They lifted off just ahead of the pursuit again. This was just great: repairs half-completed, now they’d be wanted by the police, and they’d attacked a major interstellar criminal syndicate.
They got the hell out of the sector. They didn’t think they’d done anything large enough for the reports to chase them that far.
They were wrong of course.
Along the way they came up with a somewhat reckless idea: there were several competing bounty hunter’s guilds – and they mostly didn’t get along. They really needed to know if the bounty on Force-sensitives was a local or galaxy-wide thing. Also, the guild members didn’t usually go after bounties on each other; they left that to outside guilds. Ergo, joining a bounty hunters guild might be well worthwhile. Besides, where else would they go? They weren’t likely to be trusted by the Jedi, the Sith were apparently after them, the guild would have access to money, parts, supplies, and work, and they could probably handle most bounties.
That started off fairly well. They paid their fee, they consulted the boards, they started doing a little planning, they found that the bounty on force-sensitives seemed to be galaxy-wide, and they teamed up with Adak Ar’Lerion, a reptilian bounty hunter who was looking for some new partners. They didn’t find out until later that he hadn’t been able to team up with anyone else due to his penchant for excessive violence (yet another replacement character).
Unfortunately, it seemed like the Bounty Hunters Guild wanted a closer look at Khadim-17 – although they apparently figured out quickly enough that he wasn’t a droid; what they could read of his life-signs didn’t match anything they had on record, and the suit was one of the latest Mandalorian designs. They also had some suspicions about ANYONE carrying a lightsaber, and recognized that 10CH was loaded with augmentations. The fact that the Sith – spurred by De’arc – were making some behind-the-scenes inquiries probably played a role too; a modest guild couldn’t afford to go to war with the Sith. There were even a few rumors floating about involving the other Khadim – although most of those tales of dead vehicles and ships traveling about with no crews, inoperative droids that refused to die, and similar horrors, were easily dismissed.
The attempts to trump up some excuse to demand that Khadim-17 and the rest of the group submit to some sort of examination led to a great deal of confusion – mostly revolving around the fact that, when you attempted to catch Khadim-17, he tended to just wander off and help people at random while asking silly questions. Still, with great firepower and a lot of destruction, they got him back to the guild offices eventually – although not until someone figured out that simply asking would work, even if he did keep insisting that removing his armor was not possible. They weren’t too happy with what the found when they demanded that Khadim-17 take his helmet off. He cheerily complied of course – but an animated suit of armor, occupied by a desiccated corpse with electrical sparks crawling all over it, and a voice that continued to speak from the empty helmet, was something out of an fantasy-horror entertainment production – or the product of some sort of hideous Sith Sorcery out of legend.
It even gave Keldav quite a jolt. He didn’t think the creature was any kind of “undead” – he was pretty sure that something like that would show up pretty plainly in the Force – but that body couldn’t possibly be alive.
Wait. Hopelessly naive about the simplest physical details, asking all kinds of silly questions, learning so quickly, wanting to know about the war, spending time on each new world “getting to know the planet”, not knowing about anything from more than a few weeks ago, claiming to be so young, talking to computers like they were alive… COULD there be such a thing as an energy-being? De’arc had picked it up on Mandalor. Had the planetary bombardment actually stirred up a “planetary sprit” of some sort? There were a few old legends of planets having their own souls – and it did refer to itself as an “fragment” that was acting for some sort of greater whole.
Still, there was no time to study the thing now. The spreading panic – the guild had, of course, been monitoring the office visually – was giving them a chance, but the local guild still had a lot more raw power available than they did.
They had made a break for it while the getting was good and had Handell bring the ship down to hover over a nearby plaza for the pickup. It was too damned close, but they managed to fight their way out and reach the ship. Fortunately, the local authorities weren’t too interested in the internal quarrels of the bounty hunters guild; they didn’t respond until well after everything was done, the guild didn’t have too many ships immediately available, and Handell was a very good pilot.
Still, that was yet ANOTHER world they could never go back to – and it looked like joining the Bounty Hunters was not going to work.
Adak had come along. Nobody else was willing to work with him locally anyway, and this bunch looked like they were headed for LOTS of violence. He’d never been big on “Bring them back alive” anyway.
So: no Sith, no Bounty Hunters, joining the criminals wouldn’t exactly get people off their backs, and talking to the Republic Government would simply lead to being kept in custody while twenty years of discussions went by – if not to being shot as suspected Sith spies.
Besides, Keldav was becoming increasingly worried about exploding. He wasn’t prone to losing his temper, but nobody was perfect – and the fates of Dr Orin and Arace had definitely made an impression. Jedi were known for a lot of things – including some awfully silly bits – but they definitely WEREN’T known for spontaneously exploding. Besides, they might know already – but it was possible that news of the bounty was something they’d overlooked or would at least take as evidence of good faith. He got the rest of the group to agree to visit the Jedi readily enough.
So where was there a Jedi Temple they could visit?
As it turned out, there were quite a few of them. It was fairly well known that – if you had a child who was still showing major symptoms of force-sensitivity past early childhood – you took them to the Jedi if you wanted them to live. Those with minor or erratic talents might do all right on their own, but major powers were lethal unless trained. They picked one of the smaller ones and set out.
Unfortunately, with the ongoing Sith-Jedi war, there was hardly anyone there; a few Elder Jedi – the ones too senile to participate no matter how great the emergency – and a modest collection of youngsters just starting their training. In fact, the Elders were so far gone that they either failed to recognize that Keldav was a partially-trained Sith or took it that he was trying to purge the Sith influence without even asking him about it (or possibly acted in response to some sort of force vision or something). They sent everyone to assist Telera Vanyel – a skilled Jadi who would be capable of evaluating Keldav’s current abilities and providing appropriate training in using or suppressing them as appropriate.
Unfortunately, she was currently assigned to assist Lesin Bala, a much younger Jedi with some sort of special knack – and her assignment was aboard a capital-class republic ship. Well, hell. At least anyone chasing them would have to deal with a Republic Interstellar Battle Group before getting to them and the senior Jedi had given them suitable paperwork and a safe-conduct. They stowed the ship (and billed it to the Jedi Temple) and “reported for duty”.
They were in deep space before they actually met Telera – and she didn’t react well. She’d seen the paperwork of course, and had been expecting a young Jedi trainee and a few soldiers – not a renegade Sith apprentice, no matter how much he’d rejected the Sith! It was hard to say if it was worse, but he was accompanied by some weird alien wearing Mandalorian Battle Armor – one of the groups that was mostly on the OTHER SIDE of the war – a Kredath Berserker (Adak was pleased! Not many recognized his species!), some random crooked pilot who managed to keep more weapons than most people could reasonable carry concealed about himself, and a droid with too many illegal systems to count!
Telera respected the orders of the elders of course – but she also knew that they weren’t in the best of shape. She assigned the group to quarters at the far end of the ship, a good kilometer and a half by corridor from the person they were supposed to be helping her protect. It looked to her like the best way to assist Lesin would be to keep these lunatics as far as possible away from her.
The group found ways to occupy themselves. Khadim-17 and 10CH took advantage of the onboard shops to upgrade their various systems (installing more weapons, various programs, better computer systems, a Republic military-class encryption module, and other items). Handell used the simulators to expand the range of ships he was used to piloting and Adak went sparring with the troops.
Unfortunately, the Battle Group emerged from hyperspace into the middle of a Sith Ambush. The first the group knew about it was when the boarding action started.
Since they were next to the engines they shot up a few boarders there – but it was obvious that keeping the engines working was a losing game. Even when Khadim-17 ripped the missile pods off one of the fighters Handell shot down and started using them to keep off the other incoming fighters, the damage was just building up too fast – and Adak and Keldev were having trouble holding off the borders.
They fell back into the inner corridors and headed for the bridge.
Along the way, Keldev actually found Telera for them; she was – at least in passing – defending a medical area and some unarmed physician-types. Unfortunately, a moments later, a Sith found them all. Telera got herself decapitated – but that opened up the Sith for a blast from some sort of sonic device 10CH was carrying that shattered the crystals in his lightsaber. The Sith still managed to withstand Handell’s blaster shots as he was falling back down the corridor (thanks in part to his armor) – so Khadim-17 shot him with the last antiship missile in the missile pod. The Sith spent his last moment in complete incredulity that ANYONE would treat a proton torpedo pack as a hand weapon – much less fire one in a confined area.
The explosion took out a dozen compartments and opened the area down the corridor to space, but Keldav got the door sealed fast enough to keep everyone from being sucked out. Well, they were in a medical area anyway and lightsaber wounds cauterized surfaces and prevented blood loss – so Keldav hurriedly used his talents to keep Telera’s brain alive while the rest of them heaved her into a bacta tank, hooked up artificial blood circulation, and started healing the damage. They had Khadim-17 carry it along. He was out of missiles (and no one really wanted to get him any more at the moment), so he might as well carry something.
Sadly, that left them with no clear idea of who they were supposed to bodyguard, or of where they might be – and the evacuation was already underway. They settled for loading people into the escape pods and getting out.
The nearest planet was Surkiant – a world-city world, and the place the fleet detachment had been heading to protect. The planetary defenses were still putting up a valiant fight, but the Sith fleet was battering them down rapidly. Fortunately, that left the Sith Fleet too occupied to waste time targeting escape pods – so a sizable contingent of the republic forces made it safely to the surface.
The group splashed down in a lake, with other pods dropping form the sky all around them. 10CH tracked the ones he could – but they needed transportation. Khadim-17 flagged down a hoverbus. Unfortunately, the driver and passengers abandoned it as soon as they got a good look at the group that was getting on – so Khadim-17 presumed that they’d reached their stop, and took over; they drove around picking up other Republic soldiers.
They had a pretty good sized group before a pair of Sith Armada fighters caught on to what was up and started trying to strafe them. Khadim-17 promptly turned into a parking garage. Astoundingly enough, the fighters followed them; there was just enough room – and apparently they were more afraid of admitting they’d been evaded than of taking a ridiculous risk.
Handell took over driving, 10CH started scanning around for another suitable vehicle, Arak got the troops organized – and Khadim-17 and Keldav disembarked to deal with the fighters.
Keldav dodged, rolled, and sliced off a wing with his lightsaber, while Khadim-17 simply heaved a parked speeder into the other ones path.
There were disadvantages to terrifying your troops to the point that they’d do incredibly stupid things rather than risk your displeasure.
They left in another vehicle, abandoned it once they were out of the area, and had Arak go out and pay cash to rent a subsurface floor; that way no one would need to see all the Republic uniforms. No one would suspect him of being a Republic loyalist or refugee – and he wasn’t as memorable as the rest of them.
They settled down and started sending out Republic-Code encrypted messages and setting up rendevous points, carrying out various acts of sabotage against the Sith occupation, assaulting small patrols, and otherwise making trouble. In a world-city, there was plenty of electrical power, chemicals, manpower, and other resources to use. The Sith couldn’t even protect their own bases adequately when they were sitting on top of a tunnel network that went twenty miles into the depths of the planet.
Eventually Telera woke up – and was pretty surprised to do so. Unfortunately, shortly thereafter, the Sith garrison finally located them, and they had to abandon their position for a retreat to the undercity. Too bad, they’d gotten fairly comfortable. Still, they exploded a lot more things on the way out. Unfortunately, Arak apparently considered himself shamed by having had to retreat – no matter that they were outnumbered by a heavy military force.
Still, with Telera awake, they could get a line on Lesin – and the information that she was trapped in a subsurface section with the Sith troops slowly closing in. Along with a few new allies – including a rambunctious wookiee who had been enjoying a well-earned rest in the jail before his escape – they headed in to break the encirclement from behind and rescue her. With the help of he local underworld (the occupation was bad for business), and despite Arak’s new suicidal tendencies – he now tended to charge straight at heavy weapons emplacements – they got in, got Lesin, and got out.
Trouble was, she seemed to be a major target – and they couldn’t resist much more without risking provoking the Sith into bombarding the planet. It was time to see about getting out.