Disclaimer: I do not own Gundam Seed or Star Wars. They belong to their respective copyright owners. This story is not created with commercial aim. I make no money from it.
Prologue: A Shadow From The Past
"God damn it!" I shouted as loud as I could, before becoming aware that I was no longer in the seat of my disintegrating Dragon. In a futile attempt to save a pair of ZAFT pilots whose Mobile Suits were wrecked, I got caught on the edge of the CYCLOPS system, just as it detonated under the EA headquarters in Alaska. The display screens in my X311's cockpit shattered one after another, showering me with pieces of their monitors. All I knew was a wave of unbelievable agony. The last thing I remember was the incredible heat that caused my blood to boil.
Then I was here. Again. The Earth was just as breathtaking as the first time I saw it from this position, all those months ago.
Ever since I ended in the GS universe, I flirted with death on countless battlefields, yet feeling it actually claim me was... Dying was disconcerting. "I fucked up and should be dead," I said in a hollow voice.
"You should be. However, I made a deal," a melodic voice sounded from behind me. It was the ethereal being who had plucked me from my home dimension the first time around.
I did not bother turning around. She liked her mysterious act and stayed invisible. For all I knew, she lacked a corporeal form to show me and anything I could see might be just more smoke and mirrors.
"Which means that I need to deal with another mess," I stated.
"Correct. Then, if you do not get yourself killed, I'll be able to return you here shortly before JOSH-A was destroyed. I'll be nice and won't tell your girlfriend about that stunt you just pulled."
I winced. Ever since I was sent here, I had to deal with a mountain of troubles, which became much harder when my "favorite" ROB decided to become a chat buddy with my girlfriend. They had a lot of fun at my expense...
"Ahh. Don't pout. After all, she's the main reason I went to all that trouble of giving you a second chance." Her voice became coy.
"Who needs to die this time?" I sighed.
"Funny you ask. You don't remember, do you?" The woman sighed. "It was to be expected, yet..."
"What are you talking about?" I asked in confusion.
"One Republic Chancellor, a few of his cronies in the Senate, and the Separatist leadership. You have a war to end. It's all because you must prepare the galaxy to face the Vong. They aren't exactly what you expect, my Knight. Remember, the Vong must be stopped. Have fun!"
The curses that left my mouth were not fit for print.
I awoke, slumped over the controls of a fighter. That's an upgrade from the shuttle ride where my last adventure started.
I frowned. There was something wrong with that thought.
I shook my head and looked around.
This time, my mind was clear-er. There was no sign of the numbness that plagued me for a week after my previous trans-dimensional travel. Those were the high points of my situation.
Yet, even those thoughts felt wrong. Off. My mind was clear, true. I couldn't say the same about my memories. I could remember fighting to get as many Eurasian soldiers out of the CYCLOPS blast radius as if it happened minutes ago, nevertheless I knew decades passed since I got myself killed over there. My mind went to the image of Earth seared in my head. I haven't thought about my homeworld in a very long time. Nor about Natarle or my comrades. I couldn't afford to – that life was over. I don't know when exactly it happened. It wasn't a sudden decision but a gradual process until one day I awoke and going back home to 'Nat wasn't so important any more for I already had home here. I had sacrificed too much of myself to survive as a Sith. I tore my morals to shreds and I'm sure the person I used to be didn't really come out of the Sith Academy on Korriban. A slave went in there, a former Earth Federation Lieutenant Commander seconded to ONI. When I was permitted to leave to do my first master's dirty work, a Sith Acolyte left and that was over sixty years ago…
Then why the battle at JOSH-A where I died was so vivid in my mind? What did the entity say? That I had forgotten?
"Who you are, my Knight. Why are you fighting for. May you find your heart in this future. Until the end of the road, when we shall meet again, fare thee well, my Knight." Her voice echoed in my head and I knew I won't be meeting her until the day I die.
Her words didn't make much sense. What did the Republic Chancellor had to die? Besides the fact he was the nominal leader of the enemy? What Separatists? There were just us, the Sith, our allies and the Republic with its own. Did someone on the Dark Council planned a coup or something, just like my supporters there did?
I closed my eyes and went over few meditation exercises to focus my mind. First I needed to figure out where I was then go join friendly forces so I could assess the situation. What happened anyway? The last thing I recall… Ah. The battle above Korriban. The Republic was launching spoiling attacks in attempt to break our momentum as we were in the final stages of the preparation for our final assault at the Core. I was caught out of position when the enemy arrived – in my fighter en route to a cruiser meant to bring me back to Dromund Kaas where I would be formally inducted as a member of the Dark Council.
Something happened during that battle, didn't it? I could vague recall the Force screaming a warning, then there was light and I was reliving my last engagement back on Earth. Whatever happened did a number on my memories. They felt quite scrambled yet otherwise my mind was clear. It was weird sensation.
On the bright side I couldn't feel any present danger which was reassuring. I took a few deep breaths and exhaled slowly finishing my last meditation exercise and opened my eyes.
I was in a cramped cockpit of a fighter I knew did not possess a hyperdrive and I had no idea where I was. My arms, which were clad in light and comfortable armored gloves, ran over the controls as I checked the status of my tiny ship. It was a modified Sith Interceptor, with a shield generator installed, as well as laser cannons with enhanced capacitors allowing a sustained rapid fire. Lastly, there were two racks of light proton torpedoes under the wings for attacks against hardened targets.
Yes, this was the ship I was in above Korriban. However said planet wasn't in sensor range, much less the two fleets viciously tearing at each other in orbit. I was reluctant to go with active sensors until I had better idea where I was stuck at.
As far as fighters go, my interceptor was a sweet killing machine – very good in a dogfight or even the odd bombing run. However, that did not help me with my current predicament. I was Force knew where, without a hyperdrive. I hoped that I won't be meeting my patron soon after suffocating. I sometimes called her ROB in my mind – as in Random Omnipotent Being, because she still hasn't properly introduced herself. Surely she didn't just drop in to troll me before I died? That's not the impression I got from her in our previous interaction, yet this latest meeting – it was off somehow.
Kriff it, what mess did I get myself in this time?!
I checked the starfighters sensors again. I could detect some gravitational disturbances at the edges of the scanner's range. So, there was probably at least one planet in the system. I hoped that it was inhabited or at least life bearing or I was kriffed beyond belief.
My hands ran over the controls and the Sith Interceptor's engines roared to life under my gentle touch. The nimble, little spacecraft carried me deeper into the system. I gave the autopilot a general course plot, and started checking what resources I had at my disposal.
I was wearing a black robe covered by durasteel armor. My head was protected by a mandalorian styled helmet, with an integrated computer projecting a small HUD display on which the status of my armor, oxygen supply, and shields were shown. It was good to know that I had some additional protection aside from the laminated sheets of durasteel and armored weave of my robe. I knew exactly what punishment it could handle so there was no need to test it. While my current outfit wasn't as durable as a proper heavy armor, it could still handle a lot of the stuff usually thrown my way, besides it was much more comfortable to wear that my Mandalorian crafted Cortosis Assault Suit.
My armor had some neat features. Like a dart launcher on the left arm guard, with knock out, poison and ion enhanced munitions – the last was for taking out droids. I was armed with a pair of heavy blaster pistols, and had four power cells for each. For tougher situations, I had a pair of thermal detonators, four frag grenades and two ion pulse grenades. For a moment, I thought that I was making a great impression of a Mando bounty hunter and I should know considering I've been posting as one a handful of times while doing odd jobs for either Baras or Imperial Intelligence.
I blinked in confusion. What the hell? Where did all those memories came from? I'm sure I just died back on Earth. The Kriff? That was decades ago! Did the other Sith do something to my mind? Or perhaps the Jedi?
A lance of pain split my skull at that thought. No. Not Jedi. What was I trying to recall? Acting as a bounty hunter but not really? I focused through the pain as I was taught back in the academy and the memories I was looking for surfaced… slowly and painfully but here they were.
Sith. I could remember now. Orders. Locations all over the galaxy – hunt down and dispose of low grade Sith who had went off the reservation and caused trouble for the Empire.
Wait what? Palpatine's Empire? Why would I need to take out a Chancellor or Separatists leaders then… Palpatine? Who was that and when did he got himself an Empire? The only Empire worthy of the title was ours.
The pain intensified.
Sith.The Sith Empire. It wasn't being a bounty hunter I vaguely recalled. I remembered being a partially trained Sith Acolyte whose good for nothing master sent me hunting embarrassments for the Empire. I spent years at that job before returning to the Academy on Korriban and becoming a proper Sith under Baras.
I had the Force then, didn't I? But of course I had it. I was a Dark Lord of the Sith.
What the kriff?! What was happening with my memories?!
It was like a veil that had been covering every one of my senses was suddenly lifted. It seemed that I truly saw, heard, and felt for the first time in my life. My senses went into an overdrive and I was lost. I saw even the tiniest imperfection on the control panel of my craft, I could hear every little sound and sense each vibration made by the interceptor. My armor felt like shards of broken glass upon my skin. Even the tiniest twitch caused me to feel stabbing pain as my clothes rubbed on my oversensitive flesh.
Then it became much worse. Some kind of barrier was breached and a tsunami of memories hit my mind in an unyielding wave. My world exploded as a whole life flashed before my eyes and I remembered.
From my first memories as a small child on Dromund Kaas, to my misfortune in ending as a slave before manifesting the Force and being sent to Korriban after tearing apart my "master"… I remember accessing the Force for the first time. Then I got my memories from Earth back, something which increased my rage at being a slave. The rush I felt when the Force answered to my emotions and my 'master' being crushed under the power of my mind alone.
I remembered everything.
It all ended with a titanic battle over Korriban where I was engulfed in a flash of light. A Sith Lord who commanded the Imperial Fleet protecting that world activated a super weapon of some sort. I was sure of it. Then I felt the Force screaming of deadly danger and… what?
I shook my head, trying to clear it. Now my memories were making sense but my mind felt like a bunch of Gamoreans went wild on my head with war-hammers.
In a sense everything began and ended at the same place.
Korriban – the place where I arose from being one of the countless wretched slaves under the Imperial yoke and became a Sith Warrior. It was there, where I chose to disregard most of the creed of the Sith, and to try to changing the Empire from within.
It was Korriban, where my ambition died with tens of thousands of Sith and Republic sailors and I ended up here.
Somehow. Was my patron to blame? Did she sent me here? Did I die again?
I snapped back to the present. My right hand fell to a cylinder, hidden in my robes, and I felt relieved the moment my fingers closed around it. Holding the hilt of my lightsaber, a weapon that was literally part of myself as far as the Force was concerned, soothed my nerves.
I used it as an anchor for my mind. The torrent of memories almost shattered my very being, nearly washing away who I was. This was not like the last time when I got only skills and fragments of someone else's past. This time it felt like I "lived" through the life of Darth Vael… Because I did. At least a version of me did if I, he, died above Korriban…
No. That wasn't true after all. The Force stirred around me driven by my confusion and need for answers. She felt odd, a bit distant and weaker yet she answered my intent. I could feel her soothing presence wrapping around me. Some called her a mere energy field, but I knew better. The Force was alive. I'm not sure if she truly had agenda or her own or if we, the Force Adepts using her gifts made her express one through our combined actions and emotions over the millennia. Perhaps once long ago the Force was merely the energy binding every living thing in this galaxy. Nowadays she was so much more… An ally, an enemy and constant companion… too many things to put into words so those who lacked her touch could understand. How do you describe the color red to the blind? How do you explain the way your lover's voice moves you to the deaf?
There was an ancient echo in the Force. A whisper just on the edge of my hearing. An impression if you will. I knew it just as I knew myself for it was of me.
The Force didn't lie.
I know I lived as Vael. I was that Sith Lord and something went terribly wrong so I could be here and now… whatever that meant. I could feel it through the Force. All the people I knew and had bonds with… They were gone. Mere echoes. Under other circumstances this revelation might have broken me, yet those closest to me were already dead – claimed by the war I among others made sure we would win. The final downfall of the Republic was all but guaranteed no matter what limited success their final offensives could boast of.
I stared at the stars through the canopy of the cockpit. It made a twisted kind of sense. If this was happening to anyone else, I would have thought that this stunt of ROB's was pure genius. This wasn't my time, was it? She apparently made a deal and needed this Palpatine disposed off, didn't she? However, I recalled our last deal. She knew by the time I would likely die I wouldn't really care about going back to Earth. I was a different man with different home.
A home that if what I was beginning to suspect was true was long gone. Was this what she meant by implying I might find my heart in this future, I wondered?
I knew that my eyes, hidden under the helmet as they were, had a distinct yellow tinge around the irises as my fury grew.
I spent a lifetime as a Sith Lord and what now? Was it all as good as erased? The memories from my first life were stirring. Separatists. Dooku. Sidious and Palpatine. At firs those were names without context but eventually a bit of recollection came. The later two were one and the same – a Sith Lord who was able to hide his nature and got himself elected as the Chancellor of the Republic.
That thought made my blood boil. Did we lose after all or was our victory a fleeting thing?
In my fury, I turned up to the Force, hoping that the Dark Side would soothe me. I tried to clear up my mind and think about my situation in a somewhat reasonable manner. I tried to remember more but it wasn't easy. Not after so many decades.
Instead, I was confused by the way the Force felt. I knew it was off, but I didn't think about reflecting upon it earlier as I was lost in my mind. Now I dismissed any thoughts about the past or the future for that matter and concentrated all my senses on my power.
The Light Side was muted, as if there was a veil made of living shadows thrown over it. The Dark Side on the other hand... Well let's just say that I had never felt it stronger or more seductive than it was right now. Not even on my one and only audience with the Emperor in his inner sanctum on Dromund Kaas.
My memories stirred. Fear gripped my heart with fingers colder than the void between the stars. I had knowledge and skills from an old forgotten age. Even if, by some miracle, I prevailed over Palpatine and his army of cutthroats, there was no guarantee that I would not replace him and become something much worse.
I had nothing left to keep me in check. Everyone who mattered to me was dead… and that deal that ROB offered? It was about saving a woman I knew decades ago in a different universe.
I still felt something when I thought of her, yet… She wasn't here to keep me company. To keep me sane.
For all its atrocities, Sidious and his Empire paled in comparison with the deaths and suffering caused by the Sith of old… By the Empire I served.
I laughed bitterly. It wasn't like the galaxy needed a monster like me unleashed upon it once again…
I snarled. Now I knew what was off. Whatever happened above Korriban or perhaps it was my patron… it wasn't just that my memories from Earth were fresher, more tangible than they were in decades. Oh, no. There was a presence in me. An echo of the soldier I was once upon a time. It was thanks to him and his skills that I lived long enough to become the Sith I am today. But in order to survive I had to kill that man. This was my mind and he was merely a ghost from a forgotten era.
Power surged through me. It was vast, incomprehensible and terrifying. It washed through me and I knew my patron has been here all along studying me. The sheer power I could feel in this… this mere echo of her glory was almost humbling. Utterly infuriating too.
I felt her gentle touch upon my mind and I understood. The ghost of the man I once was was plucked away to be send for his just reward – the second chance he become the monster I am today to gain. That… words failed me.
Amused laughter echoed in my mind making my head ring with pure innocent joy. For a brief moment I was back on Earth watching my X311 Dragon in Mobile Suit configuration let go of the two ZAFT GINNs it was dragging and speed away on the wing of the CYCLOPs activation. The microwave radiation of the trap clawed behind it scrambling the engine exhaust but my machine made it out of the area of effect just in time.
Just like that I was back in the cockpit of my interceptor with laughter still ringing in my ears.
"I keep my word my Knight. The man I made my original deal with has still work to do back on Earth. Thanks to him you exist. Thanks to you he has his second chance. That merely leaves you and the task I gave you." The amusement in her voice grew up a notch. "My meddling in this universe is at end, my Knight. I'll merely trust you'll find your heart before its too late." She laughed again. "In your nature too, my Dark Knight. Fare thee well, Veil."
I slumped in my seat. The monstrous energy was gone, hopefully for good. I knew my patron was powerful but this… I shuddered. It was eye opening. Did I dare not follow up on her nice 'request'? I snarled. I was no ones pawn!
Was I going to have a choice? My memories of what back on Earth was known as Star Wars were fragmented. Unless I went to hide under some rock and ignored the galaxy sooner or later I would clash with Sidious. With the Jedi too, because them I remembered. They existed in this time and age. The one thing I could count on was that the Force would make sure I would meet them. The Dark Side wouldn't waste such a chance to cause more conflict.
Phase 01: Use the Force, Luke!
Location: Still Unknown
The Sith Interceptor cruised through the unknown star system on autopilot, while I huddled in the pilot seat.
Being stuck here with only my memories for company, wasn't doing me any favors. The only silver lining was that I could remember everything and sort out my head. The bad one was simple – I could very well imagine the horrors I could unleash upon the galaxy. If what I remembered from my time in my birthplace about the Clone Wars era was anything to go by, I had more knowledge of the Force and how it worked than all but a few actors in this day and age.
I was a veteran of a war the likes of which the galaxy hasn't seen in more than millennia.
If I lost it and either fell to the Dark Side, or the more likely outcome – let it consume me in order to make the pain of losing everything I knew, everything I've worked to achieve… The consequences would made Palpy's Empire look like particularly relaxing resort in comparison. I knew that for a fact. When Ashara was murdered few years ago I was falling to the Dark Side. It took desperate measures to prevent it, I had to become a Mask I wore all the time, one of the man I was up to that moment.
The danger of letting myself be consumed by the Dark Side couldn't be overstated. I've wrought terrible things while in my right mind. If I really lost it… I would become everything I hated about the Sith ad the galaxy would burn for my amusement. Or just to make the paint stop. It wouldn't really matter at that point.
The Force itself didn't help me. The Dark Side was strong, alluring. It was whispering to me, like the devious seductress she was. She was promising everything I ever wanted, even if it couldn't bring back my hearts desire.
However, the Dark Side could give me one thing – losing myself and ending the agony and that made her more dangerous than ever. Because I wanted the void in my heart filled. I wanted the pain of the loss gone even if it made me more powerful than ever before.
Wasn't this ironic? Right now I was on the preciple of being what most typical Sith would sell everything for – all I needed to trade for more power than only a handful beings could ever conceive of was what was left of my sanity. It would be so easy and there would be no more regrets…
I rulefully shook my head. The Dark Side was particularly heavy handed in her attempts to make me fall today. If I ever did it, it would be my own volition. Just as becoming the Sith I was today was.
My personal pity party was interrupted when I felt a sudden chill. Somewhere, nearby, thousands of sentient beings were dying. I felt someone's malicious joy and in the same time I was sick to the pit of my stomach as I enjoyed feeling all those people die. As a Sith, there was a part of me that considered their dying cries as the finest beverage in the galaxy and craved more.
Enjoying the death of those unknown people made me feel dirty in a way I knew that no amount of bathing or decontamination could clean up too. This was one of the biggest pitfalls of using the Dark Side - it made you enjoy the suffering and agony of others and if you had a conscience, you hated it too. The dichotomy was something that would eventually drive all but a few insane or straight into the clutches of the Dark Side. Worse, most sooner or later would make causing strife and suffering their priority even if they wouldn't admit it even to themselves. They would chose the way that would make them feel the rush of the Dark Side even if doing so means taking less than optimal choices in the long run. Eventually in the short term too.
The only way to keep experiencing that from driving you insane was to have people you respected and cared about centering you. People to keep you sane.
"Bloody hell..." I muttered. It was almost like feeling a lot of people die for the first time.
Whatever the process that brought me here, it did a number on me, didn't it? Or perhaps there were few vestiges of the man I used to be my patron left behind for one reason or another.
With a thought, I shut down the interceptor's auto pilot and the small ship changed its flight path as I used the Force to guide it. I barely felt the acceleration when the twin engines roared to life and jumped from cruise mode to eighty percent of max acceleration.
The place where I felt people dying was calling to me like a siren's song.
The clock shown on my HUD counted that forty-three minutes had passed from the time I sensed the deaths. It took me that long to reach the general area where I felt people dying.
It was obvious what had happened – war. I could see a small debris field made by the shattered forms of three large ships. From what I could remember, which wasn't as much as I would like after all this time, I was observing the remains of Republic cruisers. Proto Stardstroyers or something in that vein. The shattered hulls told a story of a dagger like design – what the Republic preferred to field before its transformation in Palpy's empire during the Clone Wars if I remembered correctly
Three destroyed cruisers in a system with a red star. Why was this image ringing an alarm bell?!
I shrugged. Expecting to remember details from a show and movies I've watched so long ago was funny and foolish.
I started scanning for survivors with both the Force and my fighter's sensors. A display on my control panel lit up with few clusters of life signs, one of which winked out moments later. I felt cold pangs as the people died even before the sensors could register it. Probably Clones if I was when I presumed to be.
Briefly, all my attention focused on the whispers of the Force, trying to determine where I should go.
That cluster of survivors, the one on the far left. It felt more important than the rest. My hands went to the controls and I headed that way.
I deftly evaded pieces of demolished ships which were tumbling around the few remaining bigger parts of the cruisers. Without the Force guiding my hands, navigating this unholy mess would have been moderately challenging and dangerous. However, I was cheating using my powers so it was just like a training exercise in a simulator set on easy.
A curious sight greeted me when I reached the life signs. An escape pod was gripped by an oddly shaped craft - it looked like a crude robotic manipulator with four fingers. Four fragile looking droids appeared from the center of that strange craft, where the middle of the palm would be if it really was a hand. They had something that resembled miner's helmets on their heads, right down to the round light mounted on the front. The droids had rocket packs on their backs which they used to maneuver in space.
I've seen a lot of weird droids in my day, but still, those were quite odd. Miner helmets in space, really?! Eh. Droids. Sometimes they go weird.
My fighter's computer detected wireless comms and automatically tapped into them. To my surprise, the encryption was quite basic and it was broken into within moments. I would have expected it to be much, much harder if not impossible. This was to be the far future… Yet my memories told another story. This era wasn't as advanced as one might expect after a few thousand years time-out. In fact in some technologies had either fallen out of use or were lost.
I heard synthetic voices speaking with unfamiliar accents.
"Let's pop this can!" An overly enthusiastic droid eagerly exclaimed.
It was easily to guess which one spoke as I saw one of the machines activate a blowtorch mounted on its right forearm.
The Sith part of me grumbled in irritation at my decision to save what I suspected to be Republic Clone Troopers but I squashed it. This Republic wasn't my enemy, I reminded myself. The only bright side of my situation was that all my enemies had been dead for a long, long time. If nothing else I had the victory of outliving them all.
It was a cold comfort when I was about to help Republic scum!
The more reasonable part of my mind conceded the fact and countered by pointing out that the Old Republic that was my enemy had been gone for a millennia. With a bit of luck, the Empire had used the strategy I helped devise and won the war so I could take pride of a job well done.
I grumbled at these random thoughts.
I dialed down the power of my fighter's laser cannons to near hand-held weapon's strength and unloaded a barrage of crimson laser bolts at the quartet of unsuspecting droids.
The machines didn't stand a chance. With no shields and obviously being mass-produced expendable grunts, they were annihilated by the underpowered laser blasts. After I made sure that there were no more of the killer droids milling around, I positioned my fighter so that I had a good view of the inside of the capsule.
There were a pair of dark-skinned clones, who were wearing blueish, almost gray, navy uniforms. No armor which could be sealed if their escape pod was breached by something. I guess this was their lucky day. Probably mine too, because they looked like officers and now they owed me their lives.
Well that sealed it. Seeing the Clones all but guaranteed that I was sometime during the Clone Wars. I knew it was unlikely that my patron kriffed up when and where she placed me, but it was good to have independent confirmation, especially given the odd encounters I had with her today. When the opportunity presents itself I would drink to not meeting her again in the longest time.
After all, the first few minutes after I awoke, I was pretty sure I've been sent here directly from my Gundam back on Earth.
I shook my head in exasperation. It was time to have a chat with the locals.
"Escape pod, this is Rogue Knight, please respond." I said once my flight computer could determine the frequency they were using. I went with the call sign I got after qualifying as a pilot in the Empire… how long ago was that? Sixty years give or take? It was soon after I got out of the Sith academy for the first time.
I sighed. Damn I felt old. Only learning how to use the Force to slow down my aging by my first proper master – Darth Baras – allowed me to look like I was in my mid-thirties nowadays. Otherwise, I would probably look worse than Palpy in the last movie or something. Huh. How do I remember such random kriffing stuff instead of more important details?
When I finally got an answer, it came from another capsule – one that was tumbling towards my current position.
There was a shift in the Force coming from that direction, which made me pay attention to the newcomers. I knew that feeling quite well. There was a bloody Jedi on the second escape pod!
I shook my head in exasperation. Obviously my patron wanted to make my life interesting from the start. I smiled in anticipation. The Jedi's reaction once they knew what I was was going to be entertaining.
Republic fleet's debris field
"This is capsule one-nine-seven-seven. Thank you for the help," said a voice which had the characteristic distortion of one wearing a breathing mask.
"You are welcome. After an accident I happen to be stuck in this system without operational hyperdrive. You wouldn't happen to have a way out of here, do you?" I asked cheerfully while using a Force technique known to many Sith of my time to cloak my Force Alignment. No reason to spook the Jedi before I absolutely had to. I wondered how would they react to meeting a live friendly and helpful Sith?
The technique wasn't going to hold up to a close scrutiny, but I was safe until we met face to face, which would be when the true fun begins.
While I waited for an answer, I examined the droid ship. Now that I think about it, the craft was somewhat familiar. I thought I have a vague recollection of this situation. If I was lucky, and I remembered right, I had landed during the early months of the Clone Wars. If I played my cards right this conflict could be a great opportunity to regain a lot of the power I lost.
"We are sending distress signal to all Republic forces that could reach us. I hope that someone will be here soon." The response came a few seconds later.
"Preferably before whoever sent the droids figures out that they are gone and decides to pay us a visit." I muttered.
While my fighter was state of the art, I was a few thousands of years in the future. Further, the other side, this Confederacy, obvious had enough forces in system to wreck three capital ships just an hour ago. I was reluctant in pitting my interceptor against anything modern without first seeing for myself how the future hardware compared to what I had available even before factoring in likely being outnumbered to a ridiculous margin.
"That's nice mess we landed into this time," One of the Clones spoke over the comm.
"I do not want to be pessimist, general, but I do not believe that someone will come searching for us any time soon," interjected another.
So the Jedi was a general, not just a small strike force leader. I should be careful until I knew their abilities. The Jedi I knew weren't giving such ranks unless you knew your job and were a decent fighter too.
At that moment the scanner on my fighter pinged. A ship had entered the debris field.
"Well, someone came, all right." I sent to the Jedi and the Cones. "This is Rogue Knight to the unknown ship that just entered the debris field. Please respond." I hailed the newcomer.
"This is Jedi Knight Skywalker. Who is this?" An irritated voice answered.
Oh, my. The so called Chosen One himself. Him I remembered. I wondered how did he compare in real life to the one from my memories.
"This is Delkatar Veil, I am parked near two escape pods with survivors. Follow my signal." I introduced myself.
"This is Jedi Master Plo Koon. Good to hear from you Skywalker." The other Jedi decided to introduce himself too. So nice of him however the name didn't ring any bells.
"Master Jedi, would you mind giving me a lift out of this system? I'm a bit stuck." I added my two credits.
"That shouldn't be a problem," Plo Koon answered.
There was curious silence coming from Skywalker's end.
Skywakler's ship was a kriffing flying scrap pile that looked like it was held together with space tape, spit and prayers. It was also far uglier than my very vague recollections from the show featuring the bloody thing.
In the end, I had to ditch my interceptor and take a spacewalk to the open compartment of Skywalker ship. It was a good thing that my armored robes were in fact an armor suit that could be sealed and was rated for short vacuum exposure. Using the Force, I navigated through the short distance between our spacecraft and landed at the back of Skywalker's ship letting its gravity field pull me to the deck.
I stepped through a force field that kept the air inside what looked like a cargo space and found myself face to face with master Koon – who apparently was a Kel Dor Male.
The moment he saw me, I could practically feel his glare.
Yeah, I looked the splitting image of heavily armored mercenary who were usually not to be trusted. To add insult to injury, my outfit had distinct Mandalorian influence, which was likely to count against me even in the future. Besides, from this short range, my camouflaging technique was less effective. Perhaps I should have put an effort in mastering it, but back in the day that simply wasn't necessary. It wasn't like most people – both friend and foe alike didn't know me by sight and its been long since I had to deal with fieldwork making infiltration necessary. Rank did have its privilegies after all.
"I am not your enemy, Jedi." I raised my hands in a peaceful gesture. I wasn't ready to make today's Jedi Order my enemy. I lacked the resources needed for such a conflict and right now, the Jedi were my way out of this system.
"You reek of the Dark side. Whatever you did to conceal it is no longer working." The Kel Dor snapped.
"That technique served its purpose." I shrugged nonchalantly. "If I meant you harm, master Jedi, I would have blown up your escape pods otherwise"
While we were chatting, the pair of Clone troopers had raised their weapons and taken positions between their navy brethren and me. They were soon joined by Skywalker and his apprentice, who moved closer to me and were gripping the hilts of their lightsabers.
I looked at the suppossed Chosen One. Huh. The show did capture him quite well. The same went for the young Togruta who was obviously Anakin's padawan.
"Three Jedi versus little old me and it's you who're feeling apprehensive." I pointed out. Their nervousness was like a beacon for my emphatic senses.
Koon tilted his head to the left.
"I sense no deception coming from you." He frowned.
"No need for it right now. As I said I need a ride out of here. And if you are wondering I am not with those droids." I said.
When facing presumably competent Force Adepts, one should keep their lies to a minimum. That's way, when you really need to lie your ass off, its more likely they'll buy it if you have a way to cloak your intentions from them.
It was astounding how well you could lie by omission or when you simply decline to volunteer information.
"Who are you with then?" asked Asoka.
"If my suspicions are correct, I'm with myself ever since earlier today." I spoke unhelpfully. "You can consider me as a free agent." It was all true, from a certain point of view. When all was said and done, right now my only allegiance was to myself.
"Bounty hunter!" spat Skywalker.
"Young Jedi, you don't want me to be something else, trust me about that." I shot back. Few of my best friends used to be Bounty Hunters and proud of it!
I raised an eyebrow at Skywalker's tone and the waves of anger coming from him. I didn't know why he hated the practitioners of that profession. Didn't particularly care either even if I could figure out some things. Considering that he spent his childhood as a slave on Tatooine, it wasn't a stretch of the imagination that he might have a problem with mercenaries and bounty hunters. Most of those he would have had experience with, would have been employed by the Hutts – not necessarry the nicest or most reputable examples of those professions.
"Skywalker, that's enough." Plo Koon chided the much younger man. "A mercenary you say?" The Jedi began interrogating me.
"Well, I find myself in a need of work. Well paying one." I admitted. No need to explain what else I was right now.
"I can sens the Dark Side in you… mercenary." The Kel Dor continue to stare at me.
"Is that a problem?" I couldn't keep the amusement out of my voice. "Last I checked it wasn't a crime."
"He's working with Dooku, I knew it!" Skywalker snapped.
"You should watch your temper, Jedi. Didn't you hear? Anger leads to the Dark Side." I needled Anakin. "Who is this Dooku?"
"Count Dooku. The leader of the Confederacy. Your boss." The little Togruta narrowed her eyes at me as she spoke. "Stop playing dumb!" She accused.
The kid looked kinda endearing when angry.
"I can honestly say I don't know any Count named Dooku." It was even true! I knew of him thanks to the movies I've watched so long ago, but I didn't know him. It wasn't like we've been introduced, nor have I seen the man for real.
"I think he's telling the truth." Plo Koon frowned. It was hard to tell with his species even when they weren't wearing a breather mask.
"He has a name. Please use it, Jedi. It's a common courtesy." I shot back.
"Delkatar Veil." The Kel Dor actually said my name. "Who are you really? I don't buy the mercenary story." He paused. "What are you?!" The Jedi asked.
I felt his words being reinforced with the Force as he attempted to compel the truth from me.
"Someone who is a long time from home." I spoke truthfully ignoring the suggestion. Ah deceiving by telling the truth – that was an art form among us Sith. It was kinda necessary with so many people running around who more often than not could sense deception despite your best efforts thanks to decades of experience.
"Isn't that supposed to be a long way?" The Togruta frowned, making her look cute.
"I'm pretty sure it's time in my case." I shook my head.
"Answer my question." Plo Koon insisted.
"I told you the truth. Granted, not all of it. Will we stay here the whole day, exchanging pleasantries or shall we leave before whoever blew up that fleet," I pointed at the cruiser remains floating outside, "decides to come back? Don't forget that there are few more pods with survivors out there. Probably more droid kill teams too."
The Jedi looked at each other for few moments and reached a decision. Apparently I was not the clear and present danger that needed dealing with right now, at least for the moment.
"It's a giant Ion cannon, mounted on a super cruiser," declared the Kel Dor. "Getting out of here might be prudent." He reluctantly agreed.
"So that's what took out your fleet," I wondered if Grievous was on board. That sounded like a proper super weapon and that was something the cyborg would love.
I thought so anyway. Grievous was the cyborg, right?
A rapid fire series of beeps and whines came from the cockpit. If I interpreted the droid's speech correctly, a craft was approaching us.
"Just like the giant ship that is coming towards us?" I asked, seemingly without a care in the world. Despite the mountain of weapons and armor that was approaching I was calm. We should have enough time to escape in hyperspace otherwise the Force would have been surely warned us.
The Jedi rushed to the cockpit and I followed them calmly. The Clones tried to stop me, but I waved a hand and told them to stand down and they obeyed.
It was surprising that at least one of the Jedi didn't remain to keep an eye of me, not that I had something against it.
Under the orders of Koon, Anakin and Ahsoka shut down the power of the ship and even the droid but the cruiser continued racing towards our position.
I looked at the back of the transport. I could sense an active power source there.
"Do you have a medical droid or another astromech stashed in the back?" I wondered aloud and made the Jedi whirl around to face me.
The look of Skywalker face was priceless.
"We forgot the medical droid!" Ahsoka exclaimed and began restoring power to the vessel.
I shook my head. And those were the people on whom the galaxy counted on? All right, thanks to being a Sith I am quite biased, but their performance so far was not great. On the other hand I knew a lot of Sith who were much bigger idiots but I digress; most of those didn't last long.
Besides, the Jedi I was familiar with, had been under decades of brutal natural selection that left only the best alive. If I wasn't very much mistaken, this was the first major conflict today's Jedi were facing in centuries, perhaps a thousand years.
I used the comm unit built in my armor to sent an order to my interceptor. Its autopilot took it on a suicide attack run against the dreadnought approaching us. My fighter wouldn't last long but all it needed to do was buy us few moments by providing a brief distraction. That way its destruction would have some use instead of forcing me to activate its self-destruct because I wasn't leaving it behind for the Confederacy to poke at.
The interceptor attacked the behemoth, shooting laser bolts and torpedoes like there was no tomorrow. It was using a pre-programmed evasive pattern which allowed it to survive for fifteen seconds against the awe-inspiring amount of flack that the cruiser was throwing its way.
I frowned. That was a lot of AA fire yet it should have been much more dense coming from such a platform. While mere flack couldn't stop a wing flown by Force Adept it could make their life interesting and enough of it might make an attack from regular pilots suicidal. It was a trade-off. During the war AA defenses weren't uniform. There were different thoughts on the matter with those believing it being a waste of resources given how many trained Force Adepts each side had to deploy being more and more prominent as of late. I wondered if this was the case nowadays too. How many Jedi were there? Sith?
The kamikaze run gave us just enough time to bring back power and head through the debris field before our location was locked in and the enemy raced after us. That combined with the small size of the transport should provide us with enough cover for the nav computer to complete its calculations so we could jump in hyperspace.
Behind us the behemoth tried to shoot us down with its turbolasers, before giving up – we were too small and agile target too far away for the heavy weapons and still out of range of the light stuff. Then it unloaded a truly massive pulse of Ion energy from its main cannon.
A large circle of condensed ionic fury raced after us, but it was too late. We entered hyperspace mere moments before the attack could hit us.
Republic Fleet under the command of General Skywalker
It was no wonder that Palpatine was able to fool the whole Jedi council. After spending few hours in a small ship with three of the most powerful Jedi of this generation, they knew nothing about me beside that I felt "Dark". Perhaps I should have been grateful that they had not figured what I was yet.
After arriving at Skywalker's fleet and landing on his command carrier/cruiser hybrid, the Jedi went to report to the Council and ordered me to follow. Apparently they wanted a second opinion on what I was and what were they supposed to do with me.
I wondered if I'll have to fight my way out of here and steal a fighter to get away, so I did my best to memorize the way back to the hangars. Hopefully, I would be able to talk my way out of this mess, because fighting Skywalker, Koon and the Togruta, not to mention the ship's crew, well that wasn't a pleasant prospect. Even if I managed to get away, I would have to show too much of my power – something that would inevitably make me a target for everyone – Jedi, Republic, Sith and the Confederacy.
That wouldn't be a good place to be considering I was by myself with no allies or resources besides what I wore on me. Even with the Force, my training and experience there were limits on what was possible. I didn't feel like testing them right now if I could avoid it because it would be glorious but likely suicidal.
Even worse, while the Dark Side felt much stronger at this time, the Force itself… it was somehow lesser. That's the best way to put it. I sensed that I would need to channel more power to get the same results as I would have achieved with much smaller effort before ending up in the future. That didn't bode well for what I could pull off if relying solely upon the Force.
Not good at all.
We reached the communications center, which was built around a big holo-projector. After few minutes of silence, a pair of Jedi who introduced themselves as Mace Windu and Yoda appeared as bluish, transparent holograms. They looked much like the vague recollections from my memories. The former was tall brooding and bald human with dark skin. Next to him stood a small green troll who was the Jedi's grandmaster. I still couldn't wrap my head around the fact that such a species could constantly produce a few very powerful Force Adepts.
The human looked at us for a moment then frowned at me and Skywalker.
It was good to know that my presence was appreciated.
"Master Koon, it's good to see you unharmed. And who is this?" The tall man turned his attention to the only Jedi Master who was physically present.
"Master Windu, Master Yoda," The Kel Dor gave a small bow to his fellow Council members. "This is Delkatar Veil. He says that he is a mercenary." Plo introduced me and gave them a brief description of my actions so far. "He feels Dark through the Force and was somehow able to conceal it until we stood face to face." The Jedi finished.
"Perhaps..." Yoda had a thoughtful expression on his face. His ears were twitching but I had no idea what, if anything, that action meant for his species. There were just a few of his kind I've met and we didn't have too long to talk.
"Simple mercenary, you are not!" declared the ancient Jedi Master. "Yet, from you, a threat I feel not! Yet, dangerous you are."
"What do you sense, master Yoda?" I nearly sneered. Being in the presence of the Jedi's Grandmaster… It stroke some painful memories that better be left forgotten for now, because the alternative as a bloodbath.
The little alien wizard gave me a piercing stare which I returned. It was not hard, with my head hidden under a helmet.
"A Sith, yet not, you are." Yoda dropped a bombshell.
Perceptive little bugger, isn't he? I gathered the Force around me as a shield and prepared to explode into action as my hand fell over the hilt of my hidden lightsaber.
"WHAT?!" Windu exclaimed. So much for the famed Jedi composure.
Two blue lightsabers hissed to life as Anakin and Plo Koon drew their weapons and pointed them at me.
You got to love the Jedi. Apparently Yoda could sense what I am across half the galaxy, yet Sidious is invisible under his nose. Figures. Bloody Jedi.
"Delkatar Veil, also known as Darth Vael, formerly from the Sith Empire, at your service, master Jedi." I gave Yoda a small bow.
Ahsoka gasped when she heard my new introduction and had her weapon in hand too, however she didn't activate it.
That didn't stop her from frowning at me something fierce.
"Malice, from you I sense not." Yoda joined the frowning competition.
I frowned at them too just to feel included.
So far Ahsoka was winning hands down. Plus, she looked cute – like a fluffy kitten. Yoda lost points for impersonating a particularly grumpy goblin. I rolled my eyes and wondered if the first war between Jedi and Sith started because we no longer could stomach their maddening mysticism and word games.
"He is Sith! He admitted it!" exclaimed Mace, disbelief clear in his voice.
"Proud of it too, thank you very much." I quipped. I wondered how long would it take them to make the first move. I could sense Tano's and Koon's confusion at my actions and the lack of aggression. Sith attacked the Jedi when we met – it was written all over their faces. Yoda on the other hand was looking at me with a curious expression on his face. A self-styled Sith was in the same compartment with them and all we did so far was talking. I have not threatened them a single time yet. Definitely nothing like the usual Sith they were taught to expect I guess.
I smiled. Keeping Jedi off guard by not meeting their expectation was a lot of fun. Almost as good as trolling them on general principle and if this meeting didn't dissolve in a bloodbath I would have the opportunity to troll them a lot.
As we stared at each other, the Force was reacting.
We all could feel a shift within it. It was like the whole galaxy was holding its breath and waiting for something to happen. Time stood still before one moment and the next as Yoda was considering his options.
The Grandmaster reached a decision and opened his mouth to speak.
In that moment, the balance shattered and we could sense a profound disturbance in the Force.
Republic Fleet under the command of General Skywalker
"Hmm." rumbled the tiny Jedi Master. "Hard to see, the future is."
He stared at me with his huge eyes as if it was my fault. I grimaced. Jedi! Everything had to be blamed on the obvious Dark Side wielder! Bloody wankers!
"Fear in your heart I sense. Something that you seek, there is?" Yoda asked.
My mind wandered to the one thing that kept me sane during the war. My eyes darted from the Jedi Master to Skywalker and I felt one of the few things that are taboo for the Sith. Pity. The fools, warding themselves from any emotions. Being afraid to feel, to be people. Living with no one to act as an anchor to keep them sane. It was easy to lose oneself to the darkness that way, especially when most if not all of them did their best to keep the ones they might fall in love away. Was it any wonder why when the Sith went active so many Jedi fell upon our words when we promised them the freedom to revel in their emotions? To be whom they truly were?
All but Skywalker, though he managed to somehow kriff it all up.
I smiled. A woman's laughter was ringing in my ears. I almost saw a brilliant smile on a face framed by blinding yet comforting light as I remembered one of the two women that ultimately kept me sane as a Sith.
I owed it to both of them not to let the Dark Side control me. It was the one promise I intended to keep. It was for their sake as much as for the vengeance I craved that I donned the mask I currently wore.
Remembering Ashara and Vette – it hurt. The Dark Side whispered promises to soothe my pain if I surrendered, but I simply disregarded it. I almost fell after Ashara was murdered, yet I found my way back in control. I wasn't releasing it any time soon.
My attention snapped back to the present as I felt the Jedi getting restless.
"Unless you've learned how to bring back the death once they've become one with the Force, what I seek isn't going to happen." I sighed.
"Mmm." rumbled Yoda and looked down. His ears slumped. "A tapestry of possibilities paints the Force. Around you it gathers. Both Light and Dark."
He looked me in the eyes. My helmet was no obstacle to his piercing gaze.
"The Chosen one, you are not. Yet the future, shrouds you like a cloak."
'Past, present and future you've seen, have you not?' His voice sounded in my mind.
He fucking knew! Somehow he knew, damn it, I was a soldier! There was a reason that I avoided Dromund Kaas like the plague when I could! I hated all the intrigues and political games that dealing with the highest echelons of Sith and Jedi leadership guaranteed, even if I had to become quite good in order to survive as long as I did.
When all was said and done what was happening right now was such a game from the highest order.
I reinforced my mind shields and chose my next words very carefully.
"I've seen possible futures. I've had visions of this war you're busy fighting. It does not bode well for the Jedi. I believe you suspected it when the first battle of the war was joined." I paused, wondering how to go on. "It didn't really make sense at the time. What I saw… the galaxy was different. There was nothing of the Empire I knew. Just a Republic tearing itself apart, Jedi stumbling in the dark and a few Darksiders shrouded by shadows."
I waved my left arm around, while being careful not to cut it on one of the two lightsabers pointed at me. My right hand never left the hidden hilt of my blade.
"It is hard to trap a Jedi or Sith. Yet, here we are – in the middle of the greatest trap for Jedi that this galaxy has ever known. But you suspect that, don't you, Master Yoda?" I asked the tiny Jedi.
"What are you talking about?!" Anakin snapped at me in confusion and anger.
"The Clone Wars the trap are." Yoda clarified.
"The Republic or these Separatists. It does not matter who wins. It is irrelevant. In either case the Jedi lose. That is the point of the war." I added. I remembered the teachings of an ancient Sith, who once upon a time used to be a Jedi. According to her, the real war had never been between the Sith and the Republic. The latter was merely a shell around the Jedi which had to be attacked to draw them out. Just like the Jedi teachings were shells around the hearts of the men and women practicing them.
The conflict between the Jedi and the Sith has always been an ideological one. It was a battle of ideals. In the end there was no greater victory than to make the enemy one of you… unless you were in it for the vengeance but that was another matter. Or perhaps not. War… it gave people many slights to avenge…
"Yes," Yoda nodded.
So he knew it from the beginning. If I was a betting man I would have said that he saw himself without good options. If the Jedi declined to take part in the war, when one of their own was the face of the Separatists, the Order would have lost what credibility it still had. Not to mention that some Jedi would have disregarded the orders to remain neutral, just as Revan and his followers did centuries before my own time. I wondered if Skywalker would have played Revan's role if that had happened and if it would have been for the best.
Still, it was a very dangerous game Yoda played. The war created great opportunities to tarnish the Jedi's image in the media. Win-win situation for Sidious. He had a good plan – one that worked in the future painted by the movies I knew.
"You can't fulfill your purpose as guardians of the Republic without being a part of the war. Yet the moment you joined, the Jedi as a whole lost." I stated the obvious.
The only saving grace for the Order was the nature of the conventional enemy – the bulk of the CIS forces were made of droids. That lessened the chance of the Jedi being warped as they fought and cut down countless, living, feeling beings. It bought them time before more and more of their number would be tempted by the Dark Side even without the Sith actively trying to turn them.
The other thing that 'saved' them was that unless I was very much mistaken the current so called Sith planned to simply exterminate their enemies instead of turning whoever they could.
Windu gave me a dark glare but said nothing. He, as well as all of us sensed that this was Yoda's, show. Besides for a brief instant the swirling vortex of the Force pushed aside the shadow blocking the Jedi's vision. They knew that I was right. That revelation would have some interesting consequences down the line.
I just hoped it wouldn't come back to bite me in the ass.
The ball was in Yoda's court. I decided to poor more fuel to the fire.
"You are the one who mentioned the prophecy of the Chosen One. We Sith, know of it as well. Do you not wonder what 'brings back balance to the Force' means?" I smiled maliciously – it was a good thing they couldn't see my face.
Prophecies. Bah. They were a tool for the Force to guide the weak willed. We Sith forged our own future even when the Force itself had other ideas.
"Skywalker is supposed to destroy the Sith! He should start with you!" Windu glared at me.
"Is he now? How many Sith are there in the galaxy today? This Dooku you've mentioned? His Master, or is he a Master and not an apprentice? How many Sith does the Confederacy employ? How many Jedi are there in the galaxy today? Please, answer me, Master Jedi and then think about whose side might need pruning so there would be 'balance' in the Force."
If their gob smacked expressions were anything to go by, none of them ever looked at the prophecy in that light. From a certain point of view, Anakin brought balance back to the force when he helped destroy the Jedi order. Twenty odd years later he fulfilled the last part of the prophecy by offing Sidious and at least for a time getting rid of the Sith. With Luke being a barely trained novice, Anakin wiped the slate clean.
In the end, there were thousands of Sith holocrons spread around the galaxy, just waiting for someone willing to learn.
In time new Sith would emerge again even if the last of us died. Unfortunately the same was likely true for the Jedi.
Talking about Sith, I tried to remember what I knew about Sidious and his little group. If I wasn't mixing thing up, they weren't true Sith – just a sect of Dark Jedi with delusions of grandeur trying to emulate the real thing.
Just a single Master and apprentice? That was simply begging for knowledge to be lost every time the Master died before he could teach their student everything they knew. What were the odds that an apprentice would wait until their Master had taught them all they know before the final confrontation? Every single such cycle had the potential to lose knowledge. Further, just a pair of Sith – there was a limit on new research on the nature of the Force and how to manipulate it two people could carry on and thus weakening the Sith further.
I chased those thoughts out of my mind and looked at Skywalker.
Anakin was looking positively ill. Wouldn't you know it? He was starting to think for himself, and probably didn't like my interpretation of the prophecy. Roughly speaking there were three ways to ensure there was a "balance", depending on your preconceptions about the Force. Or how much you've been indoctrinated by the Jedi or Sith, but that was another story.
Wipe out either sect, or both and start with a clean sheet. The latter was what was supposed to happen in the next few decades. How many trained Jedi and Sith were there at the end of the sixth film? It was obvious really – for the Jedi balance meant that their evil enemies were gone. For us Sith – it was similar – it meant victory with the Jedi either finally dying off or being freed by their chains. The Force… well I thought I knew what she wanted too.
Well, that is if you believed in fate. I am pretty sure that my presence here was not ordained by the Force or something like that. Nope. Couple of entities like my patron made a deal and the future of a galaxy was going to change.
Unless I got myself killed again but I didn't plan on it.
I could feel the Force swirling around me and Yoda. It was stiff. Like a snake coiled for a strike. The Jedi Master was about to make an important decision.
"Hard it is. Against all I was taught by my own Master it is. Done nothing against the Jedi of this age you have. Enemy you are not. Perhaps too much in the prophecy we have believed. Other ways to balance might there be."
"I'm not your enemy, Master Yoda. Unless you turn me into one." I told him the truth. For the time being I was content with live and let live arrangement.
I smiled broadly. The knot of energy centered around us started dissipating and it sent a shock-wave through the Force. What would have been was no more set up in stone. The future was there, waiting to be shaped by the present.
Now, there were two shadows looming within the Force – Sidious and me. A new game was afoot.
"This is a mistake we may not live to regret!" Mace Windu snapped. He cut off his connection and his hologram winked out.
"I feel that I'll have a lot of headaches with that fella." I muttered. I didn't need the Force to figure it out either.
Ahsoka snorted in amusement.
"That's not a nice thing to say about Master Windu." said the little Togruta but she could not hide the edge of mirth in her tone.
"A Jedi with a sense of humor! You are not hopeless after all!" I exclaimed. Tano was a little gem that needed polishing.
"Snips, behave!" Skywalker admonished his Padawan but I sensed that he agreed with her.
Ah! Now I remembered. Windu was not one of Anakin's fans either, was he?
Master Koon shut down his weapon and placed its hilt on his belt. He turned his head towards me.
"What do you intend to do now?" The Jedi Master asked.
"Well, while I am stuck here I may give you a hand with that oversized cruiser. It's your next target, isn't it? I do not believe that your Grandmaster would let me on my way without supervision. Who knows? I may go and corrupt someone with my insidious ways?" I quipped.
"Indeed." Yoda made his opinion clear. "For the best it will be, if a Jedi go with you. From a different age, you are. The Galaxy changed is from the time you knew. Hmm... I wonder... A cruiser to hunt you have. Speak of this later, we will." Yoda turned his attention at Anakin.
"Knight Skywalker. Problem, understanding orders, you have..."
It was amusing to listen how Yoda berated the "Chosen one" for disobeying orders and saving us.
"You are correct, Master Jedi. It is a strange new world. The last time I checked, leaving survivors of your fleet to fend for themselves and concentrating on the objective, well, it was a practical thing to do. An action worthy of any self-respecting Sith." Or a dedicated military commander who was doing what he had to in order to win the bloody war as soon as possible. To be a good officer you had to care about those under your command because otherwise you would end up wasting them. Nevertheless you had to be able to send them to die or leave them to their fate when the situation called for it.
Yoda's ears slumped.
"This war. Clouds ones judgment, it does." Muttered the small Jedi. "Meditate I will on a lot of things. May the Force be with you."
With that he cut the connection.
Anakin looked at me with a confused expression. A Sith lecturing a bunch of Jedi about morality. It sent their minds for a spin. What I was sensing from them was hilarious.
"It was something that Dooku would do, wasn't it?" asked Anakin with a hollow voice.
"It was the practical thing to do." I interjected. Expediency was a slippery slope that was often fatal for the Jedi. It was one thing for someone not a Force Sensitive to make such a decision. For a Jedi however... "And to answer your question, if Dooku really is a Sith, that's something he would cheerfully do." It would be even better if he cared for the people who he might leave to die – the emotions caused by such an act would make great fuel for the Dark Side.
Skywalker deactivated his lightsaber and rubbed his face with his left hand. He was starting to see the Jedi in a different light, I think. It was a small step to make, but significant one. It would be interesting to see where it would take him.
The discussion was effectively ended by the rumble of my stomach.
With the time jumping that sent me here I had no idea how long it was since I ate for the last time. I was sure it was nearly a day by now.
"I'll show you to the mess hall." said Anakin. "Snips, are you coming?"
Palpatine, the Supreme Chancellor of the Republic sat slumped in his comfortable chair. He was dealing with the bane of every ruler – mountains of paperwork. He had plans to deal with a lot of that nonsense once he was Emperor but for now, it was an inevitable evil.
The former senator from Naboo was reading a pad filled with various laws which would be proposed on the next senate session. He or his sympathizers had made few of those. The rest, he had to check them to see if there was something that could be turned to his use or if there was something that would be a problem for one of his plans. It was boring but necessary work. It would not do for one of his enemies to sneak in something troublesome without his knowledge. After all, even for someone like him it was impossible to know everything. It was a big galaxy.
He was reading about a law that should have resolved the disputes between few minor worlds on the edge of Republic space. So far he had no plans for those planets. They were tiny fishes in a very big ocean. Palpatine snarled. This was waste of his precious time!
The boredom of the Sith Lord was abruptly ended by a tremor in the Force. It's deliciously, dark currents were disrupted by something unseen. There was a... change in the air. He frowned, concentrated and sent his mind searching for the cause of the disturbance. The Dark side was stronger than ever and was throwing huge shadows which would blind any Jedi trying to divine what was happening. It was one of the many advantage Sidious had.
He was not a man easily surprised. However that day he was. And it was not pleasant. For the first time in his memory, the shroud of the Dark side obscured his vision too. The Force was in turmoil and he sensed that it was waiting for something to happen. For minutes he searched for the reason of this confusion. It was futile. Which infuriated Sidious. He was the Dark Lord of the Sith! What was happening should have been beyond the skills of any Jedi. For a moment he thought that Dooku was up to something but disregarded that idea. That did not felt like his apprentice.
A senate functionary entered the Chancellor's office without announcing himself. It was a shifty looking male Rodian who was out of luck. The man saw the livid Palpatine, whose eyes were blazing with sick yellow light. With a wave of his hand, Sidious vented some of his frustration on the unfortunate being. The Rodian was gripped by invisible hand which started squeezing. He tried to scream as his bones snapped and his flesh was rent apart.
The Sith Lord discarded the body to a dark corner of his office. He was now a bit calmer and was almost thankful to the unfortunate creature. This was not the place to lose ones temper, yet this was the third time it had happened in as many years. He should have controlled himself better, yet the sudden potency of the Dark Side had left him drunk with power for some time. Not to mention the toll thins Force damned useless paperwork that took so much of his time every accursed day! Slowly but surely the sheer boring stupidity of what he had to deal with was taking a toll upon his sanity.
The Force shifted. It was still shrouded by darkness but there was a significant difference. It was a dance of Dark and Light currents. It was the birth of a new future.
Sidious was no longer the absolute master of the Dark side and if it was not for his arrogance and pride he would have seen the signs. What he knew was that now his sight within the Force was as bad as the one those foolish Jedi had. There was a new shadow which was obscuring even his vision! He vowed vengeance on whoever was casting it! That person would feel his boundless wrath! The Dark Lord of the Sith was not someone to be crossed! The Dark side was his to command!
Palpatine shook himself from the short lived power-trip and frowned at the corpse. It was days like this when he wondered if all the years spent suck as a Chancellor were worth it becoming Emperor and finally achieving vengeance upon the Jedi. He sighed and raised a hand, gathering the Force withing his palm and shaping it with an idle thought. A sphere of swirling darkness appeared and he threw it at the corpse. When it hit the Rodian shook then was consumed by the Dark Side technique until there was no trace left of him.
Now Palpatine had to ensure there were records showing his aide leaving the building before vanishing. What a bother.
Was it really worth it?
General Skywalker's command ship Resolute
The meals in the mess hall were... adequate. I've had worse tasting things served on warships before. It actually beat all equivalents of MREs I've tried to eat so far. I was eating something that tasted like a chicken with some kind of bitter sauce. Strange combination but not bad.
Skywalker and Tano were keeping me company on the corner table I had chosen. I had my back safely towards a wall with no way for someone to sneak up to me from behind.
What can I say? Healthy paranoia.
Skywalker was munching on a meal identical to my own and let me tell you, that boy did have a healthy appetite. Next to him Ahsoka was nibbling on a salad, an odd choice for someone of her species. The Togrutas were predators after all. I should know – I was married to one.
Her attention was firmly on me. I could see curiosity sparkling in her huge eyes. All around us groups of Clones and few normal crew members were helping themselves to whatever the cooks had ready. I believe it was the lunch cycle for the ship.
Few minutes ago, when we reached the table with our food and I took off my helmet, I saw surprise on the faces of my companions. I don't think that they were expecting an ordinary looking human in his mid thirties.
I think I looked underwhelming for a Sith. My lips twitched into a small smile at that thought. Ahsoka was looking like a slip of a girl, too small to be any real danger yet she was anything but harmless. Judging a Force user by his outwards appearance was a fool's bargain.
Take Yoda for example…
I swallowed another bite of the fried meat and looked at the Padawan.
"Ask your questions before you start bouncing around in excitement." I glanced at the Clones, some of whom were giving me interested glances. If the rumor mill was all right and working as its usual faster than light speed they already knew that I had saved a few of their brethren and perhaps that I was a Sith too. The later was information that I preferred to be closely guarded for the time being but knew that the cat would be out of the bag sooner rather than later. I would not be surprised if in few days Palpatine watches a copy of the conversation between me and the Council members.
Of course, it was one thing if someone learned what I was. Actually believing it was something quite different. I should be keeping reasonably low profile at leas as far as my skills with the Force were concerned for as long as I could.
On the other hand, it doing so it wasn't exactly vital. I was a Sith Warrior. Stealth was not one of our strong points even if I had some decent training in it. I hoped that little fact won't bite me on the ass one of these days. There were things that could be said about showing more from my abilities than I intended to for the foreseeable future too.
"Explanation is in order I think. How did you end in that system anyway?" asked Skywalker.
"And what does Master Yoda mean when he told us that you are from a different age?"
What was the best way to lie to Jedi? Tell as much of the truth as possible while omitting the most important things?
"I was in a battle above Korriban, the ancient Sith homeworld. It was not a notable clash between Imperial and Republic forces – just one among dozens of space skirmishes that were raging across the galaxy as the Republic Navy tried to execute a pre-emptive strike while we were preparing our final offensive against the Republic." I paused. "It's the Old Republic now, I guess. A certain imbecile who was masquerading as the Sith Lord in command of the fleet protecting Korriban panicked when the enemy received reinforcements. He employed an experimental super weapon which was mounted on his command dreadnought. The next thing I know I awoke in my interceptor in the system you found me, feeling as I've fallen out of time so to speak. At least that's what the Force tried to tell me. The rest you know." I finished my brief explanation.
"We are not fighting an Empire! Just the Separatists!" Ahsoka pouted, looking too cute for her own good. Way too cute.
Down boy, stay away from the Jedi jailbait!
I shook my head. It's been some time since I got laid. There were those Twi'lek twins about a year and half after my wife died and that was it. That was too long ago I think. I've been too absorbed in the war and tracking down the people responsible for Ashara's murder to think about sex.
That was the last thing I needed – lusting after Skywalker's Padawan. I ordered my eyes not to pass lower than the neckline of the scantily clad Togruta female and concentrated on the conversation and my lunch. Safer that way.
"Hmm. It was a thousand years since the last war with the Sith." Anakin mussed. "They were supposedly wiped out then, but Dooku and company proved that belief wrong."
"So I am from at least that long ago. Splendid." I sighed. I was pretty sure I was from three to four thousand years ago.
I frowned at the Jedi Knight and started fishing for information.
"During that war, did the Sith raid Coruscant and lay waste to the Jedi temple?"
"You must be joking! The last time something like that happened was almost four thousand years ago!" Now Ahsoka was looking at me like a favorite science project.
Yep. Nailed it.
"Lucky me." I grumbled. I could picture it already. Historians from all over the galaxy flocking to my side and begging for interviews. I wondered if I could get away with making a few graphic and bloody examples of such pests. Perhaps I should keep that for the paparazi. At worst, I should just take precautions and not get caught.
I looked at the exited Padawan. Ahsoka was once again ready to explode and start bouncing all over the mess hall.
"No. I am not a historical guide!" I snapped at the kid.
Tano pouted adorably and started chewing her lower lip. I smirked.
"That's not working either."
"Ahsoka!" I detected a hint of whining in Anakin's voice. The girl was a handful to deal with – I knew her for just a few hours and it was quite obvious. It sucked to be Skywalker.
I went back to my lunch while master and padawan were having a staring match.
Skywalker eventually won and his attention returned to me.
"You said that you were thrown into the system by a super weapon. From the past no less. Yet you apparently know more about our general situation more than we do!" Anakin gave me a pointed look.
"I've had various visions of your future for some time before the incident." I shrugged. "While they didn't make much sense given the state of the galaxy back then, I could make some conclusions. When I ended up back in that system and felt that I might be displaced, I had a few hours to think about my situation and what exactly the visions meant." If you consider me being born and living in another universe for decades before I became a ROB's handyman visions, I even told Anakin the truth.
It wasn't like I could be sure which if any set of memories I possessed were false. They all felt real when I was meditating. At least as far as the Force was concerned and that was all I had to go on by. In the end I had made a peace with my past.
I was here for the long haul and thinking too hard about ROB shenanigans was only going to give me a headache for no real benefit.
Besides, watching movies and cartoons a long, long time ago could be described as visions, right? What really mattered was that I knew the most important piece of information – who Sidious was. Of course, actually dealing with the man was all but simple.
I had no proof that the Chancellor was up to no good and I would be insane to point at him and declare him a Sith. Even if the Jedi went after him and won, that would create a precedent that could kriff me over. The last thing I wanted was for the Jedi to go after a Sith Lord – like me – without a proof of wrongdoing and get away with it. If the price for waiting was the galaxy suffering through the Clone Wars so be it.
What? I'm a Sith. There's a Sith picture next to the definition of selfish bastard in any self respecting dictionary.
Unless Sidious wasn't complete idiot, he would have contingencies in place in case he was found out. Contingencies which would be aimed in creating as much chaos across the galaxy as possible and prolonging the war. He would do it out of spite and for the advantage such madness would give him as a hunted man.
I would do the same in his shoes as well as most reasonably competent Sith Lords I knew.
Skywalker slumped over the table while he digested my answer.
"This has to be a secret Sith trick!" he moaned. "I can't tell if you are lying through your teeth or not!"
"The Force works in mysterious ways." I deadpanned. Messing with Jedi was just as fun as I remembered being before Ashara died.
"What did I do to deserve this?" Anakin bemoaned his predicament.
How the hell should I know? I ignored his grumbling and went back to my food.
Skywalker ended up stashing me in a spare quarters not too far from his own – to keep an eye on the Sith he was stuck with or something like that.
My temporally home was a small compartment, in which there was barely enough place for the single bed and the attached fresher. I got issued few essential necessities from the Clone's supplies and went to take a shower. Once I felt reasonably refreshed I fell all over the contents of a pad which was provided to me by Skywalker. It contained the manual and relevant specks for a V-19 Torrent Starfighter. It looked like a nice enough machine but it was over-engineered in my opinion.
It was armed with pair of laser cannons and two concussion missile launchers. The good news was that it had a class 1 hyperdrive and consumables for a week. If the Jedi changed their minds one of these toys should be able to get me to a civilized planet.
I fell asleep reading the manual.
Obviously Mr. Murphy or one of his irritating relatives, was well and kicking in the future too, damn them all. He decided that with me being a Sith and experienced pilot, there was no need to give me time in the simulators for the Torrent. That would be just too easy! There was about a half hour before I was informed of the fun to come.
I was awoken by a cheerful and full of energy Ahsoka. We had a briefing to attend to it seemed. I grabbed my weapons and helmet (I slept in my armor) and followed the young Togruta. She led me to one of the hangars where Admiral Yularen, the nominal commander of the fleet, and Skywalker were preparing a briefing.
Master Koon joined us on the way there and enjoyed watching me fend off Ahsoka's ceaseless questions about the past.
I was wrong about Tano. She wasn't cute, but a major pain in the ass instead. At least we reached our destination soon and the briefing began making her cease her insistent attempts at interrogation.
With capital ships being easy prey for the Malevolence's (that's the dreadnought we were after) Ion cannon, High Command – I wondered if that meant Palpatine himself or just the staff officers back on Coruscant – had decided to authorize a bomber attack against the ship.
I wondered what exactly Palpy planned. Either Grievous was too successful and needed his wings clipped or the Sith Lord hoped that the attack would fail and after the fuck up he would achieve some political gain or another. Those were the most likely scenarios, even if it could be something else altogether.
I had to remind myself that this wasn't a proper war but instead a theater in which Sidious played both sides. In my personal opinion, the whole set up was simply asking for something to go wrong and so the war could take a life of its own. Something like me.
After all, I simply couldn't compete with Palpy on the political arena. He was an established actor with decades to make contacts, alliances and find out where all the bodies were buried so he could blackmail people.
In contrast I was a newcomer with no resources and allies. All I had going for me were my own skills, experience and what I remembered about this era even if my information might not be entirely correct. I had to make myself know to the Republic at large and the Jedi in particular as an ally, perhaps get myself a commission in the army where I could climb the ranks quickly with the war going on.
Then I had to ensure that the carefully orchestrated farce that were the Clone Wars went to hell and became a real war. Doing so would greatly level the field between myself and Palpatine. When all is said and done, I've already fought in one galaxy spanning war and did quite well for myself.
This operation I stumbled in was going to be quite useful for myself. Helping stop Grievous given his next target was going to enhance my reputation with the Clones. I've already won myself a bit of kudos after saving a few of them, but helping take out the Malevolence? That was going to be very good for me – after all, Grievous was targeting the primary medical station treating wounded Clones from all over the sector.
Soon enough, the briefing was over and the clones headed to their ships we went to meet Anakin.
"It's an aggressive plan." Plo Koon looked at Skywalker. Going on by his tone, the Jedi Master disapproved.
As if that was a bad thing in a war. Usually defense didn't win it for you. Oh, wait. They were Jedi. Aggression was a baaad thing. How foolish of me… At least "my" Jedi had learned their lesson the hard way and by the time of the Cold War when I began my training, most of them were credible threat to us Sith.
Not that we admitted it aloud. Appearances matter a lot after all.
"Are you sure that the squadron would be able to handle the mission?" continued the Jedi Master.
Skywalker grinned and asked the pilots who were more than sure.
The members of Shadow squadron had the right attitude at least. I liked them already, plus they had a fitting name.
While Anakin was trying to reassure Master Koon of the impending success of the raid, the Admiral, who was staying few meters away from the Jedi was grimacing. I raised an eyebrow at that. He was the professional military man and experienced to booth. One thing I learned early as a Sith was not to scoff at the opinion of flag officers who were not Force Sensitive. Some of them knew much more than me about the matter at hand even now after I had decades of experience.
"Admiral Yularen, what do you think about this plan?" I asked the man.
The Flag-officer was surprised by my question. I gather that the Jedi didn't seek his opinion often. Or perhaps it was the fact that I might be confused for a bounty hunter who somehow had found his way on his ship. My armor gave off that vibe too, at least for those who didn't know better. The confusion was handy at times.
The Admiral's frown deepened.
"No disrespect meant to General Skywalker, but his plan has too high a chance of failure. Even if only a couple of the bombers are shot down short of the target, the rest of the squadron may not have the firepower necessary for taking out the bridge."
Anakin scowled at that criticism while Plo Koon nodded sagely.
"That's why I'll join the mission." said the Jedi Master.
"Admiral, are other bomber squadrons available or even few fighter wings as escorts?" I asked.
The Admiral was deep in thought for a minute.
"I may be able to spare a fighter squadron for escort, however, Shadow squadron has all of our operational bombers. During our last engagement the bomber wings suffered heavy losses. "
"That will have to do." I nodded.
"I'll give the necessary orders. May I inquire who you are, Master Jedi?" asked Yularen.
"I am Delkatar Veil and I am no Jedi, Admiral. I am a freelance Sith willing to help you deal with this whole Separatists mess." I smiled reassuringly.
He looked at me in confusion. "A Sith? Aren't you supposed to be extinct, not to mention enemies of the Jedi?"
"Ancient history combined with Jedi propaganda. I don't have a problem with the Jedi as long as they let me live at peace. The so called Sith fighting for the Confederacy on the other hand – they might have a problem with me. Besides, from what I understand, this Dooku character is former Jedi is he not? That should be a proof enough that not all Jedi are paragons of virtue and I'm aiming to prove that not all Sith are murderous maniacs."
The Jedi were glaring at me for my insinuations. They probably weren't too pleased with me for reminding the Admiral that the other side was led by a former Order member either.
Yularen, while not trusting me yet, was a crafty military leader and he smelled an opportunity for acquiring allies. Or at least keeping a few of his boys alive through the next mission.
"I understand you'll be taking a part of the operation." Yularen stated.
"I'll do my best even if I'm not experienced with your equipment. As a Sith I have the Force serving me and that would make all the difference in the end." I parroted the standard Sith party line.
It even worked as far as the Admiral was concerned. He had probably seen Jedi pull enough stunts with the Force not to question my words.
I snapped a crisp Sith salute which was returned by the Admiral with the current Republic equivalent that was quite different from what I remember. Then he gave a small nod of approval. I had the feeling that the Jedi weren't giving him or the other officers in the GAR the proper military courtesy their rank deserved. That notion was reinforced by the Jedi expressions which told me I might have received more respect from Yularen than any of them had gotten so far. The Admiral executed a precise formal bow aimed at the Jedi and left followed by Anakin.
"Skywalker inspires a great confidence in his men but I am glad for the additional escorts." said Plo Koon.
"We are just following his example." Ahsoka gave us a small smile as she supported her Master.
"High moral, by itself, is not enough on a modern battlefield. I hope that the addition of a fighter escort will be enough. Now where is my machine?"
I was led to a fighter, which was being checked by a team of engineers. It was parked near a roll of yellow, BTL-B Y-starfighters, more commonly known as Y-Bombers.
I was chatting with the mechanics going over my fighter and asking about getting some simulator time when the Admiral hurried to Skywalker's side. The Jedi and his Padawan were next to the bomber they would pilot once the Malevolence was located.
To the Jedi's shock it turned out that Grievous had blown up a medical convoy transporting wounded and was on his way to a secret starbase which was acting as a hospital. More importantly, that facility was the only secure place where clones from battlefields in the nearby sectors could be sent to heal. Its destruction would be a great blow for the Republic ensuring a nearly catastrophic loss of soldiers.
Damn it, I should have paid more attention to the briefing. While I was distracted thinking about Sidious, my memory had dragged enough details to fill up the blanks on what would be happening – details that the Republic apparently didn't know yet and I would have hard time explaining. The last thing I needed was to be declared and enemy spy because I knew things I shouldn't. Claiming Force induced visions couldn't explain everything, kriff it all. I should be more careful in the future.
Meanwhile, Tano started ranting at Grievous. Ahsoka was obviously outraged at the cyborg's choice of targets.
Granted, targeting the hospital required a certain level of ruthlessness but when you take into account the general attitude of the public towards the clones (and how the hell did I know that?!) it might easily be seen as a legitimate target on par with droid factories and repair shops. To most civies in the Republic (and on the Separatist backing worlds) the clones were not real people. This was a war fought by expendable armies. As long as parents on the core worlds did not have to send their sons and daughters on the front-lines the support for the war would be higher than otherwise expected. I'll give Palpatine that, he had planned this show very well.
Soon after the news came in, we were ready to launch. Eleven bombers, a squadron of ten Torrent fighters, one Jedi starfighter and me.
It was not a formidable force when you consider what we were facing. A ship like the Malevolence had to have a lot of fighters even if for some reason lacking an escorting fleet.
To my surprise another Republic fleet came in just as we were leaving. That was Kenobi's command. Obi-Wan and Yularen's capital ships were taking the long (and much safer) route towards the medical station. My insistence for more fighters and bombers was denied by the Jedi, because Mr. Murphy was in full swing. Before arriving here, the small craft of Kenobi's fleet were mauled by enemy fighters. I just knew that there was a ROB somewhere watching the show with amusement.
"I hope you know what you are doing." Obi-Wan's voice came over the frequency reserved for Jedi use. My hosts had given it to me so we had a secure comm channel for the op.
"Well, if I don't, I won't be alive for you to say 'I told you so!'" Anakin quipped.
"Skywalker, that has the rest of us walking to hell with you. You know that, right?" I asked.
"That's not reassuring. So you are Delkatar Veil, our new guest?"
"Yep. I didn't know that it was standard procedure for you Jedi to send your guests on suicide missions to get their blood pumping. This actually raised my opinion about you folks." I quipped.
Just before we entered hyperspace, Matchstick, the Shadow squadron leader said that he'll be buying the drinks if we accomplished the mission.
"I'll hold you up to that." I muttered and sent my fighter into hyperspace.
The first hyperspace jump ended near a beautiful nebula. Here was the entrance to what Skywalker considered a short cut.
"We should be careful. The nebulas could be treacherous." warned Master Koon.
The clones were busy to reassure us that they would be able to handle it. I knew a typical pilot's bravado too well not to recognize it in their voices. They were wary but refused to admit it even to themselves.
"Hey! The Padawan has opinion too!" exclaimed Ahsoka from the gunner's seat on Anakin's fighter.
A small smile played around my lips as I spoke up.
"Miss Tano, there is one paradigm which apparently never changes. No matter if you are a Jedi Padawan or a Sith apprentice, your master tends to disregard or outright ignore your opinion."
"At least R2 is on my side!" grumbled Ahsoka.
Ah. Jedi! They led me to sight see the most amazing places. While beautiful to look at from outside, the yellow-orange Nebula was a stone cold bitch to navigate. The visibility was down to few meters and the scanners were useless here. The clones had to fly after the engine light of the fighter directly in front of them. I and presumably the Jedi had no such problems. I could feel the clones and my three Force wielding companions and used them as beacons as I flew.
"The scanner is down!" exclaimed Ahsoka.
"We have to pilot by instinct." said Anakin smugly.
"Skywalker is right, Ahsoka. Clean you mind and you'll see the direction we are going." instructed Koon.
I took the opportunity to break in with my own piece of advice.
"While you are at it, try and feel us all. You could see each one of us in the Force and use us as beacons. Try avoid crashing into someone else's machine." I added.
"Nope. I still see nothing! Besides, I'm not the one flying! If we crash it will be all Skyguy's fault!" grumbled the Padawan.
"You'll learn kid."
"Hey! I don't do crashes! That often..."
We continued our flight and I listened to the clones banter in order to help stave off the boredom.
Couple of hours later I was cursing my luck. And my ingenious idea to go to the Jedi. How I could forget about what was supposed to happen in this force cursed Nebula I'll never know. I'll blame it on ROB messing with my head.
It all started when our nosy Padawan asked Skywalker how he knew about the short cut. You see, it was a smugglers route. He heard about it on Tatooine. No surprises there.
"They call it the Balmorra Run." said Anakin proudly.
"The Balmorra Run?!" exclaimed Koon.
The almost scared tone of the Jedi Master was my first clue. Then I sensed that something big and alive was moving our way at high-speed. The stream of curses that left my mouth could make an old and grizzled smuggler blush. I sensed more of the things approaching.
"Scatter! Scatter! Scatter!" I shouted and hit the afterburners.
Few of the clones followed my example. Good men. While the others were waiting for orders and Anakin and Plo were arguing Ahsoka detected the approaching danger but was ignored.
Skywalker ordered evasive maneuvers and banked right just in time to avoid being eaten by a giant neebray manta. What is with Jedi in this day and age!? The Anakin's Padawan detected the beasts on their bomber's crippled scanners before either of them sensed the things in the Force!
We found ourselves flying through a thinner part of the Nebula. The nesting place of those creatures, where scores of them were flying in a circle. Those things were easily kilometer long or bigger! I let the Force guide my hands and I was astonished to experience firsthand what was to be one with it! It was amazing. I really could see where each part of the bodies of the animals would go before it moved. It was a bit of a surrealistic experience but far from unpleasant. In fact it was almost addicting. When did I became an adrenaline junky anyway?! My Torrent danced through this labyrinth made from living flesh and I smiled at the exhilaration I felt.
The ride through the shoal of neebray mantas ended too fast for my taste. Few of the bombers scrapped pieces of their machines over the huge space monsters but otherwise they were all right. Those of us flying fighters fared better. Our rides were much more agile so we could easily dodge the living behemoths.
"Keep the course men! They won't follow us out of the Nebula!" said Koon.
"We are exiting!" declared Ahsoka seconds later.
And here we were. On the other side. The Hospital was nearby. We were just in time.
The medical station was almost in visual range when an enormous shadow appeared on our sensors. A couple of the greener Clones panicked thinking that the space mantas had followed us but soon cooler heads prevailed. That was Malevolence, our target. Which was actually a bigger concern that a group of animals, no matter how big.
It was time to see if the change I made in the timeline would be enough.
It was my turn to grimace. We were approaching the super cruiser from the side. It gave it a good angle from which to shoot at us. Beyond it I could barely make out the form of a mushroom-shaped space station. Then all hell broke loose.
The capital ship shot its massive Ion cannon at something near the station, followed by an avalanche of red turbo-laser bolts. Either some escorts which had made it on time or medical frigates attempting to escape. They were doomed. I could sense people dying.
I disregarded that feeling and concentrated my attention at the matter at hand. Grievous was idiot. He had sent a bunch of vulture droids to meet us but they were relatively few. Far from enough to put a dent in the fighter compliment of such a big ship as the Malevolence.
Even without the escorts, the bomber wing had good chances to break through such a small swarm. With the squadron of Torrent's present so few droids did not stand a chance of stopping us. So the Separatist General was either a fool or too arrogant which in the end was almost the same thing.
I had no more time for stray thoughts. The droids were in range.
I and Koon led the fighter screen and we charged at the incoming droids. While, thanks to my "new" memories I knew it intellectually, the short range at which the combat was about to take place surprised me. I should have known better.
Have you wondered why dogfights in Star Wars are at visual range? Sure in the films it looks "Cool" and that is all. Not so here. The amount of ECM thrown from the super cruiser and droid fighters was insane. While the scanners could detect the general position where the enemy fighters were, that was not good enough at the speeds at which our machines moved. So all of us, people and droids alike, had to go and mix up close and personal.
The scanners managed to cut through the ECM just outside of visual range. The first shots would be ours. I highlighted two enemies for my targeting computer and pressed the firing button for the missile launcher the moment I got a target acquisition tone.
The rest of the Torrent equipped squadron followed my lead. Before we flew into a rain of laser fire, twenty two concussion missiles separated from our fighters, raced forward and darted towards the robots which were closing with us with suicidal tenacity.
Most of the missiles found their targets while few were shot down by lucky hits. Nineteen vultures died in short lived blazes of plasma and molten metal. Then their brethren were upon us. I blew up a conveniently placed droid before breaking up my headlong charge and maneuvering to avoid destruction.
Whatever misgivings I had about my new V-19 fighter were gone. It handled like a dream as it weaved around barrages of enemy fire. I knew where danger lied and could feel in which vectors I could safely aim my Torrent. It flew in front of its afterburner plumes as I deftly guided it in a deadly waltz.
Another robot fighter shattered under the hail of my laser cannons while it was trying to acquire a firing angle over one of the bombers.
A Clone screamed as his Torrent was immolated around him.
I put the agility of my fighter to good use when two of the machines flew behind me, pissed off at the destruction of their comrades.
I led them on a lethal chase among the Y-Bomber formation. The assault machines were flying at the Malevolence counting on their shields for protection. It was not like they could really dogfight. Their gunners made a short work of my pursuers. I shouted "Thanks!" on the all hands channel and darted at another target. A lucky hit blew the "brain" of the droid and sent the machine spinning out of control. In few thousand years it might ruin someone's day.
Three vultures were flying headlong towards a pair of republic fighters. The guns of the five machines were blazing at their respective enemies. A droid fighter was destroyed. I nailed second.
The third received a grazing hit and lost control. It slammed at one of the clone fighters which was flying towards it with incredible speed. Both machines were engulfed by an explosion that illuminated the canopy of my cockpit. It shinned like a small star for the brief moment it existed.
I sensed a danger heading my way.
"Break out! Move to the periphery!" shouted Skywalker.
I hit the afterburner. I listened to the Force and raced at the direction where it whispered that safety awaited.
A massive circle made of purple lighting was flying our way. The bombers were moving just in front of me and I was overtaking them thanks to my superior acceleration.
"Shadow two! Your speed is decreasing!" shouted Tano.
I could see how one of the Y-Bombers slowed down its climb to safety. Its right engine was smoking.
"It's nothing, sir! I'm trying!" shouted its pilot.
Unfortunately, his damaged fighter was unable to keep up with the strain. A piece of his engine blew out and the whole unit lit up on fire. The bomber lost control and tumbled out of formation. I knew what was about to happen before it occurred. In my mind I watched how the wounded starfighter slammed in one of the following bombers and both machines crumbled as if made of paper. Not this time. I stretched my will through the Force. The out of control bomber lurched to the left, propelled by my mind. It was thrown out of the way of our squadrons.
I grinned foolishly when my wandering mind was slammed back into my body. My heart was thundering within my chest and I could feel blood rushing in my head. I was dazzled for few seconds before recovering. I knew, that now, when my mind recognized the phenomenon I would be able to use the Force easily without the tunnel vision I just experienced or the brief confusion that followed. I wondered whether Luke felt that way just after he shot the torpedo up the exhaust port of the Death Star.
"Squadron report!" Skywalker's order brought me back to the present.
"Matchstick is spinning out of control. Shadows Seven, Night and Ten are out of power." the answer came from Ahsoka.
"Rapier Two, five and eight are gone. Three, four and nine are out of control. I and the remains of the squadron are dealing with the rest of the clankers." reported the leader of Rapier squadron.
One more bomber and my machine were a viable in addition to what was left by this point in cannon. Or so I believed. That was bought with the lives of three clones. I wondered if that would make any difference against the capital ship.
We raced towards the leviathan.
"Reinforce forward shields!" ordered Skywalker.
"Hold this course!" that was Plo.
The super cruiser was becoming bigger alarmingly fast. My fighter danced around waves of turbo-laser fire and blasts of flack cannons.
"Skywalker! We need a new plan! The clones don't have our reflexes!" I shouted over the comm.
I already could see the debacle in the making. I've seen such things during the war four millennia ago. Whole wings piloted by ordinary men and women shattering upon the close in defenses of capitals ships. While fighters and bombers could swarm a cruiser and deal a lot of damage, that was when the small craft were in sufficient numbers or piloted by enough Force Adepts to slip through the defenses.
We weren't either.
"We'll make it! Hold on!"
I had no choice but to follow. Breaking out of my course at this time would have left me on a vector which makes me an easy target.
We reached the ship without losing any of our numbers. The bombers headed for the hull of the cruiser. Flying near it would protect them from most of the gunfire. I and Koon followed.
"We are too close!" shouted a clone before his right engine was torn out from his ship by the fire of an enemy weapon emplacement. The crippled bomber lost control and smashed into the upper hull of the cruiser. It barely dented the armor.
"Skywalker only those of us using the Force might make it at this rate!" I shouted to the hard-headed Jedi. I did a minuscule correction on my course and unloaded all my concussion missiles on a point just behind a row of flack cannons which were making the life of the clones harder. I was glad that the Force guided me correctly. Something gave up under the missile onslaught and the enemy fire slackened.
"Master, he is right! You'll make it but the rest of the squadron will be shot down!" Ahsoka supported me.
"SKYWALKER!" I roared.
"Shadow squadron! New target! Head for the Ion cannon!"
"Finally!" I muttered.
The bomber squadron banked to the right side of the cruiser. We flew towards the charging super weapon and soon were seeing the pylons with which it was attached to the Malevolence.
"Launch torpedoes!" ordered Skywalker.
Blazing, pink spheres flew from underneath the bombers. The first few struck their targets and detonated, blowing away chunks of ablative armor. Then another and another missile flew at the same places. The next wave dug deeply in armor that was red hot after being rend asunder. It was too much. Few of the support pylons through which energy was fed to the Ion cannon shattered just as the weapon was about to fire. It was the worst possible moment for such attack to happen. The super weapon was unable to unleash the energy fed to its coils yet it had to go somewhere. Its mechanism exploded, sending nearly half of the power it was containing in a diffused sphere around the cruiser. The rest of the energy however was feedback in the Malevolence. It raced through the power grid blowing up everything within its path. Power conduits melted or exploded, terminals fused into useless pieces of scrap. Turbo-laser cannons exploded once the colossal energy wave reached them.
The cruisers listed to its right side. Multiple fires could be seen blazing all over its armored hull. The leviathan was crippled.
"Good work squadron!" The Clones were congratulated by Master Koon.
I shared the sentiment and said so. Talk about snatching victory from the jaws of defeat. That stunt was too close for comfort.
Three Republic Venator class cruisers chose that moment to arrive. They jumped in near the station and soon we heard the familiar voice of Kenobi.
"Anakin do you copy?"
"Congratulations! Your missions looks like a success."
"Grievous is still in one piece." I decided to rain on their parade.
"That dreadnought could go into FTL at any moment. You and your ships should do something about it, Master Kenobi." I added.
"Calm down. We'll take it from here."
We headed to the medical station while the friendly cruisers threw everything they got at the behemoth which was trying to craw away.