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Chapter 28: Searching for a Sith Lord
All eyes were riveted on the orange and red inferno that boiled out from the center of the Vengeance with such speed that it made us feel like we were standing still. A few of the older Ops team members shared grim expressions as they looked out the shuttle windows. The silence hung like a dense fog in the air and was broken only by the engine whine and MacFinlay’s chatter with the Osprey.
“Yes, open the fracking bay doors! I can make it in time!” MacFinlay commanded.
“If you don’t make it, the entire bay fries and we’ll lose more people,” was the reply from the Osprey.
“I don’t have time to argue with you, Riallian. Open the blasted doors!”
There was silence on the other end for a few moments. MacFinlay muttered a few choice words under his breath and made a couple of unique hand gestures towards the com.
“Steady, MacFinlay,” Bernecki said.
“I know I can make it, sir. There’s no way I’d let something happen to that ship.”
“I know that, too.”
The com keyed on again, and Riallian said, “Captain ordered me to open the doors, MacFinlay. But he says you better haul your skinny rump in fast because he’s charging you personally for any ship damage, even if he has to find you in hell to collect.”
MacFinlay grinned. “You tell him not only will I make it in with no damage, but I’ll get a 10 on the landing and he’ll owe me one of his best Dew Mountain whiskeys.”
“You’re on,” said Captain Onasi.
MacFinlay pushed the shuttle towards the now-open bay doors at top speed, with the wall of fire only seconds behind. He started nodding a tempo to himself. When it reached some point he had determined, he said, “Osprey, MacFinlay. Start closing the bay doors.”
“You aborting?” Riallian said. I could hear his alarm even over the com.
“No. Coming in now.”
“You’ll hit the doors!”
“Close them. Now! We’ll argue later.” MacFinlay made another hand gesture at the com, one I’d never seen before. It undoubtedly would cause fights in cantinas.
The bay doors started to come together slowly as MacFinlay approached. He gripped the controls tightly as he entered his final approach only moments away from the ship. The doors continued to close together, and it looked like the shuttle would crash into them. MacFinlay finessed the controls with delicate hand movements, and the shuttle slipped through the opening that was shrinking rapidly. The bay doors closed just after he entered, missing the shuttle by a few centimeters. The Osprey’s shields went up immediately. The stream of fire was repelled, curling back on itself and creating swirls that slowly burned out.
MacFinlay bellowed out the military cry, “Hoo-ah!”
The other members of the Ops team roared “Hoo-ah!” in reply and then clapped so loud in appreciation that the small ship nearly shook.
MacFinlay set the shuttle down so perfectly I never felt it stop. The corpsmen were ready to go even before the shuttle doors lifted open. They carried De’layn’s stretcher out to the waiting team, who rushed her to the medical bay.
Jolee said, “Carth will want a chat. I’ll go see about De’layn and then join you.”
Carth waited for the medical team to take De’layn and then approached the ramp. We all debarked, and the Ops team stood at attention in front of him.
“That was some of the finest piece of flying I’ve seen in a long time,” Carth said.
“Thank you, sir.”
“He’s strong in the Force,” Talin said. “We wouldn’t be here without him.”
Carth said, “Something for you to think about, MacFinlay, though I’d like to keep my best pilots.” He handed MacFinlay a small bottle of a greenish liquid and shook his hand. “I don’t get too many of these from Bear, so don’t waste it.”
“No, sir. Special occasions only, sir. Thank you, sir.”
“Bernecki, I need to speak with you. Talin, Jae, would you join us?”
We followed Carth back to the meeting room off his quarters.
“What happened over there, Bernecki?” Carth asked.
“Sir, we entered the ship approximately 1420. We did a standard search through the ship for any threats. When we got to the bridge, we saw the crew of three. They were dead from that Scourge. One of the men found De’layn and called the Jedi in. They left, I checked the navicomputer, and downloaded the data.” Bernecki handed the datachip over to Carth.
“This should have some very interesting information,” Carth said, plugging it into the computer port for processing.
“Jedi Talin returned. When he looked at the navputer, he saw something odd in the hyperdrive. I sent Gadaitis with him, and they found the device. Gadaitis saw how much time there was, decided it was too complex to disarm in time, and I ordered the evacuation. MacFinlay kept our butts out of the flames, sir.”
“Write him up for an award when you write your after-action report. I better let you get back to your team.”
“Aye, sir.” Bernecki stood up and left the room.
“Talin?” Carth motioned for him to go next.
“I don’t have much to add. When we got to the bridge, we saw the crew lying on the ground, dead from the Scourge. When I looked at the navputer to find out where they’d been, I noticed some of the data had been wiped. The hyperdrive status indicator was off, but I heard the hyperdrive humming in stand-by mode. When Gadaitis and I checked the engine, we found the device. It looks like it triggered as soon as we opened the hatch. Gadaitis saw the time and how little of it we had left. He made a good call evacuating. I don’t think demolitions could have disarmed it in time.”
Carth nodded understanding. “Anything to add, Jae?”
I frowned at the wisp of an idea floating just at the edge of conscious thought.
“What is it?” Talin asked.
“Something De’layn said. I’m trying to remember all of it.”
“About Thorn?” Talin asked.
“No, though learning he wasn’t the Sith Lord is disturbing.”
“Thorn’s not the Sith Lord?” Carth’s brows lifted in surprise.
“De’layn said it wasn’t Thorn before she lost consciousness. Thorn was one of the three on the bridge,” I said.
“Just great. We’re back where we started.” Carth grimaced.
The door chime sounded, and Carth called Jolee in.
“How’s De’layn?” I asked.
“The med team got her into kolto and they seem happy with how she’s doing.”
Talin and I both scrunched our faces at the mention of kolto, to Jolee’s amusement.
“Of course, they’re happy if you can flick an eyelash, so you can never really tell,” Jolee continued. He gave a small weary sigh as he sat down.
“We were discussing Thorn,” Carth said.
“Thorn’s not the Sith Lord, and we won’t know who it is until she gets out of the kolto,” Jolee replied.
“If he’s in the area, we need to know now,” Carth said. “We’re already underway for Telos, but I still don’t want to be a sitting gizka.”
“That’s still not it,” I frowned again, trying to recall the entire conversation.
“What’s not it?” Jolee asked.
“De’layn said something else that didn’t make sense.”
“All she talked about was Thorn, Dycen’a, and this Sith Lord.”
“That’s it. She said she told Thorn Dycen’a was dead.”
“Because we told her that,” Jolee said.
“But Thorn told her he was going after Dycen’a,” I said, eyes widening as I realized what that meant.
Carth said, “How would Thorn know, unless…. Damn it, it’s Aichon or Raxton. It’s one of mine. They’re the only ones outside of the Jedi and me who knew about Dycen’a.” He shook his head in frustration and bit back a variety of comments.
"I'm sorry, Carth," I said.
“Pull up the ship list again, Carth,” Jolee said.
The single ship appeared once more.
“Is that all the ships?” Talin asked.
Carth looked over the original list of ships. “No, the Republic ships were left off.” His lips thinned in anger.
Jolee reassured him, “Carth, if I were looking for an Exchange ship, why would I include the Republic? You’re not the one responsible. This Sith has been hiding his tracks pretty well for a long time.”
“I know, but I dislike the thought of one of my crew intentionally misleading everyone, and I hate the idea of my crew and me being this close to him for a long time. Force only knows what he’s been doing to my crew,” Carth sighed. He tapped in some more data, and another list came up. There were two ships this time, the Fujita and The Nightshadow.
“None of us likes knowing we’ve shared supper with him. Bet whoever owns Nightshadow is our bad guy,” Jolee said.
“That’s Raxton’s ship,” Carth said. He pulled up some more data. “Looks like he was a little busy when he was supposed to be doing some intelligence work on Telos. He went off-system for a few days.”
“He’s been very sneaky so far. I think we ought to have a little chat with Aichon to make sure he's not involved,” Jolee suggested.
Carth was about to hit the com to call for him when Jolee added with a wicked grin, “Why don’t you let us get set up a bit and then give him a nice reception and all, just in case it’s him.”
Carth nodded, and we made our preparations.
When Aichon came to Carth’s meeting room in answer to the summons, he was stunned to find himself surrounded by three Jedi with lit lightsabers and a captain holding a blaster.
He looked at all of us, eyes shifting warily as he looked at each of us before looking back at Carth. “Uh, sir, is there something wrong?”
“Yes, there’s something very wrong. One of my top men has betrayed both this crew and me. I want to find out who.” Carth’s voice could have frozen space, it was so cold.
Aichon looked confused. “Sir, I’d sure like to know what you’re talking about, and why you all have weapons pointed at me.”
His eyes glazed over for a minute as Jolee concentrated on a mind probe.
Jolee said, finally, “It’s not him, Carth, though it looks like Raxton’s been tiptoeing through his brain a bit. There are some missing memories and some planted images in there.”
Aichon shook his head and rubbed his temples once the disorientation dissipated.
“Sorry for the headache, but it was the only way to know,” Jolee said, clasping the man’s shoulder gently in sympathy for the pain.
“I’m sorry, sir, but I still don’t understand.” Aichon looked from Carth to Jolee and then back to Carth again for an explanation.
Carth explained to his bewildered commander, “Thorn’s not the Sith Lord. Raxton is.”
“There’s no way. I’ve known him a long time. He’s a good man,” Aichon said, trying to defend his crewmate.
“You think he’s a good man, because he planted those images and memories,” Jolee said. “Raxton is the one.”
Carth added, “Aichon, you have to trust us on this. He’s the only other person who knew Dycen’a was alive, and Raxton is the only way Thorn could have found out. We’ll figure out how Raxton did this, but right now we need to find out where he is.”
“He was supposed to be doing some intel work around Telos while we went on this mission. He said he had found some leads on the Exchange that couldn’t get cold, so I had him stay. Oh, Force, what if he’s doing something to Telos?” Aichon said, holding his head again in pain and shock over the revelation.
“Carth, I need an image of Raxton and a secure link to the Jedi Temple. I need to contact the masters there for a little chat about this,” Jolee decided.
* * *
Masters Vandar and Vrook listened as Jolee explained our narrow escape, De’layn’s brush with death, and our discovery.
Master Vrook stroked his chin as he looked at the image Jolee had transmitted. “He’s had some facial reconstruction, but I’m pretty sure it’s Ter Miraxton.” He pulled some data up on the man.
Master Vandar said, “Yes, it is a match. It would also fit with the facts in this case. He was a Padawan here about 27 years ago. He left the order about 20 years ago after he fought and nearly killed another Padawan in anger. He disappeared a few years later, and we had feared the worst.”
“You feared his death. That’s not the worst,” Jolee said dryly.
“Point taken,” Vandar acknowledged.
“Can you send us any holovids of him sparring, or any other information?” asked Talin.
“We’ll transmit any information we have in the archives. We should have something very shortly.”
“All right then, we’ll sign off.” Jolee made a move to terminate the link.
“A moment please, Jolee. We have something to discuss with the three of you.” Master Vrook said.
I detected a subtle shift in his attitude. If I had been sparring and saw that look, I would have prepared for a nasty attack.
Master Vandar continued, “We received an anonymous transmission late this morning. Normally, we discount anything anonymous. However, the contents were disturbing, and analysis indicated it was an unaltered transmission. It is something we feel you must address immediately.”
“What are you talking about?” Jolee asked them.
“This,” Master Vrook answered, stabbing a button to turn on a copy of the transmission. “Your Padawan and Talin have been a bit busy and less than discreet.”
A holovid of the evening Talin and I spent together played on the projector. I looked down and put my forehead in my hand. Talin stood impassively for a time next to me and then placed a hand gently on my back in support. Jolee stood with his chin in one hand, carefully inspecting the holovid.
When it faded out, he looked over at both of us. He smiled broadly and gave a jaunty wink. “You sure steamed up some windows there.”
I inhaled sharply in surprise and looked up. “Jolee! It’s not a porn vid, for heaven’s sake. We just kissed!”
“Eh, it’s a good start, anyway. I can recommend a few books on the subject, you know,” he grinned.
Talin couldn’t quite suppress his chuckle, and I put my head back down in my hand.
“You approve of this behavior?” Vrook’s eyes were wide in disbelief.
“I don’t just approve, I encourage it. I’m watching love blossom before my very eyes. Makes my curmudgeonly heart feel like there’s something good in the universe.”
“Master Jolee, you know the Order’s stance on attachments.” Master Vandar chastised.
“And you know I think it’s a foolish notion that the Order should abandon because it’s a load of bantha schutta. More Jedi might be prevented from falling if they had someone in their lives to keep them happy and balanced.”
“This is very dangerous thinking, Jolee. After this mission is finished, we’ll reassign Jedi Talin, and we may have to discuss your mentoring,” Vrook said, frowning deeply.
Jolee stood tall and leveled a fiery gaze at the Masters. “You go right ahead and do that. I’ve left the Order before, and I can leave it again. I stay because I can make a difference, not because I need your approval. I might even start my own sect of Jedi that believe love is something good, not terrifying. Now if you want to draw the ire of not only me, but also the Queen of Onderon, a Prince of Alderaan, and the soon-to-be Admiral Onasi, then go ahead and reassign them to try to break up their relationship. You know that if the Force wants them together, they’ll be together, no matter what some ridiculous council of Masters decides.”
Master Vrook’s face reddened as he tried to control his anger, and Master Vandar sighed, frustrated by Jolee’s defiant attitude.
Master Vandar said, “We will meet the rest of the Council shortly and discuss the situation. We will send all the information we have on Miraxton as soon as we can. Master Supat will go to Telos to evaluate De’layn so we can learn more about the Scourge and its effects on sentients. In the meantime, you three need to concentrate on tracking this Sith Lord and either capturing or destroying him.”
“Now you’re talking sensible,” Jolee snorted.
“We don’t need to be provoked, Jolee,” Master Vrook growled.
“I’m a rebel. What do you expect?” Jolee raised his hands in question and gave them a mischievous grin.
“Exactly that,” Master Vandar sighed.
“We’ll stay out of trouble,” Jolee said.
“I doubt that. Trouble seems to find you quite easily. Still, I wish you well when you meet up with Miraxton.” Master Vrook’s face softened a bit as he spoke.
“May the Force be with you,” Master Vandar signed off.
Last edited by Jae Onasi; 08-04-2006 at 09:23 PM.