[Clan Arcona - Team Newcona]
It was the longest elevator ride of all time.
Leeadra maintained her calm poise, despite the chains and bruises, and being surrounded by friends and enemies all significantly taller than her in such a closed space. Juliana Kelrune fidgeted with her stun cuffs, trying to contain her impatience and rage long enough to get this mission over with and focus on the true enemy. Tali Sroka tearfully pressed her eyes closed, trying to suppress the memories of the last time she was in shackles like this. It wasn’t working. Kelviin and Grot gave each other a cautious sidelong look. The fate of The Brotherhood rested squarely on the teamwork between a Trandoshian and a Wookiee
One of the mostly robotic guards spoke up.
“You humans must be so excited to view our facility.” Tali stifled a quiet sob. “You’ll certainly find them to be nicer than your filthy Sith facilities.” Kelviin wondered what a human would say in this situation. One who was calm and definitely not hiding anything. Fortunately, the doors opened before he could make an attempt.
They were greeted by The Technocratic Guild’s very own Hunt Master, Kendra Icasta. Kelviin took a nervous step back, and Icasta flashed a cold, toothy smile.
“I’ve been expecting you. I hope you understand if I oversee this transaction personally, my curiosity couldn’t be contained. Right this way.”
Kelviin glanced at Grot, who nodded and shoved Leeadra with the butt of his rifle and hissed,
“Move along, scum!”
For a fraction of a second, Kelviin reached out to protect his friend, but stopped himself. He searched Icasta’s face for a sign of recognition, but she maintained her expression of cold charm. Kelviin gently urged Tali and Juliana along and the team walked down the hallway together in silence. The Wookiee mostly stared at his feet, afraid to somehow shatter the delicate social threads holding this situation together. Eventually he glanced up and his eye caught a mark on the side of Grot’s head, and remembered how it had appeared.
Kelviin had been focused on his workbench, thinking of equipment that might prepare him for the upcoming mission. It would take every waking moment of his to get his friends out alive, and he hadn’t been assigned to the front lines like this before. Suddenly, he felt a vibroblade at his neck and heard a growl.
“You tricked these people. You are no warrior. I will not risk this hunt on a mindless beast with a hydrospanner.”
Kelviin closed his eyes and emitted a soft growl. His datapad translated:
[MAYBE YOU RIGHT. NEVER WANTED DO WAR.]
He quietly pressed a button below the bench, which sprang to life as a DUM-series Pit Droid and lept to stun the Trandoshian attacker. Kelviin spun around and bashed Grot in the head with his hydrospanner. Tears welled up in his eyes and he ran off down the hallway, with his pit droid running after to help in some unspecified way.
That had been weeks ago, before this scheme had even formed. Relations between the two of them had gotten better, but not by much. Kelviin tore his eyes away from Grot, and decided to focus on the mission.
“The Guildmaster has shown a personal interest in you two, it’s not often that people defect from the Brotherhood” she narrowed her eyes, resting her hand on her whip “in fact, I believe you might be the first.”
“[THEY CONTROL US. WE WANT FREE.]” Kelviin kept to the plan. If they had any hope of getting through this facility’s defenses they’d need to convince them of their sincerity
“The Force is bad for business,” Grot hissed, tossing a glare at the gang of chained force users behind him. “Much easier when you employer can not mind-control you into changing your contract. Right, scum?”
He gave Tali a lash for emphasis, growling and hissing. Tali tore against the restraints, tears falling as she struggled with her helplessness. Her face burned with pure rage, the mission forgotten for just a moment Kelviin stifled a wince at seeing his friend harmed, but Leeadra couldn’t help but be moved by the sight, trying anything to comfort her companion.
‘You’re cruel! Can’t you see it bothers her!’ The sound of Leeadra’s voice echoed in Grot’s head as she reached out with her feelings, her voice angry and accusing. Grot hissed and turned back towards Icasta, pulling harshly on the chains.
‘If you can see that, they can see that too.’ Grot looked up to Icasta to see her grinning wickedly.
“I agree entirely, you’ll find the terms much more fair working for the Guild. Better pay… and better prey!” She gave a shrill laugh as they approached their destination. A pair of bulky cyborgs guarded the door, heavily armored and imposing.
“The Guildmaster is ready for you through here, I’ll be taking the prisoners down to the detention block.” She took the chains from Grot, her crimson mechanical eye flashing with savage delight. “Do not disappoint him, or you might find yourself joining them.”
She took them away down the corridor, the crack of her whip sounding as she turned the corner. Kelviin turned to Grot, giving him a hard look. Grot’s head still ached from where he was hit, and the scales were cracked and broken. Grot met his gaze as the guards opened the door, and they nodded. Whatever they thought of each other, the mission came first. They stepped through the door.
And they were in.
Koliss could hear the heavy footsteps of combat boots and the mechanical whine of various implants approaching.
He found himself pressed against a darkened bulkhead, wondering in his head if this would well and truly be it. With every step closer, the bile in his throat rose a little higher. He gripped his night sniper for a small burst of inner strength. When the steps were mere meters away, Koliss stepped out into view.
“Move it, scum sucker.” A lithe framed Twi’lek threw an elbow into Koliss’ side; he stumbled from being shoved, though he sold it more than he needed to. A few more shoves from the group was all that was exchanged as the technocrats continued on, sharing a laugh at the doctor’s expense.
Koliss stood still for a moment, before letting out a small breath, and continuing on his way.
It was just another display of power on behalf of the Technocratic Guild members that ruled in this particular base. Koliss had become slightly used to it, though it did not stop him from wanting to throttle any of the cyber heads anytime it happened. Still he supposed it could be worse given that he was essentially here on the good faith of the Liberation Front. It was also possible that the darkly gleeful look of the Technocrat Guildmaster gave Koliss when he mentioned his previous experience in ‘persuasive techniques’ could have something to do with his presence, however lowly tolerated it was.
Koliss had heard from his superior that something big was going on, something to do with the current war with the Brotherhood. That particular bit had surprised and gotten Koliss invested as well, as he was starved for any front line news himself. He figured that such a big score would wind up with a capture of some kind, most likely of a known Brotherhood force user, so Koliss had quickly made his way toward the detention block to see for himself.
As he approached the block, he saw another group approaching quickly from the opposite direction, led by a Chiss woman whose self-satisfied smirk told him that the rumors were most likely true and Icasta had managed another hunt. The sight of three figures with shoulders hunched and faces pointed downward also painted the image of what had occurred.
“Ah good, medical already has an interrogator waiting for us, how thoughtful.” Koliss blanched internally, unintentionally rubbing the armband denoting his medical speciality.
“Not exactly, hunt master. The boss had just heard the whispers like everyone else and wanted to know for sure. Although seeing this morbid lot, I figure the word is true?” Koliss drew down the hood of his cloak but kept his eyes averted from the baleful red one that now focused solely on him.
“Yes, we have ourselves quite the bevy of force users to amuse us for the time being.” Icasta’s smirk seemed to grow as she grasped the chains of the prisoners and tugged them forward for Koliss to see. “And they certainly aren’t half bad-looking for being Brotherhood bastards.”
Three female forms stumbled in front of Koliss, a Pantoran, a Twi’lek, and a pale looking Human that Koliss could make out. The three raised their heads up to lock eyes with Koliss for the first time.
The recognition was instant, and Koliss’ heart froze.
Though the faces of the captured Jedi were dirty, bruised and unkempt, the pair of amber eyes glaring back at the stunned medic were as clear as the day he’d first met their gaze. Even beaten, disheveled and bound, a state which she had promised herself never to be subjected to again, the Twi’lek managed to strike the Human silent. A part of it was genuine shock at her sorry state, though he had seen the Jedi through many fights before. Another, was the smoldering anger that burned in her eyes and the twitch in her lips and neck as her bonds chafed her in ways beyond the obvious. But most of all, it was the tremor of raw emotion, lost somewhere between despair and joy, that struck him the moment their eyes met.
Her brow furrowed, lips moving to whisper the question he knew would blow their cover that instant. He had to act.
“Looks can be deceiving. They’re all scum, no matter their appearance. Beauty bought on the backs of hard working men and women like you and me,” Koliss stated with a degree of unnecessary report, his voice almost excessively boisterous. Yet it had done the trick, as the soft words slipping from the Twi’lek’s mouth were lost under his loud tirade, before a sharp jab from Juliana’s boot to her toes silenced her.
“Very true…” Icasta mused, though the look in her keen eyes left Koliss feeling decidedly less boisterous than he had come across. “Although I assume the good doctor would not object to interrogating these prisoners all the same. Or are their ill-gotten looks too much for you?” the Chiss hissed with a venomous grin. “Shame to ruin such a pretty face?”
Koliss gulped, almost audibly. The piercing red of the huntress’ eye seemed to burrow into his soul and he hoped against hope she wouldn’t find what he was trying to hide, or even worse, find his past and approve.
The moment passed in a fleeting blink as the Chiss turned away and barked some sharp orders to a pair of grunts who opened a cell door and herded the trio of women inside. Grabbing each by the shock cuffs, they raised their arms above their heads and tied them to hooks in the wall, forcing them all to stand tiptoed or risk dislocating their shoulders. A provenly efficient method of keeping the pesky Force users from deploying any ungentlemanly tricks.
“They’re all yours, doctor,” Icasta stated almost nonchalantly as she signed them off with the jailor. “Enjoy.”
There was something in her voice which made every hair on his neck stand on end and the glint of her optics did little to comfort him. With a nod, he acknowledged her parting words and sighed once she was out of earshot. He’d have to make this look convincing.
“You there, can you fetch me a bucket of ice water?” he called out to one of the guards, a Zabrak male who seemed like he was about to settle in for a game of pazaak. “And you, I think I saw a GNK-droid around the corner. Could you fetch it and a pair of jump leads?” he spoke to another, a stern faced Human female with a dark complexion.
“The frak you tellin’ us what to do?” she spat back. “Get your own damn droid…”
“Yeah, do I look like a runner to you?” the Zabrak added, looking to re-seat himself after already almost having gone to do Koliss’ bidding. “What you even need those things for anyway?”
Koliss stifled an amused cough. “I was to interrogate them, were I not?” he mused, his voice suddenly taking on a dark, sadistic tone. “If you’re curious… You’re more than welcome to observe. I always think I do my best work in front of an audience.”
The Zabrak suddenly looked a tad pale, exchanging a worried look with the female who, though not quite as distressed as her compatriot, still seemed to find the idea rather appalling. “Fine fine, just… keep it in your pants, doc. If I ever get shot you better remember this, yeah?” she spat dismissively, slamming the deck on the stained plastek table that acted as a jailer’s counter and getting up to fetch him his GNK-droid. The Zabrak chose to follow her lead.
As soon as the pair had left on their little scavenger hunt, Koliss rushed over to the cell bars and was immediately met by a warm, wet blob of slime to his face.
“And that’s for making me hurt the lek-head…” Juliana grumbled.
Koliss slowly wiped the mucus residue off his smooth features, and directed a piercing gaze to the young woman. Her rage was palpable and seemed to suffuse the air of the cell. Her eyes bore into him with intense fury.
“So, tell me Doc,” she punctuated the once endearing moniker with venomous disgust, “did you always plan on selling us out to these fanatic cyborg freaks or was that a spur of the moment kind of thing?”
Before he could utter a response, Kollis felt the tendrils of power slither into his mind and a quiet, hissing voice that belonged to the silent woman before him.
“Listen, I know why you’re here. I can feel it in your heart and hear it in your thoughts. You will help us, and if you kark this up I will personally strangle you with these chains until your neck snaps. Sound fair?”
Kollis shuddered internally at the intrusion and at the malevolent countenance of the pale woman, but managed to maintain his outward composure. His eyes flicked to the cameras before returning to the gaze of the three prisoners he called friends.
Striding calmly into the cell, he looked Julia over for a moment, his expression stern and foreboding. In an instant, he lifted his leg up and sent it crashing down upon her knee, making her buckle under the pain. She desperately tried to stay on her toes and keep her shoulder from dislodging, only barely succeeding.
“I spent enough time with you sorcery wielding scum to know what was right. I needed an out from your destructive madness, and they made me an offer I couldn’t refuse.” His lips curled up in a smirk.
“Not only am I free of your tyranny, but now I have the tools to destroy your organization for good.”
Once more he brought a forceful kick down upon her knee, eliciting a scream as the pain welled up inside her. After a moment, her eyes fluttered open and he thought outwardly.
“What’s the plan?”
The mere sight of the Guildmaster was unnerving. Two cybernetic arms wrapped around the back of his body, the cybernetic harness wrapping around his torso tightly. He moved with mechanical precision, without a single muscle out of place as he turned to watch them enter. His mechanical eye watched them with an intense, cold scrutiny
“It is odd. We do not receive many defectors from the Brotherhood.” He began without preamble, not bothering to take a seat as he considered the Wookiee and Trandoshan that entered, the entire meeting room shining with a golden glow as the sun of Nancora began to set outside.
“[WE KNOW THE BROTHERHOOD LIES. WE BRING GIFT.]” The Guildmaster’s biological eye quirked up as he hear the unexpected mechanical voice come from the Wookies translator. He quickly recovered, face curling up with barely veiled desire.
“A gift indeed. A gift for a king. Icasta informs me that you have acquired a number of… artifacts during the course of your escape. Artifacts I would be quite interested in seeing…” He walked forward, the sterile and precise mechanical movements making Kelviin’s skin crawl.
“[OF COURSE, GUILDMASTER.]” Kelviin nodded to Grot, who reached into his pack, pulling out a glowing tetrahedral holocron. The Guildmaster quickened his pace, rushing forward to take a look.
“A Holocron,” Grot explained “Stolen from the Shadow Academy. It contains some of the personal research of Darth Plagueis. A valuable artifact.”
“May I examine it?” Grot frowned at the Guildmasters question. He turned to Kelviin, who was equally uneasy about the exchange.
“You would not be able to read it.”
Daggo Mouk’s head snapped up, twisted to the side in a distinctly inhuman gesture.
“And why is that?”
“[ONLY FORCE USER CAN READ.]” Kelviin explained, [OUR PRISONERS CAN AID]
Grot watched the Guildmaster closely, the fate of their mission hung on this deception. The cube itself was merely a basic training text from the Academy, and no more valuable for it except for the nature of its construction. The key here was that Mouk had to believe it to be a text of Darth Plagueis. If so, he would recruit the others to aid him in reading it.
Leading them right to the scrolls.
“I see. I appreciate the gesture, but I am well capable of reading the Holocron without your prisoners’ aid.”
Grot blinked, blindsided. Kelviin looked at him helplessly, and typed furiously into the datapad.
“[HOLOCRON CAN ONLY READ WITH FORCE USER.]”
“Your concern is noted, but the Collective is well capable of deciphering the artifact on our own. For your efforts, you will be pardoned of all crimes committed during your service with the Brotherhood and awarded Nancoran citizenship. We will house you as guests for the night, and transport you to Farron city in the morning.” The Guildmaster held out a mechanical limb for the Holocron, his impatience growing. Helpless, Grot could only give it to him.
“Good then, the guards will escort you to your quarters in the lower levels.” The guildmaster turned, examining the Holocron in the fading light of the desert. Kelviin began to panic, and even Grot started to grind his teeth in anxiety. As the guards entered to escort them out Kelviin typed furiously on his datapad.
“[WHAT ABOUT PRISONERS?]” The guards paused as the guildmaster answered.
“They will be interrogated for what information they can offer, and terminated.”
Daggo Mouk assigned two cybernetic guards to show Kelviin and Grot to their quarters. They were introduced in terms of hospitality, but their demeanor suggested otherwise. As they walked in silence, Kelviin and Grot exchanged repeated glances, both wishing they had been gifted with telepathic communication through the Force.
After several unbearable minutes, Grot noticed that nobody was currently in the hallway except them, and gave a sharp nod to Kelviin.
“[WHAT WE AGREEING?]”asked Kelviin, before Grot kicked one guard toward Kelviin and hurdled the other guard head-first into a wall. Kelviin caught his guard and apologized to him frantically, and then paled at the sight of the other’s head collapsing against the wall.
“What are you waiting for, beast?” hissed Grot, as he snapped the other guard’s neck.
Kelviin emitted a low yelp, which was translated to “[THIS NOT THE PLANS].”
“The plan changed!” snapped Grot. He glanced down the hallway and yanked Kelviin by the mini-cape to follow him down a smaller, side-passage.
“[- NEED - FINDING - FORCE - FRENS -]” Kelviin’s datapad repeatedly interrupted itself as it strained to translate the Wookiee’s incoherent yelps.
“There!” growled Grot, as he spotted an unattended terminal in a partially hidden room.
“You are going to find them.” Kelviin looked at the terminal, probably restricted to janitorial records, and back at the uncouth reptile.
“[IS NOT HOW TERMINAL WORK-]” but Kelviin felt himself shoved toward the terminal. He sighed and pushed a button on his back, which sprang into form as his PIT droid, “[THIS COMPUTER NEED CONNECT TO WHOLE BUILDING NETWORK PLS]” The droid gave a salute and scurried into the wirey depths of the ceiling, emitted several distressing sounds, and crashed straight down between Grot and Kelviin with a cheery thumbs-up, before climbing onto Kelviin’s shoulders and collapsing back into his more portable form.
Kelviin went to work on the now connected terminal, purring softly to himself, “[OKAY THINK FINDING WHERE FRENS ARE KEEP. BUT ALSO SEE ANOTHER FORCE USE PRISON, ONLY ONE PEOPLE INSIDE]”
“Of course they have have other prisoners, who cares. Let’s go.”
“[NO IS PROBABLY SCARE, WE SAVE ALL PRISONER]”
Grot grabbed Kelviin by the shoulders and slapped him. “There is no time. Find how to release them.”
Kelviin blinked back tears and growled solemnly, “[THEY NOT CONTROL DOORS WITH TERMINAL, NEED GO DOWNSTAIR]”
“Then we create a distraction!”
Just then, the two heard a telepathic voice in their heads, from their imprisoned friends.
“Kelviin? Grot? Are you alive?” the cool sensation of the Pantoran’s ethereal voice caressed their minds as one. “We need you to locate the archives.”
“[AM CAN DO]” Kelviin growled via his datapad, earning him a blank stare from the Trandoshan beside him. It took the Wookiee a moment to realize his error.
“I can do that. Please wait,” Kelviin replied in thought, ignoring a faint sensation of belittling curses from the scaled hunter.
He tried to access a full map of the facility, but ran into a firewall he couldn’t bypass and one he feared would trigger an alarm if he tried forcing his way through. Almost about to report his failure, the Wookiee suddenly perked up with renewed purpose, furry fingers dancing on his datapad until he projected a triumphant thought.
“I have it!” he exclaimed in the shared mindspace between them. “Head East, three hundred meters and two levels up. It is high security, so be careful.”
Though Leeadra gave no verbal reply, they both sensed a shared feeling of gratitude as her presence faded once more.
“You seemed stuck,” Grot remarked. “But you were not.”
“[WAS STUCK, YES. THEN THINK LIKE GROT. NOT SEE EVERYWHERE. SEE WHAT CAN SEE, IF NO FIND WHERE SEE, MUST BE WHERE IS NO SEE]”
The Wookiee’s labored expression took a moment to pierce, but when his genius dawned on him the Trandoshan could not help but be impressed. Inferring from the maps he could and could not access the location of the target was a hunter’s way of thinking.
“I have the archives. Two floors up, three hundred meters east,” Leeadra whispered with a strained hiss, struggling to remain on her tiptoes.
“Like that’ll help us. We’re still stuck,” Juliana grumbled, feeling the pain and anger well up inside her like a pet vortex she longed to feed.
“Ve can’t get out before…” Tali swallowed her words as the two guards returned, bearing a sloshing bucket of ice water and some cables, a GNK-droid hesitantly waddling behind them.
“‘Ere ya go, doc. Now make ‘em scream for us,” the female guard grunted as she slammed the jump leads on the plastek desk and swiped the pazaak deck with her. “C’mon Mor, let’s leave the maestro to his work,” she added dismissively to the Zabrak as he hauled the bucket up next to him with a groan of exertion. The water sloshed beyond the container, splashing on Koliss’ boots as the clearly exhausted man offered leering grin in apology.
Biting back a poignant insult, the doctor merely shook his boot dry and headed over to the GNK-droid to hook it up. “Excellent,” he stated, touching the leads to each other and sending a cascade of ionized sparks across the floor. “You have my thanks.”
The pair glanced at each other with a hint of paleness and began to back away when the klaxons suddenly blared to life. The familiar cry of a fire alarm filled the air, while a crackling series of voices called over their comms.
“Shots fired! Level 7B! We’re under atta… UUugh!”
“Brotherhood forces have breached the perimeter! Reinforce the courtyard!”
“Fire spreading in the galley! Evacuate level 8 and 9!”
The woman glanced at the stunned Zabrak and then at the doctor before making her decision. Drawing her blaster rifle, she turned around and headed for the turbolift. “Stay with the prisoners, Mor. Make sure they don’t escape.”
The Zabrak could only grunt in agreement, his slow reactions having once again lost him the opportunity to kill some Brotherhood scum.
“Another channel!” hissed Grot, away from the microphone. Kelviin’s paws scrambled across the keyboard dutifully, and then formed a thumbs-up.
“They’re everywhere! Send reinforcements to all- AGAHGGHUR” shouted Grot in his finest impression of a human.
“Another!” he hissed to the Wookiee. Kelviin continued to relay their comms channel to come from wildly separate locations, while Grot conveyed a general sense of desperation in the facility.
A group of Collective soldiers ran past their room, too busy flailing their arms and screaming to notice the two intruders who had been creating this panic.
“That was close” commented Grot, “We should go.”
The two peered cautiously out the doorway, and when they spotted a pause in foot traffic, they proceeded to walk down the hallway through the panic, convincingly discussing how little they knew about the distress calls.
As they made their way toward the prisoner holding area, Grot and Kelviin felt the voice of Leeadra again in their heads.
“I assume that was you two? I don’t feel the presence of an actual military assault.”
Kelviin giggled and thought back “Can you believe it? Our very own Grot has such mastery over the sound of the human voice!!”
But then, with concern, “Are you guys alright? We’re making our way toward you, posthaste!”
They became dimly aware through the telepathic link of sizzling and screaming.
“You’ll have to give us a moment, but we’re going to be fine. Did you have a chance to see the defenses around the archives?” asked the small, blue vessel of power.
“Yes, it is now locked down, but nothing to stop a true warrior,” assured Grot.
“Excellent, leave that to us, then. It’ll definitely get messy, perhaps you two should focus on getting our way out of here. We won’t have much time once we have the artifact.”
“Fantastic, we will be awaiting your arrival in the spaceport. The same floor as the archives; turn right when you exit and it should be the largest door on the left of that hallway, I’ll let you know which ship we can commandeer” instructed Kelviin.
He turned to Grot and intoned through his datapad, [HOW GOOD YOU DRIVE SHIP?]
Koliss shoved the leads into the dazed Zabraks throat, leaving the guard to twitch and gurgle as the electricity slowly fried his body. He rushed over to the door controls, opening the cell and shouting, “Come on! We’ve got to get out of here now!”
“We still have to get to the Archives!” Leeadra shouted back over the klaxons. Finally letting her rage and impotence swell into a surge of power, Juliana screamed and with the strength only the Force can bestow snapped their chains, quickly repeating the feat for the others. Koliss frowned, looking around the cells.
“Fine, I hope you know what you’re doing, but we’re going to need weapons, there’s a prison armory a few block down but I don’t have access”
“Ve’ll figure it out vhen ve get there!” Tali rushed past, glad to be free at last of her chains. They rushed into the hallway, dashing across the facility on their way to armory. When at last it was in sight, it was only the tell-tale tingle of danger at the edge of Juliana’s senses that warned them anything was wrong
A burst of blaster fire chased them into the hallway alcove, blasting great gouts of fire into the floor.
“It’s an auto-turret in the ceiling Leeadra shouted “Tali!”
“Understoodt!” Tali closed her eyes, centering herself and reaching out, before ducking around the corner. With a flex of her hand she knocked the Turrets barrel out of the way, it’s servos straining against her power. A burst of blaster bolts sprayed wide across the hallway as its aim was disrupted.
“I can’t holdt it for long!”
“On it!” Koliss drew his pistol in one swift motion. Taking a close aim at the turret, he fired off shot after shot until it fell quiet. They continued forward, stopping at the door of the armory.
“Kelviin!” Leeandra reached out, calling to his presence “There’s an armory on the detention block by our cell, we need it open, now!”
“One moment!” A tense few seconds passed, before the armory’s door slid open. They rushed inside, grabbing blasters, vibroswords, and flash grenades.
“Grot and I have almost secured a ship. Go get the scrolls, we’ll…” Leeadra gasped as if dunked into ice-cold water, dropping her vibrosword as Kelviin’s voice disappeared. All but Koliss stopped in place, shivering as some unknown sensation passed through them. They shared a nervous look, much to Koliss’s confusion.
“No time to dilly-dally! Move it! What’s wrong with you three?”
“I felt…” Tali began, looking disturbed. Leeadra closed her eyes, the Knight focusing on the sensation and trying to reach out to the Force around her. It slipped from her grasp like water, flowing through her fingers but refusing her commands, no matter how hard she tried she could not wield the Force.
“The Force is disturbed, I-i cannot manipulate it.” Her voice was slightly dazed, disturbed at the prospect. “Whatever anti-Force capability the Collective has, they’ve deployed it.”
“All the more reason to make this quick.”
They rushed back into the hallway, quickly locating a maintenance tunnel which let them climb their way up to the Archive’s floor. Juliana kicked open the access hatch exiting tunnel, and doing a good job of surprising the Technocratic troops on the other side.
“Eeep!” Juliana made a distinctly unthreatening noise, just as surprised as they were, reaching into her belt she grabbed one of the stolen flash grenades, throwing it into the group of soldiers. It exploded in a blinding storm of light and sound, stunning the cyborgs. Protected by the hatch Juliana, Leeadra, and Tali ignored the ringing in their ears and leapt out, vibroswords drawn. The melee was short and brutal, the stunned cyborgs no match for a trained Force user in close combat, even bereft of lightsabers.
“This way!” Leeadra shouted, the hallway becoming darker and the decoration more ornate as they continued towards the Archives. Statues of ancient Sith lords lined the walls leading into the archive, which was protected by a massive durasteel door. They pushed, surprised to find it unlocked, and sprinted into the domed library of the Archive. Books and scrolls lay scattered here and there, precious holocrons floating in containment, and research equipment arranged across the far wall.
“That’s quite far enough, Brotherhood scum.”
A lone figure stepped out from between two archive banks, his gaunt features withered and sickly from lack of sunlight and a healthy diet. Despite his frail appearance, little more than a malnourished bookworm on its last legs, there was an otherworldly sense of wrongness about him and the place he held within the world.
Koliss felt primal fear and loathing at the sight of the man, an instinctive reaction of flight growing within him and only kept in check by the presence of the three women. He could not let them see him as a coward, after all.
Though only recently freed of the choking shackles, Tali once again felt a cloying collar wrap around her neck as she beheld the lanky male. Her heart racing as visions of past horrors and promise of fresh, new ones awaiting if she did not flee, it took more than mere willpower to hold her ground. She was tired of running and would not let this all go to waste. Her friends needed her.
Julie felt her palms sweating, eyes darting left and right as she sensed danger all around her. Without her familiar connection to the Force, the warnings seemed alien and scary, chiming in from all directions at once like walls closing in. She wanted to flee, but couldn’t. Petrified by fear, her limbs refused to respond, eyes staring blindly ahead in terror as the suffocating presence squeezed at her mind and stifled her breath.
Beside her, Leeadra was freaking out as much as she was, eyes wide with horror as she heard the crawling of a thousand insects in the vents, unseen and closing in. She could feel them on her skin already, a creeping nightmare that threatened to engulf her in a heartbeat unless she - slap.
The Pantoran held her stinging cheek and blinked in confusion, looking up at the Twi’lek who gingerly patted her lek. “I’m sorry,” she muttered.
“Don’t be,” Leeadra replied, turning her attention to Julie and grabbing her by the shoulders. A swift and violent shake later, the Human seemed to have returned to her senses as she hissed angrily at the Pantoran to let her go.
As the four Arconans recovered from the shock, the lone man’s expression turned dour, his complexion paling and his breathing turning shallow and labored. It was clear whatever tricks he was pulling, he was reaching the end of his tether. Pawing at his belt to call reinforcements, he realized he’d forgotten his communicator at his work station. He should perhaps not have rejected the personal communicator Rath had offered him for his services.
Realizing his peril and the failure of his mental attack, the emaciated figure broke into a hobbled run, sprinting as best his thin, spindly legs could carry him towards the wall-mounted intercom.
Koliss managed a shot after him, the bolt striking the archive shelf and spitting sparks at him but little else. Always quick on her feet, Juliana dashed off in pursuit, leaping over an examination table while drawing a vibroknife.
“Take him down! We’ll clear the holocrons!” Leeadra shouted, nodding to Tali who returned the gesture in kind. Together, they began picking out holocrons and scrolls of the shelves and tables, stuffing all they could get into satchels they’d found in the armory.
Rounding the shelf and skidding to a halt, Koliss shouted a sharp “Halt!” to the fleeing figure, but Avitus Oligard would not fail in his duty to safeguard the Archive. Ignoring the words, he pressed on, the blaster bolt striking him squarely in the back. Sparks rained off his armorweave cloak as Koliss fired a second shot, the heat of the dissipating energies scalding the frail man as he stumbled forward, barely protected by his garment.
Lunging out to slam his palm into the intercom dials, he caught movement from his left and a sharp pain in his flank. Juliana growled, eyes ablaze with fury as she plunged her vibroknife into his gut up to the hilt.
Avitus coughed blood, the dark ichor splattering on his adversary in a cloud of crimson as she withdrew her weapon and the wizened man slumped to the ground on his knees. He gasped for breath, clutching his wound with thin digits, the parchment skin dyed red by his own lifeblood.
“That one’s for all of us,” Julie spat, before kicking the man in the chest and sending him onto his back in a slowly growing pool of red.
“Did not copy. Come again?” The crackling voice in the intercom chimed in.
Julie and Koliss shared a look of dread, a moment’s hesitation Avitus capitalized on.
“Help…” he managed, the word wheezing out of his rasping lungs.
The next instant warning lights blared to life inside the Archive and the massive durasteel door began to close.
“We’ve got to move. Now!” Leeadra yelled, snatching what she could manage and as Tali primed the grenades. Koliss wasted no time, bolting towards the entrance while Julie momentarily considered finishing the wretched traitor off, but decided against it.
“Enjoy your tomb, sithspit,” she spat, turning tail and sprinting after her fleeing squadmates. As the doors closed, she barely slipped out through the gap while Tali thumbed the detonator. A tremor shook the floor beneath their feet and the Archive was no more.
“Hurry! We cannot hold them forever!” Grot hissed into his comms, firing a rapidly overheating blaster at the converging Collective security detail to keep them pinned.
In the commandeered shuttle, Kelviin was furiously hotwiring the controls, furry legs sticking out from an access hatch inside the cockpit while the DUM-droid was busy uncoupling their fuel lines outside.
The four Arconans emerged from the turbolifts, catching the Collective security element by surprise and cutting them down with ease. Though still shaken by their experiences and exhausted by the protracted adrenaline high, the renewed connection to the Force helped the Jedi press on despite their fatigue.
“We’ve got the scrolls! Now let’s get out of here!” Leeadra shouted as she crossed the wind blasted landing pad towards the shuttle. Up above in a control spire, a turret shifted.
“Look out!” Grot called in gruff yelp, tossing aside the useless blaster and shouldering his rifle. Lining up his sights with the gunner while they zeroed in on the Pantoran, the heat of the Nancoran atmosphere made the Trandoshan quicker to the trigger.
The gunner’s head jerked back violently before disappearing from his sights, the Trandoshan hunter adding yet more points to his tally as he cycled the bolt with a wide grin. It had been a good deployment after all.
The rest of the team boarding the shuttle, Tali jumped into the cockpit and glanced down at the impromptu carpet sticking out from beneath the co-pilot’s seat. “Ve ready to go?”
A furry hand emerged, thumb pointed up.
“Holdt on!” the Twi’lek shouted as she engaged the engines.
A hissing sound of escaping gasses and the sparking of wires followed, the Wookiee’s legs twitching violently as the Twi’lek immediately cut the power. “Kelviin! Are you alright?!” she called out in panic.
A moment later a synthetic voice replied.
[AM MOSTLY RIGHT. COUPLING BEST NO MADE THROUGH HAND. TRY NOW.]
Gingerly, the Twi’lek turned the engines on once more and this time without mild electrocution. Revving the powerful thrusters to full power, she pulled them off the landing pad and up into the noxious clouds above. The Collective would not forget this day.