With hesitant fingers, Darrus worked the controls of the dust-covered holorecorder. It took a few moments for the nearly spent capacitor in the device to get the projector working. After a series of seemingly random flickers above the small metal disc, an image began to coalesce.
"Do you want us to give you some space?" Maya asked softly. Her voice was pitched to be private but the small chamber they were in made every sound a booming echo.
Darrus shook his head, his facial expressions blessedly hidden by his faceplate right now. "No need." Then long spent hours of etiquette training kicked in, reminding him to do what he should have remembered in any case. "Thank you."
As Maya smiled and stepped back to the nearest wall, the image began coherent. It was the Master that laid nearby, slumped in death on the barren floor. In the projection, of course, he was sitting upright and moving. Darrus noted with some sadness that even alive, he looked just as sallow and dry as his corpse did now. "I am sorry, Kaazon," he murmured under his breath before image started to speak.
It hurt to hear how frail the once vibrant elder's voice had become.
"I have this message biocoded. Only you should be able to retrieve it. If you are not Master Darrus Jeht, I beseech you in my capacity as a member of the Jedi Order and a General of the Republic Army to see it into his hands if he still lives. What I have to say is for his ears only and would profit you nothing to keep from him."
Master Kaazon was even diplomatic in his last moments. That only made the guilt stab at him more. This was his fault. He changed the last door's security and told no one. If he had been willing to trust just a little more...
"Darrus, as you no doubt know, we came under assault by the Trade Federation's droid armies. They disabled our repulsion cannons and took down our shields before they attacked. All of this is evident just by what you have seen. What you may not have been able to discover is how they found us. You need to know this. I wanted to bring you the news myself but, alas, we will never leave this hall."
More pain, regret at the death of one of his few friends in the Order. Of course, they were all dead now, weren't they? They died while he was lost in time.
"We were betrayed by our own droids. A maintenance droid at our scanner relay detected a Separatist scout cruiser searching the nebula. The droid transmitted a signal to others around the outpost and they took us down from within. They alerted the cruiser and dropped our defenses. We never had a chance."
The image flickered for a moment as Kaazon doubled over, wracked by a dry cough. Darrus felt his heart ache at the sound of it.
"You should know three things. The first is that every droid betraying us was made on Uffel back in the Cularin system. I was able to get their programming nullified but I suspect others out there may also have the 'traitor circuit'. Beware of it.
"The second is that we were able to shoot down the cruiser before it could secure us as captured. This means they never got to leave the nebula and send any transmissions. Our planet here is safe. Or, my friend, as safe as a world that may be overrun with murderous droids can be. I am not sure if you have had to fight to reach me here.
"If you have, I am sorry. It means my last gambit has failed. After I record this, I am going to use the terminal here to send a kill signal to the outpost's secondary reactor. It will drop the core's shielding and, if I am successful, ion flash the whole base. Everything will shut down, every droid and every means of accessing this place. The doors will freeze and only the private shield in the Vault will keep it safe."
The half-withered Master coughed again, his ragged voice taking on a tone of regret.
"And therein lies the reason for this message. Commander Halx tells me there is nearly a full enemy battalion at the landside security door to the Vault on its far side. The Uffel droids must have told them about it. Only the shield is keeping them from cutting their way in. If I open this door, the shield drops automatically."
Darrus' eyes widened as he started to do the terrible math.
"What we brought here cannot fall into enemy hands. You know as well as I what terrible damage the Separatists could do if they obtain access to it. Perhaps it was arrogance that led me to think we could safeguard it. If so, now I must pay the price for that conceit."
"No... Kaazon, no. You did this? You trapped yourself?"
"If there are no droids here, if the Vault is intact and if I have passed on, you will know we did not fall here in vain. It is safe, safe and now in your keeping. Grieve not for me, Darrus. Remember what I tried so hard to teach you in your youth.
"There is no death. There is only the Force. May it be with you, my friend.
His head hung, Darrus stood motionless as the recorder's light swindled and its cells sputtered out the last of their power. For a long time, he did not move. He did not speak. He was as still and silent as the bodies at his feet.
When the quiet was finally broken, it was by Tymor's business-as-always voice. "Sir, what was he guarding? What do you have here?"
Darrus looked up at him, faceplate hiding eyes that were pitch black and nearly devoid of emotion. How dare Tymor show such disrespect? A good man died here, three good men counting the clones, and all this Mandalorian could think about what what it could profit them? How dare he? Such an insolent cur should be cut down where he stood!
Darrus felt his hand flinch to his belt, to the spot where his lightsaber rested. In that moment, the instant between wanting to kill and doing it, he snapped back to his senses.
What was he thinking?!
Darrus staggered back, dropping the holorecorder and shaking his head to clear it. Maya, sensing his distress, rushed to his side. She held his arm, staying close against him. "Shhhh, calm. Calm. This is a terrible place, Darrus. Come back. Please."
He focused on her voice. Breathing in, he tried to find his center. "I... this place. The Vault."
Tymor stood more cautiously, unsure of what just happened. "Yes, sir," he nodded, keeping his eyes on Darrus now. "The Vault, yes. But what is in the Vault? Jedi do not die idly or for nothing. What could be so important that this one willingly made this hall his tomb?"
In answer, Darrus turned around. The murdering impulse was gone now, just a fleeting moment of weakness. He would have to meditate on that, come to terms with where it had come from and why it had taken hold so easily. Was his control slipping? Just how far down the dark path was he now?
But that was for later. For now, Tymor's question was a valid one. It deserved to be answered. He hooked up his datapad, made a connection to the door's terminal and sent the override code. Old metal groans, brittle circuits flared to life.
Darrus glances back at his companions as the door opened, revealing the Vault. He could only imagine that behind the Mandal's visor, his face was as awestruck as Maya's. The woman's expression was one of stunned and utter disbelief.
"Welcome," Darrus said softly,"to the true purpose behind Sanctora. Welcome to the Vault."