When a former Sith from the days of the Old Republic meets a bounty hunter in the New Republic, the galaxy may never be the same again. (Rated 'R' for brief nudity and implied sexual situations.)
Dark Jedi Order:
This is a story I've been wanting to write for years now. I've used different incarnations of my character, Shadow, in various forum RPGs and one or two other fanfics, but not the Shadow I originally created. I believe now that it's time for his story to be told. All characters appearing in the Star Wars movies are copyright George Lucas, and all characters appearing in the Expanded Universe novels or games are copyright their respective creators. The two main characters, however, are mine. I'd like to give a shout-out to Classic Cowboy for his input on this story, and of course many thanks indeed to Wookiepedia, the Star Wars Wiki, for helping me with timeline/technology issues.
/ /Darth Ranok jumped across the rooftops of Coruscant, holding a hand over the wound in his side. He had discovered a terrible truth about his master, a man he thought to be benign and loving, that would shake the entire foundation of the Galactic Republic. If the Sith Lord was allowed to continue unhindered, then freedom in the galaxy would become nothing more than a memory, replaced by tyranny, oppression, and persecution. He could sense his pursuer behind him, the raw animal power and instinct radiating from the individual almost overwhelming Ranok's other senses. As he darted from one building to the next, he thought back over his life and how he came to be in this predicament.
He was born J'Ral Mimbet, the youngest of five sons in one of Naboo's upper middle-class families. While his oldest brother followed their father's path and became an attorney, the other three joined the planetary security forces. J'Ral, however, had higher ambitions. He had a strong sense of justice and a passion for the freedom of the individual, and in his heart he knew that the best place to fight for those ideals was not in a local defense force, but in the Galactic Senate itself. Thus, he set out to insert himself into the political scene any way he could.
When he was twelve, he managed to acquire a low-level message courier's position in the Nubian embassy, determined to work his way into the higher echelons and hopefully on up into the political structure. Four years later, due to his hard work and diligence, he was on the managerial staff. There, he caught the eye of none other than Senator Palpatine himself, who had returned from the Core Worlds on a short period of leave from the Senate. He didn't know how at the time, but J'Ral had definitely made an impression on the Senator and jumped at the chance to be hired as one of Palpatine's personal aides. However, all was not as it seemed.
Over the first several months of taking his new job, he noticed oddities in the Senator. At first, he chalked them up to the eccentricities of of a politician, but, over time, that was dispelled. The final clue was when he saw Palpatine speaking to Chancellor Valorum and actually giving the Chancellor, his /superior/, instructions to be carried out. Even more surprisingly, the Chancellor agreed to the order, though seeming as if he wasn't truly aware; as though he was under the influence of a narcotic. J'Ral was, suffice to say, flabbergasted.
When he asked Palpatine about it later, the older man's kind expression twisted into one of cruelty and malice, as though he was a completely different person. "The Force can have a powerful effect on the weak-minded. The Chancellor won't even remember who it was that planted that idea into his head and will believe that it was his own."
"The Force....?" J'Ral's eyes went wide. "You're a Jedi? Why aren't you in the Temple with the others?"
"Not Jedi, my boy. I would never associate myself with such weak fools. I am Sith; a Master of the Dark Side of the Force."
"From what I know of the Sith, you have to kill me now."
Palpatine smiled. "Not at all, my boy. I fully expected you to discover my secret." Seeing his aide's confused expression, he explained his plan in more detail. "I am Darth Sidious. My own Master, Darth Plagueis, is dead at my hand. I am the Master now, and in need of an apprentice. When we met on Naboo, I felt how strongly the Force was with you and wondered how the Jedi missed you when you were born. But their loss is my gain; I brought you here to train you in the Dark Side. Become my apprentice, J'Ral, and together we will bring order to this galaxy!"
J'Ral felt as though his head was swimming. "But....the Senate keeps order...the Republic....."
"The Republic is corrupt!/" Palpatine's voice was now filled with anger. "The bureaucrats long ago removed any sort of efficiency from our government, and now we are mired in useless and harmful regulations and committees and exploratory groups that accomplish /nothing! All that has changed is that now the politicians are weak and frail, and seek additional power to bolster their own positions so as to hide those weaknesses. You have seen how easily I can manipulate Valorum, and he is the strongest of the lot! Even as things stand, with him under control I have the entire Senate under my influence, but it isn't enough! I have plans, young one, that will erase the corruption in the Senate and bring true leadership back to this galaxy, but one Sith, even one as powerful as I am, cannot do it alone. There must always be a Master and an Apprentice. Join me, and we will rule the galaxy as the Sith were always meant to!"
By now, J'Ral was totally disconnected from his body. He knew he was being manipulated, and probably had been subtly for months; he knew Palpatine was influencing him as he had Valorum by appealing to his sense of justice. The young Nubian tried to fight it, but his resolve was soon broken. The idea of a truly stable, peaceful, and orderly Republic was too tempting, too alluring for the youth to turn down. Reluctantly, he dropped to his knees and bowed his head. "I....I am yours to command....Master."
Palpatine laughed. It was an evil-sounding laugh; one which further proved to J'Ral he had made the wrong choice. But, at the same time, the choice felt so right/. Palpatine wasn't wrong about the corruption in the Senate; it was too large and too diverse for anything to get done. The entire galaxy knew that. But what he was proposing was the highest from of treason. And yet, perhaps it /was the only way to cleanse the Republic....
"I sense much doubt in you, my young apprentice," the Senator said. "It is to be expected, but most unwelcome. Purge the doubt from within you, and trust in my leadership, as all soon will." He closed his eyes and placed his hands on the young man's shoulders. "From this time on, J'Ral Mimbet does not exist. You will only respond to that name in public so that none will suspect your true identity as my Apprentice; the next generation of the Sith. Rise, Darth.....Ranok."
And so it began. The initial training to first make contact with the Force, then to harness it, then to control it was what the man now called Ranok found the most tedious. Sensing his apprentice's frustration, the elder Sith Lord imparted a few words of wisdom to him, handed down from Master to Apprentice since before the days of Darth Bane. "The Jedi believe that power comes through understanding, but the Sith know the truth of things - that understanding comes from /power/. Keep this in mind always, my young apprentice." And so he did.
As time went on, the training got more intense, but it also seemed to get easier. As he gradually learned to 'let go', as Sidious put it, of his inhibitions, his power increased. The stronger he got, the easier learning became; the easier the learning became, the more power he could acquire. It was a self-sustaining cycle - but also an addictive one.
One day, as Darth Ranok came out of his meditations, he found his master standing over him. He quickly shifted his position to kneel, but Sidious halted him with a gesture. "You have learned much, my apprentice," he said, "and now is the time for you to take your place among the Sith." From within his robes he produced a large black silk bag and a black wooden box.
"Master," Ranok said, rising to his feet, "what am I to do?"
Sidious said nothing. He placed the two items on a nearby table and headed for the door. Before he left, he turned his head towards Ranok. "Some materials you will have to gather for yourself as part of the test; I have given you the most important parts. Complete the task I have set for you. Then, and only then, will you be a Sith." The aging Dark Lord left his student alone again and quite confused.
Opening the box, Ranok discovered a well-worn, leather-bound book, and in the bag were various items, including power relays, connector circuits, and other electronic workings he had never seen before. But the strangest articles of them all were the two identical red crystals in the bottom of the bag. It was then that the Sith Apprentice knew what he was to to.
Construct his lightsaber.
The main problem was that Ranok had zero technical skills. I'm a filing clerk, not a mechanic/, he thought to himself as he looked over the diagram and instructions. /But I've got to make this work somehow. Master Sidious is depending on me to help restore order to the galaxy, and I /won't let him down./ Determined to please his Master and prove himself worthy, he decided to pass the test not once, but /twice/.
The next several days were spent gathering the few remaining parts needed, not the least of which was a pair hollow cylinders for the hilts, which in this case had to be cut and shaped from a sheet of metal then rolled into the proper form. He toiled almost endlessly, sparing little time for food or sleep. Time itself became almost meaningless for him; when he bothered to at all, he measured it by the progress of his weapons rather than the usual manner. It bothered him slightly that Lord Sidious had not even been in to check on his progress since he had left the materials, but he shook it off. /After all, he's a busy man, and I suspect that this trial is one to be undertaken in solitude/.
It was nearly two standard weeks before he was finished, and Ranok felt a rush of pride. Not only had he constructed two perfectly identical weapons, but they both /worked/. He was holding them in his hands, examining every detail and taking immense pride in his work, when Darth Sidious entered the room.
Ranok lowered himself to one knee, holding the weapons out for his Master to inspect. "I have finished the task, Lord Sidious. I hope you find them satisfactory."
Two pale, withered hands emerged from the black robe and took the lightsabers. They had been formed from perfectly-smooth, highly-polished durasteel; at the tip of each a black plasteel cowling covered the emitter, and a thick plasteel ring was attached to the base to help keep a firm grip on the weapons. To this same end, each was also wrapped in a coarse black rubber.
Sidious pressed the activator studs, almost totally concealed by the rubberized grip, and smiled as he saw the twin red blades emerge. "You have done well, my young apprentice. You exceeded my expectations and are ready to begin the next phase of your training." He deactivated the lightsabers and returned them to Ranok.
"Thank you, my Master," the younger man said, clipping them to his belt.
The next six years passed rather quickly. Darth Ranok found, at first, that the lightsabers were awkward to wield compared to the small vibroblades and holdout blasters that Senatorial aides typically carried for self-defense situations, and more than once wound up with a burn on his calf or thigh due to his concentration slipping. It took quite some time, but the young Sith eventually learned to use his weapons without being as much a danger to himself as his enemies.
Despite never learning to use the lightning power his Master seemed so fond of, Ranok had mastered virtually everything else. Telekinesis, basic telepathy, augmentation of physical abilities, and three of the classic forms of lightsaber combat, Shii-Cho, Soresu, and Djem So, were all available to him, and he was quite pleased with his progress. However, whether due to physical limitations or lack of total focus, Ranok found himself unable to learn the techniques of the more complicated forms. Despite this, he was able to blend together the three forms he knew and was more than a match for the training droids his Master periodically sent to test him. He finally felt ready to face the Trials which would prove him to be a Sith Lord rather than a mere Apprentice, and eagerly he went to Sidious' chambers to declare his intention.
He was surprised to find the door locked. /Lord Sidious always keeps this door open for me/, he thought. /Something must be wrong/. He thought about cutting the door open, but knew that that would have been too obvious to anyone passing by. Instead, he placed his hand on the wall above the keypad, closed his eyes, and grabbed onto the power eddies of the Force. In his mind's eye, he traced the circuits from the keypad to the mechanism which operated the door lock, situated above the door itself in an attempt to prevent anyone triggering it manually. Anyone, that is, that didn't have access to the Force and had learned more than a few things about electronic systems in the process of designing and constructing lightsabers.
A moment later, the keypad beeped and a green light briefly lit up. Smiling, Ranok pulled his attention back from the lock, entered his access code, and stepped into the room.
What he saw was the last thing he ever expected. Darth Sidious was standing before a holographic communications system; a half-meter tall 3D representation of a Nemoidian was projected on a small circular platform, and a camera above the image was capturing Sidious' cloaked form and sending it to the identical comm system at the other end of the transmission.
"Are your forces in place, Viceroy Gunray?" the Sith Lord asked.
The Nemoidian nodded. "Yes, my Lord. At your command, our battleships will depart for Naboo and begin the blockade."
"Is my involvement suspected by the rest of your colleagues?"
"No, Lord Sidious. Only the command crew of my flagship and the Federation Senator even know of your existence, and they have all been paid well for their secrecy. No other shall know that you have planned this attack."
"Splendid. I will contact you again shortly, when I have assured that the Senate is suitably occupied, and we shall put our plan into motion."
"By your command, my Lord." With that, the image winked out and Darth Sidious turned off the camera. He turned towards the door and smiled at his apprentice.
"You were not supposed to know of this. Do you know what must be done now?"
Ranok nodded. "I will have to go along with your plan or you will have to kill me."
"And believe me, my young apprentice, when I say that I harbor no intentions of killing you. But I will do what I have to do to ensure that my plans are not interfered with."
"Master," Ranok began, his hands trembling, "I cannot believe you are going to do this to your people..../our/ people! You know that the planet security forces aren't nearly strong enough to handle an invasion fleet; this will be a slaughter!"
Sidious laughed. "So, I take it you stand against me on this?"
Ranok shook his head. "I.....I know that order must be returned to the galaxy....but there must be another way than murdering our own people."
"It is for the greater good, my apprentice. I ask again, do you stand with me or against me?"
"I need......I need time to sort this out....." Ranok turned and fled into the corridors.
A hidden door opened in the side of the chamber and a tall, black-robed individual stepped over to stand by Sidious. "It appears you were correct, Master."
"All is as I have foreseen. Your Trial has begun." The tall man bowed and left the room the same way he had entered.
Meanwhile, Ranok had made it to the lower levels of the planet-city. His mind was racing with what he now knew. He ran down the main thoroughfare away from the heart of the city, angering street vendors as he leaped around and sometimes knocked over their carts. He ran for what had to be hours; the planet's sun was setting and the glowlamps situated along the street were beginning to light up, but he never stopped; his own energy reserves had been depleted and he was going on pure adrenaline and the Force. Sidious doesn't care about order or freedom; all /he wants is power! And he's willing to commit genocide to do it! I have to warn someone.....I have to..../ He skidded to a halt when a short, green-skinned figure in brown robes dropped in front of him.
"Powerful you are, young one," the figure said. "The Dark Side I sense in you."
Ranok's eyes went wide. "I know you! You're Yoda! Am I ever glad I met you!"
"So glad you may not be when to the Jedi Temple I take you."
The Sith shook his head. "No no no; you don't understand! I don't want to be part of this! I made a huge mistake!"
Yoda nodded. "Grave mistake indeed it is to join the Dark Side. But not too late is it for you. Sensed your presence, I did, and followed you. Malice, greed, hatred; in your heart these I cannot sense. But trouble; that I see plenty of. Too heavy a burden for you, the Dark Side?"
"Master Yoda, I need help! My Master is going to kill me; I know it! I won't follow his path anymore, and I know too much for him to let me go. I cannot face Darth Sidious alone and hope to live."
"If your enemy a Sith Lord is, in grave danger you are. To the Temple, follow me, and your story the Masters will hear." The diminutive Jedi leaped up onto a stairwell on the outside of a building and continued up to the roof, beckoning Ranok to follow before disappearing over the edge of the roof.
Before the young man could comply, however, a jolt of sensation struck his mind. Jumping to the right, he just barely dodged a rather large plasticrete block that had been aimed at his head and caused the few people on the street, mostly homeless beggars and low-class prostitutes, to quickly vacate the area. He turned to face his attacker, drawing but not igniting his lightsabers. "Who are you?" he demanded.
"I am Darth Maul, apprentice to Lord Sidious." His red-and-black tattooed face was partially covered by his hood, but his malicious grin and pointed, yellow teeth were plainly visible.
"There can be only two Sith, and I was the second!"
Maul smiled evilly. "No, you were the /test/. Every Sith must undergo a Trial as designated by his Master, and mine was to kill another Force-trained warrior in combat. Lord Sidious never had any intention of you becoming a Sith. You were merely a puppet, just like everyone else. You are too weak and soft-hearted to be Sith; even if you win, which you will not, Lord Sidious will destroy you himself and train a new apprentice. Prepare to meet your end, Ranok. But do not worry; your people will join you soon enough."
"That name has ceased to have meaning for me!" He activated his weapons. "The Sith have soiled this galaxy with their ways for far too long and I will have nothing more to do with them! /I am J'Ral Mimbet!!!!!/" He charged the Sith, lightsabers held before him in a combination of the Soresu high-guard and low-guard positions. Maul grinned, showing his pointed yellow teeth, and ignited his twin-bladed lightsaber.
On the rooftops above and several blocks away, Yoda could no longer sense his young companion. He gave thought to turning back, but there was an immense Dark Side aura surrounding the area where he had left the ex-Sith and he did not wish to get near it. For all his power and ability, Yoda feared the Dark Side and the power connected with it. He was aware of the irony of his own teachings, that fear was the path to the Dark Side, but it was something he had never been able to shake off. He knew that the young man would not be able to last long if he was engaging a Sith Lord, but he also knew that someone so powerful as to block most of his own perceptions of the area may be too powerful for any one Jedi to defeat; even a Master. Choosing to err on the side of caution, he continued towards the Jedi Temple to gather reinforcements.
Back on the street, J'Ral and Maul were engaged in combat. Maul was animal-like in his ferocity, and J'Ral was relying totally on his Soresu defensive skills just to keep himself alive. This, however, was taxing his already-weary body to the point of total exhaustion and left him no open avenue of attack. He knew that, if things remained as they were, he could not win against the technically-superior Juyo stylist, but also knew that an attempt to retreat would more than likely result in his own death. He had to think fast, which was not one of his strengths.
As his stamina began to fail him, he started to notice a glaring flaw in Maul's combat style - he enjoyed the fight and was doing his best to make it last. He's /worse than an animal/, J'Ral mused. He's a predator that kills not to survive, but simply because he enjoys the act of killing and wants it to go on as long as possible. There might be a way I can make that work to my advantage. He continued to block and parry the swift strikes of the two-bladed weapon, which was difficult even with two lightsabers at his disposal, until he spotted the fatal weakness in Maul's technique: his weapon.
J'Ral couldn't believe he hadn't spotted it before. The elongated handle of his enemy's lightsaber made a rather large target. In building it, all Maul was thinking of was how deadly a weapon it would be and not the glaringly-obvious weakness in the hilt. He did his best to conceal the fact that he'd gained, he hoped, a tactical advantage until such time as he could employ it, but he also knew he could not wait much longer due to his growing fatigue. Finally, he knew what he had to do. It's do-or-die time, and I am /not going to die!/ He let his anger at Sidious for his manipulation of the Senate, willingness to murder his own people, and for lying to him for nearly six years boil to the surface and let the Dark Side take him.
He jumped back and shifted his stance, rapidly switching from the defense-oriented Soresu to the aggressive Djem So. Lashing out with quick, violent strikes of his right hand, he smiled inwardly when Maul was forced into a defensive posture. He increased the force of his blows, twice making the Sith stumble backwards, and when he saw Maul was unprepared, he made his move.
Feinting high with his right hand, he made his opponent raise his weapon diagonally and lashed out with a backhanded swipe of his left-hand lightsaber, cleaving the twin-bladed saber in two and causing one side to fizzle out. He moved in for another strike, but Maul leaped over him, and only by whirling rapidly did he manage to block the blow which would have pierced his back.
By now, Maul had ceased to think. He had been outmaneuvered and his weapon, a work of art so carefully and painstakingly constructed based on the designs of Exar Kun, had almost been destroyed by a mere child in the ways of the Force. He was beyond angry; before, he was going to kill this man because it was his duty. Now, it was personal. He continued with the rapid strikes of his lightsaber, though his concentration had been broken.
J'Ral had Maul where he wanted him, and he knew it. This caused him to make his critical mistake: he got arrogant. He was making more flamboyant moves and had a cocky grin on his face, showing Maul that he/ knew/ he was beaten and it was just a matter of time before the tattooed warrior was dead./ /He pressed his attack, driving the Sith against the wall of a building and making a show of twirling his blades before lunging forward with both, attempting to spear his opponent. It was a mistake which would cost him dearly.
His moment of flourish with the lightsabers gave Maul enough time to see the attack coming. The Sith leaped to the side and struck horizontally with his blade, slicing into J'Ral's left side. Screaming in pain, the young warrior dropped to one knee and was barely able to block an overhead strike. He scrambled to his feet and Maul kept coming. In desperation, he shut down his weapons and clipped them back onto his belt, then pushed outward with the Force, sending the battle-weary Maul off-balance for a second, which was time enough for the wounded man to summon his last bit of strength and leap to a rooftop. He hopped from one to another, all the while holding his left side. Thankfully, the blade had cauterized the wound so there was no blood, but it still hurt worse than anything he'd felt in his life. Only the Force, and the sight of the Jedi Temple on the horizon, kept him going, though this would not last forever.
Maul was searching for him; he could feel the mental probes of the other warrior reaching out for him. J'Ral did his best to fend them off, but his wound and exhaustion were making it hard to concentrate. Eventually, his concentration totally failed him and his last leap came up short. He struck his head on the edge of a building and bounced off, landing face-first in an alley less than two blocks from the Temple. He tried to get up, but he could no longer feel his legs or arms and he knew his adversary was closing. He had all but resigned himself to death when he felt four strong arms lifting him up.
"Found him in time, we have," the unmistakable voice of Yoda said. "Get him to the medical facilities you and Obi-Wan must, Master Qui-Gon. Wait for this Sith, Master Windu and I will." That was the last J'Ral heard before losing consciousness.
When he awoke, he was in a dimly-lit room being attended by a young woman in a plain gray jumpsuit. Her bright-red hair, a contrast to her pale skin, was pulled back into an immaculate bun and her green eyes sparkled with intelligence. She smiled when she saw his eyes open. "I see you're finally awake. You've been out since those Jedi brought you in three days ago."
J'Ral's eyes shot open. "Three days??? I have to get to the Temple...have to warn...." he started to sit up, but found himself immobile below the neck.
The nurse smirked. "That would be the restraining field. It's necessary while your wound heals. Oh, I'm sorry; I didn't properly introduce myself. My name's Aryn Katarn."
"I wish our meeting could be under better circumstances. Have the Jedi been here since they left me here? For that matter, where is here, anyway?"
Aryn smiled again, something he found he could get used to. "No, they have not returned, but they did leave instructions that I was to report when you regained consciousness. As for where you are, this is a medical facility hidden beneath of the rocks that form the asteroid belt called the Covey, between Improcco and Nabatu."
"Never heard of any facilities being here."
"Few have. The Jedi built it more than a century ago in the event that their own medical facilities were unreachable or too full to handle casualties. I'm the only person in the entire facility right now. I've been here for eight years, and you're the first patient I've ever treated." She paused. "Master Jinn told me what you are, or rather were. I don't know much about the Sith, but I doubt you could be one. I'm not strong enough to be a Jedi, but I am sensitive to the Force, and I just can't sense any evil intentions in you."
J'Ral smirked. "Master Yoda said the same thing when we met on Coruscant right before I got jumped."
"With the kind of training you'd need to have to learn to use two lightsabers, I'd hate to run into someone that could get the jump on /you/. Who was it, anyway?"
"His name was...." J'Ral raised an eyebrow. "You know, I can't remember much about the fight; not even who was fighting or why. Just that he seemed more animal than man, and that he was trying to prevent me from telling something.....I can remember my training, my name, where I'm from, and everything else, but not who trained me or why."
Aryn nodded. "Master Jinn said you hit your head before they could get to you. You've obviously damaged some of your memory centers. It might clear up in time."
"How much time?"
She shrugged. "Hard to tell. Memory is a funny thing; it could come back in five minutes, an hour, tomorrow, or never. In the meantime, you should get some rest. The restraining field will be removed tomorrow morning if that cut has healed properly. I had to surgically reconstruct the muscle tissue, but fortunately, it was pretty shallow and didn't damage your organs." She got up and went to the door, using a knob on the wall to dim the glow-panels in the ceiling even further. "I've got to tell Master Jinn that you're awake and get some sleep myself. I'll be back to check on you in the morning." She smiled one last time before leaving the room, the door shutting behind her.
J'Ral sighed. /I hope I can remember what I was doing soon/, he thought. /I have a feeling that something terrible will happen if I don't/. It took him a long while, but he eventually drifted into a troubled sleep.
"I have failed you, Master," Darth Maul said, kneeling before the robed form of Darth Sidious. "The target escaped alive. The Jedi took him away and I have scoured the city without finding a trace of him."
"Apparently I underestimated his abilities. He almost defeated you, Lord Maul. Nevertheless, had the Jedi not interfered you would have killed him. You have proven yourself worthy of being called a Sith Lord." His apprentice bowed his head. "Go. Rebuild your weapon. You will need it for the task ahead." Maul rose, bowed one final time, then left the chamber."
When he was alone, Sidious smiled. "It will be an interesting sight if those two meet again. They now harbor a deep hatred for each other and any conflict will surely end at least one of their lives. This Trial is not over; it has merely begun."
"Really, Master," an elderly, short-bearded man said, stepping out of another hidden alcove in the room. "This is most unnecessary. The child and the animal may prove interesting distractions, but they are brutish, unrefined, and immature. We both know that only I am worthy of being called a Sith."
Sidious cackled. "Have patience, Lord Tyranus. They both will have their uses in the future, but it is you that will stand by my side in the New Order we will bring about." The man formerly named Count Dooku bowed and left the room, and Sidious kept smiling to himself.
None of them are any the wiser, as it should be, he thought as he sat in the chair behind his desk. The one who will be the next Sith will soon be in my grasp, and he will help me reshape the galaxy. All is as I have foreseen. He leaned back in the chair, his face changing from the wrinkled, twisted image of Sidious into the wise, fatherly one of Palpatine, and looked out at the stars in the night sky, knowing that from one of them would come the most powerful of them all.
The next day proved to be an interesting one for J'Ral. The immobilization field had been shut off, and he quickly realized that it not only kept him from moving, but also acted to suppress the pain from his injury. An injection from Aryn served to dull the pain well enough for him to get around, though he could not help but comment on how strange his left side felt.
"That's the synthflesh I used to repair the cut until your regular skin can grow back." his nurse replied. "Sadly, even with new medicines that stimulate the growth of new tissue, that could take several days, maybe even a couple of weeks. Master Jinn said that you're to stay here until your memory returns, so you may have ample time to recover."
J'Ral sighed, pulled himself out of the bed, and reached for his boots.
"Where are you going?" Aryn asked.
"As long as I'm going to be stuck here, I might as well get to know the place."
The nurse sighed. "I may not be very strong in the Force, but even I can tell that you're in no shape to be walking around. If you insist on leaving this room, I'm going to have to insist on a hoverchair."
"No point in arguing, is there?"
"Not as long as I have the controls to that restraining field there's not."
He rolled his eyes in defeat. "Alright. Have it your way."
Aryn smiled, and J'Ral realized it was something he thought he could get used to. She left the room and returned a moment later with what looked like a repulsorlift cargo hauler with an armchair bolted to it and a control panel sticking up in the front. "It's not state-of-the-art, but it gets the job done. Cobbled it together over my first few months here."
"You're a doctor and a mechanic?" J'Ral said as he climbed into the makeshift hoverchair
"It was my first job at the Jedi Temple. I was in charge of maintaining the speeders, Delta-Sixes, and whatever else they decided to cram into that hangar. Somehow, I ended up with enough spare time to study medicine and nursing - something needed quite often when Jedi are training - and when it came time to rotate the duty shift, I was at the top of the nursing staff's list to be put out here." She smirked. "I'm still not sure if it was a compliment or not, but it left me with plenty of free time. Until you came along, that is."
J'Ral smiled. "Can't be bored all the time. Now, where can you get something to eat around this place?"
Yoda, Qui-Gon Jinn, Obi-Wan Kenobi, and Mace Windu sat in the Jedi Council chamber discussing the events of the last few days.
"For several years now," Windu began, "I have been sensing a growing Dark Side presence in my meditations. But I was unable to pinpoint a location, and it was faint enough that I assumed it was in another part of the galaxy. I never would have thought it was emanating from the city."
Yoda nodded. "Blind have we become to have not seen this. Under our gaze a Sith has been trained, and powerless we were to detect it."
Qui-Gon spoke up. "Is it possible that our own ability to use the Force has diminished?"
"No; I do not believe that can be the case."
"Hard to see, the Dark Side is. Clouded our perceptions, perhaps the Sith have."
"I'm not sure of that, either." Mace said.
"Then what do you think it is?" Qui-Gon replied, his usual lack of patience with the Council starting to assert itself.
Before Mace could answer, Yoda asked, "Young Obi-Wan. Something to say, have you?"
Obi-Wan was startled and it took him a moment to regain his composure. "It is not my place to speak. I am only a Padawan."
"Rank matters not. Jedi you are. Invited you to speak, I have."
The young man took a deep breath. "I know I'm not as in tune with the Living Force as the Council is, but while we were out there, I felt something."
"What did you feel, my Padawan?" Qui-Gon asked.
Obi-Wan shook his head. "I don't know. It wasn't like anything I'd felt before. If I had to put a name to it.....I would call it the Dark Side."
"From the one we rescued, you mean?" Mace asked,
"No; he felt different than this. It was almost....if I may be blunt, Master Windu, it was almost pure /evil/. Powerful, but terrifying."
"And where did you sense this?" Qui-Gon asked.
"It seemed like it was coming from the heart of the Senatorial District."
"Disturbing, this is. If the Dark Side Obi-Wan sensed so strongly, and so close to the Senate, more dangerous this is than a simple Sith, I fear."
"Indeed," Mace added. "If the corruption has spread to the Senate, it could be disastrous for the entire Republic."
"To no-one else speak of this can you or your student, Master Qui-Gon. If known it is that we could not see a Sith so close at hand, faith in the Jedi would the Republic lose. Now, rest, you must. Fear there will soon be things to be done, I do.""
Qui-Gon and Obi-Wan bowed, then left the room.
"Something you are not saying there is, Master Windu."
"It bothers me that the Sith pursuing J'Ral gave up on him so easily."
Yoda nodded. "Wish to engage us, perhaps he did not. Hidden, the Sith prefer to be. Out in the open, vulnerable they are."
Mace stood up. "I am going to meditate on these events and see what answers I can find in the Force."
"Visit with the Younglings, I will. Present it as hypothetical, I can."
The taller Master smiled. "You have as much faith in the minds of children as you do the Force."
"More, on some days. Interfered with the Force can be, but a child's mind can continue to provide insights."
Over the next few weeks, J'Ral and Aryn grew closer than just nurse and patient. He having no acquaintances, or at least none that he could remember, and her being isolated for nearly a decade, they were quick to become friends. She moved him from the observation room into one of the unused staff quarters, which he found infinitely more comfortable, and they began taking their meals together. Over the course of their many dinner conversations, he learned that, due to being so weak with the Force, she was passed over as a Jedi candidate as an infant, but she was always fascinated by the Jedi Order and when she got older went to work for them as a mechanic. She laughed when he said she must be very talented to be entrusted with such responsibilities at such a young age.
"I'm actually about ten years older than you," she said.
"But you look about ten years /younger/."
She smiled, and he found himself liking it more and more as time went on. "The Force can have a powerful effect on the aging process. I'm not strong enough to be a Jedi, but some of the Adepts in the Temple taught me a few basic tricks. Certain meditation techniques and healing trances have a side-effect of slowing down aging. That's probably how Yoda managed to live for almost nine hundred years."
She's as witty as she is beautiful, J'Ral found himself thinking. He found himself lost in her eyes; the radiant, emerald-hued irises seemed to sparkle with a life of their own, almost as if they held a miniature galaxy within them.
He was snapped out of his daze by Aryn waving her hand in front of his face. "Are you alright?" she asked, concern filling her voice.
"Uh, yeah; I'm fine," he replied, taking a sip from his water glass. What happened to me just now? he wondered.
"Good. I'd hate for you to miss out on this." She got up from the table and opened a cabinet on the other side of the room, returning with a tall glass bottle.
J'Ral raised an eyebrow. "What's that?" he asked.
"The last nurse that worked here," she replied, fetching two glasses from another cabinet, "was quite fond of alcohol, which is probably why she's not here anymore. I've been curious as to what this tastes like, but never had the courage to try it until now."
"That's nice," J'Ral said, watching as she pulled the cork from the bottle. "But what is it?"
"It's....." Aryn squinted, trying to make out the time-faded wording on the bottle, "it's....." she sniffed the cork, as if trying to determine what is was by scent, "it's green." she said, pouring some into her glass.
"Wonderful," her patient/guest commented as she filled his glass. "We could be drinking reactor coolant for all we know." He took a small sip of the liquid and flinched. "Whatever it is, it's got kick." He looked up just in time to see her toss back her entire glass of the stuff. "Wait..!"
But it was too late. The fiery liquid passed over her tongue, down her throat, and into her stomach, seemingly burning every inch of flesh and muscle along the way. Her eyes went wide, and she began coughing violently.
"I tried to warn you..." J'Ral said. When her coughing fit was over, Aryn filled her glass again. "Glutton for punishment, aren't you?"
"I must be to keep you around this long," she said before downing the glass again. Sighing in resignation, J'Ral sipped at his own drink, trying his level best to not get as drunk as his hostess obviously was going to be.
Two hours and twelve glasses later, he realized he'd failed, but also that he'd ceased to care. The two had moved into the lounge area and were reclining on the long couch in the middle of the room. Aryn had removed the long-sleeved blue shirt she'd been wearing, leaving her only in a tight gray tank top. Even in his inebriated state, J'Ral found himself admiring the curve and shape of her body.
"I'd....I'd better get to bed," Aryn said after a long silence. She tried to stand up, but her legs wouldn't cooperate. She staggered for a bit before falling back into the couch.
"Maybe I should give you a hand....." the ex-Sith said, standing with somewhat better success than the nurse had. He helped her to her feet, and, leaning on each other, they managed to stumble their way into the residential wing of the medical complex.
Fumbling with the keypad for a few minutes, J'Ral managed to get Aryn's door open and help her inside. They stumbled inside, forgetting to turn on the lights, and fumbled around in the dark until they fell onto her bed. They laid there for a moment, staring at each other in the small square of light that came from the reading lamp bolted to the bed frame.
"Maybe....maybe I should go....." J'Ral said after a long, awkward silence.
Aryn shook her head and put an arm over his shoulder. "No; stay with me. I.....I've been so lonely....." She slowly drew closer to him. "You're the....the first real p-person I've had to talk to in years. Before y-you came here, the only conversation I had was a monthly status report to someone at the Temple. And never the s-same person twice." Her alcohol-fogged brain was making conversation difficult, so she quit trying. "Just.....just hold me." she said finally, tears in her eyes.
J'Ral did as he was asked. He pulled her close, ignoring the smell of the alcohol on her breath and basking in the warmth of her body. She nuzzled into his neck and started running her hand along his arm. He responded by stroking her soft cheek with his calloused fingers. These innocent, comforting gestures soon gave way to more intimate ones, however, when J'Ral's hand wandered from Aryn's face and down her neck to her shoulder, where he slid one strap of her top out of the way.
"Are....are you sure we should be doing this?" she asked, her head swimming from the alcohol and the closeness of the man next to her. "I mean.....attachment is forbidden to a Jedi...."
He half-grinned. "I'm not a Jedi. I can 'attach' all I want." He dipped his head in and kissed her, briefly, on the cheek. She smiled, returned the gesture, and then gave him a quick peck on the lips. "Are we going to get any sleep tonight?" he asked.
Aryn sat up, flipped J'Ral onto his back, and straddled his hips. "This good enough an answer for you?" she asked before pulling her top over her head, letting her breasts bounce free. He nodded weakly, and she grinned. "Good," she said before lowering herself down to give him a passionate kiss.
The next morning, Aryn woke up with a pounding headache. What did I do last night....? She looked over at the sleeping man next to her and smiled. That's right..... she thought. I hope he isn't too upset when he wakes up.
/ /A few minutes later, she got her answer. J'Ral groaned and sat up, clutching his head. He glanced over at Aryn, whose upper body was completely visible. "Did we....?" She nodded. "You going to kill me?" She shook her head. "Why not?"
"Because," she said, cuddling up to him, "it was something we both needed."
"We were /drunk/. We would have slept with tauntauns."
Aryn raised an eyebrow. "Comparing me to a beast of burden now?"
J'Ral shook his head, an act he instantly regretted. "No; no, of course not. I'm just saying we probably wouldn't have done that if we'd been in our right minds."
Grinning, Aryn cast the sheets away from her body. "You're in your right mind now; can you look at this and tell me you wouldn't do it again?"
"Not truthfully, no."
"Then why treat it as a mistake? I've been alone for a long time, J'Ral. You're the first guy who's even shown any /interest /in me, and certainly the first I ever allowed into my bed. And from what you've told me, you didn't exactly have women beating a path to your door."
"No, but that doesn't change the fact that I took advantage of you last night."
"I took advantage of you just as much as you did me. It's something we both wanted. I can sense that much. But more than that, we needed this closeness; this intimacy. I'm not going to say that I love you or expect you to say as much to me, but there's absolutely no reason that we can't enjoy what we have here. You said it yourself - until your memory comes back, you're of no use to the Jedi, and they fear the very fact that you've been to the Dark Side; otherwise, they'd have kept you at the Temple instead of dumping you here."
"They're obviously not worried about me killing you. Either you don't matter to them, or there's something you're not telling me about this place."
"Well, there are a dozen droidekas in one of the lower levels that can be deployed as a security force, but they've never been used, and I know you'll never give me cause to activate them."
"But they're here all the same. That shows just how much 'trust' the Jedi have in me." He sighed. "Why you trust me I can't figure out."
"Because," she laid a hand on his arm, "unlike the Jedi, I try to look deeper into a person. Their view of someone's personality is based as much on hunches as anything else. I'm fairly sure that if Chancellor Valorum turned out to be a Rancor in disguise, they'd be as shocked as anyone else." This elicited a chuckle from J'Ral. "I've been watching you since you arrived, and you haven't even touched those lightsabers of yours since we moved you out of the observation room."
"I could just be playing you for the fool and biding my time."
"Yeah; and I'm an Alderaanian Princess."
Now it was J'Ral's turn to grin. "If you say so, Your Highness. But don't expect to call me your consort or anything."
She shook her head slowly. "Never. This Princess is destined to become a Queen, and every Queen needs a King." She kissed him again, and the two lovers became so lost in their passions that all thoughts of the Jedi, the Sith, and their isolation were forgotten.
Yoda sighed as he came out of his meditation. He left his private rooms and headed for the Council Chamber, where he found Qui-Gon Jinn waiting for him.
"Sensed it, have you?"
"Faintly, but yes."
"Feared this would happen, I did. Too long was she isolated there, and have the disciplines of the Jedi, he does not."
"I do not see what reason there was to exile him there. He's obviously not a Sith, and probably never truly was. I felt the Dark Side within him, but no evil. I believe you overreacted, if I may be honest."
Yoda chuckled. "Expect anything else from you I would not. Perhaps overreact I did, but done the damage is." He sat in his specially-molded chair. "If we remove him now, great pain it would cause them both. But leaving them together....worse could happen, I fear."
"You mean the fact that they are both sensitive to the Force?"
"I do. A powerful child, that would be."
"Perhaps the Chosen One of the prophecy?"
"Overly fond of that prophecy, you are. Know that, we can not. But made, the decision must be."
"I do not see the harm in letting them stay together. He is not a Jedi and not bound by our rules. It would be tantamount to telling someone on the street that he could not have a wife or children. We cannot impose our ways upon those who are not part of the Order. You know that as well as I do."
"Make him a Jedi, you suggest? Force him to follow the rules?"
Qui-Gon shook his head. "No; that would be a bad idea. He is far too old to truly embrace our ways. Even if he didn't return to the Dark Side, he would leave the Order and would be numbered among the Lost." He felt saddened whenever he thought of the great bronzium statues in the Temple that were carved in the likenesses of those who had left the Jedi Order in the past.
"But leave one trained in the Dark Side unchecked, we can not."
"I do not believe him to be a threat. He has shown no aggressive behavior and has barely used the Force."
"Due to his lack of memory, that may be."
"It is most likely not. He spoke to you of something terrible his former Master was going to do that he wanted no part of. That says to me that he is not evil at heart. A Sith will do anything to acquire power, and reluctance to take part in this act - whatever it is - speaks of a pure heart and a strong conscience."
"A Sith he is too good to be; agree with you on that, I do. And agree do I also that trained as a Jedi he cannot be. But faced with a problem such as this no known Jedi ever has, and less than enlightening my own attempts at communing with the Force have been." He paused. "Leave this in your hands, I will. Abide by your decision will Master Windu and I."
"I understand, Master Yoda." Qui-Gon stood and bowed. "It is my opinion that J'Ral and Aryn should be left alone. He will not harm her, and he will be safe from the Sith."
"Quarantined, should the facility be?"
Qui-Gon shook his head. "No; that would be harmful to them both in the long run. Let them run the complex together. This man has had most of his life stolen from him by the Sith. It is my belief that we should give him back as much of it as possible. He has little past now; give him a future."
Yoda nodded. "Of great importance to the Jedi is repairing damage done by the Sith. Agree with you, I do."
"You seem to be doing that a lot today. Is it something I can start getting used to?"
Yoda frowned. "No. Wise you may be, Master Qui-Gon, but it is that attitude that keeps you from being on the Council."
"I have been told as much before. I thank you for asking my advice on this matter, Master Yoda." With that, he left the room.
"Hope you know what you have committed us to I do, Master Qui-Gon."
A little over a month later, Darth Tyranus strode into his Master's chamber, kneeling before the black-robed Sith Lord. "Lord Sidious," he began. "I have received a transmission from the Trade Federation. The blockade of Naboo is over, Viceroy Gunray has been arrested, and Maul has been killed by the Jedi."
"I know this. It was no less than I expected."
Tyranus was confused. "I thought the blockade was your first step to achieving your victory over the Jedi."
"And so it was. But it was also merely a feint to put me in a position for the real attack. Surely a Makashi master can understand the wisdom of such a tactic." Tyranus nodded. "And look around you - to you, I may be Darth Sidious, Dark Lord of the Sith and Master of the Dark Side, but to the rest of the galaxy, I am simple old Palpatine of Naboo, former Senator and recently-elected Supreme Chancellor of the Galactic Senate; a kind, wise, fatherly old man who loves justice and democracy over all else. I am in the perfect position for what we have planned." He stood and straightened his robes. "The time has come to begin your 'Separatist' movement. I have already made contact with the Trade Federation on your behalf. Use their influence to gather more support, and I will ensure that Viceroy Gunray returns to lead the Federation."
"Gunray is an imbecile. Surely there is another Nemoidian who could lead them with better results?"
Sidious nodded. "Nute Gunray is as clumsy as he is stupid, and for that reason he is the perfect figurehead leader for the Trade Federation. His greed for money and power will keep him loyal until the end, and his lack of true vision will keep him from doing anything we don't want him to."
"I understand, Lord Sidious. Forgive my impertinence."
"Think nothing of it. You were merely concerned for our grand design, and I commend you for that. Maul followed orders as blindly as Gunray does, and look what happened to /him/." He pulled a datapad out of his desk and handed it to the other man. "Take this to Geonosis and ask to speak with the Archduke, Poggle the Lesser. Tell him of the 'great corruption' of the Senate, and he will listen. The Geonosians will be one of our strongest allies in the war to come."
Tyranus bowed. "As you wish, my Master."
"Before you leave," Palpatine said, "has Master Syfo-Dias done his part?"
"I made sure of it before I killed him, Master. The Kaminoans know nothing of our involvement, and I have chosen a genetic donor for the army that cannot be traced back to us."
"Good. Your ship is waiting in the hangar." He grinned evilly. "And 'may the Force be with you'."
Tyranus returned the grin and strode from the room.
"And now, there is but one thing to deal with. Your usefulness long ago came to an end, Lord Ranok." He pressed a button on his desk. "Send for the Senator from the Trade Federation. He and I have much to discuss."
An hour later, the Senator had come and gone, and Sidious held in his hand a small but powerful controller device. "The Jedi thought that their medical facility was secure, but nothing can be hidden from a Sith." He entered the appropriate override commands into the controller, then leaned back in his chair. "I only wish I could see his destruction with my own eyes."
J'Ral and Aryn sat on the couch in the lounge after their morning meal. The former Sith still wasn't sure what he'd done right to deserve such a woman as his companion, but he certainly wasn't complaining. The last few weeks had been more wonderful than anything he'd ever felt. Or, at least, could remember feeling.
"So," the redhead asked for what had to be the fifteenth time that week, cuddling up to her lover, "no regrets?"
He smiled and put an arm over her shoulders. "How many times do I have to say it? No regrets. Even if I'm doomed to spend the rest of my life as a prisoner here, I couldn't ask for a better cellmate."
They stayed that way for the better part of the morning, reveling in each other's company and the sense that they were no longer alone.
"Listen, J'Ral," Aryn began. "I ran some tests this morning, and I have to tell you something...." she was interrupted, however, when an alarm klaxon echoed throughout the complex. Jumping up from the couch and checking a wall monitor, Aryn clapped a hand over her mouth.
"What is it?" J'Ral asked, moving to join her.
"The security systems have been activated; energy shields around the asteroid, anti-personnel gun emplacements and......"
"And the droidekas." J'Ral finished.
She nodded. "They've already been moved to a lift that will bring them straight to this level and will be fully activated by the time they get here."
He snarled. "Looks like the Jedi decided to get rid of me."
Aryn tapped a few commands into the keypad. "No; no, this signal isn't coming from the Temple. I can't lock it down, but it looks like it's coming from the Senatorial district."
A jolt of memory came back to him, and J'Ral knew who had activated the droids, though how he'd done it was another question entirely. "We don't have much time. Go up to the hangar bay and get the shuttle prepped for takeoff. I'll join you as soon as I can."
"What are you going to do?"
He did not answer right away. Instead, he took off down the hall to his quarters and returned buckling his black Bantha-leather belt around his waist. A lightsaber hung on either side. "I'm going to buy you the time you need. And besides, someone has to shut own that energy shield before we can get out of here."
She clutched his arm. "Don't! I've heard what these droidekas can do! Even the strongest Jedi are unwilling to face even one of them, much less a /dozen!/"
"As I've stated before, I'm not a Jedi. And I'm not going to die." He kissed her on the lips. "I've got this beautiful redhead waiting for me to come back to her, and I'm not going to miss out on that. Now go; the droids will be here in a minute." She nodded, kissed him one last time, and got into the small turbolift at the back of the room.
J'Ral ignited his lightsabers, twirled the twin red blades a few times, and waited. A minute later, he heard the lift mechanism reaching the end of its journey, a large door opening, and the unmistakable sound of droidekas in their wheel formation rolling down the corridors.
As they rounded the corner and their sensors locked onto him, they uncurled into their attack posture, quad-blasters charged and deflector shields deployed. Looks like the Jedi spare no expense when it comes to security. J'Ral mused as the three destroyers in the lead opened fire.
He deflected the crimson bolts one after another, some splashing harmlessly against the shields of the droids and others burning holes in the walls, ceiling, and floor of the room. The leading trio he could handle; it was the other nine that concerned him. Once they can fan out and cover the entire room, I'm history. He went over the floor plan of the facility in the back of his mind. I'm on Level Six now; if I can manage to get them to follow me down to the power junction on One, I just might be able to trick them into following me beyond the blast doors. Then all I'd have to do is slip past them, seal the doors, then get to the security station on Three and take down the shield. After that, it's just a matter of getting to the hangar on Nine. Simple.
/ /Slowly, he began giving up ground to the droids as he tried to maneuver his way to the auxiliary turbolift. /It'd take too much time for the main one to come back from Nine. The backup lift is slower going down, but I could probably still beat the droids down there/. With one last burst of energy, he jumped sideways into the thankfully-open doorway and onto the floor of the lift. The droidekas needed time to reposition themselves to fire at him again, and that time was all he needed to slam the door shut and punch in his destination. Two blaster bolts slammed through the door and into the wall above his head a few seconds after the lift started.
"That was too close," he said, deactivating his weapons. When the lift reached the bottom of the shaft, the door lifted open again and he darted out into the dimly-lit corridors of Level One.
Despite the confusing layout of the lower levels, it didn't take him long to find the door to the power junction station. It is, after all, rather hard to miss a twelve-meter-by-five-meter durasteel blast door. In the distance, he heard the whine of the cargo lift that was bringing the droidekas to hunt him again. Gotta work fast, he thought, racing to the control panel. Unfortunately, as soon as he pressed the switch to open the door, the message "ACCESS DENIED - AUTENTICATION CODE REQUIRED" appeared in bold red letters on the screen.
"If it's not one thing it's another....." he muttered. He heard the lift getting closer. He placed his hand above the panel and traced the conduits and circuits through the Force. It took what seemed like an eternity, but he found the release switch. There's something oddly familiar about this, but I can't place it. No time to worry about that now, though. He triggered the release, and the blast door snapped over with surprising speed. Beyond it was a room big enough to hold several large maintenance carts, with another blast door behind it. The junction is on the other side. Perfect. I won't have to worry about them trying to blast their way out and accidentally knocking out the power. The /last thing I'd need would be for gravity and life support to fail before I could get to the security station./
He heard the lift grind to a halt, followed once more by the ominous sound of droidekas rolling along the metal floor. Acting quickly, he dashed into the room and leaped straight up, grabbing onto the slats of a large air vent for support. A moment later, the twelve deadly destroyer droids rolled into the chamber and deployed their defenses.
The sensor domes on their heads swiveled back and forth, trying to locate him. Luckily for J'Ral, the artificial intelligence of even the top-of-the-line droidekas was limited, and their confusion was his best weapon at the moment. He waited until the last one had crossed the threshold, then dropped to the floor behind them and darted to the control panel. Once again, the mobility, or, rather, lack thereof, of the destroyers was on his side. As they tried to turn around to fire on him, their deflector shields slid against one another, causing friction which slowed most down and kept the rest totally immobile.
That bought the ex-Sith all the time he needed. Reaching into the conduits again, he triggered the release mechanism and the massive door snapped shut. He didn't even bother with seeing if the door would hold; he gathered all the Force energy he could and poured it into his legs. He raced for the massive cargo lift that carried the droids down. Before he got halfway there, he could hear the echoes of blasterfire behind him. I hope they're firing at the door I shut instead of the one protecting the power junction, he thought as he raced down the corridors. He stepped onto the lift and slammed his palm against the activation switch. The door closed and the platform began to move. Two floors up, he stopped the lift and stepped out.
Only to be confronted with a motion-sensor laser grid. Great. If I cross any of those, I'll either set off alarms that will lock down the security controls, or I'll be blown to bits. And I don't have the time to shut down all of these lasers; for all I know, those droids have made it through the blast door and are finding another way up here.
He mulled the situation over for a few short but agonizing minutes until a solution presented itself. He saw the control panel for the lasers on the other side of the room, next to the door to the security station. It's crazy, but then again, everything /else in the last twenty-four hours has been, so...../ Removing the lightsaber from his right hip, he ignited the blade and hurled it like a spear, tip-first, through a gap in the lasers that, miraculously, stayed constant through the entire grid. It took several seconds for it to traverse the room and slice through the panel, which emitted a shower of sparks as the lasers went offline.
J'Ral ran across the room, retrieving his lightsaber as he went, and keyed open the door to the security station. Checking the monitors, he saw that the shuttle, a very old Corellian design that was little more than a rectangular box with engines and a cockpit bolted to it, had its running lights on. Zooming the camera in, he saw Aryn in the pilot's seat, going through the preflight checks. He grinned. We'll be together again soon. Moving away from the monitor, he pulled the triad of switches required to shut down the energy shield as well as all the other security measures. The lights on the console changed from red to green, indicating alert status.
"Well, now that that's taken care of, I can get out of here." He made his way to a turbolift on the other side of the control station, punched the command for the hangar, and started to relax for the first time in what felt like hours.
Had he taken a look at the security monitors before leaving, he would have seen the hole in the power junction blast door and the twelve wheel-shaped forms rolling into the hangar bay.
When his lift stopped at Level Nine and the door opened, J'Ral barely had enough time to get out of the car. As soon as the door opened, the droidekas that had been surrounding the aging shuttle turned and opened fire. He ignited his lightsabers and once again found himself playing the survival game amidst a hail of blaster bolts. I take it back, he thought. I must have done something horribly /wrong to deserve this. I can't play defense all day; my body's going to give out before their power packs do./ In frustration, he lashed out with the Force and pushed one of the droidekas. It fell over, and the deflector shield glowed brightly for several seconds before fizzling out, leaving the robot on the ground trying to right itself with a wisp of black smoke coming from its chest.
Of course! Why didn't I remember that? Those shields are powerful, but they can't tell the difference between matter and energy! Seeing his opportunity, he started pushing the others over. One by one, their generators overloaded as they kept trying to feed more power to the shields to overcome the durasteel floor. Grinning as the last droideka went down, he flung his lightsabers in an arc that sliced through each droid, cleaving them into two pieces each. When the destroyers were sufficiently bisected, he reclaimed and deactivated them, returning them to his belt, then headed for the shuttle.
Aryn opened the boarding ramp and stood at the top, smiling. "I never doubted you could do it," she said.
"Well, that makes one of us."
She raised an eyebrow. "Seriously?"
"These things are more resilient than you think. They...." he was interrupted by a high-pitched whine. Whirling around, he saw that one of the fallen droidekas wasn't quite deactivated. He didn't even have the time to bring one of his weapons up to block. The powerful bolt caught him in the stomach and he went down. The droid gave one final mechanical wheeze before it went offline for good. But the damage had been done.
Aryn knelt beside her fallen lover, tears flowing from her eyes. "J'Ral....J'Ral, can you hear me? Don't leave me now; not when we've just found each other."
He opened one eye and grinned weakly. "Like I'd die and leave you to mourn me. The Sith may delight in causing pain and suffering...but I don't." He reached up to stroke her cheek. "I'll be fine."
She returned the smile. "Liar." She lifted up his shirt and checked the wound. "I can't treat this here. I have to get you to Coruscant."
"I'm hardly in a position to disagree...." J'Ral replied as he struggled to get to his feet and staggered up the ramp, leaning on Aryn for support.
As they sat down in the cockpit, Aryn cursed. "This is bad. One of the shots you deflected hit the starboard engine. The main sublight drive is out and all we've got are basic thrusters, and it'll take us hours to reach Coruscant with those."
"Then forget the shuttle for now," J'Ral replied weakly. "When I was down on One, I saw a door near the power junction room that was marked 'Stasis'. Put me in there and you'll have all the time you need to get me to Coruscant."
His lover shook her head. "Won't work. Those pods are too big to move even if they weren't welded to the floor. I'd never be able to get you to the planet."
"Then freeze me, go to the Temple, and bring back the doctors and equipment you need. It's the only way."
She sighed. "I guess we don't have much of a choice. Come on." She helped him out of the cramped cockpit, down the ramp, and into the main turbolift that ran from the top of the base to the bottom. Down on the first level, Aryn half-carried J'Ral down the long corridor to the stasis room and punched in her access code.
Opening the pod closest to the door, she helped him inside. "I promise; I'll be back as soon as I can."
"I'll hold you to that." J'Ral coughed, a small bit of blood coming out of his mouth. "Listen, before all this began, you were trying to tell me something. I think I know what it is, but I wanted to hear it from you."
She silenced him with a finger on his lips. "I'll tell you when you wake up." She smiled one last time before closing the lid and activating the cryogenic suspension system.
In his private chamber, Darth Sidious laughed. He had just felt the life force of J'Ral Mimbet, once known as Darth Ranok, fade from existence. "Now the threads are all tied up," he said aloud to no-one. "Nothing can stop me now."
Twelve hours later, Aryn Katarn landed the ancient medical transport in the Jedi Temple hangar bay. Without even bothering to power down, she bolted from the ship and raced through the Temple, rushing past Knights, Padawans, and Younglings, not stopping until she reached the door to the Council Chamber. She pressed a button on the wall repeatedly, hoping someone would answer her.
Finally, the door opened and she found herself staring at a young Jedi Knight she'd never seen before. Standing next to him was a blond-haired boy that looked to be no older than ten. "Can I help you?" the Knight asked.
"I need to speak with Master Yoda. /Now!/" Her voice betrayed more emotion than the Knight was used to from one individual.
"Hold it; settle down a moment. Master Yoda is meditating and won't be available for several hours. I'm Obi-Wan Kenobi, and this is my Padawan, Anakin Skywalker." The boy bowed politely.
"Aryn Katarn, supervisor of the medical facility in the Covey." She was still out of breath and her tears had yet to completely stop flowing.
Obi-Wan's eyes went wide. "Wait...has he done something?"
She shook her head. "No; he's hurt. We need to help him as soon as we can."
Obi-Wan turned to Anakin. "Why don't you go to the Archives for a while? Adi Gallia is delivering a presentation to the Younglings about Nomi Sunrider."
The boy's eyes sparkled. "Yippee!" he exclaimed before taking off down the hall.
When he was gone, Obi-Wan ushered Aryn in. "I'll call Master Windu and tell him you're here. He's the only one Master Yoda will allow to interrupt him, and then only in an emergency. But if it concerns the Sith, I'd say this qualifies."
"He's not a Sith!" Aryn almost screamed. "He's a kind, decent, gentle-hearted man who was conned into something he had no control over, and I won't have you or anyone else speaking about him in such a manner!!!!"
Obi-Wan was taken aback. "Miss Katarn, you must calm yourself! I did not mean any offense." He indicated a chair in the room usually reserved for Ki-Adi Mundi. "Please; sit down and collect yourself. I'll call Master Windu and we'll deal with this shortly."
A short time later, Mace Windu and Yoda had joined them in the Council Chamber, and the woman related the story. "Disturbing, this is, that someone could activate the security droids remotely."
Mace nodded. "Even more so that the droids were tied into the rest of the security systems. It was probably a programming shortcut to save time."
"Taking shortcuts, dangerous it is. Especially in the case of security." Yoda turned to Aryn. "Know how you feel for this man, we do, and are as eager to help him as you are. If returns his memory does, our best weapon against the Sith he will be."
"And," Mace added, "I've been thinking that we should let him into the Order."
Obi-Wan was shocked for the second time that day. "Master Windu, with all due respect, that's /insane!/"
"He was trained by a Sith Lord! All he's known is the Dark Side; he could cause it to spread like a virus in the Temple. And that's if he didn't go berserk and try to kill us all first!" He was about to say something more, but the look Aryn was giving him terrified him even more than the Sith on Naboo had.
"Agree with you I once would have, Obi-Wan," Yoda said, "but events of late have made me rethink my position. His heart is pure and his mind free of hate, and he already has much knowledge of the Force. A powerful Jedi would he be."
"Yes," Mace said. "Very powerful. Eliminating twelve destroyer droids in one battle in an impressive feat. You and Qui-Gon together had trouble with just two."
"What about his age?" Kenobi countered. "He's at least ten times older than most of the students we recruit."
Yoda grinned. "In no position to speak is the one who so adamantly demanded that we allow young Skywalker to be trained."
"I have watched Anakin's progress, and he's already mastered techniques that students twice his age are learning. Some of the Masters are starting to think that age should no longer be a factor in recruitment."
"Excuse me," Aryn said, "but I didn't come here to debate who is or isn't going to be trained! I came here because you are the only people who even know about J'Ral, much less in a position to help him!"
"And help him we will, young one," Yoda said, climbing out of his chair and hobbling over to her on his cane. "But in stasis he is, and safe he will be for now. You must rest if any help to him you are to be."
Obi-Wan stood up. "I'll see if I can find a spare room for her." He bowed to the two Masters and left the room.
Aryn broke down crying again. "Miss Katarn, know that we grieve with you, in our own way." Mace said in his calmest tone of voice.
"All...all you care about is what he knows about the Sith! You don't give a damn about him!"
"Not true, that is. As Jedi, care about all life, we do. Be it a planet, a species, or an individual. All are one in the Force, and each deserves life as much as any other. Redeemed himself from the Sith, your lover has, and the trust and protection of the Jedi he has earned."
"You...you know....about us? And you didn't say anything?"
Yoda nodded. "Master Qui-Gon's council, I took. Said that neither of you are Jedi and cannot be forced to follow our ways, he did, and argue I could not."
"And besides, even from this distance, it was obvious you two were happy and we saw no reason to interfere."
To keep the young woman from being too upset, they continued talking about J'Ral's kind nature and compassionate heart and how that was what made him a truly great warrior and a good person. This was kept up until Obi-Wan returned with a tray of food and a tall pitcher of water. "I wasn't able to find a room, but I thought you could use something to eat."
"Thank you," Aryn said, taking the tray. "I'm sorry I yelled at you earlier."
He dismissed it with a wave of his hand. "Think nothing of it, my lady. Even Jedi have been known to lose their temper at times." He sat back down and watched as she eagerly devoured the meal. "I've never seen someone like mynock steak so much. In fact, I've never seen someone like mynock steak."
"It's about the only edible thing the food processors on the asteroid can make." Katarn replied between bites. "I more or less lived on it between supply shipments."
When she was done eating, Yoda floated the tray over to Obi-Wan with a casual movement of his arm. "Come; rest, you must. Sleep in my room, you will."
Deep within the asteroid, the stasis pod that held J'Ral's wounded body began to beep frantically. The safety indicator light changed from green to red, and the display showing his vital signs started flashing the word 'MALFUNCTION' repeatedly.
The next evening, Yoda, Mace Windu, Obi-Wan Kenobi, and Aryn Katarn stood around the pod. The medical equipment they had brought to heal his wound sat off to the side, now apparently useless. Aryn leaned over the pod, crying once more.
"Be strong, child. Alive, he still is."
She kicked the metal base of the pod, ignoring the pain that shot up her foot and leg. "That does us so much good when we can't even open it to treat him!"
"Experimental, these pods are. Argued against putting them here until better tested the could be Master Koon and I did."
Obi-Wan spoke up. "I read over the schematics of these pods before we left, and they're programmed to open periodically for maintenance checks. We brought a medical droid with us; why don't we leave it down here with instructions to treat him when the pod opens?"
Yoda nodded in approval. "Leave a signal beacon we can. Alert the Temple when the pod opens, it will."
"No need for that. I'm not leaving this place until he wakes up." Aryn said, her jaw set and her eyes as hard as durasteel.
"You can't stay here," Mace said. "The Sith Lord obviously knows about this facility and if he discovers that someone is still living here, he may surmise that J'Ral is still alive. We'll remove some of the equipment, your personal items, and a few other things to make it seem as though we are abandoning the facility. The minerals in the asteroid prevent any energy signatures from being detected; that's why it was chosen. Even those who know about it will think it's been shut down. When he awakens, the droid will heal him and the beacon will alert us. No harm will come to him."
"But how long will it take for this thing to wake him up?" she asked.
"That is impossible to tell. The diagnostic circuits are among those damaged. They can't be repaired without cutting power to the pod, and doing that while he's in stasis would certainly kill him." Obi-Wan said.
"You promise you'll tell me when the beacon goes off?"
"Always can you trust the word of a Jedi. While in the Temple are you, know what we will about him you will."
She shook her head. "I'm not going to live in the Temple. It's too close to this Sith Lord and I don't want him to know about me."
"Concerned for your child, you are?"
Aryn gasped. "How did you know? I only found out yesterday."
"Sense the growing life, we can. Strong in the Force, the child will be, if allow it to be trained you will."
"You....you're giving me a /choice?/"
Mace nodded. "We've started rethinking a lot of our policies lately thanks to young Skywalker. Several of the Masters believe we should give the families a choice before bringing a new student to the Temple, and we've decided to extend that courtesy to you."
"No. I don't want my baby raised in the Temple. It's all I have of him right now, and if he never wakes up, I want to have at least a part of him to remember him by."
"Understand, we do. Obi-Wan, program the beacon and the droid and meet us in the hangar. Abandoned, this facility must appear."
Hours later, when most of the non-critical equipment had been shut off and the beacon in place, the small group boarded the shuttle and left for Coruscant.
When they arrived, Obi-Wan and Yoda escorted Aryn to a spaceport not far from the Temple. "Where will you go after this?" he asked as she started to board the transport.
"This ship's going to Corellia, and I'm going to get another ship from there to my family's home on Sulon. We've got a rather respectable farm there, and what I've learned about mechanics should be more than enough for that equipment."
Yoda handed her a communications module. "Programmed with the frequency of the beacon, this is. Install it in a computer with a transceiver, and when he awakens, alerted will you be."
"Thank you, Master Yoda. Thank you all for what you tried to do for us."
"Helping others is what Jedi do, Miss Katarn. Nothing less can be expected of us." He raised a clawed hand in a gesture of farewell. "May the Force be with you always."
"And with you, Master Yoda."
Several months later, Aryn Katarn lay on her bed, cradling her newly-born son in her arms. "You look just like your daddy, you know?" she said to the sleeping infant. "I bet you're going to grow up to be just as good a person as he was."
Her sister entered the room with a tray of food. "Have you chosen a name yet?"
She nodded. "I've decided to name him Morgan. It has a certain noble quality to it, just like his father."
"Morgan Katarn," the elder sister said aloud, as if testing the name. "I like it."
Aryn smiled down at the baby. "I'm sure J'Ral would, too. And I'm sure our son is destined for great things." She handed the newly-christened Morgan to her sister, who laid him in his cradle, and began to eat.
Deep within a long-forgotten medical facility built inside an asteroid, a cryogenic stasis pod opened. A man stumbled out, dizzy and disoriented from his long hibernation, eventually collapsing to the floor. When he struck the hard metal, a sharp pain traveled from his stomach.
That's right.... he thought. The droideka shot me. Aryn froze me until she could get help and.... His eyes snapped open and he struggled to his feet. "Aryn! Aryn! Aryn, where are you?"
"There is no-one here by that name, sir." a mechanical voice off to his right said.
Whirling, holding his stomach, the man known as J'Ral Mimbet saw a droid unlike he'd ever laid eyes on before. "What are you? What are you doing here?"
"I am a medical droid prototype designated AC 21-B. My series was intended to replace the current FX-model medical droids. I was left here to treat you after your pod malfunctioned and failed to open when the Jedi arrived."
"When was that?"
"According to my internal chronometer, it has been approximately fifty-two Galactic standard years since I was tasked with this assignment."
J'Ral's head was spinning. "Fifty-two years? But....that means Aryn's probably not even alive now....."
AC 21-B moved over to him, medical equipment in hand, and began working on his wound. "This will hurt, most likely beyond your ability to remain conscious through it, but my pain-reducing medicines expired long ago and this surgery needs to be done immediately." The droid cut the man's shirt away and slid a long appendage into his wound, causing J'Ral to scream. "I warned you."
Through sheer willpower, J'Ral managed to stay lucid as the droid stitched his stomach tissue back together and patched it with synthflesh, then closed the exterior portion of the wound in the same manner. "Now I recommend that you get some rest. My surgical techniques are flawless, but you will need time to properly heal."
Nodding rather absent-mindedly, J'Ral left the stasis room and climbed into a turbolift. The
aged mechanism gave a squeal of protest, but it eventually took him up to the habitation deck on Level Six. He passed the long couch where he and Aryn had shared what would be their last peaceful moments together, and was saddened to see that the blaster bolts of the droidekas had more or less destroyed it. Grimly, he made his way to the room they had shared.
It had been stripped of all personal items, as he'd expected. They were all hers, anyway. She had a right to them. He was about to lay down to rest when he noticed one drawer in the bedside table slightly open. Pulling it out and reaching inside, he found a small datacard and reader.
Powering up the pad and inserting the card, he was greeted by a small image of Aryn Katarn on the viewscreen.
"If you're seeing this, my beloved, then I guess you're awake now. But it also means that I probably can't be with you for one reason or another. I left this behind so you would at least know that I didn't leave you behind lightly." The recording told of the malfunction in the pod and Yoda's decision to abandon the facility until the former Sith awakened. "But there's something else; something I tried to tell you the day the droidekas attacked. J'Ral, I'm pregnant." She paused for a moment to collect herself. "I ran the tests the morning of the attack. I'm carrying your child. I'm going back to my family's farm on Sulon to raise our baby in peace, away from the Sith Lord. But I'll never stop loving you, no matter what else may happen in my life. I will probably be gone by the time you see this, so I ask you to seek out our child. Teach it the ways of the Force in the way that only someone with your kind heart and pure soul can. The Jedi offered to train it, but I wanted our child to know its family and to know the love that only a parent can provide. Seek the child, J'Ral, and keep our legacy and our love alive." The image stopped for a moment, and he once again found himself lost in the eyes of his lover; but this time, there was pain and sadness knowing that the recording was the only way he would ever see her again.
The recording stopped, the image winked out, and J'Ral fell sideways onto the bed. He imagined he could still smell the light perfume she always wore emanating from the sheets and pillows. That day, J'Ral Mimbet, former Sith Apprentice, cried himself to sleep.
Halfway across the galaxy, in an ancient temple built by the long-dead Massassi race on the fourth moon of the planet Yavin, a droid called Weegee disconnected himself from his recharge station and headed for the dining hall of the temple, ignoring the confused looks from the various people he passed.
Upon reaching his destination, Weegee located his master, Kyle Katarn, speaking with Luke Skywalker at one of the tables. "Weegee," Kyle said when the droid slid up next to him, "what are you doing here?"
As if in response, a compartment in the droid's body opened up and a holoprojector formed a small image on the table. "I leave this message behind for my son, Kyle Katarn." the ghostly-blue image of Morgan Katarn said. "My mother, Aryn, tasked me to pass this down the family line should anything happen to her. If you are seeing this, Kyle, then the moment my mother waited for her entire life has finally come to pass. My father has awakened."
Kyle was stunned. He'd never heard anything about this before. The recording continued: "My father was named J'Ral Mimbet, a native of Naboo. He was tricked into serving a Sith Lord, but redeemed himself before the Dark Side of the Force could consume him. He and my mother met while she was healing a wound inflicted by the Sith and eventually fell in love. The Sith discovered he was alive, however, and attacked the medical complex where he was hiding. My mother escaped, but my father was critically wounded in the fight. He was placed in a cryogenic stasis pod until help could arrive, but the pod malfunctioned and would not allow him to be awakened. One of the Jedi protecting him, Obi-Wan Kenobi, programmed a beacon that would alert the Jedi and my mother when the pod opened and set my father free. That time has come. Inside this droid that my mother and I built when I was a child is a comm module. It contains a second message and instructions on how to find the facility. Find your grandfather, my son, and carry with you the message that my mother never stopped loving him. On the day that she died, her last words were how much she missed him and how proud he would have been of me. Fulfill her wish, Kyle, and reunite at least part of our family." The image winked out.
"This....this is incredible...." Kyle said. "I wonder why I wasn't told this before?" Before anything else could be said, a second hologram appeared, and this was an image Luke knew quite well.
"Greetings to you I bring," the image of Yoda said. "Come the time of the awakening has, and awaits you of the family Katarn does a living part of your past. Runs in your veins his blood does, and he needs your help now. Even now he is awaiting you. Go you must to the Covey asteroid field in the Coruscant star system. In the Covey, a hidden medical facility there is which I have marked on the chart contained in this module. A powerful ally against the Sith or any other enemy he could be. The Jedi have failed to protect him, but hopes I have that succeed his family will." The image faded and was replaced by a three-dimensional map of the Coruscant system, the location of the asteroid in question denoted by a red marker.
Kyle pulled out his datapad. "Weegee, convert that map to 2D and copy it to this pad." The droid did as instructed. "Luke, I'm going. This is a part of my family I never knew I had and I can't just sit here."
Luke nodded. "I understand, Kyle, but I'm going with you. We've encountered deadly Force users before and I don't want to take any chances here,e specially if he was trained by a Sith Lord."
"Then let's go. I'll have Jan warm on the Raven's Claw and we'll be out of here in no time." Kyle headed out of the dining hall, his meal long forgotten, with Weegee following close behind him.
When he was gone, Luke sighed. "I've got a bad feeling about this...." he said aloud to no-one in particular.
WHEW! That was a long one! Ended up being almost four times as long as I'd planned, but I'm happy with the end result. As much as I'd like to continue the story of J'Ral Mimbet in the next chapter, I have to introduce my second character before I can continue. But the next installment shouldn't be quite as long as this one and I'll be able to get to the main part of my story soon after. I hope you enjoyed this, and feedback is, of course, always welcome.