A lone figure turned off of the main access and into the shadows. Dressed in a ratted cloak that had more stains that it didn’t, Moraine Strykia looked more like a common street beggar than she did the head of the High Lord’s guards. She quietly skirted down an alleyway, trying to be casual while still being sneaky.
Moraine didn’t look like a noble-born member of the High House of Antrixies anymore. The year of hiding in the shadows had done that. She paused every so often, watching behind her for any signs of pursuit. Fortunately, there were none. Here, on Wazta, Moraine and the Strykia twins had taken refuge following their flight from the Commonwealth.
By all appearances, Moraine and the two children were just more refugees that had been displaced during the Clone Wars. This far out on the Rim, most didn’t even have a clue that they were Antrixians. It looked like a mother and her two children trying to live off the streets. Most didn’t pay them any mind, but those that did usually found that there was far more to Moraine than met the eye. As the commander of the High Lord’s Grey Guard on Antrixies, Moraine had proven herself as a very competent warrior. Armed or unarmed, she had long ago proven herself adept in Shao’dengia, the martial arts of the Jinsai Order.
There were the guardians in the shadows too. Marcus and his Minbari master, Kelenn, had been constant guardians. They always kept their distance, but were never far away. Kelenn’s daughter had also arrived on Wazta, following their arrival. Since she arrived, Delenn had met with Moraine and the twins many times in the late evening to provide some basic tutoring for the Strykia children.
The past year, since their exodus, had been a trying one. For the children, adjusting to a life away from their mother, their masters, and their now deceased father had been difficult. Allyson had been more morose than ever, lapsing into a deep depression for many months. She was withdrawn and quiet, meek and almost afraid of what might be around every corner. The once attentive and obedient Graydon had gone through a stage of open defiance and opposition. He openly argued with anything that he thought was wrong. Many times, he simply let his anger and frustrations boil out, lashing out at anyone. Through it all though, Graydon had remained constantly by his sister’s side, a vigilant guardian, though.
After about eight months, Moraine saw adjustment and change start to take hold. Graydon returned to being a diligent and obedient boy and Allyson began talking more, along with reforming her rivalry and quarrels with Graydon. Studying with Delenn began to be something that the twins looked forward to, as it allowed them to take their minds off of the past events and current situations.
The Strykias had taken residence in a rundown hovel just on the edge of the commerce district. They could have afforded much better accommodations, but Moraine tried to maintain the refugee appearance as best as she could. That meant living in almost squalor. Still, even with a very convincing cover going, Moraine was always vigilant about watching out for anything suspicious. Her caution was starting to make her paranoid, always watching the shadows, expecting assailants hiding, and ready to pounce.
Her trip to the market place was quick and ever cautious, just like always. Today, though, was the first time that she had left the twins at the small hovel by themselves. She knew that Marcus wasn’t far away, probably watching the rundown home with his patient diligence. As she reached the door, Moraine scanned her surroundings before keying in the lock code. The door slid open and Moraine’s ears were immediately assailed.
“YOU ARE SUCH A DUNDERHEAD!” Allyson screamed, throwing a carved wood bowl across the room.
“Really?” Graydon nearly yelled back, his comment more cocky than angry, ducking away from the bowl as it flew past his head. “That’s pretty big, coming from a little bantha cow! By the way, you missed!”
“GRRRR! I HATE YOU SOMETIMES!” Allyson screamed again, moving to grab another bowl.
“Your aim is as bad as your housekeeping!” Graydon mocked. “Why throw another bowl? Just drop it on the floor!”
“SHUT! UP!” Allyson shrieked, launching another bowl at Graydon.
“We don’t have droids or servants anymore, Allyson!” Graydon ducked again. “You have to pick up your own frelling stuff now!”
One more bowl, one more growl.
“Since you can’t hit me by throwing things, why don’t you come over here and we’ll settle this like Jinsai!”
“Gladly! I’m going to make you eat those words, Blade!”
“You can try, Katana! I hoped you packed lunch because you’re going to be trying all day!” The twins began stalking towards each other from opposite sides of the room.
Moraine had seen enough as the door opened and she watched the quick exchange between the twins. Both of their eyes were flaring with a brilliant blue glow, showing how heated their emotions were. Now Moraine’s eyes also flared with the telltale Antrixian glow. She stepped inside and keyed the door closed.
“Enough!” Moraine shouted, halting both Allyson and Graydon in their tracks. They had been crossing the room that acted as an eating area and the prime living area of the small hovel. Their intent was pretty clear. This wouldn’t be the first time that Moraine had had to break up a sibling fight. The last time had resulted in both twins having bloody noses before she could intervene and separate them. Their spats were becoming more frequent and more heated.
“I expect more out of both of you!” Moraine scolded. “I know you were raised better than this.”
“He started it!” Allyson said accusingly, pointing at Graydon.
Graydon stood there, in front of Moraine, and glared at his sister. “You little Bantha cow! If you’d just listen in the first place-”
“I don’t care who started it!” Moraine chastised them both. “From the children of the High Lord and Lady, I expect better behavior! You are not insolent brats from House Metheyr!”
“Being from the High House doesn’t matter anymore.” Graydon defiantly said. His eyes were still focused on Allyson, glowing brightly.
“It most certainly does too! As long as Draygan, you or you are still alive, it means everything!” Moraine said, pointing at each one of the twins. “Your mother is still alive also, which matters. Everything that happened doesn’t mean we’ve lost our House, our names, our legacies! Your mother set things in motion to ensure that!”
“But she’s not here! She left us!” It was Allyson’s turn for defiance. There were tears beginning to well up in the young girl’s eyes.
“What am I? Ground Nerf burger?”
That caught them and stopped any further comments. The twins both knew that they were being petty, defying each other, but they had started to defy the only real family they still had with them. The selfishness of their anger had made them say things they didn’t mean, trying to hurt anyone that they could. It was a shallow attempt at easing the pain that each of them felt on the inside.
That argument and the exchange between Moraine, Graydon, and Allyson acted as a turning point. Somewhere, in each of them, they knew that the three Strykias, refugees on the Outer Rim, were the family that had to stay together. They had to bond and reform into a family unit if they were going to survive. From there onward, things changed. They changed for the better, even despite the situation.
“I’m sorry, Aunt Moraine.” Graydon said, lowering his head.
“Yeah, me too. I’m sorry, Aunt Moraine.” Allyson added, dropping her eyes to the floor.
Moraine gathered both of them into her arms and gave them a tight hug. “It has been tough. I know. We need to affect a change and form a life where we can actually live instead of hiding. We all need more than this.”
The small living area was quiet after that. The twins helped straighten the room and then assisted with preparing a quaint evening meal. After cleaning up the remnants of the meal, both retreated to their own areas and read or tinkered with some of the objects they had collected over the last year. By the time it was dark, both Allyson and Graydon had drifted off to sleep.
Moraine made sure they were covered in their suspended beds before moving back to the living area. She was just about to turn the power down to the lights when she heard the light tap at the door. It was the usual tap to announce one the silent watchers coming to visit. She knew she’d find Marcus or Delenn standing there before she opened it. As the door slid open, she did find Marcus.
The Corellian man with shoulder-length, dark brown hair and a thin mustache with a beard gave her a smile. “I was across the alley when you arrived back and overheard some of the shouting. I thought I might check to see if things were still in one piece.”
Moraine gave Marcus a weary smile. “They have. As much as they’re going to, anyway.”
“The twins again?” Marcus asked.
“Yes.” Moraine replied with a tired nod. “We’ve got to make a change. The twins and I have to find somewhere safe that will allow us to settle down. Wazta isn’t a home. It’s a hiding hole.”
Marcus was silent for a moment. “I suppose you’re right. What did you have in mind?”
Moraine leaned against the door frame, closing her eyes. “I don’t know.”
“First, you’ll need to establish yourself in a cover.” Marcus said before asking, “What are you good at?”
“I’ve been a bodyguard almost my entire adult life.” Moraine answered.
“Anything else? Basket weaving, perhaps?”
“I was apprenticed to a metal worker before I, well, became a guard.” Moraine said.
“A metal worker?”
“Now there’s a unique trade skill.” Marcus commented. “Not without its usefulness though.”
“In an age of blasters, I doubt my skill would be of much use.” Moraine replied.
“That’s not entirely true.” Marcus smiled. “The Coynites in the Elrood Sector still use edged weapons. They revel in melee arms.”
Marcus’ idea did have some merit. Moraine had worked metal into blades before, using the Jinsai techniques that forged the legendary Warblades. Among the common worlds of the galaxy, that skill would stand out, but on a world that still held melee weapons in high regard; she could use her skill and blend in.
Moraine knew enough of the Coynites to know that raising the twins on Coyn would be like having them grow up within the Jinsai citadel. There was a strong sense of honor and a reverence for the Jedi. Two Force-sensitive twins, trained as Jinsai and Jedi, would be respected and honored. It was worth a shot, at least.
“You might be on to something, Marcus.” Moraine smiled, feeling a tickle of hope inching into her.
“There’s enough credits left to get you to Coyn and get you set up.” Marcus said. “You can forge your new identities and set yourselves up as a true family.”
“What about you and Kelenn?”
“We are simple pilgrims.” Marcus smiled. “You go. We’ll make due. Get some sleep, Shadowsong. Tomorrow we’ll make some plans and begin packing you up for the trip.”
Becca had become accustom to living in the underground village of Brekked on Barab I after a long year. Together with her master, they had known a solitary peace that belied the turmoil that had put them into exile on the alien world. Now at the age of seventeen, Becca was at the age where she should have been taking the Trials to become a Jedi Knight. But that was impossible now.
Months after they had imposed their exile upon themselves, a free trader had come to Barab I bearing tales from the greater galaxy. Tatiana had posed as just another galactic vagabond that had wound up on Barab I in order to gain any information she could. The information she got was disturbing.
The trader told her a tale of how the Jedi had attacked the Chancellor and was saved by a new galactic guardian named Darth Vader. Apparently the Jedi had orchestrated the whole Clone War, sanctioning the creation of the Clone army without the Senate’s consent, spreading rumors about a mythical Sith returning to conquer the galaxy, and a “former” Jedi named Count Dooku to lead the Confederacy of Independent Systems to start the conflict. The evidence broadcast all over the holonet showed the Jedi committing treason, trying to assassinate the Chancellor. If they had been successful, they would have attacked the Senate next.
Thankfully, the Grand Army of the Republic was now under the control of the new Galactic Empire and peace was coming. Darth Vader was hunting down any traitorous Jedi that remained and was enforcing peace all across the stars. The citizens of the galaxy felt safe once more.
Tatiana knew the truth. Darth was the title of the Sith. Dark Lord of the Sith. This Vader had to be the apprentice to the Sith master that had somehow orchestrated the Clone Wars and the fall of the Jedi. The trader had said that the Jedi were all but destroyed. Only the Sith could have done that, setting up events to cause their mortal enemies to fall. The new galactic ruler, Emperor Palpatine had to be that Sith master. And he had to be very powerful in order to cause events to unfold as they had.
So for the last two years, Becca and Tatiana had blended into the Barabel society, hiding themselves away as much as they could. Becca had continued on with her training and now her master was considering her a Jedi Knight, no longer just a Padawan.
Walking back from Farvikk’s small supply building, Becca lost herself in thoughts of how her life might be different if she wasn’t a Jedi. A lone memory crept into her mind from the past. One that she had dreamt of off and on over the years. She had seen the love of a family once in the Strykia family before they finished their visit to Coruscant. She remembered the warmth and light that seemed to surround them on that windy landing platform. It was something that she had never forgotten, even with turmoil in her life. Lost in her thoughts, Becca failed to see the man that grabbed her from behind, quickly covering her mouth and dragging her into the shadows.
“Shhh!” The man whispered loudly. “I’m a friend! I’m not going to hurt you!”
Becca struggled against the man, a fire of fright igniting within her. She began to summon the Force, ready to counter the man’s steel hold that held her.
“Master Verkaik and Master Zem sent me to find you!”
That stilled Becca. Obviously she recognized Tatiana’s name. The other name she had heard her master speak more than once. Becca, herself, had only met Master Verkaik once before. She calmed herself quickly. The man released her and allowed her to turn around once she quit struggling. She recognized him from days long gone on Coruscant, back in the Jedi Temple.
“Zach?” She asked, unsure if she believed what she was seeing. Another Padawan from her early training days stood in front of her.
“Yeah. It’s me.” Zachary Verkaik replied with a small smile.
Becca launched herself into a hug, clinging tightly to her fellow Jedi. “By the Force! How? Why?”
“I can’t explain now.” Zach said, taking a hold of her hand. “The masters are waiting for us.”
Zachary led Becca off towards the humble cave that Tatiana and Becca had called home for nearly two years. He set a maddening pace that left them both panting by the time they arrived. Entering the cave, the young Jedi were met by the tall Tatiana and a short, graying human male, Master Owen Verkaik.
“You did well, Zachary.” Owen immediately said. “We haven’t a second to lose.”
“What’s going on?” Becca asked, looking from her own master to Master Verkaik.
“Master Verkaik can explain.” Tatiana said. Becca noted the worry on her master’s face.
“Zachary and I have been secretly tracking Darth Vader as he hunts down the surviving Jedi.” Owen began. “We always hoped that we could find a survivor and save them before Vader killed or turned them. We were fortunate this time.”
“Becca, we have to go.” Tatiana said with obvious anxiety in her voice. “Vader has come here, looking for us. We’ll go with Master Verkaik to a new hiding spot.”
Becca nodded that she understood. Tatiana and Becca had planned for something like this to happen some day, but Becca had never thought that they would actually need to flee from Barab I. The Barabels had been very respectful and kind to the Jedi duo, even when there was talk that the new Empire was preparing to annex the world into the fold. It was the centuries of deep respect that had kept them safe with the Barabels.
Owen began ushering everyone out of the cave quickly and quietly. Tatiana stopped and turned, knowing that she had almost forgotten something. Tatiana went to a small table and gathered up a bundle before following the others out of the cave. The droids, R2-F3 and R2-F4 were outside, waiting.
“Master!” Tatiana spoke, directing her words to her former Jedi master, Owen. “I have a plan. Get Becca to your ship. I’ll follow. I have a plan for a diversion.”
Owen paused, and then nodded. He waved to Becca and Zachary to follow him. He knew, somewhere inside, what Tatiana was planning on doing.
Tatiana knelt down in front of F4. “Alright you two, you have jobs to do.” She quietly said, making sure that her friends were well away. “F3 and F4, I need you to pilot the fighters off world. Get to the booster rings and get away from here. Hopefully it will distract the Empire and Vader long enough for us to get away. Go to Nar Shaddaa and we’ll meet you there.”
F3 gave an affirmative, extending it’s other leg and rolling away. F4 began to do the same when Tatiana placed a hand on the small droid.
“Not so fast.” She quietly said, bringing the bundle in her hands forward. “I need you to hide these away and make sure they go to the right people at the right time.”
F4 chirped an affirmative and opened a small compartment in his body. Tatiana slid the bundle inside and watched the droid close the compartment.
“Remember, the right people, F4.” Tatiana gave the droid a pat. “You’ve been a good companion. Perhaps this won’t be the end of our time together, but if it is, thank you for your service.”
F4 gave Tatiana a short beep before hurrying off after F3. Tatiana watched the droids rolling away. She opened herself to the Force and was immediately bombarded by the dark presence that was now coming closer and closer. Ahead of it, she could sense more malicious intent. She trotted off in the same direction that the droids had gone, preparing for what was to come.
Tatiana stepped into the large cavern that had held the two Jedi starfighters for the past two years. It was dark and quiet, other than the two droids ahead of her just now reaching the Actis-class Interceptors. She didn’t need the Force to tell her that something wasn’t right here, though. Malice permeated everything right then. Tatiana unclipped her Lightsaber and cautiously moved forward.
Halfway between the fighters and the corridor she had entered the cavern from, she stopped. From an alcove fifty meters to her right, a grizzly man stepped out into view. In one hand he held a large energy weapon of some sort. In the other, a powerful heavy blaster pistol. He sneered at Tatiana from behind a scraggily beard.
“Well, well, well.” The man chuckled, mocking her. “Where there’s Jedi starships, there’s bound to be Jedi.”
“What do you want?” Tatiana grew serious. She was in no mood to exchange playful banter with this man.
“What I want is the credits I’ll get from the bounty on your pretty little head.” The man answered.
A Bounty Hunter. They were as bad as spice smugglers, Tatiana thought to herself. She opened herself to the Force and ignited her Lightsaber. It’s green, glowing blade cast long shadows across the floor and up the walls.
“Nice toy, Jedi.” The man grinned.
Tatiana was acting instead of reacting even before the blaster bolt was fired from the man’s pistol. Her saber flashed up in a sweeping arc, easily blocking the shot that quickly flew towards her. Through the Force, she was able to act and react with supernatural speed. She could also see what was going to happen next, sensing the motives of her attackers.
Attackers was the key term. From an outcropping almost directly above her, another hunter was ready to assist the grizzly human in his attack. The hunter, a Rodian, cast a net down from his hiding spot. It was a tactic that many hunters, bounty or otherwise, used to capture there prey. This wasn’t the first time and it wouldn’t be the last that this tactic was used.
Tatiana saw all this through the Force, though. Swiftly, she changed into a stance suited for the Ataru style of Lightsaber combat and jumped. Curling into a tight ball, Tatiana somersaulted away from her original position, her saber still extended out away from her. The effect was simple but brilliant. As the net came down and she went up, spinning, the saber blade was like a buzz saw, slicing through the net neatly. It fell away, never once impeding her.
As she landed, Tatiana was already moving into attacks which she hoped would neutralize the hunters. One hand shot out, using the Force to pull on the boot of the Rodian in the ceiling. It wasn’t a forceful tug, but it was enough for the taper-snout alien to loose his balance and fall from his hiding spot. The saber in her other hand spun in a blurring arc, deflecting a blaster bolt yet again.
She was satisfied that the Rodian was neutralized by his fall to the cavern floor. He lay in a crumpled heap, not moving. The grizzled human had moved behind a small rock pile, hoping to gain some cover now that the odds were evened out. She delved into the Force again, this time using a rock from the pile to bean the man in the head. It wasn’t a deathblow, but it rendered him unconscious, at least, for the time.
Aside from the steady thrum of her Lightsaber, Tatiana was also aware of the start-up sequences of both starfighters. She turned to look, finding both R2-F3 and R2-F4 in their sockets of the Actis Interceptors, beginning the warm-up that would lead to their departure. She smiled.
“Hope is not lost.” Tatiana said to herself.
“Don’t be too sure of that, Master Zem.”
The voice behind her was mechanically produced in nature. An electronic voice processor within the suit made the mysterious man’s speech dark and intimidating. A deep baritone, the voice was also accompanied by the mechanical ventilations of… breathing, mainly produced by a respirator that gave it a rasp. Tatiana turned around very slowly.
Standing about ten meters away was a figure dressed in black from head to toe. A long black cape fluttered slightly as Becca’s starfighter’s repulsors began to activate, stirring the air. A gleaming black helmet sat over a mask that was almost like black death it’s self. Skull-like and horrifying. The black eyes were cold and emotionless. The only break in the black were the red and white lights of a control panel on the monster’s chest. The figure was large and imposing, easily sending dread into others.
“Darth Vader, I presume. I see that the moniker for a Sith Lord such as yourself is fitting.” Tatiana immediately swept into a guard stance.
“Flattery won’t save you, Master Zem.” Vader didn’t make any moves. “The Empire has squandered precious resources tracking you down. It took spies and informants to find out you were hiding here.”
“I’m flattered that you would go to the trouble.”
Vader now activated his own Lightsaber, a bright red blade that contrasted Tatiana’s green blade. “The Emperor has tasked me with seeing that you either surrender or die.”
“I don’t think either option is suitable.” Tatiana responded.
“You may join the Empire and serve the Emperor by surrendering.” Vader said. “Otherwise you must be destroyed.”
There was such malice in his voice. Yes. His. Tatiana could feel the strong Dark side presence within the man in front of her. Yet there was something vaguely familiar about the presence.
“You’ll have to kill me.” Tatiana replied. “I’ll never serve the Sith. You may, however, find killing me to be a difficult task.”
Vader moved with speed that belied his size, nearly catching Tatiana by surprise. His saber crashed down on to Tatiana’s with incredible strength. The first blow staggered her. She wheeled around, switching to her Ataru stance again, rapidly slashing at the black armored monster. His parries weren’t graceful, somewhat mechanical, but still effective.
Block and counter.
Slash and parry.
Tatiana wasn’t getting anywhere. The only thing that was happening was that she was being driven back. Vader’s powerful strikes caused her to retreat more and more. His Lightsaber technique was a mesh of styles, but not one she could identify and defend against with ease. Still immersed in the Force, she also sensed that the grizzled human was stirring. Perhaps her rock hit hadn’t neutralized him as well as she had hoped.
Block, followed by a feint and then followed by a parry that rattled the saber in her hands. Vader’s strikes were powerful and were meant to wear her down.
Tatiana flipped backwards, trying to give herself some room before she was backed against the wall. Vader still pressed onward, relentless in his pursuit. She knew her resistance was futile. She was going to die. She had accepted that before she even entered the cavern. The important thing was that Becca escaped.
“It is useless to resist.” Vader rumbled as he followed her.
Tatiana didn’t respond. The sight of Becca’s fighter, piloted by R2-F3, beginning to lift off didn’t distract her. She saw it, but then she also saw that Vader was still coming. The bounty hunter was also beginning to rise, slowly reaching for the energy weapon he’d dropped. He was another enemy to contend with. She decided in a split second what exactly she was going to do. It might save her life and allow her to escape still.
She pulled a fake. It was a lure that Vader easily fell for. Raising her free hand, Tatiana made like she was attempting to bring a rock or the ceiling of the cavern down on Vader. He noticed and, as she had hoped that he would, made a deliberate charge at her, meaning to run her through with his Lightsaber. Once he was committed to the move, he wouldn’t be able to quickly reverse. Tatiana used that to her advantage. Within a blink of an eye, she used the Force to augment a leap up and over Vader, landing her well out of his range.
She did use the Force on him then, after she landed and squared up, but not to bring the roof down on him. Instead, she sent out a wave of kinetic Force to repulse him further away from her. Vader crashed into the cavern wall, carried by the momentum of his charge and then doubled by Force wave that pushed him further. Her maneuver gave Tatiana some breathing room.
Things seemed to happen simultaneously then. The bounty hunter had recovered his weapon, the larger, unidentified energy weapon. F3 was beginning to clear the cavern in the fighter the droid was currently piloting. F4 was just beginning to lift off to follow F3. The bounty hunter brought his weapon up, but didn’t point it at Tatiana. Firing, the hunter revealed that the weapon was a DEMP Ion carbine rifle. It struck the Actis fighter right where F4 was secured in his socket. The weapon wouldn’t be of much consequence to the starfighter, but to F4, it was effective.
Electrical lightning coursed over the droid’s sensor dome like a crackling web of lights. Almost immediately, the little astromech’s lights went out. The fighter, no longer controlled by anyone or anything, just sat there, idling.
“NO!” Tatiana shouted. Summoning even more of the Force, she stretched her free hand out towards the bounty hunter, using the kinetic repulse again. The grizzly human went sailing backwards through the air.
He hit the cavern wall behind him, momentarily pinned by the Force energy radiating from Tatiana. His eyes went wide when he saw that her Lightsaber now sailed through the air, spinning towards him. Fortunately, the energy sword didn’t hit him directly. Instead, the saber sliced neatly through the arm still holding the Merr-sonn weapon. The nerves, blood vessels, and body tissues were instantly cauterized, meaning that the pain of the amputation didn’t register right away. But the shock did. The shock alone was enough to cause him to fall back into unconsciousness.
Tatiana kept her hand extended, calling on the Force to telekinetically return her Lightsaber back to her awaiting hand. As the saber returned to her palm, she readied herself to contend with the bigger threat. That was until she watched a glowing red bar bloom from her abdomen.
It took a moment for her to realize what had happened. Just like the bounty hunter, her body’s tissues had been instantly cauterized by the red-bladed Lightsaber. The reality set in and she felt the Force leaving her, along with her life-force. Turning her head, she watched as Vader moved towards her at a steady pace. There was no hurry in his steps. He had accomplished what he had set out to do. He had done the same thing that she had, thrown his saber in an attack that allowed him to strike his target from a distance. His attack was more successful, though.
“Perhaps you should have taken my other offer, Tatiana Zem.” Vader said as Tatiana’s presence in the Force dimmed, and then went black.
Becca yanked her Lightsaber free of the chest of her target. Looking around she was satisfied that the enemies were neutralized. These looked almost like the Clone Troopers she had fought next to, during the Clone Wars. Their helmets were different, but the armor looked very similar.
“Stormtroopers.” Master Verkaik said, coming over to Becca. “They are the remnants of the Clone army, now in service to the Emperor. They are more foul and deadly than our former comrades.”
“Master!” Zachary shouted from where the ramp was lowering on a battered freighter. “We need to leave before more ‘shell-heads” arrive!”
“Yes, yes.” Owen agreed. “We need to hurry along.”
Becca and Owen hurried across the rocky, barren ground outside the cave network that acted as the entry point to Brekked. Just as they reached the ramp, Becca stumbled. A wave of saddened and suffering washed over her like a tidal wave. She didn’t have to reach out with the Force to try and find Tatiana. Becca knew she wouldn’t find her through the Force. The dissonance she’d just felt was too similar to the disturbances she’d felt two years ago during the Jedi Purge. This one was the passing of Tatiana Zem.
Part of her wanted to scream. Another part of her wanted to curl into a ball right there and cry. The Jedi in her forced her to keep moving forward, even if all she could manage was a stagger at this point. She forced herself to look up.
Zachary was standing at the top of the ramp, a hard look etched on his face. Owen looked back at her, an air of sympathy on his. Tatiana had been his Padawan before Zachary. There were ties between a Master and a Padawan that went much deeper than merely teacher and student. It was the closest thing to family that the Jedi Order accepted. That made this little group of survivors a family, in a rough sort of way. The biggest thing at that point was that they weren’t going to leave without her.
Becca knew that Tatiana had wanted her to go to Master Verkaik should something ever happen to her. That’s where Becca was now. Becca knew that she had to move on.
Darth Vader, the black-armored enforcer of the Imperial New Order, strode over to the cavern wall and roughly picked up the injured bounty hunter by the collar of his shirt. Lifting the man up from the crumpled heap he had been on the floor was easy for Vader’s augmented cybernetic strength. The motion caused the hunter to stir.
“Jenner Kessk.” Vader rumbled. “You have failed in the task I gave you.”
Jenner was now awake, realizing that he was practically face-to-face with the black monster, Darth Vader. He was also acutely aware that his whole lower body was wracked with pain. Being slammed into the wall the way he had been must have done something to his back.
“I swear, Vader!” Jenner stammered. “We did as you asked.”
“Then where is the other Jedi that should have been with Tatiana Zem?”
“It was just her!” Jenner tried to explain, gritting through the pain in his back and lower extremities. “She was alone except for the two droids in the fighters!”
It was about that time that a white-armored Stormtrooper entered the cavern and hurriedly made his way towards Vader. “Lord Vader.”
“What is it, Commander Fox?”
“Sir, one of the squads reports that a freighter just blasted off.” The Stormtrooper stated. “They also found another one of our squads that went missing a while ago.”
“What of the missing squad?”
“All dead, sir.” Commander Fox reported. “Their wounds are consistent with those from Lightsabers, sir.”
“Zem’s Padawan may have escaped for now, but she can’t stay hidden forever.” Vader released Jenner’s collar. “Eventually, she will be found. Then, she will either submit or die.”
“What about the fighter that lifted off?”
“It was meant as a diversion.” Vader responded. “Gather your men and prepare to return to the ship.”
“Yes, sir.” Fox responded.
Vader tossed a Credit cube at Jenner. “Here’s your payment, bounty hunter.”