PART 7: METAL
Peace is a Lie
It always starts innocently enough.
Once, Revan sought the Star Forge to protect the Republic, to make certain no atrocity would sweep the galaxy the way the Mandalorians had. In the end, protection seemed laughable. The galaxy was one of endless conflict and war – and the end of that conflict only brought about another.
Once, a pilot named Carth Onasi thought his wife and son would be safe on the Outer Rim world of Telos, which had been far from any conflicts of the Mandalorian War. His trust in his Republic and his commanding officer was shattered in hours with a brutal bombing that took all he loved - a wife, a son, his trust, and even a beloved home world.
Once, Bastila acted out of every noble intention instilled into her by the Order that trained her since early childhood and spared the life of a foe, a foe her Order hadn't considered taking alive. Again, acting from the most noble of intentions, she had fused her own life with the ashes of a Sith Lord, creating something that could grow into something else - neither a Sith Lord reborn or a light-holding Jedi. To save the life she had borne and the life of Carth Onasi, she threw herself into a hopeless battle.
Once, a shy woman awoke on Taris with no memories, only a dry datapad file with her name, a few abilities that defined explanation, and the safety of a Republic soldier's companionship. As they struggled from one challenge to the next, her thoughts centered on protecting of the makeshift family she and the soldier had assembled. All of them were in pain of one sort or another, and she had made it her goal to relieve them of as much as she could. Only later did she learn the terrible truth - that she had, in a life she could not remember, been the cause for much of that pain.
Innocence never lasts. It is too easily broken, too easily turned to ash when exposed to the harsh realities of the universe. And when innocence dies, something else must step in and replace the void.
The Dark Side is always eager to volunteer.
There didn't seem to be a point to the communal meal anymore. The fears of another encounter like that of the Leviathan made it so no one wanted to leave a post abandoned - not even for a few minutes. Little could be done to alleviate the funereal mood among the crew. They held together as best they could, but their strong web now had gaping holes in its center. Bastila was undergoing a fate that would make death seem pleasant. Everyone knew it. Aboard the ship, Mission tried to keep the peace, but it was taking its toll on the girl. Her smiles did not reach her eyes and her head-tails drooped like wilting vines. Zaalbar tried his best to cheer her, and made only the faintest success. As if in penance or quarantine, Kairi had moved into Bastila's quarters in the aft stateroom, the only private room to be found on ship. Carth pulled double shifts at the helm, downing caffa to postpone fitful, exhausted sleep.
Canderous glumly moved to the cockpit. He wasn't about to let Carth pull double shift three nights in a row. Time to haul his rear out of that cockpit and into bed for his own good. Fellow may have had a bantha's endurance, but even banthas had their limits, and a warrior was no good when he was battling fatigue more than his opposition. The door opened, and Carth was there, eyes glazed from too little sleep and too much staring at controls. T3-M4 was plugged into the copilot console.
"No, T3, that's not right. I said boost those damn outputs! What do you mean that's the highest you can go? Can't you do a damn thing -? Never the frak mind. Sooner we get to that Sith rat hole, the sooner we get that map, and the sooner this madman's truce here ends."
The little droid warbled something that sounded like a scared apology.
"You're not the problem. You're programmed not to give a rip. It's the rest of them I don't get. How can they not care what kind of monster we have aboard ship?" He threw up his hands. "She's got them wrapped about her little finger, of course - you included."
Another series of indignant bleeps indicated the droid's opinion.
"Yeah, well I didn't ask you, did I? Just go back to that engine calculation. You boost that, or you're better off as scrap, got it?"
Not worth breaking all this equipment. Let's take this elsewhere.
Canderous spun the pilot's seat around and yanked Carth from it, hauling him bodily out of the cramped room. "Keep flying, T3."
Canderous hauled Carth in the communications room just off the cockpit, sealed the door behind them, and decked the younger man in the jaw so hard it knocked him to the floor.
"I should kill you," Canderous said evenly. "I'm not even sure why I haven't already."
The entire right side of his face hurt, and Carth could tell that Canderous had knocked a molar loose. Still...
"She...she destroyed your kind, too."
"And saved your filthy Republic in the process. Perhaps, it's not worth saving for all the gratitude you give her acts."
The pain was starting to ebb down to a dull throb, and Carth was trying to pull himself up. "Maybe we'd be a bit more grateful if she didn't go from kicking your butts to kicking ours. Burning worlds, killing millions..."
He found himself yanked to his feet and slammed so hard against the bulkhead his ears were ringing.
"Damn you Republic men. Aware of your shortcomings, but not of the opportunities present in them. Think, man! Revan; the same who led your people to victory over mine, the one Malak himself was too frightened to face in open combat, the name that makes him tremble still - and she is on our side!"
"You sure of that?"
Canderous let out a curse so rich that the walls should have melted. The larger man shifted position, one giant hand clasped about Carth's throat, the other putting Carth's arms in an elbow lock.
Canderous leaned in, dropping his voice to barely past a whisper. "Do you want to know how many men I have killed, Carth? How many of those were wearing that orange and red uniform, carrying Republic-issue blasters and looking at me with hatred and fear? Hundreds, with these hands alone, or with a vibroblade rending flesh - I even used to put notches on my gun. I told you of this. I make no apologies for the lives I have ended and world I have burned."
"I know." Carth didn't move. Every logical part of him said he should be struggling for his life, so why wasn't he terrified? How was it he could hold his ground?
"You knew this when you decided to come with me on a Dantooine afternoon." Again, the voice was quiet, breath just tickling his ear. "You risked the possibility I would murder you as soon as we were outside that enclave."
"I can defend myself." Carth hissed in reply.
"I know you can," Canderous said. He pulled back. All Carth could see were those iron eyes boring into him, demanding an answer. "Yet even now, when my hand could end your life with a squeeze, you do not beg for your life."
"You won't kill me," Carth said evenly.
"How can you be sure?" The hand clasped about Carth's neck started to tighten, and black spots started to crop up into his field of vision. "Beg me. Beg me like the good soldier you are."
Half-wondering if it would be his last word, Carth gasped. "No."
Canderous released his grip, and stepped backward. Carth dropped to his knees, inhaling breaths of sweet air as he rubbed his sore neck.
"A soldier would have struggled for his life. A soldier does not spend years hunting down his faithless dog of a former commander and relish the moment he thrusts a blade into the traitor's gullet." Canderous spat out "soldier" like it was some kind of insult. "Soldiers certainly do not trust a former enemy the way you just trusted me, and I've shown a damn sight less repentance than Revan has."
Carth tried to look up, to insist he was a soldier, but he couldn't seem to form words.
"Your words are those of a soldier, but I have faced battle with you at my side, Carth of Telos. A warrior's heart is what beats within your chest. You'll accept this, or you will die. No one can do it for you."
Was it Carth's imagination, or did Canderous look heartbroken?
"Decide. Are you my brother in battle, or just another soldier?" Canderous turned on his heel and left the small, dark room and marched into the cockpit.
She was in the cargo hold again, the improvised practice drones on the highest setting. Kairi sensed their movements through the blindfold. Five floating spheres, with spare parts salvaged from HK-47 and T3-M4, were equipped with sonic weapons, flame throwers, stun rays, and laser shot.
I can't afford to fail. No less than perfection, just as Master Vrook had tried to scold me into believing. He knew what I was. He knew I was a danger to everyone in that enclave.
With a speed more rapid than human reflexes should allow, she spun out of the training laser's shot. Rolling out of the way, she brought up her new saber to strike and block the next droid's shot, sending it back to its point of origin. The flame thrower's jet almost struck her in the back, but she pushed back with a wave of kinetic energy, deflecting the burst. Beads of sweat formed on her forehead with the effort.
It would figure that even the Force turns its back on me now. More effort is needed. I have to put more effort into this.
With the flame cannon spent, and Kairi got close enough to deliver a spinning kick into the droid, hurtling it to shatter against the wall. Faster…harder…more effort…Her saber sliced through the third. A wave of her fingers and the fourth seemed to ionize, spinning out of control and slamming into the fifth, destroying both on impact.
Kairi pulled off the blindfold and let it drop to the floor. More effort. She would have to get HK-47 in there. The assassin droid didn't tire of combat drills, and cheerfully reminisced about its assassination and capture missions Revan had sent it on. She was picking up the pieces of the destroyed drones when the door opened.
"My, my...at least your ability to use a lightsaber has recovered fully; probably even improved."
"I should not have recovered at all," she said harshly. "I should be dead several times over."
Jolee leaned against the wall, all feigned indifference and flippant commentary. "You and everyone else here," he said with a shrug.
It may have fooled any other Jedi, but not her. She saw the fault lines of concern, and could smell curiosity. He had a Pazaak desk in his hand – most likely Mission's.
"There is no point in stopping to play, Jolee."
"And there is a lot of point to exhausting yourself with endless drills, or by only eating survival portions of rations, or by locking yourself inside the back stateroom to hide the fact you aren't sleeping?" He shoved the deck in his robe's pocket and marched up to her. "I'm the closest thing this crew has to a doctor, so as such, I'm pulling rank and ordering you to get a hot meal and at least one round of Pazaak."
"Rank? There isn't such a thing here."
"No more or less so than any other smuggling boat," Jolee argued. "Fact remains that you were an eyelash away from death three weeks ago. On top of that, we're headed for Korriban of all places. Go in half dead and there are a dozen or more right on the space dock wanting to finish the job."
"I'll take that under advisement," she said icily.
She had only enough time to process Jolee dropping his mask surging with anger and impatience. With two quick gestures, he triggered the hatches and sealed them in the room.
"Oops," he said, his tone of voice teetering between casual and angry. "Clumsy me."
She did not move, keeping her arms folded. "Didn't it occur to you that I'm not supposed to survive this mission?"
"Yes, actually. The Jedi don't execute their prisoners, except when they do. They put a lot into appearances and covering their shebs since Exar Kun. Can't blame them, but want no part in it, either."
"I'm too dangerous to live. Just what do you do with a extraneous Sith Lord? It would make for the tidiest ending if I made sure Malak was dead, but did not survive after. No loose ends. It makes a perverse sense from a tactical point of view. If you make a weapon designed to hit your target, but that could turn around and destroy you afterward, wouldn't you design it for self destruct once the mission is carried out?"
"So you are going to die for their convenience?"
"I'm not a person, Jolee. I'm just a weapon. No more than an assassin droid so that the Jedi council can think they took the high road and not get their hands dirty. I've accepted that, why can't everyone else?"
"If you'd accepted that, you wouldn't be trying to kill yourself before dealing with Malak. I'm not the empath you are, but I don't have to be. Your actions betray you."
Kairi sighed. "I need to isolate myself from the rest of the crew. I did enough damage to Bastila. She was trying to protect everyone from me, and I was too much of a di'kut to see it before."
"Funny. While I'm sure Revan knew Mando'a, I don't think she used it in casual conversation."
"You used it, too."
Jolee shrugged. "Canderous is the only fellow here not young enough to be my son. Us old folks have to stick together and talk about how big of fools the younger generation are...Well, when we aren't talking about our aching backs and knees."
"I suppose there is little point in arguing with you some more. I'll see if there's some protein rations in the galley." She gestured and opened the closet door.
"Kairi," Jolee said. "For what it means, I do not care what you were. I already knew. Revan and Malak had to pass through the Shadowlands on their way to get that map. I know what I saw then and I know what I see now. I wouldn't have come along if I saw the same person."
"I wish Revan were dead," Kairi said. "If only for everyone to have their peace."
She walked out quickly, while she still had enough resolve to do so.
She hadn't had a chance to get back to her quarters. As she was trying to pull her dignity about her like the heavy black cloak she had taken to wearing, she ran face-first into a man's jacket. A certain very worn, very orange jacket. She looked up. Carth seemed to be distracted as well, rubbing his chin as a bruise was starting to discolor a patch of his jaw.
"I...I was just headed for Jolee in the med bay," he sheepishly admitted.
He stammered out the words, but could have babbled in Twi'leki for all he knew. All that time they'd been out from Yavin, he had tried to avoid catching a glance of her, tried shoving things to the back of his mind, even tried denying her existence.
His grandfather used to keep a small puzzle. If one held it at a certain angle, one saw a crystal vase. Shift the angle ever so slightly, and the vase was gone - replaced with a pair of stone faces in profile. Carth spent a good deal of time looking at his grandfather's puzzle, trying to find just the right angle to see both. His vision was wavering just the same way as he looked at the woman in front of him. In a heavy black cloak, the hood pulled halfway across her face, he could see Revan. Yet, with just the slightest shift in perception, there was Kairi, someone he missed so much it ached. Just like grandfather's puzzle, there didn't seem to be an angle where he saw both at the same time.
She reached up, and lightly brushed his jaw. There was a flash of pain, but the molar seemed to settle back into place, and the bruising started to fade.
"Who did that? Canderous?"
"I...I think I earned it," he admitted.
All she did was look him square in the eye. "I know you don't trust me. You have every right not to."
"Maybe. You've kept things on course so far, Revan." He used the name intentionally, to remind himself what he was dealing with. "But you know where my loyalties are - to the Republic. I will not let you betray it under any circumstances."
"Good," she said. "Are you still willing to follow the plan we made before Leviathan?"
The question threw him into confusion? Which plan? The plan for him to take her to his bunk? The plan he had to get her the hell away from anything resembling a lightsaber for a good long time? The plan to break into that Sith Academy, grab his kid using anything up to and including Bothan stun-sticks, and haul him off for a good long talk?
She reminded him of which one. "The two of us would take the droids and find a way into the academy. Anyone who knows the Map's location is likely to be there. I can rearrange it if you can't work with me."
"Plan goes on schedule. I told you I won't let my...personal feelings get in the way of the job." Which feelings, Onasi? "I made my vow and I plan to see it through."
"That's good," she admitted. "T3-M4 already minds us both, so I'm not so worried about him. As for HK-47, he's been programmed to follow you should I be incapacitated, but I want him to obey you as much as he does me. Think of it as...as a backup in case..." Was she really as scared by the prospect as she looked?
"All the bases covered. Sounds familiar."
"Yeah, it was what Rev - you -" He threw up his hands. "Hell, I can't do this. Maybe you're better off asking one of the others. One second I'm seeing Revan, the next I can't see you as Revan at all."
She folded her arms, not budging. "Who would you trust to help me get your son out of that academy?"
Damn. She still knew where to nail him, no matter what she was calling herself. "You win. I'm still going to watch you program HK-47, though. Just to make sure our bases are covered. And is our earlier agreement in place?"
"Yeah, the 'no secrets' one we agreed to on Tatooine. I tell you, you tell me." He tried to throw up a wall of anger, keep her empathy from reading too closely. Damned if he would falter - not when there was so much on the line. Still…
She looked up at him with the oddest expression on her face. He couldn't tell if it was heartbreak, anger, or disappointment. "You are the last person I ever wanted to betray, and that is true even now."
Pulling the cloak about herself, she started heading to HK-47's usual post in the armory. Carth followed at her heels. They arrived just as the red-plated droid was finishing up his recharge cycle. Upon Kairi's entrance, he jerked to full attention.
"Statement: Good Evening, Master! Are you ready to spread the good news among the Sith? That their true master lives still?"
He was hoping she would have the grace to wince at that, but she merely waved off the suggestion. "No, HK. We must be silent about my identity, especially on Korriban. Stealth and secrecy are to be our weapons. Let Malak think he succeeded in killing me, at least for the moment."
"Acknowledgment: Yes, master! Of course. How silly of me to suggest such an approach. I shall surely like to see the look on meat-bag Malak's face when he learns of your continued survival. We shall lie in wait and strike when he has foolishly lowered his guard. Statement: I regret my assassination protocol is still non-functional as of yet. Perhaps in time, you will repair it?"
Kairi didn't answer that. "Since you're going with Carth and me to Korriban, and now that full memory has been restored, I am updating your protocols."
If the droid could roll its eyes, Carth swore it would have. "Impatience: Master, have I not been a fully loyal and useful droid to you with my current protocols?"
Her voice was like ice. "The update is necessary. Turn around."
Like a petulant child, the droid turned around, and Kairi picked up the spanner to open his back hatch.
The droid's eyes flashed gold for a second. "Statement: You have a concern and reverence for life you did not under your former designation. It is most disturbing. I still am amazed that an organic like yourself could endure such an indignity."
"Carth," she asked. "Please sit by me. I think I'll need another set of hands."
Hesitantly, he crouched next to her, the toolbox between them. She pushed the hood away. Carth felt his gut twist. Sweet Mother Telos, did he really manage to force himself to forget that much about her face?
He was looking at the Gordian knot of circuitry and wires she had asked him to hold while she picked up a probe. "Did you really build this droid, Rev -as Revan?"
The tinny vocorder voice registered as much annoyance as a droid could manage. "Explantion: Of course, she built me. Do not ask such foolish questions. My memory may be restored, but I'm afraid the damage done to Mistress Kairi-Revan was irreparable." There was a faint whirring of gears as HK-47 hung his head to give her better access. "Statement: If I had only known of your apprentice's treachery, Master, I would have certainly hung him by his own entrails."
"Would have saved us a lot of trouble, HK," Carth weakly joked.
Did she wince? Hard to tell. "I doubt there was anything you could have done, given the circumstances."
"Contemplation: Perhaps you are correct. I am once again with my proper master, and neither of us has suffered permanent termination." Another whir of gears as the droid shifted position to accommodate her work. "I still would have liked to make the meat-bag Malak very sorry for his poor choices, however."
She found the board she was looking for and pressed the probe to it. After a few seconds, she handed the probe to Carth and picked up a second tool that was small and thin, barely the size of a stylus.
"Request: I do hope you are not to make a pacifist out of me, Master. I would so dislike to have my functions wasted so."
"Why not? Gets at least one ticking bomb off the ship," Carth commented sarcastically. "Do we have to take this crazy droid along?"
The droid's head nearly swiveled a full 180 degrees. "Warning: You will not underestimate me. Query: Can we please reduce his status to meat-bag?"
"No, HK. He's critical to this assignment," she replied with more than a little annoyance. "I'm going to have to take down a couple of your functions for a few minutes."
She made a small twist with the tool, and HK-47 slumped over. "Indignation: That was VERY disruptive to my systems, Master!"
Now, she was starting to show annoyance. "I don't particularly care, HK. This has to be done."
"Statement: Yes, there is the harsh and brutal master I remember."
She must have miscalibrated something, because there was a slight shower of sparks. The shock caused her to jump involuntarily, and the tool dropped from her hands and dropped somewhere in HK-47's chassis. She shook the hand that got shocked. "Damn!"
"It's okay, I'll help," Carth said, taking her burned hand. "That...that's what I'm here for?" It came out as more a question than anything.
"Maybe you'd be better off leaving me alone to do this. Maybe it was a mistake to ask you along on what I should be able to handle myself." She took a breath to center herself and started looking for the tool.
He let out a frustrated sigh. "And maybe when you're facing a job like this, you need the extra hands."
HK-47 interrupted with a honking noise. "Suggestion: Maybe the two silly organics would like to retrieve the power diverter that is causing my leg motor servos a great deal of discomfort!"
They sighed and looked at each other for a moment. Again, the strange double vision took hold again. Why couldn't he focus? He licked his suddenly dry lips. "I'll hold those wires back. Give you a clear shot."
"You can use your hands to go grab it. They're a lot smaller than mine. Failing that, you could..."
Carth shot a glance over to the droid. "Shut up, already!" He pulled the tangled mess of half-repaired circuits and wires aside as her small hand reached into the larger tangle. "It's...it's out of reach."
"Maybe you can lift it the other way? You know...um...Force powers? I'll still keep the passage open."
She sighed and he steadied her, one hand on her back. She tensed for a brief moment.
"Take it easy. It's just me," he reminded her.
With a long sigh, she started concentrating. The small tool rose out of where it had fallen, floating like a soap bubble out of the mess of wires.
"You're doing it," he whispered. "That's it. He let go the wires to snag it from mid air. "Got it."
Kairi let out a breath and reached over to get the tool. Her hand closed around his, her eyes looking into his own...Carth found it suddenly near-impossible to hold onto that image of Revan. Oh, man. There was this overwhelming wish to kiss her, to just forget everything on that ship ever happened, to finish that memory that Saul so rudely interrupted. Hell, he would get up to the cockpit, turn this boat around, and head for the middle of nowhere. Shove all this Sith against Jedi, Star Forge, Darth-whatever out an airlock.
And HK-47 picked that of all times to dash a little cold water on the situation.
"Readiness: Since I am to accompany you and Auxiliary Master on this journey, which new protocols do you wish to place?"
That snapped him back so hard that the room practically spun. He looked away, yanking his hands away from her. What was he thinking? As if to remind himself, he brushed his left thumb across the underside of his wedding band.
Kairi went back to "all business," thankfully. "HK, you are to retain your protocols regarding the protection and safety of any crew member or their guests. I know the protocol to protect me is hard-wired into your systems, but you will extend that protocol to Carth as well. You will protect him and obey his orders as if they came from me."
That was surprising! His eyebrows almost hit his hairline.
"But above all else, you will see to is the mission parameters are met. We are to go to Korriban, and obtain the final Star Map. This is only for the purpose of finding the Star Forge, nothing more. If...if we are to come into conflict, then your task is to see that the mission is carried out." She looked over to Carth, who nodded his consent.
"Analysis: You do not wish me to be used as an assassin droid?"
"This assignment is more important. Understood?"
"Complying: Protocols reset. But I find this a sad, sad waste of my talents."
"I don't really care what you think, HK," she said. Already she was sounding abrasive, and it gave Carth the creeps. There was something a little too...familiar about the resignation that came with it, too.
What do you care, Onasi? You're both walking dead.
"So, it's done then? The droid obeys both of us?" He stopped himself as she replaced the back panel of the chassis and sealed the plates.
"Yes. Easily done, I would suppose."
That's when the exhaustion hit him. He was so very tired from all that had happened. She also looked like she could use some sleep.
"Let me walk you back to your quarters," he offered, putting a hand on her back. Was there anything of Kairi left? He hoped it wasn't just all a Jedi lie. If somehow, he could reach her, he had to try for both their sakes. "Least I can do."
They walked back to the quarters she used to share with Juhani. She hadn't slept in them for days, but he wanted so badly for the lady he missed to return. Maybe it was impossible, but for some reason, the thought of her sleeping away in her old bunk would be a certain amount of comfort.
She didn't seem inclined to object as he helped her out of the heavy, dark outer robe and she curled onto the bunk. He pulled the blankets around her, more as a way not to drop over from exhaustion next to her.
"Thank you, Carth," she said. "For more than I know how to say."
"You...you're welcome..." He tried to say her name, and couldn't figure out which to use. "What should I call you?" he asked.
"You can't use that name when running around Korriban."
He was feeling silly for asking, but ask he must. "I... know, but when we're on the ship, when we're alone, what should I call you?"
Black eyes warred with uncertainty, teetering between hope and despair. "I'm not sure yet."
"Fair enough," he said, getting up and leaving her to rest.
The tomb of Naga Sadow was stifling, the geothermic currents beneath creating an oppressive heat. Revan had taken off her mask as soon as she was able. Now, she sat heavily on a fallen stone and looked gloomily at the Star Map, her haunted dark eyes as weary as her too-thin body.
Malak, for his part, was thrilled.
"The final map, Revan! We have found it. With this, we can take the Star Forge. With this, we are unstoppable."
Revan didn't respond. Malak continued his ranting.
"Their lack of vision and hypocrisy will be paid for in blood. We shall march across the galaxy, and all shall bow to our power. Let the Jedi Council quake in their sheltered enclaves when we bring the horrors we have seen to their own eyes. Let those squabbling senators run like scared cattle when a true leader steps up to oppose them."
He seemed to notice that Revan wasn't joining in on his euphoria.
"And that is what must happen," she said simply.
Malak was puzzled for a moment. "Do you not share the thrill? Or are you still clinging to that empty Code?" His face turned into a mocking sneer. "Did they beat all the passion out of you? Do you harbor illusions of being welcomed back into their prison, returning to them, groveling, like your 'general' tried to?"
She shook her head and rose, walking towards the black metal spires, her movements like a woman three times her age. "It is too late for us. We have seen too much. We have learned too much - just like the ones who came here before us. Before we started, we knew it would have to come to this."
She suddenly shook off the tiredness and pulled her saber. It was now a bright red, built from crystals they had scavenged from the tombs.
"We are now as they were," Revan said. "Cast from the Order and sent into exile. Now all that is left is to decide who shall be master, and who shall be apprentice."
Malak drew his, grinning.
Malak opened his eyes to see Bandon standing before him. The tall, broad-shouldered man was in full duelist armor, walking steadily. The Dark Lord rose from his meditation.
"Why is you bother me, Bandon?" This one was getting bold - a little too much so by Malak's standards. Hovering in the doorway was a Sith officer, who gave off waves of nervousness and fear. It was too bad he was not able to fashion this into power the way Revan had. Bandon walked behind the unlucky officer and shoved him to the forefront.
The officer saluted shakily. Delicious fear, but useless to Malak.
"It is about the Ebon Hawk and her crew, my Lord," he said. "We...we can find no trace of them. I believe the sleeper we planted aboard the ship did its job."
Malak did not say anything, but instead turned to other resources to give him his answers while he waved to Bandon to continue the questions.
"Have you told anyone of this incident, Lieutenant?"
The officer shook his head. "No, Lord Bandon. Our communications array was locked during the escape, and afterwards, we followed our orders to maintain radio silence until we arrived at the Star Forge system."
Bandon smiled wickedly. "Very good of you for following your orders. And I assume you are the ranking officer aboard?"
Another nervous nod and a failed attempt to conceal his shaking. "Yes, m'lord. With Admiral Karath and many of the senior staff dead, the Leviathan is under my command. Everything has been done exactly as you ordered. No one outside of the ship and this room know of Lady Revan's survival."
Bandon seemed to acknowledge this with a simple nod. "Thank you, lieutenant." He then brought one hand up in a simple gesture, and the frightened man fell backwards, clutching his throat and dropping to his knees. The last thing he saw was the sky above the temple as a small, white ball of light flashed across the sky like an aberrant star.
Bandon continued to tighten his grip until the man's throat was completely crushed, the corpse dropping to the stone floor. He glanced down the hall at two Sith acolytes who came into view.
"Dispose of that."
As the acolytes dragged the corpse away, Bandon turned to Malak. "It is done, then? The Leviathan destroyed and the secret maintained?"
"There is one last task for you to complete in this matter, my apprentice," Malak said. "And that is to kill the secret herself."
"I still sense her presence in the Force, altered as it is. Until I had seen her face, I would not have believed them to be the same. The Jedi were clever in their deception."
"It is too bad I did not recognize her then, aboard the Endar Spire. We could have been rid of her quite easily then."
Malak paced a few steps away, then turned around and hit Bandon hard with a Force push, striking him with the power of ten fists. Bandon was knocked to the ground.
"That is for your lack of vigilance, Bandon. Fail me again, and you will be the one disposed of." Malak adjusted his cape. "You are to hunt her down. She will be weak. Her friends will no longer trust her now that they know the truth. She will be alone...and easy prey."
"Where shall I begin my hunt, my lord?" Bandon asked, picking himself from the floor.
"She will be headed for Korriban, into the very heart of the Sith. You will go there and wait for her. She will come soon enough. The Valley of the Dark Lords is an appropriate place to bury her, I think."
Bandon was on his feet now, and nodded grimly. "And about our captive?"
"Leave me to Bastila," Malak said. If he had means to smile, he would be. "It will be my pleasure to break that little Jedi. To punish her for her interference..."
Oh, what a bitter disappointment. Bastila was in a small stone room, chained up like a beast. The only light in this place was from what came in under the door.
Her clothing had been torn to shreds by the jailers, who had been inclined to amuse themselves by violating her, only to be halted by a Sith acolyte who walked in and Force-choked them both. She shuddered. There was some kind of shield that did not allow her to connect with the Force outside wherever this dreaded place was, but it certainly was enough to let her feel what was going on inside. She felt one of them perish almost instantly while the underling that managed a fair enough grovel for his life was released and fled like a rat.
The chain was starting to bite into her ankle, rubbing it raw. Already, she could see the beginnings of infection, made even worse by the layer of rust. Perhaps, if she were fortunate, the infection would kill her within days. Something told her she wasn't going to be in the ranks of the fortunate anytime soon.
The door to the cell swung open and the "interrogator" came in. He was a young soldier, probably only had five years on Mission - seven at most. He was projecting a strong combination of anger, power, and impatience.
"Morning, Jedi. Welcome to hell."
"And so glad you could join me here," she snapped back. "Now, do what you are here to do and be done with it."
"Didn't expect you'd plead for your life. They tend not to...at least at first." He had an accent Bastila tried to place. When she did, she had a weapon.
"Telosian accent? And working for the Sith? How can you even think of it after they bombed your home? Were you among those crawling in the ashes, perhaps? Maybe someone you cared for didn't -"
A savage backhand across her jaw silenced her. "You frelling Jedi don't know a damn thing. Too busy sitting on your butts in the Enclaves, quoting philosophy, while Mandalorians scorched the ground around us. Malak had the spine to go and fight, you haughty shutta. Be grateful he's at least giving you a chance."
It took Bastila a while to find her tongue again. "We had our reasons, traitor."
The metal-toed boot crashed into her stomach, knocking the wind out of her. He followed it up with a sharp kick to her side, and Bastila could feel her rib crack. It hurt to breathe, much less talk.
"First session is the neural cage, Jedi. You think you're hurting now, just wait..."
The dark sack over her face was meant to disorientate and to intimidate, the points of being spun around, kicked, and other jostling was meant to disrupt her ability to concentrate. The clinical and academic lessons ran through her head as the events unfolded.
First, they will pass me by the blocks of prisoners already in session, let me hear their screams...
Indeed, the next turn was down a long corridor. Bastila heard a heavy door - old fashioned and not electronic - be pulled open. Yet the lessons were nothing compared to the wave of anguish, pain, despair, and fear that plowed into her. Nothing seemed to block out the screams. She tried to pull up shields, tried to block the emotions from her mind, but...
Suddenly, a mysterious ache in her arm made a lot more sense.
"Treatment for Jedi," snarled the Telosian. "We gave you a little something to go to work on those Force shields. You're going to feel everything we want you to..."
They continued to pull her down the corridor, down towards a terrible fate.