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Chapter 27

Sernpidal was a world located far from the Galactic Republic, in the uncharted reaches of space far from the ancestral Sith worlds. It was connected to the rest of the galaxy by one incomplete and very new hyperlane, which unfortunately could only be accessed by venturing through those Sith worlds. Ranval took over the navigation upon reaching Korriban, and after a series of short jumps, they managed to avoid what Ranval imagined would have been systems watched by the Sith. About a day later, the crew of the Blind Guide was looking down on Sernpidal and its two moons.

“People live down there?” Ranz grumbled. “Looks like a barren dustball.”

“Is that an improvement over the polar wastes we just came from?” Celes asked.

“There’s a Sith military base down there to keep things exciting,” Tserne reminded them.

“I assume you have a plan?” Delvin asked Ranval and Northeus. “We won’t be able to do a clean approach like we did on Truuine.”

“We need to wait here while the Blind Guide’s sensors scan the base. Once we know the layout and external defenses, we should be able to formulate a more concise plan,” Ranval said.

“But you do have a plan?” Dynatha repeated.

“A rough one, but I need to know more before I commit to anything.”

“Well, we can’t just float here,” Celes pointed out. “If the world is controlled by the Sith like you say it is, there will be patrols.”

“For now, how about the far side of one of Sernpidal’s moons?” Northeus offered.

“That could work. But the scan will take longer due to the distance and interference from the moon,” Ranval said.

Ranval and his crew guided the Blind Guide behind Sernpidal’s closer moon and set the engines so it would follow the satellite’s orbit. The other Jedi lingered on the bridge while the sensors collected data, assembling a holographic readout of the Sith base. Compiling all the data into something useful took nearly as long as the scanning itself; Dynatha had traveled with Tserne to eat two times before Ranval assured them that the data was complete.

The Sith base was a long durasteel bunker built into a mountain range far to the west of Sernpidal’s capital city. Dynatha mulled over the fact that the base was nearly invisible from space; if someone hadn’t known where to look, finding it would have been quite difficult. Energy readings seemed to hint that some of the rocky spires near the mountainside were actually concealed turrets and pylons. The base seemed to receive its energy from a reactor that was located deep within the mountains, only accessible by air or perhaps subterranean tunnels. Ranval suspected that they had several hangars where starfighters and gunboats were stored, but he couldn’t identify where they were confidently.

“It would be almost impossible to reach on foot,” Ranval said after the others had a chance to scan the image. “We’d have to drop off our infiltrators on this lip just above what I presume is the main entrance of the base.”

“What about those turrets? We don’t know what type they are, but a single anti-air turret would be enough to destroy the Blind Guide. Even a rapid insertion would be dangerous,” Tserne said.

“A strike on the power generator might prove effective,” Northeus offered. “Quietly send a few agents and a Force-user to temporarily cut power from the facility and then use that opening to attack the base itself.”

“They would have backup power,” Delvin noted.

“Yes, but we only need a small window of time to get our main group inside,” Northeus pointed out. “As long as the turrets are not operating at peak capacity, we stand a chance at infiltration.”

“Is there anything we ought to be looking out for?” Celes asked. “You know, since we’re going to be storming a Sith military facility?”

“We’re going in for two reasons. We need to discover where the bulk of the Sith forces are hiding, and I suspect this base would have that information. Further, this base doubles as a research laboratory. The work going on here is a mockery of nature, and it needs to be destroyed,” Ranval answered.

Northeus nodded along with the others, but Dynatha suspected that he left something unsaid. Tserne had been sharing his suspicions about Northeus with her, but she hadn’t sensed anything amiss. Nevertheless, his words caused her to view the eldest Jedi and his motivations with distrust.

“What’s our part in this?” Selias asked.

“Assisting us in deployment and assault,” Ranval said. “We have several ships at our disposal—Ranz’s transport, our shuttle, Tserne’s ship, and the ships belonging to Delvin and Celes—so we’ll need pilots.”

“I will be lead the generator attack,” Northeus announced. “Since Tserne’s ship is the most heavily armed, I suspect it would be our best chance at getting there safely.”

“How many operatives do you need, Northeus?” Ranval asked.

“Half a squad, perhaps. No other Jedi would be necessary; I’m sure the fighting inside will be manageable.”

“You’ll need to know how to fly it, then,” Tserne said. “I’m going with Dynatha’s group, but let me show you around now while we have some time.”

“Very well. Lead the way.”

Northeus and Tserne left the bridge with Threecee. The others returned their attention to the base map.

“That leaves us with five ships, including the Blind Guide,” Celes noted.

“I think Ranz’s shuttle has enough armor and speed to get us in and out without any trouble,” Ranval said. “But it only fits about twenty comfortably, and it needs a pilot and co-pilot.”

“And if we take the shuttle, either you’ll have to remain with the Blind Guide or else enough of us to pilot it in your place,” Ranz reminded him.

“So Dynatha, Delvin, Celes, and Ranz’s team will head down to the surface in the shuttle. Selias, you and your team will stay up here with me in the Blind Guide. We’ll provide light air support while they’re inside and extraction at the end. Does that sound reasonable?”

The crew nodded. As they were returning to their seats, warning lights began flashing all across the bridge. Dynatha sensed many sentient beings coming into the system, and Ranval shouted for the nearest officers to investigate. They reported an imminent hyperspace reversion, but it was too late to do anything about it. Less than ten thousand kilometers from Sernpidal’s first moon, a Republic Hammerhead-class cruiser emerged from hyperspace. The vessel was quickly joined by two more Hammerheads and six Foray-class blockade runners.

“What’s the Republic doing here?” Ranval shouted at Ranz.

“I don’t know! Our agent in the Defense Ministry hasn’t reported anything!”

“Covert ops,” Selias grumbled. “What are they planning, though?”

“Director Messor, the nearest Foray has a lock on us!” the sensor operator shouted.

“Evasive maneuvers! Hold on, everyone!”

The Blind Guide accelerated away from the moon just in time to avoid the green lances of turbolaser fire from the blockade runner. Ranval barked orders as the enemy corvette reacquired its target lock; the Blind Guide’s shields went up just in time to absorb a glancing hit from the Foray’s turbolasers. Only Delvin had strapped himself in by the time the Republic ships had arrived, so Dynatha, the operatives, and other Jedi were thrown about as Ranval’s pilots struggled to outmaneuver the larger Republic ship and its powerful guns.

“Why are they shooting?” Celes shouted. “They didn’t even try to contact us!”

“They probably assume anyone in system not broadcasting Republic IFF codes is an enemy. Shoot first, ask later. Typical covert ops policy,” Ranz explained.

“Broadcast the Republic codes we picked up on Ord Vaug,” Ranval said. “If we keep this up, the Sith will take notice of this little firefight as well.”

“The Republic’s launching ships,” Selias reported. “Two squadrons of starfighters and four transports. They’re going to attempt a landing.”

“Energy readings from the surface. The Sith are sending fighters,” someone else noted.

Ranval massaged his temples. “Of course the Republic would come in and ruin everything.”

“Emergency override of starboard lock four!” Ranz said. “We’re losing a ship!”

“Northeus.” Ranval fought his way over to the comm board, despite the dizzying loop they were performing, and contacted the Grimtaash as it headed toward the surface. “Northeus! What’s going on? Where’s Tserne?”

“I’m here. Northeus pointed out that my ship will be better equipped to handle those fighters than the Blind Guide, so we decided to get outside and help. We’ll defend you during your descent.”

“And then what?” Ranval asked, gripping the console so he wasn’t thrown to the ground by the incoming laser fire.

“We’ll still divide into two teams,” Tserne offered. “Northeus and I will head to the generator. You’ll land nearby and enter the base once we give the signal. Or maybe you should enter while the Republic distract the turrets. I don’t know. That’s up to you, Ranval.”

“Tserne! Be careful!” Dynatha shouted from across the bridge.

“I know. I’ll be back; don’t worry.”

“That Foray is getting closer, Director,” an operative pointed out. “They might know we’re using older codes. They’ve made no attempt to contact us.”

“All right. Follow the Grimtaash to the surface, then,” Ranval ordered. “Delvin, Celes, Dynatha, join Ranz and his operatives in the shuttle. Selias, get ready to take control of the Blind Guide once we’re in atmosphere. We’ll break off to complete the drop and you get this ship somewhere safe, understood?”

“Of course.”

“Good. Bring us down slowly. Watch for fighters and try to stay in front of that Foray warship.”

The Grimtaash headed from the lunar orbit toward Sernpidal’s atmosphere. Its single flak cannon, while nowhere near as accurate as a Republic anti-starfighter turret, was quite effective at keeping Sith starfighters and Republic Aureks at bay. The Blind Guide followed in its wake, its shields dangerously low after taking several hits from the blockade runner.

No matter how many incoming Sith starfighters the Grimtaash dealt with, more continued to climb into the atmosphere. Dynatha and the others followed Ranz off the bridge toward the port maglock where their troop shuttle was waiting, leaving Ranval alone with his operatives. They saw a Sith warship hovering over Sernpidal’s capital as they descended, and Sith starfighters continued to leave their hidden mountain base in large formations. The vaguest silhouette of the Republic warships were visible through the clouds overhead. By the time this battle was over, the cities on the surface would be nothing but burning ruins.

“Are you sure you can manage this?” Ranval asked Selias.

“I can handle it, boss,” his lieutenant replied. “Have I ever let you down?”

“If I don’t return, you know what to do.”

“I know. Bring ‘em back safely, okay?”

“I’ll try.”

Selias looked back while Ranval left. “Force be with you, Ranval. You’re going to need it.”

*** ***

The anti-air turrets around the base had been too distracted by the incoming Republic starfighters to focus on the Grimtaash, but Northeus and Threecee hadn’t counted on additional turrets inside the range. The mountains seemed to spew red fire as the freighter’s pilots gently guided it through the sharp peaks toward the hidden generator. The mountainsides around the hidden valley that stored the generator were the most heavily armed, and the Grimtaash shuddered as it shields went down.

Northeus forced the freighter into a rapid climb to avoid the turrets that were already targeting them, and then he killed the engines at the top of their climb. Tserne gripped the edges of his seat as they fell freely for most of the four kilometers between them and the ground; Northeus only restarted the engines when the altimeter had shifted to meters. Durasteel groaned as the ship twisted upright, deftly avoiding a barrage of laser fire headed their direction. The hull took several good hits, and emergency lights were going off by the time Northeus set them down beneath an overhang that extended just enough to conceal them from the turrets.

“Are you ready?” Northeus asked Tserne as he shut the engines off.

He nodded. “Most of my equipment is back on the Blind Guide, though.”

“You don’t have backup gear in here?”

“I do, but it’s… older tech.”

“It will have to do. The sooner we get in, the sooner we can return to the others.”

Northeus left the bridge while Tserne traveled back to the storage compartment to grab equipment. He had thought that the defenses here wouldn’t be as strong as they would have been at the base proper, but the turrets emplacements in the mountainside worried him. If this was a back entrance to the base, it could have been very heavily guarded. Taking a slugthrowing rifle, several grenades, a vibroblade, and a permacrete detonator from the weapon lockers, he was in and out of the armory quick enough to catch Northeus at the debarkation ramp.

“Ready?” Northeus asked.

Tserne nodded. “Threecee, stay with the ship. Get those shields back online make sure nothing’s too damaged. I want to leave as soon as we’re back.”

The droid whined sadly as it returned to the bridge. No doubt it wanted to help; the droid was certainly a positive asset in battle, but they needed someone to stay with the ship. Northeus led the way across the valley, running far quicker than Tserne had suspected he was capable of.

The so-called generator was larger than Tserne had expected. It was an bunker in itself, surrounded by massive pistons and immobile turrets that encircled the compound like a mechanical garden. They had arrived behind the bunker, and there weren’t any guards nearby. Tserne assumed the turrets had to be manned, so he was quite surprised when the turrets nearest to him fired at them as they approached. Diving behind one of the piston towers, he narrowly avoided being peppered by laser fire.

“How do you expect us to get through?” Tserne shouted at Northeus, who ended up behind an adjacent piston.

“Such trivial defenses cannot hope to impede a master of the Force,” Northeus assured him. “Stay here. Watch for guards.”

Before Tserne could inquire about his plans, Northeus emerged from his hiding place. Raising his hands, he constructed an ethereal barrier between himself and the world before him; laser fire from the turrets dissipated into nothingness as they hit his invisible shield. The old Jedi Master slowly advanced, getting ever closer to the turrets themselves. As soon as he decided he was close enough, Northeus ripped the turrets from their rocky emplacements and threw them toward the other guns. It didn’t take long for him to uproot or else smash the defenses with the Force, and Tserne emerged once all the turrets behind the base had been eliminated.

“Nice work,” Tserne said.

“We’re not finished. I sense many sentients inside the base, and several are approaching from smaller outposts nearby. We must get inside.”

Tserne took out his rifle and loaded it with slugs from his bandoleer. Northeus moved ahead of him, rounding the corner of the bunker toward the front of the compound. Sure enough, two Sith troopers, armed in full-body white armor and sporting blaster rifles, emerged from the front of the base. They didn’t even hesitate, and red blaster bolts screamed through the air between them. Northeus placed a Force bubble at the last possible moment, catching the energy and rendering it harmless. Tserne moved forward to get a shot at them outside the bubble, but Northeus lifted both guards and threw them into the wall of the generator compound before he had a chance.

Once they were sure the two troopers were down, Tserne and Northeus ran ahead and reached the front of the base, littered with turrets and piston towers just like the back. The door leading inside had been sealed shut, so Northeus had to restore his Force shield to full strength while Tserne attempted to break in. Tserne frowned. He had depended on Threecee for so long that he didn’t even recognize this style of military lock.

“Can you get it?” Northeus asked, his arms quavering as the turret fire rippled against his shield.

“Give me a minute…”

“You might not have one.”

Remembering how old Sith locks were designed, Tserne attempted to apply the same logic to slicing this one. Sparks jumped from the door panel, burning Tserne’s natural fingers and overloading one of his prosthetic ones. He heard alarms go off inside as he crossed one wire with another. After short-circuiting a few wires and entering garbage code into the primary console, he managed to get the door open. Tserne entered first and Northeus followed him just before his Force shield gave way.

“All right,” Tserne shouted over the alarms while descending several staircases, “what are we looking for?”

“The generator itself is at the very heart of the compound, safe behind several security doors. But there is a secret path that leads from the astronavigation room to the generator. If we can reach it, our trip will be much quicker—and safer.”

“Something you want to say, Northeus?”

“What do you mean?”

“How would you know about a secret path inside a Sith military facility?” Tserne asked, his finger hovering precariously over his slugthrower.

Northeus sniffed derisively. “If you must know, I saw this path in a dream several nights ago. The Force informed me where we would have to go. That is why I suggested coming here and volunteered in the first place. I know the way.”

Tserne had never heard of Jedi receiving messages in dreams, but he supposed that he was the wrong person to object to such an event. Giving the old Jedi a curt nod, he signaled for Northeus to lead the way. He hadn’t signed up for this part of the mission, but he hoped Northeus could get him in and out of here quickly so he could support Dynatha like he was supposed to.

*** ***

Ranval’s shuttle had followed Tserne and Northeus down most of the way, but they had been separated by a dogfight between local Sernpidal patrol gunboats and Republic fighters, leaving them to descend the rest of the way on their own. The shuttle was heavily armored but only had a single light turret that had to be manned. Ranz was an excellent gunner and Ranval a capable pilot, but Dynatha was slightly envious of Selias and the others who had been chosen to stay behind in the Blind Guide. One good hit from a turret or torpedo would be enough to end their descent prematurely.

The primary hangar to the Sith base had been destroyed when an Aurek strikefighter crashed into the side of the mountain. Ranval was the first to notice, and he elected not to wait for Tserne and Northeus to complete their task to begin his descent. As Tserne and Northeus had noticed, the Sith guns were too distracted by the many Republic vessels to target them specifically, giving them a fairly smooth approach.

Ranval set down the shuttle in the smoldering ruins of the Sith hangar. A few starfighters and dropships still seemed operational, but the crash had destroyed most of the ships inside and most of the stored cargo as well. Fires were still burning due to the extinguishers failing, and no one was responding to the automated emergency messages. Destroyed droids and dead technicans were visible amidst the wreckage. Ranval let the craft linger for a moment, as if unsure if the devastated room would hold the weight of their ship, before turning off the engines and everything else.

“All right. I presume that Tserne and Northeus will rig the reactor in a way that blows up this facility, leaving us with the task of finding the terminals that will reveal the location of the other Sith bases before that happens,” Ranval said.

“Any idea where that could be?” Ranz asked as he slipped out of the gun turret.

“No. We’ll have to spread out and explore as much as possible. Somehow, I don’t think those Republic forces care much for preserving this place, and we need to get in and out before they finish whatever they’re doing.”

“I don’t usually hope that the Republic will slowly defeat its adversaries,” Celes mused. “Stranger things have happened on this mission, though.”

Ranz and the four commandos with him left the shuttle first. After sweeping the destroyed hangar and confirming it was safe, Ranval followed them out. The three Jedi followed him, with Dynatha bringing up the rear. Lightsaber in hand, she wondered if Tserne would be all right with only Northeus and his droid. She had grown accustomed to traveling and fighting with him, and the way he fought told her that he felt the same way. She had three other Jedi warriors with her along with seven highly trained soldiers, and she was still nervous about the dangers before them.

Leaving the totaled hangar behind, Ranz led the group through several long corridors that lacked adjoining rooms and only connected the eastern hangars together. There were no guards or droids anywhere, but none of them dropped their guard. Was this place really so undermanned? Perhaps the Republic’s attack had been more thorough than it appeared. Dynatha tried reaching into the Force to get a better idea of their enemies and their whereabouts, but she found her searches hindered. There was darkness here, far stronger than the one they fought on Truuine.

Marching from the hangars, the party found themselves at the eastern elevator.

“Looks like it runs up, down, east, and west,” Celes said. “Where are we headed?”

“Deeper into the base. I suspect going west will only take us to the hangars on the other side of the mountain,” Ranval said.

“One elevator, going down,” Celes muttered to herself.

“Director, don’t you think it’s odd? This entire section is abandoned. Surely the Sith haven’t lost control of this much of their base so quickly?” Ranz asked.

“The Republic troop transports have no doubt already arrived,” Delvin offered. “They carry about forty soldiers each. I suspect the Sith diverted most of their manpower to hindering them.”

“But they’re giving up aerial superiority by giving up the hangars,” Celes pointed out. “They haven’t launched all of the fighters on this side of the facility…”

“Maybe whatever they’re doing here is more valuable than the location itself?” Dynatha wondered.

“They’d want to defend it more, then,” Ranz pointed out. “And that means more starfighters.”

Ranval shrugged. “We won’t know for sure until we get there. And that means we need to get on this elevator. Come on.”

*** ***

Dynatha listened as other elevators zoomed by outside. The other cars seemed to be traveling in all directions, at least six or seven of them working at once. The elevators were fast, but they had to travel kilometers along the edges of or into the mountains. Built to ferry guards or engineering teams across the base, the elevator car could fit about eight humanoids comfortably. Dynatha’s back was against the wall, her shoulders nudged between Ranval and Delvin. Celes was nearest to the door, and Ranz and the other operatives were spread out in the center.

“I’m surprised they haven’t shut off the elevators,” Delvin said.

“They’d risk isolating their defenders. In some situations, that might be a reasonable option, but I suspect some important sectors of their base were lightly defended prior to the attack,” Ranval replied.

“They could just shut off ours,” one of Ranval’s agents noted.

“Maybe they lost control of the security room,” Ranval said.

Dynatha waited for an incoming elevator to pass so she could whisper to Ranval. “Do you sense that?”

“The dark side?”

She nodded.

“Yes. I don’t know who or what is causing it, but it is very powerful. I suspect two or more Sith warriors are working in unison to keep us from using our powers,” Ranval explained.

“Or it could be one very strong Sith Lord,” Dynatha countered.

“Either way, we’ll know soon enough. Stay close to me.”

The elevator slowed down about a minute later, and security latches clicked to keep the elevator in place. One of the bells in the elevator chimed and the door slid open, revealing a soldier who was facing them. Wearing full body armor with heavy plating covering the shoulders, legs, and chest, the armor was black with two white stripes running down the breastplate, arms, and legs. His heavy repeater was raised and ready to fire, but Celes proved faster than him; she planted a solid kick against his torso that knocked him over. As soon as the soldier went down, his allies—positioned in the hallway in front of them—fired into the elevator. Celes leapt forward, dodged the incoming blaster fire, and struck another attacker in the throat.

“Clear that elevator! No one gets through!” a soldier shouted.

Ranz and the others returned fire, some of them standing in the doorway to the elevator and others behind both sides of the door. Dynatha, still stuck at the back of the car, noticed a frag grenade land about a meter from where the operatives were standing. She telekinetically grabbed the explosive and tossed it back, but it went off in midair.

Ranval pushed his way through Ranz and the others as several more grenades landed nearby. Dynatha followed him with lightsaber in hand, throwing the grenades back. A blaster shot nearly struck Ranval in the face, but Delvin managed to intercept the shot with the remains of a door frame. Once the Jedi were out of the elevator, another of its chimes dinged and the door slid closed, cutting Ranz and the others off from their Jedi allies.

“Call that elevator back!” Ranval shouted.

The moment Dynatha turned around to approach the switch, a missile flew over her head and slammed into the wall behind her. The resulting explosion was far enough away that it wasn’t immediately fatal, but it tossed her and Delvin to their feet, threw shrapnel through the air that cut into their skin, and disoriented them both. Celes and Ranval retreated for a moment to aid them, but they quickly realized that every soldier in the hallway had their weapons trailing them. Blaster rifles, a rocket launcher, and several slugthrowing shotguns caused them both to hesitate.

“Shoot them dead,” one of them, clearly not Human due to his odd helmet, barked.

“We surrender,” Ranval shouted, lifting the same ruined hunk of metal that Delvin had defended him with earlier to protect them all now.

“Not going to happen,” the apparent leader growled. “Missiles.”

Ranval grabbed the destroyed door with the Force and pushed it into the soldiers so the heat, shrapnel, and pressure from the incoming missile hurt them more than him and his allies. Celes charged forward as soon as the missile detonated, using her lightsaber to batter away the incoming smaller arms fire. While she was distracted, a single soldier emerged from the room that now no longer possessed a door. He seemed to realize what was happening without even mulling over his course of action. He rushed at the two downed Jedi; when Delvin attempted to stand up and impede him, he thrust his vibroblade into his chest. Dynatha shouted at Ranval to help, but he was too far and their attacker too fast. Delvin had fallen over and Dynatha had been pinned beneath the armored soldier, his vibroblade centimeters from her throat.

Dynatha struggled against her attacker, but he was much heavier than she was and both of her arms were secured beneath his knees. She gave him a kick in the back, but he didn’t budge.

“Goodnight, dark-sider,” her attacker whispered.

“Dynatha!” she heard Ranval shout.

Something made her assailant hesitate. He pulled his knife away for a second, and Celes used that opportunity to throw her lightsaber at him. The blue blade scythed through the air and nearly severed the man’s head from his body, but he managed to roll off Dynatha and out of the way just in time. Ranval was struck by a slug while falling back toward Dynatha, piercing his shoulder and sending a fine mist of blood through the air in front of him. He fell to the ground near Delvin.

Dynatha had seen Delvin and Ranval wounded, and the thought of losing them restored her desire to fight. Enriching herself with Force power, she jumped to her feet quick enough to meet the soldier with the knife. He stabbed at her as soon as she got close, but her body rolled around the attack and she struck the soldier in the helmet. Before he could recover, she performed several quick punches and then grappled his arm, twisted it, and forced him to drop his blade. Her opponent gave her several hard kicks against the thigh and stomps to the foot, but she held strong. Celes was doing her best against the other enemies, but her lightsaber was still returning and she would need help.

The armored figure struggled to break her grapple, but Dynatha refused to let go. No matter how much he kicked at her or jabbed at her arms, she held him with all her might. His free hand shot toward her head, and her teeth rattled when he struck her on the chin. Dazed, he managed to loosen her grip a bit, but Dynatha countered by giving him a kick at the back of his knee. The soldier crumpled at her side. Another missile flew toward her, but this one Celes managed to redirect using the Force, sending it toward the floor between her and Dynatha.

“Tell your men to drop their weapons, or I’ll kill you,” Dynatha said to her attacker. Her face was red with anger, and she was shaking violently, but her voice was firm and resolute.

“You’re… that woman…” the soldier said.

“Now!” she shouted.

“Major, lower your weapons. I want some answers.”

“What…?” the same soldier who had ordered their deaths earlier asked. “But-”

“Stand up,” Dynatha demanded.

The soldier carefully finished standing up. Avoiding the tip of her green blade, he positioned himself so that he separated Celes from Dynatha. She motioned for him to keep his hands up, and he did so without question.

“You’re that woman,” the soldier said again. “The cloaked assassin who attacked me when I met Ducian Eto at his safe house years ago.”

Dynatha frowned. “I’ve never seen you before.”

“You have. We’ve met twice.” The soldier carefully undid the clasps on his helmet, revealing a Human male with hardly any wrinkles or scars on his face, as though he hadn’t aged a day past thirty. His platinum blond hair was cut short, with bright eyes and a nervous smile. “You were also the local woman who drove me to the meeting with Ducian Eto. Very clever; I didn’t realize you had been playing both sides until now.”

It took Dynatha a bit of recollection, but she remembered the mission he was talking about. She had been working for the GenoHaradan at that time, and she had been tasked with eliminating a Rajes Thonnel and his former commanding officer. She had failed her mission, causing the lead assassins to order her death and forcing her to leave the organization with Tserne.

“You have a good memory, Captain Thonnel,” Dynatha admitted. “That was a very long time ago.”

“Lieutenant Colonel, actually,” Rajes corrected her. “I had thought you had died. And now you’re with these Sith…”

“Dynatha…” Ranval whispered. “You have to… flee…”

“It’s all right, Ranval. We’re not Sith, Colonel Thonnel,” Dynatha said.

“Ranval Messor? Queen Latona Panteer’s old aide? What sort of traveling circus is this?” the officer interrupted.

“Please, if you help them, I’ll explain everything,” Dynatha pleaded.

“You’ve killed several of my men. How can I trust you? We weren’t on friendly terms last time, and just because Ranval was an ally of the Republic doesn’t mean he is now,” Thonnel said.

“Do what she says, or I’ll keep chopping,” Celes growled from behind them.

That was the wrong thing to say. The Republic soldiers, still on edge from the fight and teeming with adrenaline, pointed their rifles at Celes. Thonnel stood between Dynatha and his comrades, or else they would have aimed at her too. Dynatha didn’t know what to do. Ranval was wounded, and she could hear Delvin’s pained breathing behind her. It had all been a misunderstanding, but the situation was about to get even worse even though everything was clear now.

“Please, we didn’t mean to attack you,” Dynatha began, her hands and lightsaber shaking. “We fought only in self-defense. If you had accepted our surrender-”

“Surrender is a very different beast when it comes to Force-users,” Thonnel explained. “We’re good, but we can’t restrain a Jedi or Sith who doesn’t want to be restrained—much less four of them.”

“Let us prove our goodwill. I will do my best to heal the soldiers we wounded, if you do the same for my friends.”

The lieutenant colonel gave her an evaluating stare. He had been quite eager to stop fighting once he discovered who she was; something told her that it wasn’t that he needed convincing of her loyalties, but he needed to know that she was truly sorry for the deaths they had caused. The other soldiers were even more irate, and Celes was just as eager to end their lives as they were hers.

“Major Ghoaad, we’ve had enough mishaps today. Get your medics up here. Patch up these two Jedi Knights. We’ll need them before long, I imagine. And try to get that elevator back here,” Lieutenant Colonel Thonnel ordered.

“But Thonnel-”

“Lieutenant Colonel Thonnel,” he chided him. He returned his attention to Dynatha. “I’m quite sorry about all this. I didn’t even think you could have been Jedi. We’ve received no news from the Jedi Order about anything for the longest time. I mean, there was that issue on Gamandar, I suppose…”

“We’re just going to trust them?” Celes moaned. “They were trying to kill us seconds ago!”

“You actually did kill three of mine,” Ghoaad growled.

“They’re Republic soldiers,” Dynatha replied. “We have no reason to doubt them.”

“They don’t look Republic,” the other Jedi countered.

“This is Tython Squad. Ragtag bunch, but they’re the best soldiers the Republic has to offer. We’re wearing off-colors so the Sith might think it’s an organized mercenary raid. A long shot, but it’s better than inviting immediate counterattacks against the Republic,” Rajes explained. “There should be about seven other groups this size throughout the base, but we’ve been encountering heavy resistance everywhere.”

“What are you all doing here? How long has the Republic known about the Sith?” Celes asked.

“Officially, we still don’t know. A few in the brass suspect it, but my team’s the first to make contact. I’m here dealing with pirates, according to the report I gave to the Ministry of Defense.” Rajes glanced up and down the hallway. “We’re here to remove the Sith presence on this world.”

Ranval craned his head. “You’re not here to destroy the base?”

“Not quite. This is a research facility as well as a large barracks and military factory. We have reason to believe that they’ve made several breakthroughs that can accelerate our own R&D. It’s of utmost importance that we eliminate all the Sith defenders but leave the base intact,” the lieutenant colonel explained.

“It would be safer bombing it from orbit once the shields go down,” Ranval noted.

“Like I said, this is valuable intel. I wouldn’t expect you to understand, Mister Messor,” Rajes countered.

“This is ridiculous,” Celes muttered to herself. Her lightsaber was still activated, and she paced up and down the halls. “What are we even doing here?”

The Republic medics approached Ranval and Delvin, but they were hesitant to begin working. Dynatha had already begun to heal the wounded Republic officers, but neither Ghoaad or Thonnel said anything to their soldiers.

“Sir, that woman killed Sergeant Quven. I can’t in good faith help her friend,” the lead medic said.

“You’re just going to let him die?” Dynatha cried.

“Do it. That’s an order,” Rajes barked.

“This will be in my report,” the medic mumbled.

After they had given him analgesics and kolto bandages for his shoulder, the two Republic soldiers aiding Ranval helped him back to his feet. He was well enough to travel, but he would have to avoid combat for the time being. Dynatha and Tython Squad’s lead medic were handling Delvin’s knife wound; Rajes had punctured his right lung. Dynatha had used the Force to keep the heart and other lung safe while the medic worked. It took them at least ten minutes, a bit longer due to the fact that he refused to work effectively with Dynatha, but Delvin’s condition stabilized so he was not in immediate danger.

“Will he be well enough to travel?” Celes asked.

“Doubtful,” the medic replied. “I wouldn’t even advise moving him, but given the circumstances, we don’t have much of a choice.”

“Ranz reported that the Sith shut down the elevator on them. They’ll link up with us at our destination,” Ranval said.

“Works for me. Major, pack up everything and let’s move. We’re taking the maintenance stairs down to sublevel five,” the lieutenant colonel ordered.

“Are they coming with us?” Major Ghoaad asked.

“I don’t see why not. They’re valuable assets.”

“Assets who are just as likely to stab us in the back,” another soldier remarked.

“Can it, soldier.”

“We can’t just leave Delvin here,” Dynatha spoke up. “And if no one else will take responsibility for tending to him, I will.”

“But we need you with us. Celes and I will not be able to challenge the Sith ahead on our own,” Ranval said.

“‘Celes and I’? What makes you think I won’t stay here to help Delvin?” Celes asked.

Ranval shifted his view between Dynatha and Celes. “I know you two are concerned about him, but I cannot defend these Republic soldiers and my own agents by myself. I need your assistance.”

Celes shrugged. Walking closer to Dynatha, she whispered, “Go with him, Dynatha. I’ll take care of Delvin and make sure he gets back to the hangar safely.”

“Are you sure?” Dynatha asked. “It will be dangerous.”

“Positive. Trust me, okay?”

“Celes, we need your help as well. Let Lieutenant Colonel Thonnel leave some of his soldiers here to take care of Delvin. Come with us,” Ranval said, hearing what the two women were whispering about.

“If you don’t trust me enough to confide in me about your plans, then I’m clearly not important enough to fight alongside you,” Celes explained. “I’m staying here.”

The other soldiers and Dynatha had finished packing up their things and were ready to leave. Time was of the utmost importance; he hated the idea of leaving Jedi behind while confronting Sith, but how could he change her mind? She was the most stubborn of any of their allies, Northeus excluded. With only two Jedi, he was worried Dynatha would be put into unnecessary danger. Why was she being difficult at a time like this?

“Suit yourself, Celes. I’ll explain when we return.”

Celes watched him leave. “Too little, too late, I’m afraid. Now then, Delvin… you’re going to show me the way back to the Jedi Order. And I won’t take no for an answer.”

Chapter 28

The room was dark when Northeus walked in. The guards outside had been eliminated and no one watched it from inside. Illuminating the entire room with a brilliant globe of light infused with Force power, the old Jedi Master walked over the overturned desks and damaged security equipment on his way to the large terminal at the center of the room.

He had sent Tserne down a large air duct that connected to the room housing the primary generator according to engineering schematics they had found. Northeus needed some time alone to accomplish his task, and he counted on the former Force-sensitive to take at least ten minutes to disable the power. They hadn’t found the blueprints for the generator itself, so he imagined Tserne would apply brute force methods to disable it.

Northeus examined the virtual keys on the console’s display. As he suspected, this room stored cartographic data for the base. Army deployments, fleet locations, incoming and outgoing shipments, and emergency hyperlanes were among the many maps stored within the computer. Important to Ranval, perhaps, but he saw no interest in such things. He was looking for something far more valuable than military deployment and economic charts.

At last, he found what he was looking for. Pressing the icon on the screen, Northeus took several steps back and watched a three-dimensional hologram of the galaxy fill the room. His eyes followed the stars until he arrived at his present location: Sernpidal. A planet near the Core Worlds suddenly lit up with a bright red glow. Northeus saw the urban sprawl and deduced that it was the planet Denon. Dozens of worlds were highlighted in this manner before the map became static again.

Five of the planets highlighted had been visited by Darth Revan and his apprentice. They had found what Northeus had found on Denon: ruins of an ancient civilization and a map leading to other worlds they had controlled. Northeus had been led to Tatooine by the map on Denon, but the map on Tatooine he had discovered in the desert had not helped him; he had failed to find ancient monuments on any of the worlds it had shown him.

He had nearly given up on Korriban, but a vision there had pointed him toward Kaal, an oceanic world that had been discovered centuries ago but remained unsettled. He had discovered more ruins on a single island situated near the equator. The map there had pointed him away from the Republic, to systems that hadn’t even been charted by pioneering hyperspace explorers. He had discovered, among others, a tidally locked world with ancient tombs dotting the equator, a jungle world with strange Force-sensitive primitives and large canals that cut through the trees, and a frozen world with massive four-eyed sentients who lived in tribes across the tundra.

Returning home, he compiled the map data he had gathered across the many planets he had visited. To his dismay, the maps seemed to point back and forth, and he had been left with the dozen planets he had already seen. He knew his last chance was to venture into this place, rumored to be as much a science facility as military base, and seize Sith research pertaining to the so-called Infinite Empire for himself. And sure enough, he found a world he had yet to visit that was within known space. The final piece to the puzzle that had been haunting him all these years. He finally knew where to find the secret weapon left behind by that ancient civilization. A weapon to stop the Sith.

Memorizing the location of two other unidentified worlds just in case Sleheyron turned up nothing, Northeus switched off the console seconds before Tserne crawled back out of the air duct.

“We have a bit of an issue,” Tserne said, wiping his brow of sweat and dust.

“Did you deal with the generator?” Northeus asked.

“Not exactly.” Tserne shouldered his rifle. “There were some soldiers down there. They were already dealing with the generator by the time I got there. They didn’t want me interfering and things got… violent.”

“And what’s happening to the generator?”

“They were draining the coolant from the tanks. As far as I could tell, I think they’re going to override emergency procedures and permanently damage the reactor.”

“We’d better get out of here, then,” Northeus said.

“Did you get what you came for?” Tserne asked him, obviously suspicious of the older Jedi.

“Indeed. Hopefully your droid has fixed the Grimtaash, or else we’ve done all this for nothing.”

“I don’t doubt him for a second. We’d better let Ranval and the others know what’s going on, though,” Tserne noted as they sprinted through the now-empty corridors.

“I tried contacting them while you were gone,” Northeus said. “Something is jamming our communications.”

Tserne shook his head. He assumed alarms would go off when the reactor began to fail, but he had no idea how much time they had after that before the base was destroyed—and there was no way to warn the others. Feeling quite powerless, Tserne silently hoped that Dynatha and the others would abandon their plans and search for answers another time. This mission was becoming very dangerous, and he couldn’t shake the feeling that there was something about this base that Northeus and the others were keeping to themselves.

*** ***

Rajes and the soldiers in Tython Squad took down the four red-armored Sith troopers guarding the central computer in seconds. Ranval and Dynatha stood nearby while Major Ghoaad—the Chagrian soldier working directly under Rajes—worked with his slicer to disable the security on the blast door leading inside. The darkness Dynatha had sensed earlier had grown into an almost palpable miasma; it was so strong she actually had trouble breathing. Whatever was controlling the dark powers in this place was in the computer room.

Major Ghoaad’s slicer swore, causing Dynatha to jump. Sparks burst from the door panel, and alarms began to sound across the base.

“What happened?” Rajes asked.

“Wasn’t me, sir!” the slicer replied. “I just reset the locking mechanism for the door. Something else is causing that alarm.”

“Lieutenant Colonel, Major, we’ve got problems!” their comm officer announced.

“What is it?” Major Ghoaad asked.

“The reactor providing power to the base is overheating! I can’t reach anyone, and I haven’t received any updates from the team we sent down there, but if we don’t do something quickly, the explosion is going to level this entire base!”

“Who’s the nearest team?” asked the commanding officer.

“If they kept to the plan, Anaxes Squad should be one elevator ride away, but all the elevators have been disabled.”

“Anyone in a position to do anything about that?” Rajes asked.

“Sir, we can reactivate them from the central terminal,” Major Ghoaad reported.

“And how much time do we have?”

“Twenty minutes at most!”

“Tython Nine, the sooner the better, please,” Rajes ordered.

“I’m working as fast as I can…” the slicer grumbled.

Dynatha waited by Ranval’s side while the Republic soldiers worked. The emergency alarms filled the hall with brown and red light, and their loud whines made it difficult to hear what her allies were saying. She did her best to clear her mind with meditation and stretches, but the dark side was too strong. Ranval said nothing and kept his vision glued to the door and whatever was behind it—it was at times like these that she wished she had Force vision like he did.

The slicer finally got through the door. Two fireteams from Tython Squad were inside immediately, rifles at the ready. The rest of Tython Squad, including their commanders, followed them and the Jedi brought up the rear.

Walking inside, the soldiers and Jedi found themselves on an elevated grated platform with stairs on the left and right. Walking down these stairs led to the rest of the room, filled with massive cylindrical servers connected to the walls with tubes and wires. There were terminals at each corner of the room and another on an elevated platform on the north side of the room, across from the entrance, which seemed to lead to a technician tunnel.

There were three humanoids standing in front of the rows of servers. The first and closest was a Night-soarer with red skin and dark eyes. He was hunched over and scrawny, his frame ill-suited for combat but excellent for flying with the membranous wings attached to his arms. The second was a Human male, taller than Ranval and Rajes both, wearing a gray military uniform with black boots and gloves. His blond hair was cut short, much like the Republic soldiers, and he had at least four swords attached to his belt. The last individual was humanoid, but Dynatha couldn’t tell exactly what species or gender it was. Its entire body rippled with prominent muscles, quite evident because it only wore a loincloth to cover itself. Pale and scarred, the mysterious being had one of its eyes sewn shut and it was crouched on all fours like an animal.

“At your leave, I have to report this to General Malthesinores,” the Night-soarer spoke to the uniformed man.

“Of course. Tell him this… incident… will not affect our timetable,” said the tall man, his voice a bit more nasally than his build suggested.

Rajes pushed his way through the crowd of soldiers. “Ncrall! Ncrall! Get back here!”

The Night-soarer ignored the Republic officer and flew over the server complex toward the balcony opposite of them. Rajes withdrew his blaster pistol and fired at the fleeing pirate, but his target was too far away and too quick for him to get a good shot. Once the Night-soarer had departed, a dozen bipedal war droids emerged from hidden compartments on both sides of the stairs.

“Welcome Jedi Knights and Republic soldiers,” the uniformed officer announced. “We’ve been expecting your company for some time.”

“They’re the ones propagating the dark power here,” Ranval whispered to Dynatha.

“Where is Ncrall Redwing going?” Rajes asked, shifting his blaster pistol toward their adversary.

“That is none of your concern. I hadn’t expected so many of you to survive the trip here, but it makes little difference. Beast, would you kindly deal with them? I have no interest in fighting simpletons and weak Jedi.”

The war droids raised their blaster rifles into ready position at the uniformed man’s signal. Major Ghoaad and three of his soldiers fired upon the droids to their left and four other soldiers fired on the droids to their right. As soon as they divided their attention, the figure known as Beast jumped from where it was standing—at least three meters away—onto the raised balcony where Tython Squad and the Jedi were. Sweeping its muscled arm, it clotheslined a soldier who was looking the other direction and threw him to the ground. Lieutenant Colonel Thonnel shot the Beast twice with his blaster, but the hulking opponent kept moving; it bodily picked up the officer and threw him over the railing of the elevated platform.

“Dynatha, use your power! Incapacitate him with the power of your light!” Ranval ordered.

Dynatha nodded and backed up a bit to separate herself from the Beast. Closing her eyes, she shut herself off from the physical world and called upon the Force for guidance. Through the Force, she could sense Ranval, the soldiers around her, the uniformed Sith watching the battle unfold from afar, and even the droids fighting back against them. However, despite her best efforts, she could not sense the Beast. It seemed as though he was absent from the Force itself, not unlike Tserne.

While Dynatha was trying to locate the Beast to immobilize him, Ranval carefully navigated around the gunfight between the droids and Republic soldiers and jumped down to join Rajes. The lieutenant colonel was dazed, but other than that he was fine. When Ranval offered his hand to help the soldier up, the uniformed Sith warrior who had been watching the fight charged at them, knife in hand. Ranval managed to jump back into the wall, just barely saving his throat from being sliced open. Rajes, lying on the ground between the two, fired his blaster and forced the Sith to retreat.

Before the Sith warrior could move in and attack again, Republic soldiers began to fire at him from above. He did not seem to have a lightsaber, so he was forced to retreat into the server complex to avoid the incoming green fire. Rajes pushed himself to his feet and charged after him despite Ranval’s warning.

The Republic soldiers had already destroyed most of the droids, but they were having trouble dealing with the Beast. The few who were supporting Rajes and Ranval below had to return their attention to its attacks. Dodging incoming blaster shots and sword strikes, the Beast fought its way through the team of soldiers and made its way back to Dynatha. She tried to use the Force to push it back, but it resisted her efforts and performed a flying jump kick with both feet. Her ribs made a crunching sound and she toppled over.

She quickly tried to stand up, but the Beast leapt on top of her and wrapped both of its hands around her neck. In a strong jerking motion, he lifted her head and then smashed it into the durasteel floor. Her vision watered as she tried to recover. She struck at the Beast’s ribs with one hand and tried to grab her lightsaber with the other. Warm rivulets of blood dribbled down the the back of her head, and thick strands of sweaty blond hair fell over her face. Her ears rang each time the Beast drove her head into the floor.

Finding her lightsaber despite being weak and disoriented, she drove the weapon into the Beast’s side and forced it off her. Hissing angrily, the Beast touched the cauterized wound gently with its meaty fingers and tried to ascertain the extent of its injury. Its hesitation gave Dynatha enough time to get up by using the wall for support.

Ranval had sensed Dynatha’s distress even amidst the battle going on around him. He was in the middle of slicing the central terminal, and he had nearly found what he was looking for—a map of the Sith military resources and deployments. The data he needed couldn’t be uploaded to the memory unit in his prosthetic hand without waiting a few minutes, and Dynatha didn’t have that kind of time. Glancing back at the entrance, he saw the Republic soldiers fighting a new wave of droid soldiers who had emerged from the walls; they would be in no position to help her. He knew what he had to do.

“Looking for something, Master Jedi?”

The uniformed Sith warrior leapt from the depths of the server complex, his sword raised above his head. Both of Ranval’s prosthetic arms were plugged in to the central terminal, rendering him immobile until they disconnected. The Sith warrior’s sword severed Ranval’s right arm just below the elbow, but he managed to pull the other arm away from the terminal before the Sith finished his maneuver and he lost both arms.

The Sith warrior eyed the severed limb, still attached the terminal by way of the prosthetic link. “Interesting. How do you use a lightsaber without actual hands?”

“I manage,” Ranval said, switching the uplink attachment on his remaining hand for a holdout blaster and trying to think of way to cauterize the bloody stump left on his right arm.

“Director Messor! Up here!”

Ranval and the Sith warrior both turned toward the balcony above the servers that Ncrall had used to escape. Ranz and his team of agents were there, weapons at the ready. Without even waiting for an order, they fired their blaster rifles at the Sith warrior, forcing him to retreat.

“Ranz! You and your men keep that Sith pinned down, and see if Thonnel is still alive! He ran into the server complex and I haven’t seen him!”

“Aye, sir!”

Ranval used the cover fire provided to him by Ranz and the others to return to the elevated platform at the entrance, now swarming with droids as the Republic soldiers’ formation fell apart. At the far end of the hallway, he could see Dynatha being pummeled by the Beast. Her lightsaber was on the floor halfway between the Republic soldiers and where she was now and the Republic soldiers were either too busy or else unwilling to help her. She was barely standing, kept upright because the Beast kept punching and kicking her against the walls. Her arms, head, and torso were cut and bruised, and her mouth and nose were bleeding. Closing the distance between them, Ranval snatched her lightsaber telekinetically and threw the activated blade at the Beast. The green blade burrowed deep into its shoulder but didn’t sever it, much to Ranval’s surprise.

In the last few meters between him and the two combatants, Ranval switched his holdout pistol for a serrated blade. Leaping through the air, Ranval jabbed the blade into the Beast’s neck, pushing it away from Dynatha and causing her to fall to the floor. Five, six, seven times he stabbed the blade into the Beast, but still it struggled against him. Separating himself from the creature, Ranval summoned the rest of his strength and pulled the ceiling down upon it. Once it had been covered by durasteel plating and rebar, Ranval rushed to Dynatha’s side.

“Are you all right, Dynatha?”

She shook her head. “I can’t… I can’t move…”

“Can you reach my shoulders? I’ll try to carry you.”

“You’re bleeding… just go…”

Ranval shook his head. Biting down hard on his lower lip, Ranval used the Force to activate Dynatha’s lightsaber. Allowing it to hover a few centimeters from the bloody stump that was his right arm, he did everything he could to not scream in pain while his wound cauterized. He had lost a lot of blood, and it was only through the Force that he was still alive. Once the wound was suitably treated, he knelt low enough so Dynatha could wrap her arms around Ranval’s neck. He gripped her hands and gently lifted her off the ground and onto his back. Certain that she was safely on his back and wouldn’t fall, Ranval began the long walk back to the hangar as fast as he was able.

*** ***

The entire complex was collapsing on itself in the time Ranval climbed the ten flights of stairs between the central computer and the hangars. Support beams from the ceiling and the walls had imploded into the halls, forcing Ranval to walk over or around them with Dynatha in tow. Fires were burning everywhere, sending ash and burning residue into the air that made breathing difficult. The Miraluka was drenched in sweat and his legs and back ached, but he pressed on.

The hangar they had arrived in was practically gone. The forward part of the chamber had collapsed, leaving behind a large crater that peered down toward the base of the mountains. The ceiling had been destroyed too, completely enveloping most of the hangar in broken metal plating and boulders. Neither Celes nor Delvin were anywhere to be seen, and the transport they had arrived on was also missing.

“Dynatha, how are you feeling?”

She didn’t say anything, but he felt her tremble. She was very cold, and her eyes were closed like in a deep sleep.

“Dynatha, you need to wake up! Fight through the pain; it won’t be long now.” Ranval set her down near the doorway for a moment to allow himself to activate his wrist-mounted comlink. “Selias! Selias, are you there?”

There was static on the other end.


“… here, boss. What can I do for you?”

“I need you down here, now! This whole base is going to explode like Peragus itself, and we have no way out of here.”

“Well, I haven’t been in a fight like this since that fight with the wasps over Ithull,” Selias replied. “Republic and Sith ships are everywhere. Turrets still active. Warships overhead. It’s going to be messy.”

“I believe in you.”

“Yeah, yeah. I’m coming.”

Ranval carefully pulled Dynatha across the hangar bay until the two of them were at its mouth. Sure enough, Republic Aurek fighters filled the sky, fighting against just as many Sith starfighters and local gunboats. Explosions appeared sporadically in the midst of the dogfighting, blinking in and out like stars. High above them, so high that the clouds concealed most of the fighting, Republic cruisers were trading cannonades with Sith warships. Their shots were typically accurate, but occasionally their turbolaser fire would miss and hit the surface, burning away grasslands kilometers away from the mountains where Ranval and Dynatha were waiting.

The pandemonium behind them increased the longer they waited. Explosions within the depths of the base began to roar louder and louder. The floor beneath them continued to tremble until it didn’t stop, and the shaking became so strong that Ranval had to pull Dynatha away from the edge out of fear that she would fall out of the hangar. The entire mountain seemed to groan from the collapsing fortifications carved out of it, and Ranval could see rising plumes of smoke and fire elsewhere in the mountain range.

The Blind Guide swooped in from the east, blasting through a cloud of Sith fighters on its way toward them. Several Sith turrets were still operational, and they fired at the luxury transport as it approached. Its light cannons blasted two of them into molten metal, but two others closer to the hangar managed to score direct hits on its shields; the Blind Guide limped its way toward the hangar, where it came to a hover meters away from Ranval and Dynatha.

The boarding ramp beneath the ship lowered and Selias was standing there, blaster rifle in hand. “Let’s go! Got two squadrons of Sith fighters coming in and I’d rather not be sitting here when they arrive!”

“Can’t you get any closer?” Ranval shouted.

“And rip the starboard wing off?”

Ranval had no time to argue with her. “Dynatha, can you make that jump by yourself?”

Dynatha’s eyes were still closed and she was unresponsive. The Miraluka sat down and took a deep breath. It had been a long time since he had used the Force to move a large object so precisely, and he needed to get it right the first time. Finding Dynatha’s presence in the Force, Ranval lifted her as gently as he could, using his mind to carry her over the gap between him and Selias. Dynatha’s limp body trembled a few times, and Selias flinched each time Ranval nearly lost his hold on her, but each time Ranval managed to recover his grip. At last, Dynatha was close enough for Selias to pull into the ship.

“Now you, Ranval! Hurry!”

Ranval stood up and saw Sith fighters coming in from the north. Taking a few steps back, Ranval gave himself a running start before leaping toward the Blind Guide. Lacking eyes for precise measurement, he underestimated the distance between him and the ship, and his chest slammed into the edge of the ramp. With the wind knocked out of him, a stinging pain in his chest, and one good hand left, Ranval had no way to grab onto the ramp before he fell. Fortunately, Selias was still there and grabbed his prosthetic arm with both her hands.

“Damn it, get us out of here, Omel!” she shouted into the comlink on her collar.

The Blind Guide’s ventral thrusters lifted the ship away from the hangar just in time to avoid the first barrage of laser fire from the incoming fighters. Selias sealed the boarding ramp once Ranval and Dynatha were inside, allowing the pilots to accelerate away from the mountain range. Two Sith fighters crashed into the mountainside where the Blind Guide had been seconds before, but the other ten ships quickly rolled, altered their course, and pursued.

“Selias, get me to the bridge…” Ranval croaked. “I need to be there. Send someone back for Dynatha.”

“Like hell,” Selias growled.


“No. Stay here, I’ll make sure that we get out of here.”

Selias ran out of the cargo hold and headed toward the front of the ship. It was a long walk between the boarding ramp and the bridge, and Ranval knew he couldn’t make the journey by himself. Ignoring the near-hits that made the Blind Guide shake, Ranval walked over to Dynatha and began the slow process of Force healing. He was barely proficient in the art, but his skill would have to do until they could transport her into a kolto tank. He only hoped Selias would be okay on her own.

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