Everything had gone so well at first. The orbital defense satellites had responded to Darrus Jeht's codes and allowed them to approach the planet. The stationary guns on the surface had obeyed the ceasefire order and stayed quiet. Even the landing facility had acknowledge his command status and activated, guiding down their shuttle and Basilisks. When they touched down everything was powered but unmanned, systems on automatic.
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."