Loronar Medium Transport Seven Hells
In-Transit to Nicht Ka
0400hrs Ship Time
The ship was quiet with most everyone sleeping. Chet used this time to go over her maps and documents one last time before they made planet-fall. There was a lot to process here. She wasn’t pleased with the way command had rushed the preparations, but in the end she wasn’t paid to approve of or disapprove of her CO’s orders. She was a professional, a soldier, and a warrior who followed her orders. It would be her job, the one she was paid to do, to get eyes on the enemy operation here and get her men and women out in one piece. She knew Jackal Squad could do it.
With the cabin lights dimmed it was difficult to see who was talking, but she could hear their hushed tones from where she sat atop her rucksack and harness. Her pointed ears twitched on their own accord, honing in on the voices. It was most likely Wilkac and Tarrens and she allowed their noise to distract her momentarily as she listened in.
“Yeah, I’m pumped. I got the notice just before we shoved off.”
“Let me see it. Woah, unreal Brother. You gonna do it and leave us behind?”
“Heh, its not all about you Tarrens.”
“It sure is and if you haven’t learned that yet Sergeant, maybe it’s about time you got your L.T. on.”
Balko knew the topic well. She’d sent the papers and request to Captain Dondarit herself. Darren was a capable soldier and had proven himself several times over. He deserved to attend the Academy more than anyone and she knew he’d make a fine leader in a few years.
“Maybe I will, Master Sergeant. Its a big step though.”
“No bigger than some. Linda and I just had our first kid.”
“You’re kidding me! You didn’t think to let anyone here know? Hells, Sarge… Why the frek are you humping all the way out to gods forsaken Nicht Ka with this bunch when you could be at home with the kid?”
That got a chuckle from both men, “That was a big decision as well. Everything in me says I shouldn’t be here, that I should be back on Karufr holding him, holding my wife, and spending all my time doting and cooing and-- Gah! I’m a Jackal though, Darren. You guys are my boys, even the girls. I have just as much of an obligation to you bunch as I do to the wife and kid. Who’s gonna wipe the L.T.’s ass if I wasn’t here?”
Chet smiled. Tarrens was a long-time friend, and was one of the few who could survive a comment like that. “There are plenty more people interested in my ass, Tarrens.”
“Yes, Ma’am!” She could hear the embarrassment in his voice, causing her to chuckle quietly to herself.
The men continued chatting quietly for a bit before the conversation died. One, or both, probably drifted off to sleep. In the life of a soldier only two things were as precious as gold was to a Toydarian: sleep and caf. One learned to steal both whenever possible in the military for you could never be certain when the next chance would come around. Indeed, every member of her team seemed to be doing now, but sleep eluded her still. Her eyes must have been red and she could no longer focus on the datapad in front of her.
The Lieutenant stood and stretched her legs before deciding to quietly pace the small freighter. Her friend, the Captain, had remarked that there wouldn’t be much space with eight fully armed men and women as well as two Dark Jedi, but there was still room enough for her to go to the fresher, walk the corridor to the cockpit and poke her head inside.
There was no one inside and the door to the Captain’s stateroom, directly behind the cockpit, was closed up. The door to stateroom opposite it was open a sliver. She knew this was where the Dark Jedi had made themselves at home. She hesitated at the sliding door, preparing to knock when the door opened without a noise. Halcyon and Vodo sat opposite one another, rather relaxed.
“I thought I sensed you out there, Lieutenant. Please, come on in.” Rokir had an easy familiarity to him. Chet always saw the focus and determination in him during missions and maneuvers, but every so often he’d show his softer side. She found it perplexing, as it seemed at odds with what she knew of the Dark Jedi and their ethos.
Above my pay-grade, she thought, pushing it from her mind.
Vodo had a disconcerting grin. If it wasn’t his yellow, sharpened teeth, then it was the piercing glare he directed upon those he considered lesser than himself, she surmised. “She finds our presence uncomfortable, Master.”
Halcyon poked his cheek with his tongue, probing for something, “No, Biask, it’s just you. Please, have a seat, Lieutenant.”
“Thank you, Master Taldrya.” She entered and found a seat which happened to be as far from the two in the small room as she could get. “I noticed that your door was open and was curious if you two were up, yet.”
Vodo nodded, “We don’t require much sleep. The Force sustains us.”
Like most beings with no connection to the Force she always found the claims users made somewhat dubious, but then again, she had seen the Dark Jedi of Taldryan perform prenatural feats of speed and strength and agility. She’d seen objects lift into the air, guided by some unseen hand; seen bolts of blue lightning arc from the very fingers of the Dark Prophet sitting mere feet from her. There was no denying that they could tap into some power that was unknown to her.
“What keeps you awake, however is the real question I believe. I sense unease in you, Lieutenant,” Halcyon said as he glanced over his shoulder to her and smiled.
The man reached into a recess behind where he sat, fumbling for a few moments before drawing out two cups. Both were steaming and filled the room with the aroma with fresh caf. He levitated one of the mugs to her waiting hands. “I never go off to war without this stuff. I don’t know if you know this, Lieutenant, but I was a fighter pilot for a number of years and I don’t know if I would have made it past my first year without a steady stream of hot caf. Vodo, he can’t stand the stuff.”
The Twi’lek scowled, but that just meant his face changed only slightly, “I prefer other indulgences.”
“Indeed,” Halcyon said, nodding slowly before taking a measured sip of the hot liquid.
It was always hard to read the relationship between these two, Chet felt. It was obvious that Vodo was the subordinate of the two, but there were many equalizing factors between them. She’d heard that both had served as Consul of Taldryan, had held high offices in the secretive Brotherhood, and both carried the name of their Clan. Were they friends? Brothers in arms? Master and Student?
The Dark Prophet stood and rested a hand on the ship’s bulkhead, so that he could peer out the viewplate to the hyperspace tunnel, “I know you have your reservations about this mission, Lieutenant. You must understand though, our enemies are not waiting around for us to make our move. Their plans are ever evolving and changing.”
“Master Taldrya, may I speak frankly?”
“In this cabin, please.”
She took a large swallow of the drink in her hand, ignoring the fact it was just past too hot to do so comfortably, “This whole mission stinks. From top to bottom it feels like it was thrown together by amateurs and the mistakes made by command will be born by my people.”
Command was a gentle way of say the whole command apparatus of Darkfire Battalion, the Taldryan Expeditionary Force, and the Jedi that commanded them.
The room began to grow cold. It seemed as though the lights began to dim though she could see the emitters were just as bright as they’d ever been. It was as though something was sucking the photons from the room and hiding them away. At the same time, the two Dark Jedi began to grow in size. Though they never moved, and proportionally to the room they never changed, they just seemed more immense to her. Her hands quivered.
Vodo spoke quietly, but with an icy edge, “Lieutenant, we do not care who or what you think you are. Taldryan does not care about your qualms. You will carry out your mission and you will accomplish your goals.”
“Enough, Biask,” Halcyon ordered, steel in his voice as he looked at the Twi’lek.
The room, and the Dark Jedi, suddenly returned to normal. She blinked and cleared her eyes. An illusion? Had she imagined all that? Her heart was racing and her hands were still weak, “I–”
Rokir stood and waved at the air slowly, opening the sliding door to the corridor. “We’ve got a few hours before we make planetfall. Take that time and prepare yourself.”
Jerjal Fina Plains
1200hrs Planet Time
“I count four YVH-Three combat droids, two robed figures, and a lot of wreckage. Jackal-One put up a hell of a fight, Sarge,” Feware said, glancing over her shoulder and away from her Marksman Rifle.
Tarrens cursed. He had expected this report, but had held out hope Chet’s people had some how managed to hold the enemy off, “Survivors?”
Through the darkened visor of her helmet it was hard to determine the face she made, but Tarrens suspected it was a tight-lipped grimace, “Hard to tell from here. There are five bodies, laid out beside one another; No idea if they are ours, theirs, alive, or dead.”
Tarrens cued his comm to ping Halcyon, “Master Taldrya, what’s your reading?”
“Biask is alive. I can sense him, but I don’t think he’s conscious. As for your men I can’t be certain from here. There are more than a few living Force signatures over there, but I have no idea who, or what, they are.”
It appeared there were limits to what Force magic could do. That astounded Tarrens, who’d grown up hearing stories from his grandfather on Coruscant of the Jedi of old and their feats of strength and heroism. That he’d wound up working for an avowed ‘Dark’ Jedi would have rankled the old man’s sense of justice, but someone had to pay the bills and Taldryan just happened to pay more than most.
“Sarge!” Alaine’s voice filled his ears, “The droids are on the move and they’re taking the bodies with them.”
He climbed up the boulder to lay prone beside her and with his own shorter range scope followed the scene. One droid carried a body, cradled in its massive,; weapons-laden arms while the other two dragged two bodies each by the legs. Their going was slow and his very being wanted to order a headlong charge to rescue his Lieutenant and teammates, but he knew that was folly. There would be no way to make it that far in time.
“Feware, follow their progress from here. Jackal-Two, prepare to move out. We’re going to shadow those droids. We have a mission to complete.”
Jansan and Slytt climbed to their feet, their groans muffled by their helmets, and hefted their weapons, “Aye, Sarge.”
Under Jackal 2-3’s eagle eye the rest of the team, along with their Dark Jedi adjunct, carefully shadowed the droids who moved slowly to the south-west. Unencumbered by supply packs and miscellania the four of them made good time and quickly closed the distance. The difficulty was in maintaining their cover and stealth while remaining as close to their marks as possible. When the droids threatened to move from her view, Feware abandoned her overwatch and double-timed it to catch the team up. She caught up to them just as the droids disappeared into a yawning cave mouth set into the base of a rocky ridgeline.
“This place is very old”, Halcyon announced as he saddled up alongside Tarrens.
They laid prone, hidden in a deep shadow under a rock that overlooked the approach to the cave mouth. About a half-klick to the north a wide, flat area had been cleared of debris and bore evidence of carbon scoring. It was clearly a landing pad for ships and shuttles. A path wound through the rocks from the pad to the cave entrance, invisible to anyone scanning the landscape until you were practically already on top of it, as they were. It was well worn, having been traveled regularly for some time now. Tarrens couldn’t determine if that meant a large enemy presence here for a short time or a small presence here for a long time.
“I can feel the Dark Side here. It’s in the rocks and soil. The taint is old, like a stale musk. Look there, by the cave. You see that fallen pillar?”
Jek trained his scope on the rock the Dark Prophet pointed to and examined it. Sure enough, it looked to have been carved into a fluted cylinder and had once stood upright beside the mouth of the cave. “So, what does that mean to us?”
“Possibly nothing. I suspect this place was once a tomb of some Sith Lord of the Old Empire. No, not Palpatine’s, but maybe someone like Marka Ragnos’”.
Tarrens had no idea who that was. Halcyon sensed the confusion and frustration in the team leader and clarified, “Long story short, the Sith were a species before they were an Order. This planet was once of their domain. Ragnos was one of their greatest Kings and Emperors. This place must have been a tomb or a temple at some point. I suspect our Informant made his home here to camouflage himself from detection by Force Users.”
“The taint of the dark side here, masks his presence?” His grandfather had described his theory once on the location of the lost Master Yoda, who had disappeared after Order 66.
The old man had once told him how places could emit strong feelings in the Force and individuals could hide themselves in these places from other users. Halcyon nodded, “Just so. There’s probably more than just droids down there. Get your team ready for the worst. We have to go in.”