"If, indeed, the many rumors I have heard about you... felling Jedi, unarmed, at the Battle of Galidraan; are true... then you are, in fact, the very Mandalorian that I seek. Rest assured, my dear bounty hunter, that I do so only in order to offer to you, what I am sure you will find to be a most lucrative... as well as, shall we say... personally satisfying... business proposal."

- a portion of conversation between two very privacy-minded beings, in a seedy, lowly patronized tapcaf, located on one of the notoriously lawless moons of Bogden... inconveniently recorded by a passing server droid, shortly before it's remnants were mysterious discovered in a smoldering heap-

Chap22_

This time, there were no taunts... no sadistic torments, nor perfunctory amusements of abject torture. Only a thundering howl of abject outrage preambled the Jedi's lightning quick, annihilation intending, final assault.

In a blur of flapping, tattered robes... and humming, twirling light... he charged across the small room like a rage-guided missile, aimed directly at Trey!

Still huddled in the far corner, Trey saw no way to escape from fatally feeling the deadly touch of his attackers nimble blade. Thus finding himself unable to evade, Treys inbred instincts and military training told him that his only slim chance to survive now, was to attack!

But, then... that very same training, told him that he should never strike an officer! And most certainly, not a Jedi!

To ensure this, the Kaminoan master geneticists had done all of the genetic, and mental, manipulating they could do, to ensure their cloned units complete and unwavering adherence to the GAR's strict set of behavioral regulations. Now, that very same enslavement to servile doctrine, was about to get him killed.

However, even the galaxies most brilliant genetic tinkerers, it seemed, couldn't quite shackle his progenitor's inbred instinct to not go down without a fight!

Just like his curly black hair, and deep brown eyes... Jango had past that distinctively Fett trait on to his clones, as well.

And so, Trey broke free of the last vestiges of Kamino, and his vode... by launching himself from out of the rooms corner... to meet his forbidden foe, head on.

Being augmented by the Force, however, and by virtue of his initiating the attack, the Jedi crossed the small space much quicker than any mere mortal, like a clone trooper. This allowed him to gain the advantage of high ground. In this case, that being the top of the ancient casket situated near the middle of the small room.

With no more effort than it would take a youngling to hop over a small puddle, the knight achieved the superior position, and then immediately abandoned it... by launching his ultimate assault upon the defenseless target clumsily approaching him.

It was at about this time, that Trey's rattled mind realized that no matter strong his instinct to survive... even if it had been enough for him to accidentally resist the mystical powers the Jedi could easily command at will; he was still facing an enemy that was faster, stronger, and possessed every other conceivable advantage.

Also, Trey had no weapons. The Jedi's lightsaber could... and had... cut through Trey's exact duplicate of flesh, bone, and armor... without it's bearer even feeling it.

He suddenly wondered, how many young Jedi were amputated in training? The question went as quickly as it came.

Knowing the answer wasn't likely to change the fact that not even Trey's gauntlet-blade was functional. He only had the one, anyway. The other, had been prudently left outside, to mark the sanctums' hidden entrance.

In that case, he was literally going against a Jedi Knight... unarmed!

Just like Jango had once, according to some of the stories he'd heard from the Mando's on Kamino. Perhaps, he wondered, could Jango Fett himself, somehow be the source of the inner voice that he'd heard all of his life?

These stray thoughts, Trey knew, were common to some soldiers in the heat of battle, and he'd been trained to ignore them. So he was not too distracted to see that the only hope he had, was to go for the Jedi's hands... and attempt to physically disarm his smaller opponent.

What to do then, he had no idea. However, he knew that in this war, there would be no accepting of his honorable surrender.

For, this Jedi... Trey had seen clearly... took no prisoners.

Yet even in concept, he still could not imagine himself taking the next logical step, should his only available battle plan succeed.

Then, his foe's deadly rage... and thus, Trey's moment of truth; was upon him. Trey reached out over his head and desperately tried to grasp at the hands holding the glowing blade slicing down on him.

His attacker let out a cry of indignation at being accosted so by such an inferior being, as Trey's armored hand wrapped firmly around one of the young Jedi's thin wrists. His other, unprotected hand, however, missed it's mark... and slid up the knights sweat-slicked fingers, towards the burning blade itself; threatening him with an instant amputation... and, leaving Trey even less armed than he currently was.

For the longest, most desperate seconds of his life... his ordained doom was being held back only by a single, trembling hand. From the deepest parts within him, hope began to grow... as he watched the disputed shaft of his foe's weapon, slowly began to creep back, away from it's interrupted rendezvous with Trey's head.

To his amazement, millimeter by agonizing millimeter, he was succeeding in pushing back his inglorious fate!

Until, that is, he felt his straining grip... starting to weaken... and then...

Slip!

With horror, Trey felt his exposed fingertips quickly skidding along the smooth contours of the Jedi's slick, straining flesh beneath them.

The Jedi had felt it, too. And the well-trained warrior also understood what it meant... for them both. With a snarl, he twisted the handle of his blade counter-clockwise... forcing Trey's tentatively held grip to finally break completely.

Fear flooded Trey as his only hope of survival, steadily slipped away!

Just before his own hand lost all control of his combatant's, he felt something hard and rough scrape across his exposed palm.

Suddenly, a bolt of bluish lightning shot from the rings' metallic surface, up Trey's extended arm, and directly into the base of his very brain! Like a spike, it burrowed deep into his mind core, leaving him suspended from it's electrical strings like a glitching droid.

The horrid smell brought his attention back to the fight.

If he weren't already held frozen by the shock of the electric bolt coursing through him, he would certainly be immobilized, now... by the sheer horror of what he was witnessing.

Most cruelly of all, it was the horror of his own salvation.

The metal ornament that was acting as a conduit for the lone current invading him... a ring, he now noticed, and recalled, from before... had become, for the unfortunate Jedi, the origin of a cascade of lighting bolts that enshrouded his entire form in brilliantly blinding streams of destructive energy!

His once youthful flesh rapidly withered and crisped beneath the swarm of burning bolts encasing his entire body. His long, dark hair singed now into ashy wisps atop his bald, boil-pocked scalp. His icy blue eyes, turned grey, as they hissed and sizzled... and soon popped... one, right after the other... from their shrunken and deforming sockets.

The horrid stench from the Jedi's instantly electrified, and rapidly decaying corpse; rose up in a putrid cloud into Trey's nostrils and opened mouth. Fortunately, his inner revulsion seemed to be being held just as much hostage as his outer extremities. The rising tide of bile in his throat would threaten to choke him, if he were capable of drawing any breath.

Helpless to react in any way... even to close his own eyes... Trey could only endure his own, lesser torture, while bearing intimate witness the absolute annihilation before him.

To Trey's ears, even the screams coming from the anguishing Jedi's overly opened mouth... that surely should have been filling the tiny stone-walled room; sounded like even they, too... were being consumed, down to their very echos, by the insatiable powers engulfing the writhing Jedi.

Just when Trey was sure his consciousness would soon fain him, the electrical storm erupting from the strange ring, flashed in violent finale! It's unnatural hold on him was instantly released, collapsing Trey onto the dusty floor next to the carbonized, statuesque remains, of his now immolated would-be overlord.

In the currents' wake, Trey was left curled into a sweating and shaking ball. His trembling form lay cast in the fiery golden glow from his commander's still-burning lightsaber, now fallen upon the floor... amongst a handful of his former master's ashes.

While his ravaged mind struggled to regain control of his facilities... and, find some evidence sanity that it could use as a benchmark for re-establishing his understanding of reality; something that felt real was propelled to the forefront of his scattered attentions.

Trey looked down at his still clenched fist. Inside it, among the crumbly remnants, he felt something oddly hard, and solid. The realization had the effect of putting all other considerations on pause. Unable, and unwilling, to stand... he crawled over to the nearby light source.

Bringing his hand closer to it's blazing energy blade... rather than add to his desecration, by donning the deceased Jedi's discarded, yet still sacred-seeming, weapon; Trey slowly opened his palm.

With the armored finger of his other hand, Trey poked around the pile of ashed and crumbled remains, clumped within his sweating paw... until, finally revealing a slight, dull metallic glint.

With these, obviously, safely un-electrifying, armored fingertips, Trey gingerly moved the item free of its grisly environment enough to more fully inspect it by the angrily crackling lightsabers' golden glow.

Even under these less-than-desirable conditions, he could tell that it was not an item that most would view as pleasing, or, of being of much value. But even so, there was something about the rugged ring, that intrigued him.

It's inner surface was crudely etched with symbols, The metal appeared to be of a golden hue, and otherwise unadorned... save for the rough edges hammered into it's dull finish.

For a second, he wondered if it had the power to make him invisible! But down here in the darkness, with nobody around to see him anyways, and he momentarily felt foolish.

The bit of self-consciousness, perhaps, was just what he needed. Very soon, he began to pull himself more together. Enough, eventually, for the fingers of his un-protected hand to not shake too badly, as he courageously extended his forefinger... and barely touched it's tip, onto the edge of the dauntingly disturbing relic.

Upon contact, instead of being shocked again... or, thankfully, being destroyed the dangerous ornament; Trey was suddenly, transported... into an expanded realm, surrounding him with flashes of vibrant, twinkling lights!

Reflexively, Trey pulled his hand away... and the quasi-visual sensation surrounding him, instantly winked out. Overwhelmed by what he had just experienced, he sat and simply stared at the ring... enraptured by the wondrous effects of the murderously mad mummy's, most mysterious memento.

The reminder of the rings previous possessor, caused Trey's eyes to stray from their adoration, over to the grotesque monument kneeling beside him. Seeing the charred remains served to warn him of how dangerous the trinket he held, truly was.

And how close to his own death, he'd actually just come. Most of the shock he was experiencing, he knew, was from the fact that he was still alive. He'd faced down a Jedi Knight... totally unarmed... and had, somehow, survived!

He was either breathing proof of the superiority of cloned troopers, or the luckiest mud-crutch who ever lived! Thinking about being lucky reminded Trey of the odd trooper who'd just been assigned to his unit... 'Lucky'. He wondered if the misleading moniker had ever been used in any way but sarcastically.

Thinking about his possible luck, also brought his mind back to his current, luckless situation. And, of just how much trouble he was really in. A clone trooper had just killed his own Jedi officer. It was inconceivable! He was more than just a murderer, or a traitor... or even, a verifiable 'defective'.

Trey, CT-3033... was now officially, an enemy of the Republic!

Panic gripped him, paralyzing him, and threatening to rob him of his reason... dooming him to eventually discovery.

He quickly cast his gaze around him at what he now saw as 'the scene of the crime'. P He knew he had to get away from this place! If he was found here, like this, there would no explanation capable of exonerating him.

What would he tell them? That he had been attacked by his delusional, kill-crazed, Jedi officer?

Stang! Even with all of the pieces of chopped up corpses still littering the tiny sanctum, to back up his story... he could barely believe the fact that what really happened, had actually happened! The more he tried to make sense of the truth in his head, the more Trey was certain that no one back at GAR HQ... or the Jedi Temple... would believe a single word he said.

If he was even given the chance to speak before his sentence was carried out, that is.

At just that moment, he couldn't exactly recall what the GAR penalty was for a trooper murdering his own Jedi officer, but he was sure it wasn't a medal and a promotion!

Self preservation spurred him into action. Trey shakily rose to his feet, absently discarding the ring, and reflexively reaching down to scrape the chalky Jedi-residue from his charred hand... before instantly being reminded of the injured condition of that hand... and began to stumble towards the exit. He decided against taking the Jedi's discarded weapon... the advantage of its illumination not being worth the risk of being caught holding the physical evidence of his crime... and made his away forward into the dark tunnelway, leaving the golden lightsaber burning, back in the temple behind him where it lay.

Just as he began to feel his way through the dim, tentatively running his outstretched hands along the rough walls, Trey's foot found a small round object... that his fingers then exposed as being the nub of flare he had dropped earlier! With a wave of relief, Trey struck the partial flare against the hard rock surface beside him. The resulting flash of light was as welcomed to him just then, as it was blinding.

Once the spots in his vision had cleared enough for him to make out the way ahead from the contrasts surrounding him, he lurched onward as swiftly as he could out of the entrance of the ill-fated sanctum.

Unnoticed now, went the massive statues. In fact, the one time he did look upon them, their horrific faces seemed to glare down at him knowingly... a gallery of silent witnesses, mockingly condemning him from above, as fled from them like a craven rodent.

Eyes fixated on the wavering, unprotected path his memory helpfully reminded him of, Trey continued to move on instinct, and soon found himself standing at the ledge he had almost fallen from before. Across the black chasm before him, he could see the outline of the rolling doorway of death. From this view, he saw that the back side of the rotating wheel was, in fact, flat... sealing itself seamlessly along the dark, smooth wall around it... and, that it was carved with the same mysterious symbols he had seen marking the opposite side.

He knew what he had to do to make the portal open. But he just feel that he could withstand the strain just then. Staggering back away from the edge a few steps, Trey allowed himself a few minutes to recuperate, and garner the strength he would need to withstand paying the heavy toll the magical doorway demanded, for the use of it's perilous service.

Having now put some distance between himself, and the horrible scene inside the temple... and, no longer being subjected to the sinister stares of it's monolithic stone guardians... Trey's mind could finally start to grasp the enormity of his situation.

Once he managed to escape from this hidden cavern, he would still be all alone, unarmed, and... as far he knew... trapped inside an underground maze, filled with legions of trigger-happy, Separatist battle droids... all programmed to kill him.

His odds of even surviving long enough to be court martialed were slim at best. But somehow, that knowledge strangely seemed to help calm him. The more he thought about it, the funnier the whole thing was! Tears soon ran down his face as Trey rolled with uncontrolled bouts of stress-induced laughter. The macabre, soldiers' humor of him fretting over dying before he could be executed was too much for his mind to handle any other way.

After a while, Trey's mentally therapeutic convulsions steadily ceased.

In the emotional aftermath, Trey realized for the first time that he was also suffering from another traditional state of soldiery... he was starving!

Automatically, his hand went to his ration pouch. But instead of the expected stash of tasteless, nutrient cubes... to his amazement, Trey touched upon something it took his mind a moment to accept and identify. Instantly, however, he recognized the sensation that flooded him... along with the round, rough edges of this mistakenly collected souvenir to his dangerous secret.

But, wait... how could it be in there? He remembered dropping the fate-tainting item before he left the temple! Somehow, he reasoned as he closed his fingers around the formidable token... it had remained stuck to his skin. And then, must have fallen into his pouch, when he tried to clean his hands!

"Yes, that must be how it got in there...", he reasoned aloud. In that voluminous, vacuous, void of sound... his own voice made him jump. Taking a deep, steadying, breath... and, another darting gaze around him... Trey hesitantly removed the powerful relic from within his pocket.

Although the horror of it's origins filled him with dread, he found himself mesmerized by the reflections of it's dull, pocked and pitted sheen.

As he studied the odd ornament, despite his reservations, he felt something about it calling to him. Inviting him to adorn it, and partake again of it's imponderable powers.

Dazed by the whispered allure, Trey gingerly slipped the ancient looking token onto his trembling finger. He braced himself suddenly, unsure of what effects the sinister jewelry would unleashed. But, he felt nothing happen.

Although unobserved, Trey still gazed around sheepishly due to his moment of ignorance. That was when he turned (to make sure that, in fact, no one was around), and noticed that his putting on the curious ring did have an effect!

The runes on the stone door were once again glowing, only this time without the unwelcomed annoyance of extracting it's required power painfully from his body.

The now familiar, deep humming of stone-on-stone, filled the mammoth cave. Trey watched as the runes shade slowly shifted, as the disk-bridge once again, slowly rotating open. Only this time, it was spinning in the opposite direction, allowing Trey to traverse the treacherous entrance, this time... without running the risk being dropped into the dark, unknown, depths below.

Once the bridge way had descended enough for him to safely manage to leap the remaining distance, Trey took a short, running start... and sprang over the empty space between the rocky edges, landing hard onto the rapidly slanting surface of the door.

He urgently scrambled back onto his feet, his balance shifting awkwardly as tried to ride the slopes of the rolling wedge beneath him.

Just before the entrance sealed shut behind him, Trey turned back and raised his feeble flare into the decreasing crack, taking what he hoped would be a last look into the forbidden, hidden shrine.

Only darkness stood vigil to his departing.

Just before the stone slabs met, he ducked his hand safely inside the closing entrance.

He stood there facing the glowing blue rune-wall, until the grinding motion suddenly stopped... the unexpected shift in balance causing him to fall forward, bouncing him off of the stone door before him... and sending him sprawling backwards into an ungraceful roll, that carried him fully out into the original tunnel shaft.

He then came to an even more sudden halt... just short of his smacking into the far wall... by striking instead, against something hard and heavy that had unhelpfully impeded his reckless progress. Judging from the oppressive weight now pressing down on him, whatever it was seemed to have also toppled over and landed on top of him, pinning his body against the ground.

As he struggled to extradite himself from whatever had entangled him, Trey heard coming from it, a sound that instantly revived his level of mortal terror.

The mechanical whining of distressed robotic motivators!

Trey quickly turned his head around, just in time to see the battle droids twin, angry red orbs, swinging around to come face-to-face with him... followed immediately by it's sharp, electronic voice, echoing loudly along the abandoned tunnels.

"Target Acquired!.. Engaging!"