On the borders of Jerondal’s gravity well, Handell was looping the Asrai in a complex web of evasive maneuvers that nevertheless managed to keep the ship between their target – the Ranharik – and a clean escape to hyperspace. Meanwhile, Alys poured a steady stream of ion cannon fire into the space around the Ranharik, scoring often enough to keep them from computing an escape – if not often enough to keep them from firing off the occasional missile barrage – and Shipwreck filled the area with communications static and sensor ghosts.
Jarik was contenting himself with getting the sick bay ready – yet again. He was certain that there would be customers soon enough.
Meanwhile, onboard the Ranharik, their little “boarding party” was running into trouble.
To say that things were not looking especially good would have been an understatement. Out of the presumed twenty people aboard this freighter, Lazlo and I had just knocked out only five of them. That left around fifteen or so crew members left to subdue before we had control of the ship. That wasn’t bad enough, but my stunt with the grenades had stunned Lazlo at least for a few moments. So I was alone for the time being.
Well, in that case best option I see before me is to lay out some contingency options in case I should get cornered. I took out the explosive gel spray that Shipwreck gave me and applied some to the outer airlock door. Should I get cornered, I can threaten to blow out the airlock or even do it to sow some chaos if need be. I would rather not have to kill the crew though if I can help it at all.
Just as Lazlo was coming around I got the sudden image I was going to be lying on the floor for some reason. Not seeing any incoming attack though I wasn’t sure how to respond. I got my answer moments later when the gravity suddenly increased dramatically. Not prepared for it and not having the muscular build to endure it, I fell to the floor. At a guess, the crew had just increased the gravity setting for the section I was in to around five times normal.
I could hear a hiss in the air as well. I imagine they were pumping in some sort of gas to either pacify or kill us. Probably pacify, unless these guys were willing to kill their own people. With them working for the Sith, I can’t rule that out entirely.
Thankfully, having just come from space to board this vessel just moments ago, I was still wearing my own sealed air supply. That should keep me safe, unless the poison just needs skin contact. If that is the case then I may be in trouble.
I don’t think I ever realized how much of a pain in the ass high gravity could be. It was one thing watching Valerie practice acrobatics and Force strength in eight gravities, but it’s quite another to experience it yourself. She always had that wicked grin when she was practicing too, like she was making a not too idle threat. Come on Kira, you’ve seen Valerie do this many times, it should be a simple matter to duplicate what she did on a lower level.
Before I had any chance to do much of anything though, the crew started taking pot shots at Lazlo and I. Luckily the armor I was wearing held for the most part as I took some bruising and shock from the blasts but wasn’t seriously injured.
Lazlo forced himself to his feet amazingly, and then went to pick me up. He complained mightily about my weight and lack of strength while he did it though, much to my annoyance. I am about average in terms of weight and my height is a bit on the small side. Besides, where on Alderaan was I going to live a hard life of manual labor? Most I ever had to do was carry bags of genetically modified seeds to the hover truck. Not all of us were supersoldiers breed and genetically modified for superhuman strength.
Hell, Valerie was stronger than me naturally but she was also a good ten centimeters taller too. And Virstris was even stronger and more heavily built than her. But they both grew up amongst the Sith where mortal combat was a daily thing. Stuff like that tends to build muscle quickly.
I managed to telekinetically hold myself aloft and walked forward. Doing much of anything more than that was out of the question though. Valerie made this seem so easy. It looked like the crew had taken chairs and used them to build a makeshift blockade of the corridor to the bridge.
Lazlo bounded ahead of me into the corridor, rolling a concussion grenade as he went into the midst of the barrier and stunning a few of the men – well, one of those near-human races – behind it. Just how strong is that guy that he can bound along in five gravities like it was normal? Even Valerie had to cheat and use the Force to move in situations like this. I raised my hand and threw out a blast of telekinetic energy that scattered the chairs down the corridor and cleared the path ahead of us, leaving the way open for Lazlo. I saw Lazlo then punch a guy and splat him against the opposing wall. The amount of blood oozing from him didn’t look good.
Crossing the threshold into the corridor, I collided with the ceiling as gravity dropped to normal and I didn’t drop my telekinetic effect fast enough. Luckily I dropped the technique fast enough to take no damage from it, but it was embarrassing to say the least. I am really going to have to practice this myself some the next chance I get.
Lazlo was stomping down the corridor smashing people aside with his bare hands while dodging – or simply touhing out – blaster fire. That was disturbing to say the least. Almost reminded me of the chimeras I fought back at the Academy. That wasn’t a reassuring comparison either. Nor was it reassuring when he started using one of the crew as a shield against their attacks. With the crew focusing their fire on Lazlo, that did give me several clean openings. Taking the opportunity, I ran forward and started slicing blasters with my lightsaber.
Out of the three blasters I was attacking, I managed to neatly slice two in half while barely missing the third. Two of the crew took out vibroblades and came at me hoping to flank me and take me out together. With my shield in one hand and my lightsaber in the other, I started dueling them. It was easy blocking the first pair of attacks. Looks like all that practice with Valerie and Master Soung had paid off.
Following through with the disarming techniques Valerie taught me was also straightforward. Although I have to give credit to the guy that nearly managed to hold onto his weapon. Looking back down the corridor, I saw just how many people I’ve managed to knock out or disarm instead of killing. I have to admit, the Sith combat arts are highly effective.
Meanwhile, the Asrai had taken a few hits – but they were nothing that it’s current armor couldn’t handle. Handell was pretty unhappy anyway – but guessed that the Ranharik would soon run out of missiles – and with Alys pouring in the ion cannon fire, they were never able to keep their systems online long enough to get the targeting computers up and running to fire anything else. Shipwreck, meanwhile, had managed to reroute the Ranharik’s attempts to call for help to a small, unidentified, planet on the far side of the galaxy that had never been contacted by galactic civilization and had them talking to the local emergency services. As usual, the languages, and the communications technologies, were more or less compatible.
Lazlo went to knock on the door to the cockpit, while I went to tend to the man badly injured by Lazlo. Judging his wounds to be beyond my ability to treat, I elected for the easy method and put a stasis belt on him and activated it. The other crew members wanted to know what that was, and I jokingly answered that it was secret Jedi technology. At first they figured I really was joking but then decided that secret technology was at the root of all the Jedi powers.
Lazlo was arguing with the pilot. The pilot seemed to want us to believe he was quite willing to blow up the ship with himself in it rather than surrender to supposed Jedi. Now, either this guy was bluffing, or he had been fed a serious line of crap by the Sith. Not believing that anyone could be that stupid, I assumed he was bluffing – especially since he was spewing a large variety of other bilge about the engines going unstable, reactor leaks, and having to go back to the planet – and started cutting through the door.
As I started cutting through the locking mechanism, an explosion went off in my face and everything went black.
Lazlo sighed – the crew had already shown a willingness to use a lot of concussion grenades. It looked like the pilot had just wired up a mess of stun grenades around the door, and was banking on the guys from the engine room to come up and tie up the boarders while he was unconscious from acting as bait for the trap. Not too bad – but he was still awake, and it was easy enough to set up the same stunt on the people coming up from engineering. With that, and the fact that he and Kira had just taken out sixteen of their friends, it was easy enough to talk them into a surrender.
The fact that he decided to make a pot of tea, get out some cushions, and try to turn it into a “friendly discussion”, was intimidating enough in itself. He was acting like he didn’t even need to consider any of the crew a threat.
I woke up some indeterminate amount of time later with a serious headache. Looking around the ship, I found several other members of the crew still unconscious. back in the main galley though, I found what appeared to be Lazlo and several other members of the crew having a tea party. Trying to rub the vision from my eyes with no success, I received a call from Alys aboard the Asrai.
Explaining that while it looked like we had managed to gain control of the ship, it also looked like I had a concussion or something at the very least. When asked why I felt that way, I described the vision of Lazlo having a tea party with the crew. Alys’s response of being annoyed with not being invited convinced me that the call was part of the delusion and I ended the call. It was probably best not to be holding imaginary conversations with my communicator.
S hipwreck showed up a short time later and began working on repairs of the ship. Jarik took care of my injuries and pronounced me a little shaken and bruised, but not seriously hurt. That did mean the tea party and Alys wanting to attend it was real though. I wasn’t real happy about that.
Jarik then attended to the guy I put into stasis and got him fixed up. We then interrogated the crew and scoured the computer system trying to get information. At first they threatened us with “powerful backers”, but I replied that we were backed by the Republic and who was more powerful then them? That finally got them talking although there wasn’t much to learn. We did get a set of coordinates, a hyperspace route, and a ward-off code for the cloaked orbs in orbit around Jerondal. It did look like the ward-off code was specific to their ship, which was a pain. Questions answered, we then put the crew into stasis for delivery to the Republic.
Looking at the cloaked orbs again, based on the size of the things they could only be explosives of some sort. Worst case if they were neutronium or antimatter, then one of them could sterilize half the planet. We could rule out the neutronium idea based on mass readings, but antimatter was hard to rule out save for the expense of it all. Most likely they would be just large fusion warheads then.
Ben started working on designs for plating our ships and base with the stealth material and for breaking the blockade barrier. We held off from processing any of the stealth ore from the freighter we captured for the time being.
The choice before us now was whether we should take the hyperspace route and follow it to our supposed shipyard or work on trying to break the blockade of Jerondal. Lazlo started complaining for reasons I could not understand. Basis of his argument seemed to be that we hadn’t contacted the Republic to find out how the assassinations were occurring, and because we were operating on “rumor and hearsay” all our plans were moot.
Did we not go over this? No one knew how the assassinations were occurring. Speculation in the Republic and the media at large focused on one of three options: invisibility, shapeshifting, and teleporting. Invisibility on the level required just seemed impossible. A shapeshifter was possible, save for two things: the assassin was a Force user and a powerful one. Force using shapeshifters are incredibly rare, let alone one of that class of Force power. I doubt there is one in the entire galaxy. We can probably rule that one out barring more evidence.
That leaves teleporting. We know how to teleport an object off a planetary surface. This isn’t theoretical either, as we’ve done very similar stunts twice now. We also know the Sith have had access to the same technology. Sorry Lazlo, but this is the only solution that makes sense and we can duplicate it with hardware at our disposal. That puts the theory leagues beyond anything else at the moment.
With that said, it is almost certain that the Sith are using a stealthed star destroyer built with material from this world to power the device. Ergo, this world is of strategic value. Both as a means of tracking where those shipments are going and as a means of cutting off the supply of that material. With Lazlo now feigning indifference, we went back to the question at hand: trace the hyperspace route or try to break the blockade?
The vote went for following the hyperspace route back to the shipyard. We chose to use the captured freighter instead of the Asrai. The Asrai would stay here to meet up with the Base once it arrived in the Jerondal system. Handell volunteered to pilot the freighter, which surprised me. I figured he would want to stay here with the Asrai where it was likely to be safer.
Handell then made a statement about it being better to be with heroic people than to stay where the villains would be looking for them. Wait a minute, wasn’t this the same guy that weeks ago said only our enemies would be expected to dig us out of a trap? Damned if I can understand his thinking, but I am really appreciating having his piloting skills along.
Handell, in fact, was beginning to find Lazlo kind of creepy and very much on his nerves. It was like having your own personal assassin/death machine/dark mystic stalker as a bodyguard. Being left on the base with him, without anyone else around save for non-combatants would REALLY start to bother him – and telling him he was free didn’t seem to work, and giving him away when he knew so many of their secrets and they were being hunted by the Sith didn’t seem like a good option, and he knew that dark side pyramid technique. OK, it would blow him up – but it added “able to detonate like a nuke” to the description and made any attempt to get rid of him extremely dangerous in addition to it being unethical!
After the base arrived, and before heading off, we took the time to use the Base’s manufacturing resources to manufacture the equipment we felt we were going to need and replace all the circuits the ion bombardment had burned out. I stocked up on explosive gel, some grenades, and a pair of variable stars. I also procured several dozen meters of the color changing fabric to use for repairs of the robes based on the rate I was damaging them. We also reloaded the missiles of the freighter we captured and completed the other minor repairs – like the inside airlock door – and had the furipede contingent transfer over. Then we headed off along the hyperspace route the previous crew had pre-programmed. There was plenty of firepower aboard the asteroid to blockade Jerondahl against a few freighters, which should buy some time to deal with it later – or to get the Republic military in on the job.
The route itself looked like it was taking us through a bunch of awkward complications to a stellar group that was the remnants of a satellite galaxy. Much denser stellar formations and a much higher metal content than normal for that far out. That combined with being on the edge of the galaxy made it a perfect defensive location I figured.
During transit, I did take the time to turn up the gravity in one of the rooms aboard the freighter and tried my best to mimic the practices Valerie did. I was nowhere near her level of eight gravities, but it was worth practicing and it gave me benchmark for comparisons. The others would watch me from time to time, but none really watched for long. I found my thoughts wandering back to Trayus several times through it all though.
Eventually, we dropped out of hyperspace at our destination. Having been piloting, Handell was most upset over the state of the hyperdrive system and wanted us to seek repairs at the earliest opportunity. Shipwreck began his scans while we were still a good ways out.
It looked to be a trinary system with one neutron star that had apparently novaed recently. That nova had torn apart the planetary system of the nearby giant star into one of the most massive asteroid belts any of us have seen. Even the stellar material being pulled off one the giant by the neutron star was being harvested for power. The planetary system of the third star – which orbited the first two a good deal further out – was playing host to Corellians and Hutts, as well as a relatively modest Sith enclave. The nova halo still propagating outwards was also shielding the system from external scans quite effectively and really restricting the access routes, communications, and even navigation, since you couldn’t see through it to lay a course.
Asteroids were obviously being converted into ships enmasse here. This was no mere shipyard like we had imagined, this was a major industrialized system able to build fleets. We were not up to destroying or sabotaging something on this scale. Nothing less than one or more major Republic battlegroups were up to that – and the locals looked to be neutrals anyway, since they were obviously supplying ships to all of Hutt space and several other independent (and often illegal) groups – and Sith Wars were very good for business.
Ben did start dreaming up schemes on how to destroy entire star systems, but I wasn’t going to go through with anything like that. It’s one thing to destroy a Sith star destroyer full of people, it’s quite another to blow up a star system. Besides; how could you set up something like that while under constant observation? And, even if it worked, did we want to be showing off a functional superweapon?
The scale of the place and who was present suggested one of three options. First was a small Sith faction with lots of money but no manufacturing capability. Second was a medium sized Sith faction trying to hide their efforts. Third was a large faction trying to build a reserve quietly. No easy way to tell which was the case either – but all the Sith were really investing here was cash.
After putting that discussion to rest, we worked on our next step. Since Ben couldn’t find anything immediately dangerous with landing and selling the ore, we decided to continue with that plan.
Traffic control directed us to land at a processing facility. Yet again, a man with a datapad came out to meet the ship. I figured I was too conspicuous to talk to the guy. There was obviously no Sith or Jedi aboard when we took over the freighter and my presence was likely to raise difficult questions. With that determined, the party quickly decided Alys and Lazlo would talk to the official.
There were some questions about Lazlo that got me worried, but Alys was able to sidestep those with the story that she won him in a card game. She was then able to sell the ore for some 12,000 in Sith credits. Actually having some Sith currency was nice given that we were now running missions into Sith space. She also found out that the ward off codes were compared against sensor scans of the ship configuration. Ergo, too much modification of the ship would lead to the ward off code being invalid. Nor could we trade codes between ships.
This was handy to know, but something bothered me. Why would the Sith feel the need to remind us about this fact? I mean it made sense to remind the people who give you stuff not to blow themselves up. But typical holo Sith would tell someone once and if the traders forget, then too bad.
Still, it was just a bureaucrat. Maybe it was just a desire to keep the deliveries arriving regularly? Even the Sith needed bureaucrats – but he wouldn’t want to be the fellow who had to tell a Sith that there were going to be delays.
What we were able to tell of the Sith from the processing facility though was that this was a relatively stable faction. Best guesses were four star destroyers, two to three hundred lesser craft, and numerous fighters in various stages of delivery. The Sith here weren’t even consuming a significant fraction of the production capacity of this shipyard.
With Sith currency in hand and in need of an excuse to look around just a little bit more, we elected to purchase some repairs and upgrades to the ship. That cost us 6,000 Sith credits, but that did get Handell happier with the ship’s power systems and drives. Money well spent from our perspective. As a precaution, we did elect to have the system rescanned and had our ward off codes updated.
At this point I was getting anxious. We obviously had stumbled upon something far beyond our league and the Republic needed to know about this immediately. We all agreed to return to Jerondal and get in touch with the Republic for advice.
We got back to Jerondal and sent off a report to the Republic and waited for advice. In the meantime it was time to run a test. It was a simpler matter to convert the base’s hyperdrive into the superweapon configuration. With superweapon in hand, we grabbed one of the stealth satellites out of orbit and teleported it out past the lunar orbit.
It did take quite a few tries, and an awful lot of computing power to even get it close – the margin of error looked to be pretty large (at least with an improvised system) – but we got one eventually.
The stealth satellite exploded almost instantly after dropping out of hyperspace. Based on Shipwreck’s estimates, it looked like the things were thermonuclear devices in the 300 megaton range. Alright, so these things are stealth mines then. Simple enough matter. Unfortunately we also detected a burst of chatter between the remaining mines.
Talking with the locals about that revealed that it was likely the mines were set up to detonate and or bombard the planet if they detected tampering – or at least that the Sith had made such a threat. Well crap, this made the whole effort a lot harder to deal with. About the only option we could come up with that was likely to work was a plan to build two hundred medium sized warship hyperdrives and snatch the mines all at once. The Furipedes might be up to that level of production in another three months.
Wait, only another three months? Just how efficient are these things? Trying to do that using people and droids would take much longer and more money than we could hope to gather anytime soon. If these things reproduce at anything like a rapid pace, then this could get out of hand quickly. Best to keep an eye on the situation.
Actually the Furipedes would be ready to start building hyperdrives in another three months. They were inherently well-equipped, had been given a fair amount of support, had already had several months to work in – and were focused on little or nothing else. With stasis technology, you didn’t need much of a ship for an evacuation – but you absolutely HAD to have a hyperdrive.
The only way we could see to break the blockade any faster would be to steal the Sith codes and shut the system down entirely. That meant returning to the shipyard system. We needed another load of material to deliver so as not to look suspicious. It was a simple enough matter to get another from the surface from the droids operating the mine. On Ben’s advice, we delivered several loads of the stuff to the base for processing and construction of a retractible coating on the Asrai.
With a new load of material in the hold of the freighter, we returned to the shipyard system. This time we all assumed our false identities. Again we dropped off the load and were paid for it. Then, thanks to some minor complications, we wound up having to make ANOTHER run. Great. We’re delivering multiple loads of vital war materials to the Sith. There’s a horrible thought. What if there are only a few competent Sith, but that the would-be infiltrators keep getting things done for them?
Oh well. We then claimed that we wanted to purchase some stuff from the Hutt section of the system and shuttled over to there. Anyone was welcome there as long as their money held out.
In the Hutt section, we decided the plan would be for us to put several of the more conspicuous members of the party into stasis while the others shipped them back to the Sith section via a shuttle. Hopefully being in stasis would make it easy to get through customs undetected.
Alys, Ben, Lazlo and I decided to go to a restaurant while we thought about the plan. I could tell we made a mistake almost as soon as we sat down when we obviously drew the attention of the Sith making deals – apparently something about medical supplies – from across the restaurant. As soon as he finished his business, he started towards us.
I immediately pretended to be watching “Kira the Kat” cartoons while also pretending to not be listening to the others talk. Sure enough, he came over and commented on detecting three Force sensitives all sitting at one location. Thankfully, Alys took the lead in pretending to be leader of the group.
After learning that Lazlo was a slave and owned by a nonsensitive, the Sith immediately made an offer on him. At first I was sure she wouldn’t go for it, but Alys agreed to hand over Lazlo for 15,000 credits.
Alys wasn’t exactly sure what had come over her there… It had been perfectly in character for the role she’d been playing – and reality had somehow seemed unimportant compared to that. Maybe it was some side effect of the Arethi treatment? They’d warned her that there could – well, WOULD – be side effects, but she’d expected something a bit more physical. Still, it would get them someone on the inside – which might be why Lazlo had gone along with it, rather than breaking cover and protesting.
I was quickly dismissed as a Hedi and left alone after lamenting the lose of potential. That…. was different. Somehow I had been expecting more of what I had to deal with at the Academy. Even Valerie was lamenting my lack of potential most of the time. Most all the students there felt the urge to kill me and take my position as Master Soung’s apprentice. It wasn’t fear of me that held them back, but fear of Master Soung and Valerie that protected my hide.
Now to hear that I showed potential and that my going Hedi was considered a loss was not something I was ready to hear. Had I really progressed that much in only a year?
Ben decided to join the Sith for reasons I simply cannot fathom, although the excuse that he was tired of all my snarky comments earned him a dirty look from me. Alys then started complaining about being stuck with the least useful one out of the bunch, which earned her a dirty look. After they left, Alys and I gave each other the silent treatment which ended up killing the mood in the entire restaurant. After finishing the meal we went back to the ship.
Ben had simply concluded that he couldn’t foresee any immediate disaster resulting – and that someone needed to keep an eye on Lazlo. Besides… it WAS a clear shot at getting a look at the local Sith contingent and it probably wouldn’t be any worse for a Sith trainee trying to escape than for suspected republic agents.
Lazlo had apparently called Handell to complain about being sold. Strange, he didn’t really have an opinion on the matter back before he was sold. Why does he reserve to hold his opinion until after the decision is already made?
Talking to Ben through that same communications link also revealed another surprise or two. First off, this bunch apparently thought Sith from the holos were poorly educated wannabes, while this group were the true Sith. Now, I have yet to hear of any group of Sith claim to be “False Sith”, but to specifically put down the Sith in holos is revealing. Even acknowledging that the vast majority of Sith are self-“trained” based on the holos is also revealing.
By all indications, this bunch is much more self-aware then the others. Hell, someplace like this is testimony to the fact that this group seems much more stable than the others. Engaging in limited assassinations is puzzling, and will need more investigation though. It may be that this group has been here in seclusion for a long time now. There is also the undeniable fact that this bunch and Valerie may be connected.
We decided that there was no way I could walk through customs without drawing too much attention. The only way I am going to get through quietly is if I go into stasis. The decision was made to put my body into Khadim so that he had a body on scanners to go with his life signs, and I could sneak in that way. After all, Mandalorians traveling as bodyguards isn’t that uncommon especially in Sith space.
My last thought before the stasis was applied was a terrifying one: what if Valerie isn’t the exception, but the rule?
Actually getting back was fairly simple: Alys had a ship there, had left with a group, and was coming back having left most of them. About the only thing they insisted on was a check for major explosive devices – and locking down Khadim’s warhead-launching “handgun”.
Meanwhile, Ben and Lazlo were being given special identification, asked about their impressions of the Sith, and given some carefully selected information as to what the “real Sith” were like. Oddly enough, at least to Ben, their introduction to the Sith seemed oddly attractive. After all, if it was all that bad, how could Kira be using their training?