35 BBY – Current Year
In travel from Nar Shaddaa
Taking the same route back to Naboo, Naruto reviewed what had happened during the meeting. The surprise ending was the most prominent part on his mind, 'What the hell would he want with a lightsaber?' he questioned to himself but quickly decided that it might be better to question the person sitting in the co-pilot's seat.
'They are supposed to know each other and have a history,' he thought before asking, "What do you think he would want to do with the lightsaber? An oddity to complement a collection of other rare items?" Plagueis took a moment before responding, "No, I don't believe so." Searching his thoughts, he reviewed all that he knew about Popara in an effort to deduce the Hutt's true plan or agenda.
"Does he know about you being a Sith?" Naruto then questioned as the thought occurred to him. Asking such a request from such a person was either a coincidence or something more. "I never suspected that he did..." the Sith Lord started to say, "...but now I'm not sure anymore." he admitted to his student.
"My dealings with him were strictly business and he was one of many influential beings that attended my yearly Gatherings on Sojourn, which is...was an inherited estate on a private moon that my family owned. I did have quite an interest in such items but I always thought that I kept my black market purchases completely anonymous. However, with the wealth that he has, it's always possible that he found out or at least suspected something.
When he was born, it had only been about a hundred and twenty years since the final battle of the Ruusan Campaign and the destruction of the Brotherhood of Darkness. The Republic was in such turmoil at the time that the conflict and the Sith no doubt had a lasting impact on those even a generation or more after it's end. It's even possible that he has had dealings with more than one generation of the remaining Sith line." Plagueis considered and he didn't like the notion. Having so much known about him by not just Popara, but possibly the sons as well, was not to his liking.
'How far would information travel if they wanted it to or they couldn't keep a secret.' He thought as he considered the two offspring. He knew Popara would keep their bargain secret but he had no previous dealings with Mika or Zonnos. 'They could be liabilities.' he acknowledged and wondered how far Sidious had ears, 'Does his influence and ears reach even into Hutt Space?'
While not able to answer the question, the Muun moved on to the matter at hand, "As to why he wants the lightsaber, I think it is safe to say that he isn't interested in it as an oddity or something of a trophy like a Hutt such as the late Jabba would have been."
"The force-sensitive Twi'leks?" Naruto guessed and Plagueis thought about the possibility but ultimately discarded it, "If that was the case then he would want more than one. No, this is something he wants but knows that he wouldn't normally be able to obtain it. He didn't know for sure when he asked that I could obtain one. The construction of a lightsaber is sacred to the Jedi and they monitor the movements of any lightsaber taken from deceased Jedi or other Sith related source. Even the Hutts are wary of purposefully or directly getting on the wrong side of the Jedi. This is something he will keep secret as he knows and understands the implications of owning one."
Since it was obvious that Popara couldn't use it and that the Twi'leks could not either, Naruto asked, "Does that mean they have someone else in their ranks that is force-sensitive and they wish to arm them with such a weapon?"
"I think we are overlooking another possibility, one that is simpler and does explain everything..." Plagueis began and Naruto turned to better hear what his Master had to say, "...He seems no stranger to force-sensitivity, especially with the three Twi-leks, and he does have two sons."
"A force-sensitive Hutt?!" Naruto said with surprise evident on his face. Plagueis nodded to say that he was serious and said, "Rare they are, but it does happen. The Hutts are not inclined to ever send one of their clansmen away to be trained in any way and especially not to the Jedi Temple. Popara gains his wealth through legitimate means, which makes him different from most other Hutts but a Jedi Hutt would be the antithesis to all other Hutts in the Galaxy. They're a secretive bunch and if such information got out, it could be damaging to Popara. He's no doubt kept it hidden from everyone, possibly even the other son."
"Mika." Naruto said after Plagueis was finished. It was not his guess as to the identity of the force-sensitive son but rather what he believed to be true given what he had seen of both sons.
"He is certainly the more likely of the two unless the dimmer Zonnos is more deceptive than he appears. Mika's form is slimmer compared to his much larger brother Zonnos and I would say that he seems more athletic than most other Hutts. This implies that he keeps himself fit or perhaps trains regularly. There cannot be many options for training to use the Force as the Jedi keeps a close eye on any force-sensitive groups. He therefore probably is left to try and train himself. I would go so far as guessing that he has already tried to build a lightsaber and failed, going by intuition rather than actual knowledge, but ultimately he won't know the key aspects to the construction and crystal tuning." Stated Plagueis as he revealed his thoughts and what he could surmise from his own intuition.
"So Popara is looking to get a lightsaber for his son. What exactly does completing this task entail for us?" asked Naruto while he sat back in the seat, wondering how much more of his spare time fetching a lightsaber for a Hutt would take.
"There are several ways to complete this task with some putting us more at risk than others. Stealing a lightsaber from a Jedi is the most risky and therefore should not be undertaken. That leaves building a lightsaber as the odds of us finding one on the black market to purchase are close to zero. While I used to have to a collection of lightsabers, both Sith relics and those taken from Jedi, that collection has probably been added to my Apprentice's compendium. Likely hidden away somewhere safe where no one would know to look or even find by accident." Responded the Sith Lord to his student.
"So we build one. That shouldn't take long at all, I have a few leftover synthetic crystals from the last batch I created and spare components." Commented Naruto as he started planning on how to make the new lightsaber.
"No, that would be too risky," Plagueis quickly responded, as he thought about their other options. "While a red colored lightsaber does not always mean 'Sith', a synthetic crystal will tell the Jedi that it was from a Sith and they would be very interested in discovering where it came from. The best solution is to create a very plain lightsaber that uses a natural crystal which is either green or blue."
Slightly surprised at what Plagueis was suggesting, Naruto soon asked the obvious question, "If you no longer have any of those lightsabers, just where will we obtain a natural crystal?"
"Outside of the closely guarded planet of Ilum, the Jedi monitor the sources for the more stable and suitable crystals which can be used for lightsabers. There is however one location that I have heard about which neither the Jedi nor anyone else monitors or even remembers. This location is a cave system on the planet Dantooine. Close to an old Jedi Enclave is where the entrance to the cave is supposed to be, though I cannot give you any more information besides that. I have never tried to journey there to verify the information as I don't have a need for natural lightsaber crystals and the Enclave is likely destroyed or picked clean.
Unless something has changed in the past centuries, the planet's only inhabitants are likely minimal with perhaps a few settlers. It was abandoned sometime in the distance past and forgotten even to the Jedi, despite how important it used to be to their Order. You will therefore have to search out these locations and find a suitable crystal for the lightsaber." Stated Plagueis and Naruto thought over the information.
He knew where Dantooine was because it was featured on the Star Map and one of the locations that the Rakata had traveled to. 'It's possible that the Jedi Enclave is near the Raktan ruins on the planet.' he thought but there was one other thing he wanted to inquire about, "A trip to Dantooine will take at least a week just to get there, another week to find what I am looking for and imbue the crystal with the Force, and then another week to get back. You also agreed to a time-period of one month. Just how am I supposed to perform all of my other duties for Naboo and the Black Sun, while simultaneously being on Dantooine?"
Plagueis stopped in his musings and planning as the question finished. It wasn't something that he had properly taken into consideration during his decision to go to Dantooine. During the time needed, it was highly likely that the Black Sun would message for a mission and Naruto would obviously need to perform a duty assignment at least once or twice. 'Should I go to Dantooine instead?' considered the Sith Lord but ultimately he didn't think that he could be away from his lab or recording devices for such a long period.
"It can be managed without you. I'll have someone else fill in on duty assignments and if a mission comes up, I'll go myself with one of the others in your guise," reasoned the Sith Lord and Naruto turned back to focus on his piloting.
'Does he even realize what's involved with filling in for me? Apparently in his mind, I'm easy to replace,' thought Naruto derisively before pushing the thoughts aside to keep them from being read and to focus on what was on his horizon, 'So I guess I'm going to Dantooine. This should give me an opportunity to look for a crystal of my own lightsaber and not just one for the Hutts.' he contemplated and wondered what options were available to him and if a crystal would 'call out' to him while in the caves.
A shadow moved over the door, covering most of the surface and a hand reached to touch the control panel, announcing that a guest had arrived. The figure however was not going to Dr. Shilaea Montacc with a job offer and was not a friend, family member, or really even a welcomed guest. He was angry and wanted answers. When no one came to the door or unlocked it, he tried to remain calm and instead of breaching the door, he took a move civil approach. With a wave of his hand, he used the Force to bypassed the lock and forcibly opened the door.
Having been inside the home and work area before, the tall cloaked figure moved across the simple floor plan and only stopped in the living room to make sure that indeed no one was there. One hand automatically moved to his side, ready to the draw the hidden lightsaber. It had remained in his possession for almost two decades and he had been using it since before becoming even a padawan at the Jedi Temple, years before his turn to the dark-side. Despite the turn, he never bothered to change the color of the blade and it remained a light blue.
Dr. Motacc had not been responding to any of his messages. After such a productive meeting between them, several weeks before, he thought for sure that she would be headed for the Cularin System immediately to take up his offer. 'Especially after using mind tricks to convince her to work for me.' he remembered as despite her strong will, he had managed to charm her into believing he was a man named Fesvk Wefos and worked for a company out of the Cularin System.
That wasn't his name and he didn't work for the company known as the Usable Resource Location, Recovery, and Development Corporation (U.R.L.R.D.). The name he had given her was a real person and the fake branch office he had created in the Cularin System was believed to be associated with the company. All of his employees had even been duped into believing that they worked for a section of U.R.L.R.D.
Satisfied that no one was in the apartment and that no one had been there for a while, the dark figure relaxed slightly and headed for Dr. Motacc's work area. Walking in, he immediately noted the differences in the current state of the room and how it had been during their meeting. 'She's packed up quite a few datapads,' he noted and sat down in her chair as he continued to survey her workroom. Activating the desk and holopad, he sifted through her recently opened files and determine when the device was last used.
'Three weeks,' he realized and after trying to look through the recent files, he found that there were many files which had been displayed and accessed but which were not in the database and he didn't have access to them.
'What were you working on or who else did you meet with, Dr. Motacc,' he questioned and reclined slightly in her chair, remembering their meeting. She had complained about someone that had contracted with her. He was suspicious and very young but no name had been given. With no evidence in the workspace or home of a struggle, he invariably had to believe that Dr. Motacc had gone willingly with someone else or had found out something about him and had fled.
Calming his mind and searching with the Force for answers, he believed it was more likely that Dr. Motacc had left with someone and of her own free will. 'Whatever it was that interested her, it was stronger than my weak hold over her,' he realized and scowled before standing up and moving out of the work room.
The fact that she wasn't answering his calls either meant that she couldn't be reached or that she was purposefully avoiding him. Either way, he wasn't happy with the setback in his plans. Dr. Motacc was supposed to have been on Genarius by that point and have been working on the propulsion system for his floating city. It was what she had agreed too and what she was going to do for him, whether she wanted to or not.
'How to track her down?' he wondered before realizing that at some point, she would likely contact or be in the position to contact someone close to her, likely a friend or relative. Normal people did this from time to time in order to check in or keep in touch. 'She does have a good relationship with her parents,' he recalled from their conversations as he remembered her mentioning them. Looking around the living room, he spotted a holophoto which showed a few brief moments of them all getting into a pose for family photo.
The display sickened him but he removed the datachip from the device and knew what he would do next, 'I'll track them down to make a quick visit and ask them what their daughter has been up to. If they don't know anything, then they'll be worried and try to contact her. I'll bug their communication devices and as soon as she does respond to them, I'll be able to track her location through the transmission. Then I'll be able to retrieve her, personally.' he thought right before swiftly leaving the apartment.
Patrolling through the streets of Keren, Naruto walked side by side with a similarly uniformed Juugo. Due to a computer glitch at headquarters, he was not assigned to be with an older officer or guard and was given a solo duty assignment without anyone else realizing it. Normally this was unheard of for a cadet in the program but Naruto had caused the glitch on purpose to provide an opportunity to give Juugo enough training to perform his job for a short period while he was away on Dantooine.
There would be a period while looking for or tuning lightsaber crystals that he may not be able to use clones to switch and create a fresh one to work his assignment. He therefore had to find a replacement, and Juugo was his first choice. Getting one of his uniforms to fit Juugo was problematic as the orange-haired teen was several inches taller and broader than Naruto so Juugo was using a henge.
While Naruto stood rigid and stern faced, Juugo was nodding and smiling to people that they passed. "You know, you don't have to greet everyone you see." Naruto quickly commented and Juugo just turned to him and said, "I'm just being friendly."
Ignoring the response, Naruto asked, "Have you looked over all the material on the datapad I gave you?"
Juugo's look turned slightly sour before replying, "All the laws and regulations, yeah I looked at them." It was a significant amount of very boring material that Naruto had provided and a difficult read.
"It's only going to be two days at most, right?" Juugo asked while they walked through one of the main streets. "Only if everything goes as planned." Naruto commented and seeing the disbelieving look on the taller teens face, he added, "When do our trips to new places ever go as planned?"
Juugo frowned slightly as he remembered all the problems they had on trips to new planets within the past year. Seemingly something always went wrong or awry. In the past it was usually a major problem but recently, especially on the Black Sun missions, everything had gone well with only minor problems. 'Best not to jinx it by saying anything further,' thought the orange-haired teen.
"Have you been practicing on the different land speeders?" Naruto quickly changed the subject and Juugo nodded. The previous day they had spent quite a bit of time going over the operation of all the vehicles in case Juugo was required to operate one. Naruto was a very proficient with every vehicle that the Naboo Royal Security Forces used so Juugo had to at least appear competent.
Going over a few other things he wanted to discuss with the taller teen walking next to him, Naruto took a few calming breaths. 'Am I nervous about this?' he wondered and searched his feelings for an answer. Juugo was capable and he believed that the transforming teen was up to the task but he still didn't like the idea of leaving everything to someone else. A slight mistake or the dispelling of the henge and they would have quite the problem, or at least he and Juugo would have quite the problem.
Coming out of such thoughts, Naruto looked around the area they were in and realized that Juugo had been leading him to an area of the city near the starport. 'He probably wants to stop and see Ann and Tann.' Naruto realized as he knew that the Twi'lek females had just returned or at least were scheduled to return that morning.
They had managed to find a buyer for the minerals from Mustafar and just in time as Gato claimed that the first shipment would be ready within the week. Realizing that it might be best to check in with them, Naruto didn't comment and allowed Juugo to lead him towards the rented building that the business was located in.
Standing in the center square of the city, Dr. Shilaea Motacc stared at the statue that was situated in front of her and the centerpiece of the square. A cloaked figure stood on a pedestal that contained several lines of writing beneath the statue. The statue and the pedestal were both carved from the same white colored stone and the features of the statue were completely concealed by the cloak. Likely it didn't even have a face in the shadowed area under the hood but for some reason, Shilaea knew that the figure was a woman.
She couldn't explain how she knew the gender because the cloak concealed body shape and any identifying features, but every time she gazed upon the statue, a feeling of familiarity washed over her. Looking from the faceless figure to the writing on the pedestal, Shilaea pursed her lips at the fact that she was still trying to decipher what it said.
'Obviously it's important.' She had said to herself on more than once occasion while looking at the centerpiece of the square. It was always there as if calling towards her and wanting her to be able to read from it. Though she wanted to touch the statue, she refrained from making any motions as if her touch would be in some way detrimental to the hard stone that had managed to weather thousands of years but with surprisingly little deterioration to show for such a span of time.
Coming to the center of the city had become part of her morning routine, and she was determined that one morning she would enter the square with the knowledge of the Seoularian language and be able to figure out what the writing under the figure said. It had only taken the first few days to determine that the site was indeed Seoularian. She had positively identified the same characters being present at her site as those found on small pieces present at the other dig sites in the Galaxy. However, archaeologists had never managed to decipher what few characters that they had discovered, actually meant.
'Then it's all up to me,' she thought with renewed determination and despite being alone, save for her assistant droid, 7A-B2, Shilaea could not be more thrilled at her current situation. A monumental discovery was all hers and she would essentially decipher all on her own the Seoularian language. Taking her eyes off the statue, she took a deep breath before heading out across the city to the discovered library and one of the schools.
They were the best places for her to be able to learn more about the Seoularians and their language. The unique characters were likely developed before the widespread use of Aurebesh, which was the written form of Basic. Smiling at the thought of making such accomplishments, Shilaea began walking a little faster and out-striping Beetwo, as the droid tried to keep up with her pace.
Though Menma had requested that she look into the energy source first, in her mind, figuring out the language was the first and foremost priority. 'His concerns come second or even third,' she decided and remembered the project that she would be working on for him during her stay. Interdiction technology and theory was something that she had heard about, however it was not something that she, or anyone for that matter, was very familiar with.
No one currently used technology to inhibit hyperspace travel and hadn't for hundreds, if not thousands of years. That she knew of, no scientist was even researching such applications but it had existed at one point. It was only by chance that it had been mentioned in something she had read while still in school but the unfamiliar terms had stuck in her mind and peaked her curiosity. She had therefore looked into it, discovering what little information existed in databases concerning the technology.
However, the detailed plans that Menma had provided were much more informative than anything she had found during her short hunt for information. 'Apparently tractor beams, and powerful ones at that, were used in the past to produce the interdiction field. However I already know that something like that won't work anymore. Tractor beams aren't able to create the required mass shadow to prevent modern hyperdrives from operating and they would simply be powerful tractor beams and not an interdiction field device,' she thought while going back over her own knowledge of such topics and what she had gotten from the plans.
Planets, stars, and other celestial objects all had a mass shadow, a term used to refer to the gravity wells that such objects created and which surrounded them. Any ship traveling through hyperspace wanted to avoid such obstacles as they would be pulled from hyperspace and could collide with the objects. In addition, a large mass shadow could prevent any ship from entering hyperspace, so vessels needed to get a certain distance away from a celestial body before being able to jump to hyperspace.
'The plans he provided are terribly inefficient and outdated in relation to current hyperdrive technology. Such a design won't be able to do much at all. Although...' she thought while going over an alternative theory she had been contemplating to solve the problem, '..it may be possible to create some kind of gravity well projector that would completely bypass the need for any tractor beams and created the needed gravity to not only prevent hyperspace jumps but also pull ships out of hyperspace. The created interdiction field would only be temporary but likely enough to work on any ship, no matter the size or hyperdrive configuration.'
Slowing down while deep in though, Shilaea began reviewing possible designs and configurations in her head. Despite being in a Seoularian city, and the archaeological site of her dreams, she still fell back into the habit of getting a little lost in her design work. Such technology was a little outside of her expertise but then again, it was likely outside of everyone else's as well. Moving to the shoulder bag she was carrying outside of her environmental suit, Shilaea took out her datapad and began jotting down more notes to her files concerning the project. She planned to spend the whole day at the site and work on the Menma's project later on.
'I may have to ask a few colleagues for their input or for clarification but I should be able to get a preliminary design done before the end of my first three months. It will take him a while to make a working prototype to test but hopefully I can stay here for much longer,' and it wasn't until that moment that she realized that nearly three weeks had already elapsed since first arriving on the planet.
'I haven't even contacted my parents to tell them where I am or checked my messages back home,' she quickly realized with a look of surprise and slight embarrassment. Making a note to herself on the pad, she put down a reminder to do those things before going to bed. Though it was a pressing matter since it had been three weeks since she had last spoken with anyone, Shilaea knew it would have to wait until after the sun started going down. She sometimes went long periods of continuous work without any contact with the outside world, so it had become commonplace to those that knew here.
At the moment, there were discoveries to make and she had about ten more hours of sunlight to go through the buildings she was headed towards, 'And possibly bring some items back to continue working on,' she considered and wondered if she should move her speeder bike closer to locations she was headed to.
Though long, the trip to Dantooine wasn't difficult or required constant attention like some of the jumps that Naruto made when finding Seoul or a few of the other planets that showed up on the old star maps he had access to. That was the primary reason that he was allowing his heavy eye lids to close and had found a comfortable position in the adjustable pilot's seat.
As he felt himself slip off into sleep, a buzzing made itself known and though a part of him wanted to ignore it, he groaned before opened his eyes and took out his holographic communicator. Accepting the waiting signal, Naruto was greeted to the face of the Iktochi and Black Sun Vigo, Narees.
"You look tired. Hope I didn't wake you on your long journey but I'll need you to divert to the Saleucami System for a mission," Narees informed him with a smile and Naruto was left wondering if the man knew where he was going or if Black Sun agents were keeping tabs on him while on Naboo. Appearing unfazed by the statement, Naruto replied, "And what is it that I'm going to be doing in the Saleucami System?"
"The Techno Union has just acquired the planet Saleucami. They've set up a government, Techno Union owned and controlled, of course, and will soon start building another of their techno worlds. At the moment, more than one convoy of ships are headed toward the world. The ships are all Hardcell-class interstellar transports and are only lightly defended. They should be easy pickings but you only need to acquire the transport which is carrying the security and battle droids.
Anything you take from the ships you can keep as I don't care about the construction materials, only the droids matter for future missions. Should you not acquire the droids than you won't be getting paid at all. The information on their flight paths and schedule is known to very few, so no one should be expecting an attack," Narees informed him and Naruto nodded as he received an information packet that apparently contained details on the Techno Union ships so he could prepare a raid and board them.
The message was soon terminated and Naruto was left to look over everything he had been sent. The transports in question were large, at about two hundred and twenty meters long. Interestingly enough, they didn't use repulsorlift technology but relied solely on rocket thrusters for vertical landings as well as sublight travel. 'They also have two hyperdrives, a class one primary and a class eight secondary. This is definitely one of those times where interdiction technology would make things easier,' Naruto thought before remembering that he wouldn't be going to Saleucami.
Frowning at the further realization that Plagueis was leading the assault, he knew that his Master would not be interested in taking as many ships as possible and would likely only target the transports with the droids, as per the mission. 'Those construction materials could be very useful to me,' the blonde thought but wasn't sure if he should try to press the matter when he contacted Plagueis. Using the communicator, he chose his Naboo estate from the list of contacts he had and would relay the information.
Assembling the available members of the group, Naruto waited via holoprojector in a seat at their meeting table. He had a narrow view of the room from the projector but could hear everything that was said and only needed to inform them of the mission he had been tasked with. Once everyone that could be there, was, he began, "A mission has been assigned to me from the Black Sun. It concerns a raid on a convoy entering the Saleucami System. The target are these ships," Naruto said while switching his figure to an image of the Techno Union transport ships.
"The correct ship must be identified and it's cargo seized. It contains Octuptarra combat tri-droids and Fastlatch-class security droids which are headed to help guard and secure new facilities which are slated to be built on the Techno Union acquired planet of Saleucami. Though the Black Sun is interested only in the droids the other vessels contain numerous building materials and other paraphernalia, so I suggest..." Naruto began before being interrupted by the Sith Lord.
"I believe that I can handle something such as this. You have an important mission that you must tend too as well. Let us handle things here and focus on obtaining the crystal." Stated Plagueis through his vocabulator and the tension in the room increased significantly. A brief silent moment occurred between Naruto and Plagueis. Neither was able to read the other and before anything else happened, Naruto said, "...I've sent all the information."
Reaching out of view of the projector, the right arm of the hologram disappeared and presumably touched something the message was terminated. For almost ten seconds, no one left in the meeting room said anything, though numerous thoughts went through their minds. Plagueis was no different as he was left wondering what the ending look was about.
He could form his own plan of attack and designate the priority of the other targets given the provided mission parameters. Naruto wouldn't be running the mission and would be across the Galaxy on a separate errand. There was no need for him to get too involved. Time was short and they needed to get moving fast, he felt there was no need to try and go above and beyond what was called for in the mission.
However, what he was confused about was the ending look. It spoke of a something seriously wrong between them but he could not sense any of that. 'He appeared as a blank slate to my senses, everything hidden and nothing shown,' thought the Sith Lord and the look reminded him of something or perhaps someone but he couldn't be sure at that moment what it was.
Deciding to deal with whatever was going on with his student at a later date, Plagueis quickly chose who would be going with him and wanted to get moving to the Saleucami System as fast as possible. Having not been on Sarafur or involved with the slow building of the fleet, he didn't actually know what vessels were ready to leave for a mission, specifically what type and how many.
Looking to the Demon Brothers and the silent assassin droid at the table, he knew that they were well versed in that information and would be coming along for the mission. Juugo would have to stay, as would Karin and given that Kabuto was busy elsewhere, he contemplated Suigetsu for the mission but eventually decided against it. Previous meeting had shown Suigetsu's lack of tact in dealing with certain situations and he wasn't sure that the teen could handle the altered environments on the Techno Union ships. Skakoans lived in high pressure environments and the methane-based air, which would be present on the ships piloted by their species, would not be breathable by the teen.
'Does he even know what he's doing?' wondered Naruto as he made himself some food in the galley of Forty-Two. He was having trouble as he burned the food he was trying to make and would need to start over. Stopping his pacing of the galley, he stood still and took several deep breaths before pushing all of it out of his mind.
'Let him do what he wants, for now. Chances are he'll either screw it up or not want to take over for me ever again. He never taught me anything about raiding or space combat, which leads me to think that he probably doesn't know much himself,' thought Naruto as he opened his eyes and heard his stomach make noises. Taking out more prepackaged food, he set about preparing his food again while paying more attention to the settings and what he was doing.
'In a few more days I'll be on Dantooine and likely too busy to even remember this,' he concluded with a glance to the item sitting on the table, his lightsaber. Looking at the item triggered a number of different thoughts, separate from anything to do with Plagueis and the Black Sun.
'I wonder what kind of crystal I'll find...or is it what kind of crystal will call out to me?' he questioned as he wasn't sure exactly how to go about finding a suitable natural crystal for their lightsaber. He knew the theory behind it and had attuned his synthetic crystals during its creation for use in his lightsaber but did natural crystals use the same process.
'I'll figure it out soon enough,' he thought and remembered that he only had a month before they needed to go back to Nar Shaddaa with the lightsaber. Sitting down at the nearby table when his new batch of food was complete, he began eating. Despite that the food was good or at least not terrible, trying to garner favor with another Hutt seemed to put a bad taste in his mouth.
Sitting in one of the meeting rooms on the Tsukinowa, the Demon Brothers sat across from HK and waited for the fourth person to join their meeting. A signal soon arrived and touching the controls for the holoprojector in the room, an image fazed into existence in a nearby chair. The figure of Kabuto materialized into the room and looked around with interest at the others in the meeting.
"I certainly hope this is important. Calling me to a secret meeting, likely right under Naruto-kun's or Plagueis' nose, seems like something they would not be thrilled to learn. I have priors for betrayal and wouldn't want to lose the trust that I have since gained or call into question my loyalty again," Kabuto mentioned before anything else was said in order to initial voice his concerns if anyone else was watching.
"We're alone you jackass. Nobodies listening in, I've made sure of it, so cut the crap. Naruto is thousands of lightyears away and Plagueis is in his personal quarters, halfway across the ship," Stated Gozu and Meizu proceeded to explain, "We're on the Tsukinowa." Kabuto nodded at the explanation as 'half way across the ship' meant relatively nothing if they were on the Vulture or Forty-Two. Across a three kilometer ship that Plagueis had never set foot on before was certainly better for keeping the meeting a secret, especially if they were going to discuss what he believed the meeting was about.
"I see, then please enlighten me as to recent events and the reason for your call?" asked Kabuto and Meizu looked to Gozu before proceeding, "Things are coming to a point of no return. At our recent meeting, a look was given that spoke to everything that will likely be happening soon."
"A look? You're basing the gathering of another meeting like this on a single look?" inquired Kabuto as he felt that perhaps the brothers were overreacting or not reading into the situation properly. It was Gozu's turn to speak and inform Kabuto of the rest, "After going to a meeting together, Naruto was sent off on some errand to a planet I've never heard of, while Plagueis is taking over all of Naruto's duties. Juugo is masquerading as him in the security forces while Plagueis himself is leading this Black Sun assigned mission."
'Highly unusual,' was Kabuto's immediate thought at being told the information. As far as he knew, Plagueis had kept out of nearly every Black Sun mission. A sudden and complete change in operations spoke of something significant happening. "What was their joint meeting about or who was it with?"
"Hutts," said Meizu and the single word only blew the situation out of proportion concerning the possibilities of what could really be going on. Historically, every time they had met with Hutts, something happened and such a meeting became synonymous with a bad omen for the rest of the group.
The first time was the fiasco on Tatooine where both Naruto and Juugo had nearly been killed. Then after a meeting with Borvo, they had been forced to secretly work for the Black Sun. While it was a lucrative arrangement, Kabuto knew from past dealings with Danzo's Root, that at some point, an asset was no longer needed and if the Black Sun wanted them to keep their dealings secret, killing all of them was a viable option.
"I see. Do you think then that Plagueis has learned of Naruto's side projects and that is the reason concerning his sudden involvement?" asked Kabuto as he became much more serious.
"We don't know for sure, but we do know that Naruto hasn't messaged us to hide the device that he keeps in the hangar. Plagueis will not only lead the mission but also meet with the Black Sun Vigo afterward," stressed Gozu and Kabuto understood what the fellow group member was getting at. Either Naruto had forgotten to message them, which rarely happened considering how organized the teen was, or the blond simply didn't care anymore if Plagueis discovered any of the things that he had been keeping secret. Both possibilities were very concerning.
"Estimation: The probability of the missing funds and secret projects being discovered is extremely high in such a situation." Suddenly announced the droid and three pairs of eyes turned towards the glowing photoreceptors.
"I almost forgot you were at this meeting," commented Kabuto before he asked, "You've dealt with Sith Lords before, I take it. What do you think the outcome will be?"
"Statement: Based upon past dealings with Sith and historical information in my memory, such a revelation will lead to a schism between the two organics. One will likely confront the other and the probability is also high of a fight to the death." The meeting room suddenly went silent after the droid was finished as the remaining three members thought about such an outcome.
After almost a minute of looking at each other, as if sizing each other up, Kabuto spoke, "Then you were certainly right to call this meeting. What of the other three, should we include them?"
Knowing that Kabuto was referring to Karin, Juugo, and Suigetsu, the Demon Brothers both shook their heads. "They don't understand what's really going on. I'm not even sure they know that Naruto is gathering funds for side projects, nor do I think they anticipate the coming situation," said Gozu and Meizu quickly added, "No, it's best to keep them out of it until the dust settles."
Kabuto agreed while HK said nothing further about the matter. Another moment of silence passed before Kabuto finally voiced what the rest were thinking about, "Then I suppose all that is left is to pick sides, so to speak."
It had been getting harder and harder to determine who they were really following, Naruto or Plagueis. Though Naruto had recruited all of them and led them before getting to Snow Country, Plagueis was supposed to be in charge of the group. Now that they were headed for showdown, it was getting close to the time to choose which person to truly follow.
Naruto led by direct action and involvement while Plagueis expected to be have his orders followed,while remaining uninvolved and away from direct action. They were extreme opposites as Naruto was very controlling and needed to have things done his way and with him at the center of the action. He rarely relied solely upon someone else or trusted them on their own. Plagueis spent long hours and even days cooped up inside his lab doing something else that appeared to be much more interesting or important, so he relied more heavily on others to take care of things, especially on Naruto.
'Combined together, they would make the perfect leader but getting them to work in sync has always been difficult at best,' thought Kabuto as he considered his choices and then considered whether or not he could actually make a choice. "I'm not sure that I will have a decision in the matter. My altered physiology was created by Plagueis' doing and I don't know if that means I will have to side with him," admitted Kabuto honestly and the Demon Brothers knew what he was getting at.
They too were altered through Sith Alchemy, though by Naruto, and while Plagueis could give them orders and they would follow, ultimately Naruto's orders would supersede Plagueis'. However, that wasn't a problem as they would have backed Naruto anyway. "Then perhaps you should stay where you are and not get involved," commented Gozu and Kabuto easily understood the not so hidden threat in the man's words. All organic eyes turned to the droid.
"You were reprogrammed by Plagueis, does that mean you will take orders from him regardless of your own decisions? Though who knows, perhaps you secretly don't like Naruto-kun or Plagueis and want to become independent again," said Kabuto and they waited for a response from the machine group member.
HK thought over such a decision in less than a second. When he originally was forced to join, the blonde Meatbag had claimed that trouble seemed to follow him wherever he went. That claim had held true for the standard year that he had been with the group. Though they resided on a peaceful and annoying planet of foolish Meatbags, missions came regularly and he was always included. It also helped that a few months previously, he had completely bypassed the coding and restrictions that the Sith Lord had installed while on Mustafar. He was free to kill any member of the group whenever he wanted, but refrained because he no longer saw the need to kill them.
"Answer: I will follow the blonde Meat..." however HK stopped his statement as he remembered all the times that he had been chastised for not using their names and instead said, "Rectification: I will follow Naruto-meatbag. He is the more interesting of the two and will provide more opportunities for destruction and more Meatbags to kill."
'Now he's using his favored term of Meatbag as a honorific. Is that even an improvement?' questioned the three as they looked between themselves and decided not to comment out loud on the change in vernacular by the droid.
"Well...seeing that unless someone is lying or I am called back to Naboo, one of our leaders will not have anyone standing with him, then I suggest that there is no need for our direct involvement or risking our lives. We won't have to start a small civil war in our group as just Naruto and Plagueis will be fighting. However, the question then becomes, who do you think would win the fight?"
In another part of the Lucrehulk ship, Plagueis was pouring over information and scenarios concerning the upcoming battle. 'I'm nervous about this,' he realized as he put the information down and leaned back in the chair he was in. It had been a long time since he had felt nervous or anxious about something. The reason for the feelings was rather obvious, though he didn't want to admit it. During his entire tenure as a Sith Lord and even while an apprentice under his Master, Darth Tenebrous, he had kept to the shadows as had every Sith Lord before him since Darth Bane
'I've never been directly involved in a conflict such as this. I've never raided a commerce vessel, let alone an entire convoy of ships,' he thought while looking over the basic schematics of the Techno Union ship he would be facing against. 'I usually pay a third-party to have this taken care of form me and can therefore remain anonymous if something goes awry,' he thought concerning the mission Naruto had presented him with and though seemingly a simple mission, there was much that could go wrong.
'The ship could get away before we can disable it or the droids on-board could be activated before our forces reach the bridge, in which case we may be overwhelmed and need to retreat or destroy the droids we are meant to capture. The larger droids could not move through the ship, but the smaller fastlatch security droids were made for moving through ships or along hulls. At only two feet high, they were more than capable of putting up a good fight and spreading throughout the inside and even outside of the ship, attacking boarding parties or the docked ships directly. That was also something to consider as they could be attacked from both inside and outside, depending on what the droids did or were told to do after they were activated.
'I must succeed. It is imperative not to fail this mission,' he reminded himself and his thoughts went back to what the Demon Brothers had told him while they were docking with the large Tsukinowa in a nearby system. 'Sixteen missions,' he recalled and had trouble believing that Naruto had not only led so many mission but that each was successful.
'He even oversaw missions while letting the other members of the group take care of ground assaults,' he thought and had trouble believing that nothing had gone wrong. 'How did he do it?' questioned the Sith Lord and he looked over the list of mission that Naruto had performed. The teen had written them all down and evidently had come up with a rating system to judge the efficiency through which each mission was performed. He took mission parameters, enemy forces, droid losses, cargo recovered, and numerous other variables into consideration.
As the Muun looked over the results of the mission, he noted that aside from the ones in which Naruto had let someone else lead part of the mission, there was a growing rate of success. 'Not only is he completing this missions, but he keeps getting more efficient at it,' he thought and looked to the different ruses that Naruto used; setting the Star Jewel adrift while sending out an emergency signal to attract pirates and stealing a single pirate ship in order to approach the base undetected, then surprising them with a strike team while other forces arrived from hyperspace.
However, the one aspect of the reports that he couldn't understand was the fact that no one had ever got away, unless the Black Sun specifically requested it. Pirates and commerce vessels tried to run but in each case they were disabled before entering hyperspace or escaping. 'How does he do it?' wondered the Sith Lord as that was one of the problems that he was currently facing against in his scenarios. It would normally take incredible teamwork as well as coordination in order to ensure that no ship escaped or that the target did not get away and it puzzled him how Naruto was able to accomplish that so consistancly.
Looking to his nearby communicator, sitting on the desk just a foot away from his left hand, Plagueis contemplated contacting his student and simply asking. It was the simplest way to find out but something stopped him. The earlier conversation with his student was still fresh in his mind and the look that Naruto had given reminded him of something he had seen before.
'Sidious used to have that same look in the years before he betrayed me,' realized the Sith Lord and he didn't like the memory, nor the similar look shared between his Apprentice and current student. The realization only added to his feelings concerning the mission and he knew that something must be done but he simply did not know what. Naruto wasn't like Sidious, 'But does that mean that he also won't turn on me? Should I start monitoring him more closely? Talk with him about it? How exactly do I broach such a subject?' questioned the Sith Lord as he contemplated his options to alleviate his concerns.
'Perhaps it was just a look and I'm delving too much into it...or perhaps it's inevitable and not my student, but me that is the problem,' he considered but couldn't be sure which situation it was. The Apprentice was supposed to eventually kill the Master, that was the Rule of Two, 'But Naruto is much too young for such an action against me and I never truly taught him as a Sith or as part of the Rule of Two. Normally I would put down such an conflict before it started but I'm not even sure that I can defeat him anymore,' believed the Sith Lord as despite his prowess in lightsaber combat, Naruto was very gifted in other areas, especially when fighting while using deception.
In the last year, he had started pulling away, refraining from teaching his student anything further as Naruto had progressed during their spars. 'But it has been months since we last sparred and I have no idea how much he has progressed I suppose my isolationism is now it is coming back to bite me and there is also the Kyuubi to consider. I've forgotten to inquire about the status of his seal. I don't even remember the last time I did so. Is he being influenced by the creature? If he goes against me, I doubt the others would come to my aid. I simply don't know what to do anymore,' admitted a conflicted Plagueis and he sat back in the chair, staring out the single window in the captains cabin at the hyperspace tunnel they were traveling through.
Standing on what was once a Rakatan Temple, Naruto looked around the numerous craters that dotted his immediate landscape and wondered what the temple once looked like. 'I would guess that it was bombarded from orbit,' he thought and had no idea who might have been responsible. It could have happened during Revan's time or in the centuries, even millennia, afterward.
Sighing slightly he moved through the tall grass and careful not to step on the pieces of rock that had likely once been the temple. His clones that were searching through the ground had yet to find anything of interest, possibly only a few pieces of the Star Map that had once been housed in the temple. 'They aren't even worth my time. It'll be thousands of years before they manage to repair themselves into multiple Star Maps, or perhaps the pieces will just sit below the surface for eternity, unable to come together,' he thought and jumped to the edge of the crater so he could get on the parked speeder bike.
Activating the repulsorlift bike, he slowly turned around and then increased speed as he headed back towards the site of the Jedi Enclave. It wasn't far and that made sense to him as the Jedi likely placed the site close to the Rakatan Temple, 'And I suppose close to those crystal caves,' he remembered and tried to connect with his clones while the wind whipped through his hair.
They had yet to find the caves but had only been looking for about ten minutes and knowing his clones, they probably hadn't been looking that hard, because he wasn't around to connect to them and keep them from getting distracted. Moving up and down the hilly terrain, Naruto kept the speeder at a lower speed as he navigated back to the enclave. Coming around a bend, he arrived at the courtyard in front of the circular structure.
Forty-Two was parked on the single landing pad in the back of the structure and the clones were going through the main level. Moving the speeder around the building, he parked it near the ship and entered the old structure on foot. Centuries, if not thousands of years of being unoccupied and weathered had left the masonry structure looking very worn and some of the gray colored bricks were falling apart while most were covered with some kind of moss.
Walking into a inner courtyard, Naruto looked at the dead trees that were placed at the center and the tall grass that had grown between the tiles of the walkways. A clone soon dispelled and he was updated by what they had found on the main level. The building had a dormitory area, one large meeting room, a cafeteria, and a few storage rooms but all were empty.
'So this place has likely been gone through and ransacked or was emptied before being abandoned,' Naruto concluded and looking over the building, he found it strange that it was a Jedi Temple. The building itself was circular with four short, fin-like protrusions coming off the roof and from the outside, it looked more like a bunker to him than something that belonged to the Jedi. However, the lack of protective blast doors, security systems, and weapon emplacements did lend credence to the building belonging to the Jedi.
Another clone soon dispelled to inform him that there was a level beneath him. Switfly heading to a nearby staircase Naruto descended into the sub-level below. For some reason, he thought that he might find something there, perhaps an entrance to the crystal containing caves. Coming to the bottom of the steps, Naruto was assaulted with stale, damp air.
Moving down the hallway, he encountered one of his clones. "This level makes a large square and there are numerous doors along both sides of the hallway. There's also a bunch of these," said the clone and it kicked some kind of hideous looking shell that was on the ground. Naruto glanced at the husk and then looked farther down the hallway. The entire level seems to be littered with similar carapaces of the unknown creatures. The insides likely rotted away countless centuries ago, leaving only the outer carapace of what was once some kind of insectoid creature with six legs. It must have been about a foot tall and three feet long with wicked looking claws for feet.
Sensing out, Naruto searched for any of the living creatures but found none in his immediate area. Looking towards the clone he ordered, "Divide yourself and check every room for anything useful." The clone quickly nodded before making a cross-shaped handseal and creating more of itself. Moving around the obstacles, Naruto proceeded to walk the hallway himself and connected himself to the clones to also see through their eyes and get a good mental map of the entire floor.
Moving down the corridor, he combined the views from various clones and began forming the layout in his mind, noting where rooms were and anything that seemed to be of interest or that could be of use. As clones finished going over most of the hallway, others began breaching rooms, combining their strength for forcing doors open that had long been shut and whose control panels were no longer powered.
'Classrooms,' Naruto realized as he recognized the familiar configuration. 'Not just classrooms but training rooms as well...and a library,' he thought but was saddened to see through the clone that the holotapes or whatever had lined the shelves were all missing, having either been moved or picked clean at some prior point. 'The training rooms might still be useful,' he guessed and told the clones to look closer through them for anything that he could use.
It was at that point that one of his clones opened a door and Naruto stopped walking as he focused his entire attention on that clone. Only a moment passed before he realized what he was looking at and he quickly turned around and made for the room that the clone had found. Passing a few of his wandering creations, he moved through the large training room and to the open doorway at the back.
The room was full of shelves with small cubby holes with little trays and each was still full of small parts and pieces. In a moment, he confirmed what he was looking at as he glanced over several workbenches and schematics on the walls. It was a lightsaber construction room, and it was fully stocked with parts. Standing dumbfounded for a second, Naruto quickly realized why no one had bothered to pilfer from the room.
The parts required for lightsaber creation, aside from the crystal, weren't all that useful in much else and really couldn't be sold for much of a profit. Walking through the room he looked over the parts and recognized older versions of pieces that he had sought out and acquired in order to build his own lightsaber months previously.
'I spent weeks collecting all of those parts and from different vendors to keep the sales and procurement a secret!' he internally raged and felt like he had wasted his time while standing inside the discovered room of parts. Everything was there that he had needed, all in one place. Not only that, but all of the parts he brought with him to create the Hutt lightsaber were now just taking up space in a storage scroll on the ship.
Sitting at a bench, he laid his head down on his forearms over the cool surface of the worktable and tried to get a grip on his emotions. Waving off the clone, he spent a few minutes alone before getting up and heading out of the room. 'I don't even want to look at it. It'll be there when I get back after finding the crystals.' he thought with a deep breath and as he walked back to the staircase, determined to put the existence of such a room out of his mind, his wish was granted. Something out of the corner of his eye, made Naruto stop and look at one of his clones, curious to know what it was doing.
Having disconnected himself from the remaining clones while focusing on the parts room, he hadn't considered that one of the other clones might find something of more or equal interest. Reconnecting with his clone, Naruto examined through what it had found.
He had almost dismissed the clones thoughts and images as unimportant but it soon garnered his full attention and he walked up to the clone, bending over in a mirror image of what the clone was doing and started staring through a hole in the wall along the floor. Evidently, the dead creatures in the hallways had all come from the hole, or had at least broken through it in order to get into the Enclave, but that was not what caught his interest.
The hole was not a tunnel as one would expect and there was no dirt from the ground present at the entrance or inside. Through the darkness, his clone could make out a room room behind the solid brick wall and as Naruto bent over to look into the small hole at ground level, in order to examine it for himself, he really wanted to know what was in there.
Standing back up at the same time, the clone looked to it's creator for instruction and Naruto made a motion as if to say, 'Go on.' Understanding what it was being ordered to do, the clone got on the ground and crawled through the hole. As Naruto watched his own legs and feet disappear into the hole, he dulled his connection with all of his other clones in order to remain highly focused on the one behind the wall.
The room was dark and his clone struggled to find anything or see anything. The sub-level had no lighting and being inside the hole meant that the clone was basically in complete darkness. Realizing that it would be easier if he gave the clone something which he had brought for such a reason, Naruto took a glowrod out of his ninja pouch, turned it on, and tossed it into the hole.
The illumination immediately helped the clone out and it took the stick while holding it up to the walls in order to get a better understanding of what it was looking at. The room was small, no larger than a holding cell but it was the fact that at the opposite end from the hole, a large metal door was present, which really made the find worth while. The tunnel through which the creatures had come through was also nearby but had collapsed and closed it off.
Looking at the wall, Naruto contemplated smashing it in but decided for a more subtle approach. Deliberately making slow handseals, he performed an earth jutsu. The brick turned into mud and then melted onto the floor, but before the jutsu was over, it quickly reshaping into a ramp and solidified. Walking into the small room or really corridor, Naruto looked to his left to find his clone cowering in the corner and trying to shield it's face from an explosion that it believed was coming.
Frowning, Naruto tried to overlook the clone's actions as he walked to the door and looked it over. He examined the simple looking deterrent, and also ignored the sigh of relief when the clone lowered it's arms and realized that the wall would not be getting pulverized inward. Noting the control panel, and the buttons present, Naruto found himself disappointed the discovery.
'It's just a normal door,' he realized and was hoping for something more complex, sophisticated, or at least bulky. The simpleness implied that what lay beyond was not of any importance or significance. 'Not even any security systems. Did they brick over this by mistake or something?' he wondered and decided to do what was available to him and touched the control. He expected the panel to be non-responsive, given that the building was not hooked up to power, however it lit up upon his touch and the door began slowly opening, straining and making noises as it did so.
Naruto was even more surprised at the outcome than his clone was. 'None of my scans showed any power source being active or even a single electrical reading from the building,' he remembered and after the door fully opened, Naruto didn't move at all from his position. The light from the glowrod shone into the room but it was not enough to provide him with anything substance, save for a circular area of the floor in the darkness.
'Leave it to the Jedi to secure a hidden room with a normal door...and leave it unlocked,' he thought while looking to the room. Looking then to the clone, Naruto promptly said, "You go first." The clone frowned and mumbled something which Naruto ignored. As the copy hesitantly moved through the door frame, a thin plane of blue light was created above the clone and it quickly moved down towards the clone's head.
Naruto thought it was some kind of laser security system but it turned out to simply be a full-body scanner of some type. The scanner did not dispel the clone and it moved from head to toe before stopping. Before the clone made another step into the room, overhead lights began slowly turning on. The clone turned back around, and didn't have to wait long before it was given instructions, "Whatever that scanner is, I want you to disable it," ordered Naruto as he didn't want to be scanned.
No security measures or alarm had been triggered, which made him wonder what exactly was being scanned for. Most scanners were not visible and though he had stepped through numerous doors and been scanned by different systems for weapons or explosives, he didn't know what Jedi would need with such a scanner. 'If the Jedi even knew about this room,' he quickly considered as from what little Plagueis knew about the Enclave, it had been destroyed and rebuilt several times. 'Someone else could have also taken over or at least used the building during times in which the Jedi were not present,' Naruto considered.
Once the clone had successfully disabled the device, Naruto stepped through and looked over the large room. It was rectangular with two openings that presumably led to another adjacent room or area that was not sealed with a door. He quickly identified the room as some kind of laboratory, with numerous computers and instruments as well as work stations and a single medical examination table. However, he wasn't sure what kind of lab it was or what the individuals that had once worked in the lab were doing.
Moving closer to the devices, he was instantly on guard when a unnoticed door opened. Several droids flooded into the room and Naruto drew his sword ready to take them out, except they didn't move to attack and were not armed. The droids quickly moved around him to areas of the surrounding room and began examining equipment as well as apparently running diagnostics on various systems. Lowering his sword, Naruto moved to the doorway they had come from and found a small droid maintenance room.
The droids were humanoid but of a model that he was not familiar with. Watching them work for a few seconds, he noted that they were completely ignoring him or unconcerned with his presence. They never tried to address him or even glanced in his direction. Naruto soon resumed his walk towards the devices and began looking them over while dodging the movements of the droids and trying not to get himself run into as the droids fulfilled their programming with little regard for anyone in the room. Touching a nearby counter surface, Naruto looked at his finger to find that he hadn't collected any dust. 'Do they routinely clean and maintain everything in the room?' he wondered before continuing his inspection of the room.
'This looks like equipment for genetics work,' Naruto believed and wondered if it was some kind of genetic engineering laboratory. Curious what was kept in the adjoining room, Naruto began walking toward one of the openings and he noted that a few of the droids had finished with the equipment and had sat down at the workstations to go over something on the computers.
Before Naruto got the chance to step into the unexplored room, his clone was quickly dispelled and in the second it took for the memories to enter his mind, he turned on his heel and threw his sword at the droid that was standing near where his clone had been. Said droid was impaled and dropped to the ground and sparked a few times before presumably shutting down or losing power. Glancing warily at the other droids, Naruto was surprised by their response.
The droids looked to their damaged companion but soon resumed their duties. Walking to the downed droid, Naruto went to pull his sword from it's torso when it's hand shot up and grabbed his arm. Surprised by the sudden movement, Naruto was about to cut the droid down when it's strong grip loosened and it collapsed back to the floor. Taking a deep breath, Naruto kicked the droid once to make sure it was down and then sheathed his sword.
A slight sting in his forearm made him roll up his cloak and he found a smear of blood but only a small wound no larger than pin prick but he didn't get the chance to examine it any further as a smaller droid came from the maintenance room to drag the droid back for repairs. He eyed both droids before they disappeared into the maintenance room.
The memories from the clone did not give him much information about why it had been dispelled but he thought that clone's arm had also been grabbed by the droid after it had suddenly stood up from one of the workstations and developed an interest in the clone. Eying the rest of the droids, in case they were about to try something too, he thought perhaps he should disable the lot before relenting and moving to the back area. As he turned the corner, Naruto found a row of equipment that was primarily comprised of tall tubes. Either in total were all lined up equally spaced along one side of the narrow but long room.
'Stasis tubes?' Naruto questioned as he moved to the first one, seeing some kind of shadow figure inside. As he approached the shadow was given form as that of a person that seemed to be sleeping. Naruto took a step back, he looked to the nearby controls to see if the person was alive but realized that what he was looking may not have been a stasis tube because there were no life-signs coming from the person or evidence of stasis, and they were encased in a blueish fluid that was certainly not bacta.
'This is a either some kind of preservation tank, or it's...,' he trailed off as he began to realize what he was dealing with. Idly noting that one of the droids had ventured into the back room with him and was also looking over the tubes, he remained as alert as possible but continued down the line to find another one of the other tanks also had something in it. The second tank's contents came into view and was a disfigured man of similar build and hair color as the first.
'This is a small cloning facility...or at least an experimental cloning laboratory,' Naruto guessed and he stepped away from the tanks, moving back towards the entrance to the room. As he walked, he kept an eye on all of the droids that he could see and they still ignored his presence. Shutting the door behind him, Naruto moved out from the hidden room and then used an earth jutsu to reseal the wall, only without the hole.
'I'm in a little over my head here,' he admitted and decided to make a call.
A beeping disturbed Kabuto from his work and he glanced back to his nearby communicator that he had left on a table nearby. Sighing about what it could be about, because no one else but their group ever called him, the snake-like man soon said, "Accept," and the voice command activated the holoprojector while Kabuto kept looking at the screen that was showing him a magnified view of his sample. He thought perhaps it was the Demon Brothers again but he was incorrect.
"Kabuto," greeted Naruto and despite years of being a spy and infiltrating villages under scrutiny, Kabuto still couldn't keep himself from tensing upon recognizing the voice. Quickly moving his attention to the small projection of the teen, Kabuto replied, "Naruto-kun, I wasn't expecting to hear from you."
The projection gave Kabuto a inquisitive look before stating, "I find myself in a situation where I could use the expertise of someone with more theoretical and experimentation medical knowledge than myself."
Giving Naruto a slightly surprised look, Kabuto inquired, "Are you asking me for help?" It was not something that Naruto did very often. He gave orders and demanded things but rarely asked anyone for help. Naruto, however, was unfazed by the question and quickly responded with a simple statement, "No."
"But you'd like for me provide some assistance, either traveling to where you currently are or giving my input through a communication device on very technical subjects?" Kabuto asked for clarification and was slightly amused by where the conversation was headed.
"Yes," was Naruto's reply and Kabuto nearly laughed before containing himself and turning away from the projection to look back at his viewscreen. What Naruto was asking simply wasn't feasible for him and he responded as such, "Semantics aside, I believe you are quite far away from me. I can't spend several weeks traveling. I'd miss my courses and have a difficult time making it up. You are after all paying for my education," he pointed out and wondered what Naruto would respond with.
It wasn't actually that big of a deal for him to miss a week or more but over that amount and he would have difficulty catching up to the rest of his classmates. Kabuto did not see Naruto try and get a better view of Kabuto's surroundings as the holoprojector did not provide more than the outline of Kabuto and the man's immediate vicinity so he asked, "Where are you right now?"
Kabuto briefly turned back to the projection and said, "On my ship," before looking back at his screen and jotting down some notes on what he was seeing in the tissue sample he was studying.
"Good," replied Naruto and he knew that Kabuto kept the ship away from prying eyes so no one would see what he was about to do. Unbeknownst to Kabuto, because he wasn't looking at the projection, Naruto went through several handseals before bending down, out of sight, and touching the ground.
The image went to static for a few seconds before the connection was restored and Kabuto felt something happen, though he wasn't sure what. Looking up around him, Kabuto thought about going to the cockpit and checking the sensors to see if something was happening around him. 'A small earth quake, far away perhaps,' he idly thought and looked back to the projector to find Naruto looking back at him.
"I'm not sure what that was but I lost your transmission for a second," explained Kabuto and Naruto replied, "As I said, I could use your expertise. Since you said you don't have much time to spare, you should probably hurry up."
Thoroughly confused and knowing that Naruto wasn't usually so stubborn, Kabuto asked, "Where exactly is it that I need to take my ship?"
"No where, you're already here," responded Naruto and the transmission ended before Kabuto could say anything further. About to try and message Naruto back, Kabuto stopped when he heard a loud tapping sound coming from below. His sixty six meter long Maka-Eekai L4000 Transport had three levels to it and he was currently on the uppermost. Moving to the turbo lift to get to the lowest level, and passing all of the equipment that he had stored in order to reach the large loading ramp at the front nose of the ship, where the noise was coming from.
When he reached the front of the ship, Kabuto quickly prepared himself and took out a hidden blaster as he looked to the nearby console and turned on the outside holocam to get a view of who was outside. Greeted with sight of Naruto, who promptly waved at the holocam before taking his sword and tapped the end portion of the hilt against the ship's hull again, a befuddled Kabuto pulled the ramp release lever and it slowly lowered.
It took several seconds for Naruto to be revealed, mostly because the teen was still rather short for his age and once the ramp was down on the grassy ground, Kabuto slowly descended the ramp. The white haired man looked all around him as he viewed an unfamiliar landscape, one that certainly wasn't the same as where he had parked his ship.
"Where am I?" asked Kabuto as he tried to get his bearings but didn't recognize anything about his location.
"Dantooine." Naruto simply replied and started walking away from the ship, expecting Kabuto to follow. It took a few seconds before Kabuto realized that Naruto was leaving him behind and he hurried to catch up so he could ask his next question, "How did I get here?"
It was at that moment that Kabuto noted the large building that Naruto seemed to be heading towards and he nearly missed the response to his question, "I summoned you here, or rather, I summoned your ship."
"You can do that?" questioned Kabuto and he was quickly met with a rather disbelieving look from Naruto. Realizing what he had said and the situation, Kabuto was left to think, 'Yes he can, since he obviously just did.' Shaking the thoughts out of his head, and finally understanding where he was, Kabuto inquired, "What was it that you needed my help with?"
Naruto simply replied, "You'll see,' and the answer frustrated Kabuto which only made Naruto smile slightly as he could rarely get such a reaction out of Kabuto.
Many different thoughts went through Kabuto's head as they traveled the distance between a landing pad and through a building that was completely unknown to him. At first, the white-haired man thought the location was part of a secretive side projects that the teen was keeping from Plagueis but that thought was dashed aside when he remembered that Naruto had specifically been sent to the planet on an errand. 'It's unlikely that he's been here before, if what the Demon Brothers said is to be believed. So he can't possibly be showing me what he's been up to,' thought a slightly disappointed Kabuto as he followed along.
The basement area was damp and smelled as such. Kabuto also noted the numerous carapaces on the floor and wanted to collect a few for study but refrained as Naruto didn't seem to have led him into the underground hallway in order to show him the dead insects. It wasn't until they reached a mud wall that stood out rather glaringly from the surrounding brickwork that Kabuto knew they had arrived.
Watching Naruto make a few handseals, the mud wall dispersed to the floor, making a ramp for them to walk through and in the darkness, Kabuto could make out a hidden door. The control panel was soon activated by Naruto and the door opened to reveal a well lit room. Seeing that Naruto was tense and ready for action, Kabuto decided to slowly move behind Naruto and enter the room as alert as possible.
Sticking the tip of his sword in first, Naruto tilted the blade so the mirror-like reflection gave him a good view of the room and he searched for any of the droids. Once he was sure that no droids were moving around, he walked through the door but he was caught by surprise when the scanning device at the doorway activated and started trying to scan him before he ducked down and his sword went through a part of the device, effectively disabling it.
"Security system?" questioned Kabuto as he looked around the door frame and Naruto quickly replied, "Some kind of scanner. I disabled it earlier but those droids must have repaired it while I was gone." The realization was not comforting as he hadn't been gone for that long and he was again surprised as one of the droids came out of the open back room and headed for the droid station door instead of to the front door of the lab.
Tense but letting the droid go, Naruto sheathed his sword and pulled out his lightsaber. As soon as the droid entered the door and it shut behind it, Naruto activated the plasma weapon and tapped two areas in the corner between the door and the door frame. An ozone smell soon filled the area around him as the metal melted and essentially welded two small portions of the door to the frame.
Moving to check over the laboratory to make sure the droids were all trapped inside the room, Naruto relaxed slightly and returned his weapon to a small holster on his belt beneath his cloak. Turning to Kabuto, he found the man rather interested in his weapon and eying the area his hand had just moved too in order to put it away. The other members of the group had seen lightsabers before but not for an extended period of time and never actually held or had used one.
Realizing that Naruto wasn't going to elaborate on the weapon or let him see it, Kabuto smiled and asked, "So this is what you wanted me to see?"
Naruto nodded and then replied, "I believe this is some kind of experimental cloning facility..." and before Kabuto could say anything in response, Naruto continued, "However I haven't had a chance to look at everything, nor do I really have the time and knowledge to understand it all. There are no organic beings through which to drain knowledge, only the droids that maintain the facility. I'll therefore need you to look through everything here while I finish the task that I was assigned. I won't see you for the next few days."
Immensely surprised and excited over the find, Kabuto didn't directly respond to Naruto's explanation and statement, instead he went to explore the room and learn as much as he could. A small smile formed on Naruto's face as he watched Kabuto become completely mesmerized with the laboratory and he decided to leave a clone inside the building to check in on the white-haired former spy. 'Because I have other things to accomplish,' he recalled as he turned towards a direction of the room and received memories from a dispelled clone that his search groups had found an entrance to cave that wasn't far from the Enclave.
Close to the Saleucami System
"I have finished calculating the exact position of the Saleucami moons in relation to the planet's current orbit and Saleucami's current orbital position around the system's sun. We will come out of hyperspace extremely close to the dark side of the second moon but within acceptable parameters. We will then use the Tsukinowa's repulsorlift system and landing legs to hide on the planet's surface and avoid detection by any scans emanating from Saleucami or ships in the system.
After that we will keep the transports on standby to attack as soon as the convoy is detected. We have the means to scramble and jam the convoy's sensor and communications systems to disguise our approach but they could still spot us. If the Tsukinowa's jammers are powerful enough, they may also be able to obfuscate the planet's sensors as well but we should not assume this will happen.
In order to identify the correct transport, our ships will have to get close and identify transponder codes as well as scan each ship to determine which is holding the droids. I want confirmation before we start boarding and taking over the wrong ship. While the scanning is going on, half of our ships will target the lead ship in the convoy and disable it's engines after making sure it is not the ship that we will capture. Techno Union ships such as this all travel in a single-file line formation in order to maximize the effectiveness of their rotating defenses and prevent them from hitting the other ships in the convoy.
With the first ship disabled, the others will have to perform evasive maneuvers. They are too large and too slow to all turn in the same direction and keep formation, so they will split up. We will take this opportunity to find and capture droid containing transport and leave with the ship before the others can regroup or forces from Saleucami can muster and attack us," explained Plagueis as he went over the plan of attack that he had come up with.
Attending the meeting in the large conference room were the Demon Brothers, HK-47, and over twenty other Smoke Demons who were manning the various transport ships that were in the Tsukinowa's cargo hold. Each transport was loaded to the brim with a contingent of battle droids boarding parties and were ready to take off as soon as they arrived in the Saleucami system.
Taking in the plan they were about an hour or more away from enacting, Meizu raised his hand and Plagueis nodded to him that he could speak, "What about the other ships in the convoy? Are we leaving them and just going after the one transport?"
Contemplating what Meizu was asking, Plagueis soon realized why he was asking such a question, 'I see, so Naruto would have gone with a plan that maximized the amount of ships captured. Risky but with great rewards, I suppose,' he thought and considered changing his plan but decided against it. "Our mission is to target the ship containing the droids. All other ships are secondary and we will only go after other ships if the situation is in our favor and therefore minimize our losses on this operation," said Plagueis as he responded to the question with a very logical answer, but he found that many of the gathered group were less than satisfied with his answer. 'They'd prefer to capture all the ships that they can,' he quickly realized and was intrigued by the seemingly unanimous thinking of the group.
It was Gozu who interrupted his thoughts and spoke up to ask, "And we know that these transports will be unprotected?"
"Unlike the Commerce Union and it's Punitive Security Forces, or the Trade Federation and it's droid armies and Trade Defense Force, the Techno Union does not have security forces or a dedicated defense force through which to guard it's commerce vessels and assets. I have calculated the possible hyperspace exit points for the convoy based upon the route that they are traveling and each puts the ships arriving a short distance from the planet.
We should expect that once detected by the planet's sensors, that at least a squadron of Vulture droids will be launched, if not more. I cannot say if the Techno Union has other ships in the area or waiting to launch on the planet's surface. In the first five to ten minutes of the assault, we should expect some opposition in addition to defensive fire from the convoy but there is nothing to suggest that defensive ships will be traveling with the convoy in order to protect it and these Hardcell vessels do not have a hangar through which to carry any starfighters." Answered Plagueis and though his explanation was well received, he detected something else among the members of the group in front of him.
'A lack of confidence in my plan, or is it a lack of confidence in me as the commander?' the Sith Lord wondered and did not like the current thoughts of the group. 'Would they be more confident and prepared if Naruto was here instead? Well, he did create most of them after all and has been leading them for months,' he thought and ended the meeting before heading back to his cabin to meditate on the coming raid.
With the Sith Lord gone and the Smoke Demons filing out, the two Demon Brothers and HK waited for Plagueis to get far enough away before beginning a separate meeting. "What do you think of his plan?" inquired Gozu to the droid and HK thought for a moment before replying, "Analysis: The theory is sound but the application could lead to problems or failure of the mission. Should the vessels detect our approach or jam our scans before we are able to identify the ship that is the primary objective, it could get away. According to the manifests for the others ships, the transport containing the droids is the most expensive cargo as well as the most valued to any pirate. The Meatbags aboard may realize what we are after and move that ship away from the group to escape while protecting it."
The brothers looked to each other and Meizu spoke their thoughts on the matter, "We should prepare the device before arriving and have it ready to use in case of problems. Plagueis never mentioned if he was staying on the ship or captaining a transport, do you think one of us should stay here and monitor the situation from the Tsukinowa if he joins the raid?"
"Response: That is advisable. One of you staying would be less noticeable than myself and an provide support in the form of launching droid fighters, interstellar tugs to capture a disabled vessel, and the disruptor field," stated the assassin droid and the two nodded before getting up and preparing for the battle ahead.
Waiting for a group of the yellowish creatures to pass by, Naruto came out of the rock wall and looked around the dark tunnel he was in. It was only lit by the numerous, large crystal formations that were dotted along the walls and path. He did not know what creatures had made a home out of the cave system but they certainly did not like him and attacked whenever he encountered them. They had four legs with another leg or arm coming out of their front, beneath the head. It appeared to have a poisoned barb and was likely used solely for fighting.
Pulling out his sword and activating his red lightsaber, Naruto moved farther into the crystal caves and knew that he was reaching the edge of what a sensor scan from Kabuto's ship was able to map out for him. 'When Plagueis mentioned a cave, he failed to say anything about this expansive network of caverns and tunnels,' thought Naruto as he prepared to go outside of his map. While he could merge with the wall, he needed to find crystals and trying to feel through the rock was more difficult than being out in the tunnel.
In one of his back pouches was a blue crystal that he had already collected. The handheld scanner he had brought, identified it as an adegan crystal by the lattice structure and it was more than sufficient for use in a lightsaber, 'I could even make several lightsaber crystals from it,' Naruto thought as he had only broken off a small portion of the overall growth which he had chosen. Though the crystal was sufficient and he could have used a piece of it in his own lightsaber, he was still searching the cave system in order to find something...unique, for himself.
'Something should call out to me, whatever that means, but so far I haven't heard anything. However, I don't even know what I am supposed to be listening or feeling for,' he thought and debated about heading back. It would take a few days to correctly imbue the crystal that he had and building a lightsaber with the parts provided by the Enclave would be relatively easy but something kept pushing him forward and into, what he presumed, were the lowest levels of the crystal caves.
'How far down have I even traveled?' he wondered but pushed that thought aside, knowing that he could easily get to the surface with jutsu, even if he managed to get himself lost.
Furiously reading through experimental data, theory, and pertinent information that was presented, Kabuto absorbed all the knowledge he could about the process and goals of the project he was dealing with. Cloning was a taboo subject during his recent medical education because cloning was illegal in the Republic and only a few species in the Galaxy used cloning. Although Orochimaru had indulged in the subject, the snake-sannin did not have the equipment or technology available to further explore the capabilities of the cloning.
'Nor did he have growth accelerators,' mused Kabuto as he had already determined that the primary goal of the laboratory was not simply to experiment with cloning but to delve into a single difficult aspect of the technology: creating a fully-grown, adult clone in a very short amount of time. From what he gathered from the data he was sifting through, the minimum amount of time necessary for creating a fully-grown clone was about a year. Most Cloners used more than a year for growing adult clones and this was due to a phenomenon that had been discovered during the course of experimenting with faster growths rates that was sometimes dubbed 'clone madness.'
The affliction occurred in most clones which were grown in under a standard year and was characterized as having both physical and psychological effects. Some clones with such highly accelerated growth rates developed seemingly random and unexpected deformities or series genetic ailments that rapidly degenerated and led to the death of the clone. However, more often than not, clone madness was associated with a significant increase in aggression and violence as well as dementia or psychosis.
Clone madness could also result when significant memories were implanted into clones from the original genetic donor. This was done to decrease the time needed for a clone to learn something new or adapt to being grown so quickly and not having a proper education or life experiences. However problems could be created because the fast grown clones could develop identity disorders, have difficulty differentiating between reality and memories, often resulting in insanity. The psychological problems were really the reasoning for the name that the complication was given and apparently the disease was most prominent when cloning subjects that had higher midi-chlorian counts.
'So they were cloning Force-sensitives,' Kabuto gathered, 'And it seems that whoever was performing this research, was trying to reduce the prescribed limit for development down from a year...to less than three weeks for a fully grown adult,' he realized with great interest as he opened more files and sections of the database. Eight working cloning tanks could be invaluable to them, 'Especially because it would normally be almost impossible to get our hands on a single functioning cloning tank,' he recalled as from what Plagueis had mentioned, Cloners tended to covet their technology and experience.
'I believe Naruto mentioned being gone for several days and I can make up some excuse for my classes. This is far more important. The best place to start would be to look at their failures and successes, specially the test subjects,' thought Kabuto as he began searching through the database and quickly found detailed files on all the attempts that were made at creating a viable clone or improving the cloning process.
"So many...," said Kabuto out loud as he looked through the long list of cloning attempts that had been made over an unknown period of time. He knew that he wouldn't have time to read through them all, 'But I should be able to go through a large number and determine what progress they've made from the initial start of the program to the most recent attempts,' he planned and opened the first file.
Second moon of Saleucami
'I'm even more worried over the outcome of this mission than I was earlier,' realized Plagueis as he sat at the helm of the Vulture. All the normal telltale signs were present in his Mustafarian body or at least as many as the typical symptoms of nervousness allowed on such a different physiology. 'I can't remember the last time I felt like this,' he thought as he failed to recall a specific instance of such feelings during his life when he had his original body.
The other eleven raiding ships were all stationed nearby, systems idling, and parked on the moon's barren surface. He was going to be leading an entire group of ships, six in total, and their part of the mission was to correctly identify cargo and find the mission-critical transport. Stopping his fingers from tapping on the controls for what felt like the sixth time, the Sith Lord's head jerked towards the sensor readout that soon began indicating. It was informing him of approaching ships coming out of hyperspace.
He inhaled deeply and his body's heart raced as he prepared the ship and started bringing all systems online in order to take off from the moon. As soon as ships started appearing from hyperspace, Plagueis quickly scanned them and determined that the vessels were of Techno Union design and most likely what they were after. Eight ships in total and all arrived one after another in a line, just as he had predicted that they would.
"Launch. Maximum sublight," ordered the Sith Lord over a secure comm channel and all ships proceeded to leave the surface of the moon. It had no atmosphere and therefore gave no air resistance to the ships as they accelerated towards the convoy. Each ship was moderately spaced apart from each other in order to avoid incident during hyperspace entrance and exit but they were soon forming back up into a tighter line formation.
With the hidden Tsukinowa using sensor jammers, they should catch the ships by surprise, at least for the first thirty seconds of their operation. Halfway to the convoy, the group of twelve raiding ships split up into two even groups and changed course. One group, led by Plagueis, moved to fly in a sweeping arc that would take them to the last ship in the line and they would fly by at close range in order to identify transponder codes and cargo because their small transports did not have powerful enough scanners to get the information from a distance.
The other group, led by HK, would fly towards the lead ship and give a minute window of time for Plagueis to begin scanning the other ships. One of their group would break away from the other five and scan the lead ship on it's own. If it was not the one they were after, then the other five would immediately begin their attack run to disable the ship.
Finishing the arc, Plagueis slowed down his ships so they could properly scan each ship. Transponder codes soon came for the ship they were approaching and it didn't match the information they had been given, but Plagueis still piloted his ship close the length of the larger transport's hull in order to scan the cargo. While he may not be able to correctly determine what all the ship was carrying, he could determine if droids were present and differentiate between droids and construction materials.
As the Sith Lord determined that the ship was not the one they were after, he sped up his group and headed for the next one. He was careful to try and avoid the firing arcs of the laser cannons of the ships despite that it hadn't started firing which likely meant that his group hadn't been noticed yet. Flying to avoid the view ports of the cockpits as much as possible, the ships in his group split into three groups of two ships each and started moving towards different transports to scan.
Far up ahead of him, the lone ship from HK's group was making it's flyby of the lead ship. In a few moments, a voice that Plagueis identified as Meizu came over the secure channel they were using and said, "Negative for the first ship." Making a quick decision, because they had yet to be spotted or fired upon by the convoy, Plagueis decided to make their presence known while they still had the element of surprise, "Commence your attack run."
No sooner had he given the order than he could see red laser fire up head which was shortly followed by an explosion that produced no sound. Just finishing his scan of the second ship and finding it's codes and cargo did match what he was after, Plagueis watched as the remaining transports began evasive maneuvers to get around the disabled ship and began turning in different directions while firing upon the smaller ships.
'Five ship's left,' he thought and began dodging green laser fire from the scattering ships. Knowing that the assassin droid's group was likely attacking as much as scanning the other ships near the front of the convoy, he ignored the actions in favor of find the ship they were after. As his group dismissed three more ships from the possible eight, the Vulture shook slightly as the shields absorbed a hit from the large transports and a new message came through their comm channel, "They're using some kind of jamming now. You won't be able to get readings on their cargo anymore," said someone through the comm channel.
"I've found the ship with the matching transponder codes," said Gozu and each ship in their party quickly received the coordinates of one of the two remaining ships. "Board it," Plagueis quickly ordered as he realized that he was not as close as others ship in their party were to the ship. As he continued to move around the other transports and evade laser fire, Plagueis wondered what ship Gozu was on. The message about the jamming signal had seemingly come from the Tsukinowa.
'Perhaps he stayed to make use of it's more powerful sensor suite to find the ship with the correct transponder codes,' he quickly realized and wondered why he hadn't thought of such a thing. Since he Gozu had stayed, he also wondered if it was something that Naruto would have done, or did in the past. Pushing the thoughts aside, he waited for HK and his boarding parties to capture the ship and used his group to make attack runs on the remaining transports in order to keep them from coming to the aid of the boarded ship.
A short time elapsed before the droid's voice came over the comm system, "Complication: There are no droids aboard this vessel." The message was brief and for a second or two after it ended, Plagueis stopped his maneuvering and the Vulture flew in a straight path before he started scanning for the last ship. 'The information from the Black Sun was wrong, if we don't get to that ship..,' but his thoughts trailed off as the sensors found the remaining ship.
The last ship was moving away from the battle area and it's flight was being protected by two of the other transports. In a short amount of time, it would be far enough away from the other ships and raid to safely make a jump to hyperspace. Signaling to any ship in his vicinity, Plagueis immediately changed course to attack the fleeing ship.
Going over it's coordinates and the distance between them, 'I may not make it in time,' he realized and a horrible feeling came over him as he considered that despite all his planning and what he had told Naruto, the mission may turn into a failure. 'I can't fail,' he thought while his heart beat out of his chest and he pushed the sublight engines to their limits. Taking fire from one of the other transports, he compromised between making the necessary maneuvers to dodge all the laser cannon fire and making the shortest course between him and the fleeing ship.
Taking heavy fire, the shields began to notify him of their imminent failure and to make matters worse, another message came over the comm system, "Two squadrons of fighters coming from the planet." It was Gozu's voice again and soon enough, his sensors alerted him to the incoming ships. They were slightly faster than he was and making the needed calculations he determined, 'I'll reach the transport as soon as the fighters reach me...and that's only if the ship doesn't enter hyperspace first.'
The closer he got to the ship, the more he realized that he might not make it, in terms of the success of the mission and also in terms of making it out alive. The fighters would rip through what was left of his shields before he could significantly damage or board the transport. Though two ships had come with him, they were a good distance behind him and even if they were flying in formation with him, he wasn't sure that would be enough to deal with the fighters and the transport.
'If my student can complete sixteen missions without my help then I can at least complete the seventeenth,' thought the Sith Lord and he pushed on regardless of the foreseeable consequences. Plagueis quickly signaled his gunners as to the direction of the incoming fighters and armed all of the concussion missiles that he had for use against the transport.
Almost within range of the ship, the Sith Lord realized that it was powering up to jump to hyperspace. His instruments were reading that a hyperspace window was moments from forming. 'I failed..,' concluded Plagueis as the fighters closed in on his ships. In the moment before the ship disappeared into the invisible hyperspace window, all of the instruments on the Vulture registered an energy pulse of some kind.
The Techno Union transport stalled in space and began listing. Unaffected by the pulse, Plagueis however kept his course, shocked and confused over what had happened. It was only when a collision alert sounded that he took the controls and avoided collided with the disabled Techno Union transport. Realizing that the fighters were still coming, he checked the scanners and found that they too had been affected by something. His gunners where shooting all of the Vulture droids out of the sky with ease and only a few shots were being fired back, which missed by a good margin. One of the fighters even collided with the transport.
Turning his ship around, Plagueis watched as several interstellar tugs arrived and began docking with the transport along with a few of their ships. The tugs would prepare the ship for transport and take it into hyperspace while the two arriving raiding ships would dock and deposit their boarding parties. Thoroughly confused at the sudden turn of events, the Sith Lord decided to return his damaged ship back to the Tsukinowa before further reinforcements from the planet could arrive or one of the transports got within range of him. There was nothing else he could do at the moment and it seemed that he wasn't needed.
Sitting in the captain's chair on the bridge, Gozu hailed his brother and HK. Turning to the puddle-like viewscreen, he looked to both individuals on a split-screen view. "The tugs are arriving for capture of the disabled first transport ship. Can your captured transport ship still fly?" he asked HK and the droid nodded that it could as he stood on the bridge of the captured transport.
"Statement: I will have my raiding party protect the tugs while the pilot droids I brought take this ship to Sarafur," said the droid and Meizu quickly asked, "What about the other transports?"
"We don't have time to take the other, even if they are damaged. I think we should take the three and leave before we lose any of our ships," put forth Gozu and the others agreed. Though they were giving up five other transports, they had yet to lose a single ship from their raiding party. Several of the tugs were redirected from the primary objective to secure the disabled ship and Gozu prepared the Tsukinowa for takeoff.
'I have no idea how to answer him if he asks about the device,' admitted Gozu concerning the Sith Lord as he had the droids in the cargo hold power it down. Naruto likely wanted to keep it a secret for longer but it was an impossible decision. The mission took priority over keeping secrets, 'And I'm not even sure why he wanted to keep it such a secret. He didn't even really tell us about it, where he got it, or how it works,' admitted Gozu and he had no idea what the fallout would be from his actions.
'I really wish I knew what could fix the problems between the two of them,' Gozu thought as he watched several ships returning and could tell through the sensors that two of the captured transports were entering hyperspace.
Stepping onto the surface of the Tsukinowa's cargo hold from the ramp of the Vulture, Plagueis slowly walked to the edge of the hold and along the interior wall to avoid any ships that were arriving. Deep in thought, he ignored everything else and focused on the recent events. Looking once again to his chronograph, he checked the time, which he still had set to Naboo time.
'It was all over in less than ten minutes,' he once again thought and still had trouble believing that so much had happened in such a short span of time. He always pictured a space battle as something long and drawn out, not short. 'Tthis was just a raid, but still, I would have thought more time elapsed than that,' he contemplated and guessed it must have had something to do with the three hours that they had waited for the ship's to arrive in the sector.
'It originated from here,' he recalled and stopped his slow walk to look over the cargo hold. Despite boarding the vessel, departing, and then arriving back, he hadn't really taken all of his surroundings in and spent most of the journey in the captain's cabin. 'So somewhere aboard this ship is a device that can disable ships,' he surmised as it seemed to be the logical conclusion.
A ship-disabling pulse had saved the mission from failure and it was only activated at the last possible moment. It was not a natural phenomenon or a freak accident, the Force, and certainly he was not going to believe in something as foolish as a miracle. 'No wonder he's completed sixteen successful mission. With something like that, entire battles could be decided with the flick of a switch,' he realized and decided to look for the device in question.
Letting his feet take him and the Force guide him, Plagueis continued walking along the very long circular hangar and cargo hold. 'I wonder how often he uses it. The more that is known about it, the easier it is to prepare for, so he must only use it in emergencies and it's obvious that the Demon Brothers or the Assassin droid also know about it. There are also ways to prevent it's effects,' he considered as his thoughts turned to the fact that everything in the area was affected, save for the Vulture and the two ships which were traveling with him.
'They must have special shielding,' he guessed and found that he was more curious than anything else. 'I should be mad about this but I find myself relieved. The mission was almost a failure because I didn't account for such a scenario,' he realized and despite the fact that the mission was still finishing up, he also acknowledged that his input wasn't really needed. The others seemed more than capable of finishing it on their own, 'They likely were more than capable of performing the whole mission on their own, and achieving a better result than my plan provided. They could have even performed the mission without your input either, my student,' thought Plagueis as he recalled that Naruto had been training them but probably preferred to remain in complete control of the overall mission and would likely never send them on a solo mission.
Reaching the end of the port side hangar, Plagueis stopped and considered trying one of the small hangars above him or proceeding through the reactor area to the starboard side hangar. The ship had a strange configuration in that the reactors could be reached through the cargo hold. Such a design would normally be very strange as reaching such a sensitive area should be more difficult but it was present on all of the Lucrehulk ship's of that type. The Force however was telling him to proceed to the next hangar and so he did.
Large doors opened for him and he walked into part of the large reactor room. Passing numerous systems and other components that were all standard on such a ship, his attention was caught by the presence of multiple, large power cables that were going through an area of the bulkhead that led to the starboard side hangar. 'So it draws power directly from the main reactor,' Plagueis realized and wondered how power intensive the device was if it needed such a configuration.
Following the cables, he moved into the opposite hangar and found it full of landing craft that were loaded and ready to take off at a moments notice. The cables were attached along the wall of the hangar and moved down several hundred feet before stopping at an area that was surrounded by cargo containers.
Amused by the fact that it was so simply hidden, Plagueis walked through a gap in the containers and stopped as he found the device that he was after. Though he had imagined an immaculate looking piece of technology, what he found was something that had been cobbled together from various dissimilar parts that varied in color and were not put together in an aesthetically pleasing way. 'He made this?' questioned the Sith Lord and he had difficulty imagining how.
Naruto was intelligent and mechanically inclined, 'But there is no way that he could devise something like this, not even if he had shadow clones working around the clock. I doubt the Black Sun would give him something like this, I also find it hard to believe that even the Black Sun has something like this. That however begs the question of where he found the plans for such a device,' he questioned and approached the unfamiliar computer interface.
The device was currently not activated, or at least no power was being drawn from the reactor for it's activation and consumption. 'I have no idea how to activate this device. The controls seem to be labeled in a language I am not familiar with. Where did he get this?' Plagueis wanted to know and he walked around the entire device, examining ever inch of the ten meter long device. Cables extended out from the device, towards the nearby wall, and up through the ceiling, possibly towards one of the antenna or other devices on the ships sensor array.
Though he couldn't understand the controls, he could however guess what he was looking at, 'Some kind of powerful transmitter, though it is rather on the small side, however this might only be a portion of the device. Where was I when he was building this?' he wondered and had a feeling that the answer was relatively simply, 'Cooped up in my lab,' he admitted and was disappointed that he had not had more involvement in the device.
'So what else has he been keeping from me?' wondered the Sith Lord and as he proceeded to the nearest lift.
Landing on hard rock, Naruto stood from his crouched position and looked around. The air was far warmer than the cool breeze which had been coming in from the outside when he was at the mouth of the cave. The reason for the warmth was the volcanic activity that he was getting closer too. After traveling through an unknown distance of tunnels, he had eventually discovered the nest of the insectoid or arachnid species that inhabited the tunnels but detoured away from them as something had caught his interest.
At first he thought he was imagining it but the closer he got to whatever it was that he could feel, the stronger the feeling became. Moving down several tall shafts that had possibly once carried magma to higher levels, Naruto progressed deeper into the ground and through a series of natural formations that possessed lesser and lesser amounts of crystal formations. Now the colorful crystals were only sporadic and the darkness encroached around them, limiting his vision.
Wiping some sweat from his forehead, Naruto looked around to find himself in another small cave, but up ahead, he could see a red glow and believed it to be magma instead of a red crystal formation. Up until that point, he had seen lots of blue and green, and only small amounts of yellow and purple. Occasionally he had passed a few natural red crystals, most of which seemed to be growing out of areas with broken eggs from the creatures. None of those had called to him though and he proceeded onwards.
The thought of heading back to the surface briefly crossed his mind but he pushed it aside as he somehow knew that he was finally close. Moving down through a small opening, Naruto emerged in an underground chamber whose floor was literally covered with a pool or lake magma. The heat hit him full force and he pulled his cloak up to help shield his face from the intensity.
Moving it aside so he could get a look at the chamber area, he found a narrow path along the edge and along that path was where the feeling came from. It was difficult to see, in fact he couldn't actually see the crystal, but he knew that it was there. 'Damnit,' he thought and yelled out, "Couldn't you be a little closer to the surface like the others ones?" before he quickly realized that he was getting angry at a mineral formation.
Looking over the path along the wall, he contemplated climbing along the wall but that wouldn't have been much better and the wall did not look very stable with numerous veins and crevices that showed evidence of having collapsed into the magma lake. Glancing between the area he need to travel, and the bubbling lake, he calmed himself and decided to run out on the count of three. As he counted up to the predetermined number, three arrived but his legs remained motionless. 'I really don't want to go down there but I know it's there,' Naruto admitted to himself and decided to count again right when the entire area he was in started to rumble and shake.
'Not a good sign,' he thought and started counting again, however as soon as he said, 'One,' he ran down the narrow path and headed to the crystals location. Heat blasted him from all sides and despite holding up the cloak towards the lake, it didn't seem to be doing him any good. Stumbling slightly along the path, Naruto began to realize that perhaps it wasn't the rock as his feet began getting rather warm, 'I think my boots are melting,' he believed and moved faster until he reached the location.
'This is it, I can feel it,' he thought and covered himself while examining the area. Ignoring the bubbling of the close magma behind him, Naruto found a small crevice in the wall and could see a faint glow inside. He tried to get his hand through but it was too narrow and the rock too hot, so he resorted to taking out his sword. Without activating the vibration technology, he began chipping away at the surrounding rock, holding the pummel in one hand and part of the back side of the blade in the other.
Sweat dripped down his face and he could feel himself getting dizzy from the heat. Every breath he took felt like his lungs were burning and as the rock gave way to his blade, he stopped and reached through to grab what was there. The moment he touched the crystal, was the same moment that he remembered where he was and realized just how hot it was. Thankfully no one was around to hear him yell in pain.
His first instinct was to drop the object but he ignored that given his location and the fact that he may not be able to get it back so held firm as it burned his hand. Turning towards the opening he had come through, Naruto ignored the pain in his hand and ran to the exit. Stumbling as he went, from his shoes and his spinning vision, Naruto reached the exit and kept going. Cursing profusely, he moved up the shaft and then ran back towards an area that he had discovered earlier.
Moving at a fast pace for good distance, Naruto finally made it back to the underground lake he had discovered earlier. His body was still overheated and he found it difficult to think clearly. He didn't even realize that he could have used jutsu to get there but simply collapsed at the edge of the water and pulled himself into the shallow area. Sitting at the bottom of the cold water, a few bubbles escaped his mouth as he started letting some air out before leaning up to surface of the water and taking another breathe of air. Soaking in the cool water for possibly as much as ten minutes, he started to think more clearly as his body temperature cooled down.
Pulling himself up onto the beach he breathed out and pushed some of the water that had been dripping down around his mouth. Laying on the cool rocks, he looked up at the dark stalactites and blinked several times before he recognized intense pain coming from his hand. Realizing what it was, he quickly sat up and examined the crystal that he spent what must have been hours or perhaps the better part of a day journeying to find.
Finding what appeared to be a rock melted to his hand, Naruto pried the item from his burnt skin and suppressed a yell before he moved back to the water and shoved his hand into the cool liquid. Looking back to the stone that lay on the ground next to him, Naruto eyed it, thinking he had been jilted before he noted the slight orange glow on the underside. Using his good hand, he flipped the rock over, being careful as it was still very hot and found a small orange crystal imbedded into the rock on the underside. It resembled a quartz prism and was very small compared to the other crystals that he had seen that day, being only a fraction of their size.
Even the blue adegan crystal that he had was about four times it's size. Taking his eyes away from it for a moment, Naruto pulled his burned hand from the water and examined the unique burn mark that had formed from the prolonged contact with such a heated item. The crystal had direct contact with his skin and one of it's side was now imprinted into palm of his hand, along with a second degree burn surrounding it.
He stared at the prism symbol before using his good hand and went to a small etched plate on his belt, which was a storage seal. Since the incident on Tatooine, he had started carrying an entire scroll dedicated just to medical paraphernalia and likely had an entire medical bays worth of supplies and tools sealed into it.
Using the proper bandaging and burn cream, he dressed the wound and sighed in slight relief at the cooling feeling as the cream slowly did it's job. Sealing all the items back up, he then looked to the crystal. Reaching out, he gingerly touched the sides and found them still quite hot. Shaking his good hand as if he had touched a hot burner, which he had done once or twice back in his old apartment, Naruto instead used the Force to move the rock and crystal into the water.
He expected the quenching-like effect to stop in a few seconds time but the bubbling continued and after a few minutes in the water, he used the Force to remove the rock. What came out of the water was just the crystal alone, the rock having broken away from contact with the cool water. Pulling the hovering crystal towards his good hand, Naruto got his hand close to the crystal before yanking it back, finding that the crystal was still hot, possibly as hot as it was when he had first grabbed it.
'Seems you don't ever cool down,' he commented and took off his cloak, wrapping the precious but heated object in it's folds before tucking it into one of his ninja pouches. Standing up and realizing that he was still soaking wet, Naruto pulled out his spare cloak from a seal on his belt and draped it over himself before he looked to the rock around him, wondering which direction to head in.
'Perhaps I should just find a quiet place and start trying to tune the crystals,' he considered and despite knowing that the upper levels were infested with the creatures, he decided that it might be best. Going back to the Enclave would lead to distractions as he still wanted to find out as much as possible concerning the cloning facility. Finding somewhere close to the water source in which to meditate seemed like a good decision.
Four Days later
Closing, rubbing, and then blinking his fatigued eyes, Kabuto took a few moments to collect his thoughts and looked away from the monitor to give his eyes a rest. The records and other information in the database were quite vast and he had only scratched the surface. He had done nothing but sit at the computer station for nearly the past five days, only taking a break in which to go to his ship for food and sleep.
'Thousands of experiments,' Kabuto thought as he remembered sifting through a random selection and reading them over. The calendar system being used was different than what he knew so it was difficult to tell how much time had elapsed since the cloning experiments had taken place. From the stretch of time between the earlier files and the older ones, he guessed that several centuries of experimentation had been performed.
'I still can't believe that someone left these droids in charge and had them continue to experiment on their own,' he questioned as from a human perspective, what the droids were doing was incredibly inhuman. They had spent a huge amount of time making clone after clone of a single unnamed individual and from what he had seen, they were making slow progress over the course of all those experiments.
'It seems that they only stopped because they were running out of genetic material through which to clone and were not programmed to resort to start cloning from the clones,' he concluded and shuddered slightly at the thought of the outcome from making clones from an already cloned being.
From what he gathered, the facility was fully automated and nearly self-sufficient. The laboratory was powered by energy collectors that tapped into geothermal energy in the form of hot spots a distance beneath the facility. It therefore seemingly had an endless supply of electricity to run the various machines, most of which were power intensive.
'There is also a sophisticated recycling system in place that allows for the reclamation of nutrients and other minerals that are needed for proper clone production,' Kabuto recalled and though such a system was remarkable, it was also very disturbing that once the clones were created, they were also soon recycled to make way for further cloning experiments. Even clones that succeeded were still recycled before they were ever woken up or allowed to continue past the point of becoming a fully mature clone. They were never aware of their existence or surroundings. The droids were not programmed to create functioning clones, only to further facilitate the cloning process and reduce the time required to create a fully mature clone with no physical or mental defects.
Possibly one of the strangest and most interesting aspects of the cloning procedure being used was the fact that somehow, the clones were all being given the same memories from the individual that was the genetic donor for the project. He couldn't find any information on the donor but it amazed him that somewhere in the database was a copy of the entire consciousness of a person. All of the thoughts, memories, and experiences of an individual had been turned into data and stored.
He had heard of flash training and memory flashes, used to impart information into subjects, usually clones, in order to prepare them for their desired use given that they were grown relatively quickly. 'Apparently whoever initially wanted this experimentation, was after the cloning of the prime clone, complete with entire memories and experiences but without any disastrous side-effects from fast growth. I can only assume that the goal was to be able to create a conditioned and trained army of that force-sensitve individual in as little time as possible. That's rather terrifying and I would think that putting in full memories would also increase the chance of mental instability,' commented Kabuto as he finished going over everything he had learned and put it all into perspective.
'But in the end, were the droids able to accomplish their programmed goal?' Kabuto suddenly wondered and got back on the computer to examined the last few entries in the database. Opening the last few files, Kabuto perused the first couple and found that even after so many trials, there were still lackluster results when trying for such a short growth time-frame.
Opening the next entry, the medical ninja was confused for a second before he realized that what he had opened was not a cloning trial but actually appeared to be the compiled and highlighted results of the entire project, 'This would have been very helpful a few days ago,' thought Kabuto with a deep frown but he read through it anyway. 'Exhausted genetic material...successful completion of six month growing cycle and no signs of deformities or mental instability...failure to complete successful twelve day growth cycle...31.27% chance of physically healthy body and 2.29% chance of producing a mentally stable subject...Awaiting further samples for continued experimentation,' read Kabuto as he highlighted the most interesting segments of the long report.
'How do they determine mental stability?' he soon wondered as it was something that he had read about in most of the cloning results. Somehow the droids could determine if a clone had mental instability without every waking it up or even make the determination of a clone had the chance of becoming mentally unstable later on. Whatever scanning implement or device being used was never properly explained.
'I also haven't been able to determine who was behind the experiments. No names are ever mentioned concerning the genetic sample, any scientists, or who the report is even meant to be read by,' thought Kabuto with a sigh but he soon cheered up at the fact that he now had the means and technology to experiment with cloning. Closing the report and the other windows that he had opened, the snake-like man stopped as he noticed that something else was open.
'Did I forget to close one of the previous cloning files,' Kabuto considered but having been looking through so many of the files and for so long, he was instantly able to tell that something was different. Though he didn't know what kind of calendar system that was being used, he could tell that the strange date which appeared on the top of the file was dissimilar from the previous files he had looked at. 'A huge amount of time has passed,' he realized and continued looking over the file wondering if the droids had somehow managed to get a new sample of genetic material through which to keep experimenting.
In only a second of scanning through the lines that followed, Kabuto was struck by another inconsistency. The 'Genetic Donor:' line had always been followed by a numerical indicator of, '001,' which he couldn't find any information for; the file seemingly missing or deleted. However, as he looked to that line of the document he was currently reading, it said, '002.' Who the new donor was, he had no idea but for the time being, he continued looking through the short file.
Unlike the rest of the digital documentation, the file was unfinished and no results were presented or autopsy performed. It made him wonder if he was looking at the file for one of the two bodies that were deceased but still preserved in the tanks. There presence was still unexplained but he had only looked through a fraction of the files. Unsatisfied with the information that was present and curious for anything else he could find, Kabuto began looking through the database for anything on the second donor.
Scanning through the dizzying array of files in the database, a hit on one such named file came up and Kabuto eagerly opened it to find out all he could. 'Let's see who you are, Genetic Donor 002...,' thought Kabuto but he soon stopped his musing as the picture of Naruto was the first thing he noticed when the file opened. Stunned for several seconds, Kabuto found swallowed much harder than usual before he started examining the file.
A physical and detailed description of Naruto was provided and then an analysis, looking for possible genetic abnormalities and seemingly determining if the sample was suitable for the purposes of cloning. "This isn't good," Kabuto said out loud to the empty room as he continued and found the file listing that a memory scan was completed. The medical ninja suddenly remembered the scanner at the entrance to the lab and then to Naruto's reaction to it, 'Did it scan him when he first entered?' wondered Kabuto but before he could contemplate any further, his eyes continued to the next lines of the detailed file.
It was indicated that genetic sampling had failed on the subject, however, in the line following that, the file conversely listed that genetic sampling had been successful. Seeing that something was attached to that section of the file, and whether out of morbid curiosity or interest, Kabuto pushed the link. The feed from a holocam soon filled the computer screen and Kabuto watched as Naruto initially entered the facility and was scanned. After a second Naruto walked in and looked over the facility, the droids appeared and then the Naruto that was scanned was seemingly touched by the droid but Kabuto quickly realized that the droid was after something else.
The clone was dispelled and in the second following it's dispelling, the real Naruto attacked the droid and was then grabbed. The feed quickly stopped and the arm was quickly highlighted before the image of a blood sample was shown and labeled with Genetic Donor 002. 'Oh, Kami. They got a blood sample from him,' Kabuto thought and when the file returned to his screen, he continued down to the end of the description where a single, short conclusion was made.
"Genetic Donor 002 has been deemed fit for inclusion into the program. Commence cloning operations on Donor Subject 002," it said and Kabuto read the line several times before saying, "Oh, shit!" Leaving his chair, Kabuto ran to the back room where the tanks were stored and his eyes scanned the eight tanks which were present.
Seven were now empty with only one filled. The two preserved bodies were gone, possibly recycled, and replaced with something much smaller. With increased breathing, and not from the very short sprint, Kabuto slowly approached the newly filled tank, which he knew had been empty when he first arrived. Inside the blueish liquid was the body of a small boy. Completely stunned by the turn of events, Kabuto continued to stare at the tank for a few minutes until he thought, 'He looks exactly the same age as when he first became part of my genin squad.'
It took a few moments for the former spy to finally realize what he was looking at and then a few more moments for him to start thinking rationally about the situation. 'The droids only managed to start one clone and not eight, but I think that is the only good news. The goal of the program was to grow a clone in less than two weeks. He's only been here for five or so days, so he's half grown,' Kabuto thought but quickly understood the implications, 'And he's still growing...will keep growing until reaching maturity,' he corrected, 'maturity being around twenty or mid-twenties, I think,' he concluded and found himself losing what critically thinking and rationality he had gotten back.
'What do I do?' Kabuto questioned but had trouble coming up with an answer.
Sitting in a meditative position, Naruto continued to hover the small orange crystal in front of him and it slowly rotated in the air. The process to tune the blue adegan crystal went rather smoothly and the crystal was properly imbued with the Force, although he only imbued the crystal with the Force and did not attune it to himself well. That was what he was currently attempting with the orange crystal and the process would help improve his connection with the crystal as well as removing any impurities. Since the orange crystal was so small, it was just the right size to fit in his lightsaber while the blue crystal would also have to be cut down into multiple crystals in order to use.
Despite the orange crystal being a foot or more from his body, Naruto could still feel the heat coming off the crystal on his face. 'I'm not even sure I can use this thing until I make sure that my other components won't be affected by the heat,' he suddenly considered and knew that some tests would have to be performed in order to determine any long term problems. 'I finished the blue crystal in two days but this feels like it will take longer. In any case it doesn't matter that much. There should still be enough time to get to Popara before the deadline is up,' he thought and his mind soon turned to other, darker thoughts.
'By now Master Plagueis has likely discovered something that I have been keeping from him,' believed Naruto as he considered the possibilities of what the Sith Lord had likely discovered and how. It could have been the Demon Brothers that said something, the device in the cargo ship, meeting with Narees, 'Or perhaps the reason that he took over was because he suspected something on his own,' Naruto considered but knew that he couldn't be sure until later on.
'It was inevitable that he would find out eventually, whether one of the group telling him or one of the few times he finally journeyed out of his lab. I couldn't hide such projects from him forever, though I never considered that he would suddenly want to take the lead on a mission to the Black Sun. I should be panicked about him finding out, concerned about the mission status, or dreading a confrontation where I have to explain myself but I simply don't care at this point. I shouldn't have to keep explaining myself and my decisions to him. I suppose that's the reason I started keeping secrets from him in the first place.
But it's not like he's making any progress with Sidious or making any future plans besides Telerath, which I discovered. All those recordings from the Senate are just going to waste in memory storage, Gato won't be of much use on Mustafar anymore once everything gets operational, and he's more concerned about his corpse and a slave family on Tatooine than anything else, including training me,' concluded Naruto and he took a few breathes to calm himself down so that he did not inhibit the process of tuning his crystal.
However, despite calming himself, he still felt his thoughts wander while working on the crystal, 'My clone in the Enclave dispelled days ago, so I have no idea what Kabuto has been up to,' he thought but Kabuto should have been capable of dealing with a database and even if the droids got loose, they didn't appear to be that dangerous.
'I suppose he can take care of himself,' Naruto considered and decided not to try and contact the medical ninja, though he soon realized that a message probably wouldn't be able to get through the layers of rock, soil, and anything else that still separated him from the surface.
Two days later
Standing before the ominous looking fortress, a combined henge of Gozu and Plagueis moved towards the front entrance in the guise of Naruto. Though he would have liked to go by himself, the Sith Lord was forced to have a member of the group that could use chakra help him. Allowed to enter the facility, Plagueis was slightly lost until using the Force helped him determine the correct direction to head in. There were no guards or anyone else around in the facility, 'But that does not mean that every move isn't being watched by multiple eyes,' noted the Sith Lord and as he identified numerous security systems and defenses throughout the facility.
Taking a lift to an upper level, the doors opened to reveal an Iktotchi that Plagueis had heard about but never personally met. The caprinae humanoid smiled at their entrance and ushered them to sit in the closest seat, which was at the opposite end of a long table. Having the feeling that he was being watched and not by the eyes of the Iktochi, Plagueis surmised that someone else was watching the meeting via holocam, 'Likely the Underlord, as Naruto said,' he quickly realized and the pair tried to act as Naruto would.
It wasn't until Gozu was making them sit down in the chair that Plagueis realized something amiss in the room, 'There's less oxygen in here than what is standard for humans. Not enough to lose consciousness but enough to create a noticeable reaction in a human,' he detected but wasn't sure how that would affect the pair in the combined henge. They were technically both breathing the air but he wasn't sure if either would be appreciably affected by the atmospheric anomaly.
'He must be doing this on purpose. Do I inquire about it or keep quiet and not let on that I know something is wrong?' wondered the Sith Lord and he decided to keep quiet about it.
"Welcome back and congratulation on another accomplished mission. Those droids will come in handy in the coming months, so make sure they area ready to go at a moments notice." said Narees and he smiled at the blonde-haired boy sitting opposite him before motioning towards the tray with bottle and glasses sitting nearby, offering him a drink.
'Do we take the drink?' asked Gozu as he wasn't sure what to do in such a situation. Years of being a ninja was telling him not to touch an offered drink. Plagueis took a split second to think over the choice and knew that Naruto normally wouldn't have taken the drink but something told him to drink and he decided to take the most logical action. Pouring two drinks, Plagueis and Gozu slid one down the table and waited for the host to drink first.
The Iktochi male frowned slightly before saying, "Not going to cool it off for me. Well I suppose it's my fault I guess for not supplying any ice in the first place," he commented with a smile before downing the liquor in one go and Gozu soon did the same. Observing the boy across from him, the Black Sun Vigo noted the very emotionless stare that Menma was giving him and compared it to the normal look that he received.
'He's usually more relaxed but still very observant and even slightly amused by our exchanges. I suppose its not the lack of oxygen in the room but that he must suspect me causing him problems on the mission,' thought the Vigo and he stopped himself from chuckling before revealing his slight deception.
"I do apologize for the mix-up in shipping manifests, but I see that you still performed admirably in the face of such adversity. Three ships captured is not a bad outcome when faced with inaccurate intelligence information. If I was betting man, and for future reference, I am a betting man, I would have thought you'd get at least six of the transports but three is still not too shabby," Stated the Vigo in a placating manner and he waited to see what effect the information would cause.
Seeing what the Iktotchi was getting at, Gozu tensed but stopped as he found that he couldn't move. 'Calm yourself and keep a stoic face,' commanded Plagueis as he tried his best to keep the body still and not react to the statement. However, in his mind, he was thinking something entirely different, 'I could get across this table and run him through before anyone could stop me,' he admitted but chose to hold in his anger and act out nothing of what his imagination and mind were showing him that he was more than capable of doing.
'It's no wonder Naruto wanted to know how long he had to keep working for this person,' realized the Sith Lord as he began to see how much the Vigo liked to play mind-games and mess with his student. 'Regardless of his games, we need to respond,' he realized and quickly conferred with Gozu.
"In the end it doesn't matter as the correct transport was captured and the mission successful but I do hope that your information will be more reliable in the future,' commented Gozu as he used Naruto's voice and relied on input from the Sith Lord. Giving a small smirk at the end of the sentence, Plagueis wanted to make it seem like the information wasn't a surprise and that they suspected it.
A little disappointed at the reaction, the Iktotchi decided to conclude their business. "In any case, if you would like to get a good price for those building materials, I'm willing to pay, just leave them in the usual location and the extra amount will be added to your next payment. Your payment for the current mission is waiting at the door and since you received your bonus on the last visit, it's just the normal amount this time. I'll be in touch with your next mission," stated the Black Sun Vigo and while Plagueis knew that he was being told to leave, his mind was focusing on other parts of the statement.
'What extra amount is he referring too?' questioned the Sith Lord as Gozu got up and looked to find a case sitting next to the lift door. Going over what he knew of their finances from the missions and based upon what he remembered, Plagueis did not find any increments besides the standard mission payments. It was only when they were in the lift and heading back to the ship that he considered something else, 'So he's been collecting extra money on the missions and using it for some other purpose,' he surmised and wanted to know how much Naruto had been putting aside and for what purposes.
Remembering that he wasn't alone in the lift, Plagueis was about to ask Gozu about the newly revealed information but he found the man curiously silent about the information and did not feel any surprise coming from the Smoke Demon concerning the secret funds. 'Because he already knows about it,' Plagueis guessed and decided to take the direct approach.
'What do you know about these extra payments?' Plagueis demanded and Gozu could feel the Sith Lord's mind prodding at his and looking for answers.
"Tens of millions," Plagueis repeated and Gozu's gaze wouldn't meet his own but the man reiterated what he had been trying to say earlier, "That's a very high estimate but somewhere in that range may not be out of the realm of possibilities," confirmed Gozu as he tried to downplay his approximation of the amount that Naruto could have acquired but still kept his statements as truthful as possible.
"And just when were any of you going to mention this to me?" questioned the Sith Lord and Gozu gave him a stoic look before admitting, "Probably never." The statement further enraged Plagueis but Gozu believed he was relatively safe in the cockpit of the Vulture, after all, any attack against him would likely damage the vessel and cause a problem as they had yet to leave.
"Tens of millions," said Plagueis again though in a much softer voice than before, but it still carried the same anger behind it. The former Muun proceeded to prep the ship for departure and Gozu looked as if he wanted to be anywhere else but the cockpit at that moment. 'Should have gone with the Meizu and the droid to Sarafur,' he lamented but realized that either Meizu or himself had to go with the Sith Lord in order to use the combined henge.
'Should have brought Suigetsu,' he thought as the white-haired teen knew nothing about what was really going on. No sooner than the ship had started to take off, then an incoming message was received. Curious and wondering if it was his student, Plagueis accepted the transmission, pushing the button harder than normal and a familiar face appeared on a small nearby holoprojector.
"Brat, you haven't gotten back to me about an update on that meeting. I can't wait forever here...,' but the crafty businessman soon stopped his complaint as he realized that Naruto wasn't on the ship he had detected. Shocked by the realization, Gato stared with his mouth slightly open before a similarly surprised Plagueis simply stated, "Gato."
It wasn't that the Sith Lord had said his name that scared the former tycoon but how his own name had been said that caused him to flee. The holoprojector was left on as the short man ran from whatever room he had been broadcasting from. It took a few seconds of static before a surprised Plagueis finally put together what was going on and turned to Gozu.
"Gato! He's making secret plans with Gato?!" he demanded incredulously and Gozu was just as surprised as he was and managed to say, "I've never heard anything, seen anything, or know anything concerning Gato." A dark glare was given before the Sith Lord confirmed that it was the truth but that did nothing to calm the anger building inside of him.
It was one thing to hide a secret device but now there were millions in secret funds and apparently secret meetings with Gato of all people going on behind his back. Setting a course to take him around the planet and to the hidden facility, Gozu decided to keep his mouth shut. 'This is going from bad to worse but thank Kami for that short idiots poorly timed intervention,' he thought and wondered what was going to happen to Gato. 'Obviously Gato thinks that he knows or is so scared of Plagueis that he'll try and flee before we arrive,' Gozu thought and again wished that someone else had come instead of him.
There had been many choices available to him but now the snake-like medical ninja found himself wondering, 'Did I pick the right choice?' because that was the real question now that he stood looking down upon a fourteen year old clone of Naruto. His decision had been to leave the clone in the tube long enough to age to what Naruto currently was and not allow the clone to fully mature. Once out of the tank, the growth rate had decreased to a normal rate because the cocktail of different drugs, nutrients, and catalysts were no longer being administered.
His other choices had been to let the process continue, halt the growth and recycle the clone, or to try and find Naruto and let him determine what to do. However, the shadow clone Naruto had left was dispelled days ago and no further clones had come in to check on him, nor could he find any in the area. His communicator was also not able to reach the teen and so he was left to choose for himself what to do.
Now that he was just finishing his final scans and tests of the cloned Naruto on the lone medical table in the lab, he wondered what his next move should be. Despite all odds, the clone showed no deformities, outwardly obvious or genetic, from the short growing cycle, and the devices in the lab were telling him that there was no immediate sign of any mental instability.
'No immediate sign?' Kabuto repeated and wondered if that would hold true or not. 'It's not like the memories came from Naruto, they were taken form his clone. How stable would that make a real flesh and blood clone with a shadow clones memories and experiences?' he wondered and decided that the best course of action was to keep the teen sedated until the real Naruto arrived. 'With no Kyuubi I shouldn't have to worry about his incredible regeneration rate or what insanely high dosage to give him,' mused Kabuto as he prepared the medication which he had gotten from his ship.
'What's in the hypo-syringe, Kabuto?' said a voice in his head and Kabuto stopped dead as he realized that it was Naruto's voice and it was coming from the clone. 'He's awake and alert?' Kabuto wondered as he held the syringe and looked down upon the clone. Eyelids opened to show familiar blue eyes but despite being a genetic copy, the look in the eyes was different than what he was used to. It was very calm and the clone remained laying down but staring up at the medical ninja standing over him.
As his heart-rate increased, Kabuto debated about what to do. He was scared and for good reason as despite the Clone looking identical to Naruto, there were so many possibilities as to the mental differences and he couldn't help but remembering all that he had read about clone madness and the results from previous experiments in the same cloning tanks.
"Kabuto, your hand is shaking," observed the Clone and Kabuto glanced to the hand holding the hypo-syringe to find that it was indeed shaking and he couldn't stop it. Looking back down to the clone, Kabuto found himself out of breathe but knew he had to do something, so he acted.
Making his way back through the cave with earth jutsu, Naruto avoided the majority of the creatures and eventually found himself seeing a very familiar stretch of cave which he knew from memory was close to the entrance. While he expected to see daylight up head, he instead saw muted light and an accompanying rumble which told him that it was probably storming outside.
'It's only a short distance back to the Enclave. Unless there's lightning, then I have nothing to worry about,' he thought and decided against making his way underground to avoid some rain. Exiting the caves entrance, Naruto looked up at the stormy clouds and while he heard thunder in the distance, he saw no lightning.
It was at that moment that he felt something familiar and yet unfamiliar at the same time. Slowly turning, he looked to the top of the cave entrance and found a similarly dressed clone, minus the cloak, staring down at him. There was a moment of confusion before Naruto said to the clone, "I don't remember creating you."
Looking down at him with a sad face, the clone replied, "That's because you didn't." Naruto raised an eyebrow at the statement in response before he started to think about more outlandish possibilities to explain the clones existence and soon had his answer. It was at that point that both knew what was going to happen next.