"Augh!" was the last sound Aneela heard as she could barely keep herself awake, for she was so exhausted. Relief flooded over Aneela as she was lying down as she saw the lifeless body of her tormentor and teacher, the one who helped her reconnect herself with the Force.
Must…make…it through this, Aneela thought to herself as she heard a sudden rumbling. The mass shadow generator was activated.
She moaned; marks from her final battle with Traya were evident. Her pain harassed her, telling her to stay in her current positions. Her instincts argued that she would die. Aneela ignored both and sat up. Halfway between her pain and gut, she realized she was going to die in this place. Then, a rock fell a few yards from her head.
She began to panic. What am I going to do, Aneela thought to herself, almost wishing she said it aloud so she could feel like someone was dying with her. She lay back down, giving in to her pain. "Die here, if I must…" she said slowly to herself as she closed her eyes and felt small rocks fall on top of her crumpled, tired body.
Memories flooded her head. She remembered when she was about six, barely trained in the Force, she had visited a beach on a planet long forgotten. It was a pebble beach with many stones, and she remembered keeping one with a large hole in it to remember the day. She still had the stone pre-Mandalorian Wars, but it was long gone and, she guessed, was probably at some vendor's small stand selling for something about five credits, saying that it was a stone from an unknown planet, but it was just a simple pebble that could be found anywhere. Half of the items at a vendor's stand had unknown origins, meaning it was probably lost and then found by a child and given to a parent as a birthday present. Then, the parent sold it in desperation for credits and it was passed along a few years, from child to child, each figuring out that its so-called magical powers was nothing, and that they were conned into buying such a valueless piece of junk.
Aneela also recalled her final moments before the trial with the Jedi Council. She remembered waiting on an uncomfortable chair in a strange room that smelled of Wookiees and spice. She then stopped herself before recalling the trial, which was probably one of the worst days of her entire life.
Then the crew came into her mind. They were on Dantooine, and all were sitting on a hill outside Khoonda. The entire group was smiling and warming themselves by a fire, despite it was still half-light out. Atris was even present, despite her hatred for the Exile and her falling. The entire group was joyful: Mical was buried in a book, like always, but had a sense of peace brought to him; Mira was sitting beside Bao-Dur, and both were teaching the other in their "specialties"; Mandalore was sitting beside G0-T0, one of the least favorite party members, and it seemed they were talking about some kind of war; Visas was amusing herself by conversing with Atris about something—history was Aneela's guess—by the way Atris was talking the most and Visas intently listening; and Atton was sitting by himself, playing Pazaak with a big book next to him titled Pazaak Tactics: Become the Next Champion Without Cheating. T3 was bothering him by beeping, obviously wanting to play some Pazaak; the only one who wasn't present on the hilltop was HK-47, who was chasing kinrath a few hundred yards away. They all noticed Aneela standing at the bottom of the hill and looked up from their activities. They waved and beckoned her to come up and join them.
"Uhhhhhhh…." Aneela moaned, realizing she wasn't on sunny Dantooine. She was on Malachor V, a cave with a permanent overcast of storm clouds and thunder but without rain. By now, most of the Trayus Academy was gone. Kreia's words echoed in her head; Aneela wondered if all the predictions would be true.
Then, she heard a faint hum of an engine, but thought she was going mad and was hearing things. Aneela closed her eyes and, at the center of the red circle in the Trayus Academy, awaited death to come upon her.
But then her plan was changed. The Ebon Hawk was coming down, and she could barely make it out since her vision was so fuzzy. What? was Aneela's first thoughts. As the ship neared the center of the crumbling academy, Aneela could see the Hawk's loading ramp was open.
The Hawk settled a few yards from the crumbling floor. Bao-Dur, Visas, Mical, Mira, and Mandalore were on the ramp. "Don't die yet!" Mandalore yelled, trying to win the competition between his voice's volume and the rock's. Aneela could hear him, but it seemed to be just a whisper. She was on the verge of unconsciousness.
"General!" said another whisper.
"Hey!" a feminine whisper said.
"What can we do?" said another feminine whisper.
"Aneela?" said a final voice.
She knew it was her team—her Jedi, save Mandalore. She heard voices, but she could not make out what they were saying.
On the ramp, all were perplexed. "I can't hold this thing still much longer!" Atton screamed from the cockpit. "This thing's gotta be invulnerable..." "She won't move!" Mira screamed back. "All the instruments are barely working," Atton yelled again, "and I'm going to lose control of keeping this steady."
"Hang on," Bao-Dur shouted at the Exile. He ran into the garage where he spent all of his "leisure time", but it was really when he was patching up the Hawk. Scrambling to find something to help the General, he drew a blank in the garage. He then ran into the cargo hold and threw open some boxes pushed up against the back. Most of the contents were useless things: food and water (but useful in certain occasions), a few blasters, a virbroblade, and a medpac. He then threw off a rope binding a few boxes together. He opened them up just to find them full of empty metal boxes. He eyed the rope and grabbed it hastily. Bao ran back to the ramp and threw out the rope.
"Grab it!" the four yelled in unison. Aneela was in a blur as the Trayus Academy was enclosing itself on her.
"I've got to get out!" Atton shouted.
Aneela, barely conscious, felt something on her chest and grabbed it, hoping it could spare her from a terrible death in the heart of Malachor.
"Hang on!" Atton's voice screamed over the beeping of instruments failing. "Get into the hyperdrive room and shut the door!"
Bao-Dur, Mical, Mira, Visas, and Mandalore, who was carrying unconscious Aneela, fled to the hyperdrive area along with HK-47, T3-M4, Bao-Dur's Remote, and G0-T0. The Remote and G0-T0 floated, but the rest of the crew braced themselves against the hyperdrive.
Atton put the seat strap on himself and flew the Hawk out of the Trayus Core as something resembling lime-green lava came forth right behind them. Oh please work... , Atton thought. A small burst of smoke erupted from the communications room. Damn it! Hope this thing stays together.
The crew flew up against the wall of the hyperdrive area as they heard cargo shifting as well as chairs flying. They assumed the ship would be a mess afterwards, but they didn't really care about that at the present moment. Bracing themselves for something worse, they clung to each other: Visas clutched Aneela's hand, for she had saved her, and Visas hoped that although she was unconscious, she could save her again; Mandalore felt Mical and Mira grab his strong, metal armor for support as T3 flew right at them; HK-47 was flat up against the wall on top of the hyperdrive; Bao-Dur was crouched in a corner, fearing that he would be crushed. They heard the hyperdrive giving out, and feared they wouldn't make it out far enough not to be caught in the explosion and annihilation of Malachor V.
The speed and the sudden but slow stop of the Ebon Hawk startled the crew in the hyperdrive area. They still clung one another, awaiting another vertical flight. About thirty seconds passed and Mandalore wrestled free of the pile of bodies clutching his arms, for the armor was his strength. Mical spilled onto the floor; Mira used the hyperdrive as leverage as Mandalore wrenched himself free from their death grasps. He carried Aneela to the medical room and turned directly at Mical. "Examine her," he commanded, "so we know she'll pull through."
Mical looked a bit scared; he had never faced this sort of situation. His mind flashed back to when he had begun his medical training. He was just a trainee, but the doctor currently on duty was put in charge of saving a victim of an airspeeder crash. Of course, Aneela's wounds were nothing like the airspeeder victim's, but he thought of the victim's pain and sufferings. He also remembered going to the wake for the victim, and that is when he vowed to himself that a patient would never die under his care. He knew this promise could not be kept, but it made him feel better when he knew he had his own standards.
"You might want to get moving," Mira told him as she hoisted herself up off the ground. Mical stared at her, and then Mandalore laying Aneela down on the bed in the med bay. He got up and began a slow walk to the med bay. I will keep the promise, Mical told himself.
In the cockpit, Atton was grinning at himself. He had flown a broken-down ship out of an exploding planet. He thought it was at least worthy a few days on Nar Shadda, but decided that he'd just settle for a round of Juma Juice with the crew, but stopped himself when he thought of Mical. They were still unsettled, but they had spaced the old witch like he had wanted ever since Peragus. Atton chuckled at this thought, and watched the stars fly by; he hadn't put the ship in hyperspace yet. The scene was way too beautiful: Atton Rand had saved the day and Aneela Lopini had saved the galaxy from another evil tyrant figure. Besides, he didn't want to push the hyperdrive, but he liked to think he was admiring "the moment".
He stared at the Pazaak cards in the copilot seat, and wondered when he would be able to play Pazaak with Aneela again. He knew that the entire crew was going to be at her aid and she would needn't be immersed in transparent oaths of servant hood ("I will do anything you ask," one says, or "Your wish is my command," another will tell her) or anyone wanting to help her for awhile. And for the first time in his life, Atton truly smiled. He felt victorious for helping in something big—bigger than he could've imagined.
Mical fumbled the computer to run a diagnostic. His skills and teachings seemed to be failing him. Mandalore leaned against the doorway, watching Mical grope his way round the med bay, trying to figure out what to do next. "Don't press any wrong buttons," Mandalore remarked as he got up. "I'm going to check on the rest of the crew."
Mical felt stupid. I'm no child, he thought. "Who put you in charge?" he asked, surprised at himself. Then he mumbled the Jedi Code to himself and calmed down. "Someone's got to be," Mandalore replied simply, "and I've got firsthand experience when medical technicians go wrong. There was a big mess to clean up so watch yourself." He turned to leave but added, "You might want to look at the rest of the group. They seem a bit dysfunctional at watching an entire planet be blown up." "And you have?" Mical asked. "If you knew my history," Mandalore said, slightly advancing upon Mical, "you might know what happened. Whenever I think of the backwater, cesspool planet I saw annihilated, I think of the terrible times I had there, scraping round to make a living." At that, he turned at walked away. Mical resumed his work, pondering the Mandalorian's words.
The engine room was now empty, for the entirety of the crew, except T3 and Bao-Dur, was out in the main hold. Mira and Visas were sitting in the chairs, and the rest of the team stood. Everyone was quiet, save Bao-Dur and T3 in the engine room and the beeping of the computers in the med bay, where Mical was furiously working. A faint sound of computers could be heard from the cockpit, where Atton was repairing his instruments. The entire crew, together, had a strange sort of fellowship seeping from them.
Mira was garbed in green Jedi robes, which she wasn't adapted to. She had worn a skimpy top and her ballistic jacket with long pants and boots most of her time on Nar Shadda. Visas was always wearing her armor, but there was some sort of difference between it now and when she had first invaded the Hawk: it was torn in several places and the golden stitching on her headpiece and robes was wearing away. Dirt was evident on the bottom of her robes and armor that seemed to flow. Mandalore was wearing his full armor body, the armor that the entire crew seemed to hang on to for dear life. He even had said himself the implants only kept him alive, but he was puzzled at what kept him going. Was it the reuniting of the clans? Was it finding Revan or finding out where she had traveled to, all those years ago? All the droids were dirty and were in need of being cleaned. Usually Atton got this job, for he was caught stealing food on a couple of occasions when Aneela was out trying to find another Jedi master. Mandalore, who usually stayed on the ship, trying to contact the clans and the HQ on Dxun, put him in charge of washing the droids so they "shined like Manaan's water" and were "as dry as Tatooine" when he was finished. Atton had heard of such places, but had never visited and wondered where they were and what they looked like. He knew Manaan was a water planet, but only that. He knew that Tatooine was a desert planet, but only that.
The crew could hear sounds of the hurrying of Mical through the small room of the med bay. He was gathering bandages and setting diagnostics, studying reports and tests. Mical, still worried of breaking his promise, felt the rumble of the engines as Bao-Dur and T3 successfully repaired part of it. The two came out of the engine room, covered in grease. "She'll get us somewhere, but it's not permanent. I don't have the right equipment to fix her up right," Bao informed the anxious crew. T3 replied with a bunch of beeping that nobody but Bao-Dur could interpret. He replied that T3 was a great astromech droid and that without him, the ship wouldn't have been repaired.
Bao-Dur settled down in a chair on the opposite side of the main hold where Mira and Visas were sitting. He put his head on his hand and looked pensive; T3 went over to the communications room to repair the blow that Atton had heard earlier. "That's a good little droid," Bao-Dur said, trying to lighten the mood. "Takes care of whatever needs fixin' and doesn't stop working it seems. I can still hear him going about the ship in my sleep." He didn't look up as he spoke, he just let his eyes stay locked on the floor. "He was helpful," Mandalore said, obviously reminiscing.
At this, Mira looked at him. "Huh?" "I'm no idiot," Mandalore said. "This ship's been everywhere." "What's that supposed to mean?" Mira said. At this, Mandalore let out a laugh. It was the first time they'd heard him laugh in awhile. "You sound like an old crewmate, that's all," he said. Mira looked down. "So you recognize this ship?" she asked. "And you seem to look around like it's just too familiar." "Yeah," Mandalore said, "I know this ship. I know the crew quarters and its adventures five years ago." At this, nobody said anymore. They could still hear Mical working furiously in the med bay.
Everything was bright. It seemed like it had been days, years even. "Uhhhhhhhhh…" Aneela moaned. The med bay was dark and the door was shut. i Great /i , she thought, i I've got those clothes on again /i . She, indeed, was in her underwear. Remembering what happened last time she was in her underwear after a battle, it wasn't pretty. She met Kreia in a morgue, of all places.
Aneela fumbled for something to turn on a light, but only the blue, red, yellow, and orange lights of the computer consoles lit up the medical room. She then looked at her wounds: she was bruised all over, her arm was in a cast that people with sprains wear, her hand had a bandage on it, and she was patched up on various places. She was no longer dirty with the dust and ash of Malachor V on her. Her hair was down, not it's normal state of a bun and a small piece hanging out.
She pressed her ear to the door and heard voices. Aneela wished to leave badly, but she wouldn't leave without clothes. She frantically searched for a metal box or plasteel cylinder. She searched the bed for a drawer that might contain clothing. She found a bunch of medpacs that were useless to her now and few antidote kits as well as a life support pack and various medical instruments. (Aneela couldn't figure out their purposes). She searched a second drawer and brought up a strange piece of cloth that resembled a gown buried beneath books on obscure medical training: Twi'lek Birth Rituals, Skin Conditions of a Rodian, and Duros Health Anatomy. She threw the gown on and found it too big. Oh well, she thought.
She made sure the robe was secure as she opened the med bay doors to find the main hold was empty: Mandalore, G0-T0, and Mira were nowhere to be found. She then went to the empty crew quarters where Kreia meditated and manipulated and rummaged for some real clothes. She found a bowl of rotten fruit and a bottle of Juma in Atton's compartment as well as Pazaak magazines and about five side decks.
She threw the drawer shut and went to Mira's to find her ballistic jacket and skimpy shirt with her long pants. Knowing Mira, she would put a bounty on her head just for rummaging through her things. Aneela pushed the drawer shut.
Next was Kreia's old drawer which had nothing in it except for a virbroblade and, as a joke, a pamphlet dropped in that was entitled "The Art of Manipulation" that was handwritten and full of obscure stick people drawings. Aneela guessed this was another handiwork of Atton.
The last drawer was Bao-Dur's. She found a few neatly folded clothes full of grease and extra large shirts as well as a lot of repair parts organized and labeled in containers. She shut the drawer in dismay and went to the dormitory that Visas claimed.
Visas's dormitory was empty like the other, which left Aneela wondering where she was. She didn't give it another thought as she went to the first drawer: Mical's. Inside, were various sets of Jedi robes as well as a medical book entitled something in Twi'lek, "The Genetic Makeup of Your Twi'lek Child". Aneela stared at the book, and replaced it with a strange face.
Her next victim was Mandalore. His drawer was full of stimulants. Aneela was convinced that stims and implants kept him going, but that was just an opinion. Don't these people own extra clothes, she thought.
The next drawer was Visas's. It was empty. Dust gathered at the bottom. Aneela wondered what Visas slept in, what she used for money when they went to cantinas, and where she kept her other things.
She then went to her own bed, finally. She never slept in it though, for fear of Mical watching her. She also didn't sleep in the other dormitory, for fear of Atton watching her also. Flinging open the drawer, she found nothing. Dismayed, she threw it shut and went over to Mical's drawer and stole an extra Jedi robe. Although it didn't fit her right, she still wore it.
Then Aneela suddenly realized her lightsaber was missing. Now she started to panic. She threw the med bay's robes in a heap in her drawer underneath her bed and ran into the garage, hoping to find Bao-Dur or at least HK-47. Not a droid or soul was present. She rushed about the ship and even checked the cargo hold twice. Upon rushing to the cockpit, she was grateful to see Mira asleep in the communications room.
Good, she thought. I'm not alone. She walked over to Mira and tapped her on the shoulder. "Mira?" Aneela said, almost afraid of Mira angry.
Mira instantly awoke, her hand going to her holster where her lightsaber was. "Hey!" Mira said, grinning. "You're alive." "I'm hard to kill," Aneela said, smiling. She was glad Mira was there.
Aneela stared at Mira: her eyes were anxious but it was obvious she wasn't saying anything. "You want to hear it?" she asked Mira. As if a weight had been lifted and her wish granted, Mira eagerly nodded.
"Okay," Aneela said. "I was unconscious as the Hawk crashed on Malachor, and found myself on the brink of going crazy. 'I'm on Malachor V,' I told myself, 'for some reason.' I walked on and found those troublesome storm beasts…"