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  1. Draygo nodded in understanding. At least, she hoped that she understood. The Jedi Grandmaster had spent far more of her life in the company of droids than most of her peers, even to the point of designing a few models, but the intricacies of their personal relationships often eluded her understanding. Of course, the social dynamics of higher-class droids were at least as complex as biological sapients, which were complex enough without having to carry a zero every few words. She continued to look downwards, mind racing to translate the buzzing into an analog organic language. A second or two passed before she looked up and responded again in Basic. It was an odd way of conversing, but perfectly functional--and it certainly felt more natural than the artifice of speaking into a translator unit or through a protocol droid. “I’ll take that to mean the former.” Armiena’s eyes flickered from the buzz droid to its counterpart. She decided to take the risk of lowering her mental borders and allowing her consciousness to drift towards that of RUIN. Some of the more complex droids could be sensed through The Force… “There is a further complication. I would very much like to peel Korriban away from the Sith Empire’s cultural influence. Long shot, but the attempt has to be taken. There are a number of Alliance sympathizers that will need to be located, potentially protected from reprisals in case the assault becomes stalled. Conversely, widespread devastation will complicate a transition… a challenging situation.” Draygo looked away from the droids and towards the entrance of the briefing room. There had been a vague approach of a parting, as though Admiral Slaughter was about to arrive.
  2. ((For @MSA and @TerrorBot)) A sort of psychic revulsion coursed from Sanguis. Grandmaster Draygo’s back stiffened and she stood upright despite the exhaustion, and her mind alerted from sudden concern, rather than outrage at the ridiculous accusation that the Jedi Knight had just leveled at her. Her pale-green eyes studied Aequitas, taking in the shadows under the Jedi’s eyes, posture… possible bloodshot eyes. There was a chance that he had not slept in quite some time, but it was the location of his mind that concerned her the most: that is, its attention was present elsewhere. Those were symptoms that Armiena was very familiar with. “We’re not talking about a species of exotic birds or a megafauna that require protection against a bunch of poachers that believe its horns will cure… these are people. They have the misfortune of living on a world that’s about to be visited by a… liberating force, but they have their own politics and agenda, and we may even be able to parley with them. Good luck, Agent, and The Force be with you. And Sanguis… I would appreciate it if we could speak in private for a moment.” The Jedi Grandmaster nudged Aequitas by one of his shoulders and guided him towards an electronics closet that was being rewired by one of the Alliance’s technicians. The Devaronian seeming to recognize that he was about to be privy to a highly personal (and possibly classified) conversation, the technician decided that it would make a fantastic opportunity to take a lunch break or smoke a cigarra or… be anywhere else. The closet was not a comfortable room–the briefing room was humid and somewhat close, but the electronics closet was stuffed full of blinking, heat-generating computers and spools of cables that the two needed to step over. A number of ventilation fans was insufficient comfort, and sweat immediately began to bead on Draygo’s face. “Sanguis, I know that you’re in pain and lashing out because of it.” In these close quarters, it was impossible to avoid the unnerving study of her eyes. She watched carefully for twitches in the facial muscles, potential redness in his eyes, tension in his shoulders. “I have lived in that state for an unreasonable length of time and drove away people who didn’t deserve it. But I do want a Jedi on this mission, one that I can trust to do what they think is right regardless of the circumstances. If you do go… I would like you to try and make contact with these… Tsis. We probably won’t succeed, but I would very much like to try and bury this generational grudge between our peoples. Regardless of your choice, please contact me later. I will make time–what in the…” At that moment, an enormous battle droid had begun to stomp into the briefing room. It stood only a few centimeters taller than the Jedi Grandmaster, but it was covered in so many layers of armor and redundant servos and Force-only knew how many weapons that it had to mass several times her weight. In contrast, an insect-like droid perched on its armor-plated shoulder. Armiena made a triple-take, her eyes flickering between the clearly troubled Jedi Knight, the battle droid, and its pre-Imperial counterpart. There was something else she felt she should say… but it would have to wait for later. She squeezed the Jedi Knight on the shoulder. “I mean it, I will make time,” she repeated. “But I need to see to these two.” There was a mixture of confusion and fascination on Draygo face, because the Jedi Grandmaster was fairly confident–but not certain–that the two droids were a pre-Imperial Buzz Droid and one of the pre-Clone Wars battle droid prototypes–not the pathetic B1-series that had somehow undergone mass production, but one of the truly capable prototypes that had only been produced in limited runs. That was probably a cost-cutting measure by the Confederacy, much to the benefit of the Old Republic. She had no idea that any of those droids were still intact, let alone operational and certainly not in the service of the Galactic Alliance. An exceptionally nerdy corner of Draygo’s mind wanted very badly to get a look under the droid’s chassis, violations of the droid’s privacy and sapience be damned. “Hold up, I can understand binary, but it’s been… a long time. Please repeat the former.” Armiena held up a hand when she approached the two droids. She looked downwards at the battle droid’s feet, listening intensely to the rapid-fire beeps and buzzes from the buzz droid. A few seconds passed when the droid repeated itself, intense concentration furrowing the Grandmaster’s brow as she translated the borderline-mathematical language to Basic. She had been surrounded by droids her entire life, but the dialect of some of the pre-Imperial droids was challenging to discern. “You are correct, the Galactic Alliance is launching a mission to liberate Korriban from the Sith Lords. Admiral Slaughter will be in command. It will be an assault in a dense urban spaceport, with civilian assets that must not come to harm. “Before I continue, I’d like to ask.” Her gaze returned from the floor and passed between the two droids. “Are you two… professional counterparts? Or a single symbiotic unit?”
  3. Shuttle LZ-2443–or as Draygo had come to call it, the Nutmeg–turned out to be even lower on fuel than the Jedi Grandmaster had feared. Fuel gauges on shuttle craft always had something of a error range, as they were typically fueled for predictable and calculated transportation routes, and were not expected to expend fuel in combat maneuvers. Nutmeg must have been undergoing the process of having its fuel tanks siphoned empty as a battlefield precaution. That bare marginal sliver of fuel in its tanks was barely even sufficient to make a single jump into hyperspace and to carry it to the Cha Raaba system. Only seconds after the glow of hyperspace subsided and the muddy jewel of Ylesia filled the canopy of the Nutmeg, every light within the shuttle darkened. The control boards turned black. The steering yoke became unresponsive. Only the low crimson emergency lights provided illumination. The shuttle had run out of fuel. The Jedi Grandmaster spat out a series of curses that she would have never uttered in the presence of one of her peers as she crawled under the control boards to perform surgery on the power routers. There was certain to be a few joules of power left in the Nutmeg that could be rerouted into its engines… or barring that, its communications array. A few minutes of cross-wiring panels succeeded in restoring the hiss and air currents of the shuttle’s life support systems. Several more minutes of digging her fingers through the wiring succeeded in nothing more than restoring power to one of the cockpit’s control panels–specifically, the communications panel. That would be sufficient to effect some kind of landing. Propping herself over the comlink, Armiena spoke loudly into the microphone. This would be a very low-power transmission, one that might not even reach the planet with sufficient signal to be audible. “Ylesia ATC, Jedi Grandmaster Armiena Draygo on board shuttle LZ-2443, recognition code…” she rattled off a series of characters. “In bound ballistic on Ylesia, course one-seven-three mark two-six. Repeat, ballistic, I have no power, course one-seven-three mark two-six. I need a tow, before I…” Burn up on re-entry, or crash into the ocean, or suffer a gasp death by carbon dioxide poisoning were among the many potential fates that Draygo could have imagined. She never got to voice any of those candidates, however, as the lights within the cockpit dimmed and the gasp of the ship’s life support systems faded. Draygo just sighed and waited as the planet loomed larger in the canopy. Eventually, a pair of white running lights blinked brightly against the blue-brown-green glow of Ylesia. Draygo rose from her seat and stared into the canopy, peering at the pattern of blinking lights. She couldn’t make out the shape of the craft, but the pattern of the lights indicated that it was an assault shuttle: a craft that would be stuffed to the gills with marines and anti-ship weapons, and possibly a low-power tractor beam. She winced as a bright floodlight flashed into the cockpit--it pulsed rapidly to form words in blink-code: All crew meet at boarding ramp. Leave weapons on floor. Armiena’s response was to ignite one of her lightsabers and hold it up for the assault shuttle to get a good look at it. __________ Several minutes later, Armiena slinked in behind @Talyn Orin to enter the same briefing room that was under reconstruction. The Jedi Grandmaster could have been smelled when she entered the room--she reeked of the sweat of twenty armored stormtroopers, one nervous Jedi Master, and a spilled mug of caf. She was still dressed in the plastoid armor that she had repurposed from the armory of the Imperial Knights, not even having had time to change into a clean set of robes. “Agent, it’s absolutely critical that this operation results in the establishment of a government capable of rebuilding Korriban after decades of Sith repression. Deal with the Sith Lords as necessary, but clear contrast between the Sith Empire and the Galactic Alliance will be critical as we advance through the territory they have abandoned. I’ll thank you to remind Admiral Slaughter of that. Now, I think we’ve delayed you enough. Go and assemble your assault team.”
  4. Armiena frowned and took a test sip of the steaming mug of caf. As she had hoped, it was brewed strong enough to stand a spork into: powerfully bitter, scalding, and so powerfully caffeinated that it probably qualified as a controlled substance in certain prudish star systems. For the Jedi Grandmaster, this kind of brew was comfort food–comfort liquid, more accurately, the end result of having sublimated a self-destructive addiction to something… less self-destructive. It energized the spirit and soothed the nerves, even if a warding edge in The Force was alerting her to the fact that this moment of urgency had not yet ended. Her eyes flitted away from the steam of her beverage, towards the military-relaxed postures of the Dark Lord’s guards, then the twin lightsabers that lay discarded by the Sith’s throne, and then finally the tactical pits and the light of hyperspace just beyond. The eerie glow of hyperspace was muted by a shroud that had been lowered over the bridge canopy, but it was apparent that something was not entirely… ordinary in the rush of that azure tunnel. There was a flicker in its glow, a pattern in a stream that should have been unpredictable… a sudden reduction in the twist of its dizzying corkscrew. Something was very, very wrong. “Hyperspace anomaly!” Came an excited cry from the tactical pits before military discipline reduced the voice to an urgent and orderly recitation of the malfunctions. “Backup drive not responding, emergency cutoffs engaged… brace for reversion in five, four, three, two, one…” Despite the fact that the Fair Lady was traveling across the galaxy at a velocity of many lightyears per hour, the physical velocity of its hull and its passengers was minimal. That was about to change with the semi-controlled reversion from hyperspace into an unknown sector of interstellar space: the entire hull would suddenly accelerate and then decelerate, potentially turning every unsecured starfighter, vehicle, inanimate object, and person on the ship into a dangerous projectile. Every sapient on the bridge would have been drilled to rush to a restraint chair, or to wedge themselves into a doorframe, or even to simply drop prone and hope that they didn’t impact anything too sharp upon reversion. Draygo just blinked, reached out with one hand, and jumped. It wasn’t a great leap intended to carry her a great distance. It vaguely resembled a playful hop that a small child would have made in an attempt at touching a ceiling that was just barely out of reach. The sudden acceleration of the deckplates under her feet was more than sufficient to carry her away from the bridge, across nearly a third of the length of the Lady, and tumbling along the floor in a heap of armor and battered limbs. Two lightsabers were bouncing along the deckplates like a pair of excited, clumsy puppies that were determinedly bouncing along after their master, clattering and clanking against the deck until they impacted against Draygo’s thigh. The Jedi collected herself with a painful groan, clipping her belt to her waist. Barely more than thirty meters away, in a hangar that had been vacated in preparation for the hyperspace reversion, stood an unguarded Lambda-class shuttle. The hangar crew wasn’t even in a position to contest her departure; barely breaking her stride, Armiena simply walked on board and raised the boarding ramp behind her. Settling in at the cockpit, a quick preflight check found that the shuttle was effectively operating on fumes–just barely enough fuel remained to make a single hyperspace jump. Only one matter remained before take-off: her astromech droid. Bebop would have been more than one hundred meters, dozens of armed marines, and a Sith Lord away–an impossible distance for an unarmed astromech. The droid would have the coordinates for a half-dozen Jedi outposts and her contact frequencies within its memory. That information was already known to the Sith Order or an acceptable loss. It would have to be left behind. Upon liftoff and emergence from the hangar, the sensors revealed the cause of the emergency hyperspace reversion. A previously-unknown icey exoplanet, drifting in solitude across the great distances between the stars, had strayed into the cruiser’s hyperspace route. It was a freak accident that couldn’t have been predicted… and one that would be repaired in seconds. With a break across the Fair Lady’s spine and a minute of uncontested flight, her shuttle had escaped into hyperspace and onto a course that would carry her to the Jedi Order.
  5. “Hmmm. Hmmm. Please.” Misal held up a gauntleted hand as a request for patience. The knuckles of her right hand were still crusted with dried blood. At this point, the holographic disk appeared to have completely locked up: the ghostly image that formed a cloud above the metal had turned an angry crimson, and began to flicker spastically in coordination with a series of warning lights. Sensing someone beginning to approach from the outside, the Miraluka stowed the device against the steely plate on her hip. “All I can gather is that my daughter’s ship never left Nar Shaddaa. Most likely destroyed, given the depravity with which the Sith handled the moon.” She sighed and her lips thinned in annoyance. “She is alive… presumably not captive. That would have been an irresistible propaganda coup. I see that my daughter has finally learned the value of…” Of counterintelligence was the phrase the Misal was thinking of, as the operative was fairly certain that her deliberately amateurish attempt at cracking the device had set off a silent security alert. However, she didn’t know the agent who had just intruded on their conversation. She turned and silently listened, just taking in the presence of the young man. There was an incisiveness to the young man’s mind that suggested intelligence or technical training, and the lines in his face hinted at some degree of cybernetic enhancement--that, or the worst cosmetic surgery that could be purchased outside the Corporate Sector. “If I may ask, Agent Orin… why Korriban?” It was an honest question, but one that the agent almost certainly would not have been able to answer.
  6. “Space-Mom, we can take them from here. Try to get some rest.” Misal smiled broadly at one of her students–the human male who was carrying the impractically-long marksman’s rifle. It was the kind of smile that carried a degree of sleep-deprived lunacy along with mirth. The four armored figures disappeared into the refugee camp, a strange combination of a frightful amount of firepower and four Duros refugees, one of whom was riding on the Togorian’s enormous shoulders. The Miraluka, now satisfied that her previous mission would be completed to satisfaction, returned her attention to the young Jedi Knight. She attempted to shrug away a mixture of stiffness and exhaustion, succeeding in banishing neither. The sides of Misal’s jaw stiffened as she attempted to suppress a yawn. “The outskirts, then. I would prefer not to directly invite the Rebel Alliance into this affair. I trust…” The two hitched a ride on a personnel carrier, wedged uncomfortably between crates of water purification tablets and preserved food. Misal said nothing during their transition to this neglected outpost–her breath slowed and her posture slumped. She had fallen asleep, and was snoring with a faint, nasal whistle. Some combination of trained instinct, or perhaps an admonishment from The Force alerted her to some imminent necessity; a sharp breath and a straightening of her posture indicated her wakefulness as the two approached the outpost that Aequitas had indicated. It was a sad collection of prefabricated permacrete buildings that had clearly been erected many years ago, neglected to overgrowth by the Ylesian jungle, and then hastily cleared in preparation for the battle at Nar Shaddaa. The exterior permacrete walls still bore some stains and cracks from vines that had determinedly climbed up to the roof. A hailstorm had clearly damaged a small sensor array that had previously been used here–rather than repair the obsolete equipment, the Galactic Alliance had seen fit to simply install new sensors and eventually salvage the damaged equipment. Misal took in the little outpost, her face turning towards a crumbling watchtower and the hail-damaged sensor array, and just nodded in satisfaction. The two ventured into one of the larger buildings and sat in a small, reinforced room with opened crates strewn about. A pair of technicians were ripping old wiring out of the walls. The Miraluka sat on the edge of a holoprojector unit and balanced her carbine across her knees. “Mister Aequitas, you may… not want to be present for what I am about to do. No one will come to any harm… or even feel particularly threatened for that matter, but I am certain to trigger a number of security alerts in the next few minutes. My hope is that the Jedi will be quicker to respond than the Rebel Alliance, but we shall see…” Misal unclipped a small, metal disc from her back. Holding it in the palm of her hand, she stared into a concentric ring at its center… a miniature blue hologram sprouted from somewhere within the device. It shifted forms repeatedly–clearly, taking the form of various infographics in some highly idiosyncratic graphics user interface. How exactly the Miraluka was interacting with this disc wasn’t clear, but ripples in The Force suggested that its controls were not purely physical. The image convulsed as though recoiling from a physical threat. More probing followed, accompanied by future convulsions. The hologram eventually turned blank, only for Misal to tap at it and repeat the process. If any members of the Jedi Council were present at Ylesia, they would receive a priority security alert. Someone nearby had stolen a critical intelligence asset from the Jedi Order and was attempting to hack into it–but their repeated attempts were so amateurish and determined that they resembled a farce rather than an actual threat.
  7. “Yes. There is nothing like urban conflict. I would have preferred to not have experienced that again.” Misal sighed and sat down heavily at the rear of the passenger compartment, accompanied by one of the members of her fireteam. Something more intense than exhaustion or pain radiated off of the elderly Miraluka like heat haze from a durasteel foundry. It was time–the woman had seen so much of it, and knew that she would not live to see much more. Perhaps just enough, however. “Jedi, you do not know me and are under no obligation to regard my advice. But it seems to me that you are fighting wounded. You may think it admirable, but you require time for healing. There is no substitute for recovery.” Now that was almost certainly far too personal for a stranger to offer to a wounded warrior. But the Miraluka appeared to think nothing of this intrusion. She sat with her spiderweb-lined face turned towards one of the sliding doors, turning over a large, steely disc in her fingers while watching the dreary marshes as they were overtaken by ocean, then by the jungles and grasslands of Ylesia’s central continent.The sound of snoring filled the compartment. Another of the fireteam was leaning heavily on the shoulder of the Togorian, her face relaxed in sleep. A little rivulet of drool was beginning to drip from the corner of her mouth. Those four dozing sapients started awake when the transport settled on the ground. They guided the Duros family into the refugee camp, leaving their Miraluka leader alone with the Jedi. Misal quietly sat and watched Knight Aequitas for a few seconds, her hands folded in her lap. “I think you may be of some assistance in the matter of convening the Jedi Council. I require a location with convenient access to this spaceport. No requirements for security or fortification, but holoprojectors and access to the galactic Holonet are critical. Proximity to Rebel Alliance facilities would be useful. I must ask that you guide me to such a location.”
  8. ((@MSA)) The second escape pod contained the Togorian, but Misal’s description had been somewhat vague. Rather than being one of the refugees who had fled from orbital bombardment and something of a bloodbath, the Togorian was a member of the fireteam that had inflicted the carnage. She was a frightfully-tall, heavily muscled specimen of her species, with long black fur that was streaked with white stripes and flakes of gray. A splash of dry blood stained one of her pauldrons, and her armor was similarly spotted with flakes of red. Her weapon was similarly enormous. If Aequitas had much experience with military armaments, he would have recognized it as a portable version of an automatic blaster cannon: one that was typically mounted to light vehicles. The Togorian was also purring. She gave a long blink when the escape pod’s hatch was blown open by the Jedi. Her ears twitched when one of the two Duros children stopped scratching them and pointed at the lightsaber at their rescuer’s waist. The dull reverberations of the felinoid’s purrs faded and the brilliant green eyes snapped to Aequitas’ blue. “Jedi. It’s a relief to have you come. I am Sarrah,” The felinoid greeted the Jedi with heavily-accented, but otherwise serviceable Basic. “The little ones are Guldaim and Hulo. Memsai, Jedel; you and yours are finally…” The Togorian paused, trying to form enormous canines that were not well adapted to pronouncing Basic. “Not in danger.” The Togorian helped with securing the Duros refugees into their harnesses, chuckling with delight when Guldaim tried to reach out to continue the ear scritches. As their forms were lifted away towards the LAAT/i, just in time to avoid sinking under the incoming tide, Aequitas might have noticed that nearly the entire party consisted of Force-Sensitives: all four members of Misal Draygo’s fireteam were trained Force Users, and three of the Duros family had some latent potential. When Sarrah and the Jedi were finally on board, with the Duros family secured and being looked over by the medics, Misal gathered the Force Users into a huddle of armor and robes. “You all performed well.” She murmured, exhausted but undeniably pleased with the outcome of their mission. “That was a long, difficult mission, but we’re all alive and undetected. It’s difficult to argue with that. Mister Aequitas, I would appreciate it if you would guide me to whatever facilities the Jedi are maintaining here. I have sensitive information that should be in the hands of your Council.”
  9. “Steady. On Ylesia. Sure. I am one with the Force, and the Force is with me…” Even if Xisqis began muttering under his breath, the translator unit attached to the Rodian’s collar appeared incapable of modulating volume. It repeated the Rodian’s mantra as the Jedi Knight lowered himself into the crosswinds, as loudly and carefully enunciated as it had been while briefing the Jedi. The yellow-banded repel cables whipped about in the wind, yet the LAAT/i remained on station, scarcely wavering a meter. It was probably the expected reaction for the passengers within the escape pod to be alarmed at the sight of an emerald lightsaber blade slash through the thin plasteel wall. Instead, all that passed through The Force was a patient ripple of expectation and a peculiar sensation that four Force-Sensitive individuals had just looked up towards the Jedi.Knight. When the patch of plastoid slid away to open up the escape pod, a shock of thin white hair tilted backwards to reveal the spiderweb-lined, eyeless face of Misal Draygo and three humans. All four were wearing plate armor of a strange material that appeared almost transparent--except it was mimicking the texture and color of the cream-white escape pod around them. The parts of it that weren’t cream-white were stained by a mixture of sewage, smoke and blood--a significant amount of blood, in fact. Their boots, greaves, and breastplates were all spattered. Their weapons were at least neatly stacked in a tidy pyramid on top of the escape hatch, even if it was a small arsenal consisting of two carbines that resembled slugthrowers, a number of Sith-issued blaster pistols, and an unreasonably-long marksman’s rifle. “Hm. I was expecting someone else.” The Miraluka attempted to smile brightly, but something in the paper-white skin of her face suggested that she was beyond exhausted. “I am Misal Draygo--yes, her mother. The other escape pod contains a Togorian and a family of four Duros. No wounds in need of immediate attention. We can extract ourselves without difficulty, but those refugees will require assistance.”
  10. ((For @MSA)) “Well, thank,” the translator cut out for a second. Whether the Rodian was uttering untranslatable profanities or the name of some obscure deity was unclear. “For that. I’ll explain on the way to the shuttle.” As the two set out towards the landing pads at the outskirts of the refugee camp at a slow trot, the squeaking continued hurriedly as the pilot gave a quick briefing of the unusual scenario in Ylesia’s southern continent. “Fleet pickets detected a Sith corvette revert from hyperspace in the outskirts of the system. The corvette launched two escape pods, but it self-destructed seconds afterwards. All we know about those escape pods is that there are humanoids on board and that they settled in the middle of a salt marsh. It’s muddy terrain, basically impossible to get to except on foot or by air. The tide is coming in and they’ll be submerged in a few hours. Again, no idea who or might be on board. Defectors? Spies? Some bioweapon? No way to know without contact. A Jedi would be more useful under the circumstances than a squad of stormtroopers. So command thinks.” At this point, the two had arrived at a LAAT/i gunship that had been repurposed into serving as a medevac shuttle. A medical droid and a Twi’lek medic already occupied half of the passenger compartment with a portable bacta tank. Once the two boarded, the shuttle alighted with the heavy, penetrating whump-whump-whump of antiquated sunlight engines and a wind current that sent a shock through clothing and scattered loose papers across the landing pads. Ylesia, once one adjusted to the short day-night cycle, the atrociously unpredictable weather patterns, and the ever-present humidity, was quite an unremarkable planet. The thirty minutes were filled with scenic views of misty jungles, swamp bogs, storm clouds, and more misty jungles and swamp bogs. The southern continent was similarly unremarkable, except the scenic views of misty jungles were replaced by those of tidal marshes. The whiff of salt and decaying plant matter was perceptible even from a thousand meters above sea level. The Twi’lek medic scratched at her red skin at the mere thought of the millions of mosquitoes–or whatever the local variant of parasitic bloodsuckers happened to be–that assuredly made their home in this ugly landscape. In the distance, two flashes of light repeated every three seconds: those were the escape pods. “Sith escape pods, medical shuttle Aurek-three-two-seven approaching from oh-eight, high. ETA two minutes. Look for red lights, three quick flashes. If you are armed, remove your weapons and collect them in a visible location. I repeat, Sith escape pods…” The monologue continued as the LAAT/i lost altitude and made a lazy circle around the two escape pods. The two escape pods could not have picked a worse location to crash-land. Both were stuck halfway into the muck, their engines protruding from the mud like four stubby fingers. One of the escape pods had rolled over and it appeared that its hatch had become submerged in the mud. Nothing short of a tractor beam or a construction crane was likely to be able extract the pods from the mud–and a construction crane was not going to be able to travel through this cement-like ooze. Another untranslatable squeal followed Captain Xisqis’ circle of the crash site. “I mean, uh, how do you want to approach this, Master Jedi?”
  11. (( @MSA)) Several light-minutes away from Ylesia, one of the many picket ships that served as a tripwire against the possibility of a Sith invasion detected the reversion of a military vessel from hyperspace. Only seconds after the patrol boat fixed its oversized sensor array on the interloper and angled to intercept the craft, an even more alarming event transpired. The spacecraft, tentatively identified as the CR90 corvette Hastati and registered to the Sith Imperial garrison of Onderon, blew up. It had activated its scuttle charges, instantly venting its atmosphere to vacuum and detonating its engines The only remains of the vessel that drifted through space were a cloud of glimmering, superheated alloys, a few chunks of bone… and two escape pods that had blasted away from the ship. Both contained multiple life forms, and both had blasted away at sufficient speed and at a vector to avoid interception. One of them was transmitting a Jedi Identify-Friend/Foe recognition code, albeit one that was badly outdated and known to be broken by the Sith Empire. Both landed in the coastal mud flats of the southern continent of the planet, a long distance from the refugee camps… but also in a location where both pods would slowly sink under the gray, cement-like mud. To make matters more urgent, the tide was coming in and both escape pods would eventually run out of their oxygen supply. ________ “Knight Aequitas!” One of the many non-Force Sensitive support personnel of the Jedi Order came jogging after the Jedi Knight. Captain Xisqis was a Rodian shuttle pilot, momentarily assigned to the many search-and-rescue crews that were probing the various damaged vessels and hulks that were congregating on Ylesia. A translator unit was dangling just under the green-skinned reptiloid’s neck, dutifully converting the squeaks of the pilot’s native language to a carefully enunciated--if robotically dull--unaccented Basic. Xisqis hurriedly introduced himself and his purpose. “Captain Xisqis, search and rescue. We’ve had an unusual development. A pair of escape pods settled in the southern continent in a tidal swamp. We only have a few hours before the tide comes in and extraction gets a lot more difficult. They came from a Sith scout ship, so the higher-ups wanted a Jedi on the team in the event things get interesting. You available?”
  12. The breathing exercise continued, with the rise of Draygo’s shoulders following a steady cadence. It was that of a basic meditation pattern. It only took a glance at the other’s face to know that she and the previous Dark Lord could not have possibly met–the Sith species was exceptionally rare in the galaxy and this Dark Lord was the first of her kind that Draygo had ever met. Still, there was a possibility of some remote connection between the rivals if intelligence reports after the climax of the last war could be believed… “No Empress. Only tangentially, through his creations. I suspected that he was the one who worked out extending a hyperdrive field around an entire planet, but that must have had drastic aftereffects…” Indeed, the climax of the last war was marked by a drastic advance in capabilities in hyperdrives and artificial intelligence–some of the latter was the contribution of the Jedi Grandmaster. The intellectual exercise helped distance her mind from the revulsions that shuddered through The Force… but her hands were still shaking from the persisting surge of adrenaline. That was made evident when one of the bridge aides raced back, filling the air with the reassuring scent of navy-strength caf: excessively strong, excessively hot, dense as hydraulic fluid and just as essential to the function of a warship. The shaking of her hands caused it to spill the moment it was passed to her. Draygo just squinted at her right hand as though she was warning a misbehaving child of unfortunate events to come when their father got home. “This has connection to a previous incident–an abattoir of a droid freighter that landed at Onderon around that battle, doesn’t it? Your father–he took independent action after the Death Star, didn’t he?”
  13. As Black Scarab fell towards Nar Shaddaa, an expression of tension that resembled panic appeared on the Grandmaster’s face. Draygo wasn’t even looking at the Dark Lord; her eyes were focused on the sensor relays within the crew pits, and then seemingly nowhere at all when the sensor blip that indicated the dreadnought disappeared. Nyrys might have recognized the expression if she had the honor of knowing many military veterans; she had broken out into a feverish sweat and sucked in a desperate breath of air, as though preparing for a long dive underwater with no estimation of when she would resurface. At that moment, the Jedi Grandmaster was seemingly not there. In a sense, she wasn’t. Her mind was present on another planet, an entire generation and a war ago. It was on Coruscant, only a few years older than Nyrys; buried under the rubble of The Shield Incident and trying to understand why the walls were trying to kill her and the darkness was screaming in helpless terror. Her memory had three priorities at that moment. The first was to not throw up in her helmet. The second was to punch her way out of the layer of rubble she had found herself. The third was to start killing people. The part of her mind that remained conscious had been through this drill many times and managed to reassert itself before her body started an interstellar incident. It shoved her way out of the half-circle of bodyguards and towards the nearest mostly-flat surface that she could sit on. That happened to be the console of one of the bridge’s intraship holocomm projectors–the drably-uniformed officer who was currently relaying some routine orders offered some stuttered syllables of consternation before the console was occupied and then the recorded hologram was blacked out by Draygo’s backside. And then her mind began going through the familiar drills. Name. Age. Location. Son was alive and safe. Padawan was alive and safe. The inner monologue repeated itself until her instincts had returned to the present. She finally looked up from the deckplates. Her face was smeared with a salty mixture of tears and sweat, and a red streak was beginning to rise from where she had attempted to rub away one of the smears with a hand in a plastoid gauntlet. A mixture of a grimace and pathetic smile flashed in her expression. That had been an episode that she had never allowed another Jedi to witness. She blinked a few times and recalled what the Dark Lord had just asked her before the breakdown. “There’s prohibition. It’s purely a matter of me being a recovering, self-annihilating alcoholic. I’d kill for a caf, though. Speaking figuratively.”
  14. Silence and stillness. That was the Jedi Grandmaster’s response. Her eyes darted from side to side, from the expressionless mask that the Dark Lord wore, to a sensor readout in the tactical pits of the bridge, to the burning surface of the moon in the distance… to one of the masked shocktroopers at her side. Even if the polished breastplate that the soldier wore hid the rise and fall of his breath, it could be seen in the rhythmic waver of the barrel of the carbine pressed against his shoulder. No, it wasn’t just rise and fall with respiration; the barrel was trembling. It wasn’t just the trembling of an adrenaline rush. Behind the expressionless helmet and opaque eyepieces was a mind just barely beyond the grasp of terror. And back to the void of space. Black Scarab, despite having been the focus of much of the ire of the Rebel Alliance, appeared to still be operational. Some twisted mind was directing most of the carnage against Nar Shaddaa, in imitation of one of the sadistic warlords that Draygo had slain some decades ago–only, she had succeeded in exsanguinating that creature before he could bombard Csilla. Now, she was many kilometers away, confronting the person who employed these butchers. Killing this child wouldn’t change anything–it wouldn’t save a single sapient, wouldn’t put an end to the butchery. It wouldn’t even be personally satisfying. It would barely even be exercise. Whatever its intentions were, Armiena decided that The Force had not placed her on this bridge with the intention of having her slaughter a few thousand more sapient beings. Even if there was still murder in Draygo’s hands, there was now a smile in her eyes–one that made the stormtrooper to her left tense, recognizing the expression of a woman that was about to do something unimaginably risky. Her fingers unclasped the hook of her belt. Before the heavy leather could slip from her waist, she tossed it forward, to slam at the deck before the Empress’ fleet. The metallic clang of the twin lightsabers crashed like the end of an epoch. One of the weapons, a hilt with a helical pattern carved around its circumference, popped free of its clip and rolled away. Bebop, who had somehow managed to roll several meters away without being detained, blurted out a disbelieving mechanical waaaaaat. Draygo just stared the Empress in the eye-slats and flashed the smile of a woman who suspected her imminent death. Her right hand was gripping the fold of her tunic, white-knuckled, in an attempt to stop the arm from shaking. “I place myself in your power, Empress. Fighting you will serve no purpose. If you being your withdrawal, I suspect you will find that the Rebel Alliance is in no position to further prosecute this battle.”
  15. ((@Darth Nyrys)) The ever-present stench of death lingered about the two Force-Sensitives, like a splitting headache inflicted by some unholy collaboration of dehydration and caffeine withdrawal. Draygo’s light-green eyes flashed about; there were a discouraging number of carbines, a couple of repeaters, and an uncountable number of sidearms displayed, some of which were pointed in the general direction of the Jedi Grandmaster. She shrugged twice, as though trying to banish the stiffness that came from cramming a too-tall frame into the too-small cockpit of a starfighter. The first shrug caused her cloak to slip from her shoulders and fall into a brown puddle around her feet. The second triggered the quick-release clasps on her pilot harness, which fell more decisively to reveal a suit of plastoid armor similar to the segmented cuirasses that the Imperial Knights favored. Her hand went to the lightsaber hilt on her right hip (a plastoid clack could be heard as four Sith marines dutifully shouldered their weapons) and her left foot moved in a circular motion that simultaneously kicked away the fallen gear and placed the Jedi in a ready-stance with most of her weight on her forward leg. It was an unusual stance for that stereotypically aggressive Grandmaster: it left her ready to spring backwards, to surrender ground--it was more typical of Soresu. At this point astromech droid at the side of the Jedi Grandmaster surveyed her and the Dark Lord cautiously, its optical sensor whirring between a focus on Draygo and her probable opponent. Whether it was due to an observation of the unconscious clenching of the Jedi’s jaw or a slight increase in her heartrate, Bebop apparently came to the conclusion that violence was almost certainly imminent. The droid very slowly rolled backwards, hoping that the minute whirring of its rollers wouldn’t be heard. “I spoke too poetically earlier, Empress.” The Jedi Grandmaster began. Even if her Force-presence crackled like a stormfront about to unleash its energy against a downwind mountain range, her voice remained even. “What I meant was that every battle we fight drags both our orders closer to their final destruction. You have a choice before you: withdraw your forces and begin negotiations to end this stupid war, or continue and be destroyed."
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