A/N: As always, thanks to those helping me write and plan out this story and checking it for continuality and logic errors.
This chapter was released at least 2 weeks ago to my Pat-re-ons (with them seeing a draft version around 2 months ago) and on the story's Discord server (in GDoc form) about a week ago.
Links for both are at the end of the chapter.
Hopefully, all the little mistakes have been found and removed.
Current Date: 2 years until the Invasion of Naboo
The Living Planet 1
I watched as the stars streaked by while the Ne'tra Sartr travelled through hyperspace toward the Outer Rim in the galactic north. It'd been about two and a half days since we'd left the Temple and we still had another day or so before we reached the first shift away from a major hyperspace lane. While there was little for me to do directly beyond monitoring a few key systems, it did count – very slightly – toward my Astrogation skill.
Plus, there was the fact that I was finally away from the Temple and back out in the galaxy aboard my ship. Yes, I knew it wasn't legally mine, but that didn't stop me from regarding the Sartr as such. Fay, while allowing me to consider the ship mine, had reminded me that the vessel was just an object and not to grow too attached to it, but after two-plus years – on and off – of flying it, it was hard not to consider it mine.
As my mind returned to the Temple, I frowned as my mind lingered again on not getting to talk with Serra. She'd contacted me yesterday and to say she wasn't happy that I'd been back at the Temple when she'd not been, having arrived back hours after I left, would be a slight understatement. While we both accepted that as Padawans of the Order we couldn't control where we went and when it was annoying how closely we'd missed each other. Because we were speaking over Holonet, I didn't bring up my kisses with Bo, though I suspected she'd learn about it from Tedra if they spoke. That conversation needed to take place in person as, whatever the future held for us, Serra was one of, if not my only, best friend. She deserved the truth to be given face-to-face.
A soft growl followed by something pushing gently against my calf turned my thoughts from Serra to the other living being I was sharing the cockpit with. One hand drifted from the controls and began scratching Fenrir behind his ear. As he leaned into it, I chuckled at how fast he was still growing. Lying down next to my seat made him easy to pet and when we both stood, he reached my stomach. Force, I suspected that before Naboo he'd be the same height, if not taller than me at the shoulders and easily a dozen feet from head to the base of his tail.
As he pushed his head into my hand, I could sense his comfort at my touch which reminded me of how happy he'd been when we'd returned to the Sartr. He'd been irritable in the Temple, though thank the Force he hadn't tried to attack, or eat, anyone there. Though there had been the one time when he'd chased Master Poof because the High Council member had tried a mind trick on Fenrir, and he'd not taken it well. While no harm had been done – Master Poof had laughed the entire incident off – it hadn't helped Fenrir settle in the Temple. While Master Koon and a few others had spent time around Fenrir – with me also present – that was more about understanding (or trying to) the bond I shared with the tuk'ata. I wasn't told by them what they were interested in, but Fay suspected they simply wished to be certain the mind of an animal, and one created by Dark Side magic, wasn't affecting my thoughts. That had amused me, as had the rumour regarding Yoda.
About a month after arriving back in the Temple, the grapevine – because even the Jedi had one – was rife with stories of Yoda being seen riding around the Temple late at night on the back of a great black beast. I knew the rumours were false as I'd never sensed anything from Fenrir to suggest he was running around late at night and because Yoda was wary of the tuk'ata. That said, I didn't say anything to discourage the rumours as I couldn't deny the idea of imagining Yoda riding Fenrir around was too funny to shoot down.
Through the bond, I sensed a hint of agitation from Fenrir and watched as his legs twitched. "Easy there, boy. Another day or so and we'll stop somewhere so you can stretch your legs." He whined happily. "But no eating people, not unless they start it." I knew he couldn't laugh, but the sound that came from him sounded like a demonic chuckle. "If you're good, I'll see about finding you a steak or some Ewok jerky." That had made his long tail swish around, smacking off an empty chair behind me.
"Observation: Master, you are too attached to that beast. Suggestion: Perhaps it would be wise to remove him as a weakness."
Fenrir's growl as he bristled against my hand was accompanied by my glare at the droid's head. "Fenrir is closer to me than you, HK. If I had to choose, I'd choose him over you and if you choose to make such comments again, I may just forget to lift your head to a higher shelf in a few months so you're out of his reach." HK's optical receptors did a fair imitation of a blink even as Fenrir's growl shifted into a strange, dark chuckle. Or at least that's how it sounded to me when mixed with his amusement through the Force.
"Clarification: Perhaps I will reserve my opinion until I observe the beast in combat. Supplication: When will you construct me at least a rudimentary combat frame, Master? While being connected to this warship and having access to the weapon systems is an acceptable temporary substitute, I find the inability to observe a meatbag's reaction as the life drains from them disconcerting."
I chuckled at that as letting HK have access to the Sartr's systems had been something neither Fay nor Dooku was happy about. "Provided this mission goes well," I swear Fenrir just snorted at me for that, "then we'll check in with Anakin and see what we can do. Though do keep in mind that this would be a mark-one body. I plan to upgrade you as I get better at doing so and find more suitable materials and components for you." I paused as a recurring thought came to mind. "Unless, of course, you'd be happy with us grabbing the nearest Trade Federation droid and sticking you onto that?"
"Mockery: Yes master, I wish to be attached to the body of such a poorly designed and built walking target. Please, oh please, make it happen." I laughed, even knowing that response or something similar was coming. When I'd first threatened HK with that fate and shown him what a B1 looked like, he'd been mortified. Bo and I had laughed for almost a full day about it. Since then though he'd come to realise we were only teasing him and chose to reply mockingly to every quasi-threat Bo and I made.
"Don't ever change, HK."
"Observation: But master, if I don't change how will I grow more effective at rending meatbags limb from limb?"
I laughed loudly at that. "Fine but getting more dangerous is the only way you can change." I managed to get out between laughs.
"Exclamation: But of course, master. I can almost see the faces of the Jedi when I'm restored to my full glory and allowed to educate them in the folly of trusting only in the Force."
I leaned to one side, letting Bo's fist sail past my ear. My right arm moved, rotating around to push her attacking arm into her body then my left elbow flew in, landing a clean blow to her solar plexus.
"Oof!" The groan followed my strike landing as the air was driven from her lungs. She stumbled back, trying to gather some distance, but my right fist flashed out to harry her. While it didn't land, it drove her further back and made sure she couldn't regroup.
Since in this spar I was more interested in restraining her than beating her down – as I wanted to work on the methods Jedi used to physically control a situation even if it wasn't a combat form in its own right – I grabbed her right arm: the one that had missed my head mere moments ago, and was still out of position slightly.
My right hand latched around her wrist like an iron claw while my left hand gripped her just above the elbow. I twisted it forcing her to contort to avoid a dislocation.
As this happened, I lifted her arm, forcing her lurching body down to a knee. However, she shifted her momentum and rolled to one side. That dragged me forward as I wasn't willing to release my hold and I felt the muscles in her arm tense at how awkwardly they were being twisted. Still, my movement had left me exposed and she was quick to take advantage.
The heel of her boot crashed against the side of my shin, and I grunted in annoyance as I was forced to alter my grip to retain control. But that was just enough to allow her to twist and bring her other hand up in a strike at my eyes, unwilling to risk my sight I released the hold and shifted back.
As I stumbled back, slightly off balance, she was on the move. The arm I'd had restrained shifted to grab my forward leg behind the knee as she yanked up to take out my leg. As I fell though I grabbed hold of her enough that she came down with me.
I grunted as my head hit the mat hard, then winced as her knee slammed down into my gut. Whether the hit was intentional or not, it gave her an advantage she took. Her fist slammed into the side of my skull. With Physical Enhancement active, though purely in a defensive capacity as Bo tended to be overly aggressive, the hit didn't do any major damage though it did ring my head without drawing a notice from the Interface.
Her other fist flew in, but I had the wherewithal to shift my head with the blow, making it glance off. I kept my sideward movement going as her fist slid over my face, brought my hands up to pull her head into my shoulder, and pulled her over with me. When I'd stopped rolling, I had her pinned to the ground, her arm twisted and locked against her back in such a way that she had no escape.
She wriggled around frantically, trying to escape. Wanting to end this spar, I pulled back on her locked arm, making her grunt in pain, and shifted one arm so it slid under hers and across the front of her throat before linking it with my other hand and pulling back. This movement lifted her as my forearm pushed into her throat. Using this leverage, I lifted her into the air. While we were close in height, the position I had her in meant she was trapped save for her legs which flailed around.
She swung them wildly, hoping to do enough to make me release the hold. A few blows did sting, with one making me stumble as she caught the side of my knee, but I held on and kept yanking, driving my forearm into her throat. With her not having a way out and me leaning back further to prevent even her tiptoes from touching the ground before I trapped her legs with mine, she was forced to tap a hand in submission.
Instantly I released my hold and then took a few rapid steps back. While Bo normally wouldn't lash out at losing, she had done so enough that I felt safer with some distance. I'd rather not get a heel to the groin again.
She coughed slightly and fell to a knee, one hand coming up to massage her throat. She then turned and glared at me, and if we had time, I knew she'd want an instant rematch. After so long travelling and fighting together I knew how she thought and moved, and she was the same with me. Plus, since we'd left Coruscant our flirting/teasing had increased with the sparring room being the one place where it often got more… touchy. While I wasn't complaining about that, I'd rather not have Fay walk in on us again as having my master come in as Bo and I were rolling around with my hands on her breasts and hers on my arse was not a moment I'd like to relive. At least not with a witness.
Recently though, I had noticed that Fay was appearing around me more than before the mission against the Bando Gora. While to most it might not stick out heavily, since I could easily review my memories with perfect clarity, it was easy to see Fay's observations of me had increased by around thirty per cent. Possibly she was just doing it to keep an eye on my mental state, as even though we'd left the Temple and Healer Allie felt I was ready to move on I still suffered the occasional flashback or freeze-up moment. However, I felt it was more to do with how close Bo and I had become since my capture. The flirting had increased, yes, but there was also far more interest in Bo's eyes toward me. If she wasn't Mando'ade, I'd think she was worried about me, but since she was, and I'd used Observe on her, I knew it was because she wanted to take things further.
"Haar'chak!" Bo's snarl of anger drew my attention back to her; or at least away from the possibilities of where she and I were heading. She'd turned to face me and lowered her hand enough that I could see that while her throat was red, it wasn't damaged. With that confirmed, I felt a touch more confident.
"I win. Again." Teasing someone so soon after a spar normally wouldn't be a smart idea, but Bo was far from a normal person; never mind a normal female. She glared at me with eyes that promised vengeance the next time we sparred though they softened a second later as she got a wicked smirk and her eyes glanced downward.
"Aye. But I've got to ask, if that's not a lightsaber in your pocket, what was it?"
My eyes darted down, seeing the tent that'd formed in my trousers. As my mouth did what I assumed was a fair impression of a fish and heat built up in my cheeks, Bo started laughing.
Bo started tilting her head and turned away. She started walking toward the bench where we stored our gear, though Bo didn't have much there bar her blasters as she'd come to the sparring room in nothing but the skin-tight black combat suit that she wore under her armour. I knew she had other clothing in her quarters as I'd seen her in the odd piece here and there when not in full armour, but since we'd left the Temple, she'd only ever worn this suit.
As she walked, she started to stretch, and twist. While I knew what she was doing, it was all but impossible for my eyes to wander over her very firm frame and wonder what she'd look like without the suit.
"At least now, I'm sure." My eyes shot up to her face to see she was looking back at me from the door, a large grin on her face. "Hmm, I wonder if you can wield that weapon as well as you do your Jetii one."
Any hope of a comeback was lost, not that I had one ready, as she slipped through the open door, and it sealed behind her. Even with the door closed, my mind replayed her exit over. There was no doubt she was over-emphasizing her arse with the sway of her hips, but I for one wasn't going to complain. I didn't know how much longer I'd be able to resist her teasing – which always went further than mine – and had to fight to stop myself from racing after her to prove my worth, as she put it, with my other weapon.
"You wished to speak with me, Master?"
Fay looked up from the datapad she was holding as I entered her quarters and asked my question. With a nod, she indicated a cushion on the floor next to her. "Please, sit." I sat, ignoring the pad as it wasn't likely linked to why she wished to speak. Fay's emotions were calm in the Force, yet I sensed some trepidation simmering away beneath the surface. "Do you know why I wish to speak with you?"
"No, Master." That wasn't entirely true. Fay had seen Bo and me flirting around the ship multiple times since we'd left Coruscant, and there was the incident on Sernpidal. Some stupid fuck on the street had grabbed Bo and loudly commented about wanting to get her out of her armour and into his bed. Bo had, as expected, gone ballistic and left the dumb fool in a pile of his own piss after breaking most of the bones in his arms and legs, but I was sure Fay had sensed my reaction. While I'd not done anything directly against the man, I'd struggled to not lash out with the Force. I knew Bo would beat the ever-loving shit out of the fool, but that hadn't been enough to calm my anger at his words. Only after Bo had finished brutalising him, and then pulled me away, did my anger begin to subside.
Currently, we were a day out of Sernpidal, and Bo was monitoring the ship as we carried out the fifth of nine hyperspace jumps needed to reach Zonama Sekot. That meant this was a perfect time for Fay to bring up my reaction to Bo being insulted, how close we'd become, and where things were heading.
Fay gave me one of her more enigmatic smiles. "While your ability to deceive has improved considerably – an ability I'm uncertain is becoming of a Jedi – the ripples your emotions are sending in the Force make it all for nought. To say nothing of the odd thoughts I've sensed from you regarding our travelling companion."
I lowered my head as I didn't want her to see my face. While the Force bond we shared meant I could sense her emotions even when she hid them, the opposite was true, and I lacked the skill, control, and grace she had with sensing things through the Force. "Yes, Master."
Fay chuckled at my behaviour and used a hand to lift my head back so she could see my eyes. "Now, before I begin to speak on the matter, do remember that I, like most Jedi, see nothing wrong with… indulging in the pleasures of the flesh. That said, due to the connection every Jedi shares with the Force, and the whirlwind of emotions that physical connections with another can cause, there is always a concern. Something especially true for you due to the strength of your connection to the Force, and your age." I opened my mouth to reply, only to stop as she lifted the hand from my chin and made the stop gesture. "Yes, I'm more than aware that you are far more mature than any Padawan your age, and possibly most Jedi a decade older than you. There is also the fact you recently suffered a highly traumatic event; one that Miss Kryze was responsible for saving you from."
She lowered her hand as a faint hint of concern came to her face. "There is also the issue that both you and Miss Kryze are Mando'ade. While the High Council likely feel you still place the Order before that title, I know that isn't the case. I've sensed the confusion in you over your split loyalties whenever reports of civilian deaths in the Mandalore sector are mentioned on the Holonet. And then there's the fact that the Mandalorians seemingly did more to rescue you from the Bando Gora than the Order did." I nodded in reply as I didn't want to let some of the residual anger I carried about the High Council's choice slip out. "Returning to your status as, not just Mando'ade, but a clan chief. Getting involved with the daughter, and potential heir, of one of the most powerful Mandalorian houses, creates… issues. Thankfully, Miss Kryze is far less traditionally minded, regarding relationships, than many of her people."
That was an understatement. It hadn't come up during my time on Mandalore, but as I grew closer to Bo, I'd started researching Mandalorian customs on dating. Discovering that most Mandalorians didn't have multiple partners before marriage, instead choosing to get married and have children by their early twenties at the latest, was a shock. Now, it made sense with their combat-oriented culture – as you never knew when one might fall in battle – but it was still a little odd to fit that besides such an advanced society. But that was likely me applying Earth norms to the situation.
"That said, she is still Mando'ade, and an important figure in their society." Fay continued. "And an ally of yours. While I don't believe it was his primary reason for sending Miss Kryze with us, I and Master Dooku – along with others we suspect – believe he hoped something might develop between the two of you. Something that he could, if he so wished, use to increase his standing among his people and place you in a dangerous situation of having to choose between the Jedi and the Mandalorians." Fay paused to give me time to process that. I had wondered if Adonai hoped something might happen between Bo and me, but until the last few months, I hadn't considered it anything more than a wild theory. Now… yeah, it did make a lot more sense.
"And of course, that brings us back to your status as a member of the Jedi Order, and how many perceive you within it." Fay sighed and it sounded remorseful as if she was remembering something from her past. "While the Order has no issues with a Jedi seeking… companionship, they are concerned when a Jedi develops a relationship with another being. Particularly if that relationship is long-term and has a deep connection between the Jedi and their partner." Fay paused there and glanced down at her pad. I was curious about what was on it, but I felt trying to look would be interfering with a private issue. "Any relationship carries a risk of turning nasty if things deteriorate between the partners, and with Jedi being connected to and able to wield the Force, the High Council is adamant that relationships are a path that can lead to the Dark Side. This has been the reason for many Jedi falling, and why long-term relationships, marriage, and offspring are greatly discouraged within the Order as a whole."
"I, um." I paused and licked my lips as I gathered my thoughts. "I understand what you're saying, Master. And the concerns the High Council has. Or at least, I think I do." Truthfully, I could see why they were worried – Anakin being a prime example - but I felt that I was missing something about why this fear existed within the Order. "But I'm not sure Bo wishes anything long-term from me, regardless of how close we are. And I'm all but certain she has no interest in settling down and raising a family." I chuckled weakly at the end as the idea of Bo as a mother just felt off.
Fay laughed softly. "On that, we agree and it's why I haven't asked Duke Adonai to recall his daughter since your rescue from the Bando Gora. Also, regarding the High Council's opinion on relationships, I don't hold the same opinion. So long as both beings enter a relationship understanding that a Jedi has different commitments and ideals to the other, and they are mature enough to understand this, then a relationship shouldn't be a detriment to the Jedi. Indeed, I feel such connections help us see a side of the Force that many Jedi fail to acknowledge has the potential to help us grow into better sentients and Jedi." I nodded in agreement even if I suspected I once more didn't fully understand the point. "With that said, I wish to be clear that if something does develop between you and Miss Kryze, I want both of you to understand the issues it may bring. I believe you are both mature enough to see this already, but as your Master, and her minder, I feel the matter does need to be touched upon."
"Yes, Master." I hoped that would be where she'd end it as, after having one discussion on relationships with Dooku – something I'd happily purge from my memory if I could – I didn't want to have another with Fay.
"Good, then I wish you and Miss Kryze enjoyment in any future coupling." I felt my cheeks heat up at her words, which drew a soft, musical laugh from Fay. "Also, since there are likely to be certain issues that may arise between you, I need you to understand that my door is always open to talk. For both of you. And that if your feelings for Miss Kryze, or anyone else cause you issues," I knew she was thinking of Serra at that moment, "then I am always here to listen and offer advice."
"Yes, Master. And thank you." I didn't plan on ever taking up the offer, but it was one I was happy to have. While I had far more experience regarding women than probably any other male my age, I knew that what I knew would barely make me a trainee in understanding females. Which was certainly the case when speaking with an over nine-hundred-year woman as graceful – and likely experienced – as Fay. Plus, there was the fact she, unlike any other Jedi I suspected, understood Mandalorian culture and the peculiarities of their society. Since she was seen as a member of a clan – though I still didn't know which one – if there was anyone who knew how to balance the two worlds, it would be her.
As I stepped out of Fay's quarters, I gulped hard. While I wasn't yet willing to start anything with Bo, I knew it was only a matter of time. With Fay's cautious approval, it meant the last roadblock I could hide behind was gone. Or at least the last one that would work at any rate. My idea of waiting until I was seventeen to start anything had, at the time, seemed weak and now it was barely any better than a bad joke.
Somehow, I knew things were about to get a lot more interesting once we reached Zonama Sekot and I saw where things with Bo were headed.
The Ne'tra Sartr shifted from hyperspace to real space with a familiar vibration running through it. After so long piloting her, I knew without even checking the instruments that everything was working as expected as the sub-light engines engaged and pushed us forward. I'd heard hundreds of stories about ships getting lost in hyperspace, or worse, but so far, the Sartr had come through for us every time.
With everything showing green, I shifted my focus to the sensors and got my first look at Zonama Sekot. The planet itself was about the size of Coruscant, yet as I looked over the readings, I frowned. Everything about the planet made it clear it was more than capable of supporting life, but something about the arrangement of the land mass was off.
"I've never seen a planet with its hemispheres so evenly split between north and south." Fay's comment clued me to what was off about the planet. The northern pole was a beacon of white against the lush green of the northern hemisphere, which, if the reading were correct, was all jungle. The equator was marked by various mountains, lakes and small seas that served to separate the northern jungle from the southern forest – though it was hard to see them under the heavy cloud cover. And at the southern tip of the land, storm clouds could be seen spinning around.
All in all, it looked like too perfectly divided a world to be natural, yet not strict enough in its divides to be artificial. The gentle niggle I felt within the Force as I concentrated on the planet only added to the sense of mystery that lay in front of us. Though it would have to wait until we were on the planet.
"Observation: There appears to be a distinct lack of orbital platforms of any kind. Even elementary communication relays are missing. Evaluation: Oh, how wonderful. A planet lacking in any hint of technology or superior mechanical forms. Why must we visit such a disgusting planet, Master?"
I ignored HK's question, bar a smile that he couldn't see, and checked the scanners. There was nothing in orbit, not even a natural satellite. That meant, unless there was some form of ground communication setup, we'd be flying blind on where to head and land. That was going to be a pain, though as we reached high orbit, a signal came from the planet.
"Your vessel is unrecognised and unregistered." The voice coming through the speakers was in Basic, but there was an odd accent to it that I didn't recognize. "Explain why you have entered the orbit of our planet?"
I bit back a remark about being here to rob the planet blind and steal all their women – after all my ship was called the Black Pearl in Basic – and another regarding the male's rudeness. Instead, I looked over at Fay. She was far more diplomatic than me, to say nothing of Bo or HK and was in charge of this mission.
"Greetings. I am Jedi Master Fay aboard the Ne'tra Sartr. I and my crew have journeyed here on behalf of my Order regarding rumours of a world with an incredibly strong connection to the Force. Even from orbit, I can sense this world has such a connection. With your permission, I'd like to land and with my crew, speak to your leaders and learn more about your world."
There was a long pause which allowed me to analyse Fay's approach. She was being honest regarding the main objective of our mission, and who we were. Yet she was avoiding the secondary goal of locating the world making unique starships that were said to be some of the fastest in the galaxy and potentially had some sort of connection with the Force.
"You are not here to complete a purchase?" My brow rose at that, and I shared a look with Fay. It seemed the person she was speaking to had just revealed this planet was the one our secondary objective was aimed at. It was an odd mistake to make, but as I had learnt early on in my former life, never correct an opponent when they're making a mistake.
"We would be interested in browsing and potentially purchasing your wares; however, we are unsure of what exactly your world offers." I caught Bo rolling her eyes at Fay's coy response. "Hmm, I believe I have heard rumours of a world beyond the Outer Rim that is renowned for making starships of incredible speeds while being secretive about their location. While it is unlikely your world is the one that I have heard of, we would be interested in landing and speaking with your leaders about what we may purchase."
Again, there was a long pause, though it stretched on far longer than the last one. As it did, I reached out through the Force. The planet was well within the range of Detection and Sense Force and I wanted an idea of what exactly was on the planet and if it was a Force Nexus like Fay had suspected.
I inhaled sharply at what I sensed. Instead of picking up hints of every being on the planet, and possibly some of the creatures, I was instead assaulted by one massive, overreaching Force presence that overwhelmed the minimap and made it impossible to learn anything about what was on the planet. The planet had to be populated by the strength of the Force coming from the planet itself meant I couldn't sense anything else. I pulled back, shocked and confused at what I'd sensed only to feel a tendril in the Force reach out from the planet. That should be impossible, but I was sensing it right now and felt something massively powerful, yet incredibly gentle brush against my mental barriers. I frowned as the probe pulled back as, unless I missed something, the tendril had felt far less mature than something the age of a planet should.
"Cameron?" I turned to Fay as she said my name. Her expression was calm, but I felt some confusion and concern from her.
"Your vessel has been registered and granted landing permission." The controller's voice cut me off from explaining what I'd sensed to Fay. "Transmitting landing coordinates now. A representative will meet you upon arrival." The channel snapped closed a second after I confirmed receipt of the coordinates.
"Why land there?" I muttered as the landing zone was marked on the image of the planet. While we weren't landing at the literal North Pole of the planet, we would be touching down inside the northern glacial region, far from, as far as the scanners could tell, any sign of civilization. That was strange as every other landing we'd made on a planet had been either at the edge of a city or near the equatorial region.
"Perhaps some local custom about not wanting to contaminate their culture with alien vessels," Fay's reasoning had some logic to it, but I felt there was more to this world than met the eye. "Since we don't wish to anger our hosts, follow the instructions, and guide us down. However, before we meet their representative, I wish to know what it was you sensed."
"Yes, Master." Even as I spoke my fingers were flying over the controls. After years at the helm, it only took me a touch here and there to guide the ship into the atmosphere of the planet. Yet, as the upper reaches of the ozone layer brushed against our atmospheric shields, I felt my heartbeat increase as a shiver shot up my spine.
The Force was off around this world, yet I couldn't tell how or why. Only that something was waiting to happen.
The landing zone on Zonama Sekot was an odd experience. The actual area to land was a long, narrow stretch of plateau nearly a thousand metres long but barely twenty at its widest. Yet, instead of the snow and blizzards that one would expect from such a northern landing site, the area was, while not warm, far from bitingly cold with no hint of snow or strong winds on the horizon. Either the area was kept clear by the locals – unlikely as the only buildings were a pair of domed structures that didn't appear likely to house cleaning droids or flyers – or the area wasn't as buffeted by cold weather as I'd have expected.
Still, it took me two attempts to get the Ne'tra Sartr down safely as the vessel wasn't an ideal fit for the landing area being both longer and wider than the landing area.
After stepping out into the cool air, which reminded me of Scotland from a lifetime ago, we were greeted by a tall female in a sealed suit. Observe gave me her name and species – Ferroan – but since she never offered her name, I never referred to her by it. She gave Fenrir a look that suggested she didn't trust him, which did make sense as he was approaching the size of a young Kath hound in size and still, according to Fay, had a good bit of growth still to go.
As the representative had stared at us, I'd thought about what I knew of her species. Ferroans were, unsurprisingly, from a planet called Ferros in the Outer Rim. Funnily enough, that world wasn't too far from Telos V, but seeing her here was a little surprising. Her species were known to be very independent and generally kept to their home system. Thus, seeing one so far from there was unexpected, though I was basing my knowledge on what I'd read in the Jedi Archives, and knowing how flawed they were about the Mandalorian sector, I now took anything I read there with a pinch of salt.
For a moment, as she glared and tried to look threatening – a foolish idea against a Mandalorian, a tuk'ata and two Jedi – I thought we were about to be thrown off the planet. Yet suddenly, as a breeze had blown over us, she'd looked away and tilted her head. When she looked back her body language had softened, and she'd led us to the nearest dome and an atmospheric transport inside it.
As we entered the transport, I looked out over the planet. Ever since we'd entered the lower atmosphere, I'd had this feeling like something was off. It put me on edge and after speaking telepathically with Fay, and sensing Fenrir's agitation, I realised I wasn't the only one sensing it. Hell, even Bo was tenser than she'd normally be in an unknown location, which was saying something. Because of this, Fay had suggested we leave Fenrir on the Sartr. He hadn't been happy about it, but it did make sense as I wasn't sure how he'd react to other people while being agitated. It'd take the promise of bringing him with us once we knew the planet was safe and the promise of bringing him back something to eat that convinced him to go. Though the image of him giving me puppy dog eyes as he whimpered to not be sent back had Bo and me laughing as we flew over the planet.
Generally, the flight had been done in silence. Fay had tried to engage our escort in conversation, but the Ferroan chose to respond with either short, three- or four-word replies, or say our questions would be answered when we arrived. As we'd flown, I'd spent most of the time looking out a small window in the transport, which was barely large enough to accommodate all four of us. Nothing about the planet stood out as off with the jungle we soared over seeming perfectly normal, though what did stand out was that, apart from the domes at the landing area, I couldn't see anything that hinted at a colony.
Normally, I'd have used Detection to locate population centres, but with the planet giving off an insanely strong Force echo, that was impossible. I'd thought that once we'd landed things would get better, but the opposite had happened. Flying low over the planet meant I was engulfed in the presence. Outside of our escort and the pilot – who was locked away in the cockpit – I couldn't sense anything. Not even animals in the jungle below. It was like I was drowning inside a Force signature of such immense size and power that the Interface couldn't figure out a way to compensate. Or perhaps couldn't.
My mind drifted back to the problems the Interface had experienced with the Dark Side and the Bando Gora. I had a working theory that the reason I'd lost access to it entirely in the trap but was able to use it to a degree in the Bando Gora base was due to the Dark Side. Or more accurately, the fact that in the base I'd been relying on the Dark Side to keep me focused and active. However, that wasn't a theory I was willing to test as it'd mean willingly finding another place engulfed in the Dark Side and entering it. Not something I planned to do any time soon if I could help it.
As the transport slowed and angled to port, I turned my attention back to the viewport. We were approaching a small settlement. The buildings were mixed around the trees and,after using Enhance Sense to get a better look, I saw they were made predominantly of organic materials.
As we exited the transport and walked onto a wooden floor, a tall Ferroan approached. "Greetings and welcome to Zonama Sekot, a planet of considerable beauty and firm tradition. My name is Gann." As he finished, Gann lowered his head, though given he was Ferroan like our escort, it did little to counter the height disparity. Unlike our escort, Gann appeared far more comfortable around off-worlders – something Observe confirmed – andwore clothing more akin to Jedi robes. Though his robes were black which worked well against the blue tone of his skin that Ferroans were known for.
Fay returned the bow. "Thank you for allowing us to visit your planet." She began after the bow." I am Jedi Master Fay. This is my Padawan Cameron Shan and our travelling companion, Bo-Katan Kryze." As she spoke, she indicated each of us with her hand, and then as Gann frowned, she smiled. "I take it you are unfamiliar with the term. In a more common vernacular, Cameron is my student in understanding the mysteries of the Force."
Gann's face lit up and he smiled. "Ah. I too have a son. A special student for me. There are many sons and daughters here. That is what we call our students. Regardless of who they were born to, we are all mothers, fathers and teachers to them." He paused and gestured with his hand, which drew my attention to where we were standing.
The transport had already taken off behind us and it allowed me to see that the platform was entirely open to the elements. Yet the wooden floor appeared undamaged by rain or wind. Though as I looked at it, I saw that the edges of the platform rested on branches from a dozen or so massive tree trunks. Each was wider than a Redwood and as I used Sense Force only on them, I felt the branches running under the platform and interlocking. Yet, as I sensed that I came to a startling realisation.
While I'd thought the Force presence that I'd been feeling from orbit was simply the planet, I now realised it wasn't. I could feel that same signature in the trees, branches and even the platform. Everything was connected. The tree trunks hadn't been cut in any way, instead, they'd been grown for this very purpose by the planet. I reached out a little further and sensed the Force flowing through other nearby flora and the same signature in the Force.
The entire planet, or at least the flora, was connected in one giant system. A symbiotic setup, that if it extended to the fauna, suggested the planet was one giant connected circle of life.
"If you will follow me, I will lead you into Middle Distance." Gann's voice drew my senses back to my immediate surroundings. "This is our first home on Zonama Sekot where we settled around nineteen Ferroan years ago. That is about fifty-five standard years." He smiled in a way that reminded me of Fay. "Though time doesn't have quite the same meaning here as it does in our homeworld. Or any other world within the Republic."
I wanted to keep pushing out through the Force, to experience more of this incredibly connected ecosphere, but I knew focusing on Gann and the here and now was more important. I could, if all went well, explore this planet – both physically and through the Force – later. So long as our meeting with him and the other leaders of the planet went well.
"That is an unusual way to speak about a planet. Does time pass differently here?"
Gann chuckled, and in a move that made me smirk, gave Fay a taste of her own medicine. He fixed her with one of her trademarked 'I know something you don't' smiles. "Zonama Sekot has a unique approach to letting time pass. At times I feel as if I've lived my entire life here, yet at other times, I feel as if only an hour or a day has passed since I first arrived with the other settlers." A gentle breeze passed over us and Gann got the same faraway look as our escort had before she took us to the transport. "Forgive me. Explaining how our world works, and what it involves, to outsiders reminds me once more of the wonders of Sekot."
"There is little to forgive. This world is strong in the Force, so much so that Cameron and I sensed it from orbit." Fay smiled at Gann, and then I sensed a small thrill surge through her as she closed her eyes for a moment before continuing. "To live in a place with such a beautifully balanced Force connection would make any, even those not attuned to the Force, feel a sense of connectivity to the universe that most people would never experience nor understand."
"Yes, yes. How true." He paused and blinked before tilting his head as if suddenly realising something. "Ah, forgive me. I thought you, like all off-world visitors, we're here to purchase a starship and not just experience the glory of Sekot."
"While experiencing and studying, unobtrusively, this world's connection to the Force, we would be interested in purchasing a ship. Particularly if, as I suspect, this is the world famed for the creation of semi-organic ships of almost unrivalled speed and beauty." Fay glanced my way for a moment, which confused me before she continued. "Perhaps we might speak with your leaders, if they are amenable, to see if that can be arranged. Then, with your permission, we might depart to acquire the funds we would need for such a vessel."
Gann stopped walking and stared at Fay. It was almost as if he was trying to weigh her words. A moment later, after another gentle breeze, he smiled. "Yes, Sekot wishes this. Please, follow me."
Meeting the Magister had been odd. His residence was far from Middle Distance, being in the mountains near the equator and it reminded me of a cross between an Earth castle and Vader's palace on Mustafar. The whole place wasn't in keeping with anything else we'd seen on the world, which also applied to the Magister.
Seon Hal – which I only knew thanks to Observe – had been cold when we'd first met. He'd wanted nothing to do with us and I knew why this was because of Observe. His father, the first Magister Leor Hal, had been kicked from the Jedi Order, and Seon still held resentment that the Jedi had expelled his father and rejected his concept of Potentium.
Neither Fay nor I knew what Potentium was, and Fay was able to slowly convince the Magister to allow us to not only stay but once he was sure we weren't here to enforce Jedi beliefs on the Sekotans, would allow us to purchase a starship.
When he'd revealed the approximate cost to us, I'd choked on my water. Which I suspect he intentionally timed. It would cost upwards of a hundred million credits for the most basic of ships and the price couldn't be paid with Republic Credit chits. Obviously, we didn't have that much with us – well, I might've been able to come close with the gems in my Inventory but that would mean revealing its existence – so, after getting permission to stay on Zonama Sekot and purchase a starship in time, we'd headed back to the Sartr.
Since the world wasn't connected to the Holonet, we were forced to fly back to Sernpidal for Fay to contact the Order. Originally, we'd planned to head back – and I'd been looking forward to that as it'd let me talk with Serra – but the High Council had another idea. After transmitting their files on the Potentium concept and the expelled members of the group – with a few less-than-subtle hints from Yoda that this belief system was wrong – we'd closed the connection and returned to the planet. Unlike the first journey, which had taken nearly two weeks, this one took a third of that as I knew where we were going, the hyperspace coordinates were in the databanks and HK, Bo and I had managed to shave some distance off the jumps.
Now, two weeks later we were just awaiting the arrival of the couriers: a group called the Antarian Rangers. During this time, I'd reviewed what the Council sent about Potentium and spoken with Gann and a few other random locals about the concept. While there were some parts of the concept that I felt were interesting – particularly that no Force ability was inherently evil, but that it was how they were used that determined if they were Dark or Light – overall I found the philosophy flawed. I knew from the Interface and had experienced it first-hand, that Dark Side powers worked best when empowered by negative emotions. Plus, their idea that because there was no Dark Side, the Jedi didn't have a purpose was off. Even if the current Order, in my opinion, and that of others, wasn't holding to the ideals of the Jedi, the Jedi weren't just there to guard against the Dark Side but to ensure that evil, in general, didn't take a hold of the galaxy.
After two weeks Bo was getting a touch angsty as, after our first outdoor spar, we'd been asked to not do so. Apparently, the planet didn't enjoy getting blown to pieces as Bo tried to eviscerate me with grenades. Fay had apologised for us, and we'd been forced to confine our spars to either no weapons when outdoors or return to the Sartr to use them on stun settings.
Fenrir, when not disappearing into the jungle when I turned away, was enjoying the attention the locals gave him. While none dared come too close – bar children who were held back by their parents – the locals gave him food to eat, and he seemed to enjoy the planet almost as much as Fay did.
My master had spent time meditating heavily in the jungle – sometimes with Fenrir nearby almost as if he was keeping a watch over her – and had come to believe that the planet was far more than just a Force Nexus. I suspected the same, but the locals were, I felt, being intentionally vague about if the planet had some kind of sentience to it. I hadn't meditated as deeply as Fay did as I preferred now to use Alchaka to relax and centre myself. Apart from it offering a greater FP and Stamina regeneration rate – though since it wasn't maxed yet, it was still lower than a maxed-out Force Trance – and being able to move while relaxing felt better to me. Fay had accepted this readily, likely feeling it was better for me after what I'd gone through. That was probably true as since we'd arrived, I'd not suffered a single flashback or nightmare related to my time with the Bando Gora. Hell, even thinking about it didn't bring the memories instantly to the front of my thoughts.
Bo though was growing increasingly curious about what I got up to in the jungle when I was alone, often suggesting I was going there to relieve myself after our dates, which weren't dates. Well not entirely. They'd started as us reconning Middle Distance but had grown into more relaxed and leisurely outings and while things hadn't gone any further than that, I found myself enjoying them far more than anything else that filled my days. If we had to wait much longer for the Rangers to get here, then I doubted I'd be able to avoid taking things with her to the next stage.
Today though, I was in the Ne'tra Sartr. It wasn't to spar with Bo but to check in with HK and give the ship another check. With nothing wrong with my starship, I'd spent the last few hours talking with HK. Most of that time had been him recounting more stories of his travels with Revan and their companions. It always amused me when he sounded almost remorseful about T3-M4, and I couldn't wait until I could introduce him to R2-D2. The sheer chaos those two could unleash always made me chuckle with Bo commenting I sounded like I was going mad whenever she heard me.
I had enough from HK and my memories to have the basics of my next work, Knights of the Old Republic, plotted out and had written down the first part of the first book of the trilogy. Or possibly a quadrilogy if I included some of HK's more amusing anecdotes that weren't covered in the game. Still, the first book would be ready for release, all things being equal, by the time we left Zonama Sekot at best, the end of the year at worst.
"Statement: Master, unless there is another group of meatbags inbound to this backwater world, it appears the meatbags you have been waiting for have arrived."
I lifted my head from my datapad, slid it into my Inventory – by way of making it look like I was placing it inside my robes – and then turned to the controls. The light indicating an incoming hail was blinking and I opened the channel. "This is Cameron Shan aboard the Ne'tra Sartr. Who am I speaking to?"
"Padawan Shan," the simple fact the responding voice knew my rank hinted he was a Ranger. "This is Ranger Lieutenant Kekda Zarkos of the Longstrider. I have some cargo to transfer to you and Master Fay." The voice was male and, unless I was misjudging it, the speaker sounded happy. "Should we land near your ship?"
"I'll contact Master Fay, but I'd advise you to not land just yet. The locals are a mite touchy about uninvited guests."
There was a pause before Zarkos chuckled. "Yes, we've just received a hail from the planet. A rather rude fellow, that one."
"Aye, he is." I smiled as I replied. "Give me a bit and I'll get back to you."
"Understood. Longstrider out."
As the channel closed, I pulled out my communicator from my belt. While it normally wouldn't have the range to reach Middle Distance, I'd modified them – with help from Bo and HK – to allow greater range at the expense of shorter battery life.
With the Ranger here we'd finally do something beyond sitting around and hopefully learn about the locally produced starships. I might not have Anakin's love for technology, but I couldn't deny I was looking forward to learning more about that. And this planet as I felt there was a connection between the ships produced her and the Force signature of the planet.
It was several hours later that, with Fay and Bo having arrived at the landing area, a heavily modified freighter touched down. I couldn't be sure about its exact designation, but from the general shape, it looked to have originally been something from the Corellian Engineering Corporation. As the ship landed with far more ease than I'd managed with the Ne'tra Sartr – no, I wasn't bitter about that – I wondered why a Ranger would need such a large ship for a single person.
A reason was semi-confirmed when, about a minute later, three beings walked down the ramp. The lead figure was a Togruta male, one hand rested on his waist, not far from a blaster, while a large vibroblade – though one not as long as my beskad – hung at his other side. Behind him came a Pantoran female who held a blaster rifle in a relaxed grip – Irone Mucho according to Observe – and a Cathar male, who drew most of my attention. Observe gave me his name – Simvyl – and gave the reason why his head was moving around rapidly behind wide eyes. He was excited to meet Jedi on his very first mission.
"Jedi Master Fay," the Togrutan spoke, confirming he was the one I'd talked with via the comms, "I'm Lieutenant Kekda Zarkos." He paused to lower his head. "With me are Ranger Irone Mucho and Ranger Trainee Simvyl." I already had their names and other details from Observe, but it was nice to have them in the open so I didn't slip up and say a name I shouldn't know. Yet through all this, my focus was on Simvyl. Apart from being a trainee and excited, he was a Cathar, and I wasn't sure if the animosity they held toward the Mandalorians still existed.
"What's she doing here!?" Simvyl all but hissed as his fur stood up slightly when he saw Bo in full armour. His hand raced toward his blaster. It stopped mid-way as I gripped it with the Force and stepped between him and Bo.
"She's with me," I replied bluntly to draw his attention to me. If he attacked Bo, I didn't think she'd have any issue defeating him. Apart from the disparity in levels – twenty-two to eighteen in Bo's favour – Bo had spent years sparring against a Jedi so taking on someone not at that level, when combined with her previous training, all but assured me of Bo's victory. However, since the Rangers were allied with the Order, it was better if conflict was avoided. "I know your people have historical issues with hers, but she wasn't one of those who decimated your world millennia ago. Either stow your misplaced anger or get back on your ship and kriff off!"
I could sense surprise from both Fay and Bo through my bonds with them – along with a tingle of excitement from Bo – but my focus was on Simvyl. If he kept trying to slip free of my Force grip, I planned to lift him and dump him unceremoniously back on his ship.
"You'll have to forgive Simvyl," Zarkos spoke as he stepped between me and the snarling Cathar, "he is young and new to our organisation. And still has some way to go in learning to curb his preconceptions." Mucho glared and Simvyl, which did have him settle down a bit, though not enough that I released my grip on him. "His presence is why there are three of us to escort your cargo instead of the expected two. Though I am surprised to find a Mandalorian travelling with Jedi, particularly when their sector is in the waning stages of another civil war." The question was clear to hear – as was a challenge about why Bo wasn't fighting at home – even as Mucho slid an arm around Simvyl's waist and, none too gently, pulled him backwards.
Before Fay could respond a loud, aggressive growl came from the Ne'tra Sartr and I felt Fenrir's anger as he stalked down the ramp. He'd likely sensed my irritation at Simvyl's behaviour – and possibly Bo's spike in anger as she was closer to him than anyone but me – and decided to make his existence known.
"Easy there, Fenrir," I slid a hand toward him even as my eyes stayed on Simvyl. "Just someone making a fool of themselves and threatening our friend," Fenrir growled once more as he stalked across the landing area, his eyes narrowing toward the Cathar.
"And looking for an early grave," Bo added. That generated a spike in Simvyl's anger, though it was quickly dissipated by Mucho pulling him back bluntly and Fenrir growling at him once more.
Before he reached my side, I heard his crest spikes – which were starting to get dangerously sharp – scratching against Bo's armour before I felt him lean into my arm. I knew it was coming and he wasn't trying to knock me over, so I didn't stumble, but even a gentle rub made it clear how strong he was. Simvyl's attention was now on Fenrir, which was logical since the tuk'ata was between him and Bo, but nothing further occurred as Mucho pulled him back to their ship.
"I, uh, don't believe I've ever seen such a beast before." Zarkos' voice once more broke the tense situation in the landing area even as I sensed our regular escort approaching. Likely the tense situation was a concern since it was because of us that the Rangers were here.
"Fenrir is a tuk'ata. My Padawan saved him from poachers about a year ago, when he was barely a pup, and they've formed a very strong bond." Fay's voice drifted over the landing area, managing to diffuse the tension with practised ease. "While most Jedi don't form such bonds with creatures," Fenrir snarled at that, but Fay ignored him, "they do occur. And with tuk'ata being creatures with a strong connection to the Force," a moment of amusement drifted across my bond with Bo, "it wasn't surprising the bond formed."
"As for our companion. This is Bo-Katan Kryze. She is travelling with us as her father, Duke Adonai Kryze," Zarkos' brow rose, meaning he knew the name, "requested we ensure her safety at the start of the war. My Padawan and I have a friendship with the duke and were more than willing to acquiesce to his request."
"I see." Zarkos' tone made it clear he didn't; at least not fully. "Returning to business. The Jedi Council requested we transport a not inconsiderable sum of wealth to you and, provided you and the locals are amenable, stay to ensure the safety of both you and the finances."
I smirked at the idea the three of us needed guards on Zonama Sekot as the locals were the most laid-back and peaceful lot I'd met so far in this galaxy. That said, I could understand the Council's decision about extra manpower since the price of a starship from this world was insane.
"That is acceptable to me. However, I will first have to speak with our local contacts to see if you are permitted to leave the landing area. They are a … reclusive collective with very private and personal beliefs." On cue, the door to the nearest dome opened and out walked our regular escort, once more clad in clothing that hid her features. "And as the Force would have it, we may determine that right now."
We turned as one to face the oncoming Ferroan. There was a brief burst of concern from her, which was normal whenever she saw Fenrir, but there was no outward display of it as she strode toward us.
It hadn't taken much for our escort to allow the Rangers to stay, though only one could travel to Middle Distance. It would then be up to Gann, if not the Magister if the others could come as well. Mucho was the one who travelled with us on the first trip as I suspected Zarkos wished to discipline Simvyl about his behaviour.
Fenrir was also coming along as even if he couldn't feed in the jungle around Middle Distance – not because the locals prohibited it, but because Fenrir strangely chose to not kill on his hunts – he enjoyed running free. I'd sensed he felt at peace on the planet, which was another hint there was far more to this place than met the eye, and Fay had commented on his better disposition – relative to normal – since we'd arrived.
I was growing more and more certain that, if not alive in a sense I'd understand, the planet had some form of communal consciousness. Fay, while reluctant to accept my hypothesis, didn't dismiss it. We both felt there was something special and different about Sekot, and not just because of the ships they produced.
That discussion was placed once more to the side – though I knew we'd revisit it within a day as it dominated our conversations – as we arrived back in Middle Distance. Unlike the previous times, the place was far more inviting and alive. Whereas before there'd only be a handful of people here and there, now it seemed as if the entire city had come out to party.
"It is the first day of a new client celebration," Gann explained just after we arrived, and Fay asked about the atmosphere though my attention was on the skies. Around us flew airships that merged organic and mechanical technology. Each was coloured differently but the sounds of singing, laughing and general enjoyment vibrated around us. From somewhere in the distance, music from strange, enchanting instruments drifted on the wind. "Whenever it is time to develop a new vessel, we consider it a time to celebrate the gifts Sekot has given us." His smile grew even wider; to the point that I wondered if it didn't hurt to smile that much. "As you also already have Sekot's blessing, it is truly a special celebration as we wonder about what kind of vessel will be grown."
A young girl suddenly burst out of the crowds and made a beeline for us. She looked familiar, though since it was hard to tell with Ferroans as they all looked similar enough that I hadn't yet learnt to differentiate them within the Force, I used Observe to be sure. That confirmed it was who I'd thought it was; Jabitha Hal, the daughter of the Magister.
"Gann!" She called out, getting our host's attention.
"Jabitha!" He replied as he turned and saw her. "I didn't expect you here today." She ran into his arms, and it allowed me to once more see that while she was close to Anakin's age, she was considerably taller. At a guess, at least a head. Her arms slid up his arms, and he repeated the gesture, in what I'd come to realise was a Ferroan greeting. I'd been greeted a few times that way, though it was a little too personal for me to be comfortable with.
Happiness radiated off Jabitha in spades, and not just in the Force. "When I heard the Jedi had been chosen for bonding, I begged my father to let me come." She explained once the greeting was over. "I can barely remember the last bonding and I wanted to be a part of these celebrations." She turned and lowered her head as she saw Fay. "Master Jedi."
"Hello again, Jabitha." Fay's tone was lighter than normal and when I looked at her, she had a large, radiant smile plastered to her face. Just like I was, she was being affected by the joy and energy of the locals, though with her it seemed to make her look even younger and more graceful than her ethereal grace already did.
"Oh! Who's this?" Before I could stop her, the girl moved toward Fenrir and leaned down. He growled at her closeness, but it wasn't as strong as he normally growled at newcomers. My brow shot up though when he allowed her to pet his fur where the spinal spikes met his body.
"Fenrir, though he's normally not this docile toward new people," I explained slowly as I reached through my bond with him. He was calm and relaxed, far more so than usual. Apparently, the atmosphere that both Fay and I were sensing was also influencing him. "I think he's enjoying the party atmosphere."
"Isn't everyone?" Jabitha's innocent smile made mine grow a little. With all this happiness around us, it was becoming harder and harder to not be influenced by it. "Are you excited about the bonding?"
"Bonding?" That was the third time in a few minutes I'd heard that come up. It was an odd word to choose when referring to having a ship built. Though since we were talking about something semi-organic, perhaps there was some kind of mental imprinting on the vessel. Similar, but certainly not as expansive, as what I shared with Fenrir.
"Perhaps it's better we allow those responsible for the process to explain it, hmm?" Gann's words cut off Jabitha from revealing what was going on. While that made sense, it made me concerned that there was something they weren't telling us, possibly because they didn't want us to know until it was too late. "Now, perhaps you should run along and find your brothers and sisters. The growers are undoubtedly waiting for our new clients."
Well, if the word 'bonding' didn't suggest something different with the process, then 'growers' certainly did. Again, the wording made sense since we were talking about semi-organic starships. Yet as I followed along in the group behind Gann as he led us to a local flyer – which was a merging of organic and mechanical technologies – my mind was starting to wander to what an organic ship in this galaxy would look like.
A few hours later the airship we were travelling on – which was a bigger one than Gann had first planned on taking as there were five of us with him – arrived at a place Gann called Far Distance. Like Middle Distance, that was an odd name for a settlement, but it likely had meaning to the locals.
"This way." The speaker was Sheekla Farrs who had joined us on the airship to talk to us a little about what we would be going through. Like Gann, she was coy about details, but it was clear that to the Sekotans, the creation of every ship held an almost religious significance. She led us into a crowd that had gathered, though that quickly parted. Whether that was because they knew to let clients through, or because Fenrir was not comfortable with so many people so close by, it was hard to say.
Soon we reached a large structure that, like almost everything else on the planet, was semi-organic. The doors weren't though. The glint from the sunlight as it reflected off the dark, almost black stone drew our attention. As did the fact they looked to be about twice the height of an average Ferroan, coming in at four metres or so.
"Your companions must remain here." Bo and Fenrir didn't look or sound happy about that, though it was harder to tell with Bo – at least if not using the Force – as she was in full armour as normal. Zarkos was far more relaxed, taking his leave from Fay.
I walked up to Bo. "Don't worry. I doubt this'll take long enough for you to find someone better to take to bed." I moved quickly out of her reach, just barely avoiding a roundhouse punch aimed at my head. I then scratched Fenrir behind the ear. "Make sure he doesn't get into trouble or eat anything strange. Or anyone."
I didn't wait for a reply before moving to catch up with Fay and Sheekla – Gann had stayed behind – as the large stone doors opened with a slightly ominous groan.
"How much longer will this dance continue?" Fay asked softly as we walked behind Sheekla. Both her tone and the smile on her face made it clear that she wasn't angry about the way Bo and I were moving around each other. Haran, I suspected she was enjoying watching us torment each other to see who would snap first.
"I doubt it'll be much longer." As I replied, my eyes drifted to take in the architecture of the new building. Again, it bore similar markings to others but something about this place seemed to resonate within the Force. "I just don't know ho…. What the kriff?" My topic of conversation shifted suddenly as Sheekla opened a door near the centre of this new building and I saw what was inside.
The room was lit by what I assumed was an overhead window or two, but it was the strange creatures moving around inside that had caused my exclamation. At first, I'd thought the scurrying mass of movement was from a pile of insects – which would be a good reason to back the fuck out of getting this ship – but a second look confirmed they weren't. though if that was a good thing was up to debate.
Thousands, if not tens of thousands of… round things about the size of my head were skittering around. Each had legs that reminded me of crabs and the bodies and legs were covered in spikes. It seemed as if those spikes allowed them to move, but their movement patterns were so random, almost chaotic, that it was almost impossible to predict the behaviour of the swarm. Never mind an individual… thing.
"These are the seed partners. From them, we will grow your ship." Sheekla replied as she gestured us into the room. "Please enter and allow them to see you."
I looked over at Fay, my reluctance to enter the room clear to her as she gave me an encouraging nod. She then stepped into the room, showing no fear. As Sheekla looked at me I realised that while I didn't want to enter, I would, and after a resigned sigh, followed my master inside.
The door closed ominously behind us, which did little to ease the tension in the air. Or at least the tension I was feeling.
"How refreshingly unusual." Fay's comment, while odd, did make some sense. She was radiating amusement, curiosity and some wonder within the Force; though it was far easier to sense that as we stood in the room surrounded by the deformed spiked-balls. "I can't remember how many years it's been since I experienced something this unique." Her voice had taken on an almost child-like wonder as her eyes took in the sight of the wriggling mass of spiked things jittering around.
Fay turned and looked at me. Her smile, one full of joy and innocence, grew wider as she took in my expression. "You must learn to embrace the strangeness when the Force shows it to us, Cameron." She swept out her arm toward the mass of balls around us. "These seed-partners are alive; can you not sense them through the Force? They mean no harm, and while their appearance could be considered concerning," far too mild a word for my liking, "they are simply curious about us and, I assume by their name, wish to partner with us."
I frowned as I wondered exactly how these beachball-sized spiked monstrosities would 'partner' with us – a few concerning ideas developing quickly in my mind – before I followed my master deeper into the chamber.
We walked into the centre of the room, into a depressed bowl that was built into the floor. The seed-partners skittered around the edges, but none entered this bowl, and once we were inside it, our path back to the door was lost in the sea of spiked insanity. Realising that something was meant to happen here, Fay and I stood back-to-back and waited.
Watching the seed-partners move around and trying not to focus on their spikes and how sharp they looked was awkward. Though my attention was soon off the sprawling mass and on three that broke from the others and almost chaotically, moved toward me. Two of them shifted down the wall, scurrying over others while the third skittered between others on the ground.
As they approached, and then stopped at the edge of the depressed bowl I was standing in, I sensed something odd from them within the Force. As others began to join them, the sensation grew stronger.
"How interesting." I glanced over my shoulder to see several more at the edge of the bowl on Fay's side. "It is almost as if they are judging us as some beasts would. As if trying to determine if we are worthy of their company."
"And what happens if we're not?" I asked as I saw that more were moving down from the walls and tried to not focus on the fact nearly a dozen spiked-balls were now surrounding us.
Suddenly the air shifted and a strong, tangy breeze that reminded me of the sea filled the room. The mass of spiked-balls on the wall shifted. Before there'd been perhaps a few predictable patterns to their movements but now it appeared entirely chaotic. The pattern was repeated by the balls on the floor even as the ones on the walls started piling up, apparently joining together, and reaching out from the sides for some pre-determined point in the air over our heads. The scent shifted, now reminding me of a meadow of freshly sprung flowers.
"I've got a bad feeling about this," I muttered as the roof of the dome seemed to shrink in as the seed-partners reached out en masse toward the centre of the room. They all began to shake, and my hand drifted toward my lightsaber.
"Relax Cameron. They mean us no harm." Fay's words stilled my hand, but I kept it close to my weapon just in case. I knew that against this many targets it'd be all but useless, but just having my fingers graze the hilt settled some of my nerves.
I hissed in pain and looked down. One of the balls had shuffled up to me while my attention was on those above and latched rather painfully onto my leg. Its spikes were digging into my skin and while the cut didn't feel very deep – nor was it costing me any HP – it hurt like a dozen wasp stings. Before I could reach down and pull it free, noise from above drew my attention back that way.
My eyes widened in terror as the mass on the walls seemed to lose cohesion. As they started to fall, I raised my arms to cover my face and dropped to a knee. As the mass of seed-partners fell, the smell of newly blossomed flowers grew stronger, and darkness enveloped me.
When the darkness receded, I felt pain rippling throughout my body. As if every nerve was on fire and being electrocuted at the same time. Yet through it all, I sensed an incredible wave of joy and delight vibrating within the Force. However, before I could draw in that happiness and let it drown out the pain, something struck my face. And again, this time harder.
"Wha?" The word that slipped from my mouth was slow, distorted. Almost as if I was drunk. I opened my eyes, fighting off the mother of all headaches, and blinked as light flooded my eyes. Something brushed against my hand. Fenrir. I knew instantly as the strength of our bond shone through the strange almost overwhelming wave of joy rippling through the Force.
"He's fine." I turned my head to the voice. Bo was standing over me, her helmet under one arm. A gentle growl from Fenrir followed her words, but it hurt my ears. Wanting to numb the pain, or at least be able to think without being distracted by it or the all-consuming joy, I activated Player's Mind and Control Pain. That combo was enough for me to get back to where I should've been.
I shifted my arm to try and push myself up, only for someone's hand to hold me down. "You must take it easy. The Seed-partners…" Sheekla's voice trailed as if she was unsure how to finish her sentence.
"Let's just say they took a liking to you," Bo finished for her with a snort of amusement. She gestured behind her and as my focus shifted there, my eyes widened in shock. Master Fay was moving around cautiously as four of the spiked-balls kept a firm grip on her. One on each leg and arm. No, there were six which I only realised as she turned to face me, and I saw one was attached to her stomach while the last one was buried between her breasts. Yet instead of being unsettled by events, Fay was smiling widely with a look of wonder and enjoyment radiating from her within the Force. Though it wasn't the source of the overwhelming delight I was sensing.
Two young Ferroan girls were hovering nearby, but from their eye movements, they were more concerned about the seed-partners than Fay.
"Six?" I muttered before I pushed myself up onto my elbows. I wanted to see how many of these spiked menaces were attached to me. My eyes threatened to leap out of their sockets as I took in the ones stuck to me. "EIGHT!?" I counted two on my chest, one on each arm and two per leg.
My shout of disbelief made Bo laugh. "Twelve," she got out and my head snapped to her. "There's one more on the inside of each of your knees and near your feet." She tapped her hand against the side of her helmet. "I'll be sure to remind you about this later on."
That made me groan though I avoided sinking back onto whatever I was resting on. Hopefully, the Sekotans didn't realise that Bo was recording everything with her helmet's sensors. Both because I was sure many would want to see proof of how many seed-partners Fay and I had gained and because they might well see a recording of this as sacrilegious. Much like when Gann had insisted that Bo and the Rangers leave most of their weaponry back with the ships. Yet they'd made no move to insist Bo remove her vambraces, which had a more dangerous and varied payload than her blaster pistols.
"Th-" I looked at Sheekla as she licked her lips. "This is unheard of. Most clients only bond with three, or occasionally four seed-partners. Before today the record was six bonds." She glanced over at Fay. "A record you both have broken."
Bo laughed once more and ruffled my hair, much to my annoyance. "Aye. Cam here does love doing things others think impossible. Might be why we like him so much." I was going to comment on her openly saying she liked me, though I let it slide as she'd done far more than just hint that she liked me when we flirted. Yet I was cut off by Fay as she wobbled closer.
"Can you sense them?" she lifted one arm slowly, bringing a seed-partner into prominence. Ignoring the one between her breasts that all but dared me to look there, I shifted my attention to the seed-partner on my right arm. I closed my eyes, and then pushed past the irritating pain the little fuckers were generating. I gasped as I realised that the strange, almost all-engulfing pleasure flooding the Force was coming from the seed-partners.
"Th-they like us and want to… join with us?" my words came out slow as I tried to make sense of the alien sensations radiating out of the seed-partners with their excitement. They were stronger than most things I felt in the Force, being on par with Fenrir when I physically touched him, and their message, which was alien to my mind, was easy enough to sense. At least now that I was listening for it.
"Yes." Fay's smile somehow grew, and she giggled like a schoolgirl. I felt my eyes widen at her behaviour. "Forgive me. Apart from this being the first fully new experience I've had in centuries, the bliss emanating from my seed-partners is… distracting."
"Uh, it's, um, fine." My reply was mumbled. Her behaviour was amusing as hell, and I could, I thought, understand why something like this would be so enjoyable for her. Turning my attention from her, I realised we were no longer in the domed room full of the seed-partners. I didn't think we'd left that building, but we'd clearly been moved.
Three young Ferroan girls, one of which was Jabitha, came close. Jabitha offered me a glass of water while the other two seemed more concerned about the seed-partners. As I sipped the water, making sure to not gulp it down in case I coughed, my fingers sunk into the covering of the sofa. That was when I realised that it wasn't a sofa, but some sort of organically grown bush designed to take the weight of a sentient. The soft, grass-like texture of it gave as my fingers sunk into the leaves, releasing a pleasant scent into the room.
"So, um, what's next?" I asked Sheekla once Jabitha had taken the glass back. "Because, if you say we have to keep these… seed-partners stuck to us for several days, I might just want a refund." Even as I said that though, I knew it wouldn't come to that. This connection I now shared with my seed-partners was something I wouldn't willingly dismiss. Yes, it was alien and fucking strange, but for the first time, I felt connected to someone far more than just myself. As if I was finally understanding the depths of connection one could have within the Force. And that was saying nothing of wanting to see just what a ship that potentially shared that bond with me might be capable of.
Sheekla opened her mouth to respond, only to stop as I heard doors open. That was followed by several gasps.
"Great is the Potentium, great the life of Sekot."
"All serve and are served, and all join the Potentium."
Those phrases, and others, drifted into the room. I turned my head toward them and groaned as I saw the doors that had opened had exposed us to the gathered crowds of Far Distance. I felt and heard Fenrir growl toward the masses as he sensed my irritation and joined it. If these people were so in awe of someone being covered in spiked seed-partners, they could go through the process themselves.
Gann pushed his way through the crowd and into the room, which helped me pick out the only Togruta in the crowd. Zarkos was amused by what he saw, though his eyes were still scanning the room for potential threats. As he reached us, Gann pulled Sheekla to one side and engaged her in a hushed but animated conversation.
"One day we'll go somewhere, and you'll find a way to not make the locals interested."
I chuckled at Bo's comment and saw she had a large smile on her face as she enjoyed teasing me. "I promise the next world we visit you can cause the commotion. Just don't blow up anything important to the locals." I leaned back on the grass bed. "Though until then, I think I'll need some help getting around. Possibly even a massage before bed."
I wasn't sure why I chose to suddenly flirt with her. Perhaps the pleasure from the seed partners was seeping into me even through Player's Mind, or perhaps I was just bored. But whatever the reason, it seemed she was fine with it. One hand came to rest on her hip as she smirked down at me.
"Oh? And what, pray tell, would be in this for me?" her eyes drifted over my chest, though that might just be because one of the seed-partners there had started purring.
"That depends. What would you want?" I asked, ignoring the fact the damn seed-partners seemed to be enjoying our flirting.
Bo's smile got positively predatory. She placed a hand on my chest, being careful to avoid the seed-partners, and then let her fingers drift down. "I'm sur…"
"Forgive us," Gann's voice cut Bo off and we both glared at him furiously, "b-but we must confer with the growers and the Magister." Right then and there, I wasn't sure who wanted to kill him more. I felt we both realised that given a minute more, we would've taken things to a new level. "The attendants will escort you to somewhere where you can rest and relax. They will also help persuade your partners to release their hold." Thank the fucking Force. "However, I must ask you to move carefully to get there and allow the seed-partners to remain close to you until it is time to meet the growers. To do otherwise could affect the creation of your ship."
"Which will be incredible," Sheekla added in a low voice filled with awe. Gann glanced at her, some annoyance on his face, but chose not to comment.
"Of course. I for one am more than happy to put up with this minor discomfort for as long as needed. The joy radiating from them is so pure and innocent that I wouldn't wish to destroy it." Fay's reply came through the wide smile that hadn't left her face since I'd woken up. It was almost as if she was drunk on the pleasure the seed partners were providing. "It is an experience unlike anything I've felt in over eight hundred years."
Gann smiled at her, though his eyes widened a fair bit when she revealed her age. "Yes. While few of our people have a connection to the Force that a Jedi would, we understand the joy a bonding brings. That you are the first Jedi to form such a bond is a blessing from Sekot. A wonder of Potentium."
Sheekla nodded vigorously before the two moved toward the opened door and the crowds beyond. As Jabitha and the other two girls came over to me, and slowly helped me off the grass sofa, my mind once more turned to this concept of Potentium. The High Council's files on it had suggested it was heavily flawed, but seeing how important it was to the Sekotans, and with likely little to do over the coming days, I resolved to speak with Gann, Sheekla, and others about it. If nothing else, it would be a nice way to pass the time while we waited for our ship to be grown.
Though the sooner we were away from the awe-filled faces of the crowd, the better I'd be. Hearing them whisper and chant about the glory of Sekot and Potentium while I moved gingerly trying to ignore the pain and not dislodge a seed partner was fucking irritating.
Sleep that night was hard. While the seed partners weren't still attached to me – thank the Force – they were very, very needy things. All of them had to stay on the bed with me, and whenever one moved around, it disturbed the others resulting in the room being filled with soft, strange whining. And that was saying nothing of when one fell from the bed and all but moaned at being so far away from me.
The Sekotans wouldn't allow anyone to stay in the room with me. That was a blessing in disguise as the next morning I suspected that if Fenrir had been here, he'd have ripped all the seed partners to shreds for annoying him.
After a rough night's sleep – the lack of rest easily countered by meditating for an hour – and then speaking with Gann and Sheekla, we found ourselves in another airship. This one was far bigger to accommodate the number of seed partners – which Sheekla had confirmed would be used directly in growing our ship – but was still coloured red and black like everything to do with clients.
At the landing platform, there was a myriad of other airships floating around, along with crowds lining the streets from our dwelling to the airship. Everyone was singing, dancing, and praising Sekot and Potentium for the honour we were experiencing for having so many seed partners. Bo, Fenrir, and Zarkos had stayed behind as, in Sheekla's words, they weren't clients and thus not allowed to be involved in the design process. Or any of the process, but up until now, they'd generally been allowed to accompany us part of the way. Fenrir and Bo had, expectedly, not been happy about this, but had stayed behind. The idea of having Fenrir in an enclosed area with eighteen seed partners felt like a good way to end up with none by the time we got to the designer.
Soon enough we reached another point in Far Distance – though this was located on the outskirts of the community – and landed. According to Sheekla, we'd be meeting her mate, Shappa. He was the lead designer for new Sekotan ships and after hearing about how many seed partners Fay and I had, had struggled to sleep at all as ideas for ships came to him.
We walked for a few minutes until we arrived at a small building that, like much of Far Distance, appeared to have been grown for its purpose. The door was wood with imperfect glass inlaid to let light inside. Somehow the flaws in the glass made the building seem even more alive. Before entering though, Gann and Sheekla herded the seed partners into a nearby building. According to Sheekla, Shappa hated having them in his workplace as they caused havoc, and after having to deal with the little blighters for the last day, I could agree.
"We have arrived," Sheekla called out as she pushed the door open. Inside a tall Ferroan with slowly greying hair turned and stood up. He wasn't as tall as his wife, being about Fay's height, was missing his right arm from below the elbow, and was thin enough that I could see the bones in his arms. Yet Observe revealed he was in good health if a little tired. I turned my attention to the room and the nicest way I could describe it was as a mess. Yet Shappa didn't seem concerned, meaning he likely had some form of organised chaos system in play.
"I hadn't realised that designing a starship was such a dangerous occupation." Fay's comment was a touch blunt, but Shappa obviously didn't mind as he laughed in response.
"Not designing. Here I help forge and shape a new vessel for the Jentari." He paused and moved around what remained of his right arm. "Though sometimes that requires a cost I'm more than willing to pay. Art cannot be denied." He paused again as he looked at us. "You are paying while your son will fly?"
Fay smiled. "While we will both be flying the ship, Cameron will be the primary pilot."
Shappa nodded. "Yes, of course. Of course." He glanced passed us. "And you have left the seed partners elsewhere. Good. As much joy as shaping a craft from them brings, dealing with them here is a dangerous thing. Little things enjoy destroying and eating anything they can get their hooks into. From my flimsi to the throw disks scattered around. Something that would be even more problematic with your seed partners." He chuckled and shook his head. "Eighteen is a new record, but the beauty that will come from them…" He paused once more and gestured toward his desk. "Would you like to see what's possible?"
I nodded and then followed him toward the desk. Various sheets of plastic – ones that reminded me of paper from books – and storage devices that looked antiquated dotted the mess. On the few sheets that I could make out, designs for ships in a massive range of shapes and styles were viewable. He flicked his hand over the table and a holographic display sparked into life. The designs were now easier to see, changing every five seconds or so. All looked strange and unappealing until one caught my eye.
I opened my mouth to get him to stop, but he had already pulled the image closer, letting me get a better look at it. It was hard to tell length from an image, but I didn't think it was as long as the Ne'tra Sartr, coming in at around forty metres and it had a very aerodynamic feel to it. Honestly, there was a lot about the design that reminded me of a modern fighter jet from Earth before I died. Oh, the wings were part of the fuselage, and the tail fins weren't as pronounced, but the overall design felt more Earth-based than Star Wars based. Everything about it just called to me.
"Yes, an unusual design. For a long time I've wanted to try designing something like this, but for most this isn't possible as they only have a handful of seed partners." His voice was full of joy and for a moment I thought he was sighing. "But with your collection, it should be doable. No seed wants to be this complicated, yet I think they and the Jentari can be convinced to try for you." A gesture from him had the vessel rotate around its y-axis.
"It's beautiful," I muttered as I took in the sleek lines that ran from the nose to the tips of the wings. There were slots where I could imagine missiles would launch from, though that was never going to happen. Gann had been quite clear that their ships were never armed, relying on their speed, manoeuvrability and shields to avoid conflict. Which made them sound like the perfect vessel for Jedi like Fay who did their utmost to avoid battle.
"Can you and the Jentari grow something this complicated?"
Shappa scoffed at his wife's comment, looking as if she'd just killed his dog or something. "You doubt my skill my darling?" The smirk on his face made it clear he wasn't angry. "Though normally no. As I just said, most clients lack the number of seed partners to even consider something like this. But for the Jedi… This will be Sekot's finest work. A true masterpiece for the galaxy to marvel at."
"He says that to everyone," Sheekla warned, trying to temper our expectations.
"Yes, but this time I mean it." Shappa spun in his chair and handed the sheet of plastic paper to Fay. As she took it, allowing her to examine the details of the ship, he looked at me. "Can you draft? Draw?" he explained as I frowned in confusion at his words.
I nodded slowly. "I've studied some starfighter designs, but I'm not an expert or anything." I was cautious to reply as I didn't want my lack of understanding to hamper the ship he was creating. Plus, even though I did have good levels in what I considered relevant skills, I didn't have the spark of genius that someone like Anakin had for this.
Shappa's smile grew. "That is fine. Even a basic understanding can help with creating something to your liking." He handed me a strange-looking headset. "It will allow you to help input your ideas to the model directly." I took it from him slowly, turning it over in my hands to get a feel for it. "I have a third if you also wish to join." He offered to Fay as I placed the headset on. She smiled but didn't move to take the extra headset, so he turned back to me and the hologram.
"Now, let us see what we can create. Let us dream in the air, letting our actions guide our hands as if," he glanced down at my waist and chuckled "as if we were wielding lightsabers." His energy was infectious, and I focused on the hologram. "It will be like magic, young Cameron Shan."
I sighed contently as I walked beside Fay through the forest near Middle Distance. It'd been ten days since we'd spoken with Shappa about the design of our new vessel and nine since we'd taken the seed partners to the Jentari. According to Shappa, it normally only took about this long to complete a ship, but given the complexity of the design, and the number of seed partners in ours, he felt it could take up to three times as long. As odd as it was, I found myself missing those annoying little spiked balls, yet since then, I'd felt a stronger connection to the planet and the life on it. "This planet is… different from what I expected, Master. It's like the Force flows freely here with wisdom only possible from age, yet there's this odd youthfulness to the place that just makes everything feel… amazing." I was no longer in any doubt that the planet was alive, in a sense, and shared some odd form of consciousness between the fauna and flora that covered the world. It wasn't sentient in the sense of being like most lifeforms in the galaxy, but there was no denying it was a lifeform of its own.
"Indeed. While I've encountered Force Nexuses before, even a few that cover significant parts of a planet, I've never felt a world where the entire surface is so strong in the Force." As she spoke and we walked, one of her hands drifted along a vine that was wrapped around a tree. "The only world that might be similar to this would be Tython, but given no one has stepped foot there in millennia, I couldn't say for sure."
I stayed silent as I pondered that. Tython was the original homeworld of the Je'daii, the group from which the Jedi Order had sprouted, but the route there had been lost sometime before the New Sith Wars a millennia ago. That wasn't surprising as the world was in the Deep Core where hyperspace navigation was a nightmare.
About ten metres in front of us, Fenrir leapt out from behind a tree. He was chasing an insect that reminded me of a butterfly – something he'd done several times – but would never catch it. Since they seemed to be connected to the planet's Force signature, they seemed to be aware of Fenrir's movements before they took place. Still, Fenrir had fun chasing them and it helped him improve his hunting techniques. Though I didn't mention the reason why I allowed it to Fay. Bo was back in Middle Distance as she preferred to stay near the city in case there was an emergency. Though Fay suspected the real reason was that Bo was uncomfortable with being on Zonama Sekot. While Bo's Force connection was low, it was clear to both Fay and me that Bo was being affected by the planet, though not to the level we were.
What she was interested in was the new ship being grown for me and Fay. While the idea of an organic ship didn't sit well with her – to say nothing of an unarmed one – she was impressed by the suggested capabilities of it that Shappa had detailed on the flimsi – the plastic sheets – he'd given me. Apart from having, at least, a 1.0-rated hyperspace engine, Shappa assured me that the ship would put many starfighters to shame with how manoeuvrable it would be. Though there was also the fact I felt Bo was hoping my getting this ship meant she'd get to take the Ne'tra Sartr with her when she finally returned to Mandalore.
Since, officially, the ship was a loan from Duke Adonai, I'd always feared that when Bo left he'd recall the ship. If the ship being grown for me on this world was even close to Shappa's speculation, then I'd feel better about that happening. Though I'd still miss the Sartr as she was the first ship I'd ever considered mine.
Since we'd been stuck on this world for nearly a month now, the last information we had on the war had come with the Rangers. According to what they'd heard, the civil war was entering its final stages. Death Watch was officially gone, though I suspected Pre had syphoned off the elements loyal to him to somewhere safe. Duke Anzur was severely weakened and most analysts suggested he could hold out against Dukes Adonai and Torrhen for no more than a few months. While Clan Awaud was in a better state, they'd also not been as heavily involved in the war as some had feared. In my opinion, that was because Chief Nam's anger was directed at me for killing his son; honourably I felt, even if he'd been a member of Death Watch. Since I wasn't active in the war, he'd been less aggressive than feared.
The Rangers were around as well. One always stayed with their ship – which made me feel better about the Ne'tra Sartr being protected – while the other two wandered Middle Distance. Simvyl had, finally, started accepting Bo's presence. He wasn't happy about it, but he'd matured enough to keep his distaste for her off his face. Though I'd seen him send a few disgusted looks my way when Bo and I had wandered around together and been standing far closer than simple friends would be. Yet when Bo wasn't around, I'd found the Cathar to be generally enjoyable company. He was always curious about the Jedi and had questions ready for when we spoke. Though after ten days of this, I was starting to tire of it. And of Bo's need to tease me about finding another follower on a world so distant from the Core.
Fenrir stopped chasing the butterfly suddenly just before my commlink beeped. Opening it, even as Fenrir's ears pulled back and he tensed, I was greeted by a holo of Bo with her helmet on.
"HK's reporting a small armada of ships just entered the orbit of the planet." I felt the Force shift around us, taking on a cooler feeling as if warning us of a developing threat. "The Sartr's sensors can't match them with any known craft, and they didn't show up until they were almost upon us." That made me frown as while the long-range scanners on the Sartr weren't on-par with a cruiser's, they were impressive enough to detect an approaching ship up to a quarter of a solar system away. "While the locals don't seem to know or care, the largest ship in the armada has entered the atmosphere and should reach the Magister's location in a few minutes."
Fay's brow creased as the Force continued to shift around us. "Understood." I reached out with Detection but focused my attention upward. Yet nothing was showing up on it to indicate people were in orbit. Now that might be because the planet's Force signature was fucking with the power and my minimap still, but this felt more than that. I mean, I was able to pick out Bo and the two Rangers in Middle Distance and a few locals I knew with ease so why wouldn't I be able to sense over a thousand beings in orbit? "We're about ten klicks from the settlement. Meet us and the landing site and we'll head back to the Sartr if need be."
Bo nodded and then closed the link. Fenrir stalked toward me, rubbing against my arm as if reminding me he was ready. I could sense his caution about something changing, and that danger was near, but also a desire to hunt, to fight and to kill.
"Perhaps it is simply another group coming to purchase a ship similar to us," Fay offered, though her tone didn't inspire confidence. "That said, it is odd they are heading directly for the Magister, or why they've come with a small fleet."
"Might just be a paranoid individual." I didn't buy my own reasoning, and as we started walking back to Middle Distance my mind was already formulating battle plans. I needed to get back to the Ne'tra Sartr, and not just so I could grab my beskad. Fay wasn't as comfortable as Dooku with me wearing it, which was fine while we were guests on this planet. However, with the odds that something was about to happen, I'd feel better having it at my side. Along with a dozen or so grenades for both myself and Bo.
Less than two hours later, after a run back to Middle Distance using the Force to speed us and then a conversation with Gann about the newcomers, I found myself in the atmospheric transport. Gann had been concerned we were leaving without collecting our ship, but after assuring him we simply needed to return to our ship on the chance the newcomers were less than friendly, and promising to not start anything, he summoned the transport and its pilot. Bo, Fay, Fenrir, Zarkos, and Simvyl were with me as we raced back to the northern landing area. The pilot was not happy about Bo harassing him to go through faster. Even with the door to the cockpit locked from their side, it wasn't stopping Bo from giving them reminders – by banging on the door – to get moving.
"Do you think they are here to fight?" Zarkos asked Fay as they sat at the back of the transport. In the seat in front of me, Simvyl was tapping his fingers against his knee, and I could sense his growing impatience and excitement.
"I cannot say it is certain, however, the Force is disturbed since the arrival of these ships," Fay replied as I started to stand. "Something is about to happen, that much is certain, but what exactly it is unknown. I hope it is a situation that can be resolved peacefully, but this world is important enough that I feel that, if we must, we will defend it against any aggressors." Hearing Fay being so willing to consider a forceful response would normally seem odd, but we both knew this world was something unique and should be defended if needed. Though I would likely be far more aggressive in how I defended it.
"My Rangers and I are at your command, Master Fay." I couldn't see his face, but I was sure Zarkos was being earnest. Everything about him labelled him as a firm believer in what the Jedi stood for. Plus, from the way he moved and all but expected danger around every corner – even in a safe location like Middle Distance – I knew he could back his words up. Having more operatives if combat did break out was going to be important as I felt few, if any, of the locals would fight unless things became very dire.
"Hey," I began as I slipped into the seat next to Simvyl, "you ok there?"
He looked up at me, blinked and stopped tapping his knee. "Y-yeah," the tapping resumed, "it's just I, um, I've never gone into combat as a Ranger." Yeah, he was clearly excited to get into a fight, which was fine. Though if that eagerness made him do something stupid, it could cost us lives.
My thoughts returned to my former life and how I'd felt on each first. First military patrol, first combat operation, and first deployment as a member of the SAS. Each time I'd been excited, though by the last I'd learnt how to channel that to avoid making a mistake. "Just keep your wits about you, trust your training, in your Lieutenant and the rest of us, and if push comes to shove, your instincts. And above all, don't do something stupid."
His yellow eyes found mine as the tapping stopped. "That doesn't sound like something a Jedi would say."
Bo's chuckle drew our attention. "Cam is about as far from a normal Jetii as you can get. Thank Manda." I could sense Simvyl tense at having Bo talk to him, but he wisely chose to bite his tongue. There was potentially a greater threat to deal with than rehashing ancient history. "Plus, he's got a knack for finding trouble." She gave me a smile that sent a pleasant shiver through my bones. "Might be why I keep him around."
"And here I thought I was the one keeping you around," I shot back before turning to Simvyl. "Plus, I'd argue there are Jedi far more unorthodox than me," not that any came to mind at that moment since Anakin wasn't yet a Jedi, "she isn't wrong about my luck for finding myself in… tense situations."
"How do you handle those?"
I laughed as a memory came into my mind. "Aggressive negotiations." He frowned in confusion. "That's a negotiation that requires a lightsaber," I explained as I tapped the hilt of my main blade. Simvyl laughed at that, as did Bo, which might be the first time they'd shared a joke.
Suddenly, my commlink beeped.
"Statement: Master, it appears the newcomers did not have a fruitful meeting with the meatbag leader of this world. Sensors have an explosion at the Magister's residence while the rest of the fleet is entering the upper atmosphere." There was a pause during which Bo and Zarkos both checked their blasters. "Addendum: Four smaller vessels have broken from the main fleet and are heading toward the landing area. Oh, how I rue not yet having a body with which to greet these meatbags and eviscerate them. Correction: One of those vessels has altered course and is heading toward you master."
Again, I reached out with Detection. I could sense the rippling power of the planet below and, just about, everyone in Middle Distance. Yet what I couldn't sense were our approaching attackers. That was downright odd. "Get airborne and engage as best you can," I ordered HK. Since he was connected to the ship's systems, he'd be able to fly the Sartr. It wasn't ideal, but it was why I'd made sure he was connected before we'd first gone to Middle Distance.
Before I could add anything else I was tossed to one side as the transport banked hard. I grabbed a seat and held on as the vessel started to weave violently. Even as everyone else did their best to stay seated – with Simvyl doing the best due to his better reflexes as a Cathar – I realised the pilot was taking evasive manoeuvres. I couldn't tell if we'd been fired upon, but the pilot was not taking any chances, plus during my tumble, the link to HK had closed.
The transport suddenly shuddered as if hit by the hand of an angry god, and I saw smoke through a viewport. "We're going down!" Another glance out the viewport showed the treetops closing quickly. "Brace! Brace! Brace!"
"Well that was fun," I muttered as I stepped through the broken remains of the transport's door. Once out I turned back and took in the damage to the transport. Both engines were gone as was most of the cockpit. The only reason we'd not joined the pilot in death was that somehow, as I'd fought to not bounce around the cockpit, I'd managed to grab the transport with the Force and stabilise our descent. Not enough to set us down gently, but enough that we could walk away from the crash without injuries. Well, bar the dead pilot.
"It's about to get better," Bo commented as she stepped through the doorframe. The actual door was about five metres from me, where it'd landed after I'd Force Crushed the thing and then tossed it clear of the wreckage. "Their ship landed nearby."
I reached out with Detection for the third time since these newcomers had turned up, and once more sensed nothing.
Except, as I concentrated, I realised that I was sensing something. Or more accurately, like the taozin back then, I was sensing a null zone within the Force. Given its size and bearing, it was likely the ship that had shot us down and had, as Bo stated, landed just outside the range of my minimap.
It wasn't possible to judge the size of the null zone because of this, but thinking back to just before the crash, that null zone had shot past us close enough that it appeared on the minimap. From that I could get a rough size of the vessel, placing it a little smaller than the Ne'tra Sartr. So, assuming a pilot remained on the ship, we'd be facing up to ten opponents.
"How far to the Sartr?" I knew it was far to the northwest, but beyond that, I couldn't say for sure. As I waited for Bo's reply, I helped Fay step out of the transport. Her robes were ripped around the edges, but otherwise, she seemed fine.
"About a hundred klicks." That wasn't ideal as the terrain would get rugged the closer we got to the landing area, slowing us down considerably. "Though I can't contact HK." That drew my attention as HK should've gotten the Sartr airborne before we'd crashed.
I opened my comm, pushing down my concern that I'd lost my droid. "HK, you there? HK?" All that greeted me was static. The ship's communications might have been damaged, but that would take an impressively accurate shot. I looked up, but the only clear spot in the canopy was from where we'd crash through.
Before I could focus on the fact HK might be lost, I sensed Fenrir tense. A low growl rumbled from him as he stared off toward where the enemy vessel had landed. Within the Force, I felt his need to strike back, to assert his dominance – and that of his pack – over those who'd dare attack us. And frankly, I agreed with the sentiment. "We've got incoming." My words were followed by a faint growl as my lightsaber ignited with a faint roar. I wished I had my beskad, or even my secondary lightsaber, as a backup, but both were on the Sartr.
At my warning everyone readied themselves. Blasters from Bo and the Rangers began to sweep the jungle in the area that Fenrir was growling toward while Fay moved to the other side of them. That would place the Force users on the flanks, which might give us a tactical advantage, though I couldn't say if that was Fay's logic for making the move.
Rustles in the bushes drew my attention and I readjusted my grip on my saber. Taking a moment, I checked my minimap and saw eleven faint null zones moving quickly but carefully toward us. Either these beings could naturally block the Force in a similar way to the Taozin, or they'd developed technology to counter it. Neither was particularly comforting.
I watched cautiously as the first of the group emerged from the forest. It, like those with them, was around two metres in height, and everything about them looked and felt off. Apart from the lack of Force presence, they were just different enough from anything I knew to make me concerned.
Each had sloped foreheads with small ridges upon them. Those led down to their eyes, and while there were two, under each was a small, blue mark. Two of the eight – the final member of their group was a beast of some form that was about two-thirds Fenrir's height – had pointed ears like Fay while the rest had more humanoid ears. Some had hair pulled back in ponytails while the rest didn't but all wore strange, angular armour. The more I focused on that, the more I realised that it looked organic; or at least, like nothing I'd ever seen before.
The lead figure, who was one of two to wear grey instead of yellow armour, stepped forward. Like the others, he held a strange staff in his hand that ended with an ornamental-looking snake carving. Yet, as he stepped forward, the staff started moving and I realised that the weapon was a snake, or at least something similar in appearance that these aliens used as a weapon.
The leader spoke, its voice guttural, strange and in a language that I'd never heard before. [Master?]
[I have never heard that language before.] Fay's reply didn't fill me with any optimism that we could learn why they'd attacked us. However, that was fine with me, as I was more than willing to extract that information from them after I beat the living shab out of them. Curious about them, and wanting an idea of what we were facing, I used Observe on the leader.
Race: Yuuzhan Vong
Force Potential: None
Threat Potential: Very High
Affiliation: Yuuzhan Vong (100%), Supreme Overlord Zho Krazhmir (100%)
Emotional State: Angry/Curious/Excited
Zing is angry to see intruders on this possible new Yuuzhan'tar.
However, they are curious to see this galaxy's warriors in action and excited to have the honour of killing you.
My brow rose at seeing this alien, this Vong, had no connection to the Force. That explained why I couldn't sense them normally. Curious about this, I Observed the rest of them and discovered the entire team, including their mutt which was a fero xyn – whatever the fuck that was – held no connection to the Force.
Either this was due to some technology, or we'd just encountered the perfect race to counter the abilities of the Jedi and Sith.
Before I could mention this to Fay via our bond, the Vong rushed forward. The leader moved toward me along with one other and the fero xyn. As Fenrir raced to meet the fero xyn in battle, the one behind the leader raised his snake-staff and pointed it at me.
A blob of green spit came hurtling toward me, even as Bo and the Rangers opened fire on the other Vong. I raised a hand to generate a barrier, only to pause in shock as the glob sailed through the barrier as if it wasn't there.
With the Force flowing through me, I whipped up my lightsaber even as I moved out of the path of the glob. Like the taozin's webbing, the glob dissolved when it hit the blade of my weapon, which was a relief. However, before I could think about why that was, the leader was on me.
His staff came around fast; faster than most species could manage. I slid a foot back and brought my lightsaber up to deflect the attack, if not sever the staff in two, and to open him up to a counterthrust. Yet that failed as his staff not only took a strike from my lightsaber with ease, but it softened, and the snake started wrapping around the blade.
I pulled my blade down and then leapt back with the Force to generate some space between us. That was a good move as the second Vong reached us and thrust his spear toward me, though with me leaping clear, it only resulted in the staff almost clipping the strange serpent that like its master was snarling at me.
I flicked my wrist, wanting to send the pair of Vong flying back, but like with the glob, neither seemed to even realise I'd struck them with a direct Force attack. "Fuck!" I muttered before the second Vong charged at me.
His spear thrust forward, and wary of it turning into a snake like his leader's had, I chose to keep my distance over deflecting the blow and counter-attacking. Their weapon's ability to shift from rigid to fluid and being seemingly resistant to lightsabers was a concern. One that was forcing me to be cautious in how I fought them. At least until I found a weakness to exploit.
Seeing the pair of Vong trying to encircle me, I adapted. Since they couldn't be directly targeted by the Force, I instead used the Force to lift the door of the transport before launching it viciously at the second Vong. With his focus on me, he didn't see the door until it slammed into his back near his shoulders. As he was sent tumbling, I hoped the blow had severed whatever passed for his spinal cord and turned to face the Vong leader.
To my right, I saw Bo, Zarkos, and Simvyl engaged in a firefight with four Vong. They'd fallen back to the transport and were using the wreck as cover. Several small smoking marks on the fuselage suggested the globs spat by the Vong's staff had an acidic component. Further away, in the bushes nearby, I sensed Fenrir in a vicious fight. His anger and bloodlust were running rampant, and I felt some pain coming from him meaning the fero xyn had managed to wound him at least slightly.
I leapt back, letting the Force empower my jump, as the Vong leader thrust his spear forward only for it to shift forms and snap at me. Precognition wasn't working well, as the Vong were unable to be sensed by the Force power, but Danger Sense was. Though the skill was limited in how much warning about the danger it could give, it was better than nothing.
As I landed, I made a decent dent in the ground and the Vong leader was already charging at me. The second one hadn't yet moved after I'd struck him with the transport door, so it looked like…
I dropped to a knee as a scream echoed in my mind. It took only a moment to realise that it'd come from Fay and my eyes snapped in her direction. Like me she'd been engaged by two Vong – which suggested they knew what Jedi were – and while one was on their back trapped under the trunk of an uprooted tree, it was the other that my eyes focused on. His spear, in its hardened form, had pierced through Fay's body with the tail end jutting out from her back soaked in red.
The Vong yanked his spear back, making Fay shudder before collapsing to the ground. My temper flared as I only had eyes for the monster that had dared to attack my master. Memories of my time under Vosa's care came flooding back as I let the floodgates holding back my rage swing open.
As the Vong swung his staff around, bringing the snake-end to face Fay, I felt something inside shatter. My world grew dark as nothing else but thoughts of making this motherfucker pay filled my mind.
As it felt as if the sky itself had grown dark, I surged forward. As Fay's presence within the Force guttered out, my lightsaber primed to remove the bastard's head from its shoulders.
While I try to avoid big cliffhangers to end a chapter, this ending was settled on nearly two years ago by myself and those assisting me with the story. The decision to introduce Zonama Sekot and the Yuuzhan Vong earlier than canon, along with what has happened to Fay, is an important step in Cam's growth. Fay serves multiple roles for Cam, from mentor and friend to quasi-step-mother and advisor, and having people in those roles placed in mortal peril and/or die is an important moment in the life of many protagonists.
As always, this story is crossposted on Questionable Questing and Archive of our Own.
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May the Force be with you. Always.