Chapter Six: In Vitro Veritas
The mansion that loomed before her was perhaps the most decadent building she had ever seen within her life. Larger than Ban Garus’ estate by the floor plans and heavily guarded, it would not be a simple task to breach its defenses and slay the cruel man that was within. She had spent several hours personally memorizing each square each of the building until finally she had a map within her mind that was without flaw. If she was to succeed her actions would have to be swift and decisive. The ram would soon be to the wall -- once it was, there was no turning back.
“[i]The transport will arrive within thirty seconds, Verra. After it carries you into the mansion’s courtyard, you will be on your own. Any transmissions will more than likely be scrambled so if you enter troubled waters, you must rely upon yourself. Once your mission has been completed, go to the agreed upon location and you will be recovered.”
The sound of Ban Garus’ voice in her ear was at least a reassurance that the equipment she had been supplied was top notch. In addition to the communication device she had been given several other tools that would slightly lessen the chances that her nearly impossible mission would end in failure. In place of her old robes, she was granted a catsuit made of a specially blended fiber that would render her incompatible with automated sensors. Form-fitted and tight (she had wondered just how Ban Garus was so certain of her measurements), it did well to give her a greater range of motion while at the same time feeling nearly weightless. She was unsure if it had the blaster resistance that Ban Garus told her it did, but she would rather not be forced to find out. More importantly, the suit’s gloves and boots each had tactile imprints that would enable scaling at a much steeper angle than normally possible. Near her left shoulder blade a pouch had been added to the catsuit to hold her lightsaber, further slimming her and enabling it to be carried with risk of the metallic object setting off any additional sensors.
But for all of the gadgets that she had been given, the most essential was the neural disruptor’s removal. The Force returned to her as an old friend, filling the chasm that had been created within her with a fervor that she could only be thankful for. It was that, above all other implements that she had been given, which truly gave her the courage to brave the mission that drew ever closer.
The seconds ticked away as she pulled her mask up over her face, effectively concealing the lower part of her visage in the fiber mesh. While she had been told that her hair would not run the risk of setting off any alarms, she would make certain to avoid testing the theory for as long as she could. Visually, she was nearly perfectly blended into her environment, and the vaguely pink visor that had been placed over her eyes did well to detail the various organic and inorganic lifeforms that abounded. The Force was naturally her ally, but as she had proven over Thorne IV, there was no shame in enhancing one’s prowess with technology. The timer at the side of her Heads-Up Display approached five seconds and her legs tensed. Now was the time to act.
Gracefully, Verra fell toward the speeding transport and landed without a sound upon its top. Her toes and fingers instantly were placed to the roof, confirming that their tactile traction was true by the manner in which she did not slide in the faintest against the roof. Inside were more unfortunate toys for Darth Vitro to use and abuse. If all went well, they would be spared the horrific acts she had seen upon the holo feed – if it did not, she would be the victim of another that she had witnessed. In all, there was absolutely no reason to allow the Sith lord to live if at all possible. The wind caused her platinum blonde bangs to flutter as she narrowed her eyes on the fore and watched the HUD screen begin to feed her information on the approaching gates. The entrance was impossible to scale, even with the gloves and boots she had been given; however, that would be where the Force came into the picture. The transport slowly came to a halt before the gate and two brutish looking guards lumbered toward it.
From Ban Garus’ files she had learned that the loutish creatures were known as “Empu’dunz”, remnants of the Vi’aegris empire that were commonly used as thugs or hired hands. In the Republic their niche was one filled by Gamoreans, but whereas the piggish brutes were swine in appearance, the physiology of the Empu’dunz reminded her more of dehydrated salamanders. A note had been given to her in regard to them: they were extremely stupid and extremely violent. That was a combination that only spelled trouble.
Verra exhaled the breath she had held in and began to run across the transport’s roof. Her steps were soundless as she moved and before she came to the window she drew the Force within herself and inhaled once more, at the last step she pushed off the ground and took to the air with a graceful somersault that carried her over the gate. As it ended, she landed again without a sound and continued at an augmented speed toward the nearest collection of bushes. A forward handspring carried her behind the shrubbery and she crouched in place, a hand placed to the side of her visor to scroll through the requisite information until she found the droid detection settings and amplified their heuristics further. If there was ever a chance that her plan would fail, it would have to be when she attempted to breach the inner yard. Upon her screen, several luminous dots appeared, each topped by a percentage that spoke to its hull integrity. It would be best, she knew, if not a single droid was touched. The longer that she could put off the guards knowing of her presence, the better.
The field before her had been memorized to within an inch of clarity. An ostentatious display of horticulture had created within the yard several patches of bushes that eventually led into a wall of shrubbery. A shimmering pool sat in the very middle of the collection, preventing anyone from crossing it without being noticed. The only manner that a person would be able to enter would be to brave the walk ways, which as her sensor was revealing to her also happened to be heavily guarded by armed assault droids. It would not be a simple task to brave them, but then again were it simple then she would also not be required to do what she must. At the head of the pathways was the entrance to the mansion, guarded by another set of sentient creatures. The only way that she would be able to make it through would be if a one-in-a-billion chance happened.
Those were the kind of odds that the Force answered without fail.
The approaching transit gave the droids an obvious target to focus upon, although their monitors kept them aware of the latent threats. Certain that this as her chance to move, she darted away from the bushes and carried herself toward the first droid. She was not entirely certain that the catsuit would work as intended, but doubting Ban Garus’ word at that point seemed to serve no one any good.
The make and model of the droid was foreign to her, but the sinister blaster in its hands was not. If it had even the faintest inclination to turn and face her, she would have been torn to shreds by the unleashed firepower of its surrounding units. Ban Garus’ plans had detailed a defense matrix that connected all of the droids; if one was alerted, they all were. Her soundless steps continued to carry her forth until finally she was within several meters of the droid. It began to shift, and she drew the Force into herself once more to pivot around its back, clearing the distance without so much as the squeaking of her boots against the ground.
With one droid taken care of, there were two more immediately before her. She dared not dally in the middle of the exercise and ran at full speed toward the next, then pushed off the ground and performed a side-winding somersault over its head. Verra landed facing the droid, and rather than waste a second in turning around instead executed a series of swift back handsprings that carried her out of its immediate peripheral and toward the wall of bushes she had noted.
The remaining droid’s presence was negligible only if she was willing to address the two guards directly. For most this would have been suicidal, but whereas others had only their gadgets to rely upon, her long-lost guide had returned to her. One of her gloved hands was extended, the Force’s presence felt as it coursed through her and streamed toward the stationary guards. She could sense that they had been trained to resist most tactics, so rather than attempt to seek out weaknesses she instead played to their strengths. Their paranoia was fed, giving them more reason to be mindful of the approaching transit. If either had the urge to look toward her then her guise would have been blown; however, they each focused intently on the vehicle and she ran forth once more.
Her augmented agility and strength carried her through the air as she sailed over the guards and came to land against the mansion’s wall. The scaling gloves were put to good usage as she scurried up the side and came to a window. Not a second could be wasted; she removed from a slit in her suit’s wrist a small, cylindrical device intended to permit her entrance into the building through its windows. By jamming the security system for a span of ten seconds, it gave her time to remove the pane and slide in through the opened hole. Phase one of her plan was completed. If she could afford the time, she would have sighed and wiped her forehead.
Unfortunately, she had not even a second.
The inside of the mansion was in no way something to let down expectations. She had seen several glimpses of the interior décor, but as her main purpose was to learn the floor layout she did not tarry long on the details. The darkened hall that she entered was obviously intended to overlook the courtyard; several couches lined the walls, with now vacant stands for the rich and sinister to watch whatever horrifying acts might have been put on display for them at the moment. Verra could almost hear the whispered suffering of those that had been defiled in the compound as she moved forth; it was a harrowing sound that caused her to become all the more certain of herself. Darth Vitro would not survive the night.
While the automated defenses of the building could be ignored, there were physical deterrents that she needed to mind. Several laser matrixes had been established in order to block off any intruders from accessing the heart of the mansion and since she could not possibly slim herself to a point of avoiding the X, Y, and Z coordinates all at the same time, she knew that a bit of confrontation would be necessary. Taking the security systems offline for a five minute window would mean disarming the guards in the room. It was a bit of confrontation that she knew she could live with – anyone that assisted such a bloated and disgusting creature in his depravity was beyond redemption.
She moved quickly and with purpose through the halls. Upon nearing the security room she heard a pair of footsteps approaching her. Rather than wait to see who it was, she looked to her left and right, but found that neither direction provided her with an adequate means of escaping from detection. Without anything else to do, Verra jumped upon the wall to her left, felt her feet connect with the surface, and then pushed off to catch her hands against the ceiling. Her legs were brought up then, causing her to practically lay down atop the area above the guards. With the careful grace of a spider, she proceeded over the heads of the chatting Empu’dunz. The language that they spoke was foreign to her, but with the assistance of the Force she could decipher it as she held her position.
“New shipment looks especially promising,” one of the crude aliens said. Their language sounded quite a bit like a nasal infection being cleansed with a large fan.
His companion shrugged. “Not that they’ll look like much when Old Nag’s finished with them.”
“I’ve never been one to turn down scraps,” the former joked. Both took to laughing, or what Verra supposed their laughter sounded like.
Disgusting, she thought. She considered dropping upon them as though the wrath of the Force and being rid of both, but that would be an unnecessary risk and one that might jeopardize the entirety of her mission. Removing the snake’s tail would do no good; she had to cut off its head and watch the entire creature die. Once the two had passed she dropped from the ceiling and continued once more down the hall, her mind singularly focused upon the task of entering the security room and disabling the matrix.
The hall led into a darkened room whose only occupants seemed to be ancient artifacts of some design or another. The HUD flashed with a warning and as she switched her view to one of particle density she was rewarded with a lower security laser network intended to prevent her from progressing further. Unlike the ones that were before Vitro’s inner chambers, these lacked the third dimension of security and thus could be bypassed, albeit with some difficulty. Her body protested slightly as she took a step forth, a reminder that no more than three days before she had been in a rather severe accident. The Force was sustaining her up to that point, but it could not last forever.
Clearing the field would be another exercise in acrobatics, it seemed. Although she was no master of Ataru, it had been Master Doseir’s favored lightsaber combat form and so she understood the basics of it. By utilizing the Force, the practitioner managed to move in ways that normally would have seemed impossible. She adopted that belief once more as she quickly set to work. It would take everything that she knew to cross soundlessly; thankfully, she knew quite a bit.
The first motion was to bend over and touch the floor with her fingers. A soft moan escaped her lips as her previously damaged ribs reminded her of their fragile state, yet determination saw her through the pain. Legs spread slightly to accommodate her dipping motion, she placed her focus upon her arms and held herself steady before gradually taking to a handstand. She twisted as she collapsed from it and landed in the center of one grid, then bridged backwards to cross into another. Her arched back did well to press her torso into the air, preventing her from triggering the nearest beam.
It was all about finger strength from there. Balancing her body against her fingers, her feet slowly touched against the ground before she used the tension in them to push off and come to a stand once more. An overhead beam caused her to duck low and fall to her knees; a position that she was more than comfortable with as she had worked similar maneuvers before from it. She inhaled then, drawing more into herself as she worked her way to her feet while still crouched. A series of forward handsprings, muted as she curled her legs inward, brought her to the end of the room. She sucked in breath to avoid setting off the alarms.
A single, glowing beam of light was before her, nearly at chest level. The catsuit was form-fitted to the point where additional support was not required, which in that moment saved her from tripping the alarm and surely ending her exploits. As it was, her chest came within a millimeter of touching the sensitive trigger, but instead as she dipped backwards and avoided danger. Bent backwards, she steadily progressed beneath the line until she was on the other side. If she ever made it back to the Council she told herself to inform them that female Jedi need not wear brassieres. If they could work with form-fitted attires, then clearly their chances of survival in tight situations would be greatly increased.
The distance between the security room and herself had become negligible after her latest feat of acrobatics. Running at a steady pace, she came to the room and applied a knock to the door. As she was certain the camera would move in her direction she jumped into the air and clung to the ceiling once more. Predictably, a camera did look where she had been before shifting back and forth. Muttering from inside the room sounded and the door slid open as a rather large alien emerged from within. Like the others that she had seen his was a face that was severely desiccated. Tendrils hung from his upper back, and although he was granted with an impressive musculature there came with it a lack of mental wherewithal that she could detect without needing to delve deep into his mind. She dropped down behind the hulking one and tapped him on the shoulder.
“What?” The guardsman asked, almost as though he was genuinely being answered a question. When he turned about he found the black outfitted female was staring intently at him. Surprised and quite certain she shouldn’t have been there he began to shout, but was shocked when her hands began to hit several positions on his body.
The physiology of the creatures was not at all like that of humans; however, her study had shown here where each of their vital organs was, and more importantly the network of nerves that were clustered about them. As her fingers made their final strike she extended her palm and ushered the Force outward to jettison the large one backward and send him slamming into the wall behind him. The strikes that she had applied would render him immobile for the next hour; more than enough time for her to get into Darth Vitro’s room and out. Killing the creature would have been more than likely justified, but a Jedi could not operate on the supposition of fact. His end would come one day, she was certain, but it did not need to be by her hand.
The security room was laid out as she had expected it to be: complex enough to confuse her, simple enough for a trained moron like the one that now convulsed in the hall way to understand. She looked back toward the twitching guard and narrowed her eyes toward him. His mind, all but a sequence of pain at that moment, was hardly the best at preventing her from navigating his knowledge and extracting the information needed. Verra returned her attention to the control panel. After brushing aside the skin holos that were playing with abject disgust, she struck three buttons. A window opened on the screen before her, and once more she entered the same three buttons. A green bar flashed followed by a confirmation that the system would be offline for maintenance.
This was as close as she’d come to getting inside.
It was when she began to leave that she noticed a second screen, depicting the holding cells in which Darth Vitro’s victims were kept. The transit had, after all, been full of potential pleasure-things, which meant that those inside were now part of the reasons he had been able to enter. She thought to release them, but was certain that if she did the guards would become aware and her mission compromised. Her fingers lingered over the necessary codes for several seconds, before she removed them. When Vitro died, surely they would be able to escape. There was no point in senselessly risking their lives or her own.
The stunned Empu’dunz was dragged back into the room and locked within. She glanced about and hurriedly made her way through the deactivated matrix she had just defeated, and then further still toward the network of halls that led to Vitro’s inner chamber. The automated defenses, as expected, did not respond to her presence and she continued forth past a statue of what appeared a kneeling Haur’nii woman, barely clothed.
Verra moved quickly then, certain that the window for her entrance would be a short one. She minded the surroundings as they turned from illustrious to increasingly stone-like and bitter. The drab setting reminded her quite a bit of a dungeon; it was a setting that the videos had prepared her to see. Surely enough when she came to the top of the stairs she was placed within what looked and felt like a room built of nightmares. Overhead, blades swayed back and forth, each tinged faintly in the blood of some innocent. The walls were met with even more devices for torture, some far too grotesque for her to call upon again. She had watched Vitro use nearly all of them – there would be no reason to hesitate when her chance came.
In the center of the room of horrors lay Kaeridan Nag. Although she had not known what his species was when she first saw him, Ban Garus’ notes had informed her that he was a Gu’roh. Although many were much slimmer than he, as they aged they were known to take on a more rotund appearance. Several systems of redundant organs and vestigial flesh created within the hideous creatures a body armor that could not be easily penetrated by most weapons. He slept in a red robe that hung open at the chest, revealing loose and wrinkled flesh. But for however disgusting his appearance may have been, Verra was certain that the truly reprehensible qualities could only be attributed to his mind.
Several body parts of unfortunate victims littered the ground; a leg draped across Nag’s stomach showed that the appendage had outlived the utility of the rest of its owner. Verra fought the urge to vomit as she looked upon the temple of carnage and clenched her hands into fists. She progressed forth with careful, measured steps and continued to walk until she felt her feet touch against the bed upon which the blood-drenched villain rested. Disbelief shown within her pale green eyes as she looked down at him, incapable of understanding just what sort of monster could act with such disregard for life.
She was nearly forced to gasp when his eyes snapped open.
“And what is this?” The Gu’roh Sith Lord said as he looked upon Verra. “A new toy has made her way to my chambers without being requested?” Seemingly unaware of the danger he was in, he allowed his dark green tongue to escape his mouth and caress his fat, chapped lips. “This impetus will have to be reprimanded.”
It would only take a single, well placed slash to end the dark beast’s reign of terror. But just as she thought to draw her lightsaber, she felt pressure slam against her and remove her from the bed. Her back struck harshly against one of the walls, narrowly avoiding a meathook, as Darth Vitro sat up in his bed and rubbed his hands together. Her ribs, long pleading for rest, all but cracked and she was left moaning in pain.
“And just what would your name be, precious?” He slid from the bed then, folds of fat quivering as he settled onto his feet. As a scout Verra had learned to greatly diminish the presence of the Force upon her, so as not to give Sith reason to wonder if she was present or not. It was not a foolproof technique, but unless a person knew to search for her it assisted in diminishing her presence and thus made it difficult to tell that she was a Jedi. The Gu’roh seemed to be unaware of her training. Her eyes widened as he drew closer to her and placed a hand to one of her rounded hips. “My, lovely. Who was it that sent you to kill me, my sweet? After I have sated my… needs, I will be certain to send him a thank you note for his fine choice in… wares.”
Verra recalled the images of the assassin that he had caught last. It was an image that had persisted through her dreams and been before her eyes when she awakened. She felt his hand lift from her hip and brush along her body until it took purchase on her mask. Effortlessly, he pulled down and was given to smile all the more gingerly. His teeth, a collection of shard like chunks, glistened as he spoke.
“You are indeed a lovely one. Oh, I simply must know your name!”
The Sith Lord’s control of the Force was a terrifying thing; in him, she could feel a strength the likes of which she had never before encountered. The feeling of her lightsaber pressing against her back brought her mind to the fore, where she was certain that a reality she did not wish to consider would come about if she did not act. The battered state of her body had to be forgotten; the fear that she felt at being forced into a grisly and gruesome death had to be placed aside. She was a Jedi, trained and talented in the arts of combat. Though the Sith Lord’s presence was a terrifying one, she could not cower. He was a monster.
And she was his slayer.
Just as he had thrown her backward with the Force, so too did she return the favor by expanding her presence and allowing her mastery of the Force be felt. Prepared only to hold a simple woman in place, when the Sith’s hold upon her was met with a greater one, he was thrown backward and back toward his bed. Verra dropped from the wall and cupped her ribs, before narrowing her eyes and closing in upon him. The various scenes that had played out on the screen returned to her mind then, each darker and more gruesome than the last. The sounds; the screams. She would avenge them all as the distance between herself and the winded Gu’roh came to a close.
“Wait!” The Sith Lord shouted.
But it was far too little, far too late.
Verra’s lightsaber snapped from its position at her back onto her hand. She compressed the activation plate, a glowering beam of amber projected from its hilt. She struck outward as she passed by him and came to a sliding halt, her arm extended outward. Stabbing him would have given her too large of a chance to miss one of his vital organs. Cutting him would have been useless with all of the flesh he had guarding him.
For several seconds nothing moved within the room. Verra’s lightsaber continued to hum against the silence. The tense seconds were shattered when a gurgling sound filled the air for a second. Darth Vitro’s head fell away from his body and rolled across the ground. His body followed soon after, dropping to its knees, before a shower of acrid and bromidic blood met the air. The execution had been flawless.
Never again would he harm another living soul.
Verra lowered her lightsaber and deactivated its blade, then returned it to the carrying case. As the plans had detailed, there was an escape route that led into a distant jungle, from which Ban Garus’ attendants would be able to escort her back to the estate. Verra looked back to the fallen Sith Lord, whose blood now puddled, and could not help but feel that she had broken some unspoken code: she had come there with the specific purpose of killing him, regardless of what he had to say. Was that what it meant to be a Shadow? There was the barely legal, and then there was…
She couldn’t allow herself to become overwhelmed with the moment. Mindful of her plight she made her way down the corridor and toward the designated pick up area. She had killed the beast.
But at what cost?