17

Once safely away from Telos, Atton and Kreia rejoined them in the hold. T3 tottered in, still looking a little wobbly.

"Bao-Dur, take a look at his chassis when we're done?" Trista asked. He nodded.

"I may be able to give him a few upgrades, in fact."

T3 replied with a nervous chirp.

"So, now what?" Atton asked. Trista noticed that he was keeping the holoterminal between himself and Kreia, and seemed to be having difficulty making eye contact with her.

"We need to figure out our next move." Trista folded her hands behind her back. "Did anyone learn anything while we were with Atris?"

"You were chatting it up with her. I figured you'd know."

Trista sighed, drawing the back of her hand over her forehead. "All I learned was that she still has a serious problem with me, and that is unlikely to change," she replied simply.

"Great. This is the worst operation ever," Atton complained. "Not only do we have no idea what we're doing, we've got a bunch of Sith ready to murder us! I-"

"All right, fine, just . . . stop." Trista held up her hands, and her plea managed to silence Atton entirely. In the ensuing silence T3 released a quiet chirp. "What?"

"T3 = downloaded academy memory," he explained simply.

"You downloaded her archives?" T3 replied with a happy chirp.

"Jedi = in here. Atris + computer = saved recording = Jedi trial."

"What is the machine saying?" Kreia interrupted. Trista held out her hand.

"Jedi = want to see?"

"Atris saved a holorecord of my trial," she said quietly. "I didn't expect such a thing to exist." She looked down at the droid. "If you want to play it, fine. It's just ancient history now."

T3 chirped and rolled forward, plugging himself into the holotable. A perfect image of the Jedi Council Chambers on Coruscant hovered into view, many of the seats empty. Only a few of the Masters were even present, and Trista closed her eyes as she sank down onto the sofa behind the table and tucked her knees under her chin. She didn't need to see this - even after a decade it was seared into her mind. Kreia was watching too interestedly to notice; Atton was glancing between her and the recording worriedly. She shook her head with a small, unemotional smile.

::Do you know why we have called you here?:: Even years later, she would recognize Vrook's voice in a heartbeat, and that tone was the one that had so often disciplined Padawans back into line - she was certain there wasn't a Jedi still alive that couldn't have fear struck into them by that voice, except perhaps Revan.

::I came because I surrendered upon my return to Coruscant, despite being nearly comatose.:: Trista's voice was quiet, rough, as if she'd been screaming. Even on the image she looked like hell, and Trista remembered why - it'd taken her weeks to recover from Malachor. ::Not because you summoned me.::

::Why did you defy us?:: Zez-Kai Ell, one of her old masters. ::The Jedi are guardians of peace and have been for ages. This call to war undermined everything we strove for.::

::Is Revan your master now?:: Atris. ::Or is the horror you wrought at Malachor enough for you to see the truth?::

::If Revan were my master I would have followed her now, not come here. I stand by my decision.::

::You refuse to hear us. You shut us out, and have shut yourself to the galaxy.::

Recording-Trista's head ducked slightly, her hands clenching in her robe. Ell's rejection had affected her more than she'd wanted to admit - she'd still carried over the respect she'd had for him, and of all the Jedi who may have not rejected her outright she'd expected it to be he and Kavar.

::We believe that your true understanding of what happened at Malachor will only come in time - time that cannot happen here, near your battlegrounds.:: Kavar had at least been nice about it. Even over the recording he was looking at her with something that almost reeked of pity, edged out only by concern. Zez-Kai Ell had possessed a similar expression, she remembered, just as she had turned to leave and never look back.

::You are exiled,:: Vash interjected. While a stern woman, she did have her soft moments - and this had not been one of them. ::And you are a Jedi no longer.::

Recording-Trista nodded, and she remembered that she'd expected the sentence. She hadn't felt the Force in days, by that point, and she'd already determined that there was no point in remaining with the Jedi. It had been part of why she'd surrendered to the envoy sent to collect her from the capital ship that had taken her back to Coruscant without a word. Recording-Trista turned on her heel and started back towards the doors, without so much as half a glance back.

::There is one last thing.:: Vrook, stern as always, was addressing her with little to no concern. His voice made her stop mid-step. ::Your lightsaber. Surrender it to us.::

Recording-Trista snapped it off her belt, holding it in her hands for a brief moment. Trista smiled despite herself - she had been memorizing it, taking in every last detail - every one she'd remembered even a decade later, after learning Atris still possessed it. On the recording she ignited it, taking in the white-blue color one last time, then nudged a mechanism with her thumb that made the blade stay lit before turning and throwing it. Vrook, right behind the center stone, nearly dove out of his chair. But Trista had always had good aim, and her lightsaber was stopped by the large central stone of the Council chambers. With a deep sigh, the recording image turned on her heel again and disappeared.

But the recording didn't stop. It was silent for a few moments as Vrook settled back in his chair as if nothing had happened and cleared his throat.

::Much defiance in that one,:: Kavar said quietly, as he stood and retrieved her lightsaber. Trista raised her head.

"I don't remember this," she said quietly.

"Probably because you'd walked out," Atton replied, motioning at the recording.

::Far more than I recall,:: Zez-Kai Ell agreed. ::But you are correct, Kavar. When she was here I felt it. It was as if she wasn't there. An echo.::

Kavar nodded as he retook his seat. ::Revan's influence has grown amongst the youngest of the Order - she speaks to their passions, not their sense.:: The tone of regret his voice bore was telling - She couldn't help but wonder if Revan's former master had survived the War. ::But this is something different.::

Vash spoke next, glancing around the room. ::It is as I feared. And I fear that we have played directly into the hands of the enemy.::

"What enemy?" Trista murmured to herself, earning a shrug from Atton.

::We have not lost a Jedi this day. You felt it - she lost herself. She is no Jedi. She walked Revan's path but was not strong enough.::

::I fear it was our teachings that caused Revan to choose the path she did, Atris.::

"I didn't realize that Revan came back so quickly." Trista blinked. She'd lost track of time for a while after Malachor . . . but this couldn't have been more than a month afterwards, could it? Though from what Kreia had told her, and what she'd examined on the holonet, it'd been months between the beginning of the Jedi Civil War and her exile - at least three, maybe four. Had she really been out of it for so long?

Atris was still tellingly angry. ::It was not our teachings that caused Revan to fall.::

::We take responsibility, not cast blame,:: Vash chided.

::The choice of one was the choice of us all. Revan's teacher intended no harm, nor was she the only one.::

::And yet they all stem from the same source - and led all who listened to the dark side. As the did the Exile.::

"Heh," Atton said. "Five minutes later and they stopped using your name already."

Trista waved her hand.

::You are wrong, Atris.:: Vash was staring out the door, lost in thought. ::The dark side is not what I felt in her. Surely you all felt it as well - it was emptiness. She's changed.::

::Whatever that was it was of the dark side,:: Atris insisted. ::We should not have let her leave. She will merely join Revan again - we all are aware of their closeness - or perhaps worse.::

::Control your passions, Atris, we all know that would have been the wrong decision.:: Zez-Kai Ell managed to silence the angry master. ::This was not Revan who stood before you, and she should not be punished for Revan's crimes. Trista's path is far different.::

::She may join Revan again in time. We let her go because she must.:: Kavar had been quiet for some time now, and finally interjected his own opinions.

::Malachor should have been her grave. You saw it in her walk and in the Force. It was as if she was already dead.::

::No. Not death.:: Zez-Kai Ell shook his head. ::Many battles are left for her, if what we've seen is true. We have seen her cut through the future like a blade, that is for certain.::

::We should have told her the truth,:: Vash said quietly. ::A Jedi deserves to know.::

::No good would have come of that, even if what you believe is true.:: Vrook appeared to have recovered from his near-miss. ::There is still the matter of Revan. While she has yet to reveal herself, there is little argument in what has occurred - and if she still commands the forces she left with, we will have enough to contend with shortly.:: There was a quiet nod around the circle. ::Such truths could leave us vulnerable on two fronts.::

::Perhaps in several years we will call her back and explain what has happened, and how she may be healed. Until then, she must accept her journey.::

::But she may never discover the truth. And then she will never know why we were forced to exile her.::

::Then that is what we must accept.:: Vrook stood, and the recording promptly cut off. They turned to see Trista staring blankly at it, before her head jerked over towards T3.

"There's no more?"

He chirped sadly. "Archives = list of missing Jedi?"

"Good. Put it up?"

Trista stood and walked back to the holotable, leaning on it. "So Dantooine, Korriban, Nar Shaddaa and Onderon. What a strange selection of places to hide." She rested her hand under her chin. "And even stranger that they were all part of the Council that sentenced me."

"It is no coincidence. Some larger plan is at work here." Kreia was quiet for a moment. "And we are walking into it. This is too convenient to be anything but a trap."

"That may be, but we need their help." Trista shook her head. "I don't like it, but we have to find them. Dantooine first, I believe."

"The Enclave will be of no use to us," Kreia replied. Trista glanced over at her.

"Whether it will or not, there may be information we're missing or supplies we need. T3, keep going through the archives."

"Those archives were stolen," an accusing voice said from behind them. Trista and Atton's hands immediately fell to their weapons as they spun. The woman that Trista and Kreia had spoken with stood framed in one of the doorways, arms crossed.

"What the hell are you doing on our ship?" Atton demanded.

"I have come to help you against this threat," she replied simply.

"Well," Atton replied. "We don't want your help. Or any of your sisters. So the airlock is that way."

"Atton," Trista chided.

"It is only me. And Atris believes you will need help."

"Atris has been wrong about a great many things," Trista replied.

"She seems convinced. Besides I am here now, and I will not be leaving."

Trista straightened, eyeing the Handmaiden closely. She walked towards her, then around, sizing her up. "You have had combat training? The electrostaff you used to detain us, I assume?"

"I have." She was standing still, though it seemed the strength of Trista's scrutiny made her slightly uncomfortable.

"But you have never fought Sith?"

"I don't believe that will be a difficult thing to adapt to."

She was capable, that was for sure. She bore it in her walk, in her stance - nearly a Jedi's walk, yet with stronger Echani markings.

Revan's walk, had Revan used a two-bladed weapon.

"Then I will accept your help."

"Indeed?" Kreia scoffed. "Ah, but what does one more matter to our journey? I will be in my quarters." She turned on her heel and disappeared, and Trista sighed and held up her hand.

"Your presence is, of course, provided you can assure me that you are not transmitting information back to Atris. T3 will monitor and scan your personal communications and effects."

"I am not, but I will allow it."

"Damn straight you will," Trista replied. "The less Atris knows of our actions, the happier I will be."

Atton sighed. "Well, I'll be in my quarters too. But since I don't have any, I'll just be in the cockpit. If she's stickin' around, she gets the cargo hold. Might remind her how fun being locked up is."

Trista rolled her eyes. T3 released a quiet dwooo and scurried off to the engine room.

Bao-Dur ducked his head, and followed the droid with a quiet "General."

"The cargo hold will suffice," the Handmaiden said. "I need very little. I will attend to myself and seek out the droid to scan my possessions."

"Just ... ignore Atton. There's still general crew quarters, grab a bunk there."

"I assure you, I am used to worse conditions. But I appreciate the gesture."

"Atton, put the ship into hyperspace towards Dantooine, please."

"Great." He turned for the cockpit. "One backwater farming planet, comin' right up."

#

Trista was sure she looked every inch the solemn Jedi general as she paced the bridge of her capital ship, studying the world beneath her while struggling to cut out the feeling of lives being lost in droves against the evenly matched Mandalorians. Nearly the entire Mando fleet had showed up - and the two thirds of the Republic's that was there was seriously regretting it.

It made her sick to her stomach, but it was a nausea she'd grown used to through nearly three years of war. Just behind her, watching her pace, was the Zabrak engineer who had designed the doomsday weapon that sat quietly, waiting to deploy, on the planet below.

"Message coming in, General." A communications tech hailed her, and she walked to the panel.

"Put it through."

Revan swam into view, the image shaky and staticy. It shook for a moment, and Trista realized that the Republic leader's ship must have come under fire. ::Tris,:: she said, voice bearing the unmistakable tone of the voice modulator she'd hidden in her mask. ::Alek and I are being delayed. A Mando scout patrol hit us just out of system - we aren't quite there yet. What's the situation?::

"It's absolute chaos," Trista replied shorty. "What did you expect?"

::I know. I'm sorry. Trista, you need to end it. Activate the generator and end this.::

"Revs, you gave me orders to -"

::And I am rescinding those orders! There is no way our part of the fleet will relieve you anytime soon. Alek and I are doing our best to get there - but it may not be enough. Pull the fleet back and activate it.::

"We still have men on the surface. Pulling out now-"

::People die, Trista.::

She swallowed. Heavily. "Revs, we still have Jedi on the surface."

::And we will make sure their sacrifice is remembered. Trista Morace, this is an order. Activate the generator.::

"Revan - Revan, no. I can't. We can't. We'll get our people and -"

:: We have no other choice!:: Trista swallowed at Revan's tone. ::We either finish the war now, or we fight a war of attrition for years to come. This was to be a trap - I am not there, so activating it falls to you. Their deaths will be on Mandalore's head, just as all the others are, not on ours.::

"Revan, I will not abandon our men!"

::That is an ord-:: Revan disappeared in a burst of static, and Trista winced before looking back up at the battle raging around her. Her eyes burned - she realized it was from the emotion she was fighting back, from the knowledge that Revan was, as always, right, but acknowledging it did not provide the relief she thought it would. The people who would die ... everyone, all the Jedi who had followed them and the soldiers who had no choice ...

"Helmsman." The bridge was silent - it had fallen silent as soon as they'd realized the hail was from Revan. "Prepare to fall back outside of Malachor's gravitational field. Communications, transmit a warning to our men to pull back from the planet."

"Ma'am - Master Jedi, I-"

"That is an order, helmsman."

"Chief Engineer." The Zabrak ducked his head as she turned to him. "Give our ships ten minutes to withdraw, then be ready to activate the generator."

"Ma'am - er, Master Jedi - er, General," Someone on the bridge stuttered, lowering his hand as she turned to him. "Should we begin evacing our men on the surface?"

Trista swallowed heavily, but her face remained impassive. "If this works properly, there will be no time. And any mass evacuation of our men will alert the Mandalorians that something is going on."

There was a quiet murmur on the bridge, but officers moved to carry out her orders. She stood staring out the viewport, trying to steel herself for the echo this would send through the Force.

This was not the first time she and Revan had disagreed. She'd doubted for some time - as Revan grew more concerned with victory at any cost, Trista had desperately tried to pull her back to victory at least cost. And it had been a recent change - at least since she had returned from scouting to announce that she knew the location of the last battle against the Mandalorians. She had not been so bad before, even when Alek had been captured by the Mandalorians - and then she had threatened to storm the place herself and personally kill anyone who had harmed him, or any of their fellow Jedi. The changes to her were terrifying.

...perhaps the Council had a point.

Ten minutes passed faster than she had desired. She took a deep breath. "All posts, prepare for a rough evac." Their ship needed to be relatively close to allow for the generator's activation, so they would need quick action to leave safely. She stared out the window, drawing several deep breaths to prepare herself. She could feel the Zabrak hovering next to her, datapad in hand and held ready.

She didn't look at him, simply gave him a curt not. He keyed something in.

And suddenly, it sounded as if the Force contorted in pain and shrieked.

It was louder than when the Cathar had been massacred, louder than when Serroco had been bombed - louder than all the deaths of the War rolled into one. The very air seemed to snap around her, pain exploding through her as she stumbled to her knees on the deck, her fingers digging into the steel. The ship lurched dangerously, engines straining to pull out of the sudden vacuum created by the planet's field reversing. As the shriek grew she lost even the ability to kneel, collapsing to the deck. Bile rose in the back of her throat, and her heart felt like it was beating so quickly it would simply give out.

She reached out as the deaths and the wrongness and everything exploded deep inside her chest and pushed it away, hard, thrusted at it to leave her alone, pushing harder when it threatened even more to pull her with it. It would kill her - of that she was sure, just one more casualty added to the list of those killed on Malachor, with the ships being dragged to the planet and the soldiers killed instantly at her order and -

As if she were snapping an errant thread, Trista unconsciously pulled away from the Force. The scream began to diminish. Her ears rang, her vision began to blacken, her senses suddenly felt as if they had all been severed at once -

And like that, the shriek stopped. The deck was cold underneath of her - echoing the cold feeling sinking around her heart as she lost consciousness.

#

She awoke next to the hyperdrive, which was not a surprise. Trista had grown accustomed over many years to sleeping near engines. It was comforting, and the noise filled up the silence that had assaulted her after losing the Force. So when she had finally started to feel her eyes droop from her spot on the sofa in the main hold, she found blankets and pillows tucked in a smuggler's hole and retreated to the engine room.

Finding that she couldn't fall back to sleep, she decided to walk the ship. She pulled on her pants and tugged her coat around her, leaving the engine room door open.

She steered clear of the dormitory that Kreia had taken over, and the cargo hold blast door was closed. Near the communications room she could hear Atton snoring in the cockpit, and detoured to check the feeds. Strangely, half of the screens were dark, and she wasn't sure if T3 just hadn't bothered to reactivate them or if they were that way for a reason. There wasn't anything important on the rest of them, or at least nothing that was capable of helping her ignore her most recent nightmare.

A little bit more pacing alerted her to strange noises in the garage. She moved to investigate, surprised to find Bao-Dur tapping on the scaffolded wall and making notes on a datapad while his small remote droid bobbed over his shoulder.

"Can't sleep, General?"

She hadn't thought she'd been making that much noise. "I could ask you the same question."

"And I believe my answer is obvious." Trista pulled herself up on the workbench with a sigh, tugging her coat around her. They sat in silence for a while, neither speaking.

"General?"

"You know you don't need to call me that."

He paused his work, then resumed typing into his datapad. "Sorry. Guess I can't get my head out of the past."

"Try. Just ... as a request."

"I will do my best."

"What were you going to ask me?"

He turned, leaning back on the scaffolding. "Why do you not carry a lightsaber anymore?"

Trista's eyes narrowed, and she finally sighed. "You saw why. I had to surrender it."

"That was a piece of what you were, not who you are now."

"Then having a lightsaber without the Force, at least for extended use, is rather pointless."

"Do you wish to possess one again?"

She studied him for a moment then looked away, chewing on her lip. Possessing a new lightsaber had crossed her mind, recently, especially knowing that the Sith were hounding their steps. And then there had been the incident in the Ithorian enclave where she'd almost naturally tried to sheathe her vibrosword the same way she would have her lightsaber ... "It's crossed my mind."

"They are not difficult to build - though you know that."

She made an hemming noise. "I'm not afraid of possessing one, if that's what you think."

"I never thought you were," he placated. "But if this is indeed a Sith threat, we both-"

"Know it will be needed." She sighed heavily. "There are parts I'll need."

"I know - a power cell, an emitter matrix, a lens, and a focusing crystal. The first three are simple enough, though I must admit the crystal is a bit beyond my means."

Trista raised an eyebrow. "And since when were you an expert on lightsabers?"

Bao-Dur shrugged. "I spent a lot of time around Jedi during the war. No one would ever let me touch a lightsaber, but I learned a bit here or there."

She shrugged and nodded. That made sense. "You think we could construct all but the crystal?"

"With the scrap we have sitting around from the ship? I think so. Like I said, the rest will be a little complicated."

She sighed. "I've little doubt we'll be venturing into the Enclave, even if it is as bad as everyone says. I'm sure there are a few spare parts lying around here or there."

"Certainly." Bao-Dur turned to resume scanning the ship's damaged hull. "Hopefully wherever we land will have decent ship parts. I would like to have this hull breach fully fixed."

"We're ... not going to end up in vacuum, are we?"

"Of course not. I don't know who tried to fix this, but they don't think like regular mechanics."

Trista looked up as T3 suddenly appeared in one of the doorways, then quietly spun his head and started back into the hall. Bao-Dur glanced over his shoulder.

"There you are."

T3 beeped sadly as he tried to back down the hallway. Bao-Dur took several steps forward, grabbing his tools as he went. "This is what I mean. This is not normal droid behavior."

The droid responded with a rude noise.

"I'm just going to fix your chassis. Stop complaining."

Trista dropped off the workbench. "I'll let you get to it," she said quietly. Bao-Dur nodded.

"Very well, General."


Kel'Zorah you lazy bum: Thanks! I'm always worried I'm using too much game dialogue (and I do on occasion) but I try to make it fit better. A lot of times it feels really clumsy.