Author's note: This story takes place after the two Clone Wars episodes: "Dooku Captured" and "The Gungan General." It is also a sequel to All Or Nothing and follows the timeline established in that story, if you are familiar with my other fics. Thank you for reading. All I ask is that you enjoy and leave a review if you are so inclined!
Thanks to SerendipityAEY for her beta-work.
Warriors Of Shadow
Chapter One: A Little Bit of Chaos
"Alright Captain: do you want the good news, or the bad news?"
"Spit it out, Crest..."
"Fine, fine...no need to get snappy." Crest gave a dramatic sigh over the close-range comm even as Stonewall gritted his teeth. "The good news is that we should be able to take this place out with little trouble, provided..."
The ordnance man gave a chuckle. "Well, that's the bad news, actually. As long as we don't need to leave here in once piece, we can do it. Otherwise..." He blew air out of his mouth in an approximation of the sound of an explosion. "Smithereens, my friend. A puff of smoke and a cloud of dust: that's all that'll be left of us."
Traxis' voice sounded next. "Not only do you make bad jokes, but you rhyme when you're doing it."
"I am a man of many talents."
Stonewall ignored them. "Is there any other option?" Half of his squad was currently crouched around the glowing schematics of a droid foundry on the world of Coraux, far from the Core; the blue light from the rotating hologram flickered against the helmets of the clones as they discussed the situation beneath the shelter of a small cavern they'd found. It was the thick of night and the air around them was quiet save for the occasional cicada song or rustle of leaves as some small creature stirred in the distance.
"Not that I can see, Captain," Crest replied, his tone more serious. "This place is like a house of cards...see those supports? I don't think this was supposed to be a permanent installation; they didn't construct it very well." Indeed, Stone could see that the factory looked flimsy at best, supported over the sands of one of Coraux' beaches by a series of almost matchstick-thin beams as they appeared in the projection. "It's odd," the ordo man added. "I mean, really odd. Why go through all the trouble to make a droid foundry that wouldn't survive so much as a sneeze?"
"One of the great mysteries of life, I guess," Traxis replied. "So can we do it or not?"
Stonewall shook his head. "I'd rather know more about this facility before we go charging in. I don't know about you, Trax, but I'm in no hurry to die today." He blinked into his HUD and opened up the longer-range comm frequency to contact the other team. "General Halcyon?"
Kalinda did not respond immediately, which made his heart skip a beat, but after a moment he heard her familiar voice in his ear and his chest relaxed a fraction. "Yes, Captain?"
"Any more info on this foundry? It doesn't look good from our end."
"It's no regular factory, if that's what you mean," she replied. He could hear the puzzlement in her voice and smiled to himself as he pictured her brow creasing while she considered the situation. "There's something going on here, something very strange...and secretive." The Jedi and the other two clones had taken on the task of infiltrating the facility while he and the others remained on the outside, "planning the big boom," as Crest had put it.
"Copy that, General." Milo sounded slightly out of breath. "Security here is tight as anything, especially in the lower, middle section. You saw how Weave and I couldn't access it without being detected." He exhaled. "Not too many active tinnies though, which is a good thing."
Stone could hear the doubt in Kalinda's voice as she replied. "Perhaps. Stone?"
"I may have an idea, but I'll need to get into that section."
"We need more time."
The captain sighed. "That's not something we have an abundance of, I'm afraid." He glanced beyond their position in the cave; in the distance he could make out the faint, orange glow from the factory where the others were located. "How much?"
Weave spoke next, his voice a whisper. "General...I'm not sure I can configure that door panel without some serious encryption codes..."
"Why are you whispering?" Traxis asked, annoyed. "No one else can hear us, you know."
"If you had any idea how fickle this technology was, you'd be cautious too," Weave replied. "In fact, I'm expecting our comms to go dead any minute from all the interference."
Crest chuckled. "Need some hatch persuasion, General? I have lots of det tape...lots."
"Thanks, Crest," she replied. "But I don't think it will be necessary – yet. Stone?" Her tone was cautious, which set him even more on his guard.
"Give us an hour. There's something about that section...I need to take a look. Go ahead and set up what you need to; if you don't hear back in an hour, proceed with the detonation. Is that understood?"
You always knew it could come to this, he thought, his throat tightening, though he nodded. Realizing that she couldn't see him over their link, he spoke. "Absolutely. But..."
He could hear the smile in her voice. "I have every intention of walking out of here in one piece, Captain. Have a little faith."
"Of course, General," he replied. "Good luck. May the Force be with you." It felt strange to say the words, but it reassured him as well. She has the Force, he told himself. She's more than able to handle this.
"And you as well, Stone. You too, Trax."
Crest sounded hurt. "What about me?"
Her laughter was bright, making Stone smile despite his concern for her and the others' safety. "Not until you stop with the terrible rhymes."
Kalinda signed off of the comm channel, thankful once again for the earpiece that she'd procured after their first mission on Japarran a month and a half ago. It was certainly less bulky and intrusive than the ubiquitous wrist comms that most others seemed to favor, though it did make for interesting moments; the earpieces were relatively new to the GAR and therefore some of the kinks were still being worked out. She had heard most of the other team's conversation before Stone had contacted her; though it was distracting, it had made her smile.
During times like these, Kali decided to take happiness where and when she could.
A gesture to Milo and Weave indicated that they should follow her and the trio began to make their way through the factory along one of the catwalks that hung from the ceiling over the massive room. Sweat beaded at her forehead and trickled down her back, even though she'd shed her traditional Jedi tunic before they'd entered, as she did not have the luxury of temp-controlled armor like the clones and the environment was uncomfortably warm. In the distance she could hear the rhythmic, metallic clank of presses and pulleys, the hiss of steam rising from cooling grates and the deep, resonant thrumming of the unseen power source.
Her awareness was extended as far as she could reach it, but so far they had encountered no other life-forms, which was troubling; though the Separatists relied heavily on droids to do the brunt of their labor, they rarely left the clankers without at least one organic being capable of rational thought. Still, though, there were sensors everywhere, sweeping the area in search of those who did not belong. Like us, she thought as she paused at a suitable alcove, just outside the next room.
Weave and Milo crouched next to her, their tension palpable. "General," Milo said, his voice sounding small in her ear. "What's the plan?" Though the others rarely joked about him being a "shiny" any longer, at times he still lacked confidence in his skills even though they had improved much during the younger clone's time under Kali's command.
"We need to access that section," she replied, glancing down. The bottom of this part of the factory was not visible from their position at the ceiling; all she could make out was the persistent orange glow interspersed with the silhouettes of machines. The air was thick and hot, the taste of metal seared into her tongue. "But it will require a bit of finesse, I'm afraid. More so than we planned." She looked at Weave. "You can't hack into it, but I might be able to use the Force to...shall we say, coerce the door?"
Uncertainty rippled from him and she was again thankful that the Force allowed her to sense the clone's emotions, as their expressions were masked by their helmets. "And that won't set off any alarms? That door was pretty well fortified, General."
Kali shook her head. "I'm not sure how sensitive the panel was. Hopefully not." She smiled at the clone. "But that's where you guys will come in."
"What do you want us to do, General Halcyon?" Milo shifted, his sniper rifle moving slightly against his back.
"I need a distraction," she replied. "But it can't be anything too alarming, as I'd rather not give away our presence just yet." She glanced at Weave. "I think if they have something else to occupy them, something not serious, but rather annoying...it should give me the time I need."
Weave nodded slowly, his uncertainty fading into excitement and eagerness as he mulled over her words. "Milo and I can do a bit of damage to some of the manufacturing machines," he mused. "A few crossed wires here and there, coupled with a loose bolt or five..." She could hear the grin in his voice. "Should keep their attention." He glanced at Milo who emanated confusion. "We can disable some of the equipment without raising any alarms, but we'll need to be careful."
"Careful's my middle name," the younger clone replied. "Just point me where you want me."
Kalinda smiled to herself. This was one of the best parts, watching her soldiers in action; over the last few weeks she'd noticed a marked improvement in how the clones worked together and with her. They wanted to get better, they craved growth and understanding. They thought. Thiswas why she was certain that the Separatists would ultimately fail: no droid had ever been made with an imagination, with creativity, with intelligence or with an innate desire to be more than the sum of its parts. "When you're done," she said. "We'll meet back at RV seven."
"How long do you need?" She sensed another flicker of apprehension from Weave, though he hid it well.
One of her hands on his arm allowed her to send him a measure of calm assurance. This will work. I have faith in you. "I'm not sure," she admitted. "But we'll stay in contact the whole time." With that, she rose from her crouch and turned to leave.
"Good luck, General," Milo said. "We won't let you down."
She smiled to herself. "I know, Milo. And good luck to you, too."
Kalinda followed the catwalk back towards the center of the foundry, thinking over the best route by which her destination could be reached. Pausing beside an exhaust vent, she took a momentary respite from the heat as she surveyed the factory below her; the room that she was in now appeared to be less of a construction area and geared more for the implanting of the control chips that would allow orders to be conveyed to each droid simultaneously. I wish it weren't so blasted hot in here, she thought as she gathered up her hair again, her sleeveless shirt still damp against her back. Though it was shorter than it had been in the past, her dark hair was thick against her neck and still refused to stay in a tidy braid.
Below her feet she could see the newly assembled B1 droids flopping over like rag-dolls on a conveyor belt as the chips were soldered into their backs, after which they were moved along for the next series of additions. Weave and Stone had spent the better part of the approach to Coraux looking into exactly how the foundries operated, though Kali had other matters on her mind, things that the Council had instructed her to keep an eye out for.
Things that she was very sure she was about to discover, provided her plan worked.
It was another quarter of an hour before she reached the center room of the foundry. When she and the others had come here initially, she had realized that this job would necessitate a solitary approach. Cameras were everywhere; it had been a massive headache just to get the three of them to the door in the first place unseen, an action that she had only taken when she thought that Weave could access the room with a few, well-placed hacks into the panel.
No such luck.
On her own, it was easier, though she knew that it would all be for nothing if the others didn't do their part. "Weave? Milo? How's it looking?"
There was a brief moment of static and she silently cursed her earpiece, then Weave replied. "We're in position, General." He took a breath as if to say more, but she stopped him, aware that the clone could be long-winded at times.
"Excellent. So am I. Let's make a little chaos, shall we?"
"This is taking too long," Traxis was pacing back and forth, his boots leaving imprints on the sand at his feet. "She said an hour..."
"I think time is subjective to a Jedi," Crest replied. "And you know Weave...he's probably talking her ear off as we speak." However, he cast a glance at Stonewall just the same. "What do you think, Cap?"
Stone flexed the muscles in his calves as he continued to study the foundry from their position only half a klick away, beneath the cover of several massive boulders that were scattered along the shoreline. He'd adjusted the sensors on his helmet to pick up any and all background noises – just in case – and he could hear the sibilant hiss of the sea as it slithered against the rocks behind them; the sky was still glowing from the factory, the light obscuring any stars that might be seen at this time of night. "We'll give them more time," he said. "Ten minutes." Again, he tried to contact Kali, but was met with only static. The same happened when he tried to call Milo or Weave and he felt a flare of apprehension in his chest, though he tamped it down.
Traxis sighed and lifted his blasters from their holsters at his hips, spinning them around his index fingers as he paced. "Ten minutes. Great."
"Will you sit down?" Crest said. "You're making me nervous with all that pacing, and I don't want to detonate anything until we're ready." He held up the trigger that would change the face of the landscape.
"You stop moving when you're dead," Trax replied; however, after a moment he paused to lean against the boulder, though he kept spinning the blasters. "How long's it been now?"
"For frick's sake..."
Stonewall shook his head. "Not time yet, Trax. Keep calm." His gaze remained on the factory and the orange-tinted sky. Come on, Kali, he thought, gritting his teeth. Where are you?
After several moments of concentration Kalinda felt her Force-shield ripple to life around her. The air in her immediate vicinity wavered a little, as though disturbed by heat, and she knew that she would remain undetected by the security cameras, provided she clung to the shadows. It took up much of her energy to keep the shield going but she was determined to succeed. Having made her way to the center room, she stood to one side, her eyes on the doorway through the side corridor that was her goal. Ahead of her were no less than six cameras, all pointing at the aisle that lead directly to the door. Red lights were placed at intervals along the walls creating patches of shadow, which – she hoped – would provide the necessary cover that would supplement her shield and allow her to remain undetected.
She checked in with the others again. "What's the good word, guys?"
Milo spoke, his voice edged with excitement. "Weave's just getting the last part ready...things are about to get silly here, General."
"Good," she nodded. "As soon as you can, make for the rendezvous point. I'll see you there."
"Looking forward to it."
Her booted feet made no sound as she crossed the room and approached the wide, triple-sealed door, swathed in a red glow from the lights of the narrow room. Sweat was rolling off of her in earnest now, as much from the heat of the foundry as from the effort of maintaining her shield and keeping her movements silent, though she allowed herself a moment of respite as she reached the doorway, pausing to gather her strength before the next step. A few deep breaths cleared her mind and helped her focus on the task at hand; the heat was soon forgotten as she felt the Force thrumming in her veins. It filled her with certainty and she eyed the blinking red lights on the security panel for a moment.
Through the Force, she focused her attention on the series of wires and codes that were the core of the panel, looking for a way through. Her eyes closed and she could almost see the delicate inner-workings of the panel until she found what she'd been searching for. There...a brush of her mind and she couldn't help but grin as the lights from the console turned green. I love being a Jedi.
With a hiss, the door slid open, and Kali stepped inside the room, the net of her awareness cast as wide as she could. In the distance, she could now hear the rhythmic pounding of machinery growing more and more erratic, followed with a very unpleasant scraping sound and she nodded to herself. Good job, guys. Now I just have to do my part.
Weave's voice was breathless as it crackled through the interference. "Captain...we're at the RV point, but the General's not here yet. Should we wait or meet with you?"
The sky glowed, but it wasn't just from the foundry any longer. Dawn was coming, tinting the sky with muted pink light. Stonewall swallowed and closed his eyes, as if willing Kalinda to appear before him. Her words echoed in his mind but he struggled with the order regardless. The realization struck him like a shot: I can't do it. I can't leave her. Though he was holding still, his heart was hammering within his ribcage, a wild thing trying to escape as he grasped for an acceptable solution to the impossible problem.
"Captain?" It was Milo, his tone hesitant. "I think..." His words were drowned out by the sound of a droning alarm. "Yeah...they know we're here." The younger clone sounded resigned.
Weave spoke next. "Captain, should we leave?"
As Stone opened his mouth to speak, he heard her voice in his ear. "Gentlemen; I believe we've worn out our welcome. Let's make our exit."
Though he couldn't see him, Stonewall knew that Crest was grinning as he held up the trigger. He waited several minutes before speaking. "Everyone clear?"
"We're clear, Crest," Kalinda replied. "Light up the sky."