The Seppies call it the "Skywalker" and CT-7567 is unfortunate enough to be the captain of the recon unit to find it in the sands of Tatooine, a no-name backwater Outer Rim planet of no consequence.
It looks like your usual remote base, at first. Why the Seps had chosen Tatooine for their playing ground, no one had been able to figure out until that point. Tatooine had nothing but sand on it. No metals, no gasses, nothing to power their droid factories. Hell, something about the planet's atmosphere was just on the wrong side of corrosive as it is, so even if the Seppies decided to slap a factory down in some canyon or where-ever, chances are that it would be nothing but a sandy pit of rust in less than a year.
And yet there is; a base and not in a sensible canyon like CT-7567 had expected, no. It's out there in what the locals call the Dune Sea, where no one in their right mind goes, apparently. It's not only one of the hottest liveable zones of the planet, but it's one of the most unstable too. Infested with sand worms, sarlaccs and primitive local raiders and worse things, it's not a place one might safely visit, never mind build on. But the Seps had done just that, building their facilities right there, on the shifting sand.
"There can't be any stable ground under those things," Ct-5555 says uneasily, as they peer through their sights and binoculars at the strange, illogical facility. "It's nothing but sand for hundreds of meters down – why would they build a facility here? Especially when that place, the Jundland Wastes, is so close by."
"There's got to be some reason why here, specifically," CT-782 says.
"And that's what we're here to figure out," CT-7567 says and lowers his macrobinoculars, peering up at the sky instead. The suns have finally set and the desert is growing increasingly darker and colder around them, thin mist rising from the previously hot sands. It's not much in way of cover out there in the open dunes but... it would have to do. "Time to move out."
For a secret Sept base – and they're working hard to keep the place secret too – the place is both strangely small and strangely full of activity. All day shipments of something had been coming in and empty haulers had headed out, and not towards any local settlements or even at the sky – rather, they'd came and returned from further into the sandy wastes. It's almost as if they're mining or digging something in the desert, but what… that was anyone's guess. There should be nothing worth mining on Tatooine.
Still, the level of secrecy and the high security codes all transmissions about this place were wrapped in... It made a clone mighty curious.
They move in on the facility from amidst the dunes, hugging their shapes as close as they can. As they get closer, CT-7567 finds how right they were about the facility – it is build on some very unstable ground and hastily at that. There are some sandstone structures that have been pitched up around the walls to try and prop them up, but it's obvious they don't have any sort of solid foundation – the whole structure is listing to the side, with a swell of a dyne growing on the windward side.
"One good explosion and that thing goes down like house of sabacc cards," CT-782 mutters.
"Yeah – won't even take much. One small explosive under any of those walls and it'll come crashing down," CT-1408 mutters.
"Yeah, that's what I said."
"Anyone see sensors?" CT-7567 says.
"Just cameras, sir," CT-782 says. "And even those look like they're covered in sand. I don't think they're expecting company."
"Let's move in, then."
It's mostly droids in the place, but there are some living beings too – humans, all of them. One of those operations, then, CT-7567 thinks grimly. The extra secret facilities, the purpose for which somehow always ended up more or less a mystery. Weapons experiments, maybe, though no one could ever quite figure it out. There was something off about the places every time, though, and it wasn't just the weird humanocentric speciesism.
"Sir," CT-5555 whispers to his way as they make their way to the side of the main building. "Here – the wall's cracked, I think you can just about see inside."
CT-7567 inches closer and while the others cover for him, he peers inside. More droids and more people, going about checking monitors and readouts and –
In the middle of the warehouse there is something sticking out of the sand. At first he thinks it's some sort of rock formation, a pillar of stone, something like that – it's the same colour and roughly the same texture as the sand all around them. Except, it isn't – it's too… uniform. And smooth. Definitely not a mere natural rock formation.
With an uneasy suspicion, CT-7567 leans back a little. "Sonic," he says, holding out a hand. Someone puts the thing in his hand and quickly he inches the sensor in through the crack in the wall, where the shifting of the sand beneath them had pulled the wall plates apart. Gently he eases the sonic sensor into the sand and then, making a hand motion to make everyone ready in case they have sensors of their own, he presses the activator.
Three quick pulses, and the screen on the sensor reveals them what's buried in the sand – what the Seps had found.
"Shit," CT-782 murmurs, his eyes going wide as they all lean in to look at the faintly glowing screen, grainy around the very solid object imbedded within. "Is – is that…?"
It is enormous and what they are seeing of it inside the facility is only a small fraction of it. Rest of it is buried underneath the sand, where it continues until it is out of the sonic sensor's range. A creature as big as a mid sized freighter and bigger – and though CT-7567 can't claim to be an expert, even he knows what the strange protrusions on the sides and top are. Fins or maybe wings so big they only barely fit within the scan, glowing with power even on mere sonic sensor reading.
"It's a Jedi," CT-5555 breathes in wonder.
CT-7567 grits his teeth and pulls the sonic sensor back. This recon mission just got hundred times more complicated.
There is no way they are getting backup to Tatooine on time. Sure, they could retreat, hope that whatever the Seppies are doing to the Jedi isn't that dangerous and then wait safely for back-up to take the facility and secure the Jedi once they had more men… But it's a Jedi. You don't turn your back to a Jedi and then just hope for the best.
And whatever the Seps are doing, it can't be good. The Jedi are… the Jedi. They're supposed to be unsusceptible, utterly beyond manipulations from, well, lesser beings like people. To have captured one is pretty much unheard of, but the Seppies haven't just captured this one – they're feeding it something somehow. Whatever they're bringing back from the desert, it's being mixed in with chemicals and practically poured down on the Jedi though a shaft that goes into the sand and down to it's main body. It's beyond disturbing.
"We have to save it," CT-5555 says anxiously. "I mean – obviously. Don't we?"
"Hmm," CT-7567 runs a hand over his chin, thinking hard. So far they've seen about twenty humans and what looks like at least a hundred droids, most of them battle droids – and that's excluding the freighter crews. There's only four of them. There is little chance of them taking the facility with just four men.
The only advantage they have here is that the Seppies don't know they're there, yet – and the humans look like scientists, not combatants.
"Have you ever seen one, before?" CT-1408 asks. "Are they all so big?"
"I haven't ever seen one. Honestly, I expected them to be bigger," CT-7567 admits. There'd been two of them in Geonosis, when the shit had really hit the fan, and from what he'd heard from clones who survived that mess, the Jedi were so big they blocked out the sun, but… Well, they had a lot of tales about Geonosis, each one more horrific than the last.
"Sir," CT-782 says, nodding at the walls. "Best chance we have at taking this place is if we blow up the building. Like CT-5555 and CT-1408 said… all it will take is little knock and these things will come down. After that…"
"No. We'd risk harming the Jedi," CT-7567 says grimly. Even if it's just one… fin or whatever it is that's actually poking out of the ground, he doubts the Jedi would thank them if they collapsed a building on top of it.
"Maybe one of the side buildings?" CT-5555 suggests. "We could blow up one of the ware houses to create a distraction."
CT-7567 thinks about it for a moment and then looks up. It's almost pitch black now, and what moons Tatooine has aren't out tonight. It's… pretty damn dark.
"Let's try that – and while we're at it, lets take out whatever passes for a power generator out here," CT-7567 says and looks at the others grimly. "Our chances aren't goof, though. I'm going to send a message back to the main fleet; worst case scenario they should get it before the Seps finish here. But… let's try not to die out there."
"Sir," the others salute, quietly – and then they all freeze in places.
I think I like you.
"I just heard –" CT-1408 frowns and looks around. "Someone said they like me?"
"I heard it too," CT-5555 says and grips his gun tighter as he glances around. "That – wasn't a voice, was it?"
They all wait silently for the other shoe to drop, CT-7567 gripping his carbine blaster rifle tighter. It wasn't a voice, it came from between his own ears, not from without – and the helmet HUD didn't register any audio. And it had felt – genuine. Blatantly, overwhelmingly genuine.
There are telepathic species out there, though he hadn't expected to find one here. And this felt… this felt…
Nothing. There's no more words, no more silent communications, just a lingering sense of interest and as if someone out there is listening.
"Sir?" CT-5555 asks quietly.
"Let's get a move on," CT-7567 says quietly. "We have a Jedi to rescue."
The rescue goes about as well as expected. The distraction explosion does the opposite of what they want. More used to battlefield situations where everyone present is an active combatant, the clones expect the people from the facility to run towards the explosion – and they don't. The droids do, which at least is something, but the people go to ground – they go underground.
Taking out the power generator turns out to be not an option at all – the thing is under ground, with the Jedi.
Worse yet, the power generator is the Jedi.
"They've build a power grid around it," CT-5555 says once they've cleared out the droids and managed to make their way to an actual terminal to have a look at the facility's systems. "It's feeding of its – uh, fins? From the, uh, glowy-bits anyway. Apparently they produce electricity, among other things."
"Somehow I didn't think I could hate the Seps more, and yet here we are," CT-782 mutters.
"Well, we've cleared out the droids," CT-7567 mutters. "Let's go clear out the people."
Of course, it turns out that the people have dismantled the elevator that goes down into the sand, and into the Jedi. "Great," CT-782 mutters, when they hear it again.
Hurry. They're doing something. I don't like it.
"I heard it again," CT-1408 says, his eyes wide. "It said –"
"We all heard it," CT-5555 says, also wide eyed.
CT-7567 shares a look with his brothers and presses his lips tight together to keep from saying it out loud.
"D-do you think that is…?" CT-782 trails off, looking down at the hole.
"I think we need to get down there," CT-7567 says, while taking out a smoke grenade and lopping it down into the shaft. They peer down and then listen to the sweet cacophony of dismayed shouts coming from below. "Right," CT-7567 says, while taking out the hook shot attachment and clipping it onto his rifle. "That should buy us a clear landing. Cables, everyone. And watch your six, I have a feeling the people down there aren't going down without a fight."
And they don't, either. The moment the first one of the clones reaches the bottom, there's blaster fire – though thankfully with the smoke filling most of the shaft and spilling from it into the tunnels below, most of it is wildly off.
There's no more talking for good ten minutes, as the clones clear out the opposition at the shaft bottom. Then, in tense radio silence, they press ahead.
And right up to the Jedi.
"Oh –" CT-5555 breathes in the com channel.
CT-7567 takes a moment to just stare. He's seen big creatures – most notably the many ocean creatures of Mon Calamari and of Naboo's underground oceans. There is something… different about the Jedi, though, and it's not even just the knowledge that's a Jedi and can go into space. Even looking at this small stretch of it, sand coloured plates of some sort of natural armour, there is a sensation of vastness about it that goes beyond size.
This is a creature that can – and maybe has – lived for thousands of years. A creature with intelligence that goes beyond understanding, with powers people still don't know much about. It's… hard to wrap one's mind around it.
You need to hurry.
"Sir –" CT-1408
"I heard it," CT-7567 says and then shakes the lingering awe off. There's no time for it. "Come on. There should still be twelve of these bastards left."
"Twenty-one of them," CT-7567 corrects himself. "Get a move on."
They push forward – and right into the Jedi. Of course, they knew – everyone knew – that the Jedi were kind of like ships, they had open spaces inside them, but it was different thing to know about it and to go actually into one. And unlike everyone had always speculated – no, it's nothing like being inside a space ship.
This is a living being. The floor under them is just slightly soft under their feet, the walls are irregular and woven with veins, and there is a distant thrum of what CT-7567 first thinks are the strangest sounding engines he's ever heard… but, no, of course not. Not engines. Organs.
They're listening to the internal workings of a Jedi and CT-7567 at least knows he's not going to forget the sound anytime soon.
Then they've got contact. A human female holding a blaster in shaking hands, her face pale and eyes wide.
"You must stop," she says, shaky and anxious. "You can't shoot here, not here, please don't fire your blasters here!"
Oh. A Sep with a consciousness, how quaint. "Put it down," CT-7567 orders – and surprisingly enough, she does, all but throwing the blaster down onto the squishy floor. "What's going on here?" CT-7567 demands while motioning CT-5555 and CT-782 to go ahead. "This is a Jedi – how did you capture it?"
"We, uh," she hesitates, her hands held up. "Well it's a long story – no, no, no you can't, you can't go in there," she then says quickly, stepping in the way, trying to block them from continuing. "There's – self defence mechanisms down there, they're active, if you go down there –"
They're lying. You need to hurry.
The woman's eyes widen and she looks up in wonder – just before CT-782 catches her and gets her hands behind her back. Split of a second later, she's secured, flailing and desperate but unable to do much more than that.
"Trying to stall us," CT-7567 says grimly. "Hmph. Let's push on."
She's not the only one trying to stall them. There's another scientist not much behind her, and another after that, both of whom try to very badly hold them back, and give time to whoever is up ahead.
The fourth one resorts to worse tactics – and finally takes a shot at them. He's hiding behind the curve of the organic corridor, aiming carefully – and still managed to miss CT-782's centre mass, hitting him on the shoulder instead. And while CT-782 flails in pain the blaster bolts continues its way down the corridor – where it sinks into the soft, squishy wall.
There is a feeling like someone had just put a death stick out on his insides, a twinge of burning, sizzling pain. CT-7567 ignores it, putting up his gun and aiming, but CT-782 is already throwing himself at the shooter, wrestling the rifle away from him and throwing it away.
"I think we need to hurry," CT-1408 says uneasily, hand on his stomach. So he felt it too.
"Knock him out," CT-7567 orders, and CT-782 does it with great pleasure. Strangest of all, CT-7567 almost feels the enjoyment he gets out of knocking the shooter across the temple with his rifle butt.
"Can you manage with that arm?" CT-1408 asks.
"I've had worse," CT-782 says grimly, and they push forward.
And then they see what the Seps have done with the Jedi. And sure, none of them actually know what a Jedi is supposed to look like from the inside, even though there have been people who've been given that privilege they've never brought back pictures, but this…
Something tells CT-7567 they're in some sort of nerve centre. There is a wide open space where the floor is interspaced with bluish veins and the walls around them arch upwards, forming an arched, almost grandiose chamber. And in that chamber, there are terminals. Artificial, metallic, mechanic terminals, imbedded into the soft floor of the chamber, with cables running into the bluish veins, needles imbedded into the walls.
That's where the rest of the scientists are, hurriedly working at those terminals, trying to desperately do something and, judging by the looks of their anxious faces, failing at it.
"S-Stop right there," one of them says, aiming a blaster at them. "Don't take a step closer, I mean it, I will shoot, I will -"
Stop them !
CT-7567 moves before he even realises it – and the few people holding blasters don't fire, of course not. They don't go down without a fight, naturally, flailing and throwing feeble punches, but these are techies and scientists, not soldiers. Taking them down isn't even difficult.
"See what they were doing," CT-7567 orders CT-5555 while he and the others bind up the scientists and corral them to the side where they, hopefully, won't be able to do any harm.
"Right," CT-5555 says and moves to the consoles, looking over them. He glances at few of the terminals and scowls. "I think they were trying to jumpstart a hyper drive. Or maybe a self destruct, I'm not sure."
"Not – not a hyper drive," one of the scientist says. "You fool, the Skywalker doesn't use something as primitive hyper drives. The Skywalker jump between –" another scientist elbows him hard to the side and he stops, but he's still glaring.
"The Skywalker?" CT-7567 asks dubiously. No one answers him, they all just stare at him mutinously, so he lifts his carbine meaningfully. "Someone answer me, now."
"You wouldn't fire that here," one of the scientists mutters resentfully.
"No, but I will beat the truth out of you with this stock here," CT-7567 promises grimly. "You have five seconds to comply."
There's a moment of silence before one of the scientist takes his word for it and grinds out, "it's the creature. Its designation is the Skywalker." After which he too is elbowed by his compatriots – and then voice echoes in their heads and they all go quiet.
I am not a creature and my name is Anakin, the Jedi says harshly.
CT-7567's knees buckle a little under the sheer vastness of the Jedi's anger and he's not only one – CT-5555 actually clutches at his head, wincing. The scientists all go pale and deathly silent, looking up in horror.
"It's awake," one of them whispers.
"It wasn't supposed to be intelligent yet," another says, sounding just as hushed and scared.
"What?" CT-7567 asks sharply. "Not supposed to be intelligent yet? What is that supposed to mean? You mean this is –" he stops and looks upwards, at the organic ceiling above them.
It is… a lot smaller than he'd expected Jedi to be. What was it that they said about the two in Geonosis, that they were bigger than cruisers? The Jedi are the largest living creatures in existence, he'd heard that one a thousand times. And this one, Anakin, is barely bigger than freighter. But then that means…
"Shit," CT-5555 whispers. "This thing is a kid? You captured a Jedi child?"
"I didn't even know they had kids," CT-1408 says and then frowns. "Though I guess it makes sense that they do, huh. It's not like the Jedi come out of shipyards…"
"How the hell did you capture A Jedi kid?" CT-782 demands in horror.
"We didn't capture it – we found it," one of the scientists says and shakes off the elbowing of his compatriots. "Right here, buried in the sand. We determined they grow by feeding off small granules of minerals and metals - the smaller, the better. They also need some forms of radiation, especially UV radiation. So, sand on a sunny planet is ideal growth medium for the creatures, especially when young – though, Tatooine has a dearth of minerals which is why –"
One of his fellows elbows him in the throat and his spiel ends in a wheeze and harsh bout of coughing.
"… right," CT-7567 says darkly. "And while feeding it – feeding Anakin – with sand, you fed some other things too, right? And installed these," he motions at the consolers. "You put terminals and monitors inside a Jedi. You were trying to control a Jedi."
"Who the hell do you think you are?" CT-782 asks harshly.
"Oh, please," one of the scientists says derisively. "The Jedi aren't gods, they're nothing but organic space ships! We've let them roam loose whichever way they want for centuries, and they've been no use to anyone – it's time we put them into work, it's time we make something out of them and – " he too is silenced by one of his fellow scientists, one of whom almost rams into him to get him to shut up, but the words are already out.
The clones stare at him in stunned silence, and so do some of the scientists, most of whom don't seem to share his views, at least not in their entirety. None of them argue, though, which is telling. Terrible, and telling. Damn Seperatists.
Then Anakin's uncertainty brushes against their minds and CT-7567 glances up.
What's a Jedi? the Jedi asks.
And that's a whole different mess, isn't it?