Tower of Time: Long Ago and Far Away
   

Under the Shadow of the Builders
Part 29- The End of an Era

“She's...” Juhani trailed off.

Kicking the discarded lightsaber hilt farther out of the way, Jolee hurried over and crouched down beside Bastila. He put two fingers to her neck and checked for a pulse. The others approached more cautiously. “She's unconscious,” he assessed, “And probably will be that way for a while. Her vital signs are weak, but she doesn't seem to be dying.”

“Is she injured?” Carth asked.

“Not that I can see,” Jolee mumbled and unceremoniously rolled Bastila over onto her back. There was not even a single scratch visible on her.

Even when unconscious, Bastila looked disconcerting in her black Sith robes. Not two months ago, Carth would have said that Bastila would be the last person he expected to turn to the Dark Side. But the Force, it seemed, could do terrible things to even the most loyal Jedi. That, in itself, was most terrifying.

“Undoubtedly, this is the result of a Force duel with someone else,” Juhani surmised.

“My bets are on Ev,” Canderous said.

“That would explain the lack of battle meditation,” Master Anika observed.

Jolee nodded in agreement. “She and Bastila must have had a disagreement on how to take care of Malak, or maybe Ev never intended to work with Bastila at all,” he said, “Or maybe...”

“In any case,” Carth reminded them, “Someone accomplished our first goal for us. Bastila is down. But I'm not about to leave her here to wake up and start up again, or to die when the Star Forge goes down. We've got to get her out of here.”

“And we've still got to find Ev,” Jolee said, not that Carth needed reminding, “I don't know about you, but I don't like the idea of her back at the helm of this station, Bastila meditating or not.”

“The best strategist in the galaxy would have this battle in her hands in no time,” Canderous agreed.

“We will have to split up,” Carth said, “One group will take Bastila back to the Ebon Hawk and one group will continue on to find Ev and Malak.”

“We will want Veshisht's senses on the party going after Ev,” Juhani said quickly.

“And not you,” Canderous cut in.

Her yellow eyes narrowed angrily. “What? Why not?” Juhani demanded.

“Your arm is no good, or very soon it will be,” Canderous answered dryly, “If we're going up to the upper command deck, the chances of us getting killed are much higher, and ten times as much for someone injured. They would exploit your weakness and cut you into pieces without much trouble at all.”

“Ev brought me back from the Dark Side,” Juhani protested, “I owe it to her to be there to help her.”

“You owe it to her to stay alive,” Jolee snapped, “You're talking Bastila, Juhani. Now hush up and be a good girl about it.”

Juhani scowled but didn't argue further.

“I will go with her as well,” Master Anika volunteered. Nodding in the direction of Canderous, she said, “I agree with what he said. Up until now, I have primarily used my right hand for wielding my lightsaber. I am a disadvantaged with only my left hand now. Additionally, my talents lie in mental manipulation, which would be invaluable, should Bastila begin to wake up again.”

Carth nodded approvingly.

“Just because you're running away doesn't mean you won't run into any enemies,” Canderous warned, “I don't like the odds of two gimps versus an army. Take HK-47 with you.”

“Statement: That will even the odds,” the droid agreed eagerly.

With some help from Carth, Master Anika was able to sling Bastila limply over her shoulder. She was a tall, sturdily built Arkanian woman. Juhani took Bastila's weapon and attached it to her own belt for safe keeping.

Before they turned to go, Juhani squarely met Carth's gaze. “I know you will find her and you will bring her back,” her words were almost a demand.

Carth nodded gravely, “We will.”

The two Jedi and the assassin droid hurried back onto the lift. As Juhani punched the lift codes and the door began to slide closed, Carth called, “Remember, if this space station starts to fall apart, even if we're still on it, the Ebon Hawk has to take off. Don't wait for us!”

The doors shut and they disappeared from sight.

“Alright, kid, where are they now?” Canderous asked briskly. No one had to ask who he meant.

“Both are not too far above us,” Veshisht replied, concentrating hard, “But not together. Malak is still where he always was, and Ev is moving—moving towards him.”

“To kill him or to join him,” Jolee said.

“In either case, that puts her in command of the Star Forge again,” Canderous added darkly.

Glancing at the lift behind them, Carth said, “That lift doesn't go any higher than this.”

“I know there has to be another lift on this level somewhere,” Veshisht said.

Carth glanced around the huge chamber. There were three other blast doors leading out of the circular room. He fruitlessly scrutinized each of the three identical doors, suddenly wishing that Juhani had not gone with Bastila—or that he had studied the maps of the Star Forge as carefully as she had. He looked up at the projection of the Star Forge for inspiration and was instantly distracted. Two full squadrons of Republic fighters had broken through the Sith lines and were wrecking havoc from within. Their capital ships were finally getting the opening they needed to begin barraging the Star Forge. “We don't have much time,” he murmured under his breath. He suddenly began to doubt that they would make it back to the Ebon Hawk at all.

Veshisht seemed to have the realization they were all waiting for. He jogged over to one of the nearest doors and said, “I think this here is a lift, if I am remembering right.” He suddenly drew back and uttered, “Uh-oh.”

The blast doors to the lift slid apart and three Dark Jedi poured out, accompanied by a small patrol of soldiers.

“Find that woman and Bastila!” the foremost Dark Jedi barked, “Something strange was going on in here a few minutes ago.” He stopped short, looking over their little boarding party. “What have we here?” he mused.

“Call us a resistance movement,” Jolee said dryly and ignited his lightsaber. Beside him, Veshisht did the same.

The lead Dark Jedi laughed. Meanwhile the other Sith stared at him, awkwardly unsure weather to fight or not. “You actually think that with two mere Jedi and two soldiers, you can take down the Star Forge? Fools,” he spat.

“Two Jedi, one soldier, and one Mandalorian,” Canderous correct with pride.

“You think that actually makes a difference?” the Dark Jedi demanded, “I'm surprised you even made it this far.”

“Look,” Canderous said dryly and hefted his blaster rifle onto his shoulder, “I think we're both wasting each other's time. Let's get this over with.”

“Fine by me,” he sneered, then turned to his subordinates, “Kill them.”

Three red sabers blazed on to combat Jolee and Veshisht's yellow and green. The Dark Jedi strode slowly and confidently towards them with his apprentices at his heels. As they closed the distance between the lift and their enemies, Jolee and Veshisht waited patiently.

Suddenly, with the shriek of metal being bent against its will, the metal grating beneath their feet twisted, ripped and gave way right beneath their feet. With shouts of surprise all three Dark Jedi and one of the unlucky soldiers plummeted into the dark shaft below. Bewildered, Carth glanced at his own Jedi friends. Jolee stood pensively with a firmly clenched fist raised in the air in front of him.

Not wasting a moment, Jolee and Veshisht vaulted over the rip in the flooring and attacked the three stunned soldiers that remained. They did not even need Canderous or Carth's support.

“Nice work there,” Canderous commended with an amazed chuckle.

Carth tried not to think about the dizzying drop below as he edged his way around the hole of twisted metal after the graying Mandalorian. Jolee and Veshisht already waited for them aboard the lift.

As the doors slid closed again, Veshisht reported, “Ev and Malak are definitely on the same deck now, though not together, yet.”

“I wish I knew why she did that to Bastila,” Jolee muttered, “It would start to explain a lot.”

“This is it,” the young Nagai Jedi announced and pressed the button on the control pad that stopped the elevator. With a jolt, their ascent stopped and the lift descended slightly before opening the doors.

They scene they entered was not all that unlike the bridge of a Republic cruiser during a heated battle, only on a much larger scale. Uniformed technicians shouted or rushed from one console to another while commanders of varying ranks strode self-importantly among their underlings, issuing decisive orders.

In the midst of their battle coordination, none on the bridge of the Star Forge noticed the four intruders that hung in the shadows near the lift entrance.

“This way,” Veshisht whispered and made a tiny gesture to the right, “They're very close.”

Just then, the floor beneath them shook and sirens began to whine.

“We've been hit!”

“Republic hammerheads at four o'clock and thirty-three degrees above center.”

“Send the Yavin Specter and the Defier in to Republic's starboard flank. Ready the Star Forge's equatorial guns.”

“Sir!”

“Don't argue! Do what you're told soldier!”

“But sir! There are intruders on the bridge!”

Suddenly, all eyes were on them.

“Where's a Dark Jedi when I need one,” the bridge commander muttered angrily. “I want soldiers on the bridge immediately,” he bellowed into a comm.

“Run!” Carth urged.

They no longer took care for cover and sprinted between consoles and holo displays. Thankfully, none of the bridge technicians seemed to be well armed, if armed at all. The Star Forge shook again. In the chaos, they managed to get free of the bridge command center and into a long, narrow corridor beyond it. A number of standard sized doors lined one wall while a wide window on the other side looked out onto the battle that raged in space around them. But there was no time for stargazing.

Three Dark Jedi and half a patrol of Sith soldiers scrambled to meet them. Two more Dark Jedi and the other half of the patrol lay sprawled out across the hall. Some were dead and others were struggling to regain their footing again.

“There's more of you?” one of the Sith grumbled.

“Both Ev and Malak are straight ahead,” Veshisht told them quietly. At the far end of the corridor was a gaping wide doorway leading into another vast, dark room.

They threw themselves into the battle. Again, Carth wished Juhani hadn't left. Her presence would have more than evened the odds. Jolee and Veshisht didn't fight with the same cohesion that he had seen earlier in Jolee and Juhani. Even still, they managed to bring down one of the Dark Jedi relatively quickly. A lucky shot from Canderous brought down a second. Carth, meanwhile, picked off the soldiers one by one.

“Hurry!” Veshisht suddenly yelled and bolted down the corridor. Something drove him on.

Without thinking, Carth dashed through the crossfire after him.

The lightsaber of one of the Dark Jedi that Carth had taken for dead suddenly ignited and soared through the air. It stabbed Veshisht through the gut, then extinguished and clattered to the ground. The Nagai gasped and groaned, falling forward to his knees as the Dark Jedi himself wheezed triumphant laughter from where he lay sprawled on the ground.

“Veshisht!” Carth exclaimed and rushed forward, catching him just in time as he fell backwards.

“Sorry Lieutenant,” he gasped painfully, “Tell Mission 'hi' for me, will ya?”

“Yeah, yeah, of course,” Carth sputtered.

A chillingly familiar metallic laughter rang down the corridor. It sent chills down Carth's spine.

“This ends here, Malak,” another voice responded defiantly.

Ev.

Carth was on his feet immediately.

“You can do it,” Veshisht whispered with difficult, “Go.”

Carth left everything else behind and ran. He clenched his blasters tightly, all the while wondering if he had the courage to pull the trigger when the moment came. As he drew nearer the huge blast doors began to close. He wasn't going to make it.

“I will let the full power of the Star Forge destroy you!” Malak's words reached him.

“Carth!” he heard Jolee shout. Just then, he felt a wall of air push him violently forward. It knocked him off his feet and he tumbled forward. By the time he righted himself, heavy doors slammed shut behind him.

Huge, sinister machinery lined both sides of the dim room and Malak was nowhere in sight. Standing at the far end of the room was the person he both most wanted to see and never wanted to set eyes on again. He stood and faced her with a rising feeling of dread.

Even as they started at each other, not knowing what to say, Carth could see that changes had come over Ev. She wore a long white robe that hung all the way down to her ankles with a simple leather vest, reminiscent of the armor Darth Revan always wore.

“This ends here,” Carth found himself echoing her own words as he shakily raised one blaster pistol.

“Carth, what are you doing here?” Ev asked disapprovingly and starting walking towards him, “You are way out of your league.”

“I'm here to save the Republic,” Carth answered, only half-convinced by his own bravery, “And to stop the rise of another Dark Lord.”

“If you were smart, love, you would get out of here now,” Ev said sternly, still advancing towards him. Her lightsaber hilts were in her hands but unlit. Carth tightened his grip on the blaster and fingered the trigger. “Or do I have to throw you off a cliff too to keep you out of danger?”

“What?” Carth lowered his weapon, bewildered.

“I'm sorry to betray your trust, even if it was a ruse,” Ev started. Even as she spoke, thunderous energy zapped through machines along the walls of the room. In a flash of white lightning, spindly droids appeared out of nothing and skittered towards Ev.

Carth raised his blaster again. “I will not be fooled by you again,” he spoke against the growing lump in his throat.

“Carth!” she yelled and sprung through the air at him, lightsabers blazing.

He let his weapon fall from his hand as the inevitable soared towards him. In the end, he couldn't do it. He couldn't kill the woman he had loved, no matter what she had done. Sorry Jolee.

Ev landed beside him and whirled her lightsabers in a quick arc. He felt no pain. Instead, he heard the clanking and hissing of a droid falling to pieces not two feet behind him.

“Idiot,” Ev reprimanded, but there was a warm smile on her face, “I would have thought a soldier of your reputation would have been taught to watch his back.”

“Ev...” Carth could hardly believe that the woman he saw before him was the same as she had ever been. There was nothing sinister about her at all.

“Save it for later,” Ev cut him off, “You may be an idiot, but I still love you. Now pick up your gun and make yourself useful.” She gave Carth a quick kiss on the cheek before whirling off to cut down another of the spindly droids.

Carth was speechless. Instead of fighting for words, he followed her orders and began shooting down any of the droids that he could get in his sights. All around him, the huge hook-shaped machines kept producing droids as he and Ev could destroy them.

In fact, it was exactly as fast as the droids were destroyed.

“Malak set this trap thinking it would save him the trouble of killing me himself,” Ev said as she dashed from one droid to the next, “Cowardly, if you ask me. He still seems afraid to fight me face-to-face. Some Dark Lord of the Sith.”

“These machines are replacing the droids as soon as we destroy them,” Carth told her urgently, “There will never be an end to this.”

Ev almost casually sliced one of the droids in two. A moment later, one of the contraptions on their left erupted in white lightning, producing a replacement. “Huh, you're right,” Ev agreed. “I'll hold them back while you figure out how to sabotage this droid factory. Can you handle that?”

“I'll do anything for you,” Carth said, and he meant every bit of it. He hurried for the nearest machine and spotted a computer console at the base of it. He quickly discovered that he had neither the slicing skills nor the computer spikes necessary to bypass the password protected interface. Though, given the commands he was able to see and not use, it seemed that the console controlled all the functions of the droid creating machine next to him. He quickly reasoned that if the console was destroyed, the machine would no longer be receiving any commands and thus would cease production. That was his hope anyway.

Carth pulled out one of his grenades and triggered the timer. Placing it on the keypad, he backed quickly away, right into a newly created droid. He caught his legs in the six spindly legs of the droid and tripped. Laying tangled on the ground, Carth struggled to get himself righted, but his legs were still caught. The droid's laser head-mount slowly rotated, training towards him. Thankfully, Carth was a faster draw. He drew his left blaster, which was not pinned beneath him as his right one was, and raised it to point-blank range then fired. The droid gave a computerized screech and exploded spectacularly. Carth was showered in sparks and scrap metal.

Face stinging from the barrage of little shocks and cuts, Carth tried to extract himself from under the ruins of the droid.

“Carth!” Ev yelled an instant before the grenade went off.

Glancing at the console as it erupted in a violent explosion, Carth had only time to think, Too close.

The shock of the explosion at such a close range sent both him and the remains of the droid skidding across the floor. Flying debris assaulted him from all angles. Seconds later when it all subsided, he found that he had a sizable metal shard imbedded in his right thigh. Wincing and drawing in a sharp breath, he quickly drew it out. The blood started to flow.

Ev was at his side in an instant. “Are you okay?” she asked, giving him a hand to get up and using her other hand to give the droid carcass a token Force push off of him.

“I'll be fine,” Carth reassured her, “Thanks.”

“That seemed to do the trick,” Ev commented as she stared at the now smoking piece of machinery. “Just keep doing that, but get out of the way next time.”

Carth chuckled, but didn't have time to respond before she rushed off towards the knot of droids in the center of the room that were quickly skittering their way.

Carth ignored his reflex to limp and hurried to the next machine and the computer console at the base of it. There were still seven more left. He didn't waste any time in placing another grenade on top of this console and dashing away. This time, he checked his path of retreat first. There was another grand explosion and the second machine was disabled.

Carth continued to race around the huge room, ignoring the growing pain in his leg. One by one, he destroyed each console while Ev beat back the droids as quickly as they were produced. With each machine he disabled, there were fewer droids for Ev to fight.

Finally, there was only one working droid production machine left. A single droid skittered around Ev, trying to stay out of range of her lightsaber while still shooting at her. It was having little success. Carth slung his supply pack in front of him and dug inside. There were no more grenades. He zipped up the pack and returned it to its place, then backed up a safe distance and began to fire on the console. All of his laser bolts bounced off the thick metal casing, doing little damage.

“Ev, I'm out of grenades!” he called across the room.

“Got it,” she yelled back and sprinted towards him. As she dashed past him, she said, “You take the droid, I've got the console.”

The droid followed after her as fast as its six insect-like legs could scurry. It did not seem to see Carth at all in its computerized determination. A few quick shots took it down. A moment later, the machine behind him zapped another droid into existence.

At nearly the same time, Ev brought down both of her lightsabers in a fierce swipe and back flipped away. The console collapsed in a fury of shorted electronics. Ev's leap took her right to the last droid, which she easily cut in two. She switched off her lightsabers and clipped them to her belt. With a dry chuckle, she said, “Idiot though you are, trying to throw yourself against the Dark Lord, I'll always be glad to have you by my side, Carth.”

“Ev,” he breathed as she drew closer, “But why?”

The Star Forge rocked and buckled around them.

“There isn't the time for me to explain now. But, trust me, I will,” she said, putting both hands lightly on his shoulders, “I still have to defeat Malak before this thing falls to pieces.”

“Can't we just leave him here to die with Star Forge?” Carth asked, sliding his arms around her waist.

“Malak may yet find a way to escape,” Ev shook her head, “And the gesture of besting him in single combat will be a powerful one to the Sith.”

“Ev, don't do it,” Carth urged selfishly. How can I ask the savior of the Republic not to finish the job just because I'm afraid she'll die too?

“Carth,” she whispered and kissed him.

Carth pulled her closer to him, against his chest. He drew in her warmth and the very vitality of her being. All the while, a small part of him expected at any moment to have a lightsaber thrust through his chest. He loved the Dark Lord, and such was the risk. He could only hope that what little love and support he could give would be enough to keep her from retaking that title. It was all he could do.

At the shock of another cannon blast, they stumbled apart.

“I have to go,” Ev said softly and backed away, “Thank you for everything, Carth.” She turned and ran towards the blast doors at the far end of the chamber. As she dashed through, they closed behind her with an audible clank.

She is out of my reach now...

The Star Forge shook again.

With a sigh, Carth looked down at his leg. A dark, wet stain dripped down his pants. The cut on the side of his leg was small though deep. Already it seemed to be clotting. “I should do something about that,” he murmured and sat down on the floor. He dug through his supply pack to find the first aid kit. He rubbed some disinfectant on the throbbing wound then wrapped it tightly with a gauze bandage. It would do until he had access to real medical facilities. “And I should see about getting a tetanus injection too,” he thought out loud.

Distantly, he could hear the sounds of fighting still going on out in the corridor. “That means that Jolee or Canderous is still alive,” he murmured to himself and stood up, “Poor Jedi kid... Well, I can't do anything for Ev, but I'll see what I can do to help those two out.”

The blast door, however, proved to be a problem. It was tightly sealed and the controls were fried. Probably Malak's doing. Carth was left to wait helplessly for the outcome of the two battles locked in a destroyed droid factory. He couldn't know how either fight was going, but only hope for the best. Even the battle outside the Star Forge was beyond his knowledge, aside from the now regular shuddering of the entire station.

Soon, the battle in the hallway subsided and it grew quiet. Carth stood and pressed his ear fruitlessly against the thick blast doors. He heard the snap-hiss of a lightsaber and the metal beneath his cheek began to grow warm. Carth leaped away and stared warily at the door. Someone was trying to get through.

He watched as an irregular ellipse of red hot metal traced its way around the door. A second lap of the lightsaber caused the metal to glow and even hotter white. Finally, the brilliant tip of a lightsaber poked through. It was green.

“Jolee,” Carth breathed a sigh of relief.

It didn't take long for the old man to finally cut the hole open. Thick layers of metal plating fell inward with a crash. Jolee's grave expression warmed immediately when he saw Carth. He stooped down and stepped through the hole, then Canderous after him. The burly Mandalorian carried Veshisht's body in his arms.

“You saw Ev?” Jolee concluded.

Carth nodded, “Darth Malak tried to trap her in here with an endless supply of battle droids. I helped her to fight them off and destroy the machines that were making them. Jolee, she's not evil—at least I don't think she is. The way she said it, when she betrayed you at the temple, I think she meant to protect you. She knew all along that this was a fight only she could handle.”

Canderous said nothing, but the self-satisfied look on his face seemed to say that he expected something like this all along.

“Just because you kissed and made up,” Jolee pointed out shrewdly. Carth found himself blushing. Jolee continued, “It doesn't mean that she's not pretending. Or maybe she still loves you even though she's decided to walk the dark path. I'm not betting anything on her redemption until she walks back in here, Malak defeated, and tells us her plans for finishing off this Star Forge.”

“So they are dueling now?” Canderous asked.

“For the last ten minutes at least,” Carth answered.

“That Malak is a coward,” Canderous spat, “He sent his Sith after her and then his droids. He knew from the start that he couldn't fight her and come out alive. Otherwise, he would have faced her himself right from the start. He knows that he's a dead man. No one can defeat Revan.”

“I hope you're right, Canderous,” Carth agreed. He gazed down at the pale, lifeless face of the young Nagai. “He's gone, isn't he?” Even after only knowing the Jedi for less than a few hours, Carth felt a strange attachment to Veshisht. His warmth and openness were qualities that he had found in only one other Jedi.

“A lightsaber through the vital organs is not something anyone can survive,” Jolee replied, “Jedi are trained that at an early age. It seems that so are the Sith. But we're not going to leave him here. He deserves a proper Jedi funeral.”

Carth nodded in agreement.

Jolee stared distantly towards the far end of the room. The Star Forge shuddered violently again. “I can feel them both now,” the old man said, “The Force raging in that room is like a sandstorm on Ryloth.”

“Who's winning?” Carth asked.

Jolee shook his head. “I can't tell,” clearing his throat, he sat down onto the cold, metal floor, “I may not have use of battle meditation like Bastila or Nomi, but there are still some things I can do from here. I'm going to help her out.” Jolee closed his eyes and rapidly fell into deep meditation. Carth and Canderous stayed quiet for fear of disturbing him.

Ev was right, I am out of my league. There is nothing more I can do to help her.

Canderous lay Veshisht gently down on the floor then stood silently beside Carth, waiting.

Outside, the space battle still raged. By the even more frequent shaking of the Star Forge, Carth could tell that the Republic was gaining ground. More warning sirens blared in the hallway and unintelligible shouting carried down the corridor from the bridge. The Sith were losing. Maybe that would be enough to distract the Dark Lord himself.

Suddenly, Jolee opened his eyes and let out a long sigh.

“Jolee?” Carth asked.

“Darth Malak is dead,” he answered.

Even as Jolee stood up, the doors at the other end droid factory opened and Ev strode through. All three of the men straightened up to greet her.

“It is done,” she said wearily, walking towards them. There was not a hint of victorious pride in her countenance, “Let's get off of this thing before it blows.”


~~~


Admiral Dodonna examined the battle display in front of her and the view out of the Libra's main viewport each in turn. Nearly all of the Sith capital ships and cruisers had been destroyed, and the few that remained had fallen into disarray. The Star Forge was within their grasp. There remained only one thing to concern herself with before she gave the final command.

Hands behind her back, she turned respectfully to the tiny Alien Jedi who stood beside her. “Master Vandar, have you any news from your strike teams?” she asked.

“The few that survived captured Bastila and are now aboard the Ebon Hawk, waiting for the return of the rest of their team,” he answered.

“If they have Bastila, then what are they waiting for?” she inquired.

“They say that Lieutenant Onasi, along with three others went on to confront Revan,” Vandar replied.

Forn Dodonna pursed her lips. Onasi was one of her most promising Lieutenants. It would be a great loss to the Republic Navy should he go down with the Star Forge, but the man had chosen this mission for himself. He could have left the run on the Star Forge for the Jedi and stayed in space where a pilot and commander like him would be of most use. “Is there any indication that Lieutenant Onasi's team has accomplished their goal and is returning to their ship?” she asked.

“No,” the Jedi Master replied simply.

She took a deep breath, “My scout ships report that the Star Forge has been somehow repairing itself all throughout this battle, and even now, several more capital ships are being readied for action in the station's factory launch bays.”

“I see,” Master Vandar nodded gravely, “Then you believe that we cannot wait?”

“I am afraid we cannot, Master Jedi,” she replied. “If we strike hard now, before their reinforcements are ready, we will be able to destroy the Star Forge.” She added as a bittersweet afterthought, “Lieutenant Onasi himself was firmly of the opinion that the destruction of the Star Forge cannot be delayed in the slightest.”

“I will inform my Jedi to leave the Star Forge,” Vandar said.

“I will give them two standard minutes to get clear,” Dodonna promised.


~~~


“We have just received orders from Master Vandar to flee the Star Forge. The Republic fleet is about to make a final push against the it,” Master Anika reported respectfully, then turned to Juhani who hung in the corridor outside the cockpit behind her, “Go call in Belaya and Gurtan. We will not need them to guard this hangar bay any longer.”

“No, we have to wait,” Juhani argued passionately, “Carth, Jolee, Canderous, Veshisht, and Ev are still out there. If we leave, they'll have no escape. We cannot leave them for dead!”

“Fine, I will go recall our guards,” Anika replied dispassionately and brushed past Juhani, “And pilot, that is an order. We are leaving as soon as everyone is securely aboard.”

“You cannot be serious!” Juhani hissed angrily, “We cannot leave them!”

“We accomplished our goal of recovering Bastila, and now we must get her to safety, away from here,” the Arkanian Jedi Master replied over her shoulder.

“That may have been your goal,” Juhani hissed after her, “But it was only one of ours.” She turned to Kionee and pleaded, “Please wait just another minute. I have to know if they are close. I am going to break the comm silence.”

She dashed into the communications deck and quickly pressed an earpiece headset against her head. “Carth, this is Juhani,” she hailed urgently, “Where are you?”

“Juhani!” he sounded surprised through all of the static, “We're—”

“We're not going to make it back, Juhani,” Ev's voice cut in sternly. Juhani's heart nearly stopped. “The Star Forge is breaking up. You need to get yourselves and the Ebon Hawk off before it comes down around you.”

“We have just been told that the Republic navy is in position to destroy the Star Forge,” Juhani said quickly, “You have to hurry. We will wait for you.”

“No Juhani,” Ev argued firmly, “We are too far away. Don't waste your life and the lives of the others on the ship. Get out of here.”

“But Ev—!” Juhani cried.

“May the Force be with you,” she replied simply and the line went silent.

Juhani fought back tears and hurried back into the corridor. Master Anika was already aboard again with Belaya and the Twi'lek Gurtan behind her. “Everyone is aboard,” she announced, “Pilot, take out of here and regroup with the fleet.”

This time, Juhani didn't protest.

“Okay,” Kionee replied unsteadily, “Make sure everyone is strapped in. This is probably going to be a bumpy ride.”


~~~


“Ev, what are you planning?” Carth demanded as the raced towards the bridge and their lift down.

“You knew it would come to this,” Canderous observed.

“We're not giving up yet,” Ev said grimly. She lit both of her lightsabers, one violet and one red, then stormed the last few meters into the bridge.

All was in chaos. Everyone was shouting. Even still, their grand entrance was not to be overlooked.

The nearest officer to them demanded angrily, “Who are you? Where is Darth Malak? He is needed on the bridge. Well? Speak, Dark Jedi.”

“Darth Malak is dead. I am Darth Revan and I have returned,” she answered with a menacing smile, “Give me command of this bridge.”

Her words had a profound effect on the officer and all of the other Sith around him. He ran his fingers around the edge of his collar nervously, “Yes, my Lord Revan. The Star Forge is yours.”

Everyone drew back, staring at her and the small team following her. Despite the shacking and rumblings that contorted the Star Forge, she strode confidently across the bridge. Nearly all the technicians neglected their jobs to stare fearfully at her. Clearly Malak had let it slip that his old master was still alive and on the Star Forge. Ev was believed.

“In that case,” Ev said, taking up the comm in one hand, “Crew of the Star Forge, this is Darth Revan. I have returned and I have defeated Darth Malak. The Republic Navy has broken through our last line of defenses. The Star Forge will fall. Evacuate the Star Forge. I repeat, evacuate the Star Forge. If you value your skin, I would do it very quickly. That is all.” Her voice boomed through every deck of the space station.

Now she had the attention of the entire bridge personnel. Every eye was on her and mouths hung open in fear and surprise. “I thought I made myself clear,” Ev said disapprovingly, “Get out of here.”

Her words broke the spell. The bridge broke into chaos again. Technicians, soldiers, and officers alike all scrambled in all directions. The Star Forge took several hard hits, throwing most of them to the ground. The uncontrolled herd of Sith struggled towards another doorway on the other end of the bridge. Panicked screaming filled the air.

“To the escape pods!”

“This way!”

“Hurry or all of the pods will be filled!”

Ev turned to her three companions and raised an eyebrow. “Shall we?” she asked, gesturing towards the doorway.


~~~


There was little for Kionee to worry about as she fled the Star Forge. Neither the Sith nor the Republic cared about a single, small, freighter fleeing the Star Forge. No matter which side she was on, she was a threat to neither. She took the Ebon Hawk to relative safety behind the Republic lines, which were growing ever closer to the Star Forge.

While the rest of the crew was strapped in elsewhere, Master Anika had insisted on remaining in the cockpit. She stood stalwartly behind Kionee's chair with her only hand clasped firmly on the back of the seat.

“Once the Star Forge is destroyed, we will rendezvous and dock with the Libra to debrief with Master Vandar, Master Sunrider, and the Admiral Dodonna,” Anika advised coolly.

Kionee didn't reply. She couldn't. Instead, she took the Ebon Hawk into a wide arc and brought it around to face the battle around the Star Forge. Except for one trying to launch from the Star Forge itself, no Sith capital ships remained to resist the Republic's fleet. Republic cruisers and hammerheads formed a wide ring around the massive space station and were firing everything they had. The Star Forge tossed back and forth in space. It was no longer putting up any kind of resistance. One of the four huge fins broke free, and then the whole structure exploded.

Kionee let out a small cry despite herself.

The Ebon Hawk and every other ship in the area was struck with a great shock-wave, pushing them away and out of control. Kionee wrestled with the steering yoke to right the ship on its coarse. She dodged debris and other fighters who all struggled to do the same. Finally, everything seemed to reach a state of equilibrium, drifting away from where the Star Forge had been.

Heart pounding and breathing hard, Kionee leaned back in her seat. She swallowed the lump growing in her throat. Her friends had been on that space station—friends that had saved her life twice—and there had been nothing she could do to save them in return.

“When you see a safe trajectory, pilot,” Master Anika ordered, “Take us back to the Libra.

This could go on Kionee's list of major battles that she had accidentally found herself in the middle of. “How do I keep doing this?” she murmured mournfully to herself. And it would add to all the weight she felt for the responsibility of lives lost. Following the Jedi Master's orders, she directed the ship forward again and sought out the Libra.

Suddenly, Juhani cried out from the main hold in a panic, “Bastila, she is—!”

There were uneven footsteps in the corridor behind them.

Master Anika's lightsaber hissed on and a gentle green light illuminated the cabin.

Kionee turned to look and saw the famous Bastila Shan leaning heavily on the doorway. Wrapped in black, the young woman looked terrifying even in her weakness.

“Ev is still out there,” Bastila panted, “She's still alive.”

- Next Part -

 

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