Wednesday, November 29, 2006

The Center Cannot Hold

Darrus lost count somewhere around a thousand. He had never really appreciated how large a ship the Maelstrom was. The cruiser was gigantic, especially when one was crawling through it. His arms had passed hurting a long time ago. Now they simply ached with the dull fire of limbs pushed far beyond their limits. If they ever worked again, he'd consider it a miracle of the Force.

Regarding the Force, he was still completely drained. He knew why; that power only came in times of relaxation or anger. Since he refused to accept the latter and had no time for the former, he was doing this all on his own. He desperately wanted to take a few minutes to calm his mind and let the Force flow through his exhausted body but every second counted now.

He wasn't sure why but he had the distinct feeling the Maelstrom, and consequently he, was fast running out of time.

That feeling was reinforced by a sudden lurch through the deck. The whole ship seemed to shudder for a moment as if struck by a mighty fist. It was the third such impact since he'd started climbing down to the hanger level. He knew what the sound was but that knowledge brought no comfort.


Without power, the ship could neither raise shields nor use point-defense guns to clear the debris outside. The Maelstrom had apparently drifted close to the far edge of the asteroid field during its time in the rift, but close wasn't good enough. There were still tumbling rocks out there big enough to crush the battleship like a Dantooine bloodworm under a pirate's boot. Another thought with no comfort in it...

Sheer fortune, something Darrus was not used to benefitting from, had carried the vessel this far without being destroyed. The weary Jedi knew quite well his luck would not hold much longer. On the off chance he did drift out of the field intact, the ship would be an instant target for the first band of raiders to come along. Like he was now, unable to stand and unarmed, he'd be easy prey as well.

Feeling helpless made his fury bubble to the surface, causing the deck plates nearby to shake as the Force surged once more through the air. He closed his eyes and forced those emotions back into check. He was angry, that could not be denied, but he did not dare let it take him again. Still, he was crippled and if he didn't make it out, what would it matter?

Surely he could use the Dark Side long enough to get to the hanger. What harm could there be in that?

He clenched one fist and slammed it into the deck, letting the pain shock him back into clear thought. That was the trap! It was thinking like that, rationalizing the Dark away, that he had to keep out of his head. It would be so easy to let rage carry him the rest of this long, long way. So... damned... easy...

And focusing on that, focusing on willing himself into control, Darrus took each lurching crawl-step closer to the hanger and, he prayed, escape from this floating deathtrap.


By the time he levered open the last door and fell to the cold steel floorplates of the Maelstrom's main hanger, the ship had been struck six more times. The last impact had been the worst and Darrus suspected the bridge no longer existed. The sheering scream of torn steel had echoed through the ship, a sound he felt in his very soul. This ship had been an important part of his life, carrying him through four campaigns in the name of the Republic. She deserved a better death than this.

Unfortunately, he had nothing else to offer. In fact, if he didn't keep moving, there'd be two deaths soon. Leaning up on arms that felt raw, he looked over the flight deck, hoping against hope that a ship, any ship, had been left behind.

The Legacy was gone, its droid pilot having followed his last command to it. He'd half-expected R-0 to refuse and still be here, a fried husk of an astromech defiant to the last. He felt a moment's joy that the quirky little droid had made it out. That made him smile, a rare expression on his face these days.

Unfortunatey, the same energy backlash that fried his ship was exactly why he doubted this deck would hold him any hope. Sure enough, the few fighters he could see hanging in docking clamps above him were covered in carbon scoring and obviously ruined. Two had melted cockpit glass and the third was intact aside from its engine housing... which was lying on the deck nearby in a pile of blackened char. None of these would save him.

He crawled along the back wall of the flight deck, looking with fading expectations at one useless ship after another. He passed the docking bay where the Legacy had been, silently wishing R-0 and Millinae luck, wherever they were. He hoped the crafty astromech had found her and was keeping her out of trouble. Checking himself with a soft laugh, he amended that to hoping it was helping her in whatever trouble she was currently in. He knew better than to think Trill's sister would ever live quietly.

Trill... The thought of her drained his strength and sent him face-first to the deck. He'd tried so hard to keep her safe, keep her out of this war. And for what? So his best friend and second-in-command could betray him and kill her? Why? Why did Marr-ek do it? Darrus hadn't been blind; he'd always seen the attraction between his ARC trooper commander and Trillinae. Frankly, he'd been grateful Trill had someone to lean on when he couldn't be there.

That's why none of this made any sense. Why would Marr-ek betray him? Why would he hurt Trill? He could understand why the other clone troopers might turn on him. He'd been worried that someone might eventually find a way to turn the clones against the Republic, though a loyalty shift of this magnitude was nearly inconceivable. In his heart, he knew the answer. His mentor, Palpatine...

Had he been played for a fool this whole time? Had the kindly old man who'd visited him every day during his recovery from Geonosis truly been plotting to turn the Republic against the Jedi? What of their conversations, their debates about might making right and the role of the Force in keeping order throughout the galaxy?

His inner debate was ended suddenly; the ship lurched violently and listed to one side as another impact thundered above him. The largest one yet, the Maelstrom couldn't take much more. If he didn't find something spaceworthy soon, he'd be no better off than Trill soon.

The thought of joining her in whatever life came after this had a certain appeal. He could just stop, lean against the wall, and wait for the end to come. Surely he'd done enough, fought hard enough; didn't he deserve to rest?

His hand slammed down again, this time almost outside his conscious control. He had to snap out of this. Despair was just another path to the Dark Side. If he was going to survive, he would have to keep his mind on the present and keep striving to find a way off this doomed vessel. There were no other options. He just needed one chance, one small break.

And he found it just past the Legacy's docking port On a small elevated ramp, an ARC-170 rested in an open cradle. It looked undamaged on the outside and a tell-tale shimmer around the fighter/bomber told him why. Its shields were active; they must have been on this whole time, protecting the craft from the power surge that destroyed everything else here.

Darrus did not waste time questioning his good fortune. He moved his way up the ramp's side gantry, painfully leaning to one side to protect his broken rib and keep it from working any closer to his lung or heart. There, on the ramp, a small datapad with a shield unit of its own was laying in a coil of wires. Darrus recognized it instantly as one of R-0's. "Clever droid," he muttered to himself. "Still watching over me." Pressing the pad's command override button, he lowered the ship's shields and initiated its boarding protocol.

Climbing the ARC-170's ladder was an extreme effort, one that made his sundered, burned chest scream in agony, but he made himself keep moving until he reached the forward canopy and wedged it open. Doing so almost caused him to pitch forward and land on his hurt ribs, something that could have been fatal. He caught the edge of the cockpit and steadied himself, slinging one nerveless leg in at a time.

Once inside, he powered up the ship, hoping the shields hadn't left the ARC-170 too drained to fly. To his relief the fuel cells were still at 60%, more than enough for a slow burn. He wouldn't be going anywhere fast but he could get off the cruiser before...

The hanger shook wildly, causing two of the fighters hanging nearby to rip free from their clamps and come smashing down into the deck. Metal and glass flew everywhere, pattering off Jeht's craft like glimmering rain. Above him, the superstructure of the Maelstrom began to wail - a swan song of anguished steel.

"Time to go."

There was no power in the hanger for opening the blast doors and no guarantee they'd be able to do so even if there was. Jeht transferred firing controls from the middle cockpit to his own, his heads-up display getting even more complicated. The ARC-170 was designed for three clone troopers - one pilot, one gunner, and a reverse seated weapons officer with backup controls. Handing the complex craft without help would be... interesting.

His hand glided over the missile toggles, arming a pair of concussion warheads. Before the ship could tear itself apart overhead any worse, he fired them both at the massive hanger doors in front of his ship and braced for the rough ride he was about to take.

The missiles did their work well. Two fire blossoms ablated the metal portals instantly, tearing open a ragged pathway outside the ship. Black loomed ahead for a moment, then all the atmosphere on the flight deck rushed through the hole at once. All the wreckage and everything not bolted down, including Jeht's craft, went with the air, shrieking out of the still-burning passageway into the cold of space.

Jeht kicked on his engines as the ARC-170 moved through the flame cloud, using the craft's thrusters just enough to avoid ripping the ship open on the cragged edges of the hanger doors. He managed to keep the fighter/bomber intact, though its paint job was ruined by the atavistic plasma roiling over the craft's hull. He saw the cockpit glass warp slightly and held his breath, hoping the ship would pass through the heat envelope before it melted.

It did, flying past the fires of the doorway and into the starry night beyond. Now Jeht brought the ARC-170's avionics up fully, taking control of the craft as best he could. The ship was a little cooked but otherwise seemed intact. Damage control was offline; he just had to trust his instincts. Right now, they were yelling at him to flee the area.

A moment later, he saw why. What he'd been fearing for the Maelstrom was coming to pass. A massive asteroid easily three times the size of the cruiser itself was spinning straight into its drifting path. Jeht turned the ARC-170 and had just enough time to bid his vessel a regretful farewell before the gargantuan stone crushed it out of existence. An silent explosion of silver debris marked its final passing.

Jeht closed his eyes for a moment, letting the grief pass. He had no time for further goodbyes. The loss of the Maelstrom, taking with it all of his crew, also marked the end of his service in the Republic. He wasn't a General any longer. He wondered if he was even a Jedi.

"What am I now?" Then, considering the effects of the Lenarian Rift, he added, "When am I?"

One thing was certain; he wouldn't be finding any answers out here. This particular ARC-170 had a hyperspace drive unit, albeit a small one. He wouldn't be getting far, though a few systems in a jump was feasible.

He considered going to Cularin; it was close and he'd had friends there. Unfortunately, that was why he couldn't go there. He'd surely drawn the Grand Chancellor's wrath by disobeying orders. Until he could determine how things had gone in the Clone Wars since his hopefully short absence, he did not dare risk their safety.

That meant a neutral system. He looked over the star map, dreading what he knew he'd find. There, on his screen, was the only system within reach that had no allegiance to either the Republic or the Separatist movement.

He cussed. In Hutt.

And then he set his navicomp for Tattooine.

<--- Stats: Darrus Jeht's Race --->

I've been asked to post stats and while I am still digging for Jeht's original character sheet and his subsequent leveled version, this is something to tide you all over:

Darrus Jeht's as-of-yet Unnamed Race (Star Wars d20)
Little is known of Darrus' people, especially by Master Jeht himself. He knows only what was told to him by his adoptive mentor and what little he waws able to glean out of the Jedi Archives during his time on Coruscant. Biological tests have shown a genetic tendency towards agility and lower gravity survivability, while multiple adaptations seem designed for a race evolved from night-hunting predators relying on speed over brawn.

"Jeht's" Species Traits (Near human)
+2 Dexterity, -2 Strength. Adapted to swift, subtle movements, Jeht's species does not possess the muscle mass to excel at contests of strength.
Medium-size. As Medium-size creatures, this race has no special bonuses or penalties due to their size.
Base speed is 12 meters. The race's talent for speed shows in their slightly enhanced movement rate. This speed comes from an optimized physiology and serves as a constant base rate.

Darkvision, 120 feet.

All members of this species gains the Improved Initiative feat for free.

Hyper-sensitivity: This species has extremely well-developed nervous systems. This accounts for their grace and reaction speeds but also comes with a number of drawbacks. They are automatically dazzled in lighting conditions of moderate brightness or higher. They must also make a Fortitude saving through when taking wound damage. DC for this save is 10+the damage taken. Failure leaves the PC fatigued from acute pain until the damage is healed.

+2 species bonus to Move Silently, Jump, Balance, and Tumble. Acrobatic by nature, this species is graceful in every aspect of physical motion.
-2 species penalty to Survival. Their lack of muscle and bone density makes it difficult for this race to thrive under adverse conditions.
Automatic Languages: Basic

*** When will the hurting stop? ***

I've been asked by a couple of people when Jeht's life is going to get better. Well, he's in a bad spot now, but it can't rain all the time.

Just bear with us; he'll get better soon. I promise.


Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Trial by Fire

His first conscious thought was of heat. He'd been dreaming of Geonosis, the desert arena where so many of his friends had fallen. In his mind's eye he was there again, caught in the throat by a droid's stray blaster shot. The fire... the pain.

And just like then, he woke up to feel that same pain, that dull ache that had taken most of his voice that fateful day. Even now, all he could manage was a raspy whisper, a voice barely loud enough to be heard in the best of circumstances. His armor had been fitted with an amplifier for field command, something he'd prefered to the alternative of cybernetic reconstruction. An amp in his gorget was something he could take off. A piece of metal in his neck was there for life.

Only now, he wasn't lying on his back in one of the corridors of the arena, looking up at a shadowy figure with a hand on his throat. He was staring at broken light panels again, a large steel girder across his chest. This time, the bridge wasn't as dark. In fact, there seemed to be a great deal of light coming from the front of the room. Groggily, still drained from earlier, he turned his head to see where all the illumination was coming from.

"Oh joy," he whispered to himself. "The bridge is on fire."

A few seconds later, the first wave of panic hit. His people, he'd come to learn, were pyrophobic. Some of that came from the fact that his eyes were so light-sensitive that fire was physically painful to look upon. The rest was probably just because fire really, really hurt.

In any case, he had to move and it had to be now. One of the fires was near his legs, appendages he could still only barely feel. In another few minutes, his robes would likely catch and then he'd see how much sensation was left in them. That wasn't the sort of nervous system test he relished going through. "Have... to... get out of here," he groaned as he levered himself up onto his arms. The girder rolled off and clanged away.

Walking, he immediately realized, was not an option. "When we can't walk," he grumbled, "we crawl." It took all the strength he had to push off the deck in front of his command chair. The one foot fall to the bridge's main floor felt like a lot farther, sending shocks of pain up his chest.

"Broken ribs," he noted with a sardonic half-smile. "Lovely."

Each time he made himself move forward, his ribs let him know about it. The sharp, stabbing pains told him that indeed, three of them were cracked and one was fully broken. There were other aches as well. One of the cracked ribs was right behind where the assassin, Ventress, has stabbed him with her saber. That rib had never regrown properly to begin with; he wasn't surprised it was one of the ones to go. The scar tissue over it throbbed dully.

"At least I know I'm still alive." He pushed back the wave of guilt that came at the thought of what his survival had cost his men. Clone Troopers were expected to die for their commander; somehow, he doubted this particular demise was anything they'd been warned about. Remorse had its place, but he couldn't afford to lend it eny energy right now. he needed all his strength to escape the Maelstrom's bridge before he roasted alive.

Already the steel-lined chamber felt like an oven. The air, what was left of it, rippled with heat and hurt to breathe. Darrus could see the smoke billowing across the ceiling. From its density and dark color, he doubted it would be long before the cloud descended and took what little oxygen he had left with it. He was running out of time.

Darrus focused on the task at hand- crawling. He made it around the bridge's command dais and wedged himself into the starbord walkway between his chair and the lift door. Looking towards the way out, his heart sank. A line of fire, likely a burning power conduit, lay across the corridor. To get to the only way out, he would have to cross it.

Despite the searing pain, Darrus breathed deeply. He steeled his resolve, stared straight ahead, and forced his arms to start moving. One lurching foot at a time, he moved down the gantry. There was nothing else to do. The choice was either crawl through the flames or wait to die.

In truth, he'd likely have laid down and welcomed death if he hadn't seen what became of his men. His plan had been to die with them by destroying the Shadowblade and flying through the time rift. Now, after witnessing what his powers had done to those loyal clones, he knew he could not just sacrifice himself now. They'd given their lives to preserve his. Dying now would render their final service useless. One way or another, he had to live. He had to.

Then he hit the edge of the flames. He felt the heat on his face and moved as quickly as he could to get over the burning line. The fire was roughly eight inches wide and had eaten completely through the deck. He managed to get his head and shoulders past the blaze before having to stop again.

Instantly, the flames became to sear across his armor and up his sides. Biting back a scream, he pushed again and slide another foot. The fire passed to his stomach, sizzling as it started to melt his body suit. Again, he fought the urge to cry out, saving that intensity for the effort of continuing forward. He pushed.

And pushed.

And pushed again, finally passing the flames and the glowing steel of the rent deckplates. He was burned, perhaps severely in a few places, but he was alive. It couldn't possibly hurt this much to be dead. Glancing down, he could see red flesh and ashen clothing down his chest and legs. He could not tell how serious the damage was but not being able to feel some of the burned sections of skin worried him.

Still, one thing at a time. The fire was behind him but a closed door that likely had no power to open was ahead. He had to get past it if he was going to escape this pressure cooker of a room. Already the air was more oppressively hot than when he'd awakened. At this rate, he had less than ten minutes of air, he estimated.

Jeht crawled to the door, smacked the open button with a piece of fallen steel, and was not surprised when it failed to open. Dropping the metal beam, he sighed and reached for his lightsaber.

Then he cussed.

In Hutt, because it sounded ruder.

"No saber. No power. No time to waste complaining about either."

With a resigned breath, he closed his eyes and reached out to the Force again. There was something there this time, but it was very faint. Very weak. He joked painfully with himself that after his brush with the Dark Side, the Force was now afraid to get anywhere near him. Even if it was, he didn't have time to try and court its favor again. There would be time for atonement later.

Reaching out, he seized what dim energy he could sense and drew it to him. He would need everything he could get for this. The Force responded, sluggish at first but then obeying his command. Power flowed through his tired arms and out into the blast door barring his way. He needed it to move, willed it to move. If this attempt failed, he would not survive this boiler room of a bridge long enough for another.

The first sign of the power working was a sound of metal creaking under his hand. Then the lift door shuddered. A long pause followed, almost long enough for Darrus to lose hope. Just as he was about to give up and let go of the Force, the plate steel buckled and tore out of the doorway, ripping in half as it slammed into the back of the lift like it had been charged by a rancor.

Darrus blinked. He hadn't thought there to be enough Force energy in him to accomplish something that powerful. Then, as the sound of slagging metal dripped dangerously nearby, he returned his focus to leaving this place. He levered forward and rolled into the lift, avoiding the jagged shards of the its former door. The air in the lift was only slightly cooler but it was an immense relief to the Jedi's tortured skin.

"Now... I just have to get this lift car away from here." Groaning at what he would have to do next, Darrus allowed himself a few seconds of indulgent rest, laying back against the cold metal of the car's floor. He couldn't stop for long, but he needed a second to clear his head and plan his next move.

Looking at the wall, he was suddenly glad he'd paid attention when his technical officer described the lift's emergency operations. He knew that below the lift's control pannel, there was a sealed access plate with a manual crank. Though tough to operate, it would let him move the car up or down if he could get to it. That part, at least, was easy.

Darrus reached for his lightsaber.

And cussed. In Hutt.

Ten minutes later found Darrus leaning against the side of the tube, his right hand bloody from having punched open the panel. Though sealed, the panel was fairly thin. Even he, with his relatively poor physical strength, had been able to batter it off its rivets with enough persistence. His hand hurt and wasn't working very well now but the damned thing was open. That's all that mattered right now.

He closed his left hand on the folding level inside the compartment. Moving it into position was easy; actually cranking it was not. It felt like trying to stir half-dried concrete. The handle moved, but only barely and only with extreme effort. Darrus felt certain he'd throw his shoulder out before he reached the next floor down.

By the time the car travelled far enough, inch by inch, to get to the secondary bridge, his shoulder was the least of his concerns. One of his ribs, the fully broken one, had shifted from all his effort. It was pressing into his lung now, making it hard to breathe. Darrus was acutely aware of what would happen if the bone spar perforated anything down there. He'd either drown on his own blood or die instantly from an impaled heart.

"This just gets better and better."

Another level opened the door to the secondary bridge one inch at a time. The room beyond was dark but the air billowing into the lift was almost arctic. Darrus just let it blow past his face, drinking in the desperately needed shift in temperature. His extremely effective night vision, another trait of his species and the reason for his completely black eyes, showed him that while the room beyond had no power, it was intact and, even better, not on fire.

Darrus crawled out of the lift and into the chamber, resting against a cool metal bulkhead. From here, he would be able to get to an access hatch and into the superstructure of the ship. He would have to crawl all the way to the hanger but he could do that. He was concerned for his rib but there was nothing else to do.

With caution and slow going, the crawl to the flight deck would take about an hour. Resting any more would just make the trip longer.

With a weary groan, he teetered back onto his arms and started the journey.

Hand over hand... one at a time...

Monday, November 27, 2006

*** Quick Note ***

If those of you viewing the site would please drop a quick comment when you do so, I'd appreciate it. I am trying to determine my traffic volume and there's no other good way to do that with Blogger.

Just let me know if you like the work, if you hate it, which soda's your favorite, your zodiac sign, whatever. :)


Tempest Fugit

An eternal storm rages amid the floating debris of what should have been the Cularin system's fourth world. A ring of asteroids host to pirates, fugitives, lifeless stone, and the ruins of a distant planet held captive by merciless gravity, this stolid circle is constantly rippling with energies from the glowing rage that rips along its edges and ravages anything unfortunate enough to drive into its unforgiving maw.

Very little survives passage through the withering time storm; anything entering is either torn apart by conflicting fields of power or ages to dust long before reaching the other side. One object in a million goes into the Lenarian Vortex and comes out unharmed...

...making it somehow fitting that Darrus Jeht, a man with no appreciable luck at all, should finally have his fortune come due.


Sight returned first. This was something of a mercy, as it let Darrus become aware enough of being something other than nothing before the pain began. Not waking up to agony, which the sensation flowing through his body quickly became, was a relief to be sure. He was able to focus on the dark lighting panels, cracked and powerless, as his nerves all screamed to life at the same time. It was like being on fire without the benefit of dying afterwards.

Darrus doubled over in pain, lying on the floor with his arms across his chest. Reaching out to the Force for surcease, he found nothing. The Force was with him, but in theory only. Whatever power he might have had within him was gone, used up as thoroughly as an old nedjer fruit squeezed for every last drop of juice. He was, worse than ever before, empty.

That disturbed him even more than the pain. He'd expected to die, had intended to sacrifice himself to destroy the Shadowblade before it could reach Cularin. Either he was dead and in the afterlife there was no Force or he had somehow survived. He couldn't believe the former was possible. The latter, he didn't think bore considering. There was no way he could have survived purposefully dragging a superweapon into the timestorm. The odds of that were...

...another shockwave of pain ravaged his body. From head to toe, his muscles felt like they were tearing free of the bone. He would have screamed if his mouth could open; every joint was locked. The Force could quiet his pain, help him heal, but again there was nothing there. He was completely without energy.

How could this be? All living things were in touch with the Force. As long as there was a spark of life in him, he should be able to use that field of power. To not have any connection to the Force would mean he really was dead. As soon as he could move again, he took a deep, fearful breath and put his hand on his chest.

Relief flooded through him at the feel of a heartbeat. He was alive, or at least as alive as could be determined. Pain was still flaring along his limbs but he was able to move of his own accord now. It wasn't much but it was a start.

First things first, he had to sit up. Balance proved to be an issue as he tired and failed to rise. Twice. The third time was a little better; he managed to force himself into a sitting position and lean on his vaguely responsive arms fast enough to keep from falling again. He felt broken, though everything seemed intact. He felt savaged, but he didn't seem to have any wounds. Looking around, he took stock of his immediate surrounding in the dim light. Two arms. Two hands. Ten fingers. Two legs. Two feet.

And a chamber full of cold, still corpses.

That snapped him out of his pain-induced reverie. He was still where he'd expected to die - the bridge of the Maelstrom. Nothing seemed to be operational. Every light, every control panel was completely dark, devoid of any function. Many panels were cracked or burned out; the same held true for the light panels above. The only reason he could see the bodies was because the front viewing ports were frozen open, ice crystals outside the transparent steel as thick as the stone blocks of the Almas temple.

Outside the ship, there was some kind of radiant field just outside the bridge's field of vision. It was bright enough to illuminate the room but not enough to see by clearly. To Darrus' sensitive eyes, it was more than sufficient to count the corpses. Ten, all in armored uniforms, all known to him as his command crew. Brave soldiers and loyal ship mates, dead to a man.

He couldn't walk yet but that didn't matter. Darrus dragged himself by his arms, wincing as each forced pull wrenched his shoulders and made his back scream in pain. He moved to the nearest trooper and pulled off his helmet. He could feel they were dead, but he had to see it for himself. These men deserved, at the very least, for someone to care about their passing.

Darrus had not known what to expect but the sight he revealed was worse than he'd imagined. The clone trooper was most certainly dead, but his corpse was dry and withered. He wasn't just deceased; he was actually disiccated. The man's body was a drained, almost ashen husk.

The world-weary Jedi was no stranger to death, especially in recent days, but this was different. He'd seen a lot of people die, even caused more than a few of them himself, but this face of the reaper was a new one. To him, it had only been a few moments since the last time he'd seen this soldier alive. Granted, those few moments had felt like an eternity of oblivion, but this body looking like it had been a literal aeon since the clone's demise. How?

Were they all like this?

His exhausted arms paid the price of his curiosity. Feeling was returning to the rest of his body as he dragged himself from corpse to corpse. Instead of being helpful, his physical awakening just seemed to make the pain of living more acute. Biting back screams as his back popped with each new direction, he checked every man and refused to feel sorry for himself. A little agony was a hell of a lot better than being dead; he could hurt. They no longer could.

Ten helmets removed, ten dead crewmen. Each one as dry and cold as the last, they looked like they had passed on years ago. How long ago, he couldn't exactly say. His skills at anatomy were limited to knowing what parts a foe could live without. Beyond that, dead was just dead.

Which they were and he wasn't. That begged a new question. Why wasn't he dead?

The answer, or at least a clue, came to him as he moved back to his command chair and levered up into it. His legs were still not working, but he wanted a higher vantage point to the room. Looking up from the floor was only hurting his already aching neck. It was only when he glanced over where he'd awakened that he noticed something out of place.

Or rather, everything out of place. The entire bridge was covered in shards of glass and dust from the broken lights in the ceiling except where he'd been laying. There, in a perfect circle about six feet wide, there was nothing. The floor was completely clean. Spotless.

That made him look down at himself again, this time with a critical eye for his clothing. The armor his dead troopers were wearing showed signs of age and neglect, yellowing along the ceramic composite plates and gray stress lines in the undersuiting. His own? Pristine. His bodysuit wasn't even overly creased. His attire, armor and all, looked as fresh as if he'd laid down for a five minite nap.

Darrus' head was throbbing but even though the headache, he could figure out at least part of why he might be alive. The Force wasn't dead here; he'd just used it up. His reserves, the ambient power in the area, even the...

He stopped dead cold. Disiccated. The bodies were dry and drained, like something had leeched the life right out of them. No.

Oh, by the Powers, no.

He stared at his hands, trembling now from something other than searing pain. His men were dead, and he was alive because of it. The horror of what he'd done dawned on Darrus and his vision went black again. One shock too many, the revelation sent him right back into the bliss of unconsciousness.


Darrus had always heard that some traumas were so severe, the person suffering them would retreat into a catatonic or insensate state of mind until they could cope with the source of their mental collapse. He had never really believed it could happen until now, until he returned to awareness sitting in the middle of the clean spot on the floor surrounded by every single component of his lightsaber all arranged in a half circle in front of him.

Most of the parts were badly damaged; they appeared to have been the victims of the energy flare that took out the Maelstrom's systems and lighting. The saber's power core was a charred cylindrical wreck, the emitter was a melted slag inside its warped and ruined housing, and even the weapon's grips were the victim of its apparent meltdown.

A meltdown... just like his. He felt more than a little akin to his ruined weapon, broken and melted, a tool of violence far past the point of being whole ever again. He bid his lightsaber a final good bye and started numbly collecting its few salvagable parts.

As he did so, he checked himself. This was not really his saber. This was the stunsaber, a weapon he'd built from the masterfully crafted weapon of his friend and colleage Qui back on Cularin. He smiled slighty, a bit of emotion managing to pierce the dull haze of his guilt. Those days had been simpler ones.

He picked up each of the weapon's shock arms, turning them in cold fingers and watching as the light of the viewports glittered off the crystals set into each one. Before its destruction, this weapon had been a perfect match for Master Qui-Lan; it could incapacitate rather than kill through the flow of electrical power along its prongs. Qui had always been looking for alternatives to killing; Darrus had been happy to gift him with a birthday present that gave him exactly that.

Now, it was a memory - a ruined pile of metal scraps so charred a Jawa would turn its nose at them. Assuming they had noses; Darrus had never really been sure on that point. He'd only known one in anything more than a passing capacity and that one was an insane little lifeform who never took his blast helmet off.

Darrus felt his mind wandering. In his hands, the four pieces of the stunsaber he could save rested peacefully. Fragments of a weapon in the hands of a killer. He found that fitting in a macabre way, to be sitting in a room filled with his victims holding the ruins of his focus as a warrior. If this was the last moment of his life, if he died in his next heartbeat, it would all be perfectly poetic.

Only he didn't. It wasn't. He kept breathing, his heart kept beating.

He was almost disappointed.

Slowly, he pocketed the four pieces, taking care to put its Viridian crystal in a smaller pocket at his hip. They were beautiful when charged, glowing with a silver-green hue, but outside of a lightsaber Viridian gems were notoriously fragile. He'd already lost so much; he wanted to save this one little part of his past if he could.

Right... like he'd been able to save Lx from the Jedi Hunter's bomb.

Or Karaturana from Thaerian mercenaries. Or Aayla from betrayal on Fellucia.

Or even Trill. He hadn't even been able to save her.

At that last thought, another emotion pushed its way past the pain. Tore its way through, more like, with claws of fire. Hate. Rage at his best friend's treachery. At his own incompetence. At trust turned into weakness. At loss. Fury surged through him, unchecked and unregretted.

And suddenly, the pain was gone. The weakness fled the power of his heated emotion. His legs throbbed once in agony and then felt nothing more than the urge to stand. Riding the crest of this mind rush, Darrus willed himself to his feet and reached out with the Force. He wasn't drained any more. Far from it, there was an instant flux of raw energy. His hands, outstretched and trembling, began to crackle with arcs of blue-white electricity. Around him, a wind began to whirl. Dust rose up, a squall of air and darkness spiralling to life in the middle of his lifeless bridge.

Within moments, he was standing. A second later, he was rising into the air on the force of his vortex. The wind was rushing around him now, catching loose armor plates, pieces of shattered glass, and even vacant helmets. The ruins of the stunsaber joined the dancing debris as lightning flared between his hands. So much! So much energy!

He threw his head back and screamed in rapture as the lightning played across his body and arced out to spiral in the storm of his own making. "Yes!" he cried out, caught in the overwhelming heat of his channeling. "Power! Unlimited power!"

And in his mind's eye, in the corner of his thoughts not yet taken over by the sweet seduction of this newfound strength, his own words echoed direly. Where had he heard that before? It was a memory, but not of his. No, it reverberated through his soul not as something he had witnessed or endured but as a shadow in the Force. Something of such import that he could not ignore it, could not turn away from it. The moment in Time that his words called up slammed full-force into his consciousness.

The vision lasted but an instant. One moment, he was held aloft on winds of frenzied ascension. The next, he crashed to his knees under the weight if his own immeasurable dispair. Through the eyes of the Force, he saw the Grand Chancellor's office on Coruscant. Through the ears of the Force, he heard his words roar like thunder from Palpatine's mouth.

And through the soul of the Force, he felt Mace Windu die. He felt the only father he'd ever known assailed by the very energies he was letting surge through his body, slain by the same Force he was so eagerly embracing now.

It took everything he had, perhaps more than he could give, but shock and revulsion turned his acceptance into loathing, his bliss into crushing shame. He forced the power out of him, wanting nothing to do with it, wanting it as far away as he could cast it out! Lightning crashed all around him, searing at his skin and tearing holes in the deck. Arcs flared in all directions, powdering corpses and setting the bridge alight in a shower of sparks of flame.

Darrus shuddered, wanting every mote of this terrible energy out of his body. He didn't care if it hurt him, didn't care if it killed him. He had just danced on the edge of the Abyss and regardless of the cost, he could not... would not let it drag him in. Pain returned in waves as the storm took its due; the darkness would not be so easily denied.

Finally, mercifully, Darrus lost his grip on consciousness. The peace of an oblivion he had never meant to escape returned.

All become silent. All became cold.

And in the void, the Maelstrom burned...

Monday, November 20, 2006

***That's Right!***

I'm posting again.

All authors suffer a period of burnout. Mine's just lasted a lot longer than I'd imagined it would.

The adventures of Darrus Jeht are far from over. Though the Living Force campaign has ended and with it the LucasFilm sanction for Jeht's escapades, he can and will continue as a fan-fiction icon near and dear to my heart.

So sit back, strap yourselves in, and prepare for the jump to lightspeed.

The tales contained in the bloodshard holocron have only just begun.

Where the Living Force ends, the story of its most famous, ill-fated Jedi begins...



Moments, frozen in crystal.

Stepping off the shuttle, the sounds and smells of a new world... Cularin.

Seeing Almas for the first time. Stones of old, casting shadows far deeper than they should be.

Watching deadly light tear apart a lovely woman.

Meeting her twin... and falling in love.

The clash of weapons over ruins at the decadent heart of a city-world.

Loss in an arena to the cacophony of insectile wings. So many lights, extinguished forever.

The counsel of an old man, once a friend, now an dire enemy.

Marr-ek. Bitter betrayal.

Aayla. A tragic choice.

Trillinae. Gone forever.

All falls to darkness, and in that void, nothingness comes at last.


Change's End - Last Stand

There comes a moment where the line between a hero and an ordinary life comes down to nothing more than a single decision. One second where action or inaction determines where the hand of fate will fall. Many seek to be champions for reasons of their own but, more often than not, the true measure of a hero lies in what they do when everything depends on their actions between one tick of the doomsday cloak and the next.

Tragically, most true heroes do not survive a third second slipping by...


“Bring us in close,” he ordered to his bridge crew. “Keep weapons on cold fire; I don't want an energy spike giving away our location.”

There was silence all around him but, in keeping with their skills and training, the troopers manned their stations and followed his commands. Even so, one voiced the reservations they all felt. “Sir, those are our ships out there. Won't an unprovoked attack on them be considered treason?”

Darrus Jeht sighed inwardly as the clone commander's voice echoed his own feelings. Still, there was no turning back now. In the time it had taken them to travel from the outer edge of the system to this point within the orbit of Almas, the Maelstrom's sensors had picked up these two Republic cruisers gunning down seven starships. While his crew certainly saw those actions as combating Separatist sympathies in the Cularin system, Jeht knew better. Each ship had been harboring Jedi, users of the Force fleeing a galaxy-wide pogrom against their kind.

His crew would have known this if the Maelstrom's communications hadn't been down when the order was given from Coruscant. Even then they would have received word by now if Darrus' astromech had not been keeping that communications failure going by “unorthodox” repair techniques. These stalling tactics would not keep his crew in the dark permanently, but somehow Darrus did not think would be a problem for much longer.

Mind back on the present, Master Jeht nodded to the clone trooper questioning his order. “I have reason to believe those ships have been taken over by the enemy. Since we cannot get word to or from home base, I have to go with my instincts.” Then, knowing how much of stickler clones were for discipline, he added. “You have a problem with your orders, soldier?”

“Sir, no sir!” The helmsman sat back down and plotted a course that would bring them into formation between the two other cruisers. Jeht noted their call signs on the tactical display – the Undaunted and the Primal, two gunships with just as much firepower as his own. Taking them out would require finesse...

...and treachery. With both ships turning to face the Maelstrom, Jeht sent a short ranged signal to them advising them of his orders to penetrate the system and hunt down current targets through the inner orbital rings. It was a lie, but it was just the kind of thing he figured their Captains to be expecting. Sure enough, the ships parted and allowed him to pass between them without incident.

As soon as his ship was in position, Darrus struck. Before any of his crew could question why enemy-held vessels would be so accommodating of the Maelstrom, he transferred firing controls to his station and unleashed a barrage off both broadsides. Without powering the guns up fully or locking onto targets, his attack was far less accurate or lethal than he had been hoping. Most of the laser fire slammed into raised shields or missed completely. Only a few telling hits were scored, mostly in the last few moments of the volley.

Even so, the surprise hits were effective enough. The Undaunted blossomed plasma along its engine decks and listed violently away from the Maelstrom. The Primal was not as badly hit but its weapons array went cold and dark, unable to return fire. “Scramble all fighters!” Jeht's order was carried out instantly and a second later, hanger doors opened all along his gunship.

Now came the true deception, one he could not have instigated without his astromech's clever help. Darrus had always been more than a little worried about R-0's tendency towards deception but at this moment, he could not have been more grateful for it. Using the communications array the rest of his vessel thought to be offline, he began blanketing space with a complex pattern of binary control signals. The clever little droid had even told him the ruse would be easy because, for some reason, the ship's sensors were already rigged to be bypassed.

By themselves the false signals did nothing, but they were just strong enough to be picked up by the ship sensors of the cruisers and their fighters. If this worked, he would know within moments when...

“Sir! We are picking up telemetry data, Separatist coding. They could be command transmissions.”

Jeht nodded quietly, letting the comment hang in the air for a moment. He knew well that the best deception was one its targets created for themselves. In this case, he was counting on the efficiency of the clone troopers to weave a deceit better than any he could craft on his own.

“Sir, they are controlling those fighters with battle droid pilots!”

He nodded again, both pleased with himself that the ruse was working and disgusted with himself that it was necessary at all. These were good men, as were the pilots he'd just sent out – pilots he did not intend to take back aboard. “Understood, commander. Is there any risk of those signals...?”

On cue, three levels above the bridge, R-0 forced the Maelstrom's communication array to begin broadcasting a wide-range jamming tone. “Sir! There's a disruption field going active. The source is our ship!” Jeht waited for the inevitable, logical conclusion. “Sir, the enemy vessels are taking control of the Maelstrom's systems!”

Darrus made himself frown. With the way he was feeling, it was not difficult. “I understand, commander. Lock out all external communications and bring down the primary array. We can't risk falling into Separatist hands.”

The order was followed instant; no one asked what would befall the now cut-off pilots outside. Without orders or communications, they would be flying blind and likely destroyed by the enemy. There was no other alternative, so the clones did their duty and completed their orders. If Darrus had not been so preoccupied with his own guilt at manipulating his men, he would have marveled at their efficiency.

Now came the hard part. With sensors on passive only and no communications, the Maelstrom would be unable to identify the other two cruisers as anything but what Jeht had called them – ships under enemy control. This would leave its crew free to fight without concern for the Republic or their fellow soldiers. If Darrus was to survive a battle with two Republic capital ships, he would need his crew in top fighting form.

As if in answer to his thoughts, the bridge rocked beneath him, sending several clones sprawling to the deck. “Control surface hit on the starboard side, sir! It is not critical, but shields there are failing.”

“Understood, lieutenant. Bring us around to bearing 10 mark 4 and fire our main guns at the Undaunted before she can recover. Target her engines.” The order was carried out swiftly and as the Maelstrom fired a burning twin pulse of red light, Darrus could see the fireball it created in the Undaunted's thruster pairing burn away the ship's ability to fly or enter hyperspace. A second later, the fires spread inward and tore the vessel apart. In one salvo, he had cut his opposition in half.

Unfortunately, the other half was still capable of fighting back. Another hit shook his vessel as the Primal reminded him that she had gotten her main lasers back online. This time, the damage was to the port main thruster. Still functional, it was no longer at top output. That would limit his speed, but Darrus had a feeling that one way or another, leaving Cularin was not really a concern for him. Still, the Primal had just made it impossible for him to turn or chase with enough speed to get her in his sights. If this were a dogfight, he would probably be done for. Even now, all of his fighters would be closing to engage the Primal at close range, diving and spiraling and risking their lives to land any shot they could.

“Hmmm,” he suddenly thought, “a dogfight indeed.”

“Kill all engines, fire all stabilizers at 80% and overburn the bow landing thrusters. Do it now!” Without meaning to, Jeht touched on the Force and drove his command into the minds of all present. Even faster than they would have, the clone troopers complied. The Maelstrom trembled violently as numerous bulkheads shook loose and support structures buckled under the stress of the sudden stop. Impressed that she held together even that well, Jeht waited the fraction of a second it took for the thrusters in his cruiser's nose to fire.

Intended for slowing duties when the Maelstrom made its infrequent landings, the bow thrusters were never designed to be used in space. The effect of doing so was one none of the crew could anticipate but what Jeht was counting on; the vessel flipped over while still moving forward at a crawl. He could hear the metal in his ship scream in protest, but she held together. No matter what he did to her, she was holding together.

Holding together, and now facing a very surprised Primal. “Fire all forward guns, full power! We only get one shot!” The dark space between the Maelstrom and her prey lit up like a thousand streaking suns. The light boiled away the cruiser's main shields and deck plating instantly. The Primal's superstructure glowed for a moment, then disappeared in an explosion that blinded the Maelstrom's sensors.

For several heartbeats, nothing existed by the painful white of the forward screen and the dawning realization that he was still alive. Darrus quickly leaped out of his chair and dashed over to the sensor logs. Even on passive, the Maelstrom's arrays were state of the art. The only flaw in his ruse would be if pilots came back and reported other clone troopers in the fighters they engaged. To both his relief and his chagrin, the detonation of the Primal had completely devastated his own craft. By attacking so swiftly and surprisingly, he had managed to wipe out both sides. He was alive, victorious and desperately wanted go somewhere private and weep.

The end of the battle was also R-0's signal to cancel his interference with the Maelstrom's sensor arrays. The “droid transmissions” ended and any trace of the false signal purged from ship's records. There was no need to continue the ruse. What would happen next was unavoidable; Darrus hated to do it but he realized that he could not keep fooling these men indefinitely. Sooner or later, one of them would get a signal through to Coruscant. As soon as they did, his life expectancy would be measured in moments.

He placed his hand on his wrist, finger over one of the code buttons of his communicator. Pressing it would send a command to R-0 that went against everything he believed in- the silent activation of the Maelstrom's self-destruct. He considered going down with the ship himself, but he knew there was still a job to do here. There were still Jedi and Force users to protect. Without them, he would have happily sat in his chair and disappeared into oblivion with his loyal troops.

He walked calmly towards the rear bridge exit. “Commander, you have the bridge. There's a lot of debris out there. While Engineering tries to repair our damaged engine, I'll go out in the Legacy and look for survivors. Just keep her steady and wait for...”

“Sir, long range sensors have picked up another large ship entering the system!”

He stopped, turning to face the trooper. “Do you have a fix on its type?” This was not at all in the plan. Coruscant could not have known he would be here and certainly did not have the manpower to send another cruiser so swiftly. Neither the Primal or the Undaunted had been able to transmit during the battle, so there could have been no warning. Even if their were, reinforcements would be hours in coming if not longer. Jeht took his finger away from the destruct button and stared at the sensor screens again. “What am I looking at?”

He asked the question, but one glance gave him all the answers he needed. The incoming vessel was something out of his nightmares, a ship he had seen destroyed with his own eyes... eyes that had witnessed the deaths of innocent millions at the same time. “It's impossible, sir, but our sensors indicate that it's the...”

“...the Shadowblade.” He finished the dumbfounded trooper's sentence. Somehow, the Separatist superweapon had survived and was here, now. Jeht blinked once and then set aside his shock. It would only serve the Shadowblade's masters and he had no time for panic. “Commander, does this ship match the sensor ghost we picked up when we entered hyperspace to come here?”

After a few seconds, “Yes, sir. Target vessel is a perfect match.”

How?! His mind searched frantically for an answer even as he ordered the Maelstrom around for an intercept course. Then it hit him - R-0's observation about his cruiser's sensors. “This ship had already been rigged for false signals.” The destruction of the Shadowblade had been a lie. For all he knew, the ship had been in orbit or even hyperspace long before his bombardment reached the ground. All those people, killed for nothing.

“Sir, with Engine One crippled, we'll never make it to the target before it passes through the system's asteroid field.”

So the Maelstrom was not its target? Then what was? “Commander, course estimate on the enemy vessel. Quickly!”

To their credit, his people moved fast. “Vessel is heading for the system's primary planet at impressive speed. Projected time of transit is 28 minutes to the asteroid belt, 10 minutes to cross it and 36 minutes to arrival at destination.”

Jeht cursed silently. That was fast, faster than his ship could go at present. There was no way to catch it before it slipped into the Belt. He grimly thought to himself that universe did not like him enough to have the Shadowblade hit by an asteroid. The only luck he ever had was bad. Used for years by the Chancellor, lied to by the Council, his beloved slain by someone he trusted like a brother...

The clone commander's voice shook him out the dark spiral. “Sir, sensors indicate the enemy vessel is heavily shielded. Firing our main guns after your reversal has shattered their cores. It will take days to repair them. We...”

Again, Jeht knew what the man was going to say. “...don't have anything capable of bringing it down?”

The trooper just nodded. Well, that tore it. Jeht had been certain he would never leave Cularin again. Now he knew why. “Commander, plot an intercept course using 120% burn on the engines.” He looked at the clone with darkly shadowed eyes. “And by intercept, I mean ram.”

The crew did not hesitate more than a moment before fulfilling his orders. Jeht could hear the ship complain as its engines began to burn far hotter than they were ever meant to do. Metal stress groans through every deck but as always, the ship stayed together and did as she was told. The ship's damaged thruster was spraying molten steel and plasma fumes like a pod racer; if it did not explode and take the Maelstrom with it, they might all survive just long enough to smash into the Shadowblade. In a strange way, Darrus found that a comforting thought.

The minutes crawled by, every second counting down towards the end. Jeht watched the Shadowblade's sensor signature loom closer despite its impressive cloaking suite. Ironically, if the Maelstrom had not been calibrated to falsely read the enemy ship in the first place, her sensors would never have picked it up this time. He noted sardonically that the Grand Chancellor had never intended for him to be here again. He was all too happy to disappoint.

“Sir, we'll reach the asteroid belt in 10 seconds on my mark.” The commander watched his screens, adding stoically, “Mark.” Darrus knew why the clone was bothering to say anything at all. He had not given his crew any order to slow down or raise shields before entering the field. The commander and likely everyone else on the bridge were worried they would smash into the first asteroid that crossed their path, especially at these speeds.

The key, of course, was that an asteroid would not be crossing the Maelstrom's path at all. Darrus had spent a lot of time in this belt when we was assigned to the system. Cularin's resident crime boss, an honorable man by nature, gave him several hidden lanes of approach to the Belt. Darrus was using one of those right now. At this speed and trajectory, the ship would not encounter a single rock of any appreciable size. His five years of service in this system had to be good for something, after all.

Darrus checked himself- fifteen years. He had been caught in the same temporal field as everyone else in the Cularin system, catapulted ten years into the future through the terrible powers of the Darkstaff. Even now, there were vast bands of glowing energy tearing their way through the belt, subjecting everything they touched to destructive waves of time. If one flew straight into the heart of one, it was possible to come out the other side unscathed, but the room for error was so minute that only the immensely stupid or the incredibly desperate ever tried it.

He quietly touched a send button on his wrist communicator and murmured into it. “R-0, it's time for you to go. Take the Legacy and get out of here while you can. Go find Millinae and bring her the ship. Maybe with you beside her, she won't be able to ruin this one.” There was an angry string of protesting beeps, but Darrus was in no mood to argue. “Dammit it, R-0, there's no need for you to be here. Let me at least save one person, even if it's a droid.”

As the whine of mechanized ire pealed again over his wrist comm, Jeht turned it off. He trusted in the precocious little robot's sense of self-preservation to override its indignation. Once it calmed down, Darrus had no doubt that R-0 would be in the Legacy as fast as its servos could roll. Secretly, he had always been fond of R-0 and with it being the only piece of Trillinae left, he felt a certain peace at the thought of its survival.

“Sir, the enemy ship is about to emerge from the far side of the Belt. We'll lose sensor contact with it for a few seconds afterwards but we should be able to catch it before it reaches Cularin.”

Darrus furrowed his brow, night-black eyes narrowing. “Explain, commander. Why will we lose sensor lock?”

“Sir, there's an energy wave moving across our trajectory. It doesn't match any known pattern but it is fairly small and should be out of our way before it poses a threat.” The clone paused after that, obviously expecting some kind of orders.

Energy wave, unknown pattern. The time rifts, Darrus thought. He was worried that if they lost sensor contact with the Shadowblade, its cloaking fields might keep it hidden thereafter. He knew where it was going, of course, but it could still cause massive damage before he found it again. Blast the Darkstaff and all its woes! If it helped the Shadowblade escape him, he'd...!

The anger served no purpose and as quickly as it came, Darrus sent it back down. Control was needed here, not frenzy. He reached inward, trying to find the calm in the heart of his spiritual chaos. “The Eye of the Force Storm” as his mentor once called it. “Steady as she goes, commander,” he said in a placid tone. “Steady as she... wait!”

The storm erupted again but not in a destructive way. “Lock on to the Shadowblade and fire every torpedo bay we have at her!”

“Sir, as I said before, we don't have a chance of denting...” Darrus cut the clone a withering gaze so dark the man physically staggered. “I mean, right away sir!” Slumping into the gunnery seat, the clone commander brought up firing solutions. Hesitantly, he spoke again. “Sir, the ship's cloak is breaking our lock. We can't target her effectively.”

Darrus nodded; he had expected that. “Then flood and charge all tubes. Dumb fire everything we've got, commander.”

A hundred streaks raced out of the Maelstrom and surged through the dark towards the enemy ship. Sleek and angular, the Shadowblade looked like its name. A cragged knife of black panels and shielded thruster points, it resembled nothing so much as a bladed talon slicing its way across the stars. All around it, tiny explosions tore apart stray asteroids and impacted harmlessly along its defenses. Nothing penetrated its ebon depths but the detonations got its attention.

And that was exactly what Darrus wanted. The deadly ship turned with impossible grace and slashed through space as it reversed course. Master Jeht had been banking on the ship wanting no witnesses to its mission here; that mandate meant that it would have to destroy the Maelstrom before it could move on to Cularin. With luck, this would give him the opening he needed to bring the dire vessel down.

“Sir, the enemy ship is changing course to intercept us.”

“Put our respective trajectories on screen. I need a surrounding map as well; show me everything out there, including energy disturbances.” As soon as he said it, the order was completed. He was staring at a full three dimensional map of the local asteroids. A glowing swath of iridescent violent represented the time rift dead ahead. It was nearly moving to block the Maelstrom's path but at its current speed, it would be out of the clear asteroid lane within a few seconds.

That would never do; he needed that vortex right where it was. “Commander, change course. Scan the temporal disturbance for its weakest point. Set our path for that spot and don't stray even a meter. We have to hit it precisely at its center or we'll be torn apart.”

In truth, there were other safe zones as well but Darrus did not have time to go into that with the clone commander. Every rift tended to have pockets of relatively stable time energy. He did not understand how the science behind it worked but he knew that there were places in each field where asteroids could drift in, disappear, and drift back out days, weeks or months later without suffering any apparent harm. They were impossible to predict and since they sometimes never released their temporal prisoners at all, they were too risky to use. No, the storm's eye was their only chance.

“I want every available generator powered up and shunted to the forward battery.” Before his dutiful commander could voice his concern, Darrus added, “I know the main guns are down. They aren't the only things up there.”

The next few moments were a nightmare. The Shadowblade was much faster than Jeht had planned on, closing the distance between them in less than half the time he'd hoped. A trio of black steel panels opened along the Shadowblade's edged nose, revealing turbolaser batteries. Without shields, the Maelstrom took a severe beating from its first head-on volley. Deck plates ruptured and the hull took deeply piercing hits along every forward deck. The ship's status panel showed multiple internal fires, but Darrus paid them no heed. None of them mattered; there was nothing he could do in any case.

Urging his vessel forward, Jeht watched the Shadowblade for any sign of weakness. He was hoping, praying to anything that might hear him for just one lucky break. All he needed was to be right about one thing, one suspicion to be proven right. As the dark blade powered up to fire again, his wish was granted.

“There!” he shouted, pointing at the tactical screen. “The Shadowblade's cloaking field is weakest when it prepares its weapons! To lock onto us, it has to relax its jamming!” His exuberance was dimmed by the Shadowblade's next wave of attacks. A massive hole tore through the starboard “wing”, venting seven decks into space along with all their occupants and equipment. Other damaged systems flashed over the captain's chair readout, each one just as ignored as before.

“Bow charge ready, commander?” He gestured to a control panel and looked knowingly at his second in charge. The clone nodded his understanding and took a seat. “On my signal, give the Shadowblade everything we've got.”

The dark enemy sliced closer to the Maelstrom, flying towards the smoke and debris she was guttering to get a straight line of attack on her crippled starboard side. Obviously looking for a quick kill, the Shadowblade opened every port on her hull- dozens of glowing apertures all poised to end this engagement as violently as possible. Darrus waited, unbreathing, as the sensor-blocking field around the vile superweapon dwindled to its lowest point yet. That many guns needed a lot of firing solutions, sensor traffic he could use to guide his own attack... of sorts. “Now!”

The dorsal array near the nose of the Maelstrom spun around, grinding on half-damaged actuators to do so. It opened up with a scintillating gray beam nearly invisible to the eye but very noticeable in its effect. The Shadowblade jerked momentarily out of control, caught in an overcharged tractor beam so powerful, it could not immediately break free. Forced fully sideways, it was towed beside the massive cruiser like flotsam caught in its wake.

“We can't hold her for long, sir.”

“We don't have to.” Then, with a sigh of regret and resignation, “Helm, .03 degrees starboard.”

“That takes out out of the safe path, sir.”

This was it, the moment of decision. Survival for one or survival for an entire world. Him or Cularin. He couldn't save both.

“I know.”

And with that, both ships plunged into the chaotic rift, disappearing into the flaring lights of time...


Effective immediately, the Living Force campaign's web updates are ended. The Changes articles have been part of the game for three years now, bringing options and plot updates to players around the globe. Until the end of 2006, the campaign is available for play through the RPGA; it concludes permanently on December 31st, 2006.

Until that time, and for many years to come in memory, may the Force be with you.