The Iron Dawn

Chapter 3: Concord Dawn

After receiving permission to land, the ship settled into an out of the way docking bay in the capital city.

"Welcome to Concord Dawn,“ the ship murmurs. ”Concord Dawn is an agricultural frontier world in the Mandalore sector of the Outer Rim Territories. The planet has strong ties to the Mandalorians; its population shares many Mandalorian values, and genetic markers specific to the natives of Concord Dawn are present throughout the Mandalorian populace. Atmosphere is breathable, and has primary terrain of jungles, forests, deserts, and plains." 

The ramp lowered to allow the crew to depart. A rush of air hit Alan, and with it carried a scent of generations of a people that lived and breathed battle. Smiling a little to himself, he said, "I think I’m gonna like this planet. Pity we aren’t staying long."

Shortly before the ship came to its landing, Irulan sat down next to Kami’atra in the Port Lounge of the ship. For a moment she looked down at her hands, gathering the strength to do what needs to be done. Then, she looked Kami’atra in the face.

"I don’t really know how to tell you this. But I need to. I should have told you a long time ago.

Do you remember that morning when you found me in the streets of Coruscant, when you asked me to join you on our first mission? You asked me what I was doing so far from my Temple. And I told you that I had completed my training, that the Council blessed me and sent me on my way.

Kam . . . I lied to you. Please forgive me. I didn’t have the strength to tell you the truth. The truth is, I was running away. After what I did – what I nearly did . . . what you saved me from doing, I was afraid. And so I ran.

And now you’re going back to them. They’ve probably been wondering what happened to me. If they find out that I am with you, then the questions will begin, and eventually they will discover what I did. Then they may not trust you about the droid; it will throw a shadow on everything you say to them.“

Irulan pulled from within her robe a sealed letter.

”When you get to Coruscant, go to Saesee Tiin and give him this. It explains everything. He deserves to hear the truth from me. Master Tiin is a good man; I know he will believe me, and believe that you come to him in earnest. He will help you; I know it. He is your best shot at gaining the trust of the Council."
Kami’atra seemed to look past Irulan as he gathered the appropriate words to respond to this vulnerability that she had shown him.  He received the letter from her and placed it within the satchel at his side.  His lips curled into his all-too-familiar smile as his ‘eyes’ met hers and he inhaled deeply before vocalizing his response.

"Irulan, I must tell you something also – Earlier that day, while I was walking the lower streets of Coruscant, I had been given a vision of what would become of you that night and all that would come of it; I’d followed the vision to where I would find you, once there I sat and waited.  The rest of that night, you’ll remember very well for the rest of your life, but know this for certain -  I’d forgiven you for this lie of yours before you’d even uttered it to me, and I renew that vow of forgiveness now in your hearing… I have been waiting all this time for you to forgive yourself for your actions that night and the lie that ensued.  Not only had you lied to me, but more importantly you had lied to yourself and covered it up for years.

One day you will return to face your people yourself, but in the mean time, I will follow your wishes and deliver this message to Master Tiin.  As I believe that he is the man that you say he is, I am certain you will find this same forgiveness from him… And if not, then he is not the Master you deserve and therefore you would need not worry.“

Kami’atra’s smile widened as he placed his upon hers atop the table and continued, ”I am very proud of you, Irulan, for the bravery you’ve displayed in relating this tale to me for the first time, and for the several years that you determined to bear this burden alone; soon you will find the rest that you require and the strength to reintroduce yourself to your Master as the reinvented pupil you have become – You may yet find peace with the Council as well.  Thank you for having found safety in confiding this information in me for these many years, you must know that you will always possess a trusted friend and faithful ally in Kami’atra.“

He reinforced the smile with a gentle squeeze at her hand before he stood from the table and re-latched the satchel which hung from his shoulder and he glanced toward the opening of the ramp in preparation of half the crew’s departure.  He breathed deeply of the well acquainted scent of a world driven by a mostly agrarian culture that reminded him so much of home… ”Are you all prepared, Irulan?  I suppose we should make sure you and Kibur acquire fair transport to Nar Shadaa from here."

Just then, Kibur walked into the port lounge, a small rucksack thrown over his shoulder. "We ready to go?“ He saw Kami’atra and Irulan looking very seriously at one another. ”Or should I wait outside?"

Irulan blushed. "No, it’s not . . .“ she stammered, ”I was just telling him about . . .“ Finally, she scowled at Kibur. ”Well, you certainly wouldn’t understand." 

Standing quickly, she pulled her satchel over her shoulder, then looked once more to Kami’atra. Thank you, she said to him silently. For everything. 

With one last glower at Kibur, she left the lounge and made her way down the ramp. Covering her eyes with one hand, she squinted into the bright sunlight, where she saw Page waiting.

As Irulan made her defense to Kibur and extended her gratitude his way, Kami’atra smiled to Kibur and patted him on the shoulder, "Come, Kibur, let’s get you two to your transport, shall we?"  He motioned ahead of them to point the two of them toward the opened descent ramp.

The hustle and bustle of this slightly more urban section of this agro-sphere painted a stark contrast to the desolation of Raxus Prime.  Kami’atra smiled as he inhaled several deep breaths of the earthy atmosphere.  It reminded him very much of home although it is considerably brighter here; the Force-‘emissions’ emanating from the lifeforms here were so much brighter than he had beheld on Coruscant or darker worlds, as if to say that the population’s joy in livelihood seemed to radiate visibly from their bodies. 

Yet even just beneath their shine, a restrained and restrictive presence held them here in place – Kami’atra had never discovered a truly free population though it was his life’s desire to find and protect or somehow develop such a society.  Such an existence may have been found at home on Alpheridies, Kami’atra thought to himself, if it were not for the rogue Force-Witches inhabiting among the populace…  But his thoughts returned to the present as he descended the ramp to the earthen landscape below.

Alan pulled a small data pad out of his jacket pocket and pulled up a small map of the city. "According to this map, if we proceed a 1/4 mile east there is a handful of cantinas and entertainment establishments.“  He paused to change position of the map. ”West seems like a trade market and residences. If you ask me I say we had toward the cantina." Placing the data pad back in his jacket, he took a few steps ahead of the crew and turned to look at each of them. As he glanced at Irulan, he got the strange sense that a great burden had been lifted from her shoulders.

Irulan looked over Page’s shoulder, examining the datapad.

"Hmm. A drink does sound awfully good right now. But don’t you think a trade market would be more likely to have options for transportation?“

She looked to Kibur, who had just stepped out of the ship. ”What’s our plan? Are we going to buy a ship, or rent one, or just hitch a ride to Nal Hutta? We may want to have a way to get off the planet as well . . ." 

“I planned on purchasing transport, riding in someone else’s ship,” said Kibur. "Give me a chance to get a break from flying. We can hire them to drop us off and pick us back up, if needed."

“Well in that case, Page is probably right – the cantina might be a good place to find a pilot who could give us a ride.” Irulan knelt to tighten the clasp on her boots, before standing again. "Let’s head out, shall we? We don’t really have time to waste. It won’t be long before Troba discovers what has actually happened; we better make sure we get to him before the truth does." She started walking in the direction Page had indicated, pausing to make sure the others are coming.

Kami’atra followed, customarily, a few paces behind the others to continue observation of their surroundings and maintaining his perceptions of those that may cross the path of the crew of the Iron Dawn.  His ‘eyes’ scanned the almost-crowded streets of this once-rural township – a merchant entrepreneur who seemed to be watching the crew all too closely as they passed her vendor, until other business arrived to distract her; a slight-framed spacer eyeing Irulan specifically with other, more debauched, motives in mind… Kami’atra paid him little mind as the spacer stumbled off into an alleyway in a drunken stupor.  All the bystanders were individuals, yet he observed them more so as a collective hive of less conspicuous groups.

As the crew continued to walk the quarter-mile eastward, Kami’atra noticed a number of establishments that could serve their purposes well enough, all with names representative of their ideal ambiance (some more imaginative than others) – Concord Cantina, The Alibi, Requiem de Mando’ade, and another in a language that appeared to be a local tongue.  The one inn that stood out to Kami’atra was one by the name of The Laughing Tengu – the split-cloth drapery of the doorway depicted a rather large nosed, feathered demon sitting at a mountain top with a gourd of fermented brew in hand, seemingly laughing at nothingness or perhaps indeed laughing at himself.

Curious, Kami’atra stepped toward the inn, glanced inside at the dimly lit lower-level full of those who would identify themselves as veteran spacers.  The only sound emanating from within, other than the slight chatter of the patrons, was the voice and music of a venerable man himself quietly vocalizing and playing a stringed instrument on a dais in the corner of the room.  Returning to the street, he called for the others. 

"Oi, Kibur… I believe I’ve found the place we’ve been looking for…“  Kami’atra tried very hard to hide his joy at finding a place to his own liking and what seemed to house pilots of superb quality as well.  ”What do the rest of you think?"

Standing beside Kam, Alan looked into the interestingly-titled cantina and responded with an affirming hand on his companion’s shoulder. "If you like it, so do I." Alan walked past Kam into the cantina and asked the bartender for a drink unique to the planet while leaning on the counter. After the bartender grabbed the beverage, he took advantage of the man’s eyes and ears and asked where his companions might acquire transport to Nal Hutta.

“Looks like we might have some luck here,” Irulan said, grinning at Kami’atra and pulling one of the curtains aside to step through. A sweet scent filled the room, as a light cloud of smoke emanated from a Twi’lek in one corner, who held a bubbling pot with a tube at one end.

Approaching the counter, Irulan leaned forward. "A Sarlacc Kicker, please.“ The bartender turned his back to them, and after a moment he slid a foaming drink across the counter towards her, then received her money and went back to mixing drinks.

Irulan listened as Lt. Page asked the bartender about transportation in his typical brusque manner. Well, that won’t do, she thought to herself. Sidling over towards them, she leaned in, eyes widened innocently, and smiled very sweetly at the barman. ”We’re so sorry to bother you. But we’re strangers to this area, and you seem to be a knowledgeable person to talk to. Any help you could give us would be greatly appreciated."

Letting the Jedi work her magic, the Lt. took a conceding posture to her obvious assets in gathering the needed information. Thinking to himself, She could always monopolize a tactical advantage, he turned his head to hide a bit of a smile.

The bartender looked Irulan up and down with his one good eye, nodding appreciatively. His eyes stopped a moment when he saw the lightsaber on her belt.

“Uh… miss…” he began polishing a glass furiously, avoiding eye contact. "You’n might wanta speak to a few o’ der fellas ober dere," he said with a strange accent, gesturing over to the corner where about ten spacers sia gathered around a large table, laughing loudly.

Hearing the lead, Alan pulled a peggat out and tossed it to the bartender. "Thanks for the information,“ he said, turning toward the quite-pleased-with-herself Irulan. With a slight bow and a teasing remark, he said, ”Shall we, Master Jedi?" He motioned with his hand, offering her the lead toward the table of spacers.

Meanwhile, Kami’atra slid past the Lt. and Jedi occupying the counter; he knelt at a low table nearby and waited for his companions’ sought-after response.  He began to look about the room and bowed his head deeply to the aged musician in the corner, who played into a bridge with a solemn smile and nodded in response.  Kami’atra motioned for the nearby waitress. As she approached him after picking up glasses left behind with little tip, he requested a small kettle of tea and another cup for the musician.  She nodded.

Looking up, Kami’atra noticed two males adorned in heavy, similarly-colored, Mandalorian Battle Armor descending from the stairwell leading down from the upper rooms. Their armor was of a well-worn sandy-gray texture, and Kami’atra could tell that they had noticed the new patrons of the Laughing Tengu… though as to whether they were truly interested or simply observing, he did not yet know.

At that moment, Kibur took a seat across from Kami’atra. "I figure I’ll let the two of them handle negotiation for our fare, get some time to talk.“ He eyed the Death Watch suspiciously. He leaned in.
”Kam, once you reach Coruscant, I need you to go to the Crimson Corridor.“ He handed Kam a datapad. ”There’s some sensitive information there that needs to get to Teruka at the Green Glowstone Tavern."

As the waitress returned to Kami’atra’s table from distributing the tea to the musician and waiting cautiously as the Death Watch members pass by, with a smile she passed him a message of gratitude from the old man and waived the fee for the tea. It seemed the musician was the owner of the fine establishment, and this concoction was a tea of his favorite leaf.  Kami’atra bowed his head even lower than before in thanksgiving for the owner’s generous nature, before consuming a draught of this most excellent brew.

Kami’atra paid the Death Watch little mind, as he knew that they would have made it clear to him if they were after him at all; however, moved to kneel slightly closer to the table, offering them more than sufficient room to pass him by en route toward the exit.  He then leaned forward toward Kibur as he extended his hand to receive the datapad.  Knowing Kibur very well by this point, he offered this reply in response to his gesture:

“How sensitive is the information, that you would hesitate in informing even its bearer, Kibur?  I will do as you wish, friend; however, next time would you consider professing this courtesy alongside the request?” he inquired in a casual and half-joking manner, though it still carried his customary tone of sincerity with it.

“Extremely sensitive,” Kibur replied. "Trust me.“ He nodded, then turns to the waitress. ”One Barivian Ale, please."

Kami’atra nodded in affirmation to his friend as he placed the sensitive datapad within his ever-present satchel and closed the tightly-bound clasps.  "Consider it done, Kibur; what is this information I am to transfer anyway, that I am to seek out this tender in a seedy Coruscant alleyway?  Normally you take great stakes to deliver these sorts of wares personally; I might advise myself to refuse this delivery task without the knowledge of what I am handing over to one whom I have never heard of… especially when I’ll already be traveling with such exquisite cargo."

He took another sip of his tea, inhaling the sweet yet earthy aroma, as he awaited the response of Kibur to his inquiry.  Kami’atra had for some time now begun to grow suspicious of some of his more secretive companion’s clandestine actions, but he still wanted to trust Kibur as he did the other members of the Iron Dawn’s crew. He had trusted them all with his life on countless occasions over the years, but Kibur seemed to assume more and more guile as the years passed by.  Kami’atra smiled to Kibur in order to assuage much of his taciturn distrust, but Kibur knew him well enough that he wouldn’t simply slide anything past this all-too-observant Miralukan.

“I would deliver these goods myself,” said Kibur, "but I’m not going to Coruscant, you are.“ He paused for a moment. ”If you must know, it’s… vital information for the Bothan Network. I’ve been working with them for a while. Teruka is my contact on Coruscant.“ Kibur took a drink from the ale dropped off at the table. ”Kam, there are rumors of war forming across the galaxy. Distrust among some senators, the commerce guilds and corporations has been growing steadily since Naboo. The information presented there… It may help stop a war from ever starting. That’s all I can say."

Kami’atra looked intently at his friend. “I’ll let you know this much, Kibur… when the minds of this galaxy’s leaders are set on war, it seems nothing would utterly prevent it.  If nothing else, history professes a legacy of rumors rising into realities; talk about anything long enough and it too will come to pass.  Even so, I commend your efforts, Kibur, and those of the few and humble that will stand against this tide that will soon come to shore.  I will deliver this message to your contact, you can be sure of it – loss of an individual’s life or limb will not cause this effort to mediate war to cease from the future histories.”

On the other side of the cantina, Irulan made her way over to the table where a number of spacers, both human and alien, sat in conversation. Seeing two empty chairs, she pulled one out and looked to a Sullustan pilot to the right of the empty seats. "May we?“ she inquired. As he nods in affirmation, she and Page placed their drinks on the table and took a seat. Irulan took a sip of her strange-looking beverage, swallowed, then suppressed a violent choking cough. She leaned towards Page in a whisper, ”What do they put in this thing?"

Attempting to maintain his composure at Irulan’s humorous reaction to her drink, the Lt. awkwardly smiled at the pilots on her behalf. He whispered from the corner of his mouth with his hand covering his lips, "Do you really need to know right now?“ 

As the conversation reached a lull, Irulan began cautiously, ”My friend and I are looking for transport for a brief journey to Nal Hutta. We would need transportation there, and possibly back as well; we would let you know after our visit. Would any of you be interested in taking on passengers? We would pay, of course."

“Of course you’ll pay,” said a green-skinned Twi’lek from across the table, to the laughter of the other spacers. "The question is, how much? Jedi cost extra. They take trouble with them wherever they go." Irulan felt her face grow warm.

“Easy, Rom,” a woman said, leaning in from the shadows. She pushed her blond hair from her face. "You’ll have to forgive my first mate here,“ she said, pointing her thumb at Rom. ”You said Nal Hutta? Not much of a place for a Jedi, is it girl?“

Irulan gave a slightly forced laugh. ”You know Hutts – always looking for profit. My friend has some goods for them, which I’m sure they will charge exorbitantly for on their planet. I’m just tagging along with him."
Unsure of the plausibility of her story, Irulan swiftly changed the topic, and gestured over to Kibur at the other table, who gave a slight nod. “So . . . would you be willing to take us? We wouldn’t be any trouble, I can assure you.” 

“I can assure you, we’d be the best crew for the job,” the woman said, "but my comrade is right. Jedi do have a way of bringing trouble with them wherever they go.“ She leaned back into the shadows. ”We’ll do it, but it’s going to cost you a little…“ She left a long pause. ”Eight thousand." Rom smirked, self-assuredly, looking at Irulan and Alan.

Back at his table, Kami’atra suddenly looked over to Irulan, sensing a feeling of unease coming from her. He looked back to Kibur. "The information you have borne ‘til now is in good hands, friend, you need not worry about its ultimate delivery…  For now, however, you may want to look to the negotiation of your transport to Nar Shadaa; Irulan seems to have been overrun… Hutt space is not terribly far distant, perhaps you could talk the crew down to five or less for the round trip."

He continued to sip at his tea and re-poured as he observed Irulan and Alan’s progress with the transport from his seat a few tables away.  The music dramatically shifted into something of an archaic pre-battle chant as Kami’atra’s conversation with Kibur concluded in affirmation, and his premonition of the inevitability of imminent war was solidified in his mind’s eye.

“I owe you one, Kam,” Kibur said, standing. He lifted his glass as a toast to the Miralukan, then looked over at Irulan and Page. "I’ll handle this.“ He headed over to the table and pulled up a seat. ”What’s the problem?"

Irulan looked up gratefully as Kibur took a seat next to her. "Thank goodness you’re here,“ she said under her breath. Aloud, she said, ”No problem. Just a friendly discussion of our fare to Nal Hutta. They’ve been joking around a bit – asked for 8000."

“8,000?” We could practically buy our own ship for that much!" Kibur said, shaking his head.

“But who’d fly it, hotshot?” the captain said, "You?"

As enjoyable as this conversation was, it seemed to be going more back than forth. In hopes of closing this deal, Page placed his forged Republic special forces officer badge on the table for the captain and others to view. "Captain, this is what I can do for you. As you can see, I am an officer of the Republic,“ without missing a beat he placed the badge back in his coat, ”meaning I do have a line of credit with the Republic. I am prepared to offer you 3,000 now and 6,000 when you return the Jedi and my friend here when their mission is complete." 

The Lt. finished his speech without deviating eye contact from the captain. “I promise you, a simple job and you’ll be paid 1,000 over what you’re asking, as long as they come back safe.” With a confident smirk the Lt. leaned back in his chair, awaiting the captain’s response.

“Republic, huh?” Mala asked. "In case you hadn’t noticed, we’re out on the fringe of civilization. Republic credits don’t carry as much weight as you would think out here."

Page smiled. “I am a Lt. and a specialist, we have little or no use for republic credits either. I said ‘a line of credit’; my resources go well beyond mere credits.” Hoping to bait the Captain further he continued, "But if you feel that we have nothing of value, maybe we should seek out a pilot elsewhere. I’m sure someone would like to make a quick and easy coin?"  Finishing his final statement loud enough to catch some outside interest, he pulled out a small pouch of peggats, hoping to place the captain in a more accepting place toward his terms.

At his own table, Kami’atra smiled at Alan’s forged attempts of proper negotiations, as he finished the tea and left an adequate tip for the waitress.  He stood and stretched, as he was certain his companions had the situation under control at the spacers’ table. Two passengers, three negotiating styles, a few different offers… they would decide somehow, but the team had better start making this transport come together soon.

As Kami’atra meandered toward the curtained doorway at the entrance, he paused to bow deeply to the musician for the affable and encouraging refrains. He placed a decent contribution within the basin at his feet for the general hospitality of the establishment and their future endeavors.  Then, he drew back the curtain to peer out onto the street.

It seemed that the armored Death Watch members seen leaving the inn had not traveled far; another member had met them in the street across from the inn.  One of the dreadnaughts appeared to be motioning toward the inn just as he opened the curtain; the two others nodded in agreement, yet continued to stand at ease across the way.  Kami’atra closed the curtain and shook his head as he returned to the counter to inquire of the tender regarding a back door to the Laughing Tengu.  After he was given the requested information, Kami’atra turned to the others and loosened his mind, sending a message to them all in simplified format, "We’d better make haste… this location may not be as safe as I’d thought."  His telepathic voice seemed to echo within their minds due to their proximity to each other.

Kami’atra then looked toward the entrance with his fists clenched tightly, but relaxed as the curtain parted and only one of the armored warriors returned, taking in a panoramic glance with his visored head – it was the one who had joined the two others, he was slightly shorter and his armor much newer. Perhaps an initiation into the Death Watch were about to occur. . .

Page felt a tap on his shoulder. Turning, he saw a member of the Death Watch standing over him. "Republic?” the armored figure asked. "A bit far from home, aren’t you?"

A quick glance at the “green” status of the initiate left Page with two thoughts: one, as annoyed as he was with this young fool, he really didn’t want to kill what may turn out to be a fine member of the Death Watch, and two, he would like to dispatch both of the situations sooner, rather than later.  Looking back to the captain with an irritated sigh, he stated, “Excuse me for just a moment."

With ferocity and precision, Alan stood and spinned 180 degrees, landing a solid uppercut on the initiate’s mask, which knocked him onto the table behind them and sent his mask flying. Quickly moving up into position, he leaned into the initiate with his right arm, effectively pinning him to the table. Page flexed his wrist, releasing a vibrodagger which sprang from his forearm into the grip of his left hand. With the dagger facing down, the Lt. pushed the blade’s tip so close to the initiate’s eye, if the fool had been wearing any synthetic lenses, Page would have touched them.

The Lt. could feel his companions’ desire to spring to his aid. However, before they could move, he called out without breaking eye contact, "I got this." The obviously “attentive” look on the man’s face led Alan to believe that he was no longer interested in any sort of fight. Taking advantage of his captive audience, he stated calmly, "I promise you, though I may work for the Republic, I don’t respond very diplomatically to a fool looking for something to prove. If you interrupt my conversation again with your aggressive posture toward me or my team, it will be the last thing you ever do.“

Seeing the fear in the initiate’s eye’s and feeling that a deep profound understanding between them had been reached, the Lt. released his grip and sheathed the vibrodagger back in place. He returned to his table and leaned down to lift his chair while calling to the waitress, ”Miss, I’ll have another one of these, thank you."

Page looked over at Irulan. The Jedi sat utterly frozen in place, staring at Page. “What the hell was that?” she hissed at him through clenched teeth. “Do you want to get us killed?” 

The Lt. whispered to her "A diplomatic solution. You’ll have to trust me, until this deal is done. When it is, I will be more than happy to explain my actions." He gave her a quick smirk.

The initiate scrambled out of the bar, grabbing his helmet as he went. “You fool!” the Twi’Lek shouted. "We’ve been seen with you, and now we’re going to have to get out of here before the Death Watch decides to even the score!" He pounded his fist on the table.

But the captain was unfazed. "This certainly was inopportune,“ said the captain, ”but we were moving on anyway.“ She turned to Kibur and Irulan. ”If you’re willing to pay an extra 2000 upon your safe return due to your companion’s indiscretion, we may have a deal."

“Done,” Irulan immediately replied.

At that moment, the initiate Page brought down a notch burst back in, flanked by four other members of the Death Watch. "There they are!" he shouted, pointing to the group at the table.

“Great.” Kibur raised his eyebrows.

Irulan reached for her lightsaber. But as her hand touched the hilt, she paused. Then, changing her mind, she stepped forward towards the Death Watch. Approaching the young initiate, she smiled and looked him straight in the eye. As she began to speak, her voice took on a slightly peculiar tone, noticeable only to her companions. Her hand remained at her side, but her fingers moved ever so slightly in a circular motion.

She said, “We’re not the ones you’re looking for. I saw the coward who attacked you – he immediately ran out that back entrance. If you hurry, you may yet catch him.” Her expression remained casual, masking her inward fear. Please, please work.

Kami’atra stood at the counter near the entrance, watching. The Death Watch now stood directly between him and his companions, a position that he did not particularly care for, to say the very least.  He pivoted on his heels as the accusations and manipulations were dispatched from either side.

Left hand upon the hilt of Kami’ken, he struck his gauntleted fist upon the countertop with a sudden and audible exhalation; the sound of the strike would have been heard by the patrons of The Laughing Tengu, but its true effect wouldn’t be of this tangible nature.  As his fist descended upon the aged wood of the bar, Irulan and any other Force-sensitive individuals would perceive waves of Force energy emanating from the strike point. These waves amplified Irulan’s persuasiveness to not only affect the thoughts of those in the room, but even the few people standing directly outside of the inn; all of them would have been given the impression that they had seen the proposed attacker escaping out the rear. 

The inn’s owner and musician tensed as he noticed the change in the air. Placing his instrument beside him, he nodded to the tender across the bar, who responded in turn with a nod and reached for a possibly-unnecessary weapon beneath the counter. The inn’s waitress simply smiled as she stood her ground near the innkeep, ready to flip a table to provide cover to those nearby.

Kami’atra tightened his grip upon his blade as he turned, ready to defend his companions against any that may have passed through the combined deception of him and the Jedi.  All the while, Kami’atra pondered the pride he had in Irulan’s change of actions, that she hadn’t reacted in a similar manner as Alan had to the initiate moments before.

As the waves of energy from the Kami’ken passed through the group of Death Watch soldiers, two of them, looking slightly mesmerized, began running toward the back door. “He didn’t go anywhere, you idiots!” growled the initiate. “He’s sitting right over there.” Ignoring him, the two soldiers disappeared out the back door.

The initiate began to shove past Irulan to get to Page, but Irulan put a hand on his shoulder and pushed him back to face her. Looking earnestly at him, she said, “No, you’re incorrect. That man is not the one who attacked you.”

As she spoke this time, the initiate’s eyes took on a slightly hazy look. Another soldier stepped up next to him. “Anything wrong, sir?”

“I was just so sure . . .” The initiate trailed off, confused.

As they were speaking, Kami’atra quietly moved from his position near the bar to take a few steps towards Irulan. But his actions did not go unnoticed. The young soldier who had addressed the initiate shifted towards Kami’atra, a wary look in his eyes, and his hand on his weapon. Everyone in the room tensed.

The initiate looks once more at Irulan, then suddenly broke the silence with a grim chuckle. “You know what, boys, I’m not sure these are the ones we want after all. Let’s head.” Followed by the rest of his cronies, he made his way past Page and Kibur, and out of the cantina.

The Lt. heaved a sigh of relief. Mala turned towards Irulan. “You handled yourself pretty well there, Jedi.” Her companion, Rom, merely gave a “hmmph” and shrugged his shoulders.

Page looked at Mala. “When are you ready to depart?”

“In about an hour or so,” she responded, standing to down a final gulp of her drink. “It should only take a few days to reach Nar Shadaa.”

Kami’atra walked towards the table, inwardly relieved at the peaceful way in which the situation had resolved itself. Together, the group made their way out of the cantina, blinking as they emerged into the bright Concord Dawn sunlight.

As they stepped out into the street, they suddenly heard a loud commotion to their left. Looking down the road, they saw the Death Watch members standing in a circle. In the center of the circle, kneeling on the ground, was a man. He appeared to be a simple merchant. As Kibur and the others watched, the soldiers took turns beating, kicking, and pummeling their victim.

“Answer yourself!” shouted one soldier, shoving the merchant’s face into the ground. “Why’d you beat up our boss?”

With this last question, he gave the merchant a particularly vicious punch to the sternum, causing him to groan in pain. “Please,” he said through clenched teeth, “Please – I don’t know what you’re talking about.”

Irulan’s heart jerked within her. “Oh no . . .” she said softly. “This is all my fault.”

As she looked on in horror, the Lt. decided to take action. Moving forward, he knocked the first soldier’s blaster out of his hands. Then, before the surprised guard had a chance to react, Page shot him in the chest with his own weapon.

At this first sound of blasterfire, Irulan turned towards Kami’atra, apologetically. “I’m sorry, Kam . . . I tried. There’s no way out now.” With that, she charged into the group of Death Watch members, lightsaber drawn. She took a swing at the soldier closest to her, slashing him hard across the chest and the arm. The soldier staggered backwards, clutching his shoulder.

Kami’atra nodded at Irulan. Fighting to defend others was still considered honorable, something they both understood. Gauntlets flaring to life, he made a wide circle around the soldiers, and struck one with great force. The electricity shot through the man, causing him to reel backwards as violent tremors shook his body. He lay on the ground, stunned.

Kibur looked through narrowed eyes at their enemies. Moving swiftly around to one side of Kami’atra, he pulled out his blaster and aimed carefully. Another guard suddenly found himself receiving a blaster bolt to the chest.

The young initiate kicked the fallen merchant in the gut. “More of your friends, eh?” Enraged, the Lt. dropped his heavy blaster and drew his repeater, aiming straight at the initiate. All at once, he unloaded his weapon into the soldier, who dropped like a sack of rocks, pummeled with laser blaster-fire.

Meanwhile, the soldier nearest Irulan pulled a vibroblade from his thigh and thrust it at her stomach. But she smoothly slid to one side and avoided the blow. Irulan slashed back at him. This time, her blow severed the man’s arm from his body. The arm, together with his weapon, fell to the ground with a heavy clatter.

Looking towards Kami’atra, Irulan willed him to hear her thoughts. What are we doing, Kam? Should we kill them, or just stun them long enough for the merchant to escape?

Immediately, Kami’atra’s thoughts returned her way. Our priority is defending the merchant… He must not die for our transgressions. Irulan nodded her assent, understanding. You mean my transgressions, she thought to herself.

Looking back to the soldiers, Kami’atra drew his powerful Kami’ken. The blade sang in the air as he drove it, up to the hilt, into the soldier nearest him. The man slumped to the ground by the side of a building. At the same time, Kibur deftly climbed to the top of a large scrap heap, and rained down blasterfire upon the Death Watch from above. His shots went over the top of the group, but one pierced the armor of a soldier standing near the exterior of the circle.

Turning from the fallen enemy, Page paused for the briefest moment. Then, he turned his repeater to stun, before unloading on yet another target. The man dropped to the ground, plummeting face-first into the dirt.

In the meantime, one of the Death Watch guards had made his way down the street, unnoticed. But not completely unnoticed. As the guard turned back to survey the situation from a safe distance, Page shot at him, hitting him in the chest with fire from his repeater.

The group paused, surveying the scene. All of their enemies lay on the ground, incapacitated. As they were looking down, the soldier whom Kami’atra had stunned began to stir, and tried to raise himself to his feet. Irulan took a step towards him and, turning off her lightsaber, hit him in the back of the head. He dropped to the ground unconscious. Kibur grinned at Irulan, clearly pleased at this newfound talent of hers.

Finally, Mala broke the silence. “Well, while I certainly appreciate what you’ve done here, now just might be a good time to leave.” Page simply grinned at her. She and Rom began to head down the street, in the direction of their ship.

Kami’atra knelt to the ground, next to where the merchant lay, and closed his eyes in deep concentration. As his healing hands stretched over the merchant’s broken body, his bones began to knit themselves back together inside of him. Slowly, the man’s pain dissipated, replaced by a cool, soothing sensation which flooded his every limb.

“Thank you – thank you,” the merchant said earnestly. “Please – you must take me with you. I have earned the ire of the Death Watch.”

“You’ll be fine,” Page responded kindly. “As you can see, your problems have been taken care of.” The merchant looked around at the fallen bodies.

“You’re probably right. Thank you very much for your assistance.” Placing his shoulder under the merchant’s arm, Kami’atra slowly helped him to his feet, making sure he was steady and able to walk unassisted. Grasping Kami’atra’s hand, the merchant smiled warmly and once more expressed his thanks.

As he wandered off down the street, the group could hear him murmuring to himself. “I can’t imagine why they would’ve attacked me. What did I do?”

While following the rest of the crew back to Captain Mala’s ship, Irulan stopped Alan to address what had happened back in the cantina. “You told me to trust you and wait. Well I’ve waited and he’s dead now. I want to know what was going on back there.”

Hearing her request encouraged Page, but at the same time, saddened him. In the end, his actions had not, as he had intended, preserved the lives of both his crew and the young Death Watch members.

“You’re right,” said Page, taking a step back to address the whole team, who by this time had stopped to hear what he had to say. “We all heard Kami’atra warn us that the location might be compromised. After I mentioned my affiliation with the Republic to Mala, the initiate approached us. Something in his tone made me believe that he was looking to fight just about anyone. This, combined with the Death Watch’s historic hatred of the Republic, led me to believe that we were in danger.”

Pausing, he continued with a sigh. “Based on his brutality with the merchant, I don’t think I was far wrong. I had hoped that I could take advantage of his inexperience and scare him out of a fight, which is why I chose to take him down the way I did.”

Bringing his gaze to Irulan, Alan continued. “Irulan, based on what I knew, and know now, about the initiate, he was only looking to fight. He couldn’t be talked down or bargained with.” Feeling a slight warm breeze hit him through the courtyard, Alan breathed in deep and finished his explanation, looking earnestly at his friends. “I can’t ask any of you to agree with what happened, but thought it was my best option at the time.”

As the group approached Mala’s ship; they could see her emerge onto the ramp as they came near. “We’ll be ready in a few minutes. Best say your goodbyes now.” She disappeared again into the ship’s interior.

Kibur grasped Page’s hand firmly, then pulled him aside and whispered in his ear. “Don’t worry – I’ll take care of her.” In response, the Lt. squeezed his hand so tightly that Kibur’s fingers turned white.

“Either that or I’m coming after you.” As Page released his hand, Kibur grimaced, flexing his fingers.

“I don’t doubt it.” He turned to Kami’atra. “Goodbye old friend. We’ll see you again soon.”

“I have seen it. And I will deliver your message, as I promised.”

“I appreciate it,” said Kibur over his shoulder, as he made his way up the ramp and into the ship.

Irulan gave Page a quick hug goodbye, wishing him a safe journey. To Kami’atra, she said, “Farewell. Don’t forget my letter.” Inwardly she added, And, keep in touch.

“I won’t forget,” he said aloud. May the Force be with you.

As Irulan stepped up the ramp, Page suddenly grabbed her hand, stopping her. She turned towards him, and he reached in his pocket. When he pulled out his hand, he was holding a beautiful ruby-encrusted tortoiseshell comb.

Irulan’s eyes widened, and she very carefully fastened it firmly into her auburn hair. “Thank you – it’s beautiful.”

“It’s for luck,” he said with a smirk. She smiled at him in response, then followed Kibur inside the ship.

Turning, Kami’atra looked back to survey the scene. He tilted his head toward Page and sighed. “Maybe we should do something about all these bodies.”

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Interlude 2: Information

“Who were they?!” the cloaked figure asked, holding the alien’s head up. Tel Murron was tied hand and foot, leaned against a piece of scrap metal.

“I… I don’t know.” He sighed heavily, trying to get a breath. After what this hooded man had done to him, he could barely breathe. "I’ve told you everything. A jedi and her companions came here, attacked me, then moved on, leaving me tied up like this."

“Companions? What kind of companions?” the sinister man asked, his red eyes flaring.

“Companions, I don’t know.” Tel paused. "There was another… I don’t think he was a Jedi, but he had
powers. He was… blind, I believe, but it didn’t stop him from conjuring powers."

“A Miralukan…” the shadow said.

“Also, a Dug, and a human with a blaster.” Tel dropped his head. "That’s all I know.“

The man pulled back his hood, revealing the great scar across his face. His eyes echoed the fury in his soul. ”If that is all you know, that is all you are useful for." The snap-hiss of the red lightsaber ignited, raising up, then coming down swiftly.

And back in his quarters in the Iron Dawn, Kami’atra gasped at the sudden loss of… something, no someone to whom he had given his word to return for – the bounty hunter of Raxus Prime.

"So much loss… all is lost in the end; but I should have done more, and I never even knew that hunter’s name…"

View
Chapter 2: Hyperspacial Reasoning

The Iron Dawn travelled gracefully through the blue mists of hyperspace.

As Kami’atra acquainted himself once again with the sterile environment of spaceflight, he couldn’t help but think that he should have made the crew more aware of his desire to have returned to the sight of their first encounter on Raxus Prime with the restrained bounty hunter left behind.  He thought to himself how awful it would be to wake up to that predicament. Kami’atra refrained a silent prayer for the hunter left behind – that he might be rescued and not pass away the terrible death of simple exposure.

Once back inside the ship, Irulan started to walk toward her cabin, but a sharp pain in her side made her gasp. The heat of the fight had most likely hindered her from noticing earlier.

Grabbing her left side, she made her way into the medical bay. Yanking out drawers and opening cabinets, she started rummaging around for some kind of drug. But the pain forced her to sit down quickly on the long white table by the wall.

"Kam, Kibur!“ she called out into the hallway. ”Can you help me? I think one of my ribs may be broken . . ."

While he walked the cluttered corridors of the Iron Dawn, Kami’atra’s ears arose to the sound of Irulan’s plea for assistance.  He ran toward the sound to find her already lying upon the examination table holding her side.  He tried his best not to sound patronizing as he entered the room and made his attempts at calming her pained state; "Shhh… Shhh… It’s alright, Irulan, you’re going to be fine.“

Kami’atra took her hand as he inhaled deeply and held his breath for what seemed like an eternity; time slowed, and even the passage of stars seemed to creep by while the vessel remained in hyperspace.  He placed his cool palm upon her forehead as one would to check for fever, and soon the pain subsided.

”Are you beginning to feel better, Irulan?" He smiled but did not wait for her response, simply placing her arm at her side and told her not to move.  Turning toward the Bacta tank, he thought to himself for a moment; as the crew was currently short on funds, he decided to forego the use of the truly expensive elixir.  He pivoted around to face her again as his lips uttered nigh silently to themselves words that would appear incomprehensible to most others on the vessel.

"You are right, Irulan, your seventh sinister rib was broken during the encounter at the tower; but you needn’t worry, it was a very clean break and will heal nicely…"  With this said, Kami’atra began to assist her in rolling onto her right side in order to take any pressure from the break.  Once stabilized, he placed his hand near her side; as the procedure began, his fingers involuntarily stretched outward to their maximum angle of extension to fully cover the site of the wound. 

Irulan could feel the rib placing itself together within her thoracic cavity, though her pain had been displaced at the beginning.  Erythrocytes and osteocytes flooded the site with a sudden cooling effect as the bone matrix began to compose itself once again.  This process continued for several minutes; though Kami’atra’s greatest desire was that his healings could be as nearly instantaneous as those within the study of The Way…

He exhaled slowly as the stars regained their visible momentum, and his hand relaxed as he stepped back from the table.  "You may sit up now, Irulan…  The site is weakened but it will heal swiftly and surely; however, we will wrap it to secure the healing process."  He reached for the bandages upon the nearby countertop before turning back toward the Jedi to wrap the sore but healing ribcage.

Once Kami’atra had skillfully finished wrapping her bandage, Irulan slid forward on the examination table and placed both feet on the floor. Tentatively, she shifted her weight to her feet, and was surprised to find that she was able to stand without much pain.

"Thanks, Kam.“ she said. ”I didn’t know you could set bones that way. Here I thought I was going to have to drink some whiskey, bite a bullet, and have Kibur snap it back into place.“ She laughed, but winced very slightly, remembering to still be careful.

”Yes, there are a great many things that even the most scholarly of Jedi healers do not yet understand from their seats within the great temple of theirs…"  Not wishing to offend, Kami’atra held his tongue from further discourse.

As he put his tools away in the cabinet, Irulan noticed that he was slightly distracted. Watching his countenance silently for a moment, she said quietly, “It’s not your fault, you know. We were in a hurry to get out of there and forgot. He’ll be ok; I can sense it. Someone will find him.”

"Thank you for your concern, Irulan. It is always a blessing to hear a confirmation from someone else’s senses regarding a vision of the future. I too have foreseen the bounty hunter’s release and rescue; however, I told myself that I would come back for him."  Kami’atra replaced the bandages within the cabinetry of the examination room, and picked up his satchel which he had thrown to the ground prior to the procedure, hanging it upon a hook near the room’s door.


Meanwhile, back in the main hold, the Lt. checked his weapons and equipment into a storage locker, minus of course his trademark flight jacket and the blaster pistol on his hip. Thinking the droid might need to be checked for potential tracking devices and possible repairs, he escorted it back to the workshop.

As they entered, HA-K7 sat on the table and looked out the window, watching the swirling mists. "So… beautiful.“ He turned his one red eye to Lt. Page, sitting in silence for a moment. ”Where are you taking me?"

“This is our workshop; we need to know if you are still being tracked. The last thing I want is to fall out of hyperspace in front of an ambush,” the Lt. responded sternly. Changing his tone, he addressed the droid in a more forgiving tone. "Are you in need of repairs?“

As the droid ran a check on his system, the Lt. activated the intercom. ”When you’re all ready, I have HA-K7 in the workshop. I don’t know about you, but I want to know what’s going on."  


In the medical bay, Irulan started at the noise of the Lt.’s voice crackle over the intercom. She smiled at Kami’atra. "I think we’re being summoned. Shall we find out what it is that we went through all this for?"

“Indeed, we should certainly find out what this droid has in store for us.  However, we must complete this endeavor with caution… I’ve sensed something much less than benign concerning the future of this venture.  Something dark waits for us at our destination, but the visions are more than vague as to what lies ahead… I sense an oppression of my sight.  Lord only knows what plot is to be unfolded hereafter.”

Gesturing for her to exit, Kami’atra shook his head of the melancholy thoughts to focus on the present; he reminded her that she should take care for the next day or so to not throw herself into crates and the like, also to let him know if there was any recurring pain that could not be subsided by her own will in the Force – though any surfacing pain would likely be minimal.  "There may also be some slight bruising at the site, but that is nothing new to a Knight such as yourself.“

As the two left the medical bay and began heading toward the workshop, they nearly ran into Kibur heading the same direction.  ”Oh, Kibur, I had almost forgotten to thank you for the rescue back there; I knew you would make your appearance right on time.  We all really appreciate your timeliness." 

“Not a problem,” said Kibur. "Glad I could be of assistance. Last ditch rescues are a specialty of mine." He pulled out his data pad and looked over it. “Systems all check out. I’ve got us on a course for Nar Shaddaa by way of the Perlemian Trade Route and the Hydian Way. We’ll make contact there with Troba’s agents who can take us to Nal Hutta to hand the droid over to him there.”

Kibur held his hand on his holster as they walked, absentmindedly snapping and unsnapping the guard-piece. The three entered the workshop as Bax entered from the engine room. "Let’s see what this bucket of bolts has to say,” Kibur smirked. 

"That’s biologist… the Dawn muttered through the intercom.

The droid looked around at the four gathered. "I am HA-K7, Human/Cyborg relations. I have, contained within my systems information that, frankly, I don’t know what to do with.“ A hologram projected from the center of his chest, a long, cylindrical object, slowly rotating in a steady arc.

”This is a laser cannon. I do not mean a mere blaster or E-Web. This is a machine of war such as the universe has never known. It is colossal, and possesses firepower unequaled in the history of warfare.“ He studies the hologram carefully before continuing. ”I have calculated the power of the laser to be more than 2.4×1032 watts, with an optimum range of 2,000,000 kilometers and a working range of 420,000,000 kilometers. It would require a massive hypermatter reactor to power it, and uses 64 tributary shafts to generate eight beams that unite to form the primary beam over the central lens of the weapon.“ He turned off the display.

”At this point, of course, it is entirely hypothetical. The materials needed for this would require a galaxy-spanning hunt for a power source, focusing lenses, and something immense to case it all within. This knowledge could bring the galaxy to its knees.“ He looked at the four.

”So I ask you again… Where are you taking me?"

Looking at HA-K7, Page spoke first. “We made a deal with a Hutt, to deliver you to him. Now, I am not so sure we can go through with this.” Alan took a brief pause. "Actually there is no way in Kessel we can go through with this.“ Shifting his attention to the crew, he said firmly, ”We can’t let this information fall into the wrong hands, especially not a Hutt. I recommend we tell him the deal is off."

Turning back to the droid, Page continued, “HA-K7 does the name Troba mean anything to you? And if it does, why would he want what your carrying, other than for its obvious monetary value?” 

HA-K7 paused for a moment. "Sir, I am not registering the name Troba anywhere within my databanks. If he is, as you say, a Hutt, he is probably interested in me only for the value of the information I carry."

There was a brief silence. Then Kami’atra broke in. “Well, we must follow this course until the end… Should we not seek out the creator and requisitioner of such a devastating weapon?”  He thought for a moment while deciding whether to expose his mentor, who knew a thing or two about militarized weapons – perhaps he would know what to do…  No, my connections with Hoole shouldn’t be exposed without his expressed desire to do so, Kami’atra concluded silently to himself with a shake of his head.

Aloud, he said, “Perhaps we can uncover this information from Troba or the Hutt’s informants.  As for now this is our only lead, unless one of you knows something I am unaware of…”  Internally, he possessed great hope that there was another option, yet his heart told him that all of this would lead to the same place, no matter which path they chose.

“We really have two options here,” said Kibur, looking at the group. "We can either turn this droid over to the Hutts, or, as Kam says, get information from them; or alternatively, we could turn the droid over to the Republic and suffer any hardships the Hutt Crime Syndicate decides to bring down on us."

Kami’atra nodded. “I have no personal qualms with disgruntling the Hutts – there is no integrity in them, no honor… I haven’t any idea how we got ourselves entangled with them in the first place; but now that we find ourselves herein, I must say that I find no faith in the Hutt Syndicate, and only very little within the Republic itself.  It seems to me that the lesser of two evils seems to be to surface this information to the Republic.”

Kami’atra thought to himself for a moment or two as he glanced around at the members of the crew.  As his vision passed the Jedi among them, he voiced his opinion on the matter. "If we are to take this droid to the Republic, might I suggest we approach the Jedi with this matter?  If we were to choose the path leading to the Republic, and as we’d be headed to Coruscant, the Jedi Temple would be an obvious choice to one such as myself.  What do the rest of you think?"

Unnoticeable to anyone but Kami’atra, Irulan’s posture changed very slightly at this last suggestion.

"One minute you’re scoffing at the Temple, and now you want to go to them for counsel?“ Her eyes narrowed mildly. ”I agree – we can’t take it to Troba. But we made a deal, which means he’ll be on our tail as soon as he finds out what we’ve done. That is, if he hasn’t already."

"It’s the Senate that really needs to know about this, but there’s always the risk of informants within it. So I guess the Temple is our best option, though I don’t really know what we expect the Council to do. But I’d like to go back; I have some . . . matters to attend to."

Lt. Page sighed, as if he were about to say something crazy. “I would agree, taking HA-K7 to the Jedi is the wisest choice.  We need to find out why Troba wants this droid. As Kam stated, Troba is our best lead. Agreed, the droid needs to be safe, but I think a small group of us need to meet Troba, or at least make contact with him or his agents.” The Lt. laughed a little to himself with a smirk on his face. "He’ll want us dead sooner or later, why not use this chance while we still can?

“An interesting thought, Lt.,” Kami’atra said. “The Hutts are always seeking power, whether that power is tangible or intangible in nature; they’re always dealing in information as well, though, in recent decades, even the Hutts are serving someone more sinister. I believe that I may speak for all of us when I say that we ought not to bring the droid to Troba now that we know what the droid is in possession of; and if we are to be hunted by Troba either way, why should we split ourselves to approach the devious Hutt?”

Feeling as if his point was entirely missed by his companion, the Lt. restated it while shifting his weight forward and leaning toward Kami’atra. "Kam, this is our last chance to contact the Hutt before he knows we have double-crossed him. I recommend we take advantage of it and get as much information as we can." 

“I see your point, Lt., who do you suggest placate the Hutt while the rest sort out the decision of the droid?”  Kami’atra certainly recognized that he’d stepped on some toes by dodging the idea of splitting the group to attempt an interrogation of a Hutt on its own field; he apologized to Page for doing so while, more subtly, standing the ground of his own decision. “I will most certainly perform my utmost for the decision that the crew arrives at, to whatever end… as would we all, I’m sure.”

“Oh boys – don’t bicker,” Irulan said, watching the tensing of the two men in front of her. "We won’t split up the valuable members of the party. I’ll go,“ she smiled lightly. ”You all take the droid to the Council. Kibur can drop me off in Hutt Space, and I’ll find a way to convince Troba that we never found K7 at all. I can be very persuasive." She looked to her friends, her chin tilted in quiet determination.

Shocked at her desire to volunteer, Page realized he should have expected her to come between him and an argument, as she had often done in missions past. He decided that he needed to put the breaks on this fast. "Irulan, before we decide who’s going, we need to decide if it is worth the risk." He backpedalled further, attempting to keep the young Jedi from getting too far ahead of herself, and also realizing that he had several steps already planned in his head on how to get to the rendezvous, letting the crew go on to the Temple and protect the droid.

With a long sigh the Lt. looked at each member of the crew and said, "I have saved this crew many times over, but I have almost gotten us killed a fair number as well. If someone leaves knowing this could get them killed, then I’ll go."

“That won’t be necessary, Alan,” Kibur said firmly. “We need you to protect the droid. He is, after all, what this mission is all about.”

Kibur turned back to Irulan. “You forget that Hutts are not so susceptible to Jedi mind tricks. Their minds are as slick as they are. If they catch you in the lie, you’ll be in grave danger.” He looked back at Page, Kam and Bax. "Here’s the plan. We can stop at Concord Dawn and split from there. The three of you take the Iron Dawn to Coruscant; Irulan and I will find alternate means of transportation from there. Ill be with Irulan the whole time in case things get hairy."

“I can take care of myself, thank you very much,” Irulan looked pointedly at Kibur, but his raised eyebrows were sufficient answer as to his opinion on the matter.

"Fine. It’s settled then. Let’s go." Spinning on her heel, she marched out of the room towards her cabin to get her things together.

“So be it… The LORD bless you and keep you both. It will not be too soon when we see you two returned safely…”  Kami’atra most definitely did not enjoy the idea of the group splitting up, especially with one group facing the deception of a Hutt known particularly for its personal ruthlessness, and the other facing a sense of uncertain darkness at their destination of Coruscant. But the group had decided, and he would serve that decision to the best of his ability.

Kami’atra turned to Page and gave him an encouraged nod that carried with it a feeling of utter preparedness, and a desire for them to help get Irulan and Kibur ready and to re-plot a course to the crew’s port of separation, Concord Dawn.

Glad to have swayed the Jedi’s mind, Kibur left the workshop, and headed for the bridge to recalculate the coordinates. “Dawn,” he said, looking up. "Change of plans."

"Oh?“ the Iron Dawn said.

”We’re splitting up. You’ll be dropping Irulan and me off at Concord Dawn and then continuing on with Kami’atra, Alan and Bax to Coruscant."

"You’re breaking up with me?“ the ship asked in a mocking manner.

”It’s not you, babe. It’s me."

He arrived on the bridge and dropped the ship out of hyperspace to recalculate the route. All around them was silent darkness. The stars continued in their stately dance through the heavens. There were no nearby stars or planets, just dark matter and pinpricks of light.

Back in the workshop, the Lt. leaned with his arms against the wall and his fists clenched, letting out a sigh of disappointment at Kibur’s decision. A moment passed, then Alan walked past the others hastily. "Give me a minute," he stated as he headed toward the bridge after Kibur.

Once inside the bridge, he turned around to close the door behind him. “Kibur, fine – you want to pursue this lead without me, that’s your prerogative. You and I have faced the Hutts before; she hasn’t. Kibur, although Irulan is a Jedi, she can be brash and quick-tempered…” he paused, remembering that was something he always liked about her. "I’m asking you to reconsider your decision and take either Kam or me; if something happened to her or you, I’d never forgive myself." He looks at his companion piercingly, hoping to remind him of the years of history they’d had on this ship, fighting and working together for the good of the galaxy.

Kibur turned in his chair to the Lt. “Page,” he said, then paused a moment. "Alan…" He indicated a seat for Lt. Page to sit in, and sighed.  “I can see this isn’t going to be resolved soon, so let’s talk.”

Alan took the offered seat and leaning toward Kibur with his hands on his knees. As Kibur spoke, he continued to punch in calculations. "I understand your concerns. But the fewer we have going into the mouth of the Sarlaac, the better. If there are only two of us, we’ll get out easier in a bind.“ He finished his calculations. ”I know how you feel about her, but you can’t let that cloud your judgement.“ As he pulled the lever, the ship stretched into hyperspace. ”In the end, I can’t force you to leave us and go to Coruscant. But I can ask you."

The Lt. paused, processing his friend’s bold statements about his feelings toward Irulan. "Kibur, this is not about my feelings toward her…" He closed his eyes and leaned back in the chair before continuing, with an aggravating sigh of frustration at being caught actually showing his feelings for her. “What it is about, is that you may both be fully capable members of this team, but I am telling you this is probably not a good idea.” 

“Come on, Alan,” said Kibur, standing up. "You know me. My life is full of bad ideas. What’s one more?“ He smirked. ”Trust me."

Frustrated, Alan stood up and pointed his finger at his seated friend "Fine, Kibur – if you think you and Irulan can pull this off, than go. But if you guys get into trouble, I’m not coming after you." Finishing his statement, the Lt. opened the door. As he stepped into the hall, he felt himself already calming down from his outburst. With a quick look back, he added sharply, "Take care of her!” He walked back down the hall to begin cleaning his Repeater.

Outside in the main hold, Irulan saw Kami’atra leaving the workshop, and walked swiftly to catch up with him. “Kam . . . wait,” she said, taking his arm. “I know what you’re thinking – that this is a bad idea. But Kibur knows what he’s doing; I’ll be safe enough with him. Please don’t worry about us.

”You and I share a ‘connection,’ after all. You’ll know what’s going on with me the whole time. And if we’re in trouble, you’ll know. Same goes for you. I know I’ll be able to sense how you’re doing, even from that far away. We’ll still be able to watch out for each other, as always.

"I have to go get my things ready. Do you think you could meet me in a few hours, in the port lounge? There are some things I feel I need to tell you, before you go to the Council. And I think . . . perhaps this arrangement is best, after all. I think it is best that you see them, and not me."

Kami’atra told her warmly that he would meet her at the appointed time and that he knew that they would complete their task among the Hutts without fail – he knew that she would be alright and that they would keep in touch. He wished her well in preparing, both physically and mentally, and reminded her to pay close attention to her healing but currently bruised ribs as they might give her trouble during this mission.

As they parted, Kami’atra smiled to her and assured her that all would be well in the end – he thought eschatologically yet spoke temporally.  He left her to her preparations and headed to his domicile within the medical bay to check on supplies and to put everything in order prior to his meditation. 

Once everything was replaced within the room, Kami’atra reached for his satchel and drew from it the simple leathern tome within.  Opening the codex to a very familiar and well-worn passage, he read the words silently yet with lips moving and with hand motions, as if he were the one speaking.  As he finished, he placed the still-open tome upon the examination table, after opening it to a different passage corresponding to a very different period of time.  He stood with his back to the door and stretched out his hands with palms upward; his mind’s eye closed to all sights and sounds that blurred and hummed about the cabins and corridors of the Iron Dawn, and he focused himself deeply within the blackness then found in the silence. 

All time and space seemed to sift and shift away as he considered the paths before the crew, in particular the darkness that he’d foreseen for them at Coruscant. It was difficult to foresee this particular section of time for some reason, although prophecy had always been a common practice for him and his brethren at home as they maintained Oracle status for that region of space.  Thankful for the gift of foresight, he prayed for the ability to uncover more about this dark presence that he felt and saw.

The room was utterly silent. Then, without warning, Kami’atra snapped out of his vision, his head thrown back. His knees buckled as he fell to the floor. A cold sweat enveloped him.


Irulan made her way to her chamber. Quietly closing the door behind her, she hung her long brown robe neatly over a chair, and then pulled out a book wrapped in scarlet cloth from under her bed. Opening its cover, she flipped midway through to a spot marked with a leather cord, and she began to write something in the top right-hand corner.

Hearing a slight tapping at the door, Irulan shut the book and hastily slid it under the bed, then stepped towards the door and listened.

“Mistress Jedi? Are you there?” a slightly electronic voice murmured.

At the sound of the droid’s voice, Irulan opened the door. “Come in, K7.” She motioned politely towards the seat at her desk, even though she knew droids didn’t really have to sit down. Seating herself on the edge of her bed, she looked at their new friend inquisitively. “How can I help you?”

“Please, Mistress Jedi, call me Hak,” the droid said, "most do.“ He walked into the room, standing there, looking about. It seemed he didn’t notice Irulan’s gesture to the chair. She could almost see him inventorying things, as a machine with such brain power would. He finally stopped, and looked at Irulan. ”I wish to… thank you. For doing this. Who knows what the Hutts would do to my central processors in an effort to extract this information…"

He ran his hands across the carbon scoring of his chest, near the holoprojector unit.

“Hak, then,” she said. "And you’re welcome. However – if you had simply showed the Hutts the information, as you did with us, then you wouldn’t have suffered any damage. Are you loyal to the Republic, then?

"There’s another thing I still want to know. What happened to you, before we got to you in that tower? How did you get there? And how did that monstrous . . . thing get there? You must know who put this information inside you in the first place."

“Mistress Jedi,” Hak said, "to be quite truthful… I don’t know. I remember nothing of my previous history, leaving me to assume my memory has recently been wiped. The only things I remember are the horrible tortures I received at the hands of the droids in that facility. Hours upon hours as the restraining bolt held me in place, they would take saws to me, arc wielders… trying to do what, I’ll never know. I don’t know if the information was in me in the first place, or whether they placed it there.“ He looked at her with his single eye. ”I do not know if I am loyal to the Republic. But you and your people have saved me. I am loyal to you."

Just then, Kibur’s voice came in over the intercom. "Attention, passengers: we will be dropping out of hyperspace momentarily. Stand by." The sounds of the sublight engines kicking in and the hyperspace engines dropping out echoed through the ship.

They had arrived at Concord Dawn.

View
Interlude 1: Shaken to the Very Core

The hard clicking of boots struck on the echoing metal floor. Throughout the shattered facility, the sounds of sparks and shifting metal reverberated. The figure stopped momentarily, looking at one of the battle droids. It was still glowing from searing heat. He leaned in to examine it. Lightsaber burns.

A Jedi had been here. Looking up, he saw the wreckage all around him. Junk planet though Raxus Prime was, this ruin added to the flavor.

He stood as he heard footsteps quickly approaching behind him. He didn’t turn as the two battle droids stopped a few feet away.

"Sir,“ one of the droids said, ”the ship transporting those who did this has jumped into hyperspace. We are unable to track it.“

He smiled slightly under his black hood. ”Very well,“ he said, turning to the two droids. ”The mercenaries who tore this place to the ground made short work of it. The information that droid carries will lead them one place, and one place only. I know where they are going.“ He walked past the two droids, pale skin and red eyes full of hatred.

”Prepare my ship for my arrival."

View
Chapter 1: Raxus Prime

THE IRON DAWN

Episode II

It has been five years since the Iron Dawn was last in the public spotlight. The crew have spent the last few years wandering the galaxy searching for adventure, dealing with the relative peace that has befallen the galaxy after the turmoil they encountered on Naboo.

Rumors of war have begun to spread across the galaxy. Unrest in the Senate has led to some speculating that a galactic civil war is imminent.

On the distant planet of Raxus Prime, the Iron Dawn, piloted by Kibur Blastblade, has recently set down in search of some sensitive material a few Hutts are willing to pay handsomely for.

But the crew are not the only ones searching for this secret item…


The Iron Dawn slowly settled on a pile of scrap metal, shifting unsteadily before finding a foothold. The hatch hissed with hydraulics and opened, lowering onto a solitary patch of dirt. The junk planet of Raxus Prime awaited.

The planet was covered in mounds upon mounds of junk and refuse. Dozens of planets across dozens of systems used this planet as a dumping ground for all their unwanted items. Old speeders, starships, rusted droids and decaying food numbered among the untold billions of items covering this planet from pole to pole. The stench was unmistakable and strong.

A holographic display had been placed at the base of the ramp of the ship by the Hutts, who had told the crew it would activate once they arrived dirt-side. It lit up.

A Hutt, corpulent and slick, was displayed in a small three dimensional image, flanked by a 3PO translator droid.

“Achuta, murishanis,” the Hutt muttered. Greetings, travelers, the droid translated.

“Jee waba chuba ta boska un droi coo sa ree foonta ta je.” His Excellency, Lord Troba the Hutt, desires that you to find a certain droid he seeks on this planet. It is very important to him.

“Mikiyuna sa stuta da droi, an da pogwa soong lust sa ree inkabunga.” Everyone is looking for this droid, and the information he carries is most private in nature.

“Koose da droi ta je, an chuba vopa moulee-rah.” Bring the droid to his Excellency on Nal Hutta, and you will be rewarded.

“Kaa bazza kundee hodrudda.” Best of luck.

The hologram went silent.

Kami’atra glanced around to his companions as a slight smile began to curl the corner of his lips. Without a word, he descended the ramp to touch base with this personally new world. As he reached the base of the ramp, he took in a slow panoramic view of the desolation that was Raxus Prime. Having never been to this world, yet hearing only rumors of the atrocities that accumulated here on the surface and below, he sighed and looked to his feet.

Kneeling down, he retrieved a small scrap of metal that had been half-buried by the Dawn’s landing. As he stood, he tossed the scrap to clitter-clatter among the various remnants of long forgotten machinery and rubble; his smile widened as the sound sent myriad little creatures scurrying throughout the nearby rubbish piles away from the thrower. Though his smile diminished as he took his first deep breath of the thick, foul, stench that was this world’s atmosphere, he took a half-step back to turn toward the crew and nodded in acknowledgement.

“Keep on your toes, friends, but for now it appears safe enough…,” Kami’atra encouraged as he turned to focus his attention on anything that might have been drawn to the landing vessel with less than amiable intentions.

Kibur held a small tracking device aloft, as the small mini-computer cut in and out. The static of the massive collection of metal interfered with the signal.

“We go north,” said Kibur, looking towards a mountain of sheet metal in the distance. “That way, I think…” He began to walk over the piles of trash.

Bax grumbled a bit, throwing his pack over his shoulder, and began to slowly, but deftly move over the rubble. Chattering in binary, “Span” the J-9 Worker droid followed behind his master. Magnetically attached to Span’s back were three bulbous discs with single view-pieces on one end of each of them.

Using all four limbs to move, as his lower limbs touched the ground every once and a while, they shimmered with a pulse of energy. “Why do we do this? He never even gave us a price. I hate Hutts.”

Back inside the ship, Irulan closed the leather journal which she had been reading – the last remnant of her master that she owned – and wrapped it in a scarlet cloth. Quickly gathering her other belongings into her satchel, she hooked her saber into her belt and stepped outside, descending the ramp to where Kibur and the others were waiting.

She began to follow them through the debris, in the direction Kibur pointed.

“Are there any kind of life forms that might actually inhabit this god-forsaken place? And what kind of information do you think this droid contains? Surely nothing good . . .”

“From what I’ve heard, Irulan, this planet is mostly populated by independent droids, immigrated Jawas, and capsulized human industrial colonies. I’m certain we’re bound to run into someone scavenging for parts in this wasteland; it’s not a place I’d choose to stay long… As for the droid, I’d prefer not to delve to deep into the thoughts of a Hutt; I’m with Bax – I don’t trust Troba, but I wouldn’t let you three run this task alone.”

Kami’atra scrambled up to the peak of the nearest of the junk mounds and scanned the near horizon for anything in motion, especially in the direction Kibur had indicated. As the crew moved forward, he continued this pattern of climb and seek, occasionally throwing a small piece of scrap over the next hill watching for movement among the debris.

Irulan paused thoughtfully, brushing her auburn hair away from her face. “I’m glad you’re with us, Kami’atra. But we were told that there are numerous people seeking this droid besides us. I guess what I’m afraid of is that the information this droid contains will prove deadly to someone – perhaps someone innocent. Why else would so many people want it?”

“A worthy question,” a voice responded. Stepping over a pile of rubble stood an alien, its race strange and unfamiliar. “I suppose you’re the ones Troba sent?” He held a cylinder of metal up, igniting it. The lightsaber flashed with light.

“A Jedi? What an honor.” Irulan drew her lightsaber in a flash of dazzling blue, inwardly praying the others have her back in case this bounty hunter was stronger than she predicted. She was not ready to die just yet – so much unfinished business to attend to.

“Jedi?!” the alien scoffed. “Jedi?! I took this blade off the monster who slew my father.”
He drew a blaster pistol from its holster. “The droid is mine. Shall we?”

Bax pulled out his own metal cylinder and ignited it, taking a puff. The fumes from the aluminum tab stick made him smile. With the tube between his teeth he pulled his ion rifle off his shoulder and leveled it at the enemy. “Well, if I don’t recognize what it is, maybe it won’t know what I’m carrying.” Span stood next to him chattering aimlessly in Binary.

Kami’atra glared down at the assailant from his perch atop a nearby scrapheap. His gauntlets sparked to energetic life as he drew blade from sheath and observed the attacker from above, watching for a point of weakness.

“It was unwise of you to be so brash, hunter,” Kami’atra called to the attacker. “What is your name that we may dispatch you honorably, and send word to whom it be appropriate?” he continued, in hopes of drawing the assailant’s attention.

Kibur drew his blaster, ducking behind the empty hull of a Z-95 Headhunter. He could feel the sticky warmth of the air clinging to him as he took a deep breath, popped up from behind the scrap and fired. The shot hit the bounty hunter in the shoulder, momentarily causing him to stumble backwards.

“You killed a Jedi, huh?” While Tel recovered from Kibur’s shot, Irulan closed her eyes, trying to control her anger. There is no emotion, there is peace. But the image that rose in her mind, unbidden, was her last sight of her master. Green eyes snapping open, she sprang forward and swung at him with her lightsaber, but he swiftly ducked and avoided the blow. As he moved forward in retaliation, she rolled beneath a rusty, overturned airspeeder.

Bax rushed forward and dove behind a Generator closer to the alien, shooting his ion gun around the hunter’s feet to provide cover fire for the others.

Kami’atra lowered his blade to his right and behind him as the planet’s noxious winds begin to swirl around him. Extending his left arm out toward the hunter, he began to mouth ancient words in his native tongue under his breath. The wind descended into the junkyard beneath him with a resounding clatter and emerged in the surrounding proximity of their assailant. As the whirlwind rose from the enemy’s feet, the winds intensified and began assaulting him with myriad scraps of metal and earthen material; the furious flurry of shards continued to accumulate until the crew’s attacker could hardly be seen through the tempest that consumed nearly four meters around the hunter. Kami’atra internalized a deep breath before taking a few small steps to take cover behind the heavy arm of a long forgotten ore lifting crane.

The whirlwind pummeled the bounty hunter, whipping around him. His lightsaber had gone out when the whirlwind first began, but now a snap-hiss was heard and a blue glow shone through the cloud of debris. He fired a shot in the dark, wildly missing any of the crew.

JEDI!!!” he shouted.

Kibur, seeing the glow, came up over the Headhunter and fired again. The red flash and shout as the bounty hunter was hit gave him a grim satisfaction. He dropped back down below the ship, and shouted in the general direction of the others. “We need to keep moving! If he’s here, there are bound to be others looking for that droid!” He pulled out a datapad and began typing across its surface.

“You called?” Irulan’s eyes narrowed fiercely as, rolling to her feet, she aimed another furious slash at the bounty hunter. This time, he slid swiftly out of the way. The voice of her master sounded clearly in her head in sharp rebuke. Focus, Irulan! What is wrong with you? He’s not worth this.

Bax slowly moved forward step by step as the ion rifle burst upon the ground around the enemy. “We need to move or fight, what are we gonna do?!” he shouted over the din.

“We have to take care of him, Bax, or he’ll only be a threat to us!” Irulan shouted out.

Kami’atra continued to focus upon the whirlwind he’d created to surround the bounty hunter. Scrap metal concentrically beat upon the hunter as the winds swirled and thrust the space about him.

“You’ll not escape this encounter with your life, hunter . . . today is not a good day for you to die. I am no Jedi, but I promise you that my companions will destroy you if you make the choice not to surrender,” Kami’atra recited to the crew’s attacker. Earth and metal persisted in tormenting the assailant to the point where what little of the nearest star could be seen through the dust and dim atmosphere of Raxus Prime all but vanished to the eyes of their aggressor.

“Although it may seem fruitless, I will offer you the choice to yield this unwarranted attack or I’ll allow you to succumb to and be condemned by this silent darkness that you are now experiencing.”

The only sound heard was the whipping of the wind and metal on metal. Then, through the noise, a voice gasped, “Please! Just make it stop!” In the moments of clarity through the whirlwind, he could be seen on his knees, an arm outstretched.

Seeing the figure on the ground, Irulan suddenly felt her heart wrench within her. “Kami’atra – stop it. Please. He’s surrendering to us. Couldn’t we stun him, or at least take him prisoner?”

There was pity and compassion found upon Kami’atra’s countenance; however, he knew that the whirlwind was not meant to destroy their attacker and had not delivered terribly much damage to the hunter…

With a voice of suspicion ringing in his tone and continued winds scraping shards against the assailant, Kami’atra spoke to him through the bellowing tempest, “Discard your weapons over to us, hunter – all of them – that we may hear your plea in greater faith.”

Kami’atra looked toward each of his companions individually to observe their perceptions of this potential turn of events. Regardless, as he was well aware of the treachery that individuals such as their current attacker were stereotypically capable of, Kami’atra returned his focus to the kneeling, submissive figure within the winds.

“Anything!” the bounty hunter shouted through the gale. He threw his lightsaber through the whirlwind. It skittered to a halt a few feet away. The blaster followed. The wind began to die down.

“Lay down with your face to the earth, hunter, and your hands behind your head. You will be treated well for having surrendered so freely.” Cautiously, Kami’atra began to step toward him, waiting for Tel to either submit to the request, or, as Kami’atra assumed, he might attempt subterfuge and escape. As he approached, Kami’atra perceived and unwound a length of syntherope from around a fallen 8D smelter droid; he tested its tensile strength in both hands before preparing it as a restraint. “If you should resist, my companions have their implements well trained upon you and this will all be over before you know it.”

While he awaited the hunter’s reaction to these conditions, Kami’atra looked to his companions for their thoughts and responses to this course of action he seemed to have implemented. As he looked to his companions then back to the rope in his hands and the bounty hunter standing meters away across this partially self-destructed planet, Kami’atra began to wonder to himself regarding how far he had fallen from his life of medicine and religious outreach. Then he smiled as he returned to look upon the dear friends that surrounded him; all of them from myriad walks of life yet drawn together for this purpose by some unknown design.

His smile resigned as he swiftly returned his thoughts and focus toward the task at hand. Countenance solemn, he fixed his thoughts upon the hunter before him, and all too patiently awaited the actions of all around him.

Irulan nodded at Kami’atra, stepping forward with lightsaber extended, as he prepared to bind their prisoner.

“What do we do now? If we take him back to the ship, we may lose precious time . . . but if we take him with us, he may prove more a hindrance than a help. Should just I take him back, while you three continue on? And then I can try to catch up with you?”

Kami’atra looked to his satchel and remembered that which he had brought with him; he deftly considered formulae for producing a sedative/anesthetic from the medpacks within his bag. As he ran through this mental exercise, Kami’atra took a look around for alternatives, such as a place to hang or bind the bounty hunter from or to until they returned from their task.

Irulan watched with growing impatience as Kami’atra spent what seemed to her an eternity deliberating on how best to quiet their opponent. Finally, she walked around behind the bounty hunter, paused briefly to consider, then brought down the hilt of her lightsaber hard against the back of his skull. He fell forward to the ground, unconscious.

“There. Now you can tie him up,” she smiled very sweetly at Kami’atra.

Kibur surveyed the scene, looking down at the Bounty Hunter. “Well, that certainly sped up the process.” He turned to Irulan. “Nice job, jedi. I think I’m rubbing off on you.”

He pulled his datapad from its holster and began punching in more information. “The droid is thataway,” he said, pointing towards a strange, large metal tower.

Kami’atra’s countenance changed to profess his displeasure in Irulan’s hasty actions toward a surrendering foe; her efforts on behalf of the crew did take care of the immediate circumstance; however, it undermined his statement of the hunter being “treated well” for his surrender – at least as far as Kami’atra was concerned. Although he had been trained to resist holding grudges, he did consider it immaturity on the part of this young jedi he’d joined ranks with.

He imperceptibly shook his head in response to Kibur’s remark; he thought it best if certain of his qualities were kept to himself. Kami’atra sheathed his blade and began to bind the hunter with his arms behind his back: (1) securing the syntherope to the hunter’s left wrist, (2) around his right arm above the elbow, (3) upward from beneath this loop to form a circuit around his neck, (4) down to encircle his left arm above the elbow, (5) downward from above this loop to secure the hunter’s right wrist, (6) lashing both hands together at the wrists.

Irulan grinned at Kibur as she clipped her lightsaber into her belt. Turning, her smile immediately vanished as she looked into Kami’atra’s stern, disapproving face. She bit her lip and turned back around.

Kneeling by their unconscious enemy, Irulan closed her eyes. She slowly moved her right hand across his temple, left to right. Breathing in, she stood up and turned back to Kami’atra. “There. He won’t have a headache when he wakes up. Is that better?” She shouldered her satchel and started following Kibur in the direction he had pointed.

With a heart of empathetic sympathy for those who had lost their way by ill-tempered fortune, Kami’atra reminded himself that people were all found without a teacher at some point in their lives. He prayed that although Irulan had become a Jedi Knight, she might one day find another mentor of her force-path who would help her hone her abilities and attitude toward honor.

In one motion, Kami’atra lifted the bounty hunter to a kneeling position and tied the loose end of the syntherope between his feet, encircling both feet to complete the circuit of restraint. Gently, Kami’atra leaned their prisoner’s head back against the remnant hull of some Ubrikkian skiff that protruded from a nearby mountain of rubble, hoping that the bounty hunter would not hold this against them and harm himself with this restraint when awakened.

He momentarily turned his attention toward Irulan, “You needn’t seek my approval, Irulan, I am not your master but a simple companion; do as you’ve been instructed in training and search yourself for what is right and wrong, regardless of the response presented by those around you – even myself.”

“Wake in peace, brother, we will return for you when this is over,” Kami’atra whispered to the hunter before standing. Brushing the dust from his hands and knees and looking toward the sky, he prayed that the crew would be able to return before the bounty hunter was allowed to perform much harm to himself or was taken in by exposure.

Seeing his companions departing afoot, Kami’atra joined them as they marched toward the beacon of which they sought. He continued the pattern he had begun when they left their vessel – climbing up and across the high mounds of waste to oversee the land that lay ahead of them. He allowed himself to scan the near horizon for others that might hinder their progress in this desolate place.

As she reached the top of a hill of scrap metal, Irulan turned to look piercingly at Kami’atra, climbing behind her. “Of course I know you’re not my master. And it’s thanks to scum like that bounty hunter that I’ll never hear his voice again. The only right I know is to make sure his death wasn’t meaningless. Perhaps Kibur’s right about me; we can’t all be like you after all.”

Irulan stopped short. Then, after a moment, she looked up pleadingly at her friend. “Oh, please don’t be angry with me; I simply can’t bear that reproving look of yours. Please, let’s be at peace.”

Nodding to Irulan in acknowledgment of her feeling of loss, Kami’atra passed her atop the hill and began to descend toward another. Memories began filling the tranquil void of his central mind; fond memories of an older generation telling long forgotten tales depicting the heroic, honorable, compassionate, and self-sacrificing Jedi of another era. To him, Irulan was not far from this idyllic icon; it was a terrible shame that she lost he master – he too knew this feeling of loss and betrayal.

“I am not angry with you, Irulan, nor have you ever given me reason to be. We four are a crew of a very patchwork design, led together by Providence, and currently entangled in this particular task. We will find this droid together and from there follow in The Way toward the next step.”

“Peace is all anyone can offer to each other amidst these turbulent days. With that said, I offer you an apology for having upset you for a time. We have no room on this mission for disputes amongst ourselves,” he said, then pointed back toward the bound bounty hunter behind them. “We are offered plenty of quarrel from without to be caught up in all of that.”

As he continued on, Kami’atra glanced over to Kibur and Bax who seemed to be leading the way, “Shall we press on then? The droid cannot be far now.”

The journey was arduous as they climbed over mountains of rubble, the oily air clinging to them. In the distance, fires were burning, pouring black smoke into the atmosphere. The metal tower came closer into view. It was made of the scraps of a thousand ships, speeders, buildings and droids, merged into a monstrosity of a creation.

“It looks like he’s up in there,” Kibur said, looking up toward the building skeptically. “I hope that place holds itself together once we’re inside…”

Irulan paused beside Kibur, surveying the view of this peculiar, unwelcoming edifice. “It looks like something out of a nightmare,” she said softly. Closing her eyes, she tried to focus her concentration and sense any vibrations in the force, friendly or otherwise, coming from inside the building. Then she looked over at Kami’atra, to see if he could sense anything amiss.

Silvery-white tendrils of electrical energy sparked from his gauntlets as Kami’atra held the hilt of his blade away from his center and crouched down with his right palm to the earth-covered metal plates beneath him. He lifted his head to just above parallel with the ground and began breathing deeply as he focused his current efforts on fore-scouting the tower for lifeforms. As the ashen air from the nearby pyres filled his nostrils, Kami’atra believed he smelled the faint scent of droids at work within the tower; however, unless the droids were at least partially composed of certain organic compounds, he wouldn’t be able to distinguish between the scents of active or remnant droids among the abounding scrapyard.

Kami’atra stared in wonder at the severe ramshackle construction of this spire that arose before them; he couldn’t help but compare this sight to the elaborate memories he possessed of the priesthood’s compound and tower back home. Structural integrity was of grave contrast here, but still he felt that despite its appearance, this tower was built for a purpose and it would stand the test of their combined weight… at least for a time.

He stood as he completed his scan of the tower and mentally compiled the result of his effort. Kami’atra readied his hand on the hilt in preparation for a quick draw as he took a few steps toward the tower without a word.

Just then, the comlinks flared to life as the sound of blasterfire and static erupted from them. “This is Page!” a voice shouted through the noise. “I could use some help!”

Irulan yanked the comlink out of her belt. “Page – where on earth are you!?”

“Irulan, currently level 3 maintenance wing B, engaged with unknown number of hostiles,” Lt. Page stated quickly and efficiently over the comlink as he took suppressing fire shots at his aggressors and resumed cover behind bulkheads and equipment.

“I can hold these oversized trash compactors down, but get here on the double; they currently have me pinned down. There is one door to this room and they have control of it, but from the looks of their position in the room you should be able to take them out from behind. Or at least distract them long enough for me to take them out. Over.”

Upon hearing Page’s exclamations, Kami’atra ran toward the tower’s main entrance with blade now in hand. He wondered slightly to himself as to how Lt. Page became so far ahead of the rest of the crew, but then reminded himself of other occurrences of the good lieutenant’s brashness and consoled himself with the fact that they must retrieve him now without fail.

As he reached the entryway, Kami’atra deftly signaled to the others that the entrance was clear before proceeding within and following the sounds of metal footsteps and blaster-fire. As he entered the deep corridor, he began by searching for any means of ascension to the third floor – uncertain whether an elevator would be such a good idea in this shaky structure… but anything to save a friend.

Furrowing her brow in concern, Irulan ran to catch up with Kami’atra. She shivered as the cold air inside the entrance to the tower engulfed her. “Do you see a way up?” she said quietly to Kami’atra, while looking around.

As he continued down the seemingly endless corridor, Kami’atra searched near and far for some signage to determine the best route to follow in order to come up behind the droid-blockaded doorway in question. In doing so, he continually listened for the inexorable sound of metallic footsteps on the well-worn plates beneath their feet.

Kami’atra first came to a stairwell across the hall from an elevator shaft. He pondered the diverging paths for a moment and came to the conclusion, based mostly on the flickering chatter of the lights and switches within the elevator compartment (and the relative safety of the steps before him), that the stairs would be the obvious choice. Also, as no one could be certain where either of these choices might open up on the third floor, he thought it best not to be completely surprised if a door opened to the sight of untold numbers of scavenged droids droning toward them, like a race of the living dead seeking their flesh.

He shook his head of the grimacing thought as he motioned and called down to his companions from the base of the stairwell, “I’ve found a path to the third floor, I believe it to be the safest and swiftest route.”

Kami’atra nodded for the attention of Kibur at a distance, “Have you been able to ascertain the location of the droid we’re after in this nightmarish tower? I’d hate to think that we may have to split up in order to find it and save Page in the process; even he’d hate to leave here empty-handed.”

Kibur plugged his micro holoprojector into the pad. A graphical holoprojected image of the tower sprang from the device. A small red dot blipped near the top of the tower. “The target appears to be at the top of the tower, twelve floors up.” He punched a few more details into the pad. “It looks like our friend is a protocol droid of some type.”

A secondary light appeared on the displayed tower. “Page is getting boxed in here. It’s on our route, and if we clear them up fast enough, we may be able to catch up to them…” He indicated a third dot lighting up the tower halfway up. “That appears to be another group of enterprising folks also interested in our target. Let’s get going.”

Kami’atra nodded acknowledgement to Kibur. “Then we certainly must carry out this first task with haste – quickly, to the third floor!” he exclaimed as he opens the door to the stairwell and began racing up toward Page and the undeniable sound of blaster-fire. The steps did not seem terribly shaky, but he instinctually clung to the sides of the staircase with no desire to throw caution to the wind.

He slowed his pace as he neared the doorway to the third floor and peered out the small window into the corridor. There was the imminent flash of blasters from the left and two more droids “running” (at a very slow pace within human standards) from the right to bolster the diminishing forces that were barraging the good Lt. in the next room. From here he could not envision at all how many droids were blocking the concerned doorway; however, based on the tempo of the fire-fight, it couldn’t be too many – perhaps a half-dozen or so.

After the droids passed from the right and proceed down the hall, Kami’atra reached for the door’s control panel to open it slightly, but he was immediately shocked with little more energy than a static charge. His mind flashed to a good memory of doors back home with hinges, handles, and NO electrical circuits… He reached for the controls again, and although he wasn’t shocked, the door wouldn’t open.

Kami’atra called down to Bax in as quiet a tone he could manage in the echoing stairwell, “Bax, I seem to have run into a jammed doorway here; I need your expertise! Page’s assailants are just down this hallway and slowly gaining reinforcements.” He watched what he could through the window while he awaited his friends’ approach. He remained with blade in hand for the slim possibility that they may be discovered through the racket of the attack.

After exchanging banter and blaster fire with his mechanical adversaries, Lt. Page resumed communication with the team, this time with a little more anxiety than the last time. “Not to be rude or anything, but you guys can show up anytime now! I’d sure hate to bring down the party myself,” he stated, while gripping a frag grenade off his belt and smiling a little to himself.

Irulan raced up the stairwell and stopped behind Kami’atra. “There’s no time for expertise! Page needs us!” she said impatiently, yanking her lightsaber from her belt and turning it on. She stabbed it straight into the door’s control panel and received a terrible electrical shock, causing her to reel backwards against the wall. The control panel sizzled and hissed, but the door remained stuck.

“I think,” she said rather shakily to Kami’atra, “you may be right after all. Bax?”

Bax came loping down the hall, all four limbs slapping the metal flooring. His lungs panted heavily. “Damn security droids!” he shouted. “Watch my back!” Galloping on only three legs, he lifted his satchel off his shoulder and whirled it around, lobbing it ahead of him. The bag slid toward the door and violently bounced off the metal surface.

The satchel practically exploded with life as three St-00Ge class pit droids popped up and out of it. Behind Bax, the J-9 Worker droid L-Span-G78, or “Span,” came tumbling around the corner with red lights dazzling around him. A single shot grazed the droid’s cheek and sent his head spinning on axis.

The three St-00Ge droids began to wander around aimlessly. “M-0!” Bax shouted. “Let’s get that door open!” The leader of the three little droids started chattering in binary. Over their shoulders, even through the gunfire pinning the heroes against the door, the binary chatter of Span could be heard in response. Bax slid up to the door and tore open the satchel, pulling out a hydro-spanner. “You three better watch my back if you want this door open,” Bax said to Irulan, Kiber and Kami’atra.

Bax gave his instructions to Span, who talked back to Bax through M-0. Then, Span took hold of the consol and slowly, carefully pulled it out of the wall, wires still attached. Bax reached in with the hydro-spanner and pulled it back out as sparks flew. “Joppa!” he slammed an angry fist down on the top of Q-lee, closing the small droid into a bulbous disk, and shoved the disk into the wires. Then he turned to M-0. “Looks like we do this the hard way. M-0, tell Q-lee to find the Phonic Resonator.” The small droid started chattering in Binary again.

Around the corner five security droids appeared, blaster rifles at the ready. Their massive forms made them look like plus-sized R2 units with arms and legs; mindless automatons built only for killing.

As he prepared for the combat to ensue, Kami’atra stepped protectively, Kami’ken in hand, between the security droids and Bax. Kami’atra then recited, in Miralukese, an apothegm calling for Divine protection over his companions as he steadied his grip on the hilt of his blade in defense of the technician at work behind him.

“Team, report! What’s going on out there?” the Lt. yelled to his companions over the comlink.

“Alan, I’m afraid to say that we’ve run into an obstacle in the stairwell next door to your compartment. The door is locked and we’re under attack as well. We’ll make quick work of these automatons and free you momentarily!!” Kami’atra replied in swift oration.

On both sides of the door the droids opened fire, laying down a hail of blasterfire, pinning the heroes in place. A few shots impacted against the wall near Bax, who kept working. Page was forced to duck behind a heavy crate to avoid getting hit. All of the shots were wide, but not by much.

The Lt., gripping his custom repeater in one hand and a frag in the other, said to himself, “There is no way I can use a frag with the team so close, not to mention it might bring the whole place down around our ears. I for one am not interested in dying for some credits.” After pondering for mere seconds, the Lt. re-clipped the frag to his belt. “I guess we’ll do this the old-fashioned way.” Gripping his repeater securely with both hands, he quickly moved out of cover and surveyed the room and the position of his assailants, then resumed cover in his original position. He observed five droids in a sloppy cover formation.

After observing the battle ground, the Lt. crouched and ran to the flipped table in the middle of the room, while taking fire from the droids closest to him. After reaching the offensive position, he took aim with his repeater on “number five” and sent a barrage of blaster fire at the puny machine, reducing the enemy to mere scrap.

As the droid’s blaster-fire careened past him and narrowly missed Bax while he worked, Kami’atra adjusted his position accordingly to shield the busy tech. In a swift redirection of energy as the droids’ attempts failed, he slashed the air in the direction of the nearest four attackers in the stairwell. The Force flowed single-mindedly toward his desire from the arc of the Kami’ken, striking the droids with Force energy and dispatching them toward the downward stairway.

“My soul has dwelt too long with ones who hate peace. I am for peace; but when I speak, they are for war!” Kami’atra exclaimed out of the overflow of energy and adrenaline from within him. “We must make quick work of these foes if we are to assist in the Lt.’s escape and complete this task.”

Irulan drew her lightsaber and attempted to advance towards the droids, but weakened by the force of the electric shock, she stumbled backwards in dizziness as blackness threatened to enclose her vision. She rested momentarily against the wall, recovering.

On Page’s side of the door, two droids moved up to the rubble closest to him, while two others advanced to the spot of the fallen one. The droids all fired, one shot hitting Page across the chest, though his armor dissipated most of it.

On the other side of the door, Bax continued to work furiously at opening the door, as Kami’atra threw the droids back, knocking them down the stairwell. One could hear the clattering of them falling down the stairs, one on top of the other.

“Let’s pick it up, Bax,” said Kibur over his shoulder. “They’ll be back soon.” He put his comlink to his mouth. “Page, old buddy, you doing okay?”

After sustaining the blaster impact to his chest the Lt. steadied his breathing and replied to his old friend. “Kibur, I’m still here! My party is in full swing and I am dancing in close quarters with these droids. Currently engaging them with suppressing fire, but I have two droids three meters away on the other side of a bulkhead and another two in flanking position on my left. Get through that door and you will have perfect position on them!”

Meanwhile, Kami’atra turned to Irulan with a compassionate visage. “I am sorry that I hadn’t the chance to recover you sooner, although I am proud of your attempt to fend off our foes in your shocked state; very brave of you, Irulan.” He stretched out his hand to help Irulan steady herself.

As Kami’atra grasped her forearm, Irulan could feel strength flowing steadily back into her. Steadying herself once again, she smiled gratefully – “Thank you, Kam. Brave, and stupid. Leave it to the girl to stick a lightsaber into an electric socket.”

Kibur began grabbing some rusted barrels and pushes them towards the stairwell. “Gimme a hand, Kam.” Kami’atra turned back to assist Kibur in his task. Kibur grabbed another barrel and placed it beside the others; Kami’atra retrieved another in like fashion.

Just then, Bax’s small droid came wiggling out of the crawl space with a burned out . . . object. “Give me that!” Bax cried. He pursed his lips and stared at it for a moment.
“Wait. No! This is a. . . Ugh! I’ll do it myself.”

Bax placed both gauntleted hands inside the panel, and put his other limbs against the wall, heaving with all his might. The entire panel tore off the wall with a scream. The panel on the ground, Bax stared into the space, then, with one swift motion, thrust his hand deep into the wiring. He let out a little yelp as a shock ran through him, and with a twist of his wrist, the door shuddered open a few inches, and stopped.

“Why you piece of absolute junk!” Angrily, Bax raised his ion rile and fired it into the wiring. An explosion of smoke spewed out of the wall and the door popped and heaved itself open 18 inches more.

“There,” Bax said. “Exactly what I wanted. I overrode the Firelocks to act in reverse. They open if danger is detected instead of closing.” He paused. “I wouldn’t stand in the doorframe for too long though. I don’t know how long it’ll last.”

“Way to go, Bax!” Irulan said. Darting past him into the room, she ducked behind the overturned table nearest the door and paused for a moment. Then she pushed to her knees and opened blaster fire on the two droids on the side of the room.

Her shot hit the first droid with force, blasting its robotic head from its trunk. It spun around wildly for a moment like a chicken with its head cut off, before crumpling in a heap on the floor, electronic parts hissing and popping.

Irulan slid back down, her back to the table. “Page, are you ok?!” she shouted across the room.
Taking advantage of the final droid’s surprise of watching its partner reduced to a headless pile of scrap, the Lt. lined up his repeater and quickly dispatched it before it could aim its blaster. The droid stumbled backward, and with a sense of satisfaction, the Lt. blew on the front of his weapon, as if to remove a small amount of carbon from the barrel.

He placed his back against the bulkhead and called out to Irulan, “Glad you could make it. I’m doing great,” he said sarcastically, as he lightly touched the blaster burn on his armor. “Watch yourself, there are two more droids in here!”

Bax slinked in the door and raised his ion rifle at one of the droids. The shot fried all the electrical circuits in its cortex. Its legs buckled and its trigger synapses fired wildly, riddling the droid next to it with blaster shots as it fell to the ground.

Back on the other side of the door, Kibur took the barrels and shoved them down the stairs, hearing them crash and clatter over the droids at the bottom. “That should keep them,” he muttered. He turned and headed for the blast door.

Just as he reached it, it slammed shut, cutting him off from the rest of the group. “Blast!” he shouts. He picks up the comlink. “You guys are going to have to go on without me. I’ll work on getting this door back open and catch up.”

Irulan smashed a fist against the metal door.

“Kibur! We need you!” she shouted, momentarily forgetting that he couldn’t hear her through a wall of solid iron. Sighing, she pulled her comlink out. “What level did you say the droid was on? And . . . hurry. Please.”

Kami’atra keenly peered around the doorframe into the room that the others had so feverishly ambushed and successfully defended. The smile, which had at once crossed his countenance at the efficient relief of the Lt.‘s attack, swiftly faded as Kibur’s message passed through the comlink; the beam of his visage now replaced by a clear, stern glower.

He turned his attention to the Lt. as the room had been cleared, and the team began stepping over fallen droids on their way toward the door. “Glad to have you beck Page… although how you arrived up here before us I may never understand; yet the past is past, isn’t it? We’d best get back on the trail of our quarry before more reinforcements arrive; however, let’s try to avoid too many more of these mechanical entanglements, shall we?”

Glancing back and forth down either direction of the corridor and observing no further droid ambushes, Kami’atra returned his focus to his companions in the room. “Now… Page, did you happen to see a path upward in your scouting of this facility? We’ve another nine floors to ascend as swiftly and quietly as we can manage.”

“Kami’atra, one must take this journey with a little mystery” the Lt. stated, shaking the hand of his companion and nodding to Irulan and Bax. “Glad you could join me my friends, now let’s talk options on the best way to proceed”

Page raised his comlink. “Kibur, option one, I have some explosive gel that will open that door, and may not bring this tower down, and we can move up together. Option two, Bax stays and attempts to get this door open, by the time he does we will hopefully have the droid and we can get out of here. Option three, you make your way back to the ship and meet us at the top of the tower, and we exit from the top. I argue for option three, the less time we are in this tower the better.” As he finished his speech, he replaced a heavily used power pack, checked his weapon and rested it on his shoulder, awaiting his companion’s reply.

Kami’atra smiled at the Lt.‘s take-charge personality and the oration of like manner – although, he already knew in his heart of hearts that Kibur would follow his own path, which sometimes directed him perpendicular to sound suggestions or authoritative advice. As he awaited Kibur’s reply, Kami’atra began to slowly pace to and fro within the divergent corridors of this hall in which he and his companions stood; he appeared to be looking for a method of ascension within the grid of this makeshift tower.

He returned to his friends with an inspired look upon his countenance. “While you make your decision, Kibur, the rest of you may note that there are a few options before us in regard to our impending climb. At each end of this T-junctioned corridor there is a potential mode for getting to level twelve, where Kibur affirmed the target droid resided.”

Motioning to the right corridor path, he said, “There is another stairwell at the end of this segment – I’d have you know that although it would prove our safest route, it would cost us considerably in time lost to the other pursuers of this prize.”

Directing their attention to the left, he added, “An elevator of sorts will be found roughly halfway down this hall. The lighting nearby the elevator is flickering heavily, as you can see, and the door currently rests slightly ajar, but as to the technical stability of the mechanism itself, I am certainly no expert, as Bax could attest.”

“The central corridor ahead of us possesses what appears to be the most sound of our elevator possibilities; however, there is what looks to be a security camera assembly directed at the elevator’s entrance. The choice is up to the team, but as we all know, time is of the essence.” He nodded in the mean direction of his companions in conclusion of his oration, which seemed as well-practiced as the recitation of a veteran Alpherides dragoman.

“You move on,” said Kibur from the comlink. “I’ll go grab the ship and meet you at the top. Level Twelve. Keep your heads down.” Kibur saluted the door, then turned to head down the stairs, blaster at the ready for the droids below.

Irulan clipped her lightsaber back into her belt. “You’re right, Kami’atra – we need to hurry. Let’s take the elevator that’s straight ahead. It’s not like they don’t know we’re here, anyway.”

She began to head towards the dark elevator shaft directly ahead of them. As she approached, the security camera slowly turned, until it was pointing at her. She pressed the pad to the right side, and the door slid noiselessly open. Stepping inside, she turned and looked back to her companions, holding the door. “Shall we?”

Kami’atra considered to himself as Irulan continued past the security array with an overconfidence widely beknownst of younger human Jedi. “You never know who is watching you through those facilities… It’s not necessarily the droids that I’d consider our greatest threat on this largely unknown sphere.” If his thoughts had been at all available for penetration, his strong distrust in sentient misuse of technology would have become highly evident.

He nodded to Irulan as he smiled past Bax and Page before looking upward with a focal concentration that seemed to gaze well beyond the tower itself; through steel and rubble, mechanic and organic alike, Kami’atra lifted his ‘eyes’ unto the celestial hills well beyond. He inhaled deeply and held it within for a moment that seemed an eternity, imagining the air as a silver ribbon swirling within his core — a simple meditation among his tribe that would certainly have been considered by the vast majority of star systems as ascetic and esoteric in nature.

Kami’atra encouraged his remaining companions with a comradely pat to the back of Page’s shoulder and an ardent smile and nod to Bax and his droidlings. “We shall, Irulan, we shall…”

As he arced speedily toward the open elevator, he scraped the metal of his gauntleted fingers across the length of the corridor’s wall with a slightly audible screech. Just before he arrived at the elevator, Kami’atra stopped beneath the camera and watched as it seemed to swivel back and forth seeking him out. He smiled as he reached up and pulled the wire connected to a nearby outlet. The lights atop the security camera slowly dimmed as the camera itself whirred to a halt and slowly hung its visage in disconnected shame at even attempting to track the Crew of the Iron Dawn’s whereabouts. With this, Kami’atra stepped into the elevator beside Irulan with a knowing smile and nod to her as he passed, and waited for the others to arrive.

The Lt., slinging his repeater across his shoulder, began slowly following his companions while straightening out his old flight jacket as he entered the elevator. “Ready when you are.”

The elevator began to rise, grinding and scraping against the metal within the shaft. The rust was practically audible, screeching in protest. The light inside the elevator flickered on and off. Slowly and steadily the elevator rose. The silence in the air was palpable.

The elevator grinded to a halt on the top floor. Slowly, the door opened to a large room, one hundred feet wide in all directions. The walls were pieces of scrap metal piled around each other, some bolted in place. The whole room was very dark, but for the single bluish light shining down in the center of the room on a single droid. Its head was slumped down. It was thin, a skeletal frame, white enamel covering its metal casing. Slowly it looked up, a single red eye in the middle of its face. It shuddered slightly; its light flickered.

During the crew’s hyperspace travel to this forsaken planet, Kami’atra had, in very general terms, foreseen the entire encounter leading up to this moment. As the elevator doors opened wide, his expression produced a visage in similar fashion; he realized at this moment that he had overlooked or otherwise been obstructed from bearing witness to this room and what would take place therein.

As he reigned in the self-shame of having not the foresight to perceive what would transpire, his countenance became stalwart as he sheathed the Kami’ken and struck his gauntleted fists together. Upon clenching his white-knuckled grip on their inner-casing, Kami’atra’s gauntlets flared to life with bluish-grey strands of vibrant energy which served the purpose of lighting the area around him (as well as proclaiming their ‘stunning’ affect on all who would befall their grip). Kami’atra then lifted his hands above his head so as to provide further illumination and to not perchance blind his companions with the sudden light source.

He strayed not far from the elevator’s heavy door, but continued to peer about their new environs as his companions made their own perceptions about the room they found themselves within. “Beware, friends… I sense malevolence afoot, yet I know not from whence it shall arise. The look of this metal cyclops is foreboding; however, it may not be the only threat herein. Take care to uphold your defenses.” He glanced slightly back toward the elevator, “Do you feel it also, Irulan?”

As the robot looked up at her with its solitary red eye, Irulan felt a sudden cold creeping down her spine. She closed her eyes, focusing – trying to read the force energies surrounding them in the darkness.

“Kam . . . something’s wrong here. I can’t explain it. It . . . it feels like a trap. But we have no choice – we’ve come this far; we can’t stop now.” She pulled her lightsaber from its clip, and with a humming sound it flared to life. Slowly but deliberately, she stepped out of the elevator shaft and approached the droid.

The droid was scanning the room, but the minute Vendalion stepped forward, it snapped to face her. A silence fell over the room. The droid spoke only three words. “Please… Help me.”

Immediately the Lt. raised his weapon in preparation to defend his young Jedi companion, but in hopes of keeping dialog open, he left his trigger finger on his repeater’s trigger guard. “Help?” “Help with what?” he stated with a quizzical, yet sympathetic tone to what appeared to be a plea for mercy.

Full of compassion, even for this mechanical being, Kami’atra continued lighting the way forward until he reached the edge of the illuminating circle of the overhanging bulb. He then lowered his arms and gently, cautiously, placed his hand upon the hilt of his sheathed blade before awaiting the response to Page’s inquiry. His vision scanned the room – searching, scouring, but for what? Life, movement… anything that might pose a threat to the team.

At the sound of the droid’s hopeless plea, Irulan lowered her blade slightly. She hated it when sub-human creatures, whether animals or droids, were abused and treated like garbage.

“Can’t you see? He’s been . . . damaged; he’s in bad shape. I wonder if someone has already tried to ‘extract’ whatever information he may have, with little regard for the droid himself.”

“It’s allright – we won’t hurt you," she said gently, approaching the robot. “Who has done this?”

Without taking his eyes off the droid nor lowering his weapon until he could tell the droid was not a threat, the Lt. decided to make use of his two “fore-seeing” companions. “Irulan, Kam, do you sense anything or anyone nearby?”

Kami’atra stared into the crimson depths of the droid’s transfixing oculus; his ‘vision’ faded, blurred, refocused, and redefined the environs of the room as he gazed through the droid and obtained perspective on the 360 degree surroundings that he found himself within. Standing near the center of the room, Kami’atra could now envision the near entirety of the room save for the very edges and where crates or columns might provide cover for foes.

“Lt., I see no other movement in the room, but no one would stay within plain sight for long in these conditions.” He inaudibly smelled the cool air of the room before responding further to the inquiry, “I sense ambush, though whether it be by attack or malevolent deception, I, of yet, know not. The droid appears harmless and even pitiful, but its tone and demeanor belie another motive altogether.”

He looked back toward Bax with a slight nod as the Dug stood near the elevator, before inquiring further of the droid, “What is it you need assistance with, droid? What torments you herein and to what sinister purpose?”

The droid looked at Kami-atra. “I am designated HA-K7. I have information vital to the safety of the Republic. They have tried to take it from me, but…” he paused a moment. “Look out!”

Alan immediately reacted to the droid’s cry and spun around to face any would-be adversaries to him or his companions.

A nearby pile of junk crumbled away, as an enormous form emerged from the heap. Rising was an enormous droid made of a mish-mash of parts. Its head appeared to be the cockpit of a Firespray-31-Class Patrol and Attack Craft, while mounted to its massive arms were Taim & Bak KX9 laser cannons, pulled off a starfighter. Its hydraulics and gears groaned with size and age. From within the darkened glass of the former cockpit, two blue lights of eyes flashed on, looking down on the heroes. It stood over 50 feet tall, hulking and rusting.

Irulan’s heart skipped a beat at the sight of this monstrosity. But with only a second’s hesitation, she darted to the center of the room towards HA-K7, placing herself between him and the huge droid. She pulled out her blaster pistol and aimed it unwaveringly. “Get behind that desk – come on!” she shouted at HA-K7, not taking her eyes off their new enemy.

“Madam, I cannot. I’m afraid this restraining bolt on my chest impedes me from assuming locomotive capacity.” The droid gestured to the round knob fused to his chest.

With little in the way of conscious thought or experiential paradigm for this event, Kami’atra ran toward this monstrous behemoth of wreckage with a gleam in his visage without remembrance. He darted to one side of the epic creation as his clenched gauntlets ignited to true life and he scoured the beast’s hull for a weakness in wiring or exposed circuitry.

As his swift feet brought him ever nearer the mechanized wonder, his lips mouthed unutterable linguistics of a foreign tongue. He scraped his fingers along the sides of a crate tossed aside in the droid’s wake before clenching his teeth and leaping upon the leg/base of the mechanical menace, clinging to its edges and conduits.

The massive mishmash droid behemoth began moving, shifting around the room, steadily lumbering. He didn’t notice Kami’atra climbing his side; his weapons charged with energy, before firing off a powerful starfighter blast at Irulan and the droid in the center of the room. It missed the two, but buckled the ground from below them and threw them in different directions: Irulan away from the hulk, the smaller droid into a scrap pile.

Irulan crashed to the ground, landing hard on her side next to a pile of metal crates. Grabbing a thick cord in the wall next to her, she winced at the effort, but pulled herself to her knees, keeping cover behind the crates.

In the explosion, her gun had been thrown out of her hands and had landed 15 feet away from her in a scrap pile. Holding out her right hand, she summoned all her energy and focus. The blaster pistol quivered in place for a moment. Then, it flew through the air and into her outstretched palm.

With one swift motion the Lt. pulled a blade from his boot and popped the restraining bolt off HK. "One problem solved. Now, stay hidden but move if he gets past us.” Seeing Irulan thrown by this machine had brought out his aggressive feelings and quickly focusing his anger, he aimed his repeater, firing at the eyes in the cockpit.

After swaying back and forward again with the kick-back of the iron giant’s massive laser cannon, Kami’atra continued ascending the beast’s leg and up across its back. While he climbed its torso, his eyes began to follow a conduit that appeared to be the spinal column of this unwarranted fiend. This duct was heavily armored, but even as Kami’atra placed his hand upon it he could feel the ebb and flow of fluid encased cables and circuitry beneath its piping. He continued until he reached the neck of this seemingly droid-built tactical armor; once there, the giant reeled its head backward as the good Lt.‘s blaster-fire assaulted its makeshift face. An expansive and metallic groan emanated from within the beast’s upper torso.

Kami’atra clung to the central conduit as the giant staggered with the impact; in doing so, the armored casing loosened from its attachment, a milky-grey solution issuing forth from the opening. Without thought for safety or time spent in concern, Kami’atra charged his stun gauntlet and released its energy as he delved his hand into the duct and, grabbing a fistful of wire and circuit board, wrenched the mass from the conduit.

The giant’s limbs spasmed slightly at first; however, as Kami’atra tossed the mass of circuitry to the ground below and placed his electrifying grip upon the now exposed and no-longer-liquid-insulated switching circuitry of the foe’s upper-torso, the left arm of this mechanical marvel dropped limp and unusable at its side. Meanwhile the right arm began to convulse wildly with interspersed short-burst laser-fire from its cannon into the ceiling above. With its wild-eyed firing, holes became exposed in the roof of this uppermost level of the tower, inadvertently creating small skylights that seemed to cast an even more eerie light upon the now dust- and smoke-filled room.

The massive droid shuddered, its head twitching and continuing to fire randomly throughout the room. CHAKOOM! CHAKOOM!

The sound was deafening. Blasterfire took out scrap piles and blew holes in walls. The beast spun, trying to identify the danger on its body, and fired a shot, blowing a large hole in a nearby wall. One could feel the entire building shuddering and buckling. Within minutes, the whole structure would collapse.

The droid held up his arm with his other hand, detached from the shoulder. “Mercy me, I appear to have disengaged components. This is cause for concern…” He looked up at the massive droid pulverizing the building, before turning to Lt. Page. “You must listen to me, human. The information I contain within my core is far to important to be destroyed by a malingering malcontent such as this cybernetic colossus.”

Just then, a loud whine was heard as the Iron Dawn swooped in, visible through the holes made in the wall.

KRRRK “Hey, kids, you miss me?” KRRK Kibur’s voice chirped over the comlinks. KRRK "Let’s get a move on! KRRK

The droid turned and opened fire on the Iron Dawn, firing a shot directly at the cockpit. The shot knocked the ship back as it banked to keep from crashing.

KRRK “Whoa, whoa, whoa!” Kibur shouted. “What in the hells is that thing?”

The ramp begins to lower on the ship. KRRK “Let’s get you guys out of there! Move it, on the double!” KRRK The ship was still about ten feet from the side of the building, though luckily, Kibur was able to get the ramp to extend to the front of the ship.

The damaged droid turned to Lt. Page. “I suggest an expeditious retreat,” said the droid, pointing to the ship which could be seen through the hole on the north wall. “Your friend will manage to cover our escape,” he said, pointing to Kami’atra. “He seems to have things well under control.”

“We’re not leaving him behind!” Irulan shouted at HA-K7. “Kam – can you get out of there?” She grabbed for a handhold as the building shook beneath them, nearly throwing her out of the massive hole in the wall next to her. “Come on!”

“Kibur! Glad you could join the party!” Lt. Page called through the comlink. “Whatever you do, don’t shoot at it. Kam is on that thing!”

Running to Irulan’s location, he yelled, “Irulan, take the droid and get out of here. I don’t know what he’s carrying but it better be worth it, Kam and I will be right behind you.” Then, focusing on his attention on trying to find a speedier way for Kam to come down. he drew his grappling hook and fired.

The hook shot directly into the center of the massive droid, almost exactly where he had been hoping not to hit it. He secured himself behind a bulkhead and quickly called to Kam, “Slide down so we can get outta here!” I really hope this works, he thought to himself.

Kami’atra struck once more into the exposed circuit board of the massive machination, causing the giant to stagger backward and away from the Iron Dawn; the shock caused the beast to collapse onto its haunches as Kami’atra smiled and leapt from his perch toward the now taut grappling cable. He grabbed hold of the line with both hands and slid swiftly down its angle of descent toward Page and the rest of the crew.

“Thank you, Lt. Let’s move!” Kami’atra exclaimed as he noticed the flooring beginning to crumble under their feet at the impact of the now-sitting iron menace behind them.

Kami’atra motioned to Page as he passed the bulkhead where he was taking cover. He continued running toward the awaiting Iron Dawn, as he saw that Irulan and HA-K7 had already boarded the vessel in preparation of a hasty escape from the ramshackle tower that had housed them. As he and Page jumped aboard through the ramp, memories of the tied-up bounty hunter they had encountered filled Kami’atra’s thoughts. Almost to himself, he said, “We must go back for him now that we have the droid in our possession.”

“Kibur, we are all on board. Unless there is any other pressing matters to attend to, I say we get off this rock!” Alan exclaimed, with the first sound of rest in his voice since landing on the planet.

“All right, folks, let’s go!” said Kibur. The ship banked sharply, arcing into the debris-filled yellow and orange sky. Behind the ship, the tower slowly collapsed in on itself, crumbling to rubble. The ramp on the ship steadily rose.

“Welcome aboard, Lt. Page, Master Kami’atra, Master Vendalion, Mr. Asana,” a female voice said in a slightly digitized voice throughout the ship. “I’ll prepare your rooms for you immediately.”

“I’ve made some recent upgrades to the ship,” said Kibur over the intercom. “I’ve installed vocabulators throughout the ship, giving the Dawn a little personality.”

“Kibur, I’ve always had personality, you were just too dense to notice.”

“Unfortunately, she’s got a little too much personality.”

Breaking the atmosphere, the ship headed for escape velocity. Rapidly punching numbers into the astrogation computer, Kibur plotted a course. And within minutes, the ship hurled itself into hyperspace.

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