Chapter 8
In the Hands of the Enemy


After Snteil begrudgingly hands his blaster rifle to one of the nearby stormtroopers, Jarok strides to one of the archways and gently places his hand on the stone structure. Instantly, the gate activates and fully opens after a few seconds. The stormtroopers fall into position around Kurrelgyrre and Snteil and escort them through the gate back to Halkiir.

The room that houses the gate on Halkiir has changed since the pair left. Much of the observational equipment has been shoved to the sides of the room, and the scientists are nowhere to be seen. At least two dozen more stormtroopers with blaster rifles ready stand at attention throughout the pillared chamber. Clustered near the center of the room are the other three remaining members of the Xyber Corps: another Human, a Twi'lek female and a Rodian male.

Snteil glances at the Rodian for a second, but then stops walking and looks at him again. Something familiar about him stabs at the front of the Sullustan's mind, but he is unable to grasp it for a moment.

When one of the stormtroopers behind Snteil shoves him, prodding him to continue walking, the familiarity dawns on him. The Rodian at the Incom repair facility. It was the same one!

The Rodian turns to look back at Snteil and appears to be smiling. He gazes upon the Sullustan for a few seconds before returning to his conversation with his companions.

As Snteil curses under his breath, Kurrelgyrre steps through the gate, followed closely by the rest of the troopers and Jarok, who immediately steps over to the rest of his team to give some final instructions. As the other Human gives a signal to the other Imperial soldiers, the rest of the Xyber Corps falls in behind Jarok as he rejoins his squad.

Several minutes pass, and the group arrives at the cliff-side landing pad, where a Lambda-class shuttle waits with its boarding ramp extended. A number of stormtroopers break from the front of the line to flank the boarding ramp, creating a clear path for their guests to be escorted into the ship. After the Xyber Corps boards the shuttle with Kurrelgyrre, Snteil and a dozen stormtroopers, the ramp retracts, and the shuttle lifts from the pad and up through the atmosphere, its wings moving into place as the ship clears the canyon.

The air thins and dissolves into darkness as the shuttle leaves the planet's atmosphere, and stars begin to appear a moment later. Coming about, an Imperial Star Destroyer comes into view in the distance. Several other capital ships are parked in space near the colossal ship that seems to watch over everything happening around it. Numerous transports and TIE fighter patrols speed through space as if hurrying to finish something important.

After a few moments, the shuttle enters the star destroyer's landing bay and gently sets down. As Kurrelgyrre and Snteil walk down the boarding ramp, they look about the bay and simultaneously find the Z-98 on the far side of the hangar. Arsix is nowhere to be seen. A feeling of dread washes over the two of them just before being prompted from behind to keep walking.

Eventually, KG and Snteil walk into a small conference room with undecorated gray walls and an elongated table surrounded by several chairs.

Jarok, standing in the doorway in front of the rest of his team, states, "The admiral will join you shortly. Please be patient." He takes a step back into the corridor, and the door shuts a second later.

"Did you see your ship?" Snteil turns to his Wookiee companion. "It was at the back of the hanger. I noticed that Rodian who is hanging with the Xyber Corp. He was at the Incom facility where you got your ship fixed up. He must have put a homing beacon on board. Blast! We should have had Arsix run a scan."

Kurrelgyrre continues to sit quietly at the table, almost as if ignoring Snteil's comment. The Sullustan falls silent again.

Sooner than expected, the door opens with a hiss, and three Imperial officers enter the room, followed closely by two stormtroopers and a silver protocol droid. The first officer is a middle-aged, slightly overweight man with short, receding brown hair and clean-shaven face. The man that follows him is an older, tall, thin gentleman with a full head of gray hair and a stern, weathered face. The final officer is a young athletic woman with deep brown hair wrapped in a tight bun on the back of her head. The stormtroopers stand at attention on either side of the door.

The older officer says in a deep, commanding voice, "Please, be seated."

Once everyone is settled, the older officer continues, "I am Admiral Majint, commander of the 7th Imperial Fleet and CO of the ISD Indomitable. To my left is Captain Jacenn, and Lieutenant Morray sits on my right.

"I don't have much time to talk with you, so I am going to dispense with the formalities and get straight to the point.

After a brief pause and a deep breath, the admiral asks, "Why did you come to Halkiir?"

"Simple interrogation seems a bit beneath someone of your stature, Admiral," Snteil asks in response. "Why so interested?"

KG calmly puts his hand on Snteil's arm, just to let him know that it's okay, and says, "Admiral, we are here looking for some lost friends, among which is Jan Tolbara, the Jedi who trained me. I suspect you have some interest in this too, as your daughter, Qualtis, was traveling with him."

"Do you really expect us to believe that?" exclaims Captain Jacenn after listening to the translation from the droid. "You come to Halkiir in a stealth fighter and land while cloaked near a secret installation just to look for some lost friends?! I find that hard to swallow, especially coming from a Jedi. And, we all know that the Jedi are allied with the rebels that ousted the Empire from their rightful place in the galaxy.

"You'd better come clean with us fast, or you're going to find that you and your friend are never going to see anything outside a detention cell again!"

"Admiral . . ." KG pauses for a second before continuing, "I am a Wookiee, honor-bound to find my friend and mentor, Jan Tolbara. My entire life right now is dedicated to finding him. I could give a womprat's behind about your failed empire, and I damn well don't care for your daughter. Qualtis is RECKLESS, playing around with thermal detonators as if they were toys.

"Apparently, she has a talent for the Force as well. Jan thought she should be trained. But in this, I disagree with him. He's so eager to see the Jedi rise again that he doesn't see just how potentially dangerous she is.

"So admiral, let me make it very clear. I am telling the truth, whether you want to believe it or not. I will die before I'm put in a detention cell.

"Either you can take the word of honor of a Wookiee, or we can do this the hard way. Either way, my answer is the same."

As the droid completes the translation, the captain looks as if he wants to say something but hesitates. During that time, Admiral Majint interrupts in a calm tone, "Captain, I've heard all I need to hear."

He stands, forcing his two officers to quickly follow suit, and continues, "We will communicate again shortly. Meanwhile, I will send a couple of troopers to escort you to where you will be staying."

The admiral turns on his heel and strides out of the room with his entourage. Silence fills the room after the door shuts.

KG looks at Snteil. "I think that went well."

Several moments pass silently within the small conference room.

Finally, the door opens with a hiss to reveal two stormtroopers standing on the other side.

"Come with us, please," one of the troopers politely asks.

KG rises from his seat, whispering to Snteil, "It seems our escort has arrived."

"Polite stormtroopers? Is the galaxy coming to an end!?" Snteil answers quietly.

Kurrelgyrre and Snteil fall in behind the two stormtroopers and find two more waiting just a few steps past the door that join the back of the line.

The group march to the nearest turbolift, where they enter the car and begin traveling to the destination indicated by the first trooper.

Another minute passes, and the doors open to reveal a detention cell block. Waiting inside the control area are twelve more stormtroopers and the Xyber Corps. A smile crosses Jarok's face when he sees KG and Snteil standing inside the turbolift.

"Come along, Kurrelgyrre," Jarok calls out. "Your accommodations await."

Kurrelgyrre walks forward, stopping for a second in front of Jarok. "Your fear is evident, Jarok. Fear of losing your hand. Fear of a fate like your master's. Fear of this Empire.

"Though you may be shrouded in darkness, there is light to drive the shadows away. I have been there, in that dark place. I fight it daily. Use your senses, and you will know the truth of the matter. There is another way."

A look of disbelief crosses Jarok's face for a second before he responds, "What are you talking about?! You think you're being taken prisoner or something? This is the only place where they have any room. In fact, I'm staying in the cell three doors down.

"You need to get over these feelings of paranoia."

Now, Kurrelgyrre stares in disbelief.

"We're in an Imperial facility, being escorted by stormtroopers, walking into a detention area, and you're telling me that we're not being taken prisoner?

"What exactly is going on here, Jarok?" Snteil, not believing what he is hearing from the mercenary, studies him for a moment and concludes that Jarok is not trying to mislead them.

"Just like I said," Jarok replies. "The admiral has a large number of people here with him that have taken up all the available cabins. The only place to find a bed and lie down is, unfortunately, here in the cell block. I don't like it, either, but we don't have much of a choice.

"As far as the stormtroopers with you, they are merely meant as a precaution to keep you from wandering into restricted areas. The ones with me were originally for that purpose. But as I gained the admiral's trust, they became more like an entourage. You know, I like having an entourage."

The Human standing behind Jarok, another member of the Xyber Corps, rolls his eyes at the remark and nods his head.

"Have you also noticed that the stormtroopers aren't pushing you around," asks Jarok. "Believe me, you are not being treated like a prisoner.

"Now, shall they show you to your room?"

Turning to Snteil, KG says, "You know, he's right. They're not even removing our eyeballs and replacing them with fake ones. Not that that's happened before."

"Lead the way," states the Wookiee to Jarok, then returns to Snteil and continues, "Perhaps we should order a mocha?"

After a second's pause, Kurrelgyrre says to Jarok, "You know, I find it strange that an admiral of the Empire would be so hard pressed for room. Does he have a lot of guests at the moment?"

"You've seen all the construction outside?" asks Jarok. "All the extra people involved - contractors, engineers, workers - they're the ones taking up the room."

Snteil interjects, "Why are you even here, Jarok? What possible profit could there be in consorting with a fledgling military that barely holds any power anymore. It's a mere shadow of what it once was."

As a stormtrooper steps up and opens one of the cell doors, Jarok steps to the other side of the doorway and answers, "You can pretty much attribute it to blind luck."

The blonde warrior glances into the room, looks back to the Jedi and former bounty hunter and inquires as he points with his thumb, "Who gets this room?"

"We'll share a room," Kurrelgyrre dryly replies.

Jarok raises an eyebrow, glances into the room again and asks, "Are you sure? It's kind of small. And with only one bunk, someone would be sleeping on the floor. These cold metal deckplates aren't very comfortable."

"We'll manage. I'm too big for your bunks anyway."

With a shrug, Jarok sighes, "Suit yourself. I'll bet you'll be crying for more room within an hour." He waves his hand to usher Snteil and KG into the cell. Once they step in, Jarok pokes his head in and says, "By the way, dinner will be in a couple of hours. See you then!" He stands up straight and presses the switch to shut the door to the cell, leaving Kurrelgyrre and Snteil alone in their cramped room.

"Why was this a good idea?" Snteil says as he looks around the room.

KG answers in a serious tone, "Do you really want them separating us?"

"Not really, but would it kill you to take a bath?"

"Look who's talking."

With that, KG begins to meditate.

With a shrug, Snteil lies down on the bunk, while Kurrelgyrre sits against the wall in a meditative position.

Hours pass without a sound outside the cell. The Wookiee Jedi has remained in meditation the entire time. Snteil, completely bored out of his skull, has counted the number of dust particles floating about within their room at least five times, and none of the totals match.

Just as Snteil is about to scream to break the silence, he hears footsteps approaching outside. Sitting up, he touches Kurrelgyrre's shoulder, which immediately brings him out of his trance. KG blinks twice, looks around the room and stops upon hearing the footsteps stop in front of their door. The sounds of buttons on the outside keypad being pushed are barely heard. After a few seconds, the cell door slides open to reveal Lt. Morray, the female officer from the meeting with Admiral Majint. She raises a finger to her lips to shush them and waves for them to follow her.

Kurrelgyrre and Snteil look at each other for a brief second before following her.

Lt. Morray stops about halfway between the cell door and the entrance to the guard post and turns to face Snteil and Kurrelgyrre.

Speaking in a low whisper, she says, "In case you're wondering why I am helping you escape, let me tell you.

"You mentioned that you know Qualtis, the admiral's daughter. Qualtis was a good friend and classmate of mine at the academy. As a matter of fact, it was Qualtis's recommendation to her dad right after graduation that helped me gain this assignment.

"You say that she is missing along with your Jedi friend, and that has me worried. Please find her and make sure she's okay. If she was traveling with your friend, she will more than likely still be with him."

The lieutenant glances behind her into the guard room for a quick second and turns back to the heroes.

"I distracted the guards for you," she whispers, "but we don't have much time. They will be back any minute now.

"If you want to escape, there are a few things you need to do.

"The weapons locker in the guard post is open, so you can retrieve your items. We are currently five levels above the hangar bay, where your fighter is waiting for you. The turbolift should take you down four decks, and you will need to transfer to another lift 100 meters aft to reach the hangar. Once you leave here, though, you're on your own. But, at least you will have a chance of escaping.

"Now, the hard part. You will need to knock me unconscious."

"Don't worry," Kurrelgyrre replies. "I fully intend on finding your friend and mine, as well as all the crew of the Smiling Sarlacc.

"Snteil, would you do the honors?"

"You're kidding, right?" Snteil says as he stares at KG's size and compares it to his own.

"Somebody needs to do it, if you want to get out of here," Lt. Morray interjects anxiously.

At that moment, an alarm goes off, complete with red lights and klaxon. A look of surprise crosses the Imperial officer's face as she quickly glances behind her and down the corridor toward the guard room.

"Quickly! Before we're discovered!" she exclaims, her voice and expression clearly showing worry.

With that, KG slugs her. The punch knocks Lt. Morray back against the wall, where she slumps to the floor unconscious.

"Hope that did the trick," KG mutters. "Let's go."

Kurrelgyrre and Snteil sprint into the sentry post, when they hear the chaotic chatter over the comm system.

". . . those troops over there NOW!"

"Position 4 has been overrun! Repeat, Position 4 . . ."

"AAAAAHHHHH!"

"PL-396 to Command, the creatures are coming from the gate. Repeat, the creatures are coming from . . ."

"We can't stop them, sir! There's too many of them!"

"Command to all units, shut the gate down! SHUT . . . the GATE . . . DOWN!"

"PN-916 to Command, we can't shut down the gate. We need a Force user!"

"HELP ME! HELP . . ."

"Where are we going to find . . ."

"Sir, we escorted a Jedi to the Indomitable earlier. Perhaps, we can . . ."

"You mean to tell me . . ."

"AAAAAAAAAAHHHHHHHHHH!"

". . . close the gate?! Get him down here on the double!"

"Aye, sir."

"PR-103 to Command, we have lost the bridge! Repeat, we have lost the bridge!"

"My blaster's not working! My . . . AAAAHHHH!"

"Tactical Command to Indomitable, request immediate transfer of the Jedi prisoner to the surface."

"They're heading for the generator!"

"Command to all units . . ."

"Get those officers to the landing pad!"

". . . all units, fall back from Positions 2 and 3!"

"Indomitable to Tactical Command, transfer request granted."

". . . has a grenade!"

The sound of a sudden explosion that immediately turns to static ends the communication from the surface.

Snteil notices at that second that the comm panel is signaling an incoming message.

KG looks around the room and notices a cabinet door ajar that should be locked.

Kurrelgyrre walks toward the open locker on the far wall. As he does so, Snteil answers the comm.

"Go ahead," he states after a slight pause.

"This is Commander Tarann," the voice begins. "We are sending a squad down to escort the prisoners to the surface. Have them ready to go."

Reaching the locker, KG opens the door the rest of the way to find their equipment inside. A quick search reveals that all their confiscated items are there, except Kurrelgyrre's lightsaber.

Snteil switches off the comm, "Kurrely, we're about to have company. Any luck finding our stuff?"

KG nods, hands Snteil his equipment and gets his own ready as well.

Concentrating on his lightsaber, Kurrelgyrre reaches out with the Force and finds Jarok in a large hangar bay standing with the rest of his group. Hooked to his belt are two lightsabers: Kurrelgyrre's and his own.

The scene suddenly shifts to inside the underground facility on Halkiir. Dozens of creatures, some recognizable as warped versions of known races, some as the creatures KG and Snteil fought inside one of the gates and others never seen before, are swarming through the ancient halls, savagely attacking any living creature in sight. Stormtroopers and Imperial officers quickly succumb to the slaughter, and their weapons seem to have no effect.

The scene shifts again to the gate, which is still open and pouring more creatures through in an endless stream. Blood stains the walls in the gate room, and the bodily remains of the scientists and troopers lie about in a gory display.

The vision fades, bringing Kurrelgyrre back to his current location.

"So much blood . . . "

Snteil, we've got to go down and shut that gate off. You remember that one planet we went to with all those creatures? They're coming through with some friends in droves. Bad part is blasters aren't having any effect.

"Jarok has my lightsaber. We're going to need to get it back in order to stop this."

KG pauses slightly before continuing, "We may even need Jarok's help to defeat these guys."

"Whoa! Whoa! Who says we need to go down there to shut this off? No offense pal, but the Imperials have brought this on themselves. It certainly doesn't help us find Jan any faster by going down there and getting ourselves killed by those . . . those . . . THINGS, especially if my blasters aren't even going to hurt them. What am I supposed to do, just ask them to play dead!? I heard those comm calls, there's no NEED for us to go down there!"

Snteil looks up at Kurrelgyrre to see that he has a sharp look on his face.

"Jan would go down there to save them. And, you know why? Because it's the right thing to do."

KG fastens his belt.

"That's what it means to be a Jedi. To sit idly by is murder through inaction. A Jedi only kills when necessary."

The Wookiee makes sure all his belongings are where they should be.

"I am a Jedi Knight, a defender of the Republic. If those things get through that gate, they'll find their way off world, and then not only the Empire, but the Republic will have to deal with them. I can't allow that to happen."

He straightens his robe while looking Snteil directly in the eye.

"I need someone with me that I know will cover my back. You're the only person I can trust. I need you."

Kurrelgyrre extends his hand in friendship.

Snteil relaxes as a slight smirk crosses his face as he takes Kurrelgyrre's paw and clasps it in both his hands. "Alright, pal, I've got a sinking feeling about this. But, if you're completely intent on going down there, I'm not going to let you go alone."

KG smiles.

"So," Snteil continues as he grabs his weapons and his pack and straps them on, "I don't suppose you've got a plan brewing in that furry head of yours, do you?"

"Working on it. Whatever these things are, they're alive. They act in sort of animalistic ways, so they're not fully sentient. Or, at least they have a simplistic view of things."

"Maybe we can gas the base somehow. The Imperials should have some tear gas on them. Have the Imperials make a distraction, and we head to the gate room. Once we're there, we destroy the gate going to their world. Then, we eliminate what is left."

"Unfortunately, this means that some of these things may have found their way to other worlds, so we have to keep that in mind."

"If that doesn't work, we could see if there's a way into the gate room from above or below. We'll need to see a schematic of the place first."

"We could use Jarok on this. I'm sure he probably won't go unless he's paid. That could be a problem. I don't trust him, either.

"First, though, we head to the landing bay to get my lightsaber back."

As KG and Snteil finish gathering their equipment, the door to the guard post opens, and a squad of six stormtroopers stride in, stop to see the two prisoners geared up with no other Imperial presence in sight. The soldiers immediately draw their blaster rifles, while one of them cries, "Freeze! Drop your weapons and put your hands in the air!"

Two of the troopers sprint into the corridor leading to the cells. Seconds later, one of them announces, "Officer down!"

Kurrelgyrre mentions to Snteil out of the side of his mouth, "And they say there's never a stormtrooper around when you need one.

"It's about time you guys arrived," KG exclaims to the troopers. "We understand the situation on the planet below. Take us to your commander immediately. If we don't get down there, those things will wipe out every stormtrooper in the sector."

KG thrusts his bowcaster into the hands of the nearest stormtrooper and begins walking out of the detention area.

The Jedi continues, "I wouldn't do that if I was you. Stunning me would only disrupt my ability with the Force to shut down the gate. And, if you shoot me either way, the admiral will be most displeased. And, I hear he is not a forgiving individual."

The stormtrooper receiving the bowcaster replies, "Halt!"

Seconds pass silently before he continues, "I've just received word from the admiral that we are to escort you to the hangar bay and accompany you to the surface and assist you in resolving the current situation. We'll deal with this infraction upon your return."

The stormtrooper commander thrusts the bowcaster back into KG's hands and says, "Come with us, please."

"Very well."

KG and Snteil follow in formation.

"They think that this will be taken care of when we return," the Wookiee thinks to himself. "What they don't realize is that we may very well not return. Whatever these things are, they're powerful enough to wipe out the stormtroopers on the planet."

KG looks over at Snteil for a second. "You are a good man, Snteil, and a true friend. In fact, you are perhaps the best friend I've ever had. You've gone with me on this fool's quest. We've been through so much together, and you still have that smile. What would I do without you?"

KG drops his head for a second, his thoughts now on Jan Tolbara. "And what of you, Jan? Have I failed you? Am I to die here and never see you again? You were there for me when my universe was at its lowest. You believed in me when nobody else had. If I don't come, please understand that I died following my heart, what I knew was right, and what I felt you would do. Luke will find you if I don't."

Though weariness now sets in on the Wookiee, he focuses on the Force, drawing upon his Jedi training to give him strength and keep him focused.

The squad escorts Kurrelgyrre and Snteil to the hangar bay five levels down without saying a word.

Upon their arrival, three other troopers march up to the group.

"Excuse me," the middle one states as he hands Kurrelgyrre his lightsaber. "I believe you will be needing this.

KG nods in approval, saying nothing.

"Just so you know, the admiral has ordered Jarok and his team to accompany you."

"Please give the admiral my thanks for the assistance."

"This way, please."

As the party continues to a Lambda-class shuttle positioned for launch in the middle of the hangar, the stormtrooper commander says, "We have been informed that we have lost all communication with the forces on the planet. It is assumed that the entire installation has been overrun by the intruders.

"Blast," mutters KG under his breath.

"Your task will be to make your way through them and shut down the gate, so we can attempt to clear the complex.

"We will secure and defend the entrance until you can withdraw."

Snteil interrupts, "What's the context, though? That is to say, how in the blazes did they get through the gates in the first place? Have these 'ghouls' learned how to open the gates themselves? How many gates are open? This is a lot bigger than just protecting your shiny Imperial butts. If other gates are opened in that 'gate room', we're going to need to do more than just shut this one down. And if they have figured out how to operate them on their own, we have a much bigger problem."

"Frankly," the commander answers, "we don't know how they opened the gate just yet. We believe that there is at least one Force-user in their group, since only those that command the Force have been the only ones that can operate the gates.

"Regarding how many gates are open, we don't know right now. We haven't even reached the gate since this incident began to figure that out."

"Understood," states Kurrelgyrre in response.

"Very good, sir," the commander answers.

Reaching and entering the shuttle, they find several cargo handlers loading components and supplies for heavy weaponry, such as E-Web blasters, cases of grenades and larger explosives. The stormtroopers escort KG and Snteil to the boarding ramp, where they walk aboard the shuttle and find a worried Jarok waiting inside with his mercenaries and stormtroopers.

Jarok, sitting on one of the benches with head bowed and elbows resting on his thighs, looks up to regard Kurrelgyrre and Snteil as they enter. The expression on his face betrays his concern for the upcoming mission, and he returns his gaze back to the deck plate after a few seconds.

"Your thoughts betray you," KG says, as he finds a place to sit, across from Jarok, with That Look upon his face. "Your fear and your anxiety will be your undoing."

Keeping his face down, Jarok replies, "No, those creatures down there will be my undoing. You realize that this is suicide, don't you? From what we are able to determine, there are dozens, if not hundreds, of these things down there. Blasters seem to have little to no effect, and a lightsaber can only do so much."

He sits up and looks at the Wookiee sitting across from him and continues, "I hope you're prepared for death, because that's all we will encounter down there."

"If death is what you seek, then death is what you will find. If it is our destiny to die, then so be it. I do not fear it. Besides, I still have to find Jan Tolbara, and I will not fail him."

Within minutes, the cargo handlers finish loading the equipment, two dozen stormtroopers board the shuttle, and the ship takes off.

After the shuttle leaves the star destroyer’s hangar, Kurrelgyrre places the holocron on the deck and activates it with a simple touch. Seconds later, the image of Taka Ran appears in the air. Jarok's eyes widen at the sight.

"Greetings, Kurrelgyrre," Taka says. "How may I be of assistance?"

"Greetings, Taka Ran. We need your assistance . . ."

The Wookiee informs the holographic Jedi Master of their situation.

A few seconds pass as Taka ponders the query.

Finally, she answers, "The creatures you speak of sound much like creatures that have been corrupted by the Dark Side of the Force. If that is indeed the case, they will not stop, since they would be attracted to the living. They must be eliminated to prevent them from spreading throughout the galaxy, especially if they have infiltrated the gate system you showed me earlier.

"If they are using all the gates, you may need to shut down all of them, which will not be an easy task. If all else fails, destroy the gates."

As Taka finishes speaking, one of the stormtrooper squad commanders removes his helmet and addresses the Wookiee. The clone, despite appearing physically fit and combat-ready, is showing signs of his age, as the sides of his hair are turning gray and a few wrinkles crease his tan skin.

"Sir," the commander says. "If it comes down to it, we have patched together something we believe may be capable of destroying the gate. A few of our technicians took the warheads from five concussion missiles and assembled a bomb."

Pointing to a large case at the back of the shuttle, he continues, "It's in that case there.

"We hope we don't have to use it. But in case you need it, it's there. If you need us to deploy it, call me, and we will get it to the gate for you. My designation is THX-1138."

With that, the commander replaces the helmet on his head.

A second later, the pilot's voice comes over the intercom, "We are arriving at the installation. Prepare to depart."

Sunset begins as the Imperial shuttle engages its repulsorlift and descends to hover next to the landing pad facing the cliff wall. The stormtroopers check their weapons one last time and prepare to storm the installation. Jarok draws his lightsaber, and the rest of his mercenaries steel themselves for what is expected to come.

Before everyone is ready, 1138 hands a headset to Kurrelgyrre and Snteil.

"You will need these," he states flatly before returning to his troops.

KG dons and tests his headset, then readies his lightsaber and a flask of alcohol.

Snteil puts on his headset and draws his Firelance from his back holster. He checks that it is loaded, sets the weapon off stun and holsters it again. He does the same for his DL-44, although he keeps his Q-2 hidden. He then pulls a few power packs out of his backpack and clips them onto his belt for easy access. Then, he steels himself for the fight ahead.

Once everyone states their readiness, the commander gives a signal to the pilot, who lowers the boarding ramp to rest on the lip of the landing platform.

The stormtroopers scramble across the pad to the double doors leading inside, taking up positions on either side of the door. Everyone else quickly follows, including several troopers pulling the heavy weapons on small repulsorsleds. Once everyone has disembarked, the landing ramp rises back into the shuttle.

The wind starts to pick up through the canyon, when the commander silently commands one of the troopers to open the doors. As the entrance opens, two troopers swing into position with light repeating blaster rifles ready to fire.

Surprisingly, the corridor is quiet. The access way is dark, save for a few lights that randomly flicker, making it difficult to see. The floor is clean and free of any debris.

Over the headset, 1138 orders, "Move in!"

Two by two, the stormtroopers pass through the doors with weapons ready. After a dozen of them have entered, KG and Snteil hear through the comm, "Force-users, you and your people fall in after them."

As Snteil draws both his Firelance and his DL-44, KG whispers humorously to his friend, "Hey, Snteil. You're now 'my people'."

With a slight hesitation in his step, Jarok leads his group into the corridor as he ignites his red-bladed saber.

The other troopers quickly follow with weapons ready.

Once inside, lighting conditions improve through tiny floodlights fastened to each stormtrooper's helmet that they activate upon reaching the bottom of the short flight of stairs just inside the double doors.

The group makes their way past the security station to the room before the transport room. Lights flicker randomly everywhere, but no signs of the intruder can be seen. The air is quiet, too quiet, and only everyone’s footfalls echo through the hallway.

Konda, the Twi'lek female mercenary under Jarok's command, flinches at a sudden movement of shadow against the wall. Her blonde leader lends a comforting hand to her shoulder and continues to stand in the middle of the small alcoved chamber.

1138 quietly signals to two of his troopers to continue down the hall leading past the transport room. Over the comm, he states, "Set up an E-Web here," as he points to the corner of the room closest to the security station but furthest from the transport room. Two stormtroopers immediately move to the corner with the disassembled blaster cannon and begin putting it together.

"Jedi, Jarok," 1138 continues, "with this side being quiet, we don't know fully what to expect on the other side. You will each lead eight troopers and your companions through the transport room to the other side and attempt to reach the gate. I will remain here and secure this side.

"Now THIS is what I always wanted: my very own stormtroopers!" Snteil says, this time with much more obvious glee than his last statement. The anticipation of a firefight really has his juices flowing now, and he feels more at ease, more in control, less tense.

Jarok leads his group into the transport room, followed by Kurrelgyrre, Snteil and their squad. As the sixteen stormtroopers fan out near the entrance, Jarok stands at the pedestal, poised ready to hit the button while looking at it.

The blonde mercenary takes a deep breath and appears to now be calm, until he looks up. His eyes that were previously filled with fear now seem to glow with utter hatred. An evil smile develops on his face and he states, "May the Force be with you, Kurrelgyrre."

When everyone is in position, Jarok hits the button.

The orange light flashes and quickly dissipates to show that the transport is complete, with everyone facing the hallway leading to the chasm. Filling the stone-walled corridor is a sea of unspeakable creatures that give the appearance of being twisted by some unnatural force. Many more of the gray-skinned creatures fought by KG and Snteil earlier wander through the crowd composed of beings that seem to represent races known and unknown throughout the galaxy. The mass of malformed beings seems to have no end, as they fill the hallway from one end to the other.

The Rodian mercenary under Jarok's command balks, and his mouth droops at the sheer sight.

A split second before the stormtroopers open fire, one of the gray fiends looks into the room at the new group present and roars. The mob of creatures stops and turns to regard their new visitors . . . their new prey.

Not waiting another moment, Snteil raises his Firelance and opens fire at the nearest gray-skinned creature. Two shots fly through the air, forcing the ghoul to dodge at the last second.

Dorsha, the Rodian mercenary under Jarok's command, raises his blaster rifle at the same time and fires at one of the other monsters, but his shot misses by mere centimeters.

Kurrelgyrre maneuvers himself toward the door, uncorks his flask of alcohol, takes a swig and holds it in his mouth.

The stormtroopers open fire, unleashing a flurry of blaster bolts into the corridor. Many of their shots strike home, but only one of the other fiends drops to the floor.

The Twi'lek female named Konda shoots at the being behind the nearest ghoul and hits it in the shoulder. The limb nearly blows off its shoulder, but the creature shows no reaction to the damage.

Jarok rushes forward from the switch toward the ghoul at the doorway, ready to attack with his lightsaber.

The other Human mercenary under Jarok, Mikk, shoots at the same creature as Konda, but his shot goes wide and hits the stone wall next to it.

The creatures lifelessly push their way into the room and fall upon the stormtroopers by the door, clawing at their armor and weapons to reach the soldiers' flesh within.

Snteil's rifle launches more bolts of energy at the foul beasts. All three shots slam into the chest of the ghoul towering over the stormtrooper next to the corridor entrance and send it reeling backward into the hallway, where it falls to the floor to move no more.

Dorsha unleashes two shots into the nearest fiend attacking one of the Imperial troopers. After both shots harmlessly hit the wall, the Rodian curses himself under his breath and prepares to fire again.

Leveling his lightsaber in front of his face, Kurrelgyrre sprays the alcohol from his mouth across the fiery blade, igniting the liquid. The instant fireball flashes into the corridor and ignites the flesh of the four nearest monsters.

The Imperial soldiers continue to fire at the steadily-approaching hellions. Many of the shots pierce and burn into the beings' bodies, causing three of them to drop lifeless to the ground. Despite the massive damage received, they continue to approach at a slow, steady rate.

One of the stormtroopers, as his assailants tear at his armor and manage to pull off his helmet, shoots one of the three beings through the head with his blaster. The humanoid creature's head cocks back from the shot, and its body crumples to the stone floor just as another one surges forward to fill the gap.

With the troopers' focus on the non-ghouls, two more gray-skinned fiends rush into the room through the crowd. One of them looks right at Jarok, studies him for a brief second and moves past him to attack Kurrelgyrre. It lunges at him with claws bared, but both of its attacks meet open air. The other beast turns to face KG and attacks. Both attacks come dangerously close to the Wookiee, forcing the Jedi to evade the attacks.

Konda fires at one of the humanoids attacking the stormtroopers. Both shots burn into the torso of its target but do not slow it down.

"They're acting like zombies!" cries the Twi'lek female as she takes new aim at her target.

Jarok, astonished that he was not attacked, hesitates for a second as he sees the ghouls attack Kurrelgyrre. His astonishment quickly turns to anger, and he charges at the nearest ghoul. Jarok whirls his lightsaber over his head and slices down. The creature, seeing the flash of red light at the last second, barely avoids the blow, but its luck does not last against Jarok's second attack. The blonde warrior sweeps his crimson blade back at the ghoul and cuts cleanly through its neck. Its head drops to the floor with a thud, followed quickly by the rest of its body. The second ghoul stops its attack to stare at Jarok and cries a deafening roar at him.

Seeing the battle escalating around him, Mikk switches his heavy blaster to multifire and shoots at another of the beings swarming the stormtroopers. Two of the bolts pierce the flesh of the mercenary's target, but the fiend does not flinch and continues to rake its hands at its prey.

The slow-moving humanoids continue their onslaught. The ones not already engaged shamble into the room and begin clawing at any creature they can reach. The rest continue their assault.

The trooper that previously took out one of the zombies screams as his three opponents rip open his armor and begin biting into his flesh, tearing large chunks of skin and muscle from his arm, chest and neck. His scream quickly fades, and his now lifeless body slumps to the floor.

The zombies on the opposite side of the door inflict a similar fate upon their victim, as the stormtrooper screams his final defiance before succumbing to his wounds.

Snteil swings his blaster rifle around and fires a volley of blaster bolts at the monster in front of Kurrelgyrre. The first two shots cause the ghoul to move away and avoid the deadly blasts of energy. The third shot flies harmlessly by and into the far wall.

Dorsha levels his blaster rifle at one of the incoming zombies and fires. His two well-placed shots slam into the being's chest, and its pace stutters for a brief second. But, the creature recovers and changes direction to its Rodian attacker, bringing another one with him.

Taking advantage of the distraction, Kurrelgyrre strikes at the ghoul before him. The fiend spots the attack in time and dodges the blow, but KG swings again and severs its right arm from the elbow. The ghoul screams in pain and turns back to the Wookiee with rage in its eyes.

Multiple blaster bolts fill the air as the stormtroopers continue to fire at the approaching zombies. Two zombies receive deadly shots, and they fall forward to the floor, where they stir no more.

The remaining ghoul roars at Kurrelgyrre and tackles him. Knocking him to the floor, the beast slashes at the Wookiee's face, but KG dodges the attack.

Konda shoots two shots right into the chest of the being ambling toward her. Fear overwhelms her once she sees that her attack had no effect. The humanoid, now mere meters from her, continues to approach her, its arm outstretched and ready to grab her once she is within reach. Her hands start trembling as she begins to panic.

Kurrelgyrre struggles against the ghoul above him to free himself. Suddenly, the ghoul stops moving. Its jaw drops open, and its strength seems to fade. KG looks at the beast's chest to find the tip of a red lightsaber blade jutting out. Jarok, standing over the prone pair, slowly pulls out his blade, letting the ghoul's corpse drop to the floor next to the Wookiee.

Without saying anything, Jarok extends his free hand to Kurrelgyrre.

Mikk lets three blaster bolts fly at the zombie approach, aiming specifically for its head. His first shot pierces its neck, but the other two zip past it without inflicting any damage.

The zombies' attack spreads to more stormtroopers and has reached Dorsha, Konda and Mikk. Six stormtroopers are dragged to the ground as the zombies pry into their armor and rip their victims apart. While being killed, three of the troopers catch fire by the burning zombies that are still moving, even after being blasted by KG's flame attack. Konda tries desperately to avoid one zombie's grasp but cannot, as the fiend grabs her arm and bites hard into it. Her painful scream fills the chamber but is lost quickly to the sounds of continued blaster fire. Dorsha barely avoids the claw attacks from the zombie lurching toward him. Mikk prepares to fire but rapidly pulls his weapon hand back to avoid being raked by the zombie in front of him.

Snteil, seeing that one of the creatures has the female Twi'lek in its clutches, fires all three of his shots at it. His first two shots slam into the zombie's head with enough force to cause it to explode, spraying dark-colored flesh against the far wall. His third shot passes harmlessly through the space where the being's head used to be. With the zombie's grip loosening due to its death, Konda falls to the ground, and the corpse that once held her falls on top of her.

Knowing that his blaster has been ineffective against the one now threatening him, Dorsha flips his weapon around and slams the butt of his rifle into the monster's face. The blow stops the zombie's approach for a split second. Inspired by the success of his attack, the Rodian hits it again. The butt slams into the zombie's nose, shattering it back into its skull, but Dorsha's opponent continues its assault.

Rising to his feet with Jarok's help, Kurrelgyrre looks around the room to see the zombies beginning to overrun them. A fierce determination flows through the Wookiee, and he attacks the nearest enemy: the zombie attacking Mikk. KG's first blow slices through its torso, but the backswing decapitates the creature, sending its head across the room to hit the bare stone wall. Mikk, forced to duck under the lightsaber attacks, stands upright, looks at the Jedi and smiles to show his gratitude before breathing a sigh of relief.

With their ranks reduced by half and the zombies within melee range, the Imperial soldiers resort to using hand-to-hand combat, using their rifles as clubs. Most of their blows strike true, including one that snapped the neck of his nearest zombie with the first blow, dropping the lifeless body to the ground.

Konda, lying prone on the floor, drops her weapon and clutches her wound, which is now bleeding profusely.

Jarok charges at the creature bearing down on the Rodian mercenary, aggressively attacking with his lightsaber before him. Both blows cut cleanly through the zombie's torso, with the second one slicing completely through it. The two halves of its body fall to the floor. While the lower half lays motionless, the upper half continues to claw at Jarok's feet.

Trying to help the stormtroopers, Mikk fires three times at the zombie closest to the door, but his shots meet the stone wall instead.

The zombies continue their ravenous attack against the stormtroopers they are facing. Although the troopers fight valiantly, many of them fall to the fiends. Each of them cries out in terror as death takes them, creating an atmosphere of horror within the chamber. Blood and gore spatter on the floor with each rake of the zombie’s clawed hands into the soldiers’ bodies, painting the sandy-colored stone with macabre hues.

One of the zombies, however, breaks away and begins shambling toward the two nearest living beings: Kurrelgyrre and Jarok.

Seeing Konda in need of assistance, Snteil sprints to stand beside her and fires at the nearest zombie. The blaster bolt penetrates deep into the chest of its target, but it continues its advance.

Dorsha steps closer to Konda and releases a salvo of blaster bolts at the same target as the Sullustan next to him. All three shots rip through the zombie’s body but do not slow it down.

Kurrelgyrre steps toward the zombie shuffling toward him and slices at it with his fiery blade. The lightsaber glides through its flesh with little resistance and even amputates one of its arms, but the zombie shows no sign of pain and takes another step toward the Wookiee.

The two stormtroopers still alive continue to fight. But since they appear to be succumbing to their wounds, their attacks are not as effective as they used to be.

Konda continues to lie on the floor, trying to stave off the pain and nurse her bleeding wound with a medpac pulled from her belt. Despite her efforts, she is unable to handle the supplies well enough to administer treatment properly.

Jarok steps forward and slashes at one of the flaming zombies with his lightsaber. His blow cuts through its neck, letting the now lifeless head fall to the floor right before the body follows suit. Without stopping, Jarok advances to the next zombie.

Mikk, dealing with a zombie on his own, fires three shots point blank into the creature facing him. His first shot passes undamaging through a gap in its torso, but the other two remove chunks of flesh from its already damaged chest. The damage, however, does not stop it.

With most of their immediate opponents dead, the zombies turn and move toward the rest of their foes. Three of them are close enough to attack the two remaining stormtroopers and Mikk. As the zombies rip and tear into the last two stormtroopers, their screams fill the air and just as quickly fade away. Mikk struggles to avoid the clawed strikes against him. His luck holds out, and he starts to back away.

Snteil aims his blaster at the nearest approaching creature and releases a volley of blaster fire at it. Each shot breaches the zombie’s chest, blowing its flesh out its back onto the rock floor, but it keeps coming.

Dorsha follows Snteil’s lead and continues firing at the zombie. Three more blaster bolts slam into it, but the zombie does not stop.

Determined to take down the zombie before him, Kurrelgyrre swings his lightsaber. Both of the Jedi’s attacks cleave through the zombie’s body, digging deeply into its chest and abdomen. The only reaction from the fiend is a deep moan as it stretches its arms forward to return the favor.

Noticing the zombies creeping closer, Konda scrambles to gather her medpac supplies in a panicked frenzy, dropping some of the medicines in the process.

Jarok continues his assault by effortlessly beheading the nearest fiery humanoid and moving to the next, his attack nearly slicing completely through its chest.

Fear overtakes Mikk, and he moves backward away from the mass of zombies heading his direction, firing his blaster as he does so. His first two shots slam into his foe’s chest, but the third hits its head just above the eyes. The zombie stops in its tracks and crumples to the floor to move no more. Mikk reaches the back wall of the room, stares dumbfounded at the motionless corpse on the floor for a few seconds, takes a deep breath and begins looking frantically about the room.

Pursuing the nearest life form, the zombies have spread out to catch their prey. The one moving in on Dorsha thrusts its claws at him, but the Rodian expertly dodges them. One zombie converges on Snteil and attempts to grab him. Snteil avoids the first attempt, but the zombie manages to grab his rifle with its other hand. The Sullustan kicks his foe and breaks its leg, sending the pair to the floor as they continue to battle for the rifle. Another fiend slips in and scrapes at Dorsha, but its attacks meet only air.

As Kurrelgyrre tries to eliminate one zombie, two more flank the Wookiee, one of which is on fire, and lash out at him. The attacks come dangerously close to connecting, forcing KG to quickly evade them. While he avoids the attacks from behind, the one in front of him strikes. Fortunately for Kurrelgyrre, he also manages to dodge those blows.

While Jarok concentrates on one of the zombies and tries to avoid its attacks, another one advances and slashes at the Dark Jedi as well. Jarok narrowly avoids the deadly swipes and barely manages to keep his footing among the bodies of the stormtroopers around him.

One of the zombies lunges at Mikk with claws bared. Mikk dodges the first blow but fails to avoid the second, as the zombie rakes the mercenary’s chest, spraying blood and flesh onto the wall. Mikk’s scream from his sudden injury drowns out the moan uttered by the creature before him, and he slumps against the wall and slides to the floor, his bleeding chest heaving, as the zombie hungrily looks upon its prey.

Snteil struggles with the zombie to free his blaster rifle. Although the fiend exerts its strength to maintain its hold on the weapon, Snteil frees the rifle from its grasp, falling backward away from it to land on the floor at its feet.

Now facing two of the monsters, Dorsha attacks the one before him with the butt of his rifle. His first blow smashes against the creature’s forehead, sending it tumbling back to trip over a dead stormtrooper and land motionless on the floor. The Rodian turns to face the other zombie and attacks twice more. His thrusts land on its chest but do nothing to stop the zombie’s attack.

Kurrelgyrre attacks with increased determination, now faced with three zombies. He slices twice through the first creature’s abdomen, spilling its innards onto the floor but getting no reaction from the victim.

Konda abandons the medpac and tries to retreat from the battle next to her. As she moves to rise, she puts weight on her injured arm, shooting pain up into her shoulder. The sudden jolt of pain breaks her stride, and she stumbles back onto the floor like a ragdoll. She screams in pain and begins to cry from frustration and fear more than her wound.

Hearing Mikk’s scream, Jarok glances to see his companion at the zombies’ mercy.

"Mikk!" cries Jarok. The anger wells up within him at seeing both Konda and Mikk about to die under his care. Letting his anger consume him, Jarok savagely attacks the two zombies before him, one of which is being consumed by flames from Kurrelgyrre’s earlier firebreath attack. His first stroke cuts cleanly through the first one, while his backswing decapitates the other. Both creatures fall lifeless to the floor. The Dark Jedi turns to assist Mikk across the room.

Mikk, feeling his strength leaving him, feebly raises his pistol and fires three more shots point blank into the zombie’s chest that penetrate completely through its torso. Seeing his handiwork, Mikk drops his arm to the floor, sending his blaster pistol bouncing across the floor out of reach. He looks up at the predator reaching down at him, smiles and says as he closes his eyes and accepts his fate, "I never thought I would go out this way."

The zombies continue their assault. The one facing Dorsha slashes at him, forcing the Rodian to evade the first attack. As Snteil begins to regain his footing, his opponent slowly rises to his feet.

Kurrelgyrre struggles to dodge the attacks from the three zombies bearing down on him, but one slips through his defenses. The zombie’s fiery jagged claws pierce the Wookiee’s side, digging deep into his torso just under his ribs. KG screams as the pain from his new wound shoots through his body, seemingly draining the Jedi’s endurance. Although the flames from the zombie’s hand burn Kurrelgyrre’s fur and skin, the fire helps cauterize the gash.

As one zombie reaches the back of the room, the one towering over the injured Mikk bends down and lashes out with its deadly hands. It grabs the mercenary’s head strongly and, in a flash, digs its teeth into his neck. Mikk shrieks as the zombie rips out his throat, spraying blood onto its face and the stone wall before it. Only a few seconds elapse until Mikk’s lifeless body is dropped to the floor.

Noticing the reactions of the zombies to the various attacks against them, Snteil cries out, "Aim for their heads! Whatever is keeping them going is up there! Take it out, and they'll drop like a Hutt without a repulsorlift!"

Snteil quickly rises to his feet, aims for his foe’s head and fires his blaster rifle twice to demonstrate to any doubters. Both shots burn into its skull, and the zombie falls instantly.

Dorsha, hearing Mikk’s blood-curtling scream, glances in the direction of his fallen comrade, turns back and pushes forward with renewed vigor. His first two blows with the butt of his blaster rifle merely glance off the creature’s shoulder, but the third smashes into its face, throwing its head back hard enough to break the zombie’s neck.

Despite the weakness he is feeling from his injury, Kurrelgyrre counterattacks and beheads the zombie that hit him. The Jedi’s backswing goes wide and meets only air.

Looking over to the far side of the room and viewing the carnage of Mikk’s death unfold, Konda’s fear transforms into anger. Ignoring her pain, she grabs her pistol, aims at the zombies standing over her cohort and fires. The blaster bolt slams into the fiend’s ear, knocking it to the ground.

Jarok sprints across the room toward his fallen friend. As he approaches, the one zombie left at the scene turns to meet the approaching Human. Without missing a beat, Jarok slashes at the creature with a backswing of his lightsaber, slicing cleanly through its head, and kicking it in its torso to knock it out of the way. The corpse hits the stone wall with a thud and slowly slides to the floor.

Deactivating his lightsaber, Jarok kneels next to Mikk’s body and assesses the damage. His only two wounds are the deep lacerations across his chest and the large bite into his neck from which blood flows down his chest and onto the floor. Much to his surprise, Mikk’s eyes open.

"Hey," says Mikk with a whisper. "Didn’t go so well, did it?"

With a concerned and anxious tone, Jarok answers, "Don’t talk. You’re going to be okay."

As the blonde begins rummaging through his utility belt for a medpac, his friend adds, "No, Jarok. Save your supplies." He pauses. "You never could stand losing."

"Don’t say that! You’ll be fine."

"Jarok," Mikk states, "it’s been fun." His head drops as life leaves his body.

Finally accepting his friend's death, Jarok releases his hold on the body and lets it slump down the wall to rest next to the body of the zombie that killed him. A deep sadness overwhelms the blonde mercenary, but he instantly transforms it into anger at his assailants.

The only two zombies left in the room strike at their mutual opponent. Despite Kurrelgyrre’s weakened condition, he evades their attacks.

Seeing his own friend in trouble, Snteil shoots at the nearest foe. One of the shots flies harmlessly past the zombie, but the other grazes the back of its head. Dorsha finishes the job that the Sullustan began by firing two more blaster bolts into the zombie’s head, causing it to explode in front of the Wookiee.

Kurrelgyrre shifts his focus to the last zombie and assails it with his lightsaber. The energy blade slices through the creature’s shoulder, amputating its arm, and part of its head. The attack pushes the zombie slightly to the side enough to where the Jedi’s second swing misses its intended target.

Bringing her pistol about to help take out the last foe, Konda is not able to find a clear target due to Kurrelgyrre’s proximity and holds her fire.

Jarok, on the other hand, stands, reignites his lightsaber and charges at the last zombie. Screaming as he charges, he plunges his blade straight through the zombie’s head and follows through to split the head in half. The zombie lingers in its standing position for a brief second before dropping to the floor to move no more. Jarok shuts down his saber, stares at the dead zombie for another second while catching his breath and kicks the body one last time for good measure.
After looking around the room, Snteil rushes to Kurrelgyrre’s side and says as he withdraws a medpac from his belt, "Hey, bud, you okay? Let's look at that wound."

KG groans, one touched with pain. "I've been better, but I'm holding up. When that thing slashed me, it burned." The Wookiee meditates briefly and reaches out to his wound with the Force.

"What in the blazes were those things anyway? They just wouldn't stop?" Snteil, obviously shaken by these creatures, glances around at the automatons while he reloads his rifle.

Kurrelgyrre shrugs and reaches into his pouch to retrieve the holocron. While his hand probes for the artifact, Jarok walks across the room to Mikk's corpse, where Dorsha and Konda have already gathered. As he does so, he announces rather calmly over the comm, "Code 5. Repeat. Code 5."

After a couple of seconds, 1138 replies, "Code 5 confirmed. Proceed."

Snteil glances at the Xyber Corps to see Dorsha treating Konda with a medpac while Jarok looks over Mikk's body and asks from across the room, "What's Code 5?"

Jarok looks toward Snteil and replies, "Code 5 means that we've taken heavy casualties."

After a few seconds of looking lost in thought, he continues, "Guys, we need to take care of Mikk's body. We have a rite that we perform for a fallen comrade, and we don't know if we'll have time later.

"Could you guys scout ahead down the corridor, while we do this? It won't take long."

"Considering what we're up against, I think it would be a bad idea if we split up. We will honor the rites you perform for your fallen comrade."

KG looks over at Snteil with an expression that says he doesn't trust Jarok.

"Nothing personal," Jarok answers curtly, "but this is a private matter. Being a Jedi, you should understand respecting others' feelings.

"Besides, you don't have a problem going down a short hallway, do you? It's not like I'm asking you to make it all the way to the gate. If you run into trouble, just come back here. They don't move THAT quickly. Or, are you starting to show fear?"

"Not at all. I merely know the difference between bravado and stupidity."

Jarok slowly rises to his feet, his anger boiling inside him.

"Look, you pompous excuse for a Jedi!" yells Jarok. "What right do you have to infringe upon the private acts of my group? We may have been at odds in the past, but I certainly would not be so rude as to impose upon your rituals or beliefs!"

At that second, Dorsha storms over to the pedestal and hits the button, transporting the entire group and the room's contents back to the other side.

Turning to his cohort, Jarok continues, "WHAT IN THE HELL ARE YOU DOING?!"

"Jarok," interrupts Konda, "you are yelling loud enough to alert the enemy of our location. Your anger has taken over."

Jarok stares hard at her and seethes, "Let them come!"

He stops for a second, looks at everyone in the room for a few seconds and adds in a calmer tone, "Dorsha, grab Mikk's body. We are going to find a private spot on this side to conduct our ceremony."

As he leads his team toward the corridor, Jarok stops, turns back to Kurrelgyrre and says, "I highly suggest you do not follow us."

With that, he turns on his heel and marches out of the room with his mercenaries in tow.

"Charming fellow, really," comments Snteil as he looks around the room again. "Tell me again, why didn't we kill him the first time around?

"So . . . now what?"

KG sighs. "I don't know. I really don't trust them. Jarok seems sincere, but it comes across as suspicious with the 'Code 5' bit. Funny how he, a mercenary, knows all this Imperial lingo."

"Something is not as it appears. We should be cautious."

"Like animated dead things? Don't get me wrong, those freaky Force using mind screamers are bad enough, but they at least seem to be . . . alive. They seem to have some semblance of sensation and intelligence. But these other things . . ."

Snteil kneels down to inspect one of the zombies as he continues, "I mean . . . what in the blazes are these things!?" Snteil fails to keep the fear from creeping into his voice with his last exclamation.

"Snteil, you can't let them shake you. They thrive on fear. Let's see what the holocron has to say on the subject."

Kurrelgyrre sets the holocron on the floor in front of him and activates it. The image of Taka Ran instantly appears.

"How may I be of service, Kurrelgyrre?" she asks.

Indicating the bodies of the creatures they fought around him, the Wookiee replies, "Greetings, Master Ran. My question is simple. Do you know what these creatures are?"

The holographic Jedi Master quietly looks at the bodies around her for a moment.

"Many of these creatures I have not seen before," she finally states. "The ones in the white armor I recognize as Human. The gray ones I have never seen before. Some of these other ones look familiar, though.

"That one there," she continues, pointing to a tall humanoid near the doorway, "is a Dashade, while the one just behind you is a Rakshatran."

She studies the Rakshatran a little harder, almost squinting her felinoid eyes as she peers at the body.

"It almost looks like something has changed it," she adds. "Something unnatural."

Kurrelgyrre gives his thanks and asks for the other two personalities of the holocron. Each one appears but, other than identifying a few more of the unknown races, offers no new information.

After the Wookiee shuts down the holocron, he and Snteil look around and realize that the room is quiet . . . too quiet.

"Hey, Snteil, hear that?"

After a slight pause, Kurrelgyrre continues, "Me neither. I've got a bad feeling about this."

Sensing danger, KG gets up.

"Let's get out of here. Something's not right."

Kurrelgyrre and Snteil walk from the transport room to the end of the hallway. Upon arrival, they find nobody there. Jarok, Konda or Dorsha are nowhere to be seen. In fact, the stormtroopers that stayed behind, along with all their equipment, are gone, too.

"Okay, seriously. Who didn't see this one coming?" Snteil says to nobody in particular. In a mockingly annoyed voice, he adds, "Curse your sudden, but inevitable, betrayal, Jarok."

Adding a sigh, he finishes, "Okay, bud. Now what?"

"I don't know," replies Kurrelgyrre with a shrug. "You got the feeling that they lured us down here so that they can dispose of us and the creatures at the same time? Or, do you think they're lunch already?"

"I don't know." As Snteil finishes his statement, he hears the distant whine of repulsorlifts engaging.

"Do you hear that!? Those are repulsorlifts! Those backstabbing bastards are leaving us here! Come on!" Snetil sprints for the ship without waiting for the Wookiee.

KG runs after him and states, "What repulsor . . . oh, frack! Those cowards! I get it now. Without the Imperials, they can make a break for it. Let's just hope they didn't leave us a present on the way out!"

Snteil cries as he runs, "I protected them! I even offered to help heal them!

"The next time I see them," Snteil growls, "either I'm walking away, or they are. We should have just taken care of them in Im'tra'tal."

The duo sprints down the hall and bursts through the sliding double doors that can't open fast enough onto the landing platform. Just as they set foot outside, the Lamdba-class shuttle turns and begins its ascent skyward, engaging its engines and lowering its wings after clearing the lip of the canyon.

Snteil picks up a small rock resting near the double doors and throws it hard at the ground, leans back and yells at the fleeing ship, "AAARRRRRHHHHH!

"Jarok, so help me, I will get out of this if for no other reason that to hunt you down and end your miserable, pathetic life!!

"DAMN IT!"

Kurrelgyrre draws his bowcaster and fires upon the departing shuttle. The shots from the bowcaster appear to hit the ship, but no apparent damage results.

At that second, Kurrelgyrre spots something on the landing pad. It appears to be a body lying face down on the deck.

As the two approach it, they suddenly realize that the body is that of Konda, the Twi'lek female mercenary in league with Jarok. Without a second thought, KG and Snteil rush forward to examine it further.

The nighttime conditions do not provide ample light to distinguish many details. But, what can be seen is that her cause of death appears to come from what looks like a lightsaber wound straight through her head. Her skin also looks to have begun changing color from the dark bluish-green to a lighter gray color. The discoloration seems to be strongest around the bite wound on her arm. She still has all of her gear with her.

"Kurrelgyrre," asks Snteil in a hushed voice, "what do you know of Twi'leks? Do they lose their color when they die? I mean, is that natural?"

Without responding, the Wookiee stands after carefully looking over the body, withdraws the flask of alcohol from his belt and uses his firebreath attack to cremate Konda’s corpse. He, then, turns and strides toward the double doors leading inside.

Almost as an afterthought, Snteil pulls the comlink from his belt, switches it on and calls, "Jarok!? Jarok are you reading this? Where in the Blazes do you think you're going!?!"

A few seconds of silence fill the air, when a flurry of electronic beeps and tones break through on the comlink. It sounds like Binary.

Snteil suddenly realizes that his encrypted comlink was still configured for the frequencies he uses to communicate with Kurrelgyrre.

KG, about to reach the doors leading inside, stops in his tracks at the new sound and turns halfway back at the Sullustan as he wonders outloud, "Arsix?"

KG rushes to Snteil, grabs the comlink from him and, ignoring the Sullustan’s annoyed expression, cries, "Arsix, listen up! Jarok and his crew just bailed on us. It was a sudden but inevitable betrayal. Snteil and I need a way out of here. See if you can fire up the Z-98 and meet us down here. We could use you."

Arsix chirps a positive acknowledgment over the comlink and disconnects.

Aboard the Star Destroyer, Arsix rolls out from his alcove in the droid pool and moves toward the door, when a taller droid steps in front of it.

"Where do you think you’re going, little one?" demands the taller one gruffly.

Arsix opens a front panel, extends his blaster accessory and shoots the droid standing in its way, shattering its chassis and scattering its parts in multiple directions. As several electronic cheers fill the air from other droids that witnessed the act of defiance, Arsix emits a victory whistle and exits the droid pool.

The droid wanders the halls for a couple of minutes, until it locates a computer interface port. It plugs in, searches for the best path to the hangar bay, disconnects, and continues on its way.

Several minutes later, Arsix rolls into the hangar and spots the Z-98 parked in a niche on the far side. The droid moves to the computer next to the ship and accesses it through the droid socket. A quick diagnostic reveals that the ship is in good shape, but the tractor beam system is still active. A couple of minutes pass, and Arsix successfully takes the tractor beam array offline. Unfortunately, the life support containment shield goes down.

Arsix moves toward the empty fighter, as the air rushes into the vacuum of space. Officers and personnel fight against the sudden wind, trying to reach a door to escape, grab hold of something secure or reach a control panel to attempt to reactivate the shield. Amidst the chaos, Arsix enters the ship through the bottom droid chute, powers up the Z-98 and pilots the ship out of the bay. Within seconds, the droid polarizes the hull, causing the ship to disappear from view.

After several minutes of waiting on the landing pad, Kurrelgyrre and Snteil hear the roar of sublight engines drawing closer. Seconds later, the Z-98 fades into view as its repulsorlift engages and slowly descends toward the landing pad. Finally, the fighter gently sets down in the middle of the platform.

As the volume of the ship's systems decreases, Arsix emits an electronic greeting.

Kurrelgyrre climbs into the cockpit, asks for an update and instructs the droid to scan the ship for any tracking devices.

Arsix mentions that fighters launched from the star destroyer about the time he entered the planet's atmosphere, so they may show up here soon. As far as tracking devices, that homing beacon the Xyber Corps planted is still present inside the hull.

"I don't know about you, buddy," states KG flatly to Snteil, "but I'm a bit sick of everyone jacking us around. It's time we took control of our own destinies.

"If we blow this place up, then we'll keep anyone from abusing it ever again, and those monsters can't make it through. Problem is, they've probably already gotten through to a few worlds, and this place may lead to Jan Tolbara.

"I'm not about to commit suicide, though. I can't rescue Jan if I'm dead. Do we have any other options?"

Snteil answers with only a silent shrug. With a nod, KG climbs back out.

After Kurrelgyrre climbs out of the cockpit, he and Snteil stride toward the doors leading back into the ancient complex, when the Z-98 fades from view once again, providing a clear view of the canyon wall cast in darkness from the night sky. The two heroes make their way back to the transport room. With weapons ready, Snteil slaps the button, creating another flash of orange light that teleports he and the Wookiee to the other side.

The scene appears much like it did before. The lights installed by the Imperial forces are still flickering, casting ominous shadows about the room. The sound of silence fills and almost pounds in KG’s and Snteil’s ears. It seems too quiet here.

But, some things have changed. Looking down the hallway shows that the conditions are brighter than they have been before, as if sunlight was shining into the underground chasm. The other difference that becomes apparent is something small on fire on the stone floor at the other end of the corridor.

"Hold up here for a sec, I'll scout ahead and see what's going on. I mean, no offense buddy, but you're not exactly the strong silent type . . . well, you're half that, I guess. Of course, if I start shooting, you are more than welcome to join me at that point," Snteil winks at KG and then heads down the hall.

"Don't get lost. While you're doing that, I'll check out what's burning. I hope it isn't something nasty in a bag."

Snteil creeps down the dark corridor toward the brighter room. One of the artificial lights intermittently flickers for a few seconds and shuts down as the Sullustan passes through.

Kurrelgyrre, waiting back at the transport room, stands ready to spring into action to assist his friend.

Reaching the platform at the end of the hall, Snteil quickly surveys the area. The chasm that stretches from left to right seems a bit darker, only because of the large shaft of sunlight shining through a new hole in the far rock wall near the cavern ceiling. The hole appears to be no more than two meters wide and requires climbing equipment to be reached easily. Multiple objects litter the bridge spanning the cavern, all of which are engulfed in flames.

Looking closer at the nearest flaming object, Snteil discovers that the fiery item near the doorway is a dismembered hand. From what he can tell, the appendage appears to have not been cut from its arm.

Snteil returns to Kurrelgyrre and reports his findings.

"So, press on then?" Snteil asks.

"Yeah, let's press on. You take point."

"Me?" mouths the Sullustan silently. Chuckling, he shrugs and heads down the hallway, "Okay, let's go," he adds.

The duo moves down the hall, with Snteil taking point. Reaching the chasm, they make their way through the small fires littering the bridge and to the opening on the other side. On their way across, glances into the chasm show more burning bodies and debris strewn across the cavern floor amidst a settling dust cloud.

Approaching the doorway, Snteil sees a dim glow from near the floor that appears to be flickering firelight. He moves closer to get a better view and sees a number of smaller fires from dead bodies littering the corridor floor and a thicker dust cloud filling the air within. The artificial lights placed by Imperial forces are destroyed, hanging precariously from the stone ceiling or scattered on the floor amidst the flaming bodies. The fires are spread out enough that one could carefully maneuver through them.

With a puzzled look on his face, Snteil asks, "I don't understand. What the hell happened in here?"

Unable to reach a definite conclusion, the former bounty hunter determines that he must press on to find out more.

Kurrelgyrre and Snteil had not noticed the slight chill in the air before, now that the warmth of the fires dispels it as they maneuver through the rubble that clutters the corridor. The smoke and dust in the air make breathing difficult, and KG has to stoop to try to keep from breathing in the smoke building up along the ceiling.

The pair passes the remains of the spiked pillar, which now lay in ruins about the floor with more gruesome bodily remains. Snteil, despite having to fight against the dust filling his nostrils, begins to notice the stench of death in the air.

Unable to resist the tickle inside his nose any longer, Snteil sneezes loudly. The explosion of sound echoes briefly through the hallway, forcing the Sullustan and the Wookiee to freeze in their tracks and listen for any reaction to the sudden outburst. After several seconds of silence and Kurrelgyrre forcing himself to not sneeze as well, they continue down the hall.

Rounding the corner reveals a sudden change in the landscape. Not more than ten meters around the bend, the corridor feeds into an open crater. Sunlight shines into the end of the hallway, filtered through a large cloud of still-floating dust. The far crater wall, barely seen through the dusty haze, appears to be about forty meters away from the edge of the hall and extends up about another ten meters to the surface and down another ten meters down to the bottom. The gate and all the rooms around it no longer exist.

Kurrelgyrre turns to Snteil and says, "Oops."

After a slight pause, the Wookiee continues, "How much you want to bet that Jarok did this? Bastard."

KG turns to leave, grabbing Snteil by the arm and dragging him along.

"We've got to get out of here. The gate is gone, so there's no more worries here. The Imperials will be here before too long. We've got to make a break for it.

"You know, thinking back on it, the vision I had of Jan looked like he was in the Smiling Sarlacc. All this time I thought he was being held against his will, and the Imperial station here was all the proof I needed. But I was wrong."

"Something went wrong with the Sarlacc. He had to put himself into stasis to survive. My guess is that they're just floating in space, waiting to be rescued. I think we need to get the Aurora and Zeethree, then follow the course to the rendezvous point."

KG pulls out his comlink. "Arsix, are you there?"

A quick chirp shortly follows.

"Come pick us up on the landing pad." KG gives directions if needed. "Plot a course back to the Aurora. Also, plot a course from the Aurora to the Sarlacc's rendezvous point."

KG mumbles to himself, "And may the Force be with us."

Arsix responds an affirmative message, but his response sounds a bit anxious. During the response, small explosions and blaster fire can be heard in the background.

"Frack!" cries Kurrelgyrre. "Arsix has some trouble. Let's get to the landing pad, so we can board and escape ASAP."

Kurrelgyrre and Snteil rapidly make their way back to the landing pad, only to find the Phantom gone. Looking into the night sky reveals only the stars hiding behind a few scattered clouds.

Suddenly, green blaster fire streaks across the top of the canyon, scraping the top of the canyon and raining dust and rubble into the chasm. Seconds later, the deafening roar of engines fills the area as a strong wind picks up. Overhead, three TIE Interceptors scream past the canyon.

As the roar begins to die down and be replaced with the whine of repulsorlifts, the Phantom fades into view. Arsix excitedly whistles from his alcove behind the cockpit as the canopy opens.

The duo sprints to the ship, with Snteil hopping into the back seat. Within seconds, the ship is airborne again and fading from view.

"Three TIEs coming about," Kurrelgyrre announces as he finishes strapping in while studying the sensor display. As he finishes his statement, blaster fire flies dangerously close to the cloaked vessel, narrowly missing its target.

KG looks at the panel again and continues, "Six more fighters entering sensor range and approaching fast."

As Kurrelgyrre accelerates the Z-98 to maximum speed, the three TIE Interceptors close in on the lone fighter, reducing the distance behind it to a mere 80 meters.

One of the TIEs surges forward and moves to a range of 20 meters away from the Z-98.

KG expands his awareness through the Force while flying the ship, preparing himself for combat. Snteil, from his seat behind KG, angles the shields to double-rear, while Arsix whistles a warning into the cockpit as it begins making adjustments to some of the ship's systems.

As the Sullustan completes the procedure, one of the TIEs opens fire with a barrage of laser fire and drops back a bit afterwards. Even with Kurrelgyrre attempting to evade the assault, the attack punches through the Phantom's shields and pierces the port wing. Within seconds, electricity arcs around the ship, and the fighter becomes visible again.

The TIE Interceptor tailing the Z-98 fires a deadly volley from point-blank range. KG, sensing the incoming laser bolts, steers the ship in time to evade the attack.

Having no patience for the chase, Kurrelgyrre mutters, "Frack this!" and quickly pulls the Z-98 into a steep climb. The pursuing fighters easily follow.

Working to regain lost distance, the TIE fighter that dropped back moves up into its previous position.

Snteil scrambles to restore some of the shields and succeeds in bringing the shields back up 20%.

KG glances at the control panel and notices that the ship's lasers are now offline. At the same time, Snteil spots a noticeable increase to the shields, now at 53%. Arsix victoriously chirps through the comm.

The remaining TIE within weapons range fires at the Phantom, but Kurrelgyrre dodges the attack.

Another TIE Interceptor attacks the Z-98 and just barely misses its target.

Remembering one of the stories he had heard from Master Skywalker, Kurrelgyrre fires a proton torpedo, reaches out with the Force and turns it around while in flight to target one of the pursuing TIE Interceptors. The torpedo slams into the Imperial fighter's cockpit, exploding on impact. The doomed ship, engulfed in flames, plummets like a rock to the planet's surface below.

Witnessing the attack, Snteil comments, "Nice shot!" and continues with his task of increasing power to the shields, raising their strength to 60%. Arsix falls silent as it starts to plot the ship's course through hyperspace back to Coyn.

At that second, the other remaining TIE Interceptor opens fire at the Z-98. Its green laser bolts come dangerously close to the fleeing fighter but meet only open air.

Snteil glances at the sensors and discovers that the other six fighters are slowly closing in on their location. They are within extreme weapon range but have not fired a shot.

One of the pursuing TIE Interceptors moves in behind the Z-98 and fires. The green bolts of energy shatter the fighter's shields and slam into the ship's starboard wing. System panels erupt inside the cockpit, causing Kurrelgyrre and Snteil to flinch from the shower of sparks. Outside, Arsix screams in response from the attack. The translation on the display reads, "We CANNOT take another hit like that!"

Determination taking over, KG quickly glances at his sensor panel and hits the brakes. The Z-98's speed drops sharply, forcing the two TIE pilots to take quick action to barely avoid crashing into it. Before the TIEs have a chance to come about, Kurrelgyrre kicks the speed up again to pursue the Imperial fighters.

Snteil works diligently to restore power to the shields and manages to bring them up to 13%.

Arsix continues plotting the ship's hyperspace course.

The other Imperial fighter unexpectedly flips around but overcompensates for the daring move and loses control of the ship. The ship swings too far around, and its pitch drops drastically, sending the ship plunging back toward the planet's surface.

Taking advantage of the situation, Kurrelgyrre fires a torpedo at the one Imperial fighter now before him. The projectile hits its mark and explodes on impact, destroying the TIE Interceptor.

Snteil continues his work restoring the shields and raises their integrity to 50%.

The diving TIE Interceptor continues its flight toward the planet as the pilot struggles to regain control of the ship.

As the Z-98 leaves the planet's atmosphere, the ship begins to pick up speed and moves away from the pursuing fighters.

KG and Snteil begin to rejoice but soon realize that the chase is not over yet. Sensors now pick up the ISD Indomitable closing on their location.

With a sense of urgency, Snteil goes back to work on the shields and raises them to 73%.

Arsix reports that it is still working on setting down the course for the jump to lightspeed but should have it done soon.

The comm comes to life, indicating an incoming message.

KG flips on the comm switch, barking out a warning growl, and then flips it off again.

"I think we've heard enough from them. We're playing by our rules, now. Arsix, how long until we can make the jump to hyperspace?"

Arsix's response seems rushed and tense. The translation reads, "It will be a lot sooner, if you quit bothering me!"

Kurrelgyrre shakes his head and brings the fighter about, flying parallel to the pursuing star destroyer.

Snteil's fingers fly over the console, as he works frantically to fully restore the ship's shields.

The Wookiee continues to fly the Z-98 away from the massive Imperial ship bearing down on them, waiting for Arsix to give the signal to engage the hyperdrive. Glancing down at the sensors panel, he sees that the large group of fighters have left the planet's atmosphere and are catching up to their position.

Snteil opens up the correct power conduit and brings the shields to full strength. With a sigh of relief, he looks at the sensor display and feels the stress return.

The comm springs to life, with Arsix's translation reading, "You should hear this."

". . . fighter. Repeat. Use of lethal force against the Rebel fighter is authorized. Your orders are to destroy the fighter."

Kurrelgyrre glances at the sensors again, noticing that the fighters will be within weapons range in half a minute.

"C'mon, Arsix!" mutters Snteil just loud enough to be heard by KG, the tension in the Sullustan's voice thick enough to cut.

The astromech droid remains silent, as it continues its calculations.

Suddenly, green turbolaser blasts fly past the Phantom, as the star destroyer opens fire at them despite being out of range.

Fully intending not to be an easy target, Kurrelgyrre begins flying evasive maneuvers.

Snteil checks the shields and engine status, making sure that the systems are in no danger of suddenly breaking down.

The star destroyer continues to fire at the fleeing fighter. Some of the shots come dangerously close to their target but only continue their path through space.

KG continues to pilot the ship defensively, avoiding the incoming fire closer and closer to them with each successive shot.

Snteil, now actively watching the sensors panel, says anxiously, "I hope that droid of yours finishes soon."

As if on cue, Arsix blurts out a short chirp.

After reading the translation, Kurrelgyrre engages the hyperdrive.

As the stars stretch into starlines, both KG and Snteil lean back in their seats and breathe a sigh of relief.

The Wookiee Jedi says after the crossover into hyperspace is complete, "That was too close. Arsix, give me a status report, please."

A short bleep from the droid and a quick response brings the status report on the translator screen:

Hull Integrity: 35%
Shield Integrity: 100%
Starboard Laser Cannon: offline/damaged

"Whoa!" exclaims Snteil. "That was a LOT closer than 'too close.' By the way, nice flying up there, bud."

"Thanks. Let's set down for repairs, and pick up the Aurora and Zeethree. Provided Zeethree hasn't blown up the ship or decorated it with flowers."

"Ugh! That's right. I'd clean forgotten. I need to get that taken care of."