Faith VIII - We'll Always Have Taris
“What? We’re just leaving?” Faith asked incredulously. “We’re just gonna leave these people in the tanks like we found ‘em?”
“It is not our decision to make,” Ralto explained patiently. “Their lives or deaths are for their families to decide. We will have to inform the proper authorities and allow them to handle this matter.”
Faith shook her head. “I thought we were the ‘proper authorities.’”
“Not quite,” Tal said. “Local law enforcement gets to call the shots here. These people aren’t a threat to the Republic. It’s a Tarisian matter, so they’ll handle it.”
Faith groaned. “My memories of local cops don’t include anyone who gave a damn or else who knew what to do if they did.”
“Well then, be thankful that we’re not on your homeworld,” Vira snapped. “If it were up to me, we’d end these people’s suffering right now. But it’s not up to me, so we won’t.”
“Remember, Faith,” Ralto said patiently, “the Empire designed this strain to take effect after a delay. Even if the Republic can’t synthesize a cure, that delay may give their loved ones time enough to get some closure. To say ‘goodbye,’ as it were.”
Faith wanted to argue the issue, but Ralto had a point that she couldn’t deny. “I guess so,” she said reluctantly. “I’ve just seen stuff like this before, and there’s no happy ending.”
“We know, Faith,” Tal said softly. “All we can do now is hope for the best. There might be enough research left here to find a cure. So long as those people are in stasis, they won’t be transforming into Rakghouls. If all goes well, they might get back to their normal lives.”
Faith knew it was a long shot, but she also know that if there was the slimmest chance to save Buffy or Angel if they were dying, she’d take it. For these people’s families, it had to be the same.
“All right,” Faith said at last. “We leave the vats alone for now. As long as we’re planning on getting out of here, I’m wondering where that goes,” she said, pointing to the turbolift. “It’s probably nowhere near where any Republic folks would think to look. My guess is there’s an Imp base on the other side.”
“That is probably a safe assumption,” Ralto agreed. “Before you say anything, Faith, I would recommend against going in there alone and impersonating a Sith Lord again. The facility is likely to be staffed by genuine intelligence operatives who will know for certain whether or not any Sith Lords are on Taris.”
“Also, if you’re going to be an Intelligence-affiliated Sith in the future, Faith,” Tal put in, “I heard a report that Darth Jadus isn’t in charge anymore. Reports are sketchy, but we do know that Darth Zhorrid is now in charge of Imperial Intelligence. More than that is sketchy, save that she’s not the sanest of Sith Lords.”
“Here, allow me,” Vira said as she moved over to a communications console. “I like to think I have a way with tech. There’s probably some sort of information feed going both ways. Doesn’t look like it’s active at the moment, but if I can hack the connection,” Vira said as she began entering a series of commands, “then we should be able to hear… Got it!”
A sound not unlike a static-filled phone connection came from the console before easing into distinct voices.
“…positive identification of the false Sith?”
“Not quite, but the image has a 71 percent correlation with another taken by one of our operatives at the Jedi Temple two weeks ago. It’s a probable match given that the angles of the images were-“
“Shut up, everyone! The feed at the ruin’s been activated. We’re being monitored.”
“Scrub everything immediately! And get that false Sith’s image and alias out before we lose the opportunity!”
“Damn!” Major Cortland swore. “They were watching. If we want to get the drop on them before your cover becomes useless, we have to move.”
“Way ahead of you, Tal.” Faith said, rushing over to the lift. “You coming?”
The two soldiers and the Jedi Master were already on their way.
A few seconds later, Vira entered a command and the lift descended into the ground and then began to speed sideways. Faith could feel the small pod change direction a few times as it traveled at high speed before beginning a quick ascent.
Faith looked to Ralto and met his gaze. He nodded to her as he drew his lightsaber, a silent gesture of trust and readiness.
The lift’s door opened and Faith and Ralto stepped forward and deflected a hail of blaster bolts headed in their direction from plainclothes operatives. As the two Jedi advanced forward, they deflected enough of the bolts back to their senders to allow Cortland and Septus to exit the lift and lay down fire of their own.
The room was small, barely larger than a high school classroom back on Earth. Faith sensed some familiar presences coming from outside of the building, and she realized that they must be within the confines of the Republic base. The Force signatures of some of the refugees she’d advocated for earlier were as distinctive as fingerprints.
Tal sent one last series of bolts at a woman desperately typing on a console. She went down just as her console exploded in a blast of blue electricity.
Faith watched as all around her, every one of the fancy-looking computer consoles in the room self-destructed.
“Check for survivors,” Ralto said urgently.
“No good,” Vira said as she knelt by a man with a wound to his torso. “This one ate a suicide capsule. I’m guessing they all did when they realized we had the upper hand.”
“Damn.” Faith was pissed. “So we have no way of figuring out what they knew about us and who else in the Empire might know?”
“Taris is very close to the Imperial border,” Ralto said carefully. “It’s probable that there is a ship within communications range to receive data from this station. The technology is quite a bit more sophisticated than any standard Imperial equipment I’m familiar with.”
“You’ve got that right,” Vira said. “I don’t recognize half of this stuff. You, Major?”
“You’re asking the wrong guy, Lieutenant,” Cortland said sadly. “I’m not the most complicated man in the galaxy. Ask me about tactics, strategy, demolitions, weapons, I’m your man. Give me a ship, I can probably fly it well enough. Spies and their computers aren’t really my areas of expertise.”
Vira swore. “We need to report this to the SIS, and we need to do it yesterday.”
“Hold on a sec,” Faith said, spinning her head around to face Vira. “Where did that come from?”
“Where’d what come from?”
“`SIS’ Those aren’t aurek-besh letters. Those are English letters.”
“Technically, it’s called ‘aurebesh,’” Ralto said. “As to the usage of those letters… Well, I don’t know the background, but many droids use similar abbreviations in their designations.”
“It’s military jargon,” Tal explained. “Or it was centuries ago. Maybe before the Great Hyperspace War, even, the troops would use different letters as code to represent aurebesh letters.”
“Huh.” Faith decided not to wonder too long about this new correlation between her home and this strange other universe. “So, what does SIS stand for?”
“Strategic Information Service,” Vira answered. “Our version of Imperial Intelligence, complete with a fancier name.”
“Names have power,” Ralto said sagely. “The Strategic Information Service is a name meant to make Republic citizens feel safe and protected. Imperial Intelligence is meant to keep the people of the Empire in line through fear.”
Faith snorted. “Yeah, well right now, the only thing I’m feeling is pissed off at these fucking spooks getting the drop on us.”
“`Spook?’” Ralto asked gently.
“Spy,” Faith clarified. “I don’t know about you guys, but I don’t wanna stick around here any longer than we have to. Let’s get the hell out of here and make a few calls. I bet the suits in charge are just gonna love this.”
Once the BT-7 Thunderclap that had been requisitioned to the group was in orbit, Major Cortland made a call to Coruscant, and Colonel Wilhelm Walburn’s image was now fizzling in and out of view in the holoprojector.
“Rep- … -ajor,” the static-filled visage said.
“The newer strain of the Rakghoul plague has been contained, Colonel,” Cortland said. “They were testing a variant with a delayed reaction to turn infected hosts into time bombs that would mutate only after returning to a population center. Local officials are helping the test subjects say their goodbyes, but some have chosen to remain in stasis in the hope that a cure can be found.”
“Damn! That’s … -rom ideal, but I suppose it coul- … -een a lot worse. I’ll coordi- … -ocal authorities to addre- … -atter. How is your team holding up?”
“Well enough, sir,” Cortland said. “Master Ralto and Jedi Lehane have both proven invaluable to the mission, and Lieutenant Septus is every bit the soldier she’s always been, sir. We work well together.”
“Well, that’s … -ess thing to worry about. Lieu- … -eptus, do you have anything to add?”
“Sir, the Rakghoul plague wasn’t all that the Imperials were working on,” Vira said. “They’d set up shop next to a ruin of some sort that they said predates the Republic by about five thousand years. The Jedi managed to get us inside, and we’ve discovered what looks like a map that leads to something called a ‘Purge Engine.’ With respect, Colonel, I believe this is something we should follow up on.”
“Is that so?” Walburn said thoughtfully. “Maj- … -land, your thoughts?”
“I think it’s worth pursuing, sir,” Tal added. “I should also add that the map we found had a highlighted area in the Unknown Regions, well within the reach of the Empire. I should also add that Imperial Intelligence had an outpost listening into the laboratory. We neutralized it, but not before they wiped all of their computers. In addition, Faith’s cover as a Sith may be compromised.”
“Major, you disa- … me,” Walburn said sternly. “That should ha- … -the first thing you mentioned. I’ll be sure to- … -eam to go over the Imperial safe house. Mas- … -to, do you have anything to add?”
“Well Colonel, I believe that the possibility of ‘Lord Fidelis’s’ cover being blown is nothing to concern ourselves with. That disguise is unsettling, personally, and I will be glad to be rid of it,” Ralto said calmly.
Faith grumbled under her breath, not liking Ralto’s attitude.
“I would like to request, however,” Ralto added, “that Major Cortland and Lieutenant Septus continue to work with us as we seek out this ‘Purge Engine.’ A map inside the ruin led us to believe that the Empire may be pursuing this as well. These ruins appear to be attuned to the Force, and if the Purge Engine is also a Force-sensitive thing, it could be lethal in the wrong hands. As Major Cortland said, we work well together.”
“I see,” Walburn said carefully. His image kept flickering, but he held a thoughtful pose. “Very well,” he said at last. “Pending approval of … -di Council, Majo- … and Lieu- … -tus will operate under your comma- … -alto.”
“What, doesn’t anybody care about what I have to say?” Faith remarked.
Walburn sighed. “Do you ha- … to say?”
“Yeah, I do,” Faith said. “The place had a password or something. It responded to my last name, which wasn’t quite the password, but it was close. Look up ‘Lehon’ and see if you can get anything. The Republic’s been around for ages, so you’ve gotta have a ton of records, right?”
“You said ‘Lehon?’ I see.” Walburn turned to look at something out of the holoprojector’s field of view and made a comment that Faith couldn’t hear before turning back to them. “Very well. If you’ll excu- … -ave a committee meet- … --ust attend. Colonel Walburn out.”
The holoprojector flickered out again and didn’t reactivate.
“Is it just me, or does that guy have some issues with me?” Faith asked of no one in particular.
“Don’t take it personally, Faith,” Tal said. “The Colonel’s the kind of guy who takes a lot away from first impressions, but he’ll acknowledge and respect what you’ve done regardless. It just takes more time and effort for him to warm up to some people.”
“Oh, I wouldn’t say that,” Vira said with a teasing elbow into Tal’s side. “I mean, he warmed up to you pretty quick, didn’t he, Major? It only took what? Eight months? Or was it a year before he’d deign to ask you for your opinion on anything?”
“Shut up, Lieutenant,” Cortland said with a barely-repressed smile. “So, what’s our next move?”
“I believe we should contact the Jedi Council with our findings before we attempt to integrate the ruin’s data into our computers,” Ralto said. “There could be some incompatibilities that we might be unprepared for.”
“Ugh, I hate this part,” Cortland grumbled.
“What part is that, Tal?” Faith asked.
“That would be the ‘getting in touch with Tython’ part,” Vira explained. “The hyperspace lanes leading into the Deep Core are so turbulent that they’ve had to install a special set of comm relays, and getting at just the right distance from one of those buoys is a task in of itself.”
Faith shrugged. “So, it’s like finding bars for a phone. How hard can it be?”
“No! Go back! We just had a connection!”
“Go back where?” Tal shouted from the cockpit.
“Calm yourself, Faith,” Ralto said. “Stretch out with the Force, and you will see clearly where our ship is in relation to the relay.”
Faith scowled. “Calm, right. I can do calm, sure.”
“Please move the ship two meters port, Major,” Ralto said calmly.
“What was that?”
“He said two meters port!” Vira shouted from the corridor connecting the two rooms. Faith doubted that Vira did calm very well either.
“All right,” Tal shouted back. “I can do this. Two meters port… Damn! Overshot it. Give me just a moment and I’ll-“
“Stop! Right there, just stop!” Faith shouted. “The thing is beeping and flashing, which means we have a signal, right?”
“Yes, Faith,” Ralto said with a patient sigh. “I believe we have a connection.”
“Fantastic,” Vira growled. It was clear she did not relish playing the relay-woman between the holoprojector and the cockpit. “Just don’t touch anything, okay, Tal?”
“All right! All right! I’m not touching anything!” Cortland protested.
“I’m opening the channel now,” Ralto said as he input a few commands.
A protocol droid with a trapezoidal head appeared as a blue hologram. “This is Tython Orbital Control. Please state your authorization code.”
“This is Jedi Master Ralto Nalarn, clearance code Cherek-Esh-Nern Green with a priority Besh-Resh Two message.”
Faith looked at Ralto, surprised. She had not known that there was any more to his name other than what she’d always called him. Was there a story there, she wondered.
“Clearance code recognized,” the droid said. “Please stand by.”
The droid’s translucent blue visage flickered out.
“So now we wait?” Faith asked.
“Indeed, we do,” Ralto said. “Hopefully it will not take long for the Jedi Council to respond.”
“You really think this is big enough to involve the Jedi Council?” Vira asked with a hint of awe in her voice. Faith noted that the tough-as-nails soldier might not be as jaded as she had thought.
“I do,” Ralto said simply. “Ah, here we are.”
The holoprojector flickered again, and the image of a seated Satele Shan came into being. “This is Grand Master Shan. Are you reading me, Master Ralto?”
“I am, Master Shan, and I come with distressing news from Taris. If I might ask: Why is the entire Council not here?”
“The Jedi Council is dispersed at the moment. The Order as a whole is spread pretty thin,” Satele said. “I promise you that I’ll share your report with all of them as soon as I’m able.”
“I understand,” Ralto said. “Were you apprised of our mission to Taris?”
“I was,” Satele confirmed. “You were investigating a new strain of the Rakghoul plague. Has it been contained?”
“We believe so,” Ralto said. “However, the Imperial laboratory was underground, where their efforts with the Rakghoul virus were secondary to a Force-attuned ruin that we found. Preliminary reports suggest that it predates both the Republic and the Jedi.”
“It wasn’t exactly a happy place, either,” Faith put in. “The whole thing stank, only not with a smell, y’know? It was more of a cold feeling, only not like winter. It’s kinda hard to describe.”
“You were likely sensing the presence of the Dark Side of the Force,” Satele observed carefully. “What did you discover about it, other than its age?”
“There was a droid inside,” Ralto said. “It was of an alien design, and it spoke several times in different languages. I assume it was looking for a translation that we would understand. Basic did not come around for quite some time.”
“The door to the ruin was closed,” Faith put in. “It only budged when Ralto said my last name: Lehane. We figured it was some sort of password, but the real password was ‘Lehon.’ The droid challenged us about it, and it claimed that my name was a tribute or something to the Builders, whoever they are.”
“Whatever these Builders were,” Ralto said, “the droid claimed that they had an ‘Infinite Empire.’ The droid tested Faith and called the rest of us her lessers, presumably because of her name. A combat droid materialized out of thin air and attacked her. Faith was more than up to the challenge, and the droid provided us a map and ordered us to seek out and activate something called a ‘Purge Engine.’”
“I’m gonna go out on a limb here,” Faith interrupted, “and guess that we don’t want something with a name like that running around out there. Oh! And the map showed another bit of progress in the Unknown Regions, close to the border. I’m guessing we’re not the only ones on the trail of this thing.”
“This is most disturbing,” Satele said. “I recognize some of those words. They were in the journal of my ancestor, Bastila. I don’t remember the specifics – I’ll look it all up again later – but if I were to venture a guess, I’d say that there’s a connection between this Purge Engine and the Star Forge.”
“The Star Forge?” Vira interrupted from the corridor. “Sorry, Master Shan, but wasn’t that some alien factory that made entire fleets out of nothing?”
Satele sighed, and Faith thought she looked tired. “That would be correct. Master Ralto, Jedi Faith, I’m giving you both leave to seek out more information about this Purge Engine. You’re already on the trail, so you’re best placed to deal with it. Keep me updated as things develop.”
“Yes, Master Shan,” Ralto said. “Is there anything else?”
“I’ll send a message to you when I’ve had a chance to read over the contents of Bastila’s journal again. Other than that, I can only stress how dangerous I sense this mission will be, and for all of you to be mindful of events around you in both the mundane world and in the Force.”
“We understand, Master Shan,” Ralto said. “May the Force be with you.”
“May the Force be with us all,” Satele said grimly. “Tython out.”
The image flickered out of existence.
“All right,” Vira said. “You can move now, Major. Pull up the galaxy map so we can plug the nav data into the computer.”
“Assuming that’s our next move, Master Jedi?” Tal added as he input some commands.
“Yes, that is our next step,” Ralto said as he moved to the cockpit, Faith trailing just behind him.
As soon as the Nautolan Master pulled out his datapad, a stream of white energy flowed out of the pad and into the ship’s computer, and the galaxy map lit up with the same data that they had seen in the ruin.
“All right,” Tal said. “Now we can run this image through the data we have collected so we can find where to go next. And our destination is...”
Vira swore when she saw the image of the world. “Nar Shaddaa. This is not going to end well.”
“What’s wrong?” Faith asked.
“A few things,” Tal sad. “First of all, it’s a moon controlled by the Hutt Cartel. Anything and everything is for sale for the right price. It’s not a good place to go about on a covert mission.”
“More than that,” Ralto added, “Nar Shaddaa is like a darker, seedier version of Coruscant. It’s a giant city that’s been built up over thousands of years. And assuming the next stop on our journey is as old as we think it is, we’re likely to have to look on the surface of the moon.”
“What’s so bad about that?”
“You don’t understand,” Vira said. “Nar Shaddaa is dangerous on the best of days, in the best locales. The further down you go, the fewer traces of civilization you find. Nobody knows what’s at the bottom of Nar Shaddaa because nobody’s crazy enough to go down there.”
“Well, it’s a good thing we’re all that crazy, then. Isn’t it?” Faith asked with a smirk.
Tal sighed. “I’ll plot a course. It’ll take a bit of time. Why don’t we all get some rest?”
“Fine by me,” Faith said. “I’ll be in my bunk.”
Leaving the cockpit, Faith made her way to a small cabin on the starboard side of the ship and plopped herself down on the hard bed and closed her eyes.
Faith thought she felt a soft breeze blow across her face, which wrinkled up in annoyance.
Opening her eyes, Faith sat up in her bed.
Only it wasn’t her bed. It was a queen-sized bed with a soft mattress in a familiar bedroom a very long way away from Taris or Nar Shaddaa.
A stir of motion to her left told Faith that she wasn’t alone in the bed.
I don't own Buffy the Vampire Slayer or Star Wars. Specifically...
Taris: not mine
Rakghouls: not mine
Aurebesh: not mine
Imperial Intelligence: not mine
Strategic Information Service (SIS): not mine
Darth Jadus: not mine
Darth Zhorrid: not mine
Ralto Nalarn: original
Tal Cortland: original
Vira Septus: original
Wilhelm Walburn: original
Satele Shan: not mine
Bastila Shan: not mine
Nar Shaddaa: not mine
Builders: not mine
Infinite Empire: not mine
Purge Engine: original
Also, for the very first time, I give you visual references!
Lt. Vira Septus:
Maj. Tal Cortland:
I apologize for the delay in posting chapters. I had a bit of writer's block with this chapter, but I seem to have overcome it. The next couple of chapters are waiting in the wings, and I will post them soon if I can. I could use some help in the near future, so if anyone who is familiar with the universes of both Buffy and The Old Republic would like to beta-read, I would be very happy to have the help.
My Muse will work for reviews. She's working on the sign this very moment, actually.
Thank you all for reading, and I hope you enjoy the story!