Chapter 6
Halkiir


"This is En'Tra'Tais Control," the cockpit speaker announced. "You have permission to land. Docking Bay 54 is open."

After several moments, the Aurora descends toward the open landing platform in the middle of Coyn's sprawling capital city. Slowly, the ship passes through the large circular hatch and gently touches down on the metal floor.

Starport workers extend fuel lines toward the transport as the boarding ramp begins to open. Seconds later, Snteil and Kurrelgyrre walk down the ramp into the bay.

After renting a speeder, the pair makes their way through the busy streets to Incom's facility.

KG and Snteil are led into the repair bays and shown the ship waiting for them, the Z-98 Phantom. The starfighter looks brand new, complete with a new finish on the hull. In fact, a Rodian technician finishes wiping part of the underbelly, glances at the group walking toward the ship and walks away from the ship.

"We've even upgraded some of the ship's systems for you," the Incom rep adds as he hands the final repair report to Kurrelgyrre. "The previous sensors suite didn't work too well while the hull was polarized, and neither did the shields. With the new upgrades, the sensors work fine. We're still having some problems with the shields, though. But, they are improved, since they now work at 50% efficiency. We haven't quite worked out the bugs between them and the light polarization system, but we're working on it."

"Whoa, KG," Snteil interjects. "I hadn't realized you had no shielding when in stealth mode. I'll keep that in mind for later."

Kurrelgyrre, with a big Wookiee grin on his face, glances through the report and sees that everything has been repaired. He notices the emphasis on the systems that had been upgraded, which include fixing a calibration error of the weapons that nagged KG for quite a while.

Handing the report back, KG says, "Good work. She looks good as new. Better, in fact."

KG rubs his hand against the hull, admiring the shine.

"Arsix," the Wookiee continues as he turns to his faithful astromech droid, "get yourself in the ship and do a quick diagnostic. Run through the pre-flight checklist.

"What do you think, Snteil? She looks sharp, doesn't she?"

"She certainly does," Snteil replies. "She's no YT-2000, of course, but she'll do in a pinch."

As the Sullustan winks to his companion, KG laughs and answers, "There's no doubt about that. Then again, I like the feel of a starfighter, even if it is a bit cramped. It's like you're one with the fighter.

"Whenever we find Jan, he's sitting up front. It won't be a comfy ride, though, since I had to move the seat all the way forward so I would have leg room. His knees will be up to his chest!"

KG slaps Snteil on the back in jest, and then turns back to readying the starfighter.

As the discussion continues and Arsix rolls toward the Phantom, the pair finds Zeethree staring at the Rodian technician as he walks to the far side of the repair bay. Noticing this, Snteil strides over to stand next to his droid and whispers, "You’re probably making him nervous. He doesn’t look any different than the others. Leave him alone."

Zeethree answers while continuing to watch the Rodian, "Something about him doesn’t seem right."

"You’re doing it again," Snteil sternly mentions.

With an artificial sigh, Zeethree turns and replies, "Okay."

After everything is assembled, packed and confirmed ready, the Aurora and the Z-98 Phantom lift off together once more.

A moment passes as the ships ascend through the atmosphere, when the Phantom’s comm comes to life.

"Snteil to Kurrelgyrre, come in."

The Wookiee activates the comm system and answers, "Kurrelgyrre here."

"How's she feelin'?" inquires Snteil. "Everything tightened up good?"

"She's feeling pretty good. I think they even worked out that kink in the left servitor."

Snteil adds, "I've got the coordinates plotted for the Halkiir system. I can beam them to you as soon as you're ready to receive them."

KG prepares Arsix for the transmission and replies, "Ready now."

As the two ships leave the planet's atmosphere, both pilots program the coordinates for the Halkiir system and jump to light speed.

Some time later, the Aurora and Z-98 drop out of hyperspace in tandem to open space. Far in the distance, a brown and gray planet is barely in view. Sensor readings report nothing else in the area.

Taking a cautious approach, the ships begin their flight toward Halkiir. As the planet grows closer, it shows its features as what looks like a lifeless planet at first glance. Gray mountain ranges zigzag across wide brown land masses that do not appear to host any vegetation. A few large depressed areas, perhaps dried ocean beds, separate what would be called continents if the oceans were still present. A cloudless atmosphere blankets the rockball in some form of air that appears to be a relic from what once may have been a living planet.

As the occupants of the ship begin to see details of the planet's landmarks, sensor readouts on both ships indicate two objects coming around the planet.

Snteil whistles, turns his comm system on and says, "Looks like an appropriately bleak planet for an Imperial Remnants base. Don't you think, Kurrels?"

Kurrelgyrre nods out of instinct and replies, "Looks to be a safe haven for any despicable sort. Imps, bounty hunters . . . er, no offense."

"Uh huh," answers Snteil with a slightly annoyed tone. "Let's just stick with the Imps, for now, huh? I don't feel like I need to get into another debate about the need and veracity of a bounty hunter's to transcend the thousands of jurisdictions in this big ol' galaxy."

"If you say so, although I fail to see the 'need' for bounty hunters. Seriously, do you see the 'need' for hired killers who indiscriminately kill others simply for pay?"

"Hey!" Snteil cries. "Not all bounty hunters kill indiscriminately."

The Sullustan leans over to Zeethree and adds, "Besides, some bounties are worth more alive than dead."

Kurrelgyrre, not hearing Snteil’s added comment, continues, "I suppose some bounty hunters do bring back their prey alive from time to time, although those brought back often face a life worse than death. Imagine being a prisoner in a Hutt's palace."

Clearly perturbed by this time, Snteil states, "Not all clients are crime lords and dishonored fathers, you know. Most of my bounties were severe criminals. Criminals who were jumping from jurisdiction to jurisdiction, getting the legal systems all tied in a knot. Sometimes, it takes someone outside the law to bring them in."

Shaking his head in disbelief, KG answers, "I simply cannot see a 'need' for such dishonorable people. I've known bounty hunters, and they're not a desirable lot.

"Present company excluded, of course," adds the Wookiee, almost as an afterthought.

"Of course."

At this point, Snteil's sensors indicate that the two bogeys are Imperial TIE Interceptors.

"Uh, oh," Snteil mutters under his breath before continuing through the comm. "Kurrlie, we've got two TIE Interceptors headed our way."

A grimace crossed KG’s face before he says, "Frell! Okay, I'm going to go into "Phantom mode", and swing back around behind these guys. We'll get them in a pincer movement."

Slowly, the Phantom fades from view, leaving the Aurora by itself on its approach to the planet.

Inside the Aurora's cockpit, Zeethree cuts in and reports, "Snteil, they appear to be communicating with somebody. Attempting to jam."

A few seconds pass, and Zeethree finally breaks the silence. "I've jammed their communications. I'm not sure if I stopped it in time, though."

Meanwhile, KG steers the Phantom behind the TIEs. Suddenly, the TIEs break formation and scatter. They appear to be heading in the general direction of the Aurora, however.

At this point, an incoming message is indicated on the Aurora.

"Zeethree, power up the main guns, forward linked." As Snteil switches the deflector shields on double front, he opens the channel on the incoming message.

Wordlessly, Zeethree complies with Snteil's instructions.

When the comm channel opens, the duo hears, "Unknown vessel, you are trespassing in Imperial space. You are hereby ordered to power down your weapons and shields and follow us in formation. If you diverge from our course, you will be fired upon."

The TIEs reach the Aurora and begin circling the ship.

"Imperial space, my foot!" Snteil exclaims to nobody in particular. "Last I checked, you had no legalized jurisdiction anymore." He punches the accelerator and brings the ship around to attack.

Zeethree brings the shields back to standard configuration, as Snteil sprints to the dorsal turret. He jumps into the seat and quickly preps the quadlaser while looking for the nearest fighter.

As soon as the gun is ready, Snteil grabs the controls and fires at the approaching TIE. The first volley of laser fire rips through the fighter's port strut, breaking the panel away from the central pod and causing the ship to begin spinning out of control. The second shot doesn't give the fighter a chance to maneuver, as it penetrates the cockpit and destroys the doomed vessel.

The other TIE Interceptor, however, swoops in and attacks. The lasers hit hard against the Aurora's shields but do not pass through.

The TIE zips past the transport, and the cloaked Z-98 flown by Kurrelgyrre maneuvers into position behind it. Although the Imperial ship is quickly moving away from it, he aims and fires twice. His first shot slams into the fighter's engines, while the second blast hits the starboard panel and strut.

The wounded TIE dives to fly below the Aurora, and the Phantom continues to pursue.

Just before Snteil calls to Zeethree to roll the ship, the droid calls back to him, "Sir, I'm picking up two additional signals coming around the planet. Focusing a scan."

"Roll the ship first!" cries Snteil.

Without another word, Zeethree rolls the ship over, bringing the TIE within Snteil's firing arc.

Once he spots the fighter, Snteil opens fire. His two shots hit the fighter, causing it to explode in a brief fireball that begins to drop into the planet's gravity well.

Finding his target gone, KG steers his ship to rendezvous with the Aurora.

Zeethree announces, "Sensors indicate that the two new signals are Imperial vessels . . . wait a second . . . they're Guardian-class light cruisers! They will be in range in . . . thirty seconds . . . and they're hailing us."

Without a word, Snteil hops into the pilot seat, brings the Aurora about and punches the accelerator away from Halkiir. He quickly turns to the navcomputer and begins plotting a course.

Meanwhile, Kurrelgyrre begins following the Aurora.

The Imperial cruisers begin to alter course to pursue the retreating transport.

While Snteil is computing the new course, Zeethree interjects, "Sir, we're approaching another ship. But, it appears to be reversing course. It's on the edge of our sensor range. Trying to focus a scan."

After a few seconds, Zeethree continues, "The ship is off our scopes. I can't identify it.

"However, we are outrunning the Imperial ships."

Toggling the comm, Snteil hails Kurrelgyrre and says, "KG, I'm loading the coordinates to head back to Coyn. I'll see you there."

"Roger that," answers the Wookiee as Arsix pulls up the coordinates.

After confirming the coordinates, the Aurora and Z-98 enter hyperspace and leave Halkiir.

Completing the flight to Coyn, the two ships dock at Skraj'Tais with no difficulty.

Meeting outside the docking bay, Snteil, Kurrelgyrre and the two droids make their way to a public computer terminal. Within seconds, the terminal is ready to accept input.

"Arsix," Snteil states as he turns to the little droid, "see if you get any hits on shipping and Halkiir. If that doesn't work, just see what you can pull up on Halkiir in general."

Arsix chirps an optimistic-sounding response and begins the search.

After a brief moment, the following results appear on the display:

Subject: Halkiir

Halkiir

A barren planet found in the Outer Rim Territories between the Elrood Sector 
and the Hydian Way.  Virtually nothing is noteworthy of this planet or any 
other planet in the system.  The only exception is that the world has a 
breathable atmosphere but no plant or animal life to speak of, which has led 
some scientists to speculate that the world once held life.  However, no 
evidence has been found to support this hypothesis.

Type: Barren Rock
Temperature: Mild
Atmosphere: Type I (breathable)
Gravity: Standard
Terrain: Barren
Length of Day: 22 Standard hours
Length of Year: 412 local days
Sapient Species: None
Starport: None
Population: None
Planet Function: Unknown
Government: None
Tech Level: None
Major Exports: None
Major Imports: None

System/Star: Valsa
Planets          Type               Moons
Triaal           Barren Rock        0
Halkiir          Barren Rock        2
Graind           Gas Giant          7
Tantos           Gas Giant          9

Subject: Halkiir and shipping

No results.
"Great," sighs Snteil. "That was not the answer I was hoping for. Maybe we should go down to the local shady port and see what we can find out about Halkiir."

Kurrelgyrre nods and answers, "Agreed."

At that point, they set off to conduct their own search with the locals that takes several hours.

Most people KG tries to speak with just can't understand him. The one person that had a translator with him didn't know anything about Halkiir.

Most people that Snteil ask have not even heard of Halkiir, either. However, he eventually finds somebody that does know a little about it.

"Halkiir?" the old grizzled man nursing his drink asks. "Yeah, I've heard of it. Went out there about twenty years back. Nothing out there but a bunch of useless planets. Nobody goes there."

Snteil nods slightly and replies, "I get that impression."

The old man pauses, eyes the Sullustan for a second and continues in an interrogating tone, "Why are you asking about it?"

Cautiously, Snteil answers, "It's nothing. We're just looking for a friend, and we heard there may be a large Imperial presence on Halkiir. We'd like to confirm whether or not that's true. It could greatly impact approach, or whether we even decide to go there at all, if you know what I mean. The Imperials were enough trouble when they were in charge. Now, it's like stirrin' up a hornet's nest."

The old man raises an eyebrow, gazes at Snteil and replies doubtfully, "Imperials . . . on Halkiir . . . "

A smile slowly forms on his face, and he begins to laugh. Starting softly at first, his laugh quickly turns into a loud, obnoxious cackle that lasts for a good 10 seconds and is clearly heard over the low murmur in the bar.

Suddenly, he cries out, "You must be drinking, my friend! What would the Empire want with that dead planet?! There's nothing there! Absolutely . . . nothing!"

He slaps the table a few times and continues to cackle for several more seconds, until he erupts into a thick, hacking cough that stops his laugh cold. After a few seconds, the geezer grabs his glass half-filled with some form of alcohol and finishes it. He sighs, reaches into his shirt pocket and pulls out a credit chip that he slaps onto the table top in front of the Sullustan.

"Here ya go," says the old man in a jolly manner. "You're next bottle is on me!"

"Great," Snteil says in a rather lackluster manner as he rises from his chair, "thanks for the drink."

Under his breath, he mutters to himself, "Well, so much for keepin' that relatively quiet."

As the Sullustan returns to his table, KG walks over from where he was standing.

As Kurrelgyrre starts to sit down across from his companion, Arsix emerges from the crowd and rolls up next to Snteil. He starts to chirp, when he suddenly stops and abruptly turns his electronic eye straight at his master. The droid silently pauses for a moment, chirps something in a low volume and repositions himself to stand upright next to the table.

The Wookiee turns to regard his astromech droid and says, "No, I don't think they had droids in mind when they built this bar."

"Didn't get anything, did you?" KG inquires as he turns to speak with Snteil, who shakes his head with a frown.

After a second of relative silence, Kurrelgyrre offers, "We have one option that I can think of. You may not like it, though.

"You and I can fly aboard the Phantom with Arsix, while Zeethree stays behind with the Aurora. Of course, I'd rather leave the ship and Zeethree in a safe harbor, not this piece of bantha poodoo."

Snteil sighs and answers, "Yeah, that concerns me too. Zeethree's been kinda jittery lately, especially since the 'enhancement.'"

Jumping right back in, KG continues, "The Phantom's stealth technology may get us on the planet. If we find Jan there, the problem will be getting him off-planet, as the Phantom can only seat two."

"That is a big problem," states Snteil. "I don't know how big an if that is. How would we get off the planet with only a two-seater. It's possible Jan's ship would be on that planet, though. How good are your long range scanners?"

Shaking his furry head, Kurrelgyrre answers, "Not as good as yours.

"What if we took the Phantom for a little recon mission? Just have a look around the planet, see what's there."

Snteil shrugs and replies, "I'm not sure we have much of a choice. We can at least do some recon and scope the place out. Let's head back to the ships so I can get my equipment and pay for docking the Aurora for a while."

After finishing in the bar, Snteil looks around to find a secure place to keep the Aurora. Many businesses and groups on Skraj'Tais swear by the station's security forces, run by some of the best Coynite warriors around. The last reported incident involving Skraj'Tais Security was about five years ago, and it wasn't their fault.

Skraj'Tais Security vows to safeguard the Aurora and will allow no unauthorized personnel to enter the docking bay while Snteil is away.

Once arrangements are made, Snteil, KG and Arsix board the Z-98 and depart the Coyn system.

KG fumbles with his seat some while flying the small two-man fighter.

"What do you mean, 'scoot back'?" exclaims Kurrelgyrre. "I AM scooted back! And I still have no leg room."

Arsix chirps a happy little chirp.

After reading the translation, KG answers, "No, I don't think they had Wookiees in mind when they built this thing."

Arsix chirps a bit more, asking about the plan of action.

"I'm thinking that we do a general tour around the system first, and see what sort of forces they have there. Take notes of any bases that we detect. From there, we can do a closer look. What do you think, Snteil?"

Snteil replies, "Sounds good to me!"

With that, Kurrelgyrre confirms the course and engages the hyperdrive.

Some time later, the Z-98 drops out of hyperspace at the edge of the Halkiir system and almost immediately disappears from sight as the hull polarizes.

Eventually, the fighter arrives at Halkiir and begins to orbit the planet. Sensors indicate that several ships are detected on the near side of the planet. Upon closer inspection, it is recognized as a Carrack-class cruiser with six TIE fighters flying escort. They do not deviate from their course as the Phantom flies by.

Circling around to the far side of the planet, Kurrelgyrre and Snteil subconsciously stare at the sight before them. Several capital ships set at rest at various locations in the space just beyond the planet, the most prominent being an Imperial Star Destroyer. Numerous TIE fighters and Lambda-class shuttles are flying between the various ships and what appears to be some sort of orbital station under construction just above the planet's atmosphere.

Snteil snaps out of his stunned daze and begins calculating the fleet's configuration. After a brief moment, he passes on to his compatriot that the fleet consists of two Nebulon-B frigates, two Strike-class cruisers, two Carrack-class cruisers, three Action IV bulk freighters, the Imperial Star Destroyer and an assortment of smaller freighters and support vessels.

The Z-98 continues on its flight around the planet, putting themselves between the planet and the Imperial fleet. Several tense moments pass, as the activity continues around the construction site. Arsix chirps a warning to KG. Looking down at the sensors panel, he sees that one of the ships is heading in their direction. Kurrelgyrre turns to look out the cockpit and confirms that a shuttle is flying toward them.

"Frack!" cries the Wookiee. "I bet they detected something odd and sent a shuttle with specialized sensor equipment this way. Either way, I'm not taking the chance. Let's get out of here."

Kurrelgyrre brings the fighter about and reverses course away from the approaching shuttle.

Half a minute passes, and Arsix whistles to the two other occupants and calls their attention to the sensors panel. Looking at the readout, it shows that the shuttle continues its descent toward the planet below.

"I don't think it detected us," the display showing Arsix's translation reads. "It looks like it's just flying to the planet."

KG shakes his head and states, "I'm not chancing it. Let's get to the edge of the system, and prepare to jump to hyperspace. I want to take a quick moment to sense for Jan before we get out of here."

As the Z-98 begins to break orbit, Kurrelgyrre reaches out through the Force. After a moment of concentration, the Wookiee Jedi is able to detect a Force presence on the planet's surface, but is unable to really focus on it.

Snteil, looking around at the Imperial activity near the construction, observes that nobody seems to have noticed the Phantom's presence near the planet.

"It doesn't appear anyone has noticed our presence," Snteil comments and then turns his attention to the Z-98 and continues to himself, "I seriously need to get one of these for the Aurora."

Kurrelgyrre interrupts, "Snteil, there's some sort of Force-user on that planet, although I can't narrow it down more than that. What do you think? Should we take another look-see, or get out of here?"

A brief second passes, and Snteil replies, "Why don't you hand over the controls to me, and you do your Jedi thing and point me in the right direction."

"Okay, Snteil. You've got the stick. Ease us in closer, and I'll try to get a better 'scan' of this Force-user."

Snteil takes the controls and listens for instructions from his Wookiee friend. Kurrelgyrre, meanwhile, continues to reach out through the Force to center on the source he detected earlier and begins to give directions.

After several minutes of flying through the atmosphere, the lone fighter descends into a copper-colored barren area with a large canyon cutting a long, winding path into the rocky surface. As they continue to approach their destination, Kurrelgyrre still cannot determine any particular alignment to the Force coming from what he detects.

Suddenly, sensors detect a ship ahead. In the distance, an Imperial shuttle rises from the canyon and flies skyward.

"Our target is somewhere below where that shuttle emerged," Kurrelgyrre states flatly.

Snteil frowns at KG's statement, but he begins looking around for a place to land nearby. After a couple of flybys, he spots a small area clear of large rocks just big enough for the Z-98 to land and gently lands the fighter.

Kurrelgyrre and Snteil begin to climb out of the ship, when the Wookiee turns to the droid nestled into its alcove behind the cockpit.

"Arsix," KG says. "Keep the hull polarized while we're gone. I don't want you to get caught."

The droid chirps an acknowledgement, and the pair climbs down to the dusty ground and begins to sneak toward the cliff edge nearby.

Reaching the edge of the canyon, they peer into the darkness below. Barely in view from their spot is a paved, artificial outcropping with continuously-illuminated landing lights. Snteil, looking along the canyon wall, locates a narrow ledge that leads to the surface below. KG, reaching out through the Force, detects two non-Force-sensitive life forms on the surface below.

Sneaking down the trail toward the platform below, Snteil carefully leads the way, hugging the side of the cliff, with Kurrelgyrre cautiously following.

After several grueling minutes of inching their way down the thin, rocky trail, Snteil reaches the edge of the platform but manages to stay hidden within a shallow niche in the cliff face. The platform, paved over with a dark metal, stretches away from the side of the cliff for about ten meters and is about twenty meters wide. The platform is currently empty of any ships or vehicles.

Snteil carefully peers around and sees two Imperial stormtroopers standing guard at a double metal door leading inside. The stormtroopers are wielding standard issue Imperial blaster rifles and are positioned on either side of the door, which is about four meters away.

"KG, what do you think? I could stun them, but then once they wake up, they're going to alert the base to our presence. It's your call," Snteil says as he fingers the trigger on his blaster in anticipation.

"Hmmm," Kurrelgyrre mutters as he ponders the situation. He thinks out loud, "I think either way, we're screwed. We could tie them up so they don't alert anyone, but someone is bound to miss them sooner or later.

"Go ahead and stun them," the Wookiee finally answers. "Then, let's be quick."

Snteil stealthily moves away from the stone corner by the platform and carefully presses his back against the cliff wall. As he slowly draws his heavy blaster, he hears the stormtroopers begin to converse.

"Have you heard anything about that new find down below?"

"Nah," the other one answers. "Not much. All I've heard is that it's some sort of ancient artifact. Something big."

"Any word from Admiral Majint on it?" the first trooper asks.

A brief second passes, and the second responds, "I haven't heard anything. You?"

"Are you kidding? We never hear anything up here. We need a new post."

The second stormtrooper replies, "You got that right."

Without warning, Snteil whips his blaster around the corner and squeezes off two stun rounds at the guards. Both shots hit their marks, causing the stormtroopers to fall unconscious to the ground.

"Majint," Kurrelgyrre says to himself, lost in thought. "That's a name I've not heard since . . ."

"That's alright. I've never heard it before," Snteil says as he puts his blaster back in the holster and helps KG tie up the stormtroopers. "Hey, be sure to get their communicators out of their helmets. No sense in having them wake up and report this. We should probably hide them somewhere as well."

"Snteil, I'm not sure what's going on here, but I don't like it. You know that crazy 'bounty hunter' I've told you about? Qualtis? Her last name was Majint, and if memory serves right, she's the daughter of an Imperial admiral."

Snteil answers sarcastically, "Oh, great."

KG continues, more to himself at this point.

"I told Jan she couldn't be trusted. He always saw the good in people, though. He hasn't been through what I've been through. He doesn't know what people like this are capable of."

KG looks to Snteil.

"Never trust a bounty hunter. Uh . . . present company excluded, of course."

"I'm hurt," Snteil says with mock pain.

Kurrelgyrre continues, "If I find out that she turned Jan and the crew of the Sarlacc over to 'daddy', there will be no place in the galaxy that she can hide.

"I don't like the idea that they're searching for some artifact, either. I've got a bad feeling about this."

"Yeah," replies Snteil. "What the heck could that be, anyway?"

As KG and Snteil tie up the two guards, the Wookiee pulls off each of their helmets and removes the communicator circuitry from within. The duo finishes binding the stormtroopers and locates a small niche in the side of the cliff to stash them.

Snteil approaches the door leading inside and looks at the control panel next to the double steel doors. From what he is able to determine, the door does not appear to be locked.

"Alright," Snteil says, "let's head in. But, KG, let's do it real quiet-like."

As Snteil reaches into his belt to retrieve a tool, KG interrupts, "Hold on a sec. Let me see if I can sense that Force presence again. I don't want to barge in on the wrong place."

The Wookiee Jedi reaches out with his feelings and quickly detects the same presence as before, down a short distance and slightly to the left.

Snteil pulls out his datapad and plugs into the terminal next to the doors. After a few minutes of concentrated typing, Snteil looks up after finding that the alarm system is still operational. However, no alarms appear to have been tripped by his efforts.

"KG, I couldn't get the alarm system down on that first try. But, if I keep messing with it, I may be able to bring it down. I know it would be very nice to have it down. In case we run into some trouble in there, they won't be able to alert the whole base. I am a bit concerned that if I keep messing around in the system, I may in advertently trip the alarm.

"What do you think?"

Kurrelgyrre immediately responds, "Really, this is more up your alley. Can you just disable the immediate area's security for now? No need to tackle the entire base."

Snteil, with fierce determination, turns back to his datapad and attempts once more. While slicing, he discovers a backdoor he did not find earlier, which allows him to shut down the alarm system for the entire installation.

"Nice work, Snteil." KG congratulates as he brings out his lightsaber without igniting it. "Now, let's get this door open, and see what we can find. Do you want to take point?"

"Hey! What can I say? I'm just that good," Snteil says as he puts his tools away and pulls out his blaster.

Opening the double doors reveals an empty turbolift with another set of double doors on the other side. KG and Snteil enter the turbolift, and Snteil hits the only available button. After a brief second, the doors close, and the turbolift descends.

Only a moment passes until the turbolift comes to a stop. Once it stops, the double doors on the other side open to reveal a well-lit corridor that stretches for about 25 meters. The two-meter-wide corridor appears to have been dug out of the rock, but the floor, walls and ceiling are smooth to the touch.

Other than KG and Snteil, nobody else is present in the corridor, and it is eerily quiet.

"Hmmm . . ." Snteil whispers. "There's an awful lot of quiet in here.

"KG, I don't see sensors or anything. Do you sense anything?"

KG shakes his head.

Snteil continues with a short nod, "Alright. If you don't sense anything, I guess we've really only got one choice."

With blaster in hand, Snteil cautiously leads the way down the corridor, with Kurrelgyrre following behind. The only footfalls heard are the soft steps made by the Wookiee, which are barely heard by the Sullustan.

As they come within five meters of the end of the corridor that intersects with a wider hallway, Snteil suddenly stops when he hears voices. One voice sounds male, while the other voice appears to be coming through some communication system.

"Situation normal," says the first voice. "All clear."

"Very good," the second voice responds. "Keep up the good work."

"Acknowledged. Guard post out."

The toggling of a switch is heard, followed by the first voice muttering, "Yeah, like anything happens here."

Sneaking over to the edge of the hallway, Snteil quickly takes a peek around the corner. What he sees is a small room etched from the stone with two control stations set in the middle, facing away from each other. Seated in front of the station facing away from the doorway is an Imperial officer dressed in the standard drab green uniform, who leans back in his chair and props his feet up on the panel while folding his hands behind his head.

Glancing down the other way reveals another corridor leading to another room about fifteen meters away. From the glance, it appears unoccupied.

Seizing the opportunity, Snteil sets his blaster on stun, stealthily rounds the corner into the room and silently maneuvers to crouch behind the seated Imperial officer. Without a sound, Snteil raises his blaster and fires the stun bolt into the back of the officer's head. The officer jolts from the impact and slumps forward unconscious in his chair.

From down the hall toward the other room, both Kurrelgyrre and Snteil hear distant voices that sound as if they are transmitted through some sort of communication device.

"Did you hear that?"

"Yeah, let's check it out."

Footsteps are heard approaching from down the hall.

"We can set up an ambush," Snteil says quietly while he sets his blaster off stun and motions to Kurrelgyrre to join him, "or avoid them altogether."

As Snteil ducks behind one of the control panels, KG darts across the intersection into the room and hides against the wall just past the doorway.

A moment passes, and the sound of approaching footsteps draws near. Within seconds, the voice of an Imperial stormtrooper says, "He fell asleep again."

"Better wake him up," replies the second stormtrooper. "Captain Tyrell won't like this. He's already on notice for this."

A few seconds of silence pass, and one of the armored soldiers walks toward the unconscious officer.

"Lieutenant!" calls the trooper as he begins to walk into the room.

Snteil holds his blaster ready, just in case the stormtroopers find them. Likewise, Kurrelgyrre stands ready to act should they be discovered.

The first stormtrooper walks fully into the room, stops and turns to see the Wookiee standing about a meter from him. Kurrelgyrre immediately strikes an intimidating pose, which forces the trooper to recoil from the surprise. After clumsily stepping back against the wall, he instinctively reaches for his blaster and draws it shakily.

Snteil rises from behind the control panel, points his blaster at the nearest stormtrooper and barks, "Don't move or make a sound!"

The second stormtrooper, seeing the reaction of his partner while standing outside in the hall, starts to reach for his blaster but stops upon seeing the armed Sullustan and slowly raises his hands above his head. The first trooper drops his blaster to the floor and hesitantly raises his hands.

"Come on," Snteil gestures with his blaster, "Both of you, in here now and sit on the floor."

Turning to KG, he continues, "Would you mind getting their blasters?"

As Kurrelgyrre waves his hand and draws the stormtroopers' blasters to him with the Force, Snteil waits for their two prisoners to walk into the room. Hesitantly, they comply and slowly enter the room, where the Sullustan removes their helmets and forces them to sit back to back in the far corner of the room. KG picks up the unconscious officer and sits him next to the two soldiers, and Snteil binds and gags them.

While Kurrelgyrre removes the power packs from the blaster rifles, Snteil walks over to the two conscious stormtroopers and says, "Hmmm . . . Sorry fellas, but this will give us a little bit more time."

As Snteil switches his blaster to its stun setting, one of the troopers warns through a sneer, "You won't get away with this."

Snteil merely smiles and stuns the two prisoners. He turns back to his Wookiee friend as the two soldiers slump and says, "Shall we move on?"

KG nods, and they leave the small control room.

The passageway ahead extends for about twenty meters and opens into another room. The corridor continues on the other side of the room, another ten meters from the entrance. Only the sounds of the control panels inside the security station are heard.

Snteil returns to one of the control panels and begins typing, trying to slice into the installation's network. He pores over the display, working to crack the Imperial codes. After several minutes, Snteil concludes that he is unable to successfully slice into the computer systems here.

"Sorry, bud. The codes are too tough to crack. Looks like we're gonna have to do this the old fashioned way."

Kurrelgyrre and Snteil make their way down the corridor to the other room without any trouble.

The room is ten meters across and about six meters wide. A small alcove indents into the right wall, where a short white pedestal sets. A low bench flanks each side of the alcove. Directly opposite from the alcove, another hallway stretches away from the room. Just left of the entrance to the new corridor rests some sort of locker, both of its metal doors latched shut.

Kurrelgyrre senses a disturbance in the Force, the same one he detected earlier, to the left.

Snteil continues to sneak around the room hugging the left side wall.

KG puts his hand on Snteil's arm, stopping him, and whispers, "I feel a disturbance in the Force. It isn't Jan. I think this might be trouble."

With a look of concern, Snteil asks, "Where is it coming from? Can you tell?"

KG points down the hall.

Snteil quietly continues, "Is it getting closer, or is it stationary?"

"I believe it is stationary," answers the Wookiee. "Whatever it is isn't big in power, but it is big in size. Whatever the case, we should be cautious."

KG heads down the hallway and motions for Snteil to follow.

Kurrelgyrre and Snteil walk down the 3-meter-wide hallway, which extends for 15 meters into a 10-meter-wide octagonal room. The first noticeable feature of the room is the relief of a strange six-armed creature on the wall facing the entrance. Six metallic posts protrude from the remaining six walls of the room, each pointing to a slim, 1-meter-tall metallic post standing in the exact center of the room. The arched ceiling is covered with an intricate network of geometric carvings and inscriptions.

The disturbance in the Force that KG detects fills this entire room.

"Curious," Kurrelgyrre whispers to himself. "The disturbance in the Force I feel fills this entire room. What I don't get is what's causing it."

"So, Kurrely," states Snteil. "Don't tell me it's this . . . thing . . . that's causing the disturbance that you feel, is it?"

KG replies after a slight pause, "You tell me. What do your senses tell you?"

Snteil shoots the Wookiee a rather icy stare at this comment but decides not to argue with him. He closes his eyes and relaxes for a moment.

After a few seconds, his eyes pop open in surprise, and he exclaims, "Whoa! I can feel something. It IS coming from this machine, isn't it?"

Kurrelgyrre answers with a bit of a smile, "Or what is inside. Remember, the Force is generated by all LIVING things. The Force can imbue powers on certain things, such as lightsabers and holocrons - generally not on a machine like this.

"I have a feeling that these things here are generating some sort of force field around the object in the middle. Perhaps there's a control pad nearby."

Kurrelgyrre’s gaze pans across the room, looking for anything that resembles a control panel. Finding nothing, he steps up to the post and examines the knob further. The smooth, dome-shaped black knob has a picture of the odd creature sculpted in the wall before him etched into it, revealing the dark gray stone underneath its polished surface. He considers the switch for a second before reaching his furry hand out and pushing the knob down.

An orange light flashes from within the room, bright enough to cause KG and Snteil to flinch but not blinding. After blinking the brightness away, they look around the room to see that nothing has changed. However, the air does seem to be a bit more humid now.

Standing just inside the entrance and still facing the center of the room, Snteil hears voices a short distance down the hall behind him.

"Psst," utters Snteil softly. "Kurrelgyrre, quick! Turn it off! Someone's coming."

As Snteil scrambles to hide from view through the doorway, Kurrelgyrre hastily pushes the button once more, producing another orange flash. The Wookiee turns to face the doorway and draws and ignites his lightsaber, ready to face . . . nothing. Doing a double take, KG confirms that he does not see anyone down the hall.

Oddly enough, Snteil does not hear the voices down the hall anymore. In fact, he doesn't hear ANYTHING down the hall anymore.

"There's no one coming anymore," muses Snteil as he realizes that the air is now less humid than before.

After Kurrelgyrre confirms Snteil's hypothesis by walking down the hall a few meters, he shuts down his lightsaber and heads back to the room.

Kurrelgyrre steps back into the room and over to the statue carved into the wall opposite the entrance to the room while saying, "That was different. What do you suppose is going on here?"

Snteil shrugs and walks over to the post to examine it closer.

The statue appears to be an amalgamation of a six-armed Human female and some sort of serpentine creature that is holding various implements or weapons in five of its six hands.

The pedestal, as Snteil notices, looks to be made of a different material than the rest of the room or surrounding area. In fact, it almost appears to be some sort of refined metal shaped to appear at first like stone.

The button, in addition to having a lacquered jet black color to it, has a smaller version of the statue etched into the top surface.

Turning to KG, Snteil asks, "So, what do you think, bud? Shall we try it again? I don't know what to make of this thing, but who ever was coming down the hallway has left. So, we might as well check it out again, yeah?"

Kurrelgyrre answers with a shrug, "Go for it. Let's see what happens this time."

"Alright, here goes."

As he pulls his blaster back out of its holster, Snteil pushes the button on the post. Another orange flash of light fills the room and quickly disappears.

Kurrelgyrre and Snteil look at the entrance to find that the hallway beyond has changed. The corridor no longer stretches for several meters to another room. Now, the corridor only goes a few meters to a small chamber, where at least half a dozen stormtroopers are marching toward them.

Within an instant, all six troopers pull their blasters, and the three in front crouch down to give ample firing space to the three in the back. One of the troopers cries out, "Freeze! Drop your weapons and put your hands in the air!"

Without waiting for any further action from the stormtroopers, Snteil slams his hand down on the black button, creating yet another flash of orange light. Looking at the entrance again shows the original unoccupied hallway.

"Buddy," Snteil anxiously states. "I think we need to get out of this room." As Kurrelgyrre turns to acknowledge his companion, Snteil sprints for the entrance.

The orange flash unexpectedly appears once again just before Snteil reaches the hallway, and he finds himself running right toward the six stormtroopers as they are completing their formation just outside the room.

Unable to stop, Snteil decides to charge forward and try to break the stormtroopers' line. The stormtroopers, not expecting to find a Sullustan running right at them, have no time to react and can only watch him smash into the two middle troopers, knocking them flat onto the floor. Snteil manages to keep his balance and continue running through the other chamber and down the hall.

One of the stormtroopers turns and manages to fire off a blaster bolt at the sprinting intruder, but the shot goes wide and slams into the stone wall a meter behind Snteil, spraying tiny bits of rock into the air.

Taking advantage of the moment, Kurrelgyrre uses the Force to increase his speed and dashes as a blur through the opening between the stormtroopers and past Snteil to the other end of the hall, where the Wookiee stops. Seconds later, the Sullustan catches up to his companion.

The corridor ends at a polygonal stone platform that extends into a large stone cavern filled with wet, shiny columns of rock, stalactites, stalagmites and white mushroom-like plants. The cave is crossed diagonally by a stone bridge that connects from the platform to another similar landing on the far side of the cave, where an open doorway leads further into the cliff face.

Almost perpendicular to the bridge is a small stream that runs through the middle of the cavern. The stream is fed by three smaller streams to the left and disappears through a small fissure at the far right end of the cavern. The floor of the cave, a 10-meter drop from the bridge, slopes gradually down to the right, and the ceiling, 6 meters high at the center of the bridge, follows the same slope as the floor.

The sounds of rapidly approaching stormtroopers is heard down the hall from where Snteil and KG emerged.

"We're sittin' mynocks out in the open like this, bud," comments Snteil. "We need to get to cover." And with that, Snteil runs across the bridge to the other platform and doorway.

Half a second later, a blaster bolt flies out from the corridor, which passes dangerously close to Kurrelgyrre and smashes into the far wall of the cavern.

Deciding that Snteil's suggestion is best, KG quickly follows after his Sullustan companion. They flee across the bridge and through the stone doorway on the other side of the cavern. Seconds later, the first of the stormtroopers reach the first platform and continue across the bridge after their quarry.

After running several meters from the bridge, Snteil and Kurrelgyrre find themselves sprinting into a small room with a wide pillar in the center of the room. The 2-meter-wide pillar appears to be metallic and covered in half-meter spikes that jut menacingly from its surface.

Both Snteil and Kurrelgyrre easily dodge the column in the middle of the room and continue running down the hall that continues on the other side of the room.

Several seconds later, the stormtroopers bolt into the room. The first one makes his way around, but the others behind him have to stop suddenly to avoid being impaled by the spikes. Realizing his support has slowed, the first trooper rushes to the doorway, lines up a shot at the fleeing intruders and fires just before they round the corner at the end of the hall. The blaster bolt flies true toward Snteil's head, but he manages to duck under it as he disappears around the corner.

"Whoa!" Snteil breathes without breaking his stride.

KG and Snteil continue running down the hall, now half as wide as before, with the Wookiee in the lead. After several metes, they reach a juncture where the hall continues to the left and to the right. The left passage extends several meters to an ancient-looking metal door. The right passage leads to a set of stairs leading up to what appears to be a small room.

Kurrelgyrre senses the other Force presence much closer now. It feels like it is behind the door to the left.

"Snteil, this way!" KG cries as he turns towards the left and heads to the ancient door. "That Force presence I sensed earlier is behind this door."

Rushing up to the door, KG pushes against the door, which easily opens to allow him and Snteil to rush through and shut behind them.

The room in which they now stand features six evenly-spaced pillars that support its 5-meter-high ceiling. Some sort of dilapidated table is placed on the far side of the room with a set of severely rusted chains and shackles fixed to its top. The table is two-and-a-half meters long and just over a meter wide with intricate carvings all over its sides that have mostly worn away over time. Halfway between the first and second pillars on the right side of the room is another metallic door.

The center of the far wall features what looks like a three-meter-tall pentagonal archway embedded into it. The archway is a cool grey in color, contrasting the warm grey stones around it, and protrudes from the wall about a quarter of a meter.

Two other people are currently in the room as well. Judging from the white lab coats they wear, they look like scientists. Each of them is holding a datapad in their hands and appears to have been studying the archway, when they turn toward the door after seeing the Wookiee and Sullustan enter and shut the door behind them.

Several seconds later, the sounds of rushed armored footfalls against stone stop several meters outside the door. A voice is heard speaking for a brief moment, followed by slower steps approaching the door.

Sensing that the archway is the Force presence he detected earlier, Kurrelgyrre walks with determination across the room toward it and barks a quick warning growl at the scientists as he walks in front of them. Snteil, not wanting to take the chance of alerting the approaching stormtroopers, follows his Wookiee friend. The scientists, initially surprised at the sudden intrusion, silently gawk at them as they stride by.

Kurrelgyrre comes within arm's reach of the archway, when the first metallic door opens again.

As Snteil frantically looks around for a place to hide while three of the pursuing stormtroopers enter the room with rifles raised and ready to fire, Kurrelgyrre calmly reaches out and touches the archway.

Instantly, the stones that create the archway seem to brighten in color, and the scent of ozone begins to fill the air. After a few seconds, the archway begins to glow a soft blue color, and the wall within it fades away to darkness.

The scientists stare in astonishment at the now-activated structure with mouth agape. One of the scientists absent-mindedly loses his grip and drops his datapad to the stone floor. The other scientist, jarred back to reality at the sound of the smash of metal and plastic against the floor, begins entering his observations into his datapad.

The stormtroopers, used to seeing nothing of consequence in this room, stop their approach toward the intruders and gaze at the archway in silence.

A few more seconds pass, and the temperature has become noticeably colder. The dark space within the archway begins to brighten, and a gentle wind is felt coming through the pentagonal structure.

The first scientist, finally emerging from his trance, stammers, "H . . . how did you do that?"

Without answering, Kurrelgyrre steps through the archway. As he does so, he appears to everyone else in the room to step through some sort of curtain of light and quickly disappears. Snteil quickly follows his Wookiee companion but hears the door on the far side of the room open again.

Suddenly, a voice cries out, "What are you standing around for? Go get them!"

Glancing back, Snteil sees that the other three stormtroopers have passed through the door, and one of them is barking orders at the others. All of them, upon hearing the new order, begin rushing toward the archway, prompting the Sullustan to rush through.

A slight bit of resistance is felt while stepping through the curtain of light, but it quickly breaks and allows KG and Snteil to step into what initially feels like a bright void. Although disconcerting at first, the feeling quickly passes after taking a couple of steps through the intangible space and passing through into another room.

The new room is in the shape of a perfect square about twenty meters across and appears to be constructed of the same gray stone as the wall behind the first archway. Instantly noticeable are fifteen other archways that line the room, four on each wall evenly spaced about two meters apart. Fresh, crisp air gently blows across the room through small vents embedded into the top of the walls on all sides of the room.

Kurrelgyrre immediately senses multiple Force presences about the room.