Full credit goes to the teams headed by Mr Lucas and Mr Filoni for creating the wonderful world of Star Wars: The Clone Wars. As before, this chapter contains dialogue transcribed from "Death Trap".
Especial thanks to laloga for all her encouragement and feedback over the course of the story.
Adversity is a friendship's truest test.
In the reactor room, the fire raged. Tongues of flame licked at the durasteel walls defying all attempts, mechanical and organic, to stifle them. Endurance watched as one of her damage teams tried to stem the blaze; retardant foam hissing as it tried to extinguish the inferno. Thick acrid smoke swirled about the cavernous room, billowing around the reactor pillars and wafting over the catwalks.
Through the haze, she could just make out the white of the team's armour as they moved around. The fire was still growing despite their best efforts. The exposed reactor rods had been feeding the flames and now the blaze was self-sustaining: not even a complete atmospheric vent of the ship would stop it now. Parts of the ceiling were already starting to collapse under the intense heat. Above the roar of the fire, Endurance could hear the fire fighters yelling at each other:
"Aim for the base of Core Two! We've got to protect the memory core!"
"It's too late for that! Breach in Core Three! Pull back! Pull back!"
"Look, sir! It's the General!"
Endurance couldn't see the General, his dark brown robes blended into the haze perfectly. She could hear him though.
"Sergeant, status report!"
Endurance caught a flash of white amidst the murk as the trooper snapped out a salute. "It's too late, General Windu, two of the reactors have been breached. We can't stop the fire. Permission to evacuate sir."
"Permission granted, trooper. Head for the pods."
The troopers dropped their gear and headed out. Below the catwalk, the fire increased its tempo as the last of the fire-retardant was vaporised. The blaze surged along the network of corridors at the base of the reactor room, hungrily following the richer streams of oxygen wafting from undamaged areas.
In a small room abutting the corridors, a memory processor was nestled against the dull grey walls. One of five nondescript boxes of conduits and wiring, Endurance's memory processors contained her truest self; lines of coding, data files and ship's logs. Everything that she was, neatly packed into her five memory cores that were spread throughout the ship.
Flames rushed past the room, shorting the door's control panel. The thick durasteel door slid open then in a blast of superheated air and flame, her memory core was gone.
Endurance heard a voice. "Get your men out of here! There's nothing more you can do."
Who was that? She couldn't remember, it didn't sound like one of her clones. Endurance knew she ought to remember - she still had four memory cores left after all, but the voice wasn't bringing up a corresponding data file anymore. She tried to access her personnel files, but the database had been vaporised along with her memory processor. She could still remember her Admiral; he was burned into her central memory core, the one that contained her program. Everyone else...
The voice continued, "R2 - prep the fighters, be ready to take off."
Fighters, she remembered them. Her pilots needed their ships. Endurance started towards the main hanger, leaping across missing conduits and torn wiring. Half-way there, she remembered her bridge master-program. Perhaps it could help her.
[Status of primary systems? Are crew safe?] she asked it.
[Error: Unrecognised command. Please re-enter] it replied mechanically.
Endurance paused. The program didn't sound right. Emergencies normally made it anxious; damage on this scale should've sent it into a panic. She focused, seeing beyond the program's interface into its coding. At a glance, she could see the program wasn't doing well. Chunks were missing, junk code building up inside it. The master-program had been reduced to its basic components; an automaton incapable of independent thought, with everything that made it unique stripped away.
[Query – Primary systems, summary. Query – Personnel, percentage still to evacuate] she asked it, carefully picking her phrasing.
[Navigation - offline. Tactical – offline. Personnel –… Error: Unable to access personnel files] it reported matter-of-factly.
Endurance experienced a surge of frustration. She should've known that the program wouldn't be able to work that out. Her missing memory was affecting her more than she had anticipated.
She tried a different tack. [Query – Emergency pods, number remaining]
[Fifteen pods still attached. Bay 2D-Y reports no power to pod launch mechanisms]
No power? That she might be able to fix. Endurance changed direction, heading instead for bay 2D-Y. She quickly found the problem: a power coupling had been corroded by a coolant leak, debris clogging the conduit so only a trickle of power made it through to the pods.
As she reached the pod bay, she noticed the incinerator's white-hot contents were steadily chewing their way through the decks. Only one deck below the mass of molten metal was another of her memory processors, this one containing the ship's logs—a record of everything that had happened since leaving space dock.
Meanwhile, a small crowd of clones had gathered in the pod bay, technicians frantically trying to reroute power to the pods as air whistled through a crack in the hull. The bay was steadily losing atmosphere and over half of the softies standing there lacked any protection against a vacuum. In the depths of space they would slowly suffocate and freeze, blood boiling in their veins, conscious the whole time unless their lungs happened to rupture from the pressure difference.
Yet another decision; save them or transfer her ship's logs. Endurance had made her choice earlier. She made a note in her main memory core on the bridge, the one farthest away from the damage: [Priority Alpha: Preservation of ship's company. Evacuation in progress. Priority Beta: Open main hanger doors.] Hopefully she would remember it.
Endurance stretched out, grasping her flickering power supplies firmly, and shoved a surge down the corroded lines. The systems in the pod bay winked into life and her crew scrambled into the pods. As the pods launched, rocketing away from her hull, molten metal from the incinerator dripped through the durasteel deck and enveloped her memory processor.
Endurance blanked out for a moment.
When she came back to awareness, she found herself in an empty pod bay. Bay 2D-Y. What was she doing here? She couldn't remember. Why couldn't she remember? She searched for the ship's logs but found nothing but molten slag. Her incinerator had somehow escaped containment and was burning its way through the ship. Her main systems were still hanging on but barely. What had happened?
Endurance tried to focus. It was so hard though. Where were her Emergency Protocols? There were just a handful of subroutines roaming the broken remains of her systems. The web of light was now a crumpled, darkened wreck. She had known a moment ago what the problem was, but it was gone, melted away with the ship's logs.
A scrap of data arrived as she tried to work out what had happened. [Priority Alpha: Preservation of ship's company. Evacuation in progress. Priority Beta: Open main hanger doors]
Evacuation? That made sense given the damage to her hull, any organics trapped aboard wouldn't stay functional for long. They needed to get out.
The hangar doors, yes… that was it. That was what she'd been doing. What was wrong with the doors again? She tried opening them but nothing happened. Her fighters were trapped in their bays. The smaller ships were uneasy; they knew something was wrong but not what. They were used to dealing with enemy ships, gleefully pursuing them through the blackness. Sitting still while the hanger burned around them had stirred them up.
An unexpected toodle caught her attention. An R2 unit had hooked itself up to a terminal in the main hanger. The droid was asking if she needed help, it sounded familiar… was it one of hers? She couldn't remember. The unit sent her a data snippet, [R2-D2, assigned to General Skywalker, aboard for inspection with Gen Windu and Gen Skywalker]. Endurance wavered on the edge of trust: what if it were a Separatist ploy? The R2 responded by sending her a Republic code but she didn't have a databank to verify it against.
Endurance shifted to her hanger security cams. She could see the astromech now, a small blue and white droid sitting in front of the dull grey bulkhead that contained one of her terminals. A small Republic cog decorated its front; it seemed the small droid was exactly what it claimed to be. A couple of organics wearing ship's uniforms paced impatiently nearby.
"Come on, hurry up, stubbie!"
"I could hot-wire it, sir."
One of the men started removing access panels. Endurance ignored him. Why couldn't she open the hangar doors? Electrics were fine, servo motors were functioning, no structural damage to the doors themselves….aha! One of the hydraulic lines was severed. The R2 beeped at her, offering to take over. Endurance wavered.
A fresh explosion rocked her starboard decks, shredding another of her memory banks. Tactical and Navigation were gone. It was getting harder and harder to think, to act: she only had two memory cores left. She sent a copy of the hangar schematics and hydraulic layout to R2-D2. The droid whistled; it had relayed the information to the crew – they would take over. Now it wanted to be with its General on the bridge.
On the bridge, her crew were countermanding her actions, confusing her already harassed subroutines. Endurance fled to the bridge, the astromech trailing in her wake. Normally she did as the bridge crew told her but right now, their commands would result in more fatalities. She needed her subroutines to do as she said, even if that meant revealing herself to the crew.
She hesitated, unsure. She was supposed to stay secret. Someone, no - not someone, another ship had told her that. Who? But she had a Priority Alpha command to keep the crew safe, surely that overrode the order for secrecy? Her bridge crew didn't have the whole picture, all auxiliary power needed to be used to save her softies, not her. She locked out the consoles, overriding all security clearances and tying all the ship's functions together into one complex knot that only she could control.
Dimly she heard her softies cursing, the Admiral demanding status updates as the crew fumbled with unresponsive controls. She accessed the main screen on the bridge, reaching out to her Admiral—the only person she could remember—the only way she knew how.
[Admiral, all functions tied to ship's primary computer. Recommend immediate evacuation of all bridge personnel]
She watched the Admiral's response warily; his mouth moving as he silently read her message. Other personnel on the bridge had paused what they were doing, silently watching her Admiral and the message scrolling across all the console screens. The lull contrasted strangely with the frantic rush the Endurance could see in her hangers and escape pod bays.
The Admiral turned to one side. "Ponds. Get them out of here."
"Yes, sir." A clone started shepherding her crew out. She knew she ought to know his name and number but nothing came to mind. The Admiral stayed steadfastly where he was. Endurance tried again.
[Admiral. Recommend immediate evacuation, survival probability less than 23%]
He didn't reply for the longest time. Then Kilian crossed to the main view port, "And what was the probability for Teyr?" he asked softly.
Teyr? Endurance tried to access the file but it was gone, roasted along with her main databank. Reluctantly she confessed, [Data currently unavailable.]
"4.5%, old girl. We only had a 4.5% chance of making it out of that hell hole. I left you once. I'll not do it again."
With R2-D2's help, an organic wearing the uniform of a navigation officer had managed to bypass her lockout and was trying to give her the last dregs of auxiliary power. Sparks flew from the damaged console, erasing her messages as the Generals arrived.
"The main reactor's beyond hope; you have to abandon ship."
Kilian didn't so much as look at the younger man. "No, you must abandon ship. I'm staying."
Endurance disagreed. Her crew didn't need to be here, they needed to be in the escape pods. That included her Admiral. The Generals seemed to agree with her.
"Admiral, you must abandon ship."
"Not a chance!"
"But, sir, with respect – that's an order!"
"It may be your command, General, but it's my ship."
She could see the two Generals flanking her Admiral, trying to get him to leave. His expression looked, familiar? The word 'stubborn' came to her.
"We don't have time for that kind of sentiment!"
"It's not sentiment: an admiral must go down with his ship. I don't expect you to understand it, Jedi."
The Generals left along with R2 who whistled a quick farewell before he followed his General to the main hanger.
The planet was getting closer. The bridge master-program calmly reported two escape pods remained. The window for evacuation was closing rapidly. Endurance tried to reason with her Admiral, sometimes softies were known to respond to logic.
[Two escape pods standing by, Bay 11-L. Advise you evacuate, Admiral.]
He eyed her central console, making the same expression she could remember seeing him turn on recalcitrant officers. "Tell them not to wait. My place is here."
Damage reports flooded in from all over, her thoughts slowing to a crawl. Too much damage, she thought numbly. None of her engines would fire. Dimly she felt the nearby planet pulling at her, struggled to concentrate. Her fighters were away, the sleek shapes of the Generals' Delta-7 interceptors streaking out of the hanger doors.
Endurance cried out across the stars. Only silence answered her. It was just her: her and the Admiral who refused to leave her bridge as they plunged towards the planet.
All escape pods were gone. Life support flickered, and then died. Against all odds her comm systems was still working. A voice crackled through the tense atmosphere on the bridge,
"Admiral, what's your status?"
Her Admiral replied calmly, "We're caught in Vanqor's gravitational pull. We're going to try and set her down on the surface."
"Alright. Once you're down we'll get the rescue teams to your location."
Then they were in the upper atmosphere, the roar of static overwhelming and frying the comm system. On the bridge, her Admiral stood erect and undaunted, surveying the broken consoles, hands clasped behind his back as Vanqor drew ever closer, looming in the fire-streaked view screen in front of her.
Endurance struggled to keep the ship level, firing her stabilisers in an attempt to create a gentle angle of impact. Her hull blazed red-hot as the atmosphere rubbed her raw, stripping off more pieces of her keel. Alarms shrieked at her, red lights flashing on the few undamaged consoles. Through it all, her Admiral stood unflinching as the ship dissolved around him: trusting her to get him safely to the surface.
More compartments were ripped away, taking another memory core with them.
Blackness tugged seductively at her. Endurance felt herself drifting, lifting free from her web of light, her grip on her systems slackening. An alert broke through, interrupting the peaceful darkness that was enveloping her.
[Warning: Forward shields at 8%]
Dimly, Endurance remembered she needed to keep the bridge intact. There was something, no – someone she needed to protect. There was only a trickle of power left in her systems. Desperately she shoved it at the forward shields. The stabilisers flickered and died. She felt her hull starting to tilt, rolling into an uncontrolled pitched dive.
Then she was through the upper atmosphere, hull creaking as the wind cooled the friction-heated plates. The planet's surface was now ten thousand feet below her, six thousand, and then two thousand feet as she hurtled towards the unforgiving terrain.
Endurance fought the blackness, tried to transfer power to inertial dampers so that the impact wouldn't snap the bridge in two but there was nothing left. Just the trickle of power that was sustaining her central memory bank, her last scrap of self.
The planet was only five hundred feet below her.
Two hundred feet.
Endurance gave herself to the dampers, dissolving into darkness.
They had hit hard. That was Admiral Kilian's first thought when he came to.
Commander Ponds was standing over him, looking gravely concerned. "Admiral, are you alright?"
With the clone's help, Kilian got to his feet, wincing as his head spun sickeningly. "Still in one piece, Commander, which is more than I can say for my poor ship."
He looked around the mess that used to be his bridge. The viewport was shattered; beams of durasteel from broken bulkheads lancing through the space, but it was in better shape that he had expected. The men that had volunteered to stay behind with him had also fared better than he had hoped. Everyone was still alive. Lieutenant Addi was busy examining the remains of the comm centre. A couple of troopers were sitting down, propped against consoles.
Ponds followed his gaze. "Link and Tone have busted legs but everyone made it, sir."
"Very good. Send a couple of the men to find us a path out of here. It would rather rude for us to make our rescuers come to us," Kilian said.
The uninjured troopers didn't respond to his mild humour. Instead, they trotted off obediently. Kilian crossed over to the main console, carefully brushing aside shards of transparisteel from the busted viewport. The screen was dead. "Come on old girl, talk to me," he murmured. The panel remained as lifeless as before.
He looked up to see Ponds watching him and tried to fight a sudden wave of embarrassment. He refused to feel ashamed of his attachment to the Endurance, an attachment that had turned out to be entirely justified. Ponds looked a little awkward, his normally deadpan look was gone. "What is it, Commander?"
"It's the Endurance's central memory core. It's completely wiped, must've happened when the ship routed power to the inertial dampers. She's gone, sir."
A knot was forming in his chest. Kilian turned away from Ponds. "Thank you, Commander. That'll be all."
In the corner of his eye, Kilian saw the other man hesitate before going to talk to the injured marines. In front of him, the dead control panel lay quiescent, no lights flickering, no reassuring scrolling of status updates and messages. He stripped off a glove and started slowly wiping away the layer of dust and grime that coated the empty screen.
A quiet clunk caught his attention and Admiral Kilian spun around. A crackling blue field erupted from the centre of the bridge and he knew no more.
For those interested, the soundtrack for this chapter is "Serenata Immortale" by Immediate Music. You can find it on Youtube: youtube dot com/watch?v=1HtCquBppTc
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