Friday, February 19, 2010
While he knew Vykara would not be able to handle all the minutae of capital ship combat on her own, a simple approach and dock was well within her capabilities. He had come to depend on his basilisk since becoming bonded to her; he had faith that despite her strange nature, she could always be counted on when he needed an ally.
The two people with him fell into that category as well. Tymor, for all his similarities to Marr-ek, did not feel untrustworthy. Darrus could certainly envision a day when they might come into conflict, likely on the battlefield, but for now they were almost friends. Darrus found himself appreciating that and hoping one day that 'almost' would be gone. Jedi might prefer allies to emotional attachments but he knew himself better than that now.
He had ruined too much in life by trying to be a 'good Jedi'. Being a good Jedi had brought him nothing but hardships and loss. The Dark Side was definitely not an answer to his woes but neither was the Jedi Code. If he had to divest himself of all emotions, all connections, to attain someone else's ideal of perfection, he would just have to be content with being flawed.
One of those 'flaws' was the other person with him - Maya. Since meeting her, since being rescued by her from the sands of Tatooine, she had quickly become a fixture in his life. He knew she had turmoil of her own, but the ex-medic had given up her whole life to follow him. Darrus winced inwardly at the realization that in all honesty he had no idea exactly where he was going or what she was following him into.
Were they still trying to track down the powers behind the Scarlet Wake? Was he intending to use all these new resource to equip a Mandalorean army? Did he intend to track down Skywalker and see if the son was anything like the father? What was his purpose now?
Did he even have one?
Then he reached the last security door on this narrow, hidden hall and one purpose reasserted itself. There was one thing he absolutely had to do. He had to protect what his friends and fellow Jedi had fought and died for, what he had now been entrusted with safeguarding.
"Beyond this door lies the real trea..."
Tymor sighed. "Enough preamble. Just open the door before I blast it down."
Maya smirked softly, nodding her agreement. "I think we are both just anxious to see what's here, Darrus. Please show us?"
"Right, of course." Darrus keyed in the authorization code and freed the final locks. The door slid open to reveal a chamber so brightly lit that all of them were blinded for a moment. Polarizing lenses compensated quickly, easing them all back into being able to see.
The room was round and extended at least twenty meters into the air. The center of the chamber housed a column of plate crystals set into a lattice of shimmering iridium lines. Several of the plates were slightly tinted, each of a different hue, giving the pillar the look of a stained glass column from floor to ceiling.
Some of the plates were also polarized and shedding light; these were hologram projectors current set to simply emit a broad spectrum of radiance. They were all connected by glowing lines in the glass to a plinth on the floor inside the column. This five-sided platform stood two meters tall and had the appearance of an esoteric computer bank, lights flashing across each of its faces.
For all of this, the most impressive sight in the room was the object floating above the plinth. It was fashioned like the column, a dodecahedron of platinum and crystal with a barely visible glowing structure at its heart. Each of its twelve sides was engraved in aurebesh characters, every string of letters more complex than the last.
Staring, Maya could not help noticing the similarity between it and Darrus' red crystal pyramid. "Is... is that a...?"
He nodded, watching in quiet wonder as the shape turned, orbiting in its vacuum pillar over a gravity hover disc. Each time it pulsed, a spark traveled along one of the circuit lines and a random holo-screen flickered. "Yes. It's a holocron."
"These are rare treasures," Tymor said as he approached. "But they are not unheard of. Why so much trouble for something like this? The cost and loss seem disproportionate to the value of the item."
Darrus smiled very softly to himself. "Are you sure you aren't a droid, Ty?"
That earned him, Darrus was sure, a sour look under the man's helmet. "Just answer the question, Silverlord. What am I not seeing?"
To reply, Darrus just raised his hand to the nearest screen and touched it. Instantly, shapes and characters began to flash over the black panel. Several tiers of data extended outward, projecting as holograms of nested menus just waiting to be accessed. "Tell me what you see now, Tymor."
The Mandalorean stepped up and touched a selection. After a quick scan, he touched another. And another. And still another. There did not seem to be any end to the option, to the number of things he could select off each new open display.
"What I don't see would be a shorter list. How much information is in this thing? It seems to cover just about every topic I can imagine."
Darrus nodded. "As well it should, considering what it is."
Maya leaned close, kissing him on the cheek. "And just what is it?"
"This, Maya, is something that as far as I can tell does not exist any more. I did a scan through the holonet for it back on Tatooine when I had access. The original is not on Coruscant and, from what I was able to see? It was likely destroyed. I didn't detect any other copies online either."
She bumped her forehead against his. "Like the scary man said, no more preambling."
Darrus blushed softly. "Sorry. This, my dear, is a full backup of the largest information codex in the galaxy. Astrogation, galactic history, cultures, science and philosophy. It is a compendium without compare in known space. If anyone knew something anywhere in the galaxy as of twenty years ago, it is in here. It even documents most everything known about..."
He paused for a moment before admitting this. "...the Force."
Tymor nodded, his suspicions confirmed. "Then this really is what I think it is?"
"Yes," Darrus relied quietly. "This is the Jedi Archives."
Saturday, February 13, 2010
As impressive as these gallery halls were in design, neither Tymor nor Maya paid them much attention. All they could see were the contents of the vaults as the growing rows of light illuminated them clearly.
Down the middle of each chamber, a stacked wall of interlocking cargo crates formed a kind of divide. Ten crates tall and at least two wide, this barrier bore dozens of different demarcation symbols, many of which Maya recognized. Preserved food, vacuum stored water, gasses in suspension, and medical supplies that went on as far as she could see.
Tymor understood what some of these symbols meant as well - they were the sorting glyphs of the Republic Army under Jedi control. They meant armour, weapons, ammunition and many other forms of military hardware. These crates alone were a find of epic proportions. Combined with the other supplies, all their material needs were solved. Even the thousands on the Ird-Adora would take years to go through all these consumables.
Even if their ship was irreparable, no one would starve. This planet not be a good final home for a warrior-born but there were children to think about and wounded that needed tending. Tymor sighed inwardly. If this was where his legacy ended, it was better than fading away.
"Impressive, Silverlord. These rooms hold the solution to all our supply problems."
Darrus looked at Tymor and smiled very enigmatically. "This? Oh, this isn't what Kaazon died to protect. And these aren't the vaults. This is just the central corridor." He stepped into the hallway and turned to face its control panel by the door. Protected from the ion pulse that Master Kaazon paid his life to keep intact, it was on low power but fully functional.
With a quick command login, Darrus raised the blast walls on either side of the chain of galleries. Every hall stared to open, its side walls raising into housings on the ceiling. What they revealed left Maya staring in shock and even Alayt Tymor's composure shaken.
Vehicles filled the newly exposed space as the hall in front of them became a double hangar. Darrus started down the right side of the row of crates in front of him, gesturing for them to follow. The walk slowly revealed that every gallery was the same, an open hangar full of craft both starboard and aft.
Starfighters, shuttlecraft, ground assault vehicles, squadrons of speeders and more; this long row of vaults has all the craft needed to defend a planet or conquer one. Tymor knew these designs well. They ran the gamut from pre-Clone Wars technology to ships that were the cutting edge at the birth of the Empire. Mostly it was the latter. V-19 Torrent fighters and TX-130 tanks sitting on either side of decked out gunships.
All this firepower, preserved and maintained for an emergency that passed the Jedi by in a war they were fated to lose before it started. Just looking at it made Tymor both giddy and crushingly depressed. There was no enemy here and none of these craft, with the exception of the ARC-170s, were capable of hyperspace that he knew of and those were too small to survive passage through the Abyssal.
Darrus reached the end of the lengthy walk and paused at another panel, calling up a diagram in the middle of a wall screen that showed where they were - a long map of hangar chambers with detailed lists of their contents scrolling beside each room. "What is wrong, Tymor? You seem disturbed."
Maya answered for him softly. "He's feeling regret that we now have the numbers and materiel for a army and no way to leave this world, Darrus. I think this Vault of yours is like the ultimate heartbreak for a Mandalorean."
"Hmmm, really?" Darrus set his helmet down on the floor and focused on the communications link in his forehead. The lights in his implant made his brow glimmer as he reached out to the cybernetic machine on the other end.
"Vykara, do you have everyone inside the landing facility as I commanded?"
He felt his basilisk's affirmative and got an image of the shuttle crew and the handful of Mandals that had come down with him to the planet's surface. She sent him another affirmative when he asked about climate and structural integrity.
"Perfect, Vy. Thank you."
"Tymor, watch the screen for a moment, will you? I need to need to bring more systems online."
While his Alayt stared at the map, Darrus started issuing wake orders to other computer clusters nearby. Years-dormant systems started to rouse, appearing on the map as new sections of the complex. As more and more of them merged with the hall of hangars, Tymor began to see the pattern of what they were forming.
"This," he said in a quiet, breathless voice, "is no base. It's a..."
Maya finished for him again. "It's a starship."
The floor trembled. The lights above started to flicker as power flowed into pressor beams positioned around the outer hull, long-since programmed for the task they were performing now. Pulses of gravitational force slammed into the false earth that had been packed around the ship when it was hidden here two decades ago.
All these supplies and vehicles would have been of little use without a way to transport them and a command vessel to guide the army for which they were intended. Blasting free of the valley floor, they started to rise into the air.
All of Tymor's regrets vanished along with any of this doubts of Darrus' plan to bring them here against all reason. The map showed this vessel clearly now. It was a huge warship, Venator class, and all decks were active now. As he watched, Darrus was typing in a set of command codes to bring the ship up to full function. One field was still blank. The vessel was apparently 'new', having likely never seen combat and flown here shortly after construction.
It did not yet have a name.
"This, Silverlord? This is what you Jedi fought and died to protect?" Tymor's voice was more than a little awestruck. This vessel was huge, powerfully armed and large enough to house all of his people aboard the crippled ship in orbit. This was worthy.
Darrus quickly typed in the only name that came to mind. Only one word had ever meant 'warship' to him; only one word ever would.
The next field was an authority command password, the authorization for the highest level systems of the ship. Though Darrus punched it in quickly, Tymor saw what he typed and committed it to memory. Just in case.
"Darrus," Maya said softly, hand on his shoulder. "I know it may not seem like much right now, dearest, but your friend saved our lived by saving this ship. It's amazing."
Darrus blanked the screen and sent a command to Vykara to bring the Maelstrom up along the Ird-Adora. The ship would need an hour or so to propagate power to all its myriad systems and be ready to take on passengers. Until then, there was one more thing for these two to see.
"No, Tymor. No, Maya. This isn't what he was protecting either."
They both stared at him. For once, Tymor had nothing to say.
Darrus opened the sealed door at the end of the hall where they were standing and took them into a small steel chamber with no apparent exits. He walked to the far wall, activated the concealed panel and typed in the newly set command code. The smooth, featureless metal in front of him slid open to reveal a dimly lit ramp going up toward a security door.
"Follow me. I'll show you Sanctora's real treasure."
Friday, February 05, 2010
"Do you want us to give you some space?" Maya asked softly. Her voice was pitched to be private but the small chamber they were in made every sound a booming echo.
Darrus shook his head, his facial expressions blessedly hidden by his faceplate right now. "No need." Then long spent hours of etiquette training kicked in, reminding him to do what he should have remembered in any case. "Thank you."
As Maya smiled and stepped back to the nearest wall, the image began coherent. It was the Master that laid nearby, slumped in death on the barren floor. In the projection, of course, he was sitting upright and moving. Darrus noted with some sadness that even alive, he looked just as sallow and dry as his corpse did now. "I am sorry, Kaazon," he murmured under his breath before image started to speak.
It hurt to hear how frail the once vibrant elder's voice had become.
"I have this message biocoded. Only you should be able to retrieve it. If you are not Master Darrus Jeht, I beseech you in my capacity as a member of the Jedi Order and a General of the Republic Army to see it into his hands if he still lives. What I have to say is for his ears only and would profit you nothing to keep from him."
Master Kaazon was even diplomatic in his last moments. That only made the guilt stab at him more. This was his fault. He changed the last door's security and told no one. If he had been willing to trust just a little more...
"Darrus, as you no doubt know, we came under assault by the Trade Federation's droid armies. They disabled our repulsion cannons and took down our shields before they attacked. All of this is evident just by what you have seen. What you may not have been able to discover is how they found us. You need to know this. I wanted to bring you the news myself but, alas, we will never leave this hall."
More pain, regret at the death of one of his few friends in the Order. Of course, they were all dead now, weren't they? They died while he was lost in time.
"We were betrayed by our own droids. A maintenance droid at our scanner relay detected a Separatist scout cruiser searching the nebula. The droid transmitted a signal to others around the outpost and they took us down from within. They alerted the cruiser and dropped our defenses. We never had a chance."
The image flickered for a moment as Kaazon doubled over, wracked by a dry cough. Darrus felt his heart ache at the sound of it.
"You should know three things. The first is that every droid betraying us was made on Uffel back in the Cularin system. I was able to get their programming nullified but I suspect others out there may also have the 'traitor circuit'. Beware of it.
"The second is that we were able to shoot down the cruiser before it could secure us as captured. This means they never got to leave the nebula and send any transmissions. Our planet here is safe. Or, my friend, as safe as a world that may be overrun with murderous droids can be. I am not sure if you have had to fight to reach me here.
"If you have, I am sorry. It means my last gambit has failed. After I record this, I am going to use the terminal here to send a kill signal to the outpost's secondary reactor. It will drop the core's shielding and, if I am successful, ion flash the whole base. Everything will shut down, every droid and every means of accessing this place. The doors will freeze and only the private shield in the Vault will keep it safe."
The half-withered Master coughed again, his ragged voice taking on a tone of regret.
"And therein lies the reason for this message. Commander Halx tells me there is nearly a full enemy battalion at the landside security door to the Vault on its far side. The Uffel droids must have told them about it. Only the shield is keeping them from cutting their way in. If I open this door, the shield drops automatically."
Darrus' eyes widened as he started to do the terrible math.
"What we brought here cannot fall into enemy hands. You know as well as I what terrible damage the Separatists could do if they obtain access to it. Perhaps it was arrogance that led me to think we could safeguard it. If so, now I must pay the price for that conceit."
"No... Kaazon, no. You did this? You trapped yourself?"
"If there are no droids here, if the Vault is intact and if I have passed on, you will know we did not fall here in vain. It is safe, safe and now in your keeping. Grieve not for me, Darrus. Remember what I tried so hard to teach you in your youth.
"There is no death. There is only the Force. May it be with you, my friend.
His head hung, Darrus stood motionless as the recorder's light swindled and its cells sputtered out the last of their power. For a long time, he did not move. He did not speak. He was as still and silent as the bodies at his feet.
When the quiet was finally broken, it was by Tymor's business-as-always voice. "Sir, what was he guarding? What do you have here?"
Darrus looked up at him, faceplate hiding eyes that were pitch black and nearly devoid of emotion. How dare Tymor show such disrespect? A good man died here, three good men counting the clones, and all this Mandalorian could think about what what it could profit them? How dare he? Such an insolent cur should be cut down where he stood!
Darrus felt his hand flinch to his belt, to the spot where his lightsaber rested. In that moment, the instant between wanting to kill and doing it, he snapped back to his senses.
What was he thinking?!
Darrus staggered back, dropping the holorecorder and shaking his head to clear it. Maya, sensing his distress, rushed to his side. She held his arm, staying close against him. "Shhhh, calm. Calm. This is a terrible place, Darrus. Come back. Please."
He focused on her voice. Breathing in, he tried to find his center. "I... this place. The Vault."
Tymor stood more cautiously, unsure of what just happened. "Yes, sir," he nodded, keeping his eyes on Darrus now. "The Vault, yes. But what is in the Vault? Jedi do not die idly or for nothing. What could be so important that this one willingly made this hall his tomb?"
In answer, Darrus turned around. The murdering impulse was gone now, just a fleeting moment of weakness. He would have to meditate on that, come to terms with where it had come from and why it had taken hold so easily. Was his control slipping? Just how far down the dark path was he now?
But that was for later. For now, Tymor's question was a valid one. It deserved to be answered. He hooked up his datapad, made a connection to the door's terminal and sent the override code. Old metal groans, brittle circuits flared to life.
Darrus glances back at his companions as the door opened, revealing the Vault. He could only imagine that behind the Mandal's visor, his face was as awestruck as Maya's. The woman's expression was one of stunned and utter disbelief.
"Welcome," Darrus said softly,"to the true purpose behind Sanctora. Welcome to the Vault."
Tuesday, September 29, 2009
This was exactly as Jeht had expected to find the planet. Lush but uninhabited, precisely the way it was supposed to be. The Abyssal and the radiation belts in the nebula made long term life here dangerous for complex organisms. Animal life was not truly at risk but sentient beings could not stay here long without developing biological issues. At least that was what his medical officer aboard the Maelstrom had predicted when they had first found this planet. It had been settled, yes, but none of the smugglers' bodies recovered from the battle had been exactly healthy.
"Cancer, sir?" Tymor had asked this succinctly as they were flying down through the atmosphere. Darrus had been explaining why no permanent colony had been established by the Republic forces in the know about this place.
"Yes, cancer and... worse." He had not really wanted to go into detail about the state of some of the corpses they had found. "Just trust me. Sanctora is the very definition of a nice place to visit but you wouldn't want to live here."
Exploring the landing facility confirmed his suspicions. The Jedi that had come here after him had maintained the systems and even upgraded them in places. Everything was fully automatic all the way down to basic service droids for maintenance. Power was a mix of geothermal taps and radiant collectors, a perfect mix for this place. Sanctora's energy-reliant systems could operate at full capacity for a thousand years and never run out. They would break down long before they went dark.
Fortunately for Darrus, the point of breaking down seemed nowhere near. Everything was in top condition, a tribute to the efficiency of repair robots with nothing else to do. While Tymor had recommended that several of the droids be shuttled up to the Ird-Adora to start working on its failed systems, Darrus was moved to be a little more cautious.
The truth was he just had a hard time trusting droids. The war had not exactly instilled a great confidence in him where machines were concerned. It was not an irrational fear; he trusted his Basilisk after all. Still, he wanted to be sure everything here on Sanctora was safe before he introducing parts of it to their only way of leaving.
That said he did authorize the worker team they had brought down in the shuttle to start identifying and gather vital parts the Ird-Adora needed. It felt like scavenging but with so many lives at stake? So be it.
Their sweep of the complex took three hours before Darrus was satisfied that nothing was out of order. Surface scans indicated that this outpost was the only one in working shape. Everything else on Sanctora was dead, itself scavenged to maintain this facility. There were signs of a huge field of debris nearby, likely the remains of a ship at least twenty years old. That had only heightened his desire to proceed carefully.
Still, nothing had turned up out of the ordinary and when he was satisfied that the installation was no threat he authorized the transport of supplies from the base to their vessel. He was only allowing supplies right now, not droids. He felt uneasy about them, a worry that was sticking with him all the way down the turbolift they were taking to the storage level below.
The Vault. That was what they had called it when Jeht and his clones first arrived here. It was a massive series of caves that the smugglers had turned into storage. The place was naturally fortified against attack, sealed by means of a series of secure bunkers and had its own recycling air supply. If trouble had ever come to Sanctora, this would have been Darrus's last line of defense. With a hundred men and advance warning, he suspected he could have held off an invasion force in these caves.
And the moment the turbolift doors opened, his suspicions were confirmed. Maya gasped at the sight that lay before them, dozens of half skeletal bodies in white armor amid the metal remains of ten times their number in droids. The entryway to the Vault was a slaughterhouse, an open grave.
Tymor did not react except to say, "They put up a good fight."
Darrus just nodded, reacting more in line with Maya's feelings but not letting it show on his face. He stepped over the bodies and examined the only doors out of the chamber. "It was a holding action. These men gave their lives to buy time."
Tymor joined him, watching Maya as the rapidly paling medic made her way over to them through the morass of death. "Time for what, Alayt?"
In answer, he simply reached out and guided Maya gently to the control panel for the door. "We need this open. Can you do that? I need you to slice the panel and get us through." It was possible Darrus could have done it himself but right now the empath needed something else to think about.
While she worked Darrus explained the situation to his second-in-command. "Tymor, the door is sealed with a Republic override. We changed all the lockpads when I took over this place. In case of a full invasion, the door codes scramble and only military command had the access key."
The Mandalorian nodded in understanding. "If that's true, why are we having to force our way in? You were a General."
"Something has reset the system. My code's not working and the one high access key I have will only work once. I left myself a backdoor encryption in case of emergencies. One I never told anyone. It'll get a door open but then it erases itself. I'd rather save it until we reach the Core and I can get the main computers running again."
"Got it!" Maya smiled in simple triumph as the doors slid open. A moment later the elation died as another body fell out onto her feet.
Hall by hall and room by room, they found the same thing. A huge battle had been fought here, a droid invasion held off by clone troopers to the bitter end. Each one had a few less corpses and a few more droids. There were marks of explosions and the scoring of heavy blaster fire in all directions. The clones had fought hard and died well. Tymor was satisfied with that.
Darrus was not. It was so senseless, all of it. Sanctora was supposed to have been a haven, perhaps the only one in the galaxy. Had the Separatists really been so powerful that even this tiny refuge could not stay safe? And knowing what he did now, it was truly all for nothing.
The entire war had been a ruse, a Sith shadow play. Billions dead for nothing more than a twisted man's bid for power.
"Darrus, this one's fused. I can't get it open." Maya sounded crestfallen. She had gotten them through every security door so far and they were only one hall from the Vault Core. There was just this door and the main one to go. One last hall and they would be to the chamber that was the whole point of coming here. "I am so sorry."
"Ion pulse, Alayt," Tymor said as he examined the dead access panel. "Likely from the other side. There is no way to get it working again."
"Right, stand back." Darrus had not come all this distance through all these corpses to turn back now. Both these people knew the truth about him anyway. Reaching up the the front of his rifle, Darrus pressed the mag-lock release and slid his lightsaber from its concealment sheath. The cylinder settled into his hand like an old friend, comfortable despite its long absence.
Unleashing its violet beam, he plunged the saber's tip into the hardened steel door and slowly cut in a wide path along the frame. Glowing metal hissed around the blade, dripping down the sundering slag. Completing his cutting arc, Darrus pushed forward with his mind and the white hot oval of sheared metal lurched inward, flying several meters before landing with a heavy clang on the worked stone floor.
Maya started to step through but Darrus held a hand to her chest. "Wait. I had a clone lieutenant nicknamed Streak because he did that." As if to make his point for him, streamers of burning liquid metal started dripping from the top of the cut, hissing as they landed. Maya's eyes widened and she stepped back.
"Allow me, sir," Tymor said as he raised one arm. A vent on his bracer gushed forth, spraying a gray foam in a cone around the doorway. The molten metal instantly cooled, a billow of steam obscuring the hallway beyond for a moment.
"Excellent, Tymor. Thank you."
They made their way through the mist and into the last security hall. This one was free of droids. Unfortunately, as Darrus was already running to see, it was not devoid of bodies. There were three corpses against the far wall, only two of which were clone troopers. The third, the one that had all of Jeht's attention, was also dressed in white armor but it was piecemeal, interspersed around a bodysuit and pale brown robes.
A Jedi. A dead Jedi.
The access panel to the Core door was open above them. These three did not die from violence. They were wasted, drawn thin beneath their garments. None of the bodies before had been much more than skin and bones but these were even more so. They looked dry, brittle to the touch. They...
"These three died of dehydration. Darrus, I am so sorry." Maya leaned her head against his shoulder plate. "There probably wasn't any pain. They fell asleep at one point and faded away."
"Why didn't they move on?" Tymor was examining the panel as he spoke. "This pad is working. No ion disturbance. They should have been able to get through."
Darrus sat down beside his fallen comrade and took off his helmet. Letting it fall to the floor he buried his face in his gloved hands, cold metal offering no comfort. "The invasion caused a lockdown, the security measures I told you about." His whole body sagged, only his armor keeping him upright. "I never thought..."
"This man was obviously a General, sir. He should have had the codes needed to get in." Tymor looked down at his commander, confusion in his stance. "This is not your fault."
Darrus shook his head. "It is. The Core is the heart of the complex. It was given top level security. The invasion protocol locked out every code but one."
This was his fault. He had never shared the backdoor command. It had never even occurred to him that any other Jedi would need it. This was supposed to be a place of safety. Now the only quiet here was the peace of the grave.
Maya and Tymor looked at each other, the latter's face hidden behind an impassive mask. "Darrus," she said softly.
Jeht covered his face again. "No. Don't try to tell me this isn't my fault. If I had been more open, if I hadn't tried to keep this place to myself these people would have lived. They wouldn't have sat here and wasted away. I killed them." The air started to crackle with whispers of lightning-despair. "Don't try to tell me I didn't."
His quiet empath leaned against him, arms tight around his shoulders. "I won't. I don't think this is your fault but that wasn't what I was going to say."
Darrus sighed into his palms. "Then what? What is it, Maya?"
"The Jedi has a holorecorder in his lap, Dar. It... it still has power." She took a deep breath and held it out to him. "There's a message waiting on it."
As Darrus slowly looked up, staring at the small steel disc, she continued in a hush.
"And... I think it's for you."
Sunday, February 01, 2009
It was a small room but that made sense to Darrus. The Mandalorians were not a lavish people and very little about their culture was extravagant. Indeed, he was grateful his desk even had a chair. He suspected that some Mandal captains actually preferred to stand all day.
Unfortunately he was not able to sit down for long before there was a chime at the door. He knew Maya was asleep; he could still feel her dreaming if he focused on it. That meant it could only be one other person – his second in command. Since he had given orders not to be disturbed unless the ship was under attack or something equally dire, he suspected that somewhere, something was on fire.
The door opened and his second stepped into the tiny chamber. "May I trouble you for a moment, sir?" The man's voice was quiet, almost deferent.
"Of course. How are we progressing through the nebula?"
"Quite well sir. Because we know what to look for, the transponder beacons have been guiding us flawlessly. Long range scans are still wildly inaccurate but we believe we are approaching a small planetoid just as you described."
Darrus took a deep breath. "Sanctora…"
"We can only surmise, sir. May I be permitted to ask you something, sir?"
Darrus gestured to a seat, giving the man silent leave to sir. His second did so, folding armored hands over his lap patiently. He had not been given leave to speak. Darrus corrected that too, also with a quick wave of the hand.
"I was hoping you could tell me about where we are going, sir."
Ah, so the only thing burning here was someone's curiosity.
"How much do you need to know?"
His second shifted, leaning forward to answer the question. "Need, sir? Only whatever tactical data is relevant. Wanting to know? Anything you are willing to divulge, sir."
Darrus paused for a moment. Just how far could he trust this man? He had already asked a lot of these Mandalorians and if his suspicions were right, the Force was guiding him to ask a great deal more. Before this was over, he might ask everything of them, including their lives. His dreams had been troubled of late. He hoped against hope they were not being prophetic.
If there were, the least this man deserved was as answer.
"All right. I'll tell you all I know about Sanctora. Before I do though, you need to know something." It was time to come clean, at least a little. He was certainly not going to tell the man what he was but he needed to admit, at least to his second, what he was not.
A raised hand stopped him. "If it will put your mind at ease, Silverlord? I know you are a Jedi."
There was a very long pause. Darrus just stared at him, completely at a loss for words. Slowly, he removed his helmet, setting it down on the desk. Perhaps he had been hoping that taking the thing off would clear his surprise. It had not. "I… you know what I am?"
His second nodded. "Of course, sir. I was unsure until I faced you in the duel. There are a few things all Mandalore warriors are taught from the time we can walk, One of them is how to fight a Jedi. You may have had a blade when you faced me but you wielded it exactly like a lightsaber." Then, just as calmly, "And while your fighting style may be unorthodox, there was no denying the wind that kept trying to pull me off-balance and tear my armor apart."
Darrus cringed. He has thought his powers were in check. He had thought wrong. "I am sorry. I did not mean to deceive you."
"Of course you did, Silverlord. You had every reason to believe we would kill you and your apprentice when you came aboard. On any normal night you would have been right." The man's hands folded again. "But you came aboard and saved us. You led us to victory and you took us home alive again."
"Thank you for that, but I am still Captain under the premise of a lie."
"No, sir. You are captain by right of combat. You did not use Jedi powers to defeat me. You stood with me in the circle of blood and earned your rank. I may not like what you are, sir, but I can respect the fact that you are worthy of the seat you hold."
Darrus was again at a loss for what to say. Luckily, the Mandalorian was not yet finished.
"I have no intention of revealing this to the rest of the crew. Most would feel as I do but some might not be able to place our needs and traditions over the hatreds of the past."
Darrus nodded. "Thank you. I appreciate your discretion." After a moment's thought, mind still in shock, he added, "If you still want to know about the planet Sanctora, I am more than willing to tell you now. All right?"
"Perfect, sir. When we are alone here, I would prefer if I were told nothing but truth from now on?" Even with his helmet on, the man's look was clear. "Is that acceptable?"
"More than." Darrus meant it. Deception was something he both detested and was possessed of very little skill. Having an ally among the Mandalorians who knew the truth might actually prove to be a great advantage. "Listen closely then. You will hear the story of Sanctora."
"When the Maelstrom, my command ship, and its supply convoy reached this sector of space, we had just jumped from a fierce battle over Rygrus. Separatist ships had reinforced a blockade there and while we tried to hammer our way through, it was no use. We have to retreat and there was no time to set the navigational computers. It was a blind jump. Blind chance.
"The nebula had no buoys when we got here. We left those to try and find our way back out if we ran into trouble. We originally came into the gas cloud to escape anyone who might be pursuing us. We were just looking for a safe spot in the storm to hole up and repair.
"What we found was a whole lot more than that. There's a small star system inside the nebula, something we did not even know until we found the eye of the cloud. It isn't charted and as far as astrogation data is concerned it does not exist. Even its gravitational signature is hidden because of the nebula's mass.
"So of course, a hidden planet, capable of supporting life, one jump away from hyperspace lanes?"
Tymor proved his intelligence once again. "It was covered in smugglers?"
"Just so. Smugglers that found their way in but couldn't get back out, to be precise. At least two generations of them. The Abyssal had been pulling them in and not letting go. At least the main planet in the system was hospitable, even fertile. Most of it was green, even from space. If one had to be trapped somewhere, it was as good a spot as any.
"They were trapped but they weren't defenseless. As soon as they saw a Republic battleship, they panicked. That did not lack long. First we saw a flurry of activity on the planet's surface. Then we saw ships lifting off on approach vectors."
"They had spotted your supply convoy?"
Darrus smiled and nodded again. "Just so. Smugglers and pirates, it seems, are scoundrels even when marooned. It was obvious we were damaged and there were a few dozen ships with us that did not look armed at all. Maybe they did not feel they had anything to lose. Maybe they did not think we could put up a fight and would surrender.
"Either way, they were wrong. My crew, still stinging over their defeat at Rygrus, laid into them as soon as they were within range. I had given them leave to welcome our new friends. It was one of many times that would teach me that I needed to be a lot more precise when giving orders to clones."
It was several seconds before Darrus realized he had left that slip. Clones. That not only dated him but also locked down his role in the past. If Tymor recognized any of that, he made no indication of it. This was why Darrus disliked Mandalorian armor customs. Like the clones, they wore full suits constantly while on duty, helms included. It made it very hard to gauge reactions, especially since he did not have Maya's gift for empathy.
With no good way to know what Tymor was thinking, all he could do was press on. "Even damaged, we were still a functional vessel and our guns made very short work of their first attack wave. The second line of ships broke off and tried to flank, guessing correctly that while our guns worked, we were not terribly maneuverable any more.
"They came in at the convoy at oblique angles, attacking them with strafes that left us unable to use our rear guns for fear of hitting our own ships. With a fleet of unarmed transports between them and us, it should have been easy picking for them to disable and board anything they wanted."
"Except that it wasn't, was it, General?" Tymor said in a very neutral voice. Frag it; he did know. He sounded like he knew quite a bit, especially when he added, "The Republic started adding disguised gunboats to their large convoys about halfway through the Clone Wars, right? So a thirty ship convoy would have had three or four of them."
Darrus nodded, trying to hide the wince. That was dead on. "Three. The gunships turned on them as soon as we transmitted their go codes. Caught between their cannons and ours, the whole pirate fleet was wiped out without any real losses to our own.
"I was not particularly happy with having opened fire first but they had lost the element of honor when they attacked my convoy instead of running. When we got to the planet and had a pair of defense cannons shooting at us, I let my men target and take them out. It was precise. Both shots were kills and there was no additional loss of life.
"What happened to the civilians planetside after you got there?"
Darrus could not help but raise an eyebrow. That was an interesting question for a Mandalorian to ask, especially one that had been advocating cutting and running before his own station was fully evacuated. Still, it was a worthy question and deserved an answer. "They fled."
Then, more precisely, "As soon as their guns were down, they evacuated in an old Sullustan transport and used the planet to cover their escape. I suppose they expected they would be rounded up and either arrested or executed. I would have done neither but they had no way of knowing that. I sent two fast unarmed transports after them to try and get them to stop but they hit the gas cloud before we could establish contact."
"They got away?"
Darrus sighed. This was the part of the story he had been hoping to avoid. "No. A few moments into the nebula, their ship collided with something. We registered an explosion. Later, we found their debris field and remains. Families. Entire families lost to panic. Perhaps that was my fault."
Tymor said nothing at that. He just watched impassively, quietly waiting for the rest.
"There was no reason to think the planet was hostile in any way and a high altitude scan revealed no life signs except animals and only a few active power sources. My crew was exhausted and the convoy was no better so I gave orders to land. After a quick exploration turned up no danger of note, we started out in shifts. It was a nice planet with a clean atmosphere and we were all in need of the rest.
"I had only intended to stay a day but damage to the ships necessitated at least three. We were fortunate enough to have most of the parts we needed as part of the convoy and what little we did not have on hand we were able to scrounge from the settlement.
"Three days became a week and a week became two. The conditions on the planet, which we found out from things left behind was called Sanctora, were just so pleasant and the damage was so much more severe than we thought. One delay after another kept us on Sanctora and to be honest, we did not really mind. It was almost like shore leave, after all, something none of us had had in a very long time.
"Eventually, we got our ships repaired and headed back into space. Once we were back in the fight, I forgot all about Sanctora for a while. I was reminded of it nearly a year later when I got word from one of the convoy captains that he had been using it for a few months as a supply depot under the secret instructions of another Jedi. Apparently he had revealed its location while serving a new command and his General had decided it would make for a good hidden base. Even Republic High Command did not know of its existence.
"I went back twice during the last months of the war. Any time I had a surplus of goods, I would leave them there, adding to the stockpile. A few other Jedi did as well, those few who knew about the place. We left a few automated defenses as well, just enough to make visitors reconsider raiding the cache."
Tymor nodded, taking all this in. "Will those defenses prove hazardous to us?"
"I doubt it. I still know the lockdown codes and if we can get close enough for me to transmit them, we shouldn't have any trouble. I can take my Basilisk out to do it. That should minimize…"
His comm and Tymor's beeped at exactly the same time. Also in unison, they said "Go ahead" almost in exactly the same tone of voice. Darrus half-smiled to himself. Did that mean the Mandalorians were becoming more like him?
Or was he becoming more like them?
"Sirs, we are approaching the planetary system. There are defense satellites tracking us and we detect a large concentration of metal and electronics in a clearing near the primary planet's equator."
Darrus got up and donned his helmet. "All right, Alayt. Let's go see if anything I left behind is still here."
Sunday, December 07, 2008
When her motivators finally blew, no one was surprised. Her own engineering staff had been taking bets on how many jumps she was going to make before it happened. Dead in space, all they could do was strip her for parts and transfer her passengers and crew to the other two ships in the fleet.
That had not been especially uncomfortable. The fleet's remaining vessels had the room and with the Sorador gutted, the supplies to keep going. That was critical. They were off the main travel lanes now; refits were impossible. There were no colony worlds out this far.
Two days and more space flight later, they were deep into the Outer Rim. Gone were the usual beacons and markers, the normal means of tracking and navigation. They were well and truly into smuggler territory now, using start charts and astromech droids just to keep from jumping into the hearts of stars or out of the galaxy altogether.
It was the worst possible time for another breakdown.
So when the power grid for the Arbiter suffered an ion backlash and shorted out, no one was particularly surprised either. It was irreparable, though the ship's crew tried valiantly to get critical systems restored. Life support and deckworks, including the power to open doors and run the lifts, were brought back online but non one was confident how long they would last.
It was a tough decision to abandon the Arbiter in space but there was no other choice to make. With several thousand people surviving on wisps of air from the intermittent recyclers, the call to bring them aboard the fleet's only functional ship was unavoidable.
It took four hours to complete the evacuation and that was almost too long. The last shuttle had only just cleared the Arbiter's dorsal bay when the grid failed completely. Another few minutes and that last flight of survivors would have been cast into deep space. Far too close for comfort...
Comfort was a forgotten concept now. The loss of the Sorador has been unfortunate but the Arbiter had been there to help bear the load. Without it the Ird-Adora, the fleet's only remaining vessel, was now terribly overloaded.
Some of the Ird-Adora's hallways had to be cordoned off and turned into sleeping space. There were wounded on every level and life support was running well beyond maximum capacity. The most generous engineering estimate was six days until atmospheric failure. Not that six days was a meaningful number, since food and water supplies would be depleted within four.
Yet still they pressed on, jumping deeper and deeper into the rim. The progression forward did not stop or eve cease once the Arbiter was left behind. Star by star, the Ird-Adora made her way onward, never looking back.
Never, that was, until she came to the point of no return. Stopping to take astrogation data for the jump that would take them past their supply ability to return to normal space should they turn around, the vessel needed one hour to collect telemetry. It was not a long window of opportunity, but it was all Tymor needed...
The steel door to the small auxiliary room slid open with a soft chime. Darrus looked up at the sound, nodding as he watched his second in command step inside. Waving him in, Darrus gestured to a seat he knew would be ignored.
True to form, the Mandalorian strode over to the chair and remained standing, practically at attention. Darrus know it was pointless to tell the man to relax. He was not honestly sure Tymor was capable of relaxing. Darrus knew what the man was here for but politeness dictated he start the conversation. "What can I do for you, Alayt?"
Darrus was becoming quickly familiar with the language of the Mandalore. In their tongue, Alayt was a word and a rank, both meaning "next". In the Republic Navy, back when there was a Republic Navy, it would have been equivalent to a First Mate.
"Captain, permission to speak?" Tymor snapped a salute, letter perfect. Darrus was secretly glad that the half face helm he had taken to wearing when he was out of his quarters, when he was 'on duty'. The helm's mirrored visor meant Tymor did not see him roll his eyes at the formality. So much like the Clones, so much...
"Granted, Tymor. Granted."
"Sir, I feel I need to make sure you have been apprised of our situation."
Darrus sighed. He knew this was coming. The crew had been loyal to a fault, coming this far with him without the slightest question but now, on the eve of the jump that would kill them all if nothing waited on the other side, someone had to speak up.
He was honestly glad to see it happen. This was how the Mandalorians differed from the Clones. Most of the clone troopers he knew would have blindly marched into oblivion if ordered to do so. At least his Mandalorian crew had some sense of self, some preservation instinct that would keep them from being so unthinking.
Perhaps the Mandalorians would not betray him like the Clones had...
No matter. Darrus banished the dark thoughts. Tymor deserved an answer.
"I do not need the report, Alayt. I know the gravity of our situation." He hoped that would be sufficient. With a Clone, it would have been.
"Sir, with all due respect, we have several thousand people aboard now and rations are already down to one third. Even the bridge crew are starting to show the fatigue." Tymor pitched his voice lower, showing his concern. "I do not know how much longer we can keep going."
Darrus turned his chair towards the forward window, looking out over the thinning stars. The Ird-Adora was very near the edge of the Rim now, the very outer boundaries of the galaxy. "We do not have much farther to journey. I promise."
"I..." Tymor began a sentence, then stopped it. This was a matter of loyalty and of trust. He had both for his new Captain. If the Silverlord said to press on, they would press on. "Thank you, sir. Are the current heading orders correct?"
Darrus had been expecting that question as well. "Yes, Tymor." Slight smile. "We really are heading into the Vashoud Abyssal."
Tymor's apprehension was understandable. The Vashoud Abyssal was one of the galaxy's many navigational hazards, a nebula so thick that even basic visibility was impossible. With all scanners useless in the Abyssal, ships avoided it like a space-borne plague. With debris and half-formed planetoids scattered throughout the nebula, those that ventured inside had their flights cut brutally short.
"There is a plan then, sir?"
Darrus nodded. "There is, indeed. I gave helm a transponder code. Have them start scanning for it after we are at the five minute mark inside the Abyssal. That transponder will provide the next code to search out."
Tymor nodded in sudden understanding. "Stepping stones?"
"Just so, Alayt. They will lead us to our destination." Darrus pressed the button that started the shutters closing over all the windows in his room. "Give the command to jump. It's time for us to go."
"Sir yes sir!" Snapped salute.
Darrus watched him go, waiting until the door was closed again to take off his helmet and rub his temples. He had been the height of confident with Tymor but inwardly, he has just as many doubts... perhaps more.
Was he leading them to their deaths?
Leaning forward, face in his hands, Darrus lost himself in thought even as the ship's engines trembled and catapulted them all through space towards their fate...
Wednesday, August 27, 2008
Darrus stared at the screen, entirely unsure of what it was they was trying to show him. The readout was obviously chaotic, pulses and lines that did not seem to ever repeat themselves, all superimposed on a grid network of red and black shaded squares.
The engineer closest to him apologized and pointed to the largest of the wildly flickering lines. "Forgive me, Silverlord. We did not know how which caste you were originally from. This is the regulation vector, one of Telos IV Station's main power core diagnostics."
Quietly, Darrus made a note to ask Maya if she knew anything about Mandalorian castes. Nodding as if he understood what the man was saying, he waited for more.
"As you can see, it is caught in a state of diametric flux. This line should never waver past 70 nanobars but it is spiking well over 100 in both directions."
With a serious expression, Darrus nodded. "I see that." Actually, he didn't, but he was willing to take the tech's word for it.
"And here," the engineer tapped along two other lines. "These are capacitance levels. We should see them at five mtj or more at all times. Right now, the s-line is at three and the p-line is almost below two." The look on the engineer's face and those on the other four in the room made it clear these arcane numbers were a big problem.
"Anything else critical? I want to see these problems addressed as fast as we can."
It became instantly clear he had said the right thing. They nodded to themselves and pushed the one speaking to continue. "Thank you, Silverlord. Our last commander did not appreciate the finer points of mechanical lore."
He nodded, inwardly concerned at his own reactions. he was enjoying this charade far more than he should. Not only was he impersonating a Mandalore warrior but he was perpetuating the belief that he should somehow have sovereignty over the people on this ship. They kept deferring to him, though, and now that he had won their ascension challenge, he seemed to be in absolute command.
All that aside, he was determined to do right by them. They had chosen to follow; the least he could do was lead. "It's all right. Tell me what we have to do."
One hour later...
He fell backwards onto the room's only real piece of furniture, a passably comfortable bed. Beside him, sitting up with a datapad open to a page of scrolling text, Maya looked down in sympathy. "Rough day?"
"You could say that." Darrus closed his eyes. "We have a problem."
That brought an amused glint to her expression. "You've managed to narrow it down to one, have you?" Shifting her legs, she made him more comfortable. "That's impressive."
Darrus shot her a dour look. "Very funny."
Setting down her pad, Maya moved so that she could lay beside him, hand in his black, silken hair. "Sorry, love. It's just that the list of potential problems around here is so vast, I'm surprised you could find a new one." She pecked him on the cheek, an adorable gesture she knew would defuse him instantly.
She was right. Sighing, Darrus closed his eyes and released all his tension in a long, deep sigh. "Well, this new one is pretty big."
"Okay, shoot. How big?"
He turned his face to hers and opened his eyes again. "The station is going to explode."
One hour later...
"That is the situation," Darrus intoned from one end of the bridge's meeting chamber. His helmet's vocal reverberation made him sound dark, grave and somber - the perfect tone for what he had just told his command staff.
They were a solid group, he had to give them that. Though most were masked as he was, even their body language betrayed no shock. The only evidence of surprise was the lingering silence. When it was eventually broken, the man talking was the one Darrus had assumed would reply first - his new second in command, Tymor.
"May I restate for clarification?"
Darrus nodded his assent. The shift of attention in the room's other occupants made it clear they appreciated the offer as well.
"The damage sustained in the battle with those forces from hyperspace has proven more severe than we had believed. Not only is our ship nearly crippled but the generators on the station were disrupted past their ability to self-repair."
"Within an indeterminate amount of time, less than a day at most, the reactors will all chain-critical because they can no longer sustain their own internal shielding."
Darrus nodded again. Tymor had a solid grasp on both the mechanical and personal severity of the situation. That was good to see. The more he learned of these people, the less he could believe the image of Mandalorians put forth by the Jedi Academy. They were militant, yet, but there were hearts and souls beneath all this armor plate as well.
"There is no way to prevent this from happening. When they go red line, Telos Station will explode, destroying itself and any vessel within docking range."
"That is the situation, succinct and unfortunate as it is."
Tymor nodded, his half-helmet sliding on its mounting pistons. "All that remains now, sir, is to ensure the damage to our forces is minimal. We need to leave the station and order every ship vessel with flight capability to do the same."
Darrus sighed quietly, hands gripping the back of his chair. He was standing; Darrus rarely sat even when he needed to relax. Right now, there was no relaxation to be had. Two thousand people called Telos Station home. Though Tymor obviously did not enjoy doing so, the man was advocating abandoning them.
It was simple math. There was no way to know when the reactors would blow. Staying and evacuating the station put everyone at risk. Leaving now at least saved those aboard what few ships could still launch.
Simple math, but not numbers he could accept. He had abandoned billions to die before. Darrus had no intention of adding to that total now.
Fortunately, this time? This time he had a plan.
"Negative. This is what we are going to do."
One hour later...
"I will not discourage the others, Silverlord Wraith, but I must voice my concerns."
Darrus was standing with Tymor and Maya on the loading deck of the starship. Its docking ramps were all extended and people were flooding in as quickly as they could. None had anything more with them than they could carry or would fit in small personal speeders. Between swoops and hovercraft, several dozen little vehicles were now in the bay. Activity outside in the crowded streets of the station suggested many more would be coming soon.
"Every moment we linger here is another moment you place all our lives in jeopardy. We cannot predict when the station will be lost. I implore you to..."
Darrus raised a hand to quietly cut him off. "You are not wrong in your assessment but I have resources you cannot factor for, T'siel Tyvor." He used his second in command's traditional title of rank, a word Maya had dredged up for him earlier.
In fact, Maya was the 'resource' he was alluding to as he spoke now. "My woman has witch blood, Tymor. I assume you had suspected it."
That brought a curt nod from Tymor. "Yes, sir, but I had not wanted to mention it. Some of the crew..."
"I know and your discretion is appreciated. I keep her around for her usefulness though."
It disgusted him to trivialize Maya like that but she was all right with it and right now it was necessary. She only cared about his opinion in any case and she had let him know many times that she loved the way he cared about her. If the crew needed to think she was little more than property, so be it.
"And just what usefulness is relevant right now, Silverlord?"
Darrus put his hand on Maya's shoulder while she stared out into the empty reaches of the station beyond the hangar's open doors. He caught the prurient reference to what uses he likely had for Maya under normal circumstances but chose to let that pass. "She has a sense for the flow of things. She is watching the reactors in ways that no machine can."
The implications were not lost on Tymor. "So she will be able to give us warning when they finally begin to fail?" He sounded instantly relieved, completely stepping past any racial bias he might have had before. "Excellent."
"Just so. Between her magic and our metal, we can save these people."
Tymor stepped closer, pitching his voice so that only Darrus could hear him. "It is still a risk few would take, my lord. Most men would have abandoned this place." There was a new tone in the T'siel's voice, one of respect. Perhaps even admiration.
"I am not most men, Tymor."
Quietly, the Mandalorian warrior murmured as the tide of evacuees continued, "Indeed, sir. I am beginning to see that."
One hour later...
"Just one question, love."
Maya was laying beside him, fingers on his chest as she asked. "We managed to get everyone off the station and onto the three ships we have with the ability to jump into hyperspace."
"Right." Darrus stared at the ceiling. "Everything else had to be left behind."
She nodded. "And we salvaged what we could from the derelicts and the station itself. Parts, machines, droids, weapons... the lot."
"And we only left at the last possible moment so everyone could get aboard safely."
Darrus nodded quietly, his mind's eyes still seeing the fireball of plasma consume Telos Station as their battered little convoy sped out of range. None of the ships were in particularly good condition but they were space worthy. Right now, that was enough.
"And we had to enter hyperspace to avoid the gravitational wake of the station's destruction. That's why we could only take ships capable of making the jump."
"Yes." He rolled sideways to stroke her arm. None of this would have been possible without Maya's help. She was taking to her lessons well, showing a surprising aptitude for Battle Meditation, a rare gift among the Jedi. With it, she had been able to guide the evacuation flawlessly. "So where in all that was your question?"
She blushed, covering his hand with her own. "Oh, I forgot to ask it."
"Go ahead then," he said with a quiet laugh.
"Well," she started, leaning down to kiss him. It was soft and honest, two things that hallmarked her completely. "I was just curious... I mean, I don't want to pry... but..."
He kissed her back and sat up. He knew what she wanted to know. It was sweet that she did not want to question him but she had a right to know. "You'd like to know where we are going?"
She nodded, grateful for the hug he gave her next. "Yes, please. I know you haven't told the others but... well... would you tell me?"
Darrus smiled at her, reassuring her that the question was not offensive with a silent look of approval. "Of course."
And with her eyes widening at each word, he revealed exactly where he was taking them all...