star called Ashkhelhon was no all that different from most of the stars in the
galaxy. It was yellow, about
mid-sized for a star, and was orbited by several planets.
To the naked eye, the Ashkhelhon system was just like any other system.
It had rocky planets, gas giants, asteroids, and one habitable planet.
It wasn't much of a planet at that.
The only life on it was various kinds of flora:
grass, trees, flowers, vines, and the like.
No animal life whatsoever was native to this fourth planet.
The Old Republic explorers who first came across it explored it,
catalogued it, and left it alone. They
figured that it would make a good place to colonize one day.
Then the hectic time following the Trade Federation invasion of Naboo
caused the Ashkhelhon system to be forgotten.
To the naked eye, it looked like just another empty system.
If a Jedi Knight, or anyone else with some skill in the Force had entered the system, however, they would have seen a much different picture. The Ashkhelhon system was covered with a "blanket" of Darkness. The blanket was centered on a large structure located on the Fourth planet. This system had, in fact, not been forgotten. Evil lurked here, an evil that centered around the Training Citadel of the Sith Lord Darth Ispa.
space around the Fifth planet, a large red and orange gas giant, was split by a
ship exiting hyperspace. It was jet black, with a single gold stripe running down the
sides, and of distinctly Surronian construction. The light from the sun cast a bronze glow on the ship.
The single occupant was not really Force-sensitive.
At least, not normally. He
could, however, pick up the presence of evil.
The Darkness that engulfed this system had hit him like a brick to the
back of the head. He was wary, on
his guard. He was also heading
directly into a danger zone.
Carlos DeLong was a man on mission. For nearly four years, he had lived with the absence of any memories from the first 17 years of his life. He had spent those three years searching for clues, and working with the Rebellion to overthrow the Empire. He had found nothing. Not a shred of information, not ever a faint holo, nothing that could tell him who Carlos DeLong really was. That had changed during his second assault with the Aurora Force. They had been on a scouting mission to Lyccos II. Their job had been to evaluate the Imperial presence and, if possible, to destroy it. They had uncovered a diabolical use of Ssi-ruuk entechment technology and some new monstrosity armed with a molecular furnace. They had succeeded in rooting out and destroying this project. But Carlos had found something else there. He found out that he had a sister. The first bit of light had arrived, memories had come into focus. But it stopped with things directly related to his sister. He could remember nothing else.
The second clue had come more than a month later. Mike Bullian had asked him to watch his son, Davil, while he went to the sickbay to get him some medicine. A Sith had attacked and kidnapped the child, in the process beating Carlos into a coma. Somehow, he had known who the Sith was. Somehow he had known where Darth Chir'la, the aforementioned Sith, was going to take Davil. Sometime in his past, Carlos had either been to or heard of the Sith Training Citadel on Ashkhelhon IV. He had to go back there and find out how he knew what was in this system.
The ship Peregrine's Claw streaked through space, heading toward the Dark Planet. They arrived in orbit a few minutes later.
"Start the landing sequence, Peregrine," said Carlos, unable to keep the uneasiness out of his voice.
"Is everything all right, sir?" asked the ships computer as he began to bring the Claw down.
"I've just got this feeling... there's something here... something very, very bad."
The ship entered the planets atmosphere and soon made a fly-by of the Citadel. There was something about that nearly screamed evil. Something about the shape of the building, about the shapes of the spires and towers that rose from it, something about the colors of it, and the way the shadows from the towers and spires were cast. It looked menacing. It also looked very, very familiar.
"The last mission... before the attack... destroy this place..." muttered Carlos.
"What did you say?" asked Peregrine. Carlos seemed to snap out of a daze.
"I...I don't know. We'll worry about that later. Those remote sequencer charges I asked for are in the hold, right?"
"Yes sir, and the detonators are wired through my com system. I would like to know why you have this urge to blow the place up."
"I'm not sure either, Pere. Its just this... compulsion I have. Like its something that I've left undone and I have to make sure it gets done. I...I can't explain it."
Peregrine left it at that and continued the fly-by. Around the back, his scanners picked up something.
"Sir, there are two ships on the main landing bay. One is the one Chir'la used to bring Davil here. I can't ID the other one."
Carlos moved over to the sensor panel and zoomed the camera on the unidentified ship. It was a Corellian Action-IV transport, but there was a strange symbol on it. The symbol hit him like a rock.
"Well, I guess we couldn't expect him just to sit back and let us poke around, huh?"
"Looks like Ispa sent in some reinforcements. Continue with the landing cycle, but don't use the landing pad. There's an entrance down there at the base."
The Claw landed on the grassy floor next to the Citadel. Carlos moved back into the main hold area to procure his supplies. He grabbed the satchel of sequencer charges and picked up his repeater rifle. He then moved to a special locker. He typed for a bit on the control pad and the locker door opened. Hanging there was a lightsaber. It was one of the ones that the Dark Jedi that had accompanied Darth Chir'la had used. He picked it up and held it for a minute before he hooked it to his belt. It no longer had a crimson blade. After a long holo-call to Mark Wyler on Salasia IVb, he had found out where to get new saber crystals. He had replaced the ones in the saber, which had the effect of changing the color from crimson to blue. He kept it in the Claw for just such an emergency.
Fully armed and ready, Carlos walked down the ramp and up to the main door. He looked at the control panel. It was a nine-by-nine panel of unmarked, monochrome buttons. Involuntarily, his hand reached out and punched several buttons in rapid succession. He stepped back as the door rotated open.
How did I know what the code was?
With this puzzling thought in mind, he stepped through the door and into the Citadel. The Darkness that covered the system was thickest here. It was almost as if he could touch it.
interior was well lit, and rather cool. He
could see saber targets and practice droids sitting idle in the corners and in
their holders. A feeling of
apprehension began to build up in him as he crossed the training arena and
started up the stairs to the upper level.
He reached the uppers section, which was basically storage compartments and computers. Large catwalks and ledges covered the interior, making it a great place for people to hide. Carlos tightly strapped the repeater rifle to his back and drew his saber. He did not ignite it, but he kept hit handy as he walked toward on of the computer terminals. The apprehension was continuing to build. He heard a slight clank, the sound of a foot on the metal catwalk. It was way to close for comfort. He stopped for a second, listened, figured it must be a rat and kept on moving.
He twirled around and ignited the lightsaber just in time to catch the slash from the Dark Jedi that had jumped down behind him. They backed off for minute. Carlos put down the satchel of explosives and his repeater rifle. The Dark Jedi threw off his black cloak to reveal a hideous face. It was scarred, completely black, and covered with horns. The ears were red.
"I am Dar'seid, soon to be the successor to Darth Chir'la. You will have the honor of being my first kill."
Dar'seid ignited the second blade on his saber. Carlos, with a sinking feeling, recognized it as the one that Chir'la had used. The Sith-to-be sensed his despair and laughed as it strengthened him.
Pull yourself together! They feed on fear and anger. Calm yourself. Don't give him any extra ammunition, Carlos shouted in his head. He calmed down, the despair was replaced by an icy determination. He raised his saber in challenge. The two combatants circled each other, measuring, determining their strengths and weaknesses. They were both competent swordsmen. They brought their sabers together in what could only be matched in style and grace by another saber duel or a highly choreographed dance.
Carlos made the first move, feinting to the lower blade, then spinning around and bringing his blade up for a slice at the head. Dar'seid blocked it with his second blade, and with a twirl of his wrists sliced and thrusted at him with both blades. Carlos parried the thrust at his neck, did a half twist at the waist and brought his saber down to block the slice at his legs. Dar'seid went into a rapid fire movement of thrusts and slices. Carlos spun and twisted, parring the attacks in rapid succession. Dar'seid aimed for his legs. Carlos did a backflip, switching off his lightsaber and springboarding off the ground onto the ledge above. Dar'seid leapt up after him. They dueled like titans, rapid thrusts and slices and parries, with Carlos trying to make room for his own attack. He ducked a blow aimed at his head and swept Dar'seid's legs, causing the Dark Jedi to fall of the ledge. Dar'seid split his saber as he fell. Carlos leapt after him, slicing down in the general direction of the Dark Jedi. His saber caught the crossed blades of Dar'seid's sabers, but this time Carlos was prepared for that. He pressed the attack, Dar'seid barely able to parry his blows with the sabers. He swung at Dar'seid, catching his right hand saber knocking it away. A quick move with the Force snapped that half in two. The odds were even. They moved into an old fashioned blade-to-blade duel, with Carlos being the better of the two in this respect. Dar'seid was pushed back farther and farther. Carlos knocked Dar'seid's right hand away, opening his torso for a few moments to a saber attack. Carlos spun around and thrust his saber through Dar'seid's heart. The Dark Jedi fell back in shock. Carlos spun again and sliced through Dar'seid's neck, severing his windpipe. The final slice was from his right shoulder to left hip, cutting Dar'seid in two. Carlos stepped back, raised his saber in salute, then deactivated it and clipped back on to his belt.
Carlos walked over to the computer terminal and turned it on. His hopes fell as he searched through the system. Now he knew why Dar'seid had been there. Ispa had sent him to destroy all the computer records. Carlos was to late.
He searched the other computers. They had all been erased as well. He searched the storage closets. All he found were piles of molten data disks where Dar'seid had destroyed them. In the last closet, he found something. It was a small holo disk, only containing one picture. Dar'seid had not been able to destroy this one before Carlos had arrived. He set on the work table and turned it on.
The words TARGET IDENTIFICATION appeared in the air above the projector. They faded away and a family picture appeared. Carlos gasped in surprise. He recognized two of the people in the holo.
They were himself and Rachel, three years younger.
A young man, who looked to be about ten years older than Carlos stood next to Rachel. An older man and woman stood behind the children. Suddenly Carlos knew what he was looking at. This was his family. The young man was his brother. The older man and woman were his parents. He had faces now. No names, just faces. But still, it was something. His trip here had not been in vain.
He pocketed the holo and set about to place the sequencer charges in the Citadel. Somehow he knew exactly where to place them in order to cause maximum damage.
made his way out of the Citadel and back to the Claw.
He ordered Peregrine to take off and fly to a safe distance away.
He sent the signal to the charges that had been placed in the Citadel.
The first charge detonated, then the second, then the third, and so on, in a sequenced concussion that rocked the foundation of the building. Carlos saw it shake, tilt about twenty degrees to the left, then collapse. The spires started to fall when the building erupted in a massive explosion. The Citadel was torn apart from the inside, the charges incinerating the body of Dar'seid and anything else that was in the building. The building collapsed in on itself, falling inward toward a destructive maelstrom. The final explosion hurled the remains of the Citadel into the atmosphere, smashing was left of it to bits.
Carlos would not know it for another year or so, but he had completed his family's last mission before the assault on the Enclave.
Claw left the vicinity of the Ashkhelhon system and was approaching a
safe place to enter into hyperspace.
"Where to, sir?"
"Set course for the Imaldris, Pere. Our mission here is over."
At about this time, a few more ships jumped into the vicinity of the Claw. The markings on the ships left no doubt as to their allegiance.
"Great," muttered Carlos, "Pirates. Just what we needed." The com system crackled as a message came through.
"Unidentified ship, this is Jaren Blackheart. Power down your shields and prepare to surrender your cargo upon boarding."
"Captain Blackheart, this is a New Republic warship. If you-" Carlos stopped talking as the com channel was cut off. He studied the sensor readings. "Peregrine, raise shields and arm weapons. Looks like Blackheart wants to make an issue of his stupidity."
"Sir, their fleet consists of a VSD, a Nebulon-B Frigate, and five Corvettes."
"So? We've handled worse."
"Yes sir, but not alone, and not being swarmed by enemy fighters."
The VSD and Frigate began to disgorge their fighter squadrons. X-wings, Y-wings, Cloakshape fighters, a couple of Hapan Miy'til fighters, and several TIE fighters and Interceptors flew toward the Claw. Carlos grimaced at the sight. He would put up the Claw as being as good as or better than most of the ships in the fleet. And it was. But its main secret was that it never went against these kinds of odds alone. It always had some escort of some kind, or another ship flying its wing. It could win against these odds, but it would take some pretty bad damage in the fight. It couldn't jump out, because the pirate caps had blocked its path into hyperspace.
"Well, this is going to have all the elegance of a bar fight. Try and call for help, Peregrine."
"I can't. He's jamming the com system."
The fighters fired concussion missles and torpedos at extreme range. The shots connected, flaring briefly against the shields, which were holding under the onslaught. Peregrine let loose with a concussion missle barrage. Its missle firing system was actually very unique. The torpedos fired out of standard torpedo tubes. Peregrine had modified the missle system to act like a gatling gun. He could target as many as fifty fighters at once, and lay down a deadly stream of fire. The missles flew from the launchers and connected with their targets. All kinds of ships went down in large fireballs, but many kept on coming, protected by their shields and their shear numbers.
The fighters reached laser range, and let loose with rapid barrages of fire. Peregrine responded in kind, ripping into the expanse with its turbolasers. The fighters continued to die as Peregrine headed toward one of the Corvettes to try and open a gap in the blockade. But they were scoring hits. The shields on the Claw were almost gone in some places, and the hull was beginning to take hits. Sparks were flying in the cabin as various pieces of equipment detonated from the impacts. The battle was not going well.
One missle impacted on the Claw's shields. A Y-wing swooped in and fired two ion blasts into the gap before Peregrine blew its left engine off with a well-time laser blast. But the damage had been done. A cloud of smoke poured into the storage area from the engine section. The Claw couldn't take many more hits like that.
"Its now or never, Peregrine. Arm the big stuff. Punch right through that VSD out there."
The Claw looped up over a group of Miy'tils that were heading in to finish it off. Carlos kicked in the afterburners, causing the Claw to rush the VSD Blackgate.
had watched the melee with interest. He
didn't want the Claw destroyed if it was possible; the cruiser would make
a fine addition to his fleet. He
arched his eyebrows in wonderment when he saw the ship head right toward him.
"Signal the Blacknife. Tell them to stop that ship."
Nebulon-B frigate moved to try and cut off the Claw from its attack run
on the Blackgate. Carlos weaved the ship in and out of the Frigate's turbolaser
fire, avoiding the enemy flak with practiced skill. A quick 180 degree roll down passed them under and beyond the
connecting spar. The Blacknife
move to pursue.
The Blackgate came within range. Peregrine fired several of the flare charges at the VSD's bridge and gun turrets. The resulting explosion distracted the gunners in time for the Claw to make it past the blockade. The helmsman of the Blacknife, however, was also startled. So startled, in fact, that he flew the Nebulon-B smack dab into the VSD. Both erupted in flame and exploded.
"Okay Peregrine, get us out of here, now!"
The Claw leapt into hyperspace. The engines made a slight revving up noise, which was normal, and then a loud thud-bang, which was not.
"Peregrine, what's going on with the engines!?"
The ship began to buck and shake. With a loud bang, it was flung out of hyperspace. Carlos was thrown from his seat and hit his head on the tactical station. Finally, the ship stopped its erratic movements and lay still. As he came to, Carlos could hear an alarm in the back room.
"Peregrine, what happened?"
"The hyperdrive seems to have malfunctioned."
"Oh really? You think?"
"Yes, I do," said Peregrine. He had yet to grasp the concept of sarcasm. "My sensors and repair units in the engine compartment are down. Something's wrong, I just don't know what."
Carlos pulled himself to his feet. He opened and emergency kit and pulled out an oxygen mask and a fire extinguisher.
"I'm going back to have a look. You try and figure out where we are." Carlos put the mask on and stepped into the smoky hold. He opened the door into the engine room and was assaulted by the heat wave that rushed out at him. He made his way into the room.
"Oh no." He saw that the hyperdrive system was on fire. He put the fire out, and activated the ventilation system. Immediately, the smoke began to clear out, making it possible for him to breath without the mask.
"It smells like that stew Rachel tried to make once."
"Long story. Lets just say that my sister tried to cook once. The attempt ended when a molecular analyzer fell into the stew and exploded. It smells about like that in here. The hyperdrive system looks like it, too."
Carlos walked to the locker and took the repair kit. He then spent a good hour poking around at the hyperdrive motivator, trying to get it to work again. He set the tools down in disgust.
"Great. Peregrine, this thing is shot all to pieces. Find the closest port with dedicated ship repair facilities."
"Sir, the only one in range is the Imperial shipyards at Golgan III."
Carlos thought for a moment.
"Looks like we don't have much choice then. Set course for Golgan III. In the meantime, lets try and disguise the ship a little. Does the holocloak still work?"
"I think so. Which ship ID should I use?"
"We'll figure that out later. Lets just get underway. And may the Force be with us."