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Everything posted by ObliviousKnight

  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."
  16. She was young, perhaps even the same age as Aidan. That was Draygo’s first and horrifying impression of the Dark Lord. Her youth spoke of a being with profound potential in The Force, but… a peculiar resonance at one that was insecure, doubtful… or perhaps on the verge of fracturing. “For a proper sleep, in an actual bed. No, peace is not a restful state for a creature like me.” Armiena tried to smile, but the forced contortion of her lips only succeeded in causing the wrinkles and hair-thin scars on her face to twist and deepen. If those lines each told a story, then here stood the history of modern warfare. “Those people out there are going to need to accomplish something they think is impossible. Right now they’re trying to kill each other… maybe for ideals, maybe for grudges that they can’t abandon. They’re going to need to find a way to… maybe not forgive each other, but be willing to share a galaxy together.” A few seconds passed. In those few seconds, several hundred more sapients perished in the vacuum and several hundred thousand stared in awe at the contrails of a siege torpedo that would soon render them to dust. As hard but transparent as the canopy surrounding the bridge, it was all her discipline could accomplish to not rush towards decisive action. Instinct demanded that she ignite her blade, but The Force warned her that a single death would have little impact on the course of this battle, much less the years to come. “I actually fear them. It took only a few years for them to rise up, the last time that they were driven to hunt us to extermination. We are going to need to accomplish something impossible, and soon. Otherwise… they have been very patient with us. I have no idea for how much longer.”
  17. At the moment, however, Armiena Draygo was learning a lesson in the vital Jedi virtue of humility. Trapped in the cockpit of her disabled interceptor, the veteran Jedi was attempting to extract herself and to tune at the angry squawking of an astromech droid. The droid was truly irate about something–its shrill tones were audible even through the airtight seal of the canopy. “Look, I’m sorry about the caf. I was distracted–and I didn’t even ask you your name. That was rude of me. Bebop? Why are you named after…” The rapid, wandering staccato of the droid’s aggravated whistling suggested that there was an embarrassing story behind the droid’s callsign. The Jedi Grandmaster was just answering the droid’s trilling on verbal autopilot, focusing more on trying to escape from the grounded starfighter. The manual release by her left elbow failed to elicit a response–a prodding of the explosive ejection bolts through The Force elicited nothing but a misfire, a shower of sparks, and a yelp of surprise from both the droid and Jedi. A glance to the side revealed a squad of twenty chrome-plated Sith marines. Unusually for a defending unit, a heavy weapons team with a bulky E-Web or similar crewed weapon was not among them–none of them even shouldered their weapons as they approached and fanned to enclose the starfighter in a semicircle. Rather, they held position in a tidy “patrol carry” position, their carbines safely angled towards the deck of the hangar. Their posture was clearly tense… but clearly not yet planning to open fire. Looking at the reflection of the R9 droid in the canopy, Draygo thought she saw the maroon astromech unit cock its head in confusion. It was a… curious response to a probable sabotage mission by a Jedi. Armiena settled on a more manual approach to extracting herself. She simply ignited her lightsaber and swept the bronze blade in a circular arc through the canopy. The starfighter was already leaning heavily on one wing and the canopy fell to the deck with an armored crash. Lightsaber doused and returned to its belt loop, the Grandmaster followed shortly afterwards. The Jedi was still collecting herself from an awkward slide down the side of the starfighter when the leader of that squad approached, weapon still at a low carry. “Grandmaster Draygo,” came the filtered voice. “The Empress has instructed us to escort you to the bridge.” Pleasantly befuddled, Armiena just nodded and waved vaguely in the direction of the Lady’s bow. An overly-reasonable lilt entered her voice as she stared past the opaque visor of the marine sergeant. “Of course. You should lead the way.” “...We’ll lead the way.” ____ Draygo followed the twin column of marines to the bridge of Fair Lady, the R9 astromech wheeling just behind her left shoulder. She held her fingers clasped in front of her waist, eyes distant, and her attention… clearly not entirely fixed on the immediate present. The Jedi and Sith were clearly approaching a moment of shattering, a turning of destination… and yet The Force had given her no clear indication of what, where, and when that moment would take place. For this moment, all that the Jedi Grandmaster knew was that she was approaching a being of profound potential in The Force. That moment was fast approaching. Hopefully she wouldn’t leave her departed friends disappointed in her conduct. The cadence of her step slowed upon a final turn towards the bridge. She closed her eyes and breathed slowly, exhaling her awareness into the walls of the command center until it left a texture in the walls that was almost palpable… not entirely unlike coarsely-grained sandpaper. The command center, like that of any warship in battle, was a location of tense focus. Slightly more crowded by the addition of a flag staff, it was abuzz with frantically coordinated activity in its tactical pits–officers were tersely calling out maneuvering vector commands to starfighter squadrons, target designations to the local batteries and those throughout the fleet. The Empress herself, however, was waiting, a gravity well around which the entire battle revolved around. “I appreciate you not wasting unnecessary lives in ordering your soldiers to attack me, Empress.” The veteran’s voice was tense and her presence fraught with a complicated mixture of emotions. Draygo stopped several meters away from the Empress and offered a bare modicum of a bow, her pale-green eyes intensely fixed on the younger woman’s form.
  18. Closer and closer with every revolution, the Fair Lady of Iziz loomed in the canopy of Draygo’s interceptor as it drifted towards the Star Destroyer. The running lights of the ship and glow of turbolasers resolved into the unmistakable bifurcated hull of that Sith warship, until individual batteries and viewports and hangars could be identified. Not that the Jedi Grandmaster was gawking at the Harrower-class Star Destroyer; with considerable difficulty, Armiena had managed to extricate herself from the pilot’s seat and was laying on her stomach inside, neck craned up to get a closer look at the control panels. Her armor pressed painfully into her collarbone, and her feet were tangled up in the nest of tubing and inertial sensors that rested just behind the pilot’s seat. Half-blind from the sparks issuing from the exposed tubing, her hands worked feverishly in an attempt to hotwire the starfighter into some form of functionality. It was not going well. The whistling of air had yet to dissipate: that was a good sign, as that indicated a slow leak that was of no immediate threat. And yet, there was a niggling warning in some isolated corner of her mind, a disturbing indication that something was about to go horribly wrong… Pushing herself away from the tangled nest of fibers, circuitry, and capacitors, Armiena eventually managed to right herself into something of a seating position. She glanced forward at the next completed revolution… …And it appeared that she and that enormous vessel were on a collision course, not unlike a sangfly smacking against the windshield of an airspeeder. Draygo sighed, closed her eyes, and let her Force-enhanced senses drift towards the Star Destroyer, and began to search for a cluster of lifeforms that might indicate the command center of the vessel. But that proved to be unnecessary. The vessel made a minute course correction, only a few degrees to one side to evade the forte of a turbolaser barrage from the Rebel Alliance. The immediate danger was evaded. Now the interceptor began to drift alongside the lateral trench on the port side of the enormous vessel, so close that Armiena could make out the barrels of individual batteries. The canopy of the starfighter glowed with alternating green and red hues as turbolaser volleys were received and answered. None of the point-defense weapons that guarded this vulnerable sector didn’t seem to have detected the unpowered, drifting starfighter, as none of them were tracking her movement. The interceptor was now approaching the bulbous protrusion of a tractor beam emplacement… That would be her best opportunity to return to the fight. Draygo drove her senses into the confinement of that crewed emplacement and searched for a particularly alert individual. Perhaps that sapient would be an officer, or mere a diligent member of the Lady’s crew that was hungry for a means to contribute meaningfully to this climactic battle of climactic battles. Anything, even rushing to a site that needed firefighters or medevacs, would have been better than standing and waiting for targets to be designated by fire control from the bridge… Armiena satisfied that anxious sapient’s drive. Single target, her mind admonished that sapient. Drifting, probable starfighter. To which that sapient’s mind ran through their standard operating procedures and alerted their crewmates. That target would mean an unpowered vessel, possibly with a medical casualty–or a live prisoner, who would be even more valuable. The hull of the interceptor gave a creaking whine as a tractor beam gripped it and began to draw it into one of the smaller docking bays of the Fair Lady. Judging from the size–as well as the lack of parked starfighters–this almost certainly wouldn’t be the enormous central hangar that tended to dominate the ventral surface of most Star Destroyers, with the myriad starfighters and walkers and fuel tanks and various opportunities for explosive mischief that that sector would provide. It might have been an officer’s shuttle bay, or perhaps even a seldom-used quarantine bay reserved for medical emergencies. In any case, the Jedi Grandmaster’s interceptor soon settled on the deck of that hangar in an agonizingly slow crash landing, slamming down on the deckplates without functional landing gear. Draygo sighed and reached for the manual override for the canopy jettison. Even if The Force had provided the Grandmaster with a destination, it had not provided her with any objectives now that she had reached it…
  19. There was a shrill, cold, quivering undertone in The Force. For the moment, the veteran Jedi was forced to ignore it even as it sidled just behind her ear, like the glass-cracking shriek of a miscalibrated repulsorlift; as she wove between turbolaser blasts so closely that the interceptor’s shields triggered and she took every opportune moment to make a deflection shot on the siege torpedoes, there was no time to allow herself to be distracted. There was just the revving thrum of her engines and the splash-hiss of her ion cannons; the whine as failing rocket engines careened away in unpredictable directions; the steady trickle of terabytes of data that bombarded her sensors. Each missile that she disabled might result in millions saved, but it wasn’t enough. Another countermaneuver was countered by yet another escalation by the Sith, and even a Jedi Ace couldn’t possibly keep up with the obscene expenditure of arms deployed against Nar Shaddaa. Unless… and Armiena grinned at the thought of this counter… she resorted to something unbelievably stupid and potentially suicidal. But, if she pulled it off and survived the attempt… The explosion alone would be something that no one, not even the lingering Sith reinforcements or the embattled Rebel Alliance could possibly ignore. Now, as the Jedi Grandmaster’s flight ascended towards the Victory-class Star Destroyers bombarding the moon, a pause could be discerned in the disabling shots against the siege torpedoes. Draygo reached out and probed the weapons with a momentary glance from The Force, searching for that quivering ball of mass and energy that was waiting for the necessary impetus to detonate. Hidden in a nest of superconducting fiber that defied any attempts at comprehension, she found that baradium core and the over-engineered detonators. As expected, the primary trigger was a bullet of ultra-dense metal that trembled with radioactivity. That mechanism was simple enough. Triggering it was going to require closing the distance and a second of level flight--not exactly conducive to survival. Armiena’s grin grew wider. This was stupid--and more importantly, impossible--and yet it was what The Force required. Dark Fire raced along the gray surface of the Star Destroyer, tracked desperately by the Star Destroyer’s close-range defenses and a wing-pair of interceptors. A juke to port threw off her pursuers; they were clearly anticipating a strafing run on the bridge. Rather, the troublesome Jedi fighter scrambled along the lateral trenches and sprinted towards one of the ventral torpedo launchers, where a siege torpedo had just been loaded into the tube and would be launching any moment. For just a moment, Armiena released her grip from the controls of her interceptor and stared into the expanding barrel. Those controls weren’t going to matter in a couple of seconds… A halo of light flared around the edges of the tube. Yet another city-killing missile was launched from the barrel. Armiena formed a fist in The Force and punched its radioactive detonator straight back into the baradium core of the warhead. Lacking atmosphere, mass, or much of any medium for the warhead to transfer its energy into, the weapon translated most of its power directly into various forms of radiation and electromagnetic activity: some of that was visible in the form of a white-hot flare of light that could have been seen from Nal Hutta, but just as much became higher-energy wavelengths that played havoc with unprotected electronics and fried unprotected flesh. As for the electromagnetic pulse, the Victory-class Star Destroyer and its peers were practically point-blank range to the missile. As was Armiena’s starfighter. The Jedi Grandmaster jerked back as her sensors were shuttered as though a black bag had been placed over her head--the engines died and the interceptor began to drift, gently spinning to port. The interior was utterly dark and silent, lacking any sign of activity save for the presence of a single sapient life-form. Nor was it utterly silent, as a faint whistling issued from a hairline crack in the canopy of the cockpit. That was an air leak, most likely from a missile fragment that smashed against the transparisteel without breaching it. Armiena glanced downward at her life-support harness. It was also dark. That meant there would be no personal magcon field, no portable air supply. And now her eyes darted back upwards the canopy. Lacking any sort of guidance equipment or any source of propulsion, it was impossible to determine where exactly the drifting interceptor was heading. Draygo smashed open a panel below the control boards and pulled out a nest of dead wires. She glanced up every few seconds as the starfighter completed a revolution to try and discern where her course might lay. A few revolutions. Yes, the interceptor was definitely drifting back into the fight. Another revolution. Yes, it was probably drifting towards one of the Sith capital ships. Another revolution. That capital ship was one of the newer, bifurcated hulls. A Harrower-class, if she remembered its silhouette properly. Another revolution. And that was probably the Fair Lady of Iziz.
  20. As Armiena’s interceptor rushed from the nerve-center of the Rebel Alliance and towards the roiling storm of capital ships and starfighters in Nar Shaddaa’s orbit, an alarmed shout, barely restrained by military training issued from her comms panel. “Siege torpedoes inbound. Scans indicate nuclear payload.” The Jedi Grandmaster’s hand gave a reflective twitch that guided her starfighter towards the barrage and her lungs gave a disgusted gasp. Old-fashioned fission warheads. Those were slow, clumsy weapons, requiring pre-planned flight paths. Some of the larger ones couldn’t even take evasive maneuvers. They were pathetically obsolete tech, only possessed moderate yield, and hideously expensive compared to modern turbolasers. Their only virtues lay in their immense potential to lay waste to vast swathes of unreinforced cityspace and to poison entire generations of innocent sapients with radioactive dust. In short, they were a perfect weapon for a depraved fanatic who had given themselves over to living out their most twisted fantasies. For the Jedi Grandmaster, fissiles weren’t even an element in her worst nightmares, let alone an entry in her well-stocked arsenal of weapons and less seemingly tools. As Armiena’s interceptor raced towards the descending missiles, the veteran Jedi thought quickly, drawing upon some long-ingrained working knowledge of explosives and how the internals of those weapons would probably function. A siege torpedo fired from a capital ship would be an enormous, complicated weapon; it would be at least the size of a starfighter. It would be an easy, nonmaneuvering target for any starfighter pilot. The warhead would likely have some kind of multistage detonator, both to trigger the fission payload and to provide some safety mechanism against malfunction--to avoid unplanned detonation due to battle damage as well as freak accident while in the launch tubes. Any number of things might trigger a self-destruct of the rocket or defuse the warhead: failure of guidance systems, rocket motor malfunction, failure of the detonators… it wouldn’t do to have an intact fission warhead bury itself into hostile territory--or worse, detonate above the wrong continent or over the heads of allied soldiers. “Red and Black,” Armiena muttered into her helmet’s comms. She gave her interceptor’s joystick a minute twitch, correcting her course to intercept the largest concentration of the weapons. “I need a scramble of ion-equipped starfighters, anything you’ve got. You have my permission to raid the Order’s hangars. Vector will be…” she rattled off a string of digits, a course setting that would lead them to the missile barrage. “Full burn, no shields. They will not have opposition.” As the Jedi Ace interceptor raced towards the cloud of missiles, icons and vectors began to populate the heads-up display projected before Armiena’s eyes, arches that gradually closed to indicate range. It was an enormous amount of information, overwhelming to a novice pilot--but the Jedi Grandmaster was plenty experienced… and besides, she wasn’t even looking at the iconography. “Darex, Ara… Aryian,” Her fingers played a nervous, pattering tremolo on the joystick. “If you guys are watching this, I could really use a hand right about now…” And then Armiena took a long, steadying breath and observed the world outside her cockpit with half-lidded eyes. A different hand guided the controls of her interceptor: there was no art or relish in the backbone-crushing, high-gee maneuvers; no viciousness or daring or even caution that would have indicated a human pilot; there was only mathematical precision, efficiency so exquisite and weapons accuracy so pristine that its pilot might have been confused for a droid. Ion fire blasted from the Jedi interceptor, the Dark Fire, playing upon missile after missile and causing the payloads to drop from the sky as useless space junk. One: direct hit on the warhead. Two and three: more warhead hits. Inhale. Four, five, and six: hits to the engine quadrants that caused the projectiles to spiral out of control. Exhale. Seven and eight: warhead hits. Nine through eighteen: the ion mine released into the missiles finally detonated, rendering several of the missiles into inert scrap and two more into wildly-maneuvering hazards that chased their own engine quadrants. Inhale. Draygo was barely even aware of her flesh-and-blood body, could barely even see from the successive gray-outs and red-outs that the punishing maneuvers of her interceptor inflicted on the eyes of its pilot. Whether something had been diverted to assist or thwart her was irrelevant for the moment--the Jedi Grandmaster didn’t even pay mind to the fact that a menagerie of seventeen mismatched ships had been diverted to assist her. They were an eclectic lot of fighters, ranging from a pair of long-obsolete Y-Wings to a fighter trio of ultramodern Jedi Ace interceptors manned by young Jedi Knights. But even as Dark Fire--no, Draygo--reaped dozens of kills upon the siege torpedos, her conscious mind knew that this was not going to be sufficient. Those capital ships would have hundreds of launch tubes. It was mathematical. One fighter, even eighteen, would never be able to neutralize them all. Not unless the Jedi Grandmaster did something really, really stupid.
  21. ((For @MSA)) “He seemed less distracted when we last met, more focused. Growing up did a lot of good for him, better than I…” Armiena’s sentence trailed off. Confessing her initial fears regarding the disappearance of her Padawan in the middle of his training seemed far too personal a subject for a Jedi that she barely knew. “Better than I managed when I was his age, for certain. He’s safer than we are. Although, if we aren’t able to slow the Sith here on Nar Shaddaa, he will soon have just as many troubles as us.” Just behind the younger Jedi Knight, the sublight engines of Draygo’s interceptor whined to life and a jet of superheated plasma flared towards the armored wall of the hangar, The jet quickly receded, leaving a red-hot glow that emanated from the starfighter’s engines. One of the yellow-clad deckhands knelt under its wing, pointing towards the opened doors of the hangar and rotating one hand forward in approximation of a wheel. As the starfighter inched forwards, there was a shout from the cockpit: “She’s ready for you, Grandmaster!” Draygo paused in her next breath. Something seemed to set within her, an almost-imperceptible stiffening of her shoulders and an unseen compartmentalization of happier memories. “We’ll speak again later, assuming we’re both still alive at the end of the day. But I need you to understand: this battle is going to be… horrible. Urban warfare is always terrible. My objective is to ensure that the Rebel Alliance is able to keep the attention of the Sith Empire fixed on this moon for as long as possible. The Alliance must survive this initial assault. We may be stuck here for a long time.”
  22. ((For @MSA)) “For my part: Aidan, twenty-three years and eleven months; stuffed thranta; and… I think he’s a little more like his father. And a Dantooinian plains flu. Thank The Force for grandparents.” For a instant, Armiena smiled–an actual smile, untouched by the grimness of war and the distant tremors of sapients dying thousands of kilometers above them. Then the cranium-piercing whine of repulsorlifts being tested caused her to wince and her facial scars to twist and wrinkle. “The things that we do for love.” “For my part: Aidan, twenty-years old and eleven months; stuffed thranta; and… I think he takes after his father a bit more than me. And a Dantooinian plans flu. Thank the Force for grandparents.” For an instant, Armiena smiled–an actual smile, untouched by the trauma of war and the distant tremors of sapients dying thousands of kilometers above them. Then the cranium-piercing whine of repulsorlifts being being brought online caused her wince and her facial scars to twist into a grotesque spiderweb of lines. “The things that we do for love.” “I’ve no information of your activities until now, but I can tell you that this is a matter of survival, the best chance that this galaxy has at a government that doesn’t treat its people like things. If Kakuto Ryu were to walk through those doors there and offer his assistance… I’d at least point him towards the front.” The veteran Jedi placed the lukewarm cup of caf on her starfighter’s wing and squinted towards the unfamiliar Force-Sensitive. There was a familiar stain that was lingering about his presence… “You were near my old Padawan not too long ago, weren’t you? Genesis Stormhelm?”
  23. ((For @MSA)) A tanned hand gently laid on Armiena’s shoulder, who started awake and pushed herself away from the wall of the freight turbolift. “Janen. Oh, shavit. How long have I been asleep?” At that moment, Draygo’s mind as proverbially bloodshot as her eyes from several long days of plumbing through diagrams of Nar Shaddaa’s subcellar and then reconnoitering those same tunnels, had been dreaming about sleeping. She had been dreaming of a deliriously happy night--before she had accepted the rank of Grandmaster decades ago--and about specifically the silk sheets and feather-down pillows of a bed that she’d known on Naboo. It had been a very pleasant fantasy, but cold reality had just throttled her awake with a bracing sensation that rent the fabric of The Force and impelled instinct to stand at attention like noticing a spiderweb crack in a starfighter canopy. “About two minutes.” The Miraluka offered a cup of insta-caf with one hand, and the miniature life-support unit of a starfighter pilot’s flight suit. “Our newcomer did not immediately turn to violence. However, after being cleared by the Imperials, he sat himself in a logistically critical sector of headquarters. I believe he’s engaging some form of battle meditation.” “My hero.” Armiena growled through a dry throat and winced at the bitter taste of lukewarm caf. “I will need to meet him." ____ Draygo shrugged awkwardly in an attempt to get a better fit on the miniature life-support unit. Unfortunately, the Imperial Knight armor that the Jedi Grandmaster had borrowed clearly had not been designed with pilots in mind, and the bulky straps steadfastly refused to settle on her shoulders and continued to slip over the plastoid. Her Miraluka aide finally settled for overtightening the straps, pulling on the hoists with both hands and pushing on the Grandmaster’s back with one foot. “Tighter, Janen. You’re not going to hurt me. There.” The pack finally slid home and stayed pressed against her breastbone. Armiena gave the harness a test shrug; it was significantly restricting the range of motion of her shoulders… but at least it fit. Now moving at a slow jog towards the headquarters’ landing pads, Armiena caught sight of the returned Jedi Knight–something about the unorthodox robes seemed familiar, of a similar cut but an unlike pattern to the austere Jedi cloak, but the veteran Jedi couldn’t quite place the man. As for Armiena, the veteran Jedi knew that she must have been a foreboding presence, staring intensely at the young Jedi, clad in unadorned gray plate and both lightsabers fastened to her hips. The warlike presence was only detracted from by the paper cup in one hand. She clasped a gauntleted hand on Armegedon’s shoulder. “On me, Jedi.” Draygo led Armegedon towards the landing pad that housed her battered, boxy, Barloz-class Medium Freighter. A pair of deckhands were towing her Jedi Ace starfighter out of its cargo hold, with a third rushing through its preflight checklists. Armiena spoke loudly to make herself heard over the whine of the warming sublight engines. “You’re going to have to forgive the paranoia, but the last time that I was treated to the surprise of a supposedly long-lost Force-Sensitive on the threshold of a major engagement went… badly. Answer as truthfully as you are able.” About as subtle as a forging hammer, Draygo’s awareness surrounded Armegedon and she single-mindedly monitored the younger Jedi for any hesitation, any sign of fabricating a story or an evasion. Her pale-green eyes bored into Armegedon’s. “I understand that you’re a father. Congratulations. I need to ask…” The questions came rapid-fire, the veteran Jedi only allowing Armegedon about half a second to respond to each. He would need to answer on instinct. “What are their names? Age? Sex? Their favorite toy? Age at first steps? First spoken word? Did they favor you or their mother? What was their first illness?”
  24. Draygo’s world was now an abyss of sound, wind, and a cone of light from her speeder bike’s floodlights. The latter was not even of much use, as it only illuminated a scant hundred meters directly in front of the flight of the fragile little vehicle’s nose–its sensors, on the other hand, blasted the tunnels with a variety of ultrasonic frequencies, infrared and ultraviolet beams, and a number of other detection beams, electronically mapping the tunnels so clearly that the veteran Jedi might as well never glance from the instrumentation. It was the loose bits that were a serious concern; cables and other fibers that were dangling from the arched ceiling that threatened to rip a gash through her forehead. “Picked up our people,” buzzed the comlink in Draygo’s ear. Her Imperial counterparts had long since raced ahead in search of the missing pair of Imperial scouts. The Jedi Grandmaster, warily watching the glimmering reflections that were now dotting the tunnel walls with alarming frequency, allowed her attention to drift from her command of the bike’s controls and onto the tunnel walls. Those glimmers were alive. More importantly, they were all very conscious of the presence of the three humanoids and were watching them with the knife-blade focus of a predator. “And I see who caught them. Watch the walls. Lifesigns from our guys?” “From one. Oh, shavit, shavit! Rounding back to you!” The darkness filled with a confused tumble of darting floodlights and a piercing shriek of abused repulsorlift engines echoing across the curved walls of the tunnels. An entire cloud of those glimmers were converging on the Imperial scouts. Draygo wrenched back against the yokes of the speeder bike in an attempt to bring its blaster cannon to bare against the reflections on the ceiling of the tunnel–she immediately gained altitude and nearly collided with the ceiling. In that instant, Armiena made a reckless calculation: the pack, or swarm, or hive of these creatures was doing much more than attacking Imperial scout troopers, it was blocking one of the evacuation routes, and one that would be used to relocate hundreds of soldiers from the Red and Black. It needed to be secured. “On me, dismounting.” There was just a hint of hesitation from the two Imperial scouts. “Copy.” Bringing the speeder to a rapid halt, the veteran Jedi drew her lightsaber blade and held the bronze blade aloft towards the glimmers that were beginning to scurry down the walls towards her. Armiena got her first good look at one of the creatures: it was a many-legged (at least six, perhaps nine) amalgamation of mirror-like eyes and keratinized claws. There were nearly twenty rushing towards her position, and perhaps more that had been disturbed from their nest by the screams of the Imperial speeder bikes. It was, in summary, a scene from the worst nightmares of a much younger Armiena Draygo. That younger woman would have probably panicked, frozen, and perhaps even fled while screaming curses. Today, the Jedi Grandmaster only nearly panicked, ran towards the danger, and only let loose a single invective. One of the arachnoids dropped towards her from the arched ceiling. Resisting the opening to slice through its underside, Armiena merely sidestepped the creature and felt its wind as it fell in a many-legged heap. Instead, she ran directly up one of the arched wall, clearly surprising one of the creatures and ending its life with a quick upwards slash of the tip of her blade. At that moment, both Imperial scouts had arrived with a strafing run, illuminating the man-made cavern with splashes of crimson that felled several of the arachnoids. The two soldiers dismounted and trained their carbines on the swarm descending from the ceiling, trusting the Jedi to protect them from any of the creatures getting too close. The veteran Jedi had just spent her momentum sprinting up the wall and pushed away, setting her body into a slow flip that would cause her to land upright on the permacrete of the tunnel. She threw her lightsaber towards the opposite wall as she descended, spearing another arachnoid with the bronze blade as it descended. Armiena ignored the weapon as it bounced and rolled to a stop, instead igniting her emerald to decapitate a second arachnoid upon landing. There was no room for acrobatics once the swarm descended; the engagement devolved into a chaotic melee, with Armiena slashing through grasping claws and darting forward when an opening allowed an advance towards the missing scouts. Both Imperial scouts barely said anything more than monosyllabic words as they shot down beast after nightmarish beast, merely barking left, or right side, or on your six, or reloading when especially pressed. The emerald blade sputtered and smoked, hissing through chitin and evaporating haemolymph as the many-limbed creatures tried in vain to subdue prey whose weapons they could not comprehend. What they could comprehend, however, was that many of their hive were dying--that the scent of their blood was filling the air and their ultrasonic shrieks were echoing off the walls. Whether by reason or hormonal cue, the mass of arachnoids soon broke and fled into the darkness, far beyond where the scouting party had gone missing. After collecting their wits and their weapons, the three pressed on. Soon, the scouts’ floodlamps fell upon the armored form of the survivor of the scouting party before them. “Alive; pulse is slow and strong. It’s like he’s anesthetized.” Armiena wasn’t quite listening to the observations of the Imperial Scout. There was another cluster of life nearby: nonsapient, unintelligent, but teeming with such frantic activity that it was impossible to miss its presence. The veteran Jedi snatched a chemical flare from one of her compatriots and trudged forward. The permacrete walls of the tunnels soon gave way to a waxy, thin material reminiscent of paper-mache. It was probably an excretion of the arachnoids. Armiena lifted her lightsaber and touched one of the walls; it was sticky to the touch, almost unctuous. Something slender and many-legged, like a larval version of the creatures that had attacked her earlier, skittered towards her finger as it withdrew. Draygo sniffed and blanched; the unmistakable, sickly scent of decaying flesh was strong in the air. And then she glanced up at the ceiling. Drooping from the waxy ceiling of the tunnel, swaying threateningly like ripe fruits from an overburdened tree, were scores of paper-white, chitinous eggs that were illuminated green by the glow of her lightsaber. Each was barely larger than her finger, but they hung delicately in self-adhering branches. As she watched, one of those pods split and a piece of egg cracked against the ground, and a larval something skittered into the ceiling. This place was a hive, a nesting ground, and a lair for those creatures, and the Jedi Grandmaster possessed just enough imagination to work out what had probably happened to the last missing Imperial Scout. That thought awoke something primal and adolescent within Armiena; something that lacked any form of discipline and wanted to run away screaming various negatories. The remaining portion of her mind that remained useful thought this was an entirely sensible plan. Draygo ignited the chemical flare and touched it towards one of the waxy, paper-like walls. As it happened, this surface burned very nicely--it immediately smoked and soon ignited, the flames crawling upwards almost as quickly as the creatures that made this place their home. _____ Some time later, Armiena and the three Imperial scouts finally returned to the freight elevator under the Red and Black. Clammy from sweat and shaky from having a phobia awoken, the Jedi Grandmaster slowly dismounted her speeder bike and reported her findings to a Colonel overseeing the redeployment of Rebel troopers. The last route into the city starports finally secured--or at least its most dangerous obstacles reduced to ashes--the evacuation could finally begin at full speed. And now, there seemed to be some sort of commotion ensuing on the surface, something concerning one of the Jedi. Already weary from the flight and fight, the veteran Jedi leaned heavily against one wall of the turbolift and closed her eyes until she felt the turbolift jolt to a stop. Or until someone woke her up. Whichever came first.
  25. ((For @Sandy Sarnaand @Aidan Darkfire)) At last, Aidan understood. Perhaps her grandson didn’t quite accept the undeniable truth of her mortality, but the young man finally stopped evading the facts and confronted them outright. In truth, Misal’s condition had been terminal for a very long time–before Aidan had even reached adulthood–and was the result of poorly-healed wounds, resurgent cancers, and time. That was an injury that no medicine or healer had the capacity to treat. When the freight turbolifts to the ground level of the Red and Black finally opened, the sliding doors disgorged a platoon of marines and a small speeder so overloaded with missile launchers and other heavy weapons that it rode notably lower to the ground than typical. Misal let out a low sigh and allowed herself to be led to the side to allow their passage; her Force-presence diminished, the weight of her being in The Force stilled to the point that she was lost in the urgency of soldiers preparing for battle. Even her appearance–and the Miraluka were uncommon enough that their presence was only unremarkable among the Jedi–seemed drab and plain. She seemed to be a blind woman dressed in a practical cloak, not worth noting in comparison to the Jedi Master and Imperial Knight. After the throng had passed and the three were able to make their ascent into the Rebel Headquarters, Misal finally let down her guard and released her grip over her own Force-presence. The Miraluka was more than exhausted; she was weary, the kind of oppressive fatigue that would render her utterly ineffective. This time, she accepted the buoy of the two younger Force-sensitives with gratitude. “I believe that the technical term for my condition, one that your healers steadfastly refuse to use, is that I’m dying. I prefer to think of it as epilogue. A conclusion to this story, and with some luck a satisfactory one. “I love you, Aidan. Please don’t concern yourself overly with my condition. As for… yes, I will need some rest, to meet the coming days.” The Miraluka adjusted her to meet the jolt of the tubrolift’s brakes, and the three were greeted with the same sight that they had met in the tunnels: more sapients, more ammunition. Some of those beings were evacuating the base for other fronts, but many of them were redeploying across the moon.
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