I can do this. I can do this,” Kionee repeated under her breath.

The ship bucked violently. They had come within range of a capital ship.

“The shields are at forty-four percent.”

And again. Kionee screamed.

“Twenty-nine percent.”

“We can't take another direct hit like that!” Jolee yelled.

“I know!” Kionee screamed back.

Jedi Star One has been hit!”

“Twenty-six percent.”

“Someone do something about the shields!” Kionee cried urgently. “Canderous, HK, I don't care who! Get those fighters off of us! Can't you Jedi Force them away or something?”

The astromech droid tweeted behind them.

“But I cannot possibly...” Juhani started to protest.

“Don't say what you can't do!” Jolee snapped, “Just do it!”

“Shields recovering to thirty percent.”

Kionee let out another involuntary yelp and Carth dared a look. The massive silver side of a Sith capital ship rose up suddenly in front of them. Wide-eyed, Kionee steered the ship into an aggressive climb. “Why didn't you tell me that was there?” she demanded.

“Busy... Forcing...” Jolee yelled back haltingly.

“Fifty percent.”

Suddenly, there was nothing between them and the Star Forge but empty space. As Kionee corrected their course, one Jedi fighter zipped beneath them and towards the hangar bays at the space station's middle.

Another squad of fighters poured out of the bays ahead of them and the huge guns at the Star Forge's equator all aimed in their direction.

They were soon in range, taking heavy fire. One of the Ebon Hawk's guns returned fire while Kionee deftly swerved around them in a way such that none were able to keep on her tail for long while drawing ever nearer to her goal. There was absolutely nothing flashy about her flying. In a way, it was almost subtle. Not the sort of thing fighter pilots trained to go against.

“Thirty-one percent. Twenty-five percent. Twenty percent.”

“T3! Do something!” Kionee half screamed, half sobbed.

“Twenty-three. Twenty. Twenty-four. Twenty-six.”

The ship rocked violently again.

“Nineteen percent.”

Kionee screamed but kept her eyes on the target. Moments later, she pulled back hard on the throttle and punched the thrusters. They were inside. Smoking and spewing gas, a second Jedi fighter landed beside them.

“We made it,” Kionee panted, almost in tears.

“Well done, Mistress Kionee,” MT-412 praised.

“I didn't think we were going to make it,” she admitted breathlessly.

Jolee rushed into the cockpit and patted Kionee warmly on the shoulders, “That was some pretty good flying, kid.”

“I—thanks,” she replied.

“I'm sorry,” Carth stammered, “I fell apart. I don't know what happened.”

“Bastila happened,” Juhani said dryly from the corridor.

“Don't be ashamed Carth. We don't have time for that,” Jolee said sternly, “It was affecting even us too.”

“Then how, how did Bastila not get her?” Carth asked, staring at Kionee, whose shoulders were still heaving with heavy breathing.

“She only human. That would be impossible,” Jolee retorted.

“Every single time I've run a blockade, I always think that I won't live to see the other side. Every single time I'm terrified. I think I'm going to die,” she said quietly, “But I can't ever let that stop me. There's always something greater than me on the other side. Something worth risking my life for. But even more—something that I have to live to get through to do. I always have to keep going. There's no other choice for me. Veea used to say that I fly best when I'm scared anyway.”

“Well,” Carth said, taking deep breaths to calm himself, “Let's get going. We still don't have much time. Kionee, you keep this ship ready to take us out of here.”

“Yes sir,” she saluted sloppily, but somehow the gesture gave Carth confidence.

Following Juhani and Jolee down the corridor, Carth checked to see that his blasters were still in place. They met Canderous and HK-47 in the garage. Canderous was already strapping on an extra supply pack, undoubtedly full of extra munitions, grenades, and mines. Carth slung a smaller one over his own shoulders, filled with first aid supplies and a few extra grenades for good measure. He noticed the two Jedi adding a couple more pouches to their supply belts. HK, meanwhile, waited eagerly by the descending loading ramp. Once ready, they rushed down and were immediately greeted by a team of four Jedi.

“We made it,” a woman with olive-toned skin and dark hair tied back in a tight bun said immediately. Her voice was familiar from Jedi Star One. “They other crew has gone ahead into the Star Forge to try to find Bastila. We need to follow quickly after so that we can maintain the element of surprise.”

Carth nodded, “I agree. Let's go.” He looked over the Jedi strike team before him. The woman who had just spoken was clearly the leader. Behind her stood a young Nagai man, an older green-skinned Twi'lek man, and a petite brunette woman that seemed strangely familiar to Carth.

Carth wasn't the only one that thought so. “Belaya!” Juhani exclaimed and pushed past the others towards the woman at the back. She stopped just short of a hug.

“Juhani!” the brunette, Belaya, replied, “You're alive! I didn't know you were on this mission. One day you just up and left, without saying a thing.”

“I'm sorry, Belaya,” Juhani said, clasping the woman's hands in hers, “I hope you understand, now that you know the nature of what we were doing.”

Belaya nodded, “Of course I forgive you. I'm just glad your alive. I sense that you have grown immensely in the Force since I saw you last.”

“All thanks to one who now calls herself Revan,” Juhani replied with masked bitterness. She drew away from her friend.

The Twi'lek Jedi cleared his throat suggestively.

“Thanks Gurtan. We really do need to get moving,” the lead Jedi reminded.

“Then let's do it,” Canderous rumbled, sounding almost eager for the battle to begin.

Just then, one of the massive blast doors leading into the hangar slid open. Five Dark Jedi and two Sith soldiers dashed inside, weapons blazing.

“So much for your element of surprise,” Jolee muttered to no one in particular. His lightsaber was already in his hand. He and the five Jedi didn't even speak before they lunged across the hangar bay towards the Sith. In perfect coordination, they selected their targets and split up.

“Canderous, HK, let's leave the Jedi to do their thing,” Carth advised as they rushed forward, “And make sure those two soldiers don't give them any trouble.”

The Sith soldiers had made the mistake of concentrating their fire on the Jedi and not on their ranged support. They were down in seconds. Carth had forgotten how brutally efficient HK-47 was. He shot down one after the other with the accuracy of an elite sniper and the speed of a machine.

The three gunners stood for a moment, watching the Jedi each locked in mostly isolated duel. One Sith seemed determined to drive his opponent, the Twi'lek Gurtan, into the lightsaber play of another pair, Belaya and huge Sith man. Gurtan seemed to catch on, but it was too late, the huge Sith made one swift back-hand and sliced clean through the end of one of Gurtan's lekku. He howled in pain as his original opponent closed in for the kill. Juhani was there in an instant, as if leaping out of nowhere, and engaged him in Gurtan's stead. The Twi'lek staggered back out of the way to gather himself and then concentrate on more subtle Force attacks. The remaining five Jedi were still deep in their duels.

“The best way to kill a Jedi is to distract him,” Canderous offered darkly.

I hope he means Dark Jedi.

The three of them fired randomly into the air around the fighting, hoping to add to the chaos. HK-47 took to shooting out light fixtures, making them flicker and spark or go out entirely.

Suddenly, the Nagai's opponent fell and he flew onto the nearest Sith, fighting along side Jolee. The huge Sith fell to Juhani, who jumped to Belaya's aid. The smaller woman had been beginning to fail. Almost all that once, the six Jedi defeated the three remaining Dark Jedi.

Carth rushed towards them with HK-47 and Canderous keeping stride behind him. Jolee was already at the Twi'lek's side, offering his healing. Carth hadn't noticed until then that the right side of Belaya's head was caked in blood. Even so, she seemed steady on her feet.

The other woman shook her head slightly as she looked over them, “We will have to press on, regardless. Gurtan and Belaya, you will stay here to guard the hangar bay and to heal. We don't want our escape route sealed off.”

Belaya nodded reluctantly with a glance at Juhani.

“We have a pilot standing by aboard the Ebon Hawk,” Carth told them, “ready to take off as soon as we get back.”

“Good,” the woman said, “Then Veshisht and I will continue on with all of you. You all seem to be capable fighters.”

Canderous chuckled dryly.

“I'm Lieutenant Carth Onasi of the Republic Navy,” Carth said professionally. He wasn't about to put up with the scorn that Jedi so often had against those without any connection to the Force. “This is Canderous Ordo, and that's Juhani and Jolee Bindo.”

“Juhani I know from Dantooine, but Master Bindo...” she trailed off.

“Don't you go 'mastering'-ing me because of my age,” Jolee snapped good-naturedly, “I left the Jedi Order long before you even joined it, and that was before they could knight me.”

“Then you're not a Sith?” she asked warily.

“Hrumph. I choose my own battles,” Jolee replied shortly.

“I see,” she replied pensively.

“And will you be polite and give us your name, miss Jedi?” Jolee asked.

“I am Arna Falis,” she replied.

“And I'm Jedi Knight Veshisht Um,” the young Nagai added brightly as he stepped up next to her.

“And I'm thinking we need to get moving,” Canderous cut in impatiently, “We never had much time to begin with, remember?”

“Canderous is right,” Juhani agreed, “Let's go.”

Gurtan and Belaya had already taken up their places on either side of the doorway when the group dashed out. Outside the hangar bay, they jogged along wide walkways that were suspended over a metal-walled abyss. Several stories below them and above were more walkways crossing between the walls.

Suddenly, the door to the hangar bay behind them slammed shut with a loud clank. The doors at the other two ends of the T-walkway immediately opened and huge battle droids crawled in from each side. All six glowed with red deflector shields.

“Jolee and Veshisht go left. Juhani and I will take the right,” Arna barked, “Gunners, stand back and give us support.”

The battle fell into place just as Arna had ordered it. Though, even the Jedi had trouble getting past the shields with their lightsabers and blaster bolts bounced easily away. They had to wear down the shields first before they could do any real damage, and that would give the battle droids plenty of time to damage with their slashing arms and blaster-mounted heads.

All at once, one of the droids on the left toppled over and its shields flickered out. All three gunners pounded it with blaster fire until it exploded. Then a second clanked over onto the platform. Carth inwardly thanked the stars for Jolee's seemingly innate ability to manipulate machinery through the Force.

Soon, all three droids on the left were down, and Veshisht and Jolee rushed over to help the others. The older man stood back and worked haywire with the battle droids' circuitry while he let the others take care of the rest.

Threats out of the way, they quickly moved on. The next room was another huge bottomless chamber with only a single door at the other end of the walkway. Again, the Star Forge attempted to trap them and battle droids poured in from either side. The battle went much the same as the last, only this time, Arna knew how to use Jolee more effectively.

Eight more droids down, they hurried along the walkway and towards the next room. Jolee kicked one of the lifeless droids as they passed, muttering, “It will take more than a few hunks of scrap to stop us.”

It took Veshisht a few minutes to hard-wire the blast door at the end of the walkway into opening. Without Mission or even Ev along, he was the closest thing they had to a slicer.

The squad of Dark Jedi and Sith soldiers on the other side of the door, once it slid open, caught everyone by surprise.

How could four Jedi not have sensed a whole kriffing squad of Sith?

Arna didn't even have the attention to spare to give orders, but she didn't really have to. Six Dark Jedi against their four, backed up by eight more soldiers, would have worried Carth, had he taken any time to think about it. Taking advantage of the slight upward slope of their platform, Carth backed up and shot over the dueling light and dark Jedi's heads towards the soldiers behind. Now, more than any more on their journey, was time to put his sharp-shooting skills to the test. With the balance of numbers against them, he couldn't afford to miss more than occasionally.

Canderous fell back with him, while HK-47 crept forward. The bronze assassin droid glowed faintly blue from an internal shield generator as laser fire ricocheted off of him. Even through his intense concentration, Carth noticed Juhani and Jolee fighting as one fluid team. Between the two of them, they kept three Dark Jedi busy. Three more pressed in on Veshisht and Arna, and though they fought hard, they lacked the coordination of the two who had been together on the Ebon Hawk for the past few months.

Urgently and methodically, Carth and the other gunners picked off every last one of the soldiers. Given the higher ground and the whirling lightsabers between them and their enemies, they outgunned the eight soldiers. In the mean time, Juhani and Jolee cut down one of their three opponents.

Carth hardly had time to assess the battle among the Jedi before another half-unit of soldiers rushed around the bend and set up behind the line of Dark Jedi. These four had bigger weapons, and grenades.

“Incoming!” Canderous yelled and lunged out the way.

Carth wasn't fast enough the shock from the flash grenade threw him down to the walkway, dangerously close to the unguarded edge, and dazzled his vision. Dizzy, he tried to steady himself and stand, but he could hardly see. Thankfully, Canderous seemed unaffected.

There was another flash. Carth blinked rapidly, trying to clear his vision, but all he could see were hazy shadows under a veil of bright white. He didn't dare shoot, lest he hit one of his own.

The roar of laser-fire, grenades, clashing lightsabers, and mixed battle cries filled his ears. He heard a few visor-muffled screams of Sith soldiers. That had to be a good sign. Then he heard a female shriek. Juhani? Arna? One of theirs? One of the dueling figures crumpled, and a blue lightsaber extinguished. He squinted, trying to distinguish who. Color and distinction was coming back into his vision.

Almost all at once, he could see well enough to fight again. Veshisht stood valiantly over Arna, defending her against two Dark Jedi. Juhani and Jolee finished off their last opponent and practically flew over to assist him. Only one soldier remained. Vengefully,Carth put him in his sights and shot him down. With a bewildered yelp, the soldier teetered over and collapsed to the ground.

Moments later, there were no Dark Jedi left standing. The party hastily regrouped around where Arna crouched.

“Can you get up?” Veshisht asked worriedly.

Swallowing hard, Arna replied painfully, “He slashed my Achilles tendon. I can't put any weight on my right foot at all.”

“Here, let me,” Jolee offered, starting to squat down beside her.

“No,” she said sharply, “Don't waste time on me. I can start to heal it a bit myself and call for Belaya or Gurtan to come and help me back to the hangar. You all need to hurry and find Bastila. That's what we're here for.”

Jolee straightened up and nodded. “We'll see you on the other side of all this,” he said.

“May the Force be with you,” Arna said with a shaky wave of her hand.

The remaining group raced down a now empty walkway and turned down another towards the center of the Star Forge. Entering the next chamber, this one crisscrossed by a number of walkways on nearly the same level, they encountered another full unit of Sith soldiers, but they had only one Dark Jedi with them. Even without Arna along any more, they dealt with the group with relative ease. The more they fought together, the more Juhani and Jolee seemed to move as one, extensions of each other.

“It's incredible,” Juhani observed quietly, as they picked their way past silver-armored corpses that covered nearly the entire width of their walkway, “I had no idea that the Sith had a kind of force like this. The Star Forge explains their endless fleet of ships, but it does not explain where they get all of these soldiers and Dark Jedi. There are far more Force users in their ranks than their academy on Korriban and our own defectors can account for. It's almost as if...”

“As if, what? They've converted some of your friends that you thought were dead?” Jolee suggested dryly, “Bastila wouldn't be the first captive to turn to the Dark Side and join them. Not even close.”

“You haven't recognized anyone, have you?” Canderous asked.

“Bah! They're all too young,” Jolee replied flippantly, “Besides, who could recognized any of them under all that black, even if one of them were your best friend.”

“You guys were Mission's friends, right?” Veshisht ventured in a lull in the conversation.

Carth studied the pale young man closely. “Mission is a member of our crew, yes,” he answered.

“Then where is she? Still back on the ship? Is she okay?” Veshisht asked quickly.

“She is a voluntary hostage of the Rakata down on that blue planet,” Juhani explained as they continued quickly along, “She will stay there with Zaalbar until we fulfill our promise to the Elders to destroy the Star Forge.”

“Good,” the Nagai sounded relieved, “She's safer down there than here. She didn't seem like much of a fighter when she was on Dantooine.”

Canderous chucked, “Oh, she's a fighter alright.”

“How did you and Belaya escape the destruction on Dantooine,” Juhani asked tentatively, “I heard that the enclave was totally devastated. No survivors were found.”

“Hardly any bodies were found either,” Veshisht replied sadly. “Just after you left, Master Vandar decided I was ready for my Jedi trials and took me to Coruscant to finish my training. Belaya, I heard that she and Gurtan were out on some mission in some remote town way out in the outback, settling local disputes. Our whole crew was from Dantooine, though Arna was knighted a while back and has been fighting in the war since then.”

“You were just knighted yourself then, kid?” Carth asked skeptically. Again, the Jedi send their kids, hardly out of training, on the most important missions in the war. They really must be stretching themselves thin.

“If you are suggesting that I am incompetent, Lieutenant Onasi,” the Nagai said stiffly, “I suggest that you remember Bastila herself is only a padawan. I passed my trials, and Master Vandar himself said that I was ready. He put me on this mission specifically because of my acute ability to sense individual identities in the Force. He thought I would be valuable in tracking down Bastila, Malak—and whoever else.”

“Then you can actually sense something through this awful mess of Dark Side?” Jolee demanded.

Veshisht nodded, “There were at least sixty individual signatures strong in the Force aboard this space station when we first arrived, including us.”

“Why didn't you say so earlier?” Jolee demanded.

“I assumed that your senses weren't completely blocked by the dark power of the Star Forge,” he shrugged, then pointed straight ahead and upward, “Malak is somewhere up there. He hasn't moved since we arrived. I recognize his presence from the couple of space battles I was in against his fleet as a padawan.”

“That would probably be the central command deck of the ship,” Juhani speculated. She had spent the most time studying the schematics of the Star Forge of anyone in the crew.

“I agree,” Veshisht nodded. Apparently he had done his homework as well, while they were in flight. Pointing up and to the right, he continued, “Bastila is up there, not quite as high as Malak though. At the moment, I don't even sense her battle meditation. There is another presence with her that I don't recognize, but it's far stronger than anyone else on this station.”

“Ev,” Juhani whispered.

“When she was in training at the enclave, I had no idea that her full power was anything like this,” Veshisht marveled, “I hardly recognize her Force signature now. I didn't realize then that she was anything more than an incredibly fast learner.”

“None of us did,” Juhani replied quietly.

“Except the Jedi who remade her,” Carth grumbled through clenched teeth. What right did they have anyway?

“Anyway, there's four Jedi straight ahead of us, fighting some Dark Jedi,” the Nagai Jedi pointed, “No, three. They're not doing very well. We should hurry.” Without waiting for anyone else to agree, Veshisht broke into a run. Carth joined the chase after him.

They reached the end of the walkway and hot-wired another doorway open. The next room was huge, with a long sloping walkway from their high vantage point connecting in a T with another walkway far below. On the lower platform, three Jedi struggled against five Sith, badly outnumbered. Even as they hurried down as fast as the slope allowed them, another one of the Jedi died at the hands of the Sith. Four closed in around the remaining two Jedi, a tall white haired woman and a much smaller brunette girl. The fifth Dark Jedi began to advance up the ramp towards Carth and the others.

Juhani suddenly kicked off the sloping walkway and somersaulted in an immense leap into the middle of the Dark Jedi. Veshisht engaged the Sith that met them and Jolee charged past with roar.

Canderous, Carth, and HK got behind Veshisht's Dark Jedi during an intense saber lock and shot him in the back while he was distracted. The Nagai didn't waste a second before leaping down into the fray.

There was a shriek, a wail, and Juhani cried out in pain. A sudden blast of energy through the Force knocked everyone from their feet, except the white-haired Jedi. Two Dark Jedi soared screaming over the edge of the walkway. She stabbed a third with her brilliant green blade as he tried to rise and meet her again, yelling as her battle cry, “Leyi!”

The last Dark Jedi regained her footing, but she stood between Jolee and Juhani, who were ready to take her on. He fell back to his knees with a stunned gurgle.

The woman—an Arkanian—collapsed to her knees beside the body of the petite girl at her feet. Tears streamed from her white, iris-less eyes. “Leyi,” she sobbed, “I am so sorry. So sorry. I failed you...” She gently brushed hair out of the girl's face. There was a conspicuous braid among her auburn locks. The girl's lower half, from the waist down, was missing.

“Master Anika!” Veshisht exclaimed, “Your hand!”

Where the Arkanian's left hand should have been, only a lightsaber-seared stump remained.

“To lose one's Padawan is far more painful than losing an extension to one's limb,” she murmured, “What is a hand anyway? I have another.” She raised her right hand in front of her face, studying it in shock. Staring past her own fingertips and down onto the lifeless face of the girl before her, her gaze seemed to say, 'But I only had one Leyi.'

“Painful as it is,” Juhani said, putting a comforting hand on the woman's shoulder, “She has gone to become one with the Force as we all will one day. This is not a time for mourning. If we do not complete the job we were sent to do, many more will follow in her path.”

Master Anika took a deep breath and stood. Facing the Cathar woman, she said, “You are right, Juhani. We knew there would be casualties in this mission and that we must press on. Thank you for coming to our aid, even if it is only I you managed to save.”

“I'm sorry couldn't come sooner, Master Anika,” Veshisht said earnestly.

“It cannot be helped,” she shook her head, “Now, who are your companions? I don't recognize this Jedi.”

Jolee snorted, “Don't you?”

Juhani introduced him, “This is Jolee Bindo. He is not officially with the Order, but has joined us on our quest. These are Canderous Ordo and Lieutenant Carth Onasi.” She deliberately passed over HK-47.

“Bindo? Jolee Bindo?” Anika marveled, “I remember hearing stories of you during the war against Exar Kun and the Krath.”

“Yes, and I'm sure they were all very interesting to a little tike like you then,” Jolee replied dismissively, “We're here to find and stop the Sith leaders from pulverizing our fleet, not to chat. Let's get moving.”

“If we want to get to a higher level, there should be lift in this direction,” Juhani pointed to the right end of their walkway. Blood dripped from a wide gash on her outstretched, staining her rust-colored robes and even darker red.

“Your arm...” Carth observed.

“I'll be fine,” Juhani said stubbornly, then clasped her left hand against the wound and lowered her arm.

Carth had seen wounds like that many times before. If she didn't pause to stop the bleeding, her right arm would be nearly useless in not too long. But there was no arguing with a Jedi about limits. Juhani herself was already jogging along the walkway towards their next destination. Carth joined the others in following after her. He hoped that she would soon see reason and tend to her wound.

Like every chamber previously, the next one held another skirmish waiting for them. Thankfully, only three Dark Jedi accompanied the patrol of eight soldiers. He threw himself into the battle with enthusiasm, even pitching in a few grenades for extra flare. What added most to his confidence was that the long, corridor-like chamber was entirely floored, leaving no deadly drop-offs to accidentally stumble down. Although he gave it little thought during the battle, he was dimly aware of light glittering in from huge windows on the inner wall of the chamber.

Juhani and Jolee each faced their own Dark Jedi while Veshisht assisted the still-shaken Arkanian Jedi Master with hers. Carth noticed Juhani switch her lightsaber from her right to her left hand and then back again.

Given the wider ground, the Sith Soldiers mostly ignored the Jedi fight. They probably knew just as well as Carth's crew did that one could do little with a blaster against a lightsaber. That left eight armored soldiers bearing down on just three. Carth and Canderous firmly held their ground behind their Jedi companions while HK, as usual, managed to slip around to the soldiers' flank. Several of the soldiers themselves tried to pull the same move, sliding around the line of dueling Jedi. One cut his path too close and earned a decapitating back-hand from Jolee. That still left Canderous and Carth face-to-face with four heavily-armed gunners.

Suddenly, Carth felt a wave of confidence wash over him. At the same moment, the Sith hesitated. Canderous must have felt it too. With an enthusiastic roar, he flung a frag grenade right into the soldier's midst. Carth shot down the remaining soldiers with deadly accuracy. By the time he looked up, searching for another target, there were none. All the Sith and Dark Jedi had fallen.

“Nomi...” Jolee breathed, “I haven't felt that in years.”

“That had to be Master Sunrider,” Veshisht exclaimed, “Her battle meditation reached through to us.”

“If she has managed to overpower Bastila, then the Republic fleet has a chance to move against the Star Forge,” Juhani said soberly, “We must hurry. Unless the Sith have another trick up their sleeve, the Star Forge may begin to fall apart with us on it.”

“Would you look at that?” Canderous marveled. He was totally disconnected from the rest of the conversation.

Carth looked up and saw why. The entire inner wall of the long chamber was made of transparisteel windows. They gazed upon the core of Star Forge. Glittering with some sort of strange white energy, endless Sith fighters floated serenely upward. Each looked nearly complete.

“Amazing,” Master Anika uttered, “That would explain a lot of things.”

“It's damned creepy, if you asked me,” Jolee shuddered, “There aren't any machines out there. Those fighters are just... forming.”

“Uh-oh,” Veshisht said suddenly.

Carth whirled around, expecting to see more enemies approaching.

“What is it?” Juhani asked.

“Ev isn't right above us any more. She has gone higher,” he reported nervously.

“And Bastila?” Jolee asked.

“She's still where she was before. I'm sure now it's the axillary control room,” he replied.

“They must have decided to make their move now,” Canderous concluded, “While Malak is distracted with the battle, Ev will blow her cover and attack him. Meanwhile, Bastila lays low and continues her battle meditation against the Republic fleet. Malak won't know that anything is off until Ev appears to finish him up and retake her place as Dark Lord.”

“I don't sense any kind of battle meditation coming from anyone but Master Nomi,” Anika said.

“What could that mean?” Jolee murmured.

“In any case, we must hurry,” Juhani reminded them, “The lift to the lower command deck is this way.” She pointed to their left, down the corridor. Her right hand shook even as she did so, and her lightsaber hilt was clasped firmly in her left hand.

They dashed again down the hall, not waiting for more reinforcements to arrive. Malak undoubtedly knew where they were now, and probably where they were heading. As they ran, Carth found himself breathing hard. For all of his military conditioning, he was beginning to have trouble keeping up with the pace of Jedi stamina.

They found the lift unoccupied and operational. Juhani punched in the code for the lower command deck, and up they soared.

“Bastila has gotten far stronger since you all saw her last,” Jolee told them gravely, “The Dark Side has made her crazy and overconfident, but she's strong. It will probably take all four of us to subdue her. Canderous, Carth, HK, it would be best if you three just stayed out of the way.”

“Query: Is that an order or a suggestion?” HK-47 asked.

“It's an order, you overgrown pocket knife,” Jolee snapped.

“Statement: Given my wide range of functionalities, I believe that is a good analogy,” HK commended. Jolee rolled his eyes.

Just then, the lift began to slow. Four lightsabers hissed on: two green, one blue, and one yellow. Everyone held their breath as the lift doors slid open. Whatever they were prepared for, it was not what they saw.

At the base of a giant glittering white holoprojection of the Star Forge and the battle that ranged around it lay Bastila, face down on the floor. Except for the slight rise and fall of her back to shallow breathing, she was completely motionless. Her long lightsaber hilt lay harmlessly on the floor, a half a meter from her limp, outstretched hand.

- Next Part -

 

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