Player Character Snapshots:
Karran Val’teo - 
Marick Tyris - 
Sera Kaern - 
Sulith Bekett - 
Featured Alt/NPC Snapshots:
Player Character Snapshots:
Karran Val’teo - 
Marick Tyris - 
Sera Kaern - 
Sulith Bekett - 
Featured Alt/NPC Snapshots:
The vessel broke out of hyperspace just beyond the planet’s atmosphere, and not a moment too soon. Or perhaps it was. Rett’s tendrils twitched uncomfortably at his conflicting thoughts.
On one hand, he wanted off this ship. People always said being in space wasn’t so different from being in water, but as an aquatic creature himself, the Quarren begged to differ. Even as a passenger, he could feel the difference in the way a ship maneuvered, and he didn’t like it. A vehicle in space was just too loose, too free-floating, too difficult to control. Even being back in an atmosphere with some air resistance would be better. The sooner they landed, the better.
And yet, a part of him hoped they’d turn back now, before they got any closer.
“We’re making our final approach,” a dry voice spoke through the intercom.
“Good,” Karran responded from nearby. “We’re all sitting tight in here. Keep scanning for communications.”
Rett let out a dismissive puff of air. “Sitting tight is putting it lightly.”
Karran turned his way, probably staring at him with his mage powers again. “Something wrong?”
“Captain,” Rett didn’t hesitate to retort, “there’s three things in this galaxy that I try to avoid, and we’re checking off the whole list, today.”
Rett held up a fist, extending fingers as he counted. “Space. Prisons. And old Imperial crap.”
“…How do you expect to avoid space?” Zig asked. “We’re always flying around on ships.”
“Maybe that’s why he’s so grouchy all the time,” Yezid quietly added.
“Yeah, and come on - at least they’re not Imperial Imperials, anymore,” Sera thought aloud.
None of that really made a difference, as far as Rett was concerned. He’d been dodging his own people’s prisons for a decade, now. That, and his father had too many horror stories about the old Empire to think any off-shoot faction would be much better. The mere thought of this team’s destination was unsettling. “Would be nice if I could at least get a drink aboard this jungle of a ship.”
Karran grunted, thinking. “…As long as I can count on you to still do your job, you can drink yourself into a coma when we’re done here.”
After some silence, Sulith spoke up. “I think the jungle bit is kind of a nice touch,” the giant furball said with a grin.
The ship really was a jungle. Karran knew when he hired Takhadura again that the Kaleesh had an unsuspecting vessel of his own that could provide a small team easy transport down to Tenixir. He’d neglected to tell Karran that the ship’s main living area had been effectively converted into a habitat for his bird, teeming with plantlife and a confined ecosystem of pests for the creature to feast on. It didn’t help either that most of the bed spaces on board had been retrofitted as holding cells for Takha’s bounty hunting. Finding a comfortable place to sit was a challenge on its own, especially for a group of seven passengers and their droids.
It was a nice distraction for Sulith, at least. Despite Karran and Sera suggesting that they could sense some unease in the Togorian, there was no need to worry about that. As far as Sully was concerned, it seemed like a waste of energy to get stuck thinking about running head-first into a place of torturous confinement when there were so many plants on this ship to check out. No need to worry at all.
“Captain Val’teo,” the intercom came once more to break the growing silence, “I have something.”
Karran looked around at his team with a nod, then stood and walked toward the cockpit. Without so much as signaling his easily missed presence, Marick Tyris left his quiet corner to accompany him.
As the two stoic figures of leadership in the room made their exit, Yezid finally broke his nearly frozen posture to scoot closer to the others. “S’up guys?”
Sully and the girls grinned in greeting. Rett moved himself further away from all of them.
At the front of the ship, Takhadura turned in his chair as the doorway opened for Karran and Marick. A buzz of cackling audio played from an unmanned helm station.
“I’ve got caught onto a short-range frequency coming from the prison.” Takha said. Leaving the helm in the hands of his droid co-pilot, he shifted into the communications seat next to his own to try and hone in on the signal. Different voices blared through the slowly improving feed.
“—ntrol center is completely overrun!”
“We need reinforcements at the hangar, immediately! Barricade all access points–”
“The walls between cell blocks dorn and esk are dow—aagh!”
Marick blinked. A more grave look crossed Karran’s face. “Can we talk to them?” the Zabrak asked.
Takha hit a few keys at his helm. “We can now.”
The Zabrak stepped forth. “This is Captain Karran Val’teo, representing Clan Arcona of the Dark Brotherhood. I have a ship en route with reinforcements to help secure your facility.”
“Wait, you’re WHO?! No, nevermind that—How did your people find this facility?”
“Principate leadership gave us the location. Someone, we think one of your own prisoners, got the word out that your place was in trouble.”
Rather than an immediate response, the communicator was pinged with a request from a separate channel. Takha glanced to Karran, then switched over.
“Let’s keep our own channel, huh?” Came the same voice. “Place is in trouble—that’s a fracking understatement. Name’s Jharum Kesh, the warden of this damn mess. What’s your game plan, Captain?”
“I was hoping you could give us a place to start. We have a small transport on the way with a well-armed team ready to go. What can we do to help you guys take off the pressure?”
“Well we-- gah! Son of a…” He went quiet for a few moments, but the ambient sound of conflict became more present. “…We’ve got our own people on the way, but at this rate, it might not matter. Our control center’s just been overrun by prisoners who’ve taken some of our gear. Without a way to initiate a complete lockdown, at this rate, a lot of them are going to escape, and there’s a good chance most of my security team is as good as dead. We’re holding out the hangar, but at this rate, we might not last until our reinforcements arrive.”
Karran looked to Marick, who stood as stoic as ever. “If we can retake the control room, we can turn the odds back in their favor,” the half-Hapan stated without a glint of emotion.
“Pretty sure we won’t just walk in there,” Karran figured, turning back. “What’s our best approach to try and reach your control center?”
“…The hangar is the main entrance, so that’s not going to be possible. If your ship isn’t too large, you might be able to drop into the courtyard outside of cell block Besh. Just make it quick, if you want to keep that ship.”
“Understood,” Karran said with an instinctive nod. “We’ll keep this channel open.”
“You do that. And Captain? You have our full permission to use any means necessary to get there. Anyone who gets in your way is already bound for death row.”
“…Got it. Val’teo out.” That last detail was understandable, but Karran wasn’t exactly sure if his team would like it. His body turned to face Takhadura again. “Find that courtyard and get ready to drop us off. Stay on board for now, and be ready for anything.”
“My thoughts as well,” the Kaleesh muttered as he shifted back to his pilot’s chair. “We’re getting close.”
At that, Karran and Marick both returned to the others. Yezid reverted to a tightened stature as they entered. Rett reached for his heavy repeating blaster.
“Get yourselves locked and loaded,” Karran told the team. “I probably don’t need to tell you it’s going to be ugly down there. Though, I’ll go ahead and mention that we’d be earning Principate favor to go ahead and kill anyone who gives us trouble down there.”
Sully and Zig’s immediate reactions were less than thrilled at that thought. Sera didn’t attempt to hide how much that troubled her.
“…That seems like a bad move,” the younger Zabrak brought up. “If it’s as crazy as it sounds down there, a lot of people who aren’t even dangerous could get killed. And what about the people that contacted us? What if they get caught in the crossfire?”
“It’s going to be tricky,” Karran started, “Everyone down there has a reason for being imprisoned, but I doubt most of them deserve to be cut down. So, we’ll fight only in defense, and try to keep an eye out for…” At that moment, it occurred that he didn’t know much at all about the prisoner who’d put out the distress call in the first place, save for a name. “…anyone helping. Our ‘friendly’ contact who alerted us about all this - Rasha Hawee - she might not be alone.”
“Our intelligence says the facility is upheld by gravity stabilizers, which can be remotely shut down and crush the entire population the moment the Principate loses the last of its leverage, the warden and his security guards,” Marick added, steadier than a droid. “Any prisoners who don’t want to die by gravity might prove useful.”
It wasn’t perfectly comfortable, but then again, this entire mission wasn’t exactly ideal in the first place. Still, Sera felt some tension alleviate.
“…So,” Zig asked, securing her pack of tools, “what’s the plan when we get there, Cap?”
Karran considered the options that had been laid before them.
“We will drop into the courtyard of one of the prison blocks. It may be a tight fit, but we won’t be fully putting down. After the ground team has offloaded, Takha will take the ship back up to a safe distance to wait until the rest of us are finished.”
Marick interjected in a low voice, “What of the landing procedure?”
The Zabrak nodded at the half-Hapan, “Yes, Sulith and I will put boots on the ground first, along with the two Magnaguards. The four of us will clear the landing zone for Sera, Marick, and Yezid. Meanwhile, Rett and Motraka will provide blaster support from the open loading ramp above us before joining in the fray.”
The Zabrak looked around questioningly with a cocked brow.
“Karran, I really think I should be with you and Sully on the ground.” Sera’s voice was defiant and proud.
“No, Sera. If something should happen to me, I will need you to lead the rest of the mission in my place. I trust you to act as I would.”
It took a moment, but the smaller Zabrak soon understood his meaning and offered no more protest, simply a nod.
“I still think it’s karking suicidal, but I’ve done crazier for worse pay.” Rett stood and began assembling his gear for the final approach.
The rest of the team nodded in agreement and did the same. Karran went back up to the cockpit to check in with their pilot.
“We’re about ten minutes out Captain.” Takha spoke as soon as Karran stepped into the room.
“Very good. When we make the approach to the courtyard, get us as low to the ground as you can without allowing potential hostiles to get on board.”
The Khaleesh nodded, “I will be as a leaf on the wind, Captain.”
As the shuttle descended toward the prison, the loading door opened for its inhabitants. They were still several hundred meters up, but could see that the entire courtyard was a mess. Massive clusters of inmates could be seen gathering in different areas, pressing together.
As they dropped down to around fifty meters, they could now see that the clusters were large, brawling riots. Several hundred inmates of various species were intently focused on settling whatever petty disputes they had developed in their incarceration. Scattered around were dozens of bodies, unmoving and beaten to bloody pulps. Poor wretches that had been on the receiving end of another prisoner’s anarchal justice.
It almost seemed as if the crew would be able to land without attracting any attention, until finally the roar of the shuttle’s engines drowned out the din of the riot. The Arconans standing in the doorway felt hundreds of eyes focus on them intently as the ship lowered itself closer to the ground until it stopped. Dust and dirt flew into the air as the vertical lift engines fired more intensely to resist the planet’s gravity.
Karran surveyed the crowd below as he walked toward the edge of the ramp. He took in a deep breath as he looked down. They were currently about fifteen meters off the ground. He slowly released the breath as he jumped.
The Zabrak twisted his body in the air as he fell. The ground quickly rose to meet him as he reached out, channeling the Force to slow his fall. He landed on the ground, his boots kicked up clouds of dust that were nearly lost in the sandstorm being blown about by the engines, his knees bent to absorb the impact. The two IG-100 droids close behind him, their electro-staffs drawn and active. In an instant, his lightsaber was in his hand and active, glowing red as a warning to any would-be attackers.
Sulith clipped a rope to an exposed ring and quickly rappelled down to join his friend. As they lowered himself down, they looked to where Karran had landed, only to see a prisoner charging the Sith from behind. The Togorian yelled out, but was drowned out by the roar of the engines. Sulith wrested a blaster pistol from its holster and fired a stunning round down at the attacker, who dropped like a brick before the Sulith could finish the descent.
It seemed that Sulith’s blaster shot had been a starting gun to the madness. Several dozen rioters charged the group and many were quickly cut down by the Sith’s lightsaber or knocked away by Sulith’s power hammer. Numbers, however, proved to be a severe advantage as they were quickly surrounded.
Sera looked down from her position next to Marick and Yezid. She saw her friends getting swarmed. She glanced over at the half-Hapan and the Miraluka, who seemed to be waiting. Well, she wasn’t going to wait. She tensed her body up to jump, but felt a hand on her shoulder. It was Yezid, and then, it wasn’t Yezid. He disappeared from sight almost as soon as it registered that he was there. She looked for Marick, but he too had disappeared. She looked down again in time to see their lightsabers ignite and begin cutting into the mob members from behind. With a shake of her head, she followed, igniting her own saber on the way down.
With the last of the initial ground crew down, Rett and Motraka took their places on the lip of the opening and opened fire on any others who moved to join the mob around their allies on the ground.
The unit worked together, almost seamlessly. They pushed back and cut down their attackers with near-perfect efficiency. When the last inmate fell, they looked around, scanning the surrounding mobs for any sign of further hostility. When none came, Karran waved down Rett, and the Quarren joined them before they moved to enter the prison.
“This place looks like a karking kathek,” Sera murmured, grimacing as their team moved through the corridors. Her description spurred a nod of agreement from Karran. The harsh-tones of the zabraki cussing fit the current state of the prison remarkably well; any semblance of order had been chaotically up-ended, ripped to pieces as riot had turned to rampage. That statement applied literally; blood pooled in places where members of the facility’s security team had been savagely ripped limb from limb, torn asunder by those that they had been guarding.
Sera squeezed her eyes shut, and looked away, bringing her gaze back towards the corridor ahead. It was best not to examine such things too closely.
The team formed a rough diamond-shape as they moved through the halls; Karran on point, flanked by Sera on his right and Sulith on his left, with the two Magnaguards and Zig in the back. Marick and Yezid had already split off, striking out under cover of their cloaks to get a read on the control center. According to the scant intelligence passed along by the Council, that had been the source of the original distress call. It hadn’t come from the crew, though.
Despite their caution, the corridor appeared to be mostly empty, the sounds of battle echoing in the near-distance, screams and blaster firing melding into a single, incomprehensible din. It appeared that their little… Demonstration in the courtyard had scared off any near-by miscreants; any jumpsuit-clad individuals that came across their path melted away, running back to find easier targets… or to gather friends.
“Captain, we’re coming up on the control center,” Zig called out from the center of their cluster, pointed Zygerrian ears twitching slightly.
“Right. Close in, team. Sera, can you sense anything?”
“Uhh, Sure. Just a sec…”
Pausing, the shorter Zabrak shut her eyes tight, turning her mind to the Force. Immediately, a tidal wave of rage and pain threatened to overwhelm her, the sheer volume of violent emotion that filled the prison hitting her like a sack of bricks. But, Sera Kearn stood firm, narrowing her mind’s reach, focusing on their direct vicinity. She could feel a cluster up ahead; strangers, more apprehensive than they were violent. Marick and Yezid, their specific aura familiar to her, were nearby, practically on top of the next group.
And then, there was something else. A presence that was at once intimately familiar, but indistinct, washed out. She had felt it before… but it was changed somehow. Altered.
A moment later, something new came. Something dangerous.
That was when the blasters started.
Koren Kaern was getting sick and tired of this ancestors-damned prison. He…wasn’t sure how long he’d been in, or what had gotten him thrown here in the first place. The longer he tried to look back, the hazier things became…and the more painful the itching sensation of loss became. He was missing something, here; something important. He just didn’t know what.
It didn’t help that the prison was a karkhole…for those who weren’t smart. Beatings could come regularly, food was scarce, and the guards could hardly be bothered if one or two of the wretches that they were paid to keep track of never turned up at the end of the day. Fortunately…Koren was smart. Work—chores done on the side, physical protection for those who would pay—bought cigarras. Cigaras, in turn, bought deathsticks, which were worth their weight in gold to addicted guards. It wasn’t honorable, but Koren had given up on those Zabraki ideals a long time ago; he remembered that, at least. He strengthened himself, protected himself…and most importantly of all, he found himself a crew. That, more than anything, made life here bearable.
Originally, Rasha’s crew hadn’t known what they were going to do with him. He knew how to fight— very well, in fact- but they didn’t need protection; there was already strength in numbers. So, he bought his way in with a different sort of strength. Since the Principiate had caught them, they were stuck; Tenixir was inescapable, or so it was widely said. No way out. Or, at least that was what most thought; no one had ever made it out before…but, that being said, no one had ever counted on Koren Kaern. The Prison was a box; he would think his way out.
The crew needed a plan. Koren provided it. In return, they…accepted him. Brought him in. Treated him as one of their own…and Ancestors, that was all he needed. It felt damn good to have a family again.
Now he just had to keep it. Easier said than done.
They barely had control of the prison’s central management facility for ten minutes before the newcomers arrived. Not prisoners. Something… else. Based upon the conversation that Rasha had overheard the other day, they were probably agents sent by some Rath Oligard person… whoever that was. The name was hauntingly familiar; another memory, stripped away. Koren hated that sensation, the strange emptiness of knowing, but being unable to feel it.
In any case, whoever the man was, he was powerful…and his soldiers were deadly.
Blaster bolts hissed through the air of the control room, emerald-green bursts of living fire that left smoke and death in their wake. It was a good thing that the damn place was constructed like a fortress, with duraplast windows and alusteel barricades, designed to make sure that this place would be the last to fall during a riot. Of course, the moment that Koren managed to slice through the door’s controls— the gargantuan locks were about 10 years out of date—the techheads within had surrendered, giving Rasha access to their holocommunicator, and the rest of the crew access to the scanty armory. They’d armed themselves, and in Koren’s case, armored themselves. Only a fool refused a helmet… even if they chafed his horns.
Those same techheads were dead now; Oligard’s agents had cut them down as they arrived, before unleashing their wrathful ministrations on the control center. The Zabrak ducked as a bolt passed right over his head, blindly poking his pistol around the corner to blast whoever had delivered it. Just to his right, Rasha sighed, tapping the stock of her blaster rifle. He might have been the brains of their operation, now…but it was unquestionable that she was still the leading element.
“You got a plan, Koren?” the Togruta murmured, orange lekku twitching with irritation.
“Maybe. Might get us killed, but if we play the variables right…”
“Don’t talk to me about variables; give it to me straight.”
Smirking faintly, Koren did as he was told, and she relayed the rest of it back to the crew. Moments later, they put the plan into action.
It only took a few moments at the central console. Fire-fighting was at the forefront of many, working in a station such as this; even a small blaze could be deadly, so most facilities built in complex and effective extinguishing systems. Hijacking these, Koren took manual control… and activated every measure he could find in the chamber outside the management facility.
Instantly, sheets of water and fire-retardant foam flooded down from the ceiling, the walls, blinding, choking, slipping. The crew was on their feet in an instant, taking advantage of their attacker’s confusion to cut them down in throngs.
Moments later, the black-armored figures lay still, dead and smoking. Slowly, the flood of foam petered out, though the spray of water continued, washing away blood and foam alike. Rasha grinned… and Koren couldn’t help but smile.
Their expressions faded as the pounding of boots filled the corridor once more, and more than a dozen new agents poured into the antechamber. Too many. Far too many. Sighing, Koren raised his blaster. It would be an…honorable way to die, he supposed. The Zabrak just wished that he could remember…
A new sound rose to his ears. One that he knew; a high, sharp hiss, filling the air.
The ignition of a lightsaber.
When we take a life, we take nothing of value.
Marick’slightsaber appeared for a brief moment. The ultraviolet blade with an obsidian core made a pair of quick, precise cuts that sent a pair of severed, cauterized limbs flailing through the air. Before either saboteur could react, their attacker’s image faded from view like some kind of spectre. He became a phantom moving through the throng of wanton chaos as prisoners and Collective operatives alike fought back against anyone that stood in their way.
The members of the Collective were easy to pick out for the former leader of the Inquisitorius. He would have noticed a Technocratic Guild Soldier by their cybernetic limbs and enhancements, and a Capital Enterprises Agent would be much more precise and covert. The men and women arresting the Arconan Strike Teams momentum carried themselves with the same zealous tenacity that Marick knew better than most in the Brotherhood. They were likely members of the Liberation Front Partisans, the very same sub-faction that Marick had infiltrated during the Brotherhood’s first contact with the Collective.
Then, former Grand Master, Darth Pravus, had tasked Marick with infiltrating their ranks and learning everything he could about this new threat. When the Brotherhood finally engaged with the Collective on Nancora in what became known as to the Shadow Academy scholars as the Twelfth Great Jedi War, Marick was forced to leave his deep cover alias behind and retake his place as Voice of the Brotherhood. It seemed like a lifetime ago, even though it could not have been more than a few years.
Now, none of that mattered. The Collective and any that sided with them and their ideals were his enemy. Always had been. Except now? Now, there was no one holding him back, to conceal his power or stand on the sidelines and watch as others failed to do what was necessary to finish the fight and win the war.
So, he simply let it all go. He let go of all the frustration he had repressed deep down under the chains of his unwavering will.
Marick Tyris did what he was made to do.
Yezid Kandor tried to keep up with the Elder Shadow. As they moved deeper and deeper into the facility from their insertion point, however, he felt like he was merely playing clean up. Nek, his IG-100 unit, did a good job of drawing attention and cutting through adversaries with his electro-staff. Marick…moved with a focused, feral precision that the young aspiring apprentice had only heard stories or dreamed of. By the time he managed to tag a kill of his own, they were already crippled, inhibited, or clutching desperately and crying in terror over a cauterized stump of a now missing limb.
Of course, the Miraluka saw things differently than most. The shapes and hues of enemies all blurred together. So Marick had been training him to focus on the details he could register—intent, posture, and action. That was easier when taking on an assissination contract or infiltrating an enemy base. Easy to tell friend from foe. This, however? This was madness.
He repeated the words that Tyris had been drilling into his head time and again. When we take a life, we take nothing of value. He steeled his resolve and let his own lightsaber to put an end to their wailing and whimpering. That was an easy path for him to follow in the wake of.
I know what I’m meant for. I know why I’m killing. I accept the responsibility of my actions and blame no other.
Ahead, he could make out the door to what he assumed was the control room. He watched Marick’s aura through his Force-vision flare as the Master ignited a second lightsaber and sent both flying through the air. The two blades hummed as they, without any seen hand to guide them, started to cut down the remaining soldiers standing between Tyris and the control room door.
Yezid froze momentarily at the display of control. He could sense Marick’s emotions flaring through the Force, but despite that tempest, there was a sense of calm, controlled purpose.
That was what he needed to learn. He still had a long way to go.
Marick turned and motioned for Yezid. “Path cleared, objective located. Signal the others that we’ve made it to the control room.
“Understood,” Yezid said as he queued up his comm to notify Captain Val’teo.
“What do you mean, friendlies?” Rasha demanded to know.
“I know what I heard,” Koren insisted, “and there’s only a handful of people in the galaxy who’d have them. Help is on the way, I’m sure of it!”
“It’s your karkin’ imagination, bit-brain,” said the cranky old Shistavanen, Nervitt. “Ya heard the pissy hissing of blast doors getting sliced through and shut just before the next band o’ howling nutcases went guns blazin’ down the hall at us.”
The young Zabrak hopped out of his makeshift cover. “Listen, the weapons have stopped. You gotta get this door back open.”
“Ya tryin’ ta rip out my greyin’ tail furs, kiddo? We just got this thing shut!”
“Both of you shut it,” Rasha quickly spat, going quiet. The muffled sound of more footsteps became apparent, but more importantly, there were faint beeps. Someone was doing something with the exterior door console. “Get ready. Sounds like someone’s making their own way in.”
Her crewmate next to her, Nix Ordo, readied his scavenged rifle. Rasha followed suit, and motioned for Koren to get back behind cover. Nervitt backed herself against the wall beside the door, claws out.
The door hissed, creaked, then eased its way open. The slowly growing gap revealed, one, three, five, seven - seven people in total, with droids coming up behind them, almost all with weapons directed inside. Four of them carried lightsabers; couldn’t be Oligard’s soldiers, then. None of them wore Principate equipment, either.
These newcomers collectively grimaced at the sight of dead tech workers spread around the floor. As the Quarren among them began to spin up the rotating barrels in his repeating blaster, Koren threw his hands up.
“Friendlies,” he stressed. “Don’t shoot!”
Some of their weapons lowered slightly. The Zabrak that stood at the front of the squad spoke up.
“I’m Karran Val’teo. You can either help us or leave us be, but if you stand against us, I promise that you won’t survive.”
Given what mystical and heavy firepower these people were packing, neither Rasha nor any of her crew had much reason to doubt that. She quickly motioned for Nix to lower his weapon.
“You’re clearly not Collective,” the Togruta stated, “so either you’re the help we managed to signal for, or who knows what other party.”
“You sent out the distress beacon?” Karran asked.
“That was me, yes.” She smiled as the others eased on their weapons. “I’m Captain Rasha Hawee, and these are my imprisoned crewmates, and… other friendly inmates.” A hand gestured to the Shistavanen.
“Captain of what?” a youthful Miraluka near Karran asked. “You guys are prisoners—” a cuff to the back of the head cut him off. The silver haired man beside the youth narrowed his eerily blue eyes in disapproval.
Karran nodded and deactivated his lightsaber. He turned toward the largest of their party, a Togorian. “Sully, you and Rett guard the doors.” They followed orders dutifully, while the rest of Karran’s team followed him into the room. The Zabrak himself activated a communicator.
“Warden,” he started, “this is Captain Val’teo. My team and I have reached the control room.”
A few seconds passed before a response came. “Terrific. Can you confirm whether any of my men stationed there are still alive?”
Karran glanced up at Rasha, who gave him an innocent look. “The other rioters took them out,” she uttered quietly. “We just figured they didn’t need their gear, anymore.”
“…Doesn’t look like it,” the Zabrak said grimly into the communicator.
The warden’s voice groaned. “…Frack. If nothing else, can you check if the room is still getting signals out? The sooner we can initiate universal lockdown, the sooner this is over.”
Karran now turned toward the Zygerrian on his team. “Zig, can you make sense of this room?”
“Piece of cake,” Zig spoke up, already familiarizing herself with the plethora of controls across all walls of the room.
While they were sorting out the tech of the room, something itched at the back of Koren’s mind, looking over this ‘Karran Val’teo’ and his people. There was an odd familiarity about them, as if their collective aura, or one among the mix, had brushed his senses before. Squinting through the visor of the badly-fitted helmet he’d scavenged, Koren tried to make out these people’s faces in turn beneath their own helmets and hoods. At least, until one of them caught him staring. Koren didn’t want to cause any strife, and put some distance between himself and the others for a moment.
“No good, Cap,” Zig said after a thorough check.
“If it wasn’t apparent from the smoke and wild carbon scorin’ all over the place, I could’a just told ya half this crap is already outta commission,” Nervitt grumbled.
“Yeah, but,” Zig started back up, “according this lucky, unshot terminal, it looks like lockdown protocols can still be engaged. Problem is, it looks like the controls for lockdown are pretty compartmentalized, and your connection to the rest of the facility’s control units is offline. Basically, whatever connects this room to everywhere else isn’t working.”
“Can you fix it?” Karran asked, stepping in.
“Is that a question? Just need to know where to look.”
“If you don’t mind,” the Warden interrupted. “There should be a diagram schematic of the facility’s network stored somewhere in that room. No direct connections, but it should show where the network lines lead and end up. You may have noticed some of the walls of this place fracking exploded. Start there, and make it quick. We’re—” The sound of blaster fire came through. “Aw, son of a—” his voice abruptly stopped, and his communicator cut out.
Karran looked to Zig. “Find the schematics, and see if you can work around the problem. Anyone else know how to work on this stuff?”
Koren slowly raised his hand, and a quick look from the Sith told him to get to work, he ran over and began going through access panels opposite from where the Zygerrian was working.
“Found it! It looks like the main server hub has been disconnected from auxiliary power routing. That’s gonna take some work, but I can get at least get the security cameras up.”
A few moments later a series of screens lit up and displayed the surrounding hallways, which now showed more people approaching their current location.
“Great, more Collective troops. Zig, you keep our new friend in here and fix the…problem. Everyone else, on me." Karran turned to the members of Rasha’s crew. "If you lot fight with us, I will personally escort you out of here.”
The Togruta captain looked to the large Zabrak, then to the rest of her crew, “You heard the man! Get to it!”
Rasha and her followers went to the door, pushing crates into the opening to create their own cover. Karran grabbed Rett by the shoulder and directed him to join them.
The Sith charged through the door, igniting his lightsaber with a hiss, followed by Sera and Yezid. Marick went last, his figure fading from view like a mirage in the desert before fully dissapearing. Together with the droids, they formed a wall as the mob of Collective soldiers rounded the corner.
Like a well-oiled droid, they began cutting into the enemy while the pirates and Rett opened fire.
The large Togorian rushed forward with his shield up as Karran and Sera separated to let him pass. Several Collective soldiers were caught against the shield and shoved back before being caught in a wide swing and being flung away.
Zig poked her head out of the security room, “I, uh, rerouted the aux-power! Auto turrets are back online! Yee-haw!"
As she said this, turrets dropped out of the ceiling and opened fire into the crowd.
“Major, we’ve lost contact with Fireteam Mynock. Same, unidentified hostiles, likely Jays. They’re still holding out strong. Last call, 1332 hours.”
Major Zara Tam cursed under her breath at the news, restraining the urge to reach for the cigarras in her back pocket. Fireteams Rork, Jakobeast, Blurrg, and Mynock, wiped out in a quarter of an hour. Good men and women of the Liberation Front, gone. In their first thirty minutes in the damned prison, they hadn’t lost a soul. Now, their damned force had been cut nearly in half. By ‘jays’; the pit-damned Jedi!
The Major’s fingers twitched impulsively towards the sweet, sweet tobacc hidden in her pocket. According to the doctor, she’d needed to quit for months. But, that was easier said than done; those cold-turkey weeks fighting on Lyra had been torture. Now, months later, she had thought that she was in the home stretch. It wasn’t to be. The shock of a group of jays showing up on what was supposed to be a smash and grab mission had pushed her rather limited willpower to the breaking point.
Instead of indulging in the pack of poison within her pocket, Zara checked her blasters for the fourth time that minute, nervously whetting her lips. She’d been entrusted with this mission by Rath Oligard himself. Captain Crimson had been there, looking so fine in her plate armor that she’d practically started crying just looking at her.
They could do this. She could do this. They just needed time. And, perhaps, a better plan.
“Major!” piped up another voice, this time from the corner of their temporary strongpoint. Lieutenant Jon Keenor, their remaining technical expert, had stiffened at his makeshift station, fingers blurring as he rapidly input new orders into his datapad. He had been tasked with slicing control over the prisons security systems, in order to facilitate their infiltration and exfiltration. Now, it seemed that he was running into some trouble. “Major, I’m getting resistance; they’re cutting off my controls!”
Zara sighed, and then shivered. The leader of their VIPs, a cabal of Technocratic commonly called the “Modifiers”, was crossing the room towards her. It wasn’t just that the man was creepy—he was—but the very presence of a figure who technically outranked her in every way was disconcerting. Frightening, even. “Keenor,” she murmured, beginning to step away, “you’re going to take those controls back, or I’ll donate you to the inmates. Capiche?”
She didn’t stay to hear his stammered reply. Instead, she turned towards Dr. Mengele Josef, a man who’s only labels within her intel had been ‘Primary VIP’ and “vivisection specialist’. Again, she checked her blasters, then moved to head him off.
“You’ve enacted the plan that I recommended, I see.” The man’s sallow eyes looked her over, like he was thinking about what her insides might have looked like if he cut her open. That idea was probably only partial paranoia. Even dressed in the dingy beige jumpsuit of an inmate, Josef looked smart… and dangerous “It really is the best way, Major. Our enemy is already here; we must cover our tracks. They can’t know that you’ve succeeded in our liberation. The entire prison must be brought down.”
She nodded her agreement. His plan was simple; Keenor was to take over lockdown controls, modify them, and put them on a simple timer. When that timer went off, his modified lock-down procedure would take place; at once shutting every compartment in the prison, while simultaneously removing any and all protection from planetary gravity and pressure. Every occupant of the prison, including the jays, would be crushed to paste in an instant.
Except, to do that, they needed to get control over the Central Management Facility, which the Jays were holding; the only thing preventing them from getting total access to facility controls was Keenor; barely.
The Major cursed under her breath. Then, she turned and gathered the troops with a wave of her hand. They needed that control center, jays or not. It was time to bring an assault in earnest. “Alright, you pathetic bastards. You heard the Doctor; you know what the plan is. Are we gonna let these filthy Jedi karkholes hold us back!? The way they’ve held the whole galaxy back, these last few centuries!?”
The Liberation Front soldiers roared their resounding disapproval, while the Technocrats looked on coldly, which was about as much as Zara expected. “I didn’t think so. Fireteams Rancor, Krayt, Nexu, Acklay! You’re taking that damn control center. Keenor, take your slicing kit and go with them; if you let their zerking hacker activate those turrets again, I’ll see you roasted on a barbed spit.” The soldiers, the burliest veterans of the Liberation Front, many of them ‘improved’ by Technocratic enhancements, gave a resounding whoo!. Keenor just whimpered.
Then, she turned to the Technocratic Guild’s main contribution to their forces, who were standing silently next to the scientists. They hadn’t spoken as much as a word throughout the entire mission, but Zara knew what they were capable of. It didn’t change the fact that they creeped her out on a visceral level, but they were simply too useful to ignore.
Who knew a few reanimated corpses could be so deadly? If there was anything that could deal with a team of jays, it was those things.
“Reincarnate 11.2 and 12.1,” she started, her firm vocal command causing the automatons to turn stiffly in her direction. “You will go with the Fireteams. Combat Protocol; blank slate. No survivors. Understood?”
The two corpses nodded, moving to link up with the departing fireteams. That left Reincarnate 4.5; one of the older models, linked directly back to Project Zero. These older versions of the program, contrary to what might have been though, were deadlier than their newer peers. Unfortunately, they just… weren’t as responsive to commands. More bloodthirsty. More ruthless.
To be totally honest, that was why Zara had left the whole of Fireteam Rheek to cover their retreat to the hangar; just in case.
“The rest of us… double time it to the hangar bay. Once Keenor has control, we get in, and prepare exfil. I’m ready to get off this damned rock.” As she spoke, a twitch shot through her face, echoing into her right hand, which twitched for her cigarras.
She had every reason to be confident in their successful escape. But, if that was true… why was she so nervous?
The Collective soldier gasped as Sera’s golden saber cut through his left knee, blaster firing wildly into the duracrete floor. He didn’t need to worry about the pain for long. Bursting forward, Sera planted her knee solidly in the center of his face, splattering his nose. Groaning, the man went limp, and the Zabrak raised her saber back up, deflecting a blast aimed for her gut just in time.
Their foes appeared to have changed tactics, for whatever reason. One moment, the security turrets had been wrested from Ziggy’s control, likely by another hacker. The next, Liberation Front soldiers were pounding at their gate, dozens upon dozens of them, from every corridor. The Collective had mastered the art of taking down Force Users, it seemed. Where simple brawn failed, bulk in numbers could suffice. Standing at the mouth of the easternmost corridor, Sera was rapidly growing surrounded.
She couldn’t see where her friends were, at the north and south corridors. She didn’t know. That didn’t matter.
The Zabrak went with the flow, and charged. The calm of battle entered her, flowed through her, pounded in her veins and floated through her soul. Her awareness sharpened, and she could feel. The first two opponents didn’t know what hit them. A horned blur, she weaved between a volley of blaster fire, dropping into a slide, an electrostaff’s swing arcing over her head, missing by an inch. Then, she pistoned her core and drove upward. Her Zabraki dagger, twenty inches of hardened steel, was slammed in between her first attacker’s legs, before being ripped forward. Bowels hit the ground. Then, spinning on her knees in a classical K’thri motion, Sera brought both her saber and dagger around to impale the man at her side, rising to her feet as he sank to his knees, choking on blood.
Her awareness hadn’t left her. Three men were charging her, two with Z6 Riot Batons, sparking and hissing, the last with a full-out laser axe. This last one soon found himself suffocating on his own blood, as a smooth cast of her Zabrak dagger buried it in his throat. That left two more, and more surrounding her, closing in.
Sera took a breath. Then, she felt a presence beside her, saw the red light of his saber glowing, saw the warmth within his eyes. She and Karran exchanged a quick look. Then, they charged in unison.
The Collective didn’t stand a damn chance. Before long, the Zabraki were surrounded, pressed back to back. But, they didn’t seem to mind. Just as they had trained, they moved in unison, covering each other’s blind spots, attacking where the others couldn’t reach. Karran swept his saber like a scythe, broad strokes cutting men down, pushing them back. Sera’s quick, darting attacks, culminating in crushing kicks or debilitating slices left men groaning, unconscious, dead.
They held the east corridor alone. To the north, Sulith and the pirates staved off their own assault. To the south, Yezid and Marick held sway, covered by the Magnaguards. They held the enemy off, gave Ziggy and her odd, tall helper time to take back the controls, plunge the station into lockdown, and bring out the turrets to end the fight in a slaughter.
Of course, the Reincarnates complicated the matter. Just a little bit.
Marick Tyris was not meant for this. Wave after wave of Collective fighters tried to overrun the cadre of Arconans looking to hold down the central command terminal. For all his knowing, and power, even a Master Disciple in the Force had limits. Marick was starting to push up against the edges of his own.
The Assassin was meant for hit and fade, get-in-get-out operations. He had no place on the front lines. However, if he let himself be held back by something so simple as a limit, he would never have grown to his current station to begin with. He would simply need to go beyond those limits, and do his part to ensure that Val’teo and the others completed their objective and would return to Dajorra in one piece.
Of course, there was also the image of Captain Crimson’s flushed face as she threw her glistening helmet from her head in a fit of rage. That thought allowed the stoic half-Hapan a faint grin.
The fodder of Liberation Front partisans thinned and was replaced by Technocratic Guild soldiers filled their place. Three of them came at Marick with mechanically precise coordination. The first two each wielded a pair of Z6 riot batons with a grace that should not have been possible by the typical humanoid fighter. The third had a concussion rifle that seemed indifferent on who it struck to the ground. The trio of Technocrats were clearly ready to take on any kind of Force user, be they Jedi or Sith.
Marick was no Jedi, and he certainly wasn’t a Sith. He pulled a small velvet satchel from his cloak and hurled it at the rifleman’s face. The blinding dust contained within splattered across his vision, causing him to curse and clutch and squint. As he flailed, a pair of throwing knives lodged themselves into his neck, causing him to gurgle and drop his rifle and fall to the floor clutching at his neck.
The remaining two soldiers pressed forward, undeterred by the loss of their comrade. Typical Technocrats. Focusing inward, Marick augmented his natural reflexes with the Force and danced between the sweeps and swings of the Technocrats quartet of batons. He drew a single obsidian dagger from his belt and began to calmly time the patterns of the two sets of batons with his calculated bursts of preternatural grace.
Marick’s too-blue eyes saw the opening even before the Technocrat to his left realized that they had overcommitted. He side-stepped around to the cybernetic soldier’s back and drew a thin red line against their throat. Blood squirted free and splattered the face of the remaining Technocrat who again seemed altogether unperturbed at the death of a comrade.
Marick’s free hand activated one of his lightsabers and allowed it to be parried by one of the Technocrats resistant batons. With his other hand, the half-Hapan tapped the Force for strength and hurled the Sith Dagger nearly point-blank into the forehead of the Technocrat. The cybernetic soldier froze in place, arms going slack and weapons clattering to the floor. Marick planted his boot in the Technocrats chest, sending them toppling backwards.
The remaining Liberation Front partisans stared mutely as their champion cybernetic soldiers fell to the cloaked man before them. A few of them seemed to recognize him, and started to murmur. “It’s…him…”
“A monster…” one whispered.
“G-ghost…” another said with a quiver.
Marick’s eyes, a blue too bright to seem natural, never blinked as he met their gazes and slowly disappeared from view.
Wails of terror and anguish filled the corridors until none were left to cry out against the Brotherhood’s Gray Fang whittled down their ranks.
A string of Zygerrian curses filled the control room as Zig’s clawed fingernails tapped furiously against the terminal keys. Beside her, the tall Zabrak blinked a few times, wondering if this was the typical language the woman used when working.
“We don’t have all day, ‘horns,” Zig growled, not even glancing sidelong at Koren. “I need you to try and run a decryption key on file-system xz14.2. If we can crack the AES key, I should be able to leverage a backdoor and create a secondary administrator account with root access.”
Koren nodded his head and went to work. Something continued to nag at him, but he could not place it. He tried a few different cracks before getting creative, and finally found a partial decryption that he could try and blunt-force crack the rest of.
The screen above the two slicers showed the current state of affairs. Karran Val’teo’s crew was hard pressed to repel the Collective reinforcements. Rasha was counting on him to help them, but it didn’t look good. He did notice the two Zabrak going back to back with their weapons drawn, fending off the encroaching wave of adversaries.
“Sera Kearn, I swear on all that is holy if you die out there, I will find your body, get Alaisy to do some kind of Sithy-ritual thing to bring you back, and then kill you again myself!” Zig yelled at the monitor. Of course, Sera couldn’t hear her, but that wasn’t what sent a stray jolt through Koren Kearns awareness.
Before he could pursue the train of thought, the quirky Zygerrian lit up and pumped her fist in the air. “Woo! I got backend access. Creating and replacing the administrator credentials. Eat it, Capital Enterprises,” she said with a grin. “Now, let’s work on getting the crew some help.
The first things to activate were the security turrets, their sights firmly set upon the unfamiliar targets provided by the armed Collective personnel. Popping back out from their emplacements within the ceiling and walls, they unleashed a torrent of blaster bolts onto the Collective personnel. Or, those that were left, anyways. Already disheartened by the abject destruction of the two Reincarnate platforms, the slaughter that followed broke the will of the Liberation Front partisans, who turned tail for the hangar. The Technocratic Troopers, self-preservation instincts dulled by their implants, pushed on.
For, a turret had popped out directly over poor Lieutenant Keenor. Zig’s technical access was now totally unopposed. She grinned, seeing the command icon pop-over her screen.
EMERGENCY DETECTED. INITIATE LOCKDOWN PROCEDURES?
“Oh, yes please,” the Zygerrian laughed, slapping the button.
Around the prison, security doors began to slam shut, isolating individual cell-blocks, access corridors, and extraneous facilities. Door by door, the prison was shut into individual compartments, halting the spread of the riot, trapping many prisoners within enclosed compartments. In one swoop the riot had been effectively re-contained.
“I think our friends are making a run for it,” Zig heard the strange Zabrak mutter from over her shoulder. He was gazing down at one of the few consoles still active, a security camera feed. It displayed an image of a cluster of Collective troops, sprinting down a corridor, beginning to cut through one of the security doors. They were booking it towards the hangar, but the lockdown procedures were slowing them down.
“Well… it looks like the race is on, then,” she replied, grinning.
The Collective arrived at the hangar, only to find themselves facing down a line of glowing lightsabers and levelled blasters. Sera couldn’t help but grin, seeing the expression on their faces. They had probably hoped to make it here unopposed. To come all that way, only to find themselves set up against a united front of Force-Users and armed prisoners had to be… well, disappointing at best.
Their commander…major…maybe captain… seemed dumbfounded, her mouth opening and closing like a fish bobbing for air. She was backed up by a thin line of Partisans, and an even smaller group of Technocratic soldiers, with a blade-wielding Reincarnate set at her flank. Maybe half a dozen prisoners were clustered behind them. Likely, they were the ones that the Collective had come to retrieve in the first place.
Their leader was still looking forward her words. So, Sera stepped forward and offered her some. “Y’know, if you just like, surrendered, we wouldn’t need to kick your butts. We’d still want to, but we wouldn’t need to… soooo…”
The woman gave Sera an incredulous look, her eyes widening in anger. Then, snarling, she thrust her hand forward, pointing directly at the Zabrak. “Just…just KILL THEM!”
There was a second’s pause while Sera just sighed, rolling her eyes. Behind her, Karran just chuckled. “At least you tried, Sera.”
After that, all hell broke loose. Their leader went down in about half a second. Stepping forward, Marick cocked his arm and launched his saber at her, the ultraviolet blade cutting a shadowy arc through the air. It impaled her through the gut, hissing as it was withdrawn, and the woman fell. The clump of her body hitting the floor signalled the chaos that followed. The pirate crew launched an immediate volley into the enemy, holding the back-line as the Arconan’s charged forward. The two Zabraks led the assault, sabers flashing piling into the chaos caused by Marick’s blade, which was still spinning through the crowd of Collective troopers, like a scythe wielded by an invisible hand. A sweep of Sulith’s power hammer sent the first rank of the Partisans spinning limply into the air, bones cracking. At his side, Zig finally piled into the main fighting, utilizing a puff of her jetpack to launch her into the front line at shocking speed. Her electrostaff twirled as she cracked it into the side of one Technocrat’s skull, electricity coursing through his brain until smoke poured from his ear. Bouncing on her feet, she turned, delivering a back-handed slap to the next trooper, who was promptly stabbed through the back by Yezid, darting in from behind their line. He’d put his cloak up as soon as he’d seen the foe, intent on ambushing them. Now, his crafty thinking had been rewarded.
They almost burst through the line right there. Almost. With Karran and Sera at the fore, they would have cut right through to the scientists, who were already starting to run around the flank of the fighting, towards escape within one of the crafts further down the hangar. If the Zabraks could just break through…
The last Reincarnate stepped in front of them, dead eyes twitching. With a flick of its wrist, the automaton’s wickedly curved electrosword activating, blue lightning crawling up the length of the blade. Then, it pounced.
The thing moved fast. Unbelievably fast. Only the small voice screaming RIGHT in the back of Sera’s mind, the Force’s blessed warning-system, allowed her to dodge out of the way, scampering around the creature’s back. It still agev her a nasty gash, splitting the flesh of her bicep. At its flank, Karran made a sweeping swing, but it bent at the spine, dropping out of her saber’s path, before twisting back into place. Again, it made a lightning-fast lunge, nearly cutting the larger Zabrak’s legs out from under him. Sera pulled it back just in time, reaching forward and seizing the bot in a tight, telekinetic grip. It’s slash went just wide, only catching Karran’s leg with a spark of electricity.
Caught and held in mid-air, the fight should have been done. Instead, the bot’s head twisted and entire three-hundred and sixty degrees, facing Sera. Its free left-hand blurred, and a throwing blade flashed outward. Yelping, the Zabrak dodged backwards, her right-hand snapping just in time to catch the blade an inch away from her face. Even as she did, her telekinetic grip failed, the Reincarnate dropping lithely to the floor, bolting toward Sera.
Karran’s saber cut the thing’s legs out from under it before it crossed half the distance. It had been a good throw. Marick would be proud. Hissing, the Reincarnate tumbled to the ground, raising its sword arm… only for Sera to slash it off at the wrist, the blade skitting across the floor.
As one, the two Zabraki stepped forward and impaled the thing. It looked almost… thankful as the light died from its eyes.
Around them, the fight ended. Rasha’s crew had deftly rounded up the Collective scientists at blaster-point, while the remainder of the troopers had either surrenders, or lay bleeding on the floor. Cut down, the Collective commander turned onto her back, reaching for her back pocket. She withdrew a pack of cigarras, bringing one to her lips with trembling fingers. She didn’t have anything to light it.
Sera frowned, and went to her side. The pilot light on her vambrace’s flamethrower would do.
The Collective officer seemed slight surprised for a moment, looking up at Sera with questioning eyes. Then, a realization seemed to cross her face… just before she died, the lit cigarra falling away. She hadn’t quite gotten a puff.
“Well, Captain? We had a deal, if you remember,” Rasha questioned, lekku swaying as she cocked her head. Koren stood closely by her side, watching the muscular Zabrak. Their rescuers’ leader went by Karran, an old name from Tribe Kell. Koren knew his type, though this one had obviously been raised off of Iridonia. Those tattoos weren’t exactly traditional.
The moment the Collective troops were down, and the scientists safely recaptured, Rasha mad moved to confront him, encouraged by Koren. As he pointed out, they were already in the hangar. No better chance for escape would be presented to them; it was now or never.
“And I’ll keep it, Captain. You and your’s are free to go. We’ll just say… there was a little bit of chaos here in the hangar… and you slipped away. Don’t make trouble for the Principiate, and I’m sure you’ll be safe,” Karran replied firmly, holding out a hand to the Togruta. Smiling, she shook it, nodding to her crew.
“You heard the man. Grab that YT-2000, and start packing up. You coming, horns?” she asked, nudging Koren with her elbow. He didn’t respond right away. He was staring elsewhere, over Karran’s shoulder.
There was another Zabrak there. A girl, lighting the dying Collective officer’s cigarra for her. A shock went through Koren. Sharp, almost painful. He knew her. Somehow.
He turned back towards Rasha… and nodded lightly, moving for the freighter that she had picked out. His crew would need a pilot, afterall.
They were free. But, somehow, Koren couldn’t shake the feeling that everything wasn’t all said and done. Not quite yet. A storm was rising on the horizon… and somewhere in it, his old life, and a new beginning, waited.
Frowning under his helmet, Koren picked up his pace. It was time to head home… wherever that was.