PART I: KORRIBAN

"There are worse ways to die," she thought, running her hands along the stone wall behind her. "Drowning. Burning. Exploding. And hey, I'm already in a tomb, so that's taken care of." She took a tentative step in the dark, then another. "At least this place isn't haunted. I'm pretty sure blasters don't work too well on ghosts."

Step.

Step.

Step.

"Blast it!" She froze as a stone skittered off across the floor. Did they...? She waited.

Silence.

"Phew." She began to move again, cursing shyracks, cheap thermovision goggles and dark tombs of horrible Sithyness. "Why don't they ever bury themselves somewhere nice? Are the Big Bad Sith afraid of daylight and fresh air?" She sighed, once again tempted to just turn on her light and make a run for it. She hadn't seen any other animals in the place, and she was pretty sure she could move faster than a flock of shyracks, even in their territory. And a rain of blaster bolts might discourage them from following too closely... right before it brought the tomb down around her ears. She sighed again and kept inching along, hugging the wall. "Maybe killing that one group scared the rest away. Maybe they're all asleep. Maybe the ceiling'll crack open and stairs will magically appear leading up to the surface." The surface - the hot, dusty, barren, sun-scorched, terrible surface, or so it had seemed. Now it looked more like paradise.

Step.

Step.

St- "What was that?"

She paused. "No, I must've imagined it." The place was as silent as the grave. Which, well, is what it was. She was about to move on when...

"No. Oh no." She wasn't imagining it. The soft sound of wings in the dark. "Okay. Just be quiet. Just. Be. Quiet." If she didn't make any noise, they might fly right by. As the sounds slowly got closer, she held her breath. The seconds ticked by.

Closer...

Closer...

Somewhere in front of her now...

Not fast enough. Not fast enough. She screamed silently at them to move on. Her lungs ached. They were a little ways further off now, but not far enough... not far enough.

She took a breath, flicked on her light and started running, all in the same instant. She heard their screeching behind her, but she didn't even turn her head. "OUT. OUT. OUT. OUT. OUT. OUT." She sped through the corridors, stumbling here and there but never losing her balance. "Stars! Why do all these ways look the same?" She could hear them behind her, not getting farther, but not getting closer either. "Come on. You can do this. Left up ahead, then straight... then... Oh no. No no no no NO." There was more screeching coming from ahead of her. Desperately she swerved, heading into the unknown. "Maybe there's another entrance. Maybe I'll lose them. Maybe I'll find a..."

Dead end.

She stopped, staring blankly at the wall ahead of her. "Huh." She turned slowly, deliberately, drawing both of her blasters and holding them out at chest level. With one deep breath she steadied her arms and herself. "Fine, then. Come and get me."

They came.

As soon as she saw movement, she opened fire. The first one choked and went down. More came. And more. Each one she downed had another behind it. Each one was closer. The corridor filled with bestial screams and blaster fire and the beating of wings. One clipped her as it crashed, knocking her light askew. She felt it slipping off her head and tried to snag it on her arm, but the darkness won.

She kept firing. The bolts lit up the corridor in a series of still pictures. She didn't have to look to know her power cells were almost drained. She didn't care. If she ran out of juice, she'd beat the things to death.

One blaster sputtered. Then the other.

Shyracks and darkness closed in.

Then, suddenly, she heard a new sound - a familiar one, though she couldn't place it immediately. The raucous cries of the shyracks didn't stop, but seemed to change. Her two spent blasters still clutched tightly in her hands, she stood ready, peering forward. Was that... yes! A flash of light! Not a blaster, but something dancing, flickering. The shyracks' calls grew shriller and fainter. The new sound drew closer. "Of course! A vibroblade! A... vibroblade?! Who would be crazy enough to fight shyracks with that? Who would be crazy enough to be down here in the first place, besides me and... and... "

All was silent now. The light of the blade moved closer. She could just make out the shadowy figure holding it. Tall. Cloaked. Armored.

Sith.

It glided toward her silently. For a wild moment she thought it was the ghost of Naga Sadow, come to punish her for violating his resting place. Just as she was about to attack, ghost or no ghost, it stopped.

"What are you doing here?"

The voice was low, calm, and, apparently, female, overlaid by the characteristic distortion of a helmet's voicebox. "Not the ghost of that Sadow guy, then," she thought. "Bet I'm still in big trouble, though." The figure's tone wasn't threatening, but there was an unmistakable air of authority in it. Her mind raced. A number of possible lies surfaced, along with a whole lot of snappy comebacks and a bit of bravado. "Stars! What do you tell a Sith that just saved your life while you were trying to steal their stuff?" Finally she sighed and lowered her blasters.

"All right. I was looking for this... secret chamber... thing."

"Why?"

"I have to spell it out for you?" She crossed her arms. "To rob it. I'm a thief. There. You happy?" She frowned at the woman before her. "Why didn't you just let the shyracks eat me?"

The figure was silent a while. "You wanted money?"

"Well, yeah. That's kind of the point. Usually."

"And you could find no easier mark than the tombs of Korriban?"

She shrugged. "Risky, I know. We figured it was worth a shot."

"We?"

"Oh... hey, look. You caught me. And... saved me, for some reason, so I'll be straight up with you. But when we get to anyone other than me, it's no dice. I'm not getting my friends hurt because I screwed this up."

Silence again. Then, in the same smooth, compelling voice, "What name should I call you?"

"Uh... Vette?"

"Very well, Vette. You have a choice to make. First option: I kill you. I promise it will be quick and relatively painless." A pause. "If you decline, I will instead make you my prisoner and turn you over to the authorities here on Korriban. They will most likely torture you for information before executing you." Another pause. "Those are your options. Not a pleasant choice, I admit, but I wager it's a better offer than you got from the shyracks."

"You got me th... wait, did you just... make a joke?" No reply. Vette stared, thought for a bit, then sighed. "The second one, I guess. At least I'll get out of here alive. And after that, who knows what could happen?"