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."