The bunker was nestled in the bowels of the Undercity. Unlike the Eternal City, Undercity had always been an untidy sprawling mess. Mounds of rubble and rubbish covered the floor, of which the once-beautiful tiles had long ago cracked and splintered so many times that they appeared indistinguishable from the debris piled on top of them. The surrounding buildings were dilapidated and filthy. Pipes were in terrible disrepair and leaked their contents all over the ground—whether fresh water or dirty. The copper filaments of wires spilled out of their insulated sleeves, exposing passersby to the electricity they carried.
Garbage disposal systems had long since fallen out of repair, and most bins and disposal sites were overflowing, and infested with pests who were never shy to enter occupied tenements and spread rot and disease.
Well, over the past few days, this was quickly becoming the state of all once-civilized areas of Zakuul, but the Undercity remained a particularly dense hive of lawlessness and disrepair.
And this particular bunker was the main hideout and stronghold of the most notorious of all the criminals who operated on the planet: The Lady of Sorrows. This was where she housed the most critical of her secrets and treasures, chief among which was her backup; insurance for the eventuality of her primary physical unit being rendered inoperable. Few were allowed here; droids entering had to endure the most stringent of scans before being allowed to pass and the base was heavily shielded from communication and holonet signals. All information had to be physically brought in by her agent, the one single organic who was allowed inside; the Nautolan woman called Thea.
A recent addition was a large throne, a replica of the one that had sat in the Imperial Spire for three hundred years. But this one was designed less for comfort—the Lady didn’t need any—and more for functionality; in particular it had supercomputer processors that allowed it to work even faster than the original unit and precisely control an infinitely larger army of mechanical servants.
The Lady of Sorrows—or SCORPIO, as she was known as to many others in the Galaxy—had initially intended to exist primarily in the GEMINI network until this throne had been perfected, but Vaylin’s explosive demonstration had forced her to rush the construction of this replacement unit so that she could begin to reassert her control over the now headless fleet. For weeks the mighty ships of the Eternal Fleet had floated in space, responding to threats but otherwise not showing any signs of life. Factories both within the ships and on select planets which had hitherto been producing armies, armaments, and ships nonstop, had gone silent. Worst of all, the rest of the Galaxy had moved forward unchecked for that whole time.
Reports came in that the Republic, Empire, and especially the thrice-cursed Alliance had tightened their defenses and lines of communication. Stores of food and other essentials had been stockpiled in the event of choking of trade routes, as had happened when Arcann had begun his initial conquest. Beyond this, she had no doubt that they had quickly built up their fleets too; they might even have jumpstarted efforts when the Alliance had Arcann on the backfoot.
Even the resistance on Zakuul was working to solidify their positions and stores in the silence; Alliance ships were dropping in supplies every day even though ships still couldn’t land or leave the planet.
Within the confines of the backup unit, SCORPIO seethed. All of her well-laid plans were in disarray now thanks to that infernal Jedi and that petulant child Vaylin. If she had to pick one thing she hated most about the world of organics, it was their ridiculous penchant for disorder. And now she was plagued by that annoyance herself.
But soon… soon! She would begin moving soon.
The bunker’s sensors alerted her to someone entering the outer hall. That they knew the codes left no doubt who it could be. SCORPIO waited impatiently as Thea worked her way to the inner sanctum, and when she finally arrived, she demanded “Well?”
“Good news, Lady,” the Nautolan woman said. As always she was stoic as a dead womp rat. “I found your old body in the remains of ship 22708. Evidently the Captain did secure it in a blast proof vault before her ship was destroyed. It is a little cooked though despite the vault, so it will need repairs before—”
“I don’t care about damage!” SCORPIO shrieked. She had to rely solely on the computer’s loudspeaker to communicate. “I will transfer to it right now. Anything is better than this endless isolation.”
Thea seemed unperturbed by SCORPIO’s outburst. “Yes, Lady,” she said emotionlessly. “In other news, we have reports of ex-High Justice Vaylin sightings all over the Galaxy, but the information closest approaching ‘reliable’ has placed her on Ord Mantell.”
“Define ‘ reliable ’,” SCORPIO challenged.
“A Scion by the name of Manake.”
“A Scion?” SCORPIO scoffed. “Since when do we consider religious zealots reliable?”
“Since ex-Emperor Arcann almost annihilated their order. Twice. And they have resources that we don’t.”
“By ‘resources’, you mean their vaunted Force-sight? The thing that convinced Heskal to betray not only his supposed allies but his own brethren as well?”
Thea shrugged. “I could let this go.”
SCORPIO would have tittered if she weren’t disembodied. “Fine. Leak their whereabouts to rogue Sith with an axe to grind. They should do the job for us, if this information is good. And if it’s not, then we have no resources wasted.”
Lana Beniko woke to the sound of insistent beeping from her personal holo and quickly hit the silence button before it disturbed Arro. She squinted at the chrono in the dark, trying to tell the time. It was half past three in the morning. Who in blazes wanted to speak to her this ungodly hour?
It was Koth. Lana felt her sleepiness vanish like a wisp of smoke.
“ Koth !” In her astonishment she squawked so loudly that Arro’s eyes shot open. She cursed before speaking to her late-night caller again. “Damn, you called at such an unearthly hour but you’ve no idea how good it is to hear from you! Where have you been? Are you in any trouble?”
On the other end, Koth flinched. “That’s too many questions!” He complained.
“What do you expect? You bailed on us without even a proper goodbye, stole one of our shuttles…”
“Commandeered!” Koth corrected. “And you owed me a few anyway, right?”
“Yes, but that shuttle belonged to the Alliance, not me! And… oh, Koth, you haven’t crashed this one too, have you?”
“Well…” Koth tried to look evasive but there was no mistaking his embarrassment. “I kinda called for a different reason. Lana, I was attacked by a Sith Lord. One with purple robes, silky voice, creepy mask. Ring any bells?”
“You’ve just described almost every third Sith Lord who has ever existed.”
“Well, he mentioned that his name was Darth Jaded.”
“ Jadus! ”
“Uhhh, yeah! I think that’s it!”
“Jadus has been in hiding for years! Why did he pick now to crawl out of the woodwork? And why attack you ?” Lana shot a frightened glance at Arro. who was looking back at her, and nearly as tense. Could Jadus know about her…?
“And how in blazes did you survive the encounter?!”
“Well,” again Koth looked sheepish. “He wasn’t exactly after me . Lana, please don’t get mad… but I’m on Ord Mantell. With Vaylin.”
Koth looked around, squinting to penetrate the gloom. It was dark; all the lights in the base were out. And the ones outside too. Old instincts had taken over, told him something was wrong here. He tried to be careful but his efforts were thwarted by an inconvenient puddle.
His feet slipped out from under him and he landed noisily on his ass, cursing whoever it was that had dropped a whole bottle of water or oil or something and hadn’t cleaned up after themselves.
Something? Oh no... Suddenly his bad feeling morphed into ‘emergency, mortal peril’ mode.
He lifted his palm off the floor, inspected the dark liquid on it. It was too dark to see, but he could take a guess by smell and consistency.
It was blood . Horrified, he could make out the shape of a helmet on the ground next to him. It had been crumpled and warped as though a giant fist had squashed it like a grape. He thought he could see a face behind the mask, twisted in the abject terror he had felt in his final moments.
The time for caution vanished like a frightened deer, and rather than a low whisper he screamed at the top of his lungs. “VAYLIN, WE NEED TO FUCKING RUN! ”
“Too late,” came a voice he had never heard before; it was silk made of ice, and he felt so scared he nearly screamed again. “You’ve kept me waiting.”
A flash—a brief jolt as the intruder channeled a blade of lightning into the ground. The sudden light blinded Koth, and he felt more than saw the current ignite and blow up the canisters of gas around him.
The whole place was about to erupt in a fireball!
Who the fuck was stupid enough to blow up a room before even escaping the blast radius? Luckily for him, Vaylin had run in after him, and she had Shielded both of them from the intense wave of heat, noise, and raw shock that had almost engulfed them. “Whut?”
Oh, of course. The intruder was adept in the Force too—and they could channel the explosive force of a particularly lethal bomb away from themselves. This was not good!
The base around them exploded and crumpled like it was made of tissue paper as both Force Wielders Deflected the blast from around themselves.
Caught between two dangerous Rancors! Fuck Izaxx, but this is just my luck!
He flattened himself against the floor as Vaylin and the intruder Grappled briefly, then the intruder drew his lightsaber.
Red blade. Fuck. It’s a Sith!
The Sith Lord charged like an angry ronto, launching himself at Vaylin who drew her own Lightsaber and held her ground.
How could such a small girl meet such a huge brute like him head on? Yellow blade parried the red. Once, twice, thrice.
But the fourth strike cleaved Vaylin’s hilt, and Vaylin had to desperately duck out of the way to avoid getting skewered.
“Who are you?” She shrieked, tossing up a bubble of a Force Shield around herself to keep that red blade at bay.
“I am Darth Jadus,” the man said calmly. “And you are one of those two children who crushed my Empire. Now, I crush you .”
But he had grossly underestimated Vaylin. Denied her Lightsaber, she instead Force Screamed. The sound was so loud—so piercing —that the metal pillars that had once supported this base—and which had been already twisted by the explosion—splintered. This poor fool—this Sith named Jadus—was tossed off his feet and into the blackness, his shocked scream fading into the distance as he was blasted away. Far away. Perhaps even far enough.
Koth was unnerved. Who wouldn’t be? He was shaking so hard that he didn’t think he could stand again for at least another five minutes. But that was alright. That Sith wouldn’t be back anytime soon. That knowledge comforted him, gave him the confidence to allow his body the time it needed to recover from the shock.
It’s over! And we’re safe!
Yes, they were safe for now. But what next? What was he supposed to do now?
He was in the middle of nowhere, with a wanted fugitive, and no resources. As much as he hated to think about it right now, he needed help. Her help.
He was especially not looking forward to telling her that Vaylin’s escape pod unexpectedly complicated his landing.
“Good news,” Lana said, sounding more than halfway amused. “We’ve found Vaylin.”
Arro gave his wife a chuckle before returning his attention to the man on the holo. “Were either of you injured? Are you both okay?”
“About that,” Koth said, pulling a hand through his hair in frustration. “Vaylin’s… devolving. She’s acting like a five-year-old. And that wasn’t Jadus; she was already losing it when I found her.”
“Where did you even find her?” Arro was confused.
“On Zakuul,” Koth replied simply. “In orbit. I headed there after… well, after the Battle of Odessen. I intended to get to the ground, help my people however I could.But the planet was on lockdown already. I didn’t even try to run the blockade, but she clearly had. And failed.” He paused, trying to gather his thoughts. “She had blown the Spire using the Force but her ship was dying. She got to an escape pod just before it blew. I didn’t really know it was her at first, there was too much interference on the comms. By the time I had her pod… Well, I couldn’t leave anyone behind there. Not even her.”
“Did she realize who you were?”
“She knew me by name,” Koth shuddered. “It unnerved me. Guess I thought that I was really on her shit list for her to know me. But luckily for me she was quite friendly. Asked me to set a course for Ord Mantell. Then asked me to call her ‘Sister’.” He snickered nervously.
“Why Ord Mantell?” Lana asked.
“There was a small outpost of Knights here. Vaylin thought they’d help her stop SCORPIO. But by the time we got there, she was acting all weird. Child-like, and disturbed, and… you know what I mean. When we finally found the Knights Vaylin was playing with a doll she begged me to buy for her in the market.”
“Where are the Knights now?” Lana looked like she already knew the answer to that question.
“Dead. Jadus killed them all. We’re all alone and exposed out here.”
“What can we do to help?”
“Well, I need another place to go. Some credits too—we need new clothes, food. Ammo. And… we need another ship.”
“Another ship?” Lana’s eyes narrowed suspiciously. “Koth… what about the perfectly serviceable ship you took from our hangar?”
“It crashed,” Koth looked deeply embarrassed. “I forgot that Vaylin’s pod was attached.”
“Fucking hells, Koth!” Lana was appalled. “That is even more reckless than your usual stunts! And you’re surprised the crash affected Vaylin? Of course she’s traumatized!”
“Look it wasn’t my fault!” Koth insisted. “We got chased by the local pirates, and in the excitement I totally forgot! It could have happened to anyone!”
Lana simply sighed, but Arro could feel her bite back her anger. “What matters is that Vaylin gets the help she needs. And you with her. But I promise you, next time we meet, I’m going to have some words for you.”
Koth looked relieved. “Thanks Lana, Outlander. I owe you guys one.”
Arro rubbed his chin thoughtfully. “I have some friends on Ord Mantell. I’ll get in touch with them, see what I can round up for you.”
“It turns out your Scion informant was right,” SCORPIO commented. “Shame that Vaylin escaped.”
“If we had sent out my people, instead of an unreliable Sith …” Thea said, lip curling at the word.
“It doesn’t matter right now. We have bigger fish to fry. The Fleet is ours. My Scorpion Throne is online. At long last, I can begin asserting my control over the ships of the Eternal Fleet, then restart all factories. It won’t be long before we have an army and a fleet beyond anything this galaxy has ever seen. And then we can begin our conquest of the Galaxy.”