In the aftermath of their encounter at The Wheel, the team of Jedi aboard the Crucible glided through Hyperspace. The coordinates taken from the auction guided their way through the endless transdimensional space towards their destination on the other side of the Galaxy.
Jaden Windu, a scholar and archaeologist spent the time studying their destination as best he could. He accessed the New Republic database and found several reports from Outpost 17, a space station that orbited Durace. The Outpost was a central way station in the Unknown Regions for Republic ships. It had facilities for ship repair and refueling as well as extensive scientific sensors and equipment.
Old entries from surveyors in the early days of the Old Republic indicated that Durace was a garden planet perfect for supporting a colony. However, by the time the Republic revisited it some mysterious catastrophe had ravaged the planet leaving it barren of all life. Jaden discovered mention of extensive caverns with strange pictograms carved into the walls and rumors of a lost temple hidden deep beneath the planet’s surface.
As he delved further into the station’s research he learned that of one of the scientists assigned to the Outpost was Professor Ameet K’sona who was trying to determine what had happened to the planet. Jaden had once attended a lecture by the Professor at the University of Coruscant and had found the man to be exceedingly boring. However, he was an expert in climatology and planetary weather phenomenon.
As Jaden continued he discovered one holofile that he instinctively knew was important. It was almost as if some outside Force drew his eye right to it. Activating the holosystem he was greeted by the Professor’s bland countenance floating in the holotank as he made his report. Jaden could sense unease coming off the professor in waves. Unease that the older man finally voiced:
“To be honest I cannot wait until I am reassigned despite all the fascinating data we are collecting. There are times when I swear the planet is watching me. Waiting. Looking for a way to hurt me. It is the most unsettling feeling I have ever experienced.”
The scientist, clearly afraid, seemed to gather himself and said, “One of our probe droids has made the most fascinating discovery. The wreckage of an ancient ship. Preliminary scans indicate that the vessel is well over four thousand years old! I had the droid bring back some artifacts from the site that I have sent back to the University with the resupply shuttle. But I cannot investigate the discovery properly from the station so there is nothing for it. I am going to the surface tomorrow morning,” he said with determination in his shaky voice.
“I swear that planet is going to be the death of me…”
That was the last of Professor K’sona’s logs. However, there was a notation in the file that there was a shuttle accident caused by an ion storm that flared up unexpectedly. The professor’s shuttle crashed on the planet’s surface.
There were no survivors.
Jedi General Gisaku Saberota sat down in his quarters in the traditional Jedi meditation stance. Ever since his revival by Cortree Tincove months before, General Saberota had been struggling to re-attune himself to the Will of The Force.
The energy he once felt flow through every cell of his body and the space around him was now replaced with cold and emptiness. His breath once calm and meditative was now the mechanical rasp of a regulator gathering in air and releasing it. Physically his cybernetic limbs gave him sensation, the feelings of pressure, temperature and balance. But spiritually, the limbs were just pieces of metal, ceramic and plastic. They were not a part of the Force.
Saberota closed his his eyes and followed his old exercises. His respirator slowly wheezing out his mechanical breath as he took in the room. A room he remembered from a century before.
The ship called The Crucible had once had a single purpose: The training of Jedi Younglings. For a thousand years, it was the ship where The Gathering, the ancient Jedi rite where Padawans would assemble their first Lightsaber, took place. Gisaku Saberota had been one such Padawan. He had passed the trials, gathered his crystal and followed the instructions of an old droid to build his first lightsaber.
But those days were lost. When Cortree had rediscovered the ancient ship on Raxus Prime, it had already been scavenged. The Old Droid, Professor Huyang, was gone. His collection of Lightsaber components, the greatest in the Galaxy, were also lost.
Yet, the room still gave Saberota solace.
As they approached their destination, Saberota felt his balance wane. So, he meditated to regain his composure. But as the Crucible approached the mysterious planet, Saberota felt more…unblananced. As he finally fell into Deep Meditation, his mind drifted to the past.
Saberota saw and heard only bits and pieces. Pulses of cold and darkness. A Sky of Lightning.
TPM-1138…Cassandra’s Hope. Saberota saw the demise of General Thelsamar Cheska’s fief when the plan came to fruition and the ion pulse was triggered in the massive teraforming World Engines. It ended in one swift stroke. The weather changed and the droid armies died. But something went horribly wrong. City-sized ion storms erupted and raged out of control across the planet scouring the surface of all life. The transports desperately struggled to break orbit with thousands of refugees but left millions behind to be killed in lightning and fear.
He heard screams of fellow Jedi. Of children. He stood between a group of Younglings and an army of Clones led by a single Blue Lightsaber. Anakin Skywalker with burning eyes. The feel of the Dark Side as the blade cut through his arm.
His friends falling. Loved ones dying. The Temple burning. Everything he cared about crumbling around him. He felt rage and shame and fear all threatening to overwhelm him as he had visions of his friends and fellow Jedi all dying by his own hands. With a flash an intense white light burned into his vision and brought an end to the litany of failure and death.
Darkness. Voices from it.
“Our best, we have done.“
“Can we save him, Master?” asks a familiar voice.
“I know not. Up to him it is. And to the will of the Force…”
There is a death curdling screach and Gisaku jumped awake to the calamity of Alarm Klaxons breaking the Darkness. The mechanical rasp of his breath returning.
The stars appeared out the window as the Crucible lurched out of Hyperspace with a loud bang.
Jaden Windu and Gisaku Saberota rushed to the Engine room to findpunching the engine with a mysterious component in his hands.
“What’s going on, Core?” Jaden asked.
“Sabotage. The engine intakes were rerouted burning out the Ventral Multitronic Particle Chamber. It wasn’t meant to destroy the ship but it would cause the hyperdrive to fry leaving a ship helpless and stranded."
“Good thing I found it when I did…” Cortree said in a stammer, “The hyperdrive is damaged but it wasn’t completely wrecked.”
“Who could have done this?” Saberota asked.
Jaden moved to the Security monitor and scanned through the records of their time on The Wheel. He stopped on the image of a familiar woman sneaking onto the ship.
“Selan Mela’s Attendant…” Saberota said, confirming his suspicions. “She must have sabotaged the hyperdrive just before we ran into her in the hangar.”
“There’s something else too, “Cortree said, holding out a component with a blinking light, “A Tracker. Looks Imperial.”
“This complicates things.” Jaden said, “How long will it take to repair the hyperdrive?”
“I can’t repair it. Not without the right facility and parts. But I think I can rig up something that should let us make one jump. It will have to be short one though. The hyperdrive was severely damaged."
Jaden moved to the Star Map and raised a hologram of the Galaxy.
“The closest system is our destination. Durace. At the Lagrange point there’s a Space Station. Outpost 17.”
Saberota nodded, “Make for Outpost 17. We can take the tracker with us and place it on an outgoing ship. Hopefully that will lead whoever is following us on a wild bantha chase.”
The Crucible limped through hyperspace for hours travelling at a quarter of its usual speed. Space and the stars beyond went on forever. The black went on until a pair of new forms came upon them.
The Jedi gathered in the cockpit, staring at the growing shapes. A feeling of unease gripped them all.
A modestly sized Space Station sat before the planet. The planet’s atmosphere flashed arcs of blue and violet lightning.
“That’s it. Outpost 17, “ Cortree said, “And that planet there behind it is our destination.”
“Durace…” Saberota said, in shock at the sight. His breathing stuttered.
“General?” Jaden asked, concerned.
Saberota rushed to the Sensor console, pulling up a holo of the planet. The Hologram showed lightning arcing across the surface in a series of storms.
“It’s the same, “ Saberota said, “The same as Cassandra’s Hope.”
“Are you sure?”
“Positive. Same storms. Same Planet Type. Same feeling.”
Cortree looked over the holo, indicating features on the map “There’s the site of the ship we’re lookin’ for.”
Jaden had a sudden insight based on his earlier studying and asked, “General, were there any reports of mysterious temples on Cassandra’s Hope?”
“During the siege, “Saberota said nodding, “I remember early reports of some kind of temple discovered beneath the surface of Cassandra’s Hope. One of the reasons for the mass colonization.”
“Did they investigate the Temple?” Jaden asked.
“No. Archaeological efforts stopped because of the war. We disregarded it because of the occupation.
Why? Do you think they are related?”
“Perhaps. While researching Durace I found ancient reports indicating that it was originally a garden paradise that had suffered some unknown calamity. There was mention of a lost temple beneath the surface of the planet.”
“And there are no coincidences…”
A console beeped out a klaxon, drawing Cortree back to the helm.
“Automated Tractor beams are pulling us in to dock, but it’s weird…” Cortree said, scrutinizing his screens, “There’s no activity anywhere. No response to hails. No commercial traffic. Nothing.”
“I think with the planet as it is,” Jaden put forward, “Nothing is as it seems.”
The Crucible came in for a landing smoothly. But the docks were empty. No dock workers. No droids. Only silence…
The Jedi disembarked from the Crucible on edge. Cortree’s Squad of B1 Battle Droids led the way, providing a wall of protection. The droids swept the area cautiously, motioning to the Jedi when the way was clear.
“The docks seem deserted, sir.” The lead B1 Droid said, “No signs of life.”
“Search ‘round for any other ships or droids.” Cortree commanded.
The group moved forward through the Docks past empty merchant stalls and maintenance stations. Greeting messages echoed through space.
“Welcome to Outpost 17, your one stop shop for Durace Colony. With competitive prices and friendly Galaxy-class Customer Service, Outpost 17…”
The Lead Droid raised a fist and motioned to a docking station.
The Jedi came to a YT-2400 Freighter with its docking hatch deployed and a bloody corpse of a security guard at its base. Beside the corpse lay a crate, shattered from the inside as if something had exploded out of it.
The Jedi moved through the Ship and found another body in the cockpit, its throat slit. The engine room was a mess, looking like an extended firefight had raged there. Cortree figured it would take a great deal of work to get the old freighter space worthy again.
Jaden checked the body, “Also killed by blades both sharp and cauterizing.”
Cortree thought about it, “Some kind of Vibro maybe. Might mean a droid. I have seen wounds like that before, but… it can’t be…”
Saberota rasped calmly despite the carnage, “Stay sharp. We’ll check the rest of the station and get out of here as quick as we can.”
The Jedi moved through the derelict station. With every room they checked, more mysteries revealed themselves. Customs empty. Hallways empty. Living quarters empty. They came to the main pavilion and found food still on their plates. Possessions left behind.
“They left in a hurry.” Jaden said, “Something dangerous scared them off the station. We need to get to the Command Center to find out what happened here.”
“Looks like they left a short time ago. Several hours after that ship landed,” Cortree said, “I’ve got a bad feeling about this.”
The group continued through the station and came to a massive Blast Door leading to the Command Center.
The B1 droids tried the door, but it didn’t budge. Cortree moved to the control panel and tried a few commands. “Door’s locked by a command key card.”
“A lightsaber would take two hours to cut through that door.” Saberota said.
“I could splice the lock in half that time.” Cortree perked.
“Or we could take five minutes… “ Jaden suggested, remembering something he noticed earlier and ran off.
Cortree and Saberota looked at each other. The pair then followed Jaden to a hallway further down leading to the personnel’s living quarters.
They came to a stop in an area with cots and beds and personal items…and a keycard sitting out in the open. Jaden grabbed the card and held it up.
“…and search the living quarters.”
They unsealed the massive door and made their way into the control room. Nothing seemed out of place amongst the consoles and computer stations although Cortree was concerned that he was getting no signal at all from the station’s power plant. The circuitry from there must have been damaged somehow he speculated. He eventually came across the captain’s last log entry.
“We don’t know where it came from. I have organized several search parties but the droid stalked them and ripped them to shreds. I am afraid that everyone in Engineering may have finally fallen. We haven’t’ been able to reach them for over an hour now. I have no choice but to take our short range shuttle and abandon the Outpost. May the Force be with us…”
Cortree’s hands flew across the control console as he explained, “We can’t leave the station until we get some parts from the repair bay. I confirmed that they have what we need. I will have to do the repairs either here or on the surface of the planet. I can’t do them in space. So we are gonna have to make a choice.”
“Let’s get moving to the repair bay then. We can decide what to do after we have secured the parts,” the General replied. The group gathered up and started cautiously moving to the corridor leading to the repair bay.
Noises rang out from darkness. The B1 Battle Droids looked around, their weapons drawn.
“What was that?” The lead droid said, searching.
The Jedi moved towards the droids, taking out their lightsabers and surveying the derelict halls.
The darkness surrounded them. The lights flickered.
Cortree pulled out his blaster, making ready for a fight.
“Ahhhh!!!” A B1 Battle Droid cried as it was cleaved in half out of the flickering shadows. The B-1 droids tried to react but their blaster fire hit nothing as a shape blurred away with inhuman speed. Three more were turned to useless scrap with a blur of incredible speed and ferocity.
The Jedi caught sight of the attacker then. Seven feet tall. Made of some ancient metal but faster and tougher than any human body. A droid built from an Empire that was lost to antiquity.
Cortree recognized the droid. He had dug it out of the rubble of Raxus Prime, his home. A C21 Highsinger Droid. Old, rare with only one other of its kind known to exist in the whole galaxy and too valuable to ignore or scrap. Cortree had reactivated it. And then the ancient Assassin Droid started killing folks. It stole a starship and tore its way halfway across the galaxy…leading Cortree all the way to General Saberota as it came to kill him.
“The Assassin Droid!” Saberota shouted, drawing his Green Lightsaber next to Jaden’s Purple blade.
“Take’em down!” Cortree ordered.
The remaining four Battle Droids moved in unison and fired, “Roger roger!”
The Assassin Droid was faster, tearing through two more B1 Battle Droids. Jaden lunged at it, but missed. The Droid slipped past the final B-1 droids destroying one with a savage swipe of one of the vibroblades that extended from each wrist and went for Cortree.
Saberota interposed himself between the Assassin Droid and Cortree. He swung his Lightsaber but the Droid flipped over the General and disengaged the group. It became one with the shadows again.
Cortree motioned forward, “Let’s keep moving. Get the parts and get outta here.“
“Good idea.” Saberota agreed.
The Jedi ran down the halls, on the lookout for the Assassin Droid.
They moved to the closed Blast Door.
Cortree swiped the keycard. The door hissed and rose, revealing a supply room full of ship parts.
Then the Assassin Droid struck again.
It dropped in the middle of the group from the pipes above and swiped in all directions, causing confusion. Saberota took a swing and damaged the droid barely.
The Assassin droid killed the last of the B1 Battle Droids and went after Cortree, cutting him.
Jaden attacked the Droid, but with its greater strength and speed it easily held off the Jedi.
Cortree jumped into action, using his instinctive connection to mechanical devices through The Force, called Mechaderu, to create a power surge in a nearby conduit that caused the Assassin Droid’s systems to spark and sputter as they were nearly overloaded.
Saberota used the opportunity to aggressively swipe at the droid. The droid’s chassiss resisted the Lightsaber cuts, but its right arm fell limp to its side.
The Droid fled at lightning speed, running up the wall past the Jedi but its damaged arm combined with the power surge and a telekinetic push from Jaden allowed the normally slow and ponderous Saberota to keep pace with the droid as it ran down the hall.
The staccato strikes of Saberota’s Juyo fighting style carved sizzling cuts into the droid’s resistant chassis, damaging one of its legs and a kick to its chest knocked it into the back wall.
Saberota knew that even with the damage that the Assassin Droid would be a tough fight and that all three of them may not be able to take it down. But the old General faced the walking force of nature anyway with calm resolve. The same resolve that had earned him the nickname, “General Stoneface” from his old Clonetrooper Legion.
But the droid was too fast.
The Ancient Assassin Droid hit a button on the wall, opening a hatch. It ducked under another lightsaber strike, dove into the waiting escape pod and pressed a button launching it into space.
The vacuum of space pulled the nearby atmosphere forward, but Saberota grabbed the wall, his inhuman strength digging into the wall. He instinctively held out his other hand toward the pod. He reached out with the force to pull the craft back or knock it off course.
But Saberota felt nothing. He didn’t feel the Force around the pod or the distance between them. His will didn’t grab anything. His arm was dead. All he felt was his cold, dead flesh of metal, ceramic and plastic.
The Escape Pod flew away toward the planet Durace.
Jaden motioned and closed the hatch with the power of the Force.
“Are you alright, General?” Jaden asked.
Saberota gathered himself, turned to the others and mechanically rasped, “Yes. We should check Engineering further. That droid may have left us surprises.”
Five minutes later, the Jedi stood in front of the Station’s Main Reactor. The reactor consoles emergency klaxons blared.
“How bad is it?” Jaden asked.
Cortree raced between consoles.
“In about half an hour this place may…actually…explode.” Cortree said.
“Can you stop it?” Saberota asked.
“I might be able to slice it and save the station,” Cortree said, “Y’all should get back to the ship though. It is gonna get pretty hairy in here.”
“I’ll stay with you.” Saberota said without missing a beat, “Jaden you can go back to the ship.”
Jaden Windu shook his head, “Jedi should stand together.”
“Master Windu would have said the same thing.” Saberota said. Jaden couldn’t see the General smiling past his respirator, but he could sense it.
“May the Force be with us…”
The three scrabbled. They gathered together components from all over the sections of the station that they had access to. Jaden used his instincts to keep out of Cortree’s way and provide the tools he needed. Saberota discovered a tank of reactor coolant as big as he and dragged it back to the reactor.
As the minutes passed, Cortree fell into the force. He felt the machines around him and somehow instinctively knew exactly how to stop them from melting down…
The Reactor shifted and then grew silent. The klaxons stopped and the readouts went green.
The Jedi let out a collected sigh of relief.
Cortree wiped sweat from his brow, “You think we could claim this station for salvage?”
Jaden let out a chuckle, “I think the Republic would take issue with that.”
“They did abandon the station…”
“But, now the fun begins, “ Saberota said, turning to a nearby readout showing the current conditions on the Planet Durace, “We still have to go down to the planet before the Empire arrives…”