Chapter VI: Escaping Taris
They had agreed, if anything happened at the race, that they would meet back at the Upper City apartment as soon as they could. As soon as Matthias and Bastila walked through the apartment door, Carth practically went into a fit of joy. Neither Matthias nor Anaiya had ever seen him look happier.
“Bastila you’re alive! Finally, things are looking up! Now all we need to do is figure a way off of Taris.”
“You mean you don’t have a way off Taris by now? What have you been doing all this time?”
“Trying to find you remember?” said Matthias with palpable sarcasm in his voice. Bastila gave him a searching look before she continued.
“I see. Well now that I am back in charge of this mission, we can start doing things properly. Hopefully our escape from Taris will go more smoothly than when you “rescued” me from Brejik.”
Seeing the potential explosion of anger coming from Matthias, Carth tried to head it off.
“I know you’re new at this Bastila but a leader doesn’t berate her troops just because things aren’t going their way. Don’t let your ego get in the way of the real issues here.” Anaiya chimed in with, “You could be a little more grateful ma'am. Matthias risked his life for you and could’ve easily died out on that track.”
“This hardly strikes me as an appropriate way of addressing your commander. I am a member of the Jedi Order and this is my mission. Don’t forget that. My Battle Meditation has helped the Republic many times in this war and it will serve us well here I’m sure.”
“Hey, you’re not the only Jedi here you know,” said Anaiya, hands on her hips. Bastila blinked at her a few times and then gasped softly in recognition.
“Anaiya! I’m sorry, I didn’t recognize you in those clothes.”
Carth chose that moment to break in again.
“Your talents might win us a few battles but that doesn’t make you a good leader! A good leader would at least listen to the advice of soldiers who have seen more combat then she ever will!”
At this point Matthias leapt up from where he was sitting and whistled loudly.
“Time out! BOTH of you settle down, this isn’t helping.”
Bastila looked startled at first but then she sighed and lowered her head apologetically.
“You’re right of course. Forgive me but I’ve been under a certain amount of… stress recently. Of course I’m willing to listen to your advice. What do you suggest we do?”
“First of all,” said Carth “we can’t get hung up on who’s in charge. We’re gonna have to work together if we want to get out of here alive. The answers out there we just need to find it.”
“Well said Carth,” agreed Bastila, “And the sooner we start looking for it the better.” She shivered very slightly, almost so slightly that it wasn’t noticeable except to trained soldiers like Matthias and Carth.
“I’ve already been a prisoner of the Black Vulkars, I don’t want to be captured by the Sith.”
Matthias got up from where he was lounging on the couch, stretched and said, “Well I don’t know about you guys but it’s late, I’m tired, and there’s a lot left to do. I say we start first thing in the morning yes?”
No one had any argument with this so the group split up. Bastila and Carth continued to discuss what had happened since they crash landed on Taris. Mission and Zaalbar took Anaiya and Matthias to one of their favorite “secret spots” which was close to their apartment hideout. From the roof of the building, accessible by narrow and treacherous fire escapes, they could see a glorious sunset, flanked by the flitting lights of cloud cars and the glitter of the great skyscrapers just turning on their night lights.
“Even in the face of adversity there can be found beauty,” quoted Matthias. Mission and Zaalbar giggled and Anaiya gave him a frank look.
“A soldier, swoop rider and a poet?”
“Can you do better sister?” said Matthias with a rakish grin. Anaiya then began to quote a line of verse in some strange, lilting language that Matthias was vaguely familiar with.
“What was that?” asked Mission.
“A Selonian poem my mother once taught me. Matthias, do you have something else to say?”
“Touché,” said Matthias, rolling his eyes.
“You two fight like an old married couple,” giggled Mission.
“Us?” cried out Matthias in surprise.
“Married?” spluttered Anaiya.
“Eugh!!” they both said.
Matthias slept restlessly that night. He dreamed of Bastila fighting the Sith and Darth Revan again. What he didn’t know was that Bastila was having the same dream, and it wasn’t the first time.
The morning dawned bright and clear which was unusual for Taris. The party, with the addition of Bastila ate a quick breakfast and was out the door, ready to find a way off of Taris, by the tenth morning bell. Outside the door was a Twi’lek messenger. He approached Matthias and handed him a datapad and then quickly scurried away.
“What does it say?” asked Bastila.
“Canderous Ordo, Davik Kang’s mercenary, wants to meet with me in the cantina as soon as possible. He says he saw me at the swoop race and has an offer that I can’t refuse.”
“We’d better check it out,” said Carth, “The last thing we need is for that mandalorian thug to come looking for us.
Once they were on their way to the cantina, Bastila couldn’t help but notice the funny looks that Matthias was giving her.
“Is something troubling you?” she asked.
“Something weird happened last night. I had a dream about you. More like a vision than anything else.”
“A vision of what?”
“You were fighting a dark Jedi. Revan, I guess.”
Bastila looked both thoughtful and a little bit concerned when Matthias said this. “That is strange. Such visions are often a sign of Force sensitivity.”
“What do you mean?” asked Matthias.
“I’m not sure. It may be that you have some talent with the Force. It would not be unheard of that your talents fed off my own Force abilities and in the aftermath of the battle yesterday the Force allowed you to witness one of my more intense memories.”
“This isn’t the first time I’ve had a vision like this,” said Matthias, “It happened right after I first woke up on Taris.”
“The Force is complicated; even I with all my training do not fully understand it yet. This is a matter best left to the wise Masters of the Jedi Council. Once we escape Taris we can seek the guidance of the Council if you wish. They will be able to tell you the significance of your visions. If there is any. Right now we should stay focused on the task at hand.”
“I have Force powers. Never would have saw that coming in a million years…” Matthias mumbled as they continued walking.
What nobody else saw, what no one without a connection to the Force could’ve felt was that, at that moment, Bastila was afraid for just a moment before her Jedi control slipped back into place.
The mandalorian was waiting close to the entrance of the cantina and spotted them as soon as they came in. Canderous ran his eye over the… interesting group of beings that stood before him. Two human males, two very attractive human females, a Twi’lek street urchin and a Wookie. All in all a very eclectic group. Canderous marched straight up to Matthias. Matthias was the just a couple of inches shy of Canderous’ height and was capable of looking him in the eye, something that Canderous respected.
“I saw you in the swoop race. Very impressive. You seem like the kind of person who knows how to get results. Exactly the kind of person I’m looking for.”
“What are you talking about?” asked Matthias warily.
“My name’s Canderous Ordo. I work for Davik and the Exchange; the hours aren’t great but the pay is good, and I don’t have anything better to do. Mandalorian mercs like me are in high demand. But lately Davik hasn’t been paying me what he promised. I don’t like getting cheated, so I figure it’s time to break the Sith quarantine and get off this backwater planet.”
“Why are you telling us this?” said Matthias.
I have a plan to escape Taris but I can’t do it alone. I need someone I know can get the job done and that’s where you come in.”
“Careful,” warned Carth, “mercs like this don’t have a lick of conscience. They’ll betray you in a heartbeat. This could be a trap.”
“I aint talking to you am I? I’m talking to your friend here,” growled Canderous.
“When I saw how you won that swoop race,” continued Canderous, “I started thinking. Anyone crazy enough to race like that is crazy enough to break into the Sith military base to steal the launch codes. Without them, any ship leaving Taris’ atmosphere will be disintegrated by the Sith fleet’s automated defense guns.”
“Now why would me and my friends here be stupid enough to break into the base?
“Here’s the real deal. Once you get those codes, I can provide you with the ship to make it off Taris; Davik’s flagship, the Ebon Hawk!”
“And just how are we supposed to get into the base at all?” asked Anaiya.
“Getting in won’t be easy; it has a top of the line encryption system. It would take a state of the art droid to slice through it. Fortunately for you, Davik was having one custom built by Janice Nall. Just tell her Canderous sent you and she’ll give it to you. Normally I’d do this myself, but everyone knows who I work for. If I broke in, they’d send an army down on Davik’s estate. That’s why I need you.”
Matthias paused for a moment, looking back at his companions. Ever since he came to this sithspawned planet it’d been one damn thing after another. First he had to find Bastila, then the swoop race and now a mandalorian mercenary was asking for his help. He definitely hadn’t had this strange of a week in all his life!
“Canderous, you’ve got a deal,” said Matthias, shaking the bigger man’s hand.
“I don’t sense any deception from him, which is surprising. This may be exactly what we need,” said Bastila hopefully.
“I’ll be waiting in Javyar’s Cantina. Once you have those codes, come find me and we can get off this rock.” Said Canderous. He left without another word.
As they made their way to the droid shop, Bastila said to Matthias, “May I speak with you for a moment?”
“I would like to ask you some more about what happened to you after the crash. I spoke with Carth last night but I’m curious to as to your perspective of events after the crash.”
“Before we rescued you, you mean,” said Matthias. There was no way he was going to let her get off that easy after the hell he’d been through the last couple of days!
“I managed to free myself as I recall. If I hadn’t been there, Brejik might’ve killed you in that fight. It’s probably more accurate to say I rescued you.
And the gauntlet is thrown.
“You didn’t manage to free yourself until after we arrived as I recall,” said Matthias, pressing his advantage.
“I’ll admit that I probably wouldn’t have been able to successfully escape if not for the brawl after the swoop race. I should thank you for that at least.” Before Matthias could make an indignant reply, she continued, “Actually you presence at the track is what I’m most curious about. It couldn’t have been easy to find me there, yet you managed it. You also avoided detection by the Sith, discovered I was a Vulkar prisoner, gained sponsorship for the race and became the Taris Swoop Champion. That’s quite a resume.”
Gratified that he had finally impressed Bastila, Matthias said, “Don’t forget the Rancor. But we had Mission with us to handle that and I probably wouldn’t have been able to do it without the others.”
“Your modesty is admirable but though others helped, you were the catalyst for these events. When you were chosen to join this mission, none of us expected this much from you. A Jedi could have done such things of course, but only by drawing heavily upon the Force.
“I think you may be underestimating us non-Jedi.”
“Perhaps but the Force works through us all in one degree or another. There are some individuals who grow up outside of the Order whom we refer to as Force Sensitives. It is obvious to me that the Force has been working through you, I can see no other reason for your great success though I am not certain what to make of this discovery. Perhaps if you were… well if you were younger the Jedi might consider you for training.
“Wait a minute, are you saying that the I could become Jedi?” asked Matthias.
“Wait a minute, you want to make him, a Jedi trainee?” asked Anaiya in astonishment. Bastila shot Anaiya a hastily concealed look of annoyance but quickly composed herself.
“Wassamater, Anaiya? Don’t think that I’m good enough for the Jedi?”
“No, I just don’t want to see you do something stupid like chop your leg off with a lightsaber,” she retorted. Bastila made a coughing noise, trying to get the two’s attention again.
“In any case these things are best left to the Jedi Council. For now, let’s just accept the fact that you are… gifted. Hopefully between your talents, Anaiya and I’s Jedi training and the skills of our companions we will be able to escape this world.”
“I’ve been wondering something myself Bastila,” chimed in Carth, “you sorta dodged this question last night. How did the Vulkars even manage to capture you in the first place? Were you unconscious?”
“No I wasn’t. But my Force powers were exhausted from the battle. Without my help you may not have gotten off the ship alive.”
“Fair enough,” said Carth, “But I’ve seen you Jedi in action, there’s no way they could have been able to get past your lightsaber.”
Bastila instantly began to look genuinely embarrassed, not all the Jedi training in the galaxy able to hide it.
“My lightsaber was… misplaced. The Vulkars came and overwhelmed me even as I was searching for my weapon.
“Wait a minute, let me get this straight,” said Carth, struggling not to laugh, “You lost your lightsaber? I mean, isn’t that a violation of some kind of Jedi code or something?”
“Of all the Jedi in the galaxy why do we get the one who’s absent-minded,” said Matthias grinning.
Bastila couldn’t believe all of the party trying not to laugh out loud. Zaalbar was the only one who didn’t seem to get the joke!
“This is no laughing matter! It must have… it must have fallen off my belt and rolled somewhere I couldn’t get at.”
“Hey, hey, hey, don’t get mad. I’m sorry,” said Carth in what he hoped was a humor free tone, “It’s just funny to think of a legendary Jedi losing her lightsaber. Take my advice, this is one detail you should keep out of the history texts.”
“I hardly consider myself a legend Carth. Though I will consider what you say when I report to the Jedi Council. There is no need for the them to know every detail of what transpired.”
Mission couldn’t help herself at that point and burst out laughing. Matthias shook his head and added, “First Anaiya, now you. Missing lightsabers seems to be an epidemic lately.” He instantly regretted his ill-timed joke when Anaiya rounded on him with a look of complete indignation.
“You! I take it back, I have NOT forgiven you for losing my lightsaber!”
And so the long day wore on.
Purchasing the droid, an advanced astromech by the name of T3-M4, drained them of 2,000 credits. The little droid seemed quite eager to show of its capabilities and gained immediate respect from the party by rewiring the electrical system in the apartment to get the heater going.
They spent the night hammering out a plan to get into the military base. T3 proved invaluable again by hacking into the planetary information network. It turned out that most of the bulk of Sith troopers on the planet were spread throughout Taris. There was only a minimal garrison at the base. The Sith were counting on the simple fact that no one would be dumb enough to try a break in. Well no one besides Matthias, Carth and Company.
There was only one part of the plan that Bastila strongly objected too and that was the fact that she wouldn’t be going.
“If the Sith officers recognize you, they’ll institute a planetary mobilization and then we’ll be caught for sure!” said Carth. It took arguments from both him and Matthias before Bastila finally backed down and went to staring out the window. Mission was also angry at being left behind, especially since Zaalbar was going.
“I’ve been surviving here on Taris for years! Stop treating me like a kid!”
“Mission, said Anaiya, kneeling down she was eye to eye with the younger girl, “That’s not why we want to leave you behind. If something goes wrong over there, we need you to be Bastila’s guide, to help her hide until another opportunity for escape comes along. Who was the one who helped us break into the Vulkar base after all?”
“OK, I’ll do it,” said Mission, a look of determination on her face.
Things also got sour when Anaiya humbly asked Bastila to borrow the other woman’s lightsaber for the mission and Carth and Matthias simultaneously said, “No lightsabers!”
As everyone was getting ready for bed, Matthias sidled up next to Bastila, who was still looking out the window.
“You should relax dear heart, we’ll be in and out of there faster than you can say Galactic Senate,” he said with a rakish grin. Bastila shot him a withering look, “Don’t call me that. I’m not so worried about you failing tomorrow it’s… I can feel a dark disturbance in the Force. I fear that if we do not get off this planet soon, we never will.”
They left in the early morning hoping to arrive just after the shift change when the newly woken troopers were going on duty and the tired one were coming off. They were a strange group, the two Republic soldiers, the lightsaber-less, robe-less Jedi, the Wookie and the droid. They were all carrying as much weaponry as they could, blasters grenades, and vibroblades. Even T3 was packing a pair of blasters, another of the ‘modifications’ that had been built into the droid. Bastila watched them go.
“May the Force be with you,” she said. Matthias turned and gave her a thumbs up. Shaking her head, she went back inside. Upon entering the apartment, she called for Mission. Getting no response, she cast out her senses, and then sighed in annoyance. The girl was gone, and there was only one place she could be.
Getting into the base was almost laughably easy. It was kind of scary how good T3-M4 was at picking security locks and hacking computers. Once they got in through the front door was when the real scheme would begin. Their plan was to pose as a bunch of bounty hunters and Zaalbar would play the part of a criminal they had captured. Zaalbar’s binders would be unlocked however.
When they walked into the reception area the Twi’lek secretary was instantly suspicious but a little roaring from Zaalbar and a promise to let her leave before the shooting started got her out of the fast. T3 went to work immediately, hacking the computers and downloading a map of the base. They figured that only one person would be holding the all-important codes and that would be the military governor that the Sith had put in charge. T3 displayed the map on the screen and a red line traced the most effective and safest route to the governor’s office. There was only one small problem. The elevator to the office was guarded by a shielded war droid.
“How’s that shield disruptor working T3?” asked Anaiya.
T3 hooted an affirmative.
The doors cycled open and the war droid sprang to life, activating its shield. A pair of grenades came rolling across the floor and bounced against the shield. These weren’t ordinary grenades though, they were ion grenades. Their combined blast took out the shield and shorted out half the droid’s systems. Matthias, Carth, Anaiya, Zaalbar and T3 came charging in blasters blazing and the war droid slumped to the floor a moment later, its once shiny armor now blackened and ravaged. Matthias nudged it with the toe of his boot.
“Wasn’t so hard. Now the real fun begins.”
“Trust me, this governor probably won’t be that hard to intimidate,” said Anaiya, “I know their type. All sound and fury but no actual substance to them.”
That assumption was proved wrong when they stepped out of the elevator and into the governor’s office. The governor was a fit young man with a bald head and the armor of a Sith acolyte. He had been sitting behind his desk in a meditative position when they came in. Both Matthias and Anaiya could feel a sense of stomach churning unease when they saw him that had nothing to do with nerves. Matthias wondered if this what the Dark Side felt like?
“Who dares disrupt my meditation? You’ll pay for interrupting my…” the governor paused staring directly at Matthias and Anaiya, “I sense that the Force is strong in you. Both of you. Who would have thought that Force adepts could be found on this pathetic planet?”
“How about you hand over those launch codes and we’ll only stun you?” said Carth, pointing his blasters at the governor. The man only smirked and made a gesture with his hand. Their blasters flew out of their hands and landed behind the Sith. Anaiya and Matthias glanced worriedly at each other. They hadn’t counted on the governor to be able to use the Force; looks like they should’ve brought Bastila after all.
The opening of the turbolift doors caused everyone to look towards the lift. A grenade came sailing out as a high-pitched voice cried, “Take that!”
The governor used the Force to knock the grenade aside into a window, which it promptly blew out. To everyone’s astonishment, Mission came tumbling through the lift doors and aimed her blaster at the governor. Unfortunately her shots only blackened the Sith’s silver armor. Snarling, the governor picked up a vibrodagger from his desk and hurled it at Mission. Mission gasped as she watched the dagger fly towards her. Then Matthias’s body was in front of her. There was a sickening sound of cloth ripping and a wet sound of slicing. Matthias bit off a yell as he sank to his knees, the dagger sticking out his chest. Zaalbar roared loud enough to rattle the transparisteel windows and charged the governor. Carth followed him as T3 activated his blasters. Anaiya and Mission supported Matthias as he slumped down onto the floor.
“Anaiya I can take care of myself. Go help Carth and Zaalbar. Go!” Not wanting to argue the point, Anaiya turned and slid her vibroblade out its sheath. With a wild cry, she charged into the fray. Matthias cast his eyes at Mission who was staring at him in shock.
“Matthias I didn’t…” he silenced her with a finger on her mouth.
“Help me get this thing out and then give me a Medpac. We’ll talk about this when we get out of here young missy and that’s a promise.”
Meanwhile Carth and the others were not doing so good themselves. Carth wasn’t as good with blades as he was with blasters and the Sith governor was now armed with a double-bladed vibroblade. The governor was dueling the three of them with ease. Even blocking Zaalbar’s ferociously powerful blows with skillful parries. Anaiya charged in just as the governor Force-pushed Zaalbar away. He met Anaiya’s slash with a block and used the other end of his weapon to stab at Carth. Ducking under some blaster shots from Matthias, the governor then turned and whirled his blade at Anaiya. Anaiya wasn’t as quick as the Sith and the governor cackled maniacally as he stabbed straight for the opening in her defense, straight for her heart. And then Carth was there, the vibroblade slashing across his chest, blood fountaining out. Half roaring with rage, half gasping in pain, Carth hurled his blade at the governor, the Sith Acolyte redirecting it in mid-flight at Matthias, who promptly parried it.
“Why you do that idiot?!” asked Anaiya.
“Makes us even beautiful.”
Matthias, angered that Carth had now been injured, went on the offensive, slashing, and swiping at the governor’s double blade. Zaalbar rejoined the fray with a mighty Wookie roar and slashed down at the governor. Blocking a slash from Matthias, the governor was unable to turn away in time and Zaalbar’s blow severed his weapon in half, the one half falling to the floor. Snarling in rage, the governor spun and slashed out with his remaining blade, cutting Zaalbar’s blade off the hilt. The governor then stabbed the Wookie in the side.
“NO!” screamed Mission.
Matthias reacted without thinking. He thrust out his hand at the same time as Anaiya slashed with her sword. The Sith governor felt as if a wall of air had just hit him and was lifted off his feet, hurtling to the back of his office into the window… the window that was no longer there…
Matthias, Anaiya, Carth and Mission peered out the window as the already distant figure of the governor flailed and twisted in the air as he fell down, down, down.
“From this height that fall’ll last a couple of minutes at least,” remarked Mission.
“Good,” said Carth pointedly in between ragged breaths. Matthias clutched the wound in his chest, which had begun to bleed again under the kolto bandage.
“Let’s get those codes and get the hell out of here.”
Bastila was not at all pleased when Mission and Zaalbar arrived back at the apartment to take her to Zelka Forn’s clinic where Matthias Carth and Anaiya were being treated for their wounds. Her severe look softened when she saw how badly the three had been injured. Placing her hands on Matthias’s chest she began to use the Force to heal him.
“Mmmm, that feels good. You know you can do that when I’m not bleeding to death as well.” Bastila simply shot him an annoyed glare but it softened into something more neutral as Matthias simply smiled at her.
Anaiya and Carth were lying next to each other on a pair of gurneys. Carth’s chest was wrapped in bandages whilst Anaiya’s foot was encased in a splint.
“Carth, are you awake?” she asked.
“I’m all ears beautiful,” he responded.
“Are you flirting with me Commander?”
“Depends. Do you have something else you prefer being called?”
“I like beautiful.”
“How about me? What would you call me,” he said with a rakish grin.
“How about ‘handsome thug’?”
“I dunno, I like the handsome part but where’d you get the ‘thug’?”
“Well you’ve been acting a bit thuggish towards Matthias and I all this time, Matthias especially.” Carth had the decency to look embarrassed at this.
“Look it’s not you or Matthias, it’s just…”
Carth and Anaiya turned to see Matthias, his chest likewise swathed in bandages, standing in the doorway.
“Continue Carth, I’d like to hear this too.”
“Well, I’ve been betrayed before by people I trusted my life to and, well, it won’t happen again.”
“I don’t understand you Carth. I don’t understand where this is all coming from,” said Anaiya.
“You two must be the most damn persistent people I’ve ever met! All right, you want to know so bad? Well here it goes.”
“Five years ago we’d just finished the war with the Mandalorians. Revan and Malak were heroes. I was damn proud to have served in their fleet. It was completely unexpected when they turned on us, attacking us when we were still weak. Our heroes had become brutal, conquering Sith seemingly overnight. And it wasn’t even just that. There were others who weren’t Jedi, good, solid, trusted men who turned. Revan, Malak and the Sith deserve to die for what they’ve done, but the ones who were former Republic soldiers are even worse. The Dark Side has nothing to do with why they fell! They deserve NO mercy!”
“You say that with such… hatred,” said Anaiya
“Well there’s more to it than that, but I don’t want to talk about it right now. Can we please pick it up later when my head’s not swimming in kolto?”
Both Matthias and Anaiya nodded in agreement.
“Thanks for telling us Carth,” said Matthias.
“Mission, we need to have a little chat,” said Matthias. They were back in the apartment now after Carth, Anaiya and Matthias had been discharged. Mission looked like she was about to cry.
“We told you to stay here! You could’ve botched the whole plan sneaking around like that!” Tears really did start trickling out of her eyes then.
“I was just trying to help. I’m sick of everyone treating my like a helpless kid,” she mumbled. Carth knelt down and put both hands on her shoulders.
“Mission listen to me. We don’t think you’re helpless but take a good long look at what we’re doing. You’re not just along for the ride here! We need you.”
“We couldn’t have gotten into the Black Vulkar base without you, remember?” said Anaiya as she smiled kindly at Mission. She looked up at them, slightly stunned.
“You really mean it don’t you?”
“We do,” said Matthias.
“No one’s ever said that to me before, not even Big Z. He might think it, you know, but he’s not really one for words. Thanks guys.”
“Ah no big deal,” said Carth, “I know how it is. Sometimes you just need a little encouragement. Kids are like that.”
“Kids are like that?! Listen you… oh, I get it. Okay you got me. You’re pretty funny for and old guy Carth.”
“I’m not that old,” he mumbled.
The next morning they made a quick stop at the Outcast village before taking the codes to Canderous. When Matthias gave the three journals to Rukil, the old man was ecstatic, especially for a 100+ year-old man. He immediately took the journals to Gendar, the leader of the village.
“What is it now Rukil? More fables of a lost paradise just waiting for us to find?” said Gendar.
“You may not believe they are stories when you have seen what I brought you. Look at these journals!” Gendar perused them for several minutes, his expression gradually changing from skepticism to shock.
“No… are these for real Rukil? Is this information accurate?”
“The Promised Land Gendar! I told you I’d find it one day!”
The Outcasts made immediate preparations to leave. They had so few possessions, that they were all ready to go in an hour. It would be a dangerous journey, but the thought of what a Promised Land hermetically sealed away from the rest of Taris had filled their spirits with the flame of courage. At the gates to the village, Rukil, leaning on a cane, but with the restless energy of a younger man about him, bid the party a final farewell.
“Here is where we part ways, likely forever. Thank you for all you have done for us Matthias Starseeker, Carth Onasi and Anaiya Brightstar. We will never forget what you did for us. Farewell.”
And so the Outcasts left their village on their journey to their Promised Land and a brighter future.
On their way back to the Lower City, Bastila turned to Matthias and Anaiya, smiling in approval.
“You did a great and noble thing for these people. When we get off this planet I will tell the Jedi Council what you did here.”
Matthias was so proud that Bastila was pleased with them he didn’t even offer a smart remark, just returned Bastila’s smile. Although he didn’t know it, for just a moment Bastila felt something within her flutter at his smile.
Javyar’s Cantina was just as decrepit and smelly as the last time they had been in there. Mission quickly located Canderous sitting at a table in the back, in the dimmest corner of the place. He grinned widely when he saw them.
“I figured you’d be back. None of us are getting off this planet unless we work together. Now I know that the military base had a break-in. I know you’ve got those codes I need. So what do you say? Shall we team up?”
Matthias glanced at Carth and Bastila before he answered.
“You’re on Canderous. What’s you’re plan?”
“Davik’s always looking to recruit new talent. He saw you win the swoop race and I’ve mentioned that you’d be interested in working for the Exchange. I’ll say that I brought you in so he could check you out. He’ll have you stay at his estate for a few days while he does a background profile on you-that’s standard procedure.”
“I don’t like this. It’s too risky,” said Bastila
“You got another plan sister? Or are you just mad you didn’t think of this one?” shot back Canderous.
“No, we don’t have another plan. But I’d rather not place my life and the lives of my comrades in your hands.”
“I could say the same thing about you so that makes us even. Fortunately we both want to get off this rock.” Turning back to face Matthias he said, “While Davik’s checking you out, we steal the Ebon Hawk right out from under his nose! Come on, I’ve got a speeder waiting outside, but it can only seat two extra so you’d better hurry up and chose two to go with us.”
“Carth and Bastila,” said Matthias. As they got up to leave, Matthias said to Anaiya, “Gather the rest of our stuff and be ready for a quick getaway on the roof.”
“You can count on me,” she said with a wink.
Canderous, Matthias, Bastila and Carth climbed into the opulent landspeeder that was parked outside and decorated with Davik Kang’s symbol and sped off for his estate.
In high orbit of Taris, the Sith fleet circled the world like a pack of Firaxan sharks circling prey. The lead ship off the fleet was the Leviathan, the flagship of Admiral Saul Karath, commander of the Sith Fleet. It was an infamous ship, being the vessel that had destroyed Darth Revan’s ship and the vessel that had led the bombardment of Telos.
On the bridge of the ship, Darth Malak, Dark Lord of the Sith, stared out at the planet below him with dull, yellowed eyes. He was a tall, bald man dressed in a personalized set of body armor the color of blood. He wore a grey cape that was fastened over his right shoulder and at his hips. Long before the Mandalorian War, he had had a set of tattoos inked across his head. At some point they must have been a bluish color but were now dull and faded like his eyes. Admiral Saul Karath, in full military uniform, stood at attention behind and a little to the left of the Sith Lord.
“You summoned me Lord Malak?”
“The search for Bastila is taking to long,” said Malak. The metal half mask he wore across his mouth lent a malevolent mechanical buzz to his already deep voice.
“We cannot risk her escaping. Destroy the entire planet.”
“The entire planet my Lord? But there are billions of people on Taris! We’d be slaughtering countless numbers of civilians not to mention our own men still on the surface.”
Your predecessor once made the mistake of questioning my orders Admiral. Surely you are not so foolish as to make the same mistake?”
“I… no, Lord Malak, I will do as you command, but it will take several hours to position our fleet.”
“Then begin immediately! You are dismissed Admiral.”
“As you wish Lord Malak.”
As the Admiral marched back across the bridge to begin carrying out his orders, Malak returned to staring at the planet whose death sentence he had just signed.
Davik’s estate was possibly the most opulent residence on Taris, better than even the richer nobles certainly. Davik himself was a tall man, shorter than Matthias though, dressed in elaborate robes of purple, white and black. Purple seemed to be a favorite color of his because it was displayed prominently throughout his entire estate. Davik was older than Matthias had thought with thinning grey hair and calculating eyes. At the corners of his eyes was a pair of small tattoos, the skin wrinkled, suggesting that he had acquired them in his youth. Matthias had been confident at this meeting, expecting that they would have an excellent chance of talking their way past the crime lord but his mood descended from optimism to cautiousness when he saw the person standing next to Davik. The short, bullish figure of Calo Nord stood beside Davik, coldly regarding the people who had just entered Davik’s throne room.
“Ah Canderous you’re back! And not alone I see. This is unusual for you; you usually travel alone.” Matthias noted that Davik had an accent that he hadn’t heard on Taris before, possibly a sign that he was an offworlder the Exchange had set up here.
“It’s not like you to take on partners Canderous,” said Calo in his nasal voice, “You’re getting soft.”
“Watch yourself Calo. You may be the newest Kath hound in the pack, but you aren’t top dog yet!”
“Enough! I won’t have my top two men killing each other! It’s not good business. I’m sure Canderous has a good reason as to why he’s not flying solo anymore.”
“This is a special case Davik. I ran into this guy after the swoop race and thought he might be someone the Exchange would like to recruit.”
“Ah yes, now I recognize your companion; Matthias Starseeker, the man who won the Taris Season Opener. Very intriguing if I do say so myself. And these are?” Davik said, nodding to Carth and Bastila.
“This is the slave girl the Vulkars put up as their prize,” said Matthias as he reached around Bastila’s waist and pulled her to him. She shot him a look that promised dire retribution for this impropriety.
“And this is Carth, my bodyguard.”
“I see. You were quite impressive in that race as well as the rather heated battle afterwards.”
“Well Brejik had to learn that double-crossers tend to end up dead,” said Matthias.
“That’s true enough Mr. Starseeker. I believe Canderous is right. We could use someone like you. With the recommendation from Canderous, and a thorough background check, you could become part of the Exchange. Many would kill to prove themselves worthy of this honor!”
“Your offer intrigues me Davik.”
“Come, I will give you a tour of my operations. I’m certain you will be most impressed,” said Davik as he put his arm around Matthias’s shoulders and led the way into the rest of his estate.
They viewed almost the entire, extremely extensive, complex. Matthias did note that they avoided one area in particular. As the last stop on the tour, Davik took them in the hangar to show them the Ebon Hawk.
“Here she is, my pride and joy, the Ebon Hawk, the fastest ship in the Outer Rim territories! Note the state of the art security systems I’ve had installed to protect her. The shields are completely impregnable. No one can get past them without the codes to try and steal my baby. Unfortunately the Sith blockade has grounded her. I am, of course, working on acquiring the departure codes so I may come and go as I wish. Has there been any development on that end Canderous?”
Like a true warrior, Canderous did not give himself away with any secret gestures at Matthias.
“I think we’ll start seeing some progress on that real soon Davik.”
“Good, good. For now, let’s move on.”
Davik led them into his guest wing and set them up in a lavish suite of rooms that was about 100 times more opulent than the apartment they’d been staying in.
“These will be your accommodations. You will stay in these rooms as my guest for the next few days. I will not take no for an answer. When the investigation into your background is complete, you will be invited to join the Exchange. I advise you to accept the offer when it comes, or suffer the dire consequences of refusal.”
“I’m looking forward to working with you Davik,” said Matthias, shaking the crime lord’s hand.
“Come Calo, let us leave our guests in peace.” Davik and Calo left the room, shutting the actual wooden door behind them.
“I don’t trust them Davik. Especially not Canderous. I heard that there’s been a break-in at the Sith base and there was no sign that he was involved.”
“I’m sure all will be made clear Calo, I’m a bit suspicious of Mr. Starseeker myself. We’ll see what the investigation turns up.”
Inside the room, Canderous popped a power pack into his ridiculously oversize blaster rifle.
“Ok, we’re inside. Now we just have to figure out a way to crack the security around the Ebon Hawk and we’ll pick up the rest of your group and get off this blasted planet! The sooner the better.”
“I agree,” said Bastila, “Both Davik and Calo Nord are very suspicious of us. We need to get out of here as quickly as possible.”
“Let’s go then,” said Carth, holstering his blaster pistols.
“Also I would appreciate it Matthias, If you didn’t touch me like that again,” said Bastila in an icy tone.
“What? Oh that. That was just… acting, miss Shan,” Matthias said with a grin. Bastila just stared icily at him.
“You should be flattered woman. Honestly, I don’t know what he sees in you,” remarked Canderous.
The most obvious place to begin their search was in the annex that Davik had deliberately steered them away from. A concentration of guards at a particular room was also somewhat of a clue. Using a Jedi mind trick, Bastila distracted the guards long enough for Matthias and Carth to knock them out.
The room was Davik’s ‘interrogation’ room. As they entered a pair of floating torture droids wheeled around and opened fire on them. As Bastila used her lightsaber to deflect the bolts, Canderous opened up with his rifle, shredding the droids into piles of burnt components.
Seeing that there was someone trapped inside a torture field, Bastila quickly moved to the control panel and deactivated the device; Matthias and Carth helped the man out. He was pale and shaking all over. After giving him some water and letting Bastila use some type of Force technique on him, he finally spoke up.
“Thank you for getting me out of that torture cage. I would’ve gone mad if I’d stayed in their much longer.” Looking directly at Matthias, he slipped a datapad out of his pocket and handed it to him.
“I used to be the pilot of Davik’s ship, the Ebon Hawk. Before he threw me in here that is. Damn stinking son of a Hutt. I get boarded one time by the Sith and this is how he repays my years of service? Well the hell with him. These are the codes to the security systems guarding the Hawk. You can steal it right out from under his nose! Ransom it back to Davik, sell it to the highest bidder, whatever you do, you’ll make thousands! I’d better get out of here before Davik finds out what happened here.” With that, the former pilot limped out of the room.
“We got we came for, let’s get going,” said Canderous gruffly.
As they left the room, Carth said, “That wasn’t so hard.”
“Don’t jinx it,” warned Matthias.
Five minutes later they entered a security anteroom on their way to the hangar that was filled with guards.
“You jinxed it!” hissed Matthias as they raised their weapons. Canderous opened up with his rifle again, cutting down six guards before they could fire their own weapons. Bastila leapt in to the heart of the fray, whirling and ducking, her lightsaber strobing twin streams of yellow light as she moved. Matthias nearly took a blaster bolt to the head because he was distracted by Bastila’s display. He admired the way she could weave in and out of the blaster bolts and how she expertly parried each volley against her. He knew that Jedi were good but he’d never seen one fighting up close before.
Recovering himself he leveled his rifle and blasted the last of Davik’s mercenaries before he could shoot Carth in the back.
“Let’s take care of that security,” said Matthias, accessing the single terminal in the room. He was not as good as Mission and not even close to T3’s slicing capabilities but after a few minutes he was able to log in.
“Now just to enter the codes…”
He tapped in the codes. The computer beeped and then returned to the main menu.
“The Ebon Hawk is ours! Hey, do you hear that?”
“Is that thunder?” asked Carth. A muffled booming sound was echoing from outside and sounded very much like thunder.
“That’s odd. It didn’t seem stormy when we arrived here,” said Bastila. As they listened, Matthias, Carth and Canderous’s faces began to grow taut with fear.
“That’s not thunder,” said Carth.
“Orbital bombardment!” exclaimed Matthias. Canderous spat out a curse in Mando’a.
“Let’s get that damn ship and get the hell out of here!”
They raced through the door. It was only a short run from the anteroom to the door of Davik’s private hangar. Unfortunately, just as they stepped through the heavy blast door, several things happened at once. Turbolaser blasts began striking very close to where they were standing, causing the building to shake to its foundations. At the same time, Davik and Calo entered the hangar from the opposite side. Davik was now wearing some glossy violet battle armor and had a large blaster strapped to his side.
“Damn those Sith! They’re bombing the whole planet! I knew they’d turn on us sooner or…” he trailed off as he noticed the four interlopers in the hangar. His face went from surprise to anger in seconds.
“Well, what do we have here? Thieves in the hangar?”
They were now facing each other across the hangar, only a few meters apart. Calo had not drawn his blasters but his hands moved ever so slightly towards the holsters and Matthias, Carth and Canderous were well aware of Calo’s speed.
“So you thought you’d just steal my ship for your get-away while the Sith turn the planet into dust Canderous? Sorry, but that ain’t gonna happen!” said Davik.
“You don’t pay me enough as it is to want to die with you old man!” spat Canderous, leveling his rifle.
“I’ll take care of them Davik,” said Calo, drawing his twin blasters, “I’ve been looking forward to this for a long time.”
“Make it quick Calo, the Sith mean business. If we don’t get to the ship and find somewhere safe, they’ll kill us all,” said Davik.
“Die you midget freak!” snarled Canderous as he opened up with the huge repeater.
“Cover me!” said Bastila, igniting her lightsaber with the familiar snap-hiss and leaping towards Davik and Calo. While Matthias and Carth fired at both of them, Bastila attacked Davik, whirling her saber staff to deflect his bolts. Davik paused, surprised at the appearance of the lightsaber and this was his undoing. Bastila pirouetted and the two halves of Davik’s blaster clattered to the floor. An expert blaster shot from Carth caused the old crime lord to sink to his knees, clutching at his arm.
Now that Davik was temporarily out of the fight, Bastila turned her attention to Calo, who was incredibly avoiding the blasterfire from Carth, Matthias and Canderous. With a simple tug of the force, Bastila disarmed the little man. Seeing his blasters tumble to the floor at the Jedi’s feet, Calo thrust a hand into his jacket and whipped out a silver orb, causing everyone in the hangar to freeze in their tracks. Calo’s face was as emotionless as ever as he placed his thumb on the trigger on the top of the orb.
“You may have me outnumbered and outgunned, but if I go down, I’m taking all of you with me. This thermal detonator will blow us all to bits.”
“Calo don’t be stupid, you’ll kill us both!” cried Davik in shock. At that moment a turbolaser blast struck close to the building causing the entire hangar to heave violently and bits of the ceiling to fall to the floor.
“Damn those Sith!” cursed Calo, “They’ll bring this whole hangar down around our ears!”
At that moment another turbolaser blast struck part of the building itself. Bastila, warned by the Force, turned, grabbed, Carth and Matthias and pulled them to the ground out of the way. Canderous simply dived aside. When the dust settled, the quartet got to their feet and surveyed the damage. Part of the hangar had indeed caved in.
Davik lay dead a few feet away, killed by a falling chunk of duracrete. Calo Nord was buried somewhere in the debris of the former roof. Another turbolaser volley struck to close for comfort, rattling the building and causing more debris to fall.
“Let’s leave now, I’d rather not join Davik and Calo here,” said Canderous. They didn’t need telling twice. They charged up the ramp of the Ebon Hawk. Inside the cockpit, Bastila and Carth seated themselves in the forward pilot seats. Carth’s hands were moving over the controls almost as fast as Bastila’s, moving through a routine that had become second nature.
The Hawk’s mighty twin engines roared to life. Repulsorlifts raised the light freighter off the deck and oriented it to face the open hangar.
“Hang on to something!” said Carth, ratcheting the throttle to full open. With a roar the Ebon Hawk soared out of the hangar and into the skies of Taris, skies that were now filled with ruby red turbolaser blasts, literally a rain of death.
The Bridge of the Leviathan was a flurry of activity. Admiral Karath strode along the central walkway, glancing at the officers on his left and right, making sure they were doing their jobs as efficiently as possible. There would be nothing less on the flagship of the Sith fleet, not while Lord Malak was on board.
Darth Malak was still standing exactly where the Admiral had left him, staring out the forward viewports, arms folded across his chest.
“Taris is defenseless against our assault Lord Malak. They are offering no resistance. The city is in ruins.”
Malak stared down at the world, feeling the disturbance in the Force caused by the death of the thousands below, his eyes burning with the bloodshot yellow of the Sith.
“Resume the bombardment Admiral. Wipe this pathetic planet from the face off the galaxy.”
The Sith cruisers opened fire once more, the turbolaser cannons mounted on their sides sending brilliant needles of ruby fire down through the atmosphere. Even from orbit, the flashes of impact could be seen.
Anaiya, Mission, Zaalbar and T3 watched in horror as Taris died around them. In the distance the turbolaser blasts rained down, destroying everything they hit. Artificial lakes were flash-boiled into steam in seconds. The glittering towers of the Upper City were torn to pieces, even the slightest grazing hit causing huge chunks of buildings to blow outward in fountains of superheated duracrete and twisted metal.
Dimly, Anaiya could hear screaming coming from all around her. She felt sick to her stomach, the death and destruction reverberating through the Force.
“We’re gonna die, we’re gonna die, we’re gonna die…” Mission kept saying over and over again, staring around her in shock, her lekku limp, and her eyes wide. Zaalbar roared and pointed to the north. Anaiya glanced up but couldn’t see anything because of the smoke.
“They aren’t coming and we’re all going to die,” whispered Mission, sinking to her knees. T3 wailed mournfully. Anaiya knelt and hugged Mission to her, laying one hand on her head.
“They will come Mission, I can feel it. I can feel Matthias and Bastila coming.”
And then she saw it. From out of the smoky haze, the Ebon Hawk came soaring down to them. The freighter pulled up to the roof, boarding ramp extending. Standing on the ramp was Matthias, who waved at them and shouted, “Come on!”
Zaalbar roared again and grabbed Mission. Warbling a Wookie battle cry, he leapt across the roof edge and onto the ramp. Anaiya was right behind him, landing with the gracefulness of a cat. T3 shot fro the roof edge as fast as his wheels would take him and, at the last second, activated his jump thrusters. Meant to maneuver him in microgravity situations, they nonetheless helped give him the boost he needed to get over the edge… but not quite all the way onto the ramp. The little droid let out a wild electronic shriek as he felt himself slipping backwards. Matthias leaned forward and grasped T3 by his saucer-shaped head.
“I got ya little guy, hang on!”
Pulling the astromech fully onto the ramp, they both went charging back up it. Matthias slapped the hatch seal and then ran for the cockpit.
“Carth get us out of here!”
The Ebon Hawk’s engines roared and the freighter shot into the sky. Higher it went, passing out of the atmosphere.
The Hawk continued its mad dash for freedom, speeding past the Sith cruisers that were busy directing fire at Taris and none of whose captains weren’t fool enough to break rank for one small freighter.
“Plot a course for Dantooine,” Bastila said to Carth, “There is a Jedi Enclave there where we can find sanctuary.”
An alarm wailed. Carth glanced towards the sensors and swore under his breath.
“Incoming fighters, a whole squadron!”
“Get to the gun turrets!” shouted Bastila, “You have to hold those fighters off until we get the hyperspace coordinates punched in and we get out of Taris’ gravity well!”
Matthias grabbed both Anaiya and Canderous on his way out of the cockpit to the aft control compartment behind the cockpit.
“Anaiya take the forward cannons. Canderous you take the missile launcher.”
“I don’t take orders from you!” said Canderous, but then sat down at the concussion missile launcher controls anyway. Matthias raced further back into the ship, through the main hold, past the infirmary and opposite that up a ladder to the Ebon Hawk’s large laser turret.
“Keep sharp, here they come!” said Anaiya’s voice over the ships speakers.
Outside the ship, a full squad of twelve Sith starfighters dived down on the Hawk, laser cannons strobing. Matthias swung the Hawk’s turret around and let loose with ship’s twin laser cannons. He destroyed one almost out of pure luck.
“I got one!”
“Great!” said Carth, “Don’t get cocky, there’s eleven more!”
“Picky, picky, picky,” grumbled Matthias as he fired some more.
Any fighters that drifted in front of the Hawk, trying to get away from the turret, found themselves under fire from the fixed forward guns and the occasional missile. At last there was only one fighter left, which kept dodging all their combined efforts.
“We’re ready for hyperspace. Kill that last fighter so we can get out of here!” said Anaiya. Matthias tried to get his crosshairs around the fighter, but it kept juking and weaving too much for him to get a lock
Matthias, use the Force. Let go of your feelings and act on instinct.
Let go Matthias.
Matthias drew in a deep breath and closed his eyes. He felt the rumbling of the ship as it was pounded with laser fire by the Sith fighter. He released the breath and opened his eyes. He swung the turret around as the fighter passed over the Hawk and fired. The fighter detonated in an expanding fireball that quickly snuffed itself out in the airless vacuum of space.
“Yeehaw!” he cried.
“One of the Sith cruisers is coming after us,” said Anaiya.
“Oh yeah? Let ‘em catch this!” said Carth, pulling back on the hyperdrive motivator actuator. The Ebon Hawk’s engines glowed bright and then it leapt forward with a burst of acceleration, vanishing into the sea of stars.