Chapter Two: Indecent Explosion
The information cube that she had been given contained far more than she had expected to find. While Master Doris may have informed her that the Council had prepared for her a history, she did not expect it to be so thorough or quite so convincing. True to his word, he and the others had endeavored to keep her cover as close to her person as possible. Of course, it would be better if she did not have
to lie, but something told her that no matter how stealthy she was she was going to run into a Sith eventually. The best she could hope for was that the situation did not need to end in the loss of a life – at least, not hers.
The holo-cube idled on the latest image that had been selected, one that Verra had never been given much time to study until that moment: herself. Although the color of the projection was more blue than lifelike, she knew well enough her attributes to at the very least fill in those details. Throughout life she had always identified herself as simply “me”, and never attached an image to it beyond that. Vanity, after all, was a trait that the Jedi never placed much value in. Nevertheless, actually seeing herself as others must have was in itself a surprising and intriguing find.
She could understand why it was that people were drawn to her; the Jedi lifestyle had treated her well and created a woman that was physical and emotionally developed. Her hair, rendered near white by the projection, was in reality a platinum blonde and fell to her shoulders. She increased the scaling on her face to zoom the picture in further and found that her cheekbones were elegantly defined and created a near heart-shape appearance if one were to trace from her cheekbones to her delicate, yet well set jaw-line. As with most people from Laebus that she knew, her lips were full and presented a near pouted look to them. When matched with her eyes, noticeably feline and remarkably bright in their green nature, a look that some had referred to as “exotic” was created. The simple admiration of her features caused her to blush, and she touched a hand to her cheek wondering how that must have looked as well. Rather than give into the temptation of looking into a mirror, she zoomed the picture out further and took her entire body into account.
There was still a quality to her appearance that bespoke youth – could it have been the way her bangs naturally rested when not tucked behind an ear? In any event, it contrasted with how “mature” she felt she had become over the years, perhaps it was her close affinity with the Force that delayed the process by which she aged. In truth, she hardly looked over the age of eighteen and that was just a little unsettling! Neverminding her youthful countenance, she was vaguely more familiar with her body’s proportions. A Jedi needed to be constantly aware of their person, and more importantly how to improve it. Rigorous training had trimmed her into a slender person, and although biology seemed to favor her maintaining the modestly curvaceous physique of a woman not quite as physically active as she was, she nevertheless fought to slim and tone as much as she could.
Having to ask Master Doseir if there was a way to keep certain parts of her body from interfering with her training had been one of the most awkward and embarrassing moments of her life, but by the same token as she looked back on the incident and recalled just how flustered he had been as well, she could not help but laugh. It was a sound that she noticed she had been given less reason to share as the days went on, and she savored it in an almost sorrowful manner as the memory of her fallen mentor returned to her.
She would have given anything to be at the temple when the Sith landed; would have done anything to be able to fight by his side and protect him from whichever soulless fiend had stricken him down. Although the Jedi were told not to form attachments, the bond between master and apprentice was not one easily forgotten. In losing Master Doseir she felt as though she had lost a part of herself, and the anger that was born from it was so pure and real that she forced herself not to delve deeper into it less she cross a bridge that need not be crossed. Even then, in the middle of unknown space, she could feel herself heating. It would be better to think of something else – the last thing she needed to do was enter her mission with hatred on her mind.
The holo-cube was manipulated once more, its surface touched to scroll her picture off of its projected screen and bring up the cover story that she had been presented with. With the lingering thoughts of her former master on her mind, she tried her best to calm and study what could very well be her saving grace should she be discovered by the Sith. If nothing else, it gave her mind something productive to focus upon.
In a way, it was eerie to see how close their artful depiction came to life. She was Verra So’Quan, Jedi Knight and former apprentice of Master Ophirus Doseir. Born on a small mid-rim planet named Laebus Majora, she was discovered to be Force Sensitive at the age of two and sent to live with the Jedi. Her training went remarkably well and excepting notes of aggression that were slowly removed from her, she was an ideal student. After becoming a Knight, she fought in several engagements against local militia before being assigned to Alderaan where she witnessed the return of the Sith Empire. In all, the factors that led up to the present seemed to be relatively precise.
And it was then that fiction entered the picture.
Following the Republic’s defeats on Alderaan she became disenchanted, fleeing into the wilds after Coruscant fell. Aware of the Republic’s weakened position and filled with rage, she engaged a fellow Jedi in a heated duel that left the latter dead. Incapable of reconciling herself with the Council, she fled into Sith Space. It would be with this cover, as a Dark Jedi, that she would have to hope that the Sith would give her more than a second glance before tearing her to pieces. Various contact information was filled in, referring to her travels and those that she met, no doubt people that the Council had informed to support her should they have been contacted for verification of her identity. While the fanciful end of the report should have made her laugh, it did anything but. It was troubling just how close to the truth it was.
Certainly she had not turned away from the Council – she could never do that. But she did feel that they had betrayed her, Master Doseir, and the many Jedi that fell during the sacking. Had the Jedi stood tall against the demands of the Sith then perhaps more would have died, but theirs would not be a name besmirched by capitulation in the face of their adversary. Pride, she knew, was a terrible thing, but pride was what separated her from a droid. She may not have cast aside her allegiance to the Republic, but she could understand how someone might do just that when faced with the glaring reality that the Council had failed them. Master Doris had not been incorrect: they truly had created a persona that she could play.
The starship that she had been given to travel into Sith Space was not necessarily the most non-descript. Sleek and fast, while it had been deprived of its Republic markings it was quite clearly a ship of their make. Perhaps she would state that she had stolen it from the Jedi before she went rogue? Whereas normally she would have avoided lying if at all possible, that trait would have to be the first to go when it came to tracking down Zi’los. The cube had given her tertiary information about the man, but something told her that knowing where he came from or the name of his master would not matter much in the grand scheme of things. Her best course of action would be to get into Thorne IV, find him, and get out. Any dallying only increased the chances of her being exposed and subsequently lost in the same manner that he had been.
And something about the look in Master Doris’ eyes told her they would not be sending a Shadow to rescue her.
The holo-cube contained other pertinent information to her mission, namely that dealing with Thorne IV. The entirety of Sith space was entirely foreign to her, and she supposed that Master Doris had been correct when he stated that ignorance was an illness the Jedi shared. To think that all of the time spent dealing with miniscule and superficial threats could have been applied to the more pernicious and real dangers of the Sith was a mark against the Council that she knew they felt just as smartly as she did. They should have been prepared; they had allowed their arrogance to deceive them into a state of inactivity that their adversaries had not been loath to exploit.
She sifted through the information data banks until a comprehensive view of the planet was offered. As she had been more interested in conversation than pictures when she spoke with Master Doris she had not paid much mind to the planet’s topography, but upon looking at it she found that the swirling image was composed of several cities, with vegetation and ocean running between them. The holo-cube projected a second screen, upon which more detailed information would be learned.
Region: Sith Space
System: Explois system
Suns: 1 – Desol (Major)
Moons: 2 – Destos ; Feran
Grid Coordinates: X-12
Rotation: 27 hours
Orbit: 397 days (projected).
Diameter: 24,800 km
Primary terrain: Plains ; Forest ; Hills ; Mountains ; Ocean ; Cities
Points of interest: Magestus City
Native species: Unknown
Immigrated species: Sith Hybrids ; Humans ; Unknown species
Primary language(s): Galactic Basic
Government: Sith Empire
Population: Unknown, Projected – 7-9 billion.
Major cities: Magestus ; Feora ; Glasael
Major imports: Rare metals
For a single Jedi working within a hostile environment, Verra was impressed with how much information Master Zi’los had gathered. Most of the information would mean little for her search, but to the larger mission of informing the Jedi of the Sith presence, it was invaluable. As Magestus had been twice mentioned she could only assume that was the location Master Zi’los had spent most of his time studying. If there were to be any easily gleaned clues as to his whereabouts, surely that would be the location to check.
Her mind returned to Master Zi’los then, a man whose name still meant relatively nothing to her. Try as she might to summon up the memory of who he might be, she simply could not place a face to his name. She manipulated the cube once more and was rewarded with several screens opening, before she selected the one in which a human male looked back at her. She supposed it made sense that humans were selected primarily as Shadows; other species being within Sith Space would be all the more noteworthy and compromise any attempt at integrating into the system.
There was something vaguely familiar about the brunette man whose image loomed before her. He held the appearance of a Jedi trained in combat for more years than she had existed; a sign of distinction and respect within the Order to be sure. His hair ended at the nape of his neck and was curled for the most part, creating upon him a further dignified look. How it was that she could not have known such an impressive man, whose chin was set as though made of stone and features chiseled into perfection, was beyond her. Had she perhaps seen him on the front lines and that explained his familiarity? If so, he had not left any noticeable impression on her then, but she certainly could tell a thing or two about him now.
The image of the man shifted as she scrolled her thumb to the side of the holo-cube and was presented with his background information. Born on Dantooine, he was the son of farmers that was found to be gifted with the Force. Apprenticed under Master Solaq Dalwes, he too was known for spates of aggression and more importantly, had incidents where he caused his training to be momentarily suspended. Nevertheless he eventually became a Knight and from there, entered the same rigorous combat training that she had. More importantly, he had been at the sacking of Coruscant and survived through the mayhem that ensued.
She could only imagine what he must have felt when he was within Sith space.
The hyperdrive upon her starship began to beep, indicating that they were coming to the end of a hyperlane. While she knew that she should have been anxious for what was to follow, she was not at all overcome with emotion as the white and black lines of diffusion began to fade away and suddenly came to an abrupt halt, landing her in the middle of inky darkness. Even before her happenstance promotion to Shadow she had been known to venture behind enemy lines to ascertain as much information as possible; this was the same, but on a larger scale. Of course, there would be no company of eager troopers prepared to rescue her should she meet with a snag, but she could live with that as well.
Thorne IV loomed in the distance, a majestic and impressive sight to behold if one ignored the fact that teeming upon its surface was the blight of the galaxy. The on-board system had flashed with several ports that could be approached, and since she had relatively reliable access codes she supposed it would be best to select Magestus Prime and see where it took her. Thus far Master Zi’los advice had been spot on, what reason did she have to doubt him further? She transmitted the codes ahead and continued forth at sublight speed, waiting for confirmation to return and thus guide her into the port. At worst she might be questioned as to how she had discovered the location, but prevarication could answer that quandary. Everything would be alright.
Or, it’d go horribly wrong.
“Docking codes denied,” a voice announced over her intercom. Her brows furrowed, Verra began to search through the cube for any note that might indicate difficulty when using the system in question. Considering that nothing immediately sprang to the fore, she ground her teeth and attempted to resend the code.
“Docking codes denied,” the voice repeated. “Reduce travel speed and await interception from sector security forces.”
So perhaps everything wouldn’t be alright. The thought to try running the planet’s defenses came to mind, but as she had seen Imperial starships shred Republican vessels, she did not doubt that her current skiff would be capable of doing little when faced with the planetary defenses of an area seemingly aware that someone might have been trying to infiltrate. Patience would win out in this situation, and she complied by reducing the thrust of her vehicle and bringing it to a near crawling speed. The Council had, after all, given her a cover story. Why not start out her visit by breaking it in?
A deep, guttural voice emerged over her intercom. “Hold position until we have secured your vessel,” it commanded. While Verra had heard many voices and dialects before, the one in question was one that surprised her. She looked toward her scanner and saw a trio of ships approaching her from the left. One broke away from the others and began circling wide to approach her from the other side when the time came. She drew her breath in and sat back against the seat. There was nothing to do now but wait.
As her ship was a Republic navy vehicle, it was outfitted with sensors that responded when an armed vessel targeted it. Verra blinked but for a second when the sensor pinged, and then looked back to her scanner to see that the ships had assumed a definitive attack formation. While it may have been tempting to try to convince the Sith that she was not the enemy, her gut told her that it would be valuable seconds lost in the face of their approach. Mindful of the single ship that had taken a wide turn to encircle her, she ignited the starship’s thrusters and pitched herself diagonally away from the two ships and brought herself strafing before the one. Not surprisingly, the ships accelerated after her.
“Hold your position,” the guttural one called over her intercom once more, though this time with much more malice than had previously been present. “You are within Sith Space, surrender your vehicle at once.”
“Pardon my candor,” Verra replied to the assumed leader, “but I do not think armed weapons are necessary when detaining a person.”
“You will hold your position until you are secured!”
“I don’t think so.”
A space battle over Thorne IV was not exactly the best way to make her entrance, but when faced with it or death she knew that she had but one choice. The starship responded with less finesse than she would have liked, but as she switched on the combat systems she realized that she would have to make do with what she had on hand. The solitary ship would have to be her initial target; partially separated as it was, it would provide the least amount of defense and its elimination would less pressure on her. She placed her starship into a hard roll that brought it about in an arch that once more crossed her before the other ship’s cannons. Predictably it unleashed its forward payload, but she accelerated within the turn and spun harshly to enter a twirl that cleared her from its path of attack. The maneuver was sloppier than she would have liked, but the solitary ship was hardly in position to capitalize on her perfectionism. With a compressing of the ship’s triggers, a flurry of lasers broke free of her cannons and lacerated the enemy’s vessel. In the blink of an eye it exploded and she was free to turn her ship around to face the two approaching vehicles.
Things were going to become all the more difficult now.
The ship’s on-board system informed her of the seconds that it would take to be within weapon’s lock. While some Jedi preferred not to mind their systems, she had learned that the Force was not something to be used as a “weapon” because it was more advantageous. When times were difficult, yes, the Force would provide answers, but the technological advantages of mankind were nothing to be ignored on whim. Rather than select one or the other she opted on both as she closed in upon the enemy ships. Sensing the enemy’s desire to fire as best she could, she banked to her left and accelerated as a stream of laser fire tore through where she had previously been. The starship was placed into another roll, but rather than break free of it and make a run, she instead dipped forth and brought herself into a fish-hooking pattern that removed her from the immediate sights of the Sith starfighters.
The braking on her starship failed to properly punctuate her maneuver and as she emerged from the dip, she nearly overshot her mark. A blast from one of the enemy ships nicked her wing, causing her to enter a spin that sent various klaxons ablaze in her cockpit. Gripping her throttle as best she could, she fought to steer herself out of the “deadman’s spin” before the ships made a second pass and finished their precursory assault. Verra lowered her eyes to the sensors and saw that both ships were closing in upon her. With a final shove forth, she brought free of the turbulent spin and favored her uninjured wing for a turn to face them once more.
Two ships against one, she was fairly certain that she could not prevail. The Sith fighters were not at all inexperienced and their armoring was good enough to prevent superficial damage from having lasting effects. Had she not met the other ship at a cross section, in fact, she was quite certain that it would have survived her attack. These two, she was sure, would not fall for the same tactic as had done their ally in.
“This is your last chance to stand down,” the guttural voice commanded once more. “If you do not, you will be obliterated.”
And after killing their comrade she’d be treated to tea? While she knew that the Sith were callous and reprehensible people, she did not doubt they would allow a personal slight to go unpunished. Regardless of how badly things could have gone for her if she did not acquiesce to their demands, she knew that the Sith were disgusting beasts that had to be put down. The Council had made the mistake of negotiating with them and it left countless lives unavenged; she would not make that same mistake.
Against her better judgment, Verra accelerated the starfighter once more and brought it around to face the two approaching Sith ships. Their distance quickly approached weapon range and while she knew she could make another daring attempt to outflank them, she instead compressed her triggers and from her stationary position unleashed as many shots as she could in their direction before they entered an accurate distance of striking. The lead ship broke away from its lesser as several of the laser bolts grazed its surface and Verra, in a predatory state, instantly went for the throat.
Sluggish or not, her starfighter’s takeoff was timed perfectly against the lone Sith ship that continued to approach her. She drifted to her side and entered a side-winding spin that cleared her of its range. Though it physically hurt her to make the turn that followed, she cleared it and bore in upon the side of the ship with as much intensity as she could muster from her fighter’s cannons. It placed a noticeable dent into the other ship’s side that sent it careening off course and with a final blast ruptured its shields and sent an explosion into the darkness about her. Parting the conflagration, she glanced to her monitor and saw that only one ship remained. Things would be much easier from that point forth.
The alpha fighter was in no way an inexperienced pilot. Although Verra had the Force on her side, the latter was gifted with experience and confidence in his stride. Several times she attempted to lock onto him only for the other to enter a looping series of evasive maneuvers that nearly landed him behind her an in a primed position to make short work of the Jedi. Back and forth they jockeyed for position upon the other, yet nearly quite able to fall into pattern. Try as he might to assault Verra from behind, the Jedi refused to allow herself to be taken unprepared – conversely, each time she went for his head, he expertly deflected her advances.
But the game came to a sudden end when her sensors began to read that more ships were approaching, and these were undoubtedly more seasoned in their training. Uncomfortable with the idea of taking on multiple targets at once, she looked back toward Thorne IV and then to the sensor. There would only be one feasible chance of escaping the confrontation alive, and that would mean leaving the alpha and making a dash for the planet. Shredded by planetary defenses or not; she would certainly be killed if she waited for the approaching cavalcade to mount their defenses against her.
“You’ll never make it,” the alpha announced. “Surrender now and allow me to claim this kill for my record.”
“And what would be the fun in that?” Verra asked hotly as she broke away from the game of cat and mouse and headed directly for the planet. Several times her monitor informed her that the other ship was attempting to lock in upon her, but she ignored it and placed all of her speed into outrunning him. Comfortably behind her as he was, he failed to find an opening secure enough to exploit, and was forced to stream in behind her as she made her suicidal charge.
Thorne IV grew ever closer and she was certain that the pursuing Sith was hot on her tail. She broke sharply then, her ship veering as a jarring sensation washed over her. Yet her senses remained intact and as the Sith passed by her, she compressed her trigger and highlighted the underside of his ship with rapacious laser fire. As his ship exploded she saw him jettison from it in his environmental suit. Unfortunate as it was that he lived, she knew she could not dally to try and claim a merciless kill. After all, Jedi did not kill unarmed opponents.
Verra increased the speed upon her starfighter once more and brought it barreling toward Thorne’s atmosphere. Several warnings projected themselves on the monitor before her, but she ignored them and clenched her jaw. If the Force wanted her to succeed with this mission, then it would see her through the incoming storm of fire.
The density of gravity nearly tore her starfighter asunder as she began to breach the atmosphere. The atmospheric reentry was perhaps the worst she had ever experienced and both bones and teeth were sent to shaking as she fought to maintain control over her ship. Its sensors continued to off, warning her against proceeding at her current speed, but just as she thought to decrease it she was reminded as to why she had entered so sharply – the planetary defenses were active.
Immense laser fire showered past her as she twisted and turned her ship in hopes of clearing the majority of the cluster; however, it was a cause lost as with each evasion she made the defenses honed in more acutely upon her. The damaged wing of her starfighter gave away under the excruciating pressure placed against it, and instantly she was sent into a hopeless spin. Lasers continued to streak past her, but their task would soon be accomplished by gravity as she went spiraling toward the ground.
This could not have been the way she was intended to die, she told herself. If the Force had wanted her to perish in combat, then there were countless times she could have done so while fighting the Sith in Republic space. But out here, alone – abandoned? She would bring honor to nothing and provide no one with use in her demise. Not even Master Zi’los, who depended on her for emancipation, would know that she had fallen.
That thought was the final one she had as one of the defense’s lasers slammed directly into her starfighter and penetrated its shields, exploding in her ears with such an indecent resonance that it sent her drifting into a distant and foreboding darkness.